I am just a vagabond, a drifter on the run

And eloquent profanity, it rolls right off my tongue.1

One of my favorite couplets, I had to find a way to use it. Four years ago, I rode across the country as a gainfully-employed healthcare professional. A job and 15 patients/day not that I could see that many) awaited my return. Today I ride across that same country, just a vagabond. No job awaits. I am a retired person. When I arrived in Gloucester, MA four years ago I wasn’t ready to stop riding. I wanted to turn around and ride home. This time, that is theoretically possible. (I say “theoretically”, as I am not on a bike suited to carrying heavy loads, so that would mean shipping stuff home and relying on motels and restaurants.)

While I have done this before, all that does is make me over-confident. Have I trained enough this time? After, all, I’m four years older now; pushing 70. Getting into shape comes more slowly, as does recovery.

“Roll um easy” sounds like good advice. There is no rush. The other coast will be there when I get there. Okay, so there’s a schedule – I do have to be at a campsite each night if I want a place to sleep and eat. But how I do that each day is open for consideration. Last time I was tempted to turn around and ride Needles Highway a second time. I can do that if I want. I was into camp plenty early every day – I could ride it twice if I want to.

It is not the same country I rode through four years ago. Even if it were, all I have to do is look to the other side of the road (from the one I was looking at last time) at any given moment and I would be seeing something different this time.

Day 2 Skykomish to Wenatchee.

We awoke in a cloud. If it gets much colder I’ll have to wear my fleece tights to sleep. I wore most of my non-biking warm things last night. We stayed in that cloud as we climbed Stevens Pass. Climbing for 16 miles is all that kept us warm. While Stevens Pass is only a little over 4000 feet, we started at about 800 feet, so it was a 3200 foot net gain. We came into snow at 3200 feet. I passed a snow tunnel (where the snow had melted over a stream but was otherwise intact). I thought about a picture but didn’t really want to stop. About 100 yards later I came upon a full bottle of beer (Modelo). I thought a photo op in the snow with a beer sounded like a great idea (for someone else) so I didn’t stop again. I did stop at Deception Falls to go over the falls in a barrel before getting back on the bike. See the post from 4 years ago for photo. I shot video but have no Wi-if connection here so won’t try to upload it today. No stop at the red caboose, but there is a photo (and maybe a little essay about childcare) four years ago so check it out. I’m not providing a link, since it’s a bit of a pain with the phone app. I likewise didn’t stop at the Iron Goat Interpretive Site but, as a public service, it’s the Cabra de Fierro Sitio Interpretivo. I could maybe get that interpreted in French, Greek, or Afrikaans if I asked around.

The song for the morning climb (to which I cannot provide a YouTube link due to lack of internet access) was “Easy Skankin’” by Bob Marley and the Wailers. I changed the lyric to “easy spinnin’” to keep a rhythm for the climb. Since I can’t listen to it, you go ahead without me.

Visibility at the pass was near zero but the staff were waiting with brownies as a consolation for the lack of view. Heading down the pass involved some serious evaporative cooling. My feet were numb and I kept shaking out my hands to get feeling back. At mile 25 the sun came out for the first time in the four days I’ve been here and at mile 44 I shedded multiple layers.

Descending along the Wenatchee River was breathtakingly beautiful. Most of the best views were in places where I couldn’t take pictures, so you just get the two below.

We rode through orchards. (If you look at apple or pear boxes you may see “Wenatchee Valley” or “Lake Chelan”. That’s where we are.) We saw apples , pears, grapes, cherries, and hops. The sunscreen was packed away so my face is slightly burned. It is >80 degrees F here.

Tomorrow will be the first day >100 miles. No rain in the forecast at either end, at the moment.

Tonight’s dinner was memorably wonderful. A green salad, a spinach and strawberry salad, slaw, pineapple, oranges, grapes, watermelon, rice and broccoli, a noodle dish, garbanzo beans in a fabulously spicy sauce, and ice cream. There was also chicken, but I was plenty happy without it. When I remarked that the plates weren’t big enough to hold it all, the cook said “That’s what seconds are for.” It was clearly not FHB night.

The post-dinner meeting let us know about a little route alteration, increasing distance to 107 miles, with lunch at 62; meaning I’m glad I replaced the calories burned today; and I’ll need some snacks to tide me over. Forty miles is my limit without food.

After the regular meeting there was a special meeting for the coast-to-coast riders. (Not everyone is here for the duration.) The meeting was getting long when someone ran in to announce that tents were flying away and bikes were falling over. After battening down the hatches, I’m ready for bed. I won’t cover the bike tonight, as I’m afraid that would only give the wind encouragement.

