The Pies of September

A tasty tour in 23 slices of 100 words each


1.  A Journey of Just Desserts

On the road in northern Washington State;  I’m in the yellow shirt. [Photo: Dan Farrell]

On the road in northern Washington State;
I’m in the yellow shirt.
[Photo: Dan Farrell]

One of the best things about bicycle travel is eating. You need lots of calories to get over those hills and fight those headwinds, especially with 40 pounds of camping stuff on your bike. A few years ago, I biked down the Pacific coast with 14 companions, an epic journey for me and the hardest I’ve ever done. A daily ritual soon emerged: a midmorning stop for coffee and dessert. I’d like to view that trip through that tasty frame of memory—all those slices of pie that helped sustain me, in more ways than one, during that long September.


2.  A Tradition Is Born

Taking a break in Bow. [Photo: Dan Farrell]

Taking a break in Bow.
[Photo: Dan Farrell]

Pies and pastries were never part of the plan. For me, breakfast consisted mainly of oatmeal and fruit washed down with OJ and instant coffee; lunch involved peanut butter and jelly and M&M-studded trail mix. On our first traveling day, after leaving Larabee State Park near Bellingham, Washington, a desperate need for decent coffee (not to mention restrooms) drove us to a tiny grocery in equally tiny Bow. There I had a hot cinnamon bun, oven fresh and dripping with gooey frosting, and a cup of black coffee laced with peppermint syrup for zing. Life on the road suddenly improved.


3.  First Pie

The ferry to Port Townsend emerging from the fog.

The ferry to Port Townsend emerging from the fog.

I ate my first pie one morning at a Coupeville café. The day’s ride was short, mainly down Whidbey Island from Deception Pass State Park to the Port Townsend ferry, so we lingered on the patio overlooking Penn Cove. I had an excellent pecan bar, then indulged in seconds: a thick slice of fresh
blackberry pie.

Eating blackberries. [Photo: Dan Farrell]

Eating blackberries. [Photo: Dan Farrell]

Blackberries became a trip theme. We ate them in pies, picked them by the roadside, snacked on them in camp. They also produced pricklier moments. Thorny blackberry vines crawled onto the road shoulders, puncturing many a bicycle tire from Puget Sound through Northern California.


4.  Early Challenges

Part of our group: 4 Australians, 3 Canadians,  1 Brit, and 7 Yanks.

Part of our group: 4 Australians, 3 Canadians,
1 Brit, and 7 Yanks.

Imagine introverted me embarking on a physically demanding, month-long camping trip with 14 people I’d never met. I had to fight off panic just to get on the plane. I quickly rose to the social challenge but still felt weak in the knees. Day after day over hill after hill, I worried whether they could take it.

The Deception Pass Bridge.

The Deception Pass bridge.

I began each day with Aleve and ended it with Advil. “Spinning” at a high cadence—pedaling fast in lower gears—helped ease the strain. “One day at a time, one hill at a time” became my mantra, pie and pastry my reward.


5.  Pastry Power

An Aussie and the Englishman  showing their colors.

An Aussie and the Englishman
showing their colors.

Pastries, not pie, powered me though most of Washington. A dense Kangaroo Bar, more calorie-rich than a PowerBar, took me across the treacherous Hood Canal bridge. A Danish rose in my stomach as I streaked down a long 16-percent grade beyond Oakville, white-knuckled fingers clamped on the brakes. A chocolate-covered “old fashioned” donut and raspberry-filled “Volcano” at a terrific Castle Rock bakery fortified me for the hard ride along the Columbia, where a maniac in a pickup made an ill-timed pass around me on a hill. Three short, steep hills forced me to walk when pastry power finally petered out.

