Sunday, January 26, 2020

Week 3: To Oregon and Beyond

Man time is weird. Writing about these weeks feels like I’m writing about another decade. I feel like squeezing every drop out of each day has changed my sense of time. Days do not pass you by when you’re trekking through the Oregonian winter in the pouring rain. No, each second is felt with each sense, providing a lasting impression. Knowing that I only have precious moments in each location to see what I need to see forces me to capitalize on every waking hour. What a contrast to the dull moments that I am accustomed to seeing fly by. Without unknown bends in the road ahead, those moments quickly amount to minutes, hours, days, and weeks, and before you know it, a week has passed by without you really taking notice. Not here. Each day is a gift, and each day is a fight, and I have needs to meet. These needs are pressing and urgent; they are no joke, and they cannot be taken lightly. Needs give weight to the moments, and weighted moments weigh down time, hence the feeling of the slow passage of time.

I’ll go ahead and blame my altered sense of time on the delay in the post.

1/15 


Most of the day was spent indoors, catching up on administrative business like route planning and blog writing. Before I knew it, it was dinner time, so I headed down to Long Beach to get something to eat. Along the way, I felt the strongest wind I’ve ever felt. They were truly gale-force winds. It felt like a team of ghosts was pushing me into town. If I picked up my feet, I could have floated into Long Beach.

1/16 





What an insanely beautiful day on the Washington coast! It was well worth riding out that winter storm to experience the gorgeousness that was hiding behind the front. I mean blue sky, crisp air, and sunshine- all intensely foiled by the rain, snow, and sleet that colored the last few days.

It was an odd but freeing feeling to hop on the uni with 10% of my gear to head to the Riekkola Unit of the Willapa NWR (hence the photo). I could actually see the wheel below me, which is normally obscured by my front drybag. Lunch in hand, I made my way through some backroads to get to the entrance of the unit. Suddenly, a familiar chip caught my attention: Yellow-rumped Warbler? I dismounted to investigate further. Although I was unable to locate any warbler culprit, a finch frenzy brought me two year birds: House Finch and Red Crossbill.

After five miles, I had arrived. So I ditched the uni in the woods and took to my feet to squeeze all birdlife out of this refuge. This unit was relatively new and restricted, so it didn’t have much new to offer. I kind of expected that; I just thought I’d try something unusual and hope for an unusual result; that’s kind of what my Big Year is all about.



Among the 32 species that I would see at the unit, only Canvasback, a regal-looking duck, was new for the year.

I savored the rest of my evening in Washington, as it’d be my last for a while. I was leaving the state with 100 birds on my Washington state list.

1/17


In my early sluggish awareness I pick up on a fairly constant and irritating drone of traffic. Surprising for this sleepy little beach town and bothersome as can be. I cannot help but take it as an onomatopoetic foreshadowing of today’s journey. What would the world sound like if everyone parked their car for a year?

Like it or not it’s time for me to eschew the life of comforts for the life of adventure. I’ve been getting too settled here: too roped into TV, too inclined to lounge, and too unproductive. Following checkout, I reentered my ways of old, and I instantly remembered why I opted for this way. It was like my brain had awakened from sleep mode. The hills towards Raymond were still snow-covered, and I was grateful for the the way the week’s worth of wintry weather had played out. The snow cover revealed the land’s secrets: the whitest areas being the ones with the freshest wounds, the cutover plots.

It ain’t long before I’m in Chinook, and I’m on the fence about stopping until I see a triad of Greater White-fronted Geese feeding in a lot alongside the highway. So I make a quick stop to document them and then mount up to head for the bridge. But I’m not on the saddle for long before a tunnel appears and necessitates me pressing a button for passing bikes. If only I were agile enough to press the button and continue riding... Unfortunately I must get off and walk through the tunnel. Each passing car is like submachine gun fire to the eardrum. The effect of the reverberation feels like surround-sound gone wrong. I could not have gotten out of that tunnel sooner.

And as soon as I did, my next frontier appeared on the horizon: Oregon. It would be my second new state on the trip and my last. And I was pumped for it’s potential. I would be entering with 96 birds on the year list, poised for a flush of new ones. But standing between that promise and me was the Columbia River and the 4.1 mile Astoria-Megler Bridge, which is the longest continuous three-span through-trust bridge in North America, whatever the hell that means. And I walked it, apparently illegally. Along the way I’d encounter a Western Gull and Pelagic Cormorant in my path: both having perished at the hands of drivers. In a sort of rushed and unceremonious funeral, I tossed them back to the Columbia, their mother and true home.






Man this is a wide river. Four miles?? The Columbia is the fourth largest river in North America, and somehow man has placed not one, not two, but 14 dams along the main channel. Fourteen dams? This thing must be more backed up than the Comcast customer service queue. But what comes around goes around, and the Columbia’s deceptively enticing inlet has been the siren for many a lost crew, as Maritime Memorial Park in Astoria can attest.

Taking my first steps in Oregon, I became aware of an odd phenomenon transpiring at my feet. Drainage holes in the bridge had turned into miniature water spouts, the wind having the gravity-defying effect of forcing water droplets upwards to the road’s surface. It was another little magic moment that the speeding and oblivious SUV’s had no chance of observing. As was the passing biker: a true vagrant on a baby blue bike with whitewalls and a bottle of vodka in the front cupholder. He eyed me and exclaimed “That’s a huge f%&*in’ wheel! Cool!”

So I mentioned that my means of crossing into Oregon was apparently illegal: it brought my first (and certainly not last) run-in with the law. All of a sudden, after having crossed about 75% of the bridge, an Astoria police cruiser approached and blocked off the north-bound traffic lane (I was walking against the flow of traffic in an attempt at self-preservation). While biking is allowed on the bridge, walking is not, and apparently my stroll along the shoulder had been the cause of several calls placed to the Astoria PD. Fortunately my officer was extremely understanding and did not require that I ride the remainder in his squad car or that I needed to do anything other than finish what I had started. As we chatted, some California Sea Lions honked their circus-act honk, perhaps in an effort to salute a fellow patron of performance arts. It was my first interaction with these fellas, and the officer was nice to identify them for me. After running my license, confiscating the Washington license plate that I found on the bridge, and verifying that my intention was not to jump from the bridge, he let me continue onwards.

Finally I got the heck off of that confounded bridge and made my way to the Astoria Riverwalk. From there it was just a stroll up a really steep hill to my Warmshowers stay, where Becky let me into the guest room. Holy smokes was I blown away. Looking around the room as I write, I’m still in denial. Steve and Becky offer a space for traveling cyclists that is literally a cyclist’s dream. I’ll check tomorrow and make sure that I wasn’t actually just dreaming. The space is independently accessible and features a kicking common area, stero, bike repair area, free stuff box, kitchen with all kinds of wares, furnace, full bathroom, beds, books, games, a roller, yoga mats, a medicine ball, and a clothesline. All of this is framed with a neat industrial look and adorned with Grateful Dead imagery, including a immortalizing photo of Mr. Garcia just laying into a sick lick. The wifi network name is shipoffools. I literally could not have imagined this any better.




Brokedown Palace 

I had to take a stroll just to digest the awesomeness that I was just presented. So I returned to the Riverwalk, which showed some promise. In route I grabbed a big tray of chicken mac n’ cheese from a food truck (and didn’t have to pay sales tax-there is none in Oregon). The Riverwalk was actually productive, and I added Greater Scaup and Orange-crowned Warbler, my second warbler species for the year.

Later on I’d make my way back down to town to grab some fish tacos and appreciate Astoria at night. The sidewalks have these cool mosaic-type insets with illumination-you have to see it to appreciate it.

1/18 


I rise leisurely. I may as well just stop saying that since it happens so often these days. But there’s no urgency in my acts because I have decided to take Steve and Becky up on their offer and stay another night. Why not? It’s too good to pass up, and I ought to check out more of Astoria.

Soon I’m scaling the steep grades of the Astoria sidewalks, heading for the highest point of the city. I find myself humming the Full House theme song. I can’t help myself, the resemblance to the San Fran of the sitcom cannot be overlooked. After all, Astoria is referred to as “Little San Fransisco.”

