TransAm Epilogue: Pacific Wanderings

Aug 25th, 2017 in Adventure

My bike trip around the USA is officially over as of the 20th. I finished in Salem, Oregon, just in time for the eclipse. My freewheeling route took me all around Western Washington before spiraling back into Oregon. I eagerly hit up Seattle and Portland as destinations and found this epilogue a worthy addition to the trip.

I’m writing today from Amtrak’s Empire Builder, which, along with two other trains, is taking me back East in approximately 84 hours. That’s a pace that’s somewhere between breakneck and glacial, depending on your perspective. For me, the romanticism of the long distance train ride takes second to the convenience of not having to disassemble my bicycle. Maybe it’s even third to the fact that Trump’s current budget would likely shutter cross country rail, and so this style of travel may have its days numbered in America.

On bicycle, from Astoria, I ad libbed my route each day. The heat wave at the start of August afflicting the interior kept me on the coast, and thus I decided to bike the Olympic Peninsula. This area wound up being one of my favorite natural zones on the trip, a continuation of the fascinating rainforest biome that defines this section of coastline. Cold and misty mornings, blustery winds, verdant undergrowth and towering evergreen forests (where not blighted from logging) defined these days.

A particular highlight within the peninsula was the Olympic Discovery Trail. Long stretches of protected and scenic bike path made for some saner riding after the occasionally harrowing time up the 101. The route’s not perfect, as it is incomplete and sends you on to a lethal section of route 20 on the way to Fort Townsend, as well as transforming into mountain bike terrain in the National Park. Something is still better than nothing; any sort of bike path is a major step up from riding the shoulder. The infrastructure pays itself back in terms of happier and fitter residents and reduced pollution and traffic, and my dream is to see all of America connected that way at some point.

I decided at the peninsula’s tip to venture to the Whidbey and Fidalgo islands. Taking a ferry was an allure, and the city of Anacortes is home to a favorite musician of mine, Mount Eerie. He wasn’t home on my visit, but his namesake mountain (Mt. Erie) was beheld from afar. I spent my last days breathing in the salt air of the Pacific on these scenic, but hilly isles, and then made for the mainland.

My goal was to get to Seattle for the last day of the Dota 2 Invitational. A friend of mine, Stillwell, left New York to be involved in the e-sports scene and this event is the premier tournament for gamers. I caught him and the grand finals from the lawn of the Seattle Key Arena and then lazed about being a tourist and catching up with a few other peers of mine in the area. Thanks to Paul for hosting me here! 🙂

I ventured down to Portland next in a zig-zagging fashion. There, I stayed with Ty, a fellow cross country cyclist I had met at Adventure Cycling HQ back in Missoula. I had my favorite food of the Summer in Portland at Russell Street BBQ, that knocked the alien concept of ‘BBQ tofu’ right out of the park. I’m still salivating for it a week later.

Both Seattle and Portland were very cycle-friendly, but I’d still take NYC over either for bike commuting. We’ve acquired a bad reputation, but a lot of progress has been made in the past decade for us there. A lot of our bridges and thoroughfares are protected for traveling. Also, there are less hills and no above ground trolley lines to dodge. I will admit I have an east coast bias to get over; I’ve done years of cycling in NYC versus a paltry couple days in each of these cities. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to experience each via bicycle and with good friends.

I leveraged Warmshowers a lot on this stretch. Winging it only a day ahead at most with Google Maps left me without a convenient set of checkpoints as opposed to traveling on a designated route. The Pacific and suburban areas are population dense and trend affluent, so I tended to have multiple options each day here. If WS failed, I would just stealth camp somewhere. I also was just super weary at this point, so an opportunity to shower and sleep comfortably each day was majorly alluring.

My final day was to Salem to see the solar eclipse. I was ignorant of this phenomenon’s approach when I set out on this trip. The TransAm’s path repeatedly threaded the line of totality, however, and by journey’s end it had reached mythic proportions. I was fortunate to have an invite to see it and crash with Emily, who I met in Virginia guiding an Adventure Cycling group along the TransAm.

Witnessing this event was one of the most powerful things of my life. It’s hard to describe the sense of madness that descends on the world as the eclipse takes form. Shadows become weird, the temperature plummets, and twilight takes on an entirely new dimension. As totality happens, animals all act up, the stars flicker on, and the sun becomes a negative image; a burning black disc. Alas, all too soon, this magical aura is over. I will definitely be aiming to see it again in 2023 and 2024!

It wasn’t until I was preparing to board my train from Salem that I really felt the sense of finality that accompanies the return back to mortal life. It comes with a twinge of sorrow as I witness the journey’s rewinding as my train hustles East. I know I’ll be entering a period where this sense of unbound freedom that comes with the nomadic lifestyle is checked. People often cite this feeling as post trail depression.

Combating that malady is best done with mindfulness. I appreciate and savor my accomplishments, and realize my adventuring as a temporary status. I’m fortunate to have my career and social network back home to land softly. I’ve been preparing on that end by settling my living accommodations, resuming my job hunt and freelance work, and will be training for NYC marathon again in November. I’m ready to take it all on again for a fresh chapter in New York.