Friday, July 29, 2011

Day 25 - The Safety Police

Into Aberdeen we rode.  The cool breeze blew off of the bay and the sun was shining.  We crossed a little bridge with a side walk  conveniently located on the outside of the support beams so we were protected from traffic and I smiled with the chill that ran down my spine and gave me goose bumps, partly from the breeze, but mostly, it was a shiver of excitement as I anticipated walking on the beach before the day was over.

There was another bridge, this one much longer than the last, and the sidewalk had an eight inch curb with the no ramp to assist a biker with a load and a trailer.  There was no shoulder and, as we had done many times in the last thousand miles, we rode with traffic; four lanes of undivided highway 101. 

The traffic, traveling at thirty-five miles per hour, passed us with ease.  The cars simply merged into the left lane, taking little notice of us.  Above me, on my right, a ealthy number of joggers and cyclists crossed the bridge, going against traffic, so that they faced Zerbert’s blue eyes as she craned her neck out of the trailer and twitched her nose with each different scent she detected.  When passer-byers noticed that there was a dog rather than a child in the trailer, they turned up the corners of their mouths and their eyes glittered with inadvertent, pursed-lipped smiles, and if there were two people together, I heard exclamations from slightly behind me, “Oh did you see his eyes!” 

Nearly every day, however, there has a been a bystander who finds it his or her duty to protect us from our own ignorant blundering.  Often times it is just someone warning us to “be safe, ” with a concerned look on their face, rather than wishing us a safe journey when we they hear what we plan to do.  Once it was a dangerously obese woman who repeatedly insisted that Zerbert’s trailer was unsafe. This time, it was a gentlemen riding his bike on the high and narrow sidewalk, against traffic, pointing frantically downwards towards his wheels and shouting to Brenton, who was riding ahead of me, “Ride on the sidewalk man!” 

When this type of presumptuous criticism began, even before we left for the trip and were still in the planning process, we responded politely as if we were young children listening to advice from a wise elder, even though most of the comments were from people who have never been to the areas that we would be visiting, and had never even heard of bicycle-touring before. 

After hearing from every local about how impossibly steep the next hill is, how there are bears and mountain lions everywhere, how the shoulder is really thin down that road, and almost every comment followed with the belittling phase, “You know that, right?” as if to imply that we have no idea of what we are getting ourselves into, we had run out of patience.  Brenton called back to the man riding the wrong way down the sidewalk, “And how are we supposed to get up there?”  There was no time, in passing, to point out that if we were riding on the sidewalk, there would be no room for anyone to get around our trailers anyway.  The guy stopped his bike and called out from behind us, “I’ll help lift you up if you want help!” 

I pictured us stopping on the bridge and taking the time to lift trailers and bikes onto the thin and tall curb and then running everyone else off the road, and as the exhausting thought was still playing in my mind, we pulled off of the bridge and the shoulder opened wide again.  Brenton and I grumbled about the nerve of people, and how they should mind their own business.  I felt a little guilty, knowing that the guy probably meant well, but I also felt a little enraged by his tone, in which he made no attempt to hide the fact that he thought we were doing something stupidly dangerous.  I wished that I could have stopped him and explained that cyclists ride with traffic all of the time and that it is perfectly legal and often, as in this circumstance, there is no other choice.  Instead, I rode on and brooded over it, thinking of all the sarcastic and witty things that I wish I would have said.

I know that we are taking risks, every day, on this trip.  I have laid awake at night, worried that the rustling outside the tent is a bear.  I have cringed at the roar of trucks chasing me down on the highway.  I’ve felt defeated and humiliated as I pushed my bike up a hill.  Many times, I nervously micro-managed the dogs’ every steps as they trotted a little bit too closely to the side of the road; but, it would not be a true adventure if there was not some inherent risk involved, and it has been worth every second of dread.  One might even argue that all the risks involved in our bike tour are nothing compared to the seemingly conservative habits of watching TV and eating junk food.  Perspective is an cunning phenomenon that makes the most straight forward of facts nothing but a subjective whim.  I can only speak about my own.

