For the full photo diary of this part of the tour please click here
A week back on the road with my newly fixed up ‘other half’ and I’m through my second US State. The pedal through Washington has given me a week unlike any other thus far on the tour. Glad to be riding solo, I have joyfully fought persistent rain, grey skies and hail. I have entered a new country and cycled down the length of the worlds second largest national landmass. Washington has been very wet, disturbingly homely and in the context of my tour rather utilitarian, but I have been so so very happy to be back on my bike and moving through landscapes and places that I have never seen before and doubtless will never see again.
It was with a heavy heart that I departed Vancouver, sad for the new friends I shall leave and for the opportunities missed, yet with renewed excitement and invigoration for the journey that awaits me. My three weeks in Vancouver were much like my time in Fairbanks; I began to build a life only to leave it and continue on down the road. A good friend of mine and experienced traveller once told me a travelling truth I stick by: ‘if you get too comfortable in a place then it’s usually time to move on’. It is all too easy to entertain ideas of a future in places like Vancouver but I know in my heart that were I to stay it would just end up the same. I grew to have great affection for Blair, Kat, Joel, Ussy, Herman and CJ, and will forever feel indebted to their kind hospitality. Yet, to watch their everyday lives unfold around me and to witness their love, life and financial evolutions do just that left me feeling too close to the very thing I have left behind, namely ‘normality’. Not to belittle them but rather state my aversion to and fear of the reality posed by monthly pay packets, house politics, long-term friendships and loves, and a general responsibility to oneself and ones future. I could stay and build a real life in Vancouver as I could have done in Fairbanks, but if I wasn’t happy in London, one of the greatest and most beautiful cities of the world, why could I make it work in these places? I am not sure I could, which is why I must keep pumping those pedals and moving south.
A grey but generally dry day saw me scoot through seemingly endless suburbia towards the Canadian-US border. Any border nerves were quickly quashed as I resentfully paid my $6 ‘form’ fee and pedaled into a dark and murky Washington State. A couple of wrong turns and a particularly attractive garage attendant later I found my way to a damp woodland area to enjoy my first stealthy camp in the USA proper. It rained all night that night and would basically continue to do so for the next couple of days. A situation that I quickly adapted to and could not resent for the accompanying temperatures were a friendly 9 or 10 degrees C. Following directions I had written out for myself from the Adventure Cycling Association Pacific route map, I made my way down through Bellingham and Whidbey Island before taking the ferry across to Port Townsend.
Despite the bad weather I was relieved to be able to easily fit my daily 50 miles into the dwindling daylight hours. By four o’clock the sun would be gone and camp routinely pitched in the darkness. After another night of heavy rain I woke early in Old Fort Townsend State Park and as is the way with such facilities, escaped early to avoid paying for the privilege. I’d been dithering about whether to go west on the coast around Olympic National Park or dive straight south down to Aberdeen. The heavy rain that welcomed me to the fifteenth of November and the six month point of my journey quickly persuaded me that south was the way. I had an offer to spend a night with Tom the Click-stand man in Aberdeen but he could accommodate me no later than the 17th. Drawn by a desire to meet him and the lure of a warm house I vowed to get the 125 miles done in the two days available. I got my head down and shot down highway 101, skirting the beautiful Hood Canal as I went.
The first day out of Port Townsend was unsurprisingly very wet but I still managed to spin sixty-four miles and climb about 3,500 feet before settling for the night in a stealthy spot on the Hood Canal, just across the street from Potlatch State Park. As I pitched camp there was a let up in the rain and the moon magically appeared in the clearing sky. As the same wind that had torn into my face for much of the day flung wispy clouds across the sky I sat and marvelled at the beauty that surrounded me, buzzing off the spine tingling freedom solo riding had bought me.
I had not realised just how much I missed the freedom of solo travel. I much prefer both the journey and camps now I am on my own. This is no novelty but a manifestation of the freedom I seek. Riding with Justin was great and a chapter I would not swap for the world, but this is what it was supposed to be like and this is where I am and want to be. I am sure that Justin will experience the same revelation once he is released from his Seattle prison and free to venture south without the pressure of appointment or commitment.
A second sixty mile day took me into Aberdeen. Tom rode out to meet me and accompany me up to his beautiful hill-side house. It was a pleasure to finally meet someone I had been in email contact with. I found he and his wife to be particularly accommodating and as people who seldom allow vagrants into their home the nights conversations took on a refreshingly different tack to the standard form that can often come with experienced warm showers hosts. The next morning dawned with horror for the usual and expected rain was now accompanied by ferocious winds. As I slept in a took on a couple of repair jobs the wind eventually blew itself out leaving just the rain to wash me southward. Having started late and plodded through the worst rain of the trip so far I only managed to scrape out thirty-two miles. Cold, wet, but content, I found a cozy little path to camp on. After battling with an increasingly frustrating tent zip I snuggled down into my dry sleeping bag to savour the moment that drives me on through the coldest and wettest of times.
On my final day in the state, Washington treated me to the worst day of weather on the tour thus far. Bouts of heavy hail that would paint the road white and shoulders crunchy were interrupted by extremely wet rain and blown through by enjoyable head winds. Smug at not being the type to surrender to a motel in even the worst of conditions I was nevertheless pretty grateful for the pocket of sky that opened up as the Colombia river came into view. The Pacific horizon stirred my juices as did the incredible 1,1232 foot long Astoria-Megler bridge that spans the juncture between the Colombia and Pacific. I thought of Marc the paddler I had met in Jasper who will be ending his adventure here as I forged my way across the bridge and into Astoria. Thankful for the Eckert family who at short notice agreed to put me up for a couple of nights in Astoria I am free to shelter from the worsening weather and prepare for the stunning coast that awaits me down the way.
Despite not having seen much of the state and possibly because of the grey skies and wet weather, I enjoyed my jaunt through Washington. I frequently found myself reflecting its similarities with the English November. It was as if I was back in the Berkshire and Hampshire countryside, out on training rides for my big adventure. A comforting feeling, this has had me marveling at the intimate size of our world and pumped up for the warmer weather and ‘fresher’ scenery that will meet me further south.