August 8: Port Townsend to Port Angeles, Washington - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

August 8: Port Townsend to Port Angeles, Washington

THERE ARE TIMES when my faith in Italians feels misplaced. And when my faith in human kindness blossoms.

The second was also the feeling of two riders from Sydney, encountered under a makeshift rain shelter, drinking wine from plastic mugs. They had that gentle mocking yet at the same time self-deprecatory humour common to Australians (aware they are descended from horse thieves) and Brits (aware that little has gone right for the country since Queen Victoria).

"We spend all day taking the piss out of America," Russ said, "and then someone will do something extraordinarily kind and we're taking back all we've said and hoping nobody heard us."

Russ and his pal were in their late forties or early fifties. Hard to tell. Russ was the fairer and more talkative. Neither he nor his darker-haired pal had passed close to a razor in several days. They'd flown into Seattle and they were heading north to and around Victoria Island. They were proceeding in gentlemanly steps rather than the spirit of Crocodile Dundee.

"We reckon 80k and we've had a good day," Russ said. The two had already decided wine-drinking at the state campsite could safely continue another day.

This morning we took the road they'll start on tomorrow. There's only one way out of town towards Port Angeles and the ferry and Google's bike maps consider it so dangerous they refuse to plot a route that way. Instead, they prefer unsurfaced tracks that run high into the mountains.

Well, once again, so much for Google. The forbidden road is busy, it's true, but there are wide shoulders. And, more to the point, there are long stretches on the old highway alongside, well surfaced, quiet and leafy and with occasional glimpses over opal, mist-kissed water to distant Canada.

We stopped for a picture and got talking to a couple in their early sixties, a short woman and a man with a long white beard. They were walking a dog a lot smaller than either of them.

"It's a beautiful place to live," said the couple who sold up in California to be there.
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"It's a beautiful place to live," the man said. He pointed to the roof of a small home half hidden in the trees. "We moved here from California and we'd never go back. Way too crowded." He thought and he remembered and he said again: "Way too crowded."

We are struck by the number of people we have met who have fled California, the one state to which everyone hurried only a century and a bit ago. We've come across them ever since Craig and Wanda back in Hitterdal.

The little steep-roofed house down in the trees between the road and the sea would be downsizing for anyone but a boxcar hobo. I bet it wasn't cheap, though. This whole area seems populated by affluent hippies - people who can afford to live among trees with views of water and hills. They dress in shabby brown waterproofs as wash their hair in the rain. They look as though they tend goats. And then they drive into town in a car as large as a milking shed.

I admired the man's beard. He'd had it for 15 years, he said.

"Funny thing is," his wife said, "that we found pictures of his ancestors when they came over from England, and not only did the men all have beards just like that but they all had the same split into two at the bottom."

The man tugged at the separate strands at the bottom of his beard, two fingers' width apart. "Won't grow any more than that," he said.

We all seemed agreed that the road we were travelling was destined to be a bike route from Port Townsend to Port Angeles. The surface was too good to be otherwise and a bridge across a dry river had been renovated beyond the call of duty. We spotted other lengths of smooth trail further back. The only things missing were the signs. So much for Google.

There actually is a bike path from the Indian reservation just down the road all the way to the ferry port for Canada. The start is marked by the largest collection of totem poles that a man might wish, not to celebrate passing cyclists but because this is the centre of the reservation and Indian life.

I had never given any thought to Indian languages except to smile at those Americans who object to Mexican immigrants speaking only Spanish while their own forefathers in the New World spoke English rather than learn Sioux or Arapahoe. I had never considered, for instance, whether Indian languages are written with the 26 characters of English. There's no reason they should be and, the languages being far older, much reason they shouldn't. It's just that in south-west France we rarely reflect on such matters.

Now I know: Indian languages don't have to use western characters.
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Well, the answer is that some characters are familiar to English and quite a few aren't. It is beyond this computer to produce the Indian letters and so I'll have to rely on a photo.

Band, or tribe, headquarters.
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The bike route is a mixture of new path, quiet road, short stretches on gravel and a lot of hard but bumpy surface. It was on one of the smoothest stretches that I heard a wallop from my back wheel. We were passing through the camp site at which we would have stayed had we not cut our journey short yesterday. For the third time, I thought, a nipple had failed. I haven't yet broken a spoke and, when I looked at the wheel, I still hadn't. Instead, a section of flange the length of your thumb nail had snapped off the hub, taking two spokes with it.

Now, this is among a cyclist's more taxing problems. A spoke can be replaced: a broken hub is another pair of sleeves, as they say in French. The wheel still went round, after I'd slackened the brake, but there were two problems ahead. The more immediate was that it would take only one of the remaining 34 spokes to snap and the wheel would no longer turn at all. And, being on a bike path and away from a busy road, there was precious chance of getting a lift into town.

The second problem was how, on a Sunday, to get a new Campagnolo hub in a land dedicated to Shimano. The two aren't interchangeable. More reason to change, reluctantly, from Italian to Japanese. I have ridden Campagnolo since my teenage years, when it was the equipment of the gods. And, when I thought about it, I realised that I had bought this particular hub more than 20 years ago and that it had been secondhand even then. Does nothing last?

I cursed that bike path and every one of its bumps and pointless hills, and every single extra kilometre it took us. My grumpiness gave Steph every reason to divorce me. The only reason she didn't was that she has a sweet nature and has lived for so long with a gloomy, despairing husband that she'd now miss me terribly.

Oh, if only those birds realised the problems we cyclists face...
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Well, the wheel held up better that I thought and eventually we rode into Port Angeles on a former train track, now for the most part superbly paved, beside grey driftwood and quarrelling seagulls.

Will our silver-haired hero escape this predicament and ride another day? Another exciting instalment follows.

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