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.

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