With Southbend in my rearview (figuratively speaking) and only a few towns ahead til the end of Washington, I set my sights on the town of Ilwaco. Unfortunately, due to a late start and my wandering soul’s good intentions to take everything in, Ilwaco was not where I would end up that night.
Passing the 4,000 intertidal mudflats, the numerous shells strewn about by accident or by design, put this part of the world’s secret on display. The Willapa oyster, smoked, friend or cooked, a gumbo, a burger or raw, was apparently the creme de la creme of oysters. That’s quoting a local resident. Despite what the episode may say, I did for lunch have a fried Willapa oyster burger, and while yes, I’d rather have breaded fish or beef between those two buns, this was pretty damn good with homemade tartar sauce.
So yes! No Ilwaco, yes to some random town called Naselle that had not much more than a shopping centre, a church, a gas station and a motel for 30 bucks a night. After sneaking my bike in the room (they had told me I could keep it outside…if I had to argue for it’s right to stay inside like people due, I would have seemed a bit off), I went to the a-joint restaurant/pub/karaoke bar for some eats and a beer to wind down. Lucky for me, it was karaoke night and in a small town like this one could only imagine the wonderfully unique inebriated locals that would come spitting their sorrows into a song. Well tonight was a good night, because it seemed to be biker night. Not just any type of biker, but as I sat at the bar conversing with the bartender a wide-stanced shadow lured me to see who had entered into our midst. There stood the large sized lot, posed like a pose take a photo, tattoos faded, masses of blotchy colors, hair blowing in the wind. Drinks were consumed like bullets from firing squads, laughs drowned out conversation, slaps on the back would have hospitalized me. Their women sat on their laps, my knees hurt from thinking about such weight situated on my frail frame. Nothing was frail about these ladies, their saliva was iron ore, their sweat was ethanol, their glance made doors where walls once were. Then the singing commenced. Duets, solos, manage a trois, a guy constantly laughing and talking to his friends instead of singing, you name it, it happened. A large man, who reminded me of Gimli from Lord of the Rings, perched tidiously on his stool beside me, the leather screatching beneath him as he swivelled to catch the performance. We talked, I don’t remember about what, partly because it was about nothing, partly because his English has turned into slurred jargon. He introduced me to “Bill, Ted, Ryan, Ethol” a slew of characters from his motley crew. It was his turn to sing, he stared at me for support, so I sang loud too, not knowing what the hell I was singing. He asked where I was staying.
“Right here, at the Inn”
“Wellllll….whhhhhy don’t you come stay with uuuussss??”
“Well, thank you, but I already paid for my room”
“I can take care of that”
Not wanting him to take care of that or me or anything, I slowly slunk out, like Alice at the tea party and passed out in my room, exhausted and beer smelling.
The next day I packed, returned my key and zooooom, I was on the Columbia River, one of the widest rivers in the US, Oregon was on the other side, but it was still a world a way. Many boats over the centuries have been engulfed by this moody body of water and I saw a few victims washed up on the shore. Lewis and Clark, the great explorers almost died in the Columbia several times. I tried to imagine crossing such distance in a canoe. I looked at my arms. Not much there, I would probably have capsized two strokes in. In boats, unlike bicycles, there are no downhills, no cruising. And before me stood my only way across this monstrosity of H2O that separated the two states. The Megler Bridge, one of the largest bridges in the states, over 4 km in length, I wasn’t really sure if bikes were allowed to be on it. Well, there wasn’t really an information booth insight, unless I wanted to round the bend, go in the wrong direction, back to Ilwaco. To hell with it, it was windy, so might as well throw caution to it and see where it flies. And fly I did, cars zoomed passed me, my camera tried to capture the moment I crossed over the boarder, you barely can make out the Oregon sign. Winds tried to hurl me off the side into the blue below. Not a single car honked, so I knew I was in the clear on that front. I wasn’t in the clear for many other fronts. Headwind tried to blow me back into Washington as well. The clouds were heavy and looked like at any moment they would unleash, slickening this already terrifying crossing. At the last moment, the bridge turned upward, into a steep incline. So this is where the boats go under….so happy it’s at the end and so suddenly. My legs screamed at the sudden hill, my hands worked quickly, changing my gears around so I could manage. There was no possible way I could stop and readjust. Finally, the incline, declined. I was in Astoria. I was in Oregon.
