Starbucks start to the day

It’s a bit foggy in Seattle this morning. In fact it was sunny when we left Aaron’s house, but as we dropped down into the valley and towards the coast the fog started to envelop us. It will probably burn off later, so should be another nice ride. We’ve stopped off at (another) Starbuck’s for breakfast before setting off – well, when in Seattle, do as they do!

Train spotter

Quite a lot of our route so far has been running alongside railway tracks. After bicycles and aeroplanes, the train is the next favourite transport thing on Mike’s list of OCD transport obsessions, (he likes trams, rapid-transit subway systems, gliders, hot air balloons, Lego … does this remind you of anyone Nicky?!). When we hear the horn of the train or the clanking bell of a level-crossing, Mike is transfixed until the said transportation chugs past with its extraordinary long cargo. Mike can stare at US trains with a smile on his face for some time as they’re so long that it can take an age for one to go past. I’m trying to coax him into cycling at the same time as a train is passing. I also tried to take a picture of one for Mike today, but it doesn’t really capture the scale of the train, so it may not persuade him to keep on riding when the train horn sounds!

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Sleepy in Seattle

We’ve arrived in Seattle – another beautiful day to be cycling, with clear blue skies and warm temperatures. The route has been a bit mixed, with some really quiet roads running parallel to the Interstate highway and then some quite busy roads into Seattle from the north with mile after mile of shopping outlets.

When we reached Seattle the bike lanes and cyclists became far more prominent. The stopping and starting through the suburbs meant we only really had time to have a quick drink in Starbucks – well we had to, didn’t we? As it is their home town.

We were heading toward Aaron’s Bike Shop, (Aaron is our Warm Showers host tonight) when he spotted us as he was heading back home with his son. We must have stood out as British touring cyclists as he shouted out our names as we cycled past on the other side of the road – it felt odd to be recognised in a place that we’ve never been to before.

We’re just about to tuck into some tabbouleh while we sit around a camp fire in Aaron’s garden. Chilling out in Seattle is fun. Will sleep well tonight I think.

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Off to a rather unfortunate start this morning

The Tulip Inn at Mount Vernon was nice – a spacious room, en suite bathroom and free wi-fi, so Mike could get a Radio 3 fix. Unfortunately, BBC iPlayer doesn’t permit the listen again service overseas, (bloody hell – we are licence-fee payers) after all!), so we’re denied our daily visit to Ambridge, courtesy of Radio 4 – although we think that there may be a daily podcast of The Archers that we can download, so all is not lost. Also at the Tulip Inn … complimentary continental breakfast … But as they’re a motel and don’t have a dining room, it was necessary to go and collect coffee and breakfast provisions and then bring them back to our room. Not wanting to appear greedy, we went separately and both brought back sufficient for two! It was all good food though … including porridge oats, fruit, bagels with peanut butter or cream cheese … guess who had which! There was fruit and yoghurt too. We’d bought some soya milk in Wal-Mart last night, so it was a perfect breakfast.

When Mike went for ‘breakfast round 2’, he started chatting with the proprietor, a lovely, elderly German lady whose family came from Bremen. She said that she was planning to sell the business and move back to Germany in the next two years. We were in Bremen on our trial long-distance ride to Hamburg at Easter. It’s a beautiful place – Mike remembers the grand square, enormous cathedral with two high west towers topped with huge green copper pyramid roofs, the elaborate facade of the medieval town hall with gilded carvings, some stunning art nouveau buildings tucked down a little lane … Matthew remembered the ‘ice cream incident in Bremen’, when our orders arrived Mike was alarmed that there was so much, but that didn’t prevent him from starting to eat Matthew’s as well as his own – just to try it, you understand!

Just after we left Mount Vernon there was a rather unfortunate incident – we rode past a Jiffy Lube garage. Matthew screeched to a halt, shouting “I’ve got to get a photo of this.” Anyone of a sensitive disposition should stop reading now*

*Aunt Janet, this mean you!

… by way of explanation, there’s a brand of condoms in the UK called Jiffy and they’re heavily marketed to gay men with slogans such as: ‘Real men come in a Jiffy!’ So, there you go … The tone for the rest of the day was established right there. Hopefully it will be raised somewhat when we get to Seattle – but do watch out for posts in which Mike reminisces about Frasier!

Janet can restart reading here.

Oh, we also had an email this morning from George our Warm Showers host in Portland. We were planning to stay with him on his boat for two nights next week … but he explained that he’d called away by work, so couldn’t host us after all. It’s a shame – we were looking forward to staying there. We spent an hour or so looking through the Warm Showers listings for Portland and e-mailing some people to plead for shelter! Warm Showers has lots of amazing stories of people being rescued and accommodated by other members, and we’ve done a fair share of rescuing people ourselves when we’ve taken in cyclists at the last minute. Cyclists are a ‘good sort’ by and large, so we have high hopes … and of course if we don’t find anyone, we can always stay in a hotel.

