Tuesday, 29 September 2009

I Live in the Woods – Day 25 – 33 miles

As I woke this morning I had a moment of realisation. I live in the woods now. I am a forest dweller. For the last month, almost without exception I have slept in the woods. The same will be true of most of next month. When I started out on this trip I was a little worried I would never enjoy the camping part very much. I can now say that I genuinely enjoy sleeping in my little tent. Tucked up in my cosy sleeping bag on my fantastic Thermarest self-inflating mattress I sleep very well. I still wake most nights having heard some sort of noise outside. I'll lie awake for a few minutes wondering if I'm about to be devoured by a bear before eventually falling back to sleep. Of course when it rains camping is a miserable way of life but I have been very lucky so far. I am extremely thankful for this.

I had breakfast and chatted with a couple I hadn't met before last night. These 2 were like machines. Up super early and on the bikes at lest an hour an half before me. They were clocking up some big daily mileages too so I probably won't be seeing them again.

I was on the road by a respectable 10am. Before long I caught up with Elon. I found out this morning I have been spelling his name wrong up until now. We rode together for a bit before stopping off to take a look at some sand-dunes. The dunes are so vast in Oregon that it will take us 3 days to cycle the length of this particular stretch. We climbed to the highest point to get a good view. It was an incredible sight, the dunes are so vast that it's difficult to judge their size with so much uninterrupted sand.

We stayed together for the next 10 miles, separating once in a while due to differences in pace. It's good to ride with other people even when you can't talk to each other. There is some kind of unspoken communication that can make the ride more enjoyable. I also love to ride alone as it allows me to stop to take pictures or eat a snack on a whim.

I lost Elon as I entered Reedsport, the only proper town of the day. This would be my only opportunity to buy food for dinner so I stopped at the Safeway. Kate was sat outside wearing a bandage on her ankle. I was happy to see she was coping with the problem in her achilles tendon. We had all decided to do a short day today to try and allow Kate to rest up a bit. The Supermarket was really good and I was excited to find a can of vegetarian chilli and some instant mashed potato. I would have quite the feast tonight. I also bought a birthday card for Kate with the intention of getting everyone to sign it before her 30th birthday on Tuesday.

I cycled the remaining 13 miles with Kate, taking in a very long straight climb. We all decided that it's better to have a long hill with plenty of corners. At least that way it's possible to kid yourself that around the next corner you will reach the top.

Our home for tonight was the rather quiet but lovely William M Tugman State Park. I had a nice chat with a couple of elderly adventurers. They had many very impressive cycle tours under their belt but had settled down a bit now. They were riding some very odd bicycles that they carry around on the back of their RV. Rather than the usual saddle they had something much closer to a small armchair. They said they were scoping out potential kayaking spots. I admired their sense of adventure considering they must have been about 70.

Before dinner Elon, Kate, Brian, Beth and I all gathered to discuss the plan for the next couple of days. The plan is to cycle 50 miles tomorrow to the town of Bandon where we've booked a hostel for 2 nights. From Wednesday I may well end up leaving the group unfortunately. I need to start stepping up the daily mileage if I'm to make it to San Francisco for October 12th to meet my girlfriend. I'll need to increase my average daily mileage from around 40 to 60. California also has some pretty intimidating climbs in store so the next couple of weeks will be quite a physical challenge. I have a great incentive to make it on time so I'm sure I can do it.

The Early Bird - Day 24 – 35 miles

I slept a little restlessly. I was camped only a few feet from the beach and the roar of the ocean was incredibly loud. Rather than being the relaxing sound it should have been I kept thinking about what would happen if there were a tsunami. The threat of tsunami is very real on the Oregon coast and they don't let you forget it. There are signs everywhere stressing the fact that tsunamis have hit Oregon in the past and will do so in the future. I didn't let the disturbed night's sleep ruin my resolution to get an early start. I was on my bike by 9.15am. It wasn't that difficult and I didn't wake up any earlier than normal. I just cut out 3 hours of messing about. It was good to be on the road in the morning. There seemed to be far less traffic and the morning sea mist made everything look even more spectacular.

As I climbed a hill I heard the distinctive honking of sea-lions. I hoped at the top of the hill I might get a look over the cliff-edge and perhaps see one. It was better than I'd hoped for. I peered over the cliff-edge to see a colony of hundreds of sea-lions. Some were sunning themselves and making noise on the rocks, whilst others demonstrated their strength as swimmers in the ferocious surf. In the water a sea-lion is a graceful and powerful creature. On land it is like an angry fat man sunbathing.

For a while I've been considering renting a horse for a gallop along the beach. I haven't ridden a horse properly for 20 years but I imagine it's pretty much like riding a bike. I rode past a horse and it whinnied loudly at me as if to say, 'Come ride me!' I stopped at the side of the road and noticed the stables offered beach riding. Kate had expressed interest in riding a horse with me yesterday and I knew she wasn't far behind. I stopped for a couple of minutes and decided that if she appeared on the horizon we would go for a ride. After 2 minutes she didn't appear so I continued on. I don't mind riding my bike alone but I think I would need some moral support in that less familiar of saddles.

30 miles in I reached the town of Florence. I noticed a launderette. I have been in need of laundry services for quite a few days now. My towel smells like somebody has been using it to dry a dog. Inside the launderette I changed from my cycling gear into my jeans and shirt (my least worn items of clothing) and threw everything else in the washer. I felt a bit like that guy from the Levi's commercial back in the eighties. The launderette also had wifi and electricity. I enjoyed the opportunity to catch up on some emails and charge my laptop battery. It's not easy to keep all the electrical appliances charged when you are living in the woods.

I reached camp at Jessie M. Honeyman State Park. Elan and Kate were already there. I ate some lunch and went to take a look at the sand-dunes. The dunes were immense. Great mountains of sand. I climbed to the top of the highest peak. It wasn't easy with tired legs. At the top of the dune there was a steep drop off into a forest. The wind was incredibly powerful, it was difficult to face into the wind, the sand would surely blind somebody less spectacled than myself. I stopped to watch a couple sand boarding down one of the dunes. It looked like great fun until you reach the bottom and have to walk all the way to the top again. Once would be enough for me I should think.

Back at camp the place was filling up fast. Many new arrivals, some familiar faces, some I hadn't met before. The Germans were back to my surprise. I assumed with their early starts they would've been in California by now. They also had news of Nick and Callie who are now a couple of days behind me following some serious bike troubles. Another couple arrived who I've met a couple of times before but they've never done anything amusing enough to be mentioned here. They still haven't. 4 others arrived but by this point I had too many people to talk to so have yet to get to know them.

I spent a few minutes replacing my rear brake pads. It was a well overdue bit of maintenance. The old ones were worn right down to the metal. As I threw away the old ones I was pleased to think that I'd be riding tomorrow with about 100 grams less in the bag.

I joined Elan, Kate and Beth for dinner. Kate has been suffering with a bad heel for the past week. It is now quite bad, she's starting to worry whether she can keep up with the group. We're all especially keen to stay together until Tuesday as we want to celebrate Kate's 30th birthday then. Elan had managed to get some ice for Kate's ankle from some 'blue-hairs' (his term for old people) in an RV. It's difficult to know what to do but everyone is rallying around to try and get Kate better again.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Cramping my Style - Day 23 – 46 miles

I woke early and yet still somehow managed to leave late. It wasn't entirely my fault today. After everybody else set off it was just me and the old guy who'd been feeding the raccoons the night before. Last night he'd seemed like a cranky old guy but without everybody else around he was outgoing and friendly. His name was John and he was an impressive hiker who'd completed both the Appalachian and Pacific Coast Trails. He was now in need of a hip replacement so his hiking was on hold for a bit. John was in quite an unfortunate situation. Without health insurance he was unable to get his hip replacement. With a pre-existing hip condition he was not able to get health insurance. So now he was forced to live in a tent in state parks in order to qualify for what I think the Americans call Medicaid. John was a rich source of information about great hikes and bike trails in America. He'd also lived in Mexico for 6 years so was full of terrifying information about that too. Some of his friends had been killed and robbed whilst camping on the beach down there. Despite this he urged me to go to Mexico, he was clearly fond of the place. His advice was to always sleep somewhere secure and never to be on the roads after dark.

I was on the road at midday and in good spirits. The weather and scenery were excellent. Oregon is an incredible place and I understand I've been very lucky with the weather so far. I stopped in at a brilliant supermarket and bought a loaf of freshly baked cheese and jalapeño bread, a giant pot of hummus and a fruit salad. It was quite a feast and I couldn't wait to eat it. I found a small dirt road heading towards a beach. I took it to the end. At first I thought it was a dead-end until I noticed a small gap in the thick rhododendron hedge. I forced my way though and came to an opening. It was a secret little lookout over the beach. I sat and gorged myself, watching the powerful waves crashing on the rocks in front of me. I heard a noise behind me and turned to find a chipmunk staking out my lunch. Soon a squirrel appeared too. I felt a thousand tiny eyes on me from the bushes all around, each hoping I'd drop a crumb sooner or later.