I make my zig-zag way through the disjointed streets, climbing ever higher. I find that the streets arbitrarily end, requiring that I connect to the adjoining one. I later learn from my cycling buddy Brian that the discontinuity is the artifact of repeated landslides. How nice.

Passing through the entrance to Coxcomb Hill, I spot my destination sitting atop a lush, grassy hill: the Astoria Column. No, it’s not a newspaper office; it’s a structure. It recalls an out-of-place lighthouse and does not appear to have much of a command from its perch. But the views from the top always beat the views from the bottom, and the Column didn’t disappoint.



From the top, I take in the view, enjoying a solitary occupation of the platform for several minutes.

A Selfie for Posterity

Below, the city of Astoria is perfectly patterned along the banks of the Columbia, stretching neatly onto the neighboring hill. Everything below appears so nicely laid out, as if it were all constructed from Legos. Houses look perfectly geometrical, cars move in an orderly and predictable fashion along the sleepy streets, docks reach out into the impressive Columbia, and Coast Guard ships motor along happily. Suddenly the whole scene appears as Google Maps programming: my bird’s eye view converting the lay of the land into a series of routes. Which will I take in the morning?



From my vantage atop this lookout, I realize that I am the highest man in Astoria. Well, on second thought, maybe not... I guess it depends on your definition of high.

From the ground, I look up to appreciate the Column once more. A vertical crack from top to bottom becomes apparent. I’m glad I didn’t have to see that before climbing to the top.

My return to town is mostly accomplished along a muddy stretch of trail. Soon I’m back on the riverwalk. The fastest animal in the world-the Peregrine Falcon- provides a typical fleeting view. A couple of crows loudly signal their presence nearby. As I go to put them into my running eBird list, I see that Northwestern Crow/American Crow is no longer an option. Apparently Oregon birders consider their crows to be pure enough to be considered American Crows. I guess now is as good a time as any to add them to my year list; it’s not like it’ll be my last sighting of them.

Sitting on the cliffhanger of 99 species, I gorge myself on more Astoria food; it’s the best culinary destination I’ve seen so far. Then I’m back up to the house, where a nap is an unavoidable next move.

I woke up an hour later from a cavernous sleep- I thought it was the next day. I cannot remember the last time I slept so hard, especially when napping. I must have been supremely at ease. Undoubtedly I was rested for the moving day that was next.

1/19


This morning I finally met Steve, the host of this incredible venue. It was difficult to peel away from his place, knowing that much worse housing options lie ahead. But it had to be done; other travelers would follow. The Oregon stretch of Highway 101 is 358 mi from border to border. The Oregon coast is 363.1 miles long. Time to get some of those miles under my belt.



I walked the uni over the hill to reach a smaller bridge on 101, the lesser of two evils. Just as I’m preparing to mount to begin the day’s ride, a cyclist pulls up alongside me and asks if I was in AdventureCycling Magazine. I resist the temptation to claim another’s fame and tell the guy that I’m not famous.

He introduces himself as Brian Squire (no relation to Billy Squire-I asked) and offers to ride with me to Seaside. He diverts my route from 101 to the more scenic and less traveled Lewis and Clark Road. This is my first group cycling experience ever, and it’s loads more fun than riding alone. After passing over the bridge, I’m confronted with year bird #100- a milestone! It’s a Red-shouldered Hawk that takes flight from a powerline and offers a fleeting view.

Before long, we are well on our way to the Oregon woods, leaving the hustle and bustle of 101 behind. The day simply cannot be any nicer, and it takes me off-guard.

Brian and I begin to chat, and pretty soon I’m aware of how incredible his cycling past is and how lucky we both are to be in his company. After being the victim of a head-on bike on car collision, he nearly lost his leg. His injuries, including spinal damage, required weeks of recovery in the hospital. His outlook was grim. And yet here he was, twelve years later, not visibly phased, and enjoying the ride as if nothing of the sort had ever happened. He truly has a sunny outlook that cannot be dampened.

And he commuted to work on his bike for thirty years! He and his wife do not even own a car; all of their business is done by bike or foot. They practice an admirable lifestyle. Not to mention they’ve crisscrossed the US on their bikes like a couple of navigators with a broken compass.

Brian insisted that we make a quick detour to Lewis and Clark National Historic Park to check out the reconstruction of the encampment that these fellas spent a winter in. Attempting to skirt the visitor’s center, we caught the attention of some NPS employees. We caught flack from them as they dealt with us in their usual entitled manner. I don’t know what it is about NPS, but they always exude this air. You’d think we were trying to infiltrate the Treasury in DC. These folks would later lighten up a bit when we passed by on the way out.





Brian was insistent about getting photos, and I am glad that he was. It’s something that I usually neglect to do but regret. So his willingness to capture the moment was valuable.




We were putting along nicely, with hardly any traffic. Towards the tail-end of the ride, we began a slow climb. I was sweating like a stuck pig in the sunshine and finally had to stop to shed my well-insulated jacket. Feeling like a new man, I entered Seaside with a smile on my face and a new friend by my side.

Like all good things, our ride had to come to an end. So Brian turned back and headed for Astoria, and I made my way to the hostel to check in.



This would be quite the interesting next step on my journey, to be honest. I was so hungry after stashing my stuff, so I headed into the thick of it around 2. And boy, was it thick. People were swarming like termites before a colony dispersal. Seaside has a real Santa Monica feel: a coastal town that’s overrun with people, most of whom are wearing Vans. People raced around in 4-wheeled pedal cars and a minivan family tailed a police cruiser while blasting the theme from Cops. What in the world had I stumbled into? My hunger was not allowing me to interpret the scene fully. A man was handing out saltwater taffy at a street corner.

“Vincent, you ever had a Big Kahuna Burger?” 

Walking along the shooting galleries, arcades, and souvenir shops, I scanned for a reasonable-looking place for a meal. I settled on a place where hearing Harry Chapin over the speakers really summed the scene up.

With some food in my belly, I ran back to the hostel to grab my effects and try for the residing rarity -a Mountain Plover- in the fading light. I had a close encounter with a young bull Elk and was relieved that he did not feel threatened by me in any way.



By the time I made it to the spot, mist began to enshroud the huge exposed beach, rendering my attempts at finding a small brown bird futile. In all honesty, I felt relief in not seeing the Plover, feeling that I’d get much more satisfying lifer looks the following day.

“Somewhere, over the dunes.”

“You built a time machine, out of a DeLorean?

Mountain Plover and Long-billed Curlew were my priorities for the next day. These were both birds that I did not expect to have a shot at until months later in California, and learning of their presence and apparent cooperativeness struck me as odd for this location. But I wasn’t going to pass up good looks at these normally clandestine shorebirds.

1/20


A sad day. Midway through the day, I would receive word that my sister’s and my long time babysitter/nanny/housekeeper passed away. Mrs. Ren embodied all of the characteristics of a virtuous person. She imparted peace and calmness, and we were blessed to have her in our lives; she touched our lives and shaped their courses for the better. We cherish fond memories of her and her husband Clint, and from now on we’ll cling to them especially tightly. Our hearts hurt for the loss a friend, loved one, and member of the family. At the same time, we are relieved to know that she has found the place where she truly belongs and that we may see her again one day. I am grateful for Mrs. Ren’s life and her impact on mine.

Before I received word about our loss, I was hard at work, covering most of Seaside Beach down to the cove, where I picked up my lifer Black Turnstone (the *’s in my species list denote life birds). They were pretty confiding, foraging just beyond the brigade of surfer vans parked at the cove’s edge.

Black Turnstone
Surfbirds

After taking a moment to appreciate these unusually spectacular lifer looks, I continued onwards to the south, hugging the cove and hopefully unearthing it’s bird wonders. A quartet of friendly and knowledgeable birders also found themselves in Seaside Cove. They introduced themselves as Jay Withgott, Wink Gross, Andy Frank, and David Mandell. In addition to answering my new kid on the block questions, they put me on a few year birds. Among them was a Harlequin Duck, a much sought-after bird that I had last seen in February of 2018 off of the south tip of Cumberland Island.

