We have followers!

As Mike has mentioned previously, we’ve been amazed by the number of hits the blog has been getting every day. Today we were even more amazed by something. As we cycled away from Roberto’s house into Portland city centre on our way towards Neskowin, a cyclist came up beside me and said ‘Hi Matthew, where are you cycling today?’ – I was gobsmacked, how did she know my name? I said “We’re riding to San Diego”, she said “I know that. But where are you going today?” The cyclist in question turned out to be Lisa, one of the very kind people who had responded to our last-minute pleas for accommodation in Portland. She’d been reading our blog and recognised us from the photos. What is the chance of running into someone like that? Pretty slim I’d have thought.

Anyway, we stopped and chatted for a bit. It was great to get to meet Lisa and thank her in person for her offer of accommodation. Our appreciation and gratitude of Warm Showers just keeps growing.

Summary – day 05 – Portland to Portland (Tuesday 30 August)

Day 05 – Portland (Tuesday 30 September)
Rest day – no cycling
Posted by Mike

We arrived at Roberto’s and Larry’s at around 6.30pm. They live in a gorgeous house in the Irvington district of NE Portland, (Downtown is about a 20 minute walk).

Matthew was enraptured by the garden, it has lush planting with huge bamboos, (which he was quite envious of, as ours are minnows in comparison). There are enchanting lights all around and a garden cabin that we could have slept in, (Mike wasn’t keen – although Matthew thought it would be quite romantic). We could see that many of the houses in the area have really beautiful gardens, too.

In front of the house opposite there’s a Gaudíesque statue of a lizard decorated with fragments of different coloured ceramic tiles. Roberto said that it was made by an artist who used to live in that house and that it has a bigger brother in the park around the corner.

Matthew was enraptured by the garden, it has lush planting with huge bamboos, (which he was quite envious of, as ours are minnows in comparison). There are enchanting lights all around and a garden cabin that we could have slept in, (Mike wasn’t keen – although Matthew thought it would be quite romantic). We could see that many of the houses in the area have really beautiful gardens, too. In front of the house opposite there’s a Gaudíesque statue of a lizard decorated with fragments of different coloured ceramic tiles. Roberto said that it was made by an artist who used to live in that house and that it has a bigger brother in the park around the corner.

Roberto works as a psychotherapist and Larry has a mail order business selling Chinese material through eBay.


They prepared a delicious dinner for us: fresh bean stew with courgettes, beet stew and brown rice with fresh melon salad. Lovely! It was so good to be in such a comfortable house with lovely company.

We’ve left Washington State now and it has been a joy to cycle through. The countryside is very green – lots of farms and woods with gently rolling hills. Along the coast there were dramatic Sounds – wide inlets with islands dotted about. In the distance to the east and on our left we often saw volcanic mountain ranges – high peaks with snow on the uplands: Mount Baker, Mount Rainier and Mount Saint Helens. When we were on the ferry from Vashon to Ruston a couple of other cyclists that we were chatting to told us that they’d just returned from a camping trip in the mountains – it sounded like it’d be really good to do that sometime.

The roads so far have mostly been superb – smooth and well-maintained. Signage is excellent and city street layouts, with their very clearly numbered roads, make it very easy to find our way. One thing that has taken a little bit of getting used to is the siting of traffic lights. It’s necessary to stop much further back from them than we would in Europe because they’re usually suspended on a cable over on the far side of the road that’s to be crossed. If we stopped just in front of a red light in the USA, as we would in Europe, another vehicle would come into us from the side! There are no advanced stop boxes for cyclists either. Many of the out of town roads have a wide hard shoulder, where we’re expected to cycle. In the towns and cities there are usually bike lanes, which as Europeans coming to the USA was slightly unexpected, to be honest. The hard shoulders sometimes have a bit of road debris: gravel, small stones and sometimes quite big stones or bark, that can make cycling a bit uncertain at times, but mostly they’re good quality. The junctions are worst for debris and they are also the places where we worry a bit about vehicles coming from behind and turning right into us. It’d be wonderful if the hard-shoulders were swept clear from time to time! I’ve not seen any road-sweeping vehicles on the roads.

Another surprise is that the speed limits seem to be universally lower than in the UK (20, 30 and 50 mph zones are common). Drivers are reasonably good at keeping to the limits and have been really courteous to us while we cycle – often slowing down and pulling out very wide as they overtake. The vehicles on the road are more or less what we expected: massive lorries with high cabs and curved bonnets, (sometimes sporting bright chrome or elaborate paintwork); there are lots of pick-up trucks, too. Some look very extravagant – highly polished with wheel arches that seem improbably high from the top of the wheel, so the whole vehicle is raised in the air. Many pick-up trucks look like the only things they’ve ever picked up are the kids from school or the grocery shopping! Big cars are still very common on the roads, although they tend to be older. We’ve seen several smart restored classic models from the 50s and 60s. There are plenty of more modern, modest cars too: Toyota Prius, Audi and VW Beetles seem popular. Then there are the recreational vehicles RVs – some of them are bigger than 70 seater coaches, many of them are towing smaller cars as well.

