CHIPS and a bear behind!

So, a week or so after our last post and almost 4 weeks into our trip and things are starting to look a little different! The constant, pleasant cycling weather has changed, the terrain has changed, the bikes are showing signs of carrying all the weight and the day after day of cycling is gradually wearing both of us down!

Still relaxing in the hot tub. I’m not getting out!

Our final stop in Oregon was at a beautiful Airbnb in a town called Brookings, just 3 miles north of the California State line. Our hosts were Richard and Patti and we stayed in our own little space on the ground floor. It was like an oasis. Comfy bed, powerful hot shower, truffle chocolates, homemade granola bars, a TV!!! and best of all a large hot tub on the terrace area looking out to the ocean. It felt like we had landed in paradise.

Another day…another State.

Unfortunately our two night stop was over far too quickly and in a flash we were back on the road. On entering California from Oregon you pass through an agricultural checking station, which is larger than some border crossings that we made in South America, then it was straight on South. Almost immediately the weather changed.  The fog and mist closed in, the temperature dropped markedly, and it became cold and damp. Steve had been suffering from a minor cold for a week or so and this wasn’t helping much at all. A positive aspect was the campsites were still pretty good.

These campsites are in great locations.

We spent our first night in California camping by a large river, a really great location made even better by the campfire Sarah got going. We were sitting at dusk by the fire when we saw a couple of people pointing to the other side of the river. We glanced over and after a double take realised we were watching a black bear ambling along the shoreline, probably looking for fish. It wandered up and down for five minutes or so before disappearing back into the woods. Apparently this is not a common sight and only the fourth time this year one had been seen there. It did make us think that all the warning signs we had seen at the various campsites were there for a reason!

A bear !!! They really are about.

That night the temperature plummeted and where we had been having relatively comfortable sleeping conditions we found ourselves awake in the night putting on all our clothes and still feeling quite chilly. We awoke the following morning both feeling quite rough, Steve’s cold had got worse and Sarah had come out in sympathy! We set off towards our next site but the pace was slow and the weather all over the place, one minute bright, hot sunshine, the next shrouded in fog and mist. Our jackets were on and off at least six times by lunch. Added to that it was a hilly day and we were pushing into a head wind, through small towns with populations of 50 and 60 people which really didn’t look very appealing at all. Eventually we had to stop in a town called Orick for supplies. Every business except the grocery store had closed down and being new in town makes you a bit of a magnet to the locals who obviously don’t get many visitors! We quickly bought enough food for lunch and to knock some dinner together and peddled out of town, a little faster than we had peddled in! A few miles further on we sat by the side of the road, both exhausted, cold and hungry and decided to stop at the next campsite and make up the miles the next day.

This was quite a low point of our trip so far. We knew this adventure was not going to be easy and we had anticipated days like this but when it’s happening it is still hard and we know we have to work as a team and support each other. If the plan needs to change, we change it. We have trained quite hard for this trip and we are both glad we did. Steve has cycled hundreds of thousands of miles in the past, up some of the highest climbs in Europe, but when you add weight to the bike things change. Carrying almost half your bodyweight, day in day out, starts to take it’s toll.

We arrived at a State Park campsite soon afterwards where a Park Ranger set us up with a great pitch, right next to the beach. Then the clouds cleared, the sun came out and with a pile of firewood ready to go, things started to look better!! We did have another cold night but this time we went to bed more prepared and fully clothed!!

It felt so good to get to this campsite.

The following day the weather was much better and with quite a flat route, our spirits were higher and we were rolling along nicely….. that is until we heard the hiss that every cyclist dreads. Steve had picked up a big old tack in his rear tyre, just as we had started on a busy section of the freeway. Off came the panniers, tent, beds, frying pan! and Steve set about sorting it out. After a couple of homeless people had wandered past we became aware of someone else standing watching us. “Oh no, I could do without this” thought Steve as he looked up expecting to see yet another homeless person wanting to talk about something nonsensical. However on looking up he was surprised to see standing there non other than Officer GRIFFIN of the California Highway Patrol (C.H.I.P’s). “Do you folks have everything you need?” “ Is there anything you need help with?”….. What a great guy. He stayed chatting to us for ages, we even had a photo session on the side of the road and he gave us a weather forecast for our route for the next couple of days (which to be fair didn’t lift our spirits that much as it was forecast to be over 100 degrees!).

A brief encounter with the law!

The following day was very much of two halves. The morning was probably one of the most scenic rides we have done so far, as we made our way along ‘The Avenue of the Giants’. A road which twists its way through the redwood forest, passing some of the oldest and tallest trees on the planet. Trees growing to over 375 feet and living in excess of 2200 years is a remarkable sight, it makes you think of all the events in history these trees have lived through. Amazing. The canopy provides a really atmospheric environment to cycle through but it also provided shade from the building heat which at that point we were pretty unaware of. By the time we returned to the highway and out of the protection of the trees the temperature had rocketed and was heading towards 40 degrees centigrade. With tired legs and a series of long hills, the afternoon became a bit of a struggle. We had stocked up on drink but it didn’t last long and after a hard afternoon we arrived at our campsite exhausted with dry throats, but we had another day ticked off.

That is one big tree.

The next day was our shortest of the whole trip so far and although it was a very hilly 20 miles it seemed to be over very quickly and before the heat of the day really built up. We arrived at our basic campsite and were told about a trail down to a river which had a swimming area. Off we went and found the spot described. It had a bit of a shingle beach, a cool deep pool and was a fabulous setting so we spent the afternoon lazing around, still recovering from the previous day.

Anyone for a swim?

Our final day of this eventful stretch was to the town of Fort Bragg where our next Airbnb awaited us. Unfortunately we had to climb to the highest point on the Pacific Coast Highway, Leggitt Hill which is at 2000 feet, which provided a testing start to the day. This was immediately followed by another long climb which drained us even further so by the time we arrived back on the coast we really were ready for some time off. A 16 mile long roller coaster road then greeted us for the final run into town, with short ups and downs, twists and turns, and we seemed to be changing gears constantly. The road surface had also deteriorated and just 3 miles out of town Steve felt the air pressure slowly coming out of his tyre…..another puncture!!  He tried to reinflate it in the hope of limping into town but it wouldn’t have it, so another stop, another repair and eventually we rolled into town, exhausted and ready for a shower, some food and a bed. Luckily the town had a good bike shop, so we restocked on supplies and Steve bought a new back tyre. The other one had worn out four times faster than normal with the weight and road surface really having an impact. Off we went towards our bed for the night when disaster struck, the endless gear changes finally took their toll and Steve’s gear cable snapped!!! We were so unbelievably lucky to be less than a mile from one of the best bike shops we had seen in nearly a thousand miles. It could have happened in the middle of nowhere, a hundred miles from a shop. We still can’t believe how lucky we were.

I just want to finish today!

So we are now sitting in an Airbnb, rested (both still with a bit of a cold though), both bikes in good working order, the temperature back into the low 20’s and we feel ready to do the last couple of hundred miles into San Francisco…….We can’t wait to get there!!!

Two stray deer and a dodgy eye mask!

Armed with a new pillow and a frying pan we continued South over the Astoria/Mergler bridge out of Washington State and into Oregon:-). At 4.2 miles long it is billed as the longest ‘something’ bridge in the world, but we are slowly realising that a lot of things in the USA are the biggest, longest, tallest, shortest, steepest etc etc in the World….or at least billed as such!

The Columbia river with bridge in the distance. Bit scary cycling over that one.

We have travelled by car quite a bit (several thousands of miles) in the States in the past, but travelling by cycle exposes you a lot more to both the scenery and the people. We are stopping in places we might not normally stop and meeting people we might not normally meet (and there is a big old spectrum of people here) and it’s taking a bit of adjusting to. We have travelled through areas filled with big multi storey properties, with long drives containing shiny new trucks and huge RV’s, many of which are the size of coaches in the UK. Then we have travelled through communities obviously at the opposite end of the socio-economic spectrum. Run down properties over grown with weeds and trees, broken down cars littering the area, homeless people wandering the streets, some of them even use the campsites to sleep and shower. It’s a side of America we have read about, and seen to some extent in the past especially in bigger cities, but we have seen it pretty regularly through our 750 miles so far. Also the Americans have their own way of doing a lot of things which can be a little bit different to many places in the World but on the whole most people we have encountered have been very friendly and extremely helpful. Sarah has had a couple of very minor issues with her bike and with up to 150 miles between bike shops it’s best to get it sorted when we can and they are open. We met Tim the owner of “Bikes and Guitars” (a strange combination) in Florence, Oregon. He opens the shop three and a half days a week ….  “sometimes”. He obviously doesn’t meet too many people but he got Sarah’s gears running smooth as you like and charged $0!!

Our Airbnb in Astoria.

We have been exceptionally lucky with the weather.  Everything we researched said plan for rain and mist in the mornings while heading down the Oregon Coast. Luckily, so far, we have had neither. Each day for the last week or so has been a replica of the next, a little cloudy in the early morning (which generally burns off by about 10am) then it’s blue skies all day and evening with temperatures rising to the mid 20’s. That coupled with a light tail wind has been providing us with almost perfect cycling weather. It almost feels too good to be true and we do say several times each day that everyday like this is a bonus.

“This looks a good place for lunch”
“This one looks better”
How about sunset at Sunset Bay?

Since entering Oregon, we have stayed exclusively at State Parks and all but one in the hiker/biker section. The locations have been stunning and the camping areas unbelievable. They even have charging stations for your mobile phones, cycle tools and a high pressure pump. We have also met a few people who are doing a similar cycle as we are, but travelling at different paces. Judith (from Switzerland) is travelling alone and likes to stop and sample the local breweries on occasion. Jeff (from the USA) who was a climber by profession, but became too old, is cycling from Vancouver to Los Angeles to visit his daughter and then he is off into Texas. Eric (originally from Hong Kong but now lives in Vancouver) he cycled across Canada last year, he travels very slowly and we might even pass him again after our month out in southern California!  Finally Pierre and Eleanor (aged 72 and 68 respectively) who are Australians are doing the trip on a tandem. They are a lovely couple from Perth and have invited us to stay with them, when we are there next January, and use their tandem. Sarah is very keen on this but Steve is not so sure… he can see the positives and the negatives “too easy for Sarah to sit back and relax” is his view!!

An early start but it looks like it’s going to be a lovely day.
One of the great Oregon State Parks hiker/biker sites.

One evening after eating a huge pile of food (“told you the frying pan was good idea”) we decided to take a two mile walk from the campsite, through the woods, down to the beach. As we set off we saw several signs warning of bears and cougars and what to do if you see one. Steve thought instruction number 5 “fight back” was particularly amusing! It was getting dark, so we armed ourselves with head torches and set off. After a mile or so Sarah found the amount of fluid she had drunk during the day was catching up with her so she decided to hop behind a bush and make things a little more comfortable. We were quite deep in the woods by now and she was just about to start the process when all of a sudden, absolutely out of nowhere at what seemed like a 100 mph, came two huge deer!! One was heading straight for Sarah. It slammed on its brakes and came to a skidding halt before turning on its heals and took off back the way it had come. The second one however came to a stop, about 10 feet away from Sarah, and just stood there watching us. All three of us were frozen to the spot for what seemed ages (but was probably only a few seconds) before the deer took off into the woods. “I thought it was a bloody bear” said Sarah “my heart is pumping out of my chest”.

The day to day cycling is going extremely well, we have got into a nice routine packing and unpacking the tent. We each have our own jobs and it seems to all run smoothly. We generally get an hour or so under our belts before we then stop for coffee. Sometimes if we are feeling particularly hungry we stop for food. A stack of pancakes and maple syrup for Steve and scrambled egg, bacon and French toast for Sarah is the favourite so far.

We then continue on until we find a scenic spot for some lunch which we normally make up ourselves the night before. The final stop of the day is a grocery store to buy food for the evening. We try to do this as late in the day as possible to avoid carrying the extra weight but on a couple of occasions we have had to buy the evening before due to lack of services on the following days route. Steve has signed up for a Safeways card which seems to be the most common supermarket. He is totally impressed with his daily savings and it is going a small way to help compensate for the current poor exchange rate!

“I dont know where it is going to go, but they were bargains”!

Finally it’s off to the campsite and setting up the tent. Steve has a run while Sarah showers and relaxes with her book. Then after Steve has a shower, we cook dinner together and settle down to a couple of hours in front of a roaring campfire.

All wrapped up and cozy.

Over the last year or so we have started using ear plugs and eye masks for sleeping, especially when camping. Sarah in particular finds this helps with a good nights sleep. Steve tends to sleep ok without them and puts his eye mask on around sunrise if he wakes up. We have a couple of little pockets inside the tent where we keep them. On one particular morning Steve was woken by the sound of the birds, so he reached for his ear plugs stuck them in and then, trying not to wake up too much, felt for his eye mask and went to put it on.  For some reason he couldn’t find the right orientation of straps and eye covering, after several attempts he finally gave in, sat up opened his eyes fully and examined the mask, only to find it wasn’t a mask at all but Sarah’s clean pants she had put in the wrong pocket for the morning!!

A good nights sleep ahead. I wonder if I will need an eye mask?

As we travelled through Oregon we decided to stay a couple of nights at a campsite near a place called Florence. We spent the morning of our day off relaxing in a little cafè drinking coffee, eating bagels, charging electrical devices and catching up on correspondence. Then in the afternoon we went to explore the immense sand dunes for which the area is famous. These are huge dunes which people sand board down and drive across in ATV’s. The whole area was very impressive so we pitched up by a lake and sat in the sand, Sarah reading and Steve snoring. All in all a really chilled out day, just what we needed.

Steve on the Sand dunes in Florence.
The fabulous lake where we lazed away our afternoon.

After Florence we continued South. Then the weather turned. We got up one morning to thick, dark, rain bearing clouds. We quickly packed away the tent, loaded our bikes and set off, as soon as we started pedalling it strated to rain. It rained and it rained and it rained. All day horrible heavy rain. We took refuge in a coffee shop in a small town where the young owner, Kenny was also a touring cyclist, he took pity on us and didn’t mind us taking up a table for two and half hours and drying out our clothes. He even stayed and chatted with us for about 30 minutes. Eventually we felt we should leave and went back into the rain. Sixty miles after starting we finally arrived at our campsite.  Numerous times along the way we had discussed stopping early and getting a hotel room but we both agreed if we did that everytime things didn’t go according to plan it could become a very expensive trip! We have Airbnb’s planned along the way and some reasonably good places for our month trip by car, so we have plenty of “luxury” to look forward to.

Luckily it stoppped raining soon after we arrived, and after a couple of hours of cleaning bikes and gear, eating a hot meal and having a hot shower we were tucked up in our sleeping bags all warm and dry ready for the next day. Luckily the next day we had gorgeous unbroken blue skies again and probably the most scenic route so far. By the time we arrived out our Airbnb in Brookings the rain was forgotten about and the hot tub was well in use…yes hot tub!!

Soothing those tired muscles.

One final thing. On the evening after we had cycled all day in the rain, just before turning in for the night Steve went to clean his teeth, he put some toothpaste on his brush and began scrubbing, seconds later, he was spitting and swearing and running for water. “What’s wrong” asked a worried Sarah. “I’ll give you a tip” said Steve “don’t clean your teeth with mosquito bite cream”!!

Chemical toilets and a frying pan!

So, the fun started before we even left the UK. A potential strike at Heathrow caused a little concern, the thought of missing connections and being behind on the schedule before we had even started would not have been great. Luckily the strike was called off the evening before we flew and our experience of check-in, boarding and the flight with our luggage and two bikes went seamlessly. Then we landed in Seattle!!

All packed up and ready to go.

We exited the plane and immediately joined a queue for immigration. This process is normally quite drawn out in the States but this time we had to queue to get into the immigration hall because it was full. We were told the process would take at least 2 hours!! Not good when we had a connection to take us the 100 or so miles North to our first night’s accommodation. After not moving anywhere for 15 minutes an announcement was made for anyone using their ESTA for a second time to come forward. Luckily we had transited through the US on our route to Chile in December, so we moved forward into the immigration hall where we bypassed a queue of several hundred unhappy looking travellers and were directed to self service machines where we took our own photographs and fingerprints, were issued a receipt which an immigration official checked and then stamped our passports and we were off to collect our luggage.

Luggage hall….mayhem!! Luggage everywhere, people everywhere, queues everywhere. After locating our luggage (undamaged) from several points in the hall, joining the snaking queue and passing through customs we were informed we would have to catch a train to the main terminal and “NO TROLLIES ALLOWED”. Sarah carried the ripped suitcase (salvaged to perform this one trip only), two panniers (our hand luggage) and a bum bag, while Steve pushed, pulled and carried the boxes containing the bikes. Off we went, along a corridor, onto a train, off the train, along a corridor, up two escalators (elevator wasn’t big enough), through the length of the terminal building (could have used a trolley at this point, but $5 dollars!!! sod that) before eventually emerging out into fresh Seattle air and our waiting connection.

The view from our Anacortes Airbnb.

Three hours later and only 45 minutes behind our anticipated arrival time we were dropped off at the Anacortes Ferry terminal only 2 miles from our Airbnb. A potential problem had always been what will we do with the two huge cardboard boxes and an old suitcase when we unpacked.  Luckily we were dropped off at the Ferry Terminal car park, 10 feet away from a massive cardboard recycling skip and a general waste skip. So after 16 hours of travelling we set about putting the bikes together and attaching our loads in the middle of the car park. Forty five minutes later with the bikes assembled and the packaging disposed of we were on our way for the 10 minute cycle to our home for the night. The Airbnb we stayed in for the first night in Anacortes was a beautiful house with an amazing Victorian bath tub, absolutely perfect for a soak at the end of a long day.

Riding the Anacortes to San Juan Island ferry.

Anacortes looked a lovely place and it would have been nice to relax for a day but we are on a bit of a schedule so the following morning we were up early and on the ferry to San Juan Island, a really beautiful route through the islands, with all kinds of wildlife to see including a Sea Otter. Once on San Juan Island we cycled to Roche Harbour in the North West corner which is only a couple of miles from Canada across the water and turned South to start our journey to Mexico 1800 miles or just under 3000 km (sounds better) away.

At the start and ready to go.
Posing for a photo before we load up….only 1800 miles to go!

San Juan Island was excellent with quiet roads, great scenery, but maybe a little bit hilly for our first day, and a lovely campsite by a lake. We could easily have spent a couple of days here to explore more, but that is probably going to be the case quite a lot during the next 3 months, so we will have to be selective. After staying the night on the Island it was back to the mainland by ferry which ended up being 40 minutes late. This was due to the heavy morning fog, which is apparently very common at this time of year, which consequently meant we would be cutting it fine to catch a second ferry (across a small inlet) about 45 miles away later in the day. We set off in typical Steve fashion, head down, powering on, not bothering to eat. Sarah has got quite used to this over the last couple of years, but now she is carrying 15kg extra and some of these hills were quite sharp, so she was starting to get a little concerned. “Is it going to be like this all the way to Mexico?”. Steve promised her it wouldn’t, it was just for today (if we missed the ferry, we would have a 2 hour wait in the middle of nowhere). Sarah pressed on, and on and on, then with 4 minutes to spare we arrived at the jetty, bought our tickets and boarded the ferry just as it was leaving! “That’s why I got you to cycle up all those mountains in Italy and France” said Steve. Sarah could only reply with total exhaustion “I need food and drink now!”, so we raided the ferry cafe in great style!!!

If we stay here to long we will never catch that ferry

We then experienced our first couple of nights staying on primitive State Park campgrounds, one had no showers and only chemical toilets! Our trip to South America in hindsight was actually great training for us… and we settled into camping very quickly. We decided to try out ‘Hiker/ Biker’ sites, which are available in most State Parks, and (as the name says) are designed to accommodate anyone turning up without a car and don’t need booking in advance. We have come to learn that these are not very big pitches (usually shared) and are not necessarily in the best areas… but at $12 (£10) a night for two people we can not complain. Lake Sylvia State Park in particular was in a beautiful setting and very peaceful.

These hiker/biker sites don’t leave much room for errors.

After a few days we reached the city of Bremerton, which is just across The Puget Sound from Seattle. We had arranged an Airbnb and it was great to get into a nice warm shower and get properly cleaned up. Our hosts were Erinn and Colin and did they look after us or what?!! They welcomed us into their home as if we had known them for years. Erinn cooked us all a fantastic “Fancy Mac N’ Cheese” with 5 different types of cheese, bacon and all manner of ingredients, it tasted absolutely gorgeous, just what we needed. Our cooking equipment is quite small and we have certainly been noticing the smaller portions we have been eating!

Our fabulous hosts Erinn and Colin.

The next day armed with some local tips from Erinn we left the bikes behind and made our way by yet another ferry for a day out in Seattle. The crossing itself was worth making the journey for, stunning scenery and a great coffee onboard too. The highlight of Seattle had to be Pikes Place Market, which is regularly voted as one of the top 5 markets in the World. There was everything there from old vinyl records to crabs legs (which Steve said where bigger than his) and everything in between. We also walked past the original Starbucks, but as you can imagine the queue to get in was immense (but still much smaller than that immigration queue at the airport)! We also passed the gum wall, a street near the market where it has become tradition to stick bubble gum to the walls which are now covered in gum of every colour. In the short time we were there Steve heard three parents tell their children not to eat it!!??

A small segment of the “gum wall” in Seattle.

After another fabulous night’s sleep in a comfy bed it was sadly time to leave Erinn and Colin behind. In the time it took to pack our panniers and load our bikes Erinn had somehow made some zucchini bread and gave us a huge piece each straight out of the oven. We ate it later in the day by the side of the road and it was magnificent. She also gave us a packet of small pellets which, when you add water, expand into lemon scented wipes. Which we think will come in pretty handy over the next few weeks.

Sarah powers on towards the Oregon border.

Over the next four days we slowly made our way South and West, covering about 50 miles a day. The weight we are carrying has really slowed us down and with Sarah loaded with 15kg and Steve with 30kg it has somewhat equalised our speed, which is a good thing in some ways as we are both using a similar amount of effort. As we progressed the scenery became more and more impressive, quite typical of what we had expected in Washington with forest after forest of pine trees, with the occasional lake. We have been very lucky with the weather, only one morning of hard rain, when we were able to wait for it to stop at the Airbnb and a few spots on another afternoon. The last 3 days have been clear blue skies and the miles have rolled by. The population density has decreased since Bremerton and on a couple of occasions we cycled 30 miles or so without any services at all. Planning places to buy food and drink has become a daily job and strategic buying of the food for the evening meal is essential as we don’t want to carry it any further than we have to. After a few days of small portions of food Steve eventually had enough, so as we cycled through one town and saw a Walmart, he pulled over got off his bike and off he went across the car park. Fifteen minutes later he emerged with a 10 inch frying pan and a pillow!! “A full stomach and a good night’s sleep will make all the difference”! He duly strapped the frying pan onto the back of his bike and the pillow onto Sarah’s!! Two days later and Sarah is now on the lookout for another Walmart!

Life is good…..especially with a pillow.

The Plan.

Loaded up ready to go!

So here we go again. This time we are off to the good old U.S of A. This one is going to be a real challenge. We intend to cycle the full length of the Pacific coast from the Canadian border to Mexico. Our route will be a little under 2000 miles and just to make it a little more difficult we intend to camp about 75% of the time, which means we have to carry everything with us and we mean everything.

We have been preparing for this trip for quite a while and over the last couple of years have done several 3 day trips carrying most of our equipment with us and of course we have done some serious cycling in France and Italy earlier this year.

There are several points from which to start the trip and we have chosen San Juan Island which is located right next to Vancouver Island and, other than a land border, is the closest accessible point between the two countries. From there we will cycle around the island before catching a short ferry ride to the mainland at Anacortes in Washington State.

We will then head South and after a short side trip to visit Seattle we will head West to the Pacific Coast, then a turn South and along the coast through Washington, Oregon and into California.

After about a month we hope to arrive in San Francisco where we will take some time out, hire a car, throw the bikes in the back and spend another month exploring Lake Tahoe, Salt Lake City, The National Parks of Utah and Arizona. A rim to rim hike of the Grand Canyon is planned followed by trips to Death Valley and Yosemite before heading back to San Francisco, dropping off the car and getting back on the bikes.

Heading South again will take us along the Monterey and Big Sur coast down into Southern California, through Santa Barbara and Malibu, before we then take on the challenge of cycling through Los Angeles! We will then take a stop in Long Beach for Steve to run the marathon before the final push through the beach towns to San Diego and finally the Mexican border.

We have a couple of weeks spare for a bit of a holiday at the end when Steve’s son and his girlfriend are coming out to meet us and a trip to Vegas is on the cards!

Looks like quite a trip and sounds so easy when you type it out. We just feel it might be tougher than we think. Let’s see how it goes!!