Monday 8 July 2013

A Week in America


Current Location: Astoria, Oregon, United States
Distance Cycled:12,957 km
Snakes Alive in North America 2; Snakes Dead 15
Punctures in North America: One
Best Overheard Quote: “They tried to give me a pink tag for my tent. I said, ‘no way, you never saw John Wayne with a pink tag on his tent.’ They gave me a green one.”

A Week in America

Frank astride his Russian built Ural
 motorcycle with sidecar. There's a
good reason why Americans believe
 in gun ownership, he said.
“Judge America by its people, not by its politicians,” Frank said.  It was exactly what we had been doing all week - participating in one of our favourite pastimes, people watching and better still, people listening.

Frank was getting on, but his mind was alert and it was clear he had some firmly held views. America’s health system was not as bad as the “liberal press” made out, but education was a problem. Kids were taught what to think, not how to think.
He believed all politicians were corrupt and put their own interests ahead of their constituents. Armed revolt was the only hope - that’s why Americans believed in everyone’s right to own a gun. They wouldn’t be afraid to use them when the time came.

Friendly Folk

Frank is just one of dozens of people we’ve met during the past week, and in the comfortable Pacific North West we have found them unerringly friendly – even if we have found their views extreme on occasion. We have had offers of places to stay, rides for us and our tandem, and today a woman stopped us on the highway and offered us two icecreams from the freezer in the back of her car.

We had a fantastic evening around a campfire at San
 Juan County Park with (L to R) Elizabeth, unidentified
 kayak guide, Eric, Jan and Larry. Missing from the
 picture is Alex who at 24 had cycled across the
 US from east to west.
Some have warned us about out planned route down the Pacific Coast saying southern California is terrible - “not nice people,” one said. “They will steal your stuff,” said another. And a third advised us to go no further than the Oregon/California border - “they’ll throw stones at you.” It’s similar to the advice we have received in other countries, about other places. But we have been surprised at the strength of the feeling people here have about their fellow countrymen south of the California border.

A Failing Country

Sign outside Satsop
Elementary School -
a small town best
 known for its defunct
nuclear power station.
Logging versus protecting the
 Different country - same issue.

We had no real idea what to expect in the USA as neither of us have travelled much here. Would we find the United States that writer John Steinbeck warned about in a letter in 1960, “Having too many THINGS, (Americans) spend their hours and money on the couch searching for a soul. A strange species we are. We can stand anything God and Nature throw at us save only plenty. If I wanted to destroy a nation, I would give it too much and I would have it on its knees, miserable, greedy and sick.”
And the other side of the logging
 argument. The road sign says, "Dead End".

Certainly there are signs of excess - we are overtaken daily by dozens of enormous Recreational Vehicles, often towing 4 wheel drives stacked with bikes on the back. Do people really need all this junk to go on holiday? And if it’s not RVs, it’s V8 trucks sucking up the earth’s oil with no regard for the future. Or Harley Davidson motorcycles that are nothing more than status symbols.
Many people are overweight – shockingly so, suggesting that Steinbeck’s notion of “plenty” is true when it comes to the amount of food they eat, even here in the relatively health conscious North West.
The cooling towers of the
 decommissioned nuclear
 power plant at Satsop.

Helluva threat

That said, we can safely say that most of the Americans we have met have not been the stereotypes. They have been neither loud, nor arrogant, nor insensitive to others’ feelings. On the contrary, they are often exceedingly polite. And some are remarkably well informed about events outside their own country. It’s a relief.

This rather strange looking pocket cruiser is designed by  New Zealander John Welsford. It was being built at the boat building school at Port Townsend and was within days of launching. Port Townsend is a thriving centre for anything to do with wooden boats - building them, restoring them etc and it was good to see the interest being shown in the Kiwi designer's work. We have a special interest in Welsford's boats having owned one of his Navigator designs - "Waiata".
Graves at the site of the English Camp
 on San Juan Island. For 12 years
 1859 the English and Americans faced
 off against each other during the
 "Pig War". The only war casualty was
 the pig. Most of these men

Perhaps one event has summed up the week for us more than any other. It was a concert in Port Townsend by a group of women singer/songwriters who had been taking workshops for a week helping an up-and-coming generation to find their own voices.

Yvette Landry - singing songs of
cheating men and revengeful women.
The music was true Americana - a kind of folk music that was rooted in the past but filled with themes that are ageless - of love lost and won, of cheating men and revengeful women. It was sung with heartfelt honesty and afterwards we both admitted that a couple of the songs had brought tears to our eyes.
But more importantly, they showed that America’s past is not dead. These women were taking the musical traditions and instruments (including fiddle and dobro) of the past and using them to tell their own stories of the present. Given the enthusiasm of the audience there is nothing to suggest this music will lose its place in the future.
It was an uplifting and moving experience and maybe, just maybe, Steinbeck should not have worried quite so much.

Judy the Stoker's Quotable Quotes:

Cycling along Willapa Bay, Judy: “This
 is amazing. A flat road, a tail wind
 and the sea. Pinch me. This isn’t
 the Mae Hong Son Loop (in Thailand).”

On seeing a young man wearing a T-shirt which read, “I sometimes fart in your general direction.” The Stoker’s reaction, “I like your T shirt. I’m glad I’m upwind of you.”

On getting into the tent on a chilly night. Mike: “Can I warm my feet on you?”
Mike: “Why not? I’d let you.”
Judy: “My feet are smaller. Yours are like frogs’ plates.”
Mike: “What on earth are frogs’ plates?”
Judy: ”They are cold like frogs and big as plates.”

Quotable Quote: Mike the Captain

“I really must get out of these lycra cycle shorts. They’re like making homebrew. After a while things begin to ferment.”

Judy throws out her Thermarest camp
 mattress. It had served her faithfully
 for 20 years but this time the
 hole leaking
 air was unfixable. It's been replaced with
 a new one that provides much better
 insulation from the cold seeping up from
the ground.

And out goes Mike's cycling shirt
 - so faded he couldn't bring himself to wear
 it any more.


  1. Coming to America to fill our garbage containers? We are anxious to see you! Keep finding wonderful people, they are everywhere. Mostly they are reflections of what they are seeing in you.
    Barb & Chuck

  2. Hi Barb and Chuck, If we tossed in all our gear including the bike we wouldn't fill one of those garbage containers. And just think of all the money we are spending to boost the local economy.
    Lovely to hear from you, and hope we can catch up in person down the line. Kind regards, M & J


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