It’s a little disappointing to report that we’ve not really seen many other touring cyclists out on the roads so far. Most of the bikes that we see are strapped to the back or on the roofs of other vehicles. It rather reminds me of a funny storyline in Rick Smith’s Yehuda Moon comic strip (www.yehudamoon.com). A fat man goes to the Kickstand Cyclery to buy a bicycle that he wants to attach to his car. When Yehuda asks him what sort of bicycle he’s looking for, the fat man explains that he doesn’t care, because he’s not planning on riding it; he wants it as a car accessory. The punchline comes when Yehuda persuades him to buy a helmet that he isn’t going to wear for the bike that he isn’t going to ride!

As we were making our way out of Ruston on Sunday, a young man on a nice shiny black urban hybrid bicycle and who was pulling a little covered trailer with a small child inside hailed us at a set of traffic lights. He asked where we were heading and was very impressed with our plans. As our ways crossed he shouted after us: “Keep the rubber down!” We’d never heard this phrase before, but it’s become a bit of a mantra for us – if I’m flagging a bit and slowing down, Matthew will say: “Keep the rubber down, Michael!” (and vice versa, of course). Well, so far – so good and we’ve managed to keep the rubber well-down!

When we met Bud in Kelso, he told us that almost 95% of Washington’s residents live in a narrow corridor alongside the interstate main road, I-5, that runs north-south through the state. This makes the population mostly urban, (and the state Democrat). Then there are the vast sparsely populated areas. Once out in the countryside the traffic levels dwindle to almost nothing … we have ridden for half an hour before anything has passed us. It’s wonderfully quiet and peaceful. There’s a beautiful rhythm to cycling and we can just talk, enjoy the scenery – it’s actually been really relaxing so far and we’re not in the least tired. I’d better give an update on that in a week or so! Overall, Washington State was really good and I definitely want to come back.

Back to Tuesday in Portland … and the Dilemma of the Day: to go for a run or not? Actually, this is not really much of a dilemma, I’d brought some running gear with me, so it was kind of inevitable that I would go running. You may have noticed that I tend to look out for and comment approvingly when I see runners and bicyclists when I’m out and about. It makes me really happy to see them, I suppose because they’re part of My Story. That’s the bit of my life where I started to cycle more seriously and go out running to help me lose weight – I lost almost 60lbs (4 st) a few years ago, (hence the “chunky monkey” remark at passport control in Heathrow airport – I don’t look like I used to). I’ve found that there’s a wonderful camaraderie about cycling and running, they’re both amazing ways to get about and see places and I can still eat lots without worrying too much!

Cycling and running are not really compatible though – they use muscles differently and one doesn’t particularly help the other, which is why I think that people who do triathlons are amazing sportspeople! I sometimes worry that running might hurt my cycling – I can be a bit stiff and sore after running in a way that I never am after cycling. But running in a new place is thrilling and I couldn’t resist, so my day in Portland began with a short 5 mile run down to the Steel Bridge, along the east side of the Willamette River – partly along some incredible floating cycleways, then over the Hawthorne Bridge and along the west side and back over the Steel Bridge to Ne Multnomah St, NE 9th Ave and to Roberto’s.

After my run Matthew and I headed out on foot to see some of Portland. We went to a coffee shop ‘The Morning Star’, which also happens to be the name of Britain’s Communist party daily newspaper, (a dreary, hectoring and badly-written read I’m afraid).

A little sightseeing in Portland – we came across two of the ten ‘animals in pools’ fountains – there’s a whole series of them with bronze life size animal sculptures made by Georgia Gerber in 1986 – we found bears and ducks. – they’re clearly very popular as they had shiny patches where they’d been petted.

We happened upon Director Park (officially Simon and Helen Director Park) on our way to the tourist information office.

At the tourist information office in Pioneer Courthouse Square there was a man working on the desk who was from Ayreshire, Scotland. He said that he came to America in 1950 after he had left the army. He’d worked as a draughtsman for most of his life, but he said: “I’ve waited 50 years to get this job. I’m paid to tell people where to go!” He gave us a really useful (and free) cycling map of Oregon that might well help us as we travel down the Oregon coast. (And I can always threaten Garmin with the map, when it starts playing up). He also said “I hope that you don’t think I’m being presumptuous”, as he proffered us an ‘Out in Portland’ booklet. “Not at all.” I replied, “You’re being perceptive!” (Perceptive? Who do I think I’m kidding?!) He told us that his son is gay, which was very sweet of him.

We made our way up to Washington Park, where there was a vast rose garden and a lovely Japanese garden – which is beautifully done and both much bigger than we expected. Roberto told us Portland’s climate is ideal for rose growing, so it’s famous for them. In the Japanese Garden the acers are looking wonderful and the colours must be really spectacular in the autumn. We bought a solar-powered Chinese lantern, that we thought might look good in Roberto’s garden. The park is high up and there lots of cyclists about, including Judy, who kindly offered to take our picture. She had a very nice-looking Trek road bicycle – we took her picture, too, and gave her our blog address so that she can prove to her friends that she was out riding uphill.

On the Warm Showers site, one of the questions to answer for people who might want to stay is the distance of one’s house to the nearest bicycle shop – this is in case a cyclist passing through needs spares or repairs. On one of the Portland listings, someone has written that you can’t swing a cat in Portland without hitting at least three bicycle shops! So it was very challenging not to visit as many as possible! We visited a few Portland bicycle shops and realised that we could easily have spent the whole day admiring ‘bike porn’ and talking bikes, (well Mike could). There’s a law of bicycle ownership which suggests that the ideal number of bicycle to own is n+1, where n = the number of bicycles already owned. In other words, Mike is always looking out for a new bike … His current four being at least one fewer than the optimum. Matthew has rather unilaterally introduced a ‘first amendment’ to the law: one in – one out. This is deeply unfair of course, and never seems to apply to any of his stuff.

