Days 67-68: Washington pass (and Rainy Pass!)
Our last passes of the Cascades were a double header. The tallest and most formidable of range was Washington pass. At 5453 ft it was the tallest thing we’d been to since Sherman but the climb was much longer. We were also not so blessed in terms of forage on this climb. Although we stopped almost every quarter mile (or at least it felt that way) to check patches but nothing could match the sheer indigo bounty of Sherman Pass. Those huckle berries were big and plump, and the biggest I’ve ever seen. But Washington pass held its own delights.
We passed through the town of Mazama on the first day of the climb. We settled at a picnic table next to the community center for lunch and, as the bold lettering on their trailers told us, we met every endurance athlete under the age of 18 from the greater northwest. Mazama, along with the Methow Valley it occupies are famous for their cross country skiing. I had flash backs to The basement of Robo (Robinson Hall to you older alums) with the piles of roller skis and strategic muscle taping assisted by friends and coaches. Although I am not an endurance athlete I have been adjacent to many and so the trappings brought comfort as we stared down the muzzle of the beast. It started to drizzle as we are our squished pannier bread sandwiches. With the fear of rain at our backs we pushed on.
It held off that night. We had planned to do this pass in two days, so our goal for this afternoon was the Lone Fir campground about 2000 ft below the top. We arrived there around 4 pm and to no ones surprise it was full. With a heavy heart (and heavier water supplies thanks to the campground spigot) we set off the rogue camp in the surrounding national forest. We found a good spot, stashed our bikes behind a bush and crept into the cover of the trees.
In the morning it got reaaaaaaaaal. We continued following the steep stream up the valley but the rain couldn’t be out run today. Luckily we were prepared and had raincoats and covers handy. It didn’t make our ascent easier though and we began to switchback up the headwall. The rain made the vertigo creepier as I caught glimpses of the road in the valley several hundred feet below. We knew we were close and when we topped the pass we snapped a quick photo and moved along. No reason to stand unprotected in the driving rain.
We went down to the saddle between passes and crossed the Pacific Crest Trail. We did not see any through hikers, although we did see someone getting a food drop for a weekend long trip (filthy casuals). We cowered under a trail sign for a few minutes before resolving to push on. No point in wasting time of the rain wasn’t going to end. Oh, but we did eat A LOT of cookies under that sign.
It was still raining over Rainy Pass (surprise, surprise) and we booked it down into the valley. We flowed down feeling like a wet slide, unstoppable, unpredictable and soaked to the skin. At the end of the day we found a spot, hunkered down and drifted to sleep with our soggy, sopping dreams.
Days 69-72: dawdling to the coast
Once we were off the pass we took our time. We did a series of partial rest days toward the coast. We had a deadline to meet Joeys parents in Anacortes, which is the formal end of the Northern Tier ACA route and the portal to the San Juan Islands, on the 21st and god knows how but we were ahead of schedule.
We stayed in some pretty sweet state parks along the route and stuck almost religiously to the ACA map. This is something sort of new for us on this trip. We have been fans of going our own way for a while, finagling new and different routes to see friends, hit a certain park, or just to get away from towns for a couple days. Seeing our progress tracked through the close up mini maps the route map holds was comforting but felt a little surreal. I love the ACA maps but the only drawback is that because they crop and turn the maps to fit as much distance as possible into every frame, it is harder to envision the bigger picture place of our journey. We saw town names and county lines but most of them we would never contextualize into the state as a whole.
The day after Washington and Rainy passes we rode only 25 miles to Rockport and camped in a small private campground not marked on our map. When we arrived there was only one other person at the site, a frazzled looking woman in her mid thirties with a stained sweatshirt and a yellow hatch back. Throughout the journey, we have always been told we are lucky to not have been mugged or murdered. While Joey and I are both 6+ feet tall and are at the peak of our strength (due in no small part to our constant pedalling) and are accompanied by a male dog of wolf like proportions and fierce loyalty (yea right, Ru wouldn’t attack anyone even if we asked), I keep these warnings in the back of my mind when people start acting erratically. The woman was walking around a campsite when we approached and seemed to follow us to our campsite when we chose one. She said she was looking for her wallet and to ignore her but my eyes stayed glued to the back of her head as she puttered around in adjacent campsites. She brought us a pile of firewood and bowed away back to her car like some weird unwanted campsite concierge.
