Washington has dramatic, beautiful scenery.
Washington is the kind of state where it can be hard to get into a good cycling rhythm because you’re frequently stopped in your tracks by breathtaking landscapes. The images you see above you are just from the Olympic Peninsula, but we would often meet Washingtonians who would say something to the effect of “You think this is great? Go to the Cascades” or “Wait until you see the San Juan islands.”
The incredible variety of landscapes reminds you of a living post-card rack you might see in a souvenir store which leads you to think “Wow, there’s a lot of sights in this country”, but think of it now as if it’s all in one state! One day you’ll be riding through a thick forest of Douglas fir trees, then maybe next day you’ll ride along a spectacular coastal scene, then maybe next you’ll have a snow capped mountain to your side. Simply put, if you love nature, you’ll love Washington.
But .. travelling through national parks can be expensive!
In the USA, When you’re passing through areas where there’s a lot of towns and infrastructure, you often find bargains shopping at grocery outlets, Safeways, WalMarts or Fred Meyer. Across the board, these options are generally cheaper than your average country store or highway mercantile store. You also have the luxury of buying some items in bulk if necessary.
For example, we bought a 6 pack of Clif Bars at WalMart for $5.87 which works out to be 98 cents per bar. In the Olympic National Park, we’ve seen some stores sell the same bars for as high as $3! Sometimes you might go several days where your only option is to shop at places like this for your groceries, so unless you get creative with what you eat, you’ll start to feel it where it hurts most – your hip pocket.
We were carrying too much.
The picture above isn’t taken in Washington, but from time to time our expression was exactly what you see there! If I could go back in time to when we were preparing to leave for our cycling journey, I would have grabbed myself by the shoulders and made sure I packed less!
When you’re working your day to day job and living a normal lifestyle, it’s easy to get excited about things you can buy for your trip – after all, you’re thinking about it all the time, right? We fell into that trap a few times and ended up buying much more than we needed.
These are some of the things we got rid of as soon as we left Washington:
- A handheld AM/FM radio
- Dan’s handlebar bag
- Erika’s handlebar bag
- Both our sets of fenders
- Erika’s front rack
- Erika’s front panniers
- Some tools
- A couple pairs of Erika’s pants
- 1 pair of Dan’s shorts
- 1 down jacket
- Cookpot and a mug (why need 2 when you can share things?)
- Downgraded our Trangia cooking set to a small butane stove
- 1 Canon camera
The result of leaving behind these items was a difference we noticed straight away in the amount of total distance we could cover and significantly easier climbing. We’ve ran into a lot of bicycle travellers who carry half as much as we do now and they do perfectly fine!
It’s great to get excited before planning a big trip, but do yourself a favour: take a few short journeys with your complete kit at home. You’ll realise very quickly if you have too much and you won’t have to pay the expensive fee to post something back home from on the road.
Cycling alone vs cycling with company
Through Washington and Oregon, where we’re writing this from now, we’ve met over a dozen people cycling the same way we are, even though routes may sometimes differ. We’ve also camped more often with other cyclists than we have with just the two of us. Out of our 12 days on the road on Washington, 9 of them were spent sharing campsites with other bicycle travellers we met and the remaining 3 were camping on our own.
Once two bicycle travellers run into each other on the road – there’s almost a magnetism that causes us both to stop and chat. Where are you going? Where did you start from? Did you meet the guy who was towing the dog in a trailer? That hill was a killer!
Everyone has different journeys, different backgrounds and, of course, different stories of life on the road – so it’s really easy to spend hours talking instead of cycling when you meet someone. As you can imagine, this often leads to long, laughter filled nights in the campsite too.
Does this mean that cycling and camping with others is the best way to travel? In our experience it often is, but sometimes not.
Every now and again we like to cycle and camp with just each other as company. Like at home, sometimes you just want to sit on the couch and watch a movie. Similarly, when you’re living on the road, sometimes you just want to enjoy the solitude of an empty campsite and enjoy each other’s company.
You get stronger really quickly.
When we first set out, we would look at the elevation of 400 metres/1300 feet and look for any route and any excuse to get around it without having to climb. Sometimes we would finish our day pushing our bikes up every little hill! On our route through central Asia, we hope to one day complete the Pamir Highway, which is over 4,500 metres high at some points! So, we thought, how do you do that if you keep skipping the hard roads?
It started out with an unspoken agreement – no more pushing the bike up the hill unless you absolutely have to. Instead, we started measuring our climbs in how many times we’d stop pedalling for a little break, but once our break was over you bet we’d be back on those pedals!
Now, several weeks later in Oregon, climbing over mountains, in and out of steep canyons and rolling hills seems easier. Slow – but still easier!