Ione to Heron

From The Evergreen State to The Big Sky State – Wednesday 18th to Friday 20th May

Wednesday 18th May – Ione to Sandpoint (Stage 16)

The alarms were set for 7am, so we could have breakfast in our room & be on our way by 8am. Today was the longest stage of our adventure so far – Sandpoint was 86 miles away! As we set off under overcast skies, we crossed the Pend-Oreille river with beautiful views back towards town. We joined the LeClerc Road, which we would be following for the next 50 miles!

As we continued along the banks of the river, we saw two Canada Geese fly from the opposite verge as they were frightened by a passing car, one of the few we saw in the first hour. The 2nd bird glanced off the windshield as he set off & miraculously carried on flying, having suffered no obvious injuries. Not long after, a couple of deer crossed the road – one in front of us & the other. They were kind enough to wait for me to get a photo of them!

The profile of today’s stage was rolling, so no long climbs to speak of. As a result we made good time along the deserted road – we were in wet weather gear, as the forecast was for rain to roll in from about 10am. I just managed to get a selfie of us with the river in the background before the promised rains arrived.

As we reached the 25 mile point of our ride, we reached the small town of Usk (some of my friends will recognise this is one of my regular coffee haunts when I visit South Wales. Like its South Wales counterpart, Usk in Washington also had a gorgeous bridge across its river.

For the first hour we’d had a tailwind, but this became a headwind as the rain arrived. This was going to make the day a bit more of a challenge, but at least we had learned from our last soaking in Gold Bar. My friend Jimbo had been in touch to remind me of the waterproof qualities of latex gloves – we’d packed a couple of pairs of these for bike repairs. They kept my hands dry, even if the rest of my body was drenched to the bone!

As we left Usk behind, we entered the Kalispel Indian Reservation, passing their Headquarters as we headed beyond their fish hatchery complex. Before long, we were back in farming country – some houses were palatial, while others looked like a bit of TLC was required.

After 25 miles of riding into a cold headwind with rain being blown into our faces, we reached our 2nd Welsh connection, the town of Newport. This was a momentous occasion, although you may not know it from my photo! This was where we crossed from the Evergreen State of Washington into The Potato State of Idaho – our first state boundary crossed after 16 days of riding. Leaving Newport behind, the rain stopped just as we reached the top of a climb – right on cue we saw Station 41 Espresso, a small ‘drive-through’ espresso hut, so we stopped & tried to warm ourselves up with an americano & choc chip scone!

We took what we expected to be a quiet backroad, but were regularly overtaken by logging trucks – today we guessed that we’d be passing a timber processing complex of some sort & sure enough we soon reached a plywood making facility. A short, sharp descent took us down to the Pend-Oreille river, but this time we were on the opposite bank. A pretty bridge linked the pine forest with the plywood plant. As we continued along the shoreline, we were treated to a stunning view across the water.

Things continued to improve, as our kit dried out & we found ourselves back in Eagle Country, with wooden pallets placed on telegraph poles for the eagles to use as nesting sites. All the owners were out collecting supplies as we saw lots of eagles soaring about us, but none came close enough to be photographed…….until one of a pair perched itself in a nearby tree!!

We even picked up a slight tailwind. All was good with the world again until the skies opened again 45 minutes from Sandpoint! That was long enough for us to get chilled to the bone as we crossed what was now the Pend-Oreille Lake on a cyclist only bridge. I managed to capture a shot of it, but I would certainly have appreciated it more on a dry day!

We made our way across town on quiet, cycling friendly roads & checked into separate rooms at the Cedar Street Motel & Suites – I had to say sorry for the puddle of rainwater I left as I checked in! Tomorrow’s a rest day, so we nipped into a couple of different bars to relax & celebrate crossing our first state line! We even got to listen to a local musician doing his stuff.

Stage Stats – 86 miles, 2,552 feet of climbing. A rolling day into a headwind & driving rain for most of the day. First state line crossed.

Thursday 19th May – Rest Day

Rest days now have a familiar feel to them – a bit of a lie-in, sorting out laundry, finalising routes & booking accommodation. As we’ve headed east, we’re reaching more remote regions & we’re beginning to adapt our routes to fit where we can get places to stay. At the moment we’re continuing to use motels, as the weather remains on the cold side of chilly & is very changeable.

It looks like we may be camping for the first time soon, as our next block of riding from Sandpoint to Whitefish has a big gap where we couldn’t find any accommodation. We also did a bit of shopping – Sean’s rain jacket has a temperamental zipper, so he’s bought a replacement just in case & he’s also got himself some new shades. Bearing in mind our upcoming camping debut, I’ve invested in a beanie & also splashed out on new shades too. I even left the label on for their first photo!

We celebrated our purchases with coffee & an apple fritter slice – tasty! Although we’re in the middle of a town, there’s a greenspace just across the way & when I returned from our shopping expedition, one of the residents came over to say hello.

Sandpoint holds an annual ‘Lost In The 50’s’ event & this year marks the 35th anniversary. Covid caused the cancellation of events planned for 2020 & 2021, so everyone is gearing up for tomorrow’s big show. There are a wide selection of classic 50’s cars in town, which add to the atmosphere. That’s enough excitement for today – the next stage of our adventure gets underway tomorrow.

Friday 20th May – Sandpoint to Heron (Stage 17)

We woke up to blue skies overhead & after a quick breakfast of cereal & coffee we were packed up & on our way by 10am. There was no need for an early start today, as The Amber Bear in Heron was only 43 miles away on rolling terrain.

Leaving town, we immediately picked up a cycle track which took us along the edge of the Pend-Oreille lake. As we joined the ID200 we passed through Ponderay (the little city with the big future), which was busy with local traffic going about their daily chores. Within 5 miles the road was significantly quieter, as we continued on through Kootenai & past a couple of golf courses with glorious views of the mountains ahead.

As we continued along ID200, we skirted the edge of the Pend Oreille Wetland Wildlife Management Area, where we passed over Trout Creek – it looked like a saline estuary seen in Cornwall, but we were 2,000 feet above sea level! Within a couple of miles it had become part of Pend Oreille Lake again – this is an enormous expanse of water, with a surface area of 148 square miles which makes it the 38th largest in continental USA. The lake is 1,148 feet at its deepest point & we have been following its coastline for 2 complete days!!!

We continued to be surrounded by mountains on all sides as once again our route started following the railroad track. Good news, as it guarantees the road will be fairly flat!! I was once given sage advice to stop & take a look behind you every so often & see where you’ve come from – this applies equally to life & cycling & I made sure I took in the huge views behind us.

Taking in the big views & cycling is hungry work – we’re always on the lookout for coffee &/or cake stops, although now we’re in more remote locations they’re becoming as rare as hen’s teeth. I’m delighted to report I managed to sniff one out at Hope Marina, where we picked up some mementos for our bike boxes as well as coffee & cream cheese topped cinnamon rolls. I see this as essential refuelling, although some of my friends might just say I’m a cake fiend!! If we hadn’t found food here, I would quite literally have been beyond Hope – you’re welcome!!!

As we set off again, there was were dark & angry clouds ahead of us. It very much looked like we might be racing the rain to reach our accommodation for the evening.

Turning inland, we left the lake behind for the last time & headed up the valley of one its tributaries, the Clark Fork Creek. Passing another wildlife wetland protection area, we saw a bale of turtles (a dole or nest is also ok!) sunning themselves on a log. As we passed there were 10 of them, by the time I’d clip-clopped back in my cleats there were only 5. We were also back in eagle territory as they soared on the thermals way above us.

The town of Clark Fork marked the start of another long section of tarmac that rose at a very friendly gradient, as it followed the course of the river. Although we didn’t realise at the time, this was one of only 2 places to cross the Clark Fork.

Continuing up the valley we encountered a few slate quarries & they all shared a common theme other than slate – they had collections of upwards of 100 ancient cars/trucks. As the road was climbing, it was compulsory that Sean sit on the front & set the pace as the road disappeared into the distance.

