Why do dogs bark at cyclists?
and other notes from my bike tour through Western Washington
We saw a lot over the six days that we were in the saddle…Cascade mountains every day from Mt. Hood to Mt. Baker, strange old barns painted with medical slogans, public art, the most recent rural Washington political advertising, Mom ‘n Pops in every town, 300 miles of asphalt…
but maybe it’s best to just start at the beginning.
Day 1: 80.33 miles
Seaquest State Park
Castle Rock, Washington
Today we began a great journey- Tom, Meera, and I- biking over 200 miles from Portland to Seattle. We stuffed our worldly possessions in bags, strapped these bags to our bikes, and we were off. We began by meandering through the tree-lined streets of Northeast and North Portland, pedaling slowly, getting a feel for the weight. The sun was warm by the time we reached the St. John’s bridge, a beauty of a structure crossing the Willamette. We followed the Columbia River up on Highway 30, bordered by wetlands rich with birds big and small, water lilies floating, Great Blue Herons flapping giant wings, regal, spindly yet graceful in the sky. Surprisingly, the shoulder was generous along the entire 40 miles of “Dirty 30” that we rode on today, though that was only one benefit amidst a persistent head wind and logging trucks barreling mercilessly by. We passed through Scapoose, St. Helens, Goble, and finally Rainer, OR, relieved to have found a lunch spot after a hot and sweaty ride. On long rides, you try to find things to distract you- conversation, an internal monologue, the beautiful scenery, identifying bird calls, thinking of the next meal, singing…I try them all. I try them all as the miles roll by. We stop for water near one of our many overpass crossings of I-5, but end up gorging ourselves on blackberries instead. We hold out our helmets as an offering to this plant that we curse the other ten months out of the year. Sweet, sweet black juice, give us the boost to bike just five more miles to the next blackberry bush.
Day 2: 49.5 miles
McMenamins Century Club Hotel
Today was a hard day. Insistent sun, some big hill climbs, and sore muscles from our long miles yesterday. However, I could characterize my mood for most of the day as exhilarated, indulging in the rolling hills of our route, reminiscent of an English countryside, magnificent, sweeping views of Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier, sometimes bordered by trees, sometimes accompanied by wheat fields in the foreground. We trundle along, carrying with us quite the load- for me, maybe 40 pounds of extra weight? We much on peanut butter M&Ms, guzzle water like it’s our job, and take quick power naps under trees while horses quietly nuzzle grass behind us. It’s really special to be transporting ourselves like this, skirting the Cowlitz River as it winds lazily through farmland and watching Great Blue Herons alight in alarm as we bike by.
Day 3: 67.5 miles
Super 8 Motel
From Rochester to Elma, Tom dried his underwear. It hung off the back of his bike like a flag of hope…or was it surrender? We rose early in Centralia this morning, light streaming down in one shaft of light from the rectangular skylight in our small room. We walked down the street for breakfast, air cool and inviting, welcoming in the day. And then we were out of there. Like bandits skipping town, we left Centralia. Our route took us west of town into farmland, land rising and falling gently through fields of crops and orchards. Though it was soothing landscape it was also a bit monotonous and dull, home to juvenile detention centers and car repair shops. We reached Elma after all this a few hours later. I sat and enjoyed a picnic table at their visitor’s center- a converted gas station, actually, while Tom and Meera got Mexican food. Then we were off to Shelton 30 miles away. This next stretch was my favorite- away from rolling farmland and into winding forest. Our only hill all day wasn’t bad and then we headed steadily into the valley of Cloquallum Creek- a meandering waterway that forced the road to wind back and forth under trees that called out for a rest under their trunks. So we did. Craning my neck at every turn, looking for the best spot, I finally found it when the road crossed the creek for the first time. A path, blazed through the brush, was perfect for accessing the creek and a dip up to my hips. So refreshing, it was a good boost for the last 15 miles. This portion reminded me a lot of the Clackamas River Highway- lush, shaded, illuminated by the sweet sound of flowing creek…bliss on a bike!
Next: Travel Notes: Days 4-6