You can get really far on a bicycle in four full days of riding – even if you are at the very beginning of your adventure, when there are still so many unknowns (not exactly knowing how much your body can handle being only one out of many). I am saying this because I am currently sitting outside a coffee shop in Winthrop, WA – a cute little Far-West-styled town in the Methow Valley. I would have never thought that Taylor and I would make it so far in so „little“ time.
But what can I say – so far, the It Goes Boys 2016 Biking Extravaganza Tour to San Francisco (I know, it’s a long name) has been going spectacularly well, even accounting for the challenges we faced so far. Here’s a little summary of our first four days of riding.
Day 1: Vernon to Summerland, 105km
This is it. We are actually doing this. The panniers are full, the bikes are packed. Being curious, we decide to weigh our touring machines. We are both pretty shocked when we discover that both my Specialized Awol, Rudolph (it was manufactured on December 25, 2014), and Taylor’s nameless Brodie, weigh in at 100 pounds. That’s a lot of bike to haul up the hills.
We say farewell to Taylor’s parents, who are letting me leave my car at their house, and start pedalling. Rudolph is definitely far from nimble to manoever. The first few kilometres are extremely wobbly – but I get used to it pretty quick.
Our goal for the day is Summerland, which is really far away for a first day of riding. But hey, go big or go home, right? Starting off with a solid, long ride will only make the confidence in our abilities grow. Plus, this ride is a hilly one – we might be in the Okanagan Valley, but its highways tend to wind up and down the hillsides, making for a lot of accumulated elevation gain.
Since we know the area so well, it’s not an exciting ride, and the focus lies on making it to Summerland before dark. We get to Kelowna in a decent time, buy a few supplies, have lunch, and start trucking through the worst section of the day: West Kelowna (but not before I say farewell to a few really good friends who come out to Gyro Beach on Lake Okanagan, where we are chilling out for a bit).
The big hill from West Kelowna to the start of Hwy 97C is pretty brutal. But we make it. With our lowest gears, we can take on any hill! And after every hill comes a downhill…
We end up making it to Summerland around 7PM. We are staying at Haley’s and Colin’s house – they are family friends of Taylor’s. They are extremely nice, have a lot of homegrown kale and tomatoes, let us take warm showers (which are glorious after such a long ride), and let us sleep in comfortable beds.
Day 2: Summerland to Osoyoos, 83km
In the morning, our bodies feel surprisingly fresh – no sore muscles! I guess we really are pretty strong, after all. It is almost relieving that we are not utterly exhausted from the previous day. To me, it means that we are totally able to get all the way to San Francisco.
Our plan for the day is to get to Haynes Point Provincial Park, just south of Osoyoos. The day should be less tiring – lesser distance and, most importantly, pretty flat all the way. However, even if we do not go quite as far, we are still making bank; our goal for the trip is to average 65km every day.
After Penticton, we leave Hwy 97 and opt for Lakeside/Eastside Road instead. It goes along Skaha Lake on the side opposing the highway. This means less cars, nicer surroundings, and less hills. The last section of the road is even freshly paved – what a good feeling on a bike! Just as we leave Okanagan Falls, we come across the famous Tickleberry’s – we get ice cream for lunch and I buy some extra pieces of fudge. It is delicious.
On our way down to Osoyoos, we notice quite a few „No national park“ signs. There is a project to establish a new park in the area, to be called the Okanagan-Similkameen National Park. I’m all for it, personally – the South Okanagan region is pretty exceptional, and more people should be made aware of its environment, climate, and biodiversity (I am pretty certain not many people know that Canada has some pretty arid shrub lands). And, of course, the environmental protection that would come with the establishment of a park is more than welcome!
In Osoyoos, we head to Roberto’s Gelato, a place we found out about on warmshowers.org (the Couchsurfing for cycle tourists). The owner, who I assume is Roberto, gives out free Italian gelato to cyclists like us – we just have to fill out a little log book with our names and where our trip is taking us. So, yeah, second ice cream of the day, and it is amazing (and we deserve it).
