Cycling North in Malaysia TrulyAsia

Riding North through Malaysia we didn’t have much of a plan other than to stay near the coast and to go to some islands. Penang and Langkawi are the well known Malaysian islands on this coast but our first island stop was Pulau Pangkor, described as “where Malaysians go on holiday at the weekend”, so on a Wednesday we thought this might be a good bet for some quiet beaches. We got to the ferry port in Lumut at mid afternoon and got the what was to become normal look from boat staff when we turn up with the loaded bikes to take them on a ferry. It’s a look that is a mixture of “what on earth are you crazy white people doing with bikes” and “challenge!” This is a foot passenger ferry, and there is obviously no bike storage area, so a bit of imagination is required for getting the bikes on and stowed. We have since learnt that the key in this situation is not to watch the precarious loading of the bikes. On this occasion they were pretty good as there was also the odd moped to carry.


A short ferry ride later we were on our first South East Asian island. The port town was fairly busy with mopeds buzzing around everywhere but as soon as we got out of there the roads emptied out and there was nobody about. We had to ride up our first serious hills (>10%) which made us nearly melt. We were aiming for a small resort on the west coast with budget accommodation and there were so few people around we could name our price for a room steps from the beach. That evening we had dinner overlooking the sea, watched closely by a hornbill (it felt like being on the Lion King). There was a decent sunset as we were facing west and walking up and down a near empty beach (just us and a few hundred washed up plastic bottles, sadly) we were pretty happy with ourselves. 


Hornbill on Pulau Pangkor. Like having dinner with Zazu

The next morning the place was even quieter. There was nowhere open for breakfast and even the mopeds had thinned out. I sent Debs into a hotel to ask if there was something going on that everyone was at but no, it was just midweek on Pulau Pangkor. An afternoon ferry got us back to the mainland and we spent the evening in the fairly nice “resort town” (but we were still the only white people) of Lumut. From there it was a few days ride inland to Penang. First stop was Taiping, a decent sized city famous for having 61 ‘firsts’ in Malaysia – first newspaper, railway station, prison, museum…. for us it was our first experience of eating at an outdoor market and the food and atmosphere set the bar high. It also had some nice lake gardens, overall a nice stop off and totally off the tourist trail.

Lake gardens, Taiping

Taiping night market

That day was mostly memorable for our closest brush with fame yet. We are getting quite used to people wanting to take selfies with us (we always wonder how these photos are explained to their friends. How we imagine it: “I saw these two amazing women today, they were on bikes carrying all of their stuff, how incredible is that? They had really muscly legs and didn’t even look tired!”. What probably happens: “I saw the weirdest thing today! Two white women riding bikes wearing strange hats, they were so pink and sweaty they looked like they were about to collapse, where on earth were they going? They must be mental! I had to take a photo!”) but this was a new high. We had stopped for cendol (will be explained in a future food-related post) and were about to leave when a bus load of middle aged women and children got off. Pleased we’d timed it to avoid the queue, I went to get my bike and noticed Debs being mobbed/hugged. Not wanting to miss out I went over to see what was happening and all of a sudden we were swamped with selfie requests, the women pushing and shoving to get their turn to take a selfie with the weird (amazing?) cyclists. We rode off smiling and wondering how this interaction would be explained to the husbands later. 

Debs and her fans

Anyway back to the cycling. From Taiping we followed some small roads for a while which was a nice change but soon we were back on busy highways. We stopped for an ice cream at a petrol station (our new favourite air conditioned break) and a pump attendant looked over our bikes for ages, before giving the tyres a squeeze (why does everyone do this?) and insisting we needed them shining. We didn’t. That evening we were staying with a warm showers host and stopped in his town to buy some fruit. I walked back from the fruit shop to find Debs chatting to Wendy, who had good English and insisted we came to her shop to meet her family. Sure we said, they were all so excited to meet us, we ate pomelo for the first time and there was much hilarity over the fact that I couldn’t peel it (being a failure is funny in any language it seems). Wendy was excited to have “real life white people” in her shop, we were excited to be invited in, generally there was much excitement. Wendy said to me “your eyes are so blue”, I hadn’t really thought about how strange blue eyes look here. We were asked to stay for dinner but had a host to get to (bad timing, we never usually do) and we spent the evening with David and his wife who cooked us a great curry (they were Indian-Malay). He had cycled in England and the USA. Our favourite story was how he went into a shop to buy bread, they asked what kind of bread, he said he didn’t know, just bread, they showed him a list of breads, he chose one, then they kept asking what he wanted in it, “there were all these raw vegetables, do you want cheese? I just wanted bread”, and we realised he had walked into a Subway. It must be quite confusing in there when you only want bread.


