Tuesday 30 July 2013

A Day Lost


The minutes and then the hours tick by ...
Current Location: Eureka, Northern California
Wasted Kilometres Today: 33.8
Total Distance Cycled: 13,958 km

Some days you just shouldn’t get out of bed. We all know that. Today was one of them.

What was meant to be a straight forward 80 km ride to the Redwood “Avenue of the Giants” began to come unhinged before we even left our campsite. We lost a lot of time packing up as I oiled the chain (a job I’d meant to do the previous night) and Judy hung around the women’s “restroom” charging her phone – a necessity as we had just received a welcome email telling us we are going to be joined by American friends we made in Ayuttayah, Thailand. We need the phone to make contact as they close in on us by car.
Victorian style period building in Eureka.
 Once owned by a lumber merchant, it is
 now a gentlemen's club.

Finally charged up and with the bike running smoothly we made a dash to view some of Eureka’s Victorian style period buildings, a town described as one of the prettiest in Northern California. Then it was time for business – stocking up on food and buying a U.S. Sim card for the phone. That’s when the wheels fell off.
Architects' offices

We became lost in Eureka’s confusion of one way systems, speeding traffic and red tape as we tried to buy that Sim card. Verizon suggested a new phone, and U.S. Cellular couldn’t seem to lower themselves to provide something so simple.
Archimedes may have climbed out of his bath and shouted, "Eureka, I have it," but we didn't have that tiny little card. Oh, for the days in S.E. Asia, where the nearest 7/11 would fix us up in five minutes.

Minutes Turn to Hours

We cycled around town becoming increasingly frustrated as the minutes became hours and we could see our 80 km ride stretching out into the evening.

“We’ve never had a day like this,” said Judy the Stoker from the back seat. The cycle computer was clicking up the kilometres but we were going in circles.

Nutters and Dropkicks

To add to our annoyance was a collection of dropkicks, drongos, and half crazed drug and alcohol affected nutters who wandered the streets – the tandem was enough to attract their attention.
“I’ve never seen so many space cadets in one place,” came the back seat commentary as one lurched, dazed and confused towards us. A half metre high, single rope barrier was too much for him and the lights changed in time for us to make our escape.
Another babbled and garbled and waved his fists in the air as we swept by.

PR Role

We gave up trying to find a supermarket in one direction, turned around and finally found another. Judy went in and I took up my pose as public relations officer dealing with tandem security and answering questions from passing shoppers.  Fortunately the questions were slow coming today – I was in no mood for them and maybe it showed - so I was able to turn my attention to people-watching and was inevitably drawn to the size of them. As usual, some were grossly overweight.

Vertical or Prone

One particularly unattractive individual shuffled by, his girth so wide only his head told you he was vertical and not horizontal. He had ugly tattoos on his forearms, some gadget threaded through an ear lobe and he hoicked repeatedly onto the footpath before lighting a fag. He eyed me with suspicion; I eyed him with disgust until eventually he shuffled off out of my sight.
2.50 pm and we make the
decision - we are not leaving

After an eternity, Judy returned having cracked both the food and the Sim card, but there was a delay with the latter and we would have to wait. The minutes ticked by, and I could see darkness beating us to our destination.
Judy disappeared again to finally sort the phone. A man picked his way through a trash can beside me and then went on to the next one.

Cups of bad coffee.
Judy remerged. We bought terrible coffee from a Burger King and as we drank it we decided we couldn’t possibly cycle to our intended destination before dark. The sensible decision was to return to the campsite where we had spent the previous night.

“It’s not the most successful of cycling days,” said Judy in a moment of rare understatement.
At last, Judy makes contact.

Money Please

As consolation, Judy went to buy wine. I went back to my PR role. A man wearing dirty blue jeans and a faded black hoodie with a “Raiders” logo was waving a cardboard sign which read, ”Need Money or Food Please”. Most people ignored him, but eventually a small blue Ford paused for a moment and the driver handed him a note.
It was 3.11 pm. We were going nowhere.
The man made his second approach to me. “Got some money, a few cents?”
A bottle of "Fat Cat" to
help get over the day.
Haight Ashbury may be
long over, but the label
describes the wine and
then in a throwback to
another era concludes,
"Dig That?"
 A response flashed through my mind and was on the tip of my tongue before I knew it.
The mall promised wifi access
 in "every corner."The small
 print added,"coming soon."  