Today was a landmark as not only were we crossing our second State Line from The Potato State of Idaho into The Big Sky State of Montana, we were also crossing our first Time Zone as we passed from Pacific Time to Mountain Time & pedalled forward an hour in time.

At last we reached the turn-off to Heron – all that remained was to cross the Clark Fork, climb the early slopes of the valley on paved roads & then take a left turn up a gravel road to Amber Bear Inn, our home for the evening. The rain was chasing us & no sooner did will pull up than the skies opened & didn’t stop for the remainder of the day!

The Amber Bear Inn was an out of this world experience – when we arrived there was a pride (or ostentation) of 9 peacocks & peahens on the terrace. In the far distance we could just make out 5 deer grazing on the grass & a heron flying overhead. As if that wasn’t enough, later in the afternoon a gang of elk joined the party! Canada Geese also patrolled the lawn out front.

Mike & Cookie were superb hosts from the moment we walked in – our upstairs room matched the image of what a lodge in the African Serengeti would look like, it included enormous picture windows on two of the elevations, 2 huge king-size beds, a separate jacuzzi room & plenty of living space.

At dinner Jennifer ensure we enjoyed our evening meal of salad, ravioli & tomato sauce & my first ever portion of huckleberry ice cream – it won’t be the last!! We then sat with Mike for upwards of an hour as we learned about his life, including when the US Military took over the whole of the Amber Bear Inn to tackle an out of control forest fire – at one point there were 300 military field tents of various sizes on his grounds & they served in excess of 16,000 meals in a 2 week period!!

We also learned survival techniques in case we meet an elk, moose, mountain lion or bear – we’re now a bit less keen to have an up close & personal experience with any of them!! Mike, Cookie & Jennifer – thank you for making this an experience I’ll treasure for many years to come!

Stage Stats – 44 miles, 1,634 feet of climbing. A rolling day that began under blue skies that became overcast as the day progressed. Second state line & first time-zone crossed.

Republic to Ione

One More Mountain To Climb – Sunday 15th to Tuesday 17th May

Sunday 15th May – Rest Day

After a night on the tiles (we got back to our hotel about 1am), we were both grateful for a rest & recovery day. As I poked my head outside to test the temperature, the Fire Service were testing their equipment & hosing down the streets.

We met at about 9.45am & headed for brunch at 18 North Kitchen, enjoying a variation on scrambled eggs that looked & tasted delicious. On the way into town yesterday, we’d spotted a fossil museum, so we decided to pop in for a nose around. Gabby (who by her own admission was aptly named) talked to us for about 10 minutes about her role in both the museum & the historical society of Republic – it’s always a pleasure to meet someone who’s passionate about their hobbies.

Our next task was laundry – not one of my favourite jobs, but one that is essential when you only have 3 sets of cycling equipment & infection is your enemy. I updated my daily journal while waiting for our kit to run through the wash & dry cycles. The excitement of a long distance adventurer!

I went for a look around town in the afternoon to learn a bit about how Republic came into existence – it’s a late 1890’s gold prospecting town (our Motel is called the Prospectors Inn & has a replica wagon outside) that became a hub for all the services needed to run the gold mines.

With the exception of cars replacing horses & wagons, the town has retained its original look & feel. The Northern Inn is one such example. Built in 1903 to house the workers of The Northern Railway & Stagecoach company & to all intents & purposes looks the same as it did over 100 years ago, although the materials have been updated. The Wild West Farm & Garden Centre has taken a similar approach – it was easy to imagine the town as it must have been in those early years.

At the edge of town I was wandering along minding my own business when I spotted a deer sat in a garden, not 15 feet away. It sat there looking at me as if it didn’t have a care in the world, before calmly standing up & walking away – not the first time that’s happened to me!!!

Sean & I met up later to do some essential admin & planning – the end result was a plan for the next 3 days of riding which will take us from Republic to Sandpoint. We also researched accommodation options & phoned up a couple to book rooms – hopefully we’ve made some good choices!

We bought dinner in the local supermarket & sat in my room eating it, while watching more deer wander around the lawns at the end of the hotel property. After 5 back to back days of challenging riding, this R&R day was very much needed to recharge the batteries. It also gave us a chance to meet a few people & learn a bit about the town.

Monday 16th May – Republic to Colville (Stage 14)

We were up bright & early, knowing our office today was going to be the mighty Sherman Pass, the highest Pass in Washington to remain open all year. Setting off beneath overcast skies, we’d again beaten the weather forecast which had predicted rain until lunch time. Leaving town at the 303 Mile Marker, we took a left onto a cycle path (also used by roller skaters, skiers, walkers & All Terrain Vehicles) which kept us high above the road below, giving beautiful views across the valley to the mountains beyond.

We re-joined the SR20 after about 5 miles & the climbing started immediately at a fairly consistent 5%. Very early on I established that I had heavy legs, in spite of the rest day – this is a bit of an occupational hazard, sometimes a day off fixes sore legs, sometimes it doesn’t! We were still in the Colville National Forest, as the tarmac weaved through the giant pine trees. Every now & again we’d emerge from the forest & see the big mountains were getting ever closer.

As we reached White Mountain Fire overlook the road opened up, offering views straight up to the snow peaked mountains – these look so much more impressive than their snowless cousins. We also saw the first signs that we were approaching the snowline. At times I was in awe of the natural majesty of the surrounding scenery.

It took 2 hours 50 minutes to cover the 20 miles from our hotel to the summit of Sherman Pass, where we stopped for a customary photo of the sign. This is the highest Pass we’ve conquered so far at over a mile above sea level, but there will be bigger beasts to wrestle later in the adventure!

While Sean was getting himself ready for the descent, I took a few moments to capture my thoughts on the climb & the downhill yet to come.

Sean set off first which gave me the opportunity to follow & get an action shot as he approached one of the many gentle curves – this was a cracking descent, as the road regularly opened up to show the surrounding views. A combination of the shallow gradient & gradual bends ensured that there wasn’t any need to brake on the entire descent.

As we plummeted downhill, we started to follow the course of a creek & as it tumbled down the mountain it created small waterfalls along the way. At times it felt as if the road was never going to end & after one of my many photo stops I found that Sean was completely out of view as he’d carried on riding!

Sean doesn’t know this (until he reads it here), but I ended up chasing him down the mountain for almost 15 minutes as I gave it a ‘full gas’ effort to catch him up!!! I’d originally stopped to take a photo of the forest after it had been harvested by the loggers & in the 3 minutes or so I was stopped, Sean was well over a mile down the road.

As we reached the lower slopes, we started seeing signs to various trailheads & campgrounds – this would be a superb place to spend the night once the temperatures pick up a bit. By now the creek had grown in size & we soon went in different directions, as it headed through a steep gorge on it’s way to the larger rivers below.

As the road flattened out, we turned a corner & Lake Roosevelt was laid out in front of us. It was created when the Grand Coulee Dam was built across the Columbia River in 1941 & was named after Franklin D Roosevelt who was President at the time. The lake extends 150 miles up the valley from Grand Coulee Dam & has created over 600 miles of coastline. We crossed at one of the few bridging points across the lake at Kettle Falls, took an immediate right turn & then had a fabulous view back to the road & railroad bridge behind us.

We were on a quiet backroad, so were surprised to see a few logging trucks pass us until we saw the humongous timber & wood processing site in front of us – it’s stretched for over 1/2 mile & was stacked with what must have been millions of tree trunks. As the road bore left, we had our last fleeting views of Roosevelt Lake & headed inland though a pine forest with lots of colourful vegetation – perfect for staging an action photo!

We’ve really enjoyed the backroad options (more about how we found them tomorrow), as we’ve had the roads to ourselves & have got to see more nature, scenery & how small-town USA lives & is set out than if we’d stayed on the more busy State & US numbered roads. Heading through the quiet streets of Kettle Falls, we passed a small hydro-electric facility that looked like it was specifically for the local community.

By now we were only about 10 miles or so from our stop for the evening, at which point our nemesis “The Headwind of Hurt” blew into town & tested our physical & mental fitness! What should have been enjoyable & relaxing roll into town became just that bit more difficult as we were on roads that were exposed to the elements. The views to the mountains in the background gave us something to focus on, rather than our sore legs!

