Racpat on the road again
Travel allows you to see a thousand lives you might have lived.Author Unknown
Editor’s note: After a year of hunkering down at home and hiding from the pandemic, Rachel and Patrick begin their fourth tour on bicycles. After traveling the world, they have decided to see their own country. Below is a little about how they got ready — which is a challenge all by itself — and a journal from the first day on the road. As for their motivation, they love learning about other people’s lives and forming new connections. Rachel says this quote sums it up best:
When I first interviewed Rachel for this story, I asked Rachel about her motivations for traveling. Initially, she said, “Part of who we are is to travel and mostly by bike.”
Since people’s perspective of life and their motivations is one of the things that interest me most, I prodded a little deeper by saying, “Think of travel and bicycles as the how. Your motivation is why. I travel by bicycle because _______. There is no right or wrong reason.”
She responded with the quote as being her best explanation. To my surprise, the question of motivation simmered in her brain for a long time. 36 days to be exact. So, skipping ahead to day 36 here is Rachel’s explanation. (Further below you can read about her planning and day 1 on the bicycle.)
Day 36: Burlington Settler’s Park to Towner
“I just figured out why we cycle… It’s so you can find treasures at the side of the road,” Rachel jokes as they stop at the Homestead Restaurant in Minot for second breakfast. Patrick has found a set of drill bits, a T-square, and later another ND license plate. All this along with the antlers he found yesterday, lots of things now hanging on the back of his bike until we send a package home.
We are asked by many, why we cycle. For us, it’s about connections, meeting people, and staying curious about what we are seeing even when at home. One of our favorite quotes is: “Travel allows you to see a thousand lives you might have lived.” While we travel mostly by bike, we first view ourselves as travelers, and the bike is one of many modes of transportation. On other travels, some of our best experiences have been when hitching a ride in a long-haul truck in South Africa and listening to Hank Williams or taking the train in India, or a minibus in Indonesia during Ramadan. What better way to understand our country than by meeting a farmer who went to Mongolia to learn more about prairie management; or talking with a man raised in the area and how the family homesteaded; or the waitress who is from Nez Perce Idaho and moved to small-town North Dakota to be with her boyfriend.
The beauty of the bike though, the scenery is unframed and the cyclist becomes part of the scenery. Cows stare as we pass by, birds take flight, and the little Prairie Dogs turn and run. And you go slow enough to find treasures on the side of the road.
On a slog of a day like today, we ask ourselves, why do we cycle? The wind is not our friend, blowing from the Northeast. We weathered a huge storm overnight, all of a sudden the sky opened up and rain poured down. Patrick bolts out of the tent to pull the rainfly over the tent. Even though we are in the shelter the blowing wind sprays water and a hole in the roof drips right next to the tent. Today, we are not in a particular hurry starting out, the wind will do what it does determining our ride and in tandem with the direction of the road. The temperature has cooled down. A drizzle starts then stops, the wide shoulder stops after Surrey until about 10 miles from Towner adding tension to the ride. The mile markers pass slowly, thoughts of “Can it only have been a mile since the last one?” We can see the water tower of Towner which seems so close yet is at least 8 miles away. But, mostly it is the long straight road, with “not much to focus on,” Patrick says.
This too is why we cycle: a reminder of what to focus upon. When riding, if there is an obstacle on the road, if you focus on the obstacle, you will hit it; the focus needs to be on where you want to go in order to miss the obstacle. So on a day like today, the focus is just to keep pedaling, and tell each other “Let’s Get There.” Eventually, we do.
We reach Towner at about 2 pm and set up in the shelter in the city park. Coming into town the Welcome Sign declares Towner to be the Cattle Capital of North Dakota. It’s reasonable to think that the local bar—something Moose—will have good hamburgers, so we walk to the bar for some very good burgers and good bottled beer for dinner.
At the end of the day, we think about the treasure of being able to ride our bikes together.
