“Breathe on the world. Hold out your hands to it. When mornings and evenings roll along, watch how they open and close, how they invite you to the long party that your life is.”
-William Stafford: “A Valley Like This”-
We’re still getting into a routine: arise from tent at 7am, deflate and pack our sleeping paraphernalia, stuff and compress the tent, eat a banana, pack panniers, don bike gear, apply chamois cream, drink protein shake, cinch up bags on racks, and Go!
Two weeks in to this epic tour, we’re feeling pretty good about what we’ve chosen to bring with us and how each of our items has kept us comfortable- warm, cool, protected from the sun, padded and lotioning our behinds, and shaded our eyes. We have relatively little with us, but what we do have is multi-use and use-ful.
I have known this for years, but this trip just underscores how travel by bike is the best way to see the landscape change. Since we got off the train in Seattle, we’ve seen the city turn to the suburbs of Everett and Mukilteo, we’ve sailed many channels of the Puget Sound by ferry, climbed through Douglas-fir forests covering the winding road up Mt. Constitution, watched the sunset while the ocean lapped at pebbles underfoot on Orcas Island, breathed in the cool, summer air as we rode under Bigleaf Maples lining the prized Skagit River, and felt riparian turn to alpine as we climbed over the North Cascades. We heard the transition too, as Swainson Thrush songs turned to Varied Thrush and then Hermit Thrushes started singing with every advance of the ascending elevation.
We’ve also drank from cascading mountain creeks as we climbed 5500 feet, and summited snow-covered passes at timberline. Of course that also meant that we could descend into Ponderosa and Cottonwood- lined valleys whose rivers are clear and cold and sparkling, the memory of the mountains still fresh in the rear view mirror. Eastward still, we are encountering sagebrush valleys that glow green with fruit orchards, fed with water from the Okanogan River, and we experience the great height of the Okanogan highlands. Tonight I sit amongst conifers again in the rugged, gold-filled slopes of Republic. It is hard to believe that there is so much more to experience ahead, as we’re still only in Washington!
What rings true and stays the same wherever we’ve gone, is friendly smiles, accompanied by curiosity and an extended hand of hospitality. These stories have created the highlights of our trip so far, stories that we will share for years to come.
We started with hospitality from Hollis on Whidbey Island and then a couple days later from Eric on Orcas Island, two dear friends of my parents that I have known for my whole life. These are both people who enjoy food and wine and conversation and have built gorgeous houses in idyllic places they love. It was a treat to land at both these houses within the first couple riding days of our trip as we were still getting used to riding hills with loaded bikes.
A couple days later, on Shaw Island, we found ourselves camping on the porch of a house that we had never seen before. Our friend Amanda in Seattle connected us to her friend on Shaw, who had bought the house for $1 in Seattle and then had it barged through the Puget Sound! Though we never met them, as they were out of town, the owners let us pitch our tent on their property. We enjoyed the sunset while cooking dinner on the front steps, reveling in the randomness.
Taking the cake was a chance encounter on Anacortes which turned into a chance encounter in North Cascades NP which became even more ridiculously serendipitous on Hart’s Pass, thousands of feet above Mazama, WA. Early in the trip, when we were about to catch our first ferry to Lopez Island in Anacortes, we met an outdoorsy, friendly couple named Jake and Christy at the ferry terminal. Mind you, this was our 2nd full day of riding, but Jake approached us with a smart-ass comment somewhere along the lines of, “Where are you going with all that stuff? Looks like you’re taking this pretty seriously.” We replied, “We’re going to Maine,” and he relented. After a brief chat about the trip, we wished them well on their weekend bike tour and we were on our way.
A week later, after a 3-hour recovery break in the North Cascades Visitors Center, we endeavored the final 10 miles to our campground for the night. I was exhausted and dehydrated and it was a struggle to pedal myself up the few hills it took to get there and dinner time had come and gone. If that wasn’t bad enough, we came up against an uphill tunnel that we had to ride through to continue up the road, competing with cars and RV’s and trucks. I was paralyzed with anxiety thinking about going through there and stalled as long as I could. Until a white 4-Runner glided up next to us, Christy’s smiling face looking out. “Do you guys need an escort through the tunnel?” she asked. After some confusion about their identity (out of context, come on!) I relented quickly (a mistake) and they went on their way again. We thought that was the last of them.
Until a few days later, when our friend Chase was showing us the sights around the Winthrop-Mazama area. He decided to take us up a windy, bumpy, potholed gravel road up to Hart’s Pass, a gem on the PCT and the best view of the North Cascades that I could imagine. And low and behold, who was in the parking lot at the top of the world, but Jake and Christy!! We were all flabbergasted, in awe of the ways of the world. And with that, we were finally able to share a meal and conversation, plot our next adventure together, and exchange hugs to seal the deal on new, albeit chance friendship. Here’s to hoping that we continue our streak of meeting amazing people, seeing beautiful sights, and benefiting from the highest level of generosity this world can hold.