it begins... - Seattle towards Minnesota - CycleBlaze

July 23, 2007

it begins...

I woke up, showered, and loaded the bike and gear into the truck. By the time we left it was 11:00. My plan was to pick up the Adventure Cycling Association route in Sedro-Woolley. That would get me away from the traffic of the Seattle area. Rob drove me to Sedro-Woolley, but because of a wreck on the freeway it took five hours. The traffic was horrible. 

He dropped me off by the city limit sign and, after a quick picture, he took off back home. I'm really appreciative that he was able to do this. He leaves tomorrow morning for several months, and today is his last day to spend with his family. After he left I strapped my gear to the bike and rode to Subway.

You want to know what it's like to do a bike trip? At this point, there's a knot in my stomach. I've been training for months. A lot of preparation has gone into this trip. The first thing you do to get ready for a trip is decide to do it. After you decide, the trip takes on a life of its own and starts picking up momentum. It culminates in this point, straddling your bicycle right before you ride your first mile, when this thought slaps you in the face: 


Once I started rolling, once the trip was actually underway, I remember how FUN these trips are. My pedaling was fueled by excitement for the rest of the day.

Because it was so late (4:30), I considered camping in Sedro-Woolley until I looked at the map and saw I could at least put in a few miles before dark.

It was incredibly humid, but not hot. It was so humid, in fact, that my shirt was soaked. It looked like I had walked through the shower. After half an hour or so I thought it might be lightly sprinkling but couldn't be sure. Maybe it was just the humidity dripping off the leaves. After another half hour I saw that it was sprinkling, but very lightly. I was already wet and it wasn't making me any wetter. A little later I noticed that I was actually riding through a light shower. It was the most insidious rain I've ever experienced. I got a bug in the right eye, then one in the left eye ten minutes later, so I put on my glasses. They have interchangeable lenses: dark for sunny days, amber for dusk, and clear for rain or night. I put on the clear lenses, but they kept fogging up so I had to look over the top of them, but at least there weren't any more bugs.

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The scenery was quite beautiful. Everything was lush and there were low-hanging clouds hugging the mountainside. My route took me alongside the Skagit river and in many places the mist rose and swirled on the river. The movements looked alive, sometimes even purposeful, and I can see how ancient, superstitious people would attach meaning to them.

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When I arrived in Concrete (pop. 790) I tried to decide whether to camp or not. The thing about decisions like this is that when they're made at the end of the day there are so many reasons to get a hotel. I have a long list from which I select a few at random:
* I'd really like to sleep in a real bed tonight.
* I rode XX number of miles today!
* I DESERVE to stay in a motel.
* A hotel will fit in my budget, especially since I didn't spend much on breakfast or lunch.
* It's raining.
* I need to be well-rested.

Tonight, I used every one of them, including a new one. I noticed these words in capitals on my map: ''IT IS 109 MILES BETWEEN CONCRETE AND WINTHROP. SERVICES ARE VERY LIMITED. CARRY EXTRA FOOD AND WATER BETWEEN THESE TOWNS." Thus, I added a new excuse to my list:

* I KNOW I'm going to be camping tomorrow, so I should get one tonight.

When I arrived in downtown Concrete I asked two local women where the hotel was. They were sitting outside smoking under an awning. Both were in their forties and had the type of haircut you see on a lot of small town women:  long in the back with bangs in the front, but not a mullet. I was told there were two places. The first is back the way I came and "is a little spendy." (I thought that term was local to the Midwest, but apparently not)

The other motel is the Eagle's Nest, just around the corner and more reasonably priced. I asked about good places to eat in town then rode to the motel.

In spite of ''The List" I don't actually decide to get a motel until I see the price. Sometimes I'll even set a limit before I ask, saying, for example, "if it's less than $40.00 THEN I'll get one." (or 50.00 or 60.00, depending on where I am) The Eagle's Nest cost $45.00 for a double.

After I told the lady at the motel I wanted a room I was courteously informed that they only take cash. I brought $400.00 worth of traveler's checks but had hoped to be able to use my credit card for most of my purchases. The hotel will consume an eighth of all my cash on the first night.  Oh, well.... 

