Oct 12 2010

August 16, 2010- The Last Day: Part Two-Lunch

Kate Murr

To report our lunch experience at the Blue Scorcher is to recognize something full and hallowed. On a busy day of doing for the finishing of our adventure, this pause of being (dare I say) transcended the finishing and caused me pause then as it does now. Lunchtime was a huge gift.

Hope and Annie asked us our story when we sat down at the table next to them. We were wearing our vests and removing our helmets, after all, and the kids had run off to the play corner to dinosaur wars, muffin making, and dress-up. We told them ours and asked them theirs and learned they were healers, massage therapists. Annie had been practicing in Astoria since 1979, the year I was born. Hope had not been practicing that long, and she watched Annie, her mentor, with deep sparkle and marked reverence.

On one of my attempts to exhale and relish my gorgeous plate of food, Annie offered to rub my shoulders. Hope offered to massage Stuart. We accepted heartily, sloughed our safety vests, and attempted to sit in semi-relaxed positions at the restaurant table while the Mermaid Chef Princess and Scuba Diver Dinosaur Prince intermittently granting us brief audiences.

We may have blissed out for a few minutes. Annie “oohed” compassionately more than once at the rows of knots along my spine, and I told her she was finding exactly all the sore spots. She laughed and said, “Of course. I have a body, too.”

Her thin body was extremely strong, it turned out, and as she massaged me, she also expertly used it to greet friends when they came into the restaurant. She had a way of intimately greeting people with her eyes, with the extension of her cheek for friendly kisses, with her smile.  The Astoria cross country-coach bounded in on sinewy calves, cracked a joke and gleefully kissed her cheek as she paid special attention to my neck and shoulder muscles, especially the muscles at the base of my skull.

I started to melt and relax as Annie worked and noticed how everyone seemed especially glad to see her. Hope was taking excellent care of Stuart, and when I popped up from my seat to chase Brady out the open door, Hope continued to talk with Stuart and massage his forearms, wrists, fingers, and head. Annie excused herself when I returned with my protesting child in tow, and went to the restroom, met on the way by three or four people who greeted her with hugs. Hope—did I mention her presence? (Her warmth like all the mothers you’ve known with nothing hard to her, only roundness but still something straight like knowing)—looked at me then, when Annie was gone, and swallowed. I think she might have fanned or wiped her eyes if her hands hadn’t been busy. I didn’t ask what was wrong. Annie returned. Annie said she was going home to rest. I imagined her a grey cat in a sunny window. She said goodbye to everyone in the restaurant then kissed Hope square on the lips. The women hugged and said I love you’s, held hands, planned their next date.

When Annie left Hope gushed. She said there are some people you just love. When you’re in their presence everything inside you is happy. Their joy envelops you. She feels this way about her friend Annie—Annie who has cancer again; Annie who just started expensive experimental treatments; Annie who hadn’t massaged anyone in years before me. Annie is so special, she said, every time I get to be with her I am abundantly grateful. Hope was scared of loosing Annie and all the warmth their relationship had become. She set her sadness heavily on the table and didn’t cloak her immense fear; instead, she let the light of her gratitude outshine it.

Hope cried then, but happily. I fetched a napkin and we sat together. Then Stuart and I gathered the children, who immediately warmed up to Hope. They kidded one another, between our several trips to the bathrooms and the now-familiar tug-of-war that comes with preparing children to get on the road. She bought Jane and Brady a Ranger Rick Magazine for the ride to the coast, then said gratuitous goodbyes to us on the sidewalk.

Hope said she would see us again, that we were special, that she was delighted to have met us, that she loved us. We rode away from lunch more relaxed. Timelines and deadlines blurring into the recognition that our path was currently here in Astoria and leading west to the sea, the reachable sea, and a big bronze statue of Seaman and his human companions that marked the trail’s end.

More than a month separated from these experiences, I’ve had time to identify the friends in my own life who fill me with the sense of joy Hope recognized in Annie. They are the great teachers whose stories have somehow intersected with mine, who have shared with me some tremendous state of soul that is profoundly radiant, elevating, and connection making. Or perhaps the condition I feel with these friends is more of a connection sharing, because surely such intrinsic connections exist on their own, without our affirmation, but then glow according to the attention with which we nurture them.

