Two Wheels to Move the Soul — Cycling out of Washington State

“Four wheels move the body, two wheels move the soul.”

It was about six days into our journey bicycling from our home of Tacoma, Washington to Patagonia when we rode into Forks — a quaint little logging town only really on the map because of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series. It was here that we bumped into two other cyclists from California: Curtis, a very tall, very bearded, and very wise high school physics teacher; and Jeff, much shorter than Curtis, and a kind, often quiet community college sports therapist. Curtis was riding an orange, custom Bantam lug frame and Jeff, a newer Trek touring bike. Both had been cycling together for years and had known each other since high school.

Erika’s bicycle with the reflective sign and Curtis’ handwriting.

They were kind enough to give me a reflective sign to add to the back of my bicycle making us more visible on the road to traffic — I’ve concluded that we probably looked like amateurs about to take on Highway 101 and they, avid tourers, were trying to help us out. And though we separated this day, we ended up running into them again traveling through Kalaloch and then sharing a camp spot together at Lake Quinalt. I spotted Curtis doodling onto my recently acquired reflective sign and I discovered that he was writing the words, “four wheels move the body, two wheels move the soul.” I smiled when I read it and wondered if Curtis knew how much he reminded me of Gandalf with his lengthy beard, tall stature, and his constant words of wisdom — this may be attributed to my recent reading of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, as well as my constant comparison of this trip to Bilbo and his adventures. Also, I’m kind of short legged and since I haven’t been able to shave on this trip, I have a little more body hair than I want to admit, but I digress.

After some serious Google-ing (putting my MLIS to good use while on the road), I found the quote connected to the famous Harley Davidson and while he was referring to motorcycles, the meaning behind the quote applies to bicycles just the same.

I have always hated driving, and while I won’t go on a tangent now about how horrible cars are on the environment and how they serve as massive contributors to climate change, I will emphasize how different it is to travel via bicycle instead of by car. I have lived in Washington State my entire life and whenever I have travelled (pre-bicycle) it was by car or train and always filled with partial experience. Even driving in a car is like living your life through a screen. You don’t feel the wind on your face as you fly down a hill following a long climb, you miss the hidden stops and desolate side roads, and you don’t see the deer walking across the trails two feet away from you or the hawk drinking water from a nearby stream. On two wheels, on a bicycle, you experience all of this and more.

Now, if you’re wondering why it took us 12 days to get out of Washington and why we went North before going South, I should explain: We decided to detour around the Olympic Peninsula, bicycling to Port Townsend, Port Angeles, Lake Crescent, and then towards Forks. It served as a sweet little farewell tour of the place I have called home my entire life and I was able to see sights I had yet to experience.

The trip started out beautifully and on the slower side with us putting in just over 30 miles. We slowly began to adjust to the increased weight of our bicycles and by day three we were putting in closer to 40 – 50. We had seen harbor seals, deer, and our spirits were high. When we arrived in Port Townsend, a town we have visited before and both enjoyed being in, we were assigned to a hiker/biker spot on the beach, which sounded great, but was surrounded by huge RV’s, American flags, and tons and tons of people and tourists. We decided to ride around the rest of the camping area closer to the woods to see if we could share a spot with a different group of campers and escape the obnoxiously patriotic Americans near our assigned spot.

We lucked out and met Stef, an Oregonian who welcomed us to stay in her campsite with her and her kids since her other camp mates wouldn’t arrive until tomorrow.

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Sitting in a meadow in Port Townsend.

You know in movies when the main adventure characters end up in some crazy festival or event and it’s full of magic and music and perfection? Turns out, moments like that actually happen. We landed smack dab in the middle of “Fiddle Tunes,” a yearly fiddle festival in Port Townsend — I personally feel like they greatly missed out on calling it “Fiddle Fest.” Each campsite was filled with musicians playing well into the night, with lights streamed around each group’s tent, creating the perfect ambiance.

At nightfall, Christopher and I walked around the sites in the darkness, listening and dancing along to the ever-changing melodies. The only light coming from campfires, stars, and starry lights on the musician’s tents. It was in this moment that I felt it; in this moment I knew that this — this is what happiness feels like.

After a night of exploring beaches, watching the sunset in a picturesque meadow, seeing a hawk and a crow battle it out in the sky, and falling asleep to the fiddling of fiddles, we packed up early and hopped on the famous Olympic Discovery Trail, which takes cyclists from Port Townsend to Forks.

The trail began beautifully and we met plenty of other cyclists along the way. By the end of another long day we decided to try out warm for the first time, a couch surfing app for cyclists. It was this night when we met a very gracious and gentle man named Lonnie outside of Port Angeles. Lonnie, who had lived in the area his whole life, loved hosting cyclists and other guests. Not only did he host us, but his 10-acre property had multiple houses he rented, cabins he let guests stay in, a stage he built himself, and he even raised peacocks. Not to mention his recent addition of a box of baby pigeons (because why not?).

