Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Deets: Part 7: Ellensburg, WA to Toppenish, WA (Day 9)

The next morning, Michelle and I spent almost all of our free time examining the map and trying to find a way south that didn't involve riding on the freeway. Our map wasn't very good, though, and so we eventually put our trust in Google and went to breakfast. It was a pretty tasty breakfast, mostly pastries and chocolate, and after that we fueled up at the Safeway or City Market or whatever before taking off down the road towards Oregon. The ride out of town was mild and easy, and the weather was sunny but not yet hot. The streets were effectively empty as well, and so the spin to the edge of Ellensburg and off into the wilds of Eastern Washington was a fairly easy one.

One thing our map did have was an alt-route of sorts for highway 97: it was a twisty little piece of tarmac that wound its way through a canyon along a river. Everything we had learned about touring told us that that would be the best way to go, not only because it wasn't a freeway, but because it was an twisty bit of road and straight stretches are boring. 

Once the town ran out and the canyon began, Michelle stopped to put her headphones in, and I continued down the road alone.

With the exception of the road surface, the canyon was everything I hoped it would be. It was twisty, turny, and scenic. Since the road was slightly downhill, as it  was following the pitch of the river, it was an easy but high-speed spin along the crappy, chip-n-seal surface that I hate so very very much. I don't know what the deal is with chip-n-seal, but it seems to be all over the goddamn place. I can understand that it's cheaper than the smoother pavement, but is there really any reason to use the big chips? Those things are like three cm in diameter, and are a) extremely uncomfortable, and b) a danger to ride on because they're liable to cause flats. I would have no problem at all with my hard-earned tax dollars going to re-paving some of these roads and giving them a better riding surface. Jesus.

Anyway, the canyon road was pretty good. I waited for Michelle somewhere along the line in the shade of some trees that appeared to be cottonwoods, but could have really been anything, before continuing. 

The canyon itself was quite deep for that area of the world. I hadn't been expecting much since we were well outside of the Cascades and the rest of the surrounding area looked about as mountainous and interesting as Kansas. We were in the plains, though, so the rolling canyon walls were completely barren of any sizable plant-life. The largest flora that I saw that wasn't parked right up against the river was a bush that was maybe 10 cm high; it was another rocky, rugged martian landscape to ride through, with a sprinkling of greenery near the bottom.

At the end of the canyon, there was a small hill where the road crew decided, "Let's stop following the contours and just go straight up and over this thing." And then they did. I'll admit, though, they picked a pretty cool place to go riding up the side of a hill. 
I guess the railroad got there first.
And with the hill behind me, the canyon ended and the riding returned to grinding through the flats while I returned to wishing I had more sunscreen. At that point, an hour or two into the day, the sun had taken position directly above, and since we were out of the canyon and away from the river, the heat had gone up and the shade had gone waaaaay down. I was sad.

The next town after the canyon ended was Selah, a strange, narrow strip-mall of a place that, to me, had exactly 1 redeeming feature: a gas station with water. We stopped to top up and got out as soon as we could. Then, continuing with Google's advice, we ended up on what seemed to be a bike path. At first, this was very exciting since it meant that we wouldn't be on any roads at all, and therefore wouldn't have to deal with traffic or any of that crap. It quickly dawned on me, though, that this bike path was only semi-optimized for bikes. The gaps between bridges and the path were large and square-edged, making me fear for my already flimsy tyres, and every 200 meters or so, there was a speed limit painted onto the bike path. It was 15 mph. I'm no expert, but that seems ridiculously slow. Besides, I couldn't check my speed at the time, so I just ignored it. In fact, nobody I saw on the bike path had the equipment necessary to keep track of speed, making the limit look even more stupid.

The location of the bike path in relation to the town was weird, too. It was far enough away that you could only sort of see the town in the distance a few hundred meters away, but there were enough people on the path that it appeared to be a popular thoroughfare. Also, it was becoming increasingly hot, and the path, like the road, offered almost no respite whatsoever from the sun. Then we found a playground.
Old skool.
It was big, sprawling, wooden, and dangerous, and it reminded me of the playground that I used to clamor around on in elementary school before the politically-correct people got their hands on the playground plans and built a small, steel disappointment in its place. Even though I don't go there any more, I'm still upset about it. Damn. 

But this play structure was still sprawling, wooden, and dangerous, like all play structures should be, so Michelle and I derped around on it for a while to pass the time and take a quick break from riding. I found an interesting feature, and Michelle took a picture because I thought it would be funny.
I still think it is.
Then Michelle found her first-ever tumble-weed (she claimed). In the process of posing for a photo which she asked for, she nearly hit a guy in the face with it as he rode by.
The weed in question.
We left, eventually, to continue our ride. After the playground, the bike path became a bit of a navigational wreck; Google was not up to date with what the path did, and so we were routed, more than once, through either a closed gate or into an empty field. Using our superior intellect, we navigated our own way along the weirdly laid-out bike path until we got to the end of it. There, we stumbled across three or four roundabouts with no pedestrian crossings and lots of truck traffic, before ending up in our next town: Union Gap. It was, like the last town, a narrow, strip-mall-esque series of buildings that just squatted in the sun and looked as miserable as the heat made me feel. For an all too brief moment, I though the town wouldn't be too shit when I saw that a roadside fruit stand had huckleberries. When we went to look at them, it turned out that they were only sold in 3-lb bags and were frozen, so nevermind.

Hopes dashed, we continued on to an intersection where Google just gave up on keeping us off of freeways and spit us directly back onto highway 97. Unlike some previous sections of the highway, this one actually had the full four lanes and high speed limit that I've come to love when driving, but isn't so great for riding. Not only that, but the highway was arrow-straight and tedious, making for the worst stretch of road on the day. Up to that point, at least...

Fortunately, we were able to turn off the highway fairly quickly and get onto a back road with less traffic. Initially, this seemed promising, but when we got a good look, we realized how un-promising it really was: It was straight. It was chip-n-seal. It was hot. It was exposed. It was, in short, everything I hate about riding all put into one stretch of road. There were no other options though, besides the highway, so we just put our heads down and took off. 

In my many years of riding bikes, I've developed a way of coping with super shitty roads because sometimes you just gotta man up and make it happen. Michelle, on the other hand, does not have these coping mechanisms, so no matter how miserable I was on that stretch of road, Michelle was more miserable. I can understand why, though; in the end, the road was 17 km dead-straight, dead-flat with really bad chip-n-seal in the heat after about 90 km of riding already. And if all of this wasn't bad enough, the road spent a large amount of time right up next to some fruit processing facilities. Combining that with the heat created a strong, sickly-sweet musk of fermented apples that hung, putrid, in the humid air for a majority of the 17 km.

Eventually, though, we got away from the facilities and arrived in the sketch-ball town of Toppenish. We thought the day was over and it would be smooth sailing for the rest of the evening. We were wrong.

We wandered through the town until we found a campground to set up in. I went in to pay for a site and deal with whatever paperwork was needed. During my conversation with the lady at the desk, she mentioned that a bike had been stolen from that very campground only the night before. Definitely another confidence-inspiring place to spend the night, but since there were no other options, I got our permit and Michele and I wandered through the massive and almost completely empty campground until we got to the tent-camping area. We set up camp, contemplated The Uncanny, took showers in the provided facilities, and then went to go get some food.

According to the paperwork I had received, there was a restaurant across a small creek. The bridge across the creek was closed (which should have been our first clue), so we walked around the whole damn creek to get to the restaurant, which is where we found our second clue. The parking lot, though massive, was nearly empty. Not empty like the restaurant closed at 5 and we arrived at 5:09, but empty like the restaurant closed in 2002 and we arrived in 2014. We didn't even bother walking all the way around to the front of the building; we knew it was extremely closed, and so we made our way back to the campground over the 'closed' bridge. I cut my hands up a bit trying to climb over a fence, but in the end, we just walked around it. Clearly, the security at the campground was second to none.

Our next best food guess was a casino that we had seen on our way in, so we hopped on our bikes and rode in that direction. Before we left, though, I did my best to lock everything we had to everything else we had because, not only had I been warned of thefts that had already happened, but, as we were setting up and wandering around, a white car had been circling the campground going about three mph, and every once in a while, the car would pull into a campsite. And then just sit there. Nobody would get out, and they were very pointedly not camping. I assumed that these people were trawling the campground for stuff that wasn't bolted to the earth to snag. The fear was very real.

