The weather decided to bid us a fond farewell from Canada as we rose on our 26th day and, after a farewell to Lisa, set back along the Lochside trail to catch the ferry that would take us on to the next leg of our journey, and into the USA. Though not as glorious as our ride into the city, it was at least dry with the sun attempting to shine as we raced towards our destination: learning from experience that we couldn’t afford to take chances (especially as with this particular ferry, there is just one a day- ONE!) and therefore leaving in plenty of time – with me in charge of navigation this time…
We arrived at Sidney with plenty of time to spare and headed through the long-anticipated Immigration Control and customs. Thankfully, this being a particularly small port, we avoided the chaos that I’ve come to associate with the same scenario at international airports- however, we were grateful for the extra time as we proceeded to fill in various paperwork, have our fingerprints and photos taken (Theo, I’m happy to say, was spared this particular aspect!) and undergo the ‘standard’ interview upon entry into the States. As I was dealt the somewhat clichéd question of, “And what is your business in the United States?” I was overwhelmed by the strange combination of wanting to giggle- it just seemed oddly excessive and unnecessary!- and an unfounded fear similar to that of undergoing an interview for a job when you worry that one slip of the tongue could cost you all your chances. Friendly and approachable as our immigration officer was, this part was delivered with such stern sincerity that I felt myself transported back to my schooldays and under the glare of Mrs. O’Callaghan as she demanded why my homework wasn’t done- and momentarily lost all capacity of thought as I tried to answer. My response ended up as a collection of stammered, near-incoherent utterances mumbled together in a hurried fashion- something along the lines of, “Um, we’re cycling…I mean, we’re doing a cycle tour…you know, traveling by bike for a few months, well, 5 months actually…but not 5 months in the USA obviously, I know it’s only 3 months, it is 3 months right? But er, we’ve already done Canada and then we’re doing Canada again…but we’re staying in San Francisco…just, you know, for a few weeks, not for ever or anything…”
I flushed as I stuttered my way through it, realizing that every time I ventured to open my mouth, I made matters worse. Of course he knows what cycle touring is Becki, don’t insult his intelligence. Why did you have to tell him it’s for 5 months? That’ll just confuse him. And don’t even INSINUATE that you’d be staying in San Francisco and put daft ideas in his head. Dear god Becki, just shut up before you well and truly put your foot in it!!!
The officer eyed me with a mixture of suspicion and pity before writing, nice and clearly in bold letters, ‘22nd AUGUST 2011’ on our passports.
“This,” he stared at me intently and spoke very slowly and clearly, as if unsure I had the required level of understanding to fully comprehend what he was saying, “This is the date, 3 months from now, when you must have left the USA by. You know, cycle out by. Understand? You must be out of the USA by this time. And you must hand this [holding up the passport with temporary ‘visa’ stapled in] back when you leave the USA, so that we know you’ve left. Hand it to an official when you cross the border back into Canada. Do you understand? 22nd August, hand back slip. Simple, right?”
I decided my best port of call here was to remain mute and nod my response before I had him questioning my mental capacity any further. Although on reflection, perhaps that only confirmed his suspicions.
We hit a slight blip when asked to fill out the address of where we were to stay that night- how on earth am I to know, I wondered, when we’re literally just getting off the ferry and cycling as far as we can get and then hitting a campsite somewhere?- but thankfully muddled through that one too; and somehow I managed to control my childish, immature giggles as I successfully ticked all the ‘no’ boxes asking if I was engaged in terrorist activity or had any history with the Nazi movement. Honestly, do they expect that people would actually reply in the affirmative to these questions, even if those chanced to be their motives?
Our ferry from Sidney was a 3hr crossing through the San Juan Islands to Anacortes on Fidalgo Island. The weather wasn’t so kind as our crossing to Victoria, so we spent the majority of our time below deck and chanced to meet a lovely Australia/New Zealand couple who were also cycling the coastal route down south at the same time as us. A long chat with the New Zealand lady was a fantastic confidence booster and lifted my spirits substantially: a triathlon enthusiast, we talked about our mutual love of running, along with the many highs and lows of cycle touring- from bears to campsite showers, wet cycling gear to eating on the road, our mutual lack of ‘care’ over our appearance as cyclists and more! Such mundane subjects as I’m sure others would perceive them; but for us, given that this is now our ‘life’, our whole world, it was great to share experiences and laugh together for a while. I confessed that our slower pace meant we would be trailing in their dust as we headed south, but it was reassuring to know we weren’t the first or the earliest to be undertaking the challenge this year- unlike the case in Canada!
