Wow! Our first day riding in Mexico, after being benched by a windstorm on Christmas was simply fantastic. We were expecting 10-20 mph crosswinds, but all the wind was way up high where the low hanging clouds were racing by just above the peaks of the surrounding mountains. The moving clouds entertained us all day long with a continuing display of shadows and sun and rain spots. It may have been chilly, we may have gotten wet, and we might even have gotten a bit of hail, but the incredible scenery and downhill riding more than made up for it. The dozens of waves from the friendly Mexican drivers were a warm welcome to the country, and the courtesy and caution of the drivers (especially the semis) catapulted them into the upper echelon of the driver quality list. The enthusiastic fist pumping we got from a semi driver as we were going over a speed bump together was simply over the top awesome. Ending the day in a $16 warm, comfortable hotel with WiFi in a cute and colorful town was icing on the cake. These pictures won’t do justice to the beauty we experienced today, but they can give a taste.
The other night we were the beneficiaries of some more fantastic AZ hospitality as we were invited to sleep inside a small family-run winery. We get a lot of questions on our trip, mostly about how much our gear weighs (no idea) and how many miles we do per day (30-50), where we’re from (you should know that), etc. While hanging out with the owners of the winery we were asked a surprisingly new question, and one that inspired me to think.
“What has surprised you on your trip? What sort of changes have happened to you that you weren’t expecting?”
I had to think for a second, but my main response was that we were surprised to have become much more in touch with the moon. With all the camping we do, we have gotten very well acquainted with the lunar cycle. I had very much expected to spend a lot of time looking at brilliant starry nights, but I hadn’t thought much about the moon before starting this trip. I was surprised to find the opposite to be true. There is so much light pollution everywhere these days that the brilliant splash of the Milky Way I recall from childhood has been rather elusive. The good ol’ moon also tends to inhibit stargazing where the light pollution doesn’t exist, not to mention clouds and cold nights. However, the moon is all-important as its light, or lack thereof often dictates how late we can ride (full moons mean we don’t have to worry about setting up camp in the dark) and where we camp (deep dark nights mean we can be less hidden in stealth situations). A moonlit desert is also quite the work of beauty. When we “discovered” through observation that the moon rises about 40 minutes later each day we couldn’t believe this wasn’t basic knowledge to us. But of course, as children you don’t think about it as much. The moon is either out or not. Some nights are lit up and others are pitch black, and sometimes you see the moon during the day. Once I got to the age where I might think about it, I was living in cities where it is not much a part of life and never camping long enough to watch an entire lunar cycle.
In addition to the moon, you also gain a much greater feeling for the weather. Wind suddenly matters so much more. A 7 mph wind can mean an incredible or a torturous day if it’s SSW or simple S. In fact, we stayed put on Christmas Day because a 20-30 mph wind would have been blasting us in the face all day long. You start to feel every little current of wind, even when you are not riding. In the desert, where we have been riding the past two months, you can notice slight variations in humidity and know immediately that your tent will be sodden come morning. These aren’t really new things. Centuries of farmers would laugh at our “enlightenment”, but it is new to us.
Being a cyclist outside most of the day, you start to notice many other small things you wouldn’t have otherwise noticed, such as the creaking clunking noise the highway guardrails make when expanding in the morning sun. The abundance of life in seemingly empty places is also startling, and the variety of insects is simply incredible. Luckily we have been able to mostly avoid the biting kind, but all sorts have been sighted from weird beetle things to walking sticks; mantises; all sizes of grasshopper from super fatty to itsy bitsy; bees galore; flies of all shapes, sizes and color; moths and butterflies filling the desert with color; dragonflies and so on. Then there is the wildlife. A bicycle is like stealth mode animal attack. They can’t hear you until you’re right on them, and then when they do see you, they often have never seen anything like it, so they stare curiously. You get a lot of up-close views of birds as you flush them out of their bushy hiding places next to the roads. There were a preposterous amount of mice on the ride from Tucson to Douglas, which explains the nighttime sock caper. I heard the tiny crashing as they ran deeper into the grass almost every 100 feet, although I never once actually saw one of the sneaky little punks. Thanks to the healthy population of rodents, huge hawks are prolific along the roads of southeastern Arizona and they never ceased to put on a wheeling show as we passed.
