To the intrepid traveler rain is an expected part of life. Sometimes, it is even a welcome part of life. When an ever changing environment overstimulates the senses, spending a rainy day inside a familiar fabric home-away-from-home can be a welcome respite to the senses. Wednesday, was one of those days. My journal entry from that morning:
“An aluminum pot of oatmeal mixed with fresh fruit, raisins, peanut butter, and hazelnut spread. A beat-up nalgene warmed by fresh drip coffee. A mesh window overlooking Puget Sound and Orcas Island from atop a cliff. And a nylon roof ringing with the pitter-patter of a light drizzle. Does life get any better?”
In the evening I visited the library where I was invited to watch an old movie with a family native to the island. Yesterday morning was cold and wet as well. I returned to the library. And this is where things took a turn for the worse. The curse of the solo traveler.
I first experienced this curse riding to Maine. On a beach in Sandy Hook, NJ I set up camp and explored the Peninsula. My home-for-the-night overlooked New York City from across the bay. I decided to spend another day. The soft sand was better than a mattress and I slept peacefully waking to the sun rising over the low horizon of the ocean. By lunchtime however, a subtle unease grew into a monster. My skin felt like it was crawling. I was on the verge of a panic attack.
I was almost a month into my trip and had grown accustom to the daily routine: wake up, pack, ride, eat, ride, eat, ride, eat, sleep, repeat. There was comfort in the motion. So, when loneliness reared up I did the only thing I could. I packed as quickly as I could and settled into the motion. It was not enough. The emotion was too intense. Nearing the ferry landing, a man with a big beard and thick accent stopped me and invited me to sleep in his families spare bedroom. All my problems vanished.
This time, I was prepared for the curse. I fled the library as quick as I could heading to the southern end of Lopaz Island. A strong headwind furthered my frustrations. “Fuck this island! Two days of rain and now this!” I turned around and headed for the ferry.
By the time Ranger Patty found me asleep in the tower atop Mt. Constitution, my mood had mellowed considerably. Orcas Island is very hilly and challenging to ride. It is also incredibly beautiful with abundant wildlife. I have never seen so many eagles, and so close, in my life. A challenge was just what I needed. I reached the base of the mountain an hour-and-a-half before dark and raced to the top. I summited in time to see the sunset. I hid out until everyone left then carried my gear and bike to the top of the tower. Laying on my back observing the stars, I drifted into a peaceful sleep.
It was her light that woke me and she seemed just as surprised as I did. After threatening to fine me and listing all the rules I was breaking, Ranger Nancy decided to cut me a break. I threw my bike in the back of her truck and we headed down the mountain towards the official camp sites. In less than a mile she stopped the truck at a scenic overlook. “I will let you have your stars.” She said. “You can camp here.” I unloaded my bike and she drove off without another word. I cowboy camped and fell asleep counting shooting stars. A few hours later, I awoke soaking wet. The dew was intense. I was forced me to pitch my tent.
That was last night. Now, Friday afternoon, I am seated at a picnic table on San Juan Island in the shade provided by the stone wall of a whale watching pier off the west coast of Puget Sound. Porpoises are surfacing working their way from left to right across the water. Harbor seals poke their head above water scanning the horizon before diving under the surface. Seagulls line a log floating in the current. And killer whales frequent this area. Hopefully, they will make an appearance. Until then, I sit with the practiced patients of a hunter; albeit, a hunter punching away at a laptop.