2.2.06 – 25 June 2012: Centralia to Vancouver, or Railroaded Out of Town

A Train Trip from Centralia to Vancouver

Read about our ride from Elma to Centralia

Our adventure took several twists and turns.  We awoke in Centralia, 60 air miles from Bremerton, and 56 miles from Astoria, at the mouth of the Columbia River.  Our primary concern was  repairing Marian’s bike and getting on our way.  Failing help in Centralia, we had bike options in either Longview or Vancouver.  We wound up taking AMTRAK to Vancouver.  At the end of the day, a bike shop in Vancouver had repaired Marian’s bike.  We were ready to continue.  In between, we experienced  a wide spectrum of interactions with the citizens of Washington State.


amtrakWe started the morning in Centralia.  We rode to the Amtrak station and took the train to Vancouver, riding an AMTRAK Cascades train.  Once in Vancouver, we made our way to Vancouver Cyclery, on the north end of town.  The team at the bike shop corrected problems with Marian’s bike.  We returned to a motel near the Columbia River and I-5.

Vancouver, Washington, sets on the Columbia River, opposite Portland, Oregon.  With 160,000 people, Vancouver was the largest urban setting we actually rode in.  Although Seattle and Portland are, each, about 600,000, we had ridden only a small distance through each city.

Vancouver, on the bank of the Columbia River, sprawls east, spills over I-5 and beyond.  Burnt Bridge Creek divides the city, north to south.  The banks of the Creek are quite steep, and the crossings are few.  The Amtrak station is in the southern part, just before the Columbia River.  Our bike shop was far to the north.  side of Burnt Bridge Creek.  Through ignorance, we took Main Street, a more perilous journey than we knew, descending one bank of Burnt Bridge Creek, and climbing up the other.  We followed Highway 99, riding defensively, until we reached the bike shop.  On our return to the southern part of town for the night, we took excellent routes suggested by an outstanding bike map for Portland / Vancouver.


We awoke in yet another strange bed.  Instead of getting breakfast and rolling out the door, we waited.  Willies, the sporting goods store and possible bike shop did not open until 09:00.  We knew the AMTRAK schedules.  We had earmarked afternoon trains, if we needed them.

We counted the minutes.  Finally, crossing our fingers, we called Willie’s.  Unfortunately, the sporting goods store was only a sporting goods store.  They might have sold a few bikes, off the rack, but they had no bike  mechanic.  Nor were they aware of anyone who could do that.  We tried True Value, but they were simply the hardware store we had suspected.

Resigned, to a train trip, we called bike shops in Longview and Vancouver.  Each city had an AMTRAK station.  We settled on  Longview,  near the ACA route.  We preserved the option to either pick up our tour from there, or return to Centralia.

We loaded our panniers and pedaled down Harrison.  We passed under I-5, and pedaled past passed a number of stores with enormous parking lots.  Two  Centralia citizens made an unforgettable impression on me.  That impression was so strong, that, I have no desire to return to Centralia, ever.

IintersectionWe waited at a light, Harrison and High Street.  There were no cars waiting to make a right hand turn.  When the light change, I entered the intersection from my bike lane.  A car approached rapidly from behind.  Although I was over a third of the way through the intersection, the car turned sharply in front of me.  The minivan was so fast, and had started its turn so late, that it had to complete the turn into the on-coming lane.  Fortunately, there were no cars approaching from that direction.  Startled, I could do little, except hit my brakes and hope the minivan was more nimble than I was.  As she sped away, I gave her the one finger salute.  I did it on impulse, immediately wishing I had not wasted my time or effort.

carI put the surge of adrenalin to good use, and we continued down Harrison, which turned into Main.  As we neared the AMTRAK station, a Centralia police car sped past us, and then pulled over.  As we approached, the officer go out of his car.  Just like the movies, he slid his night stick in his belt, and waved us over.  I wish I could remember if he put on a hat.  I also wish I had gotten his name.

Having worked off the adrenalin in the succeeding mile and ten minutes, I was curious about what he wanted.  From the beginning, the officer seemed tense and eager.  Looking back on it, I wonder if this was his normal demeanor in dealing with citizens, or if he expected trouble.  He informed us he had seen the incident at the intersection.  He had talked to the driver, but had not given her a ticket.  This part seemed to go as I had expected.

He then chastised me for my gesture.  I immediately told him it had been inappropriate, and wished I not done it.  He gave me a lecture.  He knew of other situations where drivers had come back, stalking cyclists.  He wondered if I realized how vulnerable I was.  I almost felt as if he had threatened me.

