Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Coastest with the Mostest

Right now I am listening to The Final Countdown by Europe, a favorite glam metal ballad of mine, so excuse me if I write like a over caffeinated schizophrenic who's rocking out.  Because I just finished several cups of coffee too.

The past several days were spent forging my way through western Washington and to the coast of Oregon.  Between Bremerton, WA and Astoria, OR the Pacific Coast route (as mapped by Adventure Cycling) keeps you well inland with no hint of an ocean.  The terrain made me think of Pennsylvania with its continuous rolling hills and small farms.  That and the dogs.  One day around Centralia (it's a coal mining region, like the one in PA) I was chased by at least 7 dogs and nipped by one.  It felt like I was back in Kentucky for a moment.  Mostly unscathed though, I plowed on to Oregon and the coast.

Well, to be honest, I still haven't even made the true coast.  I am at the port town of Astoria, which is in the mouth of the Columbia River.  But tomorrow, I'll be taking US 101 south and have the ocean off of my right shoulder.  Whooo!  Still, with its huge container ships and seagulls and sea lions it feels much more like the coast than when I visited the beach for the first time at Anacortes.  More or less every cyclist that I have spoken to has said that the Oregon coast line is the iconic, archetypal, best riding of the whole route.  With that overwhelming expectation in my head, I'll continue south.

There was a small moment that I thought I may not make it any further however.  Up in Bremerton, I had an anxiety attack suddenly consume me.  For those of you that have never experienced one, basically with no warning or justification whatsoever, anything that has gone wrong in the world and everything that can go wrong in the world manifest themselves in your mind in unison.  It can scare you shitless and it can also preclude you from any meaningful thoughts about what's actually going on around you.  For me this is usually accompanied by a bit of depression too.  So up in Bremerton, I have the sudden chain of thoughts, "What the heck am I doing/Why am I doing this/I'm wasting money/Where am I going to sleep tomorrow night/I miss my friends/Whoa that car passed really close!"  This resulted in me sitting down and researching bus and train tickets home and trying to remember why I was sitting on my bicycle in the middle of nowhere.

At times like these, I just have to laugh, take a deep breath and pull my head out of my ass.  Years ago, a psychiatrist prescribed medication to stave off this sort of thing, but I prefer to employ the "snap out of it" method instead.  Once I get myself moving again, all of the negativity leaves me and I remember why I quit my job to aimlessly ride my bicycle around the country by myself.  Because it is fun.  And why to I bother to tell you about this mental jibber jabber of mine, dear reader?  I dunno.  It's all part of my trip.  It's not always sunshine and roses for me, but keep the pedals turning and I'll find them again.

A good day indeed.  Really, what is there to worry about?  I'm riding my bike around for fun.  I ate yesterday and I will eat again today.  I won't get shot, robbed or thrown in prison for no reason either.  Great.  Now I am talking to a bar of soap.
When leaving Bremerton, a stranger named Scott felt absolutely compelled to give me directions despite my polite refusals.  He took about 20 minutes to draw an illegible tangle of lines on a piece of paper, make random markings on my road map, and mutter incomprehensible cues under his breath.  I made no attempt to use the fruits of his labor.  Sorry, Scott.
One thing that western Washington does have are really big volcanoes.  I was riding along through farmland and minding my own business.  Imagine my surprise when I looked over and saw a snowy Mount Rainier dominating the skyline!
From the same vantage point, Mount Saint Helens, of explosion fame, was also visible.
Riding a bridge over the Columbia River onto Puget Island.  Cathlamet, WA
And then waiting for the ferry off of Puget Island over to Oregon.  I had to wait for about 40 minutes for the next ferry service to run.  It was really hot.  In order to feel less sorry for myself, I tried to imagine how Lewis and Clark must have felt when they finally got to this point.
I was amused to see that once in Oregon, I would be riding US 30 to Astoria since it runs within about 5 miles of my childhood home in Pennsylvania.  It felt weird to be riding on the same road all the way out here.  Toiling up a few 600' climbs on Route 30 made me feel like I was back in the Laurel Highlands for a couple of hours.
Upon arriving in the port town of Astoria, I heard some mysterious barking sounds echoing around the piers.  I strained my eyes to locate the source of the noise.
Are those what I think they are?  I had to get out on the pier to confirm my suspicions!
Yep, it's a bunch of sea lions lazing about, soaking up the sun and making an awful racket.
I know what Bon Jovi's next album will be titled.
Container ships hanging out for their turn at the mouth of the Columbia River.  Astoria, OR
Astoria is billed as the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies.  Much of the downtown has been preserved in a 1920s era feel.  Which means there's a lot of old storefronts and signs for me to admire.  I spent the evening in the Norblad Hotel, which now operates as a hostel.
Despite all of the ship and vehicle traffic present, forests of old rotting pilings hint at some amount of industry lost and overtaken by tourism.
US 101 beckons off in the distance.

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