August 12, 2011
Day 4: The Olympic Peninsula - Astoria, OR to Victoria, B.C.
Update: I am alive and well and resting quietly in Victoria, in the Canadian province of British Columbia, on the shores of the Juan de Fuca Straits.
Note: I can't upload photos to the home server from Canada. I think that my internet access won't allow me to open an RDP tunnel. Not clear at this point.
Note 2: Photos have been uploaded successfully from a Starbucks coffee shop in Victoria, B.C., Canada. I know. I hate Harbucks. Don't get me started. Photos follow at the bottom of the screed. My insanity served up daily.
Miles driven today: 313.9
Miles driven this trip:
1,457.5 1,147.5 (oops. typo. i'm not even sure what country i'm in any more. must sleep...)
Photos captured today: 1,089
Photos captures this trip: 4,176
The Olympic Peninsula - Astoria, OR to Victoria, B.C.
I wake up in Astoria, beneath the crazy bridge across the mouth of the Columbia river. It's cool and foggy this morning and always the game is to figure out how much to put on so that you're comfortable when you're riding. It definitely feels cooler at 70 mph.
Some other bikers stayed in the room next to me and I coax them into taking some shots of me riding wheelies beneath the bridge.
I wish that I knew Astoria. I wish that I could remember why I came here last time. And where I stayed then. One of the great pleasures of travel for me is to return to a place, and sort of stitch it all back together in my mind. But this is getting harder as the years slip by.
I remember being high up on a hill and looking out over the city. So I just start driving uphill and then I find the Astoria Tower. Yes. Of course. That was it. With people throwing little airplanes out of the top of the tower, watching them drift down to the city below. So peaceful and lonely up here, on this beautiful hill teeming with tourists.
On Saturdays in the summer, there's a farmer's market, but this is Thursday and most of the downtown seems to be collapsed, burned, or abandoned.
Every town that I roll through seems to be on the verge of bankruptcy. So many stores have closed you just can't imagine. Signs that used to offer ice cream, salt water taffy, fish and chips. You name it. Countless shuttered businesses from the problems Obama inherited. Thank goodness he got in there when he did. I can't imagine how much worse it would have been without his wise stewardship.
I roll north across the insanely long bridge. It's so long I take photos of it as I roll down the bridge, shooting through the lens while I'm driving. The hard part is that the camera shutter release and the throttle both require the right hand. So, I have to let off the throttle, raise the camera, squeeze off a few rounds through the lens, and then drop the camera and try not to crash.
I find myself at Cape Disappointment, so named by Lewis and Clark. Classic. They should name a subdivision that in Denver. Hilarious.
As I make my way up the coast, it becomes known to me, through conversation with other seekers and wanderers, that US Highway 101 goes up around the northwest portion of Washington, then back east to Port Angeles. Then I can reportedly catch a ferry from Port Angeles, Washington to Victoria on Vancouver Island, Canada. Gradually, the information takes a more concrete form. The ferry has a name now. The Black Ball Ferry.
But the Washington coast is not so easy to follow. State highway 103 goes up and dead-ends at Oysterville. Then 105 does a loop out to the coast, but you have to turn right before you get to Westport. Then 109 does a little run by the coast, but it dead ends into the Indian Reservation. And the Indians aren't keen on allowing the road to run through the reservation. But the map shows a little hair-thin line leading back to the US 101.
So, I take all of these little loops that I can, to try to get to as much of the Washington coast as I can, but I have to admit, the coast of Washington is not as stunning as the Oregon coast. Or the California coast. Washington's coast is a distant 3rd, truth be known.
The Washington coast is all sloughs and bogs. Fox gloves and fire weed. Slowly, as you drive north, it turns from a fairly flat uninteresting fields, to a hilly rain forest. So, it does get slightly more interesting up the in the northern portion of the state. But it's no comparison to the other states I've hit on this trip.
The Unspoken Downside to the Open Road
When you're on the road, you spend a lot of time inside your own head. Probably too much time.
At some point, you start second guessing yourself. Other people assist with this delicate little question. They ask, "Why are you driving to Alaska?"