As we are reaching the end of our time in Arizona, and therefore, the United States, I have decided that it is also time to give a quick update as to what we have been up to in the past few months, so that this blog can take on a more current status. I have several more in-depth posts in mind about some of what we’ve been doing, but for now, a more succinct update.
My latest post left off in in Seattle where we stayed a few days mainly catching up on admin tasks and hanging out with friends. Seattle seemed like a cool town and one I’d like to spend more time exploring, but we didn’t have much time to do so before going off to cycle the Olympic Peninsula. We didn’t die up there, despite the best efforts of the log truck scum, and we ended up meeting a really nice recently retired fellow and spent some time with him. He took us to Oregon where we did a bit more riding and then spent a week in Portland enjoying the company of some of my old friends from when I lived there. We took a rideshare out to bend, with the bikes in their most precarious position yet, strapped to the roof of a Prius. You can imagine the look on my face when this dude pulls up with a tiny hatchback filled with people and luggage, but it worked!
I wrote about the ride from Bend over to my old college buddy, Araby’s place in Corvallis. Once there we were starting to feel the crunch of time with all of the visits we had planned and the Phish shows in San Fran coming up soon. We also found out Araby actually liked Phish, but had never seen a show. It was decided that we would borrow her car to run down the coast to visit some friends and family, and come back in time to take her to her first show at the tour opener in Eugene. This also freed up some time for us to do some backpacking and we spent a couple of nights on the stunning Lost Coast in southern Humboldt County. I will DEFINITELY write about this trip!
After the good times at the Phish show, we caught a train down to SF where we hung out with some other great friends and family, all of whom showed us superb hospitality. We had such a good time with everyone down there, and then saw three top-notch shows at Bill Graham, at the same time that the SF Giants were winning the World Series. Somewhere in this SF time we managed to get over to Placerville for a music festival, and down to Santa Cruz to visit my aunt. In a serendipitous aside, I broke my mirror while packing it up for the train, but actually groundscored a functional, albeit cracked, mirror on the ride down there. Sometimes the road really provides exactly what you need.
After SF, we got back on good ol’ Amtrak out to Truckee, famous for the Donner Party, and met up with a friend who took us to Vegas where we stayed at a party house with a bunch of other Phish friends for the Halloween shows. These were epic, obv, and the day after the final show, we finally got back on the bikes to make the ride to Phoenix.
Part of the reason for this trip had been having the freedom to go out and visit and reconnect with people we hadn’t seen in years. On this front, we had done well. Since we quit our jobs we hadn’t spent much more than a week without visiting with some friends or family, even when we were in Hawaii. However, another major point of this trip was for the freedom of open-ended travel. When you don’t have to get back to an airport to get back to a job, you can suddenly go at your own pace and spend as much or as little time as you wish exploring a place. Travel without deadlines is the key. Unfortunately, we’d failed miserably at this. Our hyperactive personalities forced us into creating an aggressive schedule that required us to always be on the go, with little room for exploration. We had fun, but had also built in too much stress. Our schedule was mainly built around music events, and the Halloween shows were the last of them. We were finally free!
The open, easy-going ride to Phoenix was incredible. We met tons of great people and started falling in love with Arizona, much to my surprise. We did it all, gravel, small highways, interstates, Route 66. Phoenix would be our last major stop before we crossed the border, and we limped into town with several bicycle issues to attend to, in addition to some admin things. We actually have several friends, and some family, so we spent quite a bit of time hanging out and getting out of shape. My mother even came for a week, so we rented a krr and got to see even more of the state – Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Prescott, Grand Canyon, Flagstaff and Sedona. BTW, don’t ever use Dollar! We’v had terrible luck with them both times we’ve tried to use them.
We capped off our Phoenix time by spending a few days hiking in the Superstition Wilderness, which was mind blowing. We are now back on the road and heading south, hopefully to some warm nights for a change!
We have been in Arizona almost two full months and assuming we make it across the border in a couple days, Arizona will be the first state we’ve actually cycled all the way through. We have plenty of stories to tell you about Arizona including tavern camping, sleeping in a winery, riding over a mountain on gravel with a broken rack, Grand Canyon during an inversion, a midnight sock caper, etc… But all that will need to wait until a future date. We have a state to finish and a border to cross!
The ride out of Sooke was again a smooth one along the Galloping Goose and Lochside Trails. I should note, however, that there are three spots where bridges over roads had been removed when the trail was built. It is quite a surprise after several miles of 2% maximum grade to suddenly drop into a gully and have to pop back up a 10%+ grade on gravel. It may have been even steeper because there was no possibility of riding. My bike with all the weight on the back was especially fun to push because the light front end coupled with the slight offset of me standing on the side and utter lack of traction made the bike naturally glide right off the side of the trail. I’m not going to say I did any cursing, but I’m not going to say I didn’t. Obviously we were expecting it on the way out, so it wasn’t as bad.
The ferry out of Canada was loaded with touring cyclists, from the crazy young Brits heading wherever south with cobbled together equipment to the large elderly group on folding bicycles doing a week-long supported tour. The computer on the American side had broken down, so they almost left the foreigners behind in Canada. When we got to the States, the customs guy was standing there holding a bridge hand’s worth of passports while radioing into another office to run the information. We were the last and by the time he got to us he was looking pretty weary and in the mood to get the hell out of there. Us too.
We had hoped to find a decent spot to stealth camp just outside the ferry terminal, but the topography was all wrong, so we opted for a fairly nice hiker/biker site at the nearby Washington County Park. We had dreaded climbing the massive hill out of the terminal and wanted to save it for morning when we were fresh, but when we climbed it that night, it was much easier than we had remembered. The campground was on a dead end at the bottom of a huge hill, so we got to have our morning climb anyway.
Our first hill out of the campground the next morning would be a pale comparison to things yet to come. The rest of the way to Whidbey Island was an onslaught of steep hills. Brandy was ready to kill me because my map-based hill predictions were consistently off. Well, not exactly. Wherever I said there would be a hill, there was a hill. It’s just that there were a lot more hills in between those hills. I was a bit confused about why the cycling map chose to show some hills and not other, more odious ones, but I was happy to have a cycling map at all.
The geologic history of the area as a heavily glaciated subduction zone has led to some very interesting island shapes. Whidbey Island is very long and quite narrow is some spots with many knobby protrusions, and you know I’m a sucker for strangely shaped landmasses. It has been claimed to be the longest island in the continental US, which is, of course, a preposterous claim to anyone who has lived in New York. It is the fourth largest though, which I found surprising considering that I’d never heard of it before this trip. It is also topographically challenging, so we enjoyed several more solid climbs through the rest of the day. Cycling was a bit of a hassle owing to the fact that your options were either massive, steep hills with lots of extra miles, or a highway with an inordinate amount of traffic of some of worst drivers we’d yet encountered in the PNW.
We took side roads as much as possible, but hopped on the highway at points to avoid the >>> on the map, indicating mega hills. We seemed to have more or less chosen the reverse of a classic car rally route as there was a consistent flow of old-fashioned cars heading in the opposite direction, complete with passengers in period dress.
We ended our day at South Whidbey Island State Park where we had some nice hiker/biker sites secluded from the regular camping next to a trail along some cool bluffs. Another cyclist showed up after we’d gotten settled in and we shared our hot dinner with him and he brought over a local beer in a large-format bottle. Yes!
Smugglers Cove Road (I’m also a sucker for cool road names) out of the park was a dream, but we were a little disheartened by how tough things had been the previous day, and not really looking forward to a day of suburban cycling into Seattle (Brandy the former, Lewis the latter). We have a bit of mental disconnect we need to work on to improve our cycling moods. We both have different conditions that affect our headspace, which can lead to one of us bringing the other down and negative attitudes. Brandy is frustrated by surprise hills and terrain that is tougher than it seems like it should be. I absolutely despise suburban riding and am greatly affected by driver behavior. As of writing this in November, we’ve gotten way better at dealing with each other’s negativity flashpoints, but it is always an ongoing process when cycling with others.
The ferry to the mainland dropped us into Mukilteo, a huge suburb with a nice, big climb out of the terminal on a busy highway. We participated in some delay tactics by lounging around at an ice cream shop at the terminal.
When we could no longer put off the pain, we began the long climb along the busy highway out of the terminal. As my patience with traffic is short, I led us off the first opportunity to flee the horrible highway and butted right into a hill of biblical proportions. As I ground the million percent grade at about 0.01 mph, I didn’t dare look back. I could feel the daggers of Brandy’s eyes in my spine well enough. The bicycle maps provided by the counties in the area are generally quite good, but in this case, there was no >>> for this >>>>>>. Of course, this >>>>>> meant this < the rest of the way into Seattle, so we had that. However, the next several miles through Mukilteo and Lynnwood were a suburban nightmare of high-speed multi-lane roadways, strip malls and heavy, aggressive traffic. The guy who slowed down to give us the thumbs up on our trip was a boost, but that was more than wiped away by the scumbag who swerved at me and then yelled at us to get where we belong when I calmly asked him why he did that. Ass. That experience makes me hope to never see the borders of those towns again.
Once we got to the I-5, we were able to finally hop on a nice trail most of the way into the city. It was fairly well signed, except at one point where we missed our turn and got to enjoy a nice, unnecessary hill. After finding our way back to the trail, we ran into our friend from the night before and rode with him the next several miles. He had gotten lost as well and got to enjoy the same little detour we had
Riding through Seattle was easy enough and we got to our friend’s place in Capitol Hill without incident. I was in a pretty negative mood at this point, so we promptly went out for drinks at a funky bar after a quick dinner and shower.
We met some kids at the bar who were on an adventure of their own. They had ridden across the country on 30+ year-old motorcycles. We invited them over to our friend’s rooftop which has amazing city views and had a fun after party with them chatting about travel and adventure and life. This was exactly what I needed to erase all of my negativity and renew my travel excitement. I got to feel the serendipity of their day ending in a place they never would have expected, and my day ending with some people I would never have expected. This is exactly why I travel. You can have the worst, most defeating day and it can still end at the top of the world sharing the mutual energy of beautiful people randomly entering your life.
We got up nice and late the next morning and had a lovely breakfast together before attacking Mount Constitution. We lounged around enjoying the fact that we had the WHOLE day with no place to go, until we realized that we’d better get our asses in gear if we were actually going to make the hike. The trail to the summit took us through a beautiful old-growth forest with some massive cedars and Douglass Firs. Big tree forests are truly special places. The really big ones stand stoic and you can almost hear their bulk and age as they loom over you. They certainly command respect. The air is dense. You blood is slow. Everything feels old, even the saplings. Perhaps you are sensing their future.
We have a couple vistas on the way up and despite the haziness, the 360-degree view from the top was spectacular, which is no surprise because Mt. Constitution is the highest point on the San Juan Islands. Islands littered the sea around us and jagged mountains were visible in the distance. This was our first view of the Olympics we’d be cycling through in a couple weeks.
We got back to the campground to find that two other sites had been taken by cyclists. One was a couple that didn’t seem too interested in being social, and the other was a British guy in his 50s at the beginning of his first bicycle tour. He was very lightly loaded and without cooking gear, so we cooked a little extra and shared our warm dinner with him. He too had been owned by the hills coming in, so we did not feel as bad about our own battering.
For some reason I had assumed that since the interisland ferries were so frequent, the same would be true for getting to British Columbia. After breakfast with the Brit, we discovered that the ferry schedule to Canada was much more limited and we needed depart immediately and with haste.
On the way down the massive hill out of the park, my front brake cable snapped. This was a fortuitous location for such an event because I knew that there was no stop sign or crazy curve at the bottom, so I could coast it out with tender pulses on the rear brake without worry about impending death.
When we got to the bottom of the hill, the car behind us passed and told us that Brandy had dropped something. We figured out that she dropped her rain booties she’d spent so long to make! I made the quick decision to leave her to hitchhike back to the top while I ran to town so I could get a start on fixing the cable and we might still make the ferry.
With the replacement from the town bike shop, I made a flash repair. I did a piss-poor job and it was a bit squishy, but it worked. Brandy showed up just in time and we bolted out of there. We raged it over the hills and discovered the climbing was much more gentle on the way out, but our pace took its toll on my joints.
We made it! Just in time… to find out the ferry had been canceled due to mechanical failure. We were stuck; hosed. We’d have to wait until the next day, which meant losing a day with my cousin, whom I was meeting in Victoria. Despite missing the ferry, our timing was fortuitous. It wasn’t long after we arrived that a massive rainstorm blew through. We were told that it was a freak storm and the buckets of rain that drenched the area were not typical at all. From the warmth of a coffee shop I sent out a couple quick last-minute requests to Couchsurfers on one of the neighboring islands that would position us for a more convenient access to Canada the next morning.