It was another wonderful day in the saddle & as we reached our motel we were ready to chill out & relax. Where we were staying in Colville was a big disappointment (our only one to date), the room was tiny, the floor was concrete, the walls were cinderblock – Sean summed it up best when he said “Gav, we’re staying in a bloody prison cell for the night!”.

I don’t think it’s fair to name where we stayed, as the people themselves were really friendly, nice & tried their best to help us – we’d simply chosen somewhere that didn’t fit our requirements.

Stage Stats – 57 miles, 4,354 feet of climbing. A Hors Category climb (the highest point so far). A rapid descent followed by a rolling finish to the stage.

Tuesday 17th May – Colville to Ione (Stage 15)

We were up early to the dulcet tones of Mr MacKay shouting “Fletcher, Godber, up & out your cell NOW!!!” – I jest! We headed up the road for a coffee at 9am – today is the first anniversary of Dad passing away, so I phoned Mum for the first time since I’ve been in the USA. It was lovely to catch up & find out Mum had a phone call from Ally (my brother in Cambridge) earlier in the day & had also gone out to the Forest of Dean with Greg & Nikki (my brother & sister-in-law in Bristol) for the day. We used to go there as kids & we all have great memories of the times we spent there.

We were riding by about 9.30am & headed through small residential streets as we climbed uphill right from the off. The road went up in steps – a steep ramp followed by a flat section – for a mile or two, before we left town behind & set off through farmland. At one point we passed an old barn that looked like it had a smiley face on it!

I mentioned yesterday that we’d been taking quiet backroads wherever possible & this feels like a good chance to explain how we found them. I joined the Adventure Cycling Association back in January, while I was planning our route. I bought about 15 cycling specific maps from them – at the moment we’re on Map 1 of the Northern Tier & without exception, their directions & deviations to get us off busy roads have been first rate.

We were gradually making our way across country to join the SR20 – along the way we passed a few lakes & as we passed one we could hear some birds warbling so stopped to see if we could see what was making the noise. As our eyes adjusted we could make out a number of predominantly black birds with flashes of orange on their fronts perched on the bulrushes. Research suggests they may be American Redstart Warblers, but if you know different, please let me know!

The road continued to gradually rise as we re-joined our old friend the SR20 (we’ve been following it on & off since Port Townsend on Stage 1). Over the past couple of weeks it’s delivered a number of scenic treats & today was no different.

We had the road to ourselves as we passed Starvation Lake (no coffee & cake stop here!) & climbed the ridge with great views of the mountains as they extended into Canada.

We knew it was unlikely to find anywhere for coffee today, but we were on the lookout for somewhere to stop & take a brief break. We saw a sign for a scenic viewpoint up ahead, so decided to give it a try. Crystal Falls was an absolute gem of a find & we enjoyed a few minutes absorbing the view & sound of rushing water, as well as enjoying a trail mix boost!

We continued on our way through the Colville National Forest, with large pine trees on either side of us. On rare occasions we’d get more views of the mountains ahead of us. There were trails, creeks,lakes & campsites in all directions & then out of the blue we saw a coffee stop!!!

Beaver Falls Lodge is set around Gillette Lake & the staff were stocktaking & getting ready to open for the upcoming Memorial Day bank holiday. They very kindly put on a pot of coffee for us & opened up the terrace so we could see the views for ourselves – yet more very generous locals. On the off-chance that they see this, A BIG THANK YOU from the two Brits who passed through!

In what we decided to dub ‘The Golden 15 Minutes’, we saw a convocation of eagles (there were 7 in today’s show), as well as 3 separate sightings of deer. This is nature heaven & we were in our element as the mountains continued to get closer. As if that wasn’t enough, I found a way of including my Worky Wife in today’s blog – Kate I hope Leo likes his sign when you read him tonight’s story. I’m still on the lookout for something Jacob related!

We finally reached the summit of the ridge & I saw a sign to make my heart soar – a 6 mile descent at 6%!!! Perhaps the mountains might finally show themselves…..I’ve fallen in love with snowy peaked mountains & they delivered again today!

We reached the small town of Tiger & turning North, saw a sign saying we were only 25 miles from the Canadian border. Our destination for tonight was now only 5 miles away – the small town of Ione (pronounced I-Own) is set on the Pend-Oreille river. You might just spot the osprey in the first photo below if you look carefully.

A military veteran owns a block in town & we visited the gas station to check-in & pick up our key. Once again, the people we met were incredibly friendly & genuinely interested in our adventure. We were just getting ourselves organised to head to our room for the night, when someone ran out of the gas station. Emmet came & introduced himself & asked our names, then said that we were the first people from the UK he’d ever met. It was a truly heart-warming moment.

Emmet suggested we take a few minutes to visit the local park which was only a short way from our hotel room – I’m so glad we took his advice, it was such a peaceful spot that provided the perfect end to the day’s ride.

Our room in Porter’s Plaza Motel was exactly what we needed after last night’s Cell Block H shenanigans! There was lots of room for us, our kit & our bikes, while the supermarket was right across the road for dinner & breakfast supplies. We sat on the balcony watching the sun go down as we enjoyed homemade cheese & turkey sandwiches!

Stage Stats – 43 miles, 2.618 feet of climbing. A rolling stage with a big descent to end the day.

Twisp to Republic

Twisp Again or The Only Way Is Up – Friday 13th & Saturday 14th May

Friday 13th May – Twisp to Omak (Stage 12)

We’re now back on the original route I planned some 6 months ago, which simplifies things slightly from a logistics perspective. Today the plan is to do a relatively short ride which will make things just a bit easier again, as Omak was a previously identified overnight stop – no more tweaking of routes & having to research towns for accommodation for a little while at least!

Breakfast was a variation on a bacon roll & a coffee which we picked up from Glover Street Market. We were packed & on our way by about 10.15, as we were only anticipating a 4 hour ride & check-in at Omak was any time from 3pm. It was another day for suntan lotion as there were blue skies overhead & there was little wind to speak of.

Leaving Twisp behind us, within a couple of miles we took a left turn which signalled the start of the day’s categorised climb, the Loup Loup Pass. We’re going to be riding a mountain pass a day for the next 3 or 4 days, as we continue to make our way east across Washington State – the rivers mainly run north to south, so if you picture a row of shark’s teeth, that’s the profile we’re crossing.

Loup Loup started steeply with a 7% kicker, but fortunately after about 1/2 mile it settled into a more friendly 4% – 5% gradient. Over our right shoulder we had great views of the Methow river & all the way across the valley to the mountains in the background, as we were riding through grassland with small bushes on either side of us.

We entered the Okanogan National Forest & the views of the river were replaced with big pine trees on both sides of the road. There were a couple of places where it appeared that there had been fires in the recent past. It’s a common practice to control the forest with prescribed burns, where fire experts are able to restore the health of the surrounding ecosystems that depend on fire to flourish.

As the road changed direction, we were treated to one final view of the huge snowy peaks behind us – this had been our playground for the last couple of days & it’s due to be the last time we see snow in Washington (although who knows whether that will prove to be the case!).

We had the road almost to ourselves, with the occasional car passing us in either direction & a couple of logging trucks lumbering past us as we continued climbing through the forest. As if this wasn’t good enough, we also had a tailwind blowing us up the majority of the ascent! Nearing the summit, we heard what we initially thought were chainsaws, but the rhythm of the buzz didn’t quite seem right until we realised this was also off-road motorbike territory & it was more likely to be a couple of scramblers enjoying themselves.

It took 1 hour 40 minutes to reach the summit from the start of the climb where we turned away from the Methow river. The gradient was always kind & I enjoyed the varying views & scenery on the way up. We stopped briefly to get a photo at the summit sign & to put on some warmer kit for the descent.

I’m continuing to persevere with my videoing & the details of the climb & the start of the descent are captured in this quick snippet;

The gradient quickly ramped up to 6% – 8% & I was in my element descending, as the road was wide with really good lines of sight regarding any upcoming twists & turns. I couldn’t resist the urge to get some action footage of me overtaking Sean – smug grin alert!

