Seattle to Chicago – Washington
Denis Kertz, ©1994
After my regularly scheduled Saturday morning golf, I spent the rest of the afternoon packing. My friend Dave picked me up at 5:00 and dropped me off at Chicago’s Midway airport for my flight to Seattle on MarkAir. My luggage consisted of a bike box, a large duffel bag packed with my sleeping bag and tent and other gear, my two packed rear panniers tied together, and one of my front panniers packed with my valuables and sensitive gear such as camera and lenses which I took as carryon luggage. I waited for what seemed like forever to check in with only a few people ahead of me. I had to pay $30 to transport my bike and it took a long time for the hostess to make out my VISA bill. But I was glad I got to the airport early because the line had really grown by the time I got done.
The plane was about 30 minutes late but we made good time to our connection at Denver. Earlier in the week while packing I had been unable to find my polypro underwear but I wasn’t worried, figuring they would eventually turn up. Now I remembered that I had never found my polypro and had forgotten it along with my rain booties. I did finally remember that I had packed up my polypro in a box in my closet during a spring cleanup session but that memory wasn’t useful at this point. I figured I might get by without my polypro but I worried that I would need rain booties at some point along my tour. Despite the late takeoff, we made good time to Seattle and actually arrived a little early. My baggage arrived reasonably quickly. I grabbed it, got a taxi ($7) to the nearby Motel 6 where I had made a reservation and crashed around midnight.
I woke up around 6:00 (8:00 Chicago time) in my motel room. I checked my bike by unpacking it and looking to see if it was OK and it appeared to be. I decided to head for breakfast first and worry about assembling the bike later. The Motel 6 hostess said there was a Denny’s 3 blocks up the street so I started walking, about a half mile walk. When I got there I realized this was the main airport motel drag so I had been close enough to walk from the airport last night if it had not been for all my luggage. Instead of Denny’s I chose another restaurant and inquired about the ferries and REI. I was interested in the ferries because I needed to head North. Someone on the Internet (email@example.com (Kent Lind)) had suggested a route via the ferries would be more interesting than heading inland through the metropolitan area. I was interested in REI to purchase polypro and rain booties that I forgot to bring along. My waitress thought the ferries wouldn’t be crowded this Labor Day Sunday since it rained overnight and it was very cloudy. Another waitress thought one of the REIs (there are four in the Seattle area) should be nearby since the restaurant was at 186th and one REI was at 194th.
After breakfast I walked back and put my bike back together. The only real hassle was the front rack that I had to remove for packing - everything else was easy. However, I noticed my headset felt loose and I hoped that could be checked at REI. Next I packed all my panniers and was ready to go at 10:15. I also picked up Seattle and Washington maps in the motel lobby for $2 each.
On the road I immediately started looking for the REI which looked like it should be a snap to find but that was not the case. I found 194th S but it stopped before 4200. A woman gave me directions opposite of the increasing addresses which I didn’t understand. Finally, I looked closer at the map and realized that REI was at 194th SW which was not the same as 194th S. So I headed according to the woman’s directions expecting 194th S to change to SW as I headed West but that didn’t work either as a bay/lake intervened. Since it looked as if I had to go considerably out-of-the-way, I bagged the REI and headed north, hoping to stumble onto another REI along the way.
I headed North on 1st Ave for a ways. For some reason a woman behind me honked at me twice with no one else around. I ignored her and she eventually decided to pass on the four lane street. Eventually I picked up Marginal Way W. While stopped to check my map, another cyclist stopped and helped with directions, telling me about another REI and the ferry location. I headed over to Marginal Way E that ran by the ferries. I stopped in the downtown area to locate the REI but another guy clued me in that it was a ways away so I finally gave up on REI.
$4 got me a ferry ticket to Bainbridge Island. While waiting for the next ferry, I stopped at a nearby McDonald’s for chicken nuggets and a vanilla shake. When the ferry arrived, cyclists were let on first and we cycled to the front of the ferry and strapped our bikes along the guard rail and headed to the passenger level. There was a nice view of the Seattle downtown as we pulled away from the pier. There was a strong headwind and seagulls soared alongside the ferry as kids tossed french fries at them. The seagulls were surprisingly adept at catching a number of fries.
After 20 minutes the ferry arrived at the island. Waiting to disembark, another cyclist recommended a nice state park next to Port Townsend. I left the ferry and headed up 305. The road had a nice shoulder with a nice view but there was considerable noise pollution with an almost continuous stream of traffic on this Labor Day Sunday. After stopping for some groceries, I crossed a bridge and saw a sign for a state park at Termination Point immediately to the right. I decided to check it out despite the short steep descent since Port Townsend was at least 25 miles away and it was already after 5:00. The park wasn’t much with only primitive campsites but I decided to stop since I couldn’t be sure about getting something else on this Labor Day weekend. Campsites cost $5 with no facilities other than an outhouse. The ground was also very rocky making it almost impossible to stake out a tent but my tent was freestanding so that wasn’t much of a problem. At least the park was on the waterfront and facing East so it would catch the morning sun.