But she got in her car and drove away without further incident. Another family arrived at the campsite and despite the fact that we were literally its only inhabitants they took up the spot right next to us. There is no need for that. Its like walking into the bathroom at work and taking the stall right next to its only occupant who is probably silently waiting for you to leave so they can finish doing their business or muttering obscenities about coworkers under their breath or whatever else people do alone in office building restrooms. But before long they approached us to explain. The family was three generations all out for a family camping trip. They lived in the area and had been to this campsite many times which gave them a little insight into the vibes. The woman from the middle generation explained that last time they were here a strange man came out of the bushes after dark and offered them an armful of fire wood. The man they described seemed to be in a similar mental state to the woman we met earlier, aka we all thought they were meth heads. The family asked us to keep an eye on their camp while they went over to the National Forest down the road for a hike and we obliged. We were happy to hear we were getting some of our evening to ourselves and glancing over for thieves seemed a fair trade.
As they drove away we saw that the second middle generation woman stayed behind. She came over to chat and it became clear that she was the black sheep of her family. Her brindled pitt-mix named Riot was tearing around and Ru quickly fell into step behind him. We were happy for Ru to get the exercise and since this woman was clearly trying to escape a family vacation we took pity on her and hung out while her family was gone. We have all been 19 and wanted to get away from our parents. While we were chatting we asked her about the area and the bad vibes continued. Already on edge from our encounter with the firewood fairies, her talk of the witch-crafty vibes and history of the area didn’t really help. She told us stories of creepy things that happened in her town, 20 miles away (Concrete, WA btw). Right as my nerves were beginning to hum with anxiety a man in a red pick up with fire in his eyes gunned it into our campsite parking. He got out of the car and started yelling that someone had taken his phone out of his car while he was on a walk, did we see anyone on a bike, did we see anyone at all, did we take it?!?! So many days on the road had made me unwilling to take this crazy dude’s bullshit so I went on the defensive. I told him we didn’t see anything, we didn’t take it, and we mind our own business like he should. He assured me that he would get to the bottom of this and that “people know who I am in this town.” Whatever bro. Joey was out on his bike gathering firewood and returned as the small town celebrity was pulling away. I asked Joey, just to be sure if he had seen anything and he said there was a guy biking zig zags across the road and screaming out elementary school level phrases in Spanish. Seems like the perpetrator to me. But anyway, by the end of this ordeal my bad vibes meter was red lining and I was about to just go to bed to shut out the phantoms. The next door family returned and all seemed semi-normal as another pick up pulled into the campground. This was the person we were all waiting for, the owner of the campground! He collected our fees, chatted with us about other bikers he had met (some people doing the hemis-tour came through last year, super cool!) and quelled some of the bad feeling I had about the place. They seemed like responsible, friendly folk. I told him about the guy with the stolen phone and he said “Yup, that’s Jamie. He gave me a call, don’t worry about him he probably lost it while he was high.” So at least Jamie was right about one thing, people do know who he is in this town.
In the next few days we pushed further on toward the coast. No more encounters of the third kind or bad vibes to speak of. Our last night on the Northern Tier we stayed at a state park right on the bay across from Anacortes, WA. This was the second timeRu encountered the ocean and the reception was infinitely more favorable than the first. He waded out up to his shoulders and then stood motionless and stared back at the shore. Although he was clearly paralyzed by fear, he made some progress and we were proud. That same night we realized we had made an error thus far avoided on the trip; we ran out of fuel for the stove. Joey has an MSR Dragonfly stove which is great. It is super adjustable, versatile, and runs on pretty much anything. Our fuel of choice has been gasoline because the bottle costs an average on $0.50 to fill. But on this particular occasion we decided to take the $7.00 bath and pay for firewood from the camp host. While this offended the most frugal of our sensibilities, neither of us could face the daunting reality of biking 10 more miles for fuel that day. So we did what must be done.
