Washington - Tearing Down the Coast - CycleBlaze


The US custom agent at the Port Angeles ferry dock took a quick look at our parents permission letters and waved us in. We got our bearing and headed out on US highway 101 going west towards the coast.  The road was narrow but in good condition.  The Washington part of Hwy 101 was mostly constructed during WWII, but the paving was not completed until the mid 1950s.  We consoled ourselves that while it wasn't the beginning of 101 it was the northernmost point.  It was late so we rode a few hours and found a county park to sleep in.  A park neighbor came out in the morning to check on us and invited us in for pancakes and bacon.  He wrote an occasional article for the newspaper in the town of Forks.  (Over and over we would viewed as two teenagers doing something worthwhile and an antidote for failing standards of youth in the news of the day.  I think this story of the trouble with “today’s” young people is repeated through all time.)  He took our picture and story and later sent us copies of the article.  We experienced the only rain on the entire journey on the Olympic Peninsula.  Rain by Southern California standards, but in the Olympic rain forests it was just a heavy mist.  You can't ride very well in wet Levis, and our rain ponchos were like wearing a parachutes.  We were brave and rode on in only our shorts and short sleeve shirts.  The So Cal kids were cold but riding towards the Sun.  Our elapsed time in Washington State was less than thirty hours.  That is not road time, but the total time in the state from when we got off the ferry in Port Angeles until we boarded the ferry at the Columbia River crossing over to Astoria, Oregon.

Our first full day of riding was also our longest for the entire trip, approximately 300 kilometers.  I think we were too cold to stop along the way. (All distances are approximate.-1)   Our one bicycle computer was a primitive device on Ed's bike that consisted of a mechanical odometer attached to the front quick release skewer, which was actuated by a small stud secured to a spoke, which struck a cog with each revolution of the wheel. There was no adjusting for tire or rim size.  It wouldn't work when we speed down long grades and we did speed.   And it had to be carefully adjusted every time the wheel came off or it would skip clicks all the time.  With all the flats our wheels came off a frequently.  Our only maps were the American Automobile Association, AAA, "Triptiks".  They were narrow strip maps, like a primitive version of the Adventure Cycling Association route maps, but for automobiles.  It showed AAA approved motels and restaurants, which we never used, and little else of any use to us like information where Hwy 101 became a freeway and prohibited bicycles and alternate routes around them.  Every fifty miles we would toss one page away.

The Sun broke through before noon, but it was still cool by our standards although some locals were complaining of the heat.  We were in really good shape for riding the first forty or fifty miles we had practiced for.  After that pain started to set in.  I had broken my shoulder a few year earlier and muscle spasms started to appear in the affected area, the neck pain would become intense.  The Brooks saddles that have such a religious following today on the bike forums were a pain in the butt.  I had spent nearly a year breaking mine in with every known leather conditioner rubbed into it, wet rags soaked in conditioner tied on at night, light persuasion with a ball peen hammer and various incantation the saddle spirits.  It did become comfortable about midway through the ride.  I would never get another.  The shoulder pain worked its way out and has never returned to this day.

The worst problem was with my bike shoes.  The cleats weren't aligned properly and they were killing my ankles and knees.  We found a cobbler in Aberdeen who said they couldn't be taken off without destroying the shoes.  

The bike shoe technology was of the Jacques Anquetil's days.  They were black leather uppers and leather soles with a spring steel plate in the mid-sole for extra stiffness.  There was no adjustment to the cleat after they were nailed into the shoe.  Yes, nailed into the sole.  There was zero float or lateral movement while strapped into the pedals.  They were either correct or horribly wrong.  You rode with your shoes for a week or two without the cleats to mark the soles for the cleat placement.  I did all of that but the cobbler just made a mistake.  I finally pried and pulled the cleats and nails out myself, and rode without cleats, which slowed me down a bit especially on the hills, but I stopped hurting.

