From Sea to Shining Sea (Day 16: Montana to Seattle, WA [Daily miles – 583; Total miles – 5538])

September 23, 2012 – View my route for the day: Day 16 Track

Although I couldn’t feel my hands or feet all night due to the cold, I somehow I ended up sleeping until 9.  As soon as I was able to thaw out a little, I packed up my things, got on the bike, and tried to hit the road.  But as I learned yesterday, getting this thing started on a cold start is not the easiest thing in the world to do.  I walked it up to the paved road where there was at least somewhat of a slope to try pushing the bike down.  It was something, but it wasn’t much.  The main problem, though, lied about 150 yards down the road where an uphill began.  If I didn’t get it going in that 150 yards, I would be in the middle of a gulch with two hills to climb on either side and then I would have no way of getting the bike out of there or starting it.  So every step I took I had to make count.

Pushing the bike onto the road to try to jump start it

I managed to get it started once, but I dropped it into neutral by accident instead of back into first and stupidly let off the throttle at the same time.  This allowed the machine to die on me.  That was disappointing, but it did provide me with a little bit of hope that I could get it started eventually.  The more I tried, however, the less and less runway I had to work with.  Finally, I reached the point of no return.  I had one shot left before I would be stuck with no room left to move.  I gave it all I had but unfortunately failed to make it count and ended up spending the next 5 minutes sitting on the side of the road attempting to flag someone down for help.  The first few people to pass pretended to look the other way, but eventually two guys riding in a pickup were more than happy to help.  They hopped out of their truck and one grabbed the left side of the bike, the other the right.  I straddled the seat, and after some heaves and some hoes we pushed off, got up to speed, I jumped down in the seat, kicked up into second, threw down the throttle, and “vroooom,” she started right up.  I didn’t want to chance the bike stalling again so I turned around and waved a heartfelt “thank you” to my two new friends while I drove on down the road.

With that problem solved I of course couldn’t resist allowing another problem to surface.  That just wouldn’t be any fun.  So for about the hundredth time on the trip already, I started to fear that I would yet again run out of gas.   I looked down at my trip odometer and noticed that it read I had traveled 93 miles since my last fill up.  This normally wouldn’t be any cause for alarm.  Normally, I can trust that I can go about 120 miles (give or take 10 miles) before switching over to the reserve tank.  Just how many miles I can get on reserve I really don’t know, but I figure I should be able to get at least to 140 miles between fill ups.  So normally this wouldn’t be an issue as I had plenty of time to find a gas station.  But this wasn’t a normal situation.  There aren’t gas stations every 5 miles out in this part of the country.  You have to plan out your route to ensure you can make it to the next town to fill up.  The last sign I passed said the closest town was 57 miles away.  Which means I had to go about 150 miles without a fill up.  I’ve never gone even close to that before.  I don’t even think I’ve gone over 130, so I was in the dark about what to do.  I honestly had no idea.  The only thing I could think of was to drive about 55 miles an hour trying to get the best gas mileage I could and making sure to kick it into neutral at every downhill I got.

Thankfully, about 20 miles later I found a local breakfast shop that happened to sell gas as well.  They only sold 87 octane, and although my bike takes 91 I figured it would have to survive for the time being on only 87.  Either that or it would end up surviving on good old fashioned manpower for the rest of the trip into the nearest town.  I obviously chose the former and filled up with the 87.

Once that issue was resolved, I realized I needed a destination for Idaho.  I hadn’t done a very good job planning for this part of the trip and had no ideas in mind.  In hindsight, I probably should have found a potato manufacturer or something, but I ended up choosing something far more “organic.”

I didn’t plan it this way, but I pulled over for a picture with the “welcome to Idaho sign” and stupidly shut off the engine.  I had meant to find a place to stop that was at the top of a hill because I desperately needed to “laduzi.”   Laduzi (pronounced “La-Dude-Za”) is a Chinese word (拉肚子), but I’m not going to say what it means.  I’ll let you figure that out from the rest of the story.  Since I had turned off the engine anyway, I figured it was a good place to complete my laduzi mission.

Getting ready to complete my “mission” for Idaho

There was an opening/clearing in the woods that I could go to and keep an eye on the bike while simultaneously putting my Chinese squattin’ skills to work.  I went into the woods just on the Idaho side of the border and immediately after stepping onto its soil I became quite intimate with its land.  It also ended up being in a poison ivy patch that I didn’t recognize until I was done, so if I have a big rash tomorrow, we’ll all know why.

I missed the sign welcoming me into Washington, but I knew I was there when I met up with 4 members of the Lady Riders of Spokane and began riding along with them as their 5th member for about 50 miles.  I began to wonder: “Do gangs kill you if you do this?  Are you allowed to just join up with one randomly and ride with them in formation?  Hopefully not.  Hopefully they don’t beat me with chains or something when we get into Spokane.”