Thankfully, we were headed  downhill. [Photo: Dan Farrell]

Thankfully, we were headed downhill.
[Photo: Dan Farrell]


6.  Over the Hills

PS 06“Thanks for the great letter. Can a writer have any greater reward than knowing he has inspired a reader to travel down a new road?” Journalist David Lamb’s emailed words thrilled me. As a cycling novice in his fifties, he had ridden alone from his Alexandria, Virginia, home to Santa Monica. His book, Over the Hills: A Midlife Escape Across America by Bicycle, had inspired my journey. Before leaving I wrote to thank him; in a hostel near Elma I received his reply. While struggling over my own hills, sleep deprived and muscle tired, David Lamb’s messages cheered me on.


7.  The Plan

Ordering out for dinner: pie of a different sort. [Photo: Dan Farrell]

Ordering out for dinner: pie of a different sort.
[Photo: Dan Farrell]

Inspired by David Lamb’s book, I originally dreamed of biking alone down the Pacific coast from Portland to San Diego. Ultimately I chose a less daring but more companionable route: an Adventure Cycling Association tour from Bellingham to San Francisco. Guided by an experienced trip leader but with no van support, we carried our own gear, camped all but two nights, and shared meal duties.

Map meeting, a nightly ritual. [Photo: Dan Farrell]

Map meeting, a nightly ritual.
[Photo: Dan Farrell]

We each left in the morning when we chose to and rode at our own pace, usually in small groups. Our coffee stops allowed us to regroup and reconnect. Pie, I discovered, tasted better shared.


8.  The Oregon Coast

The bridge over the Columbia, Astoria.

The bridge over the Columbia, Astoria.

We had pie for breakfast in camp the morning we ferried across the Columbia and entered Oregon. We stayed two nights at Fort Stevens State Park, where the Columbia foams into the Pacific, the first of four scheduled rest days. Setting up and breaking down camp and rendezvousing each day to help carry that evening’s groceries meant less time for exploring, so I welcomed a day off.

Fort Stevens State Park.

Fort Stevens State Park.

I had a thousand miles of hills ahead of me, but I now felt more confident I could handle them. And we had reached where I’d dreamed of riding: along the Pacific coast.


9.  The Limits of Pie

Looking back toward Cannon Beach.

Looking back toward Cannon Beach.

In Oregon rain became another trip theme. Hardly a day passed without it. It drizzled as I entered Seaside, poured after I left Cannon Beach, showered that night. It rained the next day while I stopped at the Tillamook Cheese Factory and treated myself to scoops of pumpkin and Marionberry pie ice cream. I reached our grocery stop at Netarts early, so I bought some chips and a bottle of beer and relaxed on a bluff overlooking the ocean.

The bluff at Netarts.

The bluff at Netarts.

I felt more at peace than I had in weeks. Pie is good, but sometimes you can’t beat a cold beer.


10.  Hills, Hills, Hills

The road to the left, just north of Manzanita, was the highest along the coast—but not the highest of the trip.

The road to the left, just north of Manzanita, was the highest along the coast—but not the highest of the trip.

Hills became another defining theme: short steep ones that left me gasping, long high ones I ascended for miles, others that rolled toward me like waves. The challenge was as much mental as physical. I learned to focus on the immediate: reaching the next level spot, rounding the next curve. I strove to remain patient, calm, and uncomplaining. I climbed three big hills the day I rewarded myself with apple crisp pie at the tiny but justly famous Otis Café. But a sharp rise toward day’s end finally defeated my tired legs. Happily, though, every hill had its downside too.

The view from Otter Crest Loop Road  south of Depoe Bay.

The view from Otter Crest Loop Road
south of Depoe Bay.


11.  The Worst Day

Heading into a storm.

Heading into a storm.

We sat on the pavement on Route 1, just north of Newport, waiting for the coroner. Ahead off to the side, an overturned car; on the road, a covered body; nearby, a crumpled bicycle. The driver had fallen asleep, crossed the road, and struck a local bicyclist out for an early Sunday morning ride. The police wouldn’t let us by, though traffic was stopped in both directions—the safest possible time to ride. Before the day ended, three of our own would fall in accidents, one sideswiped by a car just ahead of me. There was no pie that day.


12.  Second Wind

Near the tide pools south of Yachats.

Near the tide pools south of Yachats.

