Waking up rested after our say at Neil’s place in Seaside, we saw that at last, nature- and Oregon!- had taken pity on us- and it was a glorious, blue-skied, blazing hot day. We decided not to be overly ambitious with our days’ cycling and set off at a casual pace from the beautiful town, stopping briefly in the bike shop to grab a few bits (brake pads- my back ones are paper thin; gloves for Matt- his hands still haven’t recovered from the nerve damage he’s been experiencing!) Seaside itself is a lovely place and the promenade along the beach is great to ride along- a wide and flat paved strip following the beach, perfect for cyclists.
Once we set off from the town, it was a 2mile climb to open the day- but for the first time, we had a long-awaited tailwind behind us and managed to push our way along fairly easily, before sailing downhill to Cannon Beach. The town at Cannon Beach was beautiful; fairly quaint and obviously tourist-orientated, with rows of cafes, restaurants, gift shops and ice-cream stores lining the high street, and the incredible beach that lay beyond made for an amazing backdrop. We decided to treat Theo and bought him a froggy kite from a little kite shop on the outskirts of the town- with a seriously eccentric and funny long-bearded owner!- before hitting the beach to make the most of the weather and test out our purchase.
The beach had pure white sand and stretched for miles, and the Pacific Ocean looked striking- a vibrant blue, with crushing and tumbling white waves rolling on the shoreline, the main body stretching out flawlessly as far as the eye could see- not a single rock, boat or blip on the horizon, just pure ocean. The sea had formed a ‘spit’, breaking the beach in two, giving us a small, calm section in which Theo could paddle happily. Our lil man seems to have overcome every initial fear he used to hold with regards to the sea: with an almost frustrating lack of fear or regard for the depth or cold, he raced towards the water, tugging me along behind, and begged to go “deeper, deeper Mummy!” His trousers were quickly written off as he plunged straight in; he was absolutely in his element, cheering and laughing and splashing to his heart’s content. He was desperate to cross through the ‘segregation’ to the stretch of beach that lay beyond; however, having watched grown men wade through with it up to their waists, I had to refuse. The sea had carved a deep bed for itself and wasn’t easily conquered: and bar the small waters edge, which was warmed by the sun, it was absolutely icy cold, refreshingly so- but perhaps too ‘refreshing’ for a full-on dip! Theo wasn’t impressed and continued to fight and beg and run off into the water for the duration of our stay. One thing that has to be said for him…he doesn’t give up easily. And appears to have inherited his parent’s sense of adventure and adrenaline-junkie desire to overcome ‘challenges’!! (Or so I tell myself..)
We enjoyed a fair few lazy hours on the beach. Just feeling the warm sand between your toes and splashing at the water’s edge was perfect therapy (in spite of the continual pulling, chasing and begging on the part of Theo- my days of being able to simply lie on a beach and relax, it seems, are long over!) Matt had some success with the kite too: Theo managed to fly it for brief periods, but didn’t seem able to resist running towards the kite, rather than back from it, and as such sent it nose-diving into the sand on more than one occasion!
When we begrudgingly left the beach, we followed Beach Loop Road through Tolovana Park and returned to Highway 101 to continue south. We’d been told in advance that the next 20 or so miles were perhaps some of the most scenic of the Oregon coast, and perhaps the most photographed also: it wasn’t hard to see why. The highway hugged the coastline, climbing up (much to our dismay, given the heat!) to give the most spectacular views along the coastline and out to sea. Frequent viewpoints, turnouts and lay-bys offered every opportunity to make the most of each and every different viewpoint- and the great thing about being on the bikes was that we could literally stop as often as we liked, and did so accordingly! I love being by the sea. I love the openness, space and freedom it seems to promise. That faint salty smell that triggers memories of family holidays and lazy days. We were so incredibly grateful that this incredible weather- that had apparently surprised all and everyone!- gave us the opportunity to appreciate the scenery at it’s very best. Dreary wet days just couldn’t have done this stretch of the ride justice.
The only ‘blip’, or seriously tricky part of the ride, was the Arch Cape Tunnel. As we approached, I took a deep gulp. Long, dark, narrow and worst of all, uphill, it made my blood run cold just to think about going through it. We stopped in front of it to gear up with our lights and reflective gear, before taking a deep breath, hitting the cyclist button to set off the flashing lights, and just going for it.