Fishing boats

A horrible, busy, smoggy, black-bogey-inducing ride and a short ferry the next day got us to Penang, an island just off the Malaysian coast which was colonised first by the English. It was a cool place to hang out and wander around for a few days. The first day we were there was the last day of Chinese New Year celebrations (15 days in total, not counting preceding days, it makes me feel like we are missing out on something only having one day) which is also a kind of Chinese Valentines Day where single women throw mandarins into the sea. I’m not sure why. But this was fun to watch and there was a great firework display at the end. [We were at our hotel earlier and a guy called Tony turned up with a large backpack and checked in. Debs told him there were fireworks down at the fort later to which he curtly replied “oh, I’ve already seen some”. When is this ever a reason to not watch a firework display?! We imagined Tony at home. “Hey Tony, want to come to the pub?” “No, I’ve already been.” Odd.]

Sharing the ferry to Penang

The chucking-a-mandarin-in-a-bucket ceremony. Nearly as many mandarins in the sea as plastic bottles….

There’s some cool street art in Penang and lots of old fancy colonial buildings as well as the usual mix of churches, mosques and temples. It kept us busy but our main reason for staying so long was to get visas for Thailand, as currently 60 day visas are free and we were worried about only getting 15 days at the border. On our way back from the Thai embassy we saw our fourth crash in Malaysia, a motorbike going straight into the back of a car, flipping up and throwing the driver onto the ground on his head. We stopped and helped collect his belongings from the road as he dragged himself to the side. The amount of crashes we are seeing here, either happening in front of us or riding past the aftermath of ambulances and upturned vehicles is quite frightening and a reminder that we are at the mercy of other drivers and anybody can be in the wrong place at the wrong time. We just cross our fingers that it won’t be us and keep our wits about us.

Street art in Penang

One day in Penang was filled with risking public transport to visit a hill-top temple with a huge statue and a good view of the city. Despite Chinese New Year finally being over the temple was decorated with more lanterns than I ever thought possible. Just as I was wondering how many lanterns it takes to decorate somewhere like that I saw that some had numbered tags – 19,000 and counting. That’s a lot of lanterns. Someone makes a killing selling these once a year. It was all very colourful. The bus ride back was eventful, our female driver wore a headscarf and aviators and spent the whole time on her two phones. We clung on for dear life and wondered whether it was better to be cycling or on public transport. Not sure.

Chinese lanterns on Penang

Instead of going back to the mainland and riding north we could take a three hour ferry straight to Langkawi, our final stop in Malaysia. This is another popular tourist stop but more for the beaches than the towns. Again we tried not to watch as our bikes were lifted onto the top of the ferry and had a very unpleasant ride as we had to sit downstairs airline-style, could hardly see out of the windows and definitely couldn’t go out on deck for some fresh air or enjoy the scenery. Langkawi was also fairly disappointing at first glance, hotels and tour agencies everywhere, and riding round to Pantai Cenang, the main resort, we were sad to see it look more like Benidorm. The beach was nice but full of bars, sun loungers, jet ski operators, people selling boat tours and backpackers taking selfies. We treated ourselves to a beer on the beach (being a largely Muslim country, alcohol is heavily taxed in Malaysia – it would cost us more to buy one beer than a huge meal for both of us – but Langkawi is duty-free) and found a quiet spot at the end of the beach to watch the sun set but we weren’t tempted to stick around and rode off the next day to find a quieter beach on the north of the island. 

The quest for the perfect selfie

Pantai Cenang sunset

This was achieved successfully, we found a lovely motel right on a quiet beach where you could also camp. After one air-conditioned night we tried out sleeping in the tent for the first time since New Zealand. Despite a cool breeze outside it was like trying to sleep in a sauna and we both laid in a pool of our own sweat trying to sleep. It finally cooled off about 5am and we had a couple of hours until the sun was up. Camping was not something we would be making a habit of. 

