Sierra Cascades – Portland to the Sunshine Coast
From Bagby Hot Springs it was a short day’s ride to Portland, where I stayed with an old friend of my father.
My time in the city was mostly spent eating, drinking and enjoying the fine cycle lanes that would convey me from the former activity to the latter.
I’d had enough of mountains and decided not to rejoin the Sierra Cascades route moving forward. Instead, I would take a direct route to Seattle. This turned out to be mostly built up of impoverished towns and boring semi-countryside – a bit like two hundred miles of Somerset – with a mild headwind to boot. I did see a “vegan stripclub” on my way out of Portland though, so that’s something.
After three days I reached Seattle, famous for coffee and grunge music. I stayed with an exchange student I met at university on one of our Real Ale society socials and begrudingly admitted that American beer (on the West Coast, at least) is better than British beer.
We drank at a bar converted from the funeral home where Bruce Lee’s service was held, watched the cracking sunset from Golden Gardens Park and ate ‘chocolate lava cake’, which was obscenely rich and quite satisfied my monster hunger.
Hemp Fest was going on that weekend and offered free entry so I thought I’d check it out. I’ve never seen such a sleepy crowd, although there was one white-bearded man wearing a leopard skin speedo and waving pink streamers who seemed quite energized. Hemp Fest has been going on for years but now that cannabis is legal in Washington this one might be the last, apparently; they have achieved their goal.
My next cultural excursion was to the EMP Museum, which had a great exhibition on Nirvana (who were from Seattle) including Kirk Cobain’s smashed guitars and a sci-fi exhibition with film props including the hoverboards from Back to the Future and Grebo’s costume from Star Wars.
The direct route to Vancouver looked on the map like it went through a lot of coastal sprawl and I still had two weeks until my flight home on the 5th. I therefore decided to ferry hop to Vancouver Island where I would cycle northwards and overshoot Vancouver city, taking a ferry over to the mainland at Powell River and coming down the Sunshine Coast to enter the city from the North. Much better.
First, a ferry from Seattle to Whitney Island. There were little farms, flowers-from-the-garden for sale on stands with honesty boxes, an old fort and fighter jets practicing deafening manouvers overhead.
Next, the ferry to Vancouver Island, and out of the United States to Canada. On arrival, the flags hung here and there seemed to show the top half of the Union Jack engulfed in fire below, flames licking upwards. I was shocked. I thought the Canadians liked us? Would I be lynched if my ID was checked? I realised, of course, that the fire was actually the sun, the flames its wavy rays. An ambiguous flag if you ask me, but they seemed quite friendly towards me here. The place has a rather British feel to it actually. I heard a lot of English accents about and foraging blackberries along the roadside brought me back to my first tour around the South of England two years ago. The queen is even on the Canadian banknotes, her stern gaze spurring me onwards on this final leg of my journey.
I camped my third night on the island on the beach and watched from my hammock the setting sun cast the sea from aquamarine blue to pale lavender. Dozens of mottled green crabs smaller than my thumbnail scurried at my approach to the clear, lapping water but in the morning I woke to find the water so still it seemed a lake, now golden with the first rays of the sun creeping over the mountains of the mainland across the sound.
A ferry from Comox to Powell River brings me to the mainland and my final, final leg down the Sunshine Coast. The sky is living up to its expectation and the temperature is in the mid 20s. Tomorrow I will reach Vancouver but rather than closing on an exotic, far-flung destination it feels as though I am getting closer and closer to home. It is a comforting feeling.