09.05.11 – Seattle!

Boy is there a lot to say about Seattle! It’s going to take up this entire update. That’s okay though, who wants to hear about adventure cycling anyway?

I was extremely happy to finally reach Seattle if for no other reason than because now I could really take a break from traveling. Reaching Seattle also meant I completed the third leg of my ride. After almost 5,000 miles I had pretty much crossed the entire country. I celebrated this but not too much because I knew it wasn’t the absolute end and you know how it is wasting a perfectly good celebration dance too early. Van, a friend from college, put me in contact with his buddy Brian who let me surf his couch while in Seattle. Brian works for Microsoft and had spectacular projector set up for watching all sorts of great movies. More often than I would care to admit did I find myself relaxing on the couch catching up on movies that have come out since I’ve been on the road.

My aspirations for Seattle were to explore it as much as I could and with as many new friends as I possible. To do this, I reached out to the Couchsurfing community and discovered a weekly pub gathering as well as a possible trip to the Olympic Peninsula! After making some plans for later in the week with other surfers, I set off on my now unloaded bike to visit the famous Fremont Troll sculpture and eat at a highly recommended sandwich shop. The Troll was even more amazing in person. The VW Beetle that it holds in its grasp is in fact real though it seems to have been filled with concrete. While people are allowed to climb on him, the Troll keeps its cool while people pretend to pick his unusually large nose. A few snaps with my camera and I figured I had bothered the big fella enough. Next stop, Homegrown sandwich shop. As I ordered I couldn’t help but notice the cashier, a guy my age with a couple simple black tattoos, a Black Sabbath shirt and a cap that reminded me of the cycling cap I have. With nothing to lose, I said “You look like you ride bikes, can you tell me where I might find people our age who like to bike around?” And would you know, he actually did! Jake was no longer just my cashier but my gate keeper. He guided me to the land of the young and the free (mind you free is synonymous with biking). Jake directed me to alleyway next to the shop where I could find some young biker folk.

Talk about convenient! Walking around the corner I met Harrison and Lodi, a guy/girl team running Bike Haus. Mostly run by Harrison, Bike Haus produces bags and other like goods from old boat sails and billboards. They lived in a well kept garage bay with a wooden structure to create a “second floor” where Harrison slept. Lodi shared her “bedroom” with the workspace on the first floor. I wasn’t sure whether to call it cozy or cramped but they seemed to be making it work. I introduced myself and like that I had new friends with which to bike! As you can imagine, business wasn’t exactly booming in the alleyway so Lodi decided to take a break and show me around. She took me to one of the many bike shops I would visit while in Seattle. This one was dedicated to recycling bicycles and parts, a mixture of traditional bike shop and bike co-op. Just down the bike path we went to Gas Works Park overlooking Lake Union. Everything from standup paddle boarders to million dollar yachts and seaplanes crossed our view. For a weekday, it was pretty exciting to see this activity.

Over the course of the week I visited museums with another couchsurfer, Charme, traveling through Seattle. Like me, she worked for a bit but wanted to travel while she still could. Her adventure has taken her all over the world and even as I write this post long after our time together, I believe she is still out there traveling the world. Good for you, Charme! After the museums, Charme and I stopped by the weekly CS gathering at a local pub. I can always count on couchsurfing events to be filled with like-minded, open-minded individuals that love to help travelers get the most out of their city. From their advice I visited Pikes Market and tasted some mighty fine Clam Chowder. Unfortunately I did not get to see fish flying through the air like everyone talks about.

With the weekend finally upon me, it was time for more pedaling but I wasn’t leaving Seattle just yet. It was time to join the Dead Baby biker gang for the monthly ride! The who? You heard me. Arguably the most famous (in relative terms) of all bicycle gangs was holding their monthly booze cruise. It was chance for the gang and their friends to meet and hold “important discussions.” Arriving by myself to Funhouse, a bar by the Space Needle, I hoped to see Lodi waiting for me at the entrance so I wouldn’t have to figure out how to introduce myself to a gang! Lodi was not in sight when I arrived but a dozen or so bikes had already amassed into a pile around a lamp post. With a when-in-Rome attitude I placed mine (a bit more carefully) against the pile and locked it to something within the mound of frames, chains and wheels. Walking into the bar I did the only thing I could to make me feel a bit more comfortable and grabbed a beer. As I sat there in people-watching mode, a young guy about my age approached the counter next to me to grab a drink and struck up a bit of conversation. Upon hearing my story, my new friend took it upon himself to spread the word. I don’t like to walk around announcing my story but I figured that if this guy was excited about it and wanted to tell other people, who am I to stop him. I was introduced to Zak and a few other members of the gang. It was fun to ask them questions about their gang that they probably heard all the time as they asked me questions about my ride that I heard all the time. Any doubts that I would be welcome to join the gang on their ride were erased when the president of the gang came up to me and and introduced himself. Thirty minutes ago I wasn’t sure if I’d meet anyone and here was the president coming up to me just as excited to have me as I was to join them. Just before we left Funhouse, Lodi came out of nowhere and was happy to find I had already made some new friends. From there we headed to Shorty’s, another bar just around the corner complete with your typical bar, a pinball room, and a back room bar with king-size lounge chairs in place of stools. It was a unique place in the sense that it brought people from varying social groups to the same place. I was handed a PBR and nachos from the same guy who made fancy glass drink for a girls dressed 10 times nicer than I. The bar got a bit packed so we decided to get out of the downtown area and head to Nine Pound Hammer, a bar in the Georgetown area. It was night time at this point and only street lights showed the way. For the most part we rode in a large group similar to that of Critical Mass. At one point, however, the road went under a bridge and forked around the pillars. Instead of following the mass I followed this one guy who took the left fork. Out of nowhere I found myself barreling toward exposed train tracks. With barely enough time to react I simply pulled up as hard as I could, hoping the some miraculous feat of strength would lift my bike and I safely over the tracks. The next thing I remember I was flying off my bike and landing hard on my back in the filthy dirt and gravel on the other side of the tracks. I had cleared the first rail only to meet the second one with my front wheel. I rolled around in a bit of agony as if the train itself had hit me and took a moment to check myself for any serious injuries. With body and bicycle alright, I caught up to the mass, dirty and aching. Getting to the bar, I was simply too tired and aching to stick around so I said my goodbyes and headed home. It was my first real crash of the ride and I’m happy it happened here instead of while traveling. Something tells me that a fully-loaded crash is a lot less exciting especially when you’re trying to get somewhere more important than another bar. A long and quiet ride back home provided me a serene view of the Seattle skyline at night.

