Saturday, July 14, 2007

Wander Around Washington Day 1 - Port Townsend

I leave home at 4:20 AM. I'm not as rested as I'd hoped, or as organized, but the time has come for going and so I go. My wife is cute and sleepy and sends me on my way with a strong hug, a passionate kiss and stern reminders that I should ride safe and be certain to return.

The green bike is loaded with too much stuff, but I always think I have too much stuff. For this trip, my camp and clothes kit is pretty trim but I do feel like I am carrying too much technology. I have a cell phone, a wifi webpad, a folding keyboard, a digital voice recorder, a couple of cameras, batteries and a variety of chargers. Perhaps tonight I'll have time to inventory it all.

But now it is time to ride. It's a perfect morning, 60 degrees with the lightest bits of cloud in the sky. The streets are quiet as I ride toward Seattle. In the pre-dawn dark of this Saturday the 14th a white cat crosses my path. How can this not be a good omen?

It's growing light as I roll across Mercer Island and on the floating bridge I see bikes on racks on the backs of cars rolling into town. This weekend is the big Seattle to Portland (STP) ride and thousands of cyclists are getting ready to ride south. I'm headed elsewhere.

I roll up to the ferry terminal at 5:47 AM and pay the fare for the 6:10 ferry to Bainbridge Island. I jot some notes and have time for a breakfast sandwich and coffee on the ferry. At 6:50 I roll onto Bainbridge Island.

Another fellow on the ferry had a new Surly Long Haul Trucker tht he's planning on riding to Boston this August. Today he's just out for a shorter shake-down trip up to Kingston.

I roll north up the island and out the top via the Agate Pass bridge. At Poulsbo I move off the somewhat busy Hwy 3 and onto the quieter more scenic Little and Big Valley Roads. I rejoin Hwy 3 and roll across the Hood Canal Bridge. Even on a clear day, the bridge is something to which I pay close attention. I have several friends crash on this narrow bit of concrete, with it's diagonal expansion joints and sometimes slick surface. I'm thankful for today's good weather and my fattish tires.

Few people share my early-rising tendencies and none of my Port Townsend friends were quite up for meeting me on the western side of the bridge at 8:30 AM for the ride up. So I turn up Paradise Bay Road, grateful that I've brought multiple gears and derailleurs and those other optional bits of cycling technology with me today. Paradise Bay Road climbs and winds it's way past it's namesake bay and continues north and west to the "village in the woods by the bay" of Port Ludlow. I strongly suspect that Port Ludlow had some sort of committee come up with that slogan.

Port Hadlock is filled with tents today, celebrating some sort of Port Hadlock Days. Perhaps the Port Hadlockians felt they had to do something to compete against the sloganeering community to their south. Showing an iron resolve for which I hope to become famous, I resist the urge to pull over and load my bike up with every Port Hadlock promotional item I see.

I roll through Irondale where the local church advises "No sense being pessimistic, it won't work anyway." A few miles later the quiet Irondale Road joins the busy Hwy 19 which in turn joins the busier Hwy 20. All these roads have pretty good shoulders but my local friend Bob Bryant has given me directions onto the quiet and lovely Larry Scott Memorial. I follow the trail into town and meet up with Bob at the marina.

I've known Bob for years and I've even written a few articles for his wonderful magazine, Recumbent Cyclist News. Today Bob is riding a conventional, upright bike and of course I have to give him a hard time about this. I snap a few pictures with my pencam and promise "this is going up on the blog. You are so busted!" Bob takes this in good stride. Like me, Bob is somebody who likes a wide range of bikes.

It's late morning now, the kind of time when a guy could have breakfast or lunch but the important thing is to have something. We narrow down our options to the Landfall. The tie-breaking items are that they serve good breakfast and Bob's daughter works there. We call Clifford Smith and inform him of our destination. He says he'll meet us there.

Clifford is my kind of guy: car-free, something of a roamer, probably considered a bit eccentric by some. In Port Townsend, he blends right in. Port Townsend has more than it's fair share of unique individuals and my friend Jon has told me that the town slogan is "we're all here because we're not all there." Hey, at least it's better than "a village in the woods..."

Port Townsend is a real gem of a city, a sea port built up in Victorian times that's worked hard to maintain much of it's historic charm. Of course that charm makes it a tourist destination and on a sunny week-end day like this the streets are packed with folks from out of town gawking at the pretty buildings and the quaint crafty things in the stores. Still Port Townsend really is lovely and Christine and I have spent some wonderful off-season days in this town and it's one of those places we could see calling home someday.

But as I was saying about Clifford, I first met him a while back when he stopped by the Bikestation. He was headed up into the Cascades with a loaded bike and when I say loaded, I mean loaded. I was only slightly stretching the truth when I told him that I suspected I had few possessions in my apartment than he had on his bike that day. But he rolled off on that beast that day and somehow he survived the climbs. I know this because he is here today and telling me about this. "You were right," he says, "I travel lighter these days."

Light, but not too light. Today, he shows up at the cafe with an unladen Xtracycle. Clifford explains that after he leaves us, he's headed off to do some shopping.

We're joined at the cafe by a couple more bikish folks, friends of Clifford. Todd is the owner of Todd's Cyclery here in town, quiet fellow with a thoughtful way about him and a damn stylish Surly wool bike cap. Todd's friend Michael is a fellow distance bum, the kind of guy who immediately begins quizzing me about the Great Divide Race. In the course of our conversation I get the feeling that Michael might take to the GDR, he seems excited by the lack of civilization and my description of the Great Divide Basin. And when Clifford and I are discussing weight of gear, Michael wisely adds "I try to travel as broke as possible." Thriving on a low budget is a handy skill to have.

We chat more about cycling and Port Townsend, about making a living and making a life. After a good amount of good food we head over to Todd's Cyclery where he shows me his small but efficient shop. Everybody has places to go and things to do so we all wish each other well and head off on our missions.

My next stop is the Elevated Ice Cream Company (hey, I never said I have a tough job). Here I meet up with Jane Whicher. Jane has been with the Bicycle Alliance for years and has been very active locally in bicycling issues. Jane and I have a great discussion about what's good and bad about the area in terms of cycling. Jane gives me not only a good sense of the geographic lay of the land, but also insights into the local politics and economic realities of the town, county and surrounding area. When my head is just about completely full of Port Townsend bike info and my stomach is full of Port Townsend ice cream, Jane and I part with vows to keep in touch.

I play the tourist in Port Townsend for a bit. I find free wifi at a non-profit youth coffee house but I also know I have high-powered computing resources waiting for me at my friend Jon's place. Jon is actually camping with his family tonight over on Whidbey Island and I'll meet up with him tomorrow. I get to spend to night at his place, typing all this up on his computer and getting a snug place to sleep. And all I have to do is feed his cat and bring in the paper in the morning. It's good to have friends. And I've got a lot of them in Port Townsend.

Pictures here:

For more information about Port Townsend, this is a good place to start:

And for those of you who care about such things I rode 68.23 miles today at an average speed of 12.2 mph. And yeah, this is a short mileage day and I had plenty of free time this evening to blog. Don't expect reports this big every day!
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