2.2.02: 21 June 2012: Portland to Seatle by Amtrak and on to Bremerton by Ferry


From Portland to Bremerton Through Shelton, by Train, Ferry, and Bike

Read about the night train from San Jose to Portland

Awakening in Portland, we had the luxury of a noon departure.  We ate our complimentary breakfast and, otherwise, took our time.  We donned a combination of street and bike clothes, not wanting to stand out.  We need not have bothered, as no one noticed or cared.  We rolled our pannier laden bikes into the elevator, one by one.  As would happen many times, people felt compelled to comment on our venture.  Most of them, often very overweight and unlikely to ever take such a trip, wished us well, mumbling about undertaking such a venture.  I hope all of them do.  They will have a wonderful time, even if it turns out differently than they planned.

Refreshed and able to think, we plotted our next moves.  Knowing the price of meals on trains, we found a Subway and purchased our future lunch.  The day was warm, sunny, and inviting.  We considered seeing more of the sights, but decided we should go on to the train station.  Perhaps I was still in destination mode, but I did wish we had allocated more time.  Portland seemed like a nice town.

The return trip to the train station was ridiculously easy.  Our first test was to find the Steel Bridge.  The map which had seemed harder than the Enigma code the night before was simple and helpful.  The map was a result of the efforts of the Portland bike community.

We followed the clearly marked route to the pedestrian walkway.  Bikes were everywhere.  We simply fell in line.  We saw no other obvious touring cyclists.  The other cyclists seemed to ignore our panniers.  I did notice a cargo bike, while we waited.  I had seen an antique at our local bike shop, but had never seen one in actual use.  We saw our first novelty of the day.  The Steel Bridge pedestrian walkway, at street level unlike the soaring auto way, was closed that a vessel might pass.  It was a small thing.  We had not experienced anything like this since living in Daytona Beach, Florida..

Using the map, able to read the street signs, and feeling in command, we crossed and quickly found the Portland Train Station.  The evening before, we had assembled the bikes, with little time to properly appreciate the building.  The beautiful red brick exterior echoed dim of memories of my earliest childhood.  The exterior, complete with clock tower, looked and felt like a train station should look, something out of a different century.

We got our tickets, confirming that we could roll our bikes on to the baggage car at the right time.  The baggage handler told us he would look for us, and make sure we got our bikes on the train.  With our U-Hall boxes safely in the hands of the railroad, we had time to set back, and take stock of our situation.  The train station was vibrant, and full of bustle.  Our fellow travelers were far different from those in an airport terminal.  They were younger, more casual, more relaxed.  We felt very comfortable in this new, low stress environment.

We waited in the Main Waiting Room of the Portland Station.  While we waited, we had yet another opportunity to experience the kindness of strangers.  Marian, in looking through her stuff, dropped her Kaiser card on the floor.  A young woman, Kerry, found it.  She must have heard me call Marian by her name.  She quickly asked if Marian had dropped a Kaiser card, which she had.  We talked with her for a few minutes.  We told her about our trip.  We learned she had recently moved to Portland from Hawaii.  She was traveling to Seattle to run a half marathon, the next day.  She did this every year with her sister.  The next morning, when we saw the race on early morning TV, we wondered if she had passed by the camera.

While we waited, we leaned our bikes against a convenient wall.  People drifted by, but gave them little notice.  We saw no other bikes.  When called, we rolled them to the baggage car.  It was a relief to know that we would have fully assembled, functional bikes, when we got to Seattle.  This major difference between the Starlighter and the Cascade runs was another reason we chose to lay over in Portland.

Our assigned seats were just forward of the baggage car.  We could easily keep an eye on them.  At stops where they offloaded baggage, one of us would watch, as casually as we could, to make sure the wrong bike did not get off.  We did not know, then, that only some stations have baggage service.  Many of the stations are ticket sales only.  At those stations, passengers might only take on, or take off, what they carried on.  No baggage could be removed from the baggage car.