We had a 17 mile descent with just one minor pimple where the road briefly ramped uphill. We remained on deserted roads as we passed from forest into farmland, passing huge orchards of apples, pears & cherries, each with their own sign so tourists like me would know what was growing.

During our travels across the state, we’ve occasionally seen Historical Marker signs on the side of the road, giving some interesting fact or another about an important event that happened nearby. Today we passed one giving details of the Curtis Sheep Slaughter of 1903 – hostilities between cattlemen & sheepmen reached a climax when several hundred sheep were slaughtered with clubs. It seems the cattlemen took badly to sheep grazing on what they perceived as their land, so burned some of the sheepmen’s haystacks & things quickly escalated into the Curtis Sheep Slaughter.

As we neared Okanogan, we spotted a couple of ospreys, confirming that we’d given back most of the height we gained on the day’s earlier climb. We were tracking the Okanogan river into the town of the same name & as we were only 7 miles from our overnight lodgings & we had time on our hands, we decided to pull in to Free Bird Espresso drive through coffee hut. The coffee was tasty & we sat in the sun, watching a couple of squirrels honing their gymnastics skills. Leaving town we passed a large white cross on a hill, reminding us of our trips to Spain & Italy where we’ve previously seen religious buildings on the highest point possible.

The final 7 miles were on the SR20 & it seemed that people were starting the weekend early, as the roads felt busy, in part because we’d hardly seen a car all day. We rolled into our motel at just gone 3.15, so had a bit of down-time to relax before heading out to Safeway to buy salad, potato chips & Twix for dinner. Another glorious day in the saddle under perfect blue skies!

Stage Stats – 38 miles, 3,572 feet of climbing. Another day with a Hors Category climb straight out the door, followed by a glorious descent.

Saturday 14th May – Omak to Republic (Stage 13)

We woke to dark grey skies, with clouds that looked ready to dump their rain at any minute. On a more positive note, this was the best continental breakfast we’ve had so far! A variety of cereal, bread, pastries, fruit, yoghurt, boiled eggs, juice & coffee were all on offer – Sean was up early & was so impressed by his first breakfast that he joined me & had a second sitting too!!!

We were saddled up & ready to leave by 9am – we had a big day ahead of us with an absolutely monumental 28 mile climb up Wauconda Pass to complete. A quick trip across town enabled us to pick up a backroad linking Omak to Riverside via the Colville Indian Reservation.

The first 13 miles traced the Okanogan river towards its source, before depositing us on the SR20 at Riverside. It looked like there was a Saturday Market & car show taking place as we passed through. At times the road seems to stretch into infinity, with occasional ramps & dips as it followed the contours of the land.

We were only on the SR20 for about 10 miles before we took a left onto the much smaller & quieter Highway 7, which took us into Tonasket. Riding into town we passed Gavin’s Gas & Petroleum, so stopped for a photo, then went in search of coffee & cookies before the BIG climb of the day. The Wauconda Pass rises almost 3,500 feet in the space of 28 miles – it isn’t a steep climb, but it is brutally long.

The first mile was the steepest of the entire climb as the road twisted & turned to find a way up to a small plateau. For most of the next 8 miles, we were in scrubland, with occasional fields of horses & the odd ranch.

I recorded this clip when I thought the climb was only 20 miles long, you can tell I was still feeling good & under the impression I was almost at the halfway point – it was a surprise later when I realised that I’d miscalculated & we’d be heading uphill for 28 miles!

As we reached the Okanogan National Forest, the weather took a turn for the worse.

There will be way worse setbacks than a bit of rain on this adventure, so I put on my ‘big boy pants’ (I only brought the one pair as they take up too much room & weight!) & remembered how fortunate I’ve been already.

As if by magic, as we passed through the small settlement of Wauconda, we spotted another bird of prey sat on a telegraph pole – from what I’ve been able to research, it may have been a Swainson’s Hawk. If anyone can say for certain what it is from these 2 photos, please let me know. The two birds in the 2nd photo flew off together calling to each other, so perhaps it was a parent & an offspring.

In total, it took 3 hours 5 minutes to complete the 28 mile climb from Tonasket to Wauconda Pass – we only got rained on for about 45 minutes of that & considering the state of the sky when we set out, I would have been more than happy to accept that! After a couple of snaps at the summit, we were on our way for the 13 mile descent into Republic.

The excitement wasn’t yet over, however, as I spotted a couple of deer at the side of the road as I was descending. I fully expected them to run for cover as we approached, but they just stood there looking at us – almost as if they knew we were crazy Brits on a mad adventure! I managed to get my phone out in time to shoot about 20 photos & luckily a couple of them are decent enough to share.

Our descent finished at Republic, where we’re staying at The Prospector’s Inn for the next couple of nights – tomorrow’s an all important rest & recovery day. Update – we enjoyed dinner & a bottle of Torpedo IPA in The Knotty Pine, the adjourned next door to The Miner Saloon & Grill for a couple of Mac & Jacks, followed by a few more!

We met Alex towards the end of the evening & he shared his knowledge of the local wildlife, as well as a couple of suggestions regarding possible detours if we wanted some off-road action. It was a great hour or so & we experienced another example of the generosity of the people we’ve met – Alex had paid off a chunk of our bar bill. Thank you for your kind gesture, I hope you enjoyed yourself as much as we did! It felt like the perfect end to another incredible day in the saddle.

Stage Stats – 69 miles, 5,038 feet of climbing. The longest Hors Category climb so far at 28 miles, followed by a short (in comparison) descent.

Mazama to Twisp via Washington Pass

Twisping Time Is Here

Thursday 12th May – Stage 11

Our original plan was to climb Washington Pass from Newhalem as part of Stage 4 of our epic coast to coast adventure on 4th May. Due to heavy falls of snow (& avalanches) late into Spring, the Pass remained closed until 10th May. We made the decision very early to take an alternative route & see if we could perhaps climb Washington Pass from Mazama.

It’s taken us 8 days to reach Mazama from Mount Vernon (had the Pass been open, we’d have been here in 2) – in that time we’ve covered 451 miles & ascended 22,500 feet of elevation, so you’ll begin to appreciate how keen we were to ride Washington Pass. In spite of yesterday’s weather forecast predicting rain, we woke to clear blue skies.

The big early news of the day was that our hosts at The Freestone Inn had agreed that we could extend our room reservation by a couple of hours, so we’d be able to take on the climb without our panniers! After a quick breakfast, we were on our bikes by 8.45am & crossing Early Winter Creek which marked the start of the climb for us – it’s a 16 mile climb from Milepost 178, so we could count down the miles as we climbed. The North Cascades is designated a Scenic Highway & almost immediately we saw why, as we entered the Okanogan National Forest.

We had a rude awakening as the gradient kicked up to 5% & above almost immediately – we were expecting a gentle warm up, but that’s not what we got! Our minds were taken off the steepness of the slope by the stunning views up to the enormous mountain peaks all around us. We had the road to ourselves on the lower slopes & we could hear the creeks as they cascaded through the pine forest.

Snow started appearing at the side of the road at Mile 172 & as we carried on climbing, the isolated banks soon became larger. We also started getting bigger views of the towering cliffs to our right. Sean found the slopes much easier to deal with than me, so I found myself setting my own rhythm & simply enjoying the stunning scenery around me.

The further up the mountain we progressed, the more the blue sky was replaced by dark cloud – the risk of rain (or snow) increased the higher we climbed, but for the time being the rain stayed away. Sean chose to ride at my pace for this section, which meant that I could shoot a quick bit of video to capture my thoughts on the climb so far & have someone to focus the camera on.

By the time we reached Milepost 168 (10 miles into the climb), we were well above the snowline & passed the final summer campground, The Lone Fir – the significance of this campground will become clear later! The snowbanks at the side of the road were continuous & several feet thick.

