Well, then. Here we are. I'm in Seattle, and you will have no idea about the journey that brought me here because I have neglected to post as frequently as you deserve. Struggling to find wifi connections, and then to combine that location with the time, energy and correct camera cables to post photos and write an update has led me to re-think my whole strategy for this project. It's already become very clear that the video aspect hasn't quite worked out as planned. As disappointing as that is, I've managed to find the silver lining hidden amongst the failure. The first leg from New York to Seattle was always going to be tough - it was long, unpredictable, and, most importantly, a brand new experience for me. I feel that the lessons I've learned from the first seventy days will stand me in good stead for the rest of the expedition. Let me explain.
I'm taking three whole weeks off from the bike now, and honestly I couldn't be happier about it. I love my bike - I love riding it, I love the adventure, I love everything about it. But I'm definitely ready for a break, and more than anything it's nice to sit down on a seat for a few hours that's not shaped like a bicycle saddle. After this extended break I'll start part two of the journey - Seattle to LA. The great thing about this, to follow on from what I was suggesting in the paragraph above, is that I now feel much more prepared for the video aspect. I'm aware of my failings as a cycling cameraman, and am in a much better position to rectify them. The other nice thing is that I have so much more time for the Pacific Coast section, plus I won't be hitting as many remote areas as I have done over the last couple of months. Added to this there are really exciting interviews lined up between here and LA, so it's all looking pretty rosy. My new plan is to keep the existing footage to use for the feature documentary, and to begin the online 'Cycling Reporter' project officially from here in Seattle. Let me know your thoughts. I feel that the feature doc will benefit from the unique material of the first leg, and the web based video will be of a higher standard with seventy days of cycling/filming experience behind me.
Anyway, Seattle has welcomed me, and it would be doing a disservice to the experiences I've had were I to try and log everything that brought me here in one post; I think our time would be better served if I updated you on the last few days, and then over the coming weeks while I'm not cycling I'll post some of my journal entries from the past three weeks. Sound good? Great, I'm glad you agree.
Life on a bike is much more enjoyable when you do not have any deadlines. For the last month or so I've been very aware that I had to be in Seattle by the 26th July. Of course all the parameters were set by me so I have no basis for complaint, but it's certainly true that recently I've had a tiny clock ticking in the back of my head. Since leaving Yellowstone National Park I've been cycling with Mike Gallagher, who I mentioned in a previous blog post. This guy is a dude - he walked from Philly to Iowa, and then bought a bike for the rest of the trip (view his site here.) A last minute re-route allowed him to accompany me for the last stretch from Wyoming into Washington, and once again I was very glad of the company. We pushed eighty to ninety plus miles every day for eleven days, which really puts a strain on the body. Arriving into Seattle yesterday I was operating with an inflamed Achilles tendon and a knee that felt like part of it may have fallen off somewhere in the Cascade mountains. Physical discomfort has actually not yet played a role in my trip at all so far, save for a sore arse here and there. But riding into Reardan, WA three nights ago I felt something was up on my left Achilles. I hopped off and walked around. This made it worse. Just to make sure that it was the walking that had aggravated it, I jumped up and down a few times. This definitely didn't help. I rolled the last few miles into town with only one working leg to avoid putting any pressure on the inflamed area. What a ridiculous thing to have to do, I thought - I wonder how far someone could get pedaling only with one leg?
This thought came back to haunt me the next morning when, still not much better, I had to do exactly that. Bandaging the ankle up tightly so it couldn't flex, I secured my left foot into the pedal traps. Then I fastened some other strapping round the whole thing, binding me to the bike. I figured this way my foot would still make the revolutions as I generated the power with my right leg, but wouldn't be able to twist or strain any more than it already had. Surprising, it worked. The next day through the desert in central Washington (did you know there was one in Central Washington? I didn't) I powered my bike for eighty miles with one leg. Luckily Mike and I were blessed with flat terrain and a headwind that wasn't as unassailable as we had previously encountered.
Forcing myself to keep going with a weak ankle has taught me new levels of perseverance, and a new appreciation of just how lucky I am to be able to take on a physical challenge like this. It honestly hasn't felt too tough on my body; the real struggle has been mental, as discussed in previous posts. Now I'm reminded to take a step back and be thankful that I am able-bodied enough to undertake this. It's the old cliche of 'You don't know what you've got till it's gone' but it's true, we do, and I do, take things like fitness for granted.
Washington was a state full of surprises for me. This in itself is not too much of a revelation given my poor preparation for this stage of the journey. Cycling across the border I knew I had finally left the Rockies, and that there was some flatter land which would lead to a mountain range barring the way between me and Seattle. How much more there is to it! Leaving Idaho behind we rode directly into the wind, headed for Spokane. The whole city seemed to be under construction and I was only too happy to bypass the major areas. Spokane may have a lot to offer, but the quest to make it through the roadworks denied me the chance to visit. We pedaled onwards into the desert. Now, the desert. Yes, there is one and thanks to Brad Robinson, a friendly guy I met in Helena, I now know some of the story behind them. Essentially a huge valley spanning a large part of Idaho and Montana was filled with water and covered in ice, way back when. Eventually the ice breaks, and wham, all this water speeds out towards the Cascade Mountains; the range than runs down Seattle to the East. So after countless years of this happening, the Channeled Scablands form - this is the desert. Riding through it was a peculiar experience; all around was empty and desolate with sandstorms whirling their way through the void, yet to the East and West could clearly be seen the vast ranges of the Rockies and Cascades respectively. After the initial impact of being caught unaware by it's existence, it was a gratifying change from hill climbs.
Two days ride through this brought Mike and I to the Cascades, which are impressively intimidating. Snowcapped and dominating, peaks of ten and eleven thousand feet towered over me as I slowly pedaled by way up to Steven's Pass. Crossing the Rockies and the Big Horn Mountains had me well trained for climbs, and whether by overestimation or just adequate experience, this ascent proved relatively easier. The downhill as always was a rush matched by no other. The heavy wind that hampered my uphill battle now acted as the perfect buffer, keeping my speed just slow enough that I could negotiate the switchbacks with a degree of safety, but also fast enough that the air blasting past my face felt fresh, thrilling, real. Turn after turn, corkscrews and U-turns led me down three thousand feet through the tree cover and back to the base of the jagged rock. Every heart wrenching pedal stroke that you force out to push a few inches closer to the top of a summit pays back tenfold in the delight of the drop.
So here I am - Seattle. Not quite at the Pacific yet - there's the Olympic Peninsula in the way - but it's still the West Coast. Slowly but surely it is beginning to feel like an achievement of some sort. I haven't quite come to terms with having cycled East to West across the USA yet, but I look forward to contemplating it during my time out of the saddle. I'm also excited about collecting my thoughts on life at the pace of a bicycle, and trying to consolidate what I think I've learned along the way. I will keep you updated.
Thanks for all the supportive emails you've been sending me, and for all the comments on the blog. Both mean a lot, and I really love checking my site to see who has left some feedback. So please keep in touch. And don't forget to check out the latest photos from my journey here.