Unfortunately, the food wasn't, and the casino that was open was almost as disappointing as the dilapidated restaurant that wasn't. Michelle waited with the bikes outside while I went in to check out what the food situation was like. First, I had to have my ID checked by a very serious-looking woman and as soon as I was in the casino proper, I knew we wouldn't be eating there. A quick once-over revealed nowhere to actually sit down and have a meal. I was pretty sure I saw a bar off in the smoke-laden distance, but ultimately decided that it wasn't worth it. I left, and on my way out saw somebody else, who was very obviously drunk, showing his ID to the serious-looking woman. He said something along the lines of, "You're very pretty." The look the lady gave him was just.... so good. From what I knew of her, which wasn't very much, I knew she didn't suffer drunken idiots very well, and this interaction re-enforced that idea. She lowered his ID and looked at him with a look that said, "If you make another comment, they'll never find the body." What she actually said out loud was just the flattest, most emotionless, "oh," that I've ever heard. I swear the guy actually recoiled when she said it. I wanted to give her a hi-five, but decided against it and left the casino.

Our next, and last, option was to wander into town and just find something to eat. Anything, really. And so it was that the first thing we saw was some food truck parked on the side of the road and I decided that, yes, that was definitely happening. We ordered some pile of truck-prepared, grease-infused Mexican stuff, and then proceeded to wait for it to be dredged from the bottom of a boiling vat of animal fat. The evening was cool, but not cold, and the sun was mostly behind the horizon, making a dome of burnt red where it had set, surrounded by a deep purple that faded to black. As we admired the sunset and debated whether or not that Chinese restaurant over there was a front for something extra-illegal, all I could think of was that everything we owned was being loaded into the back of a white Toyota Corolla and making its way to being pawned off for prices far lower than what they were worth. It didn't take long for this to get to me, and I told Michelle that I would take the drinks (that we already had) and head back to camp to make sure everything that mattered was still there.

I crammed the drinks into my pockets and took off back towards the campsite at what I would describe as 'messenger-pace.' This meant... questionably legal maneuvers. And lots of them. I've always seen traffic lights more as suggestions anyway.

When I got back to the campground, the white-car people were out of the car and had some camp chairs set up, but were no longer in a campsite. They had relocated to parking lot, and were generally acting all kinds of conspicuous. As sketch as the whole situation was, all of our bike gear was still exactly where we left it and, after a bit, Michelle arrived with the food. 

Dinner was exactly what you'd expect out of a roadside truck selling Mexican food and not speaking English, and while we ate, the white-car group actually decided to set up their friggen tent and stop being the sketchiest people in the campground. Yes, it turns out they were camping after all; they just really sucked at it. 

We finished dinner and went to bed less than 10 meters from the people who I had been certain were stealing everything I held dear. Apparently they were just really awkward at camping. Who knew?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Deets: Part 6; Chelan, WA to Ellensburg, WA (Day 7-8)

The Chelan morning was much quieter and less mariachi-laden than the Chelan night had been. By the time Michelle and I had gotten around to putting our bags together for the ride, the miniature tent city that had popped up next to us was almost completely gone. Some of the children from that group eyed us with curiosity as we donned our spandex and I taped up my knee in hopes that, combined with the massage ball, it would help alleviate some of the pain.
Not the best picture, but you get the gist.
I had to turn on the data for my phone to google how to correctly apply the tape, but it was only for a little while. They recommended that you apply the tape to an area free of hair. I hadn't shaved my legs in about 9 days at that point, so I just hoped for the best and stuck it on as best I could (I still don't really know what "75% stretch" is supposed to feel like). So with our bags packed and my knee dealt with, Michelle and I pedaled a few meters to a pizzeria nearby that also served breakfast. It sounds a bit sketchy, I know, and it totally was.

The breakfast menu was "choose three." They just had a list of what they could prepare, and you would choose a number of them. I was starving, and plus I had the excuse of fueling a ride, so I ordered the Choose Four with a side of hashbrowns, effectively choosing five, and a Coke. For breakfast. I've made better decisions....

We finished our weird breakfast, topped up with water from the soft drink machine, and hit the road. The spin through town was easy and comfortable, and with a nice, wide bike lane the traffic didn't even give us too much hassle. Some old people were out for a morning jaunt on their mediocre cruiser-type bikes, and leisurely rode three to four across, taking up the whole bike lane. I suppose that's what it's for, but, when your group is only doing 12 kph, taking up the whole lane is kind of a dick move.

Once we passed the old folks, it was time for the climb. It wasn't a big climb; nowhere near as big as Rainy or Washington pass, but I abandoned Michelle like usual and took off up the climb at full speed. I had expected it to exasperate my knee somewhat, but it didn't. The combination of tape and massage seemed to be helping already! I was very excited.

Near the top of the climb, a dull ache began to creep its way into my knee, but it was totally manageable and, since I was so close to the top, I just powered through until the descent began. It was a short, not particularly technical descent that did have some pretty solid speeds near the bottom. The canyon that the road cruised through was pretty in a dead and dry kind of way, and the tunnel near the bottom added a bit of novelty that was exciting. It was dark and the shoulder decreased to literally nothing. There was a button at the beginning of the tunnel that said something like "Cyclists push this," probably something that activated a warning light of some kind, but I decided that I was a big boy and didn't even slow. I checked the road behind me, figured I could outrun that truck, and barreled through without even easing up on the pedaling.

I had told Michelle that I would wait for her after a certain distance, but given how easy the climb had been and the high-speed descent that followed, that distance wasn't very far time-wise. I waited anyway, and when she arrived we came up with a much later place to meet up again, and I took off.

After the climb and descent, it was a pleasant, flat spin to our meeting place of Entiat, WA. Entiat is a small town on the banks of the Columbia River that had many things. One of them was a fruit stand, which is where I decided to stop to wait for Michelle and give my parents a call because I had had an idea.

The map showed that if we continued to follow highway 97 south into Oregon, it would take us directly through Bend, OR. I have a cousin there, and we could totally stay at his place probably. I didn't have his number, though, but I figured that my parents did.

When Michelle arrived, we bought a peach from the fruit stand and I told her of my idea. She agreed, and we figured that we could ride to Bend, take a bus from there to Salt Lake City, and then ride from there to Steamboat. The new plan took about 900 km off of our original route. It sounded like a solid plan to me, so once the peach was eaten, we took off again for Wenatchee.

Wenatchee was a much bigger town that we had anticipated, though we shouldn't have been so surprised. After all, it was there that highway 97 merged with highway 2 and became a four lane freeway, so it should have been obvious.

As much fun as riding on freeways is, it isn't at all, so we used a combination of a paper map and Google maps to try to find a route that bypassed the freeway on some back roads. We found one and I got a feel for it in my head before I took off to scout it out. First, we went through the idyllically-named town of Sunnyslope on the idyllically-named Easy Street. Then we went through the small industrial-looking town of Monitor, where a lot of apples and pears are processed and shipped, and encountered our first problem.

Google doesn't really understand that when you ask for bike directions, you might not be on a mountain bike, so it led us straight onto some dirt roads. Usually this wouldn't be an issue, but with my super light-weight racing tyres and a bike loaded down with touring gear, I didn't want to take my chances. We turned around and went looking for another road that the map showed going where we wanted, and it was paved to boot.
It was very pretty
However, it was only paved for a short while and ended up on dirt as well. As it turned out, it merged with the previous dirt road. That was balls, so we turned around to try yet another road, and on our way to said road, we got our first flat of the tour. It was mine. God. Dammit.
First!
My little, narrow, slick racing tyres that have a weight maximum inscribed on the sidewall just couldn't hold up to the strain of touring with gear, and so my tyre spent the last few seconds of its life spewing Stans all over my bags, my face, and some apple trees. Even though this had been expected, it was still frustrating. As I disassembled my touring set up and began fixing my tyre, a truck stopped to ask if we were ok; the driver thought Michelle was hurt since she had decided to take a nap on the grass in the shade and apparently looked mildly dead. I could understand; the heat was over 30, but she wasn't even a little bit dead, so the truck drove off.

Soon my tyre was fixed and we were back on the road. Our encounter with the dirt roads had put a damper on our adventurous spirits, so we decided that it would be best to head back to the freeway and just grind it out up to Peshastin, where we planned to stay for the night. It was hot and exposed, plus freeway traffic was exactly as fun as it sounds, and all that combined with bad road surfaces and worse pedestrian bridge crossings made for a less-than-fun ride to the exit. It took about an hour, but we made it to the turn off and rode into the small town of Peshastin.

