The Pass

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.

“Yes.”

“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?”

“L.A.”

“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.

END


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11 thoughts on “The Pass”

  1. Great pix. I can almost smell and taste the air on the pass and feel your elation at the summit. You have mastered the art of the onbike selfie.
    (OMG, just don’t drop that iPhone…!)

  2. Your images are looking great Seth. There was one detail I hadn’t noticed before. The one that says iPhone 6s. Not a 7 or 7s or 8 or 8s or X or Xs or X plus. The cameras in the X and 11 are soooooo much better than the 6. It’s time to upgrade. Plus the battery is much better as well. And you will quickly not miss the Home button.

    1. Makes you wonder how Matthew Brady and Ansel Adams ever did anything worth looking at.

      1. Because they worked in large format photographic view cameras that captured so much information, that they could work wonders with it in the dark room. Ansel worked in 8×10 format, and I think Matthew’s camera was even larger. In 8×10 that is 80 square inches of silver halide emulsion to capture detail. Old 35 mm was 24mm x 36mm which is 1.3392 square inches. AA captured 59 times the resolution of a 35mm camera.

        The resolution in the new iPhone 11 is 3 or maybe 4 times the resolution of the iPhone 6s, but the software is better, and the lens quality is a lot nicer, and because they have the three lenses, and the new software, they used that to get more depth of field out of shots. I am just saying.

        1. I got an iPhone 11 Pro but only after my 6s died and I’m impressed by how much better the camera is. The portrait setting with bokeh is really nice. Plus having standard, wide-angle and telephoto lenses.

          1. Looks like I lied. One of the cameras on the back is the same as the camera on the 6s, however having the extra 12MP camera 11, or the extra two 12MP cameras 11 Pro plus the software makes for more shooting options and more control over what you shoot. The front facing camera is just as good as the rear cameras on the 11’s where it was inferior on the 6s. Also I forgot the 6s was the last iPhone to have the headphone jack.
            Though Seth has battery backup now, he would still benefit from the much better battery in the 11 as well.
            I am not sure we are getting through to him though.

      2. Seth, you have a good point about Matthew Brady and Ansel Adams. The artistic value of a photo comes mainly from the subject and the composition.

        Years ago I read an article in a camera magazine about four professional photographers who had each been given the cheapest camera the magazine could find. Guess what? The pictures looked great. Think of a world-class bike racer on a piece-of-junk bike. She’s still going to be really fast, but she’ll probably complain loudly about what a pain it is to ride that bike.

        Despite all of that, in photography lighting, details and other quality aspects can add significantly to the artistic value. The new iPhones have really nice cameras. You should get one, and with all of the money you’re making while touring, it should be a piece of cake to pay for it!

  3. Wow, what a beautiful ride!
    Congratulations, your blog is now a success because your life looks better than everybody else’s. #fomo

  4. Aii yi yi! I’m seeing this one late, but it brings back a ton of memories! We rode down Washington Pass – the hard way – East to West on the Cascade 1200k a few years back. And stopped for hot chocolate provided to Drewski, me and the other riders by Seattle Rando folks. That huge waterfall by the side of the road is where a good friend of mine and I stopped to douse our heads before heading into our finish in Seattle. Such GREAT memories. Also, from the pictures, it looks as if Caragol was riding a Rivet Pearl saddle – smart guy!! Can’t say I didn’t offer… 😉

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