Through the Middle
The condition of Washington's "trails" remained un-rideable. I remained on farm roads.
No longer confined to following a pre-defined path, I cut more directly across the state, which only meant more directly into the never-ending wind. Even in the mornings, the wind would already have you shifted a couple gears lower, though thankfully, the wind never got much stronger in the afternoon.
No longer riding through national forests, instead surrounded by farmland, finding a place to sleep now meant getting into town and asking around. I've never liked this part of touring, even though it leads to some of the most interesting and fortuitous encounters. It's not fun stressing out over whether or not you'll have a place you're legally allowed to sleep, and I've never liked begging.
After visiting every church in Ritzville, as well as the fire station, I still hadn't even found anyone to ask. As a last option, I tried asking City Hall, who guided me to the Collective Adventure, run by a generous man named George.
The Collective Adventure technically isn't a church, but performs a lot of the same functions you might expect, like a food pantry and clothing collection/donation. I'd been lucky enough to arrive on the day they were doing their bi-weekly dinner.
"It's nothing fancy, just salad and hot dogs."
"I like hot dogs."
The dinner turned out to also boast chili, cinnamon rolls, and a short sermon. George also asked me to speak to the audience, so I gave a short speech:
When I do a long hike or bike ride, the most common question I get is "Why are you doing this?" I still haven't found a perfect answer to this question, but not having an answer never kept me from doing it. There are two reasons for this.
First, it’s not that important why you do it. It matters more that you do it at all. Of all the times I’ve given a reason why I do these things, the answer has never impressed anyone as much as what I do. So forget about the why. Do it, and then you’ll understand.
This goes against some of the conventional wisdom we hear. Often, the message is that before you set out to do something, first you have to feel like doing it, though some moment where you "find yourself," or understand your purpose, or something like that. If you follow this method, you can wind up floating adrift, waiting for a moment of clarity that may never come, before you take action and start to be the kind of person you want to be.
If you want to be a piano player, you become one by playing piano a lot. If you want to become an athlete, you become one by training or practicing. If you want to become an artist, spend lots of time creating art. If you want to get good at math, do lots of math problems. If you want to become a writer, write a lot, and read too; spend lots of time with literature. In the same way, we become generous through acts of generosity, kind through acts of kindness, and great through acts of greatness.
The phrase modern psychology uses to describe this process is "cognitive dissonance". It's basically the feeling you get when you try to stop a bad habit. When you start doing something you don't normally do, your brain gets uncomfortable and doesn't like it. At this point, one of two things can happen. You can give up and go back to your old habits, and your brain slides right back into its comfort zone. But if instead you persist, your brain will adjust to your new habits and get comfortable with its new situation. Your brain will move to close the gap until your attitude matches the actions you're doing.
None of us will ever be perfect, but that doesn't mean we can't improve. It's easy to make excuses for our inconsistencies, by saying things like "That's just how I am," or "That's just one of my things." And because those are the things you do, you're correct; that's who you are. But who you are can be changed if you change your actions. If you want to possess a virtue, act as if you already have that virtue. And then it will be yours. In short, fake it ‘til you make it.
First, figure out what kind of person you want to be. Then think about what actions to take. What should you start doing? Maybe you can think of someone you know that you want to be more like, or otherwise, imagine the person you want to be. What’s their daily routine like? What things do they do that you don't?
Once you've figured that out, start doing the things that person would do, even if you don’t understand why. And here's the important part: Keep doing it, even, or especially, if you don't feel like it. That's where the cognitive dissonance kicks in, and those are the times you’ll make the largest permanent changes. Some of it will be hard and may make you feel uncomfortable. Ignore that. Know that in time, you’ll make a mental transformation and change the way you feel about your actions, and also yourself.
And finally, continue doing this. It’s not a one-time thing. It's like shaving. The first time you did it, it was awkward, maybe unpleasant. After a while, it becomes part of your routine, and it's not a big deal. You can do it without even thinking about it. But just because you've gotten to the point where it's easy, that doesn't mean you stop. You still have to shave again tomorrow.
To accomplish something great, or to make a change in your life, don't wait until you understand before you do anything about it. Do things first, and then your brain will catch up later.
Second, I’d like to answer the question: “Why do you do it?” Now that I’ve done it, I’m beginning to understand.
When my time here is nearly up, I’ll no longer care how nice my kitchen used to look. I won’t care what kind of car I was young enough to drive. I won’t care about the quality of my home theater system. So I don’t spend my time pursuing those things. Instead, I’ll care about the manner in which I lived my life. In the short run, instant gratification feels good. In the long run, investing time in things that pay off later is smart. But in the very long run, all that matters will be memories of fulfilling experiences and meaningful accomplishments. And good friends, because shared experiences count double.