The sky was clear when I got up and bore no hint of what was to come. A new camper had shown up overnight with his wife and grandchild in a pickup camper. We talked and he mentioned he had a niece who cycled from Arizona to Canada solo and that he wasn’t sure that was a good idea. He also noticed that the bolt holding my rear rack by the dropout was missing.
I ate a couple of granola bars and packed. I had been having trouble shifting into my granny chainring so I tried adjusting my front derailleur but with no success. Leaving, I immediately had to climb the short, steep hill which was not the ideal way to start a day’s cycling. However, I kicked the chain onto the granny and made it up in my second lowest gear. Taking the back way to Port Townsend starting with Paradise Road, the route was pleasant with a fair amount of climbing to Port Ludlow (but once I got into the mountains I would revise my concept of what constituted a fair amount of climbing). After 6 miles I stopped at a store near Port Ludlow for coffee, a couple of good muffins, and a newspaper (noting that the Bears defeated Tampa Bay).
Leaving the store, I caught 19 that had a nice shoulder but a fair amount of traffic. In Chimacum, I found a real service station open and managed to scrounge a couple of bolts (one a spare as I soon began to start collecting spare parts) for my rack for $1. Buoyed by my successful repair, my bike apparently decided to challenge me further with my first flat tire ever while touring (which included a 1200 mile tour around Lake Michigan). It was the rear tire so I had to unload my tent, sleeping bag, and rear panniers to get at the wheel. Once I had the tube out, I attempted to pump it up to locate the leak but the pump would not work. Diddling with the pump did not help and just as I was getting really worried I remembered I had a Presta to Schraeder valve converter. My pump was much happier with the Schraeder valve and I quickly located the puncture and patched it. This flat tire episode cost me nearly an hour, mainly due to the pump fiasco.
Continuing on to Port Townsend, I immediately noticed that my cyclometer no longer worked. A quick investigation revealed that the magnetic pickup wires were severed. As I was reloading my bike after fixing the flat, the front wheel rotated sharply to the side and pinched the wire near the headset and neatly severed the flimsy wire. Understanding what had happened, I continued on hoping to fix this in Port Townsend.
As I pulled into Port Townsend, I stopped at a phone booth to check whether its bicycle store was open on this Labor Day Monday. I took my money pouch out (I kept all my valuables in a pouch in my handlebar bag so I could easily carry it with me whenever leaving my bike unattended) to call the store and learned it would be open until 3:00. Not sure about directions, I headed the wrong way and stopped at a foodmart to check a telephone book map. The map was torn out so I headed inside for directions and got directed downtown to Taylor street. When I got to the Taylor street address there was no bike shop. Worse yet, I noticed with a sinking feeling that my handlebar bag was open with no money pouch. So I raced back up the hill to the Sea Breeze where I had made the phone call but there was no pouch in sight. I headed back to the Jackpot foodmart and checked to see if I might have left it there but no luck either. I headed back to the Sea Breeze to check with the cashier but no one had reported finding a money pouch.
At this point, I headed downtown to the police station to report my misfortune. While there, I report my missing VISA traveler’s cheques of $1100. Fortunately, I had the serial numbers for my two books of $500 but not for the $100 left over from a previous trip. I arranged to get an initial replacement of $500 (the maximum VISA will give) the next morning (since today was a holiday) at the SeaFirst Bank across the street. While reporting my missing cheques, I also reported my missing VISA credit card. I got 800 numbers to call to get my remaining $600 of cheques and to get an emergency VISA card replacement. However, I lost $140 cash unless some kind soul had a conscience and decided to deliver my money pouch to the police.
Now it was about 2:30 in the afternoon and I had absolutely no money and no identification. Fortunately, I had some food with my bike (granola and powdered milk, 3 granola bars, and 3 muffins) and the police directed me to a nearby vacant lot where I could camp overnight for free. Since I needed to hang around town until at least tomorrow morning, I checked out the Fort Worden state park that had a nice view across the bay with the Cascades visible in the distance. I ate 3 cups of granola and powdered milk for dinner. I also fixed my cyclometer by stripping the two severed pickup wires and splicing them together and bandaged with electrical tape.
