Monday, June 30, 2014

Closing the Loop

I went to bed Monday night dreading my Tuesday ride. The forecast called for rain until mid- to late-afternoon, with temperatures mostly in the 50s and 60s. A lot of people would just call that "Seattle," but to these Florida-conditioned bones it is "yucky."

So, imagine my pleasant surprise when I awoke to this:

Apparently, the rain that was supposed to hit the coast that morning moved inland. It dumped all over Jeff Bauer and the other folks on the Cascade 1200K, which is too bad. But I was dry and warm and happy, and that's good enough for me.

I had some time to kill waiting to check out of the hotel, so I had a coffee and cinnamon roll (only so-so) before packing everything up and heading downstairs to wait for someone to come into the hotel lobby/restaurant. About 8:45, I gave up and left the key in my room. I went by a Safeway to get some Gatorade, and then hit the Pacific Northwest Trail to leave town.

This is a nice trail, with some sections of fine gravel and others paved. After wending past the local cardboard plant (or something like that) on the shore, it went inland to shadier and hillier sections.

Eventually, the trail ended and I was on busier Hwy 20 for a bit, then slightly less busy Hwy 19. I got off this after a mile or so to pass through a few small port towns on Oak Bay. They were cute little towns, but none of them had a diner that interested me for second breakfast. To make things worse, this road was hilly.

Soon I hit Hwy 109 and the Hood Canal Floating Bridge, one of the longest floating bridges in the world.

The bridge has two lift sections for boats. For cyclists, it has a huge shoulder ... and, since it's a floating bridge, it's flat.

Beyond the bridge I stopped at a convenience store for some chips and a cold bottle of tea. It hit the spot, and I rode strongly there for the next miles, even catching up with the only other touring cyclist that I met on this trip.

He gave me his name, but I immediately forgot it. He was a nice kid from Midlands area in the U.K., however, and was doing a three-week tour to San Francisco. As I had just done the same thing back in the fall, I gave him some tips on good campgrounds and places to visit. I would have ridden further with him, but as he was riding loaded and I had a long day ahead, I knew he could not keep up with me.

Soon, my route took me into more crowded areas. I almost took the wrong turn on a roundabout, but the name of the road made me think.

In Silverdale, I passed a Panera Bread ... or started to pass it.  You know me -- I quickly came about and bought their three-seed demi and a coffee. It was the break I needed before heading off on the last few miles towards Bremerton.

Coming into the ferry area, the hills come back and the traffic gets aggressive. I got to the ferry about 1:40 pm, and discovered that the next boat did not sail until 3 pm.

When life gives you lemons, however, you trade them in for limes and fix yourself a gin and tonic. Life didn't give me lemons or limes, of course, so I just went to the little shop next to the ferry office and had a great lunch consisting of a German bratwurst on a bun and some french fries with unique dipping sauces. Then I put on my tights and jacket, waited around another 45 minutes, and got on the ferry.

The ride over takes an hour, most of which I napped through. I awoke as everyone started shuffling around getting ready to disembark, and hurried back down to the main deck and my bike. The let the cyclists off first, and it was a bit of a race as we all sprinted away from shore. After a mile of tough climbing inland and zooming from one light to the next, I had to stop and take my jacket and tights off again. Then, I just tried to follow people (and my GPS) out of town heading north.

Soon, the GPS had me on the Interurban Trail, which is a set of bike lanes and multi-use paths that enables you to make your way from about the Seattle city limits way up to the northern suburbs.

Most of the lanes were good, as were many of the multi-use paths. The 15-mph speed limit was no hindrance for me on my touring rig, and traffic was fairly light.

There were spots, however, where the signs must have been stolen -- or placed somewhere that I couldn't see them. I would come to an intersection and there was no path on the other side of the road, but there was a bike lane. When I got on the bike lane, my GPS buzzed and told me that I was stupid (again), showing me that there was this path over to my right or left. Eventually, I was able to get back on it, but every time I asked myself exactly why I was bothering.

