The plastic haired weatherman glided off screen to
reveal the special ten-day forecast stretching out to
the Memorial Day holiday weekend. I called to
Amanda in the restroom and she hurried to the edge
of the hotel bed and sat trying to make sense of the
spattering of local city names. The first square was
filled with a bright cheerful sun. Each and every
square after that, representing the next nine days,
was littered with tiny animated clouds spewing
showers and lightning bolts. The forecaster turned
to a chubby woman of indistinguishable race who
looked as if she never left the studio and said, "If you
like the indoors then the next few weeks will be your
kind of weather."
It was the first day of our cycling journey. There were
no more comfortable hotel rooms with hot showers on
the horizon. If we wanted to make our limited funds
stretch out longer than a few months we would have
to camp in our tent -“ a tent we had not yet slept in.
Neither of us had ever done any cycle touring
before. We told one another that the best lessons
were those learned by actually doing. At least that's
what we believed before setting out into nine straight
days of rain.
When Amanda poked her head out the door of the
hotel room she squealed with the enthusiasm of an
eight year old, "Look, it's sunny outside. It's not
going to rain."
It was the last day of a heat wave that had struck
Seattle early in the season. Just as predicted the
sun was bright overhead as we loaded up the bikes
on the porch of our room.
Fitting all of our gear onto the bicycle for the first time
was even more difficult than I had imagined. Each of
us had two huge packs that hung from a rack over
the rear wheel, and two smaller packs that clipped
onto special racks on both sides of the front wheel.
In addition we each had a large duffle sack clipped
above the rear packs stuffed full with our bedding
and food. Somehow we had to find room for our tent.
Weight distribution was key. At first Amanda had
stuffed her right-side packs with all of her heavy
items and the left full of lightweight bulky stuff.
Pulling away from the curb she found that the bike
guided itself in beautiful right circles.
My front packs were loaded with far too much weight
leaving me with the feeling that I was steering a ship,
able to set a course but no real control beyond a
general direction. After circling the hotel parking lot
a few times and readjusting our packs, we ventured
onto the busy city streets near Seattle's SeaTac
airport. Pedaling through traffic with our bikes fully
loaded we struggled to keep out of the way of the
overly polite Washingtonian drivers.
Our goal for the morning was to reach the Fauntleroy
ferry crossing to Southworth.
Downhill to the Puget Sound was a relatively easy
ride and deceived us into believe that this would not
be difficult at all. Once across the ferry the ascent on
the other side caused us to downshift to the lowest
gear almost immediately.
Before leaving home I had changed the gearing on
our bicycles to the lowest gears available. So small
where the gears that while testing them by riding
around our neighborhood I had to pedal furiously to
remain upright. Now I wished we had even lower
Lunch at the Side of the Road
By mid-afternoon the temperatures reached into the
upper eighties. Shifting up and down, down and up,
trying to balance the heavy weight of our bikes while
trying to remember to drink water - it was all too
much. Reality had hit. Any hill or variation in the
road was excruciating. I was in front and Amanda
with her colorful red pack and yellow jacket was
bringing up the rear. Peeling off sweaty layers of
clothes after the first rest stop it was inevitable that
one of us had to bonk.
Amanda had no idea what the word meant but she
experienced the effects full force. Dehydrated and
hungry she became delusional. She was frantically
huffing and puffing up the hills. I would stop at the
crest and wait, signaling her to stop and rest.
Gritting her teeth she would pass and yell some
absurd phrase in Spanish as she continue on, barely.
It was not going well. While planning the trip I worried
about the possibility that cycling may not be for both
of us, but I had not planned on dealing with it so early
in the trip
At the end of a steep hill Amanda stubbornly passed
me, mumbling to herself. I demanded, "We're
stopping now and you're eating something. Stop,
Silently she seemed relieved. Amanda's never
A tiny market and gas station was at a fork in the
road ahead and we coasted in, throwing ourselves
on the grass. As she unpacked the lunch we had
prepared the day before her hands trembled with
exhaustion. Then it started. A stream of tears began
to flow down her checks like a leaky cup. "I really
thought I could do this. What was I thinking? I'm
going so slow I can barely keep up. You must be
disappointed in me."
I interrupted her, "You bonked, that's all. You're
doing great." I tried to look her in the eye but she
seemed a little dizzy and her face was a strange
shade of green. "Eat something and you'll feel
better. And drink something."
Filling tortilla after tortilla with rice and beans she ate
and drank for the next hour. I headed into the store
and bought a few bananas and a few energy bars.
As the color came back to her face her smile
As we began to pedal her confidence returned. We
still had about ten miles ahead to reach the campsite
and we stayed together. Stopping frequently we
drank and ate a few energy bars. Toward the end of
the ride a shady bench in front of a post office
welcomed us to sit and rest before the last valiant
With her bike resting on the edge of the bench
Amanda began to search through her packs then
tossed a flashlight on the pavement in front of us, "I
can do without that." Then she tossed a cosmetic
bag on top. "And that."
"Then I raise you a u-lock," I countered, "and a water
filter", as I tossed them on the pile. A cooking pot and
a gas canister went in as well. Hastily I headed into
the post office and jotted down Amanda's brother's
address on a box, stuffed it to the edge of postal
regulations and mailed it off.
By the time we reached the campground that first
night we had a grim confidence. Pushing ourselves
hard over those steep 33 miles a great unknown had
been answered. We now knew how difficult this was
going to be. Hills that we would have never even
thought about while driving the van were now the
cause of misery (uphill) or jubilation (down). No
longer shielded from the elements we would now feel
very deeply even minor variations of wind, rain, heat,
and sun. The physicality of propelling ourselves and
our possessions through the world was now revealing
itself full force.
The next morning we awoke to a light rain pelting the
rain fly of our tent. It seemed the plastic haired
weatherman was right. Rain was about to begin.
Rain in the Forecast