Across Continents

Ken's Blog

The Old Curiosity Shop

November 26th, 2011

I’m not Australian and don’t like to be called as such. Which happens fairly frequently in North America. Finding myself particularly riled by this, forcing myself to ponder why this might be. Of course, I know a good number of great people, destined to be life-long friends, who happen to be Australian. My issue firmly cultural rather than individual.

True, I admire their stoicism in the face of frequent adversity. Their self-reliance. Itself a little ironic for what appears to be the ultimate Nanny State. Runaway regulation. Officious bureaucracy. Federal system unwarranted for a population less than a third of that of the UK. Governed by a mediocrity of politicians. Always grains amongst the chaff. Anna Bligh, Queensland’s Premier. Met her briefly. But not Prime Ministerial material. Not that you need to be.

Some aspects simply amuse rather than annoy. Bowling greens and old fashioned social clubs, serving meals reminiscent of school dinners. Rather quaint. Like an Old Curiosity Shop. Finally embracing EFTPOS like it was a sparkly new children’s toy. Words like free or inclusive have largely been discarded from their lexicon, replaced by the likes of gourmet – pronounced ’gore-met’ – its application bordering on the abusive. It’ll be fondue sets next. Their de facto national dish as unoriginal as it is uninspiring in a continent of unique flora and fauna. Fish and chips. Almost criminal. But that’s history for you. Made worse by the fact that a rather better model for European colonisation lies right under their noses. New Zealand.

I’d been asked by one fellow traveller why I thought all this might be? What about atmospheric nuclear testing? I paused, albeit briefly, then replied, smiling, that my diary was clear next week. In the meantime, I’ll just have to settle for a friend’s suggestion. When asked by a US citizen if you’re Australian, reply by asking which part of Canada they come from…



Coast bound

November 10th, 2011

Dispossessed in doorways. Just after eight but it was dark, cold and wet. Many already wrapped up in their sleeping bags. Quiet. Down the street a small piece of cleared ground, a few homeless sleeping under tarps. Volunteers in heavy waterproofs handing out soup and snacks, chatting jovially with those who’d fallen on hard times. A few police officers wandering about. Unconcerned. Peaceful.


Giles and I had headed over into Portland’s Chinatown. Finding a small restaurant. Decent meal, but authentic it was not. Blank looks at my efforts with Mandarin. Nihow. Shez-shez-nee. My insistence on chop sticks as well received.

Next morning Denny’s for breakfast. Then coast bound. Giles wanted to change his saddle first, and we’d be joined at some point by his wife Sara and their young daughter. I’d done the math and reckoned the art-of-the-possible was Sheridan, fifty miles away and thirty or so short of the Pacific at Lincoln City.



Up and downs

November 9th, 2011

I’d joked that if we ended up pretty much where we’d started then he’d better sleep with one eye open. Lest he find himself sharing his bed with a porcupine. The burrowing type. Leaving Longview we’d inadvertently strayed from the Seattle-to-Portland – STP – cycle route. Missing the familiar, if slightly faded, ’STP’ silhouettes spray painted on the highways.

Unperturbed, we’d placed our faith in Google Maps to guide us towards Portland. Soon cursing it as it struggled up an increasingly tough gradient. Zig-zagging on the quiet road soon giving way to pushing. Damp now. Close on a thousand foot of climb.

Plunging descent returning us to better weather. Something, I suggested, that leaving the Van Allen belt would probably account for. Brief stop in a small cafe, as much for respite from the returning rain as lunch, then on towards Portland.

Dreary riding into the city. Cheap motels. One advertised for just twenty bucks. Fast food joints. Grey. Uninspiring. We’d have stopped for coffee but there wasn’t anywhere you’d want to.



Longview laments

November 8th, 2011

I’d nodded off for a while. Lying on the bed. Second day back on the road, ninety miles or so. Steady riding, a few climbs. One described by the ’Seattle-to-Portland’ cycle route guide as a right of passage. Neither Giles or I thought it so. Bit of a pull, low gears, but hardly character building.

A simple motel room in Longview. A very forgettable town, long strip of fast food joints. Wendy’s for dinner, a short stroll across the parking lot. Next morning breakfast in McDonalds. I’d slept well.



South Park

November 7th, 2011


The real South Park. Just south of West Seattle..



Headmark south

November 7th, 2011


"Janet Harding Miss Washington 2008" said the sign, greeting us on our arrival into Yelm. I doubted she lived there anymore. Probably off finishing her PhD or promoting world peace. But certain she’d left.

Giles and I had reached there at dusk, sixty or so miles south of West Seattle. Following the route of the annual Seattle to Portland cycle ride – the "STP". Progress had been slow at first, picking our way out of the suburbs. Picking up later as we’d hit the West Valley Highway.

The occasional glimpse en route of Mount Rainier, over fourteen thousand feet of active volcano. Our headmark south. Frequent signs informing you of the evacuation route in case of eruption.

We’d a smart motel room for the night. I’d suggested we look out for well-kept hanging baskets, a pretty reliable indicator that the place was loved. It’d be decent. But in Yelm there wasn’t any choice, or at least we didn’t find any. A few pot plants outside.



Not the time to pay

November 6th, 2011

"This is not the time to pay" said the driver. Firmly. I nodded. Abandoned my attempt to insert a dollar note into the ticket machine and slinked away to the back of the bus. I’d headed into Seattle to meet old school friend Giles for lunch. Then a short foray around the centre of the city before heading back out to the suburbs of West Seattle.

Spotted a 54 bus pulling up at a busy city centre stop. Waited for a few moments for others ahead of me to board. Nobody did. Presuming they were all waiting for another service, jumped on. Greeted by an old lady moving slowly down the aisle with her walking frame. Mortified, quickly stepping back off.

Nobody spoke. The lady reached the step, unable to disembark without some help. Nobody moved. The driver asked if anyone would help. Nothing. Eager to redeem myself, I pushed forward once more, this time to assist, joined by another passenger. Hoping the assembled crowd would mistake me for an Australian. Probably time to return to the road.




November 5th, 2011

Simple enough plan. We’d ride for the Californian border. South from West Seattle, through Washington State in the top left of the US. Two hundred miles or so to the north Oregon State city of Portland. Then west through the mountains to the Pacific ocean at Lincoln City. Weaving our way along the coast to California. One week. Roughly five hundred miles.


I’d be riding with old school friend Giles. Pleased to discover his wife Sara and their young daughter would be joining us at various points along the road. For in the US a week is a serious chunk of annual leave.

We’d be stopping in motels. Giles quite adamant there were no conceivable circumstances under which he’d camp. Rather admired his honesty. After all, the trip was meant to be enjoyable, a chance to catch up on what we’d both been up to for the last twenty years or so. Challenging – yes – but not a test of endurance, the sort of thing you only appreciate in retrospect.



Mending fences

November 4th, 2011


Be bold I’d thought. Always found I’d had a knack for eggs. Soft peaks and all that. Chocolate souffle for dessert. Quietly confident. But then things had gone a little awry. No hand whisk and efforts with a fork weren’t going well. I’d have got more air in the mixture if I’d gargled it. But that’d have been a bit off-putting for old school friend Giles, his wife Sara and their young daughter Sophie.

I’d had more success earlier mixing concrete. Literally. Helping mend a fence. Always trying to make myself useful, not to be a burden on those kind enough to let me stop. Over the last few years I’ve cooked, walked dogs, bit of baby-sitting, installed tumble driers. Pretty much happy to give anything a go. But maybe avoid souffles for a while…



Psychic barber

November 3rd, 2011


I think he saw me coming… In Seattle.


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