As I saw it, the road ahead was begging me to brave it.  It promised that if I would only put aside my fears and travel on, the next bend would surely have more to offer than the last, and the next thing I knew, we were pulling into a campsite and throwing our tent up as fast as we could with the sound of waves pummeling sand just passed the trees.  We hiked the short path through the wooded area behind our tent and then over two steep and green, grassy hills and walked out onto the hot sand of the wide open beach.  We spent the rest of the evening throwing sticks into the waves for Mary to fetch as Zerbert bounced in part way after her, only to hop back to the safety of the beach with the white, foamy, edge of a dwindling wave chasing her. 

We gathered driftwood and burned it slowly, savoring the salty air and vibrant glow of the sunset.  This is what we had ridden a thousand miles to do.  I shivered on Brenton’s shoulder for awhile after the sun disappeared behind the horizon, and reluctantly agreed it was time to kick sand over our embers and hit the hay. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Day 24 - Snakes

Our next stop would be our last RV park before the coast, and the day was uneventful in preparation.  The most exciting thing that happened  all day was when I saw about fifteen snakes dart one by one off of the side of the road as we passed them.  Somehow, Brenton didn’t see even one, and teased me that I had imagined it.  Every time that we road passed a bungee cord or some other serpent shaped garbage on the road, he began calling out, “Snake!” and then, “How many have you seen now?  Twenty?” 

 It was gray and rainy all day.  Our campsite was a fire pit and picnic table in one of two grassy islands surrounded by a sea of gravel, RVs afloat.  There were bike racks at each spot, and I was reminded that we were nearing the land of bike touring.  Later in the evening, the other site became occupied by a man on two wheels.  I didn’t go talk to him, but overheard him telling someone that he was on his first day of tour from Seattle, and we thought of how nice it would be to tour without trailers and be able to make that kind of time.

We splurged and bought two bundles of wood to make a fire, the first time we bought wood on the trip, and had a weak, smoky thing going that was barely able to withstand the drizzle seeping from the misty arm that draped over us from the gray sky.  

Day 23 - Slugs

Some days on bike tour are full of dramatic and colorful changes in scenery and moods.  This was not starting out to be one of those days.  After riding endlessly through Tacoma and the surrounding towns, it felt like going to a job that you don’t hate from eight to five and, even though its not hard, you are just ready to be done for the day. 

We finally got out of the Seattle Bay area, leaving its many bike lanes, and reentered the woods, back on the highway.  It was a relief. 

The wildflowers along the road looked like lace and traffic wasn’t so bad.  We rode like this for quite sometime before we happened upon a bike path that followed our highway, but was just deep enough into the trees, which were becoming lanky giants all fighting to occupy the same spot, to mask most of the sound of semis grinding by. 

There was more wildlife to be seen on this trail than we had witnessed the whole trip, that is, there were slugs and snakes everywhere stealthily sidling out of the jungled ferns of the forest to find a sun-warmed patch of concrete.  We wanted to make good time so we loaded the dogs up and rode hard.

Zerbert had developed a habit of standing with her front paws on the arm of her trailer the way that most dogs stand on the car door and lean their head out of the open window.  This seemed like a dangerous stunt and we figured that now was a good time to teach her a lesson.  I devised a plan to brake hard and make her stumble every time she stepped out where she shouldn’t be, but it didn’t shake her.

Brenton said he was going to bump me from behind the next time she did it and he dropped back, ready as planned.  Just then I saw a snake slithering frantically across the path beside me and I called out “Snake, snake, snake!  Get your camera!” as I pulled on my brake levers.   Just as I was almost to a complete stop,  I was jolted mercilessly from behind.  Brenton had apparently not heard me or noticed that I was stopping and was executing the plan.  I swerved and tried frantically to pop my feet out of my pedals, but crashed on the side of the path.  I yowled and paced around, shaking out my wrists and bending my knees up high to make sure that it all still worked.  “Why would you slam into me like that!”  and Brenton, “Why did you slam on your brakes right before you knew I was going to bump you?”  I came out of it with a few scratches, but a bloody knee was the worst of the damage.  Zerbert was not the one who learned a lesson.

We ate dinner at the only restaurant in a one horse town along the bike path and rode on to the next settlement of a few houses, a gas station, and a grocer.  We found free camping at a little park at the end of the bike path and scrounged for firewood, finding tons of fallen logs but with  spongy bark, damp from the frequent rain and dense canopy of the forest blocking out any light to the ground. 