Washington had been my learning curve of the basics of touring. Oregon would be the intermediate and hard level as the landscape turned into a roller coaster of peaks, cliffs and gullies. As I sat in a coffee shop, staring at the poster proclaiming that Ninja Turtles had been shot in this town, I thought of how great this trip has been a rekindling my inner child, how much fun it was to play again, how one should never loose this light, this light that keeps one exploring, and wondering and being curious about all things, making the world new everyday.
Hell on Earth. I am a man of little faith, admittedly so. But man am I happy that hell exists for me to use it as for the descriptive purpose of summing up the worst day I have ever been on a bike. No sugar coating it, no looking on the bright side, so thinking of the starving kids in some less fortunate setting, no. All I could think about was how am I going to make it out of this endless climb and rain and speed demon logger trucks.
There is very little footage of that day. In fact, after I left Port Angeles with an unexpected amount of miles to cover, the next time I turned on the camera was late in the evening, standing half nude, eyes ablaze, red, body swollen, staring at a reflection of myself in a mirror, as if I was a cat or bird who had no concept of self.
It was all in the poor planning, which something I will note in my tips section of this site. Long story short, I ended up on a weaving loggers road, where big ass trucks whizzed by, drivers on triple overtime shifts, beeping at this pea sized biker (me) and almost several times knocking me off the side of the cliff lipped coastal switchbacks. In the back of my mind the voiceover for the monster truck infomercials kept playing as each barreling, multi wheel bullet shot by. I mapped 100 km, which turned into 140km. Rain made the roads slicks, and me a lot slower. My legs pleaded with me to throw in the towel, but my freeze corpse whinnied my chariot onwards. For some reason, I don’t recollect eating a thing. I remembering using a nameless pub as a rest stop, so I could stand in front of air dryer for a few moments to thaw.
A paper mill, a hill, more houses, road, another town, another hill, 45 more trucks. Then, the mile markers ended. The mile markers, small stubby white sticks at the side of the road, with black numbers etched into them that count the miles til the end of the road and in this case to the place I was trying to get to, Neah Bay. I looked, I searched, but no more were to be found. Where was Neah Bay? Maybe a mirage on a map, an ancient city that the forest has reclaimed. Curse you Google Earth. I turned 180 to stare at my load. My blue tarp, drenched and shining, would provide me with ample cover. I stopped at a well, thicketed turnpike. There was barely enough room, but I think I could do it. My eyes welled with tears and the salt from the sea burnt my face, into my brain. This would be a terrible sleep or more specifically a bit of shelter until the rain and trucks let off. If they ever let off. A sudden veto, pushed me a few more miles and thankfully a town emerged, twinkling lights of a waning day welcomed me in.
I had no address, but found a pay phone at the one, the only, the Tye Motel. Hiding under the lip of the small bent out of recognition, rain gutter, I shoved my scummy last quarter into the well used rotary time relic and slowly dialled the numbers. Couchsurfer Vicki answered. She asked where I was. Tye Motel. Well let me lead your vehicle to my place. I don’t have a vehicle. How did you get here? bicycle. Hang up. She gave up her bed so that I would have a warm sleep. She fed me elk soup. She said I was to never bike on that road again. Not even her grandfather, who would walk everywhere would set foot on that road. Sleep.
The next day, bright and early ,I was up. Vicki said….no, ordered that I was to stay the day in town and learn about the Makah Tribe, of which she was part of and who were the people of this land. With a past that extends back to the dawn of time, She told me many stories about the goats of Wada Island, the lighthouse operator and many other tales of peril and survival of living on the most Northwest tip of America. Before I left, I meekly asked her son to help me figure out my tent. He didn’t need to figure it out, he knew. With a smirk on his face, he showed me the paint by numbers version of how to set it up. Then I was off.