It was like the Astoria bridge all over again- only darker, and louder. There was no shoulder to speak of, narrow, tight lanes and the climb was steep. The sound of cars rushing through in the opposite direction was deafening and as they whooshed past, the entire tunnel seemed to tremble from the vibrations, sending my bike wobbling uncontrollably under me without rhyme or reason. All I could do was grit my teeth, cling to my handlebars and pedal like mad. I pedaled until my legs felt like jelly and I could barely catch my breath, and yet we were still only just crawling along at a measly 8mph, panting and inwardly cursing with the effort. However, we were extremely fortunate that the driver behind us- a very understanding driver of a small caravan- opted not to overtake us, even when the opposite lane was free, and kept a respectable distance behind through the entire length of the tunnel. I was so grateful- because we find that once one car ventures to risk an overtake, all those behind tend to follow suit! He kept a long queue of cars snaking behind him for the duration of the tunnel; I’m sure one or more were unimpressed with the delay, but I figured they’d soon sort themselves out once they’d emerged on the other side. And thanks to that driver, we made it through safely, with all but my nerves still intact!
Following the tunnel, we crossed into Tillamook county and then started the steep climb up Neahkahnie Mountain. It was a tricky stretch of the highway to navigate, with a slightly narrow (but nonetheless, there!) shoulder and a slow but steady climb that stretched for miles. However, with the sun still shining and a gentle breeze, and the incredible views continuing to stretch out beside us, we were motivated to continue pushing ourselves until we reached the long-awaited top-of-the-hill viewpoint, from which we could clearly see the Nehalem ‘spit’, a stretch of land breaking up the sea’s path inland, and upon which we were to stay for the night.
A downhill ride into Nehalem was a welcome end to our day, and we headed for the Nehalem Bay State Park to take advantage of yet another biker-biker site for the night. As soon as we parked up our bikes in the designated area, however, we discovered once again that it was mosquito-infested. Following our less-than-enjoyable experience at Cape Disappointment, we were anxious to avoid a repeat (my eye had JUST about returned to normal after closing up!) and decided to pass our evening at both the park and then the beach.
Another beautiful beach, decidedly quiet given the beauty of the weather and the wealth of scenery available, and with that same soft white sand, now cool under our tired feet. Theo was calmer too, and happy just to cuddle up with us as the sun set and we huddled on a piece of driftwood to await the stars. Along the beach we could see people lighting campfires, cuddling up on logs or walking along the water’s edge hand-in-hand. Idyllic; peaceful.
There was a small part of me that looked on at the groups of younger travelers, collected around their beach fires with a bottle of beer in hand, with a degree of envy. Although I am finally living out my traveling dream, it is with slight compromises in comparison to how I originally envisioned it to be- my days on the beach are spent chasing Theo and trying to keep him safe, my evenings consumed with seeing to his needs, ensuring he is fed and put down to sleep. I lack the freedom I originally (perhaps romantically) associated with the image of traveling as a whole. Being a traveling parent may mean escaping the mundane routines and realities of a 9-5 lifestyle, but it comes not only with all the inevitable responsibilities of everyday parenting, but also an entirely new set. Theo is utterly dependant upon us every minute of every day, with no chance for relief or respite for either of us, no-one upon whom we can call to lighten the burden. Whereas we can skip meals if we don’t happen to come across a shop, push ourselves an extra 10miles at the end of the day if needed to reach that particular town or campsite, and deal with the extremes of hot and cold- all part and parcel of the experience for many travelers- Theo can’t, and shouldn’t. As such, there are boundaries and restrictions upon our freedoms and the things we are able to do as we travel with him.
Would I change it, though? Absolutely not. Not for a moment. Yes, traveling with a toddler is challenging, perhaps unconventional, full of surprises and a whole host of highs and lows on top of those experienced by the average traveler. But it’s also eye-opening to see how the experience is shaping Theo, and to see the world through his eyes. Seeing the enjoyment and rapture on his face as he discovers something new is worth a thousand solo trips to both of us.
So yes, I’ll confess… moments of jealousy, perhaps, moments of wondering what could or would have been if I had undertaken my traveling dreams before Theo came along…but not a second of regret. It’s hard even to put into words just how immense the experience is- a thousand trials and a thousand triumphs that I had never anticipated, never envisioned or previously experienced. But I do truly believe that this is one of the best things we’ll ever do as parents- for us, and for Theo.
And to anyone else considering anything similar, but unsure of the difficulties associated with traveling with a toddler- I would simply say, go for it. You never know till you try- but I can almost guarantee you’ll surprise yourself.
Miles Today- [coming…left notebook outside…]
Total miles to date- [as above!]