The rhythm of this life is pretty simple and satisfying – get up in the morning, dress, pack everything away, load the trailer, eat breakfast, ride. Arrive at camp, unload the trailer, hang everything to dry, then pitch the tent, clean and lube the bike, take a shower, and change. Hang out until dinner and a meeting. Set out clothes for tomorrow. Go to bed. Rinse, repeat.

1 Lowell George, “Roll Um Easy”, 1973

Stevens Pass – over the Cascades

An even earlier start today. Up at 5:15 to pack up soaking wet tents. Breakfast at the same restaurant where we had dinner last night.

We left town and immediately headed towards Stevens Pass. At 5 miles I said to myself, “mountain? That ain’t no mountain!“ At 10 miles I said to myself,

“now that’s a mountain!”At 15 miles I passed an overheated car drawing water from a waterfall to cool it down.That made me feel better. I realized that I’m stronger than a PT Cruiser.

At the summit I was happy to start heading down, even though it was going to be chilly.

Like yesterday, most of the most picturesque spots were in places where there was no way I would get off my bike or even reach for a camera. Most of those pictures will have to stay in my head.

There were a few opportunities to pull off for some sightseeing. I walked over Deception Falls on a vertigo-inducing steel mesh bridge.

  1. I stopped at an interpretive center where there was an old red caboose on display. I took a picture in honor of the world’s greatest Daycare center.

At the end of the descent there was a rest area offering free coffee, ostensibly to keep drivers from falling asleep. Falling asleep wasn’t the issue, but the caffeine was just the fuel I needed to make it to the lunch stop.

After lunch we rode through Leavenworth (not the penitentiary, but a German tourist town.) There was an accordion player in the town square. I stopped to listen to a waltz and a polka. A few miles out of town I got another rest break when I got a flat tire.

After fixing the flat I followed one of our mechanics (who also gets to ride) up Deadman Hill, said to be a favorite of local cyclists. Each evening we get a detailed briefing of the next day’s ride. Our guide neglected to mention that it is actually two hills. He grinned slyly when I pointed that out at the end of the day.

After ~70 miles yesterday and ~80 miles today, we up the ante to >100 miles tomorrow.

P

Day one is in the books!

Our day started at 5:45. Stuff in the trucks by 6:15, breakfast at 6:30, then on the road. We rode to a park and boat landing in beautiful Mukilteo to dip our rear tires in the Pacific, per tradition. Per my own brand-new tradition, I scooped up a vial of Pacific Ocean and sealed it with candle wax. I plan to break the seal and pour it into the Atlantic in 9 weeks.

Fifteen miles later we were back where we started, proving this is the scenic, not the fast, route. Greg told us last night the route used to be >5000 miles; they’ve shortened it.

We rode gorgeous back roads in perfect weather until our lunch stop, which came at 10 for me and I was hungry!

At 10:30 we rolled through the town of Startup. While I thought this was where all of the Silicon Valley start-ups originated, it turned out to be where we start up the mountains to Stevens Pass.

We rode US Highway 2. For you young whippersnappers, before the advent of the Interstate, this was the main northern east-west route across the US. I-94 replaced it. US-2 is a two lane road and the shoulders disappear at every bridge. Cars whiz by at 60 mph, with the guard rail right at the white line in places.

I paced myself for the first half of the day, to be sure I didn’t head out too fast in my excitement. That stretch of 2 gave me little choice. I made anaerobic sprints across the bridges. A short tunnel (with no shoulder) came with no traffic behind me, so that went well.

Skykomish

We are now in the town of Skykomish. We’re told the entire town is a Superfund site. This is where the Burlington Northern trains stop to take on extra locomotives to get them over the pass. Apparently they dumped and/or leaked excess diesel fuel into the ground here for many years and if you dug a hole it would fill with diesel. Greg says every building in town (except the high school where we’re staying) was moved, the top 30 feet of soil removed and replaced, and the buildings put back. A pumping system was installed under the school to clean it out. The field where my tent is pitched is supposed to be new fill.

Today’s mileage & finishing time.

Tomorrow morning we go up and over Stevens Pass. Short and steep, then a long downhill.

Addendum: I went for a walk, found “The Whistling Post”, and had a beer. I met these folks and promised they would appear here if they let me take their picture. They, in turn, will follow this blog. They tell me we’ll climb 3100 feet in our first 19 miles tomorrow.

The consensus from the people I met was that we were nuts to ride the stretch we did today.

Monday morning: