September 3, 2002 — October 11, 2002
Have you ever contemplated quitting your job, tossing your furniture into storage and then heading out into the great unknown? On a bike, no less? It certainly would require some courage. Yet that is exactly what I did, back when the century was new. It had been over six years since my last major adventure: teaching English in Taejon, South Korea. Since then I’d returned to my former company in Seattle and had resumed my job as a computer programmer. But my passion was no longer in it. I kept finding myself daydreaming about new journeys and places to see. Realizing that middle age was no longer some far-off, theoretical possibility, I decided I had better make my move, so I quit my job (again) in early April of that year, a day before my forty-fifth birthday.
A bike trip was a logical extension of my lifestyle at the time. I’d been cycling the five miles into work at least twice a week during the previous winter to build some stamina. Then, once I was cheerfully unemployed, I used the summer to extend the distances, doing various rides around the Seattle area as the idea of cycling halfway across the country grew more alluring. By the time August rolled around, I was confident enough in my prowess to rent out a storage unit for my modest possessions and give notice at my apartment. The departure date would be sometime around Labor Day.
The preparation was not overly difficult. I still had the notes from a bike ride I took down the Oregon Coast a decade before, so I knew not only what to pack, but which pannier to put each item in (e.g. food in the front left, toiletries in the front right). I’d also taken my mode of transportation — a 1991 Specialized Sequoia Touring Bike — down to the local bike store to get everything checked out and upgraded to reduce the chances of unpleasant surprises. This included new tires, fixing a broken spoke, and installing an up-to-date shifter.
As for the journey itself, getting over the Cascade and Rocky Mountains were obviously a concern, but strained muscles, heatstroke, or being flattened by a passing semi were equally worrisome. Much of this would come down to just being careful. At least the September/Early October time frame meant that the weather would be generally pleasant, if a bit on the warm side starting out. Also, going “only” eighteen hundred miles over the course of five to six weeks provided a measure of flexibility. There would be no need for kamikaze-style “century” rides; forty to fifty miles a day would be adequate (though I would end up doing far more on special occasions). It was going to be more drudgery than anything else. Basically, I was exchanging a nine-to-five IT career for an all-day cycling job. Certainly the scenery was going to be better!
And so it all began on a chilly, Pacific Northwest September morning that saw me leave my neighbor’s Ballard apartment and began coasting down empty 24th Street. The worn sofa, spindly kitchen table and sag-ging bed that had defined my existence had all been neatly stashed away. Uprooted and free, I soon crossed NW Market Street, then tacked left on Shilshole Avenue, passing through the industrial marina area that abuts Salmon Bay. Some five minutes later, I was at the beginning of the Burke-Gilman Trail which eventually leads out of the city.
I was on my way…