With no customs or immigration greeting us on the other end, we cycled off the ferry and straight onto the route. The sun was out here and we quickly shed our layers as we started to warm up from the cycling once again, following the directions of what I am sure is to become my ‘bible’ for the forthcoming weeks, Tom Kirkendall and Vicky Spring’s Bicycling the Pacific Coast. Admittedly I was momentarily thrown at mis-spelt road names that had me second-guessing at points (thank goodness I managed to muddle through it- I’m sure Matt wouldn’t have let me off lightly for failing on my first day of navigation duty!) and we were continually puzzled by the ever-changing road signs that switched from km to miles, seemingly at will. After climbing a few steep hills and eventually joining highway 20, we were in a rhythm once again and clocking the miles under us. Although lacking the mountains that were so customary of Canada, we found the scenery just as spectacular: with tall, cool firs lining the roads on one side, and the coast on the other. Once we reached Deception Pass, however, we were blown away- by the incredible view, the sheer height, and the impressive engineering and workmanship that must have gone into the making of the bridge that now links the two islands together. As we sat upon our bikes admiring the view, who should pull up behind us but the Australian/New Zealand couple- and after mutual looks of sheer surprise, we quickly established that they had opted for the longer route through the town- not fallen to a slower pace behind us! We were immensely grateful for the chance meeting, however, as the bridge itself was a long, narrow affair with no shoulder to speak of- and as such we formed a line, with the Australian gentleman riding behind, huddling close together for safety and preventing any cars from attempting dangerous or close overtakes on the bridge. Safety in numbers can prove invaluable in situations such as these- especially when you have a trailer which naturally causes you to ‘stick out’ onto the road a bit. Motorists can underestimate the width if they see only me from behind- and as such can perform risky maneuvers in their bid to pass.
Upon completing our crossing safely, we bid farewell once more and watched with envy as the couple cycled off ahead of us with ease and speed we could never dream of achieving (at least, not without Theo and about half the weight we’ve currently carrying!) Perhaps, one day, when Theo is bigger and perhaps cycling on his own…or at home with his Nana!!…we might be able to achieve similar results.
We decided against following the instructions of the book for the first day of riding- which somehow expected us to have time still for another ferry crossing over to the mainland!- and called it a day shortly after Deception Pass at Cranberry Lake campsite. We spent a lazy few hours by the jetty, watching the locals come along to fish (with Theo even creating his own imitation line from a stick and spare bit of twine, causing my heart to leap to my mouth on several occasions as he leaned into the water to “catch me a big fish, mummy!”) and admiring the still calm of the lake. We found the campground unattended (office hours from 10-11am; I ask you, how many people turn up at that time?!) and were frustrated by this, as the showers only accepted ‘tokens’ available from a member of staff. However, we registered and left a slip with our details before seeking out our first ever ‘hiker-biker’ site, tucked away from the rest of the campsite up a windy path and hidden amongst a blanket of trees. Though fairly small, it was ideal for us- bar the fact that the ground was so incredibly stony, it was nigh-on impossible to hammer pegs into. Matt bent almost all our pegs in the process before admitting angry defeat and simply securing the tent with rocks. We begun to wish we had opted for one of the larger sites with greater chance of successfully securing our tent.
So it must be said that our first impressions of the USA aren’t largely different from those of Canada. We have yet to really experience the society, however, and naturally given the geographical closeness, there isn’t a significant difference in the scenery. It’s hard, in a way, to even believe that we’re here. My experiences of the USA to date are limited to the East Coast: and given the distance from there to here, we may as well be in a different country altogether! So truthfully, I don’t have any expectations as such. But it does feel sad, in a way, to realize that ‘leg 1’ is over already- it simply hammers home the fact that time on our adventure is slipping way from us rapidly and I’m sure we will be on that plane home before I know it. Whilst the ambitious and adventurous part of me is determined this will not be the last experience we have of cycle touring -indeed, I’m already dreaming up many destinations and experiences I long to have under my belt!- it can’t be denied that there will never be one quite the same as our first, with our toddler. There are days when I feel a slight, tiny pang of homesickness perhaps; days when the rain dampens my spirits or Theo’s toddler tantrums push my limits, but they are quickly crushed by a continuing appreciation of what we’re doing. I don’t want it to slip away so fast: I want to hold onto it and remember it. I already find myself missing and longing for the mountains in Canada as I would mourn leaving behind a new friend; but I know I can’t let this ‘backward-looking’ attitude undermine my appreciation of the here and now. So a forward-looking approach it is: with fresh eyes for a fresh destination!
Mainland USA, here we come.
Miles today: 31 (plus the ferry!)
Total miles to date: 638