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Roadtrip

This account of our move from Seattle to Pittsburgh dates from a letter I wrote home in September, 2015. A few minor changes have been made.

Goodbye Seattle:

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A last look.

The cascades were pretty rainy; just about the only rain we encountered on the whole trip. Before we left, K picked a crop of beans from the garden I’d be leaving behind, so we had a big tupperware container full of them, and we were munching on them on our way out of Dodge.

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Through the Cascades.

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Crossing the Columbia River.

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Fields!

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Fields!

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Fields!

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Fields!

Crossing Eastern Washington was beautiful. We left Seattle around 2 PM, so these are all late afternoon photos. Can you tell I loved the fields? So many of them we so breathtakingly beautiful.

Throughout the west we’d see these gigantic stacks of hay bales sitting in the fields. About half the time they’d have patchworks of large tarpaulins stretched across them and tied down; the rest of the time they were simply stacked in long and relatively narrow piles in the fields, without any protection from the weather. It was an odd sight, and made me feel nostalgic.

We spent our first night at a campsite in Montana. The second night we spent at a campsite in Yellowstone, and the third night we spent at a campsite in Montana again. Montana is a big state.

Before we got to our campsite, more or less in the center of Yellowstone, we stopped at a few of the geological attractions along the way. They’re what interested me most about the place; animals are nice, but I came for the geysers and hot springs. Yellowstone rests atop a supervolcano – here, I’ll let wikipedia tell it:

Yellowstone Lake is one of the largest high-elevation lakes in North America and is centered over the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest supervolcano on the continent. The caldera is considered an active volcano. It has erupted with tremendous force several times in the last two million years.[10] Half of the world’s geothermal features are in Yellowstone, fueled by this ongoing volcanism. Lava flows and rocks from volcanic eruptions cover most of the land area of Yellowstone. The park is the centerpiece of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the largest remaining nearly-intact ecosystem in the Earth’s northern temperate zone.

Half the geothermal features! I was excited to see a few. Here’s K pretending to lay down on a bacteria mat, and me in front of a hot spring:

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In Yellowstone.

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In Yellowstone.

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In Yellowstone.

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In Yellowstone.

And here you can see some hot vents. They emitted kind of a low growl, along with the steam. Some features change throughout the season, depending on how wet it is: shifting from hot pools to mudpots (bubbling mud) to hot vents. Apparently some of the bacteria that thrive on the heat from these geothermal features get their nutrients by emitting an acid that breaks down volcanic rock into mud.

At all of these features, the signs were very very clear that visitors should stay on the boardwalks. We were told that the surface off the boardwalks may appear solid, but in fact it’s often a thin veneer covering boiling water or mud, and that many people have died by stepping off the boardwalks. Clearly, we didn’t step off. But the surface is so close, the temptation is there. I was on a boardwalk near a hot spring, where water from the hotspring flowed beneath the boardwalk. And I personally witnessed a tourist bend down to put his fingers in the water, which he quickly yanked back with a yelp.

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In Yellowstone.

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In Yellowstone.

In the foreground above, you can see a small geyser. The ones we saw would errupt intermittently and erratically, shooting water a few feet into the air.

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In Yellowstone.

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In Yellowstone.

And here we are posing in front of the Yellowstone River, which is beautiful in its own right. At several places along its length, warm, nutrient-rich water will flow into it from the hot pools and geothermal features we saw. Like here, for example:

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In Yellowstone.

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In Yellowstone.

I assume that the varying colors in some of these features come from different kinds of bacteria that grow at different temperatures. Above, you can see a large bacterial mat that has grown beneath the hot water that bubbles over and makes its way downhill.

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In Yellowstone.

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In Yellowstone.

We heard crickets in the grass just a few feet from boiling water. And the grass itself, I assume, grows in every place it possibly can, given the geologic features beneath and around it.

The pool below was called the Sapphire pool, and it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life. Photographs can’t truly capture it, because the real thing is far more detailed, and constantly changing. I felt like I could have looked into that pool, mesmerized, for the rest of my life – or if not, at least many hours. It was so beautiful that after we saw it in the afternoon, I said I wanted to come back the next morning too, so the second two photos you see of the pool are from the next day. The lighting for the photos was better in the morning, and it gives you a sense of how radiant and dream-like the thing is. It ripples and shimmers, and steam rises from it, and you stare into its depths transfixed by all the turmoil, and all those shifting shades of blue.

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The Sapphire Pool.

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The Sapphire Pool.

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The Sapphire Pool.

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The Sapphire Pool.

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In Yellowstone.

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In Yellowstone.

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In Yellowstone.

The pool below is called the emerald pool. It was pretty, but not as gorgeous as the sapphire pool.

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The Emerald Pool.

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In Yellowstone.

Above and below, you can see some more of the downhill flows of hot water.

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In Yellowstone.

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In Yellowstone.

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In Yellowstone.

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In Yellowstone.

More or less, this is where that guy stuck his fingers in the water:

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In Yellowstone.

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In Yellowstone.

This pool is like a much larger version of the sapphire pool. The colors are just as gorgeous. You don’t get as close to it, but from the overlook, in addition to seeing the shimmer and ripples of the water, you can see the wind shape the steam coming off the water. It’s a bit like watching an artist work: you’re held in thrall by the beauty, and because you wonder what they’re going to do next. Again, I could have watched for hours.

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In Yellowstone.

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In Yellowstone.

I wish we could have spent more time in Yellowstone. We arrived late in the afternoon on one day and left less than 24 hours later. But we weren’t going to Yellowstone: we were going to Pittsburgh, and so just passing through. But I’m glad we did.

Here’s a pretty view on the way out of Yellowstone:

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In Yellowstone.

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The Dakotas.

North Dakota, meanwhile, was breathtakingly beautiful. I like the Dakotas a lot.

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The Dakotas.

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The Dakotas.

Throughout the western part of the state we’d pass these oil wells in the middle of nowhere, with tanks that would store the oil they pumped up until the next tanker truck came.

We spent our next night in Minneapolis, which was nice. But we saw far less of it than we did of Yellowstone. We walked a bit along the banks of the Mississippi, and I admired a bridge across the river that was just for the use of pedestrians and bicyclists. And we saw a lot of construction, and a museum about mill flour, and a small farmer’s market. Then it was time to go again.

We spent the next night visiting relatives in the Chicago area, and that was really nice. And on the way to stay with family in Michigan, we stopped at Warren Dunes, which I remembered fondly from a family trip to Chicago in 1988. But again, we didn’t stay long. Just long enough to see the dunes and stick our toes in the water, but it was a nice rest stop on our drive.

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Warren Dunes

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Warren Dunes

And finally, Pittsburgh.

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Pittsburgh!

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Pittsburgh!

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Bicycling Around Vashon Island

This account of the trip dates from a letter I wrote home in July, 2015. A few minor changes have been made.

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Vashon Island

On Friday I did one of the things I was hoping to do before I left the Seattle area – bicycle around Vashon Island. Vashon has ferries that lead to West Seattle; you can see the dotted line that runs from the tip of the island over to the mainland on the right. It’s about 13 miles for me to bicycle from my home to the ferry landing, and then 13 miles home from the ferry landing – 26 non-Vashon bicycling miles in order to bicycle on Vashon. So I ended the day having biked a total of 71.2 miles. Not bad for a spur-of-the-moment trip. Though I did get a few charlie-horses. On Vashon, I bicycled from the northern tip all the way to the southern tip, and also all over that south-eastern extension (called “Maury Island”) you can see on the lower right hand side of the island.

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On Vashon Island.

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On Vashon Island.

The isthmus between the two was the coolest thing. It was about a block wide, and from either end, you could see the water on the southern side. In the two photos above, you can see the view in either direction from the same spot. The block itself had a couple of residential homes, and on the corner, this:

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On the corner.

A decrepit old, general store. If I was a homeowner, I might want something done about it, but as a passer-by, it’s beautiful.

Here are some more of the photos I took:

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On Vashon Island.

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On Vashon Island.

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On Vashon Island.

At one point in my ride, I passed a lemonade stand set up on a forlorn corner. I normally have a soft spot for such things, but on this occasion it was legitimately useful to patronize. So I stopped in, and got what they recommended: a blend of lemonade and tea. They put a ring of sugar around the edge of the cup; it was like getting a luxury drink. And oh, so good.

Vashon, like Bainbridge island, is covered with hills. Up and down; up and down. The distance would have been a lot easier and less exhausting if it was flat. But the thing about hills is that you can get going really quickly on the down-slope. I think my previous bicycle speed record, set on Bainbridge island, was 39.1 miles per hour; I broke that on one glorious hill on Vashon, where I went 39.3 mph. Of course I then, later on, had to bicycle back up the same hill. I wasn’t quite so speedy then.

Often on the trip you could smell the salty tang of the sea. Sometimes – like when the road you were biking on abutted the water – you could hear the waves gently lapping ashore. I got within about 30 feet of a moseying deer, and just a few inches away from a tiny, camouflaged seabird packing at the water line, when I was immobile for a while, looking at the waves.

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On Vashon Island.

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On Vashon Island.

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On Vashon Island.

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On Vashon Island.

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On Vashon Island.

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On Vashon Island.

This roadside farmstand was off the beaten path a bit, but I followed the signs and it is the cutest and most adorable farmstand I’ve ever seen. I mean, look at it! There were plastic bags and rubber bands you could use to package your produce; a refrigerator; bundles of flowers; bunches of basil kept fresh in water; strawberry transplants. And, you know, it’s gorgeous to look at; just gorgeous. I used up all my small bills on the way into Vashon, and I made sure to break up some of my large bills so that I could revisit it on the way out. And I did. And it was worth it.

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The best farmstand.

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The best farmstand.

There were other farmstands throughout Vashon, but none so gorgeous as this one.

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Bicycling Around Whidbey Island

This account of the trip dates from a letter I wrote home in April, 2015. A few minor changes have been made.

K found an inexpensive cabin rental on Whidbey Island and suggested we bike there. Whidbey is far enough away that I haven’t yet made it there, even though I’ve wanted to. So I thought it was a perfect idea. Later she (wisely) amended her suggestion: let’s just bike to the cabin when we get to Whidbey. There’s a bus that runs directly from Seattle to Everett (home of many Boeing factories) but nothing that took us directly to Mukilteo, where the ferry departs. So in the end we biked 40 miles that first day: from Everett to Mukilteo, and then most of the length of Whidbey Island.

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Our two days of bicycling.

That wasn’t hard for me – I can do 40 miles at the drop of a hat. But that was further than K has ever been on a bicycle, and she was pretty tired when we arrived.

The weather was generally ideal – cool enough to prevent overheating, but not too cold. But when we pulled into Coupeville (about 3 miles from the place we rented) in order to get some food at the grocery store, it started drizzling, which made the last bit of riding cold and unhappy. I still stopped to take some pretty pictures, though.

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On Whidbey Island

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On Whidbey Island

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On Whidbey Island

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Raising mussels

For the last few miles, we rode along a winding, terribly scenic rode that had tremendous views of the water. And in that water, something was going on – I couldn’t tell what, but it looked like some kind of organized fishing operation. It turns out that Penn Cove (where we were) is the site of the largest mussel farm in the US. Oysters and clams are also grown there – and shellfish farming turns out to be ecologically beneficial. Partly because shellfish provide ecological services (they clean the water and provide habitat) and partly because the farming operations don’t feed the shellfish with anything (like fertilizers): they just plant the mussels and then come back, 14 months later, to harvest. In fact they only harvest the mussels as-needed, meaning that first they get an order, and then they go get the mussels (not the other way around). So on our second and third nights there, guess what we ate? Yup: two pounds of mussels each night, steamed simply with butter and spread with lemon juice.

