It’s been a hot week in Washington, with temperatures hitting almost 100 degrees a few days ago. Fortunately, in normal climates, shade actually cools things off and temperatures fluctuate throughout the day so that nights are usually much colder than days. It’s been, dare I say it, downright frigid some mornings. My ride through Washington has been nice. Many more good days than bad. I’m ready to be home, where I don’t have to spend each day wondering where I’ll sleep that night, or if it’ll have water, or if I’ll break down, etc. There is less internet connection here than in rural Cambodia. I feel more disconnected in a campsite one day outside of Seattle than I felt weeks outside of a big city in Southeast Asia. Anyways here are some highlights from the last week or so on the road, both the good and the bad.
After the North Cascades, I turned South and spent the few hot days riding in flat Central Washington. Passing through the farms of the Methow Valley, Washington’s wine country along the Columbia Valley, through towns like Chelan, Wenatchee, and finally crossing I-90 at Cle Elum. These were nice areas, windy on some days, but flat, allowing me to average more mileage per day. More traffic than I would have liked, but more large shoulders than I expected.
South of Cle Elum brought my first major Ordeal of this trip. Trying to find a shortcut to Route 410 from I-90 to avoid a 300-400km detour, I broke out my forest service maps and selected a route over Quartz Mountain the Manastash ridge. Mostly, when engineers construct regular roads, they choose to build them on a path of least resistance, utilizing passes through mountains, following rivers, and preferring flat terrain over rugged.
This is not true with forest service roads, which tend to go up to the top of mountains, string together buttes along ridges, not follow water sources and sometimes turn into unrideable jeep trails. My map has been relatively accurate at distinguishing between roads that are paved, gravel, less than gravel, or just paths. One mislabeled road, however, had me running out of water stuck at the top of the Manastash ridge, 60km of gravel and 8km of unrideable jeep trails from Cle Elum.
My goal, state highway 410, in sight only 10km away but more than a 1000m almost sheer, rocky, drop to get there. The promised road/path combination that I had relied on to take me down there was nowhere in sight. With the daylight fading and me exhausted from a long day of climbing and pushing my bike, I plopped down at 2000m elevation and spent a very thirsty night poring over cached topo maps on my phone, paper maps, and the day’s memories trying to find out where this supposed road was.
I should have relied on the advice of more than one person who passed me before the road really deteriorated who claimed that the road went through. “Yeah man, I think it just winds down to the bottom. I’ve never been on it but congrats for making it up here! Have a beer!” At the time the advice and the beer were greatly appreciated, but he was driving a VW van on street tires along a nice gravel road, whereas the 7-8 huge jeeps with missing fenders, broken taillights, and traumatized drivers I saw coming from where I was headed probably would have been a better source of reliable info on the state of the road.
Eventually, I noticed an alternate road that appeared on both a cached USGS map on my phone and on my paper maps. So at 5am the next morning, I quickly made my, still very thirsty, way for it, hoping to soon confirm its existence. I’d say I half-confirmed its existence. Yes, a road existed, but none of it was remotely rideable, and most of it was hardly walkable with the loaded bike. Over the two days, I had to take off my bags and portage them up impossibly steep dirt and stone hills about 10-12 times. Going just 8km down the ridge took me from about 5:30AM until Noon the second day. I spent a rest day recovering from the full-body soreness brought on by the two days. Pro to jeep trails: It’s a good full-body strength workout.
But I couldn’t really complain, because the road was there, and eventually it turned into a more reliable road and finally ended at my goal of highway 410. So I made it through, and drank my weight in water upon my arrival in camp. And now I don’t trust the forest service roads marked on my map without reliable information from someone who’s been on them. Lesson learned.
Chinook pass today, and that brings me to Randle, where I head south to Mount St. Helens.
On to Oregon!