Back in town, I checked out several bookstores to see if they had anything on cycling routes (they didn’t). However, a camping store had some Bikecentennial maps including one with a loop through Glacier Park into Canada and down to Missoula. I also learned in this store where the bicycle shop was located which would be useful if I ever got any money. Finally, I checked in with the police to see if any money had shown up but no luck. So I relaxed at a nearby small city park and then headed out to the vacant lot to camp for the night and eat my remaining muffins.
For the day I managed to lose a bolt on my rear rack, have a flat tire, severe my cyclometer cable, and lose all my money and identification. Rather than consider this a omen, I hoped this meant that I had just gotten the worst part of the trip out of the way.
I woke up to what promised to be another beautiful day - not a cloud in sight. There were several other campers parked in the vacant lot but I was the only tenter. With nothing better to do I packed up and headed downtown to the police office. I learned from the only police officer on duty that the front office would not open until 8:00. I called the 800 number about my VISA credit card replacement and got another 800 number to call in 3-4 hours (giving enough time for some records to reach the right department).
Sometime after 8:00, the police front office opens and I learned that no money had appeared. I waited around until almost 9:00 and then headed for the bank across the street with the intention of being the first in line. As I waited outside, a woman approached and started making small talk, asking if I was enjoying the sun, was the world getting worse, etc. I was really tempted to tell her how bad things had gotten but I quickly surmised that she must have been a Jehovah Witness and would have a field day with this kind of information. I was in no mood for that kind of conversation and quicly managed to discourage her.
When the bank opened, I had to fill out a form to get my initial $500 replacement. The bank teller was actually going to give me the full refund on the spot but I didn’t realize that. I managed to back her down to the $500 before I realized she didn’t know the VISA policy was to give only an initial replacement of a maximum of $500. In light of yesterday, I figured that was maybe just as well since I wouldn’t be able to lose all of my money again in one day.
With money in hand, I headed for the nearest breakfast place for some real food. After breakfast I stopped at the bike shop that opened at 10:00. In addition to my loose headset and problem with granny shifting, I discovered in the morning that my front pannier had lost one of its hooks. Fortunately, the shop had some spare parts and I picked up two hooks (one for a spare). They didn’t have a bolt for attaching the hook to the pannier but I got one (and a spare) at a nearby hardware store later. The shop mechanic said my shifter was adjusted OK but that the loaded bike just made it difficult for the chain to shift on to the granny. He adjusted the shifter to overshift some and installed a chain protector to keep the chain from shifting past the granny chainring. My headset was loose because I had removed my front reflector while packing my bike for shipping and this reduced the headset spacing. He installed a spacer and tightened the headset.
After taking care of my bicycle, I called VISA to make arrangements to get a replacement card. VISA was more than willing to Federal Express me a new card but they could FedEx it only to a FedEx office or to a specific address. The only problem was that I was not within cycling distance of a city with a FedEx office and I didn’t know anybody along my planned itinerary where I could have a card delivered. At this point I started getting really frustrated since a credit card was absolutely essential to complete my trip. Finally, I suggested delivering the card to the police station in Sedro Woolley that was along my route. That was acceptable to VISA but they had to check with the police station to see if they were willing to accept delivery.
While waiting for VISA to finalize this arrangement, I saw the ferry from Whidbey Island arriving so I decided to catch the ferry and get started on my way. I paid $2 and was away almost immediately, encouraged that something was working right again. The ferry ride was nice with a good view but quite windy. When I arrived on the other side, I called VISA and got confirmation that my new VISA card would be delivered to the police station in Sedro Woolley with delivery guaranteed by at least 3:30 p.m. the next day.
Now things were looking up again. I had money, a tuned up bicycle, and the promise of a new credit card so I could concentrate on touring again. The route was nice, winding through some hills and farms. There was still a fair amount of noise pollution (the day after Labor Day) but the road had a nice shoulder. With my new upbeat look on life, the some 40 miles flew by with the highlight being Deception Pass, so named because the British naval officer and explorer George Vancouver thought the passage was a port. However that was a deception since the passage separated the Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands. The bridge across the passage was high above the clear blue water below and I took my time and savored the view as I pushed my bike across the walkway to avoid the traffic on the narrow bridge.
After Deception Pass, I shortly came to a restaurant where highway 20 turned East away from Anacortes towards the Cascades. After a salad bar meal, I inquired about camping. Continuing East did not look good so I checked in at an RV park across the street for $11. After setting up camp and my first shower in three days, I retired to the bar in the restaurant to write my notes for the day. This soon became SOP since it was difficult to write notes in the dark inside my tent.
Tomorrow, I hoped to become whole again once I took delivery of my VISA card.
