Roll on, Columbia, Roll on

August 20, 2020 § 14 Comments

When I was a kid I loved to sing. I loved music class, or singing class as I called it. At home we sang a lot. My parents got me a book of folk songs for my fourth birthday, a huge tome, and I learned almost every song in it.

One year in singing class we learned the song Roll On, Columbia, Roll On. I loved that song. It was so powerful and evocative and made me want to go to the Columbia, wherever that was. Fifty years or so later I’ve finally seen it. The song didn’t do it justice. It is as mighty a thing as you’ll see, save maybe the ocean.

I left Pateros this morning, at the confluence of the Methow River and Columbia, and followed the river all the way down to Wenatchee, where the Wenatchee River empties into the Columbia. The route looks like this.

What the map doesn’t show so well is the wind and the heat, but they were both there, thank dogness. I lit out at a quarter of seven and had three solid hours of pleasant riding. From Azwell to Chelan there was a gorgeous and quiet back road that reunited with Highway 97 in Chelan. After Chelan there was another beautiful back road, beginning with Lakeshore Drive and then turning into a short and bitter climb out of the river valley, after which it continued in quietude and no small quantity of shade.

As I labored up the climb, two badasses came whizzing downhill, carrying their spare tires, not the bike ones. One of them half-waved, the other ignored me. Cuz it sux to be a badass going downhill when some clod on a donkey cart is going uphill, likely as fast as you would on your full carbon thingy.

There was a nasty 7-mile slog along US 97 into Entiat, where the wheels began to fall off. It was sweltering and I was bonking. I stopped at the Shell and had a quart of milk and a couple of ice cream sandwiches. They perked me up but not really and I slogged on until Rocky Reach Dam, where I climbed under a water fountain and soaked.

When Floyd Landis had his miracle comeback ride in his infamous Tour victory, he said, and no one listened, that yeah, he’d doped in the Tour, but on the miracle day his savior had been continual buckets of ice water dumped on his head. I’ve found, without exception, that brutally cold water on my head when it’s really hot increases my speed and power as if by magic wand. All I need is someone to drive alongside me and do the dumping.

I got to Wenatchee in the afternoon, melted, and the folks at the state park said they’d had to close the hiker-biker sites because there were too many homeless people. I wasn’t sure what that meant, being a touch on the homeless side myself, but I begged and pleaded until the nice lady gave me the group campsite for $12. It was huge and had electrical outlets where I could charge up. Best of all, there was a strong cell signal, the first I’ve had since leaving Bellingham back in 1998.

There’s a beautiful bike path all the way into town, where I went to get groceries. I’m learning to only buy what I’m going to eat RIGHT NOW. It makes a huge weight difference rather than lugging around two or three days’ worth of provisions. It costs a little more, but not much.

And speaking of costs, my total expenses, including all the ridiculous REI gear, the bike stuff, on-the-road repairs, and even the $400 hotel in Astoria, has been right under $2,800. I am not great at arithmetic, but my phone is, and that comes to about $56/day. If you take out the hotel and the $1,000-ish in gear, it’s about $28/day. And that includes a pint of Ben and Jerry’s every day I can find one, which is most. I wonder if you can live like a king in LA on $28/day?

Another stat is this one: Except for the hotel, I haven’t stayed indoors for fifty days. It’s crazy when you think about it. In fact, it’s crazy when you don’t think about it. It’s simply crazy.

And you know what I miss most about not having a roof to come home to? Nothing. It’s almost as if people were made to move from place to place, foraging as they go, changing locations as they saw fit. Almost. On the other hand, feel free to get back with me when the rain, snow, wildfires, and earthquakes start.

Tomorrow promises to be a real fucker of a day. It starts with a series of punchy, rolling climbs out of Sunnyslope, and then starting in Cashmere it climbs for 25 miles to the top of Blewett Pass. The “alternate” is something called “Old Blewett Pass.” Y’know, anything with “old” and “pass” in the name sounds bad. Plus it’s a squiggly map line, exactly like the dreaded Lost Coast debacle. What have I learned about squiggly map lines? I have learned that they are bad. Vewy, vewy bad.

In short, there’s no way I’m taking that squiggly line. I learned my lesson!

