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.

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!