We rolled away from the station.  This train was different from the one we had ridden in on.  The cars were  lower, and we looked out onto the countryside, instead of down on it.  The cars were more modern, somehow more spartan, more utilitarian.  If anything it seemed more like a bus than the other.

We crossed the mighty Columbia River and entered Vancouver.  Once again, I learned something.  To the degree that I had ever thought about Vancouver, Washington, I had always imagined it on the Canadian Border, not at the Oregon State Line.

We settled in for the ride to Seattle.  The hustle and bustle of getting ourselves aboard the train ebbed away.  We ate our sandwiches.  I began to think about what I was preparing to do.  I still felt like an imposter, acting something out.  But, it was beginning to feel more real.   Just before we got to Seattle, we changed into our bike clothes.

We stood outside the baggage car, until the baggage clerks handed our bikes down to us.  We rolled them into the station to await the boxes for our panniers.  The Seattle Train Station came as a disappointment to us..  The Station was undergoing renovation, or expansion, and was definitely under construction.  Sadly, the bones of the old station were still visible, soon to be lost forever by the rework.  Perhaps, because of the unfinished drywall, and KEEP OUT signs, it seemed far smaller than the one in Portland.  It had all the charm of a house ready for the plasterers to come and do their magic.

In every way, circumstances confirmed our decision to lay over in Portland.  There were few staff, huddling in thick bullet-proof glass booths.  They were not very talkative.  They did not how to get to the Ferry Docks.  Nor did they know of any Washington State road maps.  What a contrast to the Portland station where the beautiful old building that served by a staff which was extremely friendly and went out of its way, helpful and courteous.  Portland serves as a sterling example of what the Seattle Station should aspire to become.  I cannot imagine pulling into the Seattle Station, after midnight, with a pile of boxes in front of us, and no where to assemble our bikes, and no where to spend the night.

I had loaded a .TCX file into my Garmin, which gave us some idea of how to get to the Bremerton Ferry.  We rolled away from the imagined security of the train station , with everything we owned in our panniers. There may have been streets with bike lanes, but we had no idea where they were.  Carefully mixing with traffic, we worked our way along the route suggested by the Garmin.  We had to negotiate a construction zone, before we finally got to the ferry parking lots.  Once there, we felt as if we had accomplished a major feat.

Our time-table was off.  The train had taken longer to get to Seattle than advertised.  We had been as quick as we could at loading our bikes, but perhaps we had lost a few minutes.  Traffic lights had lowed our progress to the ferries.  Whatever the reason, our boat had already sailed.  Somewhere along the way, we had also heard about extended rain, but tried not to let that worry us.

Having never been in Seattle, and having little experience with sea ports, I was unsure what to expect.  I think I was expecting something more dramatic.  Still, on the northern end of our vista, we could see the Space Needle.  This vestige of a World’s Fair, at a distance, was less than I imagined.  I am certain that, up close, or on top of it, it is a marvel.  Had we spent more time in Seattle, we would certainly have gone to see it.  While it is shorter, by some 500 feet, than the Eiffel Tower.  The view of Puget Sound is, reputed, superb.  And, with the added advantage of the rotating platform, by standing still, in a short time, an observer can see everything.

Immediately to our south, were the stadiums for the Seattle professional sports teams, the Mariners and the Seahawks.  The Giants had played the Mariners in inter-league games a week before.  These second or third generation stadiums.  They both feature retractable roofs.  I understand the need to ensure that baseball games are played on a dry surface.  Football games are another matter.  Teams should play in the weather the city finds itself in, fair or foul.

The weather was warm and sunny.  Rain seemed so distant, so unlikely.  So, like many others, we waited.  The rush hour started to build. Cars began to show up, lining up in well-marked rows.  Other cyclists rolled up to the front of the queue, joining us.  A few of them talked to us.  Most kept to themselves.  Whatever they thought of our panniers, they said little.  Finally, the ferry moved into the dock, bursting at the seams with people, bikes, motorcycles, and cars.

