Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Astoria Revisited



Although not quite up to the task as I was still feeling rotten from my soaking a few days before, I decided to make the most of the sunny day and get out on the road. I consumed my Super8 Motel breakfast which consists of a lot of packaged items with sell by dates a long way into the future and in the process reluctantly created a reasonable amount of land fill!



The ride was great, rolling pine clad hills and lakes surrounded by multi million dollar properties. There were also fleeting glimpses of the snow capped Olympic mountains beyond the Hood Canal.



I also spotted a few cyclists today, John & Jess, young east coasters heading out of Seattle on the first day of their tour to San Francisco. John’s bike was sporting a natty pair of rear panniers, made from plastic cat litter boxes, he bought his but there’s Instructions here on how to make your own. No doubt I’ll bump into the two of them again on route.



I arrived in Shelton WA for a late lunch, I found the Route 66 diner and was greeted by an attentive, attractive waitress, who was very smitten with my netbook! I went for the usual burger option, although the diner has two menu’s, one of which is Thai food. The Thai owner walked over for a chat and was asking about my bike and where I was heading.



The next customers he walked up to had overheard some of our conversation and were asking the owner to confirm what they thought they’d heard. I wandered over and  introduced myself and told them more about ShelterBox, the charity I support and where my journey had taken me. Before they left there was a photo call with the manager and the couple, who turned out to be John & Diane Komen. I asked the waitress for my bill and she said there wasn’t one, John and Diane had paid it! It was another one of those moments of generosity from strangers that have punctuated the whole of my trip through America and have blown me away each time!



The riding so far has been quite easy, nice wide quiet roads, small towns, the odd stupidly steep hill and reasonable polite drivers;. all in all a pleasant trip to get to the coast!

The evenings stop over was to be a hostel in Elma, run by Linda and her husband as a part time hobby, along with an 18 hole Frisbee golf course in the garden, the hostel was home from home as it was literally their home! I had the bunk room to myself for not much more than the price of a camp site.



Linda advised me that the Rusty Tractor a mile down the road was the place for a good feed, so off I pedalled.

Full of brash baseball cap wearing country boys and loud obnoxious kids, the clientele left something to be desired, but the menu was certainly a cacophony of items, including a variety of meals based on Yak meat! I was tempted, but having not seen a Yak on my entire journey across America I felt there might be air mile issues for my conscience to contend with, it’s a long way to Mongolia!



I went for the enchiladas and an amber ale, both hitting the spot. I slept well at the hostel even though my cold was getting worse. Linda headed off to her day job as a school teacher and left me to lock her house up; very trusting people!



The next day was more pleasant rural riding with the large city of Centralia WA to negotiate my way across on route to the Lewis and Clark State Park. During the afternoon Mount St Helens kept poking her snow capped peak over the tree line and even from 30 miles away it looked like a big mountain and being an active volcano I just hopped it wasn’t planning to repeat it’s catastrophic 1980 eruption anytime now!

I stopped at a Safeway about 20 miles from the camp site and purchased one of their yummy fresh chill bean soups for dinner. Safeways in the UK are quite a dull supermarket, but in the US they are more akin to a Sainsburys, plus they always have a Starbucks concession inside with free WiFi and power sockets!



I arrived at the lovely State Park deep in the forest and got there only hiker\biker site, the camp host informed me there were two other cyclists a few pitches away but he couldn’t quite place their accents. He thought they might be Australian like me….. I didn’t bother arguing! The couple weren’t Aussies after all but from Newcastle in the UK and were both riding brand new Thorn bikes with lots of shiny kit on board. I think we were both surprised to find fellow Brits in the middle of the woods far off the tourist trail.



The couple, Claire and David where a few days in to their tour having flown into Seattle from the UK. They were heading on the same route as me with plans to go on into Mexico and Guatemala. Their trip had an interesting slant to it; Claire runs a coffee business in Newcastle and with Seattle and the west coast being famous for it’s coffee drinking she was using it as a good business research trip, not only that, but the trip down into Guatemala was primarily to visit the coffee plantations who supply the beans from which her companies coffee is made.

It was a good days ride through to Cathlamet WA on the Columbia river, apart from a vicious head wind for 20 miles as I cycled west along the river valley.



Earlier in the day I passed a building that is probably on a feminists hit list. The lovely old wooden barn had had it’s old advertising slogans repainted, but since they were originally painted times have changed and I somehow feel that Dr Pierces Women's Tonic for Weak Women would sell very well on the supermarket shelves today! There’s an interesting article about Dr Pierce here by Evan Ratliff.

