The only way I am able to keep track of time is through counting the number of days I’ve been living life in the bike lane. It’s now been slightly over the week that I have embarked on this journey of a lifetime together with Taylor. During this time, we’ve crossed mountain ranges, fought headwinds, reached the sea, and encountered countless nice people. Here’s how it has unfolded since we sat in the coffee shop in Winthrop.
Day 5: Pearrygin Lake State Park to Lone Fir Campground, 45km
We leave Winthrop at about 3pm, after catching up with friends and family over the web, blogging, eating pizza, and so on. On our way out, we stop by Methow Cycle & Sports. I borrow their floor pump and get a sticker for my bike frame; I’ve decided to get one at each bike shop I visit and stick it on Rudolph. It’s similar to what you would do to the roof box of your car after an extensive road trip.
Apparently, the Methow Valley is home to some of the best cross-country skiing in the world. It’s not very high in elevation, but quite sheltered by the Northern Cascades to the West, which apparently trap the cold and snow in the valley.
Luckily, it is considerably less windy today, and the ride to Mazama goes down smoothly. We enjoy the views – I find this valley absolutely spectacular. I realize I have developed a bit of a soft spot for Winthrop and its surroundings. I will definitely come back!
Mazama is incredibly small. It’s not much more than an outdoors store called ‘Goat’s Beard,’ the NCMG (North Cascades Mountain Guides) headquarters, and a general store/grocery co-op/gas station/organic coffee shop and bakery simply named ‘Mazama Store,’ – which is, I have to admit, quite the awesome combo. I buy some local fruit and veggies, nut-butter filled Clif Bars (my new favourite), and a rather pricey t-shirt; but it’s tie-dye and got a mountain goat on it, so I cannot resist. Outside the shop, we meet an older hippie couple who are day-touring the area on their tandem. They tell us about a lot of co-op grocers on our route and places we should spend time in. Taking the time to talk to strangers is already one of the more valuable lessons I have learned on this trip.
From Mazama, we finally start heading deeper into the mountains. We start climbing again (but we’re used to it from Loup Loup Pass). Our destination is Lone Fir Campground – the last place to stay before the final big push over Washington Pass. It is getting close to dinner time, so we feel like we ride off into the mountain sunset.
The little campground is wild and secluded – just how I like it. We are in the absolute middle of nowhere, surrounded by gorgeous mountains. It is my kind of place, for sure. The stars are absolutely gorgeous and bright that night.
Day 6: Lone Fir Campground to Newhalem, 81km
The alarm rings at 6am – it is the first time we’ve set it on this trip so far. We will reach our literal high point today, so we want to get going a little earlier than usual. It is surprisingly cozy in the tent, and getting up is difficult. The sun being a long way from warming up the valley bottom, it is really cold. Just like molecules move slower in low temperatures, we take an unusual long time to get going (I just don’t want to change into my cycling clothes).
We roll out of the campsite and start climbing right away. It is not too steep, but I expect it to go on for a while. We feel lucky to have conquered some of the climb the previous afternoon. Doing so makes the day’s climb a bit shorter.
The mountains are opening up and gorgeous views unfold in front of us. It is absolutely mesmerizing. Liberty Bell Mountain appears in front of us – she guards the summit of the pass. The road makes a big hairpin turn and winds its way up the mountain side right under her watch. We arrive at the top and high five. We head to the lookout, and it’s the best one we’ve ever been at.
Two poems by William Stafford were inscribed on plates at the lookout. Since I cannot properly describe how it felt to stand up there, so I hope these texts will bring you a bit closer to what I felt up there.
A Valley Like This
Sometimes you look at am empty valley like this,
and suddenly the air is filled with snow.
That is the way the whole world happened –
there was nothing, and then…
But maybe some time you will look out and even
the mountains are gone, the world becomes nothing
again. What can a person do to help
bring back the world?
We have to watch it and then look at each other.
Together we hold it close and carefully
save it, like a bubble that can disappear
if we don’t watch out.
Please think about this as you go on. Breathe the world.
Hold out your hands to it. When mornings and evenings
roll along, watch how they open and close, how they
invite you to the long party that your life is.
To be a mountain you have to climb alone
and accept all that rain and snow. You have to look
far away when evening comes. If a forest
grows, you care; you stand there leaning against
the wind, waiting for someone with faith enough
to ask you to move. Great stones will tumble
against each other and gouge your sides. A storm
will live somewhere in your canyons hoarding its lightning.