After packing up, I decided to head out for breakfast since the breakfast menu at the nearby restaurant did not look that appealing. As highway 20 headed East now it turned into a four lane highway with rush hour traffic and was very noisy. My Bikecentennial map route detoured off 20 but I didn’t find the detour so I stayed on 20 all the way into Burlington where I stopped for breakfast. After breakfast it was just a short jaunt to Sedro Woolley, about 20 miles for the day. I stopped to ask directions to the police station and checked in about 10:15. I knew delivery wasn‘t guaranteed until 3:30 but I was hoping it would come earlier and I could continue on my way. When I inquired about the delivery, the police officer first asked to see identification but I explained that I had none due to the circumstances. However, the card had not arrived yet so it was a moot issue at that point.
With time to kill, I headed back to the National Forest information center I saw when entering town to check out the route through the Cascades. The ranger told me it was 40 miles to Marblemount which he said was the last food stop until the other side of Washington Pass, some 80 miles away. So Marblemount looked like the natural destination for the day. Next I checked out the sporting goods shops (there was no bike shop in this town of 6,000) for rain gear. I found some reasonable gloves at Coast-to-Coast and decided they would be my first purchase with my new VISA card..
At 11:30 I checked with the police and was handed my VISA package with no questions asked! I had suggested delivery to the police station assuming that they would handle this type of delivery appropriately and here they just handed me my package without any ID or further questions. Nevertheless, I was too excited and relieved to suggest they should have exercised a little more care. I headed back to the Coast-to-Coast where there was a phone booth and used my credit card to call my bank and report my lost ATM card. I also had my checking and money market accounts frozen so no one could access them with my (lost) check book or ATM card. The bank service representative checked and verified that there was no activity in either account since yesterday and I was relieved to hear that. Then I bought the water resistant gloves in the store for $11 using my credit card. I was worried that I would get asked for identification but no request was made.
Then I headed back to a bakery on main street for a couple of muffins, ate one, stashed the other one, and headed out. Following my Bikecentennial map, I picked up highway 9 South for a short distance and then East on South Skagit Highway. This tree lined road was really nice with almost no traffic. The road ended with a few rollers and then I turned left onto a road that crossed the Skagit River into the town of Concrete where I stopped for a large vanilla shake.
Just as I finished my shake and prepared to take off, another touring cyclist stopped, introduced himself, and we talked a while. He lived in the Seattle area and was on his way to Maine. He grew up on a farm in Illinois along Interstate 80 near the Iowa border. He suggested we ride together and I saw no reason to decline so I accepted his invitation. We rode into Rockport on 20 where we considered camping but decided to continue on to Marblemount, a fortuitous decision as it turned out since Washington Pass was still a considerable distance away. The route was now a long, gradual uphill/downhill. My companion was faster on the downhill and flats but I was king of the uphill. As we neared Marblemount we started looking for a campsite. My new friend did not believe in paying for a campsite which was fine with me although I was not adamant on this point. In town he asked a teenager who directed us to a free campsite (Cascade Islands) about 2.5 miles south of town. The only problem was that the last mile was gravel.
We headed for the campground and found a campsite, set up camp, and took a dip in the river for our shower. The dip was chilly but invigorating. I headed back into town for food but my friend decided to stay. I had a large soft taco and a vanilla cone and picked up a bag of tea for my friend.
Back in camp it was rapidly getting dark so I took care of my contact lenses. Then we chatted about a half hour, discussing possibilities for tomorrow that would prove to be a strenuous day as we climbed Washington Pass. Then we retired to our tents and I wrote these notes in my tent using my book reading night light. My friend spent some time with his portable AM/FM radio trying to pull in some distant stations. I decided a radio might be a useful evening companion and made a mental note to consider getting one.
We both got up early, packed, and headed into town for breakfast. Unfortunately, nothing was open so we stopped at the grocery store for breakfast and picked up extra food for the day. The day promised to be challenging as we needed to climb from about 800’ to Washington Pass at 5477’. We started the journey at 8:00 with a 17 mile jaunt to Newhalem. I stopped there to visit the North Cascades Visitor Center for a few minutes and then the general store where I ate a muffin.
Just outside town, the climb began in earnest. I was quickly in my low gear and climbing at the terrific speed of 5 mph. I shuddered as I calculated how long the climb to the pass would take at this rate. The day started overcast and looked as if it could clear up but it started drizzling as it would intermittently throughout the day. Eventually I put on my rain paints and later my rain jacket.
