Day 126: Sekiu, WA to near Neah Bay, WA - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

August 16, 2011

Day 126: Sekiu, WA to near Neah Bay, WA

Fog hangs over the hill above town and out over the surface of the bay, and the wind blows just enough to send me shivering the moment I crawl out of the tent. I stop by the store near the docks to grab breakfast: a king-sized Milky Way candy bar. It's powered me across the West for the last month and I'd be a fool to switch things up on the last morning of the trip.

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The highway runs along the curves of the shoreline almost the entire way to Neah Bay. It rises and falls gently and lets me ride to the sound of squawking seagulls and waves crashing ashore. Because the water sits off to my right, and an almost vertical wall of bushes and grass and trees that grow at ridiculous angles towers above me on my left, no houses or double-wides or RV parks spoil the views. There's hardly any traffic, either. It's quiet and peaceful, an easy ride, which is what I always wanted for my last day on the road.

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A long hill drops me down to sea level and into Neah Bay, but it doesn't mean I've reached the ocean. The town sits on a point that pokes out into the Pacific, but it's on the north side and faces the Strait of Juan de Fuca. To get to the end of the road I have to push a little farther, three miles out of Neah Bay to the southwest.

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The fog floats slowly over the tops of the trees as I wind along a flat road. It's cold and wet and I think about grabbing my rain jacket, but a moment later the gray gives way to sunshine and a cloudless blue sky. That's the signal that the end is really here. For the next two miles I pedal with legs so light it's almost like they aren't there, scanning the horizon and waiting for the first view of the ocean I've been riding for four months to reach.

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I end up hearing it first, as the roar of the waves pounding into the beach sneaks out from behind a thin row of pine trees. The bike feels as heavy as a bus as I push it over a sand dune and through a think section of grass that grabs and snags on the pedals and gears. But the effort is worth it, because a minute later there it is: the Pacific Ocean.

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With the tide almost all the way out, the wide expanse of loosely packed sand is followed by an even longer sweep of darker sand that's been flattened so much by the power of the sea that it looks like a miles-long brick of brown sugar. A thin mist of spray washes over me as Cape Flattery stands tall and majestic in the distance. Near the white line where the surf meets the shore, four goofy white guys toss around a frisbee with all the skill of a five-year-old girl.

I push the bike out onto the beach, where it sinks in up to the bottom of the rims and moves so slowly that the computer doesn't register any speed. After ten minutes of grunting and straining and cursing I finally get far enough that I can lean the bike on the gnarled end of a giant tree that washed ashore in a storm decades ago. Then I sit on the opposite end, where the bark has turned smooth and white after years of exposure to the harsh coastal weather. I look out on the ocean, the surf, and the little rocky islands that poke out above the surface of Makah Bay.

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A few weeks ago I made a plan to celebrate this moment with the most American drink I could think of: a can of Busch Light. But Neah Bay is located on the Makah reservation, where beer isn't sold (which makes all the sense in the world). So I go with the next best option:

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Staring out at the ocean I don't feel a surge of emotion that makes me want to scream and yell and jump up and down. I don't have any desire to throw off my shoes and socks and go running into the water. Instead I sit on the old tree in a light breeze, squinting through the grains of wind-blown sand stuck in my contact lenses, and let a subtle tingle travel up and down my body, all through my arms and down my legs, and then out through the ends of my fingers and toes.

It's the pure and undiluted feeling of success. It comes from the satisfaction of knowing that I set out to achieve a demanding goal and followed through until the very end. That, more than anything else, is what runs through my head. So much of my life has been defined by the things that I wanted to do—in work, in education, in sports, even for my own health—but never saw through to the finish. Often I look back on my life not in terms of my successes, but instead through the lens of failure.

Not today.

I had a hundred reasons to bail on this trip, from the constant climbs of the Blue Ridge Parkway, to the killer grades and menacing coal trucks and angry dogs of Eastern Kentucky, 110 degrees and headwinds in Kansas, and the loneliness of Montana. But I didn't. I never once considered the possibility. I was determined to fight, to not give up, to make it all the way between the ends of America. And now I've done it. For the first time in a long time I can say that I'm proud of myself.

