Welcome to Washington: The state where stuff breaks

Greetings dear reader. Once again much has happened since we last spoke but alas there is not time to tell you about all of that here. Instead I will attempt to once again condense 2 or 3 weeks of time into a handful of paragraphs regarding our entrance into the USA and our journey through the north westerly state of Washington.

We had mixed emotions leaving Canada and entering the US. We had such a blooming brilliant time in Canada – the weather was seemingly flawless, the people incredibly warm and friendly and the roads had been beautiful and relatively quiet. The impression we got of Canadian people was one of general contentment. And why wouldn’t they be? They have incredibly low crime rates, an amazing standard of living and a young liberal leader who’s willing to take political risks to embrace a positive and progressive agenda (or is just generally undoing all the terrible things the previous PM put Canada through, depending on who you ask).

All of this puts Canada in stark contrast to the USA: a country whose ‘liberal elite’ are horrified at the thought of a blonde-haired buffoon having his way with an isolationist and xenophobic mandate and cutting off ties to the rest of the world in one fell swoop. It all looks a bit like the UK did a few months ago, doesn’t it? Well, let our’s be a lesson to you, America.

Regardless of the politics, the US is just plain intimidating. The enormous size of the place, the vehicles and sometimes the people. Certainly the personalities. And leaving the pleasant cosiness of Canada felt like a backwards step. ‘Maybe we should just ride across Canada?’, we thought. Well, we didn’t and instead hopped on a ferry from Victoria, BC and into Port Angeles, WA.

Our immediate first impressions quashed our feeling of trepidation: we soon found a quality falafel wrap to fill our bellies before heading out around the coast. But this was only to lure us into a false sense of security. 5 minutes after leaving Port Angeles an enormous bald eagle dropped a dead and bloodied crow within blood splattering distance of me and flew off within a few feet of our heads squawking at the loss of its lunch. Welcomes don’t come much better than that and the message couldn’t have been more clear. We had arrived.

As it happened, Washington took its toll on us and our belongings. Within the space of around 10 days we had a tent pole snap in three places, a car-free crash involving both of us ending up in the gravel next to the road (resulting in slight whiplash, bloodied knees, a bruised hip and grazed shoulder), a pannier hook snap off, a tyre slashed with glass from the road, five punctures, a helmet deemed unsafe to use, bar tape torn and a hard drive dead. Stuff was breaking and there wasn’t much we could do about it. 

(It’s probably unfair to lay all the blame on Washington here. A large portion of these things were avoidable had I not felt the urge to go no handed to applaud Alyce’s impressive a cappella rendition of Elton John’s ‘Your Song’ while coasting at around 20mph down a hill.)

So it goes without saying that we were a little bummed out with all the stuff breaking. However, the journey through our first state wasn’t without it’s highlights. We fortuitously met a Swedish ex-tennis-professional named Martin on our first night in Washington who persuaded us to take the peninsular route out to the coast rather than cycling inland straight down to Oregon. This turned out to be a good call. We rode around the Olympic National Park and dipped inside it on the coast at Mora, inland at the Hoh rainforest and then on the coast again at Kalaloch (confusingly pronounced ‘clay-lock’). We also got to stay next to the beautiful Crescent Lake and Quinault lake, the former being a crystal turquoise glacial beauty and the latter involving a damp and restless night avoiding being eaten by a recently sighted cougar. 

And in addition to Martin, we met some interesting people and had a few even more interesting, sometimes bizarre, conversations. One particularly memorable example took place outside Joyce general store, where we got talking to a strange, frail and distant-looking chap who had been in the army for some time. He engaged another local passerby, on a motorcycle, in an existential conversation about the timing of death and the desirability of different ways to go, before refusing to shake Alyce’s hand because he doesn’t touch women outside of his family. He appeared to really value us visiting his home town and invited us to stay with him and his family (as did the biker) but we assured them both that we’d rather push on and get to the lake to camp there.

For want of a better way to conclude this post I thought I’d summarise a few more things we learnt on this section of the ride:

  1. Always listen to Swedish ex-tennis-professionals when they give you advice.
  2. Always take this advice with a pinch of salt: ‘easy’ single-track lakeside cycle paths may sound like a good idea, but when you’re carrying a 50kg fully-loaded bike over boulders and pushing it up cliff-edged gravel paths next to a freezing cold lake you may think differently.
  3. Do not under any circumstances attempt to clap your hands in applause while riding a fully-loaded bicycle, regardless of how good a particular rendition of an Elton John classic was.
  4. When visiting Forks, WA visitor information centre, at least pretend to know what The Twilight series is when asked if that is the reason for the visit (the books and then movies were set there – a fact it is impossible to not discover while passing through). And if you want to fit in, get a Twilight t-shirt too.
  5. Old growth forests are awesome and logged land is ugly.
  6. Replace worn out tyres before you start getting daily punctures and your nearest bike shop is more than 250 miles away.
  7. Towns like Twin Peaks (of the TV show of the same name) actually exist, only they contain even more strange characters than you might give David Lynch credit for.

And here I conclude my second blog post in as many months. We pounded down some miles at the southern end of our ride through Washington, hitting our longest day yet of 70 miles to get us into Oregon. The endless Trump placards were somewhat of a motivator, not to mention the tailwind. Overall it had its ups and downs and we were certainly ready for a change of fortune, if not scenery.

Next up: Oregon.

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