After the first climb of about 500’ we head downhill and quickly lost 200’. This pattern would continue several times and it was depressing to lose hard fought altitude when there was over 4000’ of climbing remaining. When I finally stopped to don my rain jacket, my friend caught up with me and I was astonished to discover that he was still in his shorts and was shirtless. I continued on uphill as the drizzle continued. I started to really worry when we started to get some gusting headwind that made the uphill almost impossible. Fortunately, the gusting headwind was short-lived. We had glimpses of the Skagit River along the way and stopped at the impressive Diablo Lake overlook. My friend kept telling me we were close to the pass but my altimeter watch and map told me that we had a long ways to go.
After the Diablo overlook, we passed Ross Lake which apparently couldn’t be seen from the road. This was disappointing since Ross Lake was a pencil thin lake extending all the way to the Canadian border. It was also disappointing that mountain tops were not visible due to clouds. From this point we still had about 30 miles and over 3000’ to go. The scenery became less interesting at this point and it became grind out time.
My friend was faster than me downhill but I was faster uphill, perhaps because he and his bike weighed more or maybe I had better gearing. In any event, I pulled well ahead of him, slogging it out. Eventually, as it started raining again, I found a place with a bit of shelter to pull over, rest, and let him catch up. However, after over a half hour he hadn’t appeared. After debating the wisdom of retreating back down the hill to find him, I decided to continue. To help with energy, I ate 5 granola bars and a couple of muffins. I was almost continually in my lowest gear grinding away at 5 mph. In a while I saw someone up ahead in red and decided to ask how much farther to Rainy Pass (which preceded Washington Pass) at 4800’. This person turned out to be my companion who had somehow slipped past me while I was waiting for him. He was hurting and scouting for a campsite. I told him we had to be close to Rainy Pass and I was continuing on to at least there and he decided to continue on also.
Rainy Pass (which was an appropriate name) was just ahead and would have been a nice place to camp but there was only a picnic area. When my friend arrived, he decided he was ready to tackle the remaining distance to Washington Pass so off we went. We had an immediate downhill where we lost another precious 300’ which meant we still had almost 1000’ of climbing remaining over approximately 3 miles. This was grind out time and I refused to stop until I reached the top at mile 63.6 for the day at 5:10 p.m.
Surprisingly, there was a nice view at the top looking East with the sun starting to break through. Earlier the clouds were thickening and lowering and I was resigned to no view. However, Washington Pass was the dividing line between the East and West Cascades and the west side was notably wetter than the east side and today bore that out.
From Washington Pass it was almost nonstop downhill to Mazama, 17 miles away. The view was super as the route passed through a valley. I hit a top speed of 44 mph and was consistently in the 30s. The downside was that I was damp from the rain so it was a somewhat chilly downhill but exhilarating nevertheless.
We stopped in Mazama, the first town down from the Pass, to eat. There was a restaurant with a tantalizing barbecue smell that turned out was closed due to a power outage. So we stopped at a foodmart with a deli and bought bread, ham, and cheese for a satisfying lunch. After eating, we stopped at a farm to ask about camping but no one was home. Just as we were about to head East, my friend saw a fire station and inquired there and we were directed to a free camping area just off the main road along the Methow River. This was a nice area and we camped there for the night.
For the day, we covered a little over 80 miles, climbing about 5400’ including the losses of about 900’ - by far the most climbing I had ever done. Today brought new meaning to the term climbing for me as I experienced climbs and descents that consisted of miles compared to my previous experience where a half mile was a long climb/descent. I also learned today to expect long exhilarating 30+ mph descents as the reward for a day of climbing. This pattern of climbing a pass followed by an exhilarating descent would continue over the next 3 days as highway 20 climbed Loup Loup (4020’), Wauconda (4310’), and Sherman (5575’) Passes. Each of these passes would naturally segment the day’s ride.
After packing up we rode into Winthrop, 14 miles away, for breakfast. The weather was beautiful with the sun out and clouds back up at the Pass and in the distance. After yesterday’s overcast view, today’s view was a welcome change as we rode through the Methow Valley with ranches in the valley and mountains in the distance. It was still nippy in the morning and it felt good when we hit the sun’s rays. I wore light tights and my windbreaker but no gloves since they were wet from yesterday’s rain.
In Winthrop we had a leisurely breakfast at a rustic restaurant that my friend knew about. I had pancakes and oatmeal that was very good but rather expensive ($9). After breakfast, we left Winthrop around 10:00 via Twisp Winthrop East Road that paralleled highway 20. This road passed through the valley of sunburnt fields except for some green, irrigated fields. At Twisp, the road rejoined 20 and shortly 20 turned left heading East. As soon as we headed East we began to climb from 1600’ to Loup Loup Pass at 4020’ over a 10 mile stretch. Other than for a short section this was all low gear to the top. However, compared to yesterday this climb was easy and my legs felt fine.
