The Big Bicycle Tour
During the stormy month of October 2016, my wife and I were preparing to leave our home in St. Augustine, Florida, for an audacious bicycle tour of the Pacific Coast. The Seattle-to-San Diego route we had planned was 2000 miles – a particularly audacious ride, in that neither Elisabeth nor I were really in shape for it. You see, in many respects, the trip was a fantasy, an opportunity for two aging over-the-hillers to try and capture a last, fleeting sense of youth, freedom, and vitality. Oddly, this gargantuan physical effort was a celebration vacation for us both, Elisabeth having just graduated from a grueling physical assistant’s program at the age of fifty-seven and me having recently graduated into my sixtieth year.
But just before we were scheduled to depart, we learned that Hurricane Matthew was due to come roaring through. The storm forced tides so high in St. Augustine, that a shark was sighted swimming in one our neighbor’s yards during the height of Matthew’s fury – a fury which left considerable damage to our house, among so many others, in its wake. That same weekend, Seattle was inundated with its very own Pacific cyclone. My favorite storm tracker, Jim Cantore, announced in his deeply urgent baritone, “A double whammy, folks. I don’t believe that’s ever happened,” and the entire wet mess was right there for everyone to see, 24/7, on the Weather Channel.
Missing Plan B
There are omens, and then there are OMENS. I should have known the universe was trying to tell us something. But I wasn’t paying proper attention. A more seasoned adventurer would have read the tea leaves and predicted an impending disaster. Yet, inexperience and excitement ruled our minds and clouded our pedal-hungry hearts. We should have opted for Plan B. But we had made no Plan B. So, instead of cancelling the bicycle tour, Elisabeth and I simply delayed our departure date to allow us to deal with the post-Matthew mess and made plans to leave for the West Coast three weeks late.
Meteorologically speaking, that three weeks took us out of the Pacific Northwest’s relative dry season into its wet season – which, as we now know, ended up being the wettest of wet seasons the PNW has ever experienced. This meant rain in places where there is usually no rain at all. Ever. There was rain in towns along the eastern slope of Washington with zip codes that land you on the dry side of the Cascade Range. Towns like Ellensburg, Yakima, Toppenish, Prosser, and the driest of them all, Kennewick. Towns whose names alone make you dig into your pocket for a tube of ChapStick to apply to your parched lips. These very same towns might see a trickle of rain in an entire year. During October 2016, however, the skies opened over this desert land and it poured instead of puckered.
Jim Cantore had tried to tell us – Mother Nature was having a ball. But we failed to heed his warning.
Just in case, though, the universe offered us one more caution.
In the Cards
On Tuesday, October 18, Elisabeth and I drove to Orlando for our flight to Seattle. Before heading to the airport, we met my writing coach, Jamie Morris, for a bon voyage lunch at Pho 88 Vietnamese Noodle House. Now, Jamie is gifted as an editor and writing coach. She helps you navigate the arc of a story and pushes you to be the best damn writer you can possibly be. This ought to be enough, but when the spirits formed Jamie, they gave her another gift. They placed a set of tarot cards in her hands and taught her how to use them. She carries her cards everywhere, prepared for emergencies – or little consultations on situations like Elisabeth’s and my audacious bicycle tour.
You might think it unusual to receive a tarot reading in a restaurant, but Pho 88 has long been a lunchtime favorite for Jamie and me, and the waiters pay no mind when she whips out one of her decks to give a reading. So, there we were, Jamie on one side of the table shuffling, and Elisabeth and I on the other side, slurping rice noodles and dabbing our moist chins. Finding a dry space between our noodle bowls, Jamie laid down a three-card spread.
I craned my neck trying to see what she was seeing, and there in the center of the trio of cards lay a naughty little card, the Devil card, which depicted a scantily clad couple having a simply delicious time. With a bit of a giggle, Jamie said, after a brief pause, “Tarot says the bicycle tour you’re preparing for may end up being, well, er, very different than you think. More hedonistic than you are planning.” She looked at Elisabeth. “I think Hugh is going to like how it turns out, but, Elisabeth, you might be a little bit disappointed.” Elisabeth fixed her face into a bit of a scowl, not liking one bit that our impending journey might turn out different than we had originally planned. Jamie sensed her anxiety and tried to calm her. “The thing is, whatever happens, it’s going to be great!” she said. “Just relax and enjoy your time together.”
Good advice, as it turned out.
You see, if there were delays before the trip, soon after we departed Seattle on our bikes, we discovered disappointment, too. It began on Day Two of the tour, when the rains commenced near Falls City, Washington, a mere sixty miles from whence we had started. But with chins set firm and rain gear zipped tightly beneath those firm chins, we pedaled on, deeply committed to our plan: cycle, camp, get lean, and, with luck, renew our middle-age selves.
Sadly, the uber-bike-athon, the two-thousand-mile bicycle tour we had fantasized over for months, the last great test to our Baby-Boomer selves, quickly evaporated – or, rather, dissolved in the rain. In its stead, our trip was transformed into the kind of gastronomic and, yes, hedonistic lolly one might view on the pages of Travel and Leisure, instead of Outdoor Magazine. Not all bad, for a built-for-comfort kind of fellow such as myself. Yet, for my wife, the real adventurer among us, the disappointment continued to grow. By the beginning of the second week, as we drove through the Columbia River Gorge in a U-Haul, rather than cycling atop our bikes (which were tucked in the cargo hold), we had to accept that The Great Bicycle Tour had, in fact, become very different than the trip we had planned.
Driving back to Palm Springs from 10 days in Taos and reading your wonderful stories Hugh. Thanks for making the miles fly by.