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Delicious

I’ve never eaten so many mussels at one time, and they were delicious.

Needless to say, Penn Cove is also a place where mussels grow well naturally. In fact there was a public beach about a third of a mile from where we were staying where you could go and harvest your own mussels, if you were so inclined. We stumbled upon the beach but decided not to harvest because apparently the timing wasn’t right, but you can see the mussels (in black) clinging to every rock they could lay their barnacled hands on.

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Mussels!

We stayed in a lovely, well-appointed little cabin. It had a lakeside view (a small lake only just barely divided from Puget sound) and a fireplace, which was so nice that first night, when we came in from the cold rain. Over the water we saw an heron (so tall and majestic, as you know), an eagle, and lots and lots of ducks.

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A great view.

Just up the way was an old lodge/in, which had a bar and restaurant (in the middle of what’s otherwise a very rural area). So we stopped in our last day for an afternoon drink (I had a loganberry liqueur made by the Whidbey Island Distillery) and we watched hummingbirds whirr and flit around in the bushes, and an otter that climbed up to sun itself on the dock.

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Watching the otter

I also took some house photos while we were there. This is a multi-story octagonal house with a view of the sea, and below it is the photo of another seaside house, but one which has fallen into disrepair.

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A house

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A house

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On the road.

We rode out on a grey day that threatened rain. But fortunately, the rain held off for a long time. On the way we spotted some buffalo (pictured – probably being raised for meat) and horses, sheep, and cows in various places which I didn’t bother to photograph. For some vistas, though, I couldn’t help stopping and pulling out my camera. You can see the results below.

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On Whidbey Island.

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On Whidbey Island.

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On Whidbey Island.

The place where Whidbey Island ends is famous for its beauty. Deception Pass – a series of two tall bridges that are often shrouded in mist or snow or something else that’s scenic, according to the photos on the internet. But when we were there, it had just started to drizzle; no snow or mist for us. The bridge is narrow, which means the traffic lanes are narrow, which made me reluctant to bicycle across. But the pedestrian walkways on either side are also narrow – wide enough for me to walk through, but only barely wide enough with a bike. One of our handlebars would often snag on one side of the slim passage or the other. But the whole time, we were both mesmerized by the view. The bridge is way up there, and down below, the water roils in eddies and upwellings that are fascinating to watch.

I didn’t photograph it myself – we were too busy getting across – but I did find a photo on the internet that will give you a sense of what it looked like. It was beautiful.

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The roiling waters of Deception Pass.

When we got to the other side, I did snap a photo of the bridge – you can dimly see the second span in the distance. But I agree with the internet – it’s prettier in the mist and the snow.

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Deception Pass

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Deception Pass.

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Deception Pass.

By then the rain was getting pretty miserable. I had packed a decent raincoat for K, but my own was kind of a raincoat/jacket mixture. I figure: what difference does it make? You’re going to get wet anyway. I think that was true for K, too.

In the early afternoon we found a place to stop for a bit – a sodden roadside seafood place that had a large tented area to eat beneath. It was so small that at first we thought there was no indoors area to eat in, but to our good fortune there was. She had a buffalo burger – presumably made with buffalo meat – and I had a fried oyster burger. Which was good, but when you deep fry oysters they taste like everything else that’s deep fried. I don’t think I’d do that again.

The last four miles of bicycling were the rainiest. I took off my glasses because it was easier to see without them. But it was cold, we were tired, and we were soaked.

On the last long descent I had a difficult time slowing down – my bike is naturally faster than K’s and I didn’t want to rear-end her. Both my brakes were fully engaged, but they’re less effective when it’s wet and I was still too close. So I did what I usually do in such situations – I take my foot off the pedal and place it on the ground. The added friction slows me down, but my shoes are not what they once were. They’re now 4.5 years old, and they’ve started to develop holes in the bottom. When we got to the end of the hill I had to pull it off to shake out all the pebbles that had wedged themselves between my sole and shoe pad. K just shook her head.

The end of our ride was a rainy bus stop, where we huddled and changed into drier clothes while we waited for the bus. A succession of three buses took us back to Seattle. Public transportation is grand.

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Bicycling Around the Olympic Peninsula

This account of my trip dates from a letter I wrote home on September 4, 2013. A few minor changes have been made. 

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The route I took, with drop pins for overnight stays. I also stayed overnight in Victoria, across the Salish Sea.

I made the trip in 10 days – two days longer than I’d planned, because of two rain days. I also had persistent bicycle trouble, which was annoying, but that didn’t set me back.

  • Day 1: 74 Miles
  • Day 2: 104 Miles
  • Day 3 (Rain): 23 Miles
  • Day 4: 57 Miles
  • Day 5: 60 Miles
  • Day 6 (Rain): 11 Miles
  • Day 7: 53 Miles
  • Day 8: 87 Miles
  • Day 9 (Victoria): 0 Miles
  • Day 10: 75 Miles

The full trip was just shy of 550 miles, and the fully-loaded bicycle, myself included, weighed about 245 pounds.

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The fully-loaded bike.

I couldn’t fit everything into my rear panniers, so I wore a backpack in which I had the lightest items (clothes, my towel-slash-pillow, etc). The tent I squeezed into that jury-rigged contraption on the back.

The first day was difficult. I got a late start and I didn’t get off the ferry in Bainbridge – point A and I on my map – until about 1 PM. I had to adjust to carrying that much weight – my bicycling felt sluggish – and I went the wrong way at a crucial junction. Instead of turning left (South) onto US 101, I continued straight across it – and then back up the way I came. And I literally mean ‘up’ – the way down was a long, steep hill, on which I had been going about 30 mph.

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I went the wrong way.