At the top we rested for a few minutes and ate a little food. I chatted for a few minutes with the local sheriff officer who was passing by in his truck. He was surprised to see us as he saw lots of folks in July but then it tailed off in August.
From the top it was 17 miles to Okanogan, all downhill except for one section of about a mile climb. As we descended, the clouds loomed from the pass and moved northeast. We caught a couple of sprinkles in Okanogan and then it cleared up with a nice blue sky and white clouds.
In town we stopped at the Bike Shop where we both bought rain booties ($26) which we could have used yesterday. The shop guy advised us on breakfast and dinner places. He also advised us that there was an American Legion Park in town with camping and showers for the bargain price of $3. Since yesterday was a hard day and today was no slouch either, we decided to camp here. As we made camp, the fire chief stopped to collect our fee but charged us only $3 total. So it only cost us $1.50 a piece - truly a bargain even after I discovered that the shower cost $0.50. He also advised us that the Mexican restaurant near Omak was great and told us about the county fair near us but across the river.
After we cleaned up, we headed into Omak only a few miles away and had a satisfying dinner at the Mexican restaurant. Then my friend told me he was going to take tomorrow off, do some laundry, look up a friend, and generally take it easy. I planned to continue on so this was our last day together.
I got up and packed to leave. My friend had not stirred so I woke him to say good bye and we chatted a few minutes. He said he would probably ride to the next town about 30 miles away but I planned to continue on over Sherman Pass. There was a chance we could run into each other again if I took a day off but most likely not. I thanked him for the company and wished him well. Although we got along fine, I was glad to be back on my own. There’s just something about the freedom to just go where you want when you want.
I stopped for breakfast at the Breadline Cafe in Omak about 4 miles away which had been recommended by the Bike Shop. The cafe was one street off the main drag but I had no problem finding it. Surprisingly, I was the only person in the cafe at 7:30. The decor was neat - kind of a 1950s motif with an old juke box and dark redwood furniture. This was the best breakfast so far - oatmeal and buckwheat pancakes. After a while a few other folks started arriving as well.
As I left Omak the weather looked pretty good although there were some clouds off to the East. The temperature was about 45 degrees so I wore my tights and windbreaker but my hands were a little chilled. Only a few miles outside of town I had my second flat but this flat was on the front tire so it was easier to handle. However, I had difficulty locating the leak. I tried throwing water from my water bottle on my tire but that didn’t work. So I went over the tire again and found the leak. I don’t know why I missed it the first time since it was an obvious puncture and easy to fix.
Back on the road, I was traveling in kind of a bowl surrounded by rounded hills. It’s obvious this area gets little rain since it was desert-like with patchy grass and grey juniper bushes but pretty nevertheless. Every once in a while a patch of green appeared where fields or lawns were irrigated and it looked out of place in this landscape.
After about 25 miles I reached Tonasket and stopped for some supplies at a foodmart and grocery store. I picked up and mailed a birthday card to a former secretary who used to harass me about my age until I learned she was actually 2 days older than me. I called the Port Townsend police to inquire about my money but got the sheriff’s office coverage since this was a Saturday. A final stop at the foodmart for a large Pepsi and I was on my way East out of town about 1:20 p.m.
Immediately the road started climbing from about 900’ to 4310’ at Wauconda Pass. The climb continued for about 6 miles then leveled off somewhat. The terrain changed from desert-like to ranch country with rolling hills, golden grass, and conifers. Really nice country. At one point, I saw a small snake along the road. I didn’t react immediately but it might have been a baby rattler (it looked something like a copperhead) but it was gone by the time I circled back to have a closer look.
Near Wauconda, I stopped and noticed that the bolt that attached my rear rack to the eyelet by the brake was gone. I was upset with myself since I had tightened it before and should have kept a closer watch on it and prevented this. Now I had to hope to find a replacement in town.
As I got closer to the pass, the clouds were building up and it looked like rain. When I saw showers in the distance, I stopped to put on my rain gear including my new rain booties. Rounding the next curve in the road, I saw Wauconda and its lonely cafe/store. I stopped, prepared to wait out the rain. After 10-15 minutes I pushed on since there wasn’t much rain although there was occasional thunder. The pass was about 3 miles away and it started drizzling harder as I neared the pass.
The way down the pass was not as much downhill as I thought and I had to do more pedaling than I expected. There were a couple of stretches of good downhill but for the most part it was not that steep. When I pulled into Republic, I asked a motorcyclist coming out of a bar if he was a local intending to inquire about food and shelter. He said he was from British Columbia (Republic was only about 30 miles from the Canadian border) but frequently came to Republic because it was inexpensive. He proceeded to tell me where to eat and where to camp - at the county fairgrounds a few miles outside town where there was a concert underway.