When I got them out of the front pocket of my handlebar bag, only then did I notice how wet they were. When I say "wet," I mean that there was water dripping off them. The paper envelope they were in simply fell apart, and for a moment I wondered if I might be camping on the side of the road after all. The checks themselves were soaked and stuck together, but I managed to peel the top two off and sign them without ripping them with the point of the pen. I also gave her a ten dollar bill. The manager was almost completely blind and had to ask whether I gave her fifty or a twenty. "Oh, those were both fifties." When I got the change back I thought, "This is better than an ATM." Then I thought, "Damn. I should've said hundreds." (This is the point at which my mother actually pees her pants - of course I'm just kidding, mom. No, really...  heh, heh...  kidding, or course.)

My assigned room was on the second floor.  Normally, I like rooms on the top floors of a hotel. Normally, I'm not riding a bike loaded with gear. I could've asked for a different room but it would've been more trouble than just hauling it up. So, one step at a time, I awkwardly dragged my loaded bike upstairs. Could I have taken everything off the bike and made several trips? Yes, but:
(1) I would've had to leave my bags alone in the breezeway while I was upstairs, and I've heard there are some very unscrupulous characters around here.... you know, the kind who would steal from a blind lady.
(2) When I was standing at the bottom of the steps, soaked and starting to get cold, with a warm, dry room at the top... well, I just wanted to get there.

Once in the room I dried off and began unloading my bike and bags. My rear panniers are water resistant, but not waterproof. What that means is that all my gear will remain absolutely dry unless, of course, it rains. Fortunately, nothing in the rear bags got wet because there was a large, human-shaped figure soaking up most of the rain. Everything in my handlebar bag got really wet, but most of the items were in ziplock bags (with the exception of the checks).

I put on some dry clothes and placed my wet ones near the heater to dry. I REALLY didn't want to get back out in the rain but knew I'd regret it later if I didn't eat, so I put on my rain jacket and rain pants and rode back to the downtown area. Fortunately, it wasn't raining.

Although it had only been an hour since I was last here, both of the restaurants the two women had recommended were closed. In fact, as I continued to look around, ALL of the places to eat were closed.

Then, through the diminishing light I saw a neon sign, and the one place where I might be able to find some food:  The Hub.

Every small town has one - a local bar where everyone drops in to have a drink, play a game of pool, and catch up on the town gossip.

I mentioned in a previous posting that I packed a pair of cargo pants for this trip. What I didn't mention is that when I put them on this evening it seems they might've shrunk some. You can see my ankles. Nor do I recall mentioning that I only have white, ankle-length bicycling socks, or that my bicycling shoes are black. This, along with a long sleeve white T-shirt, is what I was wearing when I entered the bar. Most of the people were gracious enough not to gawk or laugh. For my part, I was also gracious enough not to gawk or laugh at most of the people there.

rockin' the cargo pants
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The Hub has one long, narrow room with an evaporative cooler which kept the place at a comfortable level and provided some white noise for the background. There were also some oscillating fans on stands. The music from the jukebox blasted through some refrigerator-sized speakers hanging from the ceiling. Van Halen's "Jump," and Bon Jovi's "Wanted: Dead or Alive" played, as well as some AC/DC and Tom Petty. There were two pool tables, both of which had games going. The number of people ranged from 15-20 people, and they were all having fun and enjoying themselves. Maybe they weren't laughing at me after all. The kitchen was closed so I order nachos. It was the biggest plate of nachos I've ever seen, and even as hungry as I was, I could only eat about a quarter of it. 

I finished my supper and pedaled back to the motel, then worked on the blog for a while. I was actually a little sore this evening, not too surprising considering I haven't ridden a bicycle in more than a week.

33.28 miles
Max speed 24.3
Average speed 13.0
Time on bike 2:33:36
Cumulative 33.28 miles

Today's ride: 33 miles (53 km)
Total: 33 miles (53 km)

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Jeff LeeI'll be interested to read your accounts of the climb(s) over the mountains the next few days.

I rode the Northern Tier the other direction in 2008, and I camped at the Eagle's Nest on my next-to-last (87th) day:
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