I cycled on, passing through an area with numerous small farms dotted along quiet rural roads; in the distance there was the bang of a gun and I passed it off as hunters in the woods. As I turned the next corner I could see a truck parked a short way off the road  with two men near the rear of it.



Getting closer the bizarre scene came to light, the truck was a mobile slaughter vehicle with two men busy working away with sharp knives butchering a pig. I stopped and the banter immediately started to flow, the two butchers ridiculing me about Mad Cow disease and I them about cutting up a pig only 30’ feet from it's brothers and sisters!



The guys were real comedians and even offered to let me have a go at butchery; I refused and watched as the pigs intestines rolled out casting my mind back to a BLT I had eaten a few days before!



I explained that back in the UK pigs are dispatched with high voltage prongs to the head; The younger butcher piped up, “Prongs??? you should know we all have guns out here in the US, I just stuck a bullet through its head!” That explained the shot I had heard!

It was quite weird watching the pig being cut up by the side of the road; I didn’t feel at all squeamish and actual marvelled at the skill of the butchers wielding their razor sharp knives and pulling various offal from inside the carcass of the beast.

As I said my good byes and started cycling away the older butcher pitched in, “Talkin a guns…. Bret's a handy shot, but he prefers a moving target, we’ll wait till you get to that barn over yonder before we open fire!”

I nervously laughed and pedalled off fast, my butt cheeks gripping my saddle a little tighter as I passed the barn!



At Cathlamet WA I arrived at a Marina on the Columbia river, the place was busy as it was labour day weekend, a US annual holiday to celebrate the economic and social achievements of workers


I managed to get a tent pitch for $14 on a patch of grass close to the mariner and it wasn’t long before I was providing light entertainment for the yacht crews, unpacking my beast of burden and setting up my tent. Their curiosity got the better of them and it wasn’t long before a yacht owner wandered over to ask the usual questions, where ya headin, where ya from etc!




After a chat about my journey the chap said for me to join them for a beer once I had set up camp; never one to refuse a free beer I strolled along the jetty and got introduced to the various boat owners and their crew \ families. Beers started flowing and various nibbles where coming my way as I stood regaling the audience with tales of daring endeavour on the high seas of cycling!


I could have quite easily got inebriated for free, but the site of David and Claire putting up their tent next to mine gave me an excuse to head back to terra firmer and wish the salty sea dogs adieu, but not before grabbing a free beer to go!


David and Clare had also been to the grocers before arriving at the mariner so I was handed another beer. Unfortunately we had missed the days Grande Chilli Cook Off competition on the mariner so had to resort to some gastronomic delete rustled up on the camp cooker.


My menu consisted of zip lock omelette; break eggs in zip lock bag, mash up, zip the bag up, lower into simmering water until cooked, tip onto bread, eat, this was followed up by a tin of macaroni cheese!




The showers at the marina where great so it was nice to have a good scrub up before heading on to the coast and my former Trans Am finishing point of Astoria OR.




The only barrier to getting to our destination was the Columbia river which we crossed via a bridge to Puget Island and then a ferry to the far shore. The ferries run every hour and we arrived with 20 minutes to spare until the next one. Waiting at the “Wait here for Ferry” line painted on the road. 


Chatting away about all and sundry we watched as the ferry pulled away without us on board, we shot down the ferry ramp to see the skipper just shrugging as he piloted the ferry out into the vast Columbia river.




An hour later he returned and we were waiting, this time at the base of the ramp! He laughed and said “So your coming aboard this time then?”, “We where waiting at the Wait Here for Ferry sign” I retorted. A bit of sarcastic banter went back and forth, but the skipper was our only way across the Columbia river and we didn't want to piss him off!




The next few hours were spent on a fast road into Astoria with a coffee stop and a bit of business research for Clare half way.


I got into Astoria to find the town buzzing with a huge Sunday market, loads of great food, crafts etc, hung out for a while and then headed on to Seaside OR.


It was strange being back on this section of coast where I had finished my Trans Am less than a month ago, I headed for the Hostel and decided it was time for a day off the bike. As a bonus Tony my riding partner for the first part of the Trans Am came over from Portland for the day, it was great to catch up with him and nice to feel my first week back on the road had gone so well.
The sunset as I reach the Pacific coast.



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