I was almost the last out of camp. I hadn’t been sure I would leave at all. The accidents of the previous day had shaken me badly. The pounding rain that followed had kept me awake all night, dissolved away my resolve. I considered hanging back until the weather cleared, biking by myself to the California line, then calling for rescue. I ate out alone, a stiff coffee and a cinnamon bun.

The Heceta Head Lighthouse south of Yachats.

The Heceta Head Lighthouse south of Yachats.

Then the clouds began to break. The road turned spectacular, hugging the coast. I caught up to the group again and, after that, never doubted I would finish.


13.  Coasting

South of Gold Beach.

South of Gold Beach.

I chose this trip because I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful route than down the Pacific coast. It didn’t disappoint. The Cape Perpetua Scenic Area south of Yachats and the coast from Bandon to Brookings kept my eyes straying right. I stopped often to take pictures. In Gold Beach I savored a slice of pecan pie while I watched the harbor seals lounging in the marina.

In the distance, the coast of California.

In the distance, the coast of California.

Later that day as I approached our state park campground just north of Brookings, I paused for another view down the coast. My eyes welled up when I realized what I was seeing: California.


14.  California Dreaming

A motorcyclist who also stopped here  took my picture.

A motorcyclist who also stopped here
took my picture.

Judy, my older sister and role model, moved to California when I was in high school. I fell in love the first time I visited her in Mill Valley—with Marin’s golden hills, the aroma of eucalyptus, the fog pouring in from the sea. California became a sort of spiritual second home. My two other sisters and father later moved there; I might have too, had my road not veered another way. Reaching California felt like coming home. Bicycling down the coast became a way for me to live at least a small part of my own unfulfilled California dream.


15.  A Whole New Country

The1,200-foot ridge just south of Crescent City would be the highest single climb of the trip.

The1,200-foot ridge just south of Crescent City would be the highest single climb of the trip.

California felt different: hotter, drier. Flat farmland bordered the coast. The red-bark madrones of Puget Sound and the cedars and firs of the lush Northwest faded to memory. California poppies splashed gold along the roadsides. Redwood needles littered the pavement. I ate lunch (sans pie) in a small redwood grove. Later I’d notice eucalyptus, whose medicinal aroma means California to me. The wind picked up. As I turned at Crescent City, a strong gust shoved me across the road and blew me over. I got myself up, angled south, and sailed the gale the rest of the way into camp.


16.  Flapjack and Other Follies

A fish-eye view.

A fish-eye view.

At our morning break on the redwood coast, I glanced up at ducks paddling overhead, a rowboat bottom and oars, fish, fishing line, and bait dangling down. The Forest Café sinks you to the bottom of a pond, where the blackberry cobbler I ate was divine. I picked up a mascot here, a tiny bear bearing the name Flapjack. From then on, he rode in my handlebar bag, pilfering the M&Ms from my trail mix, or so it seemed.

Trip mascot.

Trip mascot.

Go see the café for yourself; just look for the giant Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox across the road.


17.  Life in a Pack

On the road in Oregon.  [Photo: Dan Farrell]

On the road in Oregon.
[Photo: Dan Farrell]

I liked traveling with the group. We joked, shared adventures, grew to know one another, helped each other out. Inevitably, annoyances arose: meal mates who slacked off, a rider who followed carelessly close, behaviors that grated. Sometimes I just needed space. I often wondered how I came across. One companion said I seemed like “the quiet, thoughtful type.” At a breakfast stop in sleepy Orick over cherry pie, another partner squinted at me and observed, “You know, David, you’re looking younger every day. Fewer wrinkles. You smile more. You look less intense.”

Camping among the redwoods.  [Photo: Dan Farrell]

Camping among the redwoods.
[Photo: Dan Farrell]

My growing confidence felt good; acceptance even better.


18.  Over the Hump

Lilies by the roadside.

Lilies by the roadside.

We camped among redwoods and elk beside the coast, turned inland near Eureka, biked the “Avenue of Giants,” and camped among them again. We climbed the final granny-gear rise of Leggett Hill to 1,800 feet, our route’s highest point. Winding down the forested slopes back to the fogbound coast, we headed to Mendocino and our last day off.