I am awed and thankful now as I was then, but maybe more completely, at the myriad lessons generously demonstrated for us in a single hour of interaction and in the briefest moments of relaxation and sharing. Here’s what I was thinking then, though I didn’t have the words for it, as we shouted “Onward!” for our journey’s final leg as Diana Krall sang “Jingle Bells” (again): “Love is misunderstood to be an emotion; actually, it’s a state of awareness, a way of being in the world, a way of seeing oneself and others.*”

*David R. Hawkings


Sep 18 2010

August 16, 2010- The Last Day: Part 1-Morning

Kate Murr

Monday, August 16 was a huge “day in the life”.  I’ve struggled to write about it, I think mainly because I’m still struggling to understand all that it held. I think that’s OK now, instead of being “just too bad”, and finally this morning, nearly a month later I’ve decided the best thing to do is to unpack  the day in three parts to try to knock off some of the overwhelm shell and shine light on the clear goodness pieces within.

Part 1- Morning

We awoke in soft beds, clean and excited, with the union of the Columbia and the sea just outside our window. The pedaling the day before as we traveled north over the Cascades from Clatskanie had been exhausting, but we had been greeted at the Cannery Pier Hotel in Astoria by a friendly staff and a golden enveloped note that read: “Congratulations upon your arrival at the Pacific Ocean! We are so thrilled you have completed your adventure. We hope you enjoy your final night in this hotel.  From, The Watershed Committee Board Members.” The hotel was an absolute treat, a thoughtful gift from kind and dedicated colleagues. With its stunning views, light ambiance, and gracious hospitality, our Cannery Pier Hotel experience was completely enchanting.

I woke up anxious, though. I had given us a Facebook deadline for finishing. I needed to contact the Astoria and Seaside press. I needed to finish some laundry. This was the day we were finishing. Should we call our mothers? Were the camera batteries charged?

We enjoyed a lovely complimentary continental breakfast in our room and prepared for the day. The bathroom, with its claw-foot tub and open view beyond the bedroom to big ships, foggy water, and an endless arching steel bridge, became my literal office and I buzzed out phone calls and e-mails, news releases and posts, thank you notes and nervous energy.   The kids and Stuart watched Word World. The laundry soaked.

After breakfast the kids and I took a walk along the pier. We watched gull, tern, and duck comedy. We explored an old boat. We talked about what makes a day as we walked toward a dock where salmon were being cleaned and water was boiling in huge cast iron pot.  We made up stories and pirates for the moored, quiet sailboats.

Back at the hotel as we were loading our bikes, we told our story to the morning desk crew, a few guests who were curious about our orange vests, a woman in the parking lot, the hotel manager and the hotel owner.  While we were always happy to share our story all across the country, on this last day, when I had a definite mission and agenda, the telling and retelling annoyed me.  I goaded myself for being annoyed, willed myself to enjoy each moment of such a special day, and tried to remember to exhale.

By the time the kids finally proclaimed our mantra, “Onward!” and we pedaled from the hotel parking lot, it was noon.  I was feeling panicky on top of anxious, because I suspected it would take more than three hours to eat and travel the 22 hilly miles to Seaside, and I, for some reason, had that self imposed schedule to finish by three, never mind that we had just kept a schedule crossing a continent by simply enjoying the moments and not rushing.  Stuart seemed tense too. We snapped at each other on our way through traffic to the Blue Scorcher bakery, a locally sourced restaurant run by bicycling enthusiasts.

At a stop light we told our story. At the cash register we told our story. At our table the ladies next to us asked to hear our story. And finally, at that insistence, the telling finally stopped being annoying—clearly these ladies were lights, moments were unfolding as they would, we were eating bread made with love, the children from the restaurant’s play corner wore diving masks, gloves, and purple capes.  A great crashing of gifts and time commenced. Read about it soon in Part 2- Lunch.


Aug 15 2010

A Day on the Road with the Murrs- Guest blog by Emily S. Cleek

Kate Murr

August 14, 2010

It’s late as I sit down to start this entry, and I feel sleepy, refreshed, peaceful, and… guilty. I just had a nice cool shower after a long day in the sun biking with the Murrs, but when I last saw them, they were sitting at a picnic table loaded up with all their belongings next to their tent pitched in the middle of center field. We had yet to confirm a shower on site at the Clatskanie City Park, and temperatures on the road today brazenly approached 100 degrees, surely more with the waves of heat emanating off of the asphalt. We were all sweaty and a bit tired, but Stuart and Kate smiled with serene smiles as their kids played, and my family and I backed out of the parking lot and headed down the road back to our home in Portland.