I explored the art of the people at someone’s private home gallery. A sign read please ring the bell. I did and I was let into a single room, full of brightly colored oil paintings of fishing and hunting, hats of earth tones made of bark from local trees. The Makah museum informed of a town near by Ozete, that had had a mudslide and had resurfaced and had excavated in the 70s. 100 of relics painted a beautiful picture of a very distinct and proud nation of hunters and whalers. I sat inside of a reconstructed log house and stared out the window at a fake ocean scene. If someone was teleported here from the past of anytime that had lived in this area, the only thing that stays somewhat constant in character is the sea. Interesting how much cosmetic work we have put into our cities and landmasses. To what avail? To make it our own? Nature seems more individualistic than anything else could be, from humans to drops of water. Too many surgeries, our planet looks fake, over prothesised and all the same.
I purchased a bumper sticker to put on the Klalita. She looked so pretty with it on, I blushed for her. Evening was slowly making it’s lumbering way in. I returned to Vicki’s home to say my goodbyes to her and her family. She was my mother for a mere two days, but her impact and kindness and big heart will be something I will never forget. One of those wonderful people that description does no justice describing. She alone is worth a trip, by car or bus, the mythical shores of that enchanting other realm.
Onto the bus…vrooooom! I was in Forks. It was the dead of a cold night when I arrived. I emphasize dead and will continue to make vampire references throughout this paragraph, much to most people who read this’s chagrin. I bet not a person with braces reads my posts. Anyways, why vampires? Well if you love the Lights (the solo artist) and have just acquired a low voice (still with occasional pitch problems) and/or have a Chris Brown moustache, then you know that Forks is where the Twilight Series takes place. Art here, does not imitate life, but the other way around. That movie MADE Forks. Vampire pizzas. Vampire road signs. Even a guy selling wet kindle, saying it will “ward off the dark forces”. Wow. The kindling was tempting to buy, but I restrained myself, as I needed to find a place to sleep.
Picking up some vampire pizza, which tasted as bland as Robert Patteson’s character, I got a lead that the Forks visitor centre is left open at night and was heated. So to the visitor centre I went and made my bed on a bench, across from a snoring burly road worker, who smelled of a couple rounds to many to get back to his wife. The next day it was up with the sun again and off down the road to Amanda Park.
Stopped in Klalaloch for food. Curiosity of the odd had be follow a sign a few kilometers off course. The sign said “Big Tree” and I was curious as to what makes this tree worthy of a sign. Unfortunately the only way I could tell THE tree from all the other trees in the Hoh Rainforest was a placard below with a very distinct arrow pointing to it. The arrow almost seemed to expect that you were looking for Waldo in a forest full of waldos. So, saw the uninspiring tree. Thought positively about deforestation for a second and then I was on my way. Amanda Park was a trust exercise. A leap of truck faith and thank goodness trucks aren’t that sketchy looking thief at the beginning of the Aladdin movie or this story would have never been told (probably would have cut off my ear, cuz they didn’t like my face…it’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home). Check it out:
Where were we? Ah yes…on a trans-canal trip to Port Townsend, once named the “City of Dreams”. How like real dreams, did everyone wake up and realize a less vivid or prosperous reality. The masses of boats and people never came, and the city that waited to be a city was left as an immaculately built Victorian village.
It was night when I arrived. The city was asleep. Lucky for me, my Couch Surfing contact, had seen my ship from the shore and presumed, being that it was the last boat over, that I had to be on it. He picked me and Klalita up in his pick up and we whizzed off into the dark curvatures of the ghost dark tree highway to have dinner with his family. Bread and wine, a perfect lullaby. Waking at a good time in the morning to the sound of barking dogs at my door at Andrew’s dog and llama farm was the perfect alarm. Andrew built all that I saw on his land from the ground up. He was an actor too, a worldly, interesting, caring, family man of many different hats and he wore them all quite comfortably. I set off on my naked Klalita into town, passed the natural rock cliff that the main street buildings seamed to lazily rest on. Cute shops, cafes and even an ol’ movie theatre gave me a very Bohemian sense of the place. The coffee shop was what you’d expect when you see Tibetan flags at the window, full of coffees from foreign fair trade lands and loooooot of cookies that had ingredients that make baked goods for old people instead of the intended younger audiences. Oh…and there was no music store, only a record store with the owner’s fixie sitting at the front.
