Thursday, 2 September 2010

Back in the USA

In the immortal words of the Beatles, “I’m back in the US, back in the US, back in the USSR…A”, er well you know what I mean!
After my three weeks of R&R on Vancouver Island it was strange cycling a loaded touring bike again, but I shouldn’t have worried it was just like riding a bike!

I said good bye to the lovely Moreland family who had put up with me turning their spare bedroom into a bomb site and in return rewarded me with fine food, good company and some great kayaking and camping trips. I had a frothy coffee at my favourite coffee shack in Mill Bay and then headed down to the first of my two ferry rides of the day.

Sitting up on the top of the ferry relaxing in the sun I watched as the cars drove onboard and was horrified when a doddery old couple drove their Nissan into my bike, pinning it to the side of the ship. My yell of “Oi what the flip do you think your doing” fell on deaf ears (genuinely deaf ears, the guy had a hearing aid!). On closer inspection the wing of the car had luckily hit my clothing pannier, but my bike was jammed solid. On explaining to the couple what they had done I just got a dumb stare and a “We’d better reverse a bit then”, “No shit Sherlock” I muttered. A bent frame on day one would have been a bit of a bad start to my new adventure, luckily nothing was damaged.

Getting to the harbour town of Sidney I sussed out the ferry port and cycled into town to explore. In keeping with their almost namesake, Sydney Australia, Sidney BC Canada have built their own mini opera house on the quay side, not quite as grandiose, but an impressive structure non the less!

After wandering around Sidney I headed back to the Ferry port to get on the Anacortes ferry that would drop me on the American Island of San Juan at Friday Harbour.

Compared to the Washington DC immigration official, this one was far from friendly and asked me a lot of questions trying to catch me out, eventually, but almost reluctantly letting me back in the country. I forgot to tell him about the intercontinental ballistic missile stuck down my seat tube!

Whilst waiting for the ferry I got chatting to Ewan and Helen a great couple from Vancouver, originally Glasgow and Portsmouth, they where on a short cycling tour out to the islands and back via the Cascade mountains. They had booked a camp site on San Juan and being a slacker I hadn’t, with limited camping on the island my plan of just turning up and getting a pitch was looking doubtful. They kindly offered to share their pitch with me but I said I’d try my first option of going to the Lakedale Resort and seeing what was available. Luckily I got the last available biker \ hiker pitch deep in the woods by a lake and was soon cooking up a fine boil in the bag rice concoction with a generous sprinkling of dehydrated veg, yum!

I popped in to the camp shop for some odds and sods and got talking to the delightful 60 something lady working there. I could tell I was back in the USA as the dulcet English accent was picked up upon straight away.

But rather than the usually questions, the lady looked at me in a school teacher sort of way and said “Your pronunciation is beautiful, so rare to hear such eloquent use of words in today's text and email society”, I was a bit taken aback, blushed a bit and waffled on a bit more trying to use as many big words that I could think of!

I didn’t have the nerve to tell her that up to an hour before reaching the island of San Juan I had been calling it San Jew Anne not San Wharn! Well I didn’t do Spanish at school did I!

I slept well on my newly purchased lilo like air bed and the next day headed off for a loop of the island, it was pretty easy going as I left most of my gear back at the camp site, deciding to stay two nights on San Juan and leave for Orcas Island early on the third day and heading out to Anacortes later that same day.

My first stop on the San Juan loop was Roche Harbour, a “Hollywood On Sea” sort of place, with tanned portly retired businessmen with there comparatively young siliconised, bejewelled, ladies carrying toy dogs and Gucci handbags. The array of yachts and gin palaces in the harbour was a formidable sight and the place just reeked of $$$$.

I cycled on to English Camp, the former garrison of the British during the farcical Pig War between the Americans and the English, disputing the boundary between Canada and the United States. It lasted from 1859 to 1871 and only one shot was fired and that killed a pig!

My next stop was at a small coastal country park where I thought a fireworks display was in progress. A dozen or so people were stood on the cliff edge whooping and cheering, I cycled up to see what was happening and watched a pod of Killer Whales swimming passed, some with young, some breaching out of the water. It was one of those jaw dropping moments that you know no photo or description will do justice.

I stopped at a few more headlands along the coast and watched other Orcas swimming by, not something I’ll ever forget!

I headed back across the island for a late lunch in Friday Harbour before returning to the camp site. It was only a thirty mile day, but I got to see lots of history and wildlife and could see why San Juan is such a popular place.

I broke camp and pedalled the five miles back into Friday Harbour. With an hour to kill before my ferry to Orcas Island I went for a slap up breakfast and a wifi session in the cafe.

I went to board the ferry with about 20 or so other cyclists all of whom seemed to be part of organised island cycling tours. One party was a Scout group who had been touring for five days, their leader Ron, an avid cyclist got chatting to me about my travels and introduced me to the Scouts, we also had a photo shoot with me lined up with the Scouts. What it is to have celebrity status!

