[To view the full post, click here]
This time last week I was preparing to leave Seattle. Right now, I'm doing exactly the same thing. My little jaunt to Vancouver was very much a loop that has left me in the same place where I started. Having come across the country by a extremely circuitous route and always up for a detour to view something exciting, I was happy to take a week out to head north. I guess this is why I found myself surprised at just how reluctant I was once I got going.
It's strange battling with yourself - there's no-one else to blame anything on. The only person to benefit or suffer from the decisions is....well, me. I knew I would regret it if I left the Pacific Northwest without visiting British Columbia, but it felt counter-intuitive to be heading north when my next 'destination' was south. Nevertheless I persevered and, surprise surprise, was very glad I did. Riding out of Seattle was miserable - I covered 40 miles before I started to see greenery and open spaces. There's nothing to kill motivation quite like slow inner-city riding, and my spirits lifted considerably north of Everett. The sun began to shine, the traffic thinned and I remembered why I love this life. The wheels started spinning more easily, the saddle became more comfortable and the wind rushed by whispering secrets of the road ahead. It was beautiful.
Despite all this, I was still a little lethargic and happily pedaled into Mount Vernon, eager to search for a place to camp. Before I could begin, I met two older couples, headed for the Lincoln Theatre. This cinema has been around for as long as they could remember, and specialised in arthouse films. They would like to buy me a ticket to see the movie. Of course I didn't refuse. Their kindness was matched by that of the theatre staff - Helga happily supplied me with large amounts of popcorn and soda, and got to work on finding me a place to stay. That place, it turned out, would be with the manager of the cinema itself. It's funny how these things work out; funny in that life affirming way. I only spent a few hours in Mount Vernon but met a cast of the local characters who welcomed me, showered me with generosity and made sure I went on my way safely. A special mention for Bobcat and Shaman - Bobcat was hanging around outside the theatre when I arrive and cycled me round the town for a quick tour; Shaman is his internet famous ski-ing cat. No joke, check out their video here!
After spending the night in theatre manager Thom's apartment, I set off early for B.C. Again, the ride was not much to write home about, with perhaps the exception of how easily I crossed the border. No waits, few questions, smiles all round. How it should be, right? I covered the next twenty miles in an hour and a half, and the last five miles in just over two hours. More suburbs, inner cities, busy roads and traffic lights. I finally rode past the 'Welcome to Vancouver' sign, feeling very unhappy and ready to quit for the day. Luckily I was only a few miles away from where I was staying - the apartment of Ben and Jesse. Ben rode from London to Cape town a few years back and met Jesse along the way. She rode with him to the end, and now they live happily in Canada - another triumph of the power of cycling! They were great hosts, and in between riding round Vancouver and drinking coffees and beers in local establishments, I shot an interview with Marrett Green, the CEO and founder of Canadian Flowers for Food (CFFF.) Marrett has started a non-profit organisation that helps homeless people and other marginalized groups to catch a break - via donated potted plants and cut flowers. Organising interviews like this ahead of time is something that was notably lacking in my trip from East to West, and I admit total failure in the pre-production element of that stage. Still, it's all a learning curve and it was great to meet and speak to Marrett, who is doing great work in Vancouver. I'm excited about the documentary again, even the editing process! Keep your eyes peeled for the Flowers for Food footage coming soon.
I was also able to catch up with Lily, the cyclist who I’d first met in New York State and ridden with through Ontario, Michigan and Wisonsin. Meeting so many people daily I am undoubtedly lucky to receive such a wide range of experiences and interactions. The flip side is that riding alone I rarely get to speak to anyone with whom I have any history or prior contact. Modern technology such as skype allows me to keep in touch with folks back home, and that’s indescribably important to keeping me sane, but it’s also a real treat to meet up with someone who I already know. Lily and I rode to Tsawwassen, the ferry terminal 30 miles south of downtown Vancouver. From there we caught the boat to Friday Harbor on the island of San Juan. Staying with Lily’s friend Guisepi and his mum, I was able to fully enjoy the island lifestyle.
I had my familiar experience of 'Oh, this looks like Ireland,' and this time I definitely had some justification. Beaches, boats, small town coastal attitudes - I'm convinced it's the North Amerian version of my North Coast upbringing. The San Juan islands are pretty spectacular – they rise and fall majestically between the hulking mainland and the imposing Vancouver Island. Aside from San Juan, Lopez and Orcas, there are countless other smaller outcrops of land dotted throughout the waterways. Catching the ferry back across to Anacortes I had another opportunity to sit back and view the splendor with the wind of the ocean in my face. It's a good life, sometimes!
So now I sit in Seattle, planning out a route to Portland and I'm finding it very hard to leave. I'm interested to know from other cycle tourists, how long is too long? I'm not sure, all I know is that I've been here too long. I should have left today, but a harmless trip to the post office this morning developed into a lengthy activity, and I didn't fancy tackling the traffic after that. So another day bites the dust. Come 6am tomorrow though, I'll be away, cycling off into the sunrise! At least I better be, at this rate my leisurely schedule down to California will become much tighter. On that topic, I should mention that I've decided to ride down to Mexico now instead of L.A. Why not, really? It's only a couple of hundred extra miles, and I can still leave for NZ from Cali, I'll just have to ride back up. And with that scenery, I somehow don't think I'll mind.
Don't forget to check out my photostream here, and donate to the UNICEF cause if you have a few spare pennies. Stay tuned for updates from Portland.