Welcome home! (almost)

June 13th, 2009 by scott and becky

110 km, 7 h 30 min

We made it to within spitting distance of Vancouver, although not quite to Canada yet. In the end, our freighter trip was rather uneventful. The sun did not make a direct appearance until 2 hours before we arrived in Seattle, although it did a good job of keeping the sky lit up until the wee hours of the morning. A few whales blew some air our way, but not at the right time or close enough to get a picture. Becky can attest that some whales are indeed bigger than containers!

We did get the opportunity to watch the pilot and captain coast the ship across Seattle harbor while we waited for our tug. It’s amazing how long it takes a huge ship like ours to slow down as she coasts through the water. Our weather throughout the Strait of Juan de Fuca was gorgeous – sunny and warm – a great welcome to North America. The pilot was on board for almost five hours as we sailed through the Strait; first accelerating, then slowing as our docking time and tug priority changed. Our pilot was definitely the most high-tech equipped we’ve seen, with his own laptop and charts, and a link into the ship’s AIS system for navigation data. Fancy! The amount of traffic, and the traffic separation scheme is quite sophisticated. Since there is a lot of ship, ferry, and small boat traffic; everyone needs to report into Traffic Control when they are changing course, changing speed, or crossing the designated traffic zone, so there’s lots of radio chatter. This happens outside almost every port, but with more traffic and more destinations here, it is much more complicated. Seeing the radar beacons, transit lanes and “roundabouts” up close was fascinating.

Entering the US on the ship turned out to be a non-issue. Apparently, the Captain had briefed the customs folks about us, since they only asked a few general questions about our trip, provided us with a local weather report, and stamped us into the country. They were not at all interested in taking our temperature (Swine flu test) or examining our gear. The whole process was over less than an hour after we docked.

Less than an hour after we cleared customs, all our gear was off the ship, and we were making our way to the Bainbridge ferry. The ship conveniently docked less than a kilometer from the ferry terminal – so close we almost felt we could touch it from the ship. Also, conveniently the ferry was delayed by 15 minutes, so we bought our tickets and rode right on. We could not have asked for a smoother re-introduction to North America. We were guided to the ferry (and to John’s street on Bainbridge) by a local commuting cyclist and student at the University of Washington. It was great to be able to have a meaningful conversation with someone about our trip. Scott also had a brief conversation with Marty, who had ridden across the US a few years ago.

We stayed Friday night on Bainbridge Island at John’s place. John and Scott went to university together so it was a great opportunity to catch up and nice to get off the ship and begin our re-acclimatization to North America. On Saturday we rode to Sequim and stayed with some wonderful Warm Showers hosts (Heidi and Dick). We envy their lifestyle, kayaking, year-round cycling, nearby cross-country and back country skiing – they have given us something to strive for! We definitely could not have asked for a better re-introduction to riding in North America – we can only hope the rest of our trip is as nice.

We had hoped to meet up with Kathy, Randy, Sharon and John, whom we met on the boat to Turkey, and who are now home in Seattle. Unfortunately, due to scheduling conflicts, they weren’t around this weekend, and we needed to get moving in order to reach Kitimat for Becky’s high school reunion. Sorry guys!

In the first 24-hour back in North America, we made the following observations:

  • We are not a minority anymore (there are lots of people that look like us – so much that we often think we recognize people).
  • When people want to talk to us about our bikes, we can communicate.
  • Random people on the street actually speak English.
  • Sunscreen – others need it too! Locals in SE Asia did not need or use sunscreen, so they found us covering exposed skin with cream in the mornings to be peculiar.
  • Cars are bigger, and often only have one person in them. We also noted that Bainbridge Island has a ton of Toyota Prius’.
  • Grocery stores that have everything, but tend to overwhelm us with choice (too many different types of cheese and breakfast cereal!).
  • Portion sizes in restaurants are huge! (Even as hungry cyclists, we will need to remember to share meals).
  • When Becky talks to herself out loud, those around her actually understand what she is saying – and sometimes comment!
  • The eggs we’ve tried here don’t taste like anything. We tried two hardboiled eggs for lunch, and they had egg-like consistency, but were practically tasteless. We were reminded of the Chinese phrase for factory-farmed chicken ‘chicken with no chicken taste’. Well we’ve had ‘egg with no egg taste’ and we aren’t holding up much hope for the chicken!

Things we loved about riding on the Olympic peninsula:

  • You could hear the birds singing in the woods – we had not realized just how absent birds were in Korea and China!
  • The familiar smell of cedars.
  • Drivers gave us a wide berth – so much so that even though we were riding on the wide paved shoulder they were going over the center line rumble strips.
  • Seeing lots of other cyclists; including meeting four people who had ridden across America within our first 24 hours off the ship!
  • Quiet roads with nice shoulders.
  • Great ocean views.

Pictures below

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A submarine escorted by two tenders – apparently subs are very common in the Strait, but can usually manage on their own.

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First view of downtown Seattle from the bridge.

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AIS pilot plug, with attached dongle (on the floor).

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Pilot and Captain navigating the ship, with A/B Raymund steering the indicated course.

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A closer view of the Space Needle from the wing bridge.

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Captain and Chief Mate on the wing bridge.

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Another container ship getting refueled. Note oil containment boom in case of spill.

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Dockyard workers bringing in the docking lines. The forklift is used to haul the lines, which was comical at times. First the forklift loses the line, then it backs up into a bollard. Probably much easier to haul the lines by hand.

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Our last view of the Hanjin Madrid – being unloaded as we crossed the Elliot Bay on the ferry.

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Becky approaching a sky bridge – cars driving on air!

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Looking at the reflections, it must be a glass bridge of some sort – otherwise we wouldn’t see reflections of Becky and the cars.

(OK, so it’s a thermal variation due to asphalt heating causing a refractive index gradient resulting in a mirage – you sciencey types take all the fun out of things!)

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A nice spot for lunch, at Port Gamble

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Brand new Hood Canal Bridge – opened a few days ago just for us. The old one was a cyclist’s nightmare, narrow and lots of metal gratings. There are still a few stretches of metal grating, but there is a nice wide bike lane, and a series of textured metal plates over the grating – much nicer to ride on!

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A beautiful day’s ride – blue skies, green trees, mountains and wide open shoulders.

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One Response to “Welcome home! (almost)”

  1. Friedel & Andrew Says:

    Hi guys, welcome home! I laughed at your ‘chicken with no chicken taste’ comment and the eggs. I was just thinking the same thing about the eggs the other day! They are so pale and blah. Safe riding and we hope we can catch up with you somewhere along the line.

    Friedel

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