The forest started to thin out over the final 5 miles of the climb & the wind started to pick up, luckily for the large part it remained a tailwind. By now, the cloud were looking very imposing & the temperature had dropped a few degrees centigrade. Another observation was that the big logging trucks had started work for the day, as they passed us every 5 or 10 minutes. In the last mile or so, we reached the one & only switchback of the climb. From here we had a great view back down the valley, possibly my favourite scenic shot of the climb.

Two hours & 18 minutes after we started climbing, we reached the summit, where we took a few minutes to recover from the climb, celebrate the achievement, enjoy the views & wrap up for the descent. I wanted to take a few more photos & planned to stop on the way down too, so Sean wisely chose to start descending as soon as he was ready. I’d completed the climb in shorts, short-sleeved jersey & gilet, so needed to put on my arm warmers, Castelli Gabba & long fingered gloves before I could set off.

While I was getting my kit on I heard the familiar rumble of a logging truck on its way up the final ramp of the Pass – I just had enough time to get my phone out & shoot a quick video – these trucks are noisy & big!!!

The descent was a dream for me – besides the one sweeping hairpin, the gradient was a consistent 6% with long, clear views of the road ahead. I was able to shoot a brief video as I descended, although the noise from the wind stopped me from adding any commentary!

You’ll remember that I mentioned the Lone Fir Campsite earlier – our original plan had us staying here for the night after climbing Washington Pass from Newhalem. I stopped to have a quick look around & it’s fair to say camping wouldn’t have been an option & won’t be for some time to come!

I finally caught up with Sean within a mile of so of The Freestone Inn, where we warmed up with a much appreciated cup of coffee before loading the panniers back onto our bikes. Although the Washington Pass element of today’s ride was over, we still had another 25 miles to ride. The good news was we were retracing our tyre-tracks from yesterday, so knew it was slightly downhill. The bad news was we were into a 20 mph gusting headwind!!

A real highlight was seeing a duet of 10 osprey soaring into the winds – I managed to capture 4 of them at one point. Before the trip started, seeing eagles & ospreys in their natural environment were on my wishlist, never in my wildest imagination did I think I’d have seen a pair of golden eagles & 10 ospreys in a duet by the end of our second week!

We shared the workload on the front & I took the opportunity to take photos whenever I got to recover in 2nd wheel. After about an hour of hard riding we reached Winthrop, which is themed as a Wild West town. It’s a really neat town, although it was difficult to get many decent photos because the town used horsepower produced from gas, rather than steeds.

Leaving Winthrop, we once more picked up the Methow river for the remaining 8 miles into Twisp, our overnight stop. We arrived just before 3pm, so made it to The Cinnamon Twisp just before it closed & bought ourselves a sandwich each for lunch – a great recommendation from our hosts at The Freestone Inn.

After a few hours to recover, we headed out to BJ’s Branding Iron Bar & Grill to celebrate another awesome day in the saddle – Lucille’s IPA was our drink of choice this evening with a bacon cheeseburger for dinner. Check out the suntan after the last few days!! We’d avoided the rain all day, but ironically we got absolutely soaked as we walked back to our motel. At least we’d taken our rain jackets with us.

Stage Stats – 57 miles, 4,549 feet of climbing. A Hors Category climb straight out the door, followed by a glorious descent. The final 25 miles were into a brutal headwind.

Leavenworth to Mazama

Here Comes The Sun – 9th, 10th & 11th May

Monday 9th May – Rest & Recovery Day

After 6 days of back to back cycling, it was time to enjoy a well earned day off & what better place to do that than in Leavenworth. It grew on the back of settlers who were hungry for gold, furs & timber. However by the 1960’s it was shuffling along towards extinction – until the town leaders had the bright idea of changing Leavenworth’s appearance to take advantage of the amazing alpine hills & turn it into a German themed town.

More than one million people now visit Leavenworth each year – they’ve done more than just give the town a facelift, they’ve adopted many of the German festivals, including Octoberfest!! The town is also home to The Nutcracker Museum, where over 7,000 nutcrackers are on display – I didn’t go in, but it brought back many happy memories of my childhood, as we had a homemade nutcracker that used to come out every Christmas.

Every building & business in a 3 block by 3 block square is now Bavarian themed – I thoroughly enjoyed the day mooching around, relaxing in the town square with a cherry strudel & coffee, just watching the world go past. We got chatting to a couple from New Jersey who were halfway through a 6 week trip in the Recreational Vehicle (RV) which had taken them through Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Idaho & Oregon. They were planning to head home along a similar route to us, but it will take them 3 weeks rather than 6 months!

We also had to catch up on essential admin like working out our routes for the next 3 days & booking accommodation in suitable motels – we’ve accepted we’re still a couple of weeks away from camping. A day off the bike was just what was needed, as by the end of the day we were both looking forward to our next block of exploring on our big adventure!

Tuesday 10th May – Leavenworth to Chelan (Stage 9)

We awoke to azure blue skies for the ride to Chelan, so for the first time on the trip we needed suntan lotion – happy days! The route would take us downhill most of the day, with just one climb towards the end of the day, so we were already expecting to make decent time & have a fairly relaxing day. A tailwind was the icing on the cake.

Leaving town we took one last look at the snowy-peaked mountains of the Stevens Pass, before leaving town on SR2 & heading into prime farming land. There were orchards of apples, pears, cherries & olives in every direction. We stopped briefly at Smallwood’s Harvest just so I could insert a puerile photo where you, the reader, can choose your own title! The SR2 became a 4 lane highway after about 8 miles, but although we were effectively on a dual carriageway, we had wide hard shoulders all to ourselves as we rode next to the Wenatchee river.

We took a small back road from Monitor to Sunnyslope , where after covering 24 miles in the first 90 minutes, we stopped briefly for coffee & a cookie. We were reminded that the UK & the USA are nations divided by a common language! When asked where we were headed I explained that we were on our way to Chell-an – the server’s face was a picture, so I tried again Cheeeelan…..I now know the correct pronunciation is Shey-laaaan! There were big views of mountains & rivers in all directions, all on deserted roads. This felt like cycling paradise.

We joined the Cascades Scenic Loop on the Alt 97. For the next 25 miles we followed the course of the Columbia river – originally I was expecting us to be gently climbing, as we were heading upstream, however, the river has been dammed at various points & so the road is able to follow the railroad track a few feet above what are effectively a series of lakes.

Passing through Entiat we stopped at Silicosaska Park – there was a stunning metal sculpture of Chilcosahaskt a member of the Entiat tribe in 1872. His Great-grandson, Wendell George has worked with the city to create this haven of peace & tranquillity on the waterfront. I was so glad I’d stopped to learn a bit more about the original custodians of the land who now live on the Colville Indian Reservation.

At one of the small turnoffs from the Alt 97 I stopped to get a photo of me next to an iconic railroad crossing sign (sadly we didn’t see a train all day). We continued to follow the course of the river, with the river cliffs getting ever nearer. At the 45 mile point we encountered our only climb of the day, a 750 ascent which took us out of the Columbia river valley via a short tunnel (we pressed a button & it set off flashing lights to let motorists know there were 2 stupid cyclists in the tunnel!).

Exiting the tunnel, we were on a plateau that continued to rise for another couple of miles, but our friendly tailwind continued to blow us up the small incline! As we crested the climb, we could see rain falling at one end of Chelan lake, while glorious sunshine was very much evident over the town of Chelan – someone was looking after us today!

We fairly flew down the descent into town & quickly found the Deepwater Inn, our motel for the evening. Once we’d checked in, we popped over the road to the laudromat to clean our kit – we now know how everything works & are considering applying for jobs on EastEnders when we return to the UK! We’ve been in the USA for a couple of weeks & this evening we’ve started trying to live as locals, rather than eating out every night – we visited the local Safeway & bought food for this evening’s meal & tomorrow morning’s breakfast.

Stage Stats – 56 miles, 2,828 feet of climbing. Slightly downhill most of the day, with one small climb. Weather was warm & sunny all day.

Wednesday 11th May – Chelan to Mazama (Stage 10)

For the 3rd day running we awoke to blue skies overhead. After enjoying a breakfast of cereal, yoghurt, fruit & croissants we headed out of town by 9am on the Alt 97 for what would be our longest day to date. After a very small drag out of town, we’d be climbing all day, although there wouldn’t be a hill to speak of. For the first 10 miles we had the road pretty much to ourselves as we cut through a small canyon, then dropped back down into the Columbia river valley, where we’d spent much of yesterday.