Back on the bike I began developing stomach cramps. I should have waited a little longer after eating my beach banquet. The pain really affected my riding and I was forced to pedal very slowly. Despite the cramps I made it to the top of a wonderful long but gentle climb to Cape Foulweather. Somebody should really have a word with the marketing team behind Cape Foulweather as it was beautifully sunny and warm at the top. As I looked out over the miles of stunning coastline below I was approached by a bike groupie. A man in his sixties wearing a cycling t-shirt and a hearing-aid asked if he could take a picture of my bike. He told me about some of the cycling trips he'd done. He also asked about my trip but it was really a one-way conversation. If the hearing-aid was turned on at all then it didn't work. I let him talk himself out and headed off. Just as I was leaving the rest of his family arrived. They all seemed interested in my bike too and began prodding bits that interested them. Eventually they wandered off, I heard one of the ladies saying how nice my legs were. Chicks love Lycra shorts. She was a pensioner.

The ride today was filled with sign-posted points of interest. Americans conveniently make most of their attractions drive-thru. This allows them to park up their RV buses at the edge of a cliff and happily snap pictures of the view through the windscreen. I like to sneer at them but I'm not much better. I usually ride slowly through, snapping away with my camera, then rejoin the highway without ever leaving the comfort of my saddle.

Most of today's ride was marred by about 4 hours of stomach cramps. I've learned my lesson now and will be taking a proper lunch break in future. Having to ride so slowly all day meant I arrived at camp not long before sunset. I threw the tent up, jumped in the shower and then joined Elan and Kate on the beach to eat dinner and watch the sun go down.

Everybody was tired tonight after last night's big drinking session (2 pints). So after the sun disappeared into the ocean we all disappeared into our tents.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Rednecks and Raccoons - Day 22 – 39 miles

We all knew today would be tough. The previous night everybody was studying the map and elevation chart with grim fascination. There were 2 different thousand foot hills between us and our next campsite. I delayed setting off even more than I usually do. It was midday before I set off. Another thing I've learnt on this trip is that the anticipation of the hill is nearly always worse than the hill itself. As soon as I left the park the climb began. It was actually quite pleasant, not too steep and the road was very quiet. I passed a mountain biker with no bags pushing their bike. I pedalled on past at a nifty 5MPH feeling like Lance Armstrong. I reached the top without too much drama and feeling super-fit decided I might have a go at the hike to the viewpoint from the top. I studied the sign at the trailhead and saw the hike was a 5 mile round-trip. Without hesitation I hopped back on the bike and sped down the hill.

Half way down I slammed on the brakes, not believing what I'd just seen at the side of the road. I was 400 feet above sea-level, the ocean was miles away. Despite this, I was in the middle of a sand-dune stretching as far as I could see in all directions. Even more confusingly the usual mountain pine forest was growing throughout the sand-dune. It was quite beautiful, like some kind of alien planet.

I enjoyed another 20 miles of coastal scenery and gently rolling roads before reaching the second thousand foot hill of the day. I felt pretty confident at the bottom, having already made fairly light work of hill number 1. This hill was far less pleasant. The road was quite busy and the shoulder narrow. It's difficult to say whether the grade was steeper or if I was just more tired having already ridden 30 miles. After 20 minutes, convinced I was just rounding the final corner I went for a sprint finish. As I sprinted round the corner it became clear I was nowhere near the top. I felt like an idiot. The rest of the hill was even more of a struggle having used all my energy during my pointless sprint.

After limping the last few miles I made it to the campground and met Elan, Kate, Brian and Beth. For the first time the campground was near a town so we decided this was a good opportunity to go for a drink. As we prepared to leave I noticed a sneaky raccoon descending on our camp. It seemed unconcerned that we were watching as it walked up to one of our neighbours tents and began eating some food he'd left outside his tent. The fellow camper was asleep in his tent so we went over to tell the guy that a raccoon was eating his food. The guy didn't seem concerned, I think he was deliberately feeding the raccoon.

We found a bar. It was a fairly rough-looking establishment with clientèle to match. We were all drunk after our first pint. A cycle tourist is a very cheap date. We were approached by one of the local 'women'. She was, in her own words, intoxicated. The toothless hag asked us where we were from and what we were doing in town. Brian said that we'd all cycled across America in order to drink at this bar. She was looking for someone to play pool with her and her friend. Elan gladly volunteered. I was glad he was keeping the locals entertained so we could return to pleasant conversation. It wasn't long before we were all a bit rosy-cheeked and ready for bed.

Back in my tent I had trouble sleeping, convinced every noise I heard was the raccoon trying to steal my food. I could now understand how Elan had been driven to use pepper spray on one a few nights back.

It seems for now at least I have found a bunch of similarly paced, really good people to travel with. We are all starting to plan our days together with the intention of camping in the same place each night. These kind of shared experiences seem to accelerate friendships but I'm also aware that things can change quickly and this little group could disband as quickly as it came together. For now though it is a great way to travel.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Riding with Superman - Day 21 - 51 miles

It's starting to become a bit of a running joke with my fellow travellers that I am a bit slow in the mornings. I am always, without exception the last to get riding each day. Today I was running even later as I'd lost my cycle computer. I was really annoyed as it contains my exact mileage so far and I really didn't want to lose that. Over breakfast I carried out a series of investigations, accusing almost everybody on the camp ground of stealing it. Once everybody had left I found it at the bottom of one of my bags and felt a bit silly.

I began the route by taking a detour from the usual coastal route. This road had been recommended to me by Chris the surfer who'd ridden it a few days before. It was a great route, almost no traffic and a real change of scenery. I traded views of beaches and the ocean for a small inland mountain range and farmland.

After a couple of hours I rejoined the coastal highway and stopped for a snack. Another cyclist pulled up alongside me. His name was Ed, an American, probably 50 years old and a little scruffy in appearance. He had started riding back in May from his home in Colorado, heading north to Alaska. Once inside the Arctic Circle he'd turned around and headed south, down the west coast. I noticed a can of bear spray (highly concentrated pepper spray for use in bear attack) protruding from his handlebar bag. Like a child I asked if he'd ever had to use it in a combat situation. He said no but he'd seen many Grizzly Bears throughout his journey in the far north. In fact he told me he'd woken that very morning from his wild campsite in the woods to find a pile of fresh bear poo directly outside of his tent. This guy was tough. He'd hiked the entire Appalachian Trail a few years back. This is a 2,100 mile mountain trail through the wilderness – only 3% of hikers who start the trail make it all the way to the end. In my eyes I was talking to Superman. He even wore a shirt open at the front which billowed behind him like a cape as he cycled. I rode with him for a while. He was fast, as you'd expect from a man with several thousands of miles in the bank. He didn't know where he'd end up that day, I get the impression he covers more than 100 miles on some days. Up north when he had 24 hours of daylight he would sometimes cycle until 11pm. Eventually we went our separate ways and I was secretly glad to be able to return to my own slower pace.

I came to a fork in the road. I knew most of my crew had planned to take the shorter of the 2 available routes cutting out more than 10 miles of very hilly riding. I had a small crisis of conscience before deciding to take the longer, hillier route. I felt strong and somewhat inspired by Ed. The route was indeed hilly with several miles of climbing to reach Cape Meares State Park. At the top I found an incredible view of the bay below and a large spruce tree that had somehow grown into the shape of an octopus. It was called the Octopus Tree and was a bit of a tourist attraction.

After descending from Cape Meares I called in at a grocery store to pick up some dinner. It was a sorry excuse for a shop. The selection of vegetables included a few peppers and tomatoes, all were no doubt great in their day, but that day I'm afraid was now a distant memory. I noticed a very hairy French couple loitering around the store. I didn't trust the way they were looking at my bike so I gave them the stink eye.

Sometime after a 2 mile hilly wrong turn later I found myself at Cape Lookout State Park. I spoke with a wonderfully jolly park ranger who pointed me in the direction of the hiker/biker area. Another really wonderful spot, situated in some fairly wild woodland and only 2 minutes walk from the beach. I saw Kate and sat down for a chat with her about the day's events. Chris had also arrived and set up camp but was down at the beach surfing.

When Chris returned I asked to have a closer look at his hammock. Unlike the rest of us who are camping in tents, Chris has a hammock that he ties up between 2 trees. The hammock has a tarp over the top and a also a fly-sheet. He offered to let me have a go in it which I was quite pleased about. It was really comfortable but I'm not sure I could sleep in it for long. I'd be too worried about falling out in the middle of the night.

An hour later Elan arrived with a new couple, Brian and Beth. A pair of young Americans who'd got married 3 days before beginning their trip. This was their honeymoon and they were riding as far as San Diego. Brian was doing the whole journey on a fixed-wheel bike. I was pretty impressed that he'd been tackling the same hills I'd been battling with just the one gear to choose from.

After dinner Elan made a campfire and we gathered once again. We were joined by the hairy French couple I'd seen earlier and I felt a little bad for flashing them the stink eye. They were very nice and obviously had no interest in stealing my bike.

Another friendly and enjoyable gathering but like our energy levels at the end of the day, the fire soon died down and we all went to bed.

Campfires and Coyotes - Day 20 – 25 miles

Check-out time was 11am so I left the motel at 10.59am to fully make use of their comforts. I planned a short ride today. I'm finding that instead of taking a rest day I prefer to do only a few miles, but at least keep progressing southwards.

The weather was hot again, about 30 degrees. I find this to be a very pleasant riding temperature as on a bike you generate your own breeze. The exception to this is when you're climbing a long hill at only 5MPH.

At the the end of the first small climb I was rewarded with an incredible view taking in a number of headlands, each covered a little in my first views of the Pacific mist I'd heard about. I descended the other side of the hill and stopped off at the beach briefly. It didn't look nearly as impressive down on the beach. I'm starting to learn that in order to get the good views you need to climb a big hill.