Northern Langkawi

We were sad to leave Malaysia. We had enjoyed the food a lot, everybody speaks English well and it’s an easy place to travel around. We had learnt what we needed to get by on a bike – key words for survival (water, danger, ice cream, fried), how to find decent cheap accommodation, what and where to eat, getting drinking water, what to expect from towns, how much things should cost… I always find it quite unnerving to have to enter a new country and start all of this again. 

Even accustomed to following the moped lead in how to get to the front of the traffic
We enjoyed the variety of mosque architecture
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An extra four wheels

To get back to Auckland in time to celebrate Christmas with our NZ famil-Lee we had to find an alternative to cycling. Flying was an unattractive prospect and buses are still not on a full schedule after the Kaikoura earthquake so we investigated how an extra four wheels might help us. Most people who rent cars and campervans here pick up in Auckland and drive somewhere in the South Island to fly home. So luckily for us, rental companies need these vehicles driving back up north and offer nice perks to counteract the fact that they need them back as quickly as possible. We managed to book a small self-contained camper for free, as long as we took no more than four days to get from Christchurch to Auckland (1300kms). All we had to pay for was one passenger on the ferry, and the petrol. Deal.

First of all we had a day to look around Christchurch. The city is still in recovery after the major 2011 earthquake that killed 185 people and destroyed most of the CBD. Since the last time we were here (2012) it looked like the city is progressing well – piles of rubble have been cleared, empty lots have been tidied up and there are a number of new flash buildings. In 2012 the re:start shopping mall in bright shipping containers just had a handful of shops; now it is a thriving shopping space with cafes, street performers and food. It was very busy. We liked Christchurch a lot. It seems like there is plenty going on, the regeneration is an exciting time, it’s a manageable sized city and there’s even decent cycling infrastructure.

Clockwise from top left: Big chairs in the CBS; 185 white chairs, one for every life lost in the 2011 earthquake; re:start shipping container mall; damaged cathedral; interior of the new temporary “cardboard cathedral”

But we had Christmas in Auckland to get to. After not driving for well over a year we were a little apprehensive about getting behind the steering wheel. How would it feel to be travelling so fast? We had other things to think about too. How much does petrol cost these days? How often will we need to fill up? What’s the speed limit? Where will we park? How close can we get with the car? All things we haven’t had to consider in a long while. Especially not the speed limit.

Kitchen; bedroom/bike storage

The camper itself was well thought out, with a small kitchen area at the back and a fold up bed/table in the main area. It came with everything you might need – all cooking stuff, real mugs, chairs and table to sit outside, gps, chargers, there was even the luxury of huge pillows and a duvet. Debs was excited to find a coffee plunger; I was more excited about a plug in tourist gps radio (that turned out to be dull). After listening to our iPod through its own speakers for months we could plug it in to the car stereo. We even had two big fluffy towels each. Not that we planned on showering, but nice to have them just in case. It also had a porta potty and a way to store waste so we had that all important “self-contained” sticker on the back. These are highly sought after as new freedom camping rules means that there are loads of designated free camping sites, but only if you have the magic sticker (so you won’t go in the bushes in the night). We were now one of those people who we were jealous of when looking for a free spot to pitch our tent and finding “self-contained only” signs. Life was good. It was luxurious even.

Squeezing the bikes in around all of these luxury items was a bit tricky but by taking the front wheels off they stood between the bed and the front seats. Driving out of Christchurch was easy, it’s hardly a big city, and we had the pleasure of going to a supermarket knowing we could buy what we needed for the next few days all in one go. No need to worry about the weight. We bought an extra couple of tins of beans ‘just in case’. There was even a cool box so we could have real milk in our tea rather than powdered. These are the type of things we can usually only dream of.

As the road through Kaikoura (the shortest way to ferry to the north island) is closed following a landslide after the most recent earthquake, we had a seven hour drive ahead of us to get to Picton. Excitedly we hit the open road, marvelling at how fast we were travelling, how we couldn’t even tell the road was going up (we had a pass to get over), and having nothing much to think about other than which album to have on next. The novelty lasted a couple of hours. That was all it took to realise how much we loved cycling.

