As we sailed across the invisible and fluid water border between Canada and the US we both shared similar feelings of ‘did we really want to be coming to the States now, with it’s political undulating landscape’? But we had travelled through countries that had and have instability and dictatorship, so why should we get on our high horse now! We discussed how we should tread lightly when meeting Americans and maybe let them bring the ‘subject’ up first.
Our first port of call was in the sleepy town of Port Angeles where we accidentally stumbled on our first paper mill along the nook. The scale of rows and mountains of timber where like city scapes. The paper mill was in transition of ownership and there would be a shift in Paper production output, which we were told by the man who was feeding the 30+ stray cats along the nook.
We were kindly hosted by a warm showers couple; Margaret and Micheal. Micheal was a vanguard cyclist and had started cycle touring in the 1970’s which I’m sure was a rare sight then. We pitched our tent in their garden had shared a lovely meal and long conversations about our trip and we also got lots of valuable local cycle knowledge from them. We left the next morning after a great shared breakfast and under Barbara’s arm she carried happily a handmade loaf from Micheal.
Our route would take us through the Olympic Wilderness National Park, Washington state and then south towards Oregon. The first three days were tranquil on relatively quite roads apart from the odd terrifying fully loaded logging trucks. These huge beasts seemed not to have breaks and certainly weren’t keeping to the speed limit. Thankfully almost all of the traffic gave us plenty of room when overtaking. There was a rather crazy 5 minutes on the road where we saw an injured deer trying to move from the verge after being hit and then 4×4 car lost control and started to head towards us from the opposite side of the road. It was like slow motion, the car rocked from side to side as it tried to rectify itself and I had already dismounted from my bike ready to jump! Maybe I’d watched too many action packed movies in my time but the scenario had already played out in my mind, I’d just hoped Barbara had her own plan of rescue. The driver had gained control and zoomed off while we stood a gasp.
Cycling through rainforests, towering trees covered in large scale lichen made for a setting from a spooky movie rather than a high impact car chase. The discovery trail weaved through the forest floor away from traffic and people. Several days of cycling alongside rainforests, the odd grocery or petrol station were our only reminders of civilised offerings. Campsites where in either forest, national or state parks. Each with a different price structure and range of facilities. The state parks are the best for cyclists and hikers (hiker/biker sites) as they have reduced prices (approx $12) and most state parks have showers. The other parks had no showers but all had fire pits, picnic benches on each site. The camping is well thought-out and as primitive as possible. Paying for camping is relatively new on our trip but with the abundance of the threatening nature of the ‘No Trespassing’ or ‘Keep Out-Private Property’ signs everywhere and knowing that Americans carry guns we became more relaxed at paying for a hiker/biker site. This also gives you the luxury of turning up early or late and being relaxed in the mornings. Yes we have become soft!
We hit the stunning Washington coastline at Ruby rocks and made our way to Kalaloch, where a beautiful national park campsite greeted us. During the afternoon of that ride (day 3) my legs began to ache like mad, which I thought was down to doing little over the last month. But within half an hour of stopping for the day the aches and pains had spread throughout my body. It was Barbara’s birthday and I tried to put a brave face on. I walked a mile to the only store to buy cider, chocolate and marsh mellows for the fire. I retreated to the tent to sleep early leaving B to celebrate her 52nd birthday alone with the marshmallows. The next day we stayed at the campsite with the sound of the ocean soothing me to sleep throughout most of the day. B was content beach combing, collecting firewood and relaxing.
With a days rest behind me we decided to move on as I was feeling a little better. The route continued along the 101 and at times we diverted off onto quieter roads through further forests for several days making steady progress until we reached the state park of Twin Harbours. Getting off the bike my body caved in. It had taken enough and for the next 5 nights and 4 days we remained there. Moving 3 times to unreserved spots I managed to get better. The rangers and staff where so kind and gave us a reduced price and we woke up one morning to find a large box of Yorkshire tea on our bench. The mystery tea donator was Molly the park receptionist/ ranger who had been so kind to us. We had met several couples on the site who we chatted to lots about our trip and their adventures. Camping had become rather social and all this talking was something new for us.