Further, he told me that I was, barely, in the legal right.  Had there been no bike lane leading into the intersection, the driver would have had the right to cut me off, even if I had already entered the intersection.  His statement astonished me.  Marian, quiet up to this point, became incensed.  She pointed out that I was already in the intersection when the driver entered the intersection.  Further, she had gone so fast, and made the turn so late, that she had to complete her turn  in the on-coming lane, and then return to her own lane.  The officer, reluctantly, agreed.  Beyond that, the officer was not uninterested in what we had to say.  He showed no respect for adults, easily thirty years his senior.  Maybe he just needed a hug.

Looking at the words, on the page above, they seem polite enough.  But, everything about his delivery was strange. His body language and his tone of voice were tense.  In any other situation, I would have thought he was trying to pick a fight.  Sensing a confrontation I wanted no part of, I fell back on my training in industry.  I affirmed with what I could, and was silent on that which I could not.  I waited, letting him run down.  He found it necessary to repeat himself several times, using almost the same words with each retelling.  He was either well versed in staying on message, or he had practiced this spiel.  He spent far more time with us, than with the motorist.

At no point did I feel as if the officer thought I was in the right.  Nor, did I feel the officer thought the driver was, particularly, at fault.  He treated me as if I were the perpetrator.   I wonder if the purpose of the extended conversation was to see if I would admit to something he could give me a ticket for.  I had just received an unexpected lesson in profiling.  This was the first time in my life I had felt harassed by a government authority figure.  As with most people, I had received one or two traffic tickets.  I was always polite, and took my medicine like a man.  On a larger scale, I had served in the Air Force, and worked for over thirty years as a defense contractor.  I had dealt with many government agencies.  I had never had the slightest problem in dealing with people in authority.  I had never gone through anything like I had just experienced.

Whether or not we repaired Marian’s bike, I was not returning to Centralia.  I resolved to buy boxes at the U-Haul store, near the train station, and get one-way tickets.  We saw his car, several times, slowly cruising by.  I had little doubt that our presence in Centralia was not welcomed by him.  I was also certain that if we had even the most minor infraction, we might wind up, guests of the Centralia Police Department.

Shaking off our experience with Centralia’s finest, we set about leaving town.  At the AMTRAK station, we met a very nice, helpful ticket agent.  We discovered that all railroad stations are not equal.  While all the Cascades stops allow passengers on and off, luggage is different.  For those stations with baggage service, we could retrieve our bikes and U-Haul boxes.  For those without baggage service, we could only take off carry-on baggage.  Longview had no baggage service.  Vancouver did.  The ticket agent was friendly, and seemed interested in helping us solve our problem.  We picked Vancouver.

We bought our tickets and checked our boxes in.  The baggage car would carry our bikes, fully assembled.  We kept them with us.  Having time, we admired the small, tidy, brick train station.  The wood work, including the benches and fixtures had been beautifully restored.  Outside was another story.  Well aware of the nearby patrol car, we walked our bikes through the small down-town business district.  We found a place to eat.  We walked around a little more, seeing the patrol car again.  Finally, we just went back to the station, and waited for our train.

Our train ride to Vancouver was uneventful.  We rode in a car identical to the one we had ridden in to Seattle.  We sat near the baggage car, keeping an eye on our bikes.  At the Longview stop, about 40 miles down the line, we watched, wistfully.  Then it was on to Vancouver, about 80 miles from Centralia.

At Vancouver, we detrained.  It was starting to drizzle.  Going to the baggage car, we met two very nice AMTRAK people.  We were the only passengers getting off.  Rather than make us go to the station to get our boxes, they let us have them off the baggage car.  They looked at our bikes, and those big U-Haul boxes, and openly wondered how we could carry them.  We smiled, and told them we would show them in a few minutes.  They retired to the dry station, and we retreated to a bus shelter.

Opening our boxes and loading down our bikes took only a few minutes.  We went back to the station, asking where our U-Haul boxes could be recycled.  They looked at the panniers and finally understand how we would carry the boxes.  They were very friendly.  We learned it was Linda’s birthday, and we wished her well.  They asked if we knew Scott, in the Portland station, which we did.  They confessed to not being very bike savvy, ut pulled out street maps, trying to help us map a safe way to the bike shop.  They worried that Main Street would be dangerous.  They were also worried about the Burnt Bridge Creek crossing.  We took notes and plotted our course.  They even gave us a map, although it was not bike specific.  How different they were from the Seattle station.