And, the answer is easy enough. "Because it's there. Because I've never been. Because I'm not a toy like you." These all roll off the tongue very easily. But there is something else there. Something deeper. Something that runs down to the quick. Because, in their absence, the same question comes creeping back, only this time it's asked from the inside. Much more debilitating. Acerbic answers won't help this time. This time, the question has to be considered much more formally.
In the morning, and during the ride, it's very easy. There is no question. There is a goal set for the end of the day. But at the end of the day, when you're exhausted, the confusion rolls in like the San Francisco summer fog. This is when everything falls apart.
"Why am I driving to Alaska?"
The truth is that I don't know why I'm driving to Alaska. I bought a bike this year. I now have 3 scattered across the continent. So, at some point, I guess I had the idea to drive up the coast. I know that there was a little piece of the coast I'd not seen...from Eureka, CA to Tillamook, OR. So, there is that.
Also, there are only a few states I've never set foot in, and Alaska is one of them. So, I think that these two issues sort of fused together in my mind and I started telling people I was going to drive my dirt bike to Alaska. Insanity, really. But the problem is that, once you start saying you're going to do it, I think you have to do it at some point, or people will lose faith in your words.
Also, I think that, in theory, we all are sort of arm-chair adventurers and wish we lived more romantic adventurous lives than we actually do. In the online role-playing games, no one is a computer programmer or a bank teller. They're all wizards and vikings, kings and queens, thieves and magicians.
So I think that most people have some inclination to escape from their current roles in life. The easy part is to quit your job. But what then? This question is enormously complicated due to the 'Paradox of Choice', among many other issues.
The Joy of the Open Road
If you can keep your head straight, the open road is an insanely rewarding adventure. I'm rolling up the coast and it's day four now. I know this, because I've put much thought into it just now, but all of my fellow travelers struggle with this same issue. We all lose track of the days so quickly on the open road. All we do is chase the sun.
As we travel up the coast, lost wandering souls on 2 wheels, our paths cross and intersect repeatedly. And every time you think you'll never see someone again, they pop up again at the next pull-out or the next gas station.
And so, as we roll north, we're part of this growing community of riders, getting to know each other. All drawn from different problems to the same solution. To get on two wheels, head west until we hit the coast, and go north man. Just go.
So often, I hear that the only planning involved was to "hit the coast and go north", and this is beautiful, I think. It's a pearl handed down from friend to friend. From generation to generation. California. Oregon. Washington. Just go, man. Go.
The Meth Whores
I did the 105 loop. And now I'm contemplating the 109 loop, but the path back to the 101 looks a little sketchy.
In Hoquiam, Washington, I find some little road-side shanty selling deep-fried something-or-others. So I stop in for a little lunch.
An old man and an young thai woman are hanging around outside the little choke-n-puke so I ask them about the 109 loop.
"Oh yeah. You can make that loop. It's a paved road," He explains.
Usually, the young girls are rushing the old men off. But not this time. They say for a while and chat. He used to sail up the inland passage and fish. But that was years ago.
They fade away and two young girls come walking up. Probably about 22.
"Where you heading?" she asks.
"Where'd you come from?" she continues.
"Oh yeah?" she asks as she distractedly counts a handful of bills.
"You running a peep show are you," I ask.
"Ha. That's good. I'm running a peep show..." and her voice trails off. Long dark brown hair. A low cut shirt. Amazing chest. A tattoo below her navel that seems to lead somewhere interesting.
Both of them are pretty clearly working girls. In my experience, girls don't usually walk up to you on the street and start hitting on you unless they want something.
One is strung out on meth. The other one is looking to get strung out on meth.
"Here. I want you to have this. It's sort of a....I dunno...a secret stash thing I guess."
She offers what appears to be a large bullet, attached to a key chain. It unscrews to store lord knows what inside of it.
"Thanks," I reply not sure what I did to deserve this little gift. I figure maybe I can use it as a good luck charm and I put it in my pocket.
Her "boyfriend" pulls up in a car. A lot of shady dealings going on there. More cash counting. Two guys in the front. Young white males. Probably 25. A van pulls up. She explains she's got to get in the van for some reason. The van leaves with her.
