On September 8, I left Vancouver excited to reach a part of the United States where, twenty years ago, I had a very memorable backpacking trip: Washington State – the most Northwestern state of the Lower 48.
I was supposed to enter the states at the Blaine border crossing and expected that the immigration process would be as smooth as it was a couple of months ago when I crossed from Canada into Alaska. Well, I was totally wrong.
First, there is no “ride through” lane for cyclists. Instead, you have to get off your bicycle and go into a large building, where particular cases such as pedestrians, cyclists, agricultural imports, and special visas etc are processed. I met a few other cyclists, including some Canadians who complained about the increasingly complicated process at this border.
Second, when it was finally my turn with the border control officer for document check, I quickly became a special case myself. Here’s the reason why. A few weeks ago, the plastic card of my passport which carries all the personal information broke off. (frankly, it was poor quality! My passport was only three years old). Given the tattered state of my passport, I was denied entry and was instructed to request for a temporary passport. After a call with the German Consulate in Vancouver, I was eventually issued a temporary passport with one year validity. During my second attempt to cross the US border, the immigration officer was then confronted with a non-standard case of a cyclist with a temporary yet valid passport without visa and an invalid old passport with a visa. To be honest, he looked challenged and asked me to take a seat. It took him almost 45 minutes to have my documentation sorted. Isn’t it exasperating how small deviations from the standard can cause such long delays? But such is life and luckily, I made it into the U.S. for a third time on this trip, after my two entries to Alaska.
At the border, I met Cilla from Sweden. She is on a charity ride called “Ride for Hope, Faith and Love” that aims to raise awareness of human trafficking in Europe. Every day of her trip is scheduled all the way through to San Diego. She was picked up and escorted by three gentlemen on Harley Davidsons who are members of the CMA (Christian Motorcycle Association). They invited me to ride along for a while which was fun. Apparently, the CMA blesses their bikes on an annual basis for safe travels. They did the same with my bike. 🙂
My first destination in the U.S. was Bellingham, a small city half way between Vancouver and Seattle known for its easy access to the North Cascades Mountains as well as to the beautiful islands in the Northern Puget Sound. At first glance, Bellingham looked welcoming and relaxed as I rode my bike into town. However, I made a few interesting observations. A bunch of Trump supporters were noisily campaigning on Main Street spreading the usual fallacious and fabricated shout-outs of their questionable movement. This was the first time I ever experienced these type of people in person and it turns out, when you do meet them and when you finally realize that they do indeed exist, it makes America’s situation even scarier.
Further down the road, I passed by a weed shop with its price list nonchalantly posted right by the sidewalk. What a contrast seeing this progressive side of America while still visualizing the Trump followers from a few minutes earlier. Marijuana is currently legal in four US states: Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado.
That night, I pitched my tent right next to Kelsey’s cabin, whom I connected with on warmshowers.org. Just like my previous experiences on that platform, it was great having dinner together and exchanging stories about bike riding, Washington and how to live an environmentally conscious life. I was, for example, fascinated by Kelsey’s composting toilet. I had watched YouTube clips where people used them in off-the-grid houses but never experienced any personally. After all, I can say that it’s a great concept, environmentally friendly, water conserving, and it is a lot cleaner than you would expect.
On the following day, I headed to Port Townsend. It was quite a hilly ride through lush forests, traditional farmlands and an amazing coastline following Highway 20. In the end, I took a ferry from Fort Casey right into Port Townsend’s harbor. The latter was extremely busy since its annual Wooden Boat Festival took place on that same weekend.
Port Townsend, nicely situated at the northeast tip of the Olympic Peninsula, is known for the many Victorian buildings remaining from the 19th century heyday, numerous cultural events, and as a maritime center for independent boatbuilders and other related crafts. Again, I stayed with people of the warmshowers community. This time, I camped in Lisa and Dan’s backyard and was treated with a very nice dinner together with some of their friends.
I continued biking south along the Hood Canal, a long sea arm reaching more than 100 km inland. This is also the first time that I cycled along the famous Highway 101 which stretches for almost 2,500 km, all the way from Port Angeles on the Olympic Peninsula to Los Angeles in Southern California.
In previous posts, I complained about Google Maps’ inaccuracy when it comes to elevation data for certain routes. Sadly, that is still true, but I have to compliment the routes it suggested in Washington. Most sections were extremely bike-friendly, i.e. very quiet roads in parallel to the busier ones. It is amazing how suitable some of the “old” highways which were replaced by big interstate freeways are. They are mostly used by local residents but not by any vehicles traveling longer distances. Combined with great weather, I happily cruised south towards Portland. On the way, I went on a short city loop through Olympia, the capital of Washington State, and was later on spoilt with amazing views of Mt Rainier (4,392 m), the highest peak in the Pacific Northwest, and Mt. St. Helens, the notorious volcanic mountain which killed dozens of people in its last major eruption in 1980. (Pictures below).
I arrived in Portland one week after I had left Vancouver, and took two days off to get a feel of the city and to indulge in some healthy food. More about that coming soon.