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!