If you are lucky, people will give you a dignified
name and bring crowds to admire how sturdy you are,
how long you can hold still for the camera. And some time,
they say, if you last long enough you will hear God;
a voice will roll down from the sky and all your patience
will be rewarded. The whole world will hear it: „Well done.“
After Washington Pass, we head downhill for a bit before a shorter climb to Rainy Pass. Luckily, it does not live up to its name, and the skies remain as blue as ever. I take a photo of the Pacific Crest Trail sign – one of the thru-hikes on my to-do list. I will come back to this place on my own two feet one day.
We start our descent towards Newhalem. We experience strong cross winds and I break my speed record: 61.5km/h. We also get to push our first ‘cyclist in tunnel’ button (it’s a pretty big moment for the both of us).
As the western gateway to the North Cascades highway, Newhalem is really tiny. We get to the campsite just out of town and snag the very last available walk-in site, in the middle of the rainforest. We share our site with Jack, a propulsion engineer for Boeing, who’s on a week-long bike tour to Idaho. Our discussions revolve around the Dreamliner, bonking and hitting the wall in Breckenridge, and waiting on French history teachers while visiting castles in the Loire Valley in France.
Day 7: Newhalem to Deception Pass, 127km
There was a rainshower last night – everything is quite wet. As we go by our usual morning routine, it starts raining again. I throw on my full rain attire (jacket, pants, shoe covers). To top it off, Taylor discovers that she has a flat! All things considered, though, the timing could not have been better. We take shelter under a roof at the campsite and she throws in a new tube.
As we roll out, the rain has practically stopped. It was like this little bike-related incident was meant to be! By the time we get to Marblemount, roughly an hour down the road, the skies are sunny again. We stop at the Cascadian Berry Farm for smoothies and lemonade. Mountains are giving way to farmland; dissidious trees are popping up. It feels like biking into Fall season; leaves are slowly starting to turn yellow.
The highway becomes fairly boring. Straight and flat. The headwinds are nagging us once more. Close to Hamilton, we meet up with Keith and Kristen (at least we think that’s her name) – a couple from Bellingham who had also stayed at the Newhalem campsite. We decide to ride together for a while. At first, everyone drafts behind me. This gives me motivation and I push to keep up my speed, even if the wind blows in my face. Then, Keith goes in front, and riding behind him, we cover a lot of ground in a short time. We also stop less. It is definitely cardio-time.
Eventually, the other two draw back because Kristen is exhausted. However, Taylor and I keep up the speed and she keeps drafting behind me. In doing so, I don’t have to wait for her down the road, and she is able to keep up with my speed!
We get groceries in Sedro-Wooley. We decide to keep going all the way to Deception Pass State Park. At this point, we fully commit to going well over 100km. The surge of motivation we experienced when biking along with Keith and Kristen still keeps us going! Also, we just want to get this section over it – it’s not scenic at all and the only thing we do is ride along a boring and busy highway.
Deception Pass is an incredible place! It’s a series of bridges connecting Fidalgo and Whidbey Island. The vegetation reminds me of Vancouver Island (which is really not that far away). The sun is slowly starting to set and everything is turned to gold. We cross the bridges and enjoy the views.
The campground is huge and has secluded little hiker/biker sites – awesome! We also buy a few shower tokens each. Thus we take our first shower. Bring clean has never felst so glorious, especially after a full week of riding and the longest day in the saddle of our lives.
Day 8: Deception Pass to Fort Worden State Park, 58km
The skies are blue once more – we have been very lucky with the weather thus far. We take our time. After packing everything up, we leave the bags at our site and explore the park (on considerably lighter bikes). The beach, and the views, sounds and smells of the sea are very soothing. It’s incredible to think that we’ve reached the sea in only a week, after crossing multiples mountain ranges.
Out of the park, we follow ‘bike route’ signs, that lead us through farmland on our way to Oak Harbor. However, we run into a full-on road closure on a dike. We decide to hike the bikes around it, which requires quite a lot of heavy lifting (hauling our machines over logs,up and down the ditch, and having to push them through wet sand). We eventually end up on a road again and, shortly after, return to the highway.
We stop in Oak Harbor for lunch. The ride is overall pretty okay. It’s mostly a lot of farmland – which surprises the both of us, considering we’re on an island. It feels as if someone has put Lumby, BC (east of Vernon), on an island. We are still regularly greeted by Donald Trump signs. Taylor and I do not like it.
The ferry to Port Townsend costs only $3.80 – take that, BC Ferries! On it, we meet Russ, a philosophy teacher at Washington State’s second biggest college, who is out on a overnight tour. We end up sharing the last hiker/biker site at Fort Worden State Park’s campground, and he even pays for it. Really, we keep meeting amazing people every single day.
Port Townsend itself is very pretty. The historic downtown area is full of nice shops, and the neighbourhoods we bike through are full of pretty houses with beautiful views of the sea. Also, Hilary signs have finally replaced the Trump ones. I guess all hope is not lost!