The trip was a trial, a test, something to endure even as it was something to enjoy, and I’m told by a certain someone that I shouldn’t minimize the accomplishment. Here’s a link to my overall route.
I rode for several hours on roads. The hardest part of riding was dealing with the aching groin muscles. Some pain medication helped deal with that. The next hardest part with riding was, naturally, dealing with the other drivers. 99.999 percent of the drivers out on the road with me were reasonably competent and respectful.
A few, however, tried to kill me.
Number two on the list of “idiots out on the road with the sole purpose of killing me” was the soccer mom in the minivan who nearly side swiped me off of the I-5. I would have given her the finger but she never so much as glanced my direction. Hence my brush with death.
Number one on the list of “idiots out on the road with the sole purpose of killing me” was the redneck asshole with the black (of course) penis compensating dual wheel truck who decided his schedule was far more important than anybody’s life when he chose to pass a semi trailer truck going around a blind corner. He and I nearly had a meeting of the minds at a combined speed well in excess of 200 kph. Thankfully he was gracious enough to attempt this murderous move on a road that still afforded me a shoulder to dodge onto.
Had I caught his license plate I would have hunted him down and kicked the ever loving shit out of him. No jury in the world would have convicted me. Fortunately for him I didn’t even have enough time to get a good look at his face. I was too busy dodging his grill.
I can only hope that, when his idiocy finally kills someone, it only kills him.
The rest of the trip was … well, marvelous, for the most part. It was wonderful when I was visiting people, and it was interesting when I was seeing new sights, but I have to confess that taking a vacation alone is a wholely new experience and, quite honestly, it can be a little lonely.
Not that there aren’t advantages.
For one thing, there was never really any need to coordinate with others other than occasionally meeting up. I wasn’t ever holding anyone up, or left sitting and waiting. I didn’t have to worry about cutting into anyone else’s enjoyment with my lazy, tranquil approach to free time. I could just be me.
The problem with that is that “me” is generally a follower, not an initiator. Deciding what to do with my time was always the biggest challenge for me, mentally. And while I did enjoy everything I did, I was always worried I was missing out on something better. But then that’s nothing new. I’m sure I’ll be struggling with that to my grave.
However… I did it. I took the trip. It was a lot of work, it was a lot of effort, and it was a very long trip just to prove to myself that I could. But now I know. I know I can ride for over 3,500 kilometers and make it home safe. Next time won’t be an internal debate on whether or not I can, but rather a longer debate on where to go next.
And that debate starts now.
Finding #1: major roadways are, of course, the quickest way to get from point A to point B. However, they are not the “best” way to get to where you’re going when the goal isn’t speed but rather fun.
Finding #2: I’m terrible at making myself have fun along the way. True, I
succeeded in focusing on the journey rather than the destination, but each time I pulled over for a stop the itch to get moving again eventually overwhelmed me. I don’t think I ever stayed at any rest stop for more than five minutes unless I was a) stopping to eat or b) so incredibly sore that I had to walk it off until the pain ebbed. Clearly I need to learn to enjoy the stops more. I need to take more photos (and find out why my phone camera keeps deciding to default back to 800 x 600 when I clearly set it to the max resolution last time) and I need to do something with the other time there. I brought my pipe and tobacco along with the intent of enjoying it at one or more stops along the way, but I kept forgetting about it until I was unpacking at the hotel.
I should also be taking notes along the way. I need to keep a notepad handy at each stop to give me topics to write on when I’ve got more time.
I often considered naps but couldn’t bring myself to do it on the side of the road. I’ve napped against trees in the past and innevitably end up with something going down the neck of my shirt. I’m not the outdoors type.
Finding #3: Earplugs are essential. You might think it’s because of how loud my bike is, and I admit it is loud, but no it’s because of the steady wind noise past and through my helmet. I forgot to put earplugs in a few times and always wound up with ringing ears afterward. Once the ringing was bad enough to carry on well into the night. I would definitely risk hearing loss if I didn’t use earplugs.
WITH earplugs I can also control the airflow through my helmet. I can open the visor a crack to let air stream through, which really helps to keep my head cool. Without earplugs the noise is horendous and I can only ride with my visor completely closed.
Finding #4: I miss music. Driving in a car, especially alone, I fill the hours with a constant stream of music. I’ve tried that with the motorbike but I suspect that unless I’m willing to spend more than the cost of a new iPod on the earbuds the term “noise cancelling” is about as arbitrary as “two scoops”. The only way I’ve ever been able to ride with music has been to have the volume up loud enough to drown out the road noise. Definitely counter-productive.
I did bring my iPod with me, but after six hours of earplugs on the road and the prospect of earplugs while I sleep the thought of puting ear buds in my ears was considerably less than appealing.
Damn, if I’d taken more notes I could do more writing about the trip and less about the mechanics of the trip.
After my fiasco of picking motels along the way I developed a new tactic of booking a new place before I left the old. Dianne helped me out by introducing me to Hotwire, a service that looks for hotel deals for you. It worked brilliantly in the states but was rather lacking in Canada. Still, after the desperate search that wound me up at the Sunset Inn, it was a definite improvement.
Hotwire got me a room near the SeaTac airport just south of Seattle. It was an excellent location. Gorgeous room with high ceilings and blessedly firm bed. The hotel was located right on the old highway 99 which took me directly into the heart of Seattle with hardly any traffic at all. I drove straight to the hotel, unloaded all my stuff, took a short nap, then took a leisurely ride straight to Pike Place and all the touristy stuff you can shake a stick at.