We (my husband Billie, two daughters, and I) met the Murrs two days ago, and today they let us share a small piece of their grand family biking adventure. My family just moved to Portland from Springfield, MO a few months ago, and we’d been alerted to the Murrs’ actions from various mutual friends. Inspired by their endeavor, my husband Billie extended an invitation of hospitality when they reached Portland, and dinner plans were made. As I speculated on the meeting, I wondered if they were worn out from the journey that was soon coming to an end, or were they energized from all they have accomplished. They walked into our home with warm smiles and hugs all around, and yes, they looked both tired and energized.

Kate’s enthusiasm and encouragement is contagious, and I just can’t pass up her invitation to join them for a day’s ride before the grand finale. As I have only been biking with my girls around town and not across country, I opt for riding just one day; I don’t want to impede their progress on the home stretch with their end date in sight. Today’s (Saturday, August 14) leg is logistically simple, as they were just north of Portland last night, and my husband- who is unable to participate in the ride due to several broken bones he sustained on an unrelated bike wreck- will be available to shuttle me to the Murrs in the morning and back home at the end of the day.

When we pull into the city park where the Murr family had camped last night, we immediately spot Stuart milling around with Jane and Brady. There’s a bouncy slide set up in the park, and the kids are hopping on over. Stuart supervises the kids’ play time until it’s time to head back to camp to check on Kate’s progress packing up. She’s exuberant when I pull up and she immediately greets me with an enthusiastic hug and starts taking pictures. I’m officially a guest rider for the day! We hang out at the campsite a while chatting, putting together last minute arrangements, and letting the kids run around like kids. It’s time to go; we load up the kids and head out. We make it from the campsite to the parking lot (50 or so feet). Then, we have a brilliant, albeit late, idea. Hey- why don’t we load up your extra gear into Billie’s truck so you don’t have to haul it all for a day? Excellent. So, about 5 minutes later and dozens of pounds lighter, we head out again- each of three adults pulling a Burley trailer with one kid in the back.

We make it down the road a few miles (just 2 or 3) and Stuart turns into a gas station to buy some ice. The kids are already declaring their hunger and the Murr parents don’t encourage mutiny, so we find a little park and have a picnic. Food is good, kids get to run around a little more, Kate and Stuart get to clean up after a toddler accident, we get loaded up again, and we’re back on the road. While we ride, Kate easily chats and my passenger (my daughter Ella) occasionally makes comments/requests- “I want water,” “I want to play.” I already recognize the extra patience it must have taken to cross the entire country, thousands of miles, while still seeing to the whims and needs of two little kids. Schedules are hard to keep, and there are a lot of extra little stops or things to be taken care of. But, Stuart and Kate take all of these things in stride today, and the kids are really great. They nap when they get tired, they sing us songs along the route, and they play and embrace each other with great enthusiasm at our rest stops. They add unmeasurable joy to the trip.

We do a good jaunt after lunch and make it down the road another 18 miles or so until we reach the town of Rainier, OR. Stuart had gotten wind that there would be a festival in town, so he stops and asks the first person he sees where we can find it. We are informed that this particular festival is just a day in which people and businesses all over town have garage sales. Okay, not what we were looking for, but surely a good way to discover some deals if you were in a shopping kind of mood. In Rainier, in search of ice cream instead of deals, we are directed to a great little cafe and have a fabulous treat of freshly made milkshakes, homemade cherry pie, and an order of french fries. True Americana!

Now for the home stretch- after experiencing a day in 90-100 degree heat, I know my limits and have already contacted my shuttle (husband) to be on call in case I can’t keep up with the Murrs on the last 13 miles over the coastal mountain range to their day’s destination. Good call- right out of town is the first incline. Up, up, and up, and the sun’s still blazing. When I start to fear that I’ll see that milkshake again, I know that my day is almost done. About ¾ of the way up the mountain, there is a well-placed scenic viewpoint, and there my chariot (aka Toyota Tacoma) awaits! I huff and puff the final feet, pull into the viewpoint and call it a day. The Murrs, however, still have 12 miles and another small mountain to climb before they’re done. To ease the weight burden, we load Jane up with us, then we head to the next town, Clatskanie, to do reconnaissance and find a spot to camp. We procure a place on the baseball field of the city park next to a half dozen large RVs and one other bicycling couple in a tent. Jane teaches us how to set up the tent: First, you look for pine cones. Then, you look for sprinklers (advice that is followed by a story about setting up camp in a place that had not yet removed the sprinklers and getting a wet surprise). Jane is very helpful and comfortable with the camping living. She gets out her toy bag and starts introducing each of her toys to Ella. It’s been a good day.