The day after our fuel faux pas we were set to meet Joey’s parents in Anacortes and head out to the San Juan Islands for some quality family fun. We planned to meet for the noon(ish) ferry and Joey and I were determined not to miss it. We have hit pretty much all our time and distance goals on our trip thus far, (getting to Yellowstone in time to meet Nate and Cat, getting toSpokane for my birthday, getting out of the Eastern Oregon desert before it claimed our souls as tribute, etc) so as a matter of pride we woke early and left quickly to make the last 20ish miles to the ferry terminal. Seattle traffic got the best of Gino and Nancy in the end and we were on board with our bikes stowed when we heard that they had missed the boat. At first I thought that we should try to get off, that they would be upset we left without them, that the visit would be ruined but I took a deep breath and realized that not all families crumble into anxious tension in the face of a scheduling set back. Shout out to my people! We stayed on board and pulled away from the dock. Joey talked to his parents over the phone and we arranged to meet at the hotel after they got on the next boat. Joey and his dad have the same name so the reservation wouldn’t be an issue.
The San Juan Islands are a world destination for tour biking and cycling in general. All the ferries from Washington State (and most from Canada, maybe all) have bike spaces in the car bay and special rates for cyclists. Although the spaces and prices vary, it was never worse than wedged in next to a garbage truck and $25 per person. When we arrived on San Juan, we left the cargo hold ahead of the cars with the pedestrians. There is only one, one-way street leaving the ferry terminal and it funneled directly onto the main street of town. We pulled our rigs up to a memorial plaza off to the side of the main road and let the traffic pass. There was a pokestop so we occupied ourselves and Ru needed some lovin’ to recover from the stress of the ferry ride. After the half hour of car unloading (its actually a crazy system on the boat with a central bay and double decker side wings) we lumbered up the surprisingly steep hill through the center of town. We crawled (we can only pull about 4 mph going up a steep grade) through the book shops, art galleries and restaurants lining the main road and I thought how much this place seemed like a west coast Nantucket. Yet another comforting and disconcerting way the West Coast is just a larger more extreme reflection of my East Coast family roots. Bigger trees, bigger cliffs, bigger mountains, but all the same tropes. The American way I suppose.
It actually turned out to be the best way to go because now we had time to shower, decompress, eat some pizza, play some pokemon and prepare to re-enter society, if only temporarily. By the time Gino and Nancy arrived we were ready to hold a real conversation (none of the code or nonsense words that took over our speech mid-trip) and to be seen in public (even if we still smelled like sweaty mildew). That first day I honestly can’t remember what specifically we did before dinner, but the dinner was one I will never forget. Joey’s father Gino has made a hobby of finding locals everywhere he goes and asking them what the best meal in town is. It is a great way to find restaurants off the beaten path, get to know the kind of people who populate your vacation destination year round, and to talk about food more in your every day life (one of my favorite things anyway). A man they met on the boat suggested a restaurant out of town, about a half hour drive into the heart of the island called the Duck Soup Inn. I read the yelp reviews and of course they were stunning. We resolved to go and called ahead for a reservation outside so we could bring Ru.
When we arrived we fed Ru in the parking lot so he would sit still during dinner. Of course this place was a little refined for dog dinner out front but the magic of the pacific northwest includes a big dose of tolerance of other people’s casual nature so no feathers were ruffled. After checking in inside, we were led to a table in the corner of a lushly featured patio on the side of the rustic, yet eccentric, mid-sized, log-cabin-looking restaurant. There were perhaps 8 tables on the patio, and we were the first guests of the evening. A lucky thing, considering we stayed for a full 3 hours (maybe more). wooden couch/benches covered in bright geometric carpets lined our corner of the patio and Ru was quick to make himself at home. He was on a 6 ft leash, tied to the leg of Joey’s chair but still managed to set himself apart enough to attract loving from the entire restaurant staff and most of the patrons. We ordered a first course and some wine and as the food and drink rolled onto our cafe table we knew we were in for something special. The food was delicious, well balanced, vegetable heavy and perfectly filling. Also the wonderful bottle o wine selected by Joey’s mother didn’t hurt. We went to bed that night full of wonderful food and under a roof.