Lonnie, as it turns out, had hosted almost 2,000 people between all of the apps he was on and it made my heart ache when I realized that he just wanted people to talk to and meet. He explained that his children hadn’t visited him in 20 years and now his new children, it seems, were his ever-changing guests who kept the loneliness at bay. Both Christopher and I felt inclined to spend time hearing his story and his experiences. We even shared a Costco pizza and watched Netflix. If you told me before I began this trip that Christopher and I would be Netflix & chillin’ with a peacock-raising 70-year-old from Sequiem, I would have never believed you. But, when you bicycle tour, you’re almost always vulnerable, you open yourself up more to new experiences, and you never know who you’ll meet or where you’ll end up. You truly are, a wandering and wide-open soul.

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Setting up camp on Lonnie’s property.

After leaving Lonnie’s, and promising to send him a postcard and keep in touch, we continued onto the Discovery trail. Come to find out, the trail changes into what they call the “Adventure Trail” — and what an adventure that turned out to be.

We mostly had to push our bicycles along the trail and it took us hours and hours to go just four miles. After getting lost because of a serious lack of signs and often low blood sugar, we reached the small town of Joyce and the campground (being so close to the Fourth of July) was completely full. We finally just gave up and camped behind a little church, hiding our tent in the woods. We figured since it was Holy ground that we would be safe. We probably would have been fine, had we not eaten some edibles and then proceeded to make way too much noise talking about God (the Holy ground moved us) and the craziness of our trip so far.

In response to our noise, we heard a gunshot in the distance and dogs barking and then realized our sound probably carried. We decided to quiet down and just go to sleep and hope that no one found us. This is when I proceeded to have a really bad trip and panic attack and thought some gun toting, private property enforcing hick would come after us. We heard a truck nearby, perhaps scoping out the church to make sure no one was breaking in, but I genuinely felt I was going to die and Christopher’s statement of “they found us,” sent me spiraling more. Though most people I’ve talked to warned me about the U.S.-Mexico border, it turns out I am more afraid of an angry American with a gun than most else. Unfortunately for Christopher, he spent most of the time that night trying to calm me down until I finally fell asleep and relaxed. **Note to self, don’t eat edibles when stealth camping.

Standing in the freezing waters of Lake Crescent – July 4, 2019.

Luckily, we survived the night, packed up super early, and got the hell out of Joyce. We were thankful to get back on the bikes. We continued onward on the adventure trail and rode to Lake Crescent where we spent our first rest day, and the Fourth of July holiday. Resting on the holiday was a good call as we were away from major campgrounds, off the road and safe from big RVs (and the monstrosities that they are), and could rest our very tired legs and sore bums. It was quite idyllic reading on the lakeside, taking a dip in the freezing water, and just relaxing — until my oversized hobbit feet stepped on Christopher’s glasses. *Fortunately, he has wizard wisdom and also (thankfully) overpacked on tools, so he was able to fix his frames, but we have had to make an expensive pit stop in Portland to get some new lenses. In response to my clumsiness, nature retaliated and a wasp stung my face and arm, which hurt tremendously.

Leaving the Adventure Trail we continued into Forks and I was amazed at the still ever prevalent Twilight signs and advertisement. As a guilty-as-charged-Twihard, I was happy to see the town still embracing their vampiric side and enjoyed riding through the town. After our little run in with Curtis and Jeff, we camped in a large, flat bed of grass located on an older woman’s property in Forks. It was way too expensive, but mostly empty and even had elk roaming in the meadow nearby. It wasn’t until multiple families began to appear that I regretted our camping choice. I have nothing against those who procreate, but I do have something against those who procreate and don’t teach consideration. 2 a.m. car horns make for very unhappy campers. In my typical passive aggressive fashion, we made sure to rise early and not worrying about how much noise we made. ***I know this isn’t kind, but tell that to me 6 days ago with a very bad nights sleep and zero coffee.

Our ninth day turned out to be longer than expected, but the destination and company was well worth the long ride.

Erika with cyclists Curtis (left) and Jeff (right).

We ran into Curtis (my Gandalf, notice how, like in The Hobbit, he shows up and then disappears again later) and Jeff (who I now sort of imagine as Thorin the Dwarf and close friend of Gandalf). Jeff was full of advice about cycling, health, and the best way to carry pizza on the back of your bike rack. Having worked with athletes, I felt like we were in good hands if one of us were injured. He was even sweet enough to stash chocolates and snacks into my handlebar bag to serve as a treat later on.

They were kind enough to let us ride with them and warned us that they ride “slow and steady.” Curtis led (how very Gandalf of him) and set the pace for our little quad. Chris and I suddenly realized that this is what we should have been doing the entire time, riding slow and steady, allowing us more energy for riding longer and ideal for enjoying the environment we were riding through. Because of Curtis and Jeff, we have become more patient, practical tourers and I will forever be thankful of that.