We watched the orderly, and efficient unloading.  The pedestrians streamed out, down walkways to the right.  The wheeled traffic comes off in waves.  Bicycles comprised the entire first wave.  The cyclists pedaled furiously to avoid the coming stampede.  We watched, learning.  Then the motor cycles roared away.  And then the cars streamed endlessly off the ferry.

Then it was time for us to play our part.  We gamely tried to follow the cyclists, pedaling down the ramp, into the cavernous center of the ferry.  Being the only touring bikes, we got to the far end of the ferry as the motorcycles starting moving around us.  Some of them were muttering curses at us for being in their way.  seeing that others had secured their bikes, we did the same, not wanting them to fall over.  Taking our handlebar bags, we scrambled to an upper deck.  For a time, we kept any eye on our bikes, but it was unnecessary.

Once we pushed away from the dock, we were able to put the waterfront in perspective.  The sun was still shining, and, even with the wind, it was still warm.  We could clearly Mount Rainier, the closest of the Cascade Mountains to Seattle.  It looms in the background, and the photo does not do it justice.

As we pulled away, we passed the working part of the port.  A cruise ship was docked to the south of us.  The scale of the cranes amazed me.  They dwarfed it.  We had no idea if we were looking at a ship yard, or if the facility was a normal loading / unloading area.

Many of us were playing tourist.  A fellow passenger was kind enough to take our picture.  We reciprocated.  It turned out that he lives in the San Francisco area, and was in Seattle to help recondition a Coast Guard ship.

The wind was brisk.  We would learn, as we toured, what we had known in Florida.  The wind always blows on the sea-shore.  The chop picked up, but the large ferry buffered most of it.  We wanted to experience everything.  We stayed out, on deck, longer than most.  We had donned our cycling clothes earlier, and we began to chill.  Eventually, we did retreat to the shelter of the interior.

During the ferry ride, we saw a submarine making its way to the navy base at Bremerton.  Two lads who were proud submariners, told us she was one of the three Sea Wolf boats, originally intended to replace the Los Angeles class attack boats.  Enough were never built to do that job.  Those aging submarines continue to go to sea.  Our ferry steered well clear of that deadly stalker of the seas.

We went back inside, and plotted our next moves.  We had planned on going a few miles north of the ferry slip, to a state campground.  But, we were arriving far later than we had hoped.  The campground did not have a hiker / biker facility, and we worried that we might not find a site, as we had no reservation.  We took advantage, for the first time, of the magic of the iPhone and G4.  From our ACA listings, we targeted a Motel on the far edge of Bremerton.

Then it was time to make landfall.  Down on lower deck, we waited, with our loaded bikes.  When the signal was given, we joined the other cyclists, feeling as if we were riding for our lives.  We lumbered up the ramp, no easy task when dodging gaps and changes in the steel plates.  We made it to the safety of a coned off section, and watched as the motorcycles, hard on our heels, roared away.  Then the cars began to stream out.

For the first time, on a tour, we made use of the magic of Marian’s iPhone.  Calling our target motel, we confirmed they welcomed cyclists, and booked a room.  Having no Garmin bread-crumbs to guide us, we followed their directions.  I had a close call when I misread a street sign on a two lane road, which said the right lane must turn right.  I threaded my way between the two lanes, assuming one would turn when the light changed.  The light changed.  The cars didn’t.  And I lived to tell the tale, a wiser man.

We pedaled about three miles across Bremerton, to the motel.  The 300 feet of climbing reminded us, as if we did not know, of our touring weight.  The irony that a significant part of that weight included camping gear was not lost on me.  Once checked in, we ate supper at a nice Italian restaurant.  My father had been stationed, for a time, at the Bremerton Navy Yard, not far from where we stayed.  There was some opportunity to do tourist things, nearby, such as tour an old, World War Two destroyer.  But, we had toured similar ships down in San Francisco.  We decided we would rather start bright and early, the next morning, on our adventure, instead of spending another day in Bremerton.  We retired for the night, hoping the wet weather would pass us by.

Read about our rainy ride from Bremerton to Shelton

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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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