I left Monday morning at 6:15, knowing I’d need to leave as early as possible to get a jump on the big climb ahead. Washington Pass was about 60 miles up the road from Marblemount, and I figured I’d be averaging 7-8 mph. The first twenty miles or so were gradual and with two days of solid rest and ice cream in my legs, the mile markers passed quickly.
This road is a must-ride.
There was almost zero traffic thanks to the early hour and thanks to the Monday. The few cars gave me a wide berth. The crap haulers wouldn’t make their appearance until much later. I knew their schedule now. Get up around 7:00, spend two hours unhooking the sewage, get a little early morning liquid courage, then get on the road around ten. They’d start passing me around eleven, I figured.
The river was so beautiful in the early morning light, and I got to watch the sun rise up above Mt. Baker and then gradually illuminate the valley and mountainsides below. The air was so fresh it tasted sweet.
By ten it had gotten hot and I had gotten tired. My maps warned me to take plenty of food and water after Marblemount; but the water warning was unnecessary. All along most of the climb there were giant seeps in the stone outcroppings that became tiny ice showers. I’d drink all my water, get hot, and then stand under these ice baths. After a couple of minutes … totally rejuvenated. And the water was the best I’ve ever drunk.
Eventually the road left the river and it got blazingly hot. I’d eaten a couple of pb sandwiches but was fading. I stopped and refilled my bottle in an icy creek, despondently figuring I still had 25 miles to get to the top of the pass. My legs were barely turning, but I reminded myself that this was a picnic compared to my day from hell on the Lost Coast. At least there wasn’t a headwind. At least the grade wasn’t 20%. At least … at least … at least …
As things were grinding to a halt I looked up and saw a cyclist coming towards me. He switched sides of the road and put a foot down, clearly wanting me to stop. Eager for any excuse to stop pedaling, I pulled up next to him.
His name was Ian Caragol. He’d just ridden the entire Continental Divide Trail from southernmost New Mexico to the Canadian border. Now he was making his way over to the coast. He was cheerful, whip thin, and eager to talk. We shared stories. He was from Steamboat Springs and had planned a trans-Europe trip until the covids hit. Instead he rode one of the toughest trails there is.
His bike weighed 70 pounds, he might have weighed 140. To say I was impressed is an understatement. But the great news was that when I asked him the distance to the pass, he checked his computer and said, “Nine miles.”
So it was only an hour and a half away!
We exchanged info and I rode on, passing the highway’s intersection with the Pacific Crest Trail at the Rainy Pass trailhead, where I had another sandwich and some stream water in honor of Joe Yule. The road never got steep, it meandered along to the top and suddenly it was over. The views were spectacular and well worth the drudgery.
The descent was screaming but safe, and clearly heading from west to east had been the easy way. I bombed quickly into the small town of Mazama, hammered to bits. The general store in Mazama is like a whole earth whole foods whole everything place out of West Hollywood. Gone were the rednecks from Marblemount, arrived were the yuppies from Seattle in all their latte glory.
I grabbed a quart of milk and a pint of ice cream and began eating.
“Weren’t you at the RV park in Marblemount?” a lady across the way asked.
“Well, hell,” her husband said with a laugh. “What took you so long?”
“Long? I left an hour ago.”
They gave me a good tip for a campsite, a couple of miles up the road at the “swimming hole.”
“You’ll know it by the cars parked on the roadside.”
I finished lunch and followed her directions. After a couple of miles I found it, the only problem being the steep trail down to the river. Too lazy to unpack my bags I tried to walk the bike down and got stuck. A man coming up the trail helped me carry it down.
The Methow River was ice cold and felt amazingly good. As I waded out, a man was exiting with his son. He’d watched me park my bike.
“Where are you coming from?”
“Wow. Where are you staying?”
“I thought I’d camp right there.” I pointed to the riverbank.
“Why don’t you come to my family’s campground?”
By now I knew better than to hesitate. “Wow. Thank you!” He gave me directions, and after swimming for a while I got dressed and tried to get my bike back up the trail. Again, I got stuck and had to wait ten or fifteen minutes for another Good Samaritan. Washington’s full of them!
I pedaled to George’s camp where I was greeted by his wife Cherry and the other families. An hour or so later I was eating grilled tuna, salmon, fresh salad, and my first tomatoes since leaving L.A. on July 10. The next morning I was up early; they had hot coffee ready and off I went.
From Mazama to Pateros it’s only 55 miles, it’s downhill, and it’s largely a tailwind. By the time I got to Alta Lake State Park it was blazing hot, and the park is two miles up a wall that goes from about 600 feet to 1200 feet, and feels like 12,000. The park had no hiker-biker sites, but the park assistant, a guy named Jason, lobbied on my behalf and they not only gave me the $12 rate, but let me stay at the best site in the park, which was the group camp sited closed due to covids.
The park had been burned to the ground a few years ago so there was almost zero tree cover except for my site. With temperatures in the 100’s, moving outside the shade for even a minute would bake you like a piece of toast left in the oven too long. My campsite had a giant spigot with cold water, so for the rest of the day I simply doused my head in cold water every half hour or so and waited for the sun to drop behind the mountain.
Once it did, the temperature dropped 20 degrees and what was unbearable became so pleasant.
I wandered around with my laptop looking for a signal so I could write and then post this blog.
Which I did.
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