Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Deets: Part 2; Mission, BC to Sedro-Woolley, WA (Day 2)

The morning of day two came earlier than I hoped, and Michelle and I were greeted by a grey, drizzling rain which set the theme for the whole day. Again, I had the "I really don't want to do this" feeling, although somewhat less potent than the morning before, and since I had even fewer options for postponement than I had had on day 1, we slowly suited up to the white noise of the TV and left the room for the continental breakfast downstairs.

Breakfast was in the room adjacent to the lobby, as per usual, but the room was not attached from the inside. This forced us outside into the drizzle to take almost 10 whole steps in my extremely inconvenient road bike shoes to get to food, and gave us a quick taste of the weather for the day. While we sat inside eating mediocre omelettes and drinking watery orange juice, we could watch the weather from the comfort and warmth of the indoors. At least, temporarily. The more we watched the weather, the harder it seemed to rain. Still, the wet weather would give me a chance to try out my rain gear, and I would have felt awfully silly if I packed all that gear and never used it.
At least they're under a roof
Michelle and I finished our "food," said goodbye to our pleasant if somewhat over-eager waitress, and headed into the wet. Our trajectory for the day was more-or-less due south, and despite a small jog around what a sign described as a "complex junction" that lead us through some lovely small town suburbia, it was smooth, albeit wet, sailing all the way to the border near Sumas, WA.

We arrived to the border lineup in a somewhat normal fashion, even though neither of us had any idea of how we should behave crossing the border on bikes. To be safe, we got into the back of the queue behind the cars and crept forward at the normal border crossing pace (read: slowly). Some guy yelled at us out of his car and asked where we were going; he was surprised and seemed to not really believe that we would be going all the way to Colorado. Not long after, Michelle and I decided that we should go through the foot-traffic border crossing, since we had been discussing it since we had first come to a stop.

The pedestrian border guard asked us where we were going, and gave us a weird look when we said Colorado. He then asked how we would be returning, and we told him that it would be by bicycle. He then asked where we had come from. I told him Squamish, and he asked how we would be returning. We said that we would be returning by bicycle. He had a series of questions for us, and it seemed that every other one was "How will you be returning?" to which we always replied "we'll be riding," but his face told us that at no point did he believe it. Still, our story was consistent, and he let us walk our bikes through the pedestrian border crossing and just like that we arrived in the US.

There was no fanfare. The weather didn't even let up, and I quickly took a picture to show how little things had changed even though the country had (the picture is somewhere in my twitter history near September 2 if you're curious). Because of how uneventful our crossing was, we were back on the bikes within 60 seconds, and about 60 seconds after that were on some sketchy back-road in Washington, doing our best to ignore the sounds of dueling banjos and giving as wide a berth as possible to houses that looked like the domicile of a survivalist militia member. This, as it turned out, was most of them.

The woods in Washington seemed darker and more sinister than those in the country just north of us. This was likely due to the large number of dilapidated buildings lurking in them at the ends of long, unkempt dirt driveways, as well as the particular frequency of these buildings. It felt a little like riding through a horror movie; the rain was light but constant, and there was just enough real estate between sketchy houses to briefly convince you that the last one had been, well, the last one. Of course, it never was, and just as my nerves would begin to settle, I would happen upon a hidden road, barely visible through a mass of greenery, and at the end of the road would be a building leaning at an impossible angle that was covered in tarps and surrounded by hand-chopped wood that was also covered in tarps.

For Michelle, these semi-terrifying shacks in the woods were less sketchy than they were for me because I am impatient. I could not be bothered to pedal along in my lowest gear at 12 rpm and go the same speed that she was keeping in her much much lower granny gear, and so I would press on at a pace that kept me interested for 20-30 km, or until I found a serious-looking intersection. I would stop at these to avoid getting any more split up and try my best to kill time while I waited for her to arrive. On these weird, poorly paved back roads, the echoes of the banjos was never far, and standing stationary on the side of the road made me a pretty easy target, especially in my road bike shoes.

