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.