Thursday, August 4th
My last full day in America. Took the ferry from Orcas Island to San Juan which promised a marginally flatter ride which would hopefully make the island a little easier for my tired legs to explore. I met a family at the dock who hoped for similar things.
Two cups of coffee from the shop by the pier. When i’d woken up the first thing I saw from my tent was a deer eating something from a tree. I cycled the 11 miles or so to the port, passing by the lake, the beach with all the driftwood, and Eastsound, the town area I’d spent the afternoon in yesterday. The island was an odd, horseshoe kind of shape which I found made it a little difficult to make sense of as the main roads didn’t seem to follow the perimeter. The place had a Desperate Housewives meets Wicker Man kind of feel. There were spooky looking scarecrows in the field, sheds painted bright colours, odd bits of metallic art dangling from trees, but also expensive coffees served by bitter middle aged women who looked dead behind the eyes. Perhaps I’d just been spoiled with kindness in small town America where things, and people, were a little simpler.
The ferry provided sunny views over the bay as we travelled through the corridors of water between the various islands, some no bigger than a football pitch, others much grander with houses perched with prime views over the water.
San Juan struck me in a similar way to orcas to begin with. Friday harbour at least had the same pricey shops and overly quaintly nautically themed cafes. I bought supplies from the supermarket and began cycling to Eagle Cove, on the recommendation of the cashier when I asked what the best beach for swimming was.
Heading out of the town and harbour area the roads were hilly but a little less extreme than Orcas. The island seemed a little more developed, the roads wider, and I could find my bearings a little easier, though taking a turn off the main roads which circled the island could quickly take you to a dead end or roads with holes in which trailed past hidden turnings to cul de sacs and farms.
I got sidetracked on one of these before rejoining the main road which I decided it was simplest to stick to. It could be deceptive. Just when you thought you’d reached the top of a hill another would appear just ahead or around some corner it was previously impossible to see. But I found Eagle Cove after not too many miles, locked my bike to a wooden fence in the parking area and followed a small wooded slope down to the beach avoiding a snake which slithered into the shrubs at the side of the footpath.
The top of the beach was covered with large bits of driftwood. Entire branches and trunks which had presumably washed up over many years. They were white and smooth like big bones.
I sat on a rock on the far right of the beach eating lunch from the few supplies I had left and contemplating whether to swim or not. The lack of people in the water put me off it, and when a kid pointed out a jellyfish to their dad that sealed it.
Instead I read the book I’d been given in Montana at the thrift store and immediately got hooked. I’d wanted to read so much more than I had whilst I’d been travelling. But perhaps I could finish at least one book before I was home.
The tide was coming in quickly and water began to creep around the edge of the rock I was sat on. The campsite I was planning to stay at was at least 10 miles away and although I could have read for the whole afternoon the longer I put off those 10 miles the harder they would become. So I packed up and began the trip around the west side of Island.
The road began to stick more or less to the coast and it was pleasant to cycle along with the view of the sea, a small taste of what it would be like to ride down the coast of Wahsington, Oregon or California. The rugged rock formations and look of the place reminded me of views from the Route 1 I’d driven up with friends last August, but on a miniaturised scale.
In the sea were numerous sea kayakers, exploring the coastline from a different viewpoint.
I followed the road around to a small lighthouse on the edge of the cliff. A popular spot for trying to spot the whales which came and fed on the salmon migrations in the bay. I took a short walk around the cliffs edge to the lighthouse and back up whilst I mashed an ice cream sandwich into my face regretting the cashiers offer of a serviette almost immediately. It was very hot. Too hot for cycling on hills like this.
The section of the campsite for bikers basked in this heat. It was on top of a hill and at sunset everyone gathered to watch it drop slowly behind the mountains on the horizon.
It felt a little like that final scene of Fight Club as the buildings fall down.
But perhaps I was being overdramatic since this would be my last sunset in America for a while. I’m not sure how long exactly. At least a good few months, probably much longer. There’s a lot of the country id still like to see – mainly the South now. And I’d like to cycle down the coast one day.
But for my next cycle tour I’d like to go somewhere more alien again. Taiwan or Iceland. Or somewhere less alienating but less America: New Zealand or Portugal or something. Those trips would have to wait too.
This sunset was a good finale though. There must have been about 20 of us there all fixed on the sky and the sea at the edge of the hill. One kayaker was on the water paddling in the tide.
The sunset wasn’t dramatic, but a lot of the best endings aren’t. Instead they leave you with something to think about, perhaps for weeks, maybe even years afterwards. Pieces to pull together, meaning to be found in what was seen and what isn’t as the memories linger. And as forced as that sounds, it’s exactly how I feel about this bike ride.