Blog: Olympic National Park, Seattle and the San Juan islands

County Campground sunset

seattleSeattle – Aberdeen (via San Juan islands) – 1046Km (Total 5550km cycled)

Highlights: Beautiful weather, beautiful views, beautiful orcas and beautiful sunsets. A reminder of the joys of cycle touring!

Day 233 – August 30 : Train to Seattle

The Amtrak Cascades railway route is one of the very few trains in the USA which allows bikes without needing to pack them into cardboard boxes. So the 3-hour journey from Portland to Seattle was very easy and stress-free.

We had ten miles of riding to get to our warmshowers host. They’d given us a brilliant route description which took us away from the busy road and onto good trails.

Day 234 – August 31 : Hilleberg visit

From Seattle to Redmond there is an offroad rail trail which runs almost door-to-door from our hosts’ house to Hilleberg’s USA HQ. So we made a day out of it, testing Peli’s legs on her first ride after all the asthma business, and we got to explore a bit of Seattle that not many visitors see.

The Burke Gilman trail goes around Lake Washington on the north side and then follows the Sammamish river all the way to Redmond. Yes, the same Redmond where Microsoft is based (yes, we did spot some of their famous offices, and we’re guessing that the geeky-looking people glued to their screens on our return bus were probably Microsofties).

At Hilleberg we got our fixed tent back. We swapped the inner tent for a brand-new one with better grade zips, new sliders for the outer tent, and an extra length of spare pole. This was accompanied by something of a ‘slap on the wrist’. We were clearly and sternly told that we should have been cleaning our zips every day (yes, every day!) and also to use a bath tub to thoroughly wash the tent more often. (As you might imagine, all this is not that easy when you’re using your tent for a long-distance expedition and move location every day).

To be honest, we left Hilleberg with our tails between our legs, feeling rather disheartened about the experience. We certainly were not made to feel like valued customers, especially given that these tents are Not Cheap (Ours cost almost 1000GBP). The contact we had with their customer service staff didn’t quite ring true with the marketing blurb from their office posters: “Supremely reliable and easy to use in all seasons and all conditions….”

A disclaimer should be attached to that statement: “… As long as you have a toothbrush and bathtub to hand.”

We’re cogitating about writing an email to Petra Hilleberg herself. Their customer service is very defensive of the Hilleberg brand, and contrasts rather strongly with the concern and bend-over-backwards helpfulness shown to us by Showers Pass, Exped and Supernova, for example.

The silver lining of the day was that the Raven Brewery was just over the road from Hilleberg, so I had a nice de-stressing drink or two, while Peli sipped Coke and nibbled at the free pretzels. Great beers there, just one word of warning, they are a bit strong. So I was glad that we got to take the bus for most of the way back. For all you might say about the US’s love of cars, their rather good bus services always seem to have 2-3 bicycle racks on the front.

Day 235 – September 1 : Bainbridge and bakery

We were not really in a hurry since we had a small ride to the ferry and ever shorter ride from the ferry. So we left our wonderful hosts (thank you Steve and family!) mid morning and took our time cycling into downtown Seattle. We even had time to look at the famous Pike market (OK, we didn’t realise it was famous until we saw it in the Lonely Planet) before getting the ferry.

The ferry ride over to Bainbridge gave a great view of downtown Seattle and the islands across the bay. It must be a lovely commute to do, on a par with Manly to Sydney.

mora ice cream bainbridgeArriving on Bainbridge Island we had to go to the bakery which we had been told (or warned) about by others. Even with the shelves of the bakery rather empty (it was now early afternoon) the bits of cake we got were yummy. We settled in chez our warmshowers host, Bruce, before taking a leisurely afternoon spin. But first we had to eat at a little vegetarian Thai takeaway which was fresh, cheap and delicious. On our little evening loop we saw Mount Rainer and some houses that clearly cost $stupidmoney since they had a view over the bay to Seattle. Back in town we found the ice cream shop, Mora Ice Cream, and indulged ourselves with delights involving dulce de leche, chocolate and frozen yoghurt.

Day 236 – September 2 : Tour de Bainbridge.

