Nice and Easy

It’s good to wake up at 4:30am and drive the last reaches of the California coast at sunrise, up the Smith River into Oregon, because there are donuts waiting at The Jelly Donut in Grant’s Pass.  I selected a chocolate old fashioned and a lemon jelly, while Kevin threw caution to the wind with a cream filled maple long john and a raised crumb that looked eerily like a garlic bagel.

When we rolled in to Eugene we were in serious need of real food to calm the aches and pains of donuts in the stomach.  How about a Farmer’s Scramble of fiddleheads and chanterelles?  Or a tofu/mushroom/onion fry encased in a hash-brown shell like an omelet?  With biscuits on the side, served by disaffected anarchist chicks?  Yeah, we’re gonna need a lot of fuel to race those folding bikes across the city.

At Bike Friday they lent us a pair of Pocket Rockets and gave us a few hours to explore the city.  We suited up in spandex and set out on the beautiful bike paths of scenic Eugene.  The sun was shining and the bikes were fun.  Just don’t stare too long at the front wheel, because it’s really tiny and it’ll freak you out.  And never mind the wack SPD pedals with the springs tightened down so tight you have to stomp with all of your weight to clip in.  That’s part of the fun.

Those Pocket Rockets were fast and maneuverable, but what about on dirt?  Let’s check that renegade singletrack.  Little wheels are stiff and on tight turns it’s possible to cut sharper than feels safe.  Bike Fridays are easy to bunnyhop and hotdogging is especially interesting on an awesome network of parks, paths and dedicated bike/pedestrian bridges over the Wilamette River.

After an hour in the saddle the bikes felt natural, and we started to say things like, “Hey, this is really cool” as we carved endless S turns on the concrete.  On the way back we spotted a big stair-stepped hill in the distance and said hey, let’s climb that!  So we did.

Then back at the office, in a two donut, 4am wakeup haze, Kevin ordered his dream bike:  flag red Crusoe, no dorky nametag, Schwalbes and full Ultegra, dope German generator hub with a spotlight attachment and the ability to charge an ipod.  Rad.

We secured bunks at the Whiteaker Hostel where the Innkeeper wore flag suspenders as he refurbished a sailboat in the courtyard.  Kevin threw down with some boat knowledge, as a real New Englander is born on a leaky yacht and has spent many a humid summer stripping the bow with toxic chemicals and battling the green flies while thoughtfully pulling at his beard.

Over at the Ninkasi Tasting Room they had Vanilla Malt Liquor on tap, a Cascadian Dark Ale, and their wonderful Spring Reign seasonal.  I was feeling mellow, but Face Man was getting his second wind as he began to bend the bartender’s ear.  Turns out she was a distant acquaintance from Humboldt, a former Adventure’s Edge cashier vixen.  The ante rose rapidly:  hey, we’ll sponsor you guys for the Ninkasi bike race team, yeah and how about a case of promotional 22’s for the greater Humboldt Bay area?  I could only nod and try to smile.

Somehow we made it out of there and picked up a Sloppy Joe and an ESB.  Then we set off on foot to walk the six (or 1.5) miles to The Bier Stein, because we had to.  We were zombies but we had to do it.  Maybe a slice of cake would help, at that place called The Sweet Life that everyone in Eugene kept talking about.  It had a line out the door.

At The Bier Stein it was packed and hot.  The beer whelps were considering the sours–”I’ve had the gooze, I’ve had the Cascade, now I want something really sour–really really really sour.”  Sour is the new hoppy–it’s been foretold.  Kevin and I were in more of a Saison mood, and found something new:  a 2009 Saison du Pelican.  It was expertly dry and sharp like cumin or coriander seed.

But what to do on day two?  We tried to rent mountain bikes, but nobody in town had them and we were told there was no good singletrack close by anyway.  So what now, carbonium Treks?  We bounced around a few bike stores until we found one with a good vibe–Blue Heron, by campus–and committed to a pair of goofy Marin comfort bikes.

I wanted to check out the Rail to Trail down in Cottage Grove.  So we trucked the bikes down to the trailhead and suited up in more spandex, because why not?  It’s better to be comfortable than cool, yes?  Just go with it.

My bike had a trashy suspension fork that made a massive THUNK whenever I did a wheelie.  Also, a mostly nonfunctional thudbuster seat post and a fully adjustable, fully flexible stem.  Kevin’s was fully rigid, with matching fenders and a lady’s seat.

We dressed out in suburban Cottage Grove next to an extinct body shop with graffiti, pausing for comfort bike b-boy activities in front of the wall.  We rode the path out of town, up into the ferns and firs around Dorena Lake.  The path ended fifteen miles later, in a gravel parking lot with what looked like a mobile meth operation installed.  What better time to turn back and start working on the four pound vegan cookies we’d purchased at the Keystone.

Back in Cottage Grove some locals were blasting Lady Gaga from the windows of their house as we chuckled and danced and got naked in the street.  They sat on the front porch to leer at us:  who are those guys with the bib shorts and the comfort bikes?  It doesn’t make sense.  But what I learned is that a comfort bike is an express ticket to fun, an excuse to forget about being cool, to forget about going fast, to just ride and smile.  Relax and be comfortable!

On I-5 North we got wild to the Beastie Boys, which encouraged an in car dance contest with some passing students.  Back in Eugene we primed ourselves with a pair of mythical thigh burritos from El Pinche Taco and then hit the nightlife, comfort style.  At the Rogue Public House they had 30 ales on tap, and the bartender wanted us to try them all, so we started asking questions and he started pouring tasters.  We had a few, and could have had quite a few more, but what was really on our minds were comfort bikes and the serpentine trails of Eugene at night.

We didn’t have any lights, which was foolish but fun.  We rode in the dark through the forested paths of Alton Baker Park, senses jumping, trying to see.  Couldn’t see, so other senses surged:  the feel of the wind, the smell of the trees, the comfort of the bike.  We navigated the trail system by night, auditing all the bridges, riding up and down the stairs.  By dark it was an unfamiliar world full of marvel, and everything was fun:  mysterious narrow bridges to bird islands, a scale model of the solar system with Pluto 3 miles distant…

Then on one of the maps we spotted it:  BMX track, a few miles away.  Must find!  I tried to memorize the map and the series of turns required.  We felt our way gradually through the darkened maze, until:  success!  An unlocked, unfenced, unlit BMX track across from the gigantic University of Oregon stadium!

We rolled around a bit on the track tentatively, waiting to crash, wondering what was possible.  Then we pushed our bikes up to the starting gate and looked at eachother with wild eyes:  you ready?

We dropped in and rolled over the tabletops, rode high through the first berm.  Then came the rhythm section, a tight series of little jumps.  I pushed down hard on my flexing handlebars and inane fork as I pumped through the jumps.  Berm, tabletops!  Another rhythm section, faster than the first!  It’s a miracle that neither of us went over the bars.

We rode the track three times, and then adrenalized, laughing, we paused to sit in the dark grandstands and savor a special beer and the camaraderie of two new friends in a new city on new bikes doing new things.  Riding comfort style in Eugene, Oregon.