800 Miles in 8 Days to Fight Cancer
Words by Jake Szymanski
Photos by Jake Szymanski and Randall Fransen
We were riding our usual Sunday kind of base mile century back in March when Mike said something that took me by surprise. Something I never thought anyone else would be invited to do, let alone me. To be asked was an honor and at the same time, daunting. A real stretch. Could I do it? Who knows, but for one reason or another my brain didn’t even stop to think about it. “Heck yes, I’ll go!” Were the first words out of my mouth.
This “Mike” is Michael Tabtabai, a friend and the same guy that in 2013 rode across the country in 24 days as an epic retaliation against cancer and the loss of a family member. That’s an average of 140 miles per day with no rest days. The kind of time on the bike that can change you as a person. He called it Leave It On The Road.
The plan for 2015 was to bring friends and fight cancer with our bikes and cameras by raising a heap of money through the sale of cool gear and donations to give to City of Hope. And so it was. Started on October 15th, 2015 and rode 800 miles in 8 days from Portland to San Francisco. Below is my take on some favorite things that happened each day.
Portland, OR > Lincoln, City, OR—120 mi / 6200 ft—Strava
No surprise here. We met at the same coffee shop we start almost every ride at. Barista on NW 13th & Hoyt in the Pearl District. It was a little chilly, but just the kind of morning you want to start with a nice climb on the bike. It was almost like a little parade for us on this mostly pedestrian street with all our friends, loved ones and a few friends joining us for the first few miles or day of riding rolling out. In total, I think there were eleven of us. Four friends to send us off. We took so many pictures, collectively ate in excess of a dozen scones and were off.
We flew, literally from Portland to the coast. No, silly! Not on an airplane. On our bikes! Down hills, through wine country, over the Cascade Range via the beautiful Nestucca River Road, which is where things got real. The one climb alone is 2,000 ft. get from inland to coastal. Only a broken chain and one flat held us back. Snack highlights included beef jerky and donuts.
Day one was long and a big way to start the trip. We went through pretty much every climate zone from cool to warm Portland, sunny wine country and back road climbs to a chilly, foggy coastal arrival. We made it to Lincoln City as the sun was setting, hit the hotel and promptly staggered over to the next-door Mexican restaurant for some super nachos and fajitas.
Lincoln City, OR > Reedsport, OR—99 mi / 5200 ft—Strava
As we got our first clear views of the Oregon coast, our eyes were peeled for seagull, sea otters, sea views and the like. Our route headed past Devil’s Punch Bowl and climbed into the clouds powered by the 2×4 of eggs, hashbrowns, bacon and stack of pancakes we devoured from Pig ‘N Pancake. I would continue to conquer this same breakfast at various different diners every morning for seven days straight. Some small coastal towns and foggy views were the kind of riding I expected. Our friends were supporting us via a rental minivan and a cherry VW Westy. So lucky to have them. We’d stop about every 30-40 miles to refuel and adjust wardrobe for the weather. Looking at the weather, we began to dread rain for our third and fourth days. Day 2 was a pretty steady cruise with ocean views, a few seals and tons of fog. We felt good, spirits were high. We had made it through the second day without much drama.
Reedsport, OR > Gold Beach, OR—111 mi / 5600 ft—Strava
A lot of fender adjusting and a little whale watching got us going. We discovered that McDonald’s for breakfast is actually good bike food and that you can cobble together the desired 2×4 from various menu items. A mechanical at mile 60 lead us to split into two groups. Four going ahead to beat the sunset and three behind to wait for the bike. I stayed. We got going and hammered for two and a half hours through the rain. Eventually we heard that we were just 10 minutes back from the first group that had left a full hour ahead of us. We buckled down and chased with the hopes of surprising them or finding a shortcut to beat them to the hotel. After pinning it for another hour and some heroic strength on the front from @patrickmarzullo, we caught them! That left us to roll in after dark through beautiful, wet back beach roads to our hotel. It was magic. Our world had gone from an intense dark Highway 101 shoulder with cars flying by to serene one-lane, potholed asphalt. My favorite. It was a big day and our legs knew it. Walking across the parking lot to our rooms was excruciating. Our bodies were starting to transform, to get better at riding a bike than walking, but we didn’t know it yet. Our bodies just hurt. Extreme quantities of pizza were consumed while lounging in sweatpants in our hotel room.