George also asked around to see if anyone could offer a place to stay, and by the end of dinner, not only had he found one, but I had a job the next morning. Pete was some kind of construction contractor, and for the work he was doing next morning, one of his guys couldn't make it. All he needed was a warm body that could handle a shovel for a couple hours first thing in the morning. The next day's ride would only take four hours, so it would be OK to get a late start. Why not?
Pete had a house for his workers, which wasn't much, but I got a hot shower and a chance to do laundry. Also, a full-size air mattress proved to be more comfortable than my sleeping pad, and it didn't have to be packed up in the morning.
Pete came by at 7:00 and I followed him to the job site. For one reason or another, he needed a trench dug in the asphalt in front of a gas station, 10 cm deep and 1 m wide. Pete and another guy used a circular saw to cut into the asphalt, and yet another guy used a pickaxe to break it up. I shoveled.
After two hours of this, Pete said that was all he needed, and I could scoot. He followed me as I headed over to Teeder.
"Thanks for coming out, if you hadn't been here, we'd be digging for another hour." As I began taking off my sneakers and putting on bike shoes, he took out his wallet. "Alright, I said $15 an hour, so that's…"
I stopped him. "Give it to George."
"You sure? You don't want it?"
"He's doing a good thing. Just tell him I said thanks for helping me."
"I mean, I already donate to George…"
We shook hands. I finished switching shoes and left. Pete went back to work.
For what looks like a flat area, there are almost no flat roads in Central Washington. Since the hills aren't very big, the roads remain straight and go right up and over them. While there aren't any large climbs, there are a lot of them. As a result, riding in Washington means doing hill repeats all day. And if you're heading west, that also means relentless headwind.
It had been a short day, but I arrived in Warden exhausted. Much like the day before, no one was at any of the churches in town. There was someone at the fire station, but the only thing they suggested were the empty churches. City Hall, uncharacteristically, told me to leave town. There wasn't even a hotel, despite being a big enough town that you'd expect one. And camping in the city park was illegal.
With literally no legal options for lying still for a few hours, I headed out of town, back into the headwind. This folks at City Hall had suggested an RV park 25 km away. It was July 3. The place was a zoo, primarily composed of large noisy families and a lot of RVs.
Well, maybe it's only like this in the RV area, which happens to be right up front. I bet the camping area is quieter...it has to be. I went inside the office and asked how much a tent spot was. $45. There was only one site left.
"I'll think about it." I left.
Another 5 km farther on, there was a state park. Less crowded, quieter, a more peaceful, natural setting. A tent site was $32 and came with a cold shower. There were dozens of sites available, and you could choose the one you wanted. I took one.
Evidently there are more people that prefer something louder, more crowded, less pretty, and more expensive. But there was a full-service restaurant and an ice cream parlor at the RV park, and that's what camping is all about.
Despite more headwind, I was in Vantage by noon the next day. There was an RV park there. It wasn't much. For the next nine hours, I didn't have much to do outside of setting up my tent and then sitting in it.
Taking a shot in the dark, I called the WarmShowers host I had set up for tomorrow and asked if it would be OK to arrive a day early, then take a day off and stay two nights. About half an hour later, Mel called me back and said it would be all right. Ellensburg was only 50 km away, and it wasn't 1:00 yet. No biggie.
The hill out of Vantage wasn't steep, but it went on for nearly 20 km. For the first time since Arizona, it was hot. And, of course, there was a vicious headwind.
The ensuing downhill was equal to the climb out of Vantage, and combined with the headwind, made for a reasonable-but-loud ride into town.
Mel showed me directly in, and I got a shower and laundry going right away, but not before joining Mel in a beer. Mel and his wife Keiko we're going to a dinner party that night for the 4th of July, and they invited me to come with them. An evening of meeting interesting new people, home cooked dinner, croquet, and a discussion about math with an intelligent young student. Definitely an improvement over sitting in an RV park.
With only two days to go before Seattle, I was taking my third day off. There could certainly be worse places to do that than Mel and Keiko's. I was well-fed the entire time, walked to the nearby local university, and that night, they took me out with some of their friends to see live music. I even managed to get some swing dancing in, something that should be done more often.
Big thanks to Mel and Keiko for their generosity and flexibility!
You'd think Washington would be mostly made up of wooded hills and rain, but it's almost entirely dry plains and headwind. Not the most difficult riding of the summer, but perhaps the most frustrating. At this point, I was glad there were only two days left.
from Wild West