The next morning we slept in late. It rained during the night and we thanked the bike trip gods for once again chancing our more sheltered rest days on the rainy nights. Blissfully dry we met the Gabianellis for breakfast in the mexican restaurant turned continental breakfast attached to the hotel. We packed the dog and some sunscreen and headed out to a state park famous for whale sightings. We hiked through madrone forests along the rocks and peered into the ocean for a shadow, or a shiny spot on the water that might point to a large, adorably lethargic sea mammal just below the surface, displacing water. But alas, our hopes were not answered. Well, maybe the message to the universe was garbled because we did see an otter and some seals but the whales stayed out of sight. We went back down to downtown and had a long lunch where the obvious question of “What are you going to do after the trip?” was asked (as it should be) and we had any answers. Truth is I don’t thinkwe will have an answer for that until we are doing it. Full disclosure, I am writing this from my notes on August 18th. I think one of the biggest things the trip taught me is that if you start, you will get to the point where you have to finish and only then will you know where the end is. We will figure it out, more to come on that subject in subsequent posts.
We ate dinner down by the water. A delightful downtown bustling restaurant right on the harbor. We agin had to be outside to bring the Ru so we engaged in one of my favorite laymen’s sports; staring down restaurant patrons until they get uncomfortable enough to vacate the table you believe to be yours. We were victorious. Then I ate a bunch of kale and it was rad. This was our last night on San Juan but the story continues dear readers, oh yes.
The next morning we gathered ourselves, packed our bikes and headed to the ferry terminal to go to Orcas Island. Orcas is the most remote of the San Juans. A large chunk of the island (perhaps a third) is taken up by Moran State Park. Given from the private lands of Mr.Moran and a crown jewel in terms of CCC projects, this state park has it all. Camping, a couple lakes, hiking, biking, mountains, beaches, fire tower, and a badass hiker biker primitive site. We decided we wanted to ride the ~30 miles to the campsite from the ferry terminal. Orcas Island is kind of shaped liek human lungs. The ferry terminal is at the bottom of the left lung, and Moran State Park is in the middle of the right one. We were looking forward to getting back on the road since we hadn’t ridden in 36 hours and were beginning to get the itch. As soon as we left the terminal we knew that Orcas was a little different than San Juan. And by different, I mean mountainous. OK, it really was not that extreme but the 2 mile long 7% grade coming out of the ferry terminal took us by surprise. After struggling to the top, we were greeted by the well meaning cheers of Gino and Nancy waving from the driveway of their bed and breakfast. I was a little too winded to speak with any clarity so mostly I blankly stared at them and the friendly, heavily-accented frenchman who owns the Old Trout Bed and Breakfast. After we took another half hour or so to get to the top of the next hill and Nancy and Gino were waiting with lemonade and an offer to take Ru for the final climb. Joey gladly took the offer and proceeded to whoop my butt up the last 500 feet of climbing and beat me to the state park. Ain’t it good to be light my friend?
Once we arrived at the lake picnic area, we saw that Ru was already holding court. We tried to warn Joey’s parents that people cannot stop talking to you when you are with the Ru. He is conversation bait. And when we arrived, Gino was animatedly explaining the majestic puppy’s lineage to a group of middle school aged girls who had become Rubeus’s latest fan club. Joey and I took the hint and jumped in the lake. That’s not sarcasm, we were hot, the lake was there and our dog was tended to so we went swimming. Then we all made sandwiches and went to the primitive campsite in our respective vehicles (ours two-wheeled, and human powered). We put up our tent and stashed our things then headed to dinner down by the river yet again. As the sun set over the harbor in the junction of the island lungs, we drank wine, ate seafood and chatted to enjoy the last night with Joey’s parents on the west coast. At the end we said goodnight and thanked them for a wonderful time in a wonderful place and prepared to return to reality of tomorrow on the road.