Day 63: Sherman pass, end mile 2604
We woke up at the Barnaby Creek Campground on the shores of Lake Roosevelt. The rolling hills the day before had really done Joey in. Pulling the Ru is getting to be a bigger and bigger challenge. Only of course because the Ru is getting bigger and bigger. He is now what most would call a large dog. When I sit on the ground my chin rests on his back to give you some perspective. Not sure how big he is but probably close to 55 lbs.
Joey woke up with not a lot of faith. He was sore from the day before and wasn’t sure he could make it over the pass. I tried to be encouraging and understanding as we discussed all the options but the fact remained, we didn’t have any food for dinner and the closest store is on the other side. We talked like we could stop wherever we wanted “It’s all national forest!”, “we can eat the emergency ramen!”, but deep down I knew we were just putting up a front to cover our egos if something went wrong.
We set out around 9 and did about 5 miles of rolling hills (joeys fave) to the intersection of WA-20. We are going to stay on this road for most of the next week and is washington’s designated bike route. When we saw that it was a “bike highway” honestly I was kind of expecting nirvana. It was just another road, nice to ride but nothing to write home about (though I guess I just did). But up we went!
We made a slow steady day of it, stopping every half hour regardless of mileage. This is how it should be and we were in great spirits all day. The good mood was bolstered by the surroundings as we climbed through increasingly alpine forests and through endless patches of huckles and blueberries. We ate our fill and my hands looked bruised by the mixture of bike grease and berry juice that stained them. This is the first of four passes we are tackling this week (and the second highest!) so we are planning to allow for berry forage in our diets. It’s getting super Oreon Trail out here. We reached the top around 5:30. Although this is late for us it is totally normal for other tour bikers (so I’m told) and so we decided not to be worried. We ate some sandwiches and read the info signs. The roads in this area are based on the paths of the Okanogan people. They would venture over the mountains every year for the gathering at Kettle Falls to catch salmon, catch up on news with friends from other groups and exchange ideas. Now the scenic byway provides a way to expedite that journey but the falls and the ancestral gathering grounds are long since covered by water after the valley was damned in the 1930s. The gathering still happens but now the people of the Spokane and Colville reservations come together to pray for the return of the salmon. This was all on the sign at the top of the pass….pretty heavy for a driving tour. At least they acknowledge that the meeting grounds were destroyed and the traditional diet and economy crumpled without the salmon.
So down the pass we went! Ominous clouds had gathered at the east side of the pass. We had been sprinkled on all day but thought we were in the clear. Until this point we were arriving at every bend to find puddles on the ground and the clouds receding ahead of us. One way to outrun the rain is to run slower behind it. But alas we caught that rabbit at the top of the pass and not long into the steep descent it started pouring. We stopped under a tree and decided to just ride it out to Republic, the town at the bottom of the hill. The rain slashed through my very safe but not waterproof neon visibility jacket and cut into my mid layer. My hands were getting numb and frozen into shape around the handlebars as we dropped faster and the rain got harder. All at once we popped out into a developed area and the restaurant was upon us in no time. We closed up Ru’s rain flaps and told him to take a nap so we could get warm inside. We walked in and didn’t say anything for a little while, just clenched and unclenched our hands to get the feeling back. We warmed up enough to notice the wait staff staring at us and asked to order food to go. The middle aged blonde woman behind the counter asked us about our trip and didn’t seem surprised in the slightest that we were pedaling past. We asked about the camping at the county fair grounds we had seen on the ACA map and were elated to hear that we could see the sign from where we stood. We got our burgers and went on down the 1/4 mile to the camp ground. A large camp kitchen, sort of a cabin with half high walls named for a rodeo star who succumbed to cancer in 2006, was a welcome shelter from the storm. We aired out our things, ate our food and waited for the rain to subside. We had service for the first time in a few days, so we turned on the NPR and had a little media blitz aided by the outlet conveniently located on the built in side board. The rain finally abated, we organized our clothes so they would dry overnight and we went to sleep.
