Day One and Two: Seattle, WA

David, one of my best friends who just moved up to Seattle, picked us up from the airport with his truck, so we could fit all the boxes.  He, our friends, Lexi and Alex and a few of their Seattle friends have just rented out a great house.  We hauled our boxes up two sets of stairs in the yard, and the first thing I saw in the living room was a big sign made of butcher paper that said, “You are a miracle.”

Here’s a tour of the house.  It starts in the living room, peeks in on Alex and Lexi making dinner, and then ends in Lexi’s room where Sarah and Dustin are looking up directions for the first day’s ride.

Meet Lou, Alex and David:

Lexi made us a great little dinner.  Lexi’s amazing.  She makes plant installations, paints, sews, plays banjo, sings, writes songs, AND dries fruit! She even dried some strawberries, pears and apples for us to take on our trip!  She also organized the house show that I played at the second night we stayed over.

 Dustin and Sarah put our bikes back together, and we stopped at Counterbalance Bicycles to get them looked over.  There was a mechanism in Sarah’s handlebars we had to replace, and we loaded up on spare spokes, brake pads and Cliff shot blocks.  It rained the two days we stayed in Seattle.  It was so cold we wore our thick jackets inside the house.

The show was pretty magical.  Alex and Lexi started off the night.  Alex is one of David’s best friends who has been studying and teaching at Yale.  He’s also a pretty amazing songwriter.  He’s taking a year off to live with David and Lexi, relax and pursue music.

Then, the Warren G. Hardings, a Seattle bluegrass band lit up the whole house.  I played with them a few months ago when I came up to visit, it was really nice to see them again!  They’re a super nice bunch.

I played my set, and it felt like starting the tour off playing at home.  I stood right in front of the “You are a miracle” sign, back lit by a string of white light bulbs strung across their huge window, which was wet and fogged up from all the rain.  In front of me were people on the couch, on the floor, standing in the doorway, watching, listening, smiling.  I ended my set with “Space Oddity” by David Bowie and got everyone to sing along.

Then Jenny, one of David and Lexi’s other roommate’s played a pretty magical set.  She invited some of the other roommates up to sing some doo-wop back up vocals for her band.  It was her birthday, she was so happy.

There was one more musician who played, Autococoon.  She set out seashells and candles and dimmed the lights, and took forever to set up all of her equipment.  By the time she started to play I was starting to drift to sleep downstairs, coasting along the ambient electronic melodies that you could hear through the floor, with a weiner dog named Lou curled up in my armpit.

Day Three:  Seattle to Tacoma: 47 miles

We woke up on Cinco de Mayo, and the sky was beautiful.  The rain had cleared up, the air was clean.  The weatherman had given us his blessing to start our trip.  Dustin gave our bikes one last once over, and we took our fully loaded bikes around the block on a few test rides, and then made a few last adjustments.

Our touring book takes a more coastal route, so we have to look up our own routes for the first section of the journey.  We researched a few different routes before we left home, but once we got to Seattle, we still ended up doing a google direction search with the bike option.  Sarah has taken on the role of navigator and writes down all the turns and streets, and Sarah and Dustin both have smart phones with GPS to cross reference things as we go.

Our first destination was Tacoma.  Our other friend, Sarah, back in Long Beach, has a favorite cousin there who was happy to host us.  Our plan was to leave at 10am and meet her in the afternoon at the bar where she worked, “Top of Tacoma.”  From there we would get her house key and ride to her house.

We didn’t end up leaving until 11:30.  We weaved through the streets of Seattle, and the first big bridge we were supposed to go over was closed off from traffic.  We almost panicked, but there was a huge crowd gathered, so we slowly rode through, anyways.  When we got to the center of the bridge, the whole crowd cheered.  There was a rowing race going on right underneath us, and all slick rowing teams were just passing by.  
The next chunk of ride was along the Washington River.  The foliage was lush and green, and we could see the city on the other side.  We passed other cyclists, and joggers and made our way South.  Once we got about 20 miles into the journey, we stopped for lunch on the lawn in front of an industrial building and started to look at directions.  An old-timer cyclist stopped and gave ups some tips and a few extra maps. 
As soon as we packed up our food and started to continue, I got a flat tire.  Dustin was super pro and put on the spare in no time.  The hand pump that he brought with him, couldn’t quite get my tube up to the 120 PSI that the tire recommends.  So, we stopped at a gas station.  It didn’t have an air machine.  We stopped at an Enterprise, and they were happy to help us. I have presta valves on my tubes.  The Bicycle Stand gave me a little metal adapter so we can use a regular pump with it, but it’s been a little difficult to use.  While I have a rest day here in Portland, I’m going to pick up some regular spare tubes. 
The next 17 miles were on the Interurban Bike Trail.  We had a little trouble finding the entrance to it, between the directions the cyclist gave us and the ones Sarah had written down.  At this point, the GPS on Sarah’s phone started to go in and out. Up one street, down another, around a fence to a parking lot.  We were starting to get a little frustrated, and then realized we were right next to it. 

