Today we encountered and survived the weirdest town we've seen on this trip. And not without injury.
After a luxurious diner breakfast with WIFI, we left Quinault just to head towards Oregon. The guide book Travis has been consulting told us to take a coastal route that would add a whole extra day and it didn't sound that awesome, so we just headed south. Which took us to Aberdeen.
Travis said, "Oh, I think my favorite punk band The Melvins is from here."
I said, "Yeah isn't Nirvana from here??"
Oh yes they were. And boy do I have a much better understanding Kurt's mental health problems now.
But first we had to go through Hoquiam, which is right across the river from Aberdeen, and equally weird. These towns are in the middle of a forest and they have managed to cut down every single tree in the neighborhoods. Not only that, but the houses are all identical, so much so that they look like company towns.
Just across the bridge is Aberdeen. It's a big, weird, grey, dying city. There is a proper downtown but it's obviously not in full force. There are three story buildings with alleys running through them, complete with lingering shadowy characters. Even though the downwtown area is totally walkable and quaint, they've made the main streets into oneway, high speed boulevards and allowed chain fast food to infiltrate its local economy, which is rare for Western towns. That being said, there was not only a gamer store dedicated to Magic: The Gathering, but an entire Star Wars store. When your reality sucks it's very easy to turn to fantasy.
Aberdeen was founded on timber and water traffic, both ocean and river. Even in its heyday of the early 1900s it was a scummy town, known colloquially as "The Hellhole of the Pacific", filled up with saloons, whorehouses, gambling establishments and a high murder rate. The vast majority of the lumber mills closed in the 1970s and 80s, and are still closing today. A quarter of the downtown businesses are shuttered, and with no industry to replace fishing or logging, there will be no stop to its steady decline.
We had to navigate baffling, high speed traffic to reach the stopped at a health food store to resupply on bulk goods. All I could think looking at the customers and employees there was, "Dudes! This is a sinking ship! Just bail!"
Here's the worst part-- leaving the health food store I had to decide whether to take the sidewalk or face oncoming one way traffic, and I flinched and wobbled my bike. I was still clipped in with all by bags on my bike, and I just fell straight over onto the sidewalk, with full force landing on my knee. And my bad knee at that! It immediately bruised and started swelling, and I could feel each pedal stroke irritating it for the rest of the day.
We were desperate to leave this awful town, but had to cross more fast one way traffic, climb our bikes up some stairs and ride down the sidewalk of a very high, windy, mesh-floored drawbridge. It was terrifying. When we emerged off the bridge we got confused about which road we were on, and asked the man on the bike ahead of us if we were on Highway 101. He had long greasy hair and a bandana, and no gear besides a big sleeping bag strapped to his rack.
"It's Highway 105," he said. "You know they got lots of things down there, like clams, and big houses, geraniums, cranberries, I always try and go down over there whenever I can becau--"
I said, "Oh that's nice, but we're trying to get to Astoria, we have to find 101."
"Oh yeah, 101, I was down there yesterday," he continued without a pause. "It's kinda expensive, you know because there are just so many people there. There are at least ten big ships down there and when I was there last time..."
"Ok thanks!" I shouted as we pedaled away very fast.
Finally, when we were on 101 South, we were on our way out of town when we passed two hitchhikers, both girls and both with puppies. They had cardboard signs attached to their backpacks, and one girl was not only wearing a tutu, but had fastened a crown of taffeta to the top of her pack.
"This is the source of all the street kids in Portland," Travis said. "If I were from here, I would do ANYTHING to get to Seattle. I would work the shittiest job, live in the shittiest apartment, as long as it wasn't here."
Then he told me about the exchange he had in the health food store when I was checking out.
An old man approached him. "Are those motorbikes you two have out there?"
"Nope, just regular bike," Travis said.
"You mean those are pedal bikes?" the old man said incredulously. "Those sure are nice for pedal bikes. Where are you riding them?"
Travis said, "We're riding them from Seattle to San Francisco."
The old man was astounded. "Seattle to San Francisco? And you ended up in Aberdeen?!? Son, you must have taken a wrong turn."
And Travis thought, 'Yes, yes we did.'