It was boring, particularly being the passenger. I think I fell asleep for a while. (While Debs was driving of course.) Everything went by so fast, it was hypnotising. On the bike you can stop and take a picture whenever you like. In the van it was more “that’s a good view can we… oh it’s passed now. Never mind”. We were up the pass and over the other side in no time, and I felt like we hadn’t really had time to look properly at the scenery. Both of us had to really concentrate when driving to make sure we didn’t gaze around, something you do without thinking on the bike. It was uncomfortable sitting still in the same place for so long, and there weren’t many places to stop and stretch your legs. But mostly we felt lazy. We had become so accustomed to the feeling of satisfaction gained from making distance purely through physical activity. It was strange because we expected to enjoy being able to travel so effortlessly, but it just felt wrong somehow. It also meant we couldn’t stop and eat every ten minutes like we usually do. That’s not to say we weren’t pleased to be in the van when it rained for the last few hours to Picton.

Driving up towards Lewis Pass

It was pretty late when we arrived at a good free camp spot by the beach. Dreams of just being able to park up, get in the back and go to sleep within the space of a few minutes didn’t quite work out as we first had to manoeuvre the bikes out and lock them outside, but it was still a much faster process than tenting. We woke to an amazing sunrise over the river and cooked up a porridge breakfast that we could sit on chairs with backs to eat. Whilst the actual travelling wasn’t as fun, the process of camping was made a lot easier with the van.

A three hour scenic ferry ride got us to the North Island and we had another mammoth drive to make sure we could meet up with friends from the UK the next day.

Ferry ride across the Cook Straits

That night we slept by the side of the Desert Road at its highest point (over 1000m) on the edge of Tongariro National Park, in the shadow of Mt Ruapehu. Mt Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom to LOTR fans) was also in view. Cooking rice and tuna as the sun set behind the mountains was pretty special, even if we hadn’t pedalled ourselves there. The next morning the sky was clear and the views even better. It was pretty cold up at that height so we welcomed the duvet.

Sunset over Mt Ruapehu
Sunrise at Mt Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom on Lord of the Rings)
Not a bad view to wake up to (and look at from a chair with a back)

After a second breakfast on the shore of Lake Taupo we drive round to Huka Falls to meet friends for a walk and a soak in the natural hot pools. After not seeing anyone from home since April this was amazing!

Huka Falls
Soaking in the natural spa pools

Time went too fast and we had to hit the road again. Searching for our first west coast sunset in New Zealand we drove north via Raglan, a west coast surf town with some great beaches. The sun set over the sea, we again cooked with an amazing view and the next morning we even had time for a couple of hours on the beach before dropping the van off and getting back on the bikes. A ride, train, ferry and final ride got us back to the North Shore.

Sunset over the Raglan surf beaches
Dinner
Morning beach walk, Raglan

Overall it was a fun way to do the journey we had to do in the time available. Much better than flying. Being able to camp anywhere was nice, and we had three great camp spots. But as a way to travel, cycling still wins. By far. On a bike you experience everything that is around you, so intensely. The weather, the temperature, the wind, sounds, animals, traffic, road surface, you feel every little thing. Being in a vehicle neutralises this. It could be boiling hot or freezing cold outside – we were a constant temperature. The road could go up or down – it felt the same to us. The wind could be roaring, the trees blowing or the streams gushing – all we could hear was the engine and the stereo. We just felt so detached from the environment we were travelling through. Want an adventure? Get a bike! [disclaimer: it is very tiring cycling everywhere.]
Thanks to Gen & Nick (again); Viv & George (again); Hels & Gaby for the English company.

