July 31: Anacortes to Port Townsend, Washington - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

July 31: Anacortes to Port Townsend, Washington

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DO YOU THINK sometimes some unseen brain thinks too little has happened? Too little that is strange, disturbing or painful?

Today was one of those days. It started with having to ride faster than a running race to get over the bridge which brought us into Anacortes the day before yesterday. The runners had it from 9.00, pounding their plimsolls as fast as their feet could take them. They'd run along the bike path, which isn't the end of the world because we could take the accompanying road, but then they'd cross the estuary by bridge. And runners go pretty fast. I know that because in my days with the BBC I once had to ride alongside a half-marathon, a heavy tape recorder across my shoulder and a microphone in one hand. I thought I'd ride gently and conduct a civilised conversation. Instead I panted harder than the runners, gasping my questions which the runners answered with barely a faltered step.

So we rode as fast as tired legs would take us - and we are surprisingly tired after crossing the mountains in that heatwave - and we held them off. That was excitement enough. But it wasn't to be. Thinking we could do better than Adventure Cycling, we used the biking part of Google Maps to find an alternative to the busy highway to Deception Pass. Deception Pass, by the way, is water rather than mountain.

Well, Google is good but it is lousy in one specific department. It finds quiet roads but it is blind to hills. Giant, terribly steep hills, one after another. And we struggled and we walked and we groaned and we grunted. The highway, when we reached it again, wasn't wonderful. But it seems that sometimes people who have researched routes for 30 years have a better idea of the way to go than impertinent and light-headed cyclists sitting at public library computers.

Then came the cafe at the top of the hill. It's called - this is a warning to those who follow - the Deception Cafe. Deception is French for disappointment. After 30 minutes and no progress beyond a glass of water, we walked out, undecided whether to be in high or low dudgeon but opting for high because nobody ever seems to be in low.

Just as well we did. There's a hill and then a bridge. Word has it the views are wonderful, out over the water. But nobody could see them because the valley was full of mist. That must have mucked up other people's plans because celebrations were about to start for the 75th anniversary of the bridge's opening. Veteran cars were driving around, warming up for their parade. Orange and white plastic tape was everywhere to keep space free for bigwigs and cameramen. And how were they planning to mark the opening, 75 years ago? By closing it, then reopening it three hours later.

There is no other way through. I don't remember seeing warning signs. It was a few degrees above freezing. We'd have had to wait and shiver and listen to speeches before being allowed on our way. We got through by a few moments.

So far, so good. But the weather was cold and foggy. The road was teeming with traffic and the noise was awful. Naval bases were all around and may have added to it, but we were on a small island and there were few ways to cross. For much of the time we bucked up and down through industrial or commercial areas.

When we turned off, the traffic lessened. When we passed the naval base, it lessened more. But the coast is a dreadful, dreadful succession of hills. Down one and then up the next, over and over, on gears lower than we used much of the time in the mountains. The climbs were shorter but they were knee-breakers.

And the cyclists coming the other way were soul-breakers. Happy to see others and to be interrupted in our toil, I swung to the left when half a dozen rode towards us. I smiled, I looked inviting, I looked as though I had had a shower in the last three days. In other words, I wanted to befriend fellow-believers, out here in the Temple of the Open Road.

"Higher Dawn," the first man said. And he rode by. So did all the others, women mainly but also another man, staring in the way cows peer over hedges. There was nothing to do but laugh. Is this the way cyclists, loaded touring cyclists keen to share their world and experiences... is this the way they behave to each other?

The black comedy continued. We were most of the way to the ferry to Port Townsend when there was a thump from my back wheel. A spoke had gone. This time, unlike back several weeks when we struggled on a woman's porch to release the cassette from the wheel, we thought to look first. And again it was the nipple at the rim end that had snapped. The nipple is like an inverted top hat, the hat's rim sitting inside the wheel. That was the part that had snapped. Replacing it would be easy: just lift the rim tape, screw on a new one, tighten the spoke and ride on. Time, therefore, to eat sandwiches before getting our hands dirty.

The bags were off the bike. The bike was upside down. The back wheel was out. There was stuff everywhere. In other words, no clearer distress signal. So strong that a woman in a car stopped to offer help.

"Sure?" she said when we declined. "It'd be no problem."

Then came further proof that Washington cyclists are like nowhere else.

We were into our second sandwich when up the road behind us, pedalling slowly, came a man in a blue tracksuit top. His easy riding style, his bike and the age and style of his clothes showed he was a rider of experience. Experienced enough to recognise distress signals. And what did he do? Or, more precisely, what did he not do? He didn't glance at us, didn't even wish us good morning. When, with heavy irony, we wished him a good morning, he didn't even look back.

A minute later a woman we took to be his wife rode past, in black, more upright, more diffident, less fast. The man was obviously waiting for her as he passed us near the top of a hill.

She did at least acknowledge us. She passed the upside down bike, the loose wheel, the mountain of bags and tools. And she said: "Nice place to have lunch, huh?"

"I think we're in a parallel universe," Steph laughed. The runners on the bridge, the closure of Deception Pass, the unfriendly group that wouldn't stop, the experienced rider who ignored us, the wife who saw nothing but an innocent lunch stop. This was a day like no other.

And it continued that way, but dramatically changing tone. We crossed on the ferry to Port Townsend and there, as we rode on to land, stood a white-haired and bearded man on an electrically-assisted bicycle.

"Mr Woodland, I assume," he said as he stepped towards the road. "I am your welcoming committee." He and Steph had passed without seeing each other.

Neal Fridley is a Crazy Guy who lives in Port Angeles, a good distance away. He had driven and ridden to meet us and he had waited for three ferries - perhaps four hours - to see which one we would be on. A great guy. We had drinks and a meal together.

It only took being refused at two campgrounds and camping in a third without the owner's knowledge, such was our desperation as night fell, for a very strange day to be complete.

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