When I say small, I mean, like, really friggen small. As far as I could tell, Peshastin was a laundromat/grocery store next to a closed tavern. There must have been a post office someplace, since the town was on the map, but we didn't see it. Still, the day was over, and we could finally do laundry and get ourselves camped somewhere.

I stepped into the laundromat and immediately felt like the strangest stranger in the history of strange. There were only about four washers and four dryers, and all eight machines were in use. As the door hissed closed on its hydraulics, the conversation inside the laundromat stopped and I got silently examined by six or so pairs of eyes that were settled deep within their plastic lawn chairs. The place felt like it was something illegal fronting for something even more illegal. Michelle got a similar vibe when she went into the grocery store to get some laundry detergent and ask about camping. The person working the store apparently had no shoes, a grimy t-shirt, and rolled-up dirty blue jeans, and described the camping location something like, "Head out to the street, go left, head down a ways and then hang another left at [something] street. Keep going on that for a few miles and it turns to dirt, then just keep going until you go down a hill and at the bottom of that hill there's some grass by some trees. It's not a campground, but you can camp there. It's a real safe place. Real safe." Then she offered us a ride.

We got the hell out of there as quick as we could and decided that we weren't actually tired, and we could push on to Leavenworth no problem. We chose to keep riding on the back-road we were on thanks to the suggestion of a guy who we saw running away from Peshastin as well. He was on foot, though, and appeared to be about 112. We thanked him and spun our way around the orchard roads that were dotted with suspiciously high-end dwellings and fancy metal statues of cows.
So fancy.
Then we reached Leavenworth. Since we were wandering the orchards, we came in the back way along Chumstick highway, the most Borderlandsishly named highway I've yet found, and stopped in town to try to find lodgings by perusing the many fliers that were displayed outside of the tourist information center. They mentioned a campground back on highway 2, and, when we arrived, we found it effectively dead. We set up our tent in a tent-camping spot, didn't tell the camp hosts anything, and went into town to try to find some eats.

To (badly) quote Michelle, "Leavenworth is like a fairy tale!" It looks like this:

The reason it looks kinda like a fairy tale-esque is because the whole town is Bavarian themed. Many of the shops are mad kitschy, but among them are a number of amazing bakeries and other eateries, as well as some specialty shops like Cured, where the sell sausage and cheese (more on this much, much later), an olive oil shop, a cheese shop, and a few others. We didn't go to any of these places, and instead ate a dinner of pulled pork or something similar at a pub of sorts whose name I cannot for the life of me remember. Good food though.

After dinner we wandered back to our campground, talked to the camp hosts to pay for our camping (since it was mostly empty it wasn't a big deal), and then took showers in the showers building. The women's side had a rain shower, which I was a bit jealous of until I remembered that, given the space in the showers, at least it had been easy for me to soap up. We did our laundry in the showers, too, getting our stuff as clean as we felt was necessary, before leaving it out on the picnic table to dry while we went to sleep for the evening in a place that wasn't Peshastin.
IMAGE FILLER
Because we had ridden all the way to Leavenworth the previous night, day 8 saw us starting out with a bit of backtracking east on highway 2 to get to the route we needed to take: 97 south. It was a couple kilometers back down the way we had come, but after the Peshastin turn off, the road had gone from four to two lanes, so traffic wasn't as heavy or aggressive. This made the overcast spin at the beginning of the day somewhat more manageable, and soon we were back on 97 heading south towards Oregon. Our end-goal for the day was Ellensburg, WA, but between Leavenworth and there was a sizable climb. I left Michelle and took off on my own.

I didn't go too hard at the beginning since my knee was still on recovery, and the hill was quite long, so I figured a medium-power morning was a good idea. It turned out that it was, and the ride up the lower reaches of the climb was pleasant and somewhat easy. I told Michelle I'd wait for her at an unidentified fork further up the road where the old highway branched off and, when she arrived, we hopped on it to finish out the climb.

The old highway road was fantastic; it was everything I had hoped for in an old highway, and it was exactly the kind of thing I was looking for on a bike tour. The road was just barely one lane wide, the paint on the road was faded from years of rain, but little traffic, and the traffic was non-existent; during the two hours we spent on the old highway stretch, I only saw one motorcycle and one car. The road surface hadn't been paved for years, it seemed, and even then they had only done a patch job. Only about 75% of the surface in any one place looked like it was from the same batch of paving, and there were several large divots in the road where the ground underneath the pavement had given way just a little. These divots were slightly less common than the sizable dips in the road where the road had been lowered for drainage. In modern roads, they put pipes underneath, but on the old highway, that was too much work and the builders couldn't be buggered. It was fantastic.
One of the tidier stretches of Old Highway 97
Not only was the surface an adventure in itself, the twists and turns kept me on my toes the whole time. It was definitely designed in a time when nobody cared enough to cut or fill fuck-all, and so they just figured that drivers could navigate some more serious corners.
Pretty serious.
The road was like this for about 16 kilometers up over the top of the pass before we got put back on the boring old regular highway 97.
But hot DAMN lookit dem curves, shit.
Once on the main highway, the descent continued, but was much less interesting as the new highway had less turns and was also a lot less steep. The lack of a real hill was boring, and the headwind that was coming up made it oh so much worse. I spent the next several minutes swearing and grimacing at the change of pace for the day. It took a lot longer than it should have, but we reached the bottom of the hill, which almost immediately led us straight up another, smaller one.
It also had a lot less trees.
Even though it was a little hill in comparison, my knee had begun to act up at that point in the day, and I struggled to make it to the top. Combined with a head/side wind, the end of the day was going much worse than the beginning, and I just really really wanted to stop someplace and lie down and cry. Between the hill and Ellensburg, though, there was nothing, so I didn't have any choice but to just keep rolling through the open, tree-less southern Washington climate and hope for the best. I just hoped for my knee to not fall off for at least another hour.

My low expectations made the turn of events on the descent all the better. I was expecting to plow into a headwind all the way in to town but, as the hill crested, it turned slightly left and, due to the shape of the canyon, the side wind became a wicked-strong tailwind. I couldn't believe my luck. I shifted into my biggest gear to keep the pedals spinning, but with the new tail wind, I soon ran out of gears and, after the descent leveled off near town, I was in my biggest gear spinning down the road at about 7% effort and doing almost 60 kph. I guess that's the kind of tail wind you get when the landscape looks like this:
They harvest that stuff.
The last 20 km of the day were like that: balls-tighteningly high speeds in my top gear while putting down somewhere between five and 17 watts. Despite the flatness of the region, the straightness of the road, and the pain in my knee, the end of the day was going far better than anticipated. Pulling into Ellensburg, I had a big, stupid smile plastered across my face

I decided that I had literally zero desire to camp in a tent in that wind, so Michelle and I checked ourselves into a less-than-confidence-inspiring Motel 6 near the edge of town.
And there were like 25 of these signs.
The room itself was strangely modern. For the first time in my life, I was in a hotel room with a non-carpet floor, and the beds were just a mattress set onto a piece of wood that projected from the wall. It was still about the height of a regular box spring, though. Also, the wood was slippery, so the mattress could slide around on the wood and, if one were vigorous enough, would probably slip off and onto the floor. Good thing neither of us could do much more than pass out. Despite our exhaustion, we managed to go out for dinner anyway, which was a short walk through town.

Michelle found the town to be quite a bit sketchier than I did, but I've had experience with Craig, America, so I know what real sketch looks like (hint: it looks like Craig, America). The dinner itself was predictably meh, with the usual over-cooked pasta that a huge majority of Italian restaurants in The 'Mericuh do, followed by a small desert and a return to the hotel to try to do some laundry.

Even though we had done laundry the day before, by day eight in the tour we were in the habit of doing as much laundry as possible as often as we could since we never really knew when our next laundry opportunity would be. The laundry room was humid as hell, and had mops and other cleaning supplies tossed into one corner, like it had been a storage room first and they had thrown some washers and dryers in as an afterthought. This continued to inspire confidence in the both of us to the point where we would leave the room and check on laundry ever 10 minutes or so for fear of stolen socks.

We managed to avoid losing any clothing to either the laundry machines or the pseudo-nudists of Ellensburg, and got all of our things locked up tight in the strangely modern room for the night. Day eight ended, and, though we didn't yet know it, the next few days would redefine the term "grind sandwich." We had no idea what we were getting into.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

WE MADE IT!!