We briefly cut inland, giving a slightly different view of the surrounding scenery, including some dandelion like flowers. We were on the lookout for fish eagles (or ospreys), as we’d been told this was a common breeding area – the key was to look out for pallets on top of telegraph poles. We passed one pole with a pallet on it, but no ospreys were home. As we reached Pateros we joined SR153 towards Twisp – for the next 33 miles we’d be following the course of the Methow river, untamed by man.

This was where the uphill would start & continue for the rest of the day, as we were now cycling against the flow of the river. The road regularly criss-crossed the river as we continued on deserted tarmac & then out of the blue an osprey flew into view & landed on an old tree stump not 300 yards ahead of us. I had my phone out in a flash & zoomed in, all the while hoping he/she would wait for me to line up the shot – I’m quite pleased with the end result.

We occasionally passed through small hamlets, as we continued along the river & although we were making decent time, this stretch felt like it passed in slow motion. As we passed through Carlton we saw a gas station & decided to top up our caffeine levels -it was a bargain at 99 cents for 12 fluid ounces! Along with a couple of scoops of trail mix (mixed nuts, raisins plus M&Ms) we were re-invigorated.

We also got our first brief glimpses of snowy mountain peaks in the far-off distance. This gave us fresh impetus, as we’d detoured all the way round SR2, over Stevens Pass & on to Chelan so we could cycle one of the these peaks – find out which one tomorrow!

Arriving at Twisp we briefly re-joined the SR20 (we’d spent Stages 2, 4 & 6 riding sections of it in week one of our adventure), before taking a quieter back road to Winthrop – by now the snowy peaks were looking much closer! We also spotted another Osprey flying overhead – seeing one in a day felt special, so to see two was very exciting!

From Winthrop we had a long drag of 15 miles into a nagging headwind – at the end of a 76 mile ride it felt hard work, plus we both experienced numb feet. After such a stunning day it was a small price to pay & it all melted away when we finally reached our accommodation for the evening – the Freestone Inn is an oasis, with a beautiful lake that backs onto our room.

As if that wasn’t enough, we’d been left a chocolate bar treat!! We’re both a bit nervous about tomorrow, as rain is currently forecast & we’ve done the best part of a one week detour to get here. We’ll be cycling up a big mountain pass tomorrow regardless of the actual weather, but it would be preferable to do it in the dry.

Stage Stats – 76 miles, 4,558 feet of climbing. Dragging uphill all day. Weather was warm & sunny all day again.

Gold Bar to Leavenworth

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

Sunday 8th May – Stage 8

Gold Bar to Leavenworth via the Stevens Pass. Since we floated the idea of re-routing south to cross the Cascade Mountains, this day had been playing on my mind. It would be the first serious examination of our ability to cross the USA coast to coast. The Stevens Pass is a 15 mile climb that rises to 4,061 feet above sea level & we would be attempting it with fully loaded panniers on heavy touring bikes – while we’d done many training rides, none of them could compare to today’s route.

Enough of the hype – We would be on State Route 2 all day, heading in an easterly direction. As we expected a long day in the saddle, we’d finished breakfast & were on our way by 9am. We started under lead grey skies, with clouds hiding most of the snow covered higher peaks.

We could make out light dustings of overnight snow on the pine trees which dominated the lower slopes. Our hotel rooms were booked in Leavenworth & were non-refundable, so one way or another we had to crack on! We followed the Skykomish river & railroad as they criss-crossed their way across the valley, always creeping ever higher. In the blink of an eye, the grey skies were replaced with sunshine for the first time in a week & we saw the immensity of the landscape around us. What struck us was how close we were already to the snowline, yet we were at barely 750 feet above sea level!

Our first animal surprise was spotting an active eagle nesting site on the top of a telegraph pole by the side of the railroad & one of the eagles was guarding the nest – you may be able to make out the other eagle flying just above the trees on the right of the photo. This was quickly followed by a completely unexpected sighting of a Bigfoot just outside of Index – this is where Harry & The Hendersons was filmed back in the late 1980’s & early 90’s. Needless to say we stopped for a selfie with the big man himself!

We pulled in at LouSkis in Skykomish after 19 miles, so we could enjoy a huge chocolate brownie & americano before setting off for the main course. The climb began in earnest at mile 22 as we passed Deception Falls – up to this point we’d gained about 1,000 feet of elevation. Over the next 15 miles we’d be gaining another 3,000 feet at a fairly steady 4% – 6% gradient.

As we hit 1,500 feet above sea level we reached the snow line – small little hummocks & mounds to begin with. Soon the ground was covered in snow everywhere except on the road, which remained mainly dry & completely ice-free. Sean gradually began to pull away from me at the 3 to 4 mile point in the climb, so I took the time to record my thoughts on the lower slopes of Stevens Pass.

At the 6 mile point the road turned back on itself as a hairpin (or lacet) & I realised that we’d had a tailwind up the climb so far & would now be into a headwind!! Crikey, that would add another level of difficulty to proceedings. As would the snow that was now starting to fall as the temperature plummeted to below zero degrees centigrade. I was generating enough heat that I was still comfortable in a short sleeved jersey, arm warmers, gilet & cycling shorts.

I stopped for a moment to take a photo of my bike next to the large snowbanks by the side of the road & then recorded another snippet of video to remind myself how the climb felt. A few cars hooted their horns & waved at the 2 mad Brits cycling up Stevens Pass in the snow!

A mere 1 hour 50 minutes after we started the climb, we were congratulating each other on the summit, taking a couple of photos for posterity, then I was putting on long fingered gloves & my Castelli Gabba for a lightning descent towards Leavenworth, some 34 miles down the mountain.

We were still in the cloud cover as we commenced the downhill, but it only took about 10 minutes for us to return to the sun again. I hit 42 mph as we plummeted to the valley below.

All the while, we had huge views across to the mountains on either side of us. There were a couple of short, leg stinging uphill sections, but we were generally enjoying a 34 mile descent towards Leavenworth. SR2 was tracing the course of the Nason Creek until Coles Corner. Then a few miles later we joined the Wenatchee river for the final 10 miles into Leavenworth. It’s a fast flowing river with many sections of white water – we were lucky enough to see a deer by the edge of the river & an eagle soaring on the thermals on this stretch.

Just before 4pm we entered Leavenworth at the end of a truly epic day in the saddle. As if the day couldn’t get any better, we spotted 3 deer on the pitch & putt golf course as we walked into town for food & a few celebratory beers! Tomorrow is a rest day after all!!

Stage Stats – 71 miles, 5,702 feet of climbing. Rolling to begin with, Hors Category climb, then exhilarating descent. Worthy of its billing as the Queen Stage so far.

Concrete to Gold Bar

Singing In The Rain – 6th & 7th May

Friday 6th May – Concrete to Arlington (Stage 6)

Today was the day we committed to crossing the Cascades Mountains by a more southerly route, as the SR20 remains closed. While there was a degree of disappointment for the road left behind, it was offset by the excitement of finding out what lay ahead on our chosen path.

We had breakfast in the Lone Star with the locals & were on our way by about 10.45am – we picked up the SR20 for the first 9 miles as we tracked the course of the Skagit river & it’s neighbour, the railroad, up the valley to Rockport. Along the way there were a couple of short, sharp climbs to test the legs, but they were quickly over & done with.

We took a right onto the SR530, which followed the Sauk river valley – this road would be taking us all the way to this evening’s motel in Arlington. We continued to make good progress as the road gently climbed through pine forest which protected us from the cross-wind from our left which was bringing big rain clouds our way. Sections of the road were arrow-straight which created the illusion that it may stretch out into infinity!

Every now & again our views changed when the road crossed the Sauk river, but the big snow-peaked mountains with names like Horse Head Mountain that surrounded us were largely hidden. The motel owner in Concrete had said this was a beautiful area, so it was a shame we didn’t get to see it in all its glory. Having said that, what we did see was still spectacular but in a more foreboding type way. Rain was on the way!