Bruce, our host, took us out on a very pleasant spin around Bainbridge Island, showing us some back roads and trails that I’m sure not many people see. Most of the ride took in the route taken by the Pie Ride (every cafe on the island makes pies, and you get to ride around to taste them!). Now there’s an idea for when we return to the UK!

We stopped off for ingredients for home-made pizza and had another little detour to the ice cream shop (well, it was over 30 miles and hilly and hot!). The evening was spent having a good natter and we learnt that our host had a boat in Port Townsend, our next port of call.

Day 237 – September 3 : Finding our legs

Port GambleSince we had done most of the island once already, our host offered to give us a lift off the island and it also meant that distances between campgrounds lined up better. It is a recovery ride after all! Bruce dropped us off at the bottom end of Big Valley road, which turned out to be a very pleasant road north. Thanks Bruce! We had elevenses in Port Gamble, a very quaint little town-come-museum.

This island and the peninsulas around Puget Sound make great scenic geography, otherwise known as plenty of hills with stunning views. We managed to find our way to Oak Bay Park campground where we had a great view over a bay and Mount Rainer.

Day 238 – September 4 : The Blue Moose

Route 20 and the main road into Port Townsend was rather busy with fast moving big trucks, so we were rather glad to find the railtrail for the last five miles into town. We found Bruce’s boat Måken on land, since he is still restoring it. It is an old Norwegian wooden coastguard boat which he used to call home.

Blue Moose cafeWhat we didn’t know was that the amazing Blue Moose Cafe was right next to his boat. We trekked all the way into town to the local bike shop, Broken Spokes, to be told that this was THE best greasy spoon in town. Luckily the round trip was just about two miles, which helped us work up a hunger for breakfast. We stuffed ourselves with Green Eggs and Ham for woolly and a spinach, pepper and cheese for Peli. Oh, and a cheeky pancake to share on the side. We were hungry!

Then we cycled onto the ferry to Whidbey island and straight on towards Coupeville, a pretty little town on the island. Then we continued towards Deception Pass our camp for the night. First part was away from the busy highway 20 but up and down some long drags. Then we had to join 20 to go past the navy air base and its very noisy planes that buzzed overhead. While coming past the air base we spotted a rugged-looking chap on horseback, leading two pack horses. How he managed to keep the three horses calm alongside heavy traffic with jet fighters doing manoeuvres overhead… the mind boggles! A few days later we met a lady who’d spoken to him. He’d ridden from the east coast to the north west and is now on his way to California. He apparently made ferry crossings by hanging around ports until a lorry/truck would take him and his steeds onboard the boat. Incredible.

Deception Pass State Park had some steep hills to navigate before we found our very well-hidden hiker biker site. The evening’s entertainment consisted of a couple who drunkenly – and loudly – argued well past two in the morning. No tent to be seen among their stuff, hmmm.

Day 239 – September 5 : Rescue dog and ferry to Lopez island.

We got up and packed to find the rowdy couple hugging each other. Oh, we thought. All’s well that ends well! Peace and quiet wasn’t to last, however. As we rolled down the hill there they were, shrieking at each other again…

Deception PassWe spent some time at at Deception Pass (the reason for the name is that when the tide flows, it’s opposite to the way you’d expect). We admired the views from the vertigo-inducing bridge before heading onto the dreadful Highway 20 again toward Anacortes. Around 10 miles out we joined a rail trail and abandoned the busy highway. The trail ran alongside the bay and it was there that we spotted a wee dog, Nancy, wearing a lifesaver vest, swimming about with glee. Her owner was training her to be a rescue dog for him when out kayaking.  Nancy was totally frozen to the bone but he could not keep her out of the water. She just loved dragging big logs back to the shore and kept demanding to go back into the freezing depths! Although apparently she was scared of the warm bathtub at home – what strange creatures these pups are.

