2004 May. Cycling West Coast USA & Canada

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Vancouver waterfront and terminal for the ferry to Nanaimo, Vancouver Island.

I slept a record 10 hours, off and on, of my flight to San Fransisco only waking half an hour before we landed. Having to then go and pickup a super large box containing my bike is the difficult task. Lugging the unyielding box around the airport when bikes are meant to roll supporting themselves. I know it’s worth the effort for the freedom it gives me but I’m not at my best today. The rest of the day was taken up with waiting for my flight to Portland. Then finally a wait of another few hours for a bus to Astoria. It’s a small seaside town on the Columbia river and still a very active port. I was completely buggered by the time the bus pulled into Astoria I was slumped against the bus glass sound asleep, face squished and probably dribbling.

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Portland, Oregon I saw many people sleeping rough in the parks here.

Found a cheap hotel, it must have been cheap as all the cheapies are run by Indians (not the local variety) and they all want to talk cricket… I wandered the Main Street looking for somewhere nice to eat. There was a small restaurant with the chef cooking at a window facing the street. I peered in, he proudly raised the frypan to the glass to show me a sizzling fish. Its called the Silver Salmon Grille. If he is that proud of his cooking count me in. It was a great meal, crab pasta, The rarity was that it was so tasty most meals tend to be simply large or filling. Volume over flavour. There was a large group at the next table celebrating their Army Captain son safely returning from Afghanistan. It had been his second posting. It was a new experience for me to see soldiers with their families after fighting half a world away. I’m certainly aware and understanding of the various world conflicts but Australians and Australia are so remote from most of these life threatening upheavals. He said it was likely that he would return again after some time at home. It had given him a worldly view that none of the others at the table had. Not one of them had ever left the United States. Passports to the outside world are rare here.

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You’ve gotta love small town USA Dr Pierces medical discovery for weak women.

I’m winding my way on the back roads from Astoria, Oregon towards Seattle, Washington. Todays town is Elma, they have a quaint little library and it is very small town USA. Again I have an Indian hotel keeper so I’m not spending too much. They are my budget marker.

Have had my fair share of dog encounters. Two yesterday and today 3 dogs at one farm that made me get off and walk a few 100 metres around them. Even” go home you bad dogs” didn’t stop the shackles on the ringleader. The other interesting bit was the 4wd with the spare tyre swinging off the pivoting tailgate. Unknown to the driver the hinged arm and spare whizzed too damn close for comfort. I have to stay alert.

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My route from Astoria, Oregon to Campbell River Vancouver Island.

For all the dogs it’s the startled deer at the road edge, the eagles souring directly over some oblivious prey and the little chipmunks darting across the road which bring a smile to my face. Spring arrived today after I spent 50 klms in pissing rain yesterday shivering wildly and wondering why. The forecast for the next few days is good, if only I can do something about the wind, but that was mainly my choice of Mexican last night. Well I was near the volcano at Mt St Helen which blew 24 years ago tomorrow and I thought how better to celebrate an eruption ! The scenery I’m riding through is simply breathtaking and the route like I experienced some years ago on the East coast is a pleasure for cycling but there are plenty of hills. Twice today I had to walk up them, gulp.

Have met a few interesting people along the way, but I tend to spend the majority of my day thinking of things I need to do at home or simply day dreaming. It is a luxury I get little time for at home. The army captain in Astoria would have had Jane’s hair on end as he talked of going back to Afghanistan to ” renegotiate” with the Taliban. Or Gerry (from Miami) who was away for the weekend with Carol from his office for quote” A little fun” I was just sitting waiting for my little ferry across a river, simply minding my own business when Gerry sided up next to me and blurted that lot out. Maybe I was the only one he could boast his conquest to? Carol would have thrown the keys of the hire car in the river if she had heard all this.

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Waiting for my ferry when along comes boastful Gerry to tell me of his office conquest ?

Well I got to Vancouver on Thursday arvo after failing to catch a friend of a friend so decided to jump a ferry straight across to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. It’s a much friendlier place than I found the big city of Vancouver to be. I live in a big city so I crave a slower lifestyle. Unfortunately something I ate didn’t agree with me there and I ended up with some sort of stomach bug. It left me absolutely exhausted for a day and a bit. I left my Motel on Friday morning in a sickly sweat and started peddling my planned 85 Klms feeling terrible. I only just got there and collapsed into the first motel I saw in Port Alberni. The following morning I was still washed out and had no alternative but to draw the curtains and sleep the whole day away. The next morning my body was so weak I got the bus across the mountain range and rode the final 45klms into Tofino. What a beautiful cruisy coastal town on the West coast. I saw my first black bear cub whilst peering out of the bus. Thankfully, I hadn’t come across momma bear fresh from the big winter sleep on my bike, evidently they are very hungry first up. I’m finally starting to regain my strength and will have my first meal tonight, hopefully it stays down. Tomorrow I’m Terry the tourist. I’m planning to do the big day trip of whale watching, hot springs swimming, looking at the locals, probably more whale watching and bear huntin’ (no guns) all for 95 bucks plus taxes. Can’t put a true price on a good time, hey?  Sat on the beach this afternoon in sunny but cool weather watching the locals surfing in very good waves. I will never complain about the water temperature at home again, the water was bitter. They surf in full steamers with thick rubber divers hats on!

