Matt O'Donnell
Pacific Coast
Bremerton, WA to Astoria, OR The stop in Seattle was sweet and life-giving. I crossed back over to Bremerton on the ferry feeling amped and mostly dry and ready to ride. I quickly found myself in suddenly more depressed rural areas. A 45 mile day gives way to a 70 mile day as you may find yourself in a town where people are a little less friendly than they had been just a day prior. People’s attitudes towards what you’re up to can become a little less “that’s amazing” and a little more “you’re stupid, boy.” I opted not to look for a place to camp in Shelton, a very small town where a recent drug bust had netted the police 14 kilos of meth, and continued on to sleepy Elma. I got in very late, but Jay, the owner of the local hostel / disc golf course, came out and met me at the Mexican joint where I was getting dinner. Now, I had not told Jay where I was eating, but he just got in his truck and drove around to the couple places he knew were open and stopped where he saw the fully loaded touring bike out front. The walls were thin and I could hear the guy in the next dorm room talking to who knows who on the phone till pretty late, but it had a dry bed so it worked for me.

The next day on the road was quite a bit more exciting due to my interactions with a couple animals. I ended up getting chased by a couple dogs, each one larger than the last. Rural Washington seems to have a lot of dog owners that don’t seem too concerned with keeping their dogs fenced in. It makes sense. The route in this section has you off the highways so you’re traveling down roads without a lot of traffic and there really aren’t that many people around. The kicker is these dogs don’t seem to see too many cyclists either, or if they do, they just really hate them. They’ll chase you and they won’t give up till a car finally comes along and scares them off.

In retrospect the dogs don’t seem like much of an issue. Because then I was chased by a bear. A black bear full on charged me from the woods that lined the road. It got within a couple feet of my rear wheel and I just redlined it. Unfortunately I was going up a slight grade so even though my body was immediately shot full of adrenaline it didn’t feel like I managed to go that much faster. Magically, after just about 30 yards the bear dashed back into the treeline from where he (or she) came. I didn’t stop riding for at least five more miles before I allowed myself to catch my breath.

The next day was thankfully a lot more chiller than the previous. I was only chased by one dog and I laughed that off after what I’d gone through with the bear. In Castle Rock I stopped at Lacey Rha’s Cafe and met Han, a crazy dude from South Korea who was riding his carbon fiber road bike from Vancouver to Brazil while carrying all his stuff in a hiker’s backpack on his back. He has some strategically placed saran wrap on his frame that I didn’t really understand the purpose of. He was super upbeat and friendly, but my back hurt just looking at his setup. I would run into him off in on a few more times in Washington.

September 9th saw me spending most my day heading west from Cathlamet to Astoria, OR. I met a foot traveler while waiting for the ferry to take me across Columbia River. Everything he owned was carried on his back and he had just a couple dollars in his pocket. We talked quite a bit about our travels while crossing the river and just enjoyed the view. I left him with $10 when we got to the other side and he decided to just hang out at the dock, trying to decided which way the wind was blowing him.

Shortly after crossing into Oregon I came across a huge amount of backed up traffic on the 30 leading into Astoria. I just toodled on around it and came across a panel truck that had crashed into the guardrail of a bridge. It seemed like it was leaking fuel so I just kept on trucking to get away from it. Another bit of magic of bicycle travel. Sure, it may take me a day to travel the distance a car can cover in an hour, but when the cars get all backed up, I can keep on moving.

Reaching Astoria was very exciting. I’ve wanted to visit since discovering this was where Goonies was filmed (don’t tell the locals this, they’re kind of over Goonies). And it’s also become a great destination for beer lovers. I spent a couple days in town doing laundry and hitting as many beer spots as I could manage. It’s an awesomely friendly town and in just the couple days I spent there a few locals were calling out to me by name when they saw me on the street. The only bummer is I had my camping knife stolen off my bike when it was parked outside of a brewery one afternoon. So, despite it’s small town atmosphere, it’s worth being aware that there is a bit of a theft problem.

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Matt O'Donnell

Gear List

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Matt O'Donnell
  • Genesis moment? A year ago I started a new company with a friend here in San Francisco. It’s been successful and I feel blessed because of that, but the hours were long at times, the stress high and I found that my fitness and riding is what took the biggest hit. I went from regularly riding 200+ miles/week to being lucky if I got in 40. When the holiday season came around I found myself with a week off and a huge amount of excitement to get back on the bike. I went for broke and rode over 300 miles in the six days I was visiting family out in Tucson, AZ. What did I get for my effort? A knee injury, seemingly caused from overuse; meaning I jumped back into the deep end too fast. I should have waded into the kiddy pool, I guess.
    I’ve spent some time in physical therapy and the knee is feeling good. This trip is going to be a great opportunity for me to get reconnected to my functioning body and to allow my head some time and space away from work, to reevaluate priorities, tell some stories, and to just ride bikes and sleep in tents.
  • Have you traveled in the past? My previous experience traveling distance by bike is pretty limited. I’ve done a few overnighters, but this will be my biggest trip BY FAR. I look forward to learning primarily by making mistakes and then trying not to repeat them.
  • Goal for the route? My biggest goal is to find some great characters and stories to share along the way. So much of the fundamental basis of American cycling culture spawned from the West Coast and I know there are going to be great examples of it along the way. In addition to that I hope to keep all my fingers and toes attached to my body.
  • What do you hope to get out of the journey? It sounds hippy-ish, but I’m hoping to come away from this with a bit of perspective. The sort of insight and calm that only many miles, the open road, and no cell phone reception can bring you. I’m also aiming for some real nice, crisp, tan-lines.
  • What's in your bag? #1 my Fallkniven F1 survival knife is my favorite camping knife. Seeing as how it is a fixed blade, I (for legal reasons) don’t want to “conceal” it. I tend to actually mount it right on the bike with zip ties holding the plastic sheath in place. Getting it through customs will be interesting.

    #2 My Coffee & Tea Collective tin mug. This was given to me by a good friend who hails from San Diego for my 30th birthday. I’ve never spent any time in San Diego, but since this route is going to take me right through I figure I should swing by and fill this baby up straight from the source. I will then immediately begin an epic burrito sampling to settle once and for all who has the best, San Diego, or San Francisco.

    #3 my GoPro Hero 4 Black. I have a variety of accessories from mounts, to filters, to nifty time lapse doodads that will allow this camera to do some heavy lifting for the mini documentaries I intend to produce while out on the tour.

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