We followed the map until we reached Main Street.  We understood Linda’s concern.  Traffic was heavy, there was no bike lane, and the shoulder was, at times skimpy.  But, we managed, along with the good drivers of Vancouver.  The rain began to fall.  We reached Burnt Bridge Creek.  The convergence of Main Street and I-5 dismayed us.  By chance, two middle school lads came up on their bikes.  We asked directions, and they pointed out a bike path to the east, which got us to the far bank of the Creek.  We pedaled up Highway 99, taking advantage of a reasonable shoulder.  We rode defensively.  Finally, after five miles, we reached our objective.

P1010118Dripping from the rain, and winded, we placed Marian’s bike in the hands of John, the maintenance guru.  We had talked to him earlier in the day, and we had the green light to go straight onto the bike stand.  Within a few minutes, John found two loose spokes and hub bearings that were starting to go.  He declared that this would have caused what Marian was hearing.

John replaced and repacked the hub, trued the wheel and re-tensioned the spokes.  He threw in a derailleur adjustment, tweaked her brakes tweaks, and lubed everything.  In between, he offered that wax lube on chains was okay for mountain biking, but not for long distance touring.  John had worked for over 90 minutes, and would charge us only $39.  We felt obligated to buy the recommended lube.  John was, simply, amazing.

While John worked his magic, I talked with the store manager.  I think his name was Mike.  We talked about how to get us back on track.  He provided us with an outstanding biker’s map of Portland / Vancouver.  He went over the options with me, relating his experiences.  He offered to put me in contact with Scott, the AMTRAK agent in Portland, who was the local bike leader.  He spoke of the Portland transit system, and free bus rides to the edge of town.  We talked about Highway 30, and roads further south of the Columbia River.

John finished working on Marian’s bike.  We talked as he had worked.  His passion was road racing.  He had never considered touring before, and was curious.  Bike and cargo weight interested him.  After we loaded our bikes back up, he asked if he could lift the bike.  Perhaps he had not believed us when we told him the total package exceeded one hundred pounds.  After lifting it, he believe.

We bade farewell to our new friends at the bike shop.  We headed south, back toward town, thinking it was likely we would head toward the Oregon coast, possibly on Highway 30, an interior road, or by bus.  It was getting late, and we needed to find a place to sleep.  Had we known we would take the Washington side of the Columbia River, we would have found a place near the bike store, saving ourselves five miles of riding.

We found a motel near the River, and called it a day.  It was our fourth day since we had left Bremerton, and we needed to do laundry.  We decided that, although we had put few bike miles in for the day, we would take the following day as a rest day.


road not mapBy choice, we were not returning to Centralia, to resume the ACA Route.  We intended to reach the Oregon coast, either at Astoria, or further south.  We were uncertain if we would return to the ACA Route before that point, or not.  In the end, we would decide to bike along the north side of the Columbia River to Cathlamet, and the ferry.  That would mean that we would intersect the ACA route outside Longview.  We would not ride the last bit of Map 10, any of Map 11, and half of Map 12.  The 60 miles graded out as a 12.7, meaning we would have been unlikely to complete the ride in a single day.  We probably would have hoped to reach Castle Rock, about 45 miles away

road not elevation From Centralia, we would have had to transit from the Chehalis watershed to the Columbia watershed.  The route included nearly 3600 feet of climbing, with three major hills.  The first hill was just outside Centralia, with the second about 15 miles further on.  After Castle Rock, we would have made a last, very long, climb over to the Columbia River.


The day started out, very disagreeably.  The actions of a motorist and a police officer guaranteed we would not return to Centralia. Their actions contrasted unfavorably with the Centralia ticket agent, the Vancouver staff, and the guys at Vancouver  Cyclery.  While they protested they were just doing their jobs, we applauded them for their kindness, courtesy, and thoughtful attention to their jobs, and to us.

I will always wonder about the map sections we did not ride.  Even though our ride from Vancouver would cover a comparable distance, I have always felt cheated, especially because of the Centralia officer.  While I have considered, on other parts of the Pacific Coast, to go back and fill in the gaps, our return to Centralia will never happen.

Read about our rest and replan day in Vancouver

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Filed under Cycle Touring, Travel

Let us know what you thought, we'd love to know. Thanks - Pat and Marian

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