After they moved on, I continued along the rocky shoreline, hoping to unveil other wonders among the rough surf. Surfers eyed me as if I had just burned down an orphanage in town and gotten away with it. One of them told me that I was brave to take “that camera” where I was going (referring to my scope which is most definitely not a camera). I said “oh because of the waves?” He responded with “no, because of the locals.”

With that strange dose of foreboding behind me, I set up shop to scan the rafts from a more direct location. Miguel from the Augusta Chronicle called me to ask about my undertaking. After the call, I sat to rest and appreciate the scene and my apple. Just before sitting down on a rock, my scope went crashing into the rocky shoreline, sending the eyepiece on a concerning trajectory. Yup, it’s pretty much busted.

The rest of the day was very long and consisted of many miles walked to find the Curlew and Plover, but it was not to be today.

During one of the stints of my three part Mountain Plover-a-thon, a man spotted me on the sidewalk and asked if I was after the Mountain Plover. I’ll be dogged if it wasn’t Steve Warner, the very birder who found the Plover just four days prior. During our conversation, Steve offered a suggestion for a last-ditch effort at spotting the bird. I followed his lead but found myself unsuccessful and absolutely bushed at the day’s end. Imagine my surprise when Steve shows up and invites me over to dinner. What a way to end the day!

As I enjoyed burritos with Steve and his wife Marylynn, we talked Oregon, routes, and birds. The Warners both explained the hint of surfer hostility that I experienced earlier. Apparently the surfers are very territorial and do not want word to get out about their local haunt. They thought that I was taking pictures and spreading the word. Well I guess 50% of their suspicions had a basis.

But I cannot disrespect the surfers with sweeping judgements. Steve is a surfer himself. And he is undeserving of disrespect.

I want to thank Steve and Marylynn for their hospitality and a warm Oregon welcome! It is much appreciated!

1/21


I was really looking forward to a good night’s sleep last night, but my maniacal dorm-mate decided to have premonitions about going to some nonexistent job all night. As he mumbled and went about his unconscious preparations, I laid restlessly, waiting for morning to give me some escape.

And morning did come, and so did the rains. I couldn’t leave Seaside without trying for the two shorebird targets again, so I spent the next couple of hours running around in the rain chasing ghosts.

My suspicions about the nature of my targets, the Plover and the Curlew, were confirmed. Like me, they had arrived at an unusual destination for their kind and were not intent on being gawked at for any particular reason. I felt a lot of kinship for these shy individuals, a feeling that eased the blow of the miss. Until California...

But that’s the thing about birding. It’s real. You cannot just say “Siri, show me a Mountain Plover.” No, this sport requires effort, dedication, and positivity. Instant gratification doesn’t come around to spoil its practitioners. And if it does, it’s really special. It’s the rarity of ease that defines it. Otherwise even ease becomes diluted by itself. Birding restores expectations to a more reasonable state, reminding us that not everything can be achieved with minimal effort.

Bearing this in mind, I am temporarily assuaged in my defeat. The rematch will come.

But before I earn that fifth or sixth chance with this Plover, I’ve got to skip town. I’ve got a short hop scheduled for the day. I’m heading over to the next town to the south: Cannon Beach, a location of Goonies fame.

So it’s back to the unicycle life for a bit. Just enough exposure to the road to remind me of its mysteries without totally draining me. You know what demographic really likes my unicycle-riding antics? You may be surprised to hear that it’s neither the truckers nor the chicks that respond most favorably to me. It’s the dogs. I simply cannot pass by a dog, whether I’m walking or pushing, without it just exploding into a barking fit. There’s something about this one-wheeled business that just sends them over the edge. I wish I could understand what they were saying like the dogs from UP.

The trip to Cannon Beach was not too bad; although it did require a bit of walking on the upslope. If you’ve noticed the weirdness with my track on this stretch, it’s due to some GPS error. I did not go on a pelagic nor did I go swimming in the Pacific as my tracker seems to suggest.



I had a treat waiting for me in Cannon Beach. Hannah Buschert and Erik Ostrander, a zealous birding duo out of Oregon, had invited me to stay in their hotel for a free night! It would be the first time that I was hosted by birders on the year. Hannah and Erik are very active nationally, attending and presenting at numerous birding festivals across the states. They also produce their own birding podcast: Hannah and Erik Go Birding

https://www.gobirdingpodcast.com

In other words, they’re big-time. Their website is really well laid out, with great photos and eBird visuals. I could tell that they were talented photographers by their selection of tropical birds adorning the wall of the hotel lobby.

My Kind of People 

They put me up in one of their better rooms; it had a direct view of Haystack Road, and it boasted the potential to show off Tufted Puffins at the right time of year. Unfortunately they aren’t around in January.

After settling in, I took off on a route suggested by Erik and Hannah that finished at Haystack Rock. It was a nice evening bird walk. Although I did not pick up any year birds, I had the chance to admire the renowned sea stack in surreal twilight conditions.

Aptly-named 

The evening was crowned with a visit to a cool hardware store/ restaurant concept with my generous hosts. Over dinner, we talked birds like we’d birded together for years. Man it felt good to talk birds. It’s like birders have an endless bank of topics to draw from. Mayer Hawthorne, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, and the Tedeschi Trucks Band provided a happy ambiance.

The comforts that I was awarded on this night would be especially valued considering how the following day would progress...

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Week 2: Outrunning the Snow

Man it’s been a week since I last published, but it feels like a month. A lot has happened, so let’s jump right in.

Day 8


The weather on the 8th was significantly better than that of the previous two days, allowing me to get out and bird Elma. I had my eyes on an eBird hotspot known as Vance Creek Park, and Northern Shrike and Tundra Swan were among my targets. Conditions were very flooded-the fields south of Elma were a veritable waterfowl wonderland. A beaver cavorted in the floodwaters at the roadside’s edge, songbirds sought shelter in the dry upper-reaches of the Himalayan Blackberries, and rodents ran around and swam like madmice. The theme of the morning was displacement: I was shocked by a pair of Red-throated Loons, yearbird #77, cruising in front of a barn and some silos. Seeing them at home in the Pacific a few days later was a necessary moment to recalibrate my expectations of birds and where they should occur.

This is a Road
Fox Sparrow


Also out of place and taken off-guard by the torrential rains were some kind of Garter Snakes. I ran into two of these guys seeking refuge near the road berms. I relocated one of them in an effort to ensure he didn’t become another wanton road fatality.



As I made my way back to town, I saw that the morning’s Peregrine Falcon had done well for himself, hauling a large prey item back to his distant lair.

The rest of the afternoon transpired in an uneventful manner, and soon my last night in Elma was upon me. So I was going to do it right and make it a memorable one by taking on the town and living for the moment.

Nah, just kidding. Elma’s not that type of town, and I’m not that type of person.

The true evening’s greatest event was the first sighting of the moon since I’ve been in Washington, a sign that the clouds had parted and that it was time for me to head to unfamiliar locations.

Day 9


I was up and out in an easy manner, alongside Jay and Linda, who were headed for the mountains to do a little skiing. Honestly their next steps are more impressive than mine. It was bittersweet to part ways; Jay and Linda had treated me so well and made me feel at home. But they understand the life of adventure, they themselves subscribing to it with the zeal of explorers.

I blazed out of Elma, not turning to glance in the rearview. Twelve miles and an hour later I was shocked to have arrived at Montesanto, the midpoint of the day’s journey. Apparently the road was very conducive to riding the uni, as I must have maintained a 12mph speed the whole stretch. Seeing that I was making good time, I elected to stop into Subway for a breakfast sandwich. Just as I began to sit down for a bite, I noticed a man casually sauntering by and eyeing my unicycle. He informally stepped in and introduced himself as John, the man who would be hosting me for the night. I was befuddled. Apparently he had seen me ride in while checking on his house in Montesanto. After suggesting a small riverside trail for me to try out on the way to Cosmopolis, we said our goodbyes, until later on...