The nicest bicycle shops in Portland included the Recyclery Bicycle Shop – with lots of renovated old steel frames from the 1970s and earlier, (I spotted a lovely old Holdsworth), fancy chrome and intricate lug work. They sell for about $800-900 – our friend Andy H could make a fortune here. They also had a yellow jersey signed by Greg Lemond hanging on the wall. Very impressive! Next, the Bike Gallery, with some funny bicycle-related t-shirts, socks and local club jerseys the Oregon Ducks and Portland CC.

River City Bicycles was the best bicycle store we visited and also the only shop in the US that sells the lovely Rapha cycling gear from London that is our cycle clothing of choice. If anyone likes the look of our cycling kit: visit http://www.rapha.cc – be warned, the prices are eye-wateringly high. Rapha is even more expensive in the US than in the UK, but one of the assistants assured us that it sold very well.

Finally, we saw that there a shop called Coventry Cycle Works. We couldn’t resist visiting as (a) Matthew is from Coventry and (b) Coventry Cycles are a famous old brand in the UK – sadly no longer being made. The shop had just closed when we arrived, but we took some pictures and could see through the windows that they specialised in recumbents.

All these bicycle shops, plus the fact that Portland is the home to Nike sportswear and we saw a HUGE Nike outlet store, made it quite difficult to resist the temptation to consume. I just had to keep reminding myself that I’d struggle to carry anything else in my one pannier bag, so managed to resist the urge to buy.

We headed back to Roberto’s and his friend Dave had arrived from Vancouver, while Larry had gone up to Seattle. The four of us went out for a Chinese meal – it was a good place to be vegan, (although Dave didn’t seem to be so sure that he’d enjoy it and was wondering about a beef fix). The food was fine and the bill was amazing: $39 for four! I thought there’d been an error – that’s £6 each – that meal would have cost about £20 each in the UK.

So back home to bed, after a very nice rest day in Portland.

Gardens in Portland

We’re leaving Portland this morning and heading west towards the Pacific. We had a lovely rest day wandering around Portland, it is a city with a great vibe and some lovely green spaces. We visited the Rose Garden and Japanese Garden in Washington Park, both were stunning in different ways and I especially enjoyed seeing so many wonderful local front gardens.

Our host Roberto has some superb plants in his garden. The bamboo is stunning, and the banana plant also stands out. If only I had room and the climate for these in my garden! Many people in Irvington (the area where Roberto lives) cultivate the strips of land in front of their homes between the road and the sidewalk, making the whole area seem like a public garden, I wish more people did this in the UK. All this talk of plants is making my palms itch and want to be gardening, I hope my garden is doing ok while we’re away.

I braved the slightly cooler morning here in Portland and used the outdoor shower in Roberto’s garden. It was wonderfully warm and nice to be washing outside amongst the bamboo and banana plants. For those of you who are wondering – it was very private, no overlooking from the neighbours – only a squirrel searching for nuts got a little more than he bargained for!

Lunch in Portland

Having a wonderful ‘rest day’ in Portland – the USA’s capital of cycling. Lots of cyclists and runners, (making Mike very happy) – so he’s not actually been resting, he went out running at 8 am. Also lots of on-street food carts – they look delicious, but we’re settling for lunch in the Morning Star Cafe – nice food and good for people-watching too.


Summary – day 04 – Centralia to Portland (Monday 29 August)

Day 04 – Monday – Centralia to Portland
Posted by Mike

Estimate: 97 miles, actual: 110.1 miles – had to use a diversion in Longview and looked around Portland when we arrived, so that added on some miles.
Avg speed: 15.8 mph – very good
Cumulative distance: 346.98 miles

Good news! The Warm Showers cycling community has come good, (who ever doubted that they wouldn’t?!), and a lovely man in Portland called Roberto – and his housemate Larry – have offered to accommodate us. He was away on a camping trip when we sent our message, but he replied as soon as he came home. This means that we won’t have to search (and pay) for an hotel later, which is a bit of a relief.

Roberto suggested that we call him to make arrangements last night, but because of the problems with the wi-fi at the Motel 6, it wasn’t until we were in Safeway’s at about 9 pm that I was able to pick up Roberto’s e-mail and relate the good news to Matthew. He was so happy that he ended up buying too much – more than we could eat in any case, (but that seems so easy to do in the USA). It was a bit late to call, I thought, so I sent a quick message to Roberto to let him know that I’d contact him this morning, which I did. He said that he was working to about 8.30 this evening, which was good news, it meant that we didn’t need to hurry on our journey today. His housemate, Larry would be at home and would expect us. I told him how excited we were about visiting Portland, because it was famous as the cycling capital of America. He replied, “Yes. And we’re very proud of that.” It made me so happy to hear someone say that. This trip sort of evolved out of my strong desire to come to Portland and find out a bit more about it and experience it for myself. It was fitting and perhaps inevitable that we should cycle to get there. I’ve always loved cycling so much and I have always found the cycling community is a very open, accepting, relaxed and happy place for me to be. Portland is a sort of bicycle pilgrim’s Mecca. But there can sometimes be a little anxiety about fulfilling a dream … will the reality disappoint? Somehow that seems inevitable, and I’m something of a pessimist by nature: if I expect the worst, I’m less likely to be disappointed. ‘Pessimists only get nice surprises’, as the saying goes. What Roberto had said, led me to think that I wasn’t going to be disappointed by Portland. We took down Roberto’s and Larry’s address and set off.

