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  • Writer's picturejoshuaine

Pacific Coast Expedition - The first 430 miles

Updated: Dec 29, 2023

And here we are again! Reliving another bike/run expedition and fastest known time (FKT) -- this one along the beautiful and scenic Pacific Coast following Adventure Cycling Association's Pacific Coast Route (ACA PCR). This blog post covers the 12 days we spent traveling through Washington, and touches on the physical/mental challenges, tough conditions, pretty views, and awesome people we encountered.

It was just before 6 AM on August 29, 2023. We were walking to the Vancouver Maritime Museum, the northernmost point of the ACA PCR. It was raining. It was 45 degrees. And before Shan took his first step, we had an issue. Halfway to the start point, we realized Shan's passport, which he would need to cross into the US later that day, was still at the hotel. I dashed back to retrieve it for him and raced my bike to meet him just as he arrived at the starting point. In a steady rain, we did the whole "picture, kiss, see you later" routine, documented the official start time, and off he went. I returned to the hotel to work, starting my ride 5 hours later. It was still raining.

42.5 miles and many hours later Shan crossed the Canadian-US border into Blaine, WA. This was the first time one of our run/bike trips had taken us over a border crossing and Shan's unconventional approach to the customs window, walking in line with the cars, made for an unforgettable moment. I passed through customs several hours later and immediately took a wrong turn. My final mile turned into a 2-mile zig-zag through neighborhoods while Shan waited patiently for me to arrive with all of our gear. That turned out to be one of the few wrong turns on this trip, but it wasn't the last time Shan had to wait for me to catch up at the end of the day.

Shan gets sick

Our initial plan for this expedition was to cover 40ish miles each day, which would have gotten us to Oregon in 10 days.  But life on the road, especially on an expedition like this, is rarely without surprises. Our trip proceeded as planned until we reached Shelton, WA on Day 6. Shan had been feeling off that day and had no appetite. We assumed it was due to running a hilly 45 miles in nearly 90-degree temperatures. But we were wrong, he had come down with food poisoning. After a miserable sleepless night, I urged him to take a day off and he reluctantly agreed. I modified our plans and decreased our daily distances for the next few days so his body could recover. This was our first significant delay, putting us 2 days behind schedule. Honestly, falling behind wasn't a big deal, we were prepared to make adjustments to our plans as needed. And this would not be the last time we needed to be flexible - a few more surprises came our way! More than we expected. Just wait until we write about our time in Oregon!

Road hazards

The roads along the Pacific Coast were tough on my bike and trailer tires. As many (all?) Pacific Coast cyclists know, the logging trucks there will sometimes have tire blowouts that leave behind tiny splinters of metal. I learned this very early in our trip and quickly added tweezers to my bike repair kit. The roadsides were also covered in thorny raspberry bushes and a plant called Tribulus terrestris, also known as Puncturevine or the more popular "goathead", which perfectly describes the appearance of these spiny burs that litter the roadsides. These plants were a recurring source of stress for me (and poor Shan who had to hear me complain repeatedly). On our 3000-mile East Coast Greenway Expedition in 2022, I had exactly 1 flat tire. This time around, I was faced with a lot of them, starting on Day 2 (and again on Day 3). I don't know how many total flat tires I had during the trip, we lost count.

Restricted Roadways

During the first week of our trip, we came across many roads, bridges, and tunnels that were either not pedestrian-friendly or banned pedestrians altogether. On Day 5 we arrived at the Hood Canal floating bridge*1. We were initially worried about Shan crossing on foot since it wasn't clear whether pedestrians were permitted on the bridge. To be as safe and visible as possible, we decided to cross together, with Shan leading on foot and me following on the bike, something we've done before on other trips. The shoulder was very wide, and we crossed the 1.5-mile bridge without incident with Shan running as quickly as he could. Turns out the bridge-crossing was less interesting than the group of protesters we passed holding "my body, my choice" signs, which surprisingly conveyed an anti-vaccine message.

We came across another sketchy section on our last full day in Washington - a 10-mile stretch of Route 4 which travels along the Columbia River. The road has beautiful views but is also a high-stress road for those of us cycling or running. While the road was treacherous for both of us, I had the advantage of traveling faster (it was a flat stretch so I could manage 12+ mph at times) and I was more visible. Shan was on the more perilous side of the road, running facing traffic, on a tiny shoulder with very little room to run. Several times he had to climb over the guardrail to avoid oncoming tractor-trailers. It was such a relief to make it through that section and relax at a cottage on the bank of the slough2 in Cathlamet.

The people

One thing that stands out the most when we do these long-distance expeditions, is the people. It might be friends we meet up with as we pass their neighborhood - like Amio, April, and Bee who brought pizza and beer to our campsite at Deception Point) - or WarmShowers*3 hosts that open our homes to us. But there are also encounters with total strangers that are hard to forget. From the beginning, it was clear that this expedition was going to be much harder than our last one. In addition to the logistical challenges (to be covered in another post), there were a lot of hills. We knew the elevation would slow us down, but I was surprised by how much it affected my mood and self-confidence. One evening, as we chatted with people at the campground about our trip, they downplayed my role in our expedition ("You've got the easy job") and my cute little ego was bruised. But a few days later, as I was slowly pedaling uphill into a town, and I'm telling you, I was slow, barely-ride-in-a-straight-line slow. As I pedaled, I passed a guy standing at a bus stop. I glanced over at him for a second and he said to me, "You got this." And it landed so nicely. Three little words "You. Got. This." completely boosted my mood. He didn't know where I was headed or how far I had come. He didn't know that I had started having dreams of my bike and trailer "having a little accident", forcing me to drive a support vehicle for Shan instead of towing our gear by bike. Thank you, guy at the bus stop, for seeing me struggling, and for seeing that I needed the encouragement. I referred to those three little words multiple times over the next 50 days. I am eternally grateful!

We made it through Washington

Even though we had some hiccups, most of the miles in Washington were awesome. The views of the coastline were beautiful and we loved the quiet roads. We were able to relax on two ferry rides, one on our way to Port Townsend, where we saw orcas swimming along with us, and the other on a sunrise trip across the Columbia River from Cathlamet, WA to Westport, OR. After crossing the border, we stopped in Astoria, OR, where the movie Goonies was filmed. And yes, we watched the movie.

  1. The Hood Canal Bridge is the longest floating bridge over a saltwater basin (1.5 miles). It carries State Route 104 across Hood Canal in Puget Sound and connects the Olympic and Kitsap Peninsulas.

  2. What is a slough? Along the West Coast, sloughs are often named for the quiet, backwater parts of bays and are part of the estuary, where freshwater flows from creeks and runoff from land mix with salty ocean water transported by the tides. In Cathlamet, this slough was connected to the Columbia River where our WarmShowers hosts had retired to enjoy some spectacular bird-watching.

  3. WarmShowers is a non-profit hospitality exchange service for people who are involved in bicycle touring. It's a gift economy platform, where hosts, who are often also cyclists, open their yards, homes, etc., to other cyclists to tent or use their guest rooms. - Big thanks to Mike and Rach for sharing their guest room and making us dinner in Port Townsend. We could have talked all night - they are cyclists who have crossed the country in every direction, lived on a sailboat, and much more. - Thank you also to Vicki and Jim, in Cathlamet, for sharing their guest cottage which was hand-built by Jim, and had everything we needed. We felt like we were on vacation.

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