By this time I was chilled from the rain and the downhill run. I stopped to eat at the bar/restaurant across the street as recommended. It was close to 7:00 and my meal took longer than expected so it was a little after 7:30 by the time I left. Unfortunately, it was dark by then and I had about a 3 mile ride to the campground. I turned on my rear Vistalite and headed out in the rain hoping I was visible. Apparently I was since a motorist stopped and advised me about a nearby hostel and the county fairgrounds. I continue to the fairgrounds where the 3rd Annual Kettle Full’a Blues Festival was underway. No one was checking the gate (perhaps because of the miserable weather and the lateness of the hour) so I pitched my tent in the rain and took a shower. From what I heard the next day, I gathered that camping at the fairground was normally free so I didn’t feel guilty about barging in without paying.
The concert sounded pretty good but I chose not to wander closer since I was wet enough already. I could also hear the music well enough from my tent. I had been told by the BC motorcyclist that the music was scheduled to end at 10:00 but it continued until about 11:00. The rain stopped around midnight and I learned the next day they got 0.5 inches. I also didn’t get to sleep until after midnight since the folks in the tent next door talked until 1 or 2 in the morning.
I woke to a heavy overcast sky. There was a streak of clearing in the distance but that quickly disappeared. Most of the folks in camp were still sleeping. The groups around me were mostly from BC and there was a gathering of motorcycles not far away.
After packing up, I headed back to town for breakfast. I immediately noticed my rear tire was soft so I pumped it up and hoped it would hold at least into town. I bought a paper at a grocery store and the cashier recommended the restaurant across the street from where I ate last night for breakfast. The food was good and inexpensive - less than $5 for oatmeal, pancakes, and coffee.
After breakfast I decided I better check my tire while in town. I took the tube into the restaurant restroom and used the washroom basin and water to locate a slow leak. The fix was relatively quick as I was getting better at this with all of my practice.
On the way out of town I stopped at the foodmart to see if I could find something to fix my rear rack missing bolt. Since I could not find any bolts, I bought a toilet bowl deodorizer and used its wire hanger to temporarily hold the rear rack in place. I also bought a maple nut muffin that was so good I bought another one for the road.
The road, after a short descent, climbed from 2500’ to 5575’ at Sherman Pass, the highest pass in Washington, over an 18 mile stretch. The road was through conifers and I spent most of the time in my low gear. As I went, the sky cleared up and I removed my windbreaker. Near the top, I stopped to check a display along the road of the 1988 forest fire that hit the area and took some pictures. I reached the top around 1:30, three hours after starting my assault.
I donned my windbreaker and began my exhilarating descent. The first 10 miles were fast and I was continuously in the 30s with an average of about 35 and a max of 39. The next 10 miles were fast also and required almost no pedaling - a just reward for climbing a pass. I noticed on my descent that the road was wet. Apparently, I just missed the rain and perhaps should credit my flat tire with slowing me down just enough to miss it.
I stopped to view the Little America display along the road. This display described the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) established by Roosevelt in the 1930s to create jobs. Workers received $1/day, room and board, 3 meals a day, and were required to send $25/month home. The CCC was a collection of folks from all over the country, hence the term Little America.
Descending the remaining miles, I crossed the Columbia River at Kettle Falls. I debated staying at the Coulee Dam National Recreation Area campground with its tantalizing scent of pine needles but its $10 fee warded me off and I hoped to do better in Colville. I took the Bikecentennial back road route to Colville. The few minor hills I had to climb told me that my legs were tired, probably due to the four passes in four days. My legs were also suggesting I consider making tomorrow an easy day. The terrain was rolling hills with golden fields in both the valley and the surrounding hills. This was scenic country all the way to Colville.
In Colville, I checked out the bike shop and found it opened at 8:00 in the morning. I stopped at a Subway and ate a foot long tuna sandwich. The host told me that the county fairground’s campground in town might be filled due to the Northeast Washington fair that was in town. But I got to the campground just before 6:00 as the fair was closing. I made a quick tour of the fair and it looked like I hadn’t missed very much. Then I walked the length of the town in both directions and back to my camp. I grabbed my diary and retired to the Acorn Saloon to write these notes.
When I woke up the sky was clear as it would be all day except for a few wisps of clouds. But it was COLD, probably about 35 degrees. Since my tent was wet and the sun wasn’t up yet, I rode to the B&P restaurant for breakfast and a paper. After a leisurely breakfast of biscuits and gravy, bacon, and potatoes, it was just after 8:00 so I headed to the sports shop to try to get a replacement bolt for my rear rack. I was in luck and my repair cost me all of 48 cents.