 33.8 km spent going around
in circles.

I was fed up, and I thought of the few people we’d seen begging on the streets of S.E. Asia. Somehow they maintained a kind of dignity about it. Here there were grossly overfed people, as well as desperate people asking for money or food. It was doing my head in. How did you make sense of this? My sympathy level was at a low point but I hesitated. Who was he? Why was he begging? Someone must have loved him once, maybe even now. I didn’t know his background. Maybe there was good reason he had his hand outstretched like that. What terrible things had happened in his past? Was it his fault he was like this? Even if it was, did that make him any less of a human being.
I shrugged and turned away and left unsaid the words crashing around in my skull ...“Do I look as though I’ve got ATM printed on my forehead?”


Wednesday 24 July 2013

Judy's One Pot Primus Pasta


Current Location:Brookings, Southern Oregon, USA
Total Distance: 13,687 Km
Best Sausage Roll Competition: Abandoned due to lack of entries south of the Canadian border.
Backsides: Mike the Captain: 9.0 out of possible 10; Judy the Stoker: 7.5. 

One Pot Primus Pasta

One Pot Primus Pasta


Canola oil (in spray can)
2-3 cloves garlic
2 shallots (or 1 onion)
1 capsicum (green pepper)
1 courgette (zucchini)
1 or 2 tomatoes
1 foil packet or tin of tuna

Yum, burnt toast minus two bites.

To Make

Chop or dice all the vegetables
Spray canola oil in pot, add water and boil enough pasta for two hungry cyclists – drain
Put pasta in two bowls and cover with towel.
In pot, add canola oil and fry onion and shallots, then add capsicum, courgette and  tomatoes. Cook until greens begin to soften. Add tuna and heat through.
Put hot ingredients over the pasta and stir in well.
Top with parmesan if desired and eat with fresh bread and bottle of red wine.

The Joy of Comfort Food

“The coldest winter I ever spent, was a summer in San Francisco.” Mark Twain.
Twain clearly never made it to Brookings, Oregon. It’s summer here, north of San Francisco but a chill wind won’t leave us alone. 
Afternoon near Devils Elbow and it’s hard to tell
 if the fog is coming or going.

The wreck of the Peter Iredale
 at Fort Stevens, Oregon.

It sneaks down our collars as we ride, our hands are always cold even with gloves and we ride with an extra layer on top. On the hills we sweat, on the downhills the sweat chills us until we start to climb again. The only relief is in the afternoons when usually the fog clears, the sun comes out and we find shelter from the wind.
As a result of this weather, suddenly comfort food is in. Pasta, rice, noodles and soup are old favourites, but now we’ve been introduced to a new delight.
Jake from Seattle (honorary member of the “Wild
 Squirrels”), Bruce, 16-year-old Eric, Kelly (recently
 returned from Guatemala), Alan and Mike at Jessie M
Honeyman Memorial State Park.
Among the dozens of cyclists we’ve met recently were Alan and his teenage son Eric – travelling as part of a group of teachers from Victorville, southern California. One evening father and son were tucking into mashed potato with tuna mixed in – we eyed it with envy until eventually Alan presented us with a packet of Idahoian Butter Fried Instant Potatoes. The next evening Judy poured boiling water into the white flakes, added a packet of tuna and a tin of peas - ”covering off three food groups”, she said – and dinner was served. On a cold night it was perfect. 
South of Cannon Beach,
 Northern Oregon

Food is one of the joys of cycling – it doesn’t need to be anything flash, quantity and calories are all that matter.

Notes from the Road

We have been living beside the Pacific for days now – by day we look seawards from vantage points like Cape Foulweather, (named by Captain Cook who sighted it in 1778) where we spotted a grey whale. At night we are lulled to sleep by the sound of the surf.
About to test fly a tiny kite – a perfect
 birthday present for a touring
cyclist who has everything except
 room in his panniers.
These are easy days and we are enjoying them. Our route south down the Pacific Coast Highway remains spectacular and we have plenty of time, which means we can keep our mileages low – our record so far is a daily run of 25 miles or 40 km.
To cap it off we are meeting some wonderful people, and a few dodgy ones including two knife wielding young men from Wyoming.
Art deco bridge at Newport with obelisks –
 trademarks of its architect Conde B.
Campsite at Beachside
 State Park, south of
 Waldport, Oregon.

Cranes in an Oriental
pond at Shore Acres
 Botanical Gardens,
 a property once
owned by lumberman
 and ship builder
 Louis J Simpson.
 We found them sitting on the pavement beside our tandem when we returned from shopping in a supermarket at Waldport. My first concern was the bike, but a surreptitious check revealed everything was at it should be. The pair sitting almost on top of it had some cardboard from a recycling depot and asked if they could borrow “a pin”.

Once we had established it wasn’t a pin but a pen they wanted, we handed one over and one of them laboriously scratched out the words “WE ARE GOOD PEOPLE” on the cardboard. He pulled out a vicious looking, curved knife and cut his placard to the size he wanted while his younger brother did his own sign,”Evrey (sic) $ counts”, his one read after he had asked how to spell the word “count".He too pulled out a knife and when we asked why they carried them they reassured us they would never use them against anyone. “You’re not allowed to carry concealed weapons back in Wyoming”, one said. They were drifting, making a little money by catching crabs on the coast and undercutting the prices charged by the supermarkets. It seemed an aimless life and we weren’t convinced they were the “good people” they claimed to be. We got our pen back, and left.
Adam from Toronto on his recumbent
 Ice Trike – solar panel on his chest.
That encounter was just one of at least three we’ve had with people living on the fringes, and we are not finding anything romantic or adventurous about their lives. These are not the characters of Kerouac’s “On the Road” burning with a passion for life and new experiences. They are lost souls for whom hope of a decent future has vanished.  
 Alongside the campfire at Cape Lookout (L to R) David
 from Sacramento, Mikaelle from Quebec and cycling
 with her father, John from Virginia, Tom from Corpus
 Christie, Texas and Daniel, from Quebec.
Fortunately those encounters have been overshadowed by many others including that one with Alan and Eric of the mashed potato and the others in their group – they called themselves the “Wild Squirrels” and were riding south like us.
Judy, Tom, Adam and John.
We also met Kelly, just back from Guatemala where she worked with the U.S. Peace Corp helping local people grow their own vegetables and improve their diets. She was young and bursting with energy and eventually told us she couldn’t wait until her “sweetie” arrived from Melbourne.
Shirine, a young Canadian just
 after setting out from her
present home in Oregon on
 what she hopes will be a three
 year world tour by bicycle.
We’ve met many other cyclists recently and enjoyed their company, but perhaps none more so than 20-year-old Shirine, cycling the Pacific Coast to test her equipment before setting off on what she hopes will be a three year world tour. We put her in the category of “Most Likely to Succeed”. When we asked her why she was doing it, she said one of the reasons was to try to prove the goodness of humanity and that a young, single woman could cycle all that way without coming to harm. To check out how she’s doing, her blog is at:
Grandiflora – “Tournament of Roses”
 at Shore Acres Botanical Gardens.
Quotable Quote from John, Cyclist from Portland, met at Beachside State Park, Oregon: “Sometimes this feels just one up from being a homeless person.”
John (again), Bart and 13-year-old Eliah
at Sunset Bay State Park.
At Shore Acres Botanical
 Sand dune at Jessie M Honeyman
 Memorial State Park, Oregon.

Time to make ourselves more visible. An
orange pennant goes up on the back of the bike,
 Judy gets a new hi viz vest, and Mike gets
 a helmet mirror.
North Jetty, Columbia River mouth, Cape Disappointment, Washington State.