As the day waned, the trail also got more crowded. I didn't that much mind people walking two- or three-abreast, or even people weaving around on junker Huffy's walking their dogs, but I almost ran over a little kid who ran out to get a ball. It was at these points that I would have been more willing to just get on the road and take my chances with the cars.

I got off the trail at the southern edge of Everett, turning east. After a nice descent away from the interstate, I was rolling down a road following the Snohomish River.

You may recall me passing through Snohomish on the first day of my trip. When I got to this town, I closed the other loop on my route. Then I turned towards Monroe, and started wondering how Jeff's ride had gone.

Not as dire as the sign might imply. He finished a couple of hours ahead of me, and was asleep in the room when I got there. Fortunately, he was more than willing to go out for some dinner. It had been a lot of miles since the bratwurst and french fries.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The "New" Part

I got to hang around Bellingham for a few hours today, waiting for Kulshan Bicycles to open at 10 so they could fix my rear disk brake. It gave me a chance to look around the town, which was cool, and then to hang out at a couple of shops drinking coffee and eating a nice scone (in the first store) and an even better bagel with jalapeno cream cheese (in the second).

While I was drinking and reading my book, I noticed lots of people getting about by bicycle in Bellingham. The cool thing was that you could tell that this was standard operating procedure for them -- they just naturally used their bicycles as modes of transportation. I think that this is why Bellingham drivers had behaved well with me when I was in their town: They're used to seeing people ride bikes.

Of course, if that was the case then why didn't drivers behave well in Vancouver? I think it's because in Vancouver most of the cyclists were folks riding for fun only. They were the usual spandex-clad (not that there's anything inherently wrong with that -- I have been spandex-clad all week, too) enthusiasts out riding with friends or training. Or they were the family out on dusty ill-sitting bicycles that come out on super-nice weekends, when they wobble their way through the bike lane to a picnic at the park. To the Vancouver driver, these are not serious travellers but merely dilettantes. To the Bellingham driver, these were people with bags on their bikes who were on their way to work or coming home with groceries.

It's perverse to think that you need to ride with luggage in order to get respect, particularly since it usually forces you to ride further into the middle of the lane and much slower, thus having a greater impact on the ability of cars to get by you. But I do find that I get more sympathy from cars, if nothing else, when I've got at least one pannier strapped on. To cars, I become suddenly serious.

Anyway, the mechanic at Kulshan quickly diagnosed my problem (worn-out pads ... duh!) and I was on the road by 10:30. Unfortunately, the wind had come up by then, and it was overcast and chilly. I was glad to get to the hills south of town just because they gave me a chance to warm up.

I'd hoped to get lunch at the bakery in Bow, but they weren't open when I got there at 11:30. I stopped instead in Edison and bought a roll and a couple of cookies before moving on into the flat famland.

Eventually, I turned west into the teeth of the headwind to cross the bridge towards Whidby Island. This bridge actually had a bike path stuck onto the side of it that was wide enough for my bike.

My GPS then told me to turn off the main road, so I obliged and rode past a nice little golf course towards the shore.

Then, the road tilted viciously upwards. Halfway up this steep climb, I decided that my GPS was doing me another "favor" by keeping me off a busy road in favor of one that was a little longer and had some knee-shredding hills. At the top, I confirmed that this was the case, but decided that the climbing was over and that I might as well follow my GPS. Of course, the climbing wasn't over, but eventually I got where I was supposed to be.

Back on the main route, I was soon at the bridge over Deception Pass.

The far side of this bridge is where the real Whidby Island begins. It's called Deception Pass because the tide rushing out through it fooled early explorers into thinking that it was the mouth of a mighty river. Instead, it's just a bay with a nasty tide.

Beyond this, I saw a sign warning people to use ear protection for the next 10 miles. This piqued my curiosity until I got closer to the Naval Air Station and watched F-22s practicing touch-and-go landings.

I was glad to get beyond this, passing by another gold course en route to the East Beach area. That beach was exceptionally windy and cold, and I even got spattered by a few stray raindrops.