I also think back on the crazy, the kind, the hilarious, and the generous people I met along the way. I think about the beautiful landscapes, the quirky signs and buildings, the towns that are thriving, and the communities that have been lost to time forever. All of the elements came together to create an amazing and rewarding experience that I'll flash back to every day for the rest of my life. So many places that were once a two-dimensional outline or a dot on a map now fill a corner of my mind that's colored with texture and character and soul. Even though America is flawed in so, so, so many ways, I sit looking out on the Pacific and realize that I can say, with the strongest conviction, that I love my country. It's not a hollow statement, nor cliche, nor blind patriotism, but rather the result of living and breathing and touching and feeling both the good and the bad at low speed or no speed every day for the past four months. There's no place in the world I'd rather live.

At the end of the line.
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Within an hour the fog rolls back in, erasing the blue sky and sunshine and shrouding everything in white in less than ten minutes. I take it as a sign that I've churned out enough emotion and reflection for one day.

And then I just sit, cold in the hands and the legs but warm inside.

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I sit for a long time. At first it's because I want to keep savoring the moment. But eventually the magic starts to wear off, the morning rolls over into the afternoon, and the waiting game begins. I assume Desiree is on her way to pick me up, but because I've been out of cell phone range since yesterday afternoon I can't know for sure. I also know that even if she makes it to Neah Bay, the roads that lead to the beach aren't very well marked and she could easily get lost. And then there are the dunes and the row of trees that block the view from the road out to the beach. The fog is also an issue—it keeps turning thicker, making it difficult to pick out people even 500 feet away.

We're so close together, yet so far apart.

I walk from the beach to the road and back again five times in the next two hours, hoping to see her stopped nearby or driving past, but each time coming up empty. The sixth try looks like it's about to end the same way, but just before I start to walk into the trees I look back over my shoulder and spot a small black Nissan sedan headed my direction, kicking up behind it a cloud of dust from the gravel below. I turn around, walk back toward the road with a jump in my step, and start waving. When Desiree gets close enough I can see that we both have the same huge grin spread across our faces, one that silently screams out the combination of love and happiness and relief that we're back together again.

A minute later the car is parked and she's standing in front of me and I hug her and squeeze as hard as I can. She lets out a funny-sounding noise as all of the air shoots from her lungs. Every one of my thoughts and worries and chunks of anxiety about the trip coming to an end go right along with it. I'm home—exactly where I should be.

The bike and all of my gear still lean against the stump of the tree on the beach, so together we walk back out toward the ocean. She talks about the hours she spent lost taking wrong turns and driving down dead ends on the roads all around us. I tell her about the wonderful things that happened over the last few days of the trip. We take pictures. We laugh. We smile. We're both so happy to have our best friend back.

No more miles.
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We're also cold, with the wind picking up and the thick fog moving in closer and closer around us. From our private spot on the beach I look out into the white with Desiree standing just in front of me.

"This trip was amazing," I tell her. "I accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish, except for one thing.

"And that is to ask you if you will marry me."

As I finish the sentence I drop to one knee, pull from my pocket the ring I've been carrying since Sandpoint, Idaho, and slip it onto her left hand.

Her eyebrows shoot upward and her eyes get big.

Then she says, with great surprise, "Are you serious?"

It's not exactly the response I pictured in my head as I ran through this moment in my head a hundred times over the last two months. But it's great all the same, because I wanted the experience to be unexpected, and in that I succeeded completely.

I smile and nod and tell her that yes, I'm serious.

"Yes, of course!" she says.

And then Hobuck Beach becomes a mess of hugs and kisses, smiles and laughter, tears of joy, and talk of weddings and honeymoons and who we're going to call first.

It's the best day of my life.

It's the best day of our life.

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Our first act as soon-to-be-married people is to divide up all of the crap I've been dragging across America for the last four months and lug everything back down the beach, through the trees, over the dunes, and then cram it all into an undersized trunk and back seat.

And with that, the bike riding and the amazing adventure that surrounded it both come to an end, 6,448 miles and 126 days after they began. I pull out onto the road, drive back to Neah Bay, and then point the car east, headed not only for home, but toward a future that shines more brightly than ever.

Today's ride: 24 miles (39 km)
Total: 6,448 miles (10,377 km)

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