by Matt Schiff
We’ve been on the road for 25 days but as time passes we’re feeling more and more disconnected from the outdoors. We hear fewer frogs in the evenings, birds in the morning, and rarely gaze at the stars. We are insulated from the outdoors – more so than the deafening that ear plugs provide. We’ve forgotten the old feel of camping and don’t know when it’ll come back. These aren’t delusions but simply the facts. We have been taken in by generous friends and strangers along our trip, and pampered with good food and warm places to stay. We are so gracious for these homes away from home.
We began our trip with a bit of rain and camped out until we had a nice stay in Coos Bay, OR, at Margret and Daniel’s place, home of the Myrtle Point school teacher. We had a great tortilla and bean dinner, with other toppings piled high. After dinner we played some music and realized Daniel plays the banjo and actually wrote a book on traditional minstrel banjo playing. This was perfect because Aaron brought a mini banjo and has been learning to play on this trip. It was a treat great to have Daniel play a few songs and show Aaron the claw hammer strumming pattern.
Later in the month we made a great Facebook connection with Beth, a friend Alyssum knew from college. It turned out Beth was casually checking Facebook, read about our ride, and put it out there that we could stay at her place. Little did she know we were going to pass through there in a couple of days. With the rain we’d been having, we were glad to have a place to stay in Tillamook, OR. She fixed us soup and a chicken casserole that was so good it made us wish we hadn’t stuffed ourselves with cheese and bread just an hour earlier at the [Tillamook] cheese factory. That night it rained hard and steadily, making us thankful we hadn’t been in tents.
Our next housing accommodation was with our friend from college, Aaron Antrim. We cruised into Portland, fighting rain showers, the autos on Hwy 26, and among ourselves. Two weeks into our trip and we were getting truly tired for the first time. Aaron has a one bedroom apartment but we didn’t need any more room to sleep, fix some great meals, and dry some wet gear. It was great to see an old friend in a new city, but somehow we left feeling we needed a rest day.
There are parts of the U.S. that remain unknown to many, including us. Washington State hosts a whole slew of islands to the west of the mainland. Our next destination was Vashon Island. Here we had another school presentation and place to stay, made possible by Alyssum. With a name as foreign and mythical as Vashon, we joked is might be a nudist colony, and we might have to learn a new language to speak with the natives. It was slightly disappointing but neither was true. On the other hand, we stayed at Rob and Joanna’s place, Alyssum’s aunt and uncle. Their farm (Plum Forest Farm) is a spectacular place in the center of the island where we met her brother Shane and a couple of nieces as well. Shane gave us a tour of his yurt he and his wife built and played music for us.
We cooked pizza, rice, and cookies over our two day stay, supplemented with fresh vegetables from the farm. We enjoyed meeting more people from Alyssum’s family and really had a great time connecting with them on shared passions.
At this point, staying at houses became a gluttonous habit, rather than a unique exception. Granted we didn’t sleep inside on Vashon, but having a kitchen to cook in and a place to stay made it feel like we were at home. Our next stay was in Seattle, a place Sara and Aaron had lived in while planning the route to this trip. It was like old times for them to come back and see the same roommates that had been there a year ago. The “Miss Jackson” house is rich with musical talent, creative thinkers, and just all around friendly folks. We had what was perhaps our first real rest day. I slept most of one day until 4 pm. We had a great potluck dinner before we left, complete with after-eating music and viewing of some of Stephon’s short movie animations.
Day 23 and we’re on Whidbey Island. We expected to camp just after the ferry; we were rested and dry. Our bikes draw some attention and they’re great for conversation starters. We chatted with some folks and told them where we were going. Off the ferry we stopped to look at a map. We weren’t lost but our map was a little too general. A friendly driver stopped to help, realized she took pity on us – probably all wet and cold – and decided the best option was to invite us over to her place for a dry spot to stay. We didn’t mean to falsely advertise, but told her when we got to her house that we weren’t really wet or cold, and had mostly stayed indoors the past few days. All the same, Dyanne and Jean were pleased to offer us an office with a king sized futon for us to stay in! Not bad at all. Over dinner Diane discussed her career and interests with us and made recommendations for what we might want to pursue in our field of study after the trip is over. The two shared their experiences on the road with us and had some stories to tell. In the morning we casually made our oatmeal and set off, amazed at our good luck.
Now in Bellingham, we’re under a roof once again. Actually, it’s two roofs and two next door neighbors who have offered to take us in. We’re at Bob and Marty’s, and Janet and Fritz’s house, a couple of complete strangers who we happened to be staying with through a friend of a friend. Here we met two families, two neighbors, and had a traditional pasta feast. It just so happens, one of the sons will leave on a cross country bike trip to Ohio in a couple of weeks and we were able to share some of our knowledge of touring with him.
Just one day until we take the ferry to Alaska and I’ve decided I don’t like rain, don’t like camping, and prefer eating indoors. This was never the case but now my tastes have changed. You’ve done this to me – you kind people – with your generosity. I’ve acquired a taste for things that corrupt my bike touring experience, so I must stop now and choose between two paths.
More seriously, we’re collecting, storing, banking our comfortable stays in preparation for Alaska and the Canadian Rockies, where maybe the memories of these finer times will help us through weather and whatever other adverse conditions we may experience.