Skip to content

back in the usa

I disembark from the ferry on Whidbey Island in the afternoon with no map and no plan. The lawns here, back in the USA, seem a little smoother and greener, the picket fences a shade whiter, national flags far more prevalent.

I stop at a tourist information centre in Anacortes and get a map of the island. The woman at the counter is very excited by my journey and offers plenty of useful advice about the best route out of town and information about the local sights. Mount Erie, a small mountain of around 1300 feet, is on the way out of town. The women looks at my bike and suggests that I might not want to go there as the road is exceptionally steep.

I set off, stopping for an hour or so in Anacortes to check my email, and head south. I am riding out of the Anacortes when a man on a fast road bike makes a u-turn to ask me where I am heading and where I am planning to stay for the night. I tell him that I am heading for Mount Erie and haven’t much thought yet about where to stay for the night, even though the sun is gradually sinking towards the horizon. The man glances at my luggage and also recommends against the ascent to Mount Erie.

We discuss the merits of various campground but then the man offers me a space on his lawn. He is going into town on some errands but says that he will catch up with me on the way back to show me the way. Looking at his bike, I don’t doubt it.

At the turn off to Mount Erie, I hesitate, but only for a second, before setting off up a ridiculously steep gradient. If I’d had any sense at all I would have stashed my panniers in the bushes somewhere. I climb and climb and climb. It is exceptionally steep – car drivers pass me in the opposite direction, open-mouthed at my audacity. I reach the top and walk, unsteadily, to the lookout. As I return to my bike the cyclist reappears, looking much more collected than I feel, and we walk together to the second lookout which provides a view of Mount Rainier.

The view - I forget if this is Mount Baker or Mount Rainier.

The view - I forget if this is Mount Baker or Mount Rainier.

Descending the hill requires less expenditure of energy but is more anxiety producing than the ascent. I am accompanied by the smell of burning rubber. I am tired and I haven’t eaten much during the day and so the couple of miles to the man’s cabin, outside Anacortes, seem long and arduous. Mark, who only admits to being independently wealthy, has just returned from the Burning Man festival in the desert in Nevada. He is a keen cyclist, skier and kayaker.

Eventually we get to his house and while I put up my tent Mark cooks pasta which we eat with olive oil and the goats cheese that I had bought on Salt Springs. After this repast, Mark goes to the larger house next door, which is inhabited by his tenants, who, happily, are chocolate makers. He returns with a box of hand-made truffles and some left over pizza. I eat it all.

We sit up until after midnight discussing relationships, the meaning of life and the endless possibilities of the infinite – and we were cold, stone sober!

The following morning, after a breakfast of porridge, cooked over my camp-stove on the lawn, I continue on my way.

I ride through the sunny day, following the highway and bike paths south across the island. Stars and stripes are flying everywhere and buses flash messages of remembrance alternately with their destination but all this makes no real impression on me until I catch sight of a man with a hand written sign, expressing deep gratitude to Bush and Cheney, standing at a highway intersection.

An unrepentant Bush fan.

An unrepentant Bush fan.

I stop, bemused, and feel the need to ask for further clarification of his message. The date, it turns out, is September 11 but our conversation, which ranges over various matters of domestic and international concern, didn’t reveal much else that was clear to me. I was expecting, however, a far more vitriolic diatribe than transpired and we parted, amicably enough with mutual good wishes – even if in utter mutual incomprehension.

In a repeat of the previous evening’s experience, as the shadows lengthen a cyclist – a women, this time – on a fast road bike overtakes me. She asks about my long- and short-term plans and then offers me a place to stay for the night in her apartment across the water, on the mainland, in the outer suburbs of Seattle.

Donna was aiming to catch the 5.30PM ferry but seems willing to slow to my pace for the six odd miles to the terminal. We ride and talk. Again, I am tired and haven’t eaten enough during the day. Donna offers to swap bikes with me but, although I am tempted, I have never used cleats and don’t feel that this is the time and place to learn. Against expectation, we ride onto the 5.30 ferry, but with only seconds to spare.

In the morning, before I set off, Donna takes my loaded bike for a spin around the block. She returns clearly impressed that I had managed to keep pace with her yesterday on the ride home from Whidbey Island to her apartment.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *