Saturday, September 24, 2016

A Hard Left Turn

Deception Pass, Washington to Stella, Washington (5,260-5,482 miles)

Though I'm excited and in a bit of a hurry to reach Seattle, my first star in Ride between the Stars, life has a habit of spinning off in unexpected directions—if you will let it—and that's what happens when I cycle into Port Townsend, a small locale on the northeast edge of the Olympic Peninsula.

Shipyard
I need to change out the middle chain ring on my bike and I stop at P. T. Cyclery to see about purchasing the part, talk to its owner for a while, who makes a phone call and finds the part at another shop in town. I thank Bob for his kindness and head that way, discover the other bike shop is a community service center for cyclists who need to work on their bikes. The money The Recyclery takes in goes to various endeavors, all with an eye on increasing the use of bikes in the area. I buy the part, put my bike on a rack, do the necessary work. Then I volunteer my services for a couple hours, and the manager gives me the job of removing parts from an old bike. Time passes quickly, the shop closes, and I ride out of town wondering where to camp for the night. 

A bike path beckons and I ride it for a short distance, sit on a picnic table and face Puget Sound. The sun sets, the light a soft golden glow, and I watch the orange orb fall below the mountains. The air chills and I put on my fleece, glance at a bear of a man riding the bike
path. He's older than me, in his seventies, sports a gray beard that's trained into three strands that tremble in the breeze.

I wave a hello.

"Nice beard," I say.

He wheels over and we talk about the bike path—he's one of the trailblazers who were prime movers in getting the path built—and I listen respectfully as he tells me about some of the politics and how they had to overcome the reticence of the landowners.

"So," I say, in a lull in the conversation, "any suggestions on where to camp tonight?"

He gives me a street address and I give him a blank look. "Huh?"

"My yard," he says. "It's not far up the trail."

Bill and Dashley
I follow him to his house, pitch my tent, go inside and sit with him at his kitchen table. He makes a sweet-tasting chai, and we talk well into the night. Dashley is a world traveler, born in Washington, moved to Alaska, then to Australia, then back to Washington. He's also a writer, so between sharing tales of our adventures, we talk about craft and the business end of the profession.

Me hard at work
He yawns somewhere around midnight, needs to get up early because he's working at a carousel tomorrow. The carousel is part of the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival and is free for all who want to ride—a volunteer effort initiated by Bill Dentzel—a local artist who designed and handcrafted the entire ride. Though I'm wary about working around a bunch of annoying kids, I ask if Bill could use another guy . . . tell Dashley I have a couple of free hours in the morning.

Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival
The next day, seven hours into my newly acquired position at the carousel—which entails gathering up metal rings—I'm still having a blast. The carousel has 15 rides, including intricately carved horses and fish, one dolphin, several swings, plus a bucket for participants too young to hold on. Riders on the outside lean away from their rides and pluck rings from a narrow holder barely within reach, then toss the rings at a clown's face, earning points when the rings land in the eyes or the mouth. My favorite kid is a little girl named Cricket, who starts smiling the moment she sits on a horse and sees the clown face a few feet away. I worry that she's too short and too unathletic to reach the ring holder, that she won't be able to participate in the fun. Ha! This little girl, half the size of the ten-year-old boys, leans way out from her horse and snatches a ring, cocks her arm and hurls the ring at the clown. The ring, a blur in the sunlight, bangs off the yellow forehead and whangs me in the chin. I laugh and back up a few feet, watch her come around and snatch another ring. Unlike the other kids, who toss their rings with careful aim, trying to come up with a high score for the ride, she cocks her arm again, hurls the ring with every bit of energy and reckless abandon her small body can muster. She misses all scoring areas, of course, but then this is a little girl who doesn't color in the lines and can care less about the rules of the game. Cricket rides the carousel again and again that afternoon, throwing her body and soul into each toss of the ring, and I wonder what she'll become when she grows up. The first female major league baseball pitcher? The first female jockey to win the horse racing triple crown? Who knows? Whatever it is, you can be sure she will stand out from the masses.

I have so much fun working around the kids that I finish the day out and volunteer to work tomorrow. Dashley cooks pancakes in the morning, and we spend Saturday at the carousel. After that it's time to say goodbye to my host, and his kind hospitality, and I ride south with the bittersweet feeling I always have when I leave a friend. Soft-spoken Dashley is one of the good guys, a trailblazer and a carousel volunteer, on an eternal search for enlightenment, and I'll miss his company.

*

Seattle.

This city is the first star in Ride Between the Stars, a stepping stone in a two-year, 15,000 mile bike
Seattle!
ride, and I had wondered how I would feel when I stepped off the ferry onto the concrete sidewalks and roadways.

In one way, I'm disappointed.

Despite sending numerous emails to the editors of The Seattle Times, the city's newspaper, they opted not to cover my adventure. I know it's tough getting into the paper, lots of competition, but sheeze, how many people pedaled 5,000 miles to get here? Of course, if I had murdered 10 people along the way, perhaps throwing in a few jewelry store heists and one or two pyramid schemes that bilked investors out of millions of dollars, the reporters would be clamoring for a story. But such is life. The bad stuff sells and everything else is filler. Not that I would have enjoyed the interview. They are painful for me, dredging up old feelings, remembrances of two brothers who died young, innocents who never had a chance to live a normal life. Still, I'm on this long journey to raise awareness for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and publicity is a necessary evil.

In another way, I'm as pleased as can be. I've been on the road for five months and I've survived near misses from logging trucks, hordes of blood-thirsty mosquitoes, vicious dogs, a robbery attempt, mountain climbs that never seemed to end, broken equipment, and wind so intense it almost drove me crazy. (There's more, much more, but I have to save something for the book I didn't intend to write. It's calling me now, since so much has happened, and I'll probably take a month off sooner or later, to at least get started on the manuscript.) In short, I'm pleased because I fought through the adversity and made it to the first star, and I have to say that feels good.

I cycle through the crowded streets—listen to the street music filling the air, along with horns and
Outdoor Market
Hey, I think I'm losing weight
sirens, the chatter of people talking—smell the exotic odors of exotic foods cooking in the ethnic restaurants—feel the sun, then the shadows on my face. The buildings are tall rectangles that rise up and block out sections of sky, and before long I find myself wanting to leave, to exit this orgy of life, to return to the road. But first I head to the outdoor market and talk to the guys at the fish counter, who, to my surprise, are extremely interested that I rode a bike up from Key West. In fact, everyone who comes up to me is interested, and I spend an hour answering questions and telling a few stories. I'm a novelty, I guess, something they've never seen, and more than one of my listeners ask to take a selfie with me. I almost put my titanium pot at my feet, thinking if the street musicians can make a living, perhaps a storyteller has a chance.

The call of the open road is strong, away from the cacophony of the city, and I ease my way out of throng and ride back to the ferry. I'm already thinking of my next star, San Diego, and the long ride in front of me. I'm headed south, finally, and very happy about it.


*

"What do you want?" the man growls, stepping out of the bottom entrance to the two-story house. He's a short, stout guy, balding, has a no-nonsense attitude that matches the gruffness and directness of his question. I'm startled, so taken aback I almost turn my bike around and pedal out of his driveway.

I've been cycling westbound on a Washington highway paralleling the Columbia River, and it's late in the day. The sun, in a blaze of red, balances on the highway, making it hard for me to see what's up ahead. It's time to get off the road and camp, but therein lies the problem. Though I've been looking for a stealth campsite for the last 30 minutes, hoping for an opening in the abrupt slope to the right of the road, or perhaps a beach site on the left, nothing suitable has presented itself, which is why I stopped and knocked on this particular door.

The man studies me with an expectant look.

Did I interrupt him at supper? Is that why he sounds so irritable?

He speaks again, voice rough and impatient, demanding. "Well?"

I remain silent, still inclined to cycle away without saying a word. What the frigg? This guy hates cyclists, or something?

"You're a bit gruff," I say. "You born that way or made that way?"

His voice remains the same. "Made. Now, what do you want?"

I point at the small museum I'd spotted across the highway. The building has a closed sign out front, a locked gate across the gravel entrance. "That museum. . . . Your neighbor told me you're the caretaker. . . . I'm looking for a place to camp tonight."

"Yeah? Who are you?"

I give him my name and add I'm on a charity ride to raise awareness for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. We talk for a few more minutes, and he tells me his name is Harvey Williamson. His gruffness has mellowed a little, and the image of tidewater receding an inch down a barnacled piling comes to mind. I can tell he's weighing the pros and cons of allowing me to camp behind the museum.

"Listen," I say. "I'm just going to cycle on—"

"You'll leave first thing in the morning?"

"Daybreak."

"Aw, there's a couple of flat spots behind the building," Mr. Williamson says. "Go ahead and camp back there."

I leave before he can change his mind, find a suitable spot, and pitch my tent. After a dinner of Lipton noodles, I settle onto my sleeping pad and turn on my headlamp. The night has settled, a dark quilt over the land, and I open a novel and read until I grow tired. I fall asleep wondering what the man did for a living, decide he was logger and developed the gruffness as a way of surviving in the camps. Whatever. I set my alarm to get me up early, fall sleep listening to the dwindling road traffic in front of the museum. My alarm wakes me at dark-thirty, and I lie in my sleeping bag, telling myself that I'd promised I'd get out of here first thing this morning.

Yawn.

I drift in and out of sleep, wake and hear footsteps on the gravel road.

Shoot.

He's probably got a pitchfork and is going to poke me off the property. His voice sounds in the gray light, every bit as rough and gruff as the evening before.

"Hey, TJ. You want some grub?"

I unzip my tent and look at Harvey Williamson, see the twinkle in his eye.

"Sure," I say.

"Well come on up to the house and have some breakfast. . . get cleaned up while you're here, take a shower and wash your clothes . . . might as well wait till daylight to come over. . . just knock when you're ready."

Look at the size of those steaks!
I do just that, and Harvey's wife, Barbara, meets me at the door. She hands me a robe, yes, a robe, luxurious and soft, along with some of Harvey's clothes, and I take a long hot shower. After shaving and dressing, I walk the steps to the top floor and throw my dirty clothes into the washer. Barbara is as sweet-spoken as her husband is gruff, well-educated with a master's degree, and she tells me about her various jobs before she retired. The three of us sit at a table facing a picture window framing the river, devour steak and eggs Barbara cooked to perfection. I spread pear jelly on my toast and almost moan at the taste, listen to Harvey tell a few sea stories. I was wrong about him. He was a sailor, a world-traveler who started as an Ordinary Seaman and worked up to Master Mariner, and, like his wife, is an accomplished individual. His gruffness is gone—I mean, vanished—and I can't help but remark on the difference between today and last evening.

"Gruff!" he roars, with a grin."Hell, that was me being nice!"
A few hundred feet from the Williamson's back yard

Barbara shoots him a look for the profanity, and he hunches his shoulders as though she'd landed a blow. I grin into my orange-juice glass. These two are still in love after being married for four decades, and a little profanity from the old salty dog is expected now and then.

After a hug from Barbara and a firm handshake from Harvey, I leave with the same bittersweet feeling I had up on Port Townsend. The Williamsons invited me into their home and treated me like family, a rare and precious gift, and I am grateful for the experience. I cycle toward Oregon, buoyed by the food and companionship, wondering what the road has in store down this coast. Winter is not yet on the horizon, my big concern when cycling to the northwest, so it's time to take my time. Whew. Take my time? That almost sounds too good to be true.