So we made it; we did the whole tour (more or less) and made it back to Canada before class started again! So here for you now are some stats on the ride. That's all you're gonna get on this post. And a picture too, I guess.
How it felt riding into Canada
Distance Covered: 2993.9 km
Time In The Saddle: 144 h 55 m
Average Speed: 20.66 km/h
Days On Tour: 47
Days Ridden: 37
Days Actually Touring: 27
Rainy Days: 3
Flats: 8
Chamois Butter Used: 5
Other Tourers Seen: 3
Elevation Gain: 32,481 meters
Nights in Tent: 13
Nights in Hotel: 15

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Deets: Part 5; Mazama, WA to Chelan, WA (Day 5-6)

For the second morning in a row, the room was frigid when we awoke. This time it was probably even colder since the window that we had left open was bigger, and overnight the temperature had dropped below zero (that's below 32 for you weirdos who can't handle Celsius). Michelle and I had a small breakfast prepared by Nate, who I really can't thank enough for letting us stay at his place, which consisted of oatmeal and eggs. Due to my weird breakfast/morning food problem, I was unable to eat much, and did my best to eat a few Clif Bars and some cold cereal. I knew that, with my knee as it was, we wouldn't be riding that far anyway.
Our view from the morning. (Michelle: "That's a crappy photo, are you gonna use it?")
As we were leaving we continued to profusely thank Nate every chance we got until he was out of earshot, and then we rode down the sharp-gravel road back to the main highway. I was concerned because of the state of my knee, but at the beginning it seemed to feel alright. After about five minutes of pedaling, however, the pain had returned to the previous days levels, except this time I was only spinning across the flats; I wasn't even putting any power down. The pain in my knee was getting worse faster than I had expected, and in my mind I was already preparing to call my friend Tara and have her drive all the way down into Washington to get us (from Squamish). But, at the time, I didn't have any service, and I promised Michelle that I would at least try to get myself to Winthrop before I made any rash decisions.

It wasn't a long ride, but to me it certainly felt like it was. Mazama to Winthrop is maybe 22 km at the longest, but it still took us, with my fucked up knee, almost two hours to cover that distance. That's an abysmal average speed, in case you were wondering, and I was generally not having a good time. The stop we did at a fruit stand for peaches somewhere near the outskirts of Winthrop didn't help our speed either. It did help morale though.
The peaches were large.
The peaches were delicious.
We got, like, six of those bad boys and declared the stop a success. After each of us had eaten with a peach and a half, Michelle went to try to get wi-fi at the library nearby and I called my parents and informed them of the knee situation. My mom suggested the option of taking a bus from Wenatchee (where we wouldn't be for a few days) all the way to Steamboat.

As I've mentioned before, once an idea is in your head it's hard to get it out. So as soon as my mom suggested that I wouldn't have to ride the whole distance but could still get to the end point, the tour was over. For me, after that conversation, I was no longer doing the whole distance; we were going to be short-cutting at least a little bit of it.

When Michelle returned from the library, I told her of my parents' plan, and though she didn't want to cheat the whole way, I could tell that the idea had taken root in her mind as well. The peach stop signalled the end of the tour as we had intended it, and the beginning of a new, easier, but more fun route. One that would involve copious amounts of cheating driving and a lot less grinding across hot, flat, straight stretches of middle America (from here on out, America will be referred to as The 'Merica).

We put the rest of the peaches into Michelle's handlebar bag and took off to ride the last few kilometers to Winthrop. Winthrop is a bit kitschy, due to the whole town being retroactively western-themed, but it's still charming in it's own touristy, small-town way. Because of how long it took us to get there, we decided to wander the town to find somewhere for lunch. On a normal day we would just wolf down a couple bars and maybe some gels, but that day we were already committed to being slow and dumb because of my knee, so we let ourselves chill. We locked the bikes to a lamp post, swapped out shoes, and had a look around.

Now, in Canada, there isn't any Mexican food. Don't freaking argue with me, no there isn't. I don't care what you think is happening up north there, but Mexican food is not one of those things. There are two, exactly two, Chipotle's in Canada, and, having been to 50% of them, I can tell you that even the real-fake Mexican food of Canada is purely fake-fake Mexican. And so, since Michelle was in The 'Merica, I decided she needed to have some proper fake-real Mexican food for lunch (not to be confused with real-fake Mexican).
Michelle takes pictures of food.
After lunch, we wandered around the town a bit to try to find a knee brace for me. We figured that one of those neoprene knee-brace-things would be good enough, so we looked through all the outdoor shops in Winthrop. None of the shops had what we were looking for. On the plus-side, though, one of the store clerks informed us that there was a Physical Therapy place in town. I thought that sounded like a place I'd like to be, so after buying some Stinger Waffles and Chews and such, we rode to it so I could get a real diagnosis for my knee problem.

When we got to the PT place, I found that I had gotten extremely lucky. Winthrop's knee specialist was in that day, so I would be able to get my knee looked at by someone whose job was to look at knees. Gravy. He poked and prodded it, did some spectacularly painful massage stuff to the joints, and decided that the problem was that something in my hip was too tight and was putting tension on some of the tendons in my knee. The only real way to remedy the problem was to massage the muscles around the hip joint, and the best way to do that without a masseuse was to get a smallish, rubberish, PT ball and do some self massage stuff with it.

The PT knee guy, whose name I can't remember (and I feel a bad about that), must have been the nicest person ever and only ended up charging me for the ball. Seriously, it only cost me $5; the examination and everything else was totally free. This is not usually the case for me. Usually, whatever luck I have is reserved for keeping me from breaking both of my shins when jumping down staircases or some other directly injury-related thing. This time, though, I used up my daily luck stores getting a ridiculously cheap PT appointment

So, with my backpack a bit heavier and more full due to a brand new 4" rubber PT ball, Michelle and I took off towards Twisp, WA. After the PT, my knee felt much better than it had for the previoius 24 hours. I took full advantage of it by leaving Michelle in the dust yet again because I'm a jerk.

From Winthrop to Twisp was a pleasant, mostlly downhill spin that didn't tax my knee very much. I was feeling a bit cocky since I thought it was improving, so I would get out of the saddle to go up some of the little hills. By the time I got to Twisp, maybe an hour later, my knee was almost as bad as it had been when we started the day due largely to my, and I was back to being a miserable sack of sorrow. When Michelle caught up, we got a place in an overpriced hotel so I could mope and be whiny in relative privacy. Oh and also, the room only had one bed. And a semi-functional AC unit.

We wandered the town a bit looking for some ibuprofen and maybe some tasty beverages as well and, having found them, stopped at a restaurant on our way back to the hotel. The food was whatever, and the calamari was strange enough to leave a memory, but some of the girls who worked there were stunning. Because of this, while we ate, Michelle and I watched crappy television and objectified the waitresses as quietly as we could for a little while. We are the worst kind of people. You probably shouldn't be friends with me.

After the uninspiring dinner, we went back to our hotel, turned on the TV to watch The Hobbit which happened to be on, and choked down a bit of the burritos left over from earlier in the day. For some reason, they weren't as good cold. Then we drank our tasty beverages and went to bed, making sure to be as far apart as was physically allowed without falling onto the weird, brown, dated shag carpet. The AC continued to work whenever it felt like it.
Only a week earlier, the whole area was closed due to fire.
The morning of day six came soon after the night of day 5 ended. Michelle and I got up, doing one of our less leisurely morning routines before getting the hell out of the weird, dated, shag hotel and going into town to get something to eat. The evening before, with all the time we had left over from doing less than 40 kilometers, we had found a cafe off the highway that looked like a promising place to eat. That morning, we went there and found that our evening hunch had been correct.

The improvement between our gas station breakfast in Marblemount and our cafe breakfast in Twisp was striking: I had a delicious bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich on the lightest bagel I've ever encountered and a smoothie. Michelle got some hyper-buttery pastry, coffee, and a smoothie as well.
More food pictures from Michelle.
I also got a call from my physical therapist from Steamboat, whom I had left a message with the evening before. We talked briefly on my knee condition, and he seemed to agree with my plan to keep it in a brace while riding and roll my hip before and after. Then we talked about how he had beaten one of my KOMs on Strava, and I worked really hard for those. We didn't talk too long; he was driving to Lake Powell that morning, so I let him go.

After breakfast, we went over to the pharmacy and I picked up a neoprene knee brace as well as some of that Strength Tape stuff just to try it out. I slipped the knee brace onto my leg, and then it was time to go.

Leaving town, we were immediately put onto a back-road detour due to the main highway sustaining fire damage only about a week earlier. Ours was a scenic ride along the Methow (pronounced Met-How) River, and was quite pleasant in the cool morning air, despite the chip n seal and some compensation-sized pickups driving a bit too close to the shoulder. At some point or another, I dropped Michelle, as per usual, and took off on my own with my earbuds in.