Garmin was being particularly stupid today. Our routes are all stored in Garmin’s memory, but our route for today was no real use – it was to Sauvie Island, about 10 miles west of Portland, where we had originally been intending to stay. Roberto and Larry are in north Portland, so I programmed their address into Garmin and asked it to plot a route. It came up with a route with a distance of 200-odd miles – I knew that the journey was actually about 100 miles. Perhaps Garmin was piqued by the disparaging comments in yesterday’s post. Anyway, there was no way that I was cycling 200+ miles today, just to satisfy a cycling computer, so it was over to Google. I plotted a route on my iPhone that would be 97 miles … that was much more like it! While we were riding, we started to notice stencilled markings on the road – SP … later we discovered that this was the official Seattle to Portland bicycle route – we could have just followed that!

Today’s trip was in two sections: the first from Centralia to Napavine, then Winlock and Vader, through the Enchanted Valley following the Cowlitz River to Longview/Kelso for lunch.

The terrain was rolling woodland, beautiful – the roads were quiet and immaculately surfaced. That part of our journey was 51.49 miles and we managed an average speed of 15.5 mph – I’m very pleased with that. The weather was ideal for riding; a little cloudy and overcast, some quite welcome cool conditions compared to the last few days.

A man stopped to talk to us while we were having lunch outside Safeway’s (Kelso), (yes – this is becoming something of a habit, but at Safeway’s they usually have free wi-fi, a deli counter, and almost all of the things that someone as difficult to feed as me needs). Anyway, the man we were speaking with was called Bud and he remarked that it was a nice day for cycling! I’m not certain how, but we ended up talking with for an hour and ten minutes! We were only planning on spending 30 minutes or so having lunch in Longview. But he was really worth talking to. He was an out-of-work steel worker, very much involved with the US labor movement and still involved with his trade union. He was very happy, (to my enormous surprise since we’re in the USA), to talk about socialism and Karl Marx! He was very engaged with issues and worked hard to keep the pressure on his local representatives to be progressive and fair-minded. He told that the Republican Tea Party is known as the ‘Teahadists’ by the left – a wonderful joke, I thought!

Bud and Mike

There are local elections taking place all over this part of the US at the moment, and it’s impossible to ignore the billboards and poster boards in people’s gardens calling for someone to be elected mayor, chief fire officer, town treasurer, woodland commissioner and the like. Unlike in Britain, election posters tend not to state which party a particular candidate belongs to. When we talked about it on one if our rides, Matthew thought that there were more independent candidates in US local elections than in the UK – so maybe that explained it. I was less sure – I’m pretty sceptical about the notion of independents – in my experience they’re almost always conservatives … or worse, who have a particular reason for not declaring their true right-wing political affiliations. So I wondered if it was possible to ‘decode’ the posters, for example text in red being more likely to be for a Republican and on blue a Democrat. Bud said that often happened and there were other ways in which for some elected positions, party affiliations had to be withheld, but that most everyone would know based on positions taken on issues what candidates’ values were. Bud was amazingly knowledgeable about British politics and the coalition – I think that he would shame plenty of British people with what he knew! I hope that he’s not out of work for too long – perhaps he should run for Congress! We’d have enjoyed talking with him longer, but there were still another 50-odd miles to go, so we had to get back on the saddle and head out on our second leg.

The start of the second part of our journey from Kelso, through Longview took us from Washington State and into Oregon. The state border is marked by the mighty Columbia River. The cantilever bridge over the river is the most Super-Scary Bridge I’ve ever cycled across: the Lewis and Clarke bridge is over 2.5 km (one and a half miles) long and 64m (210 ft) in the air. At the time of completion in 1930, it had the longest span in the United States. I don’t really like heights to start with and I had a real sense of trepidation as we approached the bridge – it’s huge, I mean HUGE! There were long tailbacks of traffic to get onto the bridge, including massive lorries loaded with gigantic logs. As logging and timber are significant local industries, there are pieces of bark and bits of wood strewn all over the roads – most of it seems to get pushed over to the sides of the road, where we’re cycling – so that makes riding a little bit more bumpy and hazardous. When we started up the bridge access ramp, it quickly became clear that the bridge only has a very narrow cycling lane and that it was heavily strewn with bark, bits of wood and other pieces of roadside debris. It was really difficult to keep an eye on steering around the rubbish on the roadway without going into the line of traffic and also (for me) making sure that my view didn’t mean that I was looking over the edge. The bridge is so high to allow big ships to pass underneath and one was moored just underneath. It was a very odd sensation to look down from so close onto something else that was so big – but I just kept averting my eyes and concentrating on the road surface ahead. To compound the general high-level anxiety that I was feeling, there was work being done on the bridge and a couple of sections of bridge on the Oregon side were shrouded in plastic – as we cycled through these, the light levels dropped and it became very dim, also the roar of the traffic was deafening. My heart was pounding and my mouth went dry. I felt a little giddy and I was anxious about Matthew’s safety as well as my own. We’re both experienced cyclists and we’re used to all kinds of difficult situations – but this one was up there among the worst! Thankfully we both survived and coming off of the bridge and I started to calm down.