And, just like that, Stuart and Kate arrive with little Brady in tow. They’ve finished yet another day on the road. We leave them to rest and recover together as a family. It’s been a long and surely challenging journey for the Murrs, but they seem to be handling it with ease, taking one pedal stroke at a time.


Aug 15 2010

August 5, 2010- Roosevelt Day

Kate Murr

The sprinklers rained on us in the night. Though Dan, the campground host, whom we will later refer to as “Dan the Adventure Guru”, had placed big custom-cut PVC pipe couplers at strategic sprinkler stations, the high pressure spigots sent a spray of water up and over the diverters to our rain fly free tent at about 2am.

I awoke before my soggy family and practiced yoga with the sun and windmills, who were impossibly silent, clean, and hopeful. The periwinkle sky behind them looked to me like a pool of God.

After breakfast and camp packing, Dan pulled his kayak down to the river, which was of amazing interest to the kids. He let them play in the boat that was his vehicle of choice in the summer to cross the river for groceries while he told us stories. Dan has lots of stories because he sailed around the world for 13 years and used to race motorcycles and sailboats. Any story that begins with, “So we were sailing into Bora Bora..” and may or may not include references to cannibalism or diving for lobsters is one I want to hear. Dan instructed that the secret to sailing around the world for so long is to make sure to find a good hull for hurricane season. And then he laughed, because he couldn’t think of anywhere on Earth that might be. In two years, Dan wants to bike cross-country with his daughter to celebrate his 70th and her 18th birthdays.

We had met Peter and Jan the night before, and we stopped by their RV to visit on our way out of the campground. They sold their house five years ago and have been touring the country in their coach ever since. They were curious to hear the stories of another family on the road. Though we had planned to visit briefly then head down the road, the forecast for 100 degree weather coupled with Peter’s invitation to trout dinner made us rethink our plans and stay.

We enjoyed a lazy day of swimming and visiting. Jane and Brady played with the other kids on the beach. At one point, the thermometer in the shade of Peter and Jan’s awning read 105 degrees. We invited Dan to dinner, but he declined because he predicted that the wind would pick up and he would need to be out windsurfing. It took very little arm-twisting to convince Dan to take me out with him for a lesson, during which I experienced brief successes in sailing and a long swim back to shore. Jane tells the story this way: Mommy kept falling down but she got right back up and she sailed just a little bit and had fun.

Dinner was scrumptious because it was made with love. Peter and Jan did most things with love, in fact. As fellow travelers, Peter and Jan extended a special sort of hospitality to these wayward Murrs. And so we spent the night on the RV couch because the sprinkler diverters had all been distributed and we might have drowned otherwise.

Thank you, Peter and Jan.

(Photos to follow.)


Aug 15 2010

August 4, 2010- Captains Lewis, Clark, Hook, and Morgan

Kate Murr

We awoke to bickering crows. I wondered if they were all siblings or lovers. They were relentless in their chit chit chit chit caw chit debate. It occurred to me that we had situated our tent in the middle of the Crow Congressional Hall.

We played with the family-of-ten family all morning. They were all stand-up people, and we each found someone in our age group to share with. I had extremely low energy and napped off and on all morning like a lizard. We all shared a huge watermelon, which was gone in no time.

We finally headed out for our short 20-mile pedal to Roosevelt, Wa. It didn’t seem as hot as the day before and we started to see lazy windmills lining the gorge. Randomly, we followed a trail of road kill carrots all the way to our next campsite.

Note: If you’re taking children to the restaurant/pub in Roosevelt, may I recommend that you don’t take them to the restroom on account of all the “Bares”. The experience left Jane with many questions, including, “Do any of those ladies look like Mommy to you, Daddy?” Besides, the food isn’t that great there anyway, though the signage is humorous and there’s one that promises free beer tomorrow.

We made it just in time to the Roosevelt gas station at the turn to the free Army Corps of Engineer campground. We sat outside the closed station eating popsicles as the sun set in one of those glowing mental photograph moments when the kids were happy and charming and everyone seemed together. Jane sported a fudge pop goatee. Brady got stickier. My popsicle was pepino con chili (cucumber chili) flavored and burned my chapped lips despite it’s iciness.

(Photos to follow.)