In Anacortes we rolled onto the ferry to Lopez Island: one price to go out to the San Juan islands and then unlimited free ‘hopping’ between the islands.

sunset lopez islandWe had been warned by our hosts in Seattle that a hill greets you as soon as you ride off the ferry (“How rude!” as our host put it). But then, the island should be mostly flat. We found the County Campground easily and our delightful hiker biker spot in a clearing amongst the trees, right next to the water. While Peli cooked up a storm (sausages of the meat and veggie variety, according to taste – yum) I took some photos of the stunning sunset. We ate in the last light watching the ferries going to and from. Years ago there were so many ferries between the islands and the mainland that they called them the mosquito fleet.

Day 240 – September 6 : Hidden Cove

Quite a few people said that Lopez Island wouldn’t be that hilly so we set out for a gentle 30ish miles, only to find our out-of-condition legs slightly challenged by the many ups and downs as we went in and out to the coast to see the nooks and crannies. Looking out to sea we saw wonderful views of the many sail boats and ferries along with views of the other islands. The weather was just spot on with a very gentle breeze, wall-to-wall sunshine and around the 20-23c. Just a perfect day for a bit of cycling.

skipping stonesWe found, down a very steep hill, a beautiful hidden cove, Watmough Bay, where we had our lunch, dipped our toes in the water and just relaxed and enjoyed life. We spent a little too long there in the end since we still had to get into “town”, find the bakery, do some shopping and get back before sunset. So we skipped one scenic detour to be able to fit it all in. Outside the supermarket we chatted to a cycle touring couple who also were “killing time” on the islands before they fly down under to continue their world tour. They got as far as Colombia before they pulled the plug and went home, the rough roads and having a gun made the decision for them!

Day 241 – September 7 : Hill climbing.

orcas islandPeli managed to talk me into agreeing that a visit to Orcas Island would be a good idea. I had hoped that we could avoid the in-and-out ride, from harbour to campsite and back again, involving a long hill. And because we’d heard from everyone we’d talked to that Orcas would be the least bicycle-friendly of all the islands. We needn’t have worried, though, as the worst we experienced was that the drivers didn’t wave that much compared to nearly all the drivers on Lopez Island.

The ACA route took us off the main road and into the rather hilly backroads. I had to get off on one hill and push, but Peli – stubborn as she is – managed it without walking.

Eastsound is a pretty little town and a major tourist trap, but served good – though pricy – ice cream, do try the Huckleberry flavour one.

Our campsite in Moran State Park was on the shores of Cascade Lake at the bottom of Mount Constitution, which we would climb after we’d pitched our tent and dropped off some of our heavy panniers. It was roughly five miles up on a good surface through a beautiful forest – and somewhat steep in places – the elevation gain is around 800 metres. But well worth the hour’s riding for the breathtaking views over the other islands, Canada and mighty Mt. Baker. And then there’s is the downhill right back to our campsite where Peli treated me to her yummy cooking before we – rather tired – went to bed.

Day 242 – September 8 : Ferry to Friday Harbour

bicycles on ferryWe had a few options with the ferry. The first one was way too early for us! The mid-morning one could be done but that still meant an early start. The one after lunch sounded good. The later one just wouldn’t allow us enough time to faff about, cake taste, talk to people and enjoy life before sunset, at the other side of the island.

Since we had taken the more ‘scenic’ (hilly) route to the campsite, we took the main road back to the ferry port. We arrived a bit too early (isn’t it always the way when you don’t rush?) so sat around in the ticket office charging our gizmos while waiting for the next ferry.

Arriving in Friday Harbour we could see this is the main town and destination for many for a little trip out to the islands from Seattle and the surrounding cities. It really had that “day trip tourist” feeling to it. Not a bad thing when they serve some great chips, and they even called them “chips” at the local fish’n’chips shop, not “fries”. You pretty much just needed the newspaper wrapper.

As always on this part of our tour our departure from Friday Harbour was delayed by food shopping, chatting to fellow cyclists or people who curious about where we’d been. Depending on how we feel or how busy we are, we have a few versions of our story to tell now.

James, our GPS, had one idea on how to get across the island but luckily I spotted that something was up before we got too lost, far into a dead end, which by the sound of it would also be steep. While I was checking the GPS against the map a local man told us the right way to go to the San Juan County Park. So we added an extra three miles or so to our journey. But hey we got to see – or rather smell – a lavender farm and more of the beautiful coast in the late afternoon sun than planned.

At San Juan County Park the hiker biker was on a slope but had the best views compared to the other sites in the campsite, so we ended up with a view over Vancouver island, the Salish Sea and the sunset.

Day 243 – September 9 : Rest day

This was supposed to be a take-it-easy-and-get-Peli-back-on-the-bike tour. But since Portland we have been on the move every day – a total of eight solid days.

So a little clothes washing was done and a heck of chilling out and reading our books, which included a bit of listening to the family next to us. They had shared some of their yummy smoked bacon, potato and cheese casserole with us the night before (yes, I ate Peli’s share). They seemed to be nice people, but when we heard them brainwashing their two young kids with tales of how they’d “die if they didn’t make a promise to God”, we were a little freaked out, to say the least.

The weather also decided to have a rest day so we endured (mainly snuggled in our nice warm tent) the first cold and grey day in eight sunny and warm days. We even had a very little bit of rain last night, and that evening a bit more rain came. Not enough to water the flowers but enough to stop the (nearly) record-breaking dry spell they had had in Washington. 40 days with no rain is unheard of.

Day 244 – September 10 : Last minute boat

As fellow camper said, how to spot whales at sea, look for 30 campers gathered together expectantly, pointing out to sea. Right from our tent we had a view of two pods of orcas cruising by. Unfortunately they didn’t get right close to the shore but it was still amazing to see them swim by. I talked to a lady who told me that they use to come into the sound to socialise, but now they are coming in to eat, too, since the salmon population is pretty much gone because of over-fishing and salmon farming. I didn’t know the orcas are picky: they only eat one kind of salmon even if there’s plenty of other salmon around.

We hadn’t really planned ahead, more take each day as it came, but also didn’t fancy doubling back on the roads we’d taken to get to the San Juan islands. One option was to take a ferry to Sidney in Canada, cycle to Victoria and then ferry over to the US. The other option was to jump on a tour boat operating out of Port Townsend.

The first one could mean leaving the USA with the risk of not being able to come back in, which we needed as we fly out of Portland, because of the visa we have. Many said we shouldn’t have any problems but we know that the border control rules had just changed and we are not on a normal visa waiver, which is also stricter than before.

That left the tour boat option, and I’d emailed them a few days before to check it was OK. The lack of internet access, however, meant we only got their reply today as we were using the free WiFi at a hotel in Roche Harbour. Our plans to stop there for a bite to eat and to admire the expensive yachts was cut short as we learned that the last tour boat of the season would would leave that very afternoon for Port Townsend. Well, we always like a challenge!

Luckily, San Juan is small and we managed to get ourselves in gear quickly with minimal faffing (yes, incredible) and race across the island, get lunch and find the boat before departure time. Phew! The waters were a bit too rough for Peli but she had cleverly stuffed herself with crystal ginger sweets by the bucketload, so she managed to keep everything inside her. We stopped at two small islands and had a look at the sea lions and seals enjoying the sun, before we arrived in Port Townsend.

We camped up at the State Park in Port Townsend (just remember folks, use the upper campground since they do not have hiker biker at the lower site, that will save you the journey).

Day 245 – September 11 : Dodging 101

Leaving Port Townsend was done via the same rail trail as we used to get into town a few days before. It added a few extra miles to the route but got us off the busy Route 101. The trail was just brilliant and we do hope that they get to extend it further in the future. We tried as much as we could to get off the 101 but at times it was not possible. It wasn’t because it was dangerous but it was just tiring to hear the big trucks coming past noisy and fast every 30 seconds.

A few miles outside Sequim we joined the Olympic Discovery Trail which we could follow for the rest of the day and most of tomorrow. The lack of signage meant that we missed a few miles of it, we spotted the trail from 101 and had to cycle alongside it for a while before we could access it.

The trail went straight through Sequim Bay State Park and the hiker biker site where we spotted four friendly cyclists on their way to southern California. That made five Surly bikes out of six, truly a good bicycle for touring.