Further on, the roads tucked back onto the eastern side of the island, where it was more calm. The bay here was full of pretty sailboats on moorings, followed by a flotilla of rafts.

I'm pretty sure that these are salmon hatcheries. There were some tugboats moving from one raft to another, probably with folks tending to the young fish. It was quite an operation.

Soon, I was in the old seafront section of Coupeville. Since I was now starving, I went in search of a sandwich; unfortunately, the bakery there had just closed. Everyone was heading to the local ice cream parlor, however, so I went there instead and got a delicious salted caramel malted. That gave me the strength that I needed to push through the last five miles into the wind to the ferry, making it with plenty of time for the 4:15 crossing.

In Port Townsend, I explored a bit. The far end of the island had a great view back towards that big snowy mountain that everyone here seems so gaga over.

It took a few tries, but I eventually found my hotel. The small old building only has four rooms, up above the restaurant. Mine had a nice window seat for my bicycle, although I had to carry it up a long flight of steps to get it there.

After getting cleaned up, I found a pizza place in the basement of a shop. The stone-fired pie was delicious, and it was "Open Microphone" night for the 20 or so folks sitting around in the restaurant. It was almost like being back in Nashville.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Back to Bellingham

I woke up about an hour after sunrise on Sunday ... about 5 am. It would have been nice to sleep later, but somehow I just couldn't do it. After rolling over a couple of times, I went ahead and took a shower, packed, and got the bike out of storage.

The day before, my rear disk brake kept slipping -- I would hit the brakes and they would hold for a second or two, and then just let go -- so I spent a few minutes trying to fix that. It took about 10 minutes before I got the brake apparently working correctly, but I found later that it continued to be undependable. Basically, it just meant that I had to spend the day using the front brake, but there were a few times that I would forget and get a brief "Oh, crap" moment.

Once I got loaded up, I went over to a bagel place that was right next to the burger place where I had eaten lunch. They were open, and the bagels were delicious. It was nice to sit outside on a cool morning with a hot cup of coffee and a good book, watching the world roll by.

And roll by it did, primarily on two wheels. There were lots of cyclists out, and eventually they got me feeling antsy to ride, so I got up and started south. I basically retraced my route through the quiet neighborhoods, which were even more quiet on this Sunday morning.

When I got to the bridges, I saw a cyclist start over a bridge. Since he wasn't getting on the sidewalk, I decided that I didn't need to either -- in spite of what the Adventure Cycling routesheet said. Then I kept following him further towards the airport, until my GPS pointed out that I was not going where I really wanted to go and I regretfully had to come about.

After a couple more wrong turns, I was back on the route. Just before River Road, I saw a huge group of cyclists going the other way, some with numbers (pinned on their sleeves? Ooookay ....) indicating that they were either racing or doing a t-shirt ride. There was a lot of shouting in the pack that I saw, mostly "Railroad tracks!" and "Hold your line!" If this is the way that they behave when they leave downtown Vancouver, I can better understand why the residents of the southern suburbs are not as friendly towards cyclists.

It was a little more quiet on River Road, following the Frasier River. There were hundreds of rafts full of logs, I guess waiting to be milled into boards. You could see where many of them had gotten loose and were floating on the river, or had washed up onto the shore. It was very cool, in a Pacific Northwest kind of vibe.

Crossing the Alex Fraser Bridge again was even more scarey, with three bunches of cyclists coming the other way on the supposedly two-lane span. Each time, I found a place where I could move well off the path, since I was obviously wider than the bikes that these folks were probably used to passing. I really have to wonder, however, whether even two non-touring bikes could have fit on that path.

On the other side, I was back on the iffy paths for a bit, and then climbing another path that had been put in over a gas main access space. This wore me out so much that I had to stop for second breakfast.

From here I passed through the busy neighborhoods of Surrey again before heading into the farmlands closer to the border.

Then, it was another tough climb over the ridge, another bumpy descent, and then a few turns to U. S. Customs.

The crossing south was almost identical to the crossing north, other than the U. S. Customs folks were more concerned about what I might be bringing back and didn't spend much time looking at my passport. After 10 minutes I was passing through Blaine and riding through USA farmland again.