Before I started the trip, I thought it would be a good opportunity to get some thinking done – all that time alone, pedaling, with nothing else to do. But all that physical effort takes the blood away from your brain, and you end up not thinking much at all. Even simple arithmetic becomes difficult – you have to double-check and triple-check the figures in your head, because often you find out they’re wrong. And long hills are the worst – the pedaling feels eternal, like something that always was and always will be. Which is why it’s not unusual to feel surprise when you reach the top – because a part of you had been assuming the hill had no end.

So I had no idea I was climbing the very same hill I’d just come sailing down a few minutes before. And at the top I was doubly surprised to find that I had climbed it for no reason, and that I’d have to turn around and go back down it again. The ride down was fun, but I had that fun the first time, and it didn’t make up for the four miles of climbing.

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I love hay fields.

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Far from shore.

So I didn’t make it as far that day as I’d wanted to. I camped in a state park about 30 miles from my destination, and found that cold showers were free, but hot showers required tokens. So I took a cold shower and fell asleep on my towel-pillow.

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Camping at Dosewallips State Park.

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The road I traveled.

The next day I knew I wouldn’t have the luxury of falling 30 miles short – the only camping spot I’d researched was at Ocean City State Park, more than 100 miles away. So I took brief rests at 20 mile intervals and otherwise spent my time pedaling. Along the way I passed a state prison – you’ll have to take my word for it, since I assumed they didn’t want photos taken – and forests with signs telling you the years they’d been clear-cut, replanted, and clear cut again, and the company responsible. I also became familiar with the different varieties of pavement. There was the smooth kind of pavement, which I’d been enjoying for most of my trip thus far. And there was the rough, miserable kind of pavement, made up of small pebbles stuck together with tar. Bicycling on this pavement sucks away your momentum, takes more effort, and leads to a jolt-ier, less-pleasant ride. Finally, there were roads (mostly in the clear-cutting areas) covered with small pebbles not stuck together with tar. The pebbles are all small – much smaller than the gravel on dirt roads in Michigan – so the ride was smoother than our own gravel road, but it still wasn’t very fun.

That night I ate at a Chinese restaurant in Aberdeen, about 20 miles from my destination on the Pacific Ocean. I took off my sweaty helmet, headband, and cycling gloves (which insulate your hands and wrists from the constant jolting of the handlebars – otherwise riding the bike would be like operating a low-powered jackhammer for 10 hours a day). And I read one of the two books I brought while I ate and drank – and it was interesting to see, on the ride, just how much I ate and drank along the way.

It was dusk when I left the restaurant, and I was surprised to see, downtown in a city of about 17,000 people, a deer crossing the pavement about 30-40 feet from me.

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The unpleasant discovery.

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After riding 100 miles that day.

About a mile away from the state park, I stopped at a convenience store to buy some things to eat and drink. I was exhausted but happy – I’d already cycled over 100 miles that day, with a full load of gear. But when I stepped on my bike to pedal the last mile, I found that my rear tire was flat. So I walked the rest of the way, set up my tent in a spot behind the restrooms, and decided to worry about it tomorrow.

The next morning, I changed a rear tire for the first time. Fortunately it didn’t require any special tools, and I could figure out how to do so on my own. And with that out of the way, I could go and greet the Pacific Ocean.

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Camping a brief walk from the Pacific – and the bathroom.

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The Pacific Ocean.

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The Pacific Ocean.

I’d originally planned to bicycle up the coast to Quinault that day, but since I’d just used up my spare innertube, I went back to Hoquiam to visit the bike shop there. The proprietor sold me three new innertubes (that ought to give me peace of mind!) and I had him check the rear tire to make sure that it shouldn’t be replaced. He felt it shouldn’t be – it had some punctures, but this was my first flat and he felt my tire still had a lot of life left in it. The bike shop had a lot of customers and so all this took a while – but I was patient because, outside, it had started to pour. I hadn’t brought any rain gear, not even a jacket, because I figured I’d get wet anyway – bicycling the single mile from my apartment to UW in the rain was usually enough to get me soaked. So I put on another shirt and chatted briefly with another one of the customers – a fellow from England who was bicycling down the Pacific coast, who told me that a week ago, he’d been in the Alps. He was outfitted in all the rain gear I wasn’t wearing – and as I looked at him and thought about how expensive it all must be, he looked at me in my cotton shorts and double t-shirts and probably thought I was idiotic to voyage out and into the rain.

After a mile or so, I took shelter in a fast food restaurant and decided he was right. According to my smart phone, the rain was predicted to last all day, and I used my phone (both the internet and the actual, you know, calling-and-speaking-to-someone functions) to find an RV campsite 2.5 miles away that accepted tent campers. So after drying out with my book and some hot food, I got damp again on the way there.

The good news was: they had hot showers. And I met some other bicyclists there who were going north like I was – two twentysomething friends from Chicago and a nice fellow in his mid-40s named Greg. I set up my tent in the rain, showered, and then spent the evening reading and writing postcards in the “clubhouse” to the accompaniment of a garish television.

I had about 40 miles to go the next day, and I made it about 25 before I found that my rear tire was flat again. So I flipped my bicycle upside down in the narrow shoulder, pulled out the old innertube, and got out one of the three new ones I was carrying with me. Alas! When I went to pump it full of air, I discovered that the valve was unusually thin and just didn’t fit the bicycle pump I’d brought along.

That – and the second flat tire, so soon after the first – made me annoyed with the bicycle shop in Hoquiam. And sitting there, with the tubes and tire in my lap, I discovered that on the inside of the tire, some wires were protruding: no wonder I kept getting flats! So I tore off some cardboard, stuck it between the wires and the innertube, and hoped that would get me to the next place I could replace my tire. But that still left me with the question of how to refill my innertube.

