Monday, June 1, 2015

Washington ACA Northern Tier (May 2015)

My first real bike tour, riding with Kyle who was raising funds for his brother's hospital bills. This took me along the North Cascades Highway (SR-20) and over five mountain passes!

Total length: about 496 miles.

Since there'll be too much for me to remember everything, I'm going to just jot down stuff I can remember for each day and night. I was messing with my bike's fit the whole time, and finally figured out the right pattern to follow toward the end of the tour.

There are nearly 1,000 photos among the albums, and a number of them have long descriptions detailing how they're relevant. If you want more details of the tour, check those out.

Throughout the ride, I noticed a few things:

  • I'm used to sugar cravings from my other long rides, but this was the first ride where overwhelming salt cravings have ever hit me.
  • It's amazing how one sees several climate zones across Washington, and Kyle commented on that many times.
  • Wasps kept staring my bike down while I wasn't riding it.
  • Rural properties tend to accumulate a lot of destroyed cars and other trash.

More after the break…

Links to individual days:

  1. Day 0: To Burlington
  2. Day 1: Burlington to Marblemount
  3. Day 2: Marblemount to Colonial Creek Campground
  4. Day 3: Colonial Creek Campground to Mazama
  5. Day 4: Mazama to Winthrop
  6. Day 5: Winthrop to Tonasket
  7. Day 6: Tonasket to Republic
  8. Day 7: Republic to Colville
  9. Day 8: Stay in Colville
  10. Day 9: Colville to Ione
  11. Day 10: Ione to Cusick
  12. Day 11: Cusick to Spokane
  13. Day 12: Return to Seattle

Day 0: To Burlington

The morning I left home was mainly fraught with anxiety. I had to make sure I didn't forget anything, and rushed to get it all taken care of. Once I left home, of course, that all went away. Booths were all over the local bike infrastructure for Bike to Work Day, and my LBS was no exception.

I took the train from downtown Seattle to Mount Vernon in Skagit County. Thankfully, this didn't involve any bike boxing, so it was rather quick.

It looked a lot like these.


From Mount Vernon, I rode to the motel where I was spending the night in Burlington. My bike felt like it weighed a ton, but it still handled well enough. I also bought trail food and stove fuel while in Burlington, since it didn't make sense to bring those up from Seattle. While on the way to picking up supplies, I chatted with a roadie who was going to ride over Stevens Pass. Of course, his setup was much lighter than might, and he had a SAG van.

For dinner, I hit up the NYP grill for an interesting steak alfredo noodle dish.

Noted because I heard trains going by at the motel.

It ended up being fine.

Day 1: Burlington to Marblemount

Kyle met up with me in the hotel lobby after riding from Anacortes, and we went on our way. It was pretty similar to any riding I'd been doing on my previous tours: slowly exiting civilization and hitting small towns.

Once we got to Marblemount, we then went off the highway to stay with John Scott (Warm Showers) at his beautiful house. There were trees everywhere, as well as a huge garden. John Scott treated us very and was a phenomenal host. He was also quite wise and fun to chat with.

Day 2: Marblemount to Colonial Creek Campground

From there, we started doing some steep climbing with tunnels here and there. We still hit a few towns, but they were very small. The town of Newhalem was interesting, as it looked like a bunch of barracks. It was founded as (and still is!) a company town for the construction of the various dams along the Skagit River built by Seattle City Light, and remained there ever since.

We eventually made it to the Colonial Creek campground on Diablo Lake. It was officially closed, but we were allowed to make camp there. There was also running water, but the restrooms were locked so we had to use the outhouse instead.

While there, we also chatted with an older gentleman who was doing the Northern Tier on a light road bike with tall gearing, but he was carrying as little as possible.

Kyle had some condensation issues with his tent, which plagued him throughout my entire part of the trip.

Day 3: Colonial Creek Campground to Mazama

Here's where the real climbing started! I lead the way since I was a faster climber, thanks to my low gearing. It was a bit dreary: fog and mist everywhere for quite some time.

There was this odd "mini pass" only a couple miles up, which I confused for Rainy Pass. Of course, that wasn't it, as I found out later.

I waited for a while at the top of Rainy Pass for Kyle, and even asked some motorists if they had seen him. Eventually, this one guy who had driven his wife up to the pass so she could ride her bike down it helped out by relaying a message to Kyle.

