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.

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