I rather feared that some of the conditions on the bridge might be replicated on the road as we continued south, but this wasn’t the case and Highway 30 was fine. Although the traffic was quite heavy, (no respite from the logging trucks), there was a wide cycle lane almost all the way into Portland – often with room for us both to cycle along side by side.

Welcome to Oregon

We rode through Rainier, Columbia City, St Helens, Scappoose, past the entrance to Sauvie Island, (so that original Garmin route would have been useful after all), and into Portland. The road ran parallel to the Columbia River along a flat valley floor. The river was really wide and there were lots of beautiful lakes either side, covered in lilies, which must look incredible when they’re in flower. There was a broad flat plain on the far side of the river, and we could see a long way across the water. To the west and south side of the river where the road we were riding on was built there were lots of wooded hills.

It was fantastic to get to Portland at last … and unsurprisingly as we approached the city from the west at about 6.00 pm, we saw more and more cyclists. On the outer edge racing cyclists out on their training rides then inside the city there were lots of commuter cyclists. It was heaven! I was also amazed by the amount of runners out along the sides of the river – but Portland id the headquarters of Nike, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised.

We arrived in Portland a little earlier than we expected – Highway 30 was fast and smooth (riding along there brought our average speed up to 16.1 mph – an excellent pace. We decided to spend a bit of time exploring downtown Portland and the cycle routes along the river before heading to Roberto’s and Larry’s for the evening.

We’re staying in Portland tomorrow and don’t have anywhere to get to, so I’ll update the blog on our evening with Larry and Roberto, more about Portland and a summary of cycling in Washington State tomorrow.

One last thing for now – and just to prove how amazing Warm Showers is, two (count them), two Warm Showers members from Portland: Lisa and Stasia, emailed us to offer accommodation. Stasia isn’t even in town at the moment, she’s in California, but said that her partner James was still in Portland and could put us up. How amazing is that?! I think that I might have written already about how Warm Showers is full of stories of miracles and that cyclists were a ‘good sort’ – here’s even more proof.

Second leg: 58.61 miles at an average speed of 15.8 mph

In Timberland

No, not the shoes and clothing store, but Washington state logging country. This morning’s ride from Centralia took us through vast timber plantations – mainly poplar and giant pines. We’d been advised in advance to be careful of the large logging trucks that would be on the road, but we were pretty lucky as all the loaded wagons seemed to be heading in the other direction to ours. The few trucks that did pass us were empty and gave us a very wide berth and a friendly honk of the horn. The full trucks were enormous – almost double the length of a standard UK lorry with vast tree trunks stacked up on them.when empty the timber trucks did a very clever trick of collapsing down with the back part of the truck sitting on the front.

Cycling through the USA is a fantastic way to see real America. The pace we’re travelling at means that we can see stuff that we’d probably miss if we were going by car. At one part of our trip today it really felt as though we’d been transported into the set of the Walton’s. There were traditional timber houses with porches, people driving around in old Chrysler and Ford pick-up trucks from the 50s and a real feeling of old-town America. If we’d been travelling by car, we would probably have zipped down the Interstate 5 and missed all that. Today was the day we also left Washington state and entered Oregon. So in true Walton’s style it’s goodnight Seattle, goodnight Centralia and goodnight to route signs with George Washington’s profile on. So, hello to Oregon, Portland and route 101 down the Pacific coast and onto California, but that’s for another blog entry…

Summary – day 03 Seattle to Centralia (Sunday 28 August)

Day 03 Seattle to Centalia
Posted by Mike

Estimate: 80 miles, actual: 78.55 miles
Avg speed: 15.6 mph – hurray, over target for the first time this holiday.
Cumulative distance: 236.97 miles

It’s Sunday and Aaron was having a lie-in, so we didn’t get to take a photo of him and Braxton, which was a shame. We were up and about at 7 am and met up with Aaron’s housemates, who were really nice. They said they were sorry for staying up late and keeping us awake – but they really needn’t have worried, we weren’t disturbed at all! We’re still a little jet-lagged as UK time is seven hours behind, so we flag fairly early and then we’re waking up at around 3am! Aaron had shown his housemates our blog … it’s curious to meet people that we don’t know, but who already know something of our cycling adventure and a little about us from our blog!

Matthew thinks that perhaps our blog has the potential to go viral! He’s been checking up on the number of ‘hits’ and is becoming quite excited; a couple of days ago 19 ‘hits’ in one day, then it climbed to 56, then 77 and we wondered if it would ever be more than 100, well yesterday the number of ‘hits’ topped out at 183! I’m flabbergasted – I didn’t think we even knew that many people!

We helped ourselves to some coffee, (thanks Aaron) and chatted about our trip with Aaron’s housemates and they told us about their visits to Europe – Germany, Netherlands, France, Italy and also to Hungary and the Czech Republic, where she was told by someone that they didn’t really like Americans. We had a bit of a deep early-morning discussion about Britain and American foreign policies over the last 100 years or so – a good topic. We agreed that overseas interventions are often unfortunate, can be mishandled but that sometimes they’re for a good reason – such as defending democracy, liberating people, helping to bring aid – the ideal situation would be if they weren’t necessary. After we’d spent the morning putting the world right, we left for breakfast at Starbucks’ (Seattle #2) to consider far more important matters …

Dilemma of the day: Garmin or Google?

