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.