The detour ended, and the ride between the end of the detour and the tiny town of Methow was an easy, mostly downhill cruise along the river amid the burnt but strangely beautiful remnants of the recent fire. Few of the trees had any green on them at all, and the red dirt and rocks gave an almost martian feel. The husks of the trees added to the haunting beauty, and I liked it. Then I got to Methow.

Methow really isn't much, as I would find out later. I stopped at a picnic table where another duo of bike touring people were parked, and chatted with them for a while about why they would tour on a tandem. They said they did it so that they wouldn't get separated. The seperation is what keeps me and Michelle from stabbing each other, so a tandem wouldn't really work for us. We then talked about math and school and stuff until they decided to stop being so lazy and get going again. I bid them adieu, and continued to wait for Michelle. When she finally arrived, and started looking for a bathroom, we began to get a feel for how small the town really was. The gas station was closed and for sale, the cafe was closed and for sale, and there was no readily visible post office; I could almost see from one end of the town to the other without turning my head. There really wasn't much there at all, so we decided to leave.

From there, Michelle and I rode together almost all the way to the intersection with highway 97 near Pateros, where we had to make a decision. We could either a) turn left, go through Pateros and Brewster and continue along our original route, or b) turn right and go south toward Bend, OR where we could stay at my cousin's house and then get a bus to Salt Lake City to stay with Michelle's aunt and Uncle for a bit. The decision was basically: do we want to shortcut 600+ miles (965+ km) off of our tour or no?

We most definitely did, so after a quick stop at a gas station in Pateros to refill water and restock on food, we were headed south on 97 towards the next feasible town: Chelan.

The stretch from Pateros to Chelan was brutal. It wasn't that there were any climbs to speak of, either. We started on it sometime in the afternoon, and due to the previous weeks' fire, there were no trees to provide shade. The road had been freshly re-chip n sealed as well, and the brand new tar's shiny black color absorbed the heat from the sun and radiated it back onto us as we rode. There was no wind, not even a headwind, and the heat pressed down from all sides. I got into the most aero position I could manage with all my tour gear and put my head down to get it over with as quick as possible. Michelle did not.
So many wells.
The the long, hot, flat-ish stretch seemed to go on forever, following the Columbia River, until we turned off of the main highway onto Alt 97, the highway that actually went through Chelan, and were faced with a hill. It wasn't a big hill, nowhere near as big as the hill into Mazama, but after the previous sweltering miles, Michelle was not having a good time. We started up it, and I kept her pace as best I could to try to offer moral support of some kind.  I am notoriously crap at anything resembling sympathy, though, so it mostly consisted of me seeing a parachuting place off the side of the road and telling Michelle that it was the only one that existed.

It went on like this for a bit, but eventually, after the long, hot, exposed day on the road in the remnants of a forest fire, we made it to Chelan: a town we had hoped was as big as it looked on the map. For the first time on the tour it actually was, and since we were camping that evening, we decided that it was more important to get food before setting up (also the campsite wasn't open to tent campers until later in the evening, so we had time to kill). For the second time in as many days, we had fake-real Mexican food.
I did not fill up on chips.
During this post-ride dinner of sorts, I had my first alcoholic beverage of the tour: some kind of liquored-up lemonade, that was more like a glass of lemon-flavoured rum. Not bad, but after almost a week of averaging 100 km a day and drinking only water and soda, the rum hit me like a sack of bricks. Only for, like, 45 seconds though, and then my metabolism pushed it through and I was back to normal. It was a strange little experience, not unlike my shot of Tequila during Single Speed Worlds a while back.

Once the pile of food was safely stored inside me, we pedaled over to the RV campground and were allowed to pitch our tent for the night. We were finally validating all the camping equipment we had been dragging around!
Several weeks later, we would learn how to set up the rain-fly correctly.
The RV park had showers and electricity and everything, making our first camping experience more like a small, cheap hotel room than actual camping. I took my knee brace off as soon as everything was set up, since it was like wearing a very localized wet-suit, and basked in the glory of fresh air against my skin. I decided that no more would I wear that knee brace, and instead I would just strap up with the Strength Tape. Not only was it cheaper, but it was lighter and probably more breathable.

We showered and charged up the phones before pulling out my camp stove to heat up some water for tea, thus validating yet another piece of camping equipment, as well as validating Michelle's idea to bring some tea along. It was only a small bag of dried mint leaves, but sitting on a log in a somewhat cold campground, the mint tea was everything I had hoped and dreamed it would be. When we had been packing back in Squamish, I had been hesitant to bring along tea (extra weight!), but sitting next to our tent there in the RV park, I was glad we had it.

As we were about to go to bed, some mini vans pulled into the campground, out of which about 12 people emerged and started constructing a small tent village near where we were. This wouldn't have been a problem on its own if the owners of the vans hadn't decided that the RV park really needed some loud mariachi music while they chopped down the "No Open Fires" signs to fuel their open fires. Clearly, they had been doing this for a while and knew the lay of the land, so to speak. They at least knew how far they could push the rules before the camp security people started to care. Security must have been wicked lazy because, as Michelle and I wadded up toilet paper in lieu of earplugs, the mariachi music continued deep into the night until I eventually, mercifully, passed out.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Deets: Part 4; Marblemount, WA to Mazama, WA (Day 4)

For the first time since the start of our tour, I woke up excited. Our room was friggen frigid since we left the window open all night, but that didn't stop me from getting up with the alarm. Usually, when an alarm goes off, I do my best to get up as late as possible, often hitting the snooze button more than once. But this time was different.

The previous night, while in front of the TV, we had looked online at some of the places in Marblemount that claimed to serve breakfast. There was a diner-type place that opened at 7, which was good for me and my inability to eat solid and non-diner food in the morning, and there was the drive-through coffee place which opened at the same time. This was good for Michelle and her coffee addiction.

Since we had set the alarm for 7 or 7:30 (I can't remember which), both places would be open so we could fuel up for what would certainly be the hardest day of the tour up to that point. We put on enough clothes to be warm in the cool, shady Marblemount morning and went out into the town for some breakfast only to find that we had been lied to.

On the internet, the cafe said that they opened at 7. The sign on the door of the cafe, though, told us that they didn't actually open until 9. I was a bit upset, but I figured that the drive-through coffee place would have pastries of some kind at least. When we walked over to it, though, we found that it had lied to us as well, but possibly even more so. Online, it said that it opened at 7. When we got to the building, the sign also said that they opened at 7, but the place was most definitely not open at all.

This was a huge blow. The reason we had gotten up so early in the first place was so that we would have enough time to pedal up and over the mountains and still make it to a town that at least had food in the same day. If we had to wait around until 9 to get something from the cafe, we probably wouldn't even get moving until after 10, and at that point we'd never make it to Winthrop that day. In fact, we probably wouldn't even make it up Washington Pass, and would end up camping and starving on the side of the road for the night.

One place was open, though: the gas station. It would be disappointing, we knew, but at least it would be something. The gas station's selection of breakfast food was exactly as bland and crap as you might imagine, so my fuel for the day was two individually wrapped cheese slices, about 2/3 of a muffin that was effectively yellow cake with poppy seeds wedged into it, an Odwalla Smoothie, and a Red Bull. Yes, it's exactly as sad as it sounds.

Michelle's breakfast sounded even more sad, as it was a Breakfast Cookie (??), half a Kit-Kat, and a cup of coffee. Even though it sounded sadder than mine, it definitely was not; that muffin was an atrocity. I have no idea how I ate more than one bite. Bleugh.

While we were there, we talked to the gas station attendant about the breakfast-type places that were closed. Apparently, the cafe was only open at 7 during its summer hours, and the drive-through place guy hadn't show up for work at all for three days. Clearly, this town was running a pretty tight ship.

Michelle's bags were much easier to pack than mine, so she was on the road a while before I was; my pace is notably faster than hers, so we both knew I would catch up before too long anyway. After she left, I leisurely reassembled my bike and bag situation, some of my clothing still wet from the storm into Sedro-Woolley, and took off after her.

I knew that the climb would be big and long and hard, so, since the first stretches of road were flat, I kept an easy pace. The morning was glorious, and the the way the sun filtered down to the road through the leaves of the aspens that lined the roads reminded me why I like mornings, because it certainly isn't the part where I wake up. I thought several times about stopping to take pictures, but my brain doesn't like stopping for any reason whatsoever once I'm riding (except bathroom breaks), and since my phone wasn't in an easily accessible place, like a pocket, I ended up not taking any pictures of the lower parts of the ride, which is a bit of a bummer.

