Port Townsend Writing Retreat

As usual, I ended my bike tour with the barest of plans for re-entry. After finishing in DC, I took Amtrak to Seattle. Rather than moving in long-term to my sister’s couch, I signed up for a housesitting service. Here I found some incredibly trusting souls, willing to let me come live in their houses and watch their cats while they’re on vacation. Which is fantastic, since all I need is a roof and a cat. And wifi and food. (You did say eat the food, right? I’m pretty sure I heard that.)


Since I’m not doing adventures, I’m reading about them. I started with a book about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, similar to Wild but with smarter gear choices. In Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart, author Carrot Quinn recounts her hike from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. The gearhead in me is fascinated with her ultralight weight set-up and the adventure junkie in me keeps waiting for her to get caught out on another mountain pass in a freak lightning storm.

Stumbling upon Jill Homer next was a truely lucky find. She takes adventure cycle touring to the extreme. Ghost Trails is a memoir of her attempts to complete the 350 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational, first on a snow bike, then on foot while pulling a sled. In Alaska. In the winter. One story she  tells is of a fellow competitor who has to be rescued when she goes blind due to frostbite of the eyeballs. She is in a blizzard, in the Alaskan wilderness and her eyeballs freeze. (She later recovered her sight — when her eyeballs thawed, I guess.)


In Colorado, just outside of Vail, I pushed my bike about 1/4 mile up this snowy road to find my campsite. It was slightly uphill and at altitude, and I nearly died after 30 minutes of pushing. That’s my snow biking experience. But what if I had fat snow tires and lighter gear?


Riding to the top of tall stuff does feel really great. And I sort of like the cold now.

Be Brave, Be Strong recounts Homer’s adventures on the 2009 Tour Divide, a self-supported mountain bike race on the Continental Divide. Her description does not skimp on the suffering and pain and mental anguish. I read both these books in a few days and then found Jill Homer’s blog, a ten-year deep smorgasbord of detailed race reports and personal writing. Like the books but with more photos! Homer is not only compulsive about throwing herself into extreme endurance races, she’s also a prolific writer.img_0289

When I arrive at my Port Townsend housesit, the home owners inform me that their upstairs neighbors have recently adopted a Gluten Free diet. They generously donated two grocery bags of their gluttonous rejects (mostly cereal!) for my stay. I am delighted. Give Me All The Glutton!

Port Townsend has a Food Co-op where I can buy unpasteurized whole milk for my cereal. There’s also a bike co-op, and therefore, a higher than average number of hippies about town. The house I’m sitting is up on the bluff, with a wrap-around view of the Puget Sound. I can see mountains and water all around.


One thing I have in common with the Adventure ladies I’ve been reading is a lack of regard for following the latest healthy eating trends. Both Quinn and Homer write in intricate detail about the delights of junk food, the frantic consumption of convenience store snacks. Homer gets a lot of shocked and scolding comments on her blog for her gummy bear and Snickers eating ways. This is the sort of thing that separates the participants from the spectators in the arena. You will never know the epic joys of eating while super depleted until you’ve huddled outside a 7-11 in the rain trying to eat all the Rice Crispy Treats and BBQ chips at once.

In her third book, Into the North Wind, Homer is back on her bike in Alaska, riding the long-version Iditarod, 1000 miles to Nome. Feeling cold and fearful and self-doubting the whole way. Apparently this is a race that gets under your skin, bringing people back year after year.

Not that I want to go racing in snow, but there might be something to that lightweight, fat tire bike set-up. Where I’d love to be riding, right now, is on the Baja Divide trail. Instead I’m only watching it, via Facebook, and fantasizing about a future trips. I applied for Lael Wilcox‘s awesome Bike Scholarship. It sucked not getting it but I have to concede that Lavanya Pant is completely deserving of the prize. Lael Wilcox is still my Cycle Lady Superhero. In 2016, while I was toodling my way across the country, she was kicking ass in the TransAm Road Race. Not just the girl race, the whole race. 4,400 miles, coast to coast, in a record 18 days and 10 minutes. Lael Wilcox is a little scary in her awesomeness.

And…as you can see in this video, she also eats junk food. See a pattern here?

Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle is one of the few bookshops with what I consider an adequate travel section. It was there that I found the Falcon Guide to Ultralight Bike Touring and Bikepacking, by Justin Lichter and Justin Kline. The two Justins have decades of hardcore touring experience. This is the sort of how-to book where just one paragraph about gear, or one photo of a mountain bike rigged for the Himalayas, sends me into raptures of fabulous travel daydream land. It’s time for me to reconsider my packing set-up and start adapting some bikepacking approaches. I’ve spent the last year cycling on the side of busy roads and I am so tired of cars. On my next tour, I want to go somewhere wild. There are still plenty of places with no people, no cars, and no lights, wilderness places where the real adventure starts. But to get there, I’m going to have to get my rig lighter and tighter.


2 thoughts on “Port Townsend Writing Retreat

  1. I really enjoyed this post. Beautiful kitty – I assume the one you are cat sitting with the house in Port Townsend. I cannot begin to imagine the women you talk about biking in Alaska. It is beyond my ability to comprehend someone who wants/needs to endure that kind of masochism! But I like visualizing it nonetheless. Thanks, Gretchen. Enjoy your break, cat time, and more writing. Should you ever visit your Aunt Sandy in Marysville, I would love to meet you.


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