Monday, September 13, 2010

First Day of the Border2Border Tour!

Well I'm lying under the stars (actually it's the roof of our RIDICULOUS palace of a tent, which is under the stars) as I write this, and I don't have a cell phone or the internet. What I do have is a renewed sense of community with my world, a full belly, 80 miles and 2 countries under my legs, and my closest friends around me. Although, at the start, today had less than optimal conditions, things couldn't have gone any better.

We woke up in our rain-saturated tent pitched haphazardly in a gravel lot in the Surrey Athletic Complex in Surrey, BC, Canada with less than a good night's sleep. Something about the uncertainty of ninja camping (camping with no permission, reason to be in that particular spot, or any sign that you were coming or were there when you're gone - practiced by vagabonds, gypsies, adventure travelers, and indie rock musicians the world over) in a foreign country, in the rain, on gravel doesn't add up to quality rest. Rainstorm and ominous beginnings aside, this was our start.

We hurriedly packed our tent up in the rain and wolfed down some breakfast before first light (again, not the best night's sleep, so we were up early), and we were off for the US-Canadian Border. A few gratuitous "We're in Canada!" shots in front of signs with "km/h" and French writing on them slowed us down, but we were at the border pretty early in our day. The border stop was fun (more gratuitous photos - this time in front of the "Welcome to the USA" sign, and getting our passports stamped), and I celebrated with a cup of coffee stateside in Blaine, WA.

I was very much looking forward to the day's riding because I have ridden it all before, and I was eager to show Eric these roads. The persistent rain beat on us for the entire morning, but we made progress all the way through Ferndale, Bellingham, and Fairhaven before lunch, and enjoyed some breathtaking sights of the bay along the way.

We started up the Chuckanut climb (one of the big obstacles in our way today in terms of challenging terrain), but we agreed that attempting it soaked through with no feeling in our toes wasn't a good idea (again, today didn't start with the most ideal of weather) . That being the case, we stopped at the firehouse at the base of the climb to try and warm up for a bit before tackling our big climb. That specific firehouse was being manned by Ty and Sabrina, who couldn't have been more gracious hosts. We were treated to Seahawks football on TV, a dryer for our clothes, good company, and a place to rest our feet for a bit. If you're ever in the Bellingham/Chuckanut area, stop at the Whatcom Country Fire Dept Chuckanut Station and say hello. And please give Ty and Sabrina my best.

Enthused by our new friends (and by the fact that the rain had faded to a drizzly mist) we hammered out up to the top of Chuckanut to enjoy the view. Every time I get there, I'm blown away by that view.

Descending into the Skagit Valley, we cruised along comfortably until we passed an alpaca farm. Yes, an alpaca farm. I can't even begin to explain what runs though your mind when after hours of cycling in the rain you get to exclaim, "Hey - look! Alpaca!". For those of you who don't know what alpaca are (we didn't), they're a relative of the llama. Kinda weird animals to spot while on a cycling trip in Washington. Of course, we stopped in to learn more about them, and were treated to some great conversation with Walter and Lois, the owners of the ranch, and to a tour of the gift shop. If you ever want an alpaca sweatervest, I only know of one place to get them.

Pressing on, our next stop was Deception Pass. It's a state park on the mainland of Washington and Whidbey Island, joined by a visually striking bridge. The area is one of my favorite places in the US (I haven't traveled enough yet to say "the world") to watch a sunset.

The sun having bid us goodbye for the day, we shifted our priorities toward finding a place to build our home for the night. We asked about staying in the state park - no go. We asked a shop clerk for suggestions - no go. So I set out in search of a good spot on my own two wheels, and stumbled across a sign that said "Parking Here". That sign was the gateway to a grass lot, and that was enough for me. I biked back to the rest of our team and had them follow me back to our haven for the night, optimistic that I had solved our problem. We all agreed that we were in legitimate enough place, but were worried about the fact that it was obviously private property, Our worries were rationalized about 2 minutes later, when a young lady wandered up with a "Who are you?" look on her face. Fortunately for us, she happened to be one of the nicest people I've ever met. Her name was Alicia, and she is one of the many wonderful members of the Hawken/Norris family. They not only offered us a place to stay for the night in the form of our predetermined campsite, but they invited us into their home like family. Much of their family was in town for a huge celebration, and the afterparty was still in full force. We had a great time meeting everyone, and on our way out we were graciously offered more food than we'll be able to eat in the next week. One of the nicest families I've ever met.

Update: On second thought ( knowing Eric and I), the food will be gone on Tuesday. I'll keep you posted.

It turned out to be a fantastic day, and one that I couldn't have scripted any better. I'm incredibly fortunate.

When you want something with all of your heart, all of the universe conspires to help you make it so - Paulo Coelho

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