Using a cardboard beer box and some brown paper sacks for kindling, we stacked up the driest twigs that we could find around the paper and lit the paper bags, hoping for the best.  To my surprise,  we built quite a blaze out of all that wet wood and scooted our chairs back, with growing warmth on our faces. 

The talk around the fire was of the days to come, how we couldn’t wait to see the ocean, and how we were going to take it easy on the coast and build beach fires every night and try to catch our own dinner with our fishing pole or maybe even dig some clams.  We had decided a ways back that rather than making a loop back to Helena, we would continue as far as we could make it down the coast and then rent a car for the return.  In my glossy daze, after a day of riding, and under the spell of the hot coals of the campfire hypnotizing my sleepy and drunken eyes, my world was made of nothing but time, and that time was endless summer.       

Day 22 - Picture Imperfect

Two days off to recover was just what the doctor ordered.  We were both itching to get on the road and it felt good to be back on our bikes, despite the incessant, wet, gray, weather.  We had overheard some locals saying that this is the coldest and wettest summer that they have had in ages, but I’m pretty sure that was what they were saying when we were in the area last summer. 

It was Sunday and the fleet of buses was not running at full force so we were able to ride along in the bus lane, like the widest, smoothest bike lane in the world.  We were following the bay, but could only catch glimpses of dark water between the car washes and abandoned shipyards and factories. 

Espresso shops had begun to outnumber gas stations and bars, even in the small towns, more and more as we rolled across Washington.  The industrial side of Seattle had invented a new gimmick, the bikini coffee shop.  Theses little shacks were done up so that they looked like novelty shops or tiny strip joints, but in fact, were coffee drive ups with a barista scantily clad in a bikini to serve you your morning cup of joe.      

We ate at a Mexican drive-through called Memo’s and had big sloppy burritos filled with chicken that had to be made of some soy alternative, and had the consistency of scallops.  We forced down what we could and fed the rest to the dogs.

Our short ride took us into Tacoma and to the RV graveyard where we had intended to camp.  Brenton took one look and said that he preferred not to get shot, and we rode on into town where we stopped at a bike shop to tighten Brenton’s hub and to ask if they knew of any other camping.

The folks at the bike shop was more than accommodating.  They were refreshingly friendly and eager to help us out, and told us that we would have a hard time finding camping in the area, and anywhere on the route that we were taking and suggested an alternate route that would be a better option.  We were grateful for the advice and reluctantly booked another hotel room for the evening.

After backtracking a little ways, we went up a steep little hill, that was nothing to spectacular, and right at the top I heard a loud clatter and my chain had broken for a third time.  We decided to fix it at the hotel so I coasted as far as possible and then walked the short way to the hotel. 

We ordered Cambodian delivery to our room and gorged ourselves as fast as we could using chopsticks.  There was too much to finish and we set it aside for lunch the next day.  We realized that Brenton, so uncharacteristically, hadn't taken a single picture that day, and we went to bed without our nightly ritual of looking through the days photos.    

Friday, July 22, 2011

Days 20 and 21 - Happy Hour

Sleeping in, or rather, laying around all morning, was novel and welcome, but I got too stir crazy for it to be satisfying.  We decided to take the light rail downtown to hit some shops and see the sites.  It was eleven dollars for all day passes for the two of us.  The train was clean and relatively uncrowded, and nothing like the subway-esque mayhem that I expected.

Downtown Seattle looked just like downtown Minneapolis mixed with the Kansas City Plaza, but on a beautiful bay with a view of the mountains across the water.  We went to a bike shop and some outdoors gear stores and searched the touristy shops for a gift for my sister's gray cat, named Seattle, to no avail.

 I felt like skipping as we meandered the streets, I was so elated to be in a real city, but, just like every other big city that I have visited from Paris to New Orleans, once I've seen one, I may as well have seen them all.  I can't say that I did not take full advantage of the amenities of urban civilization, however, especially the luxury of happy hour prices!