When we were planning our daily routes from Vancouver to Tijuana we used Garmin Base Camp on my computer, connected to an Edge 800 cycling GPS system loaded with City Navigator, USA. The Garmin contains all the roads in N. America on a micro-sim card, which is amazing. With Base Camp software it’s possible to produce routes specifically designed for cycling, so it won’t use motorways for example. It’s also possible to tailor the Garmin computer to plan routes that avoid busy dual carriageways too, so it can suggest some lovely routes for us. Generally speaking it’s pretty good that means we can dispense with paper maps and it’s a real boon on a trip like this one. However, it has to be made clear that the Garmin is also extremely stupid, annoying and frustrating at times! It takes everything that it’s told very literally, so for example when it was asked to make a route that avoids busy main roads on our last trip to Germany, it added an extra 100 miles on the section between Hannover and Hamburg, just to avoid a 5 mile section of main road, (that even had a cycle lane running alongside it, which it obviously didn’t know about)! It’s also seems to have quite a masculine persona in that it doesn’t seem able to be sensitive to other people’s emotions – after a long, hot, tiring day in the saddle no-one wants to be told to ride another 20 miles, (even if it is on lovely scenic country lanes), when they know that they’re only 5 miles from their destination.

I have a kind of parent-child relationship with the Garmin, (and I’m not certain who’s the adult sometimes). Garmin might suggests that I take a particular turning and I might shout at it: “No, I’m not doing that”, and I also ignore it sometimes. Then it starts going crazy – beeping at me and flashing messages: ‘recalculating route, please wait …’ (I’ve turned recalculate route off now – that’ll show it!). I never have this sort of trouble with my Garmin GPS running wristwatch – although I never ask that to show me the way! So to compensate for Garmin’s occasional shortcomings, we use Google maps to see if the suggested walking route between two places, (which will almost always be shorter than Garmin’s cycling route) looks like a better choice: more interesting, scenic, shorter etc. If it is, we can force Garmin to take us on all or part of Google’s route – now who’s on charge?! Trouble is, Google can be pretty dense at times, too. So, just as Garmin won’t route down cycle tracks (and it does have some excuse, because it doesn’t know about them), Google will sometimes route down roads that are not accessible to pedestrians or sensible to use for cycling, like major A-roads and dual carriageways that are motorways in all but name. Google try and wriggle out of responsibility for being so stupid sometimes by having a warning on the screen telling everyone that ‘Google walking routes are on beta – use with caution’. Thing is, they’ve been in beta (a test version), for years – it’s probably the longest anything’s ever been in beta! So it’s best to work out a compromise between Garmin and Google, which is why all that route-planning was such a palaver before we left. With today’s route, however, that wasn’t really possible because Garmin routed to the Fauntleroy ferry terminal in south west Seattle and then across to Vashon Island (20 minutes on the ferry), then suggested riding south down the island for another short ferry crossing to Ruston (10 minutes), back on the mainland and then south through Tacoma, Parkland, Spanawau, Roy and Bucoda to Centralia. Google didn’t want us to use the ferry at all and kept us on the mainland – routing through south Seattle, Des Moines, then more or less agreed with Garmin: Tacoma etc.

So, what to do? Take the ferry and visit Vashon Island or not? I was a little uneasy; would it be cheating? After all, we’re attempting to cycle – CYCLE – from Vancouver to Tijuana. Matthew thought that the it might be a pleasant addition to the adventure if we took the ferry and that a visit to Vashon Island might be nice. He reasoned that even though we’d be taking a ferry, we were still doing the journey by bike. I thought that by that logic, we could take our bicycles on a train for the whole journey and still claim to be going by bike! Matthew thought that the crossings didn’t amount to much distance-wise (this is true), and that we’d be cycling the equivalent distance and more with the extra miles we did going off route, riding around cities etc. One of the biggest considerations was what the roads and traffic might be like via Google … the road into Seattle from the north was mostly unpleasant to ride, so it would be best to avoid that kind of relentless stop-start traffic through soul-less landscapes of tin sheds. But it was a Sunday morning and the roads seemed fairly quiet. What to do? As we were pondering this, three cyclists came into the Starbucks we were at and Mike decided to ask them if they were local and which route south would be best: mainland or island? They were unanimous: Vashon Island was definitely the most sensible route. It turns out that they were teachers who lived there! They’d just come off the ferry to the mainland to ride along a local greenway. So that was the decision made, (phew). We chatted with the other cyclists a bit – they knew Bath, where I work and had been cycling in the Cotswolds – it’s such a small world! (We go cycling through the Cotswolds to go up to Coventry to see Matthew’s family). We gave them the blog address and invited them to visit us in Bristol – hope they do, it’d be lovely to meet them again. So off we went to the ferry terminal.

My heart sank a little as we approached the ferry – it was quite foggy down by the water and there were long queues of cars waiting to use it. I needn’t have worried – ferries are usually brilliant for cyclists – they often allow cyclists to board first and then we also usually get to disembark first, too. Result! There were a few bikers (motorcyclists), pedestrians and cyclists waiting for the ferry at the head of the queue, so we bought our tickets $11.50 for two – took us on both ferry legs of the journey, a bargain!)