Day 64:Wauconda Pass
We woke up at the fair grounds fairly refreshed 😂. We had another pass ahead of us so we started to it. The town of republic had all the amenities. Our first few miles brought us into the town proper and to the grocery store. We loaded up for the next day and a half, our goal was to wilderness camp in some national forest land we assumed must exist near the top.
This pass was a bit smaller than Sherman and it was differently constructed. There was the same aspect of winding up a mountain stream, but there was no switch backing up the head wall to worry about. The reason being, the head wall didn’t exist. Over all this pass was a little unimpressive. We started the climb right out of our campsite (republic rested in the valley) and slogged the 15 miles to the top. We had a gnarly descent coming to us. After Sherman Pass we hadn’t lost that much elevation, but after Wauconda we went down into the desert for real. Thus far we had avoided the type of sage brush sea we waded through in eastern Oregon in early June. I knew it existed but somehow assumed that the mountains would protect us from the arid reach of the eastern slope of the Cascades. It was not so. The desert exists and you must always go through it.
Also, Wauconda Pass is all private land. We had planned to make it a short day and camp somewhere near the top of the pass to let ourselves rest and give us a jumpstart to the 40 miles of flat desert that we needed to cover the next day. As we approached the top, created, and began to descend I saw the same barbed wire fence, constantly an even 10 ft from the road. The aggro but neat “NO TRESPASSING” signs were affixed every half mile like clock work.the person who owned that land wanted to be sure that they could kick anyone off without any inkling that they were merely confused. I convinced Joey to abandon the idea of rogue camping that night. When someone puts that much time and energy into their fencing and signage, I believe they are checking and I believe they will be mad.
We resolved to go forward and soon encountered a middle aged couple heading up the pass. We stopped to chat, as groups of tourers often do and learned that their names were Jim and Barb, they lived in Winthrop (our destination for the night after next) and Jim was a Dartmouth ’77. He started that line of thought when he asked hopefully about Joey’s DMBC t shirt (Dartmouth mountain biking club) and we explained we were both in the class of 2014 and the rudiments of the trip. He had retired to Winthrop and was impressed with our attitude about personal happiness and adventure. A lot of people we have talked to have asked us how we are able to do this trip, how we can afford to not work for the summer, and why we wanted to take time off at this point in our professional life. We have had some luck, some support, and a lot of planning. We started planning this in January and I started putting away a portion of every paycheck for it. That coupled with my rainy day fund made a pretty little package. Joey has a more cavalier strategy when it comes to money but I don’t think it’s my place to lecture as long as we share the burden and one of us doesn’t become dependent on the other. We needed adventure more than a paycheck this summer.
So anyway we still weren’t quite sure where we were going to go. Our rogue camping idea had been abandoned and we had all our supplies, we just had to find a place to be. Jim and Barb said there was free camping at a restaurant in Tonasket, 20 miles distant. We chugged our way there and went to the restaurant. It was called Shannon’s and Shannon turned out to be the older woman manning the barbecue and reading the paper simultaneously. She nervously told me she couldn’t take us tonight because a crew was coming to repave her sidewalks in the early morning but westbound try the city hall campsite. She said to come back if that didn’t work out and that we “have a place in our town.” That made my day. We went the four blocks to town hall (almost the whole length of the town) and found the bicycle campsite wedged behind the visitor center. It was perfect, AND IT WAS FREE so here we stayed and here we slept.
Day 65: Okanogan American Legion Park
We woke up this morning thinking we would cross the rest of the desert and mount our next pass by sunset. That turned out to be a little ambitious. We started out chugging along as always but admittedly pretty sore from the last two punishing climbs. We rolled through the desert brush taking side roads around some of the hills but mostly sticking to our handy dandy route 20. As we came into the town of Okanogan we were fading fast. We had just stopped at a grocery store on the outskirts of town. Buying food always makes the plan sink in. We only carry what we need to get to the next store and so our camping plans dictate how many breakfasts, lunches and dinners fill our panniers at any given time. The reality of the pass hanging over our heads as we left the store hung heavy, casting shadows. By the time we had rolled the 2 miles past th store to town we were beginning to regret the choice. Enter:American legion park.
