MONEY – it might not make the world go round but it sure helps you cycle it.
Almost five months after wobbling out of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and almost a year after pedalling out of China I finally decided to face every traveller’s greatest fear: the checking of the bank balance.
Forget running out of food on an isolated mountain pass, this single act has been known to render bike tourers into the kind of blind panic reserved for finding out the first hostel you’ve reached in 1000km doesn’t have wifi. Needless to say I was suitably worried.
Since reaching Alaska – the land of super-sized wilderness and super-sized prices – I’d suspected our finances were drying up (let’s leave our biscuits and gravy addiction out of this). But it wasn’t until we’d conquered most of Canada that I discovered we were pretty well broke.
As we pedalled out of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island our minds spun with possibilities. Should we sell our organs? Should we get working holiday visas for Canada? Should we fly to Central America and get an English teaching job?
Considering we’d found bike touring hard enough with fully functioning organs and only one of us could get a Canadian Working Holiday Visa it seemed the only option was to fly somewhere to make some fast money – but of all of those “somewheres” where should we go?
Shoving the decision aside for future Sarah and Scott to deal with we pedalled along back roads and past sleepy Coastal villages to British Columbia’s capital – Victoria.
This port city is renowned for its European architecture, cosmopolitan lifestyle and fast-growing fentanyl epidemic (yep one of these things is not like the other) and according to local media reports, the highly addictive drug was wreaking havoc with fatal overdoses sky rocketing.
Coupled with an alarming rise in the cost of living in these cities, the homeless population was also fast growing with small tent cities popping up in public parks, reserves and even nature strips.
As we cycled into the city it was pretty sobering to see high-end boutique shops just a stone’s throw from homeless camps and over the next couple of days we shacked up with an awesome Warmshowers couple to get the inside scoop. The pair, who are lawyers, offered a fascinating insight into the painful realities of this hip city and despite the sad truth we nevertheless had a great time chatting, sight-seeing and getting our bikes fixed (finally) for the cycle to Portland.
Saying goodbye to Canada was surprisingly tough but knowing what lay ahead (Washington, Oregon and California) filled us with butterflies as we boarded the ferry to Port Angeles and crossed our 26th international border by bike.
The sedated north west pocket of Washington is famous for two things – an indecent level of annual rainfall and the Twilight franchise (I’m not proud of knowing this) with allegedly thousands of Edward and Jacob fans making the soggy pilgrimage to the nearby remote town of Forks each year. Apparently the annual crab pot festival is also a real lure for the tourists which I guess makes this neck of the “evergreen” state a one stop shop for blood sucking, bottom dwelling poncho wearers.
We didn’t see any vampires or werewolves on the way out but we did witness a large group of grownups running around the forest with no shoes on. Upon stopping to question their absurdity (this coming from two broke, smelly Aussies on bikes that were doing their best impression of turtles) we were told they were in a nature class. Scott reckons they were werewolves in training but I guess we’ll never know.
From Port Angeles we headed slowly east and then south towards the state capital of Olympia, camping the first night in the backyard of a lovely local (who gave us dinner and a bag full of fruit) and the second night near a campground that was close enough to use the loos without us needing to pay (#cyclistsforthewin).
We’d arranged to stay just a night with a Warmshowers host in Olympia but mere moments after arriving in the sprawling home of our host I checked my Facebook page and saw a message from a former boss.
Upon realising we were broke, back in the armpit of Canada, the small and annoying adult part of our brains had drawn the conclusion that going home to work would be the most logical, albeit mentally toughest, option. I’d then sent out a few feelers to see if there was a chance anyone would hire me for a few months in any kind of media related role.
To my surprise my former boss said the public relations firm she now worked for were happy to put me on a contract for a few months (starting late November) and even offer me decent pay.
I felt excited and terrified at the same time, rolleroasting between elation that we would no longer have to eat out of bins and blind fear that I would soon be forced to “adult” and iron my clothes.
Nevertheless we quickly called our families, booked our flights and like two reverse versions of a Walter Mitty we hashed together a last minute plan to get home.
Despite entering what felt like the Twilight Zone there was still a couple of weeks left to do some cycling so we continued on south to Portland.
As we neared Seattle the clouds returned to their usual year round state (dark, bloated and stormy) and by time Portland was a mere 80km away we were drenched, soggy and over it.
Waking up and going to sleep in the rain is about as fun as teaching computer skills to an octogenarian but we pushed on, forcing ourselves to soak up the rainbow of autumn hues, the lush green woodlands and the aroma of organic coffee beans that seemed to be wafting out of the world’s most hipster city.
