Seattle to San Francisco by Bike, Sept 1994

(mail sent on Sep 28, 1994, describing my bike trip from Seattle to Los Altos)

After 10 days, 1100 miles on my bike, 30 bananas and alot of fun, I'm back home. My trip started early in the morning on 9/14 and ended just after 9am on 9/24....

I spent alot of time before the trip planning and worrying. Happily, most of my worrying was baseless - the only real casualities of the trip were two tubes and a bike computer. The bike computer started having bad dreams after my second day out and added 50 miles to my distance overnight. I knew something was wrong when I was standing inside the hotel room watching it rev up from 0 mph to 21 mph (reminded me of watching a dog twitch in its sleep). Some of the planning came in handy - particularly on the first weekend when alot of hotels on my route wound up being full. Most of the planning wasn't needed but that's OK - I enjoyed it as a way to spend time thinking about the trip (and I think Malcolm enjoyed it too in a way, since it gave him something else to tease me about).

People's reactions have been interesting:

In Washington, I met a bike-shop owner from Switzerland: the grocery clerk and I tried to explain that he could use his credit card at the ATM but not in the grocery store (which does seem backwards when you think about it).

In Humboldt county, I spent some time talking with an innkeeper who obviously had seen the consequences on families and friends of the mills shutting down but seemed hesitant to talk to much about it. She mentioned that one of her guests once compared the lumber mill workers and their unemployment problems with the unemployment of concentration camp guards after Nazi Germany was defeated.

While Judi and I were biking together (for part of Saturday), the owners of a grocery store talked with us about their cat who liked expensive jerky best but would eat Doritos too, as long as they hadn't fallen onthe floor.

In Mendocino, a grocery-store owner came out to look at my bike and said that he really wanted to get one and go tour the US. When I warned him that there were alot of bad drivers on the road, he said that I didn't look very scrapped or bruised and laughed when I told him that I had been swearing at my fellow travelers alot more than I usually did.

In northern California, I spent about 15 minutes talking with the flagman for a road crew - he talked about clearing Hwy 17 after the '89 earthquake and also claimed that most truck drivers were more concerned about bicyclists' safety than annoyed by their presence.

I biked with a man for a little way who was going from the Oregon coast to Reno on a commuter bike (with little short wheels), towing his bike box along behind him. He claimed that the smaller wheels actually made it easier on the uphills, since the effective gearing was lower - but I'm not convinced.

In Oregon, I passed an elderly couple (around 70 or so) on bikes, all loaded up with camping gear and everything. I also met about 10 bicyclists from Germany who said that they were heading over to Utah. In California, I met a cyclist on a recumbent bike who was biking both ways - Palo Alto to Seattle and back!

The scenery along the way was (mostly) gorgeous. My most vivid memories are of two first-growth woods, an ancient pine forest in Oregon and then the redwood forest in Humboldt county. In the Oregon forest, I was off 101 on a backroad that looked like it eventually went to a ore mine of some type near the top of a ridge - no cars or other people around. The silence was so profound and peaceful that it just seemed to engulf you and make you a part of the forest. The trees all grew up from somewhere far below and still towered above you, with moss coating the lower limbs.

I rode through the redwood forest in Humboldt county on the Avenue of the Giants. I think it's one of the last areas of first-growth sequoia. The road through the forest was much busier than the one in Oregon, so I didn't get the same sense of almost tangible peace - but the trees were more amazing. Many of the trees were as wide as the road itself and taller than seemed possible. The bark of the trees made you want to reach out and feel it - old and rough and rich with thick ropes of texture going up and down the tree. There were ferns on the forest floor that were about as tall as me - yet they looked small compared to the diameter of the trees and were dwarfed by their height.

Other images that stay with me:

I loved the trip. Some of the things that I loved about it, I started out hoping for: the excitment and nervousness of doing something new, the satisfaction of pushing myself without leaning on someone else for help, the sense of peace I get from spending time alone, the beauty and majesty of the Pacific coast. But there were also wonderful things that I never really expected or understood before: how easy and satisfying it really was both physically and emotionally, how generous and kind people can be, how the trip can wind up meaning so much more than reaching the end.

your wordy friend,