I arrived on Orcas and set off for a five hour tour before my next ferry arrived. Orcas like San Juan is a very pretty island with a good mix of forest, arable land, secluded coves and drift wood covered beeches. It also has Moran State Park and the 2409’ Mount Constitution with it’s 4.7 mile stupidly steep climb.

I made it up to a scenic look out point that provided amazing views of the islands below, but a bid for the summit would have meant me missing the ferry so I turned back and enjoyed the steep switchbacks to the lake below!

I made it to the ferry with 10 minutes to spare and enjoyed the scenic trip to Anacortes on Fidalgo Island, passing more of the San Juan Island chain on route. It had been a long day and I cycled the last 10 miles to the Deception Pass State Park to camp for the night.

Unlike the many other passes I’ve blogged about, this one isn’t on a mountain, but rather a narrow sea passage through a steep rocky gorge spanned by two large arched steel bridges. The tide races through the pass at break neck speed and small boats rocket through from the Straight of Juan De Fuca (had problems pronouncing that too!) to Skagit Bay.

The other side of the bridge on Whidbey Island was the Cranberry Lake campground where I set up camp in the secluded hiker biker pitches. It wasn’t long before I was dosing off when suddenly I started to get cramp in my left calf muscle, the pain was excruciating, then it moved up to my thigh, double agony. I tried to stretch my leg out but I was in my sleeping bag and inside a tiny tent, then the same happened on the other leg. All four main leg muscles cramping up and I was unable to fight it, after 10 minutes most of the pain had gone and I eventually got to sleep.

I woke the next day to the sound of heavy drumming rain on the tent, I tried to put off the inevitable but eventually crawled out and started packing. Before I set off I was already soaked through, my Event jacket not keeping the water out like it used to. The riding was dismal probably the worst rain I’ve ridden in in the USA, combined with the wind chill I was really feeling cold and my fingers were going numb.

As I passed Whidbey Naval Air Base, fighter jets were taking off every few minutes up into the rainy sky, the roar from the engines audible for miles.

During a brief lull in the rain I stopped for brunch at the pretty little coastal town of Coupville and enjoyed a coffee and large sticky bun from the lovely bakery\restaurant by the beach. I didn’t ask to eat in as I would have created a small lagoon with the water that had now ingressed into all layers of my clothing.

I made it to the Port Townsend ferry and did my best to dry out a bit during the choppy 30 minute crossing, this was followed up by further thawing in Starbucks before I braved the elements again to head to the Old Fort Townsend State Park.

The Hiker \ Biker area was in a dark wood of large old cedar trees surrounded by ferns and moss; it was quite eerie in a fairy tale sort of way and the “Warning Cougar” signs didn’t help. There was a lone female cyclist with just a tarp and a bivvy bag in the woods, she was on her way to the Columbia Gorge; I decided to sleep just outside the woods and thought “rather you than me” sleeping under a bivvy in those woods in the pouring rain. I was also slightly paranoid that if I did have another cramp attack she may be perturbed by the muffled screams and groans coming from my tent!

It was a late start the following day as I made use of the morning sun to dry my tent over a fence whilst chatting about the art of snake handling with the Park Ranger (like you do!).

I kept close to the shore line through small bays and inlets via Port Ludlow and Paradise Bay, before arriving at the 7,869 feet (2,398 m) long Hood Canal Floating Bridge.

The draw bridge was up as I crossed and I sat waiting at the lights with a 70 year old cyclist called Mike who had done the Trans Am at the age of 61, as the lights went green he shot off across the bridge on his carbon fibre Trek Madone leaving me in his tyre dust!

I carried on through scenic back roads lined with very expensive properties, many of which were for sale; this had been the theme right across the USA, the economy was obviously still taking it’s toll.

I got into the urban sprawl of Bremerton and headed for a Super8 motel; the wet and the cold of the day before had started to give me the shivers, perhaps sleeping in a damp tent, in damp clothes to try and stay warm wasn’t a good idea! Hauled up in the motel with the heater on and a hot bath made all the difference.

It was a great first five days on the road and I was starting to feel strong on the bike again, I just need to stay healthy and hope the weather warms up a bit!

And just for the hell of it; two novelty road names in as many days!

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  1. Im hoping that when you were on the Port Townsend ferry you played an air guitar, windmilled your arm, and sang 'Pinball Wizard'.....

  2. Ooooo even took me a while to work that one out ;-)

  3. Glad to see the wheels turning again.
    I was briefly up on Vancouver Island in 1998, your photos of the ferry brought it all back - it's such a beautiful part of the world.

  4. It certainly is Squishy, I hope to go back some time and just tour around Canada. Thanks for following the Blog.

  5. Stu, its strange to now be the guy sat at home reading your blog as a release from everyday life having only completed my cycle across the US a few weeks ago. Life back home slots back to normal so quickly I just urge you to have no worries and enjoy the rest of your time riding like you have so far. That tailwind down the pacific coast will be sweet.

  6. Ryan, The memories of your amazing Trans Am adventure will fuel the fire for a new ride I'm sure. Start saving and get back out on the road soon. Can't believe you got all your gear in two front panniers! Stay in touch.


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