We struck up a conversation with one of the other waiting cyclists – a women with a lovely Specialized road racing bike – a matte black carbon bicycle with some nice understated pink accents, arching top tube, Sram groupset … all rather lovely. We chatted a bit about our respective rides and how to become a better rider, (we agreed: join a group to keep you competitive and practice). I wish that I’d taken her picture – she was very stylish in good-Lycra and also immaculately made up – wearing foundation, blusher, subtle pink lip gloss (obviously to match her Specialized road frame) along with pretty little pearl stud earrings. Now this is rather unusual in female road racing cyclists – at least it’s very uncommon back home; as for in Seattle – who knows? I wondered about asking her if I might take her picture to send to Copenhagen Cycling Chic, but was afraid that she might think that I was some kind of pervert! For those who don’t know, Copenhagen Cycling Chic is a superb website with photographs showing people looking stylish, nicely dressed and generally cool while on their bikes – and not just in Copenhagen, (although that place does seem to have something of a monopoly of beautiful people on bikes for some reason). She was a definite contender (and eventual winner) for the Most Stylish Cyclist of the Day award. Now before some people start commenting, I want to make it clear that I think that men can be stylish on bicycles too, (go and look at the site). In fact I think that I could be a worthy winner myself on some days, days when I’m riding my grey and orange Trek single speed and wearing black Rapha trousers, a cool t-shirt with a nice slogan on it: ‘love me, love my bike’ or ‘one less car’ for example; Camper shoes, a check cycling cap and a Crumpler messenger bag over my shoulder.

While we were in Starbucks Seattle #2 the rear tyre on Mike’s bicycle had gone down – why is it always the back one?! So that’s puncture #1. We quickly pumped it up again and rode to the ferry, then Mike was able to fix it on the ferry crossing – found a small thorn embedded in the tyre.

The crossing was lovely – calm water and incredible views across the water, back to the city and over to the mountains.

There was a little steep climb once we landed at Vashon Island and we were out of the mist. The island is beautiful – little coves and inlets all along the undulating roads with lovely views of a snow-topped Mount Rainier across the water to the south east. The houses were pretty and in the small towns there were lots of nice proprietor-run independent shops, (which made me feel a little guilty about going to Starbucks). The shops were selling interesting things, including a lovely quilt shop. We’d been recommended a wonderful bread shop by the teachers in Starbucks, but we missed it somehow. There were loads of runners and other cyclists – including some road riders in a bunch – about 8 or so. Lots if other pairs of riders and some fours. The most popular brand of bicycle seems to be Specialized, there were quite a few Trek bikes too and I spotted some that we’re made by Giant.

Perhaps the most famous bicycle on Vashon Island is a child’s bicycle that’s become embedded in a tree trunk. The story is reported in an article from the December 30th, 2009 Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber.

After the second ferry crossing there were some some incredibly big posh houses along the water in Ruston, but then came a really horrible bit – a busy road flanked hideous car showrooms – outside one, employees looked to be protesting with banners, placards and whistles. Once past there, a Garmin routing problem – the stupid thing directed us to the gates of the huge Gray military base and expected us to cycle along the road that goes right through the middle of it … the military had other ideas, of course. After a bit of shouting and swearing at the stupid *+&;@£^ Garmin, we went around the outside of the base.

Not far after Roy, we discovered an amazing wide segregated cycle track that went on for over 10 miles through woodland and past lakes. It ended about 7 miles north of Centralia. We were able to increase our speed and this really helped drag our average up to something a little more respectable.

Staying at a Motel 6, tonight – part of the Accor group. Basic, but nice and clean. Even a little pool, well used by children, so probably best avoided! We had to pay extra for Wi-Fi, but it didn’t work – so no posting for a while. There was a laundry room and we were able to wash all our cycling clothes, which were beginning to smell a bit I think! It’ll be wonderful to wear clean cycling gear again – especially as we’re heading to Portland – with its reputation as the cycling capital of the USA – there’s certain to be lots of cycling chic there, so we should aim to look our best in our Rapha gear!

We concluded the day with a trip to Safeway’s to buy some provisions for dinner. Matthew says that he thinks Safeway’s in the USA is a little like Waitrose in the UK. I think that’s overstating things somewhat, it’s not nearly as posh (or as expensive) as Waitrose. It’s more like Sainsbury’s really. Anyway, I had to drag him away from the home-style magazines with lots of Halloween ideas for treats and carved pumpkins … he was sneakily photographing some the pages, so no doubt the ideas will be making an appearance in Stackpool Road cul-de-sac at the end of October!

Supermarket Sweep

As is usually the case on our holidays, we’re having much fun touring the aisles of local supermarkets. We’re not doing as well as my nephew Toby, who on a recent trip to France played ‘supermarket bingo’ and attempted to visit at least one branch of every chain possible. So far we’ve only been to Safeway’s (thrice) and Wal-Mart. ASDA is part of Wal-Mart, so that will give you an idea what that’s like. Curiously, all the clothes in Wal-Mart are the same ‘George’ brand that are available in the UK – this used to be an ASDA brand. Wal-Mart have imported it to the USA and ‘supersized it’ for the larger consumer. Safeway’s is a bit more like Sainsbury’s, which explains why we’ve been to three branches! I’m beginning to wonder whether I should sign up for one of their loyalty clubcards! One thing we’ve not found yet is soya yogurt, although they do have soya milk. – often sold by the gallon! What would anyone do with a gallon of soya milk? Recipe ideas, anyone? They are very big on gluten-free things, my sister-in-law Richmal would have a ball here. Last night we noticed that the Halloween merchandise has started to emerge on the shelves – a sure sign of summer drawing to a close. I had a very happy 20 minutes checking out, (and stealing) ideas from a copy of Martha Stewart’s Halloween magazine. For our UK readers unfamiliar with Ms Stewart – think Delia Smith on steroids with a sprinkling of Oprah for good measure, (oh, and a criminal record for tax avoidance, you’d think someone might want to lie low after that sort of thing). I think I’m going to excel myself with goodies for trick and treaters this year – watch and weep Delia!