Loving the Slo life in California

We sometimes don’t go to cities on the bikes because of the day required to ride in and the other to ride out. Leaving San Francisco was far more complicated than arriving, lots of navigating, morning rush hour traffic and a sudden scarcity of restrooms right when I really needed one. When we finally climbed out of the suburbs and up to a scenic drive there was an unwelcome diversion directing us back down the hill we had just ascended, to re-climb at a later point. With a big climb still to come (Old La Honda Road) we stepped up the pace as much as we could – we had a hostel treat to get to…
Jo is a big fan of lighthouses, and had been pleased to learn that there are two hostels in light-keepers’ quarters south of San Francisco. After a twisty descent, the last ten miles to Pigeon Point were along a beautiful stretch of coastline. The wind switched to the North and we zoomed along past beaches and rocky headlands. We were very excited to find an extremely comfortable sofa in the hostel (small things) and even more so to find out that the hostel manager is a stargazing enthusiast and would be setting his telescope up that evening.

Giant Jo, comedy genius.

If you have never had the opportunity to look at stars like that, seek one out. Ideally somewhere with a dark sky, a proper telescope and a person who knows a bit about it. We had all three. I have seen Saturn before, but it was no less wow-ing a second time, it looks like someone has drawn a cartoon planet with ring and stuck it on the end of the telescope. We also looked at some globular clusters (not a breakfast cereal for Star Trek fans), a galaxy that’s like ours, and Jeff used a super cool laser pointer to show us some constellations that we instantly forgot. Amazing.

A lazy morning and a speedy wind-assisted afternoon ride took us to Santa Cruz (you’re not that far). We spent most of the ride working out who sang that song. We were sure it started with a ‘The’. Two days later we got it. I won’t spoil the game for noughties music fans. Santa Cruz is a trendy town with a LOT of surfers. We took our cereal and milk down to the sea front to watch the action. I’m afraid that’s all the space it gets in this post though as nearby Carmel steals the show. Not because it is super fancy and historic, but because Carmel law states that a permit is required for high heels and you can actually get a permit from the town hall. Amazing. Sadly it is closed on Saturdays, so Jo was unable to don her stilettos for the ride. We settled for an apple fritter from Safeway instead.

Big Sur, bigger cake

South of Carmel the riding was fantastic. More weekend traffic than we would have liked, but stunning scenery through the Big Sur area. Huge forest fires nearby meant that state park campgrounds were housing firefighters, so we shared a pitch in a private campground with fellow cyclists Greg and Pete. We were next door to some lovely families on a weekend trip, and were very well fed with barbecued meat, refried beans, salad, beer and chocolate cake. Much more interesting than our usual pasta. It was a fun Saturday night and the amazing scenery continued for the next few days. We saw sea lions and funny looking elephant seals. We had possibly the best cycling of the USA, one of the best camp spots (Kirk Creek Forest Service), a few outdoor washes (a creek one night, the ocean the next) and only one more night of raccoon vandalism.

Carmel to Morro Bay: Possibly the best riding of the whole US.

We had been undecided about whether San Luis Obispo or LA would mark the end of our North America ride. As we sat by the sea in Morro Bay eating our first fish and chips since the San Juan Islands I became pretty sure I wanted these great days to be the end of the ride, not a busy dual carriageway into a city. This was cemented when our lovely host in SLO Rod told us about the train journey between the two. The train goes right along the ocean for a long stretch where the road is inland. We had a winner, and the end point of our 6500+ mile cycle.

This gave us almost a week to hang out in SLO, live out a few American dreams, and in my case recover from man flu. Back to the dreams. Since April we have cycled past a lot of signs advertising local pancake breakfasts, or fire station spaghetti nights, or church BBQs. They have always been tantalisingly unavailable, the breakfast is the second Sunday of the month, we are there on the Saturday for example. We had never managed to attend one of these ideal-for-hungry-cyclists events, a source of great sadness. Until Rod revealed that on the first Sunday of every month he cooks eggs at a local community centre’s pancake breakfast. That Sunday! We just hoped they had enough batter and bacon for hungry cyclists…
Whilst waiting for our pancake treat there was time for a fabulous All-American Friday night at the local high school football game. It was just like a movie or TV show. Everyone stood for the anthem. There really were cheerleaders. There was a marching band. And a giant inflatable tiger. There were even more people involved in the overall show than there are on an American football team and lots of students and parents had come to watch. It was a magical experience.