At the next viewpoint I was approached by a fairly old American chap who'd parked his RV at the viewpoint. He asked me the usual questions about where I was headed, but unlike most other interested strangers he was determined to probe a little deeper. He wanted to know how I could afford to do such a trip, whether I was picking up any girls on the way and any number of other things that weren't really his business. It was the first time I've been tempted to make up more interesting answers to what are becoming the regular standard questions. I fear as the journey progresses I may start telling a series of more impressive and shocking lies about my trip for my own amusement.

20 miles in I began the first of the 2 big climbs I had heard were in store for me today. I was really pleased to notice how much stronger I'm feeling on the bike. I put my head down and kept pedalling at a rate I could have continued for miles. A week ago I would not have been swearing my way up those hills. I noticed another cyclist in front, nearly at the top of the hill. He had a very large trailer and seemed to be weaving all over the road. I passed him and he did not look in great physical condition. As I reached the top of the hill he shouted, 'You made it to the top of the hill, you're a monster!' This is exactly the kind of thing you want to hear after making to the top of a tough hill.

As I neared camp I popped into a grocery store to pick up some food for the evening meal. It was a great little store with heaps of fresh fruit and veg (a bit of a rarity in smaller American grocery stores) and even a pair of flip-flops to replace the ones I lost off the back of the bike whilst in Canada.

Nehalem State Park was really excellent - my first Oregonian camping experience. Only $4 dollars for the night (special cyclists rate throughout Oregon) and free showers. As I pulled into the hiker/biker section of the park I saw Elan and Kate who I'd met a few days back at the snakey campsite. It was really good to see them again and we had a lot to catch up on with our adventures of the last few days. Kate told me how the previous night she'd been disturbed by noises outside the tent. She got up to investigate and found Elan fighting off a bunch of Raccoons by spraying them with mace. They'd been trying to eat his food and he was dead-set on teaching them a lesson.

Once set up and showered I took a walk to the beach. It was a good as any beach I've ever seen, with miles of secluded sand dunes and huge Pacific waves. I was tempted to break out my as yet unused swimming shorts but instead I found my own bit of sand dune and read my book for a couple of hours in the sun. It was simple yet beautiful.

Back at camp things were buzzing. After staying in mostly very quiet parks so far, things seemed much busier in Oregon. I met Brian, the guy I'd seen earlier struggling to make it up the hill. He was not your typical touring cyclist. Without wishing to seem unkind he appeared not to have done much training for his ride. If he had done any preparation at all it was mainly in the storing of calories. Another new face was Zach, another trailer cyclist who seemed to have bought his entire set of belongings with him. Later on I was shocked to see him produce a fold-out, fully reclining camp chair. Also camping with us was a guy who's name I forget so a shall refer to him as Beardy Hiker. I felt a little sorry for him as I think he felt a little excluded, being the only one without a bike. Next was Chris, a guy I'd already heard rumours of. He's unique in the respect that he's pulling a surfboard in addition to the usual collection of camping gear.

Zach got a good fire going in the centre of the camp and eventually everyone gathered for the evening. It was great to hear everyone's story of how they came to be on the road. I got talking to Chris about surfing and my interest in learning. He told me about a good place to learn a few days further south. He said he'd be happy to give me a lesson if I hire a wetsuit and board and meet him down there. Brian was hilarious as he is clearly not enjoying the cycling. He was obsessed with trying to get to the bottom of Oregon, somehow avoiding all hills. We all discussed our plans for the next day and many of us agreed to meet at the next campsite tomorrow. Just before we all retired to our tents a loud and piercing collection of howls made everybody fall silent. I asked what the noise was, it was a pack of coyotes and they were close. I was very excited by this, I really hope I'll get to see a coyote at some point. It was a really fun night and a great example of how a bunch of strangers can be bought together by the primitive appeal of the camp-fire.

I went to bed having had a great day both on the bike and off. Today was everything I'd hoped for when I began planning this trip months ago. I'm sure they'll be many more like this as the journey goes on.

Day 20 – 25 miles

Check-out time was 11am so I left the motel at 10.59am to fully make use of their comforts. I planned a short ride today. I'm finding that instead of taking a rest day I prefer to do only a few miles, but at least keep progressing southwards.

The weather was hot again, about 30 degrees. I find this to be a very pleasant riding temperature as on a bike you generate your own breeze. The exception to this is when you're climbing a long hill at only 5MPH.

At the the end of the first small climb I was rewarded with an incredible view taking in a number of headlands, each covered a little in my first views of the Pacific mist I'd heard about. I descended the other side of the hill and stopped off at the beach briefly. It didn't look nearly as impressive down on the beach. I'm starting to learn that in order to get the good views you need to climb a big hill.

At the next viewpoint I was approached by a fairly old American chap who'd parked his RV at the viewpoint. He asked me the usual questions about where I was headed, but unlike most other interested strangers he was determined to probe a little deeper. He wanted to know how I could afford to do such a trip, whether I was picking up any girls on the way and any number of other things that weren't really his business. It was the first time I've been tempted to make up more interesting answers to what are becoming the regular standard questions. I fear as the journey progresses I may start telling a series of more impressive and shocking lies about my trip for my own amusement.

20 miles in I began the first of the 2 big climbs I had heard were in store for me today. I was really pleased to notice how much stronger I'm feeling on the bike. I put my head down and kept pedalling at a rate I could have continued for miles. A week ago I would not have been swearing my way up those hills. I noticed another cyclist in front, nearly at the top of the hill. He had a very large trailer and seemed to be weaving all over the road. I passed him and he did not look in great physical condition. As I reached the top of the hill he shouted, 'You made it to the top of the hill, you're a monster!' This is exactly the kind of thing you want to hear after making to the top of a tough hill.

As I neared camp I popped into a grocery store to pick up some food for the evening meal. It was a great little store with heaps of fresh fruit and veg (a bit of a rarity in smaller American grocery stores) and even a pair of flip-flops to replace the ones I lost off the back of the bike whilst in Canada.

Nehalem State Park was really excellent - my first Oregonian camping experience. Only $4 dollars for the night (special cyclists rate throughout Oregon) and free showers. As I pulled into the hiker/biker section of the park I saw Elan and Kate who I'd met a few days back at the snakey campsite. It was really good to see them again and we had a lot to catch up on with our adventures of the last few days. Kate told me how the previous night she'd been disturbed by noises outside the tent. She got up to investigate and found Elan fighting off a bunch of Raccoons by spraying them with mace. They'd been trying to eat his food and he was dead-set on teaching them a lesson.

Once set up and showered I took a walk to the beach. It was a good as any beach I've ever seen, with miles of secluded sand dunes and huge Pacific waves. I was tempted to break out my as yet unused swimming shorts but instead I found my own bit of sand dune and read my book for a couple of hours in the sun. It was simple yet beautiful.

Back at camp things were buzzing. After staying in mostly very quiet parks so far, things seemed much busier in Oregon. I met Brian, the guy I'd seen earlier struggling to make it up the hill. He was not your typical touring cyclist. Without wishing to seem unkind he appeared not to have done much training for his ride. If he had done any preparation at all it was mainly in the storing of calories. Another new face was Zach, another trailer cyclist who seemed to have bought his entire set of belongings with him. Later on I was shocked to see him produce a fold-out, fully reclining camp chair. Also camping with us was a guy who's name I forget so a shall refer to him as Beardy Hiker. I felt a little sorry for him as I think he felt a little excluded, being the only one without a bike. Next was Chris, a guy I'd already heard rumours of. He's unique in the respect that he's pulling a surfboard in addition to the usual collection of camping gear.

Zach got a good fire going in the centre of the camp and eventually everyone gathered for the evening. It was great to hear everyone's story of how they came to be on the road. I got talking to Chris about surfing and my interest in learning. He told me about a good place to learn a few days further south. He said he'd be happy to give me a lesson if I hire a wetsuit and board and meet him down there. Brian was hilarious as he is clearly not enjoying the cycling. He was obsessed with trying to get to the bottom of Oregon, somehow avoiding all hills. We all discussed our plans for the next day and many of us agreed to meet at the next campsite tomorrow. Just before we all retired to our tents a loud and piercing collection of howls made everybody fall silent. I asked what the noise was, it was a pack of coyotes and they were close. I was very excited by this, I really hope I'll get to see a coyote at some point. It was a really fun night and a great example of how a bunch of strangers can be bought together by the primitive appeal of the camp-fire.

I went to bed having had a great day both on the bike and off. Today was everything I'd hoped for when I began planning this trip months ago. I'm sure they'll be many more like this as the journey goes on.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

A Bridge too Far - Day 19 - 36 miles

The mornings are normally chilly. Today was different. Packing up the tent was a sweaty affair. It felt like summer for the first time.

I left Cape Disappointment via a scenic, hilly road. I don't know if there are other countries which build roads purely for the purpose of giving a scenic drive but I've noticed this is something they like to do in the US. I was in good spirits, looking forward to the journey into Oregon.

