Friday, 24 May 2013

WASHINGTON WATERS


Moving North from Oregon, I crossed the Columbia river at Astoria and entered Washington, the "Evergreen" State. There is mainly one reason why this state is so green (guess?), rain, of course! Granted, the scenery is pretty, but cycling and camping in the wet for days on end can get one's spirits down. From Astoria (Oregon) the steel/concrete bridge over the Columbia River estuary is about 7 km long, luckily the wind wasn't too strong when I crossed. Soon after the bridge I passed through yet another narrow tunnel, no problem as I just have to hit a button upon entry and then a flashing light warns traffic about a bike in the tunnel (same as on some of the narrow bridges further South). When I was at Neil's "Warmshower" house in Seaside, three weary characters turned up there on the night before my departure. These 3 had been jogging the entire Oregon state coast, pushing their gear along on a bike and baby-stroller! I had passed them a few days earlier on the road, and that night they had caught up and camped alongside in the state park (without tents). Well done guys! At the end of a long day of cycling in the soaking cold rain, I arrived in Aberdeen in that miserable weather. With no camp sites or state parks close by, I camped on the covered loading platform behind a shopping mall (I did inform the store manager of my intentions). There was a bunch of homeless people living on one of the other more accessible loading platforms (I think my spot was too high for them to climb up). They saw me stopping by, but due to the rain I had no visitors that night. However, the following morning a delegation came by to invite me out for a beer under the bridge (obviously it didn't occur to them that I might be moving on - which I did). I arrived in Olympia on the following rainy afternoon, there was no campsite, and while looking around the security at the marina chased me away without even letting me use the toilets (I think they saw through my plan!). I camped up in the wet forest under the highway where it seemed that homeless people had stayed before. The following morning 3 grumpy men from the "city" turned up and complained about having taken 6 days to clear the mess, and now "I've moved in there!" I assured them not to worry, and I was out of there in no time. Moving along further North that day, I was on and off the Interstate Highway 5 (some counties allow you on the highway, and at other points road workers put up signs prohibiting bicycles due to no shoulder, etc.). After mixing it with the rush hour traffic through some tricky intersections (where I was not allowed to be cycling anyway), I left the I 5 and found myself in downtown Tacoma (the 2nd largest harbour on the US West coast (after Long Beach, LA). That's where local resident Gene found me and invited me up the hill to camp on his lawn (when his wife Elizabeth arrived home she seemed surprised, but to her credit she also welcomed me). As part of their hospitality I was introduced to their friends and cycling friends (who are numerous, they are both keen cyclists and Gene has toured by bike down to South America in the past). Here bike shops seem to be more than just that, and we joined a party at the community bike shop called 2nd Cycle (you purchase "I Bike Tacoma" water bottle, and drink as much beer from the kegg as you like - but only from that bottle). The next day I went there and replaced Old Saartjie's front fork with a nice red "brand-new-second-hand" fork (for a small donation). They also gave me a nice "I Bike Tacoma" flashing tail light. I had some business to sort out, such as the Canadian Visa application, so Gene and Elizabeth suggested I stay another day or 2 till after the weekend and take the bus to Seattle (which I did). Unfortunately the Canadian Consulate there has closed the visa processing department, but I did get to look around the city, including Pike Street market and the waterfront (on Puget Sound). I'd heard about the Seattle Space Needle before, as well as Mount Rainier (but I doubt if that mountain exists as I have seen nothing but clouds in that direction). My Canadian Visa Application has now been submitted on-line (thanks to the use of Elizabeth's computer), and I even sorted out my problematic bank card, eventually. I've since been promoted from camping in the garden, to living-it-up in the upstairs room of the house. There is a strong and pleasant biking community here in Tacoma, and people have been really friendly towards me.
Hopefully my Canadian Visa comes through soon, otherwise I may grow roots in this place. However, I'll have to stay awhile yet as there are plans afoot for me to do a presentation of my cycle trip, at the Broken Spoke bike shop/bar next wednesday, 29 May, here in Tacoma. Daily distances cycled since my last report have been:- Ilwaco 60 km; Aberdeen 129 km; Olympia 94 km; and Tacoma 68 km. The total distance cycled so far since entering the USA from Mexico is 4 269 km (2 668 miles), and the total distance which I've cycled so far on this trip is 108 895 km (68 059 miles).