Halfway down Kickerville Road my back tire quickly went flat. Changing the inner tube, I found almost half a dozen of little pieces of glass embedded in the tire. I picked them out, put in a new tube, worked on the disk brake back there some more (to no avail, unfortunately), and tightened up a few bolts. The wind was now mostly at my back as I cruised into Ferndale, where I stopped for a sandwich at Quizno's.

Replenished, it was an easy ride back to Bellingham, and I got to the hotel just before 3 pm. They let me check in anyway, and I started some laundry and wrote this blog.

Tomorrow I'm going somewhere new -- Port Townsend, via Anacortes. It's a shorter day than most of the ones so far, so I'm going to try to get the rear brake fixed before I leave Bellingham.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Canada ... Still North

Today was a first for me. I rode my bicycle across a nation's border.

Really, it was a different country. It's called "Canada," and it has its own government and everything. They even have different money from ours.

I left the hotel in Bellingham about 8 am, after a less-than-thrilling breakfast in the hotel's lobby, and almost immediately missed a turn. Fortunately, Bellingham is a pretty cycling-friendly place, so it was easy for me to make a few turns and get back on route.

Soon, I was on roads that more-or-less followed I-5. About 10 miles in, I got to the first town -- Ferndale -- where I stopped for another coffee and to see if their wifi worked better than the hotel's (it didn't, which is why all of these blog posts are being published after my return to Nashville).

From Ferndale, I was on a series of quiet country roads. I had started the day wearing tights and a jacket, but by 10 am it had warned up enough for me to remove them. Soon, I was in Blaine, where I crossed the border into Canada. The customs folks were very nice, and since I was on a bicycle I didn't have to wait in the line with the cars.

There was a tough ridge to climb then, followed by a very bumpy descent to a flat quiet farm road towards the Vancouver suburb of Surrey. This was pretty much like most suburbs -- and, thus, not that much fun to bike through. Eventually, I got to a very confusing network of bike paths that were more like sidewalks ... and not very good sidewalks at that ... followed by a couple of bridges that I had to cross on scary bike paths that had been kind of tacked on to the side. Some of them had good views, of course, but it was not a great place for an acrophobic touring cyclist.

I was very glad to cross the final bridge and enter Vancouver proper. I was also impressed, since the bike paths in the city made the bike paths earlier look like sick jokes. They had a beautiful network of bike lanes and signed bike routes down quiet shady streets that made it very easy for me to get through the city and up to the north end of town.

After a late lunch at a burger place, I headed up to the very end of the Adventure Cycling route at the marina. Then I went exploring for a bit, taking pictures of the boats out sailing and just generally having fun watching families enjoy a gorgeous first day of summer.

It was almost 4 pm when I finally headed to where I was staying the night, the HI Hostel at Jericho Beach. This was the first hostel at which I've ever stayed, and I kind of expected some kind of bohemian vibe with a bunch of college students out seeing the world. It had plenty of that -- I'd missed the yoga class that morning and the organic farm tour at noon -- but it also had folks my age, some of whom even seemed to be from this hemisphere.

I'd splurged on a single room, which was $56/night. It did not have a private bathroom, and was kind of warm when I first got there since it did not have air conditioning and was on the sunny side of the building. But they had a nice space where I could lock away my bicycle, the bed was comfortable, the group shower was very clean, and the temperature quickly cooled when the sun set.

After spending most of the day on the bike, I decided to walk to one of the neighborhood places nearby for dinner and to get some groceries for the next day. It was about two miles, but I had brought some nice folding sandals with me on this trip and they were quite comfortable. After a small pizza and a glass of wine, I walked back through the beach area about 8 pm, with plenty of daylight still.

The hostel was bustling when I got back, with a young group hanging out in the front yard. Nonetheless, I kept falling asleep as I lay in bed reading, finally waking about 11 pm and turning out the light. By then the kids had turned in and my room was getting chilly, so I slept great through the night.