15 miles in, I met with my first tunnel. Before entering the tunnel I had to stop and press a button which triggered a flashing light warning motorists to watch out for a cyclist in the tunnel. People who think America is not a country that cares about cyclists should take note of things like this. Once out of the tunnel I caught sight of the bridge linking Washington with Oregon over the mouth of the fearsome Columbia River. On the road approaching the bridge I was being seriously buffeted by a strong crosswind. As I joined the bridge I was dismayed to see a fairly narrow shoulder and even more dismayed to find the crosswind to be just as bad on the bridge. In order to safely cross the bridge I had to stay within the narrow shoulder. The wind gusted so badly it was all I could do to maintain a steady course. A few inches to the left and I would veer into the course of the traffic coming from behind, a few inches to the right and I would hit the barrier and probably ricochet even more uncontrollably into the passing traffic. I had to grip the handlebars as tightly as I could, with my head down, leaning forward to use my weight to keep the steering from straying left or right. The bridge was 4.2 miles long so I had to maintain this for at least 20 minutes. Logging trucks sped past, disrupting the air-flow even more unpredictably. This was the most challenging ride of my life. My hands started to get numb, pins and needles in my fingers made me wonder how long I could keep going like this. When I thought things couldn't get any worse I reached the final mile of the bridge. At this point the bridge climbed steeply, high above the river. With the increasing elevation the wind increased and my energy levels decreased. There was nowhere to stop so I just had to keep pedalling. Finally I began the descent to the end of the bridge. As I left the bridge I pulled immediately into a car park, not even noticing the Welcome to Oregon sign right in front of me. I regained my composure and almost kissed the tarmac. I'd made it to Oregon.

I avoided the temptation to visit the city of Astoria where the Goonies was set. It would surely not live up to my expectations. The treasure would almost certainly be all gone by now. I continued south down the 101 highway and before half a mile had passed I spied another bridge. I laughed to myself, this couldn't be happening. On closer inspection the bridge had a much more generous shoulder and no wind so I made light work of it.

I was already enjoying Oregon, it was full of helpful signs for cyclists and seemed to have many more lunch options available than I'd seen in my last few days in Washington. I'd pretty much made up my mind that today I'd stay in a motel. I didn't want to take a day off cycling but I was growing a little tired of all the work associated with setting up and dismantling camp so I thought I needed a reminder of why camping was so appealing.

I arrived in the town of Seaside and pulled off of the highway to take a look around for motels. I took a ride along the beach promenade. Seaside has a seriously impressive beach with enormous waves. This would be a good place to take some surfing lessons. I found a cheap motel a bit out of town. They only had a room on the first floor and there was no lift so I had to struggle a bit to get my bike and all my gear upstairs. Once in I took the worlds longest shower and laid on the bed watching TV. It felt good to stop for a bit and do nothing. I kept thinking about popping into town for a look around or to take those surfing lessons but decided I should just do nothing for a bit.

Evening came and I popped out to find something for dinner. I was forced to walk on the hard shoulder of the highway for about a mile before reaching any sort of takeaway food vendor. I found a takeaway pizza place and ordered a large pizza. It took only 2 minutes before I was told my pizza was ready which aroused my first suspicion that something was awry. The lady then presented me with a rather beautifully prepared and entirely uncooked pizza. I did a bit of a double-take and asked something I didn't think one should have to in such an establishment. I wanted it cooked. 'We don't cook 'em here, it's take 'n' bake', she said. She could see I was about to cry and offered me my money back. I have never heard of this take 'n' bake concept before. It's seems completely ridiculous to me that you would drive to a shop and have them make a pizza for you to then take home and cook yourself. Come on America, what are you playing at?

I left the flawed-concept of a pizza parlour and headed to my only other option, a Taco Bell. I've eaten at a Taco Bell before and it was disgusting so I knew what to expect. This place actually doubled as a KFC so I was under no illusion here that the kitchen staff were in any way fussed about what they tossed into the deep-fryer. It took me a while to negotiate an off-menu combination of food that didn't contain meat and I walked away reasonably happy with my meal.

Back at the motel stuffing my face with cold imitation Mexican food, obtained via a 2 mile round-trip along the hard shoulder of a busy highway, I was very happy. I'd achieved my goal. I was ready to camp again.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Maybe Tomorrow - Day 18 – 40 miles

I woke just before 8am and climbed out of the tent. It was freezing, there was almost a frost on the ground. This was not how I wanted to start today so I got back in my sleeping bag, pulled it tight around my neck and went back to sleep.

An hour later the sun had kicked in and it was a more acceptable breakfasting temperature. The campsite was so comfortable and welcoming I lazed around until midday.

Having looked at the map I could see I was in for another lonely ride. It was over 30 miles until the next town so I decided to start with a 2 mile detour to the shop in Bay Center. To call it a shop is to stretch the word 'shop' to the very limit. Bay Center grocery store has a lot of shelves, some fridges and even a deli counter. Unfortunately they are all pretty much empty. I grabbed a few chocolate bars and some trail mix and headed south again.

It was a beautiful day, not a single cloud in the sky. I decided to ride without my gloves with a view to getting rid of the embarrassing tan-lines on my hands. I felt much more positive today, I was embracing the lonely road and the miles of untamed wetlands lining the route. At times I would start to wonder what would happen if I accidentally rode off the side of the road, only 12 inches to the right. I would plunge, unhindered by barriers or trees, directly into the water below. The more I starter to think about it, the more my front wheel began to wobble.

After 15 miles without seeing anybody I noticed a cyclist appearing from behind a large tree stump quite a distance from the road. I tried to give him a friendly nod but realised he was probably taking a poo in a bush.

I continued down the road for another 2 miles and noticed what appeared to be a person sitting down in the hard shoulder. As I got closer I realised it was a cyclist, sitting on the ground behind his bike. He looked a little dazed so I stopped to ask if he was ok. It didn't seem right to be sitting down on the hard shoulder of such a big road. 'I'm fine, just hydrating.', he replied. He was young, perhaps 20 years old with long, scruffy hair. He asked if I'd seen his friend. I told him about the guy in the bush. We talked about our respective journeys. He and his friend had travelled from the mid-west across the vast, flat prairies. They were bound for Portland, Oregon. As I made to leave he asked, 'Smoke pot?', offering me his pipe. I smiled, politely declining and left him to it. It seemed odd to me that given the miles of surrounding forest he'd chosen to sit in the hard shoulder of a highway to smoke his pipe. I'd be interested to know how long their journey has taken. Possibly years.

When cycling back in the UK I'm always startled by the amount of road-kill I see. I'd noticed that up until the last couple of days I'd hardly seen any in Canada and the US. For some reason though, in the last couple of days I've seen some very disturbing sights. Frogs, snakes and raccoons mainly. Today I saw what I think was a porcupine at the side of the road. As I passed I gave it a good look to try and properly identify it, when from the trees I heard a loud growl. I pedalled away quite quickly and then stopped at what I deemed to be a safe distance. I waited, expecting to see a bear come out of the trees to collect the porcupine. To my disappointment nothing came. I don't know what that growl was, but it was loud. I suppose it could have been my stomach given that I'd missed lunch.

In the end I didn't pass a shop, gas station or cafe for 35 miles. It's hard to eat properly in this kind of environment. When I finally came to a grocery store I loaded up on food for dinner. A few miles later I reached Cape Disappointment State Park. I was curious to find out how this cape was given such a negative sounding name. Apparently some guy in the 19th century went looking for the mouth of the Columbia river (only a few miles south) and couldn't find it. I'm not sure how long he looked or why he so wanted to find it, the important thing is he was disappointed.

The camping area was decent enough with raccoon-proof food storage for cyclists. I put up the tent and went to the showers. I knew I had 2 remaining Washington State Park shower tokens remaining. I also knew that this would be the last state park I would stay at in Washington, as tomorrow I cross the Oregon border. You will understand then my annoyance at finding the shower was operated by quarter-dollars rather than tokens. I would never get to use my remaining shower tokens. That's money not down the drain, I thought to myself, attempting to ease the loss with some clever word-play.

I was the only person camping in the cyclists area of the park tonight so none of the usual cycle touring banter was had. To be honest I was glad to have the chance to catch up with my book about the South Pole.

Tomorrow I will leave Washington and begin the journey through Oregon. Everybody says this is the highlight of the trip so I'm looking forward to it. I could probably do with a day off, not having had a proper rest day for more than a week. It's hard to stop though. I have an urge to keep moving even though there is no rush. I must learn how to stop now that I have learnt how to go.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

I don't Love Raymond - Day 17 – 55 miles

Someone who knows more about weather than me may be able to explain why last night, as soon as the sun went down it began pouring with rain and the moment it came up, it stopped. The noise of the rain hammering down on my tent like bullets kept me up for half the night. I asked Elan if the rain had affected his sleep at all, he said he found the noise soothing. Elan is a lovely chap, but almost the exact opposite of me.

Today's plan was a fairly big ride to Bay Center. The ride began on a long straight road that I could not see the end of. It was 10 miles of very boring riding, for some reason almost every house at the side of the road was having a yard sale. That's 10 miles of yard sales. Or to put in terms you can visualise, enough old crap to fill Wembley Stadium 3 times.

It wasn't long before I'd completely left all traces of civilisation. A mixture of beaches and marshland that stretched on for miles. There were very few cars, no houses and no cyclists. I started to feel very lonely. I wasn't enjoying being on the bike at all. After 25 miles I decided I would cut the ride short and stop in a motel in the town of Raymond. I trudged the last 5 miles into Raymond. I cycled through what the residents of Raymond probably call the town centre. There was a drive-thru bank and a horrible looking diner. It depressed me to the core. I couldn't stay here for a night so I forced myself to continue the remaining 25 miles to Bay Center.

In retrospect the scenery was pretty special but I couldn't appreciate it today. I was feeling homesick and sick of the endless pedalling into the vicious headwind.