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The driftwood was stacked a couple of metres high at Pacific Rim National Park

It’s a long weekend here. yeah, I’ll travel the world for long weekend! There are quite a few people about in their 4 wheel drives and campers doing the big ‘Wally’s on tour’ thing that we joke about at home. Loud shirt, funny shorts with funnier legs poking out the bottom and socks that go with nothing on this earth. Did I mention the hat ?

Had just the best day yesterday. Breakfast with a nice couple from Victoria,
Vancouver Island before heading out on a rubber zodiac. I spotted a bear and cub and became the hero of the boat, well with the 2 Chinese families that said “You have very good eyes….” The black bear was lifting rocks searching for crabs whilst junior practised his climbing. Later in the summer they convert to eating berries and are much harder to see from the water. Crab and berry diet, doesn’t seem like much ? No wonder they sleep for 3-4 months.
On to the hot springs where a fault in the earth has hot 40c water bubbling up through a crack in the rock to form a small stream near the ocean. The excited group stripped to their batters and skidded over the rocks into the ocean. One minute you were in bath water temperatures, the next icy cold as you hit the ocean water temperature seeping through the torrent of warm spring water you’d landed in.

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A very large sea eagle had a pirate’s view of the water below.

We saw eagles, sea lions and grey whales. One whale showed most of its body above the water and hopefully I got a shot of more than a great expanse of water…. The two Chinese families on board were very excited as they had been on this tour previously and had seen no bears or whales, how do you say pissed off in Chinese? You are very lucky they said, I know… am I ? I’m back on the bike later this morning for the last few days before I head to Seattle and finally home. It’s been a great holiday, my body feels alive but my backside still feels neither alive nor part of me.

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Dodie who cared for me and explained Canadian ways in Courteney Vancouver Island.

I leave here in a few days to head back to the east coast and a visit to aunt Dodie in Courtney on the East coast before catching the train down to Victoria (all Victorians would have to go there wouldn’t they?) Then it’s a Ferry across to Seattle, visit the Boeing factory and a long-lost relative (no not Bill Gates unfortunately) and then the plane home.
The bus ride to Victoria was uneventful except for the drunken passenger that sprayed the driver for refusing to stop at a given point along the freeway! Into Victoria, I was one hour late but still got the 7.30pm ferry to Seattle. I stumbled about in the dark, lugging a heavy bike box around until I found a rather suspect hotel for the night. Knowing I would not sleep easily I wandered across the road to a small bar and watched the local team on TV playing baseball. Rather boring after the excitement and brutality of the ice hockey in Canada. I was hooked on ice hockey, this truly physical game, no brutal game and began regularly checking the papers for updates. A few days later it was one all in the National hockey league, Stanley Cup ! Dodie had become very animated as she tried to explain that Tampa Bay, a team from ‘the South’ which did not even get snow was playing against the mighty Calgary Flames. So in comparison to the biffo of ice hockey I’d found the mixture of snail-paced baseball and a couple of large beers enough to prepare me perfectly for a good night’s sleep in a noisy city.

Got out to the Boeing factory in Seattle the next day, it is a huge place. At one stage in history it was the widest span building in the world. It’s still the biggest building by space M3 in the world. I guess when you are trying to build airplanes inside you need plenty of clear space to move, lift and turn the giant sections around. There was around 80 klms of overhead crane rail to lift all the sections, amazing. An interesting day for me as I work for the company in Australia who built the overall structure. The temperature within the building is regulated simply by how much they open and close the external sliding doors such is the expanse of air within.

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inside the massive Boeing factory near Seattle.

I caught up with my ” relative”, a cousin of my Mum in Bellevue late in the afternoon. She is having chemo-therapy and was far from bubbly although she was happy to see and talk to someone about something other than sickness… It was a first-hand look at the American health system and the treatment for a well-known disease, breast cancer  was sending them broke. Australians should appreciative our universal system of free hospital care for all.
United Airlines got me out of Seattle the next day and again I was lucky enough to have an empty seat for the long haul to Sydney. In fact, again  I slept for ten hours and arrived home still feeling like a human being. Not an easy task in such a small space for such a long time.