In Marysville now, having lunch. Marysville is yet another loaded name that has Matthew giggling. In the UK Mary is an archaic, gently derogatory euphemism for gay men. So someone might be ‘a bit of a Mary’ – or even a ‘Mary-Ann’, they’d be a little bit effeminate (camp) and probably somewhat self-absorbed. I remember being at a Bristol Labour party meeting sometime in the 1980s or early ’90s, chaired by Brian Richards. The Bristol Labour party had (still has) lots of gay men as activist members. There was a particularly heated discussion going on about something or other – lots of people were wanting to say something in any case. A woman called Mary indicated and was called to make her contribution to the debate. Unfortunately, sitting a couple of rows behind her, was another woman called Mary Harris, who thought she’d been called and stood up to speak. There was some confusion as the two women were on their feet, and speaking at the same time. Poor Brian – he explained who he’d called, then complained, rather innocently and by way of explanation: “There’s too many Mary’s in the room.” well, most of the many gay men who were present (and some others) understood the unintentional double entendre immediately and there was gales of laughter! Brian had no idea what he’d said that caused the uproar and looked completely baffled – which just added to the mirth, really!

Anyway, back in Marysville, there were lots of yard sales and swap meets going on in the small towns that we’ve ridden through this morning. We’re off into Seattle, the roads are beginning to feel quite busy, glad it’s Saturday at least.

Retail therapy – titter ye not

Those of you who know me will be aware that a) I like shopping and b) I enjoy the odd Frankie Howerd-style innuendo. As we cycled away from Vancouver yesterday through British Columbia (BC) I was spoilt for choice of ‘tongue in cheek’ shop names. I’m not sure what this says about the town of Surrey BC, but one can explore the retail delights of Lube World, Mr Lube and Lube ‘n’ Go – so much choice, how is a boy to decide? If that’s not enough you can always call in at Nuts Maintenance. Alas, baggage restrictions prevent any retail therapy until I reach San Diego – such a shame as I saw a wonderful Gunnera for just $3 yesterday. I’ll just have to settle for getting my nuts maintained instead ;0)

Welcome to The United States of America … cash or credit card?

We left Vancouver at about 11.30am. Cycle routes in the city are good but like any city you’re unfamiliar with, you end up stoping and starting to check maps and reassure yourself that you’re going in the right direction. The first part of today’s ride after leaving central Vancouver was fairly built up and not very pleasant to cycle through. Things improved after we got past the US border. The border has a lovely landscaped park with the peace arch sitting in the middle. Around the arch were beautiful flower beds, trees and artwork. Mike snapped some shots and even asked some passing tourists to take pictures of us.

We were expecting that it could take a while to get throughout the border and we were correct. Unlike the cars that seemed to queue for a short while and then drove through, pedestrians and cyclists wishing to cross were herded in the custom building where we had to fill in more forms, answer more questions and pay for the privilege! We’d already paid online to enter the USA – but apparently that only counts if one enters by air! So we’ve had to pay twice! What a disgrace – anyone would think they didn’t want us! The road after the border was much nicer and quieter.

We stopped this afternoon for a break in Bellingham (pronounced Bellingeham). We also had a doughnut each at Rocket Donuts – lovely they were too. The final stretch of today’s ride was along a beautiful wooded valley beside the sea called Chuckanut Bay. Matthew, our Warmshowers host in Vancouver recommended it and he was certainly right. If you’re ever passing through Washington State it’s well worth a visit.

After Chuckanut Bay, we emerged from the woods onto the flat and fertile plains before reaching Mount Vernon. We passed by lots of organic farms. There are lots of wonderful things about touring cycling, including that it’s a great pace to see the world, but I really love that you not only see stuff – you can smell it too. We cycled through pine forests and camomile fields today – both were a scent sensation.

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Vancouver is lovely!

We decided to postpone the start of our trip south, by heading north into downtown Vancouver – along the waterfront – lots of runners and cyclists – it’s a beautiful city and very cycle-friendly. There are huge expanses of water, lots of parks, tall modern buildings in downtown and the suburbs have lots of tree-lined streets with cycle lanes almost everywhere.

We’ll leave Canada for the USA , today – it’s a shame that we’re not here for longer … I’d definitely come back again.

Arriving in Vancouver

The start of our adventure hasn’t been as smooth as we’d have liked. Firstly our flight arrived way later than we’d anticipated. Secondly the luggage firm at the airport couldn’t ship our empty bike bags to San Diego. So we had to take a taxi to the large UPS depot near the airport. They were able to transfer the bags (for a princely sum) but getting to the courier company, unpacking and building the bikes, packing the bags into one another and filling all the forms to despatch them to San Diego took four hours, so by the time we were heading into Vancouver it was dark. Fortunately, we had lights and hi-viz bike bag covers, but it was not a nice ride in. Navigating a city you don’t know at night when extremely tired is tough. Well done to Mike (and Garmin) for getting us to our first Warm Showers host – Matthew Cooke. We arrived at his house gone 10pm but were welcomes warmly by Matthew and Rex the dog (once he’d had a good sniff and lick – that’s Rex, of course, not Matthew). We were pretty pooped by then after nearly 24 hrs travelling with little genuine sleep on the plane, so we turned in almost straight away.

Morning. Feeling bit fresher after a night’s sleep – looking forward to some coffee. We set off on our first leg of the journey proper today to Mount Vernon. I think navigating our way out of the city will be the trickiest bit, followed by getting across the USA border, (arranging to send an empty bike bag parcel across the border was complicated enough). After that hopefully a good 80 mile ride lies ahead of us, fingers crossed.