American Towns: A Picture Journal: Part 1
This happened in the summer of 2014 but I remember it all like it was yesterday. Every thought, sight, emotion, action. The places I saw, the beauty I beheld, the people I spoke with, the people I saw but never spoke to, the people I observed, the people who observed me, and of course, the food I ate - some were great, some were nasty and junk, but I ate them all the same, because they were fuel for me.
Over the course of the next few days, you’ll be privy to the notes of a sojourning Asian on two wheels across America.
Day 1, Jun 17, 2014: Astoria to Willamina, OR
The first day went by in a blur. I was excited to be getting on the road and covering as much distance as possible, having spent 6 months preparing for this day.
We rode along the magnificent Oregon coast which lined the Pacific Ocean. I had lived in California and ridden along the Californian coast and thought the Californian coast to be beautiful - the Oregon coast somehow seemed more beautiful. Maybe because it’s way more north on the hemisphere and seemed more blue, I can’t be sure.
Having ridden 140 miles, we decided to call it a day. It was a Saturday evening. The first of 39 nights on the road.
We arrived in the town of Grand Ronde. The only accommodation in town was at the Spirit Mountain Casino. Unfortunately, all rooms were snapped up. It’s the weekend in a casino town and people poured in, in droves, to try their luck at the gambling table. We reckoned we were declined a room also because we looked too dirty and poor to be able to pay.
The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community which owns and operates the Spirit Mountain Casino, is a major local employer. I find that strange, in a town where the tribal community places a huge influence in the town - do native Americans gamble? What is it with casinos and gambling and lower income communities? The median income for a household in the town was $23,929, while 19% of the population were living below the poverty line. I would puzzle over this for many days to come, even as I got to Montana later on to discover a similar gambling epidemic in that state.
We turned around and hit a gas station to grab dinner before hunting for another accommodation. Frozen pasta heated in a microwave never tasted so delicious. So much for tasting good food across America.
After fueling up, the sky was pitch dark. We rode another 12 miles in the cool of the night to the nearest bed and breakfast - the Hanson House B&B, a sweet, charming little cottage on a big piece of land. It was dark when we arrived. No food was in sight. Good that we ate at the gas station prior to arrival. We were tired, dirty, in bad need of a shower, and sleep. The price was steep for adventurer cyclists on a budget, and the host explains that a home cooked breakfast of sizzling bacon, scrambled eggs, warm scones and hot coffee and tea was included in the price - ah, that’s awesome, we said, but we have to leave early tomorrow morning and wouldn’t get to enjoy breakfast, so was it possible to cut us a discount? No, she said, so we paid up in cash, loaded our bikes at the backyard and showered. We woke up at 5am and were out of the door before 6am. No time for breakfast which would only be served at 9am. At that point we didn’t feel like we were missing out - we had a bigger mission ahead of us - getting to the East Coast of the United States. No doubt, it was a beautiful B&B which we didn’t get to enjoy. Note to self: Come back again for a relaxed experience.