With the illness kicked into line we finally left, with thanks to my friend Silvia (Canada), who helped with my medication and support. Our route continued along the route 101 and other side roads. The next 2 days and nights we shared with Marie-France from Montreal, who was cycling alone. We got on like a house on fire and spent the evenings around a campfire chatting, sharing food and our first bottle of wine in a long time. Cape Disappointment was a beautiful spot, drift wood piled high on a small beach cove with cliffs and a lighthouse making this a picturesque place. The bike trail glided through the boardwalk, forests and oceans edge. We shared a mid morning coffee with Marie and said goodbye as we embarked on a 3 day ride to Portland, as she was taking a bus (return) to Portland, but we knew our cycle paths would cross again. During our coffee a man warned us about the forthcoming bridge and said he had an alternative for us. “Give me a minute!” he said as he disappeared into the cafe. He returned with 2 paper plates with the words ‘ please, pick me up’ scribbled on them. He said the bridge is too dangerous with high winds, little hard shoulder and suggested to ask for a pick up lift over the bridge!
After Cape Disappointment State Park we had the dreaded Astoria bridge to cross. We approached the bridge some 30km after the park and weighted up the risk and traffic and decided it would be fine to cycle across even though it did look somewhat daunting. The sight of both seagulls and cormorants gliding in the warm currents above the bridge calmed us as our white knuckle ride took us over the 6km bridge. We made it but it’s not a bridge you would do too often. Heading through the characterful city of Astoria we headed to a campsite Gnat creek campground to find it only have 4 sites, 2 taken and 2 closed for repairs. We were joined by 2 fellow cyclists; Erica and Dan (from Australia and New Hampshire). We all decided with no alternatives to camp on the grass next to the designated closed sites. 2 identical Hilliberg tents sat next to each other, one almost new and one showing signs of 15 months on the road. Another nice evening chatting to our new cycling fellows. We were both heading to Portland so shared routes and plans for the following days. The next day was going to be tough; a big climb and distance to cover.
The climb was long, over 10kms up which took sometime but the down hill was also long and enjoyable. We were on a quiet forest road with only a couple of logging trucks and 4×4 passing us. The lower level land had turned from forests to meadows and farm land. Barns and wooden houses dotted the landscape at intervals. The day just went on and I was losing momentum but we soon joined the bike route Vernonia and Banks trail, which was a disused railway line. The route took us to the outskirts of the Stub Stewart’s campground. Tired and getting late we stumbled around a confusing site to find the hiker biker sites. A off road track took us to a great wooded area where we set up camp. A couple hours passed and our fellow cyclists joined us both exhausted but glad to have found us. Barbara had made a fire and we sat down eat together and all settled down in our matching tents as we sleep asleep with almost a 110 km day behind us.
With one final day to get to Portland we continued on the bike trail until Banks and then we had to twist and turn to find a suitable route to Portland. Being on the 26 was the most direct but with 3 lanes of traffic whizzing by it was not enjoyable so finally we exited to spend a few hours getting lost. There seemed no direct route except the unsuitable route 26 for bikes so we hit the hills that camouflaged the city. Dejected and very tired a man came to our rescue and suggested a bike route to downtown. Finally coming out the hills we could see the small city. Portland greeted us with old and new, cafes, micro breweries and a seriously bike friendly city. We crossed the Broadway bridge to Northeast Portland and settled into our Airbnb treat on 14th Avenue.
We spent a relaxing 3 days/4 nights in our garden cabin. Normally when we get to a resting place we do just that rest and do not rush around. Laundry was a fun visit with an impressive set up. The neighbourhood of Alberta was a great place full of eateries, community spirit and low rise homes. A liberal city with a social conscious attitude. This is certainly a city that has a draw, the people are relaxed, friendly and there is craft everywhere but it comes with a big city problem. Barbara witnessed a rather nasty side of human behaviour as she brought bus tickets. A women laid flat out on the pavement, pants down to her knees and a man hovering over her as he picked through her belongings, taking a few dollars from her wallet. The city with its open doors policy has seen an I reset in homeless people coming to the city and with this many people are on drugs.
During our stay we visited some paper related places; Pulp and Deckle, Oblation and IPRC, which we will write about in a later post.
It has taken us much longer to do this stage due to my illness but despite this the scenery and tranquility has been breathtaking and rewarding. We have talked about our journey non stop as people have shown such interest. We have been socially interactive with many walks of life and it has been wonderful to share this with other cyclists from different parts of the world.
We will know proceed to the much anticipated Oregon coast making our way slowly towards San Francisco, some 1200km+ away. We are looking forward to the scenery, coastline and generally taking it easy (if possible).
Port Angeles to Portland 831km
1 broken rear spoke (Jack’s bike)
All photography by Jack Blake & Barbara Salvadori 2018©