A twentysomething fellow provided the answer. He’d pulled over and came over to help, and when I explained what the trouble was, he showed me how to convert my bicycle pump so that it could fit the other kind of valve. It so happens that he owned the same pump, and as I worked on the tire he told me about the months-long cycling trip that he’d taken in Italy a few years ago. Without his help, I might have had to walk the 25 miles back to Hoquiam – but he’d pulled over within 10 minutes of my flat. I couldn’t tell him enough how grateful I was for his help.

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My camping site.

At my destination, Lake Quinault, I ran into the other bicyclists from the RV park again. And together, we paid for a spot on the beach where we could set up our tents.  My spot was a few feet from the mouth of a stream that emptied into Lake Quinault. And this was Lake Quinault:

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Lake Quinault

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Lake Quinault

Lake Quinault is surrounded by temperate rainforest – rainforest I wanted to explore. And since I had my tent set up by 5:30 PM, I decided to take advantage of the remaining daylight. After a brief chat with Greg – the fortysomething fellow, who told me that he’d been bicycling continuously for the last 18 months (when I asked him how he’d gotten started, he told me vaguely that the opportunity had come along, and he took advantage of it) – I set off for a trail that promised to show me one of the largest cedar trees in existence.

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Olympic National Park

It was a big tree – big enough to step inside, where there were several ‘rooms’ separated by tree-stalactites. I took a photo of myself inside the tree, but unfortunately the tree seems to have lost its top some time ago. It’s still tall – and pretty wide – but I think this tree is in its twilight years.

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Inside the big tree.

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Inside the big tree.

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The big tree.

The forest itself was abundantly green – ferns and hanging moss was everywhere, and the sound of rushing water was never too far away. I had a few quiet words with a 400-year-old douglas fir before bicycling over to the Quinault Lodge for a hot shower and dinner.

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Abundantly green.

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Abundantly green.

I didn’t quite fit in at the lodge. There were game rooms and fireplaces; dark wood paneling and oversized chess games; leather chairs and elegant lighting and – above all – well-dressed, sweet-smelling wealthy people.

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The best salmon I’ve ever had.

In the restaurant I had a meal fit for the wealthy – meaning expensive and undersized. Still, the salmon was the best I’ve ever tasted, and it was a pleasant contrast to feel not only normal, but some semblance of elegance. I lingered over my meal, and enjoyed the opportunity to read without a flashlight. Then put on my sweaty helmet, headband, and gloves again, and got on my bike for the brief ride to my campsite.

Which is when I discovered I had another flat.

It was 60 miles to Forks, the next large town, where I assumed I’d find the next bicycle shop. But it occurred to me that perhaps I shouldn’t assume. The internet told me that one bicycle shop there had closed down, but listed the number for another one. Although it was a little after 10 PM, I called, expecting to reach a commercial answering machine that would tell me whether the bike shop was still in business. Instead a woman answered the phone.

When I told her why I was calling, she handed me off to her husband with an air of what seemed like annoyance and resignation. When I told him why I was calling, he said that he’d operated a bike shop in Forks for several decades. But now he was in his 70s and retired, and that there wasn’t a bike shop in Forks any longer. He asked me what I needed, though, and told me that he sometimes still helped bicyclists on their way through town. He didn’t have what I needed, but he gave me some fantastic advice: he said there was a bus service between Quinault and Hoquiam, and he suggested that I take the bus back to the bike shop I came from.

When I looked it up, I found there was a bus stop just a mile from my campsite, and that I could catch an early bus to Hoquiam, fix my bike, and be back in Quinault around noon – leaving just enough time for me to finish the 60 miles I wanted to ride before it got dark. The alternative would have meant biking there and back – an extra 80 miles that would have cost me an additional day. Instead, I got up at 7 AM, packed up my campsite, and spent $2 on the two-way ride.

It was a little weird being back at the bike shop – that’s where I was two days ago. But I explained my troubles to the owner, and he found the same metal wire protruding inside the tire that I found before (and which he might have found even earlier). So he replaced the tire and did some additional work on my rear axle, and I hopped back on the bus and found myself on the road again.

On the way – and across the Olympic peninsula – I found dueling signs about something called ‘Wild Olympics.’ One set of signs said it was good, for economic reasons: it would create jobs, and preserve the basis for those jobs in the future. The other set said it was bad, for economic reasons: because it was a job killer.

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Against

I thought it was interesting that both sides were arguing over the economic impacts, and also interesting because the economic impacts are, according to economics, determinable. You can answer the “what will happen?” question, and while the assumptions you make will lead to somewhat different conclusions, those conclusions should fall within some sort of range, which can guide economic decision-making.

Now that I’m home, I looked up the websites against and in favor of the Wild Olympics proposal. I’m including some screenshots from the two websites here.

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Against

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For

In any case, it turned out to be a good day for making good time. The terrain was relatively level and I cycled along in top gear, which meant that every push at the pedals moved me several yards forward. It felt like I was taking great strides across the landscape, and the speedometer on my bike generally read about 18 miles per hour.

Which felt even better with my shirt off. I ended the day with a sunburn, but the breeze kept most of the sweat at bay – which was nice after the last few days, which I’d spent marinating in it.

Ruby Beach is about halfway between the ‘E’ and ‘F’ points on the map, and it is beautiful. I spent some time taking photos, exploring, and eating my lunch before I got back on my bike for the last 30 miles.

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Ruby Beach

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Ruby Beach

I spent that night in Bogachiel State Park – and the next night too, because the following day was rained out. But I braved the weather long enough for the 5-mile ride into Forks for some food, and I spent the day reading and catching up on some much-needed sleep.

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At Bogachiel State Park.

The next morning it was rainy too – but I was determined not to lose another day. So I packed up and headed into Forks. Wearing extra shirts helped a little, but I was still soaked after those five miles of riding, so I found a diner while I waited out the worst of the rain. I was lucky: my breakfast came before the power outage. When I arrived there was barely a place to sit; when I left the place was dark and nearly empty, because the grill wasn’t hot enough to keep cooking food.