Gold Beach, OR > Orick, CA—95 mi / 5500 ft—Strava
California! Here we are! And my legs were really starting to hurt. They say when riding this much over and over, your body eventually hits a wall it has to go over. It sucks. And then it goes over it. It takes a while, but eventually everything is fine. Today was that day. My legs forgot that pedaling happens in a forward motion. Everything ached. This was the moment that the purpose of this ride really hit me. I had no choice, but to keep going, to push through the pain and make it happen. It was a small thing compared to what those with cancer go through, but this was my version. It’s what I could do. Some easy spinning and an extra large dose of cookies and maple shots got me through the day. What started as coast roads gave way to zen blasting forest climbs. There was a moment where I reached an epiphany of rhythm while climbing out of the saddle. I’m not sure how it happened, but I almost forgot I was on the bike, it felt like we were just one thing moving together. All the pain in my arms and legs melted and gave way to the feeling of a well-oiled machine. After some welcome smooth pavement and bombing descents, we coasted downhill. Through some baby redwoods we found the end of our ride and the cabins we’d stay in for the night, which also happened to be an Elk reserve. A herd was waiting for us when we arrived. So crazy. Dinner came in the form of a bizarre little diner and a waiter wearing a stormtrooper all-over print t-shirt. Five orders of onion rings were made.
Orick, CA > Miranda, CA—105 mi / 43 ft—Strava
Dinner the previous night was so good, we went back to see the stormtrooper man again. This time ate our usual 2×4 and got ready to conquer the armpits of northern California. By “armpits” I mean towns. The kind that exist in between 80 miles of awful highway shoulder riding. Our entire day. Until we dropped off a little green-signed exit ramp that read, “Avenue of the Giants”. We had made it to the Redwoods. Magical is the only word I can conjure to describe it. Until the sky began to pour cold rain on our backs and into our shoes, then it was just epic. I made and overly positive bet that the sun would crack through the clouds. It almost didn’t. And then it did! Hence the picture. I have to apologize for the lack of Redwoods pictures, but sometimes the ride is too good to take pictures. You just have to get your hands on the bars, put power in the pedals and enjoy the ride.
Miranda > Little River, CA—92 mi / 8000 ft—Strava
We had almost zero reception all day. It’s probably a good thing because the climbs were sublime and the descents something I’ve only dreamt of. If you live anywhere near San Francisco, it’d be worth looking at Strava for our route and heading up there to replicate it some day! Every day of the ride had begun to blur together. I could barely remember where we’d been or on what day what happened. It didn’t matter. We were in the zone, the vortex, on a trip, zoning out, getting zen or whatever you call it.
Little River > Bodega Bay, CA—94 mi / 7700 ft—Strava
We spent all day screaming through dozens of Mendocino County corners and rollers. The roads are beautiful in this area. Our rhythm and stoke were high. We finished the day after some tough climbing near the end and failing to locate a fresh slice of pizza.
Bodega Bay > SF, CA—72 mi / 4700 ft—Strava
This was it! The last day! It was a super foggy morning with more amazing views. Just south of Bodega Bay were tons of farm fields and cattle that got me thinking about what I’d eat after finishing the day. Cheese curds. Definitely cheese curds. Moving on, we climbed and guided our way to Point Reyes where we met up with Sacha White from Speedvagen and a few more friends. Going into full coffee ride mode, we rolled through Sausalito to find some mochas before finally arriving at the Golden Gate Bridge.
All proceeds from donations and Leave It On The Road products go to City of Hope and fund cancer research and treatment. Shop or donate here! http://www.leaveitontheroad.com/shop