The next move was to head south of town to a bridge under construction. John had warned me that there may be a delay, but I tried my luck, hoping that the light would be green for southbound traffic. Of course it wasn’t. I stopped along other traffic, much to the amusement of the ladies manning the stop sign. They could not believe that I was riding to Georgia. But after my refusal to throw the rig into their truck and ride over, they decided to escort me. Now the bridge was about as long as the bridge over the Little River at Clark’s Hill. Walking along the sidewalk and letting the traffic pass was not necessary according to my escort, so I ran down the main lane, trying not to hold up both ends of traffic. Eventually the bridge began to decline, begging me to mount up and hurry up. So, with a crew of workers as onlookers and people’s sanity in traffic on the line, I attempted a mount...Only to immediately fall forward and bust my ass in front of everyone. But I decided to brush it off for take 2, which was a resounding success. I like to hope that I offered some entertainment to those who saw my failed launch. It’s like Nascar, it’s cool to see the cars go by for about 30 seconds before you just want to see some real action.

I was still a bit rattled by the time I reached John’s trail, Preachers Slough Trail. I was ready for a nice, peaceful walk in nature with a chance to see some winged beings. And the next 3 miles was just that. I saw little to recount, other than some beautiful scenery. And the always-welcome sighting of Varied Thrush, which seem to occur to me in three’s, which cannot be a coincidence.




The day was well-paced. I could not arrive to my next WarmShowers stay until after 5, and it was still before three when I emerged from the woods. From there I rode on into Cosmopolis, which is not quite as futuristic as it sounds. I mean seriously, what century does this city exist in? Its odd name requires an investigation into its etymology. Cosmo originates from the Greek Kosmos, meaning universe. Polis is related to the Greek polios, which means gray. So I was entering a gray universe? Entering the town, I spotted a factory bearing the name Cosmo, possibly alluding to the naming of the town. As it turns out, the small city’s history is pretty extensive, being named in the 1850’s. Apparently the city’s name actually means “City of the World”- note quite “gray universe” as I had reasoned.

My next pressing issue was to walk across the bridge to Aberdeen-I just had to talk to the Daily World about my story, according to Jay. So, with plenty of time to spare, I did just that. Aberdeen confronted me with a kind of damp and depressing feeling, with a visage hardened and tortured by years of mistreatment. In hindsight, I am surprised to learn that Cosmopolis predates Aberdeen, as Cosmopolis had the feel of a kind of Aberdeen, Take 2. But there is something to be said for a city like Aberdeen, and I think that it has its place in my story.

How Kurt Cobaine and Unicycling are Related

Kurt Cobaine was born in Aberdeen, Washington in February of 1967. His formative and fond years as a young boy quickly gave way to the realities of a broken household raptured by divorce and haunted by domestic violence. The rockiness of family life did not do much to ensure Cobaine’s stability. Eventually his worsening conduct led him to a new life with the actively religious family of a friend. Homelessness gradually ensued, as Cobaine struggled to find elements of permanence in his life. At times, he may have lived under a bridge, an experience emblematic of existing truly without a place. School was not for him, and he quickly opted for the life of a full-time musician. The story evolves as you may expect or already know; Cobaine’s twenties were spent amid the often fatal concoction of drugs and rock music. His story ends with a successful suicide in a string of attempts, solidifying his fate as a member of the notorious 27 club. It is evident that this man, born into an existence marked by pain, had been shown more torture than comfort. And it reflected in his regard for other people; he often admitted to disliking others.

I first encountered Cobaine’s legacy while at a bar in Peru. I was having some drinks with my friend Eli and his latest Western friends (Eli had a tendency to make friends outside of the study abroad program) when this live MTV performance of Nirvana came on. It was Come as You Are. Eli, being more educated about Cobaine’s journey than I, remarked on how beautiful this man was. And, although he was referring more to the essence of the man, I realized that he was a very good-looking dude, in a no-homo way. I rarely find men attractive, being strictly attracted to women, but this guy belonged up there with Jim Morrison. I came to really like that song and to associate it with my time in Peru, which was a very impactful time in general. So realizing that Cobaine was from this place that I had just stepped into helped me to realize the parallels at play.

In his short life, Kurt Cobaine was able to impact many people in a very profound way. His words and way of being spoke to people around the world; his followers related to his story. It was the trials of his life that lent this sort of greater consciousness to the man. Knowing the deepest corners of despair and depression had allowed him to replace banality and blandness with meaning. It was the rough journey that produced a beautiful image. And I am finding my unicycle journey to have the same effect. The daily moments are arduous and taxing. Mother Nature is as unconcerned with my contentment as was society with Cobaine’s. I am finding that progress is hard-fought, but this journey of traveling the country by one wheel is shaping me in a more purposeful way than would following a heading along the well-trodden, marked path. Because coasting along allows the mind to reach an almost thoughtless state. What is there to question when your being craves no change? An easy-going life is an uninspiring one. And there is little easy going on the unicycle. There is no act of coasting. Each pedal-turn is purpose-driven and meditated. When you are on a unicycle, your only option is to be actively engaged. So as I head forward into a world of myriad difficulties and unknowns, I am comforted by the fact that the road may be cold, but the future is bright.


My visit into the Daily World was pleasant; the staff found my undertaking very interesting. So after answering a few questions and posing for a few photos, I made my way out of Aberdeen, determined not to fall down Cobaine’s rabbit hole. The result of my visit to the Daily World was this nice piece by editor Kat Bryant:

https://www.thedailyworld.com/life/birding-enthusiast-is-traveling-across-the-country-on-unicycle/

Thank you Kat for the wonderfully-represented account of my journey! Your words definitely ensured my time in Washington was safer and that my experience could reach more people!

My return voyage to the retreat of Cosmopolis required another trip over the bridge, and as I inhaled straight SO2, CO2, and CO from passing dumptrucks and coal-rollers, I spotted some Otters frolicking in the murky waters far below.

Before long I was in the house of Marnie and John, experiencing my first Warmshowers stay.  And boy did they spoil me with their hospitality: my own room, a shower, laundry service, dinner, dessert, and breakfast. I mean Wow! Y’all are the greatest!

Rode about 20 miles today, walked about 10. American Kestrel and Spotted Sandpiper were new additions for the day.

Day 10


I’d be thrown through the ringer on this one. It was a rainy and nasty day, but I needed to make use of this travel day to avoid being trapped anywhere away from the coast, which could turn monotonous quickly. So I left the warm comforts of Marnie and John’s home and began the climb up 101 amid moderate rain. At least I was suited for the weather, or for nuclear disaster response, you tell me.


Haz-Mat Man

Before long I was walking up the climb. And walking. And walking. And walking. It felt like a cruel Sisyphean act-these hills had no summits. My Uncle Chris had warned of hellish rains, and I cannot think of a better word to paint the picture. It was like being in a cold shower for hours under the assault of a shop fan and loud audio of roaring logging trucks. I only wishfully hoped for a Ruffed Grouse or Red Crossbill to make a brief appearance and leave their trace on my year list, but it wasn’t to be. At least my uni and I were getting a wash. Also, one good thing about bearing bad weather straight on is that it makes anything less brutal feel like Malibu.

Arctic came and went without much hoopla. Finally I spotted a promise on the horizon, a sign of hope along a route of desolation: the Grays Harbor/ Pacific County border. Just as I passed into my last county of Washington, something remarkable happened. Something that would have made my buddy Louis weep with joy. A passing SUV beeped and abruptly pulled onto the shoulder. Prepared to offer up the same rehearsed series of responses, I was shocked when a man came out and handed me a full cup of McDonald’s coffee and said “I hope this makes you smile.” I was nearly speechless. Apparently he had seen me on his way over to Raymond.

And at that moment, the clouds cleared, literally and figuratively. It being noon, and me having a bitter beverage, it seemed like time for a roadside luncheon. It was quite the lunch: leftover casserole and broccoli with a full cup of black coffee. I never drink coffee, and though each sip made me wince, I polished that sucker on principle and out of thankfulness. I glanced up to catch a flyover adult Bald Eagle, reminding me that I was in the greatest country on Earth, in case I had forgotten.