On Saturday I met Hannah’s friends from college, Josh and Becky. Residents of Seattle, they offered to show me around Bainbridge Island. We met at the ferry and as we boarded with a dozen other cyclists, it kind of felt like the start of a race — a very short, ferry-long race. Once at the island, we rode through the quaint little town of Winslow across to the other side. At a secluded inlet we found an abandoned building that used to produce a tar-like substance used for boat or dock sealant. The building had since become a three dimensional canvas for spray painters and was now probably more attractive than it had ever been during it’s working days. Giant jellyfish and barnacles of all types floated around and covered the old pillars that once supported now long gone docks. While there was much more that we could have explored I had to return to the downtown area to meet up with Matt Klainer. Matt biked across the country back in 2003 in honor of his father who passed away just before planning to do it himself. I had discovered Matt’s blog on my own while preparing for my ride and also discovered that he was a student of Chuck’s, a friend and fellow volunteer back east in Rochester, NY. Chuck put us in contact and we shared a beer at the Hilltop Alehouse. From what I’ve learned about the naming of streets and business, anything with the word “hill” in it means I’m in for a climb. A climb it certainly was as I struggled up a hill that probably belonged in San Francisco. When I finally reached the alehouse I was more than happy to have a drink this early in the afternoon. Matt and I instantly entered into story-swapping about our respective experiences across the country. Matt’s blog had been something I read in order to learn from and here I was now just as traveled as him. Still there was a difference. He has since had many years to reflect on his experience. It was an honor to hear his reflections in person about the experiences he had and how they’ve effected his life. While it didn’t seem completely transforming, he talked about how it’s experience he often thinks about and is happy to have done. It was inspiring to hear this. Matt works at Google now and believe it or not was the person who spearheaded the project to get the bicycle routing feature for Google Maps. Thanks for getting me all the way across the country, Matt!

From the Hilltop I descended to another part of town for dinner. Kristen from Salt Lake City has a sister, Mikelle, who invited me to have dinner with her family that evening. I met her husband Jon and their beautiful little boy, Henry. Mikelle and Jon are both oceanographers and if I remember correctly, Jon is in the water and Mikelle is in the classroom. Apparently the Puget Sound is much dirtier than people think so I’m glad that smart people like Mikelle and Jon are making an effort to research and clean it up. Fortunately, the fish we ate did not come from the sound. Jon did a phenomenal job of cooking it using a special wood plank for reasons I may never know. All I know is that the fish was great and the local brew was a perfect complement. I rode home for the second night in a row not quite sure where I was going but again it was a great opportunity to take in a quieter version of the city. I crossed bridges and rode down secluded bike paths with no one else around. The moon acted like a big spotlight across the Sound and piers.

Sunday brought about the much anticipated couchsurfing trip to the Olympic Peninsula. It was a long drive in a packed car but once on the peninsula, even the road side scenery was nice. We headed for the visitor center in the Hoh Rain Forest where a few short hikes took us through moss covered Bigleaf Maples and trees bigger than I’ve ever seen before. Even when they’ve fallen on their side, it takes all your effort to get on top. Returning from the forest we stopped by Ruby Beach. It was a great place to see the Pacific Ocean for the first time on my ride. Even though I didn’t get here by bike, it was still very exciting. Haystack rocks rested in the shallow waters along the beach, some of which must’ve been a hundred feet high and big enough to resemble islands. The ones that were just too difficult for humans to climb on offered an oasis for birds. We all had hoped to see the sunset but would have had to wait quite a while and then drive the remaining 4 hours in darkness. As it is, we still didn’t arrive back in Seattle until midnight having stopped somewhere to get dinner. With the weekend officially over, I met close to 20 new and amazing people, many with which I hope to stay in contact. From dead babies to ferry rides and visiting the Olympic Peninsula with strangers turned friends, Seattle truly opened it’s welcoming arms. To add to the experience, it rained not once during my time in Seattle, a rarity that I know I may never experience again.

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