About an hour after I left, I caught Michelle. She was standing on the side of the road taking a picture of something. I slowed down to tell her I'd meet her at the top, and then took off again. This would turn out to be a terrible decision, but at the time we had no idea what lay in store the rest of the day.

Several more miles down the road, almost at the base of the climb, I took a quick break near the Newhalem Campground. I had a snack and used the bathroom, allowing Michelle to catch up a little bit. She didn't catch up all the way, though, and I decided that once the climb came, I would try to go as hard as I could for as long as I could, which would open the gap between us even more, and then just wait at the top, wherever that happened to be.

The beginning of the climb was absolutely gorgeous. To the right of the road was a deep, steep-sided canyon the base of which was scattered with large boulders from the cliffs above. The dam up the river was keeping the creek from flowing at its natural volume, so the small pools that dotted the rock-strewn canyon were the only sign of water. The creek was isolated and the pools were exceptionally clear; the contours of their bottoms a slightly greenish tint in the sparse light that reached the bottom of the canyon.

Unfortunately, we don't have any pictures of that. Michelle took a picture of the dam, though.
It's pretty enough, I guess.
Above the dam, the river opened up into something wide enough for me to call it a lake, even though it wasn't. This lake/river was also gorgeous, and the road followed the contours of the northern edge for several miles, giving glimpses between the trees down the steep-sided mountain at the water far below.

My descriptions of this place will never truly do it justice, which is a shame because I don't have enough pictures to explain it either. But after a while, the road crossed over the river at an even more scenic location, made the more fascinating by the stumps of ancient trees still visible above the surface, and the haunting knots of their roots visible just underneath.
I'm trying to describe this and I'm not doing a very good job.
It was so beautiful that I actually had to stop and take a picture. While I was stopped, I decided to put in my headphones since the rest of the climb looked to be a little more tedious than the early parts. Not only that, but the false summit that came between the above photo and the actual lake, Diablo Lake, was depressing to say the least. Maybe I'm weird, but I like my long climbs to be sustained (unless I'm on my single speed). At least then I know that I'm making constant upward progress.

The descent, though, put me at one end of the lake where the light blue of the lake was one of two blue book-ends to the massive, glacier-carved mountains that loomed above the road.
More scenery that I'm failing to adequately describe.
After the small descent, the climb became more sustained for a bit, which I like, but then something interesting happened. I was out of the saddle, putting a bit of power down to make sure I didn't lose my summer gains on the tour, and my knee started to hurt. It was sudden; one pedal stroke, and suddenly knee pain. I eased up a bit, and this alleviated the pain somewhat, but I found that if I pushed to hard on the down-stroke with my right leg, there was a sharp pain from my knee on the inside and just below the kneecap. This made it so that my plan of going full tilt to the top of the climb was no longer a viable option and, on the descent off of the next false summit, I decided to stop and wait for Michelle to see what she thought we should do with my new-found pain.

I pulled up to a sign saying that I was entering a national forest of some kind (I think) and sat down to wait. I tried to strike up a conversation with a guy who had parked his RV there, but he really sucked at conversing, telling me about the weather when I mentioned my knee pain, and so after about four sentences he drove off awkwardly and I sat on some rocks to wait.

I don't know how long I waited. It must have been at least a half hour, but eventually I got bored. I had no service on my phone, so I wasn't going to be getting picked up anyway, and until I got somewhere that DID have service, I couldn't really do anything; waiting there would just be a waste of time. I reconstructed my backpack, got back on my bike, and continued the climb. The quick break had helped my knee pain somewhat, but not enough. For about the next hour, every pedal-stroke with my right leg was painful, but manageable. After that hour, it became unmanageable, and I was almost one-legging the whole climb. Fortunately for me, at that point, the hill had flattened out somewhat. I continued to grind up the climb, hoping that every blind corner or crest was the summit, but none of them were. The more I pedaled, the more pain I was in, but every pedal-stroke was also one closer to the summit. I only vaguely knew where the summit was, though, and so every time it wasn't where I anticipated, my spirits sank just a little bit more, like they were on USS Indianapolis. They could jump off the boat as it sank, but they'd be eaten by sharks anyway; doomed to be trapped in this terrible metaphor forever (I know it's a simile, shut up).

Time got weird in my mind and I lost track of how long I was pedaling, but I kept going because, in my mind, I didn't have any options. The scenery, which had been spectacular down by the lake and river, had turned from the iconic Temperate Rainforest of the Pacific Northwest to drier forest. The trees had become more sparse, and the moss had almost disappeared completely. The undergrowth was no longer dense and lush, but was instead mostly dry grass. I could feel the humidity dropping as I got higher and further, which was the only upside to the whole situation until, some unknown time later, I saw a sign in the distance. I assumed that it was the summit, but because of my knee, I couldn't sprint for it like I wanted to. Instead I just had to keep my same slow, grinding pace until I got there.

The sign indicated a summit. It wasn't the highest point of the day (yet), but it was the top of Rainy Pass, the first of two. I stopped pedaling and let my bike coast to a standstill where I saw a large sign for a campground, leaned my bike against a mile-marker, and sat down.

Then it was time to wait. I had no idea how far behind Michelle was, but I had given her a bit of time to catch up when I stopped the first time, so I figured an hour, maybe an hour and a half. This meant that I had time to hang some of my still-moist clothing out to dry. The sun was hot and direct, so I laid my things out on the rocks of the campground sign, swapped my bike shoes for regular shoes, and began to play Solitaire on my iPod.

That was how I spent the next two plus hours. I sat in the gravel, playing a dumb game on my iPod and waiting. At one point, an Australian man came by. He was walking the Pacific Crest Trail and was hoping to make it to Oregon before the snow began to fall. We talked briefly on bike touring, and specifically about some of his friends who tried to do a bike tour in Australia on track bikes that ended in blown-out knees. the man had many miles to cover and a much lower average speed than I, so our conversation was brief and I was quickly alone again, leaning on a sign, waiting for Michelle.

After those two hours or so, I began to get a bit worried. I figured that she hadn't crashed or anything like that, since she's a super-careful rider, but I was afraid she might have gotten hit by a car or something. Once an idea like that is in your mind, it's almost impossible to get it out. I fought my concern as well as I could until I eventually flagged down a car and asked if they had seen anyone. They had, and told me that they were about five minutes down the road. Whatever panic I had had subsided immediately and I sat down to wait some more.

Maybe ten minutes later, Michelle crested the climb and rode slowly over to where I was. It had taken her almost two and a half hours longer than me. She told me that she hadn't had a very good time, and then sat down against the sign to decompress for a bit. I left her alone and walked awkwardly around the sign since I have no idea how to do sympathy.

Some time after this, a man on a touring bike came up the other side of the pass and rode over to us to chat. While Michelle and I examined the map to figure out where we could actually make it that day (since we'd been on the road for almost eight hours at that point), he told us about how he and his partner had been riding from Pennsylvania. In comparison, our flimsy tour looked... flimsy. Then his touring partner came up and stopped by us as well.

As we talked, the guy's partner, who was a girl, kept saying that we were them. When we mentioned that I had ridden ahead and had been waiting for several hours, she looked at the guy and said, "They're just like us!" When she found out that I was American and Michelle was Canadian, she looked at him again and said, "They are literally us." Turns out that she was Canadian and the guy was American too. The symmetry was fantastic. If I were writing a story, I probably wouldn't have been able to come up with something that perfect.

We chatted for a while, but eventually we had to part ways. They were going to Diablo Lake Campground for the night, and we were going somewhere. All we knew was that we had another climb to do, and it would be almost impossible to make it to Winthrop before dark with Michelle's speed and my bum knee. We had to get moving, though. I put my clothes back in my bag, now slightly more dry than before, and we took off down yet another small descent before we were put on the final slopes of Washington Pass.

The climb of Washington Pass from the West side was steep. I dropped all the way to my lowest gear, but my knee was still acting up (despite having taken some Aspirin, courtesy of the other touring duo) to the point where I couldn't pedal at all. Putting any kind of power through on my right leg was exceptionally painful, and just keeping myself moving became a challenge. For a while, I pedaled on, only using my left leg, and hoping that the summit was close. Of course, it wasn't, and eventually I had to give up. I pulled my regular shoes back out of my bag and began my walk up to the top of Washington Pass.

