08.30.11 – Washington is Green…Except Where it’s Not

I left Clay’s house in Moscow pretty late the next morning and sick enough to call off from work. Then again, this isn’t your typical job and I wanted to get out on the road more than my throat wanted to sip tea all day. Perhaps if I had known what the day would hold, I might have chosen otherwise — I’m glad I didn’t know. An 8 mile bicycle path took me across state lines to the town of Pullman. On this path I experienced morning headwinds and knew that the worst was yet to come. Since winds are generally the strongest in the afternoon, I was pretty bummed when I found that even my morning riding would be tough. In order to give myself places to refill on water, food and shade, I traveled an indirect 90 miles to Washtucna. Between the wind and the loose gravel that kicked up into my face and lungs from passing trucks, it was a pretty miserable day.

I sought refuge in the only open establishment in Washtucna, Frank’s tavern. Greeted by a friendly waitress, she informed me that two other cyclists had passed through here several days ago. I felt bad for them but was happy they found a friendly face as I had here in town. Planning to stealth camp in one of the town parks, the waitress informed me that camping in the parks were allowed and there was no need to hide. This helped to take any concern I might have for my safety here in town. I shared a bit of conversation with some locals and then headed to the park, set up the tent and passed out. In the morning I woke up and upon exiting, found that I was no longer alone. A group of about 25 turkeys completely surrounded my tent and picnic bench to snack on whatever it is they snack on in these grasses. Though they were probably more scared of me than I was of them, one cannot help but feel a bit of anxiety and concern when surround by a pack of 10 pound birds capable of who knows what in large numbers.

My climb out of the valley in which Washtucna sat got the blood flowing and forced off all of the clothes I layered up with to stay warm just moments before. Throughout the day I passed through several construction zones. Sometimes they would wait for me to slowly make it through but other times they simply sent the oncoming traffic as if to say, “figure it out, buddy” which is what I did. I can’t imagine cycling through this area of Washington being terribly enjoyable for anyone so I have to imagine that the construction workers who watch us pass by must have a terrible impression of the adventure we’re on. The 80 miles I traveled to the Columbia River was straight with the exception of one jog in the road. It was probably the longest straight section of road I’ve done so far, which took away the little bit of excitement that I could find out here. Fortunately, as I approached the Columbia river, mountains started popping up and I eventually descended four glorious miles along a steep and exciting road to the river. No day would be complete, however, without a final ascent to my destination a little ways up the hill on the other side of the river. After pitching my tent and downing a couple cartons of chocolate milk, I sat by the river to reflect on 170 hot, dry and dirty miles I had just swallowed on a sore throat and congested lungs. From behind the sickness and exhaustion came a powerful feeling of accomplishment. I had traversed an unexpectedly deserted region with about half the energy and was still strong enough to pedal on the next day.

The next day would be quite short compared to the past two and after 35 miles I found myself in Ellensburg where I stayed with Laura, my CS host. Laura works with apes, particularly chimpanzees, at Central Washington University studying their behavior and her colleagues study communication with apes using American Sign Language (ASL). I ended up staying an extra day unexpectedly for two reasons: Laura and Ellensburg were pretty cool and I was still pretty sick. We ate some great food at the Yellow Church Cafe and shared some great brew at The Tav. On the day I left I decided to attend a presentation where I could watch the apes in their sanctuary (one of only seven in the country) and learn more about ape behavior and communication. It was one of the most exciting things to experience through Couchsurfing. By the time I finally hit the road to get over the cascades, it was about 1pm. My goal was to travel at least 60 miles to the summit and though it was 3000 feet of climbing, it was over the entire day’s travel so I barely noticed the incline. The biggest problem was the poor terrain along most of the path. Apparently the eastern side of the trail rarely gets used so they don’t pack it down very well. On my way I met another cyclist traveling to Idaho and spotted my second black bear but much closer to me than in Colorado. It ran as soon as it noticed me and I had no desire to stop for a picture lest I be lunch. Traveling along an old train route through the Cascades makes for an easy ride and allows one to completely soak up the scenery. It was amazing to see these giant lakes at the tops of this mountain range and had I gone at least 60 miles, I would have stopped and camped by one for the night. I managed to reach summit tunnel 20 miles from the nearest lake, peddled for some water in a small town and traveled through the 2 mile long tunnel to the downhill section of the trail.

When I reached the other end after about 15 minutes, the sun had just set and the sky was a pinkish red that served as a background to the nearby Cascade mountain top profiles. I considered camping on the side of the trail right at the tunnel but decided that since I have this flashlight, I might as well ride in the dark until I feel like stopping. Something made me think I could ride downhill on this nicely packed portion of trail all the way to Seattle but after riding in the dark for 2 hours, I called it a night when I came upon a picnic bench and bathrooms along the side of the trail around 11pm. While this had been my first and only experience riding at night, I found it quite pleasant. I found myself thinking about what my friends back home were doing on this Saturday night. Most likely they were enjoying the company of friends somewhere in a populated place or comfortably at home watching a movie. Here I was, however, cycling through the Cascades in the dark with absolutely no one around and probably closer in proximity to mountain lions and bears than another human being. It was comical and exciting to be so far off the beaten path I’m used to but it was another step outside of my comfort zone where I learned to feel perfectly safe and sound.

The next morning I woke up, packed up and hit the trail quickly. I had no food to cook so I ate granola bars until I reached Snoqualmie where I visited the falls and had a proper meal. After visiting the falls and a brewery around noon, I soon realized that I was still 30 miles from Seattle and that I wanted to get there in the early afternoon. I had made a half-ass attempt at planning my route (I basically took Google’s default route and plugged it into my GPS) and as a result I was led down a dead end path. Can you believe it actually dead ended? I’m talking about serious endage, like nowhere to go whatsoever. As I walked my bike back up the trail, a couple riding their bikes offered to lead me to the right bike path for getting to Seattle. Did you know that Seattle is as hilly as San Francisco? SF has notable hills but Seattle has hills everywhere! Even in the suburbs of town as I was trying to get to my friend’s place by the space needle, the road went up and down more times than I cared to count. The last 30 miles felt like a complete day in and of itself but I finally made it to downtown Seattle. Seattle. I was in Seattle. I had started pedaling in Philadelphia and couldn’t even dream of Seattle, but there I was — Seattle.

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