As we roll into Haynes Point, the deception is big – the campground is full. Furthermore, we are not allowed to camp in the overflow area, as it frequently gets hit by high winds. What to do? We do not want to backtrack to another campground we saw before Osoyoos and we do not know what exactly lies across the border in that respect. We feel disappointed. Maybe some people would be willing to share a corner of their site with us? As I watch over the bikes, Taylor starts asking around. Most people are not too keen, and our faith in humanity and hospitality slowly fades away. However, it gets quickly restored as we meet Rob and Beverley from Abbotsford, BC. Not only do they let us pitch our tent on their site, they also refuse our offer to pay half of the fee and want us to feel as welcome and at home as possible! They have a nice RV and are pretty decked out for glamping. We talk a lot and they share their food with us (smokeys, grilled salmon and potatoes – amazing!). Rob offers us beer and, later on, coffee with Bailey’s – which we both decline as we are likely still dehydrated. Taylor writes down their address so we can send them a postcard once we get to San Francisco.
Day 3: Osoyoos to Jan’s backyard, 97km
The day can be summarized as follows: strong headwinds. Nonetheless, it still goes, boys. And again, we went way over our 65km/day goal.
Putting our tent away and packing everything up in the morning is surprisingly less chaotic than I thought it would be in this really early stage of our bike trip. Overall, we seem to have our bike-packing systems figured out really well – I mean at least I do. I’ve got a total of six bags: four panniers, one handlebar bag and a half-frame bag. The panniers are divided as follows: camping gear – food – clothes – misceallaneous (such as computer, Kindle, charging cables). The handlebar bag contains valuables, maps, and a few other items that I want quickly accessible. The frame bag is basically my portable bike shop, with tools, spare parts, and so on. I’ve also got an MSR Dromedary water bag, and parts of the tent strapped down on top of the rear rack.
We say farewell to Rob and Beverley and get going. Only a couple kilometres away from us lies the U.S. Border. I guess this is where our biking adventure gets real. I’ve never crossed a border on a bike before, and the American officer looks at us in disbelief when we tell him what we plan to do. But he lets us into the country anyway.
We stop in Oroville to get groceries and, most importantly, burritos from Pablo’s Taqueria – a Mexican food truck that I always, always, always stop at when I’m in the area. It’s become a tradition for me and I am happy to share it with Taylor who really enjoys her chicken burrito.
This part of interior Washington State is pretty lame. It all still looks similar to the other side of the border, so we simply keep going as good as we can with those winds. We stop in Tonasket for lunch. Some nice folks we meet at the visitor centre tell us about Leader Lake, just past Okanogan (yeah, in the USA, it’s written with an ‘O’), where we can camp. We decide to make it our goal for the day. We also meet some other cycle tourists at a gas station in town – Owen and his two friends, on their way from Seattle to Montana on Hwy 20. Owen’s parents own a coffee shop in Port Townsend. He tells us that we’ll get free coffee when we go there and tell them about our trip!
The section from Tonasket to Omak seems to stretch into infinity because the wind slows us down so much. The last five miles before we get to town are the longest we’ve ever ridden. Omak itself is pretty lame, too.
However, Okanogan turns out to be a pleasant surprise. Shops are closed by the time we get there, but the little downtown area is nice and clean with some pretty buildings. But we keep going, as we still have to climb 4 miles up Hwy 20 until we get to Leader Lake.
Except that it’s more than 4 miles and we end up not making it there. The road keeps getting steeper, the skies are getting darker, and we are exhausted from riding in headwinds for well over 80km. I’m getting frustrated and just want to go camp behind a cluster of bushes and be done with it. This is not cool. Where the hell is this lake? We are way further than 4 miles west of Okanogan, and that’s there the lake is supposed to be. I start to doubt its existence.
