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.

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