I'm sitting, eating my fish and chips, like Bud told me to. They always ask if you want Cod or Haddock. I don't know the difference, so I switch off all the time. Supposedly, the Haddock is drier and costs more.
The boyfriend comes over and starts chatting me up. I tell him I'm taking the 109 loop. Will I be able to make it on my dirt bike. He's like "Dude...it's a paved fvcking road. How could you not make it?"
"Well, it crosses the Indian reservation. Will they attack me? They don't have Indians where I'm from."
"Dude..they're not going to attack you. They have casinos now. They're rich as h3ll."
Eventually, I leave on my bike, and I wish all the drug addicts farewell.
How sad it is to see these youth sinking into the morass of drugs. I wonder how I'll keep Jennifer from falling into this trap. But who can save us from ourselves?
Now, I start thinking more about the drug addicts. They were eyeing my cameras and my gear back at the deep-friend-mayonnaise pit. Now, they know I'm coming out on the 109 loop all alone across the Indian reservation. I can't believe how stupid I've been to tell drug addicts my plans.
Most people you meet are friendly and nice. But I could tell this group of losers was trouble from the start. I shouldn't have spoken to them. Now, they're going to skin me alive and trade my lenses and frames for a few rocks of crack. Brilliant.
But I make it through the 109 loop and the road is fine and no meth heads are waiting to ambush me along the way.
Can Someone Help Me With the Gas Pump Please?
In Oregon, there's a state law that Obama would love where a gas station attendant has to pump your gas. Unless you're on a bike, in which case you can pump your own gas. They say it's for our own safety. And besides, New Jersey has the same law. Whatever.
So today, I go to fill up, and I'm waiting for someone to come out and give me the drill on what needs to happen to get gas in my tank. And suddenly, I realize, I have to pump my own gas. I'm in Washington, filling up for the first time. Doh!
Back and Forth
So, I'm driving up the coast and I keep running into these same guys on Harleys. I met them a few days back and they've sort of adopted me as their mascot. We make a hilarious group. Three guys on Harleys and one moron on a Honda XR 650 thumper.
And each time I pull away from them, I think that I'll never see them again. But every time I run into them, it's such a rush. It's so brilliant, because they may have been lost for ever, but here they are again.
"How is it that I drive twice as fast as y'all, but I never get away?" I ask.
"Because you keep stopping every hundred yards to take pictures."
So, I ride with these guys for a while, but they drive painfully slow. Usually around 60 or 65 mph. Just a snails pace and finally I can't stand it and I blow by them going like 85. It's funny because we keep running into each other and I know I'll see them again. At some point, we establish that we're both heading for the town of Port Angeles.
Eventually, I end up a few cars behind them coming into Forks, Washington. I pass a few cars on a double yellow coming into town and next thing I know, some stupid city cop pulls me over and starts writing tickets until his hand hurts. He ended up giving me three tickets, for varying offenses, and even mentioned that he wanted to bring me on up criminal charges. I'm not clear why he was so upset, but he was plenty proud of the tickets he wrote me, I can assure you.
Finally, he lets me go, and I'm bummed because my Harley buddies will be long gone by now, of course. But I roll through town and they're all sitting on the other end of town, just finishing refueling their bikes. I decide to push it a little and refill on down the road. We seem to be coming to these little towns every so often, so I decide to push on - to push the envelope a little.
I stop and tell them about how the police screwed me over, and then we take off for Port Angeles. I run out ahead because they drive too slow for me.
At this point, we start down a long narrow two lane twisting ribbon that follows this massive lake. As we're following this lake, my bike hits reserve hard. As in, it dies unexpectedly and I panic, but manage to get it switched over to reserve.
This is not good. Not good. We're in the middle of nowhere. There is zero commercial development. We're inside some massive park that goes for something insane like 40 miles and there are zero gas stations. I do some quick math.
