By bike or by car: which is the better way?

Wright's Hardware in Downtown Cathlamet

Wright’s Hardware in Downtown Cathlamet

The move to Indianapolis started on August 8 with a 350-mile drive to my sister’s home near Sequim, close to the Dungeness River and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Starting from southeast Portland near Reed College, where I had been hosted by friends, I drove through the city to the St. Johns Bridge, built in 1931 (the year I was born), and continued west on U.S. 30 to the Longview Bridge and crossed the Columbia River.

Then came the interesting part of the journey: west on WA 4, “the Ocean Beach Highway,” through Cathlamet, Skamocaway, and Naselle, and then north (and later east) on U.S. 101, through the Hoh Rain Forest and Forks to my destination.

A Farm in the Rain Shadow of the Olympics

A Farm in the Rain Shadow of the Olympics

Although hurried, this trip was pleasant: peaceful terrain, farms with wide stretches of green meadows, and forests in various stages including clear cut hillsides and replanted areas, with some of the trees now large and tall. I drove on winding but well paved highways, with light to moderate traffic, and passed through little towns. The sun often broke through thin clouds and skiffs of rain hit the windshield now and then.

More important than the delights of the road, however, were the memories of my only other journey over this route, by bicycle fifteen years ago. That time I started in Vancouver, Washington, detoured along Willapa Bay to Westport, and continued from Sequim across Puget Sound to Seattle: 430 miles in seven days on the road. The title of my twenty-page description of the bicycle version, Cycling through Heaven 2015 suggests the tone of the earlier journey.

In Longview on the first trip I bought a book by a local author who described the crisis people were experiencing as federal policies about logging were changing. In Cathlamet I discovered two books about the region and talked with the author, a woman who served as rector of the local Episcopal Church and also was part of a long-time salmon fishing family.

I fell into conversation with other local people who represented various aspects of life through this remote and fragile part of the United States. By the time I reached Seattle, I had learned much that was entirely new to me.

This connectedness with people and the countryside is a characteristic of a bicycle journey properly taken. You feel the contours of the land and the immediacy of the weather on your skin. There is time to stop for conversation and to poke your way into odd places. Local newspapers come to your attention and you discover books in libraries and museums that you would never encounter on your own.

Even a leisurely automobile journey, in contrast, carries you along at a rapid rate, with many of the sights merely blurs intuited in peripheral vision. There are fewer opportunities to talk with people and even these conversations tend not to have the candor that often comes out when a bicyclist, rather than a motorist, is the outsider. A bicyclist  can stop almost any place for a minute or two, but the same person in a car feels the need to push along in order to get the day’s mileage in.

Driving this route on my second trip, I experienced the roads in a way that didn’t register when I traveled them by bicycle. Both sections, along the Columbia and up the peninsula, are narrower than I remember, often with precious little shoulder. I have remembered only easy riding, with a little climbing here and there, and there’s no sense of harassment in my travel account of the 2001 bicycle journey.

The one moment when the two trips came together was lunchtime in South Bend, Washington. On my first time through this little place where the harvesting and shipping of oysters is a dominant activity, I ate an oyster sandwich at the Boondocks restaurant. It was delicious, but later in the afternoon I realized that there was too little nourishment to keep me going the rest of the day. One of my friends recently remarked as I told the story. “Or course, you’d get hungry! Didn’t you realize that oysters are mainly water?”

Determined to eat another oyster sandwich on my trip by car, I parked by an antique store to get directions from two codgers sitting out in front. “Boondocks has gone out of business,” one of the men reported, “and the Oyster Shack is closed on Mondays. The best place today is Chester’s across the street.”

I could see the sign, “Chester’s Oyster Bar and Lounge.” Crossing the street, I saw “No Minors” posted on the door and could see that the bar serving liquor was the more prominent part of the establishment. The gruff woman behind the bar pointed me to tables in the back. I ordered an oyster burger, with thick slices of onion. Its flavor seemed as good as the one I remembered from long ago, and I went back to the car, my hunger satisfied and my spirit renewed.

My brother-in-law set me up with his Ritchey traveling bike and on both full days of my visit we cycled through the countryside around Sequim. I began to feel alive again. Then came the final drive across the Hood Canal bridge to the Bainbridge Ferry and my daughter’s home on Beacon Hill. Tomorrow my bike goes into a shop to replace the rear brake that was stolen a few days ago and I’ll be ready to keep on traveling.

Which was the better ride? I’ll let you decide.

Seattle from the Ferry

Seattle from the Ferry




3 Responses to By bike or by car: which is the better way?

  1. klaus schreiber says:

    Hi Keith,
    I’m glad to read you made your decision wether or not to move back to Indianapolis. And true to form you are doing and writing a blog about it. As always your writen is thoughtful and rich in observations. Above all it makes me wish I could have experienced with you.
    Enjoy your trip and have a safe and ‘rich’ journey.

    • Klaus, thank you for your note. The possibility of another PAC Tour ride in Arizona still is in my mind. I am most interested in the new gravel road route, but I have not yet made up my mind. Do you have Arizona plans for this winter? Keith

  2. jacbikes says:

    Nice post! In addition to the greater immersion in the climate, topography, & scenery one experiences traveling by bicycle, I especially appreciate your lifting up the experience of the people & local culture of the places traveled through. I vote for the bicycle trip as the most interesting, educational, & uplifting! No surprise, right?

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