The last few miles up to Washington Pass were even harder, as it was a mile downhill, then three miles up a constant, steep grade. Once I got there, the same guy stopped by again and I told him to tell Kyle to meet at the country store in Mazama.

The descent down was pretty darn fast, with some switchbacks in dangerous areas. The sandy shoulders freaked me out, but they were gone past those switchbacks.

Once in Mazama, I waited for Kyle at the store until it closed, and picked up a couple of pints of beer for us. Kyle showed up just after closing, and we rode along the last few miles to the Gregg Bike Barn.

We camped out next to the barn after the host chatted with us. There was a high-tech composting toilet there, as well as a propane-heated shower. Inside the barn itself was a fridge with soda.

While there, I found KTRT, which played all sorts of awesome music.

Day 4: Mazama to Winthrop

We didn't ride as far this day: only to Winthrop. The weather in the valley was pretty warm, akin to a prairie. Due to the gearing not being low enough, we went to the local shop to discuss options, and Kyle ended up with an 11-34t cassette in place of his stock 11-32t.

His folks were meeting up with us while they were driving back to Wisconsin (also Kyle's eventual destination!). While waiting, I snapped a ton of photos of the town, and ate quite a bit too. His parents bought us dinner, which was very nice. His folks also put him up for the night at a motel, and I grabbed a room too.

The motel was pretty good, and the manager there was extremely nice and helpful. I also learned that the bike shop in Winthrop was instrumental in bringing fat bikes to the Methow Valley (Winthrop area).

Day 5: Winthrop to Tonasket

This day started off with a climb out of Twisp to Loup Loup Pass. It was actually pretty easy compared to the previous passes, as it was a constant, less-steep grade rather than up and down over again.

After descending into the Okanogan area, we went through downtown Okanogan and Omak, then stopped at the local Wal Mart so he could pick up supplies and scope out tents. No luck on the latter, unfortunately, but he did start getting into freeze-dried meals (you just add boiling water and let it soak). Also, I picked up mustache wax after seeing what it did for his mustache.

We were a bit lost until I punched the route to SR-20 into my GPS, then we were on our way to Tonasket. It involved a lot of riding into the wind, which was a bit tough. It also pretty arid and hot here.

When we got to the turn off for our accommodations, we had a lot of trouble finding the place. Even when asking other locals, they had no idea. Eventually, Megan (Warm Showers) showed us to her house, and gave us chips and beer. She was well-versed in touring, hiking, and bicycles, so we had a lot to talk about. Once Ben, her husband, returned from work, they started work on the ribs we were having for dinner, and we all chatted more over more beer. These guys were awesome!

Day 6: Tonasket to Republic

We were faced with another big climb up to Wauconda Pass. I ended up getting pretty low on water when I actually reached Wauconda, and was dismayed to find that the cafe/shop there was shut down…aside from the "post office": a small room in the back of the shop. I tried to get water from a faucet outside, but it would only drip no matter which way I turned the handle.

Once I got into Republic, I stopped by the local brewpub to get a burger and chili. Oddly enough, I had to go into an adjacent restaurant, order the food, and have it brought over, which apparently was standard practice. While in the bar, I chatted with a number of older folks, some of them interested in touring. I also asked about Kyle, and heard that another cyclist ended up between us somehow…and that other cyclist stopped at the cafe across the street for ice cream shortly after I had heard about him.

I went over there for an espresso milkshake while we chatted and waited for him. The guy's name is Alex and he was headed all the way to Philadelphia! Kyle arrived and we chatted for a bit. I also went and ordered a Sugino XD-350 and bottom bracket for him, since that was the real solution. I went for the fastest shipping, too, so it'd theoretically arrive in Colville the next morning.

Once Kyle arrived, we all decided to head over to the local campground (really, the local fairgrounds) to camp. Well, not after he hauled a growler all the way over there for us. After all, that brewpub is locally famous.

The campground was mainly tailored to R/Vs, but we were also welcome. Alex and I chatted a bunch, and I found both an '80s rock station and a '60s-'80s oldies station broadcasting out of Spokane. I also found several shortwave stations from halfway across the globe!

Day 7: Republic to Colville

On this day, we fought our final mountain pass: Sherman Pass. It really wasn't that hard, as we were already a ways up it. It was beautiful, too, with trees all over the place, and not too many cars. There were a number of logging trucks, though.