The bike usually hits reserve at 4.3 gallons. That means I have 0.4 gallons left. At 40 mpg, that means I can go less than 20 miles. Probably something like 17 or 18 miles. I hit reserve with the trip meter at 113.4. That means that I can go to about 130 on the trip meter and then I'm toast. That's the end. Sucks. Why didn't I gas up back there in Forks? What was I trying to prove by not getting gas? Now I'm royally screwed. I'll run out of gas for sure. It's only a matter now of where.
I remember the stupid little thing the girl gave me back at the deep-fried possum stand. I have no idea what it is. No idea what's in it. And the cops could have searched me and found it. I sort of fancied that it was a good luck charm, but if so, it's clearly not working. I pull it out of my pocket and drop it on the highway as I'm rolling downhill. Good riddance.
I watch the odometer tick tick tick by the miles. Nothing but lake and trees and this sucks. This just sucks royally. I can't enjoy the view at all because I'm freaking out, fixing to be stuck on the side of the road. And it's getting cold. Hopefully Tony and my other Harley friends are following along this route behind me. But there is another loop - the 112 - that goes up near the coast they could have taken (instead of this route that I'm on).
But that wouldn't be like Tony. They always stick to the main road. They'll be on the 101 (not the 112), if I know them. So, when I run out of gas, hopefully it's not on a bridge with no shoulder. I think about stopping at a safe spot, in the sun, and just waiting for them to come by and then telling them I'm out of gas.
This is going to be a bad day. When I get three tickets and run out of gas. It makes me wonder if I'm really capable of handling myself on the road. Maybe I've lost it. Maybe I should throw in the towel?
I decide to keep on driving until I run completely out of gas. I have a few more miles to go yet, I think. On each hill, I pull in the clutch and let the bike coast downhill. Stretching the fumes as far as they will go. Any minute now it will die.
And suddenly, I come down this long hill and at the bottom, on the left, is a gas station. Woohoo! I'm laughing and sort of jumping up and down on the bike seat. Never so happy to see a gas station. Man, that was close.
I fill up, and Tony and the other Harley guys roll past me yet again. Honking and waving like old friends. I gas up and catch them before we roll into Port Angeles.
At Port Angeles, we go our separate ways because they're spending the night, but I want to try to catch the Black Bally Ferry over to Victoria as soon as possible. Don't want to have to deal with this in the morning.
So I go up to the ferry window. It's 7:00 p.m. The ferry leaves at 9:10 p.m. I pay the girl some cash for my ferry ticket. Now, she says I have to leave the bike here, and the ferry leaves in 2 hours. And I'm like? Huh? How am I supposed to get around? Why do I have to leave my bike? She allows me to take it out of the parking lot, but makes me pinky swear to be back by 8:30 p.m., so I race off to find my buddies.
By chance, I spot their bikes down at the harbor. Then, I look around and see them walking through some parking lot. I catch up to them, and they're just laughing of course.
"Seriously? You again?" And they're all laughing and chortling because we really do make strange bedfellows. These hard-corps Harley Davidson riders and me on my Honda XR650L. I mean, just so you know, these two crowds don't mix. It's oil and water. No Harley Davidson person would ever ride with someone on a rice-burner. It just is not done. It's an unwritten law.
But here I am again. They check in and I tell them I'm going to find a restaurant/bar in town, and they should come into town and look for my bike. But I can't find a decent place. There's a pool hall that doesn't serve food. And a family restaurant with a liquor license, but it doesn't look like a place you'd expect to find three guys that ride Harleys.
"Where can I go to eat dinner?" I ask the woman at the counter.
"You can eat here." She offers.
"No. You don't understand. I got three guys that ride Harleys that want to eat. Where could we go?"
She looks over the pale white people eating their thin meals. White people drinking soy milk and eating sprouts.
"There is the Crab Shack..."
So I go to find the Crab Shack, which turns out to be in the hotel where they'd checked in, and I walk in and they're already in there seated at the bar.
So I join them and we sit there and start drinking and telling lies. I pound down two beers before it's time for me to go catch my ferry. They leave the bar to get a table for dinner, and I try to pay for my drinks, but the bartender says they've already got me covered and my money's no good here.