Portland has a (sometimes dubious) reputation for being a hippy haven nestled somewhat uneasily within consumerist America. If locally sourced, organic, grass-fed, emotionally stable produce is your thing – then this colourful Oregon hotspot is the place for you.
It’s also the kind of place were you can join drum circles, drink the latest and greatest brews, buy rare books and go for blissful forest walks (probably with your shoes off) and we absolutely loved it.
It’s framed by snow-capped mountains, brimming with food trucks, teaming with lattes that haven’t been burnt to oblivion and most importantly – home to two trail angels we’d met on a dirt track in Canada.
Pam and Peter had stopped to give us words of encouragement, Speculoos cookies and an open invitation to visit just a couple of months earlier and we’d happily taken them up on the offer to stay.
Minutes after arriving we were laughing, chowing down chocolate chip cookies and Googling jobs and apartments in Portland but soon reality hit and we stamped on our dreams of becoming Portlandians and instead booked the train back to Vancouver where a 20 hour flight would take us home.
With the bulk of our winter gear stashed in Pam and Peter’s basement we beelined back to bloody Canada to be reunited with our awesome friends Paul and Jan (who had somehow not blocked our number and were happy to host us again). Over the next couple of days we boxed up our bikes, stocked up on maple syrup and prepared for to face our former reality.
When the day came we were more nervous than two five year olds on their first day of kindy.
After three and a half years we were about to go home, start new jobs and re-enter a life we’d forgotten how to live while wondering how the bloody hell we’d cope with the reverse-culture shock.
It turns out we coped… not very well.
You see change is a fickle thing. It creeps up on you when you least expect it to and despite our assertions that a world cycle ride hadn’t changed who we fundamentally were, when faced with a life we’d left behind it turned out our minds had warped quite a bit.
Maybe we’d seen to much? Maybe when the highlight of your week is finding a pretty tasty cheddar from the bin it’s hard to embrace full-blown consumerism and a good salary with open arms.
The first week back passed in a blur of emotional family reunions, hair cuts, Tim Tam binge eats and humidity.
For the first time I met my little niece Quinn (who I fell instantly in love with) and after a few days I realised our friends and family had changed to. My sister Mel was now a mum, my brother Richard was now a loving husband and my other sister Kate was kicking ass in her healthcare career.
There were other not so nice things too. My mum and dad had split up, friends had undergone huge upheavals and Sir David Attenborough had sent out a largely unheeded warning that our Great Barrier Reef was close to dying.
None of this, of course, was a surprise but somehow being home and seeing it all in the flesh (well, not the reef because it costs about a million dollars to visit) forced me to see the changes face on.
Everything felt slightly familiar but slightly alien at the same time and on my first day at work I set new world records for making a tit of myself after turning up drenched in sweat (note: do not briskly walk the final 2km to work when it’s 35 degrees and humid) and then forgetting how to do the most basic things, like answering the phone.
It took just a few weeks to realise that a working sabbatical, when you’ve spent the last few years doing your best impression of a nomadic sloth on wheels, is tough.
Days feel like years, weeks feel like decades and continents drift apart in the time it takes for a month to roll by.
By time sweaty, red-hot January was turning into equally sweaty February it felt as though entire new galaxies had expanded from a few molecules.
Worse still, the wee sabbatical was having some interesting and not entirely welcome side effects. First of all, my pants seemed to be shrinking in the wash, secondly my face was beginning to resemble the pallor of a coma patient and I was beginning to to look like all the other depressed train commuters who’d mastered bored indifference to almost Oscar winning levels.
For the first few weeks of work I gazed in wonder at the impossibly blue sky, the sprawling homes dotted throughout the suburbs and the harmonious chaos of the city centre station. Now the only thing I mulled over on the morning commute was the many ways I’d like to pummel the bastard who beat me to the last seat.
It wasn’t however all doom, gloom and fantasy punching fellow commuters.
On our precious weekends we spent time with loved ones, meandered through local markets, made full use of a functioning kitchen and hiked and camped.
We made plans for the next leg of our ride, fanatically recalculated our budget and contemplated LAB (life after biking).
Most importantly, at a glacial pace, our bank accounts started to recover from Christmas and we began to fill the coffers.
We were getting closer.
In less than 80 days we would be tackling the coast road south from Portland before pedalling the many climbs on the Californian coast. From there it would be jump, hop and skip to Mexico and so would begin our final world tour leg – the 20,000km or so down to Argentina!