Off to our left we saw a strip of grass about 30 feet wide and half a mile long along the river. It was populated by large shade trees and picnic tables and tents and a big old sign that told us we could camp there for $5. Done deal. We decided that a half day (we still did 30 miles, not so bad) and some stretching was what we needed. So we pulled over, set up shop and got to resting. We also downloaded Pokemon Go. Not gonna lie, it’s pretty fun. We had service and access to power outlets so we took Ru for some pokewalks and caught some Pokemon and used the pokestop and poke poke poke.
The rest of the day passed pretty uneventfully. We watched other people run through the park trying to catch a Zubat and saw a couple at the other end of the park have such a big fight the police came. All at a healthy distance to be sure. But in general we rested, ate and made ourselves ready for Loup Loup.
Day 66: Loup Loup Pass
We woke up early so we could get a jump on the weather. It has been pretty hot lately and we wouldn’t be back in the trees until we climbed about 1500 feet. We wound our way out of town. No more grass and shade trees to be found. Our first stop was a historical marker at the top of the first hill to the west. It marked a field where in 1904 some angry cattlemen slaughtered some guys whole herd of sheep over grazing rights. The sign was pretty brutal, “their bleached bones littered the field for years.” This was also a Pokestop. Lucky us.
We kept up the pass. This pass had some anxious vibes about it. We were always stopping not quite in the right place and getting buzzed or the sun would shift and we’d be in the rays or spending a bunch of time looking for berries that didn’t really exist (Sherman Pass was special). But we did it anyway. This was a steep pass. Not the tallest we have done but it was one of the most brutal climbs of the trip. There is a ski area at the top so it all kind of came upon us as one when we got up there. The pass sign was tucked away past the skiing entrance and seemed like kind of an afterthought. On the whole it was beautiful, difficult, and a little anti climactic. But hey we got there either way.
The descent off Loup Loup was impressive. Maybe the grandeur only exists on the western face but while zipping down the pass I got going to some record speeds. As I neared the bottom, things took a turn for the worse. I was going down a big straight section with scrubby shrubs on either side of the road. I was braking to stay under 35 mph when I felt something hit me in the chest. We hit bugs at high speed quite often and it stings a little. The first time in Idaho we hit a group of butterflies going down a pass in the sawtooth and the impact raised welts on my arms. This time was a little different. I felt the big hit me just below the collar bone and drop down into my shirt. I was leaning far forward to control my bike and the neck of my worn out tie dye tshirt hung like a scoop around my neck. I felt the bug go down and then fall directly into my sports bra. Right place right time I guess. This all happened in a split second and I started to think, I hope the impact killed it, I hope it’s not a bee. The pain started microseconds later and my fears were confirmed. I started to scream as the searing hot pain of an angry wasp’s stinger spread across my chest. I mashed my breaks and screamed louder, trying to pull over in the soft gravel on the side of the steep slope. I came to a stop, still screaming and clawed at my shirt to try to free the terrible little fucker. All the while it was stinging me angrily. Joey pulled up next to me in enough Mir to see a larger than average wasp fly out of its purple polyester prison and the redness spreading up my neck. Anyone who has had multiple wasp stings at once can tell you the pain is like fire and it burns for a while. For the rest of the night I was tender and swollen and sad.
We found a campsite with a cyclist discount near the town of Twisp and settled in for the night. I attempted to make pasta with mushroom cream sauce, a favorite when we are home. It turned out delicious but not quite right. We ate it all anyway. Ru played with some other dogs from the campground and especially hit it off with a big labrodoodle. They play the same way, bowing and jumping. The labrodoodle owner was as happy as we were to let the dogs tire themselves out. We went to bed around dusk, looking to the final and biggest pass the next day.