Day 245 – September 12 : bottom of the hill

We followed the fantastic Olympic Discovery rail trail all the way to Port Angeles where we stocked up on food and goodies. We’d talked to other cyclists about what to see and where to go on the Olympic Peninsula. The response were 50:50 in favour of taking the east route, or the west route. It was most confusing. We were undecided on what to do. But one thing we knew we couldn’t miss was the epic climb up to Hurricane Ridge, right into the heart of the Olympic National Park, a hard 17 mile ride but well worth it for the views at the top.

At the ranger and park information booth I was told to go west around the peninsula, wider shoulder and a bit where we would miss out the busy 101. It also meant that we would avoid having to double back on ourselves again.

After reaching Port Angeles We had five miles to climb up to the Heart O’the Hills campground, which would spare us the steepest section in the morning but meant that we had to do it fully loaded today. Needless to say, we were knackered when, cold and sweaty, we rolled into the shady forested campground. 

Day 246 – September 13 : Hurricane Ridge

Our tired legs meant we got up in good time, but ended up having a very leisurely breakfast – well, more like brunch. So it was afternoon before we attacked the 14 miles up to the top, which should be the not-so-steep bit, but still involved a good 3000 feet climb.

The first few miles were in the forest and nice and cool as we climbed in the shade. But as the mountain got wilder the sun got fiercer, but the views were sufficient recompense. The last few miles took their toll – heavy touring bikes with wide off-road tyres are not made for fast ascents on tarmac!

We arrived out of water and stormed the little cafe to get an ice cream to cool us down. But no! There was none to be found! We guess it’s hard to get ice cream this high up in the USA or they lack the basic business knowledge. Tut tut. Surely they could guess that on a popular cycle route such as this you will make a mint if you sell ice cream at the side of the road!

So we settled for chips (fries) and water from the cool water fountain before we went out to enjoy the views of Mount Olympic and its impressive glacier.

The downhill took less than a fourth of the time it took going up. Wheee! We spent a few hours relaxing before stuffing ourselves and falling into a well-earned sleep.

Day 247 – September 14 : Single track MTB

single track touringThe ranger we’d talked to a few days ago had recommended a gravel road and then a quiet single lane across the park. Hurrah – this meant we would not have to do the steep downhill into town and up again on the 101.

The route was also downhill most of the way which we can’t complain about either. We only had to be on the 101 for a few miles before we joined Easy Beach Road which ran on the north side of Lake Crescent, all the way to the start of Spruce Railroad Trail.

The rail trail I had first seen on a map as a MTB route, then a hiking trail. The tourist information in Port Angeles said that they’d walked it 20 years ago. And the ranger had never been there either, so we were stepping into the unknown! It was only when we arrived and saw signs for it that I knew it was a rail trail. So I somewhat nervous about it when we started. But hey, it couldn’t be worse than the Villa O’Higgins crossing between Argentina and Chile, and it would only be a few miles at the worst.

What we ended up with was a simply stunning bit of trail, rainforests, smooth trails and full-on mountain bike single track. We were flying along, shrieking with glee, on our fully loaded bikes at times just avoiding the odd rock or tree root. At other times we were on the side of the cliff with a 30 foot drop on one side and rocks on the other. Looking into the very clear water below it wouldn’t just be picking the bikes and our stuff up just under the surface, we’d need diving equipment, since we couldn’t see the bottom. What fun!

The single track turned into a newly-paved asphalt road right through the thick forest. According to the cycling map this part of the Olympic Discovery Trail has just opened, which could explain the lack of signs to the trail and to the little shop at Fairholm campground where we hoped to purchase ice cream. But the trail ended up around two miles up the hill from the lake and campground.

We had around 15 miles to a RV and Motel where we hoped to have a much-needed shower and even do some washing. The Hungry Bear RV park was a real American place, no pretensions to be modern or chic French style or anything other than it was. Country and Western was on the radio and the owners dressed the way you’d expect them to. We got a shower after I had to ask the owner since I had never seen a coin-operated one like this before and I was too tired to figure it out myself. Peli spent a good hour hand-washing our clothes in the plentiful hot water which was available. Ah, the small comforts!

