Tuesday, August 12, 2008

My summer vacation

Tuesday, 12 August

Last weekend was my summer vacation. I think it was the only weekend all summer to involve travel and not involve participation in a bike race. In 2007 we missed out on our usually annual trip to Winthrop, and we wanted to make sure we got one in this year. So our plan was to drive to Newhalem, ride to Winthrop, hang out, spend the night, and ride back to the car. Because of the quantity and quality of the scenery and the great road, it is probably my very favorite ride.

The plan didn't look quite as appealing on Saturday morning as we drove through the rain on our way north on I-5. It stopped raining, mostly, in Marblemount, and the road was dry in Newhalem, so we chamoised up. But by then the rain had crept east, and it was raining before we got underway. Oh well, "it's a warm rain" and all that. Three miles up the hill, we decided that it wasn't so warm (it was maybe 60 degrees), that it was going to get wetter and colder before it got warmer, and that there was a Plan B. So we turned around, got absolutely soaked on the descent, piled into the car, and drove to Winthrop. There were lots of other cyclists on the road who apparently thought riding in the rain was a whole lot funner than we did.

Things cleared up a bit by Rainy Pass. That's a reflection of my sock, which I was trying to dry on the defroster on the dashboard. I forgot that I also needed to dry the shoes to do much good. :(

And it was 85 degrees and sunny in Winthrop--who could ask for anything better? After too much lunch, we had to seriously think about riding again.

Instead of doing hill repeats up the east side of Washington Pass, we decided to head south to Twisp and then east over Loup Loup Pass, which was new terrain for us. It is a nice road, not much traffic under normal circumstances, and a long steady climb (but no panoramic vistas).

The descent down the east side of the pass into Okanogan was so long and progressively windier (as in more wind, not more winding) that I was having flashbacks to 2007 Elkhorn stage 1. We finally found the town of Okanogan (a mini-Wenatchee....need I say more?), stocked up on water and sugar (coke, ice cream), and braced ourselves for miles of uphill headwind on the return.

We were surprised to see how much a wildfire on the other side of the river had grown in the short time we'd been in town, and then were even more surprised to see a new one had flared up just over the ridge south of the highway. Three fire trucks passed us, and we could hear them lumbering up the dirt roads in the brush. A reconnaissance plane flew over, and pretty soon a helicopter was making fly-bys. I felt a wave of compassion for a family standing in their front yard, watching the activity for a fire less than half a mile away that could potentially threaten their home.

All in all, though, the climb and the wind were not hateful. Again, it's a long climb up to the top of the pass, which summits in pine forest just over 4000 feet. The descent back into Twisp was worth the price of all the toil and suffering: I rode 7 miles without pedaling, and my average speed over the first 6 of those miles was 30 mph. I think I touched the brakes once. And then we meandered up the back road to Winthrop, scoping out some bizarre architecture, including a house that looked straight out of Santa Fe, a giant geodesic dome with green tarps in lieu of siding that looked like something out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and some more standard million-dollar Methow homes. The ride turned out to be 88 miles with probably 6500 feet of climbing, so it was a good day's effort.

On Sunday morning, we drove to Mazama, rode to the top of Washington Pass, checked out the rain squall just west of the pass, and rode back down to Mazama. Along the road, I found the WSBA frame number that belongs to a cat 3 from Duvall; maybe the WSBA should include the state's fine for littering in the replacement fee for frame numbers. It's certainly not good for our image to be dumping bits of plastic along scenic highways, especially not ones that other cyclists care for under the Adopt-a-Highway program.

Also in this stretch of riding came one of the scarier manmade experiences I've had on a bike recently. There were a couple of hunter-types sitting on the embankment above one side of the road, taking potshots at something across the narrow little canyon. That meant they were firing their guns directly over my head as I pedaled past on the road. And these were no BB guns. The concussion when they fired was enough to make me involuntarily blink. At least they were gone when we came back down!

After a long coffee pause in the Mazama store and a surprise visit with half the Bowmer family, we had to pack up the bikes and endure the long drive back to Seattle, in plenty o' time to watch the Kirkland crit!

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