My friend Chris and I went on our first multi-day bike trip this year. After returning from our overnight trip to Big Eddy campground with Mitch and Jrdn, we rested a day. On Tuesday the 5th of July, Chris and I rode out of Portland on highway 30. We headed north toward Longview, Washington and the bridge across the Columbia River. Highway 30 is busy, with big trucks and cars blasting by, but at least it offers a wide shoulder. Not so pleasant hearing the roar of traffic, but the wind, especially from the 18-wheel trucks, pushed us right along. Whenever traffic died down the quiet was a relief, but then we felt the head wind we’d be pushing against without the cars and trucks and SUVs. I guess you could say in this sense that the traffic helped us out.
It’s about 50 miles to the bridge, and we were glad to get there, if for no other reason than a change of scenery, and, we hoped, a volume reduction from the traffic. The bridge is way up there and offered distant views of the rolling green hills up & down the Columbia, and on both sides of the river there were several forests worth of cut trees stacked in rows waiting to be milled.
We crossed the bridge with rush hour traffic and headed through Longview until finding a smaller road north out of town, more or less paralleling the highway. Longview had a seediness to it that made it interesting enough for the few minutes we were there. The smallish downtown area has a disproportionate number of bars and strip clubs, the names of which I can’t now remember. I should have written them down, because some of them were almost clever in that seedy trashy way. One club whose name I mis-remembered was, I thought, Dirty Little Secrets. I pictured lots of red vinyl in a sour, dark and smoky bar that possibly included little people and the physically deformed. You know how when you ride your bike for a long time your imagination can run a little wild. Anyway, at one point I asked Chris what kind of freak would name their club Dirty Little Secrets, anyway? This is when Chris corrected my memory and told me that the place had actually been called Dirty Deeds, and reminded me that the For Sale sign out front had looked pretty weather worn. As a strip club name, Dirty Deeds might not have been the best choice; it leads to the rest of the song by AC/DC, which goes, “Dirty deeds done dirt cheap,” and possibly explains the ultimate closure of the club. If done too cheaply for too long, you just can’t stay in business. And besides, what quality of staff could you hope to find at a place that advertises this sort of thing at that sort of price? Hm.
That evening we stayed at the curiously named Seaquest campground near Silverlake. It was Chris and I and a lot of seemingly angry, relentless, hungry mosquitoes. We’d ridden about 75 miles that first day. It had been hot, but not too terribly bad. For dinner Chris and I ate a large, tasty yet strange combination of foods that included boiled eggs, polenta patties, potato chips, smoked oysters, seared broccoli, an Indian style tomato curry, cheese and naan bread. Oh, and chocolate nibs. That night I dreamt of someone with large elephant ankles discovering a human skeleton buried in the sand on a beach.
The start of day two we rode from Silverlake back down to Castle Rock and found a grocery store to re-supply. We’d been somewhat hurried out of our campground by the mosquitoes, so we stopped to eat more before going on. We found a trail that led under a bridge, and sat down in the shade. The day was already promising to be hot.
While Chris and I ate boiled eggs and bananas and peanut butter and bread, etc. under the bridge, a man walked up and sat at a bench just next to us. He introduced himself as Keith, and told us he’d been living in Castle Rock, population 2100, for all his life. Keith looked weather worn and kind of biker-ish (motor style) with angular chops and black baseball hat, black vest over a black t-shirt with eagles printed on the front.
He told us he was a Vietnam vet, and that after the war he’d come back to “enjoy the natural beauty of things.” Keith asked where we were coming from, and headed to. When we told him Portland to Seattle to Portland again, he said, “Well fuck a duck! If I was gonna ride that far I sure wouldn’t do it on those tiny little seats. I’d want something about this big.” Here he held his hands up and framed a space about as large as a tractor seat. "You know what I'm sayin'?"
After a few minutes of telling us about the chicken sandwiches he was going to make for his elderly parents he said he ought to be going. His parting words of wisdom were, “God is great, beer is good, and people is crazy!” After a moment of letting this sink in, Keith nodded his head and walked away.
Fueled up and back on our bikes, Chris and I continued north. We arrived in Chehalis and Centralia by lunch, and found Tacos del Rey, a road side Mexican place painted an earthy pink. Places like this are almost always good, but this one was especially tasty. Un burrito mohado de pescado. The green hot sauce was the best; rich, delicious, somehow creamy, with just enough of a kick to it to make me sweat.
The rest of the ride up to Olympia was a burrito fueled pleasure. The evening air was cooling and traffic died down. In Olympia we stayed with Rhett, a friend of Chris’s. When we first arrived to town we got somewhat turned around because of the highways, and ended the day by climbing a couple of ridiculously steep hills and adding at least 5 unnecessary miles to our journey. When we found the house and pitched our tents in the back yard I didn’t have much energy left. Rhett lit a fire in the fire pit and we roasted some marshmallows and made s’mores. We’d ridden just shy of 80 miles.
On Thursday morning, day three, Chris and I rode west, then north on highway 101, through Shelton, where we found another delicious Mexican place to fuel up. From there we continued on up to Port Orchard, Washington, which is just across the channel from Bremerton, about 73 miles, all told.
The riding this third day wasn’t as nice as previous days. The 101 was loud and heavily trafficked, and whenever we branched off to find quieter roads the side roads were often not much better. There were a few detours we took that were calmer, but once we made a wrong turn and ended up about four or five miles and several steep hills out of our way. Also, it was on this failed detour that a large white van blasted by without giving us more than a few inches. I swear the mirror nearly took my shoulder out. I was furious, and wished I’d had something to throw, but even then the van was probably going too fast to hit. The road was empty except for the van and us, and this seems the sort of driver who would take us both out and not even look back. A really sickening feeling.
We didn’t arrive in Port Orchard until about 7 in the evening, and found that the campground was a place called Manchester, which was another 8 miles on. This last stretch of road was right along the water. After the days’ ride this was a treat, even though there was a steady, stiff head wind. The road followed the contour of the coastline and there was almost no traffic.
The campground had very small hiker/biker spaces and didn’t allow fires, which was mildly disappointing. A fire would have helped with the mosquitoes. They were thick, but seemed lethargic and not so interested in our blood as in just hanging in big packs around our ears, buzzing. Chris and I were both pretty tired from the heat and three days of solid riding. After food and a coin-op shower I slept solidly. The next day was going to be a day off, at least mostly.
Friday. We took our time eating a light breakfast and packing up. We rode slowly back to Port Orchard and stopped periodically to take pictures. There was that pungent seaside seaweed salt-lick sweet-rot smell that I love, which, when mixed with the squaws of sea gulls makes it undeniable that you’re by the ocean. There is the sound of lapping water and usually a rope pinging against a pole in the wind.
We stopped for a larger breakfast in Port Orchard before crossing the channel by ferry to Bremerton. Breakfast was at the Hideaway Café, with Jon the waiter/food pusher, and Vern the neckless chef. Jon somehow roped us in, making sure we knew that “this here is the best breakfast in town.” The best kept secret in the northwest; the best food this side of the Rockies, and so on. The coffee wasn’t just any ol’ cheap mud, but was genuine Folger’s Brothers coffee, Northwest Blend. The menu consisted of a variety of combinations of sausage, bacon and ham, some with eggs, some with potatoes, some with biscuits, mostly just meat on meat. Jon highly recommended if we were hungry that we ought to try the breakfast burrito because, he said, “It’s got all your meats and potatoes to keep you goin’.” Everything on the menu sounded like gut bricks, so Chris and I stuck with a waffle each. It was the only thing that didn’t have meat cooked into it. When we ordered, Jon seemed mildly disappointed in us, a couple of skinny bike riders with a combined weight less than his own.
Across the channel, as a coastal town, Bremerton was a let-down. We had thought we’d wander around for a while, but it seemed like a town that put on a plastic, American-style strip-mall façade around the ferry terminal. We rode around looking for somewhere interesting, like the places the “cool” kids hang out for coffee, but we found nothing. The affluent façade quickly gave way to what looked like poverty and destitution, and there seemed to be no redeeming middle ground. There was what seemed to be the unhappy rich trying to paste on a smile, and the unhappy poor unabashedly frowning. We caught the next ferry out of there, headed for Seattle.