It was basically smooth sailing from that point on out, and I was able to ride most of the way to Raymond. I’ve found that there’s another factor that affects ride-ability that I never considered- the camber or tilt of the road shoulder. In the times that I’m lucky enough to have the option of a road shoulder, I have to be weary of its angle. The act of balance becomes much more difficult on these off-cambered shoulders, requiring me to contort my body in odd ways to achieve a center of gravity.

I followed my nose into Raymond, where the timber lot was exuding an odor like that of a Christmas candle. After speaking with my host for the night on the phone, I had to backtrack a bit to reach their property.

Now this host was a bit untraditional, and I was as prepared for this aspect of the stay as I was curious. As I made my way up the steep gravel road, at the urging of some encouraging signs, to the house, I tried to perk up and fight off the fatigue of the road. It was a little after 3; I had made great time, but was exhausted from it. Just as I reached the houses, I caught some ladies darting furtively from building to building, cautiously eyeing me. I felt like, and no offense is intended by this analogy, the dude from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood when he walks up on the Manson cult. Finally I made contact with Zach, the contact from Warmshowers. In the next few hours I would come to know the community well, and my curious questioning was met with good, truthful answers. Basically I was staying in a commune, and I don’t mean this in a derogatory sense. I had been welcomed into the community of one of the “Tribes” of the Twelve Tribes, a spiritual community that sits firmly outside of Christianity.

Their informative pamphlet states: “There is a people who woke up this morning with one thing on their minds - to love their Creator with all their heart, mind, and strength, and to love one another just as He loved them. Being just ordinary human beings, we are far from perfect in our love, yet, in hope, we persevere. Our goal? That the kingdom of God would come on earth as it is in heaven, so that love and justice can rule on earth. Sound impossible? It would be, were it not that the Son of God came to earth to redeem mankind, to set us free from the curse of sin, and to enable us to love. Because we have come to see His worth and our own desperate need, we have surrendered everything in order to follow Him. Our hearts and our homes are open night and day to any who are interested in our life or are weary of their sin and want to know the purpose for which they were created.”

I was fortunate to arrive on the eve of the Sabbath, a night of fellowship and celebration. It would be a night full of song and dance, lessons and prayer, and delicious cuisine, crowned by their self-caught melt-in-your-mouth salmon. Shiny Happy People would have made a pretty nice soundtrack for the evening.

I learned so much about the Twelve Tribes in this time from their beginnings when “a handful of hippies and Jesus freaks began to come together” to their proliferation globally. You may be familiar with this community if you have heard of the Yellow Deli, a chain of restaurants operated by members of the Twelve Tribes. In fact, I was familiar with this community in a roundabout way. I had marveled at the sight of their imposing ship -Peacemaker- just months before in Brunswick, GA.

During my stay in Raymond, I was exposed to a different way of being. I’m sure that I was meant to visit all along and to share some time with this group of people, who I found to be honest, caring, upfront, and devoted people with a calling. Some of them relayed deeply personal and profound personal stories, despite having known me for a matter of minutes. And, although they try to live a fundamental life among their people, they remain very aware of the issues of our time. Upon hearing of my goal of seeing 500 species, a few members made references to the recently discovered precipitous decline of North American songbirds.

It was a 22 mile day, and I wonder if I rode half of that.

Day 11


I woke up grateful for the generosity of this community. I had often heard of acts of kindness witnessed by cycle tourists, and these friends of mine in Raymond were no exception.

The exception was their cat, who made it a point to pee in my drybag overnight, desecrating my only pack of gum. This was not good for me because I’ve been terrified of Toxoplasmosis ever since reading Peter Marra’s “Cat Wars.”

But I shook it off and got my stuff together. I couldn’t help but linger with my new friends; the morning was beautiful, and they just kept feeding me. I was like a wild animal acclimated to contact with people. I wish I had taken a photo of the welcome basket that I received; it was beautiful.

Welcome Card 


It was after noon when I made my way out in the sleet, and I still had 20 miles ahead of me to Bay Center.

I had covered about a mile when I passed the same flock of Canada Geese and Mallards that I had passed on the previous day. But this time, something stuck out. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught an unnatural red anomaly on two of the geese. A second take confirmed my suspicions: neck bands. Immediately a conflict developed between my two identities: stop and take the hit to the travel schedule to support science, or continue on to minimize the commute time? Of course the scientist in me won, and before long I was on the ground and unloading my scope to check their numbers. The two Canadas were unique: they were Dusky Canada Geese.

This subspecies of the widespread and successful Canada Goose is just the opposite of its nominate brethren: it’s narrowly-distributed and imperiled. Their breeding is entirely confined to the Copper River Delta in Alaska, and they winter almost exclusively in the vicinity of the Columbia River at the border of Washington and Oregon. Complicating natural factors had reduced their population to about 5,000 in the fifties. By the mid-nineties, there were about  10,000 total individuals. The current population is estimated to be 16,000, and I was witnessing two of those birds. My birds in particular were caught and banded on the same day in July of 2018, 1300 miles northwest near Cordova, Alaska. Surprisingly to me, they are both females.

During my study of the bird’s neck collars, I became aware of a dark flycatcher in the grasses that emerged from the ponds: a Black Phoebe. It was my first true find of the trip and species number 80. I would have to peel myself from this spot, as a Peregrine Falcon overhead was showing me that there was a lot of potential at this unassuming little flooded field.

Winding my way through Raymond I reached the greenway along the Willapa River, the Willapa Hills Trail. As I motored down this bumpy little paved path, my small frustrations began to mount. I was behind schedule. I was hazy on the details of the route. My leg sleeves had lost their elasticity due to frequent soaking and drying and kept falling down to my ankles. My confounded saddle started to shake again. I was riding into a headwind. These small, seemingly minor issues gradually morphed into one headache, blurring my pleasant morning into a haze of anger. Feeling uncentered and unfocused, I lost track of what lay in front of me, which absolutely must be observed on a unicycle. One unnoticed crack sent me flying. Very seasoned in this art, I stuck the landing with a page from the ice curler’s book. My right boot made perfect contact with the pavement and transitioned into a skid. My hand dropped to the path to stabilize, leaving only a mild road rash. I wish I could have seen that crash from the outside; it felt very nuanced.

As with any mistake, there are lessons to be learned here. Unicycling requires complete, undivided attention, and everything must be done to ensure this condition is met. Frustrations are the ultimate enemy to focus, and, if there is anything Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance has taught me, they must be singled out and dealt with thoughtfully. Otherwise they pile up and reach a sort of straw that broke the camel’s back crisis. Sometimes it is something as simple as relieving yourself that puts your mind at ease. In this case it was removing my leg sleeves, checking my route, and getting somewhere sheltered to solve the saddle problem.

So I saddled back up, passed through South Bend, and turned onto Willapa Ave to head towards Bay Center. Up the road a bit and away from town, I paused on the shoulder to deconstruct the uni, wrap plumber’s tape around the seatpost bolt, and reassemble. While doing this bit of maintenance, an old man stopped and asked if I really wanted to be taking on this road on that thing. It turns to gravel about a mile up there, he said, and trucks fly down the road. As I assured him of my path, he told me “just to be prepared to go in the ditch.” Refraining from telling him “Old man take a look at my life it’s nothing like yours,” I thanked him for his advice.

I found some of his words to be true. The road was small and a bit gnarly, but it was well-maintained gravel. For the six miles that I traveled along the road, I saw two vehicles-a stark contrast to the endless stream of logging trucks from the day before. And, apart from feeling slight apprehension about the Deliverance feel of the route, I had a blast. After hiking the upslope, I had a bit of a thrilling mountain ride down amid beautiful natural scenery. I was grateful to Google Maps for routing me on this unconventional path as opposed to the more familiar and heavily-trafficked Highway 101.