Biking, hiking and living dreams

Pancake breakfast was also totally fabulous, and we were sad to say goodbye to SLO early on Monday morning. The train journey was spectacular and gave us a hassle-free arrival into central LA. We had a few tasks to complete before our flight, beginning with locating some Chinese shopping bags to check our panniers in. We had tried to get some in SLO, they are pretty ubiquitous (we got the last ones in Hinckley) but no one seemed to know what we meant. We started showing photos, which drew the comment “They’re a bit ethnic. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s not very ethnic here.” Anyway, we thought Chinatown in LA would be a safe bet, and we had our very own ‘The Apprentice Shopping Task’ moment as we cycled around the streets: “I’ve seen them, turn round!” Lord Sugar would have been disappointed that we did not negotiate and paid the full price of $5 for two bags.


This gave us time to seek out the Hollywood sign and look at some stars on the floor as we rode to our hosts’ house. Tony and Cathy’s help and a friendly bike shop made our pre-flight prep very easy. We enjoyed our last two days of understanding language and (most of) what was going on around us. With the upcoming election we did slightly have the feeling of leaving at the right time, and to be going to a completely new and very different country was exciting. There would definitely be some things we would miss about being in the USA. It is such a fun place to travel – has amazing scenery, friendly people, does such a great job of being American, and has very entertaining veterinary signs. Here’s our favourites to sign off…

A poem for your dog: Roses are grey, violets are grey.

Neutering your pet makes them less nuts.

Your pets will love us, I shitszu not.
Thanks to: The All-American Veterinary Sign Writers’ Association (if it doesn’t exist, it should, people need recognition for quality work); Ruth & Edward; Jeff at Pigeon Point; Esther; Greg & Pete for great company; Roy, Frank and the rest of the Santa Ana camping crew; Rod, Helen & Casey; Helen’s Bikes, Westwood; Tony & Cathy.

´╗┐Olympic Games and Olympic waves: Cycling US Highway 101

We had crossed North America by bike. So what next? The Pacific Highway (route 101) winds its way down the West coast of the USA, and all across the country people had been telling us how beautiful a drive it was. It’s also a popular cycle route, being a much shorter way (a mere 1800 miles) to cross the country than the East-West route. Six weeks riding by the sea? Ok then. It seemed like a logical next step for us. 

Vancouver, BC. Not a bad place to “rest” for a couple of weeks

First we had some friends to catch up with in Vancouver BC, one of our favourite world cities. This coincided nicely with the Olympics, so we had a couple of weeks swapping cycling for sitting watching cycling. The last time we were in Vancouver four years ago it rained pretty much solid the whole time, but this visit we were treated to sunshine so enjoyed all that Vancouver had to offer. We climbed Grouse Mountain, saw a couple of grizzly bears, made Yorkshire puddings, went to a few different beaches, ate lots of ice cream, took part in a huge water fight… All essential tourist activities. The bikes were away and we barely looked at them. We also spent a few days on Salt Spring Island, right next to a lake perfect for swimming, canoeing, stand up paddle boarding, and relaxing. The sun continued to shine. It was all too perfect, and before we knew it two weeks had passed and it was time to get back on the bikes before we forgot how to pedal.

Hanging out by Cusheon Lake, Salt Spring Island

We crossed back into the USA from Vancouver Island, spending the night in Victoria – probably the most British town in British Columbia. There’s red buses and black taxis and everything. The best thing that happened there was nothing to do with British heritage though. Victoria is on the south coast of the island, and we were riding around the headland enjoying views across the sea to the USA when a guy in a car slowed down next to us and shouted that there were some Orcas (also called killer whales but they are actually the largest dolphin) on their way. We raced round to the next viewpoint and there we saw three of them passing by not far of the coast. They are huge! We felt pretty lucky as people who live there told us they had never seen them before.

The orcas were too far away to get a good picture, so here’s some killer cyclist sign instead.