This is the sort of thing that carries you on the road. Not the money. The bill wasn't much. But that some total strangers would take you in as one of the guys, and let you tag along. This is what makes the road such a rewarding experience.
The Port Angeles Ferry
I go back to my ferry, and the little blonde girl that castigated me so much is gone now, replaced by a dark haired girl. There are three bikes waiting to load up, and the two other guys start chatting it up and, apparently, they have both been on a long ride down the coast, but not together, and again, these two have found each other and run back into each other again. So I join in and we'll all just jabbering away, like jays in the sunshine.
One guy has been drinking. He left California somewhere this morning, but he's not sure where. And drove from California to Port Angeles, apparently. He's pretty wiped out though. He's so tired he can hardly open his eyes. The other guy's name is Angus.
Eventually, they line us up and wave for us to drive onto the ship.
Probably, riding a motorcycle onto a ferry to change countries is about the most manly thing you can do, without leaving the earth's surface. You have schedules. Have to buy tickets. Have to drive from the earth's surface onto a ship. Then block up the bike and tie it down with ropes so the ocean won't knock it over. By the time I get my bike lassoed to the ship's ribcage, I'm drowning in adrenaline. I want to chew nails and throw things. I am cro-magnon man.
We go up on the deck and Angus and I watch as Port Angeles slips away in the darkness. It's like a dream, really. And I think how much Port Angeles was like Astoria. They could almost be the same town in my mind.
"Do they serve drinks on this cruise?" I ask Angus.
"No. Dude...you're on the no-frills Spartan type of ferry. I don't know what you were expecting, but there's no casino, no show girls, and no beer on tap."
Like, I had no idea what to expect. I really am just diving off of a cliff with no clue what's below me. There's no real plan here.
"Do you know where you're going to stay in Victoria?"
"No. I dunno. I thought I'd just grab a room some place on the seedy side of town."
"You want to turn turn left out of here, and then turn down Gorge street. You got it?"
"Yeah. I got it." I lied. I'm so wiped out I couldn't find the hotel if the ferry doors opened into the hotel lobby. I'm so tired I probably can't drive off the ship when the bow doors open. So tired I can't even see.
Angus explains that he was on a motorcycle ride that was supposed to last two weeks, but he was only gone for one, and he cut his trip short and was coming back early.
"Why are you coming back early?" I ask.
"I'm not really sure," he replied.
This is the trouble with life on the road. You spend so much time inside your own head and when there's no one to talk to, the fear, doubt, and confusion roll in. You question everything, and pretty soon, you pack it all in and turn and run for home. I've done it before. It happens.
"Where are you heading to?" he asks.
"Well, my plan was to go to Alaska," I offered. But, at this point, I wasn't 100% convinced that this was possible, practical, or desirable. I mean, so what if I said I was going to Alaska? I'll just turn back and tell anyone that asks that Alaska was too far. Or that I was joking. Or to just shut the hell up anyway. I wasn't 100% full-on committed to the destination of Alaska. I was exhausted and confused and, for some reason, heading north into a foreign country. Confusion rolled in with the fog.
"Whatever plan you had in your mind is what you should do," he explained.
"I was planning on going to Alaska..." my voice trailing off.
"Then that's what you should do."
"But, Angus, really...I don't even know how to get there. Only my plan was to drive up Vancouver Island and catch a ferry from up there to Canada, and then driving up to Alaska. You live in Canada...does that even make sense?" I ask.
"It does make sense. That's a good way to go. Do that. It will be a great trip."
I ask him the same question at least three times. I think that I was just so exhausted that I wasn't thinking clearly, and since I finally found someone that knew wtf was going on, I wanted to be absolutely clear that the path I was laying out made sense.
"And I can catch a ferry from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert?" I clarified.
"Yes. But, you need to buy your ticket in Victoria. Don't just drive up there, because the ferry only runs every other day. So, buy your ticket before you leave Victoria. Got it?"
"Got it. Thanks."
The ship is rocking in an unnerving sort of way so that I'm stumbling around the ferry like a drunken sailor in port.