Some readers of this blog may have detected a slight difference of writing style in some recent posts. This can be explained by a ghost writer, one – I might add – who was initially quite dismissive of this blog! So, dear reader, some tips to help you identify the ghost writer’s posts as opposed to those written by me – Matthew.

1. The ghost writer tends to appear late at night.
2. The ghost writer does tend to write lengthy blog entries.
3. The ghost writer uses impeccable grammar and spelling (unlike me).

There are no prizes for guessing the ghost writers identity (*Mike edit: that should be writer’s identity! You asked for that, I think!!). They are most welcome to contribute to this blog and I hope you’re finding our combined blogging enjoyable!

Summary – day 02 Mount Vernon to Seattle (Saturday 27 August)

Day 02 Mount Vernon to Seattle
Posted by Mike

Estimate: 68.7 actual: 75.43

We took some detours to avoid busy roads and then we had a bit of messing about in Seattle – all added some extra miles.

Avg speed: 13.2 – another day when our 15mph target wasn’t met. I think (hope!) it’s a consequence of so much stopping and starting at junctions as we ride through built-up areas. We do seem to manage 18-24mph on the flat open roads without too much difficulty.

We left Mount Vernon a little later than anticipated as we now need to try and find alternative accommodation in Portland on Monday and Tuesday. The early part of the journey was really nice – Skagit City and county and around Skagit Bay – lovely looking small towns – and a long train.

We were riding on quieter roads that ran along either side of the freeway: Interstate 5. There is a huge urban area north of Seattle – it maybe continues from the centre northwards for about 35 miles. So traffic really became busier in North Marysville and there was no respite from quite busy roads.

Marysville, Everett, along Evergreen Way (hardly any green!), east of Snohomish Airport, through Lynwood, (which had been our original destination for the day – but on reflection we thought that it wasn’t far enough south at about 60 miles from Mount Vernon), so we pressed on to Aurora on Pacific Highway, route 99. We turned west off this road just before N 155 Street towards the Seattle Golf and Country Club and the traffic seemed to almost disappear. We had a really enjoyable ride into the city, along Greenwood Ave North – into Greenwood; then on in to Phinney – a really nice-looking and slightly bohemian suburb – it felt a bit like home in Southville, Bristol. Joy of joys – we started to see people on bicycles! You can be pretty sure that you’re in a nice place with good people when the local people are on bicycles!

As we came down the steep hillside to come into Seattle over the Freemont Bridge, we caught our first glimpse of the Space Needle – one of the iconic buildings of Seattle. It was thrilling! The Space Needle will be very familiar to anyone who has watched Frasier – it was clearly visible through the windows of his apartment. **Spoiler alert** – any Frasier fans might want to stop reading until the end of this paragraph. We found out today that Frasier’s apartment doesn’t actually exist – and couldn’t exist, as there are no buildings in Seattle that provide the view out of Frasier’s apartment windows that audiences of the tv show see. That view was a photomontage … disgraceful! So that’s another piece of media innocence gone! So any of you who dreamed of living in Frasier’s apartment one day can forget it. One more thing, it turns out that Kelsey Grammar, the actor who played Frasier is a member of the Republican party – that was enough to deter Mike from buying the complete series box set on DVD!

Otherwise, Seattle was everything we hoped for – a really good place – cycle lanes almost everywhere, impressive buildings, wide open expanses of water and snow-topped mountains in the distance.

We came across a ‘ghost bike’ on Dexter Avenue North – a bicycle painted white and decorated with flowers in memory of a cyclist who was killed – Michael Wang in this case. It was a sad moment, and reminds us how vulnerable we can be – even in a cycle-friendly city like Seattle. RIP Michael Wang.

We debated whether to visit a Starbucks’ or not – they were founded here in Seattle and so it seemed a shame not to, so two iced green teas and oat biscuits in the original Starbucks Seattle! We’re not really tempted to visit those other two big Seattle exports – Microsoft and Boeing … well, Mike is extremely tempted, but Matthew wouldn’t stand for it!

We headed off to meet our Warm Showers host, Aaron, at his bicycle shop – but just before we arrived we were spotted by him and his son, Braxton as they cycled home from the shop! We were easy to recognise, apparently! It’s a shame we didn’t get to visit Aaraon’s Bicycle Repair Inc. We were especially keen to meet the two resident cats: Presta and Shraeda.

Presta and Shraeda

That’s something else to add to the list of things to do when we’re next in town. It looks and sounds like a really cool cycling establishment – check it out at: http://www.rideyourbike.com

So it was back to his lovely house for supper and a chat around a big open fire in the garden.

Braxton was quite interested in the differences between US and British English – it started when Mike talked about lorries – Braxton looked a little blankly and said “What?”, so Mike said it was English for truck! We developed a long list of words that just go to prove how much the British and Americans are separated by a common language!

One more thing … Aaron had a set of scales in his bathroom, Mike can never pass up an opportunity to feed his body weight obsession, so it’s 141.8lbs/10st 01 … all this cycling hasn’t brought him under 140lbs/10st yet – more’s the pity. Maybe fewer cake on the cake stops … or even ‘No cake stops’ perhaps?!