Here’s a campground review for ya: The KOA in Ellensburg, situated on the Yakima river, is expensive, sits underneath a freeway, and looks like it was shot with a shit pistol. So it was easy to be pedaling by six o’clock.
But the night before turning in, the Layman family showed up on their bike. Four people, one bike. I call it a quandem. Camille, Isaac, Thea, and Jasper had ridden about five hundred miles over the gnarliest gravel roads in Washington, up mighty unpaved mountain passes, and places that I’d never think about taking my “gravel-ish” bike, all while riding a beast that easily weighed a hundred pounds and was towing a giant trailer.
Because the Laymans, like the honey badger, don’t give a shit, they had the trailer filled with life’s essentials such as giant bags of ice, Arnold Palmers in glass bottles, and a tent that was big enough to, well, house four people.
These folks were flat fucking amazing. At one point the bike had broken down and they’d had to push it through sand … uphill … for fifteen miles. Tell me again about your badass ride on [fill in the blank]. The kids looked to be about 13 and 16, and the whole family looked to be tough as a case of branding irons.
Sharp as tacks were the kids, might I add. When it was commented that the 15-mile death march must have been his hardest day ever on the bike, Jasper shot back, “We weren’t on the bike.” Of all the people I’ve seen, met, or heard of, none have inspired me like this family. Their exuberance, their good cheer and goodwill, and their happy willingness to spread the message that, yah, black lives matter made this meeting the highlight of my trip by far.
On Friday I was sailing out of town on 823, the Yakima Canyon route. In many ways it was the most beautiful road of the trip, especially in this way: “Beautiful” is a worn out, fucked over and dumped by the roadside adjective that doesn’t even begin to capture the grandeur of the vast majority of “beautiful” sights I’ve seen on this bicycle ride.
But “beautiful” it was, and devoid of traffic, and cool, and the air filled with the smell of sage, so sharp that when I crested one long climb and began descending, with the river twisting and turning below, that I felt as completely alive as I’ve ever felt, nothing but the bicycle sailing on air, the scenery encasing me in the real sense-surround, and that feeling of flying forward without actually moving at all.
This went on for twenty-five miles and ended in Selah and a “beautiful” cup of cappuccino. From there I took Old Naches Highway, another “beautiful” road that followed another “beautiful” river, and again completely free of traffic. A lengthy lunch later of peanut butter sammich and instant coffee, and I started the final leg of the day’s pedal, a long 10-mile slog up to a USFS campground along the Naches River.
This went along a “beautiful” highway that was made extremely “un-beautiful” a/k/a ugly by the two narrow lanes and the high volume of traffic, much of which included 18-wheelers. It’s easy to bitch about the terror of being passed with a foot of clearance by a giant truck going 60, but this is America. Bikes are only accidentally part of the transportation grid, and if you’re going to get out and see the world on two wheels, prepare for some close encounters of the truck and cager kind.
My legs began to tire after five or six miles and, having little confidence that there would be anything available at the USFS camp sites, I began scanning the river for a suitable place to hop the rail and bivouac. The drops were at least 6-7 feet, and although I could manage it by taking off the panniers, that’s a pain in the ass, so I kept looking for easier access to the riverside.
The water was so “beautiful,” and the river bottom lined with every kind of tree; the water ran fast but shallow, so inviting on what was becoming a hotter and hotter day. Finally the perfect opening appeared. It was a pullout with a small trail leading down to the water. I got the bike down the short drop, where a narrow trail began.
Within twenty or thirty yards I’d hit the jackpot!
A human outdoor toilet covered with used hygiene products, shit-stained wet wipes, and my ALL TIME FAVORITE: A bloody maxi-pad that had been thrown up into a tree.
I tried to imagine how it had gotten there. My imagination failed but not for long.
Him: Honey, get them damn pants off!
Her: Okay but I’m messy.
Him: Fuck if I care, we’re next to a river. You are so hot, baby.
Her: Hang on, just gotta take off this and I’ll be on you like white on rice! [Throws maxi pad into tree].
I waded through the goodies which ended against a log; over the log the trail was clean and clear. I followed it and came to a small clearing with a stone campfire. I got my tent set up, then took out a couple of plastic bags and went back to the tampon-poopy tissue burial ground. It only took about ten minutes, but I was able to pick up all the mess and neatly bag it. This probably sounds gross, and it was, but think about this for a minute: How many times in a day can you see something that is terribly wrong, and simply with a few minutes’ effort make a tiny corner of paradise “beautiful” again?
Who was going to pick all that mess up? Some of it had been there for a long, long time. There was the ongoing question of what I was going to do with the trash bag, but that was for tomorrow.
Today I had the luxury of a “beautiful,” quiet campsite along an amazing river where I could enjoy more smells, more sounds, more reverberations of the natural world without even having to leave behind bottled barbecue sauce and sausages. The only downside was that there was no water. Because the only thing available was a giant river, achingly green from the snowmelt.
And everyone knows that if you drink river water you will get sleeping sickness or trichinosis and die, so hoping for the worst I waded out, filled my bottle, and drank away. This is daring and adventure in the 21st Century–drinking water from a mountain river. It will probably kill me or cause my eyeballs to fall off, but the taste is matchless and the sensory overload even more so, pristine water on a parched throat on a hot August day.
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