That power outage affected most of the Olympic Peninsula and lasted much of the day. Later that afternoon, I bought some fluids at a convenience store operating the old-fashioned way: arithmetic by hand.

My next stop was the Pacific coast: a series of beaches on an Indian reservation around La Push. Last year when I was working at the EPA, I was told to visit by a colleague who said they were strikingly beautiful. They were: misty, solemn, contemplative. A few campers had set up along the beach, temporarily living amidst the driftwood, the sand, and the waves.

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In La Push.

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In La Push.

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In La Push.

I passed through quite a few Indian reservations on my route. Sometimes they had casinos, sometimes they had signs for tribal art, but more often than anything else, I saw stands for selling fireworks. Fireworks are illegal to buy in Washington state, but easy to get because an Indian reservation is often only a few miles away.

After La Push, I’d planned a route ending just shy of Cape Flattery, the most Northwestern point in the continental US. But I knew the route might be treacherous: google maps indicated several forks in the road that might lead me astray. I prepared by noting the distance to these forks in my written directions, knowing that I could rely on my odometer to tell me when I reached each fork. By following my directions I’d know which way to turn, but as a backup, I’d made sure that my phone was fully charged – I could rely on the GPS function in my phone as a last resort.

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Directions.

Still, I was dismayed (if not entirely surprised) to find that I faced several dozen miles of gravel roads. The gravel was large and loose; that would make this distance the most physically demanding on my trip thus far.

Fortunately, after the first 200 miles or so, I’d discovered my bicycle gears. I always knew they were there, but for most of my 15 years of cycling I preferred to remain in top gear. This included steep hills, which I’d climb with a combination of early speed and brute force. I knew before I started this trip that I might have to relent, but I still avoided shifting gears whenever I could.

I often couldn’t avoid it on these steep gravel roads.

I even found stretches that were too steep to climb in the lowest gear. If the roads were paved; if I was carrying less weight; if I had more time to indulge in stubbornness and risk tipping over, I might have toughed it out. Instead I insisted on documenting each hill I didn’t climb with photographs, and keeping track of the distance with my odometer. And I still had to climb them, after all – just on foot instead of by pedal.

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A steep logging road.

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A steep logging road.

Other stretches were too solitary and beautiful not to photograph. I heard birds; I saw a coyote crossing the road in front of me; I heard the wind in the trees. Otherwise I was alone: no traffic and no sign of people at all except for the road itself and occasional vistas of clearcut forest.

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A clearcut vista.

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A clearcut vista.

In the midst of all this, I saw that I missed a call from “BobGregPhil,” a tenant who I asked to fill in for me as housing manager while I was gone. More specifically, I asked him simply to alert the owner and I if anything serious happened in the house: a fire, a break-in, a broken water pipe. So although I was extremely conscious of trying to preserve the battery life on my phone, I gave him a call back.

“BobGregPhil!” I said. “Tell me what’s going on and be very, very brief.”

He started telling me about how some people had come to the house looking for him when he wasn’t there, and had apparently insisted – in a threatening way – on being let in, scaring the female tenants who refused. BobGregPhil said that he didn’t know the guys, but showed up shortly afterwards and called them and told them not to come by again.

“So,” I interjected, “You’re simply informing me of the situation and there’s nothing that you need me to do.” He agreed and continued talking before I interjected again: “I’m going to let you go now, BobGregPhil.”  “Okay, bye,” he said reluctantly.

This gave me something to think about for the next few miles.

Mostly, I felt annoyed: why bother telling me now if there was nothing I could do? Was it really that impossible for me to step away for a few days? Couldn’t people handle their own affairs for a little while?

BobGregPhil’s story also left a bad taste in my mouth. If he didn’t know the people who came looking for him – itself a claim that sounds dubious – how was he able to call them and tell them not to visit the house again after they’d left? It felt like I was being given a sanitized version of events; it felt like BobGregPhil wasn’t being straight with me about what really occurred.

I reached pavement again after about 30 miles of gravel, and it felt wonderful. The ascents were no longer as exhausting and the descents didn’t require my entire, undivided, focused attention, because there was less risk that I’d skid and lose control, like I could have done easily on the gravel. It was only about 6 PM, but I felt worn out. And I had 30 miles yet to go.

Or did I? In the middle of nowhere I found myself looking at a sign that promised camping, dining, lodging. I felt like turning in and getting an early start tomorrow, so I went up the drive and found myself chatting with two other bicyclists at the main lodge. We compared notes: we were going in opposite directions so they had insight into the road ahead, and vice versa. They had traveled on a different road than the one I planned to use, but it was still good to talk with people who’d been through the same forestry-road riding that I had.

They were surprised to hear that I’d come from Forks, and that I was planning on sleeping in Port Angeles the next day. It had taken them three days to ride from Port Angeles and they planned on two to reach Forks. Other riders along the way were similarly surprised, but that was often because we had different aims: for me, cycling around the peninsula was something I wanted to accomplish; the point was doing it. Along the way, I planned to see and explore the peninsula, but that was a secondary aim for me. Other riders planned more leisurely rides because they wanted to bask in what I, mostly, was trying to push through.

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Camping for the night.

I woke up early the next morning and was on the road by eight. But what road? The road I’d planned to take, now that I was looking at it, didn’t look like much at all. I’d been down two-track logging roads, but at least they were free of brush. This “road” was overgrown and I couldn’t imagine pushing my bicycle through it for ten miles. The only paved road out would deposit me a long way from Cape Flattery, meaning I’d have to travel just shy of 120 miles to reach Port Angeles after visiting the Cape. But that still seemed more promising than this overgrown trail.

Around 9 AM I discovered another difficulty: logging trucks. They hadn’t been unusual thus far but I’d mostly been traveling on roads with a foot or more of shoulder. Now I was on a twisting road with about six inches of shoulder. It was dangerous. Fortunately I could hear the trucks coming, their diesel engines reverberating from a distance. So every few minutes I’d have to stop and pull myself and my bicycle off the road until they passed me by.