I started at the museum, where the curator gave me the town’s history. Nice gentleman who yearned for an audience, so I lent him my ear for close to half an hour. Well worth it, he knew it all and could answer all my questions. He also talked about the city’s prostitution history as if it were a major focal point, which was alright by me. The best displays were the odd things. An old funeral cart, a section on comic books and my personal favourite, a list of alternative names for a house of ill intent. After the museum, I walked in no direction in particular to look at some of the wonderful Victorian architecture the city has. I returned to Andrew’s just as the sun was dipping behind the trees. I played games with his kids on the jungle gym and pet the llamas, carefully.
Andrew had a wonderfully interesting life that you’ll just have to surf with him to fully appreciate it. A man of the land, the type of man I saw as a child played by John Wayne, but less racist and more emotionally connected to things and people he loved. The next day, I waved goodbye, drank some fresh squeezed orange (compliments of his son’s amazing juicing skills), squeezed past the heavy tubing welded dirt white gate and off down the road to Sequim.
Suddenly bam. I needed a bathroom. 5 or so k later I found one. I never made that mistake…..on this continent again.
Sequim, I arrived during a day shy of the Irrigation Festival, which apparently involved a produce throwing competition. Damnit, something I’ve always regretted missing. My couch surfer that night was a wonderful mother, who packed my panniers full of chocolate bars and energy bars. Her dog, Savvy, watched with curiosity as I ate food and glugged down a tall, red plastic glass of milk. TV, it’s glow I hadn’t seen in a while. Meh, it didn’t interest me and I soon was under the “In God We Trust” covers and fast asleep.
The hardest ride was just ahead…and…well….I don’t want to spoil your appetites. Enjoy!:
My name is Ira Cooper and this is the first post, of many, for Each Mile, a blog and episodic travelogue about my experiences, trials and tribulations in inexperienced, world bike touring.
Why do I say inexperienced? Well, when I decided to bike from Vancouver to Mexico last year I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I hadn’t biked more than probably 30 km in a row. Down the coast wise, that wouldn’t even get me out of this country. But that was the plan, down the coast, for two months. The consequence of doing so, a mere after thought probably processed at the American border where I was greeted with the I 5 and 20 km headwind.
“Why” is what psychiatrists and court room drama show viewers are most interested in. But what they aren’t too keen on is “I don’t know” as the answer. As I look back on it, I make up a plethora of logical sounding reasons; I wanted to prove that I could do it, I was bored. But really, to be dreadfully honest even if it doesn’t give you that tantalizing soundbite to make you want to follow my writing discourse, I really don’t know why I did what I did. What I do know is that from day one, biking was shot carelessly into my blood and everyday I fiend for a fix.
In February I bought my then unnamed black stallion. She cost me $220 and a not for profit bike shop, Our Community Bikes (http://pedalpower.org/our-community-bikes/), which is a wonderful place that everyone should check out if they want to learn, fix, indulge in bike-y-goodness. I attached a flashlight to her, some paniers, a sleeping bag and towels, a tent that a borrowed from a friend and never returned, snug to the back with of my steed with bungee cord. Since I wanted film as I travelled, I also brought a ridiculously heavy backpack with additional supplies. I didn’t really understand what clipless was, so bike shoes were out and Lugz were in. By day two, my spandexy, bulge inducing biking shorts started their new residency on the side of Chucknut Drive, just outside of Bellingham.
I had a GPS that made sure I was going in the right direction and a few tools that I had no idea how to use. On March 16th I was off. Go Pro? Go Handheld (another thing I realized I probably shouldn’t have done). The first few episodes I tried to make the show kitsch with a “hilarious” intro. Hope you enjoy Episode 1 of Each Mile: