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!!
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.
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.
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.
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!!!
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.
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!
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!!??
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.
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!