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The Strait of Juan de Fuca

When I reached the Strait of Juan de Fuca Highway, I turned left, towards the Cape. The road was narrow, winding, and beautiful, with a view over the Strait. But the width of the road concerned me: on the other side I could see logging trucks clipping the shoulder as they went around narrow corners at high speed. I knew that I could easily get clipped myself.

And as I got closer to the Cape, the weather got progressively worse. I was cycling into mist, and then drizzle, and then sprinkles. It had been about 30 miles since my last break so I stopped at a convenience store and bought a few items. The proprietor was a feisty woman who, when I asked about the weather, told me (with deep skepticism) that the forecast was supposed to be sunny and clear. And when I told her my plan to cycle to the Cape, she told me not to go. “Did you SEE the beer I just sold to that guy?” He’d left with an oversized cardboard tray full of cans, but I couldn’t believe they’d be drinking them now: it was only 10 AM. But she told me the Makah tribe was celebrating two festivals this week, and that drunk driving – even at this hour – would be common along the highway.

I wanted to continue, but I also wasn’t fond of the idea of being flattened. A narrow road with blind curves; slippery conditions; reduced visibility; drunk drivers; logging trucks. Fine, I thought; fine. Maybe I’ll see the Cape some other time; for now, I decided to turn towards Port Angeles.

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Better weather.

If the weather had been getting progressively worse before, it got progressively better now. Soon I was sailing along under sunny skies, but with the same narrow shoulder and the same logging trucks forcing me off of it every few minutes. The road was still dangerous, but at least this danger didn’t feel as menacing.

When I stopped for fluids I saw that the house owner had texted me, asking me to call him. When I did he told me about the same incident that BobGregPhil had, but included the fact that the tenants had called the police, who came to the house to take statements. He was also more specific about the threat: the men at the door took a photo of the tenants through the glass and promised to beat them up if and when they saw the tenants on the street.

Given this, the owner said he was considering asking BobGregPhil to move out at the end of the month. He wanted to know my thoughts, and I told him that I’d been thinking the same: two police visits (the first about the accidental gunshot which put a hole in the wall) were definitely too many. And BobGregPhil’s story about the situation didn’t seem credible. If BobGregPhil moved out, that meant I’d have to find a new tenant in the 20 days before I flew to Michigan. And the owner told me he knew it meant he might not get any rent for that room for the month of September. But it seemed like the right decision, and – more importantly – allowing BobGregPhil to continue living here seemed like an invitation for even more trouble down the road.

By the time I reached the location of the former Elwha Dam, I was spent. The highway along the Strait was scenic, but it also had several steep inclines – 9% according to the signs; steep enough to elicit panting and multiple breaks even in low gear. The narrow shoulders and logging trucks also required constant vigilance, and my streak of riding without injury had been broken. I was now bleeding from the back of my right calf, because while bicycling in the rain I mistook some boards or sticks in the shoulder for weeds. I maintained my balance and didn’t crash, but I did take a nasty thwack in the back of my leg from my spinning pedals. It looked worse than it felt, and it was relatively easy to shrug it off. But it did make me feel like avoiding the Cape and its dangers had been the right call.

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Where the Elwha Dam used to be.

This is where the Elwha Dam used to be. Its removal – and the soon-to-be removal of the Glines Canyon Dam upriver – is the largest dam removal project in US history. And it’s been 20 years in the making: the US congress authorized the government to purchase both dams in 1992, with the intent of decommissioning them. Although passages for salmon were legally required when the dams were built, neither dam allowed salmon to pass. And the dams, combined, produced only enough electricity for a large-scale paper mill. The Elwha Dam was fully removed last summer, while I was interning for the EPA. And there was a lot of excitement about the speed with which the salmon and other native species were recolonizing the river and the area that had been submerged beneath the reservoir.

It was also along a trail there that I saw my first, 5-6 inch long banana slug, so named because banana trees rely on them for pollination.

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A banana slug.

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The Toad Lily hostel.

After checking in, I took a shower and limped down the street to a Chinese restaurant, which I ate while reading and thinking about how lovely it was that I could still eat and read. Naturally I was curious about my fortune.

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My fortune.

It wasn’t perfect, but it seemed appropriate.

The next morning, I walked my bike down to the ferry to Victoria, in British Columbia. I wasn’t going to ride my bike again until I’d had it checked out at a bike shop, but I didn’t need to do so immediately because my time across the border wouldn’t require riding. I planned to explore the city on foot, go whale watching, and spend the night in a hostel with a real bed. In other words: a relaxing day.

But before I could get on with it, I had to pass through Canadian customs. I had my passport and my innocence, but that wasn’t enough for the border guard. I listed my stay as being one day, because I’d be leaving on the same ferry that brought me in; he corrected it to two, because I was staying overnight. When he asked me what I planned to do in Victoria, I gave him my list. “You can’t remember what your own plans are?” he asked, and I told him that’s what lists were for. When asked about the amount of money I had and the limit on my credit card, I grew both more vague and visibly less willing to answer. He recommended me for a secondary screening.

That mostly consisted of waiting in a chair while they checked my criminal background. They didn’t check my belongings or ask me any additional questions, and when they found I had no criminal background, they let me go.

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The ferry

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The hostel

My first destination was my hostel, where I could leave my bike in storage. That storage was in the basement, down a steep set of stairs, which meant a bit of grunting and grimacing and a lot of delicate balancing. “Old ladies could do it,” the fellow at the front desk assured me. I asked him to carry the bike out for me the next day.

Victoria is the capital of British Columbia, with a metropolitan region of 350,000 people. It seems like a pleasant city: diverse, beautiful, historic. But despite all the tourists – and there were swarms of them – there didn’t seem to be much for us to do. I ate some excellent fish and chips by the water and enjoyed walking along the harbor, but if not for the whale watching, I don’t know how I would have filled my day.

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The parliament

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The harbor

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The dinosaur shrubbery.

The whale watching was somewhat disappointing. The captain told us at the start that he didn’t know where we’d be going: we’d just go out and see what we could find. This didn’t inspire confidence. I couldn’t help thinking: but haven’t there been tours earlier in the day? Don’t you have some idea where whales have been spotted? Don’t you have locations that have proven successful in the past?

We also weren’t told what to look for. I was confused: am I looking for fins? Spray from blow-holes? Tails? Full leaps out of the surface? What?

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Whale watching.

In the end I did see a dorsal fin, but that was only because the passenger next to me pointed right at it. And I don’t think all the passengers were so lucky: the ride back was a lot quieter and more solemn than the ride out had been.

The rides there and back were actually the best part of the experience – much better than my brief glimpse of a whale fin. When we signed up for the trip, we were given the choice of taking an inflatable zodiac or a real boat. I was worried the zodiac would jostle my swollen thumb, but I was told it would be fine. And it was. Better yet, I was right next to the water: three hours of sea breeze, spectacular views, and contemplative thought. It was lovely, and was nearly worth what I paid for the trip, even without the whales.

The trip back to the US was far less eventful. When I was asked how long I’d been in Canada, I said one or two days, and gave the rationale for each. “One day,” the US border guard confirmed. On the US side (there were US agents on both sides) the guard expressed genuine concern about my hand, which I’d wrapped in an ace bandage, and told me to be safe as I bicycled back to Seattle. I said I would be.

I escaped from customs at 12:20 PM, and there were 74 miles between Port Angeles and Seattle. But before I could go anywhere, I had to have someone look at my bike. I was feverish with impatience, but I still had to wait for the mechanic to return from his lunch hour at the bike shop I went to. But it was a good thing I went: the bike shop straightened my rear tire, which was under unusual strain from the weight I was carrying and the damage from the accident. They also readjusted my brakes, and then gave me the all-clear to ride back to Seattle.

Five minutes later I was back. I explained that they needed to tighten the rear tire, which had pulled out, and tighten my brakes, which were absolutely not sufficient to make me stop with any confidence. They did both, and around 2 PM I was on the road again.

As it happens, neither the brakes nor the rear wheel were as tight as they should have been. I’ve had problems with both ever since, and as grateful as I am to the bike shop for getting me on the road, I’m still annoyed with the insufficient job they did. But it was enough to get me back safely to Seattle, and I gave them a courtesy call when I arrived, to let them know I made it back safely.

And I made it back in spectacular time. My route wasn’t scenic, but it was smooth, not too steep, and I had a wide shoulder. Normally I estimated my time over long distances at 10 miles an hour; on the last day I averaged 13-14. I couldn’t believe how fast those last few miles flew by, despite my bandaged hand, my bruised body, and my banged-up bicycle. I arrived early for the ferry, and with daylight to spare, although it was dark by the time we approached Seattle. A huge full moon illuminated the city, unnaturally large and beautiful in a way that no photograph could capture. I tried anyway.

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The moon over Seattle.

It felt great to be home.

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Old New Synagogue

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Old New Synagogue in Prague (hey, that rhymes!) is the oldest active synagogue in Europe, and was completed in 1270. No photography is allowed in the interior, which is surprisingly small, and I had to wear a yamulke to enter, which wasn’t surprising at all.

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The Old New Synagogue.

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Czech Meal

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

When you’re in the Czech Republic, you obviously have to have a Czech Republican meal. So this was had in the backyard garden of a bar in the Jewish Quarter: pork, sauerkraut, and potato dumplings:

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A Czech Republican meal.

I wasn’t the only one in the garden enjoying myself:

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Somebody overate.

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Merger?

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

“Dear family and friends, we are gathered here today to witness and celebrate the union of two fast food franchises…”

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“I do”

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Ad

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

An interesting ad inside a boutique store in Prague. It’s partially obscured by the merchandise, but it seems to be an ad for a tie. You can see the man is being grabbed and hit in the ad:

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Don’t stain the tie!

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Sign

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Tobacco drinks!?! Bleh! Who would drink that?

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Doesn’t sound pleasant.

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Castle

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Prague Castle, from its heavenly heights, dominates Prague’s Lesser Town below. It’s the largest castle complex in the world, and contains within its walls several churches, palaces, gardens, and ghosts. Its history dates back to 870, when the church of Our Lady was constructed there, and it has served as the seat of government for the Kings of Bohemia, the Holy Roman Empire, and the modern-day Czech Republic.

Hande and I climbed up to explore, and although we didn’t explore the interior of the palaces, with their own history (e.g. the second Prague defenestration in 1618, which instigated the Thirty Years’ War), we did pay the King’s ransom required to see the other sights, including St. Vitus Cathedral. Construction on the modern building began in 1344, and it holds the graves of several Holy Roman Emperors.

Here’s a view from the outside:

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St. Vitus Cathedral

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St. Vitus Cathedral

And, the inside:

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St. Vitus Cathedral

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St. Vitus Cathedral

I thought the stained glass here was particularly beautiful; some windows left me spellbound. Sadly my photographs captured only a minute fraction of that beauty:

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St. Vitus Cathedral

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St. Vitus Cathedral

The Castle complex also contains the Golden Lane, a small street of 11 historic houses dating back to the 15th Century. You may think the Lane was called Golden because it was originally paved with gold, but you’d be wrong; the name derives instead from the fact that in its youth, the Golden Lane was populated with goldsmiths. And, eventually, Franz Kafka:

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A place on Golden Lane.

Prague Castle looks down over the rest of Prague, and that view looks like this:

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The view of Prague.

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The view of Prague.

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The view of Prague.

The view was so nice, we decided to sit and admire it for a while at a hole-in-the-hillside cafe:

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The view of Prague.

Mulled wine! Mmmmm…

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