Tuesday, August 2nd
“Pokemon?” a guy asks me as i’m taking a photo of myself with my camera from the remote control app on my phone by the pier.
It’s 2016 and most people I ask seem to have forgotten how to take pictures with an actual camera, so i’m taking the photo myself as it’s an important one. I’m on sunset beach, appropriately at sunset, at Washington Park on the tip of Anacortes, this is where my coast-to-coast ride ends – 5014 miles, 16 states, and 78 days after it began in Brooklyn, New York (79 if you included the day I cycled down to dip my wheel in the Atlantic at Coney Island).
Not surprisingly it’s slightly anticlimactic, but over the past few weeks the scale of what i’d been doing had begun to sink in and everything had started to feel a little more tangible. Reaching the Pacific (or the Rosario Strait to be accurate) brings things to a symbolic close. This ride began with a wheel dipped in the Atlantic at Coney Island, and ends with wheels and feet in the sea here. My shoes are getting wet as I take a few shots before the sun disappears, people are probably giving me strange looks, wondering why i’m putting my bike in the edge of the sea, but with all that’s gone before I really couldn’t care less. Because this is the end.
The day began at 3.50AM with rain falling through the trees, and on to our tents. I’d camped without the rain fly as I had been for the last week or two and had to crawl out of my tent, over to the bench where it was stuffed in a bag, then throw it over my tent before trying to fall back asleep. In the end the rain passed quickly, but it was a sign of what was to come on my final day of cycling before reaching the coast.
Somehow it seemed fitting, a sunny last day would have been too straightforward, and despite the awkward dampness, cloud and rain seemed to suit Washington. It clustered around the tops of trees surrounding the lake and changed the whole atmosphere of the place to something more eerie and real.
I got a couple of more hours sleep, snoozing the alarm I’d optimistically set at 5.30. The sun didn’t seem to be rising for us, the forest surroundings of the campsite darkened the morning further.
But we were up and ready by 8 and parted ways with Conor and Aidan at the campground exit, they headed east, I headed west. It had been a nice way to end my penultimate day and I was lucky to find them given that I had no money on me and the closest ATM was at least 30 miles away. They had many long days ahead of them, I had just one – around 90 miles to Anacortes, the official end/start of the Northern tier route and where I planed to finish the day.
The rain had settled in as we are breakfast and was still a presence but the rainfall was light and scattered. I began with a short climb out of the basin of the lake. It was Tuesday and the roads were mostly quiet and empty to begin with as I made my way along the winding road into cloud and tree filled distance past Diablo lake and alongside the Skagit river. The colour of the water remained the same as it had down down by the lake, glowing even a little brighter through the trees on this gloomy morning.
I passed through two tunnels through the mountain, over a windy bridge at Gorge Creek and a dam just before Newhalem where I hoped to pick up a coffee but the general store was closed.
Over the next 10 to 20 miles the cloud lingered on but the mountains began to fade, the highway flattened out, the surroundings became less dramatic as the Cascades became another memory. And in synchronisation I began to get my head down. For the next 50, 60, or 70 miles I just pedalled hard toward the coast.
I stop for a rainy coffee Marblemount, pizza in Concrete, and more coffee in Pedro-Woolley.
I stick to the route 20 most of the time but it begins to get very busy. The Cascade Trail runs almost parrael to it but it’s not got a great surface, despite being sheltered from the headwind i’m now facing. I alternate between the two, eventually deciding i’m better off tolerating the wind and noise of the road rather than the rough winding trail.
All the time i’m counting down the miles, knowing it’s still a long distance to the sea. My bike is creaking, the chain low on oil, the wheel cracked, only one brake works, but i’m determined to make it to the coast before it finally gives out on me. I have visions of things going wrong on this final stretch: cars hitting me, things breaking, acts of god or force majeure which will prevent me from reaching the coast.
At Pedro-Woolley the congested road becomes too much and I rejoin the Northern Tier route which combines a series of wiggly farm roads to the coast. It’s a decision I regret slightly as although the roads are quiet they are bumpy, cracked and uneven and doing there best to slow me down.
But I continue, and 10 or 15 miles later, after crossing the I5 highway and one or two unseeingly large hills I descend into Bay View, a cute seaside settlement with colourful hillside homes and beyond them the sea. I pause for a minute to take in my first glimpse of the water, visible just at the end of the road between trees. I like to imagine I can smell it but I probably can’t.
At the bottom of the hill is a short, two mile trail at the waters edge, it reminds me of cycling back home near Prinsted, though the circumstances now are a lot more monumental than a casual 5 mile ride in West Sussex. It’s windswept and rather grey. Another image I’d had of Washington which appears to be accurate.
The trail ends and one more country road reunites with highway 20 which runs on to Anacrotes. There’s four lanes of traffic now, but thankfully a track at the side for cyclists as a large bridge ferries streams of cars back and forth over the Swinomish Channel. It’s at this point I realise Anacortes is actually an island.
On the other side I keep to the Northern Tier route using quiet roads which navigate around the side of the island. I pick up a 6-pack of local beer at the gas station and bungee it to the back of my bike. I have this vision of eating pizza and drinking beer on the beach at the end, now I just need to find the pizza.
A pedestrian bridge crosses a section of water, this leads to a cycle track which cuts out the busy road and takes me right to the center of the town where I find a Little Caesars pizza. I hop off my bike and within a minute i’m trying to attach a huge pizza box, as well as the beer, to the back of my bike. It’s a total mess.
There’s four miles to go. The houses are wooden boards and pastel colours, seagulls squawk, it feels like the seaside.
The island is hilly and the beer and pizza begins to slip off the back my bike. Luckily I spot it before it lands on the asphalt. I rearrange things and continue. My bike is creaking more than ever. It’s a hilly island and the ups and downs provide one final test for me and this bike. But I summit the last hill, pass the ferry terminal, and coast down to the park. I can see the sun setting.
I find a spot to camp and dump some of my stuff on the bench then cycle down to the shore, nearly slipping over a patch of gravel just like I did at the Devils Tower in Wyoming when I was too excited to finish the day there. But I keep the bike upright this time and make it down to the shore. Trying to appreciate how significant this all is but in my tiredness it’s hard to find a way to make it sink it. I know that that might not happen for years.
I try and get someone to take my photo. There’s a pier, a short but pretty shoreline with weather beaten logs tree trunks, and on the furthest edge a house perched on the cliff. In the bay are the dark shapes of a number of islands. The sun is setting behind them.
Of course no photo will really capture the significance of standing on this beach with this bike this evening. So I stop trying. Move to a picnic bench and eat the pizza and drink the beer.
I can’t think of what else to say without resorting to cliches: ‘it’s not the destination, it’s the journey’ (that one is annoyingly accurate). I’m looking forward to stopping. As I crossed the bridge into anacortes I was hit with this feeling of not wanting to turn back. I decide i’ll get a ferry to Vancouver, and spend a little time on the islands in-between here and there instead of cycling up the coast into the city that way.
Over the past few months a lot of people I met asked me why I was doing what I was. I gave various answers, but thought that it just made sense. Now it’s over i’m asking myself the same question, and really I don’t have a good answer anymore.
What I can say right now is that you can probably divide my life into two parts, before the ride, and after. Its the biggest thing i’ve ever attempted and completed. And in some ways now I feel like I can do anything. Though i’m sure a) I will have much bigger challenges in the future (though they may or may not involve bikes) and b) This feeling of invincibility won’t hang around too long. In fact it might vanish into the sea breeze overnight. But for now i’m going to try and enjoy it.