Day 248 – September 15 : Twilight zone

There was a certain thing that we really couldn’t put our fingers at first about the town of Forks. Young girls with capes, wolves on t-shirts and a motel sign saying “Edward didn’t sleep here”. There was also talk about vampires and werewolves in the area. When we saw the fifth sign inviting us to have an ‘Unforgettable Twilight Experience’ it clicked. This is the home of the Twilight movies and Edward was one of the characters. Though from memory (we didn’t take much notice of the films since they were really not our cup of tea) we seem to remember that the teenagers in the movie were a bit, erm, trendy and not so “hillbilly” as the ones we saw populating the place in real life. One family we saw all had t-shirts on saying “Edward’s Fan Club”, except the dad. His, sensible, said: “Edward Who?”

We had a pretty good meal at one of the diners there and stocked up on food and fuel. And then decided to call it a short day since my knees were just on the border of giving me jip.

At Bogachiel State Park we got chatting to the Park Ranger who was about to go on holiday to the Basque country, a place that Peli knows well. And we had many an entertaining chat with fellow tourers Andy and Casey who had to bail out of riding the Cascades because the forest fires in that Washington.

Day 249 – September 16 : Back in the fog

We chatted to Andy and Casey and found out they were heading to Kalaloch Campground on the coast and back in the Olympic National park. It didn’t have hiker biker sites meaning we had to pay full price for a site. But if you can fit more tents into the site (max six people) we could share. This would mean that it would only cost $10 for a night instead of $20, something we can’t say no to.

The ride was through the country side and past a B&B that came direct out of a horror movie, you know rednecks, chainsaws, deep south and very remote. I was thinking about stopping to take a picture, but when I saw Cujo (Stephen King fans knows this dog) walking around the in yard that idea disappeared fast.

When we were around a mile away from the coast the temperature dropped considerably as the fog rolled in. The coast is covered in thick rain forest and with the fog you could imagine a monster running around to its heart’s content.

We arrived at the campsite to a note from Andy and Casey with a drawing of a bicycle, letting us know where they were. Hurrah! Dinner time came around and as we started to pull our kitchen out of the panniers, we got a surprise. Our kitchen wasn’t the biggest any more! A&C had three (yes, three) camp stoves (one was dying), a full spice rack, chopping board, colander, full-sized kitchen knives and big metal pans to prepare food in. It is hard to compete with two with years of experience in the industry. While eating, Joey arrived. Another Portlander! He was running late on his tour back to Portland and was trying to make up miles to get back in time for work.

This meant the share of the cost for the camping went down even further, as he paid his share in beer.

Day 250 – September 17 : “You’re not from round here”

We got up to a cold morning but the fog was moving away and letting the sun in. Everyone had a great sleep and never heard the racoon taking Joey’s panniers for a walk while emptying them all the way to the next door campsite.

Joey set off early, A&C left before us while we were still eating our breakfast. We had agreed if everything goes well we would meet at a campsite around 35 miles down the 101. A short day, but there weren’t any options further down unless you wanted to make it a very long day.

Outside one shop, where had our lunch, a car pulled up and the driver peered at us suspiciously. “You don’t look like you’re from round here” he said. And before I could respond “No, but you do!” he sped away shouting “You’ll be gone when the rain comes!”

As we were climbing up the hill out of Amanda Park we got flagged down by a lady in a car who told us that our friends had spotted us from the cafe she’d just left. She had therefore offered to relay the message to us that they were going to a campsite on Lake Quinault. Apparently our planned campsite had been closed for some time, so this sounded like a good option.

We found A&C in a beautiful site overlooking the lake. And we shared the cost of camping again even if it meant a bit of a squeeze for our 5.5 metres long tent.

We also found the two couples we’d met a few days ago in Sequim Bay State Park, who were having a rest day before they pushed on south.

We had a much needed “wash” in the wonderful and not-too-cold lake, while admiring the mountains around us, before we cooked up dinner alongside our fellow cordon bleu camp chefs while enjoying the sunset.

