• Cory Howell

Day 1: Blurring Boundaries

Banks → Tillamook

56.3 miles

↑ 1818 feet ↓ 1949 feet



“You guys must either be crazy or ambitious.”


“Maybe it’s a little bit of both,” I said.


The ODOT worker leaned against the stop sign he was using to control traffic. His eyes flitted to our bikes, our packs, our already sweat-stained shirts.


“Yeah,” he said, “I’m not sure I’d want to ride on 101 all the way down to San Francisco.”


I wasn’t sure if he meant that because of the hills or the traffic.



Lilly and I were at a traffic stop in Tillamook State Forest--repaving on Route 6 shut down one of the lanes, and Oregon’s Department of Transportation was guiding travel to and from Portland and the coast.


When we’d started, the early sun cast the drying fields and distant lakes a golden hue. The morning air was crisp and clean as we huffed along. 


Just hopping on my bike today I was aware that we’d crossed a boundary. We were on the trip. We were doing it. We were biking from Portland to San Francisco.


For months now we’d been talking about it as a possibility. We’d gone through spurts of training followed by doubt, a night of planning followed by indecision. Was now the right time? Is this something we should be doing with the world as it is?


Even on the way up, I’d wondered. Did I secure the bikes on the rack? Would they fall off and cause a seven-car pile up on the 5 north? Would we even get to Portland?


But we’d crossed over, and already we’d left behind the gentle hills and easy farmland west of Portland, peddled past lush wetlands, made our way into the forest.


The change in landscape was acute. 


Surrounded by douglas firs, we felt the air sharpen with the elevation. Every few miles took us beyond another natural boundary.



Our purpose was to get a better sense of what was happening in the world. To see what COVID-19 meant for cities and towns along the coast of Oregon and California. To experience what climate change was doing to those same communities.


And already we’d seen it in both the natural landscape and in political boundaries that divided communities and neighbors. Biden-Harris flags flew next to Trump 2020 and Thin Blue Line flags. Some stores and restaurants adhered to mask guidelines while others openly defied them.


While the excitement from the first day propelled us forward, we wondered if the U.S. was rapidly approaching some boundary we couldn’t un-cross. Or had we already crossed it?



The ODOT worker turned his head as he brought his walkie-talkie to his ear. From a few yards away, the noise coming through sounded like static.


“I’m going to let you guys go before the cars,” he said. He waved vaguely downhill with his walkie talkie. “You should be able to get some good speed.”


We clipped into our pedals, pumped our legs. The cool mountain air blew around us as we zipped past the construction team and the fresh, hot asphalt. From here to the pacific coast, it was all downhill.