I go find a place to plug in my laptop and there's some guy with an Apple. He swears up and down that he hates PC's and he's left them for good this time. Like a man swearing off his cheating whore of a girlfriend. He's not sure how the Apple works, and he's taking classes on it, but he's sure he's not going back to PC's. And who could blame him? Not me.
I sit and fiddle with my laptop for a while. The fan inside the computer hits something every so often and it sounds like a someone throwing a crow-bar into a wood chipper.
I pretend like I don't hear it.
After about a 90 minute cruise, they announce that it's time for us to go down and get our vehicles ready to roll. So I stand up and wonder how I'll ever find my bike. Just then, Angus comes walking down and he says, "Come on, Rob. Let's go get our bikes ready to roll."
So we go down and unlash our bikes and kick the blocks out from under them. The boat makes an insane vibration, sending shudders down the spine of the ship.
"There. We've docked now," Angus explains.
"Oh. I thought maybe we struck an iceberg."
We wait for the sign to start our engines like we're at the Daytona 500 or something and the guy motions for us to roll up behind the cars and I go the wrong way. Leave it to me to get lost circling around the bowels of a ferry. But Angus goes the right way so I sheepishly follow his lead out of the insanely large ferry.
Now, we sit in line to wait to clear customs.
"Do I need my passport?" I ask, sort of half joking.
"Maybe not. Maybe just a driver's license," he replies. He's serious. I have no clue.
I get out my passport just to be on the safe side.
"Look, don't tell them that you're not sure about what you're doing. Tell them you're driving to Alaska."
Suddenly, it dawns on me that I'm entering another country. I have to come up with a plan to tell the people at Immigration. It's not my normal instinct to tell the authority figures anything remotely resembling the truth. But the brain decides that, in this case, that has to be the plan. Technically, what I'm trying to do isn't illegal. Stupid maybe. Insane. But probably not illegal. I don't think.
It's now Angus' turn to go. We're both sitting on our bikes in the dark.
"Do you know where to go?" he asks.
"Not really, I admit. Why don't you go there and I'll follow you?" I ask.
"Because, nimrod. I'm going the other way." He's been on the road for a long time, away from his girlfriend. I don't blame him for not wanting to lead some retarded transplanted southerner down into skid row at midnight.
But eventually, he changes his mind. I think he feels sorry for me, as he well should, of course. So, he tells me to turn left when I clear Immigration on the bike and he'll be waiting for me.
Eventually, I get to immigration. I tell the guy what I'm doing. He sort of laughs, like I'm retarded, and let's me go.
I find Angus right where he said he'd be, and he leads me down to the bad side of town where I find a sleazy little hotel to check into. Angus takes off to find his wife. I check in and then I go downstairs to get a Diet Coke, but I can't figure it out.
"Dude," I tell the guy at the front desk. "It won't take my money...the coke machine won't." I complain.
"Let me see what you have there" and I show him my money.
"Yeah. We're in Canada. U.S. bills won't work here."
Like, seriously. I'm that out of it. I'm in another country, but it hasn't hit me yet. Not too bright, eh?
Note: I can't upload photos to the home server from Canada. I think that my internet access won't allow me to open an RDP tunnel. Not clear at this point. (Update: I later determined that the hotel was blocking the RDP port. B@stards.)
Above: Me inside the Black Ball Express ferry from Port Angeles, Oregon to Victoria, B.C., Canada.
Posted by Rob Kiser on August 12, 2011 at 12:46 AM
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Tracked on August 26, 2011 5:11 PM
Some really pretty pics, but you are still insane. A little red dirt bike. thousands of miles? You'll be lucky if you can even WALK by the time you get to Alaska, not to mention what you are going to feel like when you get back home. :D
Posted by: Carol on August 12, 2011 at 3:42 PM
Isn't that what sanity is? Being able to visualize what you want to do and then doing it?I don't think you'll be nearly as tired after this trip as you would be if you laid on the couch watching reruns for a week. :-) Good riding and stay warm.
Posted by: sl on August 13, 2011 at 2:27 AM
I love the photo you obviously took while speeding down the road (has the double yellow lines in the middle). Hang in there!
Posted by: Molly on August 13, 2011 at 10:48 AM