This was how I spent the first 4 or so hours of the day; I would ride about 20 km, wait in quiet terror for Michelle, and then she would arrive and I would take off again to repeat the process. We had a small stop in the almost-town of Kendall for some Clif Bars and to charge our phones for a bit so that Strava could track the whole ride. After this break, where the rain also left us briefly, we were back on the chip n seal, and the rain returned with almost perfect timing.

A few more of these stop-start cycles, and I decided that I wanted to power through from wherever we were (somewhere near where Valley Highway, or Washinton Highway 9, intersected with Potter Road) to Sedro-Woolley without stopping. Leaving Michelle to her own devices, I put my earbuds in, got into the drops, and more-or-less abandoned her completely.

And then the rain started for real.

Almost as soon as I took off, the constant drizzle that had been dogging us all day turned into a downpour that I could not be bothered to stop for. With my waterproof riding gear on, I felt impervious to the rain, but within 20 minutes, the rain had soaked through and was doing a better job at keeping the water IN than OUT, and I felt like I was riding in a roughly human-shaped bag of water. Still, I was committed to forward motion regardless of comfort or weather, and so I just plowed on through the mostly straight, mostly flat Washington back roads hoping that Sedro-Woolley was closer than it actually was. The more I rode, the more miserable I became, and the more I wanted the town to appear. Also, the more I rode, the more the town continued to not appear.

The rain got heavier and heavier as I rode, and by the time I started to encounter non-survivalist houses somewhere in the general vicinity of town, The rain was so heavy that I could hardly see, with or without glasses. The mist being kicked up from the road cut visibility even more, to the point where for the last five kilometers into Sedro-Woolley, I was effectively guessing my way down the road, hoping that the road was as straight as the map made it look. Fortunately for me, it mostly was.

Sedro-Woolley appeared out of the mist in the shape of a gas station. I wasn't cold, but I was wet, and given a wait time that was liable to be over an hour, the wet would become freezing cold long before Michelle arrived. I pulled into the gas station and disrobed as much as I could without being arrested. While I was doing that, the rain stopped and the sun started to come out. Of course it did.

Then I checked my phone; Michelle had sent me a message about half an hour earlier telling me that she had stopped in some small cafe somewhere to warm up, get coffee, and charge her phone again. Apparently when it's not on airplane mode Strava sucks the battery dry pretty quick. This just added more time to my wait, and I decided to try to waste it by playing dumb games on my phone, playing dumb games on my ipod, and talking to the ladies who were working the gas station. One of them was new to the North West, and I advised her to get used to the type of rain that I had just ridden through.

When Michelle finally arrived, I suggested that we stay in a hotel again. She thought this was a swell idea, but seemed to be in a hurry to get out from underneath the awning that I had been hiding under since I stopped. I was in less of a hurry, even though I had also seen the big black clouds approaching from the west, but unlike her, I had underestimated them. The change in weather was the most abrupt meteorological shift I had ever experience. First, it was a bit cool and a touch overcast, but dry enough. Literally one second later, I was standing in the hardest rain that I had experienced in the whole day (and probably my whole life). I could not believe how abrupt the change had been, and since I could see a hotel vaguely through the mist, I made my way over on roads that had gone from "a bit moist" to "constantly rim-deep water" in about 35 seconds.

We checked in and I got to shower first. I was a bit hypothermic at that point since I hadn't dried fully and hadn't put any real warm clothes on either during my wait. This meant that my shower was really friggen long which Michelle complained about, and when I was finally done, I didn't have any clothes to wear; the rain of the day had soaked through everything on my body, and had also penetrated through my waterproof bag, making all of the clothing that I hadn't been wearing wet as well. I conned Michelle into letting me use her long underwear tights while she would be able to use her fleece-lined chamois (since she had more space in her bags, she was more prepared for this kind of shit than I was).

For the second night in a row, we ordered food from a place that claimed delivery but didn't deliver, but this time it was pizza. We got two of them, and they were loaded with enough toppings that two cyclists who had ridden 90 kilometers with weight in the rain were unable to finish them both. But we didn't let any of it go to waste, and I crammed the leftover pizza into my pack to save for the next day.

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