Integral to any great journey is the kindness and generosity of strangers. This tour is no exception. From the small exchanges that simply serve to keep the loneliness at bay, to gifts such as a bag of potato chips at the end of a long day, even to random invitations of a place to stay, thus far on this expedition, the altruism of strangers has been the primary theme and a real boon to moral as the prevailing winds batter my face and whistle through my ears while I ride north, away from my final destination.
If you happen to be in Port Townsend, WA you will find me seated at a chess board table in the corner of the Courtyard Cafe with a coffee mug in hand, electronics in the place of chess pieces, and of course, a rather strange looking bicycle parked in the front window. I am here taking advantage of wifi and free coffee refills while I await the ferry to carry me across the bay to Whidbey Island. I am headed for the San Juan Islands where I intend to establish a base camp and explore the archipelago.
As I hoped, the trip has relaxed into the more normal experience of bicycle touring. From Portland, OR, I pedaled the roughly 200 miles to Seattle, WA over the course of three days. The first night, I crossed into Washington state and camped in the parking lot of Walmart in the town of Longview. The second night, I camped along a bike trail in the town of Rainier, WA thanks to a tip from another bike tourer. Bala Bangaru is on the same trip I am except he began farther north in Alaska. The feeling of meeting another cycle tourer is intense: a wave of euphoria capable of overcoming even the most negative emotion akin to meeting a long lost friend. I have met at least a dozen other tourers so far on this trip. On my tour to Maine, I only encountered one couple from Spain.
The third day on my way from Portland to Seattle I fought my way through the chaos and congestion of a major city and expanded my family. Entering any city by bicycle is stressful. Thankfully, this stress did not last long as Seattle has a major bike trail that runs for dozens of miles into the heart of the city itself. The trail was difficult to follow; however, many kind individuals guided me along the way including Connie, who adopted me as her nephew.
Aunt Connie found me along the trail looking tired and lost. As a former bike tourer she knew exactly what I was looking for: a place to stealth camp. I followed her to a beautiful and private nature preserve complete with a roofed watchtower. She gave me her phone number, saying to call if I decided to stay, and went on her way. It was still early in the day. I went for a swim in the river then to Safeway (a large supermarket chain here on the west coast) for dinner. In Safeway, I plugged in my phone and called this wonderful woman.
“Pittsburgh! I was worried about you and came back to the preserve looking for you. Where are you?”
“I’m at the Safeway. I decided to stay at the preserve and tackle downtown tomorrow.”
“If you want, you can sleep on my floor instead. You can even take a shower and get cleaned up.”
An offer I could not refuse. She met me as Safeway and I followed her home. After a shower and a delicious home-cooked meal we came up with a plan. The next day, the two of us would jump in her yellow VW Beetle and drive to Mount Rainier.
The two hour drive went passed quickly and we were soon winding our way up the mountain. At Sunrise, the highest point accessible by vehicle at 6,500 feet, we left the car behind. We hiked through pristine mountain tundra, past spectacular overlooks and crystal clear glacial lakes and even herd of mountain goats, to the base of the highest peak of Mount Rainier. At an elevation of 7,500 feet we turned around and went back to the car – to climb any higher required specialized mountaineering gear. Back at the car we made a deal. If I drove, we would head to the other side of the mountain. Deal! On the other side of the mountain, I had the pleasure of meeting some mountaineers. If there was ever any doubt of my intentions to climb a mountain, this experience erased them. On the way out of the park, Aunt Connie treated me to dinner. I order a blue cheese flat iron steak. She ordered trout and we shared. The meal was delectable.
I spent one more night in the town of Kent with this stranger turned family. I used this time to catch up on chores such as laundry and updating online information. I also rode into downtown. Seattle is a rather hilly city with three notable attractions that I explored: the Pike Place market, the Space Needle, and the REI flagship store. After, I took the bus back, slept, and in the morning said goodbye to Connie and her mother. I can not thank to two of you enough for your hospitality. This has been an experience I will never forget and all the food you provided will power me for many days to come! Without people like you, this trip would not be possible or enjoyable.
I left yesterday morning headed for the San Juan Islands. Last night I slept in a closed-down campground. The weather has been cool and overcast with highs barely reaching 70 degrees and lows into the 50’s. A slight drizzle fell yesterday. It was almost favorable after the previous weeks ride through a sauna.