I neared my next Warmshowers stay as dusk descended upon Bay Center. A jelly substance was forming on the back of my unicycle. I was worried that it may have been these jelly masses resembling jellyfish that I encounter on the roadside (I’ve since identified them as mostly decomposed frogs). It turned out to be suds from the entire bottle of Dr. Bronner’s soap that had spilled in my drybag. At least my bag was clean after being peed on by a barn cat.

My arrival was a tad late, but my hosts, Paige and Hugh, had been out and about provisioning for the incoming inclement weather that was clearly on my heels. It is a bit concerning when Washington residents are preparing for bad weather.

Paige and Hugh share their space with numerous cats and dogs, all of which were rescued and spayed or neutered. I have tremendous respect for the kindness and regard that they show for these nearly-forgotten animals.

Paige served up a much needed home-cooked meal, and we chatted through dinner like old friends. I felt at home. After telling them that I had withdrawals from leaving my dogs, they told me that I had come to the right place. They were correct; I certainly got my fill.

Walked 3 miles, rode around 17.

Day 12


The following morning, Paige was insistent that I get moving early; my ride to Long Beach would be a personal record-setting 30 miles. But before I was to take off, I was served a bowl of Cap’n Crunch of epic proportions. As I made my departure, she shot this video:

https://m.facebook.com/1632775181/posts/10218538714612430?sfns=mo

About three miles in, the unfathomable happened. My seat began to rattle again, an infuriating recurring problem. As I pulled off on a logging deck to disassemble the seat for the third time to make an impermanent fix, I could not help but feel ire and loathing towards Unicycle.com. The problem was that the bolt was just too short-not many threads actually made it to the seat post. It was the only new part of the unicycle, and it was the only part that I was having trouble with. Plus the original shipment was damaged and I was still down fifty bucks for it. Getting back out on the road, I clung to the hope that the vibration from riding the gravel road loosened the seat and that today’s paved road riding wouldn’t cause any trouble. The next 12 miles were actually really enjoyable and rideable. Once I reached the intersection of Highways 4 and 101; however, the riding more or less ceased due to strong winds and windy roads.

It was getting to be past one by the time I finally had a chance to eat lunch. I passed up a loafing Loon species, a certain year bird, to get to Willapa NWR to get something in my belly. The refuge was closed, so I hunkered down in the awning of the restrooms to each a lunch of apple, orange, and trail mix. The trail mix had been contaminated by the Dr. Bronner’s spill and contributed a bit of a peppermint twist. Like it or not, it was fuel for my next 10 miles.



Those next ten miles were slow, but traffic wasn’t too bad. Log trucks had been replaced by oyster trucks, but even those passed by with low frequency. Mostly I just saw personal vehicles on this stretch, and there were many moments when no cars were around, and I could appreciate the serenity of the road. Three times I encountered flocks of Chestnut-backed Chickadees graveling excitedly on the road bank, their ridiculously tiny bodies showing little concern to my approach. Birds seem to be able to meet many of their needs on the roadside, and I am granted a unique perspective into this part of their lives as I approach on my silent machine. It has become clear to me that birds listen for the discord that signals the approach of a car or truck and subsequently make their retreat. It’s not until they actually see me right beside them that they react in any way. At one point, as I made my way along a causeway that runs through part of the Willapa Bay, I flushed a flock of Least Sandpipers tucked just off the edge of the pavement. They were roosting in a vegetated strip of land about 2 feet wide, between the road and the bay. Man what a tenuous life a shorebird lives: sandwiched between high speed traffic on one end and rough waters on the other. They were simply making their living by walking a fine line.

After six hours of travel, I stumbled into Seaview, weary and wanting a taste of the comforts of civilization. Three days on the road, and my tank is low. I’m ready for a week of recharge and a chance to live lavishly. The wind is howling, and my face, exposed to the elements during the day, must be red and chapped. I’ve reached a state of blank exhaustion, precluding a celebratory act of any sort. Even as a spotlight, my old urban adversary, appears on the horizon, I merely feel relief. Stopping in at the first motel I see, I inquire about rates. $250 bucks for 5 nights. Sounds reasonable for the offseason, but I want to check the nearest competitor. A straggling walk up the street takes me to the nearby lodge, and after a glance around, I feel that I have had enough of the communal living experience that they appear to offer. So I return back to the motel, and the swarms of Anna’s Hummingbirds around the feeders reassure me that this was the choice all along. After settling in, I walk to the dive up the street, Rod’s Lamplighter (no idea about the origin of the name), for some sustenance. A glimpse at the menu reveals so many savory choices, and the promise of grease stokes my hunger. I settle on the fried chicken special and an overpriced milkshake.

$5 shake, no bourbon?


The shake was not worth its cost, but it did the trick. I was out by 8. Wind howling.

I rode about 20 miles and walked the other 10.

Day 13


The next morning, a slow rise. After a similar binge at the same restaurant, it was finally time to lay my eyes on the great Pacific. The last time I saw the world’s largest ocean was from a commercial flight over Lima, Peru on Halloween in 2018. The image of masses of garbage being bulldozed directly into the ocean rings vividly in my mind.

My reunion with this great salt body is much more pleasant. Crossing through the extensive dunes, endlessly cloaked in the visually appealing, yet conscience-thrashing, European dune grass, feels like entering into a postcard. Scattered and stunted Shore Pines adorn and enhance the picture. I make my way onto the black sand beach and observe the dynamic shoreline. Aquamarine breakers begin to take on mocha caps as they rush towards the shore, eventually culminating in the graphite aftermath that rushes towards me.




The remains of uprooted kelp are scattered here and there, and I inspect these alien beings. At a glance they look like bullwhips strewn about irregularly across the beach. In some places they lie in heaps, tendrils entwined loosely. Their root ball looks like a light bulb, and it’s hard to resist the temptation to crush them. My first few attempts aren’t very satisfying; the brown algae are composed of a material that recalls rubbery plastic. Finally one gives way with a stomp, revealing a hollowed interior.





Meanwhile bird life is scarce. I make halfhearted attempts at identifying the gulls, but find the Western/Glaucous-winged Gull complex to be more intricate and frustrating on the coast. Some Sanderlings outrun a rapidly approaching wave, showcasing their mastery of land speed. A neighboring gull tries to follow suit, but is soon overwhelmed and forced to take to the air before awkwardly landing and playing it off like a foraging maneuver.

Western Gull 


Also present on the beach are numerous vehicles. In Washington, beaches function as state roads during this part of the year, and the speed limit here is 25 mph. No longer am I at the top of the pecking order, being subservient to these unconscious rubber-soled beasts. Being in this position, I can truly appreciate the vulnerability of birds on the beach, shorebirds especially. Still the tenuous existence: they seem to spend most of their waking hours flushing between limited foraging frenzies.

Walking north towards Long Beach proper, more birds come into view. I find myself in the midst of a peepshow: peepshow referring to a good showing of peeps, or small sandpipers. Before leaving the beach for the day, I add 5 species to my year list.

I decide to make my way into Long Beach to return to the motel. Long Beach is a beach town with charm and a bit of cheese. All corporate establishments, surely limited by ordinances, are disguised to blend in with the normal surroundings. There are no tall buildings; Subway, McDonalds, and hotels require extra attention to pick out from the local realty companies and storefronts. Arcades, museums, and go-kart tracks contribute to a family-friendly atmosphere. It’s the kind of place where you just feel inclined to spend money, despite assured mark-ups. And it’s the kind of place where oyster and clam shells lie discarded on the sidewalk, betraying the coastal essence of the area. A sign proclaims Long Beach to be the longest beach in the world. As far as I can tell, that’s a baldfaced lie. 28 miles is a long stretch, to be fair, but a quick Google search reveals more worthy cases elsewhere in the world.

Looking at Long Beach now, it’s hard to believe that Lewis and Clark ended their western exploration in these very dunes 214 years ago. I guess a lot can happen in 214 years. Where one adventure ends, another must begin.



As I stand on the sidewalk and enjoy a chocolate-covered doughnut under an awning, a mix of snow and rain begin to fall. A woman and her young child emerge from the arcade beside me. Just as the girl exclaims: “It’s snowing!,” the mother looks at me and says “HOLY Sheepshit, HOLY sheepshit. It’s snowing! That’s f*&$in awesome! That’s cool as shit!” Amused and shocked, I just reply “yep.” So much for a family friendly atmosphere...