I arrived at my campsite in Bay Center. For a change today I was staying at a private campground, not a state park. What a delight it was. It had a shop, free showers and a tarp to protect my tent from the rain.

While setting up the tent I met another cyclist called Matt. He was from Nova Scotia and was cycling from Vancouver to San Diego. He was deviating a little from the standard route though. His plan was to take in all the skate parks along the way. The idea of bringing a skateboard seems like such a frivolous luxury to someone who spent a week considering whether to bring a second pair of pants. Matt has a slightly different approach to carrying his luggage than me. He is towing a trailer instead of the more usual pannier bags front and back that I've opted for. The trailer vs panniers debate could rage on for days amongst some of the more militant touring cyclists.

Matt wasn't camping at the campground he was staying in a friends RV next to the beach, about a mile down the road. He invited me down for a beer so I had dinner and rode down there, pedalling as fast I could not to miss the sunset. On the road to Matt's RV I noticed a large dog standing, carefree in the middle of the opposite lane. It was nearly dark and I was concerned the dog would be run down by a car. Sure enough, within a second I noticed a truck speeding toward the dog. The dog seemed completely nonchalant about it's inevitable fate, almost deliberately suicidal. I didn't think the truck would see the dog in the fading light so I began riding in the wrong lane, heading straight for the truck. I thought at the very least the driver would see me and slow down. My presence in the other lane only spurred the dog to run straight towards the oncoming truck. This wasn't looking good. I swerved madly in an attempt to steer the dog off the road. This tactic worked and the dog moved into the other lane with only seconds to spare.

The RV was parked at the end of a very remote little road next to the beach. I'd made it just in time to see the last few minutes of sunset. It was worth the rush. The tide was out so far, we couldn't even see the sea any more. The beach was filled with endless tide-pool reflecting the dying sunlight.

We retired to the RV for some beers. Such luxury after weeks spent in a one-man tent. Sofas, music, electric lights and my first beer in more than 3 weeks. We were really living it up. Matt was a really interesting guy and it was good to chat with another solo traveller and share experiences.

On the way home I thought how I'd almost stopped in Raymond to stay the night in a motel. I'd been right to push myself on to this great campsite, beers and sunset. I must remember this the next time I suffer a moment of weakness.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Snakes Alive! - Day 16 – 43 miles

The day began with a double-size Fruity Porridge. I've started doubling the size of all my meals as it's clear from my fluctuating energy levels I've not been eating enough. As I was heating things up one of the Truckers I'd met the previous evening came over and asked if she could take my picture. I dutifully posed not knowing how many people will be subjected to this picture as it features in the slideshow of their 'Big Bike Ride'.

Once on the road it was 10 miles of scary freeway riding again before reaching the next town of Aberdeen. This town is, I believe, where Kurt Cobain spent his formative years before moving to Seattle. There is a large sign as you enter the town which reads: 'Welcome to Aberdeen. Come as you are'. I'm sure this is just the kind of memorial Kurt would have wanted. The town was pleasingly grim and industrial looking. Pretty much how I had imagined the birthplace of Grunge to look.

After Aberdeen I joined a much more pleasant, quieter road. The ride was spoiled slightly by the now familiar game of 'spot the suitable place to pee'. The game is quite simple. Whilst travelling at up 20MPH you scan the hedgerow for possible gaps. Deciding within the space of about quarter of a second whether you could take a pee there without being spotted by passing vehicles. One of the pitfalls of the game is that you quite often spot a place after it is too late to stop. This is very frustrating and with each one that goes past you get more desperate. The longer you play the game, the more you are willing to try risky spots. Leave it long enough and you will be happy to just stop the bike and pee directly into the oncoming traffic.

I arrived at Twin Harbours State Park, the campground for tonight. I decided to camp in the part of the site dedicated to cyclists as I was expecting Nick and Callie to arrive later. It was a bit shabby and wild looking but it's cheaper than the other parts of the campground. The place was inhabited by thousands of frogs. Every step I took would see frogs leap from under where my foot was about to fall. I set up the tent and was just about put the sleeping bag inside when right in front of me I noticed a snake. It was a 3 foot long Garter snake. Non-poisonous but quite a shock when you're not expecting to see it. I'm no great expect on snakes but I knew for sure it was a Garter snake as my brother used to own a pet Garter snake when we were children. I watched it for a while, it allowed me to get very close. I didn't much like the idea of camping with snakes and I considered moving my tent for to another spot. I then realised this was ideal practice for Mexico so forced myself to stay. I did take the precaution of leaving my sleeping bag in the stuff-sack though. I didn't want it getting in there. Later on I noticed another Garter snake, much younger than the other one I'd seen. Great, this wasn't just a snake that happened to be passing. I was camping in a snake's nest. God knows how many hundred snakes were eyeing my tent from the bushes, waiting for the perfect moment to slither inside.

The beach town of Westport was just a couple of miles away so I thought I'd take a quick look. It was a fairly depressing place. A sort of fishy-smelling industrial-estate rather the quaint seaside town I had in mind.

Back at the campground I met a couple of newly arrived cyclists and showed them to the cyclist's area of the site. Elan, a tatto-covered American guy and Kate, an Australian with a flat tyre. Elan was riding a lovely 1970's Peugeot racing bike with racks he'd welded himself, whereas Kate was a fellow Long Haul Trucker. We bumped into Nick and Callie who'd set up camp on the other side of the campground. It was amusing to find that everybody already knew each other from meeting at some previous point of the journey.

I had dinner with Elan and Kate and got to know them a bit better. They were very easygoing and generous people, sharing their food with me. After dinner Elan pointed out that today was our first day where we could actually see the Pacific ocean, our constant companion on the right-hand side for the rest of the trip. We all took a walk to the beach to mark this fact. The beach - although not the nicest I've seen - was perhaps the longest. It stretched further than I could see, disappearing at the horizon. I wondered if it would be possible to cycle all the way to Mexico along the beach.

Back at camp it was dark and the frogs had stepped their game up even further. I was most concerned about squashing one with my cycling shoes. The metal cleat on the underside of the shoe would be less like to engage cleanly with the pedal if it became gunked up with frog guts. As I unzipped the door to my tent frogs scattered. The last thing I want is a frog jumping around my tent. Correction: the last thing I want is a snake slithering around my tent.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race - Day 15 - 62 miles

I woke late at 8am. By the time I was out of my tent the Germans had predictably packed everything up and were almost ready to ride. The Canadians who I know now as Nick and Callie were not far from being ready themselves. I didn't mind running a little late as I was expecting a fairly short ride of 45 miles today.

Once on the road I slipped into a nice rhythm, slightly slower than my normal pace, having learned some valuable lessons yesterday from Jordan. I was riding alongside some large deserted beaches so was keeping my eyes peeled for bears. So far Washington campsites have been apparently bear-free areas, judging by their unsecured rubbish bins. I gather that the salmon spawning season is now underway so I need to ask someone in the know whether I should expect the Grizzlies to be about. I crossed one river and overhead noticed some sort of eagles (I think) circling. I counted at least 20 but they were present as far as I could see. I imagine they were looking out for salmon but I need to find out a little more about where we are in the salmon season before really being able to comment on what's going on.

Around 30 miles of uneventful riding passed before I joined a rather unpleasant freeway for the next 15 or so miles. Most of the time it was stressful but perfectly safe due to the wide shoulder. Occasionally though there would be a bridge over one of the many rivers and the shoulder would all but disappear. The technique for negotiating something like this with traffic travelling at 70MPH or more is a little tricky. I stop just before the bridge and wait for a gap in the traffic. I then pedal like hell to make it across the bridge before the next car comes along. Some of the bridges can be quite long and very scary. I hope there will be less of this kind of riding once I hit the west coast tomorrow.

I pulled off the freeway and found Lake Sylvia State Park. I was expecting to the find the Germans and Nick and Callie already there but it seems I'd beaten them. One thing about riding on your own is that you tend to travel faster and make shorter stops. I set up camp and took a shower. I've never been in a Mexican prison but I imagine showers there look just like the one at Lake Sylvia.

About an hour later Nick and Callie arrived having managed to take a much nicer route than me, avoiding most of the freeway.

I popped in to the nearby town of Montesanto, a fairly charming, typically backward rural American town. I bought a few groceries then found a coffee shop with wifi. I don't know why I did what I did next because I know that Americans don't know what a white coffee is. I asked for a white coffee. The girl looked at me confused and tried to explain what I wanted using what I guess were the wrong coffee terms. I cannot identify what I ended up with. It was certainly white, but it was not coffee. I don't say this in the way someone who really knows their coffee might say, 'this isn't coffee.' It was neither coffee or any other drink I've tried before. Being English and too polite for my own good I drank it all without making a scene.

Back at camp I was approached by a couple of fellow Long Haul Truckers (owners of the same bike as me) who were very excited to spend 30 minutes discussing the finer details of our bikes.

I made a slight variation on my usual pasta or rice with tomatoes tonight. The cheeky new addition to tonight's menu was boiled mushrooms. Nick and Callie came over to join me for dinner. It was nice to get to know them a little better. I became aware after talking to them that everybody I've met so far has disappeared from my life for good moments after. It's nice to meet new people but even better once you start to get past the polite stage and build up some sense of familiarity.

Meeting more bikers on this route it's good to realise that almost all of us are not doing as many miles as we thought we would. There are exceptions. Mythical cyclists, we all trade stories of, having only met them for the briefest of moments before they disappeared another 80 miles down the road.