I was extremely dejected. There I was, only four days into the bike tour, and I was already reduced to walking. For shame. Michelle was slow, yes, but at least she was pedaling the whole thing. About then was where I started to fantasize about cutting the tour short, and maybe even turning around and giving up completely. I don't like giving up, even now, but the pain in my knee was worsening with time, and I figured that sooner rather than later I would be unable to pedal at all.

Slowly, painfully, I made my way to the high point of the day.
We were so high.
The wait on this one was considerably shorter than the previous one. I didn't even have time to pull out my iPod to resume my game of Solitaire before I saw Michelle round the last corner. When she made it to me, she was already wearing long sleeves and all kinds of warm stuff (from the previous short descent), and so she was able to cruise ahead of me while I put on my fleece jacket and leg warmers and then took off after her.

The descent was glorious. It was everything I had hoped it would be, and I didn't even have to pedal. I did, of course, out of habit, but I didn't have to. After about ten minutes of descending, I caught and passed Michelle, indicating to her through a complex system of hand gestures and semaphore, that I'd wait for her in the next town. Not Winthrop, but Mazama, a tiny little blip on the map that would be our only saving grace for the day since the two hills had taken up so much of our time. Unless we planned to ride into the night, we had to find a place to stay there.

Fortunately for us, the ride to Mazama was all downhill. Not steep, but at least we weren't going uphill anymore. My knee only began to hurt when the road leveled off in a few places. And then, before we really knew it, we were in Mazama. Although "in" wouldn't really describe it. As far as we could tell, there wasn't much of a town at all. Just an expensive hotel on the right that didn't look like it should cost $255 a night, and then a sign indicating where the main street was. It was not on the highway.

We took a turn at the sign and headed toward Mazama. We had checked on our phones to make sure that there was a hotel to stay at (yes, we were still doing hotels), and up a sharp-gravel road we found it. There were some mediocre mountain bikes parked outside the hotel in a place that said "rentals." We dismounted and walked to the door to try to check in, and only then did we see the sign saying "no vacancy."

"Well crap," I thought. Other than camping, this was our only option (as it would turn out, this was not the case). Camping wasn't a bad option, either, it's just that Mazama is a small town, so stores close early (this also would turn out not to be the case), and Michelle and I did not have enough food for the evening (this was the case). For about two seconds I panicked, and then some guy who was sitting at a picnic table looking at facebook on a laptop asked us if we needed a place to stay. We did. Maybe I've watched too much CSI, but my first thought about the guy was somewhere along the lines of "psycho murderer." But then he started talking about a bike tour he and his friend had done, and I decided that he was probably nice enough. Only good people do bike tours.

He led us to his house on an old, semi-sketchy Specialized Rockhopper from the late 80's/early 90's. It was up another sharp-gravel road, of which there seemed to be many in Mazama, but turned out to be a nice place. The guy, whose name was Nate (probably), had a spare bed we could use, a place to do laundry, a hot shower, and even scrounged together some food for us to eat. It could have been just about anything at that point since it was free and we were hungry, but it was mostly meat, which was good for the protein and stuff. Bro.

This would be one of the latest nights that we would be up. Michelle, Nate and I stayed up until around 9:30 talking about stuff, mostly bike-related, and sometime around 10, we decided to go to bed. The bed itself didn't have many blankets, so I used my sleeping bag.

It was probably the best night of the tour because I didn't have to pay a cent for lodging or food. Or even laundry!

I am so cheap.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Deets: Part 3; Sedro-Woolley, WA to Marblemount, WA (Day 3)

The morning of day 3 came just as the morning of day 2 had: the same feeling in my gut and the same reluctance to continue with the tour. One plus, though, was that it was a pleasantly sunny morning, and at least we wouldn't have to ride in the rain again. At least, not all day. I had left my wet clothing out to dry overnight, and I found that it was still somewhat wet that morning. For breakfast, Michelle and I feasted on some of the leftover pizza from the night before.

Now, I have a thing about eating solid food in the morning. For some reason if I try to choke down any non-liquids within an hour or so of waking up, I almost always end up feeling nauseous. It's weird and annoying, and it makes it so that the only things I can put down in the mornings are 1) Instant Breakfast, 2) Smoothies, 3) Soylent, and 4) Greasy Diner Food. It's a weird problem.
It tastes kinda like gritty cake mix.
I struggled through a piece of pizza anyway, somehow managing to not vomit all over the place, and Michelle and I examined the map to try to figure out where we should stop for the evening. We decided on Marblemount, a little town at the base of a massive climb that would take us across the Cascades. It was also going to be a wicked short day (only 60 kilometers) and had very little climbing, so we decided that we could take it slow and easy and enjoy the scenery.

There was a Walgreen's about two blocks from our hotel, so after we packed up and checked out, Michelle and I went there to snatch up some food for the day. A lady greeted us out front and asked "How far have you rode?" I fought the urge to shout "'Ridden!'" into her face with an excess of phlegm, and went into the Walgreen's to pick up some snacks. It was up to Michelle to deal with the 7th grade English failure; not my problem.

The Walgreen's snack selection was hugely disappointing, and so the closest thing to riding food that I could get my hands on were a couple of King Sized Snickers bars, which I decided were close enough. By the time I paid and returned to my bike, the lady with appalling grammar had gone, and Michelle and I split up the Snickers bars as evenly as we could be bothered. Still wearing clothes wet from the day before, we set off towards Marblemount.

The sun was bright and warm, and our moist clothing dried on us while the first few hours of the day passed by without much event aside from the fact that, after the 230 kilometers of riding we had put in on the previous two days, both of our butts were exceptionally sore. I had thought that at the very least mine would be okay since I ride a lot in the summer, but it turned out that carrying a large pack filled with stuff, not least of which was three litres of water, was adding more weight to my sit bones than they could handle for any real distance. This made our progress slow, but we had already committed to a short day, and the weather was pleasant, so it didn't really matter.

To give you an idea of how easy we took it: I stopped to take a picture of a sign to try to make the folks back up at Quest laugh,
It wasn't as funny as I thought.
I saw a boat in a field,
It's been a while since it floated
we stopped for ice cream somewhere after the town of Concrete,
That face tho.
and generally wasted as much time as possible making stops for no real reason. In fact, it was the only day up to that point (and even up until now if you ignore any loop rides) where Michelle and I rode together for a majority of the day. The only time we really split up was somewhere near the end, after the ice cream, where the chip n seal (that we had been on since entering the U.S.) began to take its toll, and I spun ahead just so I could get to the end and get off my ass as quick as possible.

Just under five hours after leaving Sedro-Woolley (and less than three and a half actually moving), we arrived in the town of Marblemount, WA. Marblemount is a small, scenic little town right on the edge of the Cascades and is the last chance for gas until Winthrop. There's only the one main street and, as far as I could tell, no side streets at all. On the main street there were two gas stations, a hotel/hostel, two restaurants, and a small drive-through coffee joint. When Michelle and I arrived, we discovered that everything but the gas stations and one of the restaurants was closed. The hotel/hostel turned out to be part of the same establishment as the open restaurant, and so we checked into a small room for yet another night of being too lazy to camp, even though we had brought a tent and sleeping bags and everything.

The room had two exceptionally narrow beds; far more narrow than a regular twin bed (maybe a meter wide, probably less) that were situated about 60 cm apart. There was also a window between the beds at about the same level, and that was it. It was a very small room, but that's all we really needed for the evening and so, having set up our still-wet clothes to dry, we went out  to find something to eat.

But before we did that, we decided to wander around the town for a bit. We found a small playground that had some swings that were too narrow for us fat kids, and some monkey bars that seemed like they had been just plopped on the ground instead of set into it. I thought it would be fun to climb up on top of them and walk around on top, feeling them wobble and move about underneath me. Michelle didn't think it was as funny as I did, so I got down and we wandered into another part of town where we found a small bird-watching trail that had been mowed from the surrounding grassland, but didn't see enough traffic (with Marblemount's population of just over 200) to become an actual dirt trail.

We walked around on that for a while, through the woods and flat lands near the river until we got to the river proper and found some blackberries.

They were delicious, and we picked as many as was convenient. This wasn't too terribly many since the bushes were large and prickly. Then we decided that we were tired of wandering around, and were also starving, so we walked back into town and went to the Buffalo Restaurant, where they had a sign that made me giggle.
They have very particular diets.
I got an Alligator burger and Michelle had a Kangaroo burger, but neither of our bikes ate much at all. Both of our burgers, though, were new types of meat for the both of us, and were novel and delicious. Having ridden all day probably didn't hurt the flavour either.