We climbed a daunting flight of stairs that took us, painfully, to the top of one of Seattle's absurdly steep hills and went into some typical tourist trap of a restaurant/bar that looked like an antiques store had barfed on the walls.  The speakers rang over the noisy hub-bub, "Aaaaallisoon; you know this world is killing you. . ." and then one of Brenton's favorite Pixie's songs.  We ordered a pitcher of beer and were pleasantly surprised at the cheap happy hour price and the surprisingly good tasting beer that they brew right there.

The next stop was the real treat, sushi!  We were early for our reservation but were sat immediately anyway and discovered that it was happy hour here too, and that sushi rolls and drinks were all inexpensive until 7:00.  We feasted and took the light rail back to our room, content with a lovely and low-key day and full bellies.  We turned the TV on and played on the internet, where we found that Steep and Cheap, our favorite one deal at a time website that sells outdoors gear, was featuring the perfect sleeping bag for next to nothing.  We were planning on sending back some items anyway, and decided to stay in Seattle one more day in order to over night the new bag to the hotel and send my heavy one home.

The next day was a repeat of the day before with the exception of numerous phone calls being made concerning the sleeping bag that never came.  We had payed for an extra day at a hotel for nothing but another round of happy hour sushi, it would seem.  


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Day 19 - Seattle, like a Gray Cat

Brenton woke up with the happy observation that it had not rained all night, and that it would be the first time in a long time that we would be putting away a dry tent.  If we had been back home, in the midwest, that statement would have been followed abruptly by the clap of thunder and a sudden down poor of rain, but in the typical anti-climatic Pacific Northwest style, it simply began to drizzle.

The sound of German voices came from the RV next to us as the campers scrambled to bring all their meltables inside, and a voice came over a loudspeaker, commanding authority and announcing to all that check out was at 11:00 sharp.  We packed up quickly and were slightly perplexed that, when attempting to leave the area, we had to have someone open an oversized chain-link fence.  I felt relieved to leave that creepy place, like I had narrowly escaped incarceration.    

We rode passed million dollar homes through the lake side neighborhood, and I only made it a matter of feet before my chain snapped yet again.  As Brenton repaired it once again, I insisted that I was not shifting at all when it broke and had been very careful with my shifting anyway.  It was more than a little bit frustrating, but I wasn't the one with the greasy hands so I refrained from complaining.

The next turn, and I was faced with another absurdly steep hill that had me walking once again.  I should have stuck it out in the saddle, because walking was a much bigger chore than riding and once I was off of my bike it was much too steep to get back on.  I took the set backs in stride, however, because I was excited to get into Seattle to our hotel and a day off.

In suitable Seattle style, it was cold and rainy all day.  Although we did ride with some heavy traffic, we were able to find lots of bike lanes and bike paths that were surprisingly scenic considering that the interstate was just on the other side of the bushes.  These bike paths curved under bridges and around the busiest streets so that, before we knew it, we were only a few miles from our hotel and ready for lunch.

Lunch was at a place called Dog and Pony, which is a little brewpub and restaurant.  If I were to open a restaurant, this is how it would be.  It was tiny and unassuming, but cultured and unique.  They featured an awesome assortment of local beers and brewed just one themselves, (which was very good).  Our food was delicious, although the portions were a little small.

The rest of the ride was along sidewalks and bike lanes of busy streets and commercial areas.  The sound of traffic was a constant swooshing, undertoned by a dull roar.  There was some relief from the eardrum shattering charge of semis and the monotony of the highway, but the hectic flutter of traffic in the city was a little unsettling.      

We arrived at the Holiday Inn ready for a soft bed and hot shower, but waited for ages in the overwhelmingly busy lobby.  This was the hotel that they send everyone to when there is a flight cancelation.  We had asked for a first floor room but were given a second, and it took about half an hour to bring everything up the elevators, one trailer/bike at a time, because the elevators were so slow and full and tiny.  Our room was rather small as well, and we were less than impressed with the confused staff who all seemed to have different ideas of how their shuttle worked.

The hot tub, however, was lovely; as was the cable, a luxury we don't allow ourselves even at home.  Maybe it was that I had grown unaccustomed to mattresses, but I had a hard time getting to sleep again that night.  Maybe I was just too excited for the day off in Seattle to come.