Day 0: A year in the planning
For our past three tours, we’ve quit our jobs, myself an RN and Patrick an Architect, only to return to our same jobs. Not this time. We had several milestones in 2020, including 25 years married, and my 70th birthday, and retiring from OR nursing. Then in Spring of 2021, Patrick celebrating his 55th birthday, decided to “retire” from Architectural office work and plans to do independent projects.
And now, here we go again, “same, same but different. After a year of hunkering down because of Covid 19, and both of us are now fully vaccinated, we are ready to explore our own country by cycling the Northern Tier.
Our plan is to start on May 31st. Renting a car one way, we will drive to Everett, WA, staying with a Warmshowers host. June 1st, we will take the Mukilteo Ferry cycling to Anacortes and then start cycling East. We will not follow the Northern Tier route strictly and will incorporate as many Rail-to-Trail routes as possible. Once we reach Bar Harbor, ME, we will make our way to Boston by October 16th to fly to Amsterdam for a 2-week family visit in Ossendrecht. Finally, we fly home to Boise on November 1st.
When the decision was made to cycle the Northern Tier, our first task was finding a house/garden/cat sitter. On previous tours, when we were going for at least a year or more, this also meant packing up the house. This time with only plans to go for five months, we hope to not have to pack up so much.
A shoutout to friends immediately brought the suggestion of one of their friends who would be looking for a new place to live in June. Jeff is a local Park Ranger and has agreed to be a house/garden and cat wrangler.
Now all that is left to do is pack the supplies, double-check the list, say goodbye to the kitties and start pedaling.
So it begins…
Day 1: Mukilteo Ferry to Clinton and cycling to Oak Harbor
“This is going to hurt,” Rachel says.
“Our first hill and we’ve done a mile,” Patrick replies.
We had a slow start to our first day, enjoying the company of our Warmshowers hosts, Jeanne and Tom, and the gorgeous view of the Cascade Mountains from their deck. They have given us advice on the route, and our stay with them has given us a good start to the tour.
The 5-mile ride to the Mukilteo ferry was rolling hills down to the water. The ferry terminal is new, and there’s a green lane for bicycles. It was a quick crossing, pedestrians and cyclists are allowed off first, and we head to Clinton Beach right outside the terminal to allow the traffic to pass. We have a break eating a muffin and fig bars, and once the traffic subsided, we take off. Immediately is a hill climb, and it hurts. Our two weeks of cycling a 19-mile loop wasn’t much of a cardio workout compared to what we are now experiencing.
We stay on 525, stopping for breaks at the bus stalls, and in Greenbank, stop at a Deli for chocolate milk and make a ham and cheese sandwich. There is an occasional glimpse of Mount Baker, and the yellow witch’s broom is in full bloom along with Lupines in a variety of colors. Memories of other places surface, and the vague feeling this is just a continuation of past tours. The sky is clear and the temperature warmer than we expected. We are getting tired from the hills. When we reach Rt 20, we turn toward Fort Casey, where the Keystone ferry leaves for Port Townsend. The road is flat, and the headwind picked up. As we climbed away from the ferry terminal, there were three F18s practicing touch-and-go’s. We turn on Engles Road to Coupeville, a cute little village. Out of Coupeville, we take Madrona Way to Libby Road.
The short steep hills increased after Coupeville, and we are tiring. When we reach and take the final turn on West Beach that will take us to tonight’s Warmshower host, there it is — there is always one more hill. And then another… We make it to Kurt and Jane’s house at 4 pm.
Kurt is a retired teacher, and Jane a physical therapist. They lived in China for a length of time and have beautiful Chinese furniture. Kurt also fishes as a commercial salmon fisherman in Alaska. Their house offers a beautiful view over the Strait of Juan de Fuca all the way to Vancouver Island. They have cycled extensively in Europe.
A nice warm shower washes away the weariness of the road. Jane and Kurt fix a wonderful meal, including some of the salmon Kurt has caught. The evening is relaxing, sharing travel stories and experiences. Mostly though, staying with locals, we get good advice on the route. We have changes in our plans already.
You can follow Rachel and Patrick’s adventures on Cycleblaze.