Hung Out to Dry

Dec 7th, 2021

The door to the laundry room was locked. The metal doorknob was cool in my hand as I tried again. Shoot. Shut. A single incandescent bulb hung above me in the alcove. It warmed the hanging humidity but not the mood. Now we would have to wait until morning to get our laundry. We’d be delayed hours from our planned departure until the campground office opened. Wearing the only item of clothing not behind that door, Irena huffed away to brush her teeth and call it a night. I smoothed the front of my dress and put my hands on my hips and sighed. I was on a mission. It didn’t hurt that I was already going commando.

I didn’t blame her. I was also disappointed. This was the first mistake of this kind we had made in the 59 days of biking together.

The day started in awe on the banks of Lake Temiscouata where we camped with the haunting chatter of loons and clinking of smooth slate stones that shifted underfoot as we stumbled out of the tent to such a stillness on the lake that I was speechless. It was the day we crossed another provincial line, and after learning at the visitor center that bikes were allowed on the freeway in New Brunswick, we biked against traffic on the shoulder a wee bit to get the better shot of each province sign to add to our celebration collection. Four flocks of Canada geese flapped along the St. John River, and I watched them cross the banks into Maine. We were a stone’s throw from the border, our closest since Midway, British Columbia. We followed the river down to the awesome gorge of Grand Falls on hilly local roads. Just across the bridge, we pulled into camp.

You know you’re a touring cyclist when you strap a pair of bike shorts to the top of your panniers so the sun works wonders on the chamois.

The camping facilities while riding across Canada had been surprisingly good. So much so that we had an unexpected shower every night. After the end of a long day in the saddle, I’d stand in a tiled stall and peel off my daily uniform: bike shorts and a Patagonia sun hoody. We each brought three pairs of bike shorts. This way, we figured, we could go a whole week without doing a full proper laundry, rotating them by rinsing one in the shower or the sink. You know you’re a touring cyclist when you strap a pair of bike shorts to the top of your panniers so the sun works wonders on the chamois. Some nights we would hang them at camp on a makeshift line or tuck items into the nook of a chain-link fence. On a full laundry rest day, we’d really hang our asses on the line.

I’d do the same with my sunshirt. It was the fear of skin cancer in my family and the prolonged sun exposure on the tarmac for three summer months that kept me in my sun hoodie. I brought a wool T-shirt to wear but never did. Irena surprised me at the ferry dock with a team jersey saying Seattle that I wore only for a few key days, like arriving in Montreal. Yet, once I discovered that I could rinse the sun hoodie in the shower each night and that it dried enough to wear by morning, or not, as the dampness was a cool treat in unusual heat, I simply wore it every day. Later, Irena gave me hers, likely so she could carry one less thing but also so that I would wear a different shirt in some of the photos.

Although we longed for real towels, we each had a tiny pack towel that worked especially well after squeegeeing water from head to toe. I toweled off and put on a little black dress.

Those dresses turned out to be the smartest piece of clothing we’d brought across Canada on the old adage we’d borrowed from our mountaineering experience: when packing light, things are best when they serve more than one purpose. While mostly evening wear, our dresses worked a double shift.

Jessica C Levine stands astride a borrowed beach cruiser bike, wearing her little black dress.
 Jessica, in her little black dress ready to head to dinner on a borrowed cruiser bike from the Red Tree Lodge in Fernie.
Irena Netik

First off, the dress hid everything. The tan lines and sensitive skin that needed to be free of underwear of any kind. That was key too, as we could do all the laundry when we went out for dinner. Every single piece.

After the shower in Grand Falls, New Brunswick, that night, we threw everything in the laundry. There was even a dryer. We looked great in our little black dresses and went out to dinner. The pizza place across the bridge had cozy booths and good food so we lingered, writing our daily blog post long past dark. 

We arrived at the campground to find the door locked. Everything else we’d packed for
clothing was behind that laundry room door, tumbled in the dryer, waiting.

Earlier problem solving had been pretty straightforward. The only flat was a fast fix just outside of the train tracks in Lethbridge, Alberta. When I dropped my bike in a campground one morning and jammed the derailer, I locked it out just as my mechanic had taught me. In the next town, just 10 kilometers away somewhere in Manitoba, there was a bike shop across the street from breakfast at Tim Hortons. While Irena ordered coffee, I went to check that they were open. Boom. Done. Fixed. Fast. Back on the road before we could think about it. And even the time the Halifax hostel called to say they accidentally had my passport and wanted to make it good, I negotiated that the proprietor would drive out to meet us as we were trying to make a ferry. 

“Sure, ” he said, “I’m coming right away and stepping on it.”

This situation wasn’t so much a problem but an unexpected nuisance. I wanted back what we packed without delay. I paced the alcove for ideas. Sometimes problems are better solved with a little distance, so I walked to the shower house to brush my teeth. I spit and washed the foam down the sink. Then smiled in the mirror. Maybe I even smirked.

Traveling, especially by bike, empowers you to look at things differently.

You don’t need much, even for three months, to keep you happy and riding every day. Traveling, especially by bike, empowers you to look at things differently. I side-eyed my image in the mirror one more time. Then I smoothed the front of my little black dress, tugged at the hem, and marched out of the bathroom determined to get back what we packed before sunrise.

Irena was nearly asleep in her own little black dress when I climbed into the tent with good news.

“I got the laundry,” I whispered.

“How?” She rolled over with an incredulous look on her face. I puffed up like a peacock as I placed her sack of laundry beside her, proud to please.

“I tried another door. The one from the garage and snack room I saw folks in when we arrived.
Took me a while to figure it out.”

“Good lesson,” she replied. “Try another door, nice one,” and sat up, impressed, knowing we’d
be back on her taskmaster schedule.

Satisfied with the mission accomplished, I climbed into my sleeping bag in my little black dress, now doubling as pajamas, confirming the versatility and power of such an unexpected tool. I zipped the tent door shut, clicked off my headlamp, and was soon fast asleep to dream of riding another day.

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