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.

Snow Stopped Play!

Ross Dam Trailhead (milepost 134) to Silver Star (milepost 171) – road closed.

The following is taken from the Department of Transport (Washington) website;

“SR 20 North Cascades Highway is closed for the season. The road is closed on the west side of the Cascade Mountains at milepost 134, the Ross Dam Trailhead, and on the east side at Silver Star at milepost 171, approximately 20 miles west of Winthrop.

Spring clearing activities began March 28 and typically takes 4 to 6 weeks depending on conditions.

Contact: NCR Communications 509-860-0000″

In other words, State Route 20 over the mountains from Newhalem to Okanogan is still closed due to unseasonably late snow storms – this was, & remains, our preferred route as it takes us through the stunning scenery of the North Cascades National Park. I phoned the helpline number & Lauren (who was very helpful & friendly) says there’s a possibility that SR20 ‘may’ open this weekend & to call her on Friday for an update.

As a result, we’ve extended our stay in Mount Vernon by a couple of days & after a morning of investigating our options, we have an updated plan. Our previous European adventures have involved snow, so we’ll cope.

We’ll go on a local 60 mile loop tomorrow (Tuesday) & then continue to cycle up to Concrete on Wednesday (a shorter day than originally planned). Thursday (weather permitting), we’ll ride & hike near Lake Shannon & Baker Lake.

We’ll revisit the plan again on Friday after I’ve spoken to Lauren & see what our options are then – we’re now committed to the SR20 over the North Cascades, it’s simply the timetable that is unknown. Truth be told, this is what an adventure is all about!