The rest of my evening is spent lazily, punctuated by a viewing of the national championship.

Day 14


I wake up to snow. I guess weather people here aren’t as unqualified in forecasting winter weather. The snowstorm really did end up happening.




Out on the beach, the snow began to lighten up, and a wily coyote snuck out of the dunes to take a peak at an idling truck.

One Hour Later... 


The day was spent birding the absolute hell out of Cape Disappointment State Park, my main attraction. Between bouts of assaultive hail fronts came Mr. Sun, and I felt like I was birding in two places and two times simultaneously.






And amid this atmospheric insanity I spotted 44 species of varying habitat preferences. Perhaps most importantly, I saw a Surfbird, propelling me into the semi-elite ranks of the 500 club!!!

***Surfbird ABA #500***

Out of the eight yearbirds that I would add on the day, two were lifers. Needless to say I was exhausted when my feet led me back to my Seaview headquarters.



The next leg of my journey will be taking me into Oregon, and I’ll be continuing on 101 tomorrow to reach Astoria. Please do consider making a donation to one of the charities in the header; it would make my day!

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Week 1

I know that I’ve published a lot of posts in succession, but I don’t really have anything else to do right now. I’ve been marooned in the cute little town of Elma, Washington for the past three days due to moderate-to-heavy rain. In all honesty, I have no idea how the hell earthworms survive here.





Plus this posts sets me on the proper schedule of publishing once a week throughout the journey. And, it being the 8th and all, it’s already been one full week of my Big Year!!

Day 2


The day was rocky from the beginning. After sharing a delightful breakfast meal at the Inn with a veritable pair of Debbie Downer guests (sorry if I offend y’all, but the course of the conversation ran from natural disasters to the Mexican mafia), I packed up and got ready to ship out for real. No more test runs. Don and Linda wanted a photo before the departure, and my simulated exit fell embarrassingly short of video quality. So I made my way up to level ground on foot to mount up.

Level ground didn’t seem to help me at first. I found the fully-loaded Battlestar extremely difficult to mount. For the next half hour, I tried grabbing on to everything from mailboxes to signs to staple-covered telephone poles. But hanging on to an anchor and keeping the uni centered under me was like the most difficult multitask that I had ever attempted. I would have needed two independent bodies acting simultaneously to pull that off. Doubts about myself flooded in to my brain like shoppers at Best Buy on Black Friday. Had I drastically miscalculated? Should I have invested more time in training in a real-world scenario? I tried to keep these impeding thoughts at bay as I continued to make a fool out of myself to the numerous passersby and the Amazon Prime van. But suddenly, one attempt heading the opposite direction did the trick! A euphoria bomb went off in my head and obliterated the fear.

By the time Linda drove by with her granddaughter, I had ripped both of my dry bags and bruised my legs and my ego. I could see the doubt in her eyes, that doubt that just minutes before was strangling my hope. But I assured her of my progress and eventually set off, this time for real. Freemounting would be the only way. I just had to adjust to a new technique that involved a downslope start, a slightly different pedal angle, and a harder kick on the left foot. It was like learning to mount again.

I felt the same sensation as the previous day: it was like riding a drunk unicycle. Not riding a unicycle while under the influence of alcohol (which I have done), but riding a unicycle that itself has an ABV over 0.08, sluggish and slow to react. But, on the flip side, I felt much more centered with my backpack, which acted like a sort of ballast.

As I made my way into Olympia in a very stop-and-go manner, I followed some biking trials that were highlighted by a Thurston County biking map that Don generously gifted me.

And it rapidly became clear to me that this act of riding while weighted down is very tough. In one of his long-distance videos, Ed Pratt mentioned that his favorite part of unicycle touring is starting after a hiatus. If that’s so, I’m really in for it...

Before long I spotted the familiar skyline staple of Olympia’s Capitol building. Winding my way down to Capitol Lake, I was confronted with cold rain, the result of an incoming cold front. My breath left my body in big clouds of steam. Past the point of no return, a song from the Phantom of the Opera, continued its multi-hour rerun echo in my head.

A full day of riding can be broken down to 9 mi of riding and 7.5 miles of walking.

Day 3



Today I would be getting another substantial boost to my juvenile year list. Two days prior, some very nice and helpful birders at Nisqually had tipped me off about two chaseable species that were high priorities for me in this part of the trip: American Dipper and Trumpeter Swan.

Dipper was first on the docket, so I walked south to Tumwater Falls Park by way of greenway trails.



After completing the half-hour loop around the urban waterfall park and dipping on the Dipper, I made my way back to the falls to reassess. It was like looking for a gray rock among rocks in an environment of constant movement. And most of looking for birds is just cuing in on movement.

But then... the approach of this bird of mystical lore.



Can you believe this thing? It’s a little water sprite! It cannot imagine living without rapidly flowing watercourses. As Sibley points out, this is North America’s only swimming songbird. As I’m treated to a private performance of this personality-filled Ouzel, I find that this bird combines traits of other familiar birds: the shoreline-bobbing antics of the Spotted Sandpiper, the physique of a Thrush, and the coloration of a Catbird.



Did you catch his bizarre white eyelid? I wouldn’t mind seeing him again somewhere down the line.

Backtracking to the Lake to snag those Swans, I am interrupted by a flock of Bushtits. We eastern birders are really missing out on the experience of seeing Bushtits when we go out. These guys are literally the real-life version of the  birds that hang out around Cinderella. The combination of their minuscule size, fairy-like active behavior, and hilariously energetic chips make seeing them a real Disney experience.

Eventually I pull away and reach the south shore of the Lake. Scanning the middle pool, I am happy to see two large white birds awkwardly sticking out among the more normal-sized waterfowl. Once I reach them, I am treated to point-blank views of these majestic beauties. If you’ve never seen a Swan forage, they kind of trample around in shallow water to rustle up benthic goodies before gleaning them from the water’s surface. An enterprising drake American Wigeon reaped the benefits of their work as he prowled around like a remora on a shark’s belly.



From there I made my way to the port, but only added Barrow’s Goldeneye on this long trek. Still, I am satisfied with my achievements on the day, scoring on these priority species with the Big Year mentality: get it now or lose out later on!

Bird-wise, the big takeaway of this part of the nation is the richness of the waters here. I mean this cold water is just bursting with life. Most of my birds on the year are a testament to that. Waterfowl is insanely abundant in these clean waters. A few days before the first, I took some time to try out my new Phoneskope rig and photographed a pair of Common Goldeneye in the marina.



Watching these lustery-eyed divers snag craps from the Sound’s bottom makes me wonder what those Goldeneyes that I saw in Augusta back in ‘14 and ‘15 were dining on in the comparably unenticing waters of Merry Brothers Brickyard Ponds and Lake Olmstead.

Another diving duck, the Bufflehead, has just shocked me with its ubiquitousness and density. I mean these guys own Washington. And I think it is appropriate that they do; they bear a likeness to the man.





And my last waterfowl note for day involves the Green-winged Teal. I witnessed, for the first time, their amusing display. An out-of-place swingset sound called my attention to some horny drakes and a choosy female. The drakes performed this whiplash act, among other aquatic charades. Meanwhile, the hen did not give a damn. Relatable.



In this paradise of waterfowl, I am happy to have my scope, despite the extra burden that it places on my physically.

As I eat my overpriced hotel dinner that night, I am treated to Sail on Sailor through the sound system. In case you are reading Mr. Dan Lipscomb, I am thinking about you. Your fascination and appreciation of my unicycle, in addition to your overall refreshing way of seeing the world, is an inspiration to me.

Day 4


See you Olympia! I’m out of here. It’s my first big time moving day. Don’s map gift has caused me to reconsider and redefine my route to the coast in favor of a slightly more roundabout, but safer route that takes advantage of one significant bike trail and another rails to trails. In imagining this endeavor, I ideally pictured making use of this sort of infrastructure, but had resigned myself to the fact that greenways are just not developed and interconnected enough to cover much ground. So this day is a rare treat and a nice and easy way to up my early mileage.