Day 251 – September 18 : Bailing out

A&C were heading towards Elma and then Centralia to catch a train back to Portland and we were heading down highway 101 along the coast to Portland. So we bid farewell and they set off as we still were trying to get up and ready.

The 101 wasn’t too busy and in places the shoulder wasn’t very wide but you could be seen on the long straights. Though, after two days it was getting tiresome to have the massively big logging trucks come by with their loud noise and high speed every 20 minutes or so.

From what we have heard from others the next bit south back to Portland would be on busy logging roads and through farmland, so nothing spectacular. And then there were my knees which didn’t get any better. They were really in need of rest at this point. I feared that if we pushed on they would go beyond the point of no return and I would need much longer time off the bike.

So we decided to limp on to Aberdeen, another 15 miles, and grab a bus to somewhere we could get a train back to Portland. A few miles outside Aberdeen we found an excellent RV park where the staff were very nice and helpful and we had unlimited hot water for our showers. Bliss. Peli was even offered a hairdryer by a family in a big RV as they were concerned that she not get sick.

Day 252 – September 19 : Back in Portland

Aberdeen was a run-down, depressed dump of a place, which the current recession had hit hard, though we did hear later it always was like that. I can really understand Nirvana and Kurt Cobain now. This place housed buildings which were one step away from being ruins. There were drunks and druggies walking the street and the shops were mainly 99 cent stores and junk food outlets. But there was no litter at all. The streets were so clean, a place like this in the UK would have plastic bags flying, McD wrappers hanging in the bushes and broken bottles all over the place.

One thing that is pretty amazing in the “cars rules the world” USA, all the buses have a rack for at least two bicycles on front. And everyone on the buses was happy to wait for us to load our panniers and bikes onto the bus.

We arrived in Olympia, the capital of Washington state, a stark contrast to Aberdeen, clean, green and rows of well-kept houses. We had to cycle out of town for five miles to get to the train station. This is a volunteer-run station, very well kept and recently renovated by train nutters. They could tell me which train number and which end of the train had the engine, but not sell me tickets or tell us at which end of the train we needed to put the bikes. We found this quite amusing.

But a quick call to 1-800-Amtrack we had tickets but no guarantee that we could get them on with all our panniers.

The train arrived and the train manager didn’t blink, grabbed our bikes and welcomed us on board.

At the next stop we were joined by A&C who we had joked could be fun to see on the train back, and lo and behold here they were. We spent two great hours chatting away back to Portland.

Day 253 – 292 – September 20 – October 14 : Getting ready for NZ

We have spend the last few weeks walking our friends dogs on some of the great trails around Portland in the balmy autumn weather we have had here. Rivers, mountains and forests were explored and we wonder who were the most tired when we got back, us or the dogs?

Cleaning the bicycles, tent and panniers took a day each. The bikes needed new cables, chains and cassette which the wondeful Cory at Seven Corners Bicycles supplied.

We also caught up with our friends Paul, Lena and Elo, went to farmers markets where we watched a pie-eating contest before we got swamped in fresh and yummy fresh looking food. (I had considered entering the pie contest, until I realised it the pies were pumpkin. And vegan. If they’d been pork pies I’d have been the first at the table!)

I have also spent a few moments tasting a few beers. It would be rude not to, when there are over 54 breweries in and around Portland alone. American ales are pretty good when you get over the cold and the nitro.

We think that we have found something that Peli might like to do when back in the UK, cyclecross. We went Cascade Cross with our friends on a very dry track, where Stephen sadly only went 3/4 of a lap before he had a visit from the puncture fairies. But it got the blood flowing in Peli and she clearly wanted to have a go. I’ll be her chef mechanic/cake quality checker/cheerleader. :)

So, after some enjoyable times in the USA, and some decidedly “interesting” ones, it is now time to move continent since autumn is now upon us. On 14th of October we will be flying to New Zealand to tour there for three months. Then we are hopping over to to Tasmania where we will spend a few weeks before sailing to Melbourne. We are then not really sure what and don’t want to tempt fate by planning ahead…!

Click here to see more pictures of our Washington State visit.

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