The Interurban Bike Trail was a really easy ride.  It’s well-maintained, flat road that follows parallel to some railroad tracks and you don’t have to deal with very much traffic.  There are rabbits that hop along the bushes on the side of the road, lots of birds and we even saw a mama duck and her duckling cross ahead of us and one point.

There was one sharp turn with a little bump on this road that I took a little too fast.  Dustin was in front of me, and had flown through it with his trailer.  I took the turn at the same speed I would have, normally, not used to having all the extra weight of my gear.  The momentum of the extra weight, threw off my balance and I fell.  First fall fo the trip!  Hopefully the last.  I totally ate it.  I scraped up my arm, got a raspberry on my thigh and bruised up my leg. It did put the guitar case, and rack to the test, which passed with flying colors.

Here’s a picture of my arm that evening: already starting to bruise.

When we got off the Interurban trail we rode through this very picturesque looking little town, and had only 8 or so miles left to get to the bar.   We took a left turn under the bridge and met 58th street.  It was a smaller street with a really steep incline.  Intimidating.  It couldn’t be the right one.  It had a really flat and much bigger street right next to it.  We cross referenced the directions and phones and it was it.

I was still getting used to my toe cages and the extra weight, which was a big challenge that day.  It was really hard for me to get on my bike and get started every time we stopped. It would tip this way or that, being so heavy with the handlebar bag and panniers.  Then, I would have to fumble with each toe pedal until it flipped over and I could slide my toe in.  By the time I was starting to pedal, Sarah and Dustin were always at least 20 yards ahead.

I started up this treacherous looking hill, and couldn’t get into a low gear fast enough.  I tried a few times, and ended up walking my bike up most of it, until I could find a flatter place to start.  Cars crept up the hill and went around us.  A few honked.  By the time I caught up to Sarah and Dustin, Sarah was having just as hard a time as I was.  Her chain kept misaligning every time she shifted into the small gear.  There were little notes spray painted onto the road:

“Welcome to my mountain.”

“If you curse, it will only made it worse.”

I did.  It was.

Dustin was cruising ahead, then he saw a missing person sign for a pretty girl, and decided to wait for us. “Pretty girls go missing around here! So I thought I better wait for you.”  It’s pretty cute watching him and Sarah together.

After the worst part of the climb, we stopped by the side of the road for water, bananas and cliff bars.  This woman stopped and shouted out her window, “Did you just bike up that hill?!”  “Yeah, we did!”  “You must be stupid.”

We kept going.  We got to some easier inclines, but all the streets went up and up and up.  We got to L street, which should have been called “Vertical Street.”  It was so steep Sarah and I couldn’t even ride up it in our lowest gear.  We got off and started pushing our bikes.  We were tired and frustrated.  It was 7pm.  Gravity worked against us, and we could barely even walk our bike up the hill.  Our muscles were sore, our backs were sore, our bikes were too heavy, our moral was low.  But we made it.  we took a breather, and kept riding.

We got to the bar.  I guess what we hadn’t realized was that the bar called “Top of Tacoma” was actually at the top of Tacoma.  zing!

We rode up to the bar, and there’s a group of people drinking on the patio.  A man sees us and says “Are you guys riding your bikes to California?”  “Yep!”  “You must be staying at my house!  I’m Chris.”

We rinsed off our faces, drank some water and met Rebecca, our host for the night.  She’s beautiful, really nice and totally wild.  After such a ride, we were starving and ordered food at the bar.  Heavy, cheesy, greasy food sounded so good.  Dustin had nachos with carne asada, Sarah ordered a huge mac n’ cheese and I ordered a chicken marinara sandwich.  In case you were wondering.

We asked Rebecca how far her house was, since we were on bikes with all our gear, we couldn’t just hop in her car.  6 miles with a steady uphill incline.  Mentally, we just couldn’t do it.  I was ready to get a cap or take a bus or make a few trips with her car or ANYTHING.  but, luckily,  Chris had a truck.  So, we cheated a little.

We loaded our bikes in Chris’ truck, loaded our gear in Rebecca’s trunk, and rode to her house.  She called it a palace.  It’s a neat, huge house, built in the 1920’s and added to in the 1970’s.  All kinds of weird, funny and pretty eclectic memorabilia all over the walls.  We washed up, and Rebecca made a fire in the fireplace.   We watched the supermoon on her roof.  Sarah went to bed pretty early, the rest of us had a pretty low key night getting to know each other, and I played a few songs.   It was a wonderful way to end such a big day.

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About the Author

Alyssandra Nighswonger

Alyssandra is known by her community and everyone she comes in contact with as inspirational, a dream-pusher, limitless. She has the divine craftyness to make anything she imagines a reality. This is expressed through all of her art forms; singing and songwriting, poetry, painting and performance. A local legend in Long Beach, she is a hub in her community, constantly realizing new ideas and events to gather and bond her fellow citizens.

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