When the rain came

When I got my tent site last night in Wenatchee State Park, the ranger asked a funny question. “Are you sure you don’t mind the sprinklers?”

“Sprinklers? Pshaw.”

I set up camp, had dinner, and went to bed. There were clouds in the sky. “Hmmm,” I thought. “Wonder if it’s gonna rain?” I deliberated for a while then decided to stow everything.

However, since the night was warm, I left the side flaps on the fly open so that I could catch the breeze as it filtered through my tent. Then I dozed off until I didn’t.

The didn’t doze part happened at 1:30, when a fire hose emptied into the open fly. To say I leaped up isn’t quite right because the confines were too tiny to leap. What I did was watch a vast quantity of water pour onto me, into the tent, onto the sleeping bag, and onto everything else.

Then the water stopped, which is what happens when the sprinkler rotates 360 degrees. Using a bit of logic, it occurred to me that eventually Noah’s flood was going to return. I tried to stay calm. “No problem. All I have to do is unhook the plastic latch holding the fly open, it will flap closed, and all will be good except for Lake Titicaca here that my Sea-to-Summit pad is now floating on, almost like it was on the sea.”

I reached out in the dark.

I have hooked and unhooked that latch a thousand times. I can, you know, do it in the dark. With my eyes closed and stuff. Only in my haste I did something I’ve never done before. I tied it into an actual knot. All the while I could hear the tick-tick-tick of the sprinkler head as it spun, ready to unleash another round.

I turned on my light (thanks, Darell and Drew), saw the knot, and feverishly with soaking hands tried to undo it. I came unhooked. The flap zipped. The water fusillade slammed against the tent in the nick of time, that is, a second too late.

The rest of the night I slept rather well in the the lukewarm bath, and I fancy I smelled a bit better than I had when I’d turned in.

Thursday’s destination was Ellenburg and a wildly overprice, shot-with-a-shit pistol KOA campsite on the bank of the Yakima River. The river was gorgeous, at least. Leaving the town of Sunnyslope I met two cyclists, John and Scott, and they took me on a very nice back road for a good chunk of the way. They were both doctors, and in keeping with the Washington tradition of people being nice as hell, they sent me on their way with some dried mangoes and a fresh bottle of orange juice.

After riding up US 97 for a few miles I came to a drive-through espresso shack. There were two cars in front, and it took a while. A really long while. The truck in front of me finally got to the window. More time was taken. After paying, the driver got out and walked over to me.

“Hey!” he said.


“Man, you been standing back there forever. I paid for your coffee.”

“Shoot, that is awfully nice of you.”

“Felt sorry for you having to wait on us like that.”

“What’s in the back of the truck?”

He had a bunch of buckets and pans. “I’m headed up to one of my mining claims. I prospect.”

“For what?”

“For gold.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“No, sir. I got several claims up here. It’s a hobby, that’s all. Don’t quit your day job.”

Then he opened the cab, pulled out a plastic bottle, and squirted a bunch metal into a pan with water in it. All of it was gold. “Wow!” I said. “That’s amazing.”

“Here,” he said, picking out a tiny nugget shaped like a heart. “This is for you.”

He pressed it in my hand, and drove off.

The road continued as a steady uphill slog for six or seven more miles miles and then turned off onto the squiggly line of Old Blewett Pass, which I’d sworn to foreswear. It turned out to be one of the gems of the trip. The first two miles followed a lovely creek, and then the remaining four miles or so featured beautiful pine forest without so much as a single car.

Giant boulders had fallen into the roadside, and best of all, five hundred meters from the top some cyclist had spraypainted “500 M” on the road. Talk about feeling like you are on friendly turf.

The descent wasn’t great, as the road was pretty torn up, but it was nothing compared to my new standard for shitty roads, Mattole Road leading to the Lost Coast. I rejoined US 97 and was chagrined to see that I still had 30 miles to get to Ellenburg.