After that it’s downhill all the way to Ellensburg except for the part that, you know, isn’t. Unlike this morning, when I started late because I had to finish up the chicken sausage with onions, garlic, and carrots, tomorrow I’m scarfing oatmeal and will be riding by six. You watch.


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§ 14 Responses to Roll on, Columbia, Roll on

  • banksie says:

    Whoa! Lookatthathugesteak!

    I’ve spent some time in Wenatchee – it’s lovely. There’re some insane winds out there amongst the apple orchards. You’re on the old SIR Cascade 1200k route. Cool town, except when it’s sweltering.

  • Dave Tricamo says:

    Warning. There is really bad air once you get to southern Oregon, and California’s air is abominable. Perhaps its time to call an audible and head to the east?

    Your suntan looks fantastic.

  • Dean Patterson says:

    I rode through there in ’76, on a two week tour. Camped in Yakima, Wenatchee and Lake Chelan….met Kory Briggs of Kelso WA, who introduced me to mescaline….have not been the same, since. goto Grand Coulee if you can….big man made damn dam….hydoelectricity, you know…are you going to Walla Walla and then South? Inga Thompson is out near La Grande somewhere….

  • hughbike says:

    Liberty Café (in umm…Liberty) has lots of good reviews…huge omelettes and real hash brown potatoes, not homefries! And of course cheeseburgers!

  • hughbike says:

    And btw, sorry I haven’t been responding to your amazing posts, I am a lazy ass, but I *HAVE* been reading every post…I dunno if that matters to ya, but tellin’ ya matters to me! HAHA!

  • hughbike says:

    Oops Liberty Café is on Rte 97 past Liberty road

  • Paul Thober says:

    I almost always choose the squiggly road, but then I love that Matolle Road route you took In Humboldt County.

  • Anonymous says:

    Next level stuff!

  • piplodocus says:

    “…there’s no way I’m taking that squiggly line. I learned my lesson!” #skeptical

  • downwinder says:

    My kids and I liked to sing while backpacking. Try this one …

    Once an Austrian went yodeling on a mountain so high,
    When he met with an avalanche,
    Interrupting his cry.

    Ho-li-ah, ho-le-rah-hi-hi-ah
    Ho-le-rah cuckoo (“rumble, rumble”),
    Ho-le-rah cuckoo (“rumble, rumble”),
    Ho-le-rah cuckoo (“rumble, rumble”),

    Once an Austrian went yodeling
    On a mountin so high,
    When he met with a skier
    Interrupting his cry.

    Ho-le-rah-cuckoo (3x)
    (swoosh, rumble, rumble)

    Once an Austrian went yodeling
    On a mountain so high,
    When he met with a St. Bernard
    Interrupting his cry.

    Chorus (arf, arf, swoosh, rumble, rumble)

    Once an Austrian went yodeling
    On a mountain so high,
    When he met with a Grizzly bear
    Interrupting his cry

    Chorus (grr, arf, arf, swoosh, rumble, rumble)

    Once an Austrian went yodeling
    On a mountain so high,
    When he met with a milking maid
    Interrupting his cry.

    Chorus (tss, tss, grr, arf, arf, swoosh, rumble, rumble)

    Once an Austrian went yodeling
    On a mountain so high,
    When he met with a pretty girl
    Interrupting his cry.

    Chorus (smack, smack, tss, tss, grr, arf, arf, swoosh, rumble, rumble)


    Ho-li-ah – rapidly slap knees
    Ho-le-rah-hi-hi-ah – slap knees, clap hands, snap fingers (continue throughout chorus)
    rumble, rumble – roll hands over
    swoosh – swoop hand downward
    arf, arf, – hands up like dog begging
    grrr – hands up like bear claws
    tss, tss – pantomime milking cow
    smack, smack – make kissing sound


  • treyhowse says:

    “Zen and the Art of Bicycle Touring”

  • GirlonaRoad says:

    Your power is turning our darkness to dawn, Roll on Columbia, roll on.

    The hymn to dams rings different in this century, but I love that song.

    California IS on fire.
    Plan your route carefully, and keep evacuation routes in mind.
    I love your stories. (My partner subscribes for the two of us.)

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