Monday 8 July 2013

Cycling the Pacific North West

Current Location: Astoria, Oregon, United States

A sinking sun highlights the tent at San
Our campsite on San Juan
For sunset junkies or members of the
 Cloud Appreciation Society.
Blue, blue skies, equally blue seas, fir trees that reach for the stars above our tent, mountains on the horizon and the rush of water from streams we cycle past – these are some of the sights and sounds of the Pacific North West. If it seems like something out of a brochure by the Washington State Tourist Office that’s because it is hard to fault this region as a cycling destination.
There are hills to ride up but they are rolling rather than steep. There are lots of campsites ranging from the basic (“primitive” is the word used to describe them here) to much more expensive ones with all the amenities. The distances between food and coffee stops are within the range of most cyclists. And all the information riders could want about the region and the route south to Oregon and California is handily contained in one book – “Bicycling the Pacific Coast” by Vicky Spring and Tom Kirkendall. Cyclists don’t even have to think.
Kayaking at San Juan
 Island, Washington State.
Shoreline, Hood Canal.

A single tree catches the evening sunlight
 near our campsite at Dosewallips State Park.

We have discovered some spectacular campsites – our favourite so far is San Juan County Park, on San Juan Island. It is on a grassy hillside providing 180 degree views west across the water to Canada’s Vancouver Island, and is a great spot to watch the sun go down. Like many of the state parks it has a hiker/biker area – set aside for those who arrive by foot, bicycle or sometimes kayak. The fees for these sites, which don’t have to be booked in advance, vary from US$10 to US$20 for the two of us. Sometimes they have showers (an extra 0.50c each) but often they don’t – their most serious omission in our minds. But compare that with the overnight fee of US$40.00 plus that many commercial campgrounds charge.
A quiet back road on the way to Aberdeen,
 Washington State.
Backlit leaves in the
 late afternoon.

Lighthouse at Lime Kiln Point, San Juan Island.

Deception Pass Bridge links Fidalgo and
Whidbey Islands.We walked across on
a narrow footpath, squeezing the bike
past sightseers looking at the view.

Old grain wharf (1905)
 at Coupeville, Whidbey Is.
 Two drawbacks not always mentioned in the region's tourist brochures are the weather and the mosquitoes. The latter are ferocious, emerging around dusk but thankfully gone by morning. It takes two layers of clothing and 80 % Deet to keep them away.
When there isn’t a sky full of blue it is usually raining - up to 140 inches (3,556 mm) each year on what is called the Peninsula Route and 45 inches (1,143 mm) on the Inland Route. But now, June and July, is the perfect time to be heading south as the weather warms up. After some rain in the first fortnight, we have had brilliant sunny weather lately with day time temperatures in the mid-80s F (around 30 degrees C).
Roadside view from
 Highway 101, north
of Lilliwaup.
To cap it all off, our amended budget seems to be working after a shaky start. We arrived on San Juan Island late in the day by ferry from the Canadian town of Sidney. We rode to the nearest 
campground – commercially operated Lakedale Resort - where we were charged US$42.54. Given the time of day we had no choice, but the fee was enough to swallow up most of our daily budget of $US50.00. On top of that, our site was a hiker/biker one tucked in the forest with little light, a long walk for water and a cycle ride to the showers.
The deer are so tame they walk
 towards the camera.

We went to bed that night feeling low and concerned about how we would make our money last. The next morning we held an urgent meeting of the 2xtandem planning committee and resolved to increase our daily budget to $US70.00 a day. More than a week later we realise we panicked, and our original US$50.00  is manageable, although we are bound to take some hits in the big cities of  California.
View from Fort Warden State Park, Port
 Townsend, looking towards the Olympic
But that’s a long way down the road. In the meantime we are enjoying the blue skies of sunny Washington State.

Footnote: Today (Sunday 7 July) we  cycled across a 4 mile (7 km) bridge to Astoria and the state of Oregon.
Fourth of July celebrations getting underway
 at Long Beach, Washington State.

The Stoner Family, of Olympia, saw us sitting on our own to watch the festivities and invited us to join them at their campfire, where we enjoyed "S'mores" (biscuits, chocolate and toasted marshmallows), the fireworks and some good conversation. This is 12 year old Andrew in fireworks mode.

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.