For those who have only used SPD, Look or other clipless pedals or no cleats at all a brief aside is necessary to inform you of the perils and heart stopping thrills you missed out on.  When you pulled the pedal straps down tight around your shoes, you could not get your feet off of the pedals.  This pedal system was derisively called “rat traps”. In town and slow traffic you left the straps loose enough to pop free in an emergency, but on the road they were pulled down tight.  During an emergency stop one hand was on a brake and the other instinctively reached down to loosen a strap.  Riding with a buddy gave you a post to mutually lean against at stoplights.  Light poles, stop signs, parking meters, parked cars, stopped cars, buses and trucks were all fair balance posts if you were strapped in.  And every so often you would stop strapped in with no post or support available and if conditions were right you could jockey your balance with the brakes locked until you could start riding again.  Jockeying was nearly impossible with touring gear so we both fell over more than once.

With all the retro craze for lugged "steel" bikes, Brooks leather saddles, bar end and downtube friction shifter and the like, I have heard no one speaking out for the return of strap/clipped in cleats.

Riding down the coast well into Northern California we were serenaded with a steady whine of chainsaws in the distance.  Log trucks would pass continuously, loaded down with the fallen giants felled by the saws.  But along Hwy 101 in Washington the big trees came right up to the shoulders of the road.  When we stopped I would look to see where the cutting was being done, but the forest was too dense for my eyes to penetrate.  At one dirt road where loaded and unloaded log trucks were coming and going we cautiously rode in about a quarter of a mile. Oh-my-God, there was a wasteland of stumps for as far as the eye could see only interrupted by abandoned giants that split down the center on impact with the earth.  Seemed we were the only who heard the screams of these noble giants being felled.

A some years ago, maybe 2005, I drove this length of Hwy 101 in Washington State.  As I drove south I was looking for that spot we had stopped forty plus year ago.  The Weyerhaeuser Corporation puts green signs up declaring what years they have "harvested" and "reforested" with their monocrops of Douglas fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii.  There it was "Harvested 1963" . . . with a succession of plantings to the current crop of scrublings-2 planted in 2002.  "Weyerhaeuser releases the potential in trees to solve important problems for people and the planet."  I think it can be safely said, that they cannot see the forest ecosystem for the timber.

When we were riding on a relatively flat stretch on the Washington coast though what was still "original stand trees." ("Old growth forest" was not a term in use at the time.)  a log truck loaded with some big logs pulled slowly out onto 101.  Ed pulled within two or three feet of the freshly cut logs hanging off the end of the trailer.  We had a lot of gears like the trucks and he shifted his way up drafting the truck and held his place until he was out of my sight.  He was going fifty plus mph in the slipstream.  I gave a sigh, this would be a long, long journey if Ed kept up these antics all the way to Mexico.  When I finally caught up with him he was on the side of the road picking chunks of bark and splinters off his body and clothes and spitting them out of his mouth.  I had to laugh, but he replied he had experience worse, much worse.  Near San Diego he had drafted a trailer truck hauling dairy cows.  You have to imagine the rest!  We didn't draft log trucks again.-3

-1) I retraced our route using Google Maps as best my memory and the changes in the highways permit.  Google calculates the distance at 1753 miles.  Ed's odometer put our ride at a little over 1670 miles.  I rounded the total miles to 1,700 and it should only be considered an approximate distance.  When Ed's odometer would stop working at high speeds we would guess at how long the down hills were so there is no claim for either precision or accuracy.

-2) The trees get smaller as the forest soil and ecology is depleted in successive crops of trees.

-3) My chief editor, my ten-year-old grandson, Louie, asked me for the detailed particulars of drafting techniques.  For reasons to do with both safety and liability I choose not to go into any detailed description of les techniques sucer les roués here.  If you have seen the movie "Breaking Away" then you have a general idea of what I am describing (go to 2.20 of the trailer. Search You Tube if you want to see drafting for real.).  But let me state emphatically it is extremely dangerous and makes many of the extreme sports of today pale in comparison.  Do not try it without parental permission and a bit divine intervention.

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