The highway was ancient, defined by old routes laid on top of one another, and wound very chaotically along the coast and through numerous industrial sections. I had to pay close attention to ever sign as the road merged with three other highways at random moments and then, just as randomly, split off again. Once I was actually in downtown Seattle I was riding along a raised roadway about three floors above ground level. It was slightly disconcerting to be looking into third floor office windows flickering past you at 40 mph no more than ten feet from you.
I lucked out on an exit into the Pike Place Market almost by accident. I was enjoying the view of the bay and the piers so much I didn’t notice that my lane was about to end until it started to split off into an exit. By the time I realized where I was going I was already commited. Luckily for me it dumped me out right at the northernmost tip of the Market and I found a parking spot in a matter of minutes.
I developed a system for exploring that worked more on good luck and relatively decent folk than it did on any kind of preparation or caution. I packed my walking shoes in a saddlebag along with my shoulder bag and hat (a hat that the salesperson assured me was non-crush-able but is now hopelessly creased by being packed into a saddlebag and will forever now be relegated to bike hat duty). When I parked my bike I switched footwear, pulled out my bag and hat, and packed my boots into one saddlebag and my motorcycle jacket into the other. My gloves went into my helmet and the helmet went onto the seat rest. When I paid for my parking I was given a receipt that instructed me to keep it visible in the windshield. I wound up tucking it under a strap that fits across the passenger seat of the bike. Nothing was locked or otherwise secured. The only reason I didn’t lose any of it was because nobody decided to take it.
Which means either people are relatively decent and won’t rob you blind needlessly… or else robbers looked at the size of my gear and decided it was wiser to err on the side of caution. Or some blending of the two.
I wasn’t completely trusting, however. I left nothing of irreplaceable value with the bike. I kept all my keys, my wallet, and of course my passport on me at all times. Anything else that could have been stolen could have been replaced, in theory. It would have been pricey and annoying, but certainly not the end of th world.
Pike Place Market was a pleasant and busy place. I should have taken pictures. I’m really not sure why I didn’t. I think I was too busy dealing with the crowd, trying to avoid stepping on anyone.
I walked for several hours. I ate lunch at some seafood place (and had the roast beef, go me) and spent the rest of my afternoon trying to decide on where I might stop for coffee. I eventually came to realize a couple of things: not all coffee shops were open past dinner, and Pike Place itelf pretty much shuts down at 6pm. There were still several hours of dailight left and shops were already locked up tight. I eventually opted for some coffee bean ice cream instead, enjoying it in the park with a view of the bay.
I returned to my bike to find that, not only was it not ticketed or towed, but all of my belongings were still untouched. I counted it as a win.
The ride back on highway 99 was fairly uneventful, but at some point my mind must have wandered but I suddenly found myself merging onto the I-5. It came as a complete surprise. Luckily I aleady knew how to get to my hotel from the I-5 so I just went with it.
The SeaTac hotel was such a nice place I decided to stay an extra day. The desire to stay in a nice room combined with a bad perception shift of riding times gave me the idea that I’d keep my room booked at SeaTac and just ride down to Portland for the day.
Two things failed to occur to me: 1) Seattle to Portland is pretty much the same as Calgary to Edmonton, nearly three hours in steady traffic. 2) I’d be doing the ride without my usual gear, which meant I would be missing my incredibly helpful backrest formed out of my two water proof bags full of clothes. I got a direct lesson of just how much having a back rest improves my ride. By the time I made it back to my hotel the combined 6 hours of riding had my tailbone in agony. Never again.
Portland is a wonderful city and I really wish I had decided to get a room there instead. The five hours I spent visiting there really weren’t enough.
I met up with a lady I’d encountered on a social web site of mutual interest. We had chatted across the internet a few times a long time ago. We had lamented at the time that it was unfortunate we lived so far apart as we were a good match, socially. I pinged her out of the blue the day before I rode to Portland to find out if she was interested in a couple of hours of coffee. She was and we did. Conversation varied widely from green energy to travel to unfortunate habits. After coffee and dinner with her I set about exploring Powell’s Books for about an hour.
If you know anything about Powell’s Books you’ll know that an hour is nowhere near enough time. I’m not sure you could even walk the full range of the building in just an hour. I stuck with the fantasy and sci-fi section as I was quickly becoming overwhelmed as soon as I’d entered the doors and knew I’d run out of time before buying something if I didn’t narrow my tour at the outset.
They not only provide you with a map of the building as you enter but they also provide stacks of comment cards for customers who want to offer their own reviews of the books on the shelves. There were the usual front shelves of popular books, shelves of books on sale, and books with recommendations and reviews written by staff. There were also shelves of signed books and shelves of customer recommended books.
Unable to make an informed decision without breaking my own personal travel schedule I found myself mired in the Comic Book aisle drooling over all the tradebacks. I was impressed to discover the section was not sorted by author or title but instead by character or group. A much more sensible system for comic books. After all, if you’re interested in Spiderman you’re not going to be able to find all his comics if they’re organized by title. From Amazing to Ultimate the title of Spiderman comics runs just about the length of the alphabet. Much more sensible to just put them all together under the grouping of “Spiderman”.
I picked out a couple of TBs from the Avengers section, both for a relatively new (to me) title of Avengers Academy. I figured a couple of TBs was about the most I could wedge into my luggae without having to throw something else out first.
I parked in Portland the same way I’d parked in Seattle: with all my gear shoved into my saddlebags, my helmet on the back of my seat, and the parking pass tucked under the strap of my passenger seat. Once again I returned to my bike to find it was entirely untouched.
I’m not sure how long that’s going to work for me. I acknowledge that I need to come up with a better system.