The chagrin melted as the road was mostly downhill, then the chagrin vanished altogether, transmogrified into pure joy as I went up a short 1-mile climb and then hit a downhill, 30-mph tailwind for the remaining 16 miles.

Tomorrow I’m riding to Selah, Naches, and then am going to camp somewhere in the national forest. Hoping it doesn’t, er, rain.


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7 thoughts on “When the rain came”

  1. The squiggly lines on the map are the best ones. Often devoid of cagers, wild yet historical, scenic, and far more interesting than the highways.

    I would also add earplugs to your list provision for a trip such as this (forgive me if you included them). Worth their weight in gold when the alcohols carouse and then snore.

    Enjoying very much following your trip and your writing, photos and looking at the towns on the map and wondering.

  2. The views are stunning, Seth! And I love your stories of people you’re meeting. Thanks!

  3. It’s funny how some versions of the same story happen to other people.

    My rain story occurred in Rawlins Wyoming. This is a town/city along Route 80 where a very interesting thing happens. 287 comes in from the North, and except for Route 80, is the only roadway in or out of the general area. There is nothing, so that is where we had to get onto Route 80 for a spell, but that is a different story.

    We rode in Rawlins, and we pulled our usual MO and scoped out people at the checkout line in the local grocer looking for a “face” that represented someone we would pitch our story to, and get a yard to sleep in. We found a face, and after our pitch, the nice person said something to the effect of “Well, I can’t help you, but I am sure the Bishop would be happy to let you boys camp in his yard.”. “Bishop?” That sounded like a plan. The nice face even gave us directions to said Bishop’s humble home, and we followed those directions, and soon we were a knocking on the door.

    A woman answered the door with a relative newborn in her arms, and surrounded by kids that all looked exactly 12-14 months apart in ages. 8 children. I was thinking to myself, “What kind of Bishop is this?” when it finally hit me. A Mormon Bishop. Of course.

    Anyway, he was traveling and so was away. We gave our schpiel, and that we rode uphill to get there, and we had ridden 100 miles, and didn’t have anywhere else to go, and it was late, blah, blah, and she let us camp in the yard, next to the garage.

    We had access to the hose for water, and we took care of ourselves, and decided that we would just put down the tarp and sleep upon that and enjoy the open sky, as there wasn’t a single cloud, and the stars were all lit up so pretty.

    At some hour, long into our sleep, the deluge began. It was instant, and it was constant. Shocked we were, but confused as well. I could still see nothing but stars overhead, and yet, we were getting soaked. Once the brain finally figured it out, we grabbed everything we could and dragged our stuff onto the driveway. Multiple trips later we were settled in again on the concrete.

    Around dawn, the front yard sprinklers activated, and we had to skirt over to the other side of the driveway again.

    Later we were getting our stuff together, and the automatic garage door started to open. Problem was, both our bikes were leaning against the door, and the handle caught one of them and started to lift the bike. Some shouting ensued, and the door came down until we could clear it.

    The mother was sorry that she had forgotten all about the sprinklers, and offered us a nice breakfast, which of course, we obliged.

  4. Oh, you are welcome! Camping without a flashlight is like a day without sunshine.

    I think anybody who’s been in a tent long enough has experienced the ground-level rain. I think they need a less benign name for this type of “sprinkler.”

  5. Scott Biddinger

    Seth, I’ve enjoyed your writings for many years but never so much as reading about your bikepacking adventures through the West. You’re lavishing all of us with the, ‘If I didn’t take the corporate route after school and did what I really wanted to do’ life experience. We’re all living vicariously through you and enjoying every minute of your adventures. Thank you for sharing with us life’s offramp never taken.
    Keep heading East and enjoy the journey for all of us!!

    1. Hi, Scott! Thanks for the great words. I’ve wondered about the transition from profamateur masters racer to bike wanderer, hoping that it’s hitting a chord. Glad you’re enjoying it. It has been life changing.

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