Monday, 13 May 2013

ON TO OREGON

So, after my last report from San Francisco, I headed North across the Golden Gate Bridge - on my own again. It was a Sunday, I passed the tail end of a 10 km running race on the opposite walkway, there were hundreds of bikers out on this sunny day (so I could ask directions all the time on the myriad of bike paths through the quaint Sausalito and upmarket "out-doorsy" Marin County. The scenery further along the Northern California coast was once again spectacular and hilly, much the way it was along the Central Californian coast South of San Francisco. There was one big difference though, I was very fortunate to have nice sunny weather for most of the time (unfortunately, there were a few nasty windy days as well). Another thing about Northern California, this is the land of GIANT REDWOOD trees (yes, there were some of them further South, but here were more, and they were bigger. My cycle route took me along the Avenue of the Giants, where the base of the trees were often wider than the old paved road snaking amongst them in the dark forest. Perhaps, travelling on my own again, I looked a bit pathetic (or unclean, whatever). As has happened before when I've been alone, people tend to approach me easier than when Leana and I were together. They also seem to want to give me things, like food and even money (thanks especially to cyclist Cecil from Crescent City, stopping by at my camp that night, after showing me the way on the shortcut trail to the State Park campground). People have invited me into their RV's for breakfast, and on two occasions I was also given gifts of marjiuana (pretty much legal around here - if you have a medical card you can even grow it in the privacy of your own home!). In my impoverished situation I am extremely grateful to the California and Oregon state parks, who usually have camping areas at a special cheap rate for people who bike along the Pacific Coast route. As I've mentioned in a previous report, anybody can become a "biker", and at these camps I've met people who've been "floating" around here for up to 20 years (all you need is a bike, to make it legitimate - and some of them have better equipment than what I do!). One thing which I didn't mention to my "camp mates" was that I had to stay for "free" on occasion, especially the first few days after leaving San Francisco - I was totally broke - and thanks to my sister Olga (and Martie) for helping out again. I had gotten some serious tent waterproofing (thanks to Leana) in San Francisco, which I eventually applied to the fly sheet on my overstay at the camp close to Fort Bragg. I had chosen real heavy duty stuff, which makes the fly sheet of my tent resemble wax paper (I don't know whether to put the thing over the tent, or whether I should just wrap my sanwiches in it!). There was one area which seems to be the "land of the elk". These larg-ish antelope(?) hang around fairly tamely, and stare at me in much the same way that cattle and horses do as I pass (mistrustful!). At one campground the elk were supposed to be plentiful, but only the deer sneaked past in the bush next to my lonely campsite. In Northern California there are some parks which have problems with bears, and one particularly dark and bushy park had posted warnings about a prowler bear raiding campsites (the Biker camp was far from the other campers there, dark and dingy with nobody else around, but there was a metal bear box to store food, toiletries, etc., so as not to attract the bears). Forget about the bears, rather let me harp on once more about the miserable bank card (which I eventually managed to have sent to me here in the US after the previous one had expired). Get this! They ship the replacement card to me (and charge me a fortune for the shipping), with a note included instructing me to get a new PIN at my branch in SA - does that make sense?!! (Fortunately, the matter has subsequently been resolved). Anyway, let me carry on with something more positive. The route through Oregon State crosses a number of bridges by the same designer (sorry, forgot his name), and built in the 30's job-creation era. They are attractive combinations of steel and concrete, but they just didn't provide space for cyclists at that time (however, they do have a button which cyclists can push to activate warning flashing lights, in the tunnels as well - of which there are 1 or 2). When Leana and I were in Mazatlan, Mexico, we met Steve who lives in North Bend, here in Oregon, USA. When I passed by that way, I didn't bother to contact him at such short notice, but he had been out cycling on the nice day, and on his way home spotted me, so we had a nice long chat where I had been admiring their "steel bridge", which I had just crossed. Well, the title of this post refers to Oregon, so I'd better say something about the area. At first the only thing I noticed was a road sign welcoming me to Oregon State. I was expecting it to start raining immediately (as everyone down South had predicted), but instead I've had more than a week of nice sunny weather (although there is usually a heavy fog in the morning, and things haven't had a chance to dry out properly). This coast is as beautiful as that in Northern California, perhaps even more rugged. The state parks seem to be better kept, and the showers are for free (California SP showers are coin op.). There are places along the Northern California coast, as well as in Oregon State, which display the British colonial history of the area, perhaps more like the North-East "new england" area of USA. Mostly restored timber buildings in the town centre, but in any case, most houses around here are built of wood (ever heard of "Oregon Pine"?). I am a registered member of Warmshowers Org, members all over the world host touring cyclists for a day or 2 (room, bed, camping in the yard, laundry and kitchen facilities, shower, or any of the above. A few days ago I met 2-year Swiss cyclist Joan, who told me about the famous Warm Showers host in Seaside, Oregon. Public libraries around here have free internet for up to 1 hr, and I regularly make use us these facilities while stinking out the poor people seated at the computers around me. I contacted WS host Neil Branson who (to my surprise) immediately responded, welcoming me to his house just down the road. Friday night he took me out for a burger and beer, I have the run of the house with my own bedroom, he has gone away for the weekend and left me here to use his computer, kitchen, laundry, and so forth (what a wonderful generous person - I hope I can provide such a service for needy people like myself, someday!). I've discovered that Neil has hosted other cyclists who I have met along the way, including Jules and Megan from Australia who I met on the "tunnel road" about 2 years ago not too far from Huaraz in Peru (small world!). I'm on my way to Canada now, but there seems to be yet another twist in the tale! According to the website, the Canadian Consulate in Seattle has closed down, so I'm heading for the border to see if they can help (otherwise I'll have to apply for the visa via the internet, which doesn't seem so simple. Daily distances cycled since my last update from San Francisco have been:- Tomales 97 km; Salt Point 78 km; Little River 110 km; Fort Bragg 31 km; Standish Hickey SP 70 km; Weott 80 km; McKinleyville 120 km; Orick 56 km; Crescent City 82 km; Humbug Mtn 123 km; Bandon 63 km; Lakeside 66 km; Waldport 105 km; Lincoln City 87 km; Nehalem Bay 118 km; and Seaside 42 km. The total distance cycled so far on this trip is 108 544 km (67 840 miles), and the total distance in the USA so far is 3 918 km (2 449 miles).