I'm gaining confidence now I've found a better pace. I did 62 miles today without much difficulty. My legs and my lungs are getting stronger every day. In 3 days I should be in Oregon. I can already start to see something approaching what you might call progress.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

I am not Alone - Day 14 - 29 miles

I awoke still feeling a little gloomy about the prospect of cycling. I had no choice but to have a short day's riding given the upcoming availability of campgrounds. This suited me just fine.

The sky was a cloudy and threatening to rain. I've been told this area of Washington tends to be like this in the mornings, clearing up later. So far this had been true. After 10 miles uneventful cycling I was greeted by a cyclist who'd appeared behind me without my noticing. We chatted for a little while but the traffic was heavy and I couldn't even turn around to look at him. I thought I was going quite slowly but he was slower and so before long disappeared a long way behind.

I pulled off the highway to have lunch at a fairly rough looking establishment. Upon entering I felt like I'd walked onto a movie set. If this had been a movie a brawl would've almost certainly broken out as I entered. Everyone was friendly, if not a little disconcertingly drunk for 11 in the morning. I ordered a grilled cheese sandwich with fries. I saw a cyclist pull in to the car park and was pretty sure it was the guy I'd be chatting to earlier. He was much younger than I'd imagined when talking blindly to him earlier. His name was Jordan and we had lunch together, chatting some more about our journeys. As soon as we'd finished out meals we were ejected from the bar by the extremely butch and fearsome bar-lady. I don't think she wanted our kind hanging around, giving her loyal customers ideas about getting out and doing something with their lives.

We eyed-up each other's bikes for a bit in the car park. It was good discuss tyre-width and saddle-choice with somebody who was actually interested. We rode off together, he suggested I draft him (cycle close behind, out of the wind) for a bit. For the first time in 2 weeks there was a strong headwind today, making riding much harder than normal. We took turns in front, taking the force of the headwind. I dropped down to his pace the whole time and felt so much better for it. I felt like I could cycle forever at this pace. Perhaps this has been my problem. I've been cycling as hard as I could almost the entire time. Backing off just a couple of MPH seemed to allow me to cover the terrain with much greater ease. It may have also been the psychological uplift of having company. It was the first time in 2 weeks I've talking to someone for more than 30 minutes.

We rode together for about 3 hours before reaching Potlatch State Park, my intended end-point for today. Jordan was riding a further 45 miles to the next state park. I really wanted to continue riding with him as it was fun and I felt like I still had quite a few miles left in me. The problem was there were no other campgrounds in between. If I was to continue there would be no option to drop out if I couldn't make what would've been a total of 75 miles – a full 10 miles more than I've ever done in one day. With great regret I decided to stay at Potlatch and wished Jordan good luck.

Potlatch State Park is one of the better parks I've stayed at. It's set just back from the Hood Canal (more like an estuary than a canal) in a small area of rainforest. I set up next to a babbling brook. Before long another couple of cyclists arrived. A young Canadian couple taking the same route as me. An hour or so after that a German couple arrived on bikes. We established a small community of cyclists next to the brook. Today is the first day I've felt like I'm on the well-established Pacific Coast Highway cycle route. It feels good to be amongst a community of like-minded people.

Having set up camp so early in the afternoon I had plenty of time to explore, make cups of tea and read my book. It's worth mentioning what a source of comfort and inspiration my book has been. Apsley Cherry-Garrard's account of Scott's mission to the South Pole in 1910 really puts any problems I have in perspective. When I am wet to the core from the rain I think of Scott's team in the fierce storms, sailing to Antarctica, waist deep in icy water trying to bail out the ship to save their lives.

I was about to cook my usual dinner of pasta or rice with tomatoes and chilli flakes when the Canadian couple came over brandishing a large pot. They'd made too much curry and wanted to give me some. It was delicious and has inspired me to come up with some more inventive meals. Hopefully I will be able to do something nice for someone soon, rather than so often be on the receiving end of the kindness of strangers.

Ups and Downs - Day 13 - 42 miles


This is hard. Really hard. Not in the way I expected. I thought I may struggle being alone, so far that's not been a problem. Of course I miss everyone back home but I've quite enjoyed my own company most of the time. It's physically harder than I thought it would be. Specifically, carrying so much weight on the bike and managing to eat enough calories throughout the day. I need to learn to manage my energy levels better. I go through times when the bike seems to fly along and then other times when I can barely the move the thing. I thought by now I would be easily managing 60 miles a day, at the moment 40 is my comfortable limit. I also need to start the cycling day earlier. I've been taking it quite easy, having long breakfasts in the morning. It's really not good to have to set up camp and cook food in the dark. I will get better though.

The seagulls woke me this morning. After breakfast I left some snacks unattended on the picnic table. I was saving for later when I needed an energy boost. On returning I noticed my Triple-Threat PowerBar had been half eaten and my cereal bar had disappeared. I was just about to accuse a passing pensioner of stealing my snacks when I noticed a gathering of sneaky-looking crows behind me. They looked unusually full of energy. As I approached them they flew away leaving behind my half eaten cereal bar. The pensioner was off the hook.

After packing up and waving goodbye to the many RV owners who'd helped me out in one way or another I had an hour to kill before catching the ferry to the Olympic Peninsula. I explored Fort Casey State Park where I had camped. The place is an enormous fort with enormous canons pointing out to sea. It was great fun to climb around the fort which allowed pretty much free access. I enjoy being the only person mucking about at a tourist attraction. Unsurprisingly the fort doesn't get too many visitors at 9am on a Tuesday morning, or I expect, ever.

Waiting for the ferry I met a couple of girls who are also cycling down the west coast. We discussed routes and experiences so far. The Australian girl is cycling as far as Oregon but her friend, Line from Quebec is going to Mexico. In the past couple of days I'd come up with the idea of recruiting some other cyclists to accompany me on the Mexican section of the journey, particularly the border crossing. With all the bad things people have been telling me about the Mexican border it seems wise. Line was also looking for some company for the border crossing so we exchanged contact details. I quite like the idea of building up an elite border assault team. Perhaps we could fit-out our bikes with weapons - A-Team style..

After a few miles, out in the middle of nowhere, I came to a bike shop. My front dérailleur hasn't been right since arriving in Canada. I thought I knew how to fix it but was concerned about making it worse. I asked the shop owner to take a look, he made a quick adjustment and all was good. $5 well-spent. He did exactly what I thought needed to be done which was reassuring. He also gave me a cycle map of the area which proved to be very useful. Up to now I've been working without a proper map for some idiotic reason.

I've been really impressed with the roads in the US so far, much better than Canada. In Canada the shoulders were a slalom of broken glass and stones. The road were also much busier. Not having known much about Washington before coming here I've been really blown away by the scenery. The Olympic mountain range is spectacular. Much bigger than anything I've ever seen. Every few miles I get a startling glimpse of a glacier-covered mountain, standing out on its own like a beacon in the blue sky.

Today was around 25 degrees and very sunny. I already have amazing tan-lines. White hands and panda eyes. My beard is also coming along quite nicely. While eating a pizza at lunchtime I had strings of mozzarella in my moustache.

I ended the day at Dosewallips State Park. It's perhaps my least favourite of the state/provincial parks I've stayed in. I actually made a complaint about the smell of rubbish that hangs over the the whole park. It's another 'tokens for the shower' kind of place. A token gives a 3 minute shower. It took me 2 minutes and 30 seconds to work out how to get an acceptable temperature from the 2 unlabelled taps. There's nothing funny about being all soaped up when your token runs out.

I went to bed feeling low and unsure of my ability maintain the necessary mileages required on this trip.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Back in the US(S)A - Day 11 – 42 miles

Today was a big day. I would be entering the US on the Sidney to Anacortes ferry. A 2 hour ride from Vancouver Island to Washington State. It had rained on and off throughout the night so I hadn't had too much sleep. I was a bit grumpy. I rode the 3 miles to the ferry, following instructions given to me by the park warden. My ticket cost just $22 which seemed like a good deal to get to another country. The next step was the dreaded US immigration. It is my understanding that most US immigration officials got the job after being asked to leave their jobs at Gauntanamo Bay for stepping over the line when interrogating terrorism suspects.

I entered a large caravan which laughably acts as US immigration in Sidney. As I waited to be noticed I read a sign telling me that it was a US immigration official's duty to greet me politely. A large man barked, 'Passport.' at me. I had all my paperwork ready, including passport, ESTA visa waiver registration information, proof of return flight and bank statements. Everything seemed to be a problem for him. He seemed annoyed that I'd not arrived in Canada via the US. The problems started when he asked me where I'd be staying in the US. 'I'm camping', I told him. 'That's not good enough, the computer needs to know the address', he almost shouted. This was a problem I didn't actually know where I'd be camping that night. Luckily I had my guide book so I picked a realistic looking camp ground from the book and showed that to him. He was then annoyed because the book didn't contain the full address so he had to look it up on his computer. He couldn't find it, a very nervous few minutes followed. The problem was with his ability to listen and read, eventually we resolved this using slow repetition. He took my fingerprints and a photo which will no doubt be beamed over to CTU for careful analysis. In the end, despite his best efforts he could find no reason not to let me in. He warned me about deportation should I outstay my 90 day visa. It was very much a case of guilty until proven innocent. It seems that the US are expecting the next Al-Qaeda attack to be a bicycle led mission. Bearded cyclists with explosive-filled panniers will sneak in over the Canadian border.