The next day we packed up and left The Best Place on Earth (British Columbia’s modest tag line) and caught a ferry to Port Angeles on the Olympic peninsula. This would mark the start of our west coast trip, ending in Los Angeles – making it an Angeles to Angeles ride. Unlike most ferries, on this one cyclists are treated as foot passengers rather than cars. Good points: no need to queue with cars to get on, no riding down into the car deck, no hanging around breathing in exhaust fumes, nice waiting room to sit in rather than standing out on the dock. Bad point: wheeling a loaded bike through passenger queues. As we had to go through customs and immigration, this was not easy. The low point was trying to manoeuvre them around the maze of bollards while queuing to get into the US. You know when you queue to check in at an airport and it can be quite hard to get your luggage around the corners? Getting a loaded bike around those corners without dropping it or taking out other passengers was quite the challenge. But we made it, and although we were sad to leave Canada and our friends behind, 1800 miles of coastline lay ahead. Pacific Highway 101 starts here and we would mostly follow it all the way to LA. 

The start of our Highway 101 trip. Next Angeles… Los!
Nice people around.

The Olympic Peninsula in Washington state is the most westerly point of the US mainland and has a wild feel to it. The forests are old and huge and the towns few and far between. The only town we passed through on our way to the West coast was Forks, famous for the filming of Twilight and seemingly living purely off this – not much else seemed to be going on. The Olympic National Park goes right up to the coast so we followed 101 in bright sunshine for the afternoon, looking forward to camping overlooking the beach and our first west coast sunset. But just as we approached the coast, we were plunged into thick sea fog. Suddenly it was freezing cold and we were stood overlooking Ruby Beach, one of the most photographed spots on the Olympic Peninsula, and though we could hear the sea, we couldn’t see a thing. As we rode south down the coastline there was the strange experience of blue sky above the trees to our left, and thick white fog to our right. Arriving at South Beach campground we were offered a spot between two RVs right on the front overlooking the fog/beach. Gradually as we set up camp it cleared and we were treated to the most spectacular sunset over the sea. This is what we had been hoping for!

The sea started to become visible when we got to the campground…
West coast sunset. Hopefully the first of many!

For the next couple of days to the Oregon border the road is mostly inland through more forests. One morning we stopped for a huge milkshake on the recommendation of a local. Later that day we were back by the sea again in a popular oyster catching area, so stopped to sample a couple of fresh cooked-in-front-of-you samples. Debs had a hot tijuana (chilli, lime, cilantro, tabasco) and I had the rockafella (parmesan, bacon, breadcrumbs, oregano, basil). Awesome. The day of great food was finished off with a couple of slices of key lime pie as an accompaniment to the first episode of the Great British Bake Off. The next morning our friendly camp neighbours came over to offer us breakfast burritos – we were cooking porridge at the time but we never pass up a food offer, so after a two course breakfast we were full for at least two hours that morning.

Oysters, milkshake, key lime pie, Great British Bake Off. A good day.
Cycling by the water. Whats not to like?

Crossing into Oregon was probably the worst cycling we have done since Naples. Highway 101 crosses the state border estuary on a narrow 4-mile bridge that was not designed with bikes in mind. The shoulder was about two feet wide, not big enough to ride in easily but big enough to make car drivers think that we should. This is a popular tourist drive, and it was Friday afternoon, so it seemed like every other car was towing either a trailer or a boat – fast. Nobody on their weekend away wanted to be delayed by a bike for a few seconds. Scary stuff. The heavy traffic continued and we were relieved to arrive to the town of Seaside and catch our breath. It had been hot again and I commented to some other cyclists that after a month of hot weather I would quite like a couple of days of cloud cover to stop my skin from frazzling. No prizes for guessing what happened next….

Entering Oregon. Preferably not by bike, but hey, that was our only way…
Wise words. Not sure about the spelling though….

Thanks to Andrea and Dave, and Robin, Dane, Riley and Sasha and all of their friends for an amazing holiday in Vancouver; Robin and friends for the great camp spot at South Beach; Marnie and John; Ray and Charlaine; and Neil and Carrie.

Motoring across Michigan

Before entering Michigan we weren’t quite sure what to expect from the state. Other than Detroit and Flint, where we were not planning to go, and miles of shoreline, which we were keen to sample at least some of, we had no idea what to expect as we crossed West. What we got were super friendly people (continuation of a theme) and miles of quality off-road bike trails that were converted rail lines. Well done Michigan. Oh and the lake shore is nice too.