The next morning, I sat outside alone at the lovely Garden Bakery, Queen Latifah’s haunting rendition of “California Dreaming” softening the air. The day’s subdued mood and my growing restlessness by afternoon underscored a new reality: the trip was nearing its end.


19.  The High Road

The bluffs north of Bodega Bay.

The bluffs north of Bodega Bay.

Two years earlier during a trip to California, I drove the coastal route north of Bodega Bay. The sight of the narrow road along rain-shrouded bluffs fearfully high above a gray sea made me sick at heart. This was part of the route I had been planning to bike, and I despaired that I lacked the courage to try. But two years later, trembling with anxiety, I boarded a plane, flew west, and committed myself to this trip.

Faithful companion.

Faithful companion.

Four weeks later, I biked those bluffs on a brightening day, strong and confident, wishing the road could carry me even higher.


20.  Last Pie

Rest stop in Tomales.

Rest stop in Tomales.

The indulgences got better as the miles dwindled. Peach pie in Elk. A cheddar-gruyere breadstick at the Tomales Bakery that demanded seconds, then unprecedented thirds—a sinful slice of caramel-apple pie. I ate one last luscious pastry at a Fairfax bakery before I headed out alone to revisit Mill Valley.

The group in San Francisco.

The group in San Francisco.

At our final lunch gathering in Sausalito, just before we rode together over the Golden Gate Bridge to our journey’s end, I dropped my umpteenth peanut butter and jelly sandwich into the trash. Instead I bought a slice of quiche and rode those last miles into San Francisco on pie.

 


21.  Home Stretch

Road’s end.

Road’s end.

I left our hostel in Fort Mason before dawn, had breakfast near the Cliff House, and rode down the coast and over one last hill at Devil’s Slide. I reached my sister’s home in Half Moon Bay around 11:30. My odometer read 1,355.99. “Damn!” I said. I circled until I clicked past one final hundredth, then promptly dismounted. “That’s enough,” I said. “I’m done.” I’d like to say a big slice of fresh pie made from local pumpkin and covered with a thick dollop of homemade whipped cream awaited me after Judy’s heartfelt hug. But I’d be making that up.

1,356 miles from Bellingham to Half Moon Bay.

1,356 miles from Bellingham to Half Moon Bay.


22.  Looking Back

Looking back toward the Golden Gate from Daly City,  shortly before the end of my trip.

Looking back toward the Golden Gate from Daly City,
shortly before the end of my trip.

I’m most confident I’ll finish a work when I have both a first line and a last, when completion becomes a matter of working from one to the other. This trip wasn’t like that. I knew my starting and ending points of course, but I struggled fearfully with the first lines, and I was never sure how the last would read, or whether I’d ever write them. But I did.

From atop the last hill:  Devil’s Slide north of Half Moon Bay.

From atop the last hill:
Devil’s Slide north of Half Moon Bay.

David Lamb knew how it felt. “When you pull into your sister’s home in Half Moon Bay,” he wrote me, “you’ll feel like a hero. And you’ll be one, too.”


23.  The Best Pie

“To David Romanowski –  Who saw the mountain,  and climbed. With admiration.” David Lamb, November 2006

“To David Romanowski –
Who saw the mountain,
and climbed. With admiration.”
David Lamb,
November 2006

I had my best pie after sleeping badly yet again despite the day’s exertion, on a morning I would once again push myself a little farther than I’d gone before. It might have been a private moment, or maybe one I shared. Then I saddled up again and bicycled another mile, went over another hill. Your best pie will differ, but you’ll know it when you taste it. It’s the pie you dreamed about, and then went out and earned. I ate many a slice of pie over three states, 32 days, and 1,356 miles. And I earned
every one.

David Romanowski, 2011

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One Response to The Pies of September

  1. Pingback: My Pacific Coast Bike Tour—Ten Years Later | Bike Walk Drive

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