Clouds on the horizon promise severe precipitation. I can’t imagine anyone will actually want to load up their bike and go camping this weekend, but my girlfriend, Staj, and I decide to go anyway. It’s been five months since we’ve lived on our bicycles, camping every night and thus monotony of sleeping in a comfortable bed protected from the elements has gotten to us.
Staj and I aren’t the only ones who feel this way either. We’re riding with 12 other crazies under the Cycle Wild umbrella. After the organization released a comprehensive map of all campgrounds within a days bike ride of Portland, Ore, I looked into what exactly Cycle Wild was. Not only does the group provide information on what is required camp by bike, but it plans trips once or twice a month. These trips are open invitation and best of all, it’s free (besides paying for your campsite, etc.) Cycle Wild is not trying to make money, it only wants to make bike camping accessible and practical.
This weekend we head north to Vernonia, a quaint logging town that caught a glimpse of fame from the History Channel’s “Axe Men.” The route we take is an old railroad line turned multi-use trail that winds through tall stands of doug fir and thick undergrowth of sword fern heavily saturated by the beloved bipolar weather patterns of Oregon spring. Light rain parts for blue skies followed by a wintry mix of sleet and hail. Bizarre as it is, everyone seems to enjoy themselves. It must be the realization that poor weather makes the evening fire burn brighter.
Our progress is halted by the lure of a Chinese restaurant in the town of Vernonia. While half of the crew finds refuge in a bowl of chow mien and fried rice, some remain in camp relishing in a liter of vino and four of us decide to unload our gear and continue on to the original destination 11 miles yonder with the intention that the fire would already be roaring upon returning. The Scaponia campground was deserted and boggy, but its riverside location and semi-primitive vanities offered charm. As cautioned, the water tastes sulphuric, but with a dash of cayenne, it might appease the egg lover’s palate.
Less than a mile from camp it begins hailing so hard you can hear it ricochet off the Nehalem River nearby. Arriving back at the campsite, the fire pit is still vacant, so Staj and I warm up by our Jetboil when we’re greeted by Snick, the campground security guard. Snick instantly warms to us, as I’m sure he’s tired of pretentious RV visitors. I don’t believe Snick owns a car and if he did, I’m sure it wouldn’t take him very far, so he can easily relate to our group. So much in fact, that he returns from the market with two cans of Camo ‘Black Ice’ beer for Ed, the oldest member of our group, who asked Snick to pick him up some beer per Snick’s recommendation. Weighing in at 10.5% ABV, Ed settles with only one of the 24oz. cans for the night.
To our reward, the wet conditions of the day surrender to Orion’s belt as we stand around the fire fueling ourselves with booze and making several runs to the market for more rations. There’s a peculiar experience when you forego the automobile when camping. Here we are, not physically far from the urban sprawl of Portland, but mentally we’re out there. Should we drive out here to drink around a campfire, we’re nothing but a bunch of drunks. But since we muscled our way out here, well, we’re still drunks I suppose, but it feels like so much more, as though we’re fictional characters that Edward Abbey might have written about. A wayward tribe that took Cycle Wild founder Matt Picio two years to accrue and shows no sign of stopping, no matter the conditions.
Rick Olson understands there’s more to be garnered from sleeping in an uncomfortable bed for free than a comfortable bed unfree. He’s rarely afforded the opportunity to travel abroad but he geographically prospers in the American west. Northwest forests appease his penchant for the color green and rural highways provide ample bearings for getting lost on his bicycle. He considers Portland, Ore. a second home to his tent, but one day intends to dwell in a windy town that shares only one power line.