Waiting for the ferry, as usual I fielded questions from various interested parties about my trip. I'm much more of an oddity than I though I would be. I was under the impression that there would be hordes of cyclists following the same route as me. So far I've met only one and that was Hannah the German way back in Vancouver airport.

Once off the ferry I still had to clear customs. This was no Swiss picnic either. On inspecting my passport photo I was asked to remove my helmet. My passport photo is a little misleading as it was taken a few years ago. Back then I had a gorgeous flowing mane of hair. Eventually he believed it was me and asked me if he could take a look in my panniers. I opened them up. He had a little dig around but I think he was rightly intimidated by the amount of stuff I have crammed in there. He gave me a bit of a grilling about why I didn't buy my bike in the US. The whole thing lasted around 10 minutes. During this time countless cars and motorhomes were waved through without question. Most of them no doubt filled with contraband maple syrup and illegal Canadian workers.

After the first couple of miles it became clear that it is not always necessary to drive on the other side of the road when entering a new country. I was soon at Deception Pass. A fairly impressive old bridge linking 2 islands. More impressive were the terrifying looking currents below. The green water under the bridge was a swirling mass of whirlpools, giving boats attempting to pass a very hard time.

The roads in Washington were surprisingly a lot quieter than those in Canada. There seemed to be fewer opportunities to find a decent vegetarian lunch. I ended up with just a jam doughnut and a few cereal bars. Before too long the familiar thick forest turned to vast open farmland, dotted with brightly coloured wooden houses, looking like something from Little House on the Prairie. A welcome change of scenery.

I pulled off the main road onto a quieter coastal scenic route. There were some roadworks in progress so I was diverted onto a less scenic road. I was stopped by a young lady holding a stop sign. Due to the incredible length of the road currently being resurfaced I was held there for at least 5 minutes. The stop sign lady was quite lovely and we had a very nice chat. We talked about what I was up to and she explained to me the hidden complexities of operating a stop sign. She told me I could rejoin the scenic route a little further along, by the time I reached the turn off point she'd obviously radioed ahead to her colleague who pointed me in the right direction. Because of the roadworks I had the road to myself. For about 5 miles I was free to weave about all over the place on what is certainly the best road I've ridden this trip.

At around 6pm I reached Fort Casey State Park where I intended to camp. On arriving, I cycled around and it became clear the place was completely full. No tents, only RVs. I didn't know what to do. I could either go back 10 miles to the nearest camp ground or catch a ferry then cycle another 15 to another camp ground. Neither option appealed. As I cycled out of the park a man flagged me down. He said I was welcome to camp on the grass behind his RV. This kind of thing wasn't really allowed so he told me if the park warden asked he would say I was his son. Not really sure if I'd be required to fake an American accent at that point. The spot was amazing too, just a couple of metres from the beach and water's edge. It was such a selfless act of kindness towards a complete stranger. He suggested I set up the tent in a spot where it couldn't be seen by the warden so I didn't have to pay. As I began setting up the tent his wife appeared from the RV with a plate of chicken for me. Being vegetarian I unfortunately had to refuse it - thanking her profusely. I was so touched by the kindness of the gesture.

I took my first shower in 100 miles. Something I discovered today is that if you really need a shower and then you spend the whole next day sweating. Eventually the new sweat washes off the old sweat. I actually started to feel cleaner towards the end of the day. Regardless of this fact it was great to have a shower. I don't want to become one of those people who claim the body is self-cleaning.

As I made dinner I chatted with my kind hosts as they sat on their patio chairs, enjoying the sunset. Their dog Daisy guarded my tent. I was really growing to like them both and began to take back all the negative thoughts I've had about RV owners these past 2 weeks. Their RV was quite incredible. It was the length of a coach and on the back there was a large 4 wheel drive pick-up truck in-tow. It's interesting to compare the variety in scale of our chosen forms of transport. As the evening went on I was invited to join them as they socialised with their neighbours. I was offered juice and dessert. By the end of the evening it was as if I'd been adopted by them. As it happens our journeys are quite similar. They will be driving down the Pacific Coast Highway to Oregon too. Perhaps I should just pop my bike on the back of the RV and hitch a ride.

Pushing for the Border – Day 11 – 61 miles

I knew today would be a long ride. I was determined to camp near the ferry which I'll take to the US tomorrow. As much as I'm loving Canada I'm ready to cross the border and enter the States. The Canadian leg of the journey has been a deliberately dilly-dallying kind of affair. From now on I should be doing bigger mileages and constantly moving south.

I left Nanoose Creek Campground at just after 9am and headed back along the busy highway. 10 miles in came Nanaimo, the biggest city on Vancouver Island. I'd not been looking forward to this part of the ride. Luckily it was Sunday so the roads were a little quieter than usual. I was also able to follow a bike path, running alongside a railway track. It was quite a relief to relax a bit after having cars speed past me at 70MPH on the highway. I didn't see too much of central Nanaimo but I did stop off briefly at the harbour to watch a man trying to catch a snake he'd seen in a bush. He didn't really want to do it but his daughters were egging him on. The snake escaped so I went on my way.

Back on the highway I came to an amazing Japanese Deli where I bought a delicious potato salad and carrot cake. I sat on a tree stump by the side of the road, enjoying the hot sunshine. I've realised I cannot continue eating at restaurants for lunch every day. If I do I shall run out of money well before Mexico.

Riding on a motorway has its difficulties. For example, sometimes another busy road will join the motorway. When this happens a cyclist riding along the hard shoulder can find himself with 3 lanes of traffic to his left, 2 lanes to his right and a disappearing shoulder in front. I'd had enough of this so took a detour along a smaller back road. This road was generally not suitable for cyclists because of heavy logging traffic. However, it being a Sunday the road was pretty much empty.

45 miles in I reached the ferry that would take me to Salt Spring Island, a small community of hippies and a short-cut to the border. On the ferry I was approached by a tall Dutchman. He was a keen cyclist and was even more excited about my trip than I am. We chatted for 20 minutes about the route, the bike and camping equipment. He was very jealous. I was similarly jealous when he told me about the hike he'd taken with his wife this last week. They flew to a place on Vancouver Island only accessible by seaplane. They then hiked for 6 days along the coast, camping wild on beaches every night. He told me they'd seen a bear just 30 metres away. He introduced me to his wife and she took a picture of us both together. As they drove past me off the ferry he was beeping the horn and they were both waving frantically.

I was not particularly impressed by Salt Spring Island. It is a beautiful place with a lot going for it. What annoyed me were the relentless hills. After 50 miles I was not in the mood for punishing climbs. I rode almost the entire length of the island to another ferry. This one took me back to Vancouver Island, near Sidney where I'll get the ferry to the US tomorrow. I met so many nice people on this ferry I'm having to heavily edit this section. Most of the journey I spent chatting with a mountain biker from Alberta. He was a great source of information about biking in the local area. We disembarked the ferry together and he guided me to my camp site along a bike path I would've had great difficulty finding without him.

My home for tonight is McDonald Provincial Park, a very basic camp ground with a cold tap and some pit toilets. On the plus side the park rangers are really wonderful. While setting up my tent 2 ladies riding a sort of golf cart approached with a friendly welcome. They reminded me of an all-female version of the Krankees. The normal-sized lady was quite domineering over her tiny assistant. They registered me for the night and offered to lend me their mallet. I asked if they knew the ferry times to the US for tomorrow. They didn't but without hesitation pootled off in their little buggy, only to return a few minutes later having looked it up on the Internet and printed out a timetable for me. The bigger one then insisted on drawing me a map showing how to get to the ferry.

Later on, just before going to bed I took a surreptitious wee in the dark woods surrounding my campsite. I was however forced to abort upon seeing the headlights of the park ranger's buggy shining directly at me. They sped along next to my tent, waving as they passed.

Flip-flop fall off fiasco - Day 10 – 43 miles

I woke at 7am slightly surprised to have made it through the night without being robbed or worse. I popped to the Seven Eleven for breakfast. One of the other customers in the shop commented to me that this year's Fall Fair had not resulted in the same carnage seen last year thanks to increased security. Walking back to my motel a couple of youths blocked the pavement in front of me. As I walked up to them, one growled at me. He seemed surprised that I didn't appear scared, he was obviously unaware of my recent run in with the bears.

I couldn't get out of Port Alberni quick enough. The ascent up the other side of the mountain I'd climbed on the way in didn't seem as bad going the other way, contrary to what I'd been told by Captain Birdseye yesterday. I flew down the other side and decided to stop off at Cathedral Grove Park. Although busy it was well worth a stop. Many of the trees at Cathedral Grove are survivors of a forest fire that swept through the area 300 years ago. The biggest trees are 800 years old and quite the biggest living things I've ever seen. I noticed the couple of hobos I'd taken the boat with yesterday were also looking around. I was pleased to see the chap was still wearing his crotchless sweatpants as predicted. I tried to take a picture of myself in front of one of the biggest trees using the self-timer on my camera. This is always awkward to set up properly and a couple of friendly tourists - noticing my fumbling efforts - offered to take my picture. They were very inquisitive about my trip and the lady was very positive about Mexico. She had spent some time in Baja California and had many good things to say about it. This was good to hear after all the scare stories I've been hearing from everybody else so far - all of whom haven't actually visited Baja.

I continued on at a good pace, eventually taking a slightly wrong turn, adding an extra 5 or so miles to my journey. I stopped for lunch just outside the city of Parksville at a deli run by an extremely aggressive sounding German lady. She scared me so I rushed my order and ended up with a disappointingly small sandwich.

