August 1: Port Townsend to Port Gamble, Washington - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

August 1: Port Townsend to Port Gamble, Washington

Bill Turner: "I love Russia and I hate it."
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"I HATE RUSSIA... AND I LOVE IT." Bill thought for the right words. "I lived there for six years and I still work with Russians and I go there regularly. And the Russian character is like Russian novels: all elation one moment and gloom the next."

Bill Turner is a slim, youthful man in glasses. He has the build of a climber who bowls up mountains and can't see why others find that vexing. He works in the fish industry, an intermediary between Russian trawler fleets and fish processing companies and the companies in the west they want to interest.

"In some ways," he says, "they are still in the communist era. They could produce quality but they don't know how because the system never asked them to do more than match their quota." For a long time it was difficult to get to Vladivostok, where he worked. There was one flight a blue moon from the USA and every time he returned the border officials mysteriously asked "When was the last time you were in Alabama?"

"I used to say I had never been to Alabama and they looked at me suspiciously but just let me in. Then next time, they'd ask me the same question again."

The easiest way to get to Vladivostok was from Japan, the nearest land mass outside the USSR. He lived there and set up an office and married a Japanese girl. When they returned to the USA, they kept all the best of Japanese life, "and if you came to our house now you'd think you were in Japan."

We had been riding for an hour or two this morning when Bill arrived from the opposite direction to greet us with a quiet "Bonjour!" He had ridden from Bainbridge Island, where he lives and works - with offices in Russia and Korea and an apartment in Tokyo - and collected us along the way.

We rode endless hills together, each of which Bill swore would be the last, then crossed the teeming floating bridge over the Hood Canal (which isn't a canal at all but an inlet). We holed up for a second breakfast in Port Gamble, a stylish tourist village where a shivering bride and her groom were posing for photographs.

"Why was there so much traffic on the bridge?" Steph asked. Especially after there had been so little before it, before the junction with the larger road that led to the crossing.

"Because this is a big naval area. The bridge opens to let shipping through. There's an agreement with the Russians that our submarines will spend a certain time on the surface, so they come through with their escort vessels and the bridge must have been open."

I conjured up images of submarines sailing under the bridge, silent and invisible, in the way the Germans tried and sometimes did to attack the Royal Navy at Scapa Flow in the north of Scotland. Would that fool the Kremlin and would it placate thousands of drivers?

There were cyclists a-gogo today as we rode up and down wooded hills which are a staple of all that remains of a logging industry. Otherwise there is little employment and most of the people who live in the area are retired and rich. The effect is to turn the place into a silver-haired bohemian circle, with coffee shops, embroidery circles and antiques dealers. Younger people were casually dressed in a way that takes a lot of money to achieve. Shops advertised half a dozen varieties of specialist coffees and expensive chocolate in small packets.

Rick May, once my editor at The Mountaineers, then in the pay of Bill Gates, now an Irish fiddler. A man of talents.
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Our day ended with a reunion. Years ago, when men still wore raincoats and lifted their hats to women, I wrote a guidebook to cycling in England. It was published by a company in Seattle with the appealing name of The Mountaineers. They still send me welcome but noticeably small cheques. Right back then I struck up an e-mail friendship with an editor called Rick May, whose other jobs had included being a police dispatcher. He went from The Mountaineers to Microsoft, did what most people did and overheated, and cashed in his life to try his luck as a musician - a talented player of fiddle and whistle in Irish bands - and to make coffee in a wood cabin where seabirds wheel.

Rick rents his home from the couple next door, who are also cyclists. So, it seemed, was everybody who called by. There were bikes everywhere. It was good to see Rick again and to know he had fallen into good company!

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