Just us popping over to the USA then

It was a short ferry ride from Canada to the USA and we were the only people on the boat. This hindered us a little at US customs as it gave them the time to double and triple check everything in our passports and ask us as many questions as they wanted. Eventually we were let out of the door into the pouring rain and made the short ride to our warm showers host who happened to own and live above a great little restaurant. Time to cash in my birthday treat – beer and burgers – safe in the knowledge that we only had to walk upstairs afterwards. 

Birthday burger treat

The next morning, after hearing that we were once given lucky rocks that we then felt obliged to carry on our bikes, Cheryl gave us lucky bananas instead as a more useful gift of luck. Much appreciated. We set off, took a wrong turn, turned back to find the road we should have been on, found it was gravel, so turned back to where we were before we turned back. At this point we stood and ate our lucky bananas a little disappointed in their power so far. 

Lucky bananas? Give us time….

But the day picked up, we had the wind at our backs and joined together bike routes that took us West. With no plans of where to stay that evening, after starting bike trail number 3 of the day we noticed some activity under a marquee, a baseball game and a BBQ. Following our noses we ended up at a private boys school freshman event, there was loads of food left so we were told by the school nurse to sit and watch the game and have a hot dog. The assistant principal had cycled across the country 20 years ago so we got chatting to him and he invited us to camp on the school grounds. Not any old school grounds of course, they had their own lake, grotto, and perfectly mown grass. Yes we would like that a lot. Ten minutes later the school nurse returned with an improved offer – would we like a dorm room instead? Yes, we would like that even more. After being shown to our room we went for a walk around the school grounds and returned ready to cook some pasta on the stove only to find two meals boxed up for us waiting outside our door. Sitting watching the sun set over the lake and eating chicken and pork with our dorm room waiting we thanked our lucky bananas at how the evening had turned out.

Thank you lucky bananas!

The next couple of days continued in much the same fashion – good bike routes, not so good roads (including my least favourite, the horizontal-crack-every-ten-metres which involves the whole weight of the bike jarring first through the upper body as the front wheel runs over it followed a split second later by the same jolt through the backside). The friendliness continued. Sheltering from a thunderstorm under a gas station forecourt we were offered three lifts and a place to stay during 30 minutes and got chatting to a guy who was about to visit Europe for the first time and had concerns about whether he could use the term fanny pack. We said probably not. Debs had to explain why, good job we had a teacher on hand to clear that up.

The calm after the storm

Three days riding got us to Portage, home of Debs’ old friend Tracy and her two boys. We had a great weekend off the bikes playing capture the flag, soccer, battleships, and old arcade games at an actual arcade. We cooked hot dogs and s’mores over a fire and were sad to leave. 

Thanks for the relaxing weekend ­čÖé

Kal Haven trail

Our route 40 miles all the way to Lake Michigan took us on probably the best bike trail of the lot, the Kal Haven route, nice packed gravel, cheery people and loads of wildlife (though we had to be careful to avoid the suicidal chipmunks that run across in front of the wheels). Before we knew it we were on the shores of one of the Great Lakes watching the waves wondering how this is not the sea. That night we camped at a state park by the shore. The lack of bears so far on the trip meant we were a little casual over food and we woke to find a whole pack of tortillas had been half eaten. Half of every tortilla that is, I don’t know why the (assumed) squirrel couldn’t have carefully pulled the top few out of the pack to eat whole rather than digging into every single one. There were also a surprising number of torn mint tea bags amongst the scene of destruction, I can only imagine it’s disappointment scratching around in the pannier for food only to keep pulling out tea bags. As we packed up that morning we were on the lookout for a fat squirrel with minty fresh breath.

One big bit or many small ones?

The fifth day of riding took us into Indiana (state number 6) for a night camping on the National Lakeshore. We cooked up our typical exciting pasta dinner on the camp stove by the lake and watched the sun set over Chicago – the closest we would get to the city. Not a bad way to end the day, We have cranked up our daily average to around 75 miles given what lies ahead in the mid west – very little if we believe what we are told. Next up for us is a few days riding south west on old Route 66. 50s kitsch, old school diners and Cars (Disney Pixar) memorabilia awaits!

Sunset over the Chicago skyline

Thanks to Cheryl; Orcard Lake St Mary’s High School; Scott, Karen and family; and Tracy, Ben and Levi.