After Parksville, the quiet coastal highway I've been following down the island joined up with the main highway. It was a little frightening riding along the hard shoulder of a proper motorway. Before long I reached Nanoose Creek Campground, my home for tonight. As I pulled in I was greeted by Mary-Lou and Bill. I don't think it would be unfair to say that Mary-Lou doesn't make the best of herself. She sported a somewhat unkempt female mullet. I would hazard a guess that she has never seen any of Gok Wan's television programs. I mention all this not be unkind, but to point out my own preconceptions about people who look like this. Before even speaking to her I'd assumed she was the sort of person you may see discussing inter-family sexual relationships on Jerry Springer. I could not have been more wrong. Mary-Lou was delightful. She made me feel instantly welcome and was clearly a keen supporter of cyclists. Her and Bill seemed genuinely interested in my trip and offered as much help as they could with my upcoming route. I was charged only $10 (about £6) for the night, including free showers and as much firewood as I could use.

On unpacking my bike I realised one of my flip-flops had fallen off of my rear rack during the day. This may explain some earlier confusing beeping of horns behind me. This is a pretty big loss when the only other item of footwear I have on this trip are my cycling shoes. One lost flip-flop may not sound like a lot to you but to me it represents a 25 percent net loss in terms of total shoes owned. In real terms it represents a 50% loss in usable footwear.

Bill had given me directions to a nearby town. Once camp was set up I set off in search of some new flip-flops. The town was really just a supermaket. I must admit to finding it quite fun being in a supermarket after all this time. Having a decent choice of things to eat and drink is quite liberating when you've been living on rice and spaghetti for the past 10 days. I found some veggie burgers in the frozen section. I followed my own rule of the road and bought them with the intention of cooking them on the camp-fire later.

At the checkout the lady on the till said, 'Isn't every day great?'. I agreed. With the sun shining outside and BBQ'd veggie burgers on the menu tonight, this is exactly what I'd just been thinking. It may seem unbelievable to you back in the cynical real world, but she actually meant it. She was working on a till in a supermarket and she was loving every minute of it.

Back at camp I took the opportunity to do some laundry. It was good to have a bag full of clean clothes for the first time in nearly 2 weeks. Last time I did laundry was at the hippy hostel on Denman Island. Their ecological approach to laundry meant that washes were done without hot water and using chemical free detergents. The result being that all of the clothes needed washing again properly so the saving to the environment in this case was a negative one.

The BBQ was a great success. It was missing a couple of the classic mainstays one would expect from a BBQ. These being meat and other people.

Tomorrow I'm heading for the border with an aim to entering the US the day after. As much as I've loved Canada I'm really looking forwarding to something new.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Leaving Ucluelet - Day 9 - Rest Day


Today I had to get the boat back to Port Alberni. The boat wasn't scheduled to arrive in Ucluelet until 2pm. It would arrive at our destination, Port Alberni at 7pm. It wouldn't be possible to do any riding today and I'd decided it would make sense to stay in a motel rather than have to set up camp so close to dark.

As I was making my morning coffee a cyclist camping nearby came over for a chat. He wore very skimpy shorts and looked like a much slimmer version of Captain Birdseye. 'You have a bike.', he said. This was a great opening gambit I thought. He was from the south of Vancouver Island so I was able to probe him for local knowledge. We chatted for some time about weather and hills – some of my favourite subjects at the moment. I've had little contact with other cyclists so far – perhaps because I'm a little off the beaten track. I expect I'll see many more as I head further south.

I paid a visit to Ukee Bikes to see if the kickstand the owner had told me about on Wednesday had come in. To my surprise it had. Without asking him to, the owner fitted it for me. I'm glad he did because when fitted to the bike, the stand did not clear the chain. Unphased by this the guy took the stand into his workshop and customised it using some pieces of aluminium. The guy also put a super-tough, skull-emblazoned Ukee Bikes sticker on my mudguard. All this for only £13.

The boat back to Port Alberni was a completely different experience to the one I took in the other direction on Wednesday. The weather was beautifully clear and it was hot. I passed the 5 hour trip by wandering round the outside decks looking for whales. I saw 3 Humpbacks, one gave me a great display of its tail. I don't think anybody else on board saw it. I decided not to tell anyone because it would've triggered a stampede of pensioners with cameras, obscuring my view.

I chatted briefly with a couple of cyclists also taking the boat. They looked like proper hobos. The guy was wearing sweatpants with a split so large in the saddle area that you could see the entirety of his underwear. They seemed impressed that I plan to cycle to Mexico. I'd be impressed if he changes those sweatpants before Christmas.

Riding up the steep hill away from the dock towards my motel a truck pulled alongside and started beeping at me. I stopped. 'Do you know where you're going?', the old guy driving the truck asked. 'Tonight or more generally?', I asked rather stupidly. He said he'd seen me come off the boat and wanted to make sure I knew where I was going. He recommended some places to stay in town. I told him I knew where I was going and thanked him very much. I find it hard to imagine something like this happening back in London.

Port Alberni seemed even rougher than it had during my stay a couple of days ago so I checked into the first motel I came to. The lady on the front desk told me that this weekend the Fall Fair was in town. She warned me that when the fair comes to town everybody from the surrounding area comes to tear up the town. It must get pretty bad as a security guard had been employed especially to guard the motel. The motel is not the sort of place you'd go for a romantic weekend away. In fact, it seems most people staying here are living here. I'm guessing people don't live in a motel like this through choice.

Once again a night indoors is leaving me yearning to return to the tent. I've actually become surprisingly comfortable sleeping in the tent. My body is now completely in tune with the sun. When it gets dark I sleep, when the sun rises so do I. When it rains, I cry.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Bear Safari - Day 8 - Rest day

My alarm woke me at 6am. Generally I wake up when I'm ready, but today I had to be up in time for low tide. This is when bears can be sometimes be spotted on beaches foraging for seafood in the inter-tidal zone. I was also happy that today I would not have to pack everything up, cycle somewhere new, find a place to stay and then set everything up again. I was staying in Ucluelet for 2 day nights. I haven't stayed in the same place twice since leaving Vancouver.

I hopped on my bike and rode around town in search of somewhere offering bear-watching boat trips. I found a lovely guy called Brian who is the captain of a small inflatable Zodiac boat – a very fast manoeuvrable craft - as used by lifeboat teams. The boat tour was advertised as a whale, bear and sea-lion watching trip. I made it very clear to Brian that no quantity of leaping 15 metre Humpback Whales would appease my thirst for bears. He took this on board and said he would do his best to find me a bear. I had to wear a full-body floating dry-suit which indicated that this would be no sedate pleasure-boat ride.

As the boat set off from the harbour we cruised along the coastline, looking all the time for bears. Brian stopped the boat and started heading with purpose towards the shore. I thought perhaps this was it but alas just a pair of bald eagles. I was disappointed initially but as one flew right over my head with its 2 metre wing-span outstretched it was a pretty magnificent sight. We spent another 30 minutes working our way along coast, every large, dark rock played games with my mind. When you want to see something that badly you begin to see it everywhere. Just as I'd pretty much given up hope Brian stopped the boat. 'I think I saw one over there', he said, pointing to a piece of distant beach. I strained my eyes desperate not to miss it. Then I saw it. A small, young Black Bear running along the beach. I caught only fleeting glimpses as it darted behind rocks. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I never thought for a minute we'd actually see a bear. Brian explained the reason it was running nervously was because it had probably only recently left the care of its mother. Now it was constantly at risk of being killed by a larger male defending it territory. This reminded me a little of when I started at secondary school.

Having seen the young bear flee into the woods we moved on once more. I was happy now, I'd seen my bear. I was happy to go and see some whales now. Just a few minutes later though we stopped again. Another bear. This one bigger. Even better, it had 2 cubs with it. This was quite a find. It was fascinating to watch the bears working their way along the beach, carefully lifting rocks in search of crabs. I know from my research that a mother with cubs is the most dangerous bear you could ever come across. We were obviously safe on the boat, had we been on the beach we would have doubtless been torn limb from limb.

We headed out to tour the Broken Islands Group and search for whales. Brian was clearly not running this purely as a business. At every opportunity he would get out his camera. Each sighting was just as exciting to him as it was to me. It would not be interesting to read my clumsily written descriptions of the amazing sights we saw so I'll include a few pictures to do the job inadequately instead.
































































On returning to camp I had a 'shower with pants'. This is a technique I've invented I think, although I believe Jimmy Saville does something similar. You basically take a shower and in addition to washing yourself, you wash one of your 2 pairs of pants. You then hang the clean pair of pants out to dry on the guy rope of your tent. For the rest of the day you have the choice of either wearing your other pair of pants or going commando. A couple of warnings to anybody out there attempting to emulate this system. If you're working to a token-based time limited shower system - such as the one here in Ucluelet - be sure to allow enough time to wash both yourself and the pants. It's really a false economy to end up with a clean pair of pants and a dirty body. You should also take into account the weather. If it is raining then you have little chance of getting the pants dry once washed. In my experience, having a wet pair of pants waving like a flag from the back of your bike wins you no friends on the road.

Spending a relaxing afternoon hanging out in my favourite cafe, taking a coastal walk and building another fire I was really starting to feel at home in Ucluelet. I am in no hurry to leave but my ship comes in tomorrow and if I miss it I will be stranded here until next week. I can hear the sea-lions barking down in the harbour, it must be time for bed.