After dinner, we went back to the hostel, watched some TV in the group room for a while (including the South Park episode where they should have never gone zip-lining), and sorted out our plan for our next day: Rainy and Washington Passes and then, hopefully, on to Winthrop. The climbs were big and long, starting from Marblemount at only 315 feet (96 meters), they both maxed out over 5000 (1524 meters), and for the first time since the tour began, I was actually excited; it promised to be totally hard.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Deets: Part 2; Mission, BC to Sedro-Woolley, WA (Day 2)

The morning of day two came earlier than I hoped, and Michelle and I were greeted by a grey, drizzling rain which set the theme for the whole day. Again, I had the "I really don't want to do this" feeling, although somewhat less potent than the morning before, and since I had even fewer options for postponement than I had had on day 1, we slowly suited up to the white noise of the TV and left the room for the continental breakfast downstairs.

Breakfast was in the room adjacent to the lobby, as per usual, but the room was not attached from the inside. This forced us outside into the drizzle to take almost 10 whole steps in my extremely inconvenient road bike shoes to get to food, and gave us a quick taste of the weather for the day. While we sat inside eating mediocre omelettes and drinking watery orange juice, we could watch the weather from the comfort and warmth of the indoors. At least, temporarily. The more we watched the weather, the harder it seemed to rain. Still, the wet weather would give me a chance to try out my rain gear, and I would have felt awfully silly if I packed all that gear and never used it.
At least they're under a roof
Michelle and I finished our "food," said goodbye to our pleasant if somewhat over-eager waitress, and headed into the wet. Our trajectory for the day was more-or-less due south, and despite a small jog around what a sign described as a "complex junction" that lead us through some lovely small town suburbia, it was smooth, albeit wet, sailing all the way to the border near Sumas, WA.

We arrived to the border lineup in a somewhat normal fashion, even though neither of us had any idea of how we should behave crossing the border on bikes. To be safe, we got into the back of the queue behind the cars and crept forward at the normal border crossing pace (read: slowly). Some guy yelled at us out of his car and asked where we were going; he was surprised and seemed to not really believe that we would be going all the way to Colorado. Not long after, Michelle and I decided that we should go through the foot-traffic border crossing, since we had been discussing it since we had first come to a stop.

The pedestrian border guard asked us where we were going, and gave us a weird look when we said Colorado. He then asked how we would be returning, and we told him that it would be by bicycle. He then asked where we had come from. I told him Squamish, and he asked how we would be returning. We said that we would be returning by bicycle. He had a series of questions for us, and it seemed that every other one was "How will you be returning?" to which we always replied "we'll be riding," but his face told us that at no point did he believe it. Still, our story was consistent, and he let us walk our bikes through the pedestrian border crossing and just like that we arrived in the US.

There was no fanfare. The weather didn't even let up, and I quickly took a picture to show how little things had changed even though the country had (the picture is somewhere in my twitter history near September 2 if you're curious). Because of how uneventful our crossing was, we were back on the bikes within 60 seconds, and about 60 seconds after that were on some sketchy back-road in Washington, doing our best to ignore the sounds of dueling banjos and giving as wide a berth as possible to houses that looked like the domicile of a survivalist militia member. This, as it turned out, was most of them.

The woods in Washington seemed darker and more sinister than those in the country just north of us. This was likely due to the large number of dilapidated buildings lurking in them at the ends of long, unkempt dirt driveways, as well as the particular frequency of these buildings. It felt a little like riding through a horror movie; the rain was light but constant, and there was just enough real estate between sketchy houses to briefly convince you that the last one had been, well, the last one. Of course, it never was, and just as my nerves would begin to settle, I would happen upon a hidden road, barely visible through a mass of greenery, and at the end of the road would be a building leaning at an impossible angle that was covered in tarps and surrounded by hand-chopped wood that was also covered in tarps.

For Michelle, these semi-terrifying shacks in the woods were less sketchy than they were for me because I am impatient. I could not be bothered to pedal along in my lowest gear at 12 rpm and go the same speed that she was keeping in her much much lower granny gear, and so I would press on at a pace that kept me interested for 20-30 km, or until I found a serious-looking intersection. I would stop at these to avoid getting any more split up and try my best to kill time while I waited for her to arrive. On these weird, poorly paved back roads, the echoes of the banjos was never far, and standing stationary on the side of the road made me a pretty easy target, especially in my road bike shoes.

This was how I spent the first 4 or so hours of the day; I would ride about 20 km, wait in quiet terror for Michelle, and then she would arrive and I would take off again to repeat the process. We had a small stop in the almost-town of Kendall for some Clif Bars and to charge our phones for a bit so that Strava could track the whole ride. After this break, where the rain also left us briefly, we were back on the chip n seal, and the rain returned with almost perfect timing.

A few more of these stop-start cycles, and I decided that I wanted to power through from wherever we were (somewhere near where Valley Highway, or Washinton Highway 9, intersected with Potter Road) to Sedro-Woolley without stopping. Leaving Michelle to her own devices, I put my earbuds in, got into the drops, and more-or-less abandoned her completely.

And then the rain started for real.

Almost as soon as I took off, the constant drizzle that had been dogging us all day turned into a downpour that I could not be bothered to stop for. With my waterproof riding gear on, I felt impervious to the rain, but within 20 minutes, the rain had soaked through and was doing a better job at keeping the water IN than OUT, and I felt like I was riding in a roughly human-shaped bag of water. Still, I was committed to forward motion regardless of comfort or weather, and so I just plowed on through the mostly straight, mostly flat Washington back roads hoping that Sedro-Woolley was closer than it actually was. The more I rode, the more miserable I became, and the more I wanted the town to appear. Also, the more I rode, the more the town continued to not appear.

The rain got heavier and heavier as I rode, and by the time I started to encounter non-survivalist houses somewhere in the general vicinity of town, The rain was so heavy that I could hardly see, with or without glasses. The mist being kicked up from the road cut visibility even more, to the point where for the last five kilometers into Sedro-Woolley, I was effectively guessing my way down the road, hoping that the road was as straight as the map made it look. Fortunately for me, it mostly was.

Sedro-Woolley appeared out of the mist in the shape of a gas station. I wasn't cold, but I was wet, and given a wait time that was liable to be over an hour, the wet would become freezing cold long before Michelle arrived. I pulled into the gas station and disrobed as much as I could without being arrested. While I was doing that, the rain stopped and the sun started to come out. Of course it did.

Then I checked my phone; Michelle had sent me a message about half an hour earlier telling me that she had stopped in some small cafe somewhere to warm up, get coffee, and charge her phone again. Apparently when it's not on airplane mode Strava sucks the battery dry pretty quick. This just added more time to my wait, and I decided to try to waste it by playing dumb games on my phone, playing dumb games on my ipod, and talking to the ladies who were working the gas station. One of them was new to the North West, and I advised her to get used to the type of rain that I had just ridden through.

When Michelle finally arrived, I suggested that we stay in a hotel again. She thought this was a swell idea, but seemed to be in a hurry to get out from underneath the awning that I had been hiding under since I stopped. I was in less of a hurry, even though I had also seen the big black clouds approaching from the west, but unlike her, I had underestimated them. The change in weather was the most abrupt meteorological shift I had ever experience. First, it was a bit cool and a touch overcast, but dry enough. Literally one second later, I was standing in the hardest rain that I had experienced in the whole day (and probably my whole life). I could not believe how abrupt the change had been, and since I could see a hotel vaguely through the mist, I made my way over on roads that had gone from "a bit moist" to "constantly rim-deep water" in about 35 seconds.

We checked in and I got to shower first. I was a bit hypothermic at that point since I hadn't dried fully and hadn't put any real warm clothes on either during my wait. This meant that my shower was really friggen long which Michelle complained about, and when I was finally done, I didn't have any clothes to wear; the rain of the day had soaked through everything on my body, and had also penetrated through my waterproof bag, making all of the clothing that I hadn't been wearing wet as well. I conned Michelle into letting me use her long underwear tights while she would be able to use her fleece-lined chamois (since she had more space in her bags, she was more prepared for this kind of shit than I was).

For the second night in a row, we ordered food from a place that claimed delivery but didn't deliver, but this time it was pizza. We got two of them, and they were loaded with enough toppings that two cyclists who had ridden 90 kilometers with weight in the rain were unable to finish them both. But we didn't let any of it go to waste, and I crammed the leftover pizza into my pack to save for the next day.