As we neared the town of Darrington, the peace & tranquillity was occasionally interrupted by large logging lorries, as they carried upwards of 20 huge tree trunks to Hampton Lumber Mills, where they would be processed. Darrington also provided us with brief respite from the rain which had now started in earnest, as we decided to stop in Moe’s for lunch. A tasty toasted turkey & pesto panini & coffee revived the spirits at what was about the halfway point of today’s ride.

The SR530 took a 90 degree right turn as we left Darrington with rain continuing to fall – “why mention the change of direction” I hear you ask. Because we’d just picked up a 10mph tailwind which, for the next 30 miles, would be blowing us all the way into Arlington!! We may have been cold & wet, but we had big smiles on our faces!

Our learning from a 2nd day of riding in the rain is that we need to invest in some waterproof gloves (I have 2 pairs at home, but I didn’t pack them as I hadn’t considered them essential for summer riding – a schoolboy mistake as it still feels like late winter / early spring at the moment!). The scenery this afternoon was very similar to this morning & as we were cold & wet I didn’t stop very often to take photos. We were now following the North Fork Stillaguamish river in what was a wide valley – there was an alternative off-road track available to us, but as it was on soft gravel we decided to give it a miss this time.

The rain eventually stopped after about an hour of this afternoon’s 2 hour leg. We gradually started drying out, although we were still a bit chilly! We chatted about how a cold, wet afternoon on a cycling adventure was way more fun than a warm afternoon in the office – it was good to remind ourselves how very fortunate we are to be on this trip. We entered Arlington & picked up a cyclist friendly route across town to our base for this evening, the Arlington Motor Inn.

It would be a stretch to call the motel anything but basic, but it was functional & we had room each to store our bikes. It was a typical Freeway Motel, just off the Interstate (I-5 in this instance), with a Denny’s (that sorted out our dinner & breakfast eating requirements!) & 2 gas stations for company. It was similar in many ways to The Tulip Inn where we stayed for 3 nights at the start of the week.

Stage Stats – 61 miles, 2,221 feet of climbing. Flat terrain all day. Weather was overcast with long spells of rain.

I’ve included a map below which shows where we’ve travelled in our first week of riding (Stages 1 to 6 in other words).

320 Miles cycled & 14,183 feet climbed in Week One

Saturday 7th May – Arlington to Gold Bar (Stage 7)

A short day of riding was planned for today, as rain was forecast almost all day. We met at 9am for breakfast at Denny’s & were on the road by 10am, under blue skies with large clouds in almost every direction. We passed the ‘international’ airport as we crossed Arlington on quiet & wide sub-urban roads.

After 5 miles we joined the Centennial Trail, a shared route for walkers, joggers, cyclists, horses & roller-skaters. It stretches 30 miles along the old Burlington – Northern Railroad. The early miles were fun as we enjoyed the quiet off-road riding, although we could see the heavy clouds closing in on us. The cycle path cut through woodland, as it followed the natural contours, slowly gaining height as we headed south-east.

Less than 30 minutes into today’s ride, the cold, heavy rain started. Other than a 10 minute spell when it snowed, it rained for the remainder of our ride! It was difficult to justify stopping to take many photos, although I tried to take some as we were riding along or vary occasionally stopping to capture anything that stood out to me (like the snow).

Sometimes it’s difficult to remember after the event quite how cold you were at the time – luckily I took some video describing how cold it was & some of the challenges I faced shooting the footage! At this point in the ride we had another 20 miles to go, so I also knew we were going to get colder yet!

It was a shame about the weather, as both Snohomish & Monroe looked like really pleasant & interesting towns that would have been fun to explore on a different day. We were so cold, we even discounted the idea of stopping for coffee as we were worried we wouldn’t be able to get started again if we sat down in the warm…..

I also remember being unable to change from the middle ring to the big ring with my left hand because I’d lost all feeling in my fingers & wrist – I had to push the lever in with my right hand to change gear! As we were passing through Monroe, we saw the railroad crossing lights ahead of us start to flash – a long freight train was coming through, however my hands were now so cold I couldn’t get my phone out of my back pocket in the 5 minutes it took for the train to pass!!!

After passing through Monroe, there was a long drag that took us up to Sultan & deposited us on the SR2. The final 5 miles were never dangerous, but they weren’t much fun, as the shoulder was narrow & virtually non-existent on bridge crossings. Please don’t read this & think I’m moaning about the day, as I’m not. I’ve tried to genuinely capture how I felt & what happened, when it happened.

Which leads me nicely on to our check-in experience at the Stevens Pass Inn Motel in Gold Bar – I couldn’t get my wallet out my back pocket, I couldn’t sign my name or use the card reader machine & it took 15 minutes for us to check-in, all the while we shivered uncontrollably in reception!!! Who would have thought that a 3 hour 20 minute cycle ride could so completely break a person.

I wouldn’t swap a moment of today’s ride for a day in work – I wanted to embark on an adventure that would stay with me for a long time & that is exactly what I’m getting. As soon as we checked-into our shared room, we cranked the heating up to 90 degrees fahrenheit & started to try to dry out our kit, as we needed some of it for Sunday’s ride.

We recovered enough over the next 3 hours to venture downstairs to the Prospectors Steak & Spirits Inn for a dinner of Special Rib & baked potato washed down with a couple of Autonomous IPA’s from the local 20 Corners brewery. There was a karaoke going on & I’m sure Garth from Wayne’s World was the DJ – party on dude!!!

We need better weather on Sunday otherwise we’ll be in a very tricky spot – fingers crossed I have a happy tail to tell!!

Stage Stats – 46 miles, 1,175 feet of climbing. Flat terrain all day. Weather was rain, snow & more rain.

Port Townsend to Concrete

Coast-towns to ghost-towns – 1st to 5th May

Sunday 1st May – Port Townsend to Mount Vernon (Stage 2).

The plan was to get up relatively early, get our kit loaded & catch the 9.30am ferry to Whidbey Island, however, that changed when we arrived at the terminal to find the first ferry was actually at 11.00am. No problem, we decided to have breakfast in Port Townsend rather than our planned stop in Coupeville.

While we waited, we met Ed & Sarah who are also keen cyclists, but today were heading to the mainland by car to celebrate Ed’s birthday. We talked all things bikes & they shared their experiences of cycling in Italy. Lovely people who also gave us a couple of useful tips for local detours in Whidbey Island – they also pointed out a couple of bald eagles who were perched on our ferry’s mast, suggesting we may be their next snack!!

Just before we were due to board, another adventure cyclist pulled up beside us – Ingrid from Norway was cycling solo & was near the end of her first leg, cycling from Los Angeles to Anacortes. From there she’s taking a 3 day ferry ride up to Alaska, before cycling back to the Canada! We chatted about our hopes & expectations for our adventures, while admiring the stunning backdrop.

We would spend the entire day on backroads, except for a small section of busy road when we crossed back onto the mainland. Passing through Coupeville we could see commercial mussel rafts where the locals farm & sell the shellfish all around the world. The scenery was stunning, with big views across the many bays & inlets to the big, snow-covered mountains in the distance.

As we followed the coastal roads we saw Canadian geese out for a walk with with their chicks, herons & more eagles overhead near Joseph Whidbey State Park, as well as the occasional man-made landmarks like a Darth Vadar mask in the middle of someone’s lawn & a jet fighter close to the nearby navy base.

We joined the busier State Route 20 (SR20) to cross Deception Pass bridge – a narrow channel below separates Whidbey Island from mainland USA. In addition to the stunning views in both directions, the tidal currents flow at upwards of 10 mph. Leaving Deception Pass behind us, we cycled through Bowman Bay State Park as we descended into Anacortes, gateway to the many small islands just off the coast.

We headed in an easterly direction as we briefly picked up the 4 lane SR20 – it felt very busy after 2 days of having the roads to ourselves, but it was only for about 5 miles or so. At Fredonia we exited SR20 & picked up a tailwind on quiet 2 lane roads through fertile farming country – every spring Mount Vernon holds a tulip festival. Sadly we’d missed it for this year, but we are staying in The Tulip Inn while we’re here!

