Friday 30 September 2011

San Juan Islands, Washington - Another competition

Back by popular demand (OK ... one person asked) and in celebration of completion of the Americas leg of my world cycle, "the bicycle diaries" is pleased to bring you another prize-winning, free-to-enter competition! I'd like to say that there's a fabulous prize up for grabs but the trip budget is dwindling so it will just be a cheap piece of tourist tat. However, I should remind you that it's the taking part that counts. So while I enjoy a gentle pootle around the islands of Puget Sound, you can consider the following competition question:

How many McDonalds did Graham and I have on our bike ride from Boston to Seattle?

The competition will be judged by Tigger so send him your answer and postal address to Closing date is 7 October and the winner will be posted on the next blog.

Saturday 24 September 2011

Seattle, Washington - Pay it forward

We've cycled into Seattle and our great two-wheeled trans-America adventure is over, 4 months and 4200 miles after leaving Boston. We've crossed nine states and a bit of Canada, hauled ourselves over three mountain ranges, had 15 punctures (all Graham's) and far too many McDonalds! We've cycled from spring, through summer and into fall. When we left Boston the goslings by the trail were cute, fluffy, little things and now they've joined the skeins of geese that cross the skies above us on their own trans-America migration.

Seattle is a beautiful city with hundreds of bike trails, green parks and waterfronts, views to snow-covered Mount Rainier and an iconic skyline, topped off by the famous Space Needle. It's not an exaggeration to say cycling here from Boston has been one of the richest experiences of my life and yet, apart from Niagara Falls, we didn't visit anywhere famous! What I loved about our journey was that we cycled a line from Boston to Seattle and enjoyed whatever came our way. We discovered that the bits in between are much more interesting.
We discovered the real America in the small towns, the plains, the mountains and the wonderful people that we met along the way. I'm sad it's all over - I could turn around and do it all again -but I'm proud, and a little bit smug, that we took on the challenges of distance, terrain and climate to cycle across a continent.

We're always being asked what's been the highlight of the trip and I always say it's been the wonderful people that we've met along the way - strangers who've put us up in their homes, let us pitch our tents in their yard and fed us dinner; all the people who stopped by the road or in the park or grocery store to chat and wish us well; new friends who took time out of their lives to ensure we had a good time; people who've converted barns and outhouses into cosy places for pedallers to stay; and the couple in Seattle who gave us their prepaid Starbucks card so we could enjoy a coffee on them! They are the kindest and most generous people I have ever met.
Back in Montana on 6th August we chatted at the roadside with an eastbound cyclist from Seattle, Haakon. He invited us to stay with him on our way into the city. On his journey, Haakon had also experienced the amazing kindness of strangers and he told us that he was delighted he could now offer a kindness to us and "pay it forward". And so, in good old Waltons style, there is a moral to the end of this episode. If you experience a kindness, pass it on or "pay it forward".

Photos and more words on Flickr.

Saturday 17 September 2011

Wenatchee, Washington - A braw, bricht, moonlicht nicht

The full moon rose above the topmost branches of the pine trees and cast long shadows on the woodland floor where our little tents were pitched. No need for torches tonight as we could see as if it were daylight. Despite being cosily tucked up in my sleeping bag, something awoke me in the early hours … a sound very close by that set my heart pounding … it was the howling of the pack!

In North America wildness is so very close at hand and there are so many things to scare the living daylights out of you. You’re always on guard in case of an encounter with a grumpy bear and always scanning the rocky outcrops above as you cycle by. These are the preferred launching pads of mountain lions which, we are told, have come to consider mountain bikers as fair game! Then, of course, if you need to pop into the bushes for a pee, mind you don’t step on a rattlesnake!

So it was with some relief that Graham and I turned south out of the wilds to follow the gorge of the Columbia River, a vast waterway swollen by numerous dams that meanders its way across Washington. In one of its huge meanders it cuts off the Columbia Basin, an arid parched plain of sagebrush and wheat fields where we rode in the worst conditions of the trip as fearsome winds whipped up vicious dust storms. So if you’re thinking about treating me to an expensive spa day in Seattle, forget it – I’m fully exfoliated!

Central Washington was a landscape that took us by surprise as we cycled into vast canyons with cliffs of crumbled red rock that looked for all the world like mini versions of the Grand Canyon. Then the landscape switched again as we left the desert and freewheeled into the fruit orchards of the Wenatchee Valley. Here at Wenatchee we are just about to begin the climb over the Cascade Mountains, the final obstacle between us and Seattle where we have declared the original Starbucks on Pike Place as the finish line for our trans-America bike ride. I wonder which of us will cross the finish line first as the loser buys the coffees!

But what of the howling on that moonlit night? Most probably it was a pack of coyotes which we’ve seen in the fields and forest margins. But maybe … just maybe …

Friday 9 September 2011

Colville, Washington - Can't see the wood for the trees

Yes, this blog is about trees as there doesn’t seem to be anything else in my life at the moment!

It’s hard to believe but we are only about 300 miles from Seattle. As we’ve cycled across the States, people have constantly stopped us for a chat, asking “where are you going” and “where did you start”. When we tell people now that we are cycling to Seattle, they are all pretty impressed. But when we tell them we started in Boston … Boston, Massachusetts … you could knock them over with a pine needle!

The landscape this side of the Rockies couldn’t be more different to the high, empty plains of Montana. There are trees! Billions of them! I love the Ponderosa pines whose rich, red bark glows warmly in the morning and evening sunlight. But my favourite trees are the graceful cedars. We took a detour from our route, cycling deeper into the mountains up an impossibly steep road in the unrelenting heat of summer, to visit the 500-year-old Ross Creek Giant Cedars. These wooded behemoths grow in the twilight in an eerie, swampy, primordial forest where you expect to see a stegosaurus grazing in the undergrowth or a couple of pterodactyls gliding overhead. The primeval ambience was completed when I happened upon the “missing link” as a hairy individual, knuckles scraping along the ground, approached me on the trail and grunted two words – “big trees”. Yep, I thought, that pretty much sums it up.

Of course in North America where there are forests, there are bears. We continue to practice meticulous bear-aware camping techniques. Nonetheless, lying in my tent at night I dread a twig snapping nearby or the rip of nylon as a big bear’s head appears in my tent and says “hey, have you got chocolate in here?”

More photos on Flickr.

Sunday 4 September 2011

Kootenai, Idaho - mini update

We've finally cycled out of the other end of Montana and into our penultimate state, Idaho. It'll only take us a couple of days to cycle through Idaho as we're crossing the narrow, pointy-up bit otherwise known as the "panhandle".

Check out the map below - not far to go!