me and Ivan leaving Portland

Two is better than one…?!?

A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles. – Tim Cahill

I cycled for two months alone, for most of time in the wilderness, days were punctuated by the elements. Hellenic culture listed four: fire, earth, air and water. According to Aristotle in these he added a fifth, ether or quintessence. He considered the essence of the celestial world opposed to the four terrestrial and believed that the ether was eternal, immutable, weightless and transparent. Alchemists even believed that the ether was the compound of the philosopher’s stone.

My ether, my quintessence were my thoughts, the inner dialogue that escorted me; my only company for two months. Is our mind is the real philosopher’s stone? According to many the powers that hides in it are similar.

The route to Vancouver – Seattle – Portland was a small race against time. On the one hand was my need to rest and regroup after the incidents coming to Vancouver as well as to reorganize the equipment.  On the other hand was the need to arrive necessarily in Portland by the 10th of October to be there in time to meet a good friend from Dublin, Ivan, with whom to share the ride to San Francisco (Ivan had his flight back from San Fran set for Oct. 25).

After a filthy, miserable and wet day now wrapped by darkness and completely soaked from head to toe I have come to the house of Ivan’s cousin in Portland and in fact there I found Ivan as well.

A new element in addition to the other five.

We were in Portland for the weekend and we left on Monday for San Francisco through the mountains of Oregon. I thought I would follow the route along the Pacific coast to San Francisco but Ivan has relatives scattered in the mountains of Oregon, California and Nevada and has always wanted to visit them. Hence we opted for a more tortuous route.

Resuming the journey with Ivan was like starting a new venture, in that being the two of us now completely changed the rules of the game, striking the day and all the plethora of habits I had developed over 5,000 km of solo cycling. I could not wait to start the new adventure, to share with someone the joys, the struggles, the hardships and the daily events – and I was glad it was Ivan to accompany me. I knew there lie the potential we could eventually start to detest each other but I also knew that with Ivan I could overcome certain stalls; we’ve been there before on other holidays.

Of couples “outbursts” during travelling and holidays, we all have countless examples.  But a bike trip puts so much of a strain on two people: different speeds, different rhythms, differences on routes to take, when to stop for pictures, when to feed and many other little things that in the long run can make the coexistence fastidious. Alastair Humphreys and Robert Lilwall are a well-known example but among our acquaintances there are Irish friends who have separated during a bike tour and have not spoken for years.

Sharing the road with Ivan was a little like starting a new journey, a holiday atmosphere, a lightness of spirit as if the weight of the voyage was gone from my shoulders. Now I could talk to someone (and not just with myself), laughing, making jokes, commenting on the ever changing landscape.

From Ivan I had to learn to slow down and savour more of the trip now that I had arrived in lands of much warmer climates, and it was in this spirit that we left Portland.

The question that everybody asks me since Ivan left is if we had a fight or if we had problems of “cohabitation”. In fact, there has been some problems: having a deadline for Ivan to return to Ireland we ended up having to grind kilometres quickly enough and this has weighed a little, having to choose the type of route to follow and the need to go occasionally on freeways forbidden to cyclists has created some friction between us. And frankly, there was a half day where we ignored each other for the most part due to differences over the route to take. But nothing as serious as not talking to each other for years or going separate ways on the road.

We arrived in San Francisco together, or rather in Vallejo, as it was there we really separated. Ivan, tired of looking for a way to get to the Golden Gate without entering the freeway, decided to take the ferry that would take him into the heart of the city. When I discovered that the ferry did not stop in Sausalito (the town where entry to the Golden Gate is located), I decided to continue cycling. It would have been stupid to ask Ivan to come with me and impose another eight hours of cycling including four in the dark.  When travelling with someone else I noticed you lose a lot more time and surely it would have taken a lot more if he was to join me, risking us getting to our friends’ well after midnight.

What is the difference between bike touring alone and with a friend? The main difference is having to mediate between the needs of two people the time necessary to do everything dilates a lot. Even the cycling is more wasteful in terms of time, because when you are alone you can handle the speed independently, for example in the morning I tend to be slower, pushing in agility (low gear) and in the afternoon I can push a much higher gear; Ivan tends to be better in the morning and in the afternoon he was sick of being on a bike. Then there are the countless stops, because alternatively each of us had the need to stop for one reason or another and it hardly ever happens that we needed to stop at the same time.

The other important difference already mentioned is the fact that you have a person of flesh and blood to talk to, to be trifled with, making jokes, discussing the landscape and daily events. When you’re alone all these dynamics are part of a long and ongoing internal dialogue.

I noticed that Ivan tended to complain to the nth ramp up of the day, I found it incredibly funny and amusing because when I was alone there were several days when I seemed to always go uphill (in fact elevation data at hand was so) and constantly cursed.  Sometimes not only internally, but screaming my disappointment where there was no possibility that someone would hear me and think I was crazy.

However, I must congratulate Ivan for putting up with and support me for two weeks. I hope that other friends will accompany me for some stages of this Grand Tour of America – who wants to join me?




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