So bye Olympia, the land Last of the Singing Cowboys ( I say that because I heard this Marshall Tucker song three times while I was there, and nobody ever plays it back home).



I pass a group of birders as I head out, making my last pass by Capitol Lake. I holler out to them, but realize that they probably won’t recognize me as a fellow birder in this getup. The weather is just peachy and does volumes to lift my spirit in this traveling game. As I skip town, my buddy Mac’s challenge of 550 resonates in my head. As I turn it over and over, considering its likelihood, an alarm call alerts me to an overhead Sharp-shinned Hawk, another species pushing me closer to some 500 number.

You don’t say?  

The Chehalis Western Trail runs south from Olympia, and it offered relatively pleasant riding with low traffic. These were the first rural scenes of Washington that I have seen: lots of pastures, horses, cows, and that familiar putrid smell of cattle that reminds me of birding in south Georgia. I’m really getting to the country! And it’s high time too; urban areas are not conducive to my mode of transport. I ride on and observe the numerous Douglas Fir branches that litter the trails and road shoulders, imparting the Christmas spirit.

As I neared the intersection of the Chehalis Western Trail and the Yelm to Tenino Trail, that comfortable riding weather gave way to the more typical Washington rains. But I wanted to get to Tenino ASAP, so I just kept on keeping on. I started to realize that the rain was hurting a little more than usual, and upon examining my sleeves, I saw there was some ice building up. Sleet. Yuck.

On top of this discomfort was the fact that my saddle had been loose all day and was getting looser with every mount and dismount. The issue is with the bolt that attaches the saddle to the seat post. I noticed its tendency to loosen quickly back home, and it seemed that my added elbow grease on the latest assembly did little to alleviate that. It was like riding a rockinghorse down the trail. The thing just kept clicking back and forth.

At least I didn’t have to pay... 

I told myself that I would tighten it in Tenino, knowing that it would require a complete disassembly of the seat. When my sister first saw my dad’s and my modification of the unicycle, she joked that I needed some Mr. Zogs sex wax for the skim board, but it actually would have been useful in this situation as a coating for the bolt.

I was pretty well drenched upon arriving in Tenino, a cute little town with Hallmark appeal. After grabbing a warm cinnamon roll and downing some hot chocolate, I pushed onwards to Grand Mound.

But my riding was short lived. A gnarly cramp in my right cheek had developed, likely due to my skipping lunch in favor of a rapid sucrose dose. So I limped into Grand Mound, primed for a hotel stay. Before ducking into cover for the night, I checked my tire pressure at a gas station. It read a dismal 20 psi (from me hand-pumping it back at the Inn). That, in addition to the seat post issue that I postponed, would need to be resolved before my next stretch.

24.5 miles riding, 9.5 miles walking on the day

Day 5


Two back-to-back moving days. I gotta get to Elma. Nothing is holding me in Grand Mound, that’s for sure. So I hit the road early, despite gross weather. And man was I gliding with that added 30 psi and tightened saddle.

A glimpse into the roadside brush beside me revealed another flock of Bushtits, those Cinderella birds that must have gone through the avian version of Honey I Shrunk the Kids. I considered my situation, riding along in this dismal weather, and then looked at them.

The first words in David Sibley’s description of this species are: “Extremely small.” At 0.2oz, one weighs the same as my first bird of the year, the Anna’s Hummingbird. And both of these species are making it in this brutal environment, despite weighing slightly more than an individual sheet of paper. To hold one of these birds in your hand would be like holding a Hershey’s Kiss, although I don’t recommend putting these birds in your cookies.

What better inspiration could I ask for??

So I continue on, harnessing the spirit of the small, but mighty Bushtit. Just then I hear a chorus of what sounds like bike horns. I’m not exactly sure which direction to look because I have no idea what these sounds could be emanating from. Some movement above catches my eye, and I realize these are the calls of a flock of Trumpeter Swans. Really? I would not equate that vocalization to the sounding of a trumpet. From now on, I’ll place the Trumpeter Swan in the same category as the Bald Eagle: kickass bird with a lame call.

These winged musings abruptly deteriorate when, in true Washington form, a pop-up squall materializes. Once again, I am tossed amid gusty winds, falling branches, and sheets of precipitation. I probably looked like an unhappy camper at that point.

The weather here is certifiably bipolar; I asked I psychiatrist. Just moments later, the sun was back out and an incredibly vivid rainbow gestured to its pot of gold down the road: Elma. I probably should have taken a quick picture, but myself and my spirits had been dampened by the moisture.

As if cueing in on my dejected mentality, a very nice man in a Tesla offered to take me into town. Not even considering help from an automobile, I nicely refused but thanked him for his generosity. It wasn’t until later when my sister pointed out that I probably could have gotten away with this, the car being electric and all. But still, I’m glad that I did make it into Elma on my one wheel, which I hopped back upon just as Tesla man peaced out.

In 5 hours of easy Sunday traffic, I made 18 mi riding and 5 mi walking

Day 6


So now I’m in Elma, staying at a recently closed hostel that still accepts cyclists. You may realize at this point that I am actually getting further from home as I head west to the Pacific. Sometimes you gotta go west to go east. I’ve opted to follow the path of least resistance, simulating gravity’s effect on a water droplet.

The previous day saw my leaving Thurston County for the coastal county of Grays Harbor. I suddenly feel a bit like I’m hanging out in western North Carolina; Elma has that small town feel and irresistible allure.

It’s the kind of place where an auto shop will give you two tire valve covers when you ask for one, where the ACE hardware serves free popcorn, and where random passersby comment on the low quality of double zippers. I do lament that I am missing the full, genuine experience of Elma, observing that a Family Dollar has driven the neighboring hometown grocery into oblivion.

Perhaps a good deal of my admiration for this place stems from the delightful hostel owners that I am staying with. Jay and Linda are living with a lust for life. Both in their seventies, they’re avid adventure bikers, with a pair of imposing BMW’s. They also maintain an 18-hole disc golf course, enjoy skiing and biking, and would prefer to be camping out in the mountains above all else.

After showing me around their place, they asked if I had ever been in a hostel. Apparently my pleased reaction and regard for their business would not have been expressed by a seasoned hostel-hopper.

Day 7


It’s another laid back one. I spend time indoors, appreciating shelter from the rain a tad more than usual, and work away at planning, logistics, and writing. Some of my planning involves coordinating an express exodus to outrun a forecasted snowstorm early next week. Although Jay doubts that this part of the state will see much snow, I don’t really feel like taking my chances with cold precipitation, no matter the form.

Feeling like an Elma local by now, I observe an interesting phenomenon for a second time while enjoying a Meatball Marinara at Subway. In my moving around between businesses during my stay here, I have been puzzled to find employees dragging full-size wheeled trashcans, like the kind you take to your curbside, through restaurants and out the door. Why do they keep them inside in the first place? It seems unsanitary. As I am thinking of asking the Subway worker, the moment passes and lunch rush hour demands their attention. I guess it’ll continue to be a mystery for now.

Most of the afternoon is spent inside the Elma library, where I pass hours watching Ed Pratt’s full unicycling Southeast Asia documentary. I find myself getting very emotional as he dips his wheel in the tepid waters south of Singapore at the completion of his second continent. I’m fully aware that I may be the only library-goer with tears in my eyes at the moment.

My Week 1 ended with another touch of grace as Jay and Linda kindly offered for me to share a meal of thoughtfully-sourced spaghetti and fruit.

Tomorrow I take off for another day of riding to reach the coastal town of Aberdeen. From there, I’ll be stacking up days of back-to-back travel, hoping to reach Long Beach by the end of the weekend. As I return to the reality of riding, I want y’all to know something. As rewarding as this means of transport is, it is also very hard. I am really relying on y’all’s support and words of encouragement—I mean that. In the toughest of moments, it’s those positive thoughts that drift in that will keep me rolling.

See you next time and don’t forget to consider making a donation or two.