Chris standing between cyclists Curtis and Jeff.

We ended up camping alongside Lake Quinalt with our two new friends and while sitting around our campsite’s picnic table we were joined by another cyclist from London named Mick. We spent the evening chatting about cycling, heading Mick’s interesting point of view on Brexit, and learning the best places to cycle in and out of the U.K. We talked until the sun disappeared completely from the sky and all we could see were the dancing shadows of trees. I felt content as Christopher and I finally crawled into our sleeping bags for the night.

After riding with Curtis and Jeff to Hoquiam, taking photos, and swapping information, Christopher and I got a hotel and were in much need of a shower. I feel like up until now I have always taken showers for granted, but after 10 days of no shower, I was in complete heaven. I showered until my fingers resembled prunes and the smoke alarm went off (twice).

We washed our clothes in the hotel sink to conserve water instead of using the washer machine and then hung them out to dry. Then spent the night watching Netflix (I swear this blog is not sponsored by Netflix) and followed it with a deep and comfortable sleep while our camping gear and clothing was scattered all over the hotel to air out. Little did we know it would be one of the last nights of comfort for a few days…

After leaving Hoquiam, we ended up on the most miserable part of our journey yet. Proof that you sometimes you can’t take the good without the bad and that soul searching isn’t always easy.

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One of the many bridges we crossed on the Discovery Trail.

We ate lunch in a very uncomfortable bar and for me as a woman, and Christopher as a person of color, we felt unsafe and anxious. Combine that experience with two rough days of riding alongside busy roads and highways, attempting a not fully finished trail, fighting because of our frustrations, and getting dangerously close to being hit by multiple trucks and RV’s, we were feeling defeated and disheartened.

After getting run off the road by a large semi truck, we spent the night in a hotel room in Kelso (what I now view as the butt crack of Washington). We aggressively binged on junk food and beer, only after attempting to eat the nastiest pizza I have ever eaten in my life. With raw tomatoes, mushrooms, and olives and no sauce (Bruno’s Pizza in Kelso is the absolute worst). All of this while sitting alongside a nightstand that had nazi paraphernalia etched into it, hearing everything through paper thin walls, and being forced to listen to the slamming of doors and yelling from an obnoxiously loud Russian family right next door. Needless to say, it was a long ass night.

We hoped our ride into Oregon the next morning would reveal itself to be better, but it seemed to only get worse. We were forced to ride over a terrifyingly busy bridge from Longview into Oregon with semi-trucks, logging trucks, and little to no shoulder. After our bags bounced off the guard rail, I frantically pushed myself faster over the bridge while Chris had to stop and walk to ensure safe passage. This was just the first hurdle of the day.

We rode for 48 more miles alongside HWY 30 into Portland. We inhaled fumes and exhaust from passing vehicles and grew more and more exhausted as the day carried on. With just 17 miles left to go, we stopped alongside a small field of trees and considered if these last few days were worth it. Was putting ourself in danger of hateful, road raging racists worth the adventure? Should we just hop a plane into Mexico City? We don’t want to. We want to see the Redwoods of California and ride the famous 101, but our safety matters more than the journey right?

Many drivers see cyclists and think of cockroaches, they think we are too slow and in the way and that we should just be squashed. Add that to racism and the hateful rhetoric and crimes we see everyday in the U.S. Christopher was scared. I was scared. But, after discussing it together and weighing the pros and cons, we decided to push through.

We knew we only had a few miles left to go and we could rest in Portland and visit friendly faces, and maybe, just maybe, HWY 101 on the Oregon coast would be better for our next leg of the journey. The safety of ourselves and each other is our top priority on this adventure and we plan to change routes if needed, but we also recognize sometimes you have to take the difficult experiences with the incredible ones.

Seeing friendly faces and making new friends in Portland has already rejuvenated my soul and, like Bilbo, we will continue on our adventure even if that means changing our original plans or routes. Hopefully, our two wheels — four when combined — will continue to move our bodies and souls into California, Mexico, and onward to South America.

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And onward we go..

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Dorothy Thompson says:

    Thank you for the update. Hopefully your trip will get better. Please push on to the Redwoods. They are amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. nblair says:

    What an amazing story, Erika. I have tears in my eyes–not sad at all–just completely dazzled and inspired by this journey you two are taking. Be safe, y’all! You can always call me and my husband from anywhere on the road and get any help you need, so I will send you a FB message with our phone numbers, okay? My heart goes with y’all–I do love a good adventure! And just think of the AWESOME book you can write when your journey is done. Whee!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. catty0138 says:

    Wow! Your story is captivating and enlightening! Erika, I feel your struggles and triumphs and couldn’t be more proud of you. You, my darling daughter, have inspired me to get back on my bike! Follow your heart and chase those dreams with your “Momma Bears” blessing. Be safe and know that I am with you every step of this journey. Sending you and Chris, lots of love and light.


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