We see a house on the side of the road, and Taylor decides to go knock on the door and ask them about the lake while I watch the bikes (I’m in no mood to talk to strangers with a smile on my face). She comes back, outstretches her arms and says: „Welcome to our home for the night!“ The lady living in the house, Jan, has offered us her backyard to camp in. How nice of her! We quickly set up our tent, get changed, and make some of our dehydrated meals because we are hungry, tired, and lazy.
On the flipside, the starry sky turns out to be absolutely amazing, and we hear coyotes howling and barking in the distance.
Day 4: Jan’s backyard to Pearrygin Lake, 61km
This is the first morning we wake up to find our bodies slightly stiff and sore. But that’s no surprise considering what a hard day just had. We also woke up at 7:30am despite falling asleep around 9pm – our bodies needed the rest!
The goal for the day is Winthrop, past Twisp on the other side of Loup Loup Pass. We’re in for a whole lot of climbing. The pass is at 4,020ft. It will take us long to get over it, but we are confident that we can do it. One of my slogans is „It doesn’t matter how slow you go as long as you don’t stop“ after all – pretty applicable to biking up a mountain pass on a 100-pound bicycle.
The morning is nice and sunny, and we quickly eat a bagel before getting ready. We can’t have any oatmeal as we are running extremely low on water. We see Jan leave in her car; Taylor quickly runs over to grab her address, too – it looks like we’ll be sending quite a lot of postcards from San Francisco (send me your address if you want one, too).
We start biking (uphill), hoping to come across this dumb Leader Lake to fill up on water. It turns out to be roughly two miles up the road from where we stayed – two miles that would have been impossible the evening before. It’s a nice lake, I get to use my Katadyn water filter for the first time. After that, upwards we go.
It takes us roughly two hours to make it to the top of Loup Loup Pass. Roughly 20km of uphill and 900m of ascent – the longest climb of my life! Taylor and I are pretty proud. Plus, guess what comes after such an uphill?
Yeah, right, a long way down. Not any, though. The longest downhill I’ve ever had on a bike! This is definitely the highlight of the day. We just send it down the mountain for at least 15km. I hit speeds as high as 55km/h – Taylor is less reckless than me, so she keeps her speed in check more (probably not a bad idea, but I was having way too much fun).
As I stop to wait for her, a nice gentleman doing some fence repairs offers me an ice cold bottle of water. He tells me that in case of an Indian Summer, the rainy and gloomy season wouldn’t start until the end of October. Let’s hope for the best!
As we finally reach the bottom of the Methow Valley, we are greeted by even stronger headwinds than what we had previously experienced. Great. It is only another 11 or 12 miles to Winthrop, but it takes us over 1.5 hours to get there. We’re only slightly faster than when we biked up the mountain. Keeping a heavy bike that catches wind like a sail stable in strong gusts is no easy task.
Winthrop is adorable and pretty touristy. There are a lot of outdoor shops. All of downtown is made to look really rustic. I like it. My mom wasn’t lying when she said that it is an awesome place. But we keep going to Pearrygin Lake State Park, which was recommended to us by a couple from Vernon (small world!). Only 3 miles north of Winthrop and off of our route, it seems like a good place to stay over night. The campground even has showers! I get super excited until I discover that you have to pay to get warm water – and Taylor and I had scraped together all our coins to pay the camping fee. Oh well, we’ll stay dirty for a little longer.
This has been our shortest day so far. However, the other ones were all so long that we can afford to take it easy over the mountains and reduce the mileage a little to compensate for all the elevation gain.
It is now our fifth day and we are hanging out in Winthrop. Before Taylor and I lies what could be the biggest challenge of the entire trip: Washington Pass, across the Cascades. We are giving ourselves three days to make it to Desolation Pass State Park on Whidby Island. This should give us ample time to enjoy the mountains and take it easy on the big climb ahead.