Down at the Serpentine Swimming Club one January morning, as the last handful of bright pink bodies struggled back into their thermals and began the post-swim ritual of uncontrollable shivering, a chap named Roger made a memorable observation:
“Once you’ve s-s-swum the winter season at the S-s-serpentine, you’re s-s-suddenly immensely liberated! B-b-because you know that whenever you encounter water, as long as it’s still liquid… you can go for a s-s-s-s-swim!”
Roger’s words came to my mind as I waded into the crystal clear meltwater of Lake Crescent in the north of Washington’s Olympic Peninsular under a rare blue sky. By any sensible standards the water temperature would be classified as absolutely flipping freezing, and I as a certifiable nutcase. But I’d put in the months of acclimatisation, and this made the spontaneous springtime dip — in a setting that would put Switzerland to shame — all the more sweet.
It was lunchtime on the first full day of riding, although it had been several days since we’d left Vancouver, as our departure had happened gradually, a chain of Ben’s ever-more-far-flung friends hosting us on our way through the north-west reaches of the city to Horseshoe Bay, then — after a ferry ride to Vancouver Island — in charming and mellow Victoria, BC’s administrative capital, at the southern end of the island. Ben’s four years in Canada had earned him a sprawling social network, which he’d now be leaving behind with no ticket home.
I’d been mildly concerned that the presence in my passport of multiple visas for Iran, Russia and places that don’t officially exist might cause problems with the American authorities, and I’d half-planned an alternative ride into the wild, empty north of Canada. Sure enough, there was an agonising wait at the border control as the computer system spent a full 6 minutes thinking about whether or not to allow me — the last passenger in line — to board the ship.
But a second attempt went through without delay, and in no time at all we’d crossed the narrow strait dividing the island from the Olympic Peninsular. We rolled up at the residence of U.S Coast Guard Service helicopter mechanic Evan in Port Angeles, Ben’s last housecall before the contact list ran dry and the open road would become our home.
It would be rude to pass up an opportunity to get up close with some gigantic pieces of cutting edge military hardware. So that’s exactly what we did.
We also went for a hike in the States’ only rainforest region — again, under mercifully clear skies. They wouldn’t last long.
Lunchtime swim done, Ben and I set about riding west and south on Highway 101 to Forks, a town of indescribable dreariness, famous for two things: being the wettest place in the entirety of the United States, and being the primary setting for the Twilight series of movies (although, as Ben tells me, they were actually filmed in Vancouver and Squamish, according to his ex-girlfriend’s eccentric band manager Jackson Rathbone who plays Edward’s brother Jasper, if you care about that sort of thing, as I don’t). I can report a smattering of forlorn Twilight-related tours and signposts along the town’s main strip, though no sign of any sexually-repressed teenage vampire lovers.
Ben will now also remember Forks as the setting for his first post-cycling energy crash, rendering him sprawled and barely functional in a booth in one of the town’s few diners, slurping desperately on a chocolate & butterscotch milkshake, unable to consider riding any further, and at the same time being fully aware of the inevitability of doing so before the approaching darkness fell completely.
He will also remember his first taste of spontaneous hospitality, when Dustin invited us in for coffee after we asked about a place to pitch our tents, and provided directions to a state park campground just two miles away, where we could sleep safely — and, being still closed for the winter, sleep for free!
These everyday features of bicycle travel, so familiar to me, were a pleasingly appropriate setting of scene for the long-planned ride that would now begin to unfold.
My U.S. Pacific Coast ride is kindly supported by Kona Bikes, Cascade Designs and Schwalbe. Read more about the gear they’ve supplied.