8/31 – 9/6
“Two months of traveling and we are back where we started.”
Passing the ferry terminal in Bellingham, where we had initially set sale, felt a bit silly.
“It’s almost like we’ve accomplished nothing.”
We breezed through Washington in about a week. Vancouver to Larrabee State Park. Larrabee State Park to Fort Ebey. Down the shores of Samish and Padilla Bay and over Fidalgo Island to Deception Pass. What a bridge. Coast and cliffs. Ice cream and farm stand with little flies circling around red and yellow grape tomatoes. Fort Ebey to Port Hadlock.
September 1st was our 5 year anniversary of contractual agreements that ostensibly gave us claim to each other’s assets as well as shielded Soph from looming deportation. I was supposed to get EU citizenship and NHS healthcare out of the deal, but that had fallen into a fiery abyss of ruin courtesy of David Cameron. Still, I regret nothing.
More ferries. How many has it been now? A church sign on the side of the road says “To prevent sin burn, use Son screen.” A pasty brown haired messiah feeds a little lamb.
The highlight of Washington was Mike Samples. We had discussed meeting from the start of the trip, although Mike has a reputation for being elusive with travel plans. Soph and I threw a wrench into things by deciding to bypass Seattle traffic and take the islands. This put us on the other side of the Puget Sound from where Mike lived in Redmond. We were sending messages about meeting the previous night and into the morning. We would be passing about fifty five miles from his place, but it was a holiday weekend and he would need to take a ferry. The drive would take at least two hours. At the point where Soph and I had decided we probably would not see him, I got a text that read “I’m just going to start riding in your direction. Not bringing camping gear. Maybe we can get a beer. It’s probably not going to work, but I’m going to try.”
With that, Soph and I pulled off the road and somehow managed to find the last room available in all of Washington on Labor Day weekend. It was in an old renovated alcohol plant in Port Hardy that had been cleverly named “The Old Alcohol Plant.” At the same time, Mike performed a feat of superhuman strength and rode 55 miles and crossed Puget Sound on a ferry in less than 3 hours. We went out for burgers and learned that Port Hardy was a serious retirement and drinking town. A polka band in matching red shirts kept blue haired swingers moving. In the bathroom I had to wait for the urinal. The man in front of me turned as he zipped his pants and said, “Changing of the guard,” as he stumbled and almost fell through the door into and back towards the dance floor. Another walked in and saw the line and said, “I’ll be sweet talking that fine silver fox with the false teeth, tell me when it’s my shift sonny.” We got drunk, rode back to our swanky room with a view over the harbor, and emptied beers into our bellies and laughed on the floor. Mike taught us about artificial intelligence and how he is making the world a better and more efficient place with virtual reality headsets. “Soon we’ll all be cyborgs!”
The next day he let Soph ride his fourteen pound racing bike while he gave her a break from 90 pounds of touring gear. It was satisfying to see him struggle up the hills. He tried mine, 110 pounds, and was visibly awkward and wobbly. We had sustainably sourced coffee with organic bagels made from organic wheat fertilized with the shit of organic chickens because that is just how things are on The West Coast and carried on for 10 miles before they swapped and he started back toward the city. After he leaves we ride along dynamite blown cliffs with chain link blankets draped over them and little pebbles dropping to the road. I think about the last 24 hours and about how just the other day I’d been thinking that maybe we were moving too fast and realize that if we hadn’t made it in the moment we had then none of the last twenty four hours would have transpired.
My hangover was getting the best of me and we decided to stop at Dosewallups campground. There was dog shit all over the hiker/biker area, but we found a clean spot and I was excited to hit the lake. I waded out and otters swam 50 feet from me. Poking their heads up, then down, then up a little closer. I napped in a flattened bed of sea grass exposed by low tide. I thought about Mexico and how someday soon I would be sitting in this same spot but in another country and a beer and a taco would be a dollar and I would only understand twenty five percent of what everyone said and more likely than not the other seventy five percent would be the interesting part.
Dosewallups to Lake Isabella. More forest fires. They smell nice. Pickup trucks crop dust us with black exhaust. Skydivers float down to an airfield next to the road and land gracefully. Memories of skydiving over Zion sandstone temples and that weird adrenaline rush that lasted for hours after float through my head. Lake Isabella. Old ranch and orchard donated by rich man for public space. Blackberries, apples, pears, filberts. Old man loans us a ladder to pick fruit. Hipster kids on motor cycles, “Avoid Aberdeen,” they say, “It sucks.” We camp in the orchard and wonder if we should be sleeping in a giant patch of sweet smelling bear food. Barn roof screeches in the wind all night as apples hit the ground and little mice nibble on rotting fruit.
Lake Isabella to Bruceport. Bird pecking at apple while I lay awake in early stretches of dawn. Fog everywhere reminds me of fires in Canada. Little droplets of dew on tent, but bikes are dry under old apple trees. Girl foraging blackberries in high heels on the side of the road. A gas station in Montesano….. Soph asked for water. Woman behind the counter says “We don’t do that.” Owner walks in after talking to me and says, “They're going to Argentina, fill their water!” Lunch on the Chehalis River. Man named Gary mowing the lawn and I ask if there is public river access. “Just go in my backyard, it’s right on the river and there is a little dock. Make yourselves at home.”
South Bend. Oyster capital of the world. Smells like rotting shellfish. Reminds me of being sixteen and shucking oysters behind the bar. Grocery store playing country songs, “God is great, beer is good.” A woman in the parking lot asked where we’re heading.
"Careful in South America" she says. “They’re all in drug wars.”
“Oh wow, all of them?”
“Yeah, especially Nicaragua and Venezuela.”
“I don’t think they’re really in……”
“They are! They’re all in drug wars. Everyone is dying and their dictators smoke crack.”
“Well you know we can’t always trust what we read in the paper. I was just in Canada and they told me to be careful in America because people are always shooting each other.”
“Well, we only shoot the blacks here honey. Be careful in South America. Tell them you’re from Canada.” She started to wobble across the street with her little shopping cart that doubled as a walking aid. “God bless.” she added as she waved with her back to me from the center of the road.
September 5th. Hipster kids at Lake Isabella had advised we stay at a place called Sou’Wester. It was a disappointment so we rode on to Cape Disappointment. Whole area is overrun with hotrods for a weekend car show. Campground is booked but they always make room for bikers. Ranger talk about rich drunk white men that killed natives and settled Washington. Chat with him after and he tells us how he rode the coast twenty years ago and when he got to the park he decided to stay forever.
Cape Disappointment to Astoria. Great ride through park trails and to the top of a hill dropping into Ilwaca. I don’t see the quick dip as I race down and my entire bike goes airborne as it angles back up. Soph hears me scream, “Holy Fuck,” but I land perfectly. Five mile bridge to Astoria. No shoulder and big climb at the end. Car going the opposite direction passes five vehicles at 60 mph and nearly hits us. Stop for coffee and I see that we have a potential warm showers host named Steve.