We were fortunate enough to get a quick response from Brendan, another old-school CSer who was also a bit of a jaded vet like us and had only recently put his couch back on after a lengthy hiatus. The inter-island, not to Canada ferry was filled with soaking wet cyclists who’d gotten caught in the storm and we felt so civilized and dry. We filled my growler (yes, I’m carrying a stainless steel growler on this trip) and climbed up the much less intense hill to Brendan’s place and had a great evening with him.
We had an uneventful ferry ride over to Canada the next morning where we were waved through by a smiling elderly border guard. The 20 or so miles into Victoria took us through a bit of farmland and a lot of suburbs, but we were spared the indignity of sharing the space with krrs thanks to the excellent and well-signed trail that switched from off-road trails to tiny side streets and back and forth.
We stopped at this really cool bike shop, the Recyclistas Bicycle Coop, to have a look at my brakes and also grab a couple screws for Brandy’s brakes. We chatted with the dudes there for a while and they gave us some restaurant recommendations and invited us to bike polo later that night.
We stopped for some grub at one of their other recommendations, a brewpub on the water, but that turned out to be fairly mediocre. Thankfully we still followed their pointer to the sushi restaurant because that would turn out to be the best sushi we’ve ever eaten, hands down.
After getting settled in at the cheapest hostel in town, we met my cousin Diana and her partner Orin at the soon to be named best ever sushi restaurant. Despite coexisting on the same planet for 33 years, Diana and I had never met, so it was really cool to get together and talk about each other’s respectively mysterious branches of the family over some amazing raw fish. Did I mention that the sushi restaurant was awesome? Part of why it was great was the salmon, which tasted like nothing we’d ever had before. We were later told that it was probably fresh Sockeye. Yes, my east coast friends, there are several different types of salmon.
After dinner, we were feeling lazy, but knew I would regret it if we didn’t go to the bike polo meet up. We showed up a bit late in the evening, but I still got to have a round. I had seen bike polo many years ago and had wanted to try it since and finally got my chance. I LOVED it. It is extremely challenging and heavily strategic. It felt like the physical aspect was much more technical than endurance, so I could play all day without being exhausted. Of course, that could also be because of the low level at which I was playing. The next time we have a stable home I will definitely try to get involved with polo.
We spent the next day hanging out with Diana and Orin driving out to a small town out on the Pacific coast. Port Renfrew is an isolated logging town, that was at the end of the road until they built a cross-island connector a couple years ago. It has also become a tourist destination as there are a lot of nice spots nearby and is the terminus of the Juan de Fuca Trail. We got into another lovely grove of old-growth trees called Avatar Grove, which seems to have very recently been “developed” as a tourist destination by some local conservationists who were concerned about possible logging. Port Renfrew is nice, but we were regretting not packing a lunch when we discovered the astounding prices at the couple of available restaurants and ended up munching on white bread and cold cuts from the sparsely shelved store.
Back in 2012, shortly after the Guyana trip where we formulated the plan for this trip, we hosted a blacksmith from Canada who was participating in the Tough Mudder competition. We resolved to visit him if we made it to Vancouver Island on this trip, so we rode the awesome Galloping Goose Trail out to Justin and his father’s forge in Sooke. We spent a few days at his parents’ B & B relaxing, hanging out, playing board games and taking a couple nice hikes.
Check out Justin and his dad, Marty’s shop. They do a ton of cool stuff. Justin gets a lot of commissions to do Star Trek weapons.
We meet so many awesome people through our online hospitality communities and travels in general, but the vast majority of the connections we make are brief singular encounters as they or we continue onto the trails. Rarely do we cross paths again, so we are left with a momentary impression completely colored by the circumstances of each other’s lives and the place and time. Such is the life of the traveler. It is always (well, thus far) a delight to reconnect with someone on their home turf, or in another continent far away.
This post reminded me of someone’s blog I read who had a “continent club” for people he’d met up with on multiple continents. My multi-continent club is so far quite small. Brandy is the only person in my four-continent club, naturally. I believe there is also only one person in my three-continent club. My buddy Nick, whom was in my exchange program in Budapest and I saw a few times in the States, accompanied me to the Asian side of Istanbul where he bought bunk AA batteries for his camera, “ohh, I didn’t realize these were Kordak!” There are too many people to mention in the two-continent club, but I’m sure I’ll have to get all nerdy and make a list sometime.
What are your experiences meeting up with friends in random spots?