July 29: Sedro-Woolley to Anacortes, Washington - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

July 29: Sedro-Woolley to Anacortes, Washington

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I don't know much about Lewis and Clark but it does seem that neither of them could spell. So that was how old Bill Clark wrote it in his diary. To be truthful, we haven't actually seen the ocean. There have been no garlanded girls swaying on the beach in little but grass skirts. But the water is salty and, to anyone prepared to dodge about inconvenient islands, would lead to open seas and islands with coconut trees.

Our first sight came as we crested the hill that drops into Bay View. There was a smug satisfaction that this time I have ridden across America, or most of it, without wearing anything out or breaking it. There is still a month to this ride so there's not the significance to Anacortes that there would be to a cross-country rider who called it a day here. But it's nice to be this far unscathed at my third attempt. It helps to have Steph as my nurse, in the way old codgers are allowed into the outside world provided they have a young and pretty assistant at the handles of their wheelchair.

It could have been a more glorious. For a start, the sun could have shone. We left Sedro-Woolley and its strange occupants in slow rain and light mist. I suppose cloud had descended on the place. Nobody had predicted rain and yet here it had plopped on the tent from before dawn. We set off in Irish or British air, soft and light-absorbing and humid enough that the horizon dissolved into greyness within stone-throwing distance.

There were 50km to the coast and the fourth landmark of the journey - after the Great Lakes, the Mississippi and the Rockies - in precisely 7,264km since Montreal and French-speaking Canada. Just one hill troubled us. It took us to the ridge from which we dropped to Bay View. There's barely anything or anybody there - the population is 350 - but there at the foot of Josh Wilson Road was the dull glimmer of our first saline water since the St Laurence.

Our route turned left and then right on the Padilla Bay shore trail. It is a bike and foot path beside salt marshes and the strange, rotten, ghastly shapes of fallen shed and boat timbers soaked by f tides. Seagulls flew, mud lay sullen and opaque, and white smoke rose from an oil refinery across the waters.

The trouble was that whoever administers this path has been so determined to exclude motorbikes and whatever else he wanted to exclude that he has made it almost impossible for touring cyclistshrough. There are two metal barriers set parallel, less than a handlebar's width apart, at 90 degrees to the road. Entry is by squeezing between these rails, which are the length of a bicycle. No other way is possible because the gates to each side are locked.

Many locals wouldn't be able to walk through here, let alone push a loaded bike.
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A mountain bike with high handlebars would pass unhindered. That is what planners assume most people ride. I am 1m 86 and my handlebars are high enough to pass over the rails. But Steph is 1m 64 and her bars are lower and neither they, nor the back bags on either bike, would go through. The only solution: lift the bikes to waist height, not easy when you think of the weight, and heave them over. Since the bars are set so close, that takes one person at the back of the bike and the other at the front. Anyone not strong enough to lift a loaded bike would have to take off the bags and do the journey in stages.

"There'd be many Americans," Steph observed, "who wouldn't be able to walk through a space that narrow, let alone get a bike through."

I feel a letter to the mayor coming on.

This is a land of contrasts and so after the peace of the shore path came the noise of RVs racing each other along Route 20 to the ferry port at Anacortes. At one point the road and its wide but unpleasant shoulder climb a long bridge. It is here that I record my gratitude to Skagit Bicycle Club, who are advertised as maintaining the separated bike path that provides safety and relief over the heights.

Across the water on an old railway bridge into Anacortes.
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And then just one more surprise: an old wooden railway bridge, maybe 1,500m long, that crosses the bay that almost turns Anacortes into an island. I haven't got to the bottom of this but a man once dreamed of running a narrow-gauge railway from downtown Anacortes, out over the bridge and on to who knows where. Or, at any rate, one of the many delightful murals in Anacortes that portrays former citizens shows Tommy Thompson and his wife standing in front of a train, and the trail over the bridge shares his name. The track was laid -for we have seen it - and the trains ran, but seemingly not over the bridge. Shame.

Anacortes is important in the canned fish business. Its street bins look all the better for celebrating the link.
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Anacortes is a lovely town, bright, lively, not at all the gloomy, rundown place so often familiar at docksides. There is the usual dreary run-in through neon and stainless steel, the shedland that is home to one half-useful retailer after another, but that has preserved the dignity and grace of the central area. We like it here and we plan to spend a further day.

AMERICAN FLAGS SEEN: 39 (and at this point I stop counting, satisfied that I have done my job)

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