The pass was probably the second best (after Washington Pass), with the peak blasted out of the mountain.

Going down it, I was fighting a lot of wind, so I only hit 38 MPH. Of course, any faster and I would completely spin out with my gearing. I was surprised at the distance between the pass and the Columbia River.

There was quite a bit of slow climbing from the river to Kettle Falls, which would've been better if the shoulder hadn't been so narrow.

I stopped at the first major grocery store I saw in Colville (basically a Fred Meyer clone), and ran into Alex there. We then rode off to the hostel, which involved climbing grades on par with the passes, though certainly not as far. The hostel was worth it in the end, as it was pretty darn awesome! I never did end up meeting either host, though.

While there, I found out that the seller of the crankset called me to confirm the order, which was bad since I didn't have service for much of the day. I got pretty worked up over it.

Kyle eventually made it there, and we chilled before heading off for bed.

Day 8: Stay in Colville

We mainly just stuck around Colville. I went into town in the morning and checked out the local farmers' market. I also grabbed beer for the guys, which I hauled back up.

They went into town later in the day, and after they returned I ordered pizza. It was delicious, too.

Day 9: Colville to Ione

I headed out first, followed by Kyle eventually. Apparently, Alex needed to buy more tubes for his bike after destroying one (it happens to all of us), so he stayed in town.

There wasn't much real climbing once past the hostel: only little jaunts here and there. However, there was a long descent into the Pend Oreille Valley. Trees everywhere, too, just like Western Washington.

I got into downtown Ione and waited for Kyle. There were storm clouds where he was, and I wasn't too enthused about getting soaked so soon, so I left downtown and headed towards the campground sign I saw, but then found another one much closer, so I headed to the Edgewater campground instead. It was beautiful, but when Kyle showed up (I sent him an SMS), he said that there was another one in town. Whoops.

It did end up raining a little while we were there, but it wasn't so bad. Kyle napped in his tent, and I got ready for bed to do the same. We woke up later and got a fire going.

Day 10: Ione to Cusick

We left together a bit late, then headed south along a road that paralleled the highway on the other side of the river. It sprinkled a bit, so I fell back since he didn't have fenders, but got back behind him after that stopped. My bike's fit was getting closer and closer, but I ended up stripping the hex head on my seatpost lug clamp, so I wasn't able to make any further adjustments there.

Our target was a campground near Usk, but we weren't able to find it despite following the roads on the map. We ended up staying at an R/V park at the fairground in Cusick instead. Alex eventually joined us again, which was a lot of fun!

It poured down rain that night, and for part of the following morning.

Day 11: Cusick to Spokane

I managed to cook my breakfast during a break in the rain, thankfully.

I left the group on this day, and headed for Spokane. It wasn't very hard, though there was a little rain every now and then. US 2 went from freeway to highway and back while I rode along it, and the Children of the Sun Trail was pretty nice.

While riding out here, I also resolved the whole crankset situation: the seller would ship it overnight to a bike shop in Sandpoint, and the shop would install it for Kyle.

When I realized that I was finally really in Spokane, I started hammering like mad, reaching 25-30 MPH for quite a while. I got a bit lost trying to get on the Centennial Trail, but when I found it I also found myself goitng through college campuses.

Upon arriving at the train station, I noticed that the train left at 02:15 the next morning, so I got a ticket at the automated kiosk, then went to a nearby hotel for the night.

I then walked to do things in Spokane, like eating dinner, and took a bunch of photos.

Day 12: Return to Seattle

The early train boarding wasn't much fun. I also had to box my bike for the first time in a fugue. In the end, I only removed the pedals and bar+stem assembly.

The ride itself was pretty cool, and rolled through lots of interesting scenery. A couple guys from the US Forest Service also talked about the history of the mountain portion of the railroad. I also ate breakfast in the dining car with an older couple who only live a few blocks from where I do.

You'll find a lot more photos in the album. I only included a few since they aren't really relevant to cycling.


Once back in Seattle, I had to call my LBS for tips on getting my stem straight again, but it was pretty uneventful otherwise. I did find out that my LBS would have to drill out the stripped bolt, though, but they have replacements on-hand so that'll be the only delay.

By the way, the crankset did end up getting installed and is now getting him up those hills!

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