After a long train ride out West, we spent some great times traveling around Washington, British Columbia and Oregon by train, bike, bus, krr, boat, foot and dogsled. Ok, not the last one. We met lots of friends, old and new, and spent time in stunning natural beauty.
Idaho (Aug 29) Transit only
We passed through Idaho on the train to Seattle.
Washington (15 nights: Aug 29-Sep 3; Sep 8-18)
|Distance cycled:||326 mi / 524 km / 2,117,849 RJP|
|Elevation gained:||15,147 ft / 4,617 m|
|Elevation lost:||15,129 ft / 4,611 m|
Our route took us from Seattle up to Vancouver Island, British Columbia via the San Juan Islands, back to Seattle and then around the Olympic Peninsula. We cycled through incredible beauty in Washington and met really great people there. We also had some of the more challenging days of our trip so far in that state, both physically and mentally. We added the Olympic Mountains to our growing “must revisit with more time” list, but do not really recommend cycling the Olympic Peninsula. I had been looking forward to that ride for quite a while, but in the end it did not deliver. It was a nice ride, but the scenic views were too few and far between to be worth putting up with the absolutely horrible log truck drivers. These guys to date constitute the very worst group of people we have encountered on our trip, by a very wide margin. We felt in danger the entire time we were there and it is only a matter of time before someone is killed by their willful negligence.
We chose the perfect time to visit western Washington because the rains had not yet started and there was an unbelievable amount of apples, pears and especially blackberries available for picking on the side of the road.
The ferries throughout the San Juan Islands were a nice treat, although we didn’t see any whales. Orcas Island claimed both of our brake failures. On a steep downhill, Brandy lost a screw, which dropped the pad it was supposed to hold in place. This is a serious design failure in some otherwise excellent brakes. Luckily she was able to find the pad and poached a screw from another, less crucial spot. I had a brake cable snap while coming down a very large hill. Luckily I had been on the road previously and knew I could coast it out without worrying about some busy junction or crazy potholes. I would find out in a couple months that I had made a serious rookie mistake of not investigating why it snapped (hint: that should never happen).
British Columbia (5 nights: Sep 3-8)
|Distance cycled:||85 mi / 136 km / 549,770 RJP|
|Elevation gained:||2,155 ft / 657 m|
|Elevation lost:||2,178 ft / 664 m|
We had a short, but sweet visit to Vancouver Island. The cycling was fantastic and almost entirely on trails. Our host in Sooke, Justin had been a Couchsurfing guest of ours in NYC back in 2013 right after we first decided to take this trip. We stayed at his parent’s beautiful B & B / blacksmith shop and had a good time catching up.
Victoria is a cute, but pricey town where we had the best sushi of our lives and our first intro to bike polo! I think this town has some good soul, but we just weren’t there long enough to get too far into it. My cousin came down to meet us and we took a krr trip out to the isolated tourist town of Port Renfrew. Everyone says this part of the island is incredibly beautiful. It is definitely pretty, but I was a bit underwhelmed, perhaps because the coast here is so much like Lake Superior so the scenery was not much of anything new for me. We got some more time with BIG trees, which is always magical.
Vancouver Island is HUGE. We only got to see a tiny part of it. Hopefully we’ll get a chance for further exploration in the future.
Oregon (23 nights: Sep 18-Oct 9; Oct 16-18)
|Distance cycled:||215 mi / 346 km / 1,398,469 RJP|
|Elevation gained:||4,340 ft / 1,323 m|
|Elevation lost:||7,926 ft / 2,416 m|
I had not been back to Oregon since I lived there in 2008, so I was excited to come back to this place I loved, but I was also nervous that it might have changed, or I might have changed or my expectations would prove ruinous in one way or another. I am happy to report that Oregon withstood the scrutiny. Portland was as comfortable and welcoming as ever. I was a bit disappointed to find that the city seemed to have stagnated a bit in terms of cycling infrastructure and ridership. Portland was still high on its early cycling successes when I lived there and there was so much optimism about capturing an even greater share of travel. They hadn’t backshifted, thankfully, but there did not seem to be much new, aside from a sweet car-free bridge they were about to open. People I spoke with in the industry seemed a bit disheartened about some negative governmental changes and lack of energy. The low-hanging fruit has been picked and the momentum doesn’t seem to have been enough to take it to the next level. Nevertheless, it is still an awesome city for cycling. I was not at all surprised after six years living in New York to find Portland much smaller and quieter than I remember.
I was not at all let down in the brewery department. There are tons of good ones and we even took a brewery bike crawl one day. On the west coast I discovered that it’s not that I don’t like IPAs, I just don’t like crappy, stale East Coast IPAs. The difference is night and day. On the flipside, IPAs are great on the West Coast, but the diversity seems to be a bit limited. Everyone makes great IPAs, but not much else. It could be worse though, it could be 1976 and everyone could be making light American lagers only.
We also made it down to Bend, and so did our bikes despite being strapped to the top of a Ford Focus. The town was a little more car-oriented than I expected, but we had a nice time, and again, the breweries did not disappoint. The ride over the mountains to Corvallis was spectacular and we got some hot springs action.
We had been looking forward to cycling the coast down to visit my family in Humboldt County, CA, but when we compared the timeframe with the distance, it was looking like we’d have to do some heavy pedaling and I was starting to have some pain that couldn’t be ignored. When my friend Araby offered us the use of her krr AND said she’d go with us to the Phish show in Eugene, it was a done deal. I realized that I probably would not have enjoyed cycling the coast too much anyway. There is too much tourist traffic, not enough shoulders and not enough views. I think the way to see it would be to hike the Oregon Coast Trail and I intend to do that someday. The sea has captured my affection on this trip in a way it never has in the past. Although I consider Humboldt County to be part of the Pacific Northwest in spirit, it’s still in California, so I will lump it in with my Southwest summary.
My conviction that Oregon is a very special place has been reinforced. We had an incredible time checking out some new parts, drinking delicious beer and best of all, reconnecting with some great friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. I have also had my conviction reinforced that krr travel is for the birds. It could be great for certain things (like Phish tour!) and some of my greatest childhood memories are of grand road trips out west. These are the trips that started it all for me! But man, sitting in a krr driving around just sucks the life out of me these days. It puts me into a state of hypnosis where I just float unconsciously from one place to another. The air is stale, even with the windows rolled down, there is no connection to the places we pass through and I become insanely tired for no reason at all. After all the cycling touring I have come to realize just how much of the experience of a place is missed when boxed in.
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?