I headed back to camp, moved my tent into the sun to dry off, packed up, and deposited my $5 in the camping fee receptacle. Next stop was a card shop to get a birthday card for my brother whose birthday is the same day as mine. Given this fact, it’s hard to pretend forgetfulness so a birthday card is a must! I picked out a card, wrote a short note about my trip, and mailed the card. Since I had decided to make this an easy day, I stopped at the Book Depot to browse. I saw several interesting books about the West and this area as well as a couple of science books but I didn’t buy anything. I doubted I would read them on the trip and they would just end up as extra weight that I certainly didn’t need. Next stop was Wal-Mart to see if they had any polypro underwear (which I guessed I would need before this trip was over) or a waterproof AM/FM radio for entertainment at night but they had neither. Finally, I stopped at a Safeway. First, I called the Port Townsend police and learned my wallet had not turned up (I didn’t really expect it to). I bought some pastries and some Cajun smoked salmon.
Around 11:00, I headed out for Ione, my day’s destination. I immediately saw a sign that warned bicyclists that the road (highway 20) had a narrow shoulder and logging truck traffic. Despite the ominous sign, the shoulder was nice and clean and the logging trucks with one exception at the end were all going in the other direction and were not a problem. It was interesting though that I did see a couple of trucks going in my direction that carried a load of wheels. I figured the first one was just an oddity but after seeing several of these I finally deduced these were empty logging trucks with the rear logging section loaded on to the front section for faster travel.
I had thought the route to Ione was only about 30 miles but it really was more like 40. More importantly, it climbed from about 1600’ to 3300’ so my “easy” day was not quite so easy. Nevertheless, it was definitely easier than any of the previous four days. After an initial climb, the route kept up a pattern of a moderate climb followed by a level section. I kept the bike in an easy gear whenever possible to save me legs. The air warmed up to the 60s and I removed my windbreaker, comfortable in tights and short sleeve shirt. About halfway, I stopped at a scenic fall and devoured my smoked salmon and a couple of muffins that were really good. I continued along 20 through a stand of conifers. Later I passed several nice lakes along the road. Finally, I peaked and began a 4 mile descent to Tiger that lost about 1000’. It was also a twisting descent and several signs warned to slow down to 15-25 mph from my 30+ mph. I was fairly confident I could take the curves faster but I chose discretion since I was not familiar with the road. All-in-all, a nifty descent with reasonable speed and comfortable temperature that didn’t require my windbreaker.
At Tiger I turned North to head four miles to Ione. In Ione I checked out the city park on the Pend Oreille River (which I had thought was a lake at first glance). It didn’t look like a camping area and someone in town confirmed that. So I headed to the RV park at the Ione Motel and found I could camp for $5 and pitched my tent on a lawn area that jutted out a short distance into the river and away from the RVs.
After setting up camp and showering, I walked into town to the little Mexican Cafe and had a surprisingly good chicken burrito meal for $5. Not bad for a town of about 600. Then I headed to the city park on the river and wrote the day’s notes.
As the time neared 7:00, I thought about where to go to watch the Monday night football game between the Bears and Eagles. I decided to head “downtown” because it was closer than a motel up the road. I went into the first bar, the Boots and Saddle Saloon, where there was a woman bartender and four guys and a woman sitting at an L shaped bar watching the game on TV. I saw a sign that said $1 for Keystone so I ordered a Keystone Light, figuring beer wouldn’t run me too much in the hole at that price.
Unfortunately, the game was at the 9:23 point of the 2nd quarter with the Bears already behind 14-0 and the Eagles scored shortly to take a 21-0 lead. Though it looked like the game would not be much entertainment, there was other entertainment. The woman (Diane) seated at the bar was getting a lot of flak from the guy nearest her with an empty seat between then. Diane was from northwest Iowa and was a true blue Bears fan and wearing a Bears sweatshirt. She was giving it right back to the guy who was a Seattle Seahawk and Washington Huskie fan (Washington beat Iowa in the Rose Bowl several years ago and he repeatedly brought up that point). Eventually I learned the guy and Diane were married though you would never have guessed that from the bantering that went on. Then the guy decided to retire for the night and got up and walked through a door behind the counter and I learned that he was also the owner of the bar. So it turned out to be an interesting night with unexpected entertainment. The bar owner and another guy kept buying rounds and I could hardly keep up as I must have been the recipient of 4 rounds. After the bar owner retired, the Bears must have sensed the need for entertainment and they proceeded to fight back from 30-0 to make it interesting at 30-22 but the Eagles managed to hang on. All in all, an unexpectedly interesting evening.
Copyright Denis Kertz, 1994. All rights reserved.