Stage Stats – 59 miles, 3,344 feet of climbing. Rolling terrain. Weather was dry all day.

Monday 2nd May – Rest Day & Planning

While we were riding on Saturday & Sunday, a few people expressed concerns that the SR20 may still be closed between mileposts 134 & 171. Having checked the Washington Dept of Transport website, they were correct. I spoke to Lauren at the DoT & she said that it won’t be open before the weekend, but to call again on Friday when she’ll have a better idea of when it may open – historically it usually opens the first week in May, however I now know it’s opened as early as mid-March & as late as early June in the last 10 years!

I spent the morning getting a couple of small jobs done on my bike, extended our booking in the Tulip Inn for a couple of extra nights & planning a loop for us to ride tomorrow. We’ve made the short-term decision to keep heading towards the mountains, but ensure we have a bale-out option to head over some of the smaller passes which we know are already open. Once we had the bones of a plan we could enjoy a quiet ‘almost’ pint (16 ounces to a pint) of locally brewed ale – all is good with the world!

Stage Stats – Rest Day. Rain all morning, overcast all afternoon.

Tuesday 3rd May – Catchanut Loop (Stage 3)

Today’s ride was taken from the Skagit Bicycle Club, titled as a ‘Spring Classic’ – it lived up to all our expectations, so on the off-chance that someone in Mount Vernon sees this, please thank them for me. behind. As we will be staying in the Tulip Inn again tonight, we left our panniers back in the Motel. The first 15 miles were pan flat as we crossed farmland planted with potatoes & assorted vegetables, then skirted the coastal estuary of Padilla Bay. We saw a group of cyclists on a variety of bikes (tandem, road, e-bikes & mountain bike) who all looked to be enjoying their ride. We fairly flew along as we picked up a friendly tailwind!

As we continued in a northerly direction we climbed through Larrabee State Park on almost deserted tarmac, then gave the feet back through Chuckanut. We then turned right onto a small sideroad where we started climbing again, following the course of Chuckanut Creek on one side of us & I-5 freeway on the other. As we reached the top of the climb, our lunch stop screamed out to us…..a Shell station, where we went crazy with a coffee & Twix!

After our feast, we dropped down to Lake Samish (sadly it was hidden from view by a line of deciduous trees), then shadowed Friday Creek, descending all the while. Along the way, we passed a small food co-op called the Deli Llama, but it took me too long to register the pun & I missed the photo op!

We continued along a single lane road where we passed a house that had a garden full of wooden animal carvings (including a T-Rex & even a spider on the roof!). From here we were back among the farmsteads that we’d seen earlier – all that remained was for us to navigate our way across town & back to our motel.

We headed to the Skagit River Brewery for dinner, where we made up for our frugal lunch offering. I shared a cobb salad with Sean, then followed it up with a pulled pork sandwich & sweet potato fries, washed down with a couple of Dutch Girl Blondes! While we were eating we watched two enormous freight trains go by – they were doing about 25 mph & they both took upwards of 6 minutes to pass us!

Stage Stats – 66 miles, 2.417 feet of climbing. Rolling terrain. Weather was overcast.

Wednesday 4th May- Mount Vernon to Concrete (Stage 4)

After spending 3 nights in the Tulip Inn at Mount Vernon, we were well & truly ready to get our adventure moving forward again. It was raining first thing, so we delayed our departure until 11am by which time it was only mizzling (does anyone else use this when the weather is between misty & drizzling?). We headed out of town & quickly picked up Cycle Route 10. I joined the Adventure Cycling Association of the USA prior to planning our adventure & used their brilliant cycling specific maps to plan our route & keep us off the busy roads wherever possible.

We would be following the Skagit river for the entire ride & along the way we passed through Sedro Woolley (Gateway to the North Cascades), where a wooden cowboy protected the local bar. As we approached Minkler, we had our first obstacle of the trip (& I forgot to take a photo) when the recent bad weather & flooding had taken out a bridge. We had to portage the bikes (with fully laden panniers) across a sand bank.

Continuing past fields of cattle & horses, plus a herd of alpaca (assuming 5 are sufficient to be a collective noun), we passed within a stone’s throw of the Skagit, looking moody against the dark clouds in the background. Arriving in Hamilton, we pulled into Boots Bar & Grill for a coffee & snack (which became a burger & fries). As I chatted to one of the bar staff, I asked what the yellow line was by Sean’s head. She said that in 2003 the river had burst its banks & flooded the entire town with up to 3 feet 6 inches of water. It appears the river bursts its banks regularly, as the bar was flooded again last autumn with over 1 foot of water.

We continued along uninhabited two lane roads & every so often we caught sight of the Skagit river with the snowy mountain peaks getting ever closer. We then had the opportunity to get off-road onto the Cascade Trail, a gravel cycle track which follows the path of the now extinct iron horse (railway!) – with the extra weight of our luggage, it felt like we were being rattled to pieces, so apologies for the poor quality photo! Before we knew it, we’d arrived in Concrete, our home for the next 2 nights.

We splashed out $90per night & have a room each for a few nights – I snore & Sean needs to catch up on his sleep!! The rooms are the best of the trip so far & it will likely take a while before we see better. We met a missionary who had lived in Leeds for a few years in the late 1980’s & we talked briefly about the differences between our 2 countries as the 3 of us walked to The Lone Star, the only place to get food in Concrete. After our huge lunch, we had a small dinner with a couple of Mac & Jack African Ambers to rehydrate.

We were very humbled when it came to paying our bill – the gentleman we’d met earlier had picked up the tab for our meals & hadn’t mentioned anything to us about it when he left & we wished him good luck for the future. I wish I’d got his name, but we’ve talked about doing something similar for someone in the near future.

Stage Stats – 37 miles, 688 feet of climbing. Pan-flat sprinter terrain. Weather was mizzly & overcast.

Thursday 5th May – Baker Lake Out & Back (Stage 5)

The reality of our adventure is beginning to become clear. We awoke to another damp morning, so after a breakfast of scrambled eggs & bacon, we delayed the start of today’s ride until 10am. We left under bruised, grey skies with yesterday’s mountains hidden by low cloud. We headed back towards Hamilton (yesterday’s lunch stop), then took a right turn. Once again, we were riding without panniers, so made good progress as we started climbing the road that over the next 15 miles would take us up to Baker Lake.

I was looking forward to today’s ride, as although we’d be climbing for the first half of the ride, the gradient was between 2% & 5% on a road that was devoid of traffic. Throughout the climb, we’d be following the path of Grandy Creek.

Every now & then we were teased with views of the snowy peaks, as they showed themselves between the blankets of low cloud. As we continued to climb, the gentle drizzle turned into proper rain, however this wasn’t too much of an issue while we were climbing. About 5 miles short of Baker Lake we entered Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest & all of a sudden we felt hemmed in, as we were surrounded by all variety of trees. Every now & then we passed a section that had been cleared under licence – douglas fir, cedar, alder & maple are all actively managed & regularly harvested.

The original plan for today was to ride to the start of the trailhead at the far end of Baker Lake, however, it was far colder & wetter than we had hoped for. As a result, we chose to visit the dam at the near end of the lake instead & then return via a shortcut to Concrete. I carry a bit more timber than Sean so didn’t feel the cold quite as much as he did, but it was definitely on the cold side of chilly!

As we finished early, we took the chance to visit the laundromat for the first time on our adventure. We’re not quite sure what the coming days will bring, so it made sense to clean our kit when we had the chance. We had company while we were doing our washing, as a dormouse came in to say hello!

We’ve just polished off a delicious steak (apologies to my vegetarian & vegan friends!) & bakes potato, rounded off with 2 Elysians – I’m now 10 days into the trip & have enjoyed a different craft beer each night! Don’t forget to be impressed by the clean tops!!!

Stage Stats – 37 miles, 2,945 feet of climbing. Hilly terrain. Weather was rainy all day, but spirits were high.