The 1985 film, Turtle Diary, and the book by Russel Hoban upon which it is based, may not be to everyone’s taste. The film’s plot, which revolves around freeing captive sea turtles, would likely resonate much more today than it did in 1985. However, when I viewed the film back then, one of the lines in the movie, spoken by actor Ben Kingsley to his co-star Glenda Jackson – “everything isn’t sex” – was a bit of a shock, both to the characters in the film, as well as to viewers. The odd syntax and brutal honesty of this simple statement probably destined the film (and book) to our culture’s nether regions.
Western society focuses on extremes: the longest ride, the highest mountains, the fastest race times. This focus has a chilling effect on “normal” cyclists, who use their bikes for transportation, exploration, and communing with nature. When asked by friends and other cyclists about the day’s ride, the most frequent question is “how many miles did you do?” or “what was your average speed?”. Not “tell me about the ride” or “what wildlife did you see today?”.
Most cyclists enjoy other activities: hiking, running, walking, birding, gardening, children, cooking, wrenching…the list goes on. We don’t “live to ride”. Instead, the bicycle is simply part of our daily lives. We don’t need to do a century every weekend, nor one-up each other with tales of amazing descents and all-out sprints (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Our bicycles are an amazing tool, allowing us to explore our surroundings while invigorating our bodies and spirits. Everything isn’t cycling. But cycling is a transformative experience upon which many good things are based.
In my youth, I often rode my bicycle with no particular destination or purpose in mind. I never tracked my average speed and never worried about how many miles I covered. Even on my touring rides, I would rarely attempt an all out effort – 4 or 5 hours in the saddle at a reasonable pace while touring was plenty for me. In fact, this way of riding was so normal for me, that I was not even aware that it wasn’t how you are “supposed” to ride.
Now, some decades later I find myself returning to that natural sense of wonder and peace that a slow and meandering bike ride can provide. Sights, smells, and sounds are all uniquely experienced while riding.
Sauvie Island, about 10 miles from Portland, is an amazing place. There is a basic loop that’s about 13 miles, totally flat, and there are side excursions that can be added and explored. Many cyclists ride to Sauvie Island from Portland, make the 13 mile loop, then ride back, giving them 33 miles or so. Since I was doing a low mileage day I decided to drive my bike to the island and begin the loop counter clockwise. There are a few nice stops along the way, but my favorite is the Pumpkin Patch – a place with something for everyone, including a cafe, store, fresh produce, a petting barn for kids, and best of all – decent bathrooms.
It was a hot day, so taking it slow on my Meral 650b turned out to be just right. I’ve put enough miles on this fresh build that it’s almost time for the bike’s first tune-up. I was passed by many riders in pace lines, and was greeted by no one except a group of women cyclists going the other way, and a few lone riders dressed in “normal” clothes. There is no shoulder, but all cars I encountered gave me plenty of room. That was nice.
Along the way, there are Llamas (or Alpacas?), cows and horses grazing, beautiful fields of grain, corn and vegetable crops.
While riding, my bike developed a few unpleasant noises. The rear fender began to rattle, and the rear derailleur began to squeak! Then, I became acutely aware of the fact that I need to use a front derailleur designed for a triple crank, not the Ultegra derailleur I am currently using (not designed for a triple). Also, I could never really find my cruising gear, which I think is best when it is located on the big chain ring. This is the gear that I define as providing a comfortable cadence on a totally flat surface.
Part of the trouble is this 48/40/26 T.A. triple crank. The 8 tooth difference between the middle and large chainrings means much more front shifting than I normally do. Rather than replace the chainrings, I am planning on ordering a custom cassette.
But hey, I am getting off track here…
If you take a side trip off Oak Island Road, and travel about 4 miles, you’ll come to a trailhead and parking lot. Once you are off the main road, you’ll encounter very little traffic. The last mile is gravel – hooray for 650b tires! From there you can take a 2.5 mile hike. It was nice to be wearing regular shoes and another good reminder that not every ride is a race, so there’s no need to dress like it is. On the hike, you’ll get a view of a number of different lakes, which draw canoists and birders. You’ll also see Mt. St. Helen’s in the distance.
The last part of my trip involved the brief time on Sauvie Island Road – the busiest leg and most stressful part of the trip, relatively speaking. Returning home in my car, I feel relaxed and ready to go back to work.