Remember that time you ran away from home when you were ten? Or when you angrily said, “I’m moving out!” and left the house forever at age fourteen?
Then remember a few hours later (if you were ten) or the next day (after your friend’s parents gently told you it was time to “go home”) how you quietly walked in the back door pretending that everything was normal, and you said, “Hi, mom! Hi, dad!” and secretly you were thinking “Can I please have my bedroom back?”
My stay at Birch Bay State Park had come to an end, and it didn’t seem like there was anywhere in sight. All the state parks were fuller than an alcohols store the day before the big television alcohols game, and I weighed my options.
- Call Jeff and Sue and plead with them to let me yard camp another day.
- Text Jeff and Sue and plead with them to let me yard camp another day.
- Show up at Jeff and Sue’s and plead with them to let me yard camp another day.
Finally I chose #1. “Hey, Jeff,” I wrote, “uh, I know you weren’t planning on having a permanent yard lodger when you scooped me up out of the parking lot the other day, but blah blah blah.”
After the world’s longest fifteen seconds, Jeff texted back. “No problem, son. Your bedroom hasn’t been rented out yet.”
“Thanks, Dad!” I said.
I promised him I wouldn’t ever never ever yard camp again and hopped on the bike to get back to the future. Before leaving, though, the ranger came by my site and we got to talking bikes. Her name was Amber Forest, so with a name like that she pretty much had to be a ranger.
“Sorry you couldn’t get a hiker-biker spot.”
“No worries. This has been great.”
“Hope they charged you the hiker-biker rate of $12.”
“Actually they charged me the cager-rager rate of $27.”
The Forest darkened. “We’ll fix that.” And for the second time in a week I got a refund from the Washington State Park system. Amber also clued me in on hiker-biker site availability. “Bikers put almost zero wear on a site,” she said. “We really want to encourage more of this type of use; we have a policy of never turning away a hiker-biker because they have a lot of difficulty planning arrivals. If there is no hiker-biker space, we will find a spot for you.”
“And regardless of the size, it will only be charged $12.”
Turns out she was the superintending ranger of all of Western Washington. “Sometimes the newer staff don’t know. But you should never be turned away at a park in Washington if you’re a biker.”
The next morning I scooted out at 6:00 am, afraid that Mom and Dad would feel compelled to serve me eggs Benedict and latte in bag. I stopped at an espresso stand. Washington is chock full of espresso drive-through stands, like burger joints. I bought my coffee, parked illegally, and spread my shit out in the parking lot. It had worked before!
As I left Bellingham I saw several places with Black Lives Matter signs prominently displayed. One of them was a bike shop. A guy was standing out front.
“Mind if I take a picture of this with you in it?”
“Not at all!”
We got to talking. His name was Shay Nelson. He was a mechanic at the bike shop, Kona, and asked me about my trip. I told him the woeful story of my brakes. He nodded sympathetically. I didn’t tell him about the puncture-proof tire I’d bought the day before at Jack’s, which had promptly punctured on my way back to Dad and Mom’s yard.
“I have some disc brakes at home that might work,” he said.
“Yeah. They’re cable-activated rather than hydraulic. I was saving them for a new bike I’m going to build myself, but you need them more than I do.”
“You’re joking, right?”
“I also have some spare handlebar tape I can put on.”
I didn’t know what to say. On the one hand, brakes that weren’t permanently on sounded … cushy. On the other, I wasn’t thrilled at buying a set of brakes he was saving for his new bike.
“The guy who looked at them said he didn’t think they’d fail.”
“Probably not. Let me give you my number. If you have serious problems and need the brakes, call me. I’ll figure out how to get to you.”
This interaction typified my experience in Bellingham, which made me glad I’d ridden north against all advice. Had I started in Washington, I’d have blown through the best, friendliest, and most beautiful part simply to get more quickly to … Los Angeles. Take my word for it. Ride north, just make sure you start early each day. It’s so much better in every way!
After leaving Kona Bikes, I checked my phone and saw a text message from Dad. “You’re going through Acme. You gotta stop at the Acme Diner for a burger. They are amazing.”
One thing I’ve learned is that whenever you can, take people up on special tips. I pulled on my BLM mask and went inside. The waitress took my order at the counter and I looked around for a wall socket.
“There’s a plug over there,” she said.
I walked “over there,” and there was a man with a gray beard sitting in the corner, following my every move. He was wearing a gimme cap and had the weathered look that says “I been here a long time, son.”
I found the plug and started to go back to my seat.
“Where you coming from?” he asked.
“That’s a long way.”
“Yes, it is.”
“Where you going?”
“Well,” he paused. “You’re going in the wrong direction then.”
“I’m taking the route through the Cascades and Sierras.”
“Oh,” he said. “Never did much bicycling myself.”
“When I was a kid I rode from Blaine to Bellingham and back, about fifty miles. My butt was sore for a week. I figured that was enough.”
“What kinds of things do you do?”
“Nowadays mostly drink coffee. But I used to love to hunt.”
“What did you hunt?”
“How do you hunt a bear?”
“When it was legal, I did it with dogs.”
“How does that work?”
“You take the dogs out til they scent a bear, then they run him.”
“Could be 600 yards. Could be six miles.”
“Bear climbs a tree and you shoot him. Unless he doesn’t.”
“What happens when he doesn’t?”
“He turns around and goes after the dogs. Bear knows he’s treed he’s dead.”
“Then,” the old man paused, “you get to stand about ten yards away from a 500-lb bear that’s cornered and fighting for his life.”
I had chills. “Then what?”
“You shoot him.”
“But sometimes you wait because he’s tangled up with the dogs.”
“What do you wait for?”
“You kind of watch his face. Sooner or later he’s gonna make eye contact. That’s right before he charges and kills you. Best get your shot off about then, if you know what I mean.”
“You don’t do it anymore?”
“Now it’s illegal to hunt ‘em with dogs. But I quit before then. My knees give out.”
“From the running?”
“That and carrying the meat and the bearskin. Skin weighs a hundred pounds; you got 60-70 pounds of meat to carry, easy.”
“How many did you kill?”
“One year I killed fifteen.”
“Are your knees really the reason you quit?”
“What was it?”
“Some folks like to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. Some folks like to corner a 500-lb. bear and kill it up close and personal. Same thing. They’re both just adrenaline junkies.”
“So you kicked the habit?”
“Yes, I did. Everyone does. It’s called gettin’ old.”
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