When we got into Spokane, I stopped at the same gas station as Lady ROSE and talked to them for a little while.  Turns out there were originally about 14 of them who traveled out to a hot springs in Montana for the weekend.  They were on their way back and were more than happy to have me along.  When I told them they were the first real biker gang I had the pleasure of riding along with, they got a good kick out of it to be considered a biker gang.  But they do have a facebook page and I am now officially a fan of the Lady Riders of Spokane.

Further on down the road, in the middle of the high plains in northeastern Washington, I saw a guy walking a bicycle and looking down at his tires.  After I passed him, I decided to turn around and make sure he was OK.  I pulled my bike up to the side of the road, making sure to keep the engine idling.  When I asked him if he needed any help, he nonchalantly waved me on saying he was fine.  I wish I had stayed longer to talk and understand what he was doing, but he had sat down right in a valley.  I didn’t want to turn my bike off for 2 reasons: (1) I might not have been able to get it going since there were two uphills on either side of me; and (2) In case he was desperate and had a gun or something, I wanted to be able to get out of there if I needed to.  Though now that I think about it, I guess it’s not like he could have gotten anywhere with my bike either!  It’s a shame I have to think this way, that there are people in this world that would take advantage of someone stopping to check on another person, but it’s the way of the world these days and you just never know.  You do have to be careful.

By 7:30 I had nearly reached Wanache, WA.  I still had 150 miles to go until Seattle, but I was having the time of my life. At one point, I came upon a 6 mile long, 6-degree downhill slope through the mountains.  During the entire 6 miles, I popped the bike into neutral and rode with my hands off the handle bars somehow managing to balance the bike with my body weight through the turns.  It honestly felt like I was flying.  Just complete freedom – one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life.  Completely worry and carefree.  The road was all mine (both lanes) and there was no sound of the engine — just the wind, the smell, and the sights.  It was perfect.  Just perfect.  I felt at peace deep inside and never wanted it to end.

When it did finally end and I got to the bottom, things changed quite dramatically.  The air quality became terrible and I found myself literally gasping for air.  I’m pretty sure it was from the wildfires, but regardless of what it was from it started bringing up awful memories of the soot and chemicals that I breathed in constantly while living in Beijing.  Nevertheless, I continued riding and eventually made it to the last obstacle of the trip: crossing the Cascade Mountains.

I entered Steven’s Pass through the Cascade mountains at 8:30pm.  At this point at night, riding through dusk in the deep chasms, it felt dangerous but was absolutely gorgeous.  To use once again a word I have said countless times in this blog, one might even say that it was breathtaking.  The following is my account of the moment, as spoken into my iPhone:

Throughout the entire trip, each day it seems I think to myself, “wow, this is the nicest ride I’ve been on so far.”  But I think it’s finally time that I stop saying that.  Every day there are new surprises and new incredible things to witness around this country.  It’s almost indescribable.  The only way to truly appreciate it is to see it for yourself.  It makes me want to do this again and again.  I’m hooked on it.  The adventure, the freedom, all of it.  I don’t know how I’m ever going to go back to working in an office day after day.  Having all of this beauty and magnificence coming at me each and every day.  I can spend all day riding this road, it’s just pure beauty.

Riding through the Cascades brought back memories of another China experience of mine, this time a much more pleasant one.  It reminded me of Yangshuo – One of the most incredible places I have ever been to and the sight for the picture on the back of the Chinese 20 Yuan bill.  The fog, the cold, the river, the steep mountains jutting out of the ground for as far as the eye can see.  I loved it.

Yangshuo, China

By 10:15pm I had reached the backside of the mountains and had completed a descent of 3500 feet over the course of the previous 30 minutes curling around the edge of the mountainside.  During this time, I once again popped the bike into neutral and found myself sailing silently through the blackness of night with arms stretched wide as if I was soaring down the mountain like an eagle in search of its prey.  It felt similar to the sensation of riding down an empty, pitch black powder run on a ski mountain.  Just gliding down effortlessly through the night.

Then finally, shortly after 11pm, I found myself entering the city limits of Seattle.  I had made it to Seattle and the west coast!

It’s crazy to think, but today marks the last day of my adventure out west.  My frontiersman-ship, if you will.  I made it to the west coast and (almost) the Pacific Ocean in Seattle.  This brings up a lot of emotions for me since this is the first major step and arguably the longest step of the trip.  I got west.  I accomplished what our forefathers did many years ago when they took off in search of opportunity and ended up spreading our nation from coast to coast.  I feel like in a way I’ve followed in their footsteps – though obviously much easier without the worry of disease, horses, wagons, or blazing my own trail – but I still have had my challenges.  I didn’t take the easy route, that’s for sure.  It really does make you feel like you’ve gone back to the simple roots of wanting to explore, wanting to have an adventure, looking for something new, something exciting, a fresh opportunity and a fresh start.  In the end, I’m going to end up back where I started in NY so it’s not like I’m really going anywhere – I’m not staying out here – but I accomplished the first major milestone of the trip which was west to Seattle and the Pacific coast.  Feels great!

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