103 miles - Total: 2919 miles
Almost 3000 miles. Washington DC is a long, long way from here. And today I put even more distance between the capital of the country and the homonymous state. I am into the last state of the journey before I cross into Canada. I am so close.
Today was a superb day for cycling. I finish my ride at 4pm and for a few minutes I was debating whether to press on to the next town, 47 miles farther West or call it a day. Given that there is a pass of 5500 ft in between I thought it would be safer to rest a few more hours and take on the hills tomorrow. The weather forecast predicts clear sunny skies. Nothing to worry about.
You may think that a day off comes as a blessing and yet the body and the mind are so disciplined by the regimental schedule of 10+ hour cycling that a break in this rigorous routine comes as a shock to the system. You know they say: practice makes perfect. I think it is more mental than anything else. I was itching to go this morning and as soon as I hit the pedals I could immediately tell that the day off has done wonders to my legs. I felt fresh and strong. I completed a 103-mile stage, with a 3000 ft altitude gain and a 4000ft pass and I did not feel heaviness in my legs at all, I could have continued.
I wake up early determined to cover a good distance. I leave the hotel at 8am and follow the bike trail out of Sandpoint and ride on Highway 2 which surprisingly has a nice clean shoulder. I bump into two women that are cycling to Priest River, the next town 20 miles west, so I have company for at least an hour. I feel in no hurry so I am happy to stay in their draft. It is chilly, the temperature hovers around 55F and does not improve much even with the sun getting stronger. I am excited as traffic is light on a Saturday morning, the scenery is not as dramatic as yesterday but it is still a very pleasing rural setting and most importantly, in about 30 miles I will be in Washington. The last state, my 13th.
I leave the hotel feeling slightly nervous as with only one state left it seems like I am leaving the last camp before the summit push. Much can happen of course and interestingly enough, these next few days will be the most unpredictable of the journey. No bike repair shops, no towns and some backroads that travel through forests and mountains with steep hills and hairpin bends. So, before I reach the alluring capital of British Columbia you may say I am riding into the wildness. Not quite of course but I am told in Sandpoint that the road I am planning to take is not much used. I look forward to that. I leave the traffic of Sandpoint and travel west and then Northwards on highway 2. The first village I hit is Priest River, which is a place with an enticing name that hides the reality of a small town slowly dying. Businesses are shut or shutting. A hotel with a grand French name is scaffolded and may be reopening or in the process of being stripped. Two adjoining shops have had their end walls taken out to make car-wash bays. The internet café has shut down and the gas station beside the railway is unstaffed. It vaguely reminds me of some ghost town I rode through in eastern Montana, not as bad but you get the idea.
Idaho ends and Washington begins after the wide and busy bridge that takes US2 and US20's combined traffic. I finally leave Highway 2 which goes South and I fly on the flatness of Highway 20, with the river off to my right, scraggly pine trees to the left, and the Kettle River mountain range looming as a challenge in the distance. The world is sunny and cool and peaceful, even along the highway, and it reminds me that even after four weeks of traveling there are few things in life that bring me more joy than a bike ride on a beautiful morning.
After 10 miles I take a short cut and I ride on the little known country road 2110 which turns out to be a great bit of road. Scenic and empty of cars, just what I wanted to fully take in the grandeur of the tress of the forest. 14 miles of uphill gradients and then 9 miles of exhilarating descent into a green spacious valley that seems bigger at every turn.
The climb isn't hard. It's slightly wearing, yes, but it's not demanding. The road snakes up pines-covered hills and reaches the top where no gas station, no store, no visible sign of civilization awaits. The summit brings the great news that almost all the rest is downhill. I'll pay for that, of course, because the more I drop the more I have to climb to Sherman pass tomorrow. But let tomorrow fret for itself. Today belongs to me. I summit the pass and I power down the mountain without stopping for 8 miles. The hands hurt a little but by now I know every single onset of pain in my body. I know how long I can tolerate it, how long I can stand that position before I need to twitch. The numbness, the tingling, the depth of my breath, you name it, every single reaction to what the grade of the road spits at me, I know so well. I know my body on this bike like I know an Indiana Jones movie. (Here's a sentence I never thought I'd write)
I breeze on quiet roads through tall conifers that give Washington its name of evergreen state. Green and blue are the colors of today's ride. So clear and deep that you want to grab it and bite it with your teeth. From the valley I wound my way through two small towns and ride on a lane with a wall of brown rock on one side and a view across the fields the other way to the busy highway I skirt. I stop for fruit and a granola bar in the welcoming town of Chewelah, it is the only real stop of the day. I am not too hungry in the morning as last night I stuffed myself like a man who has nothing to lose. I cannot even believe the amount of junk food I am forcing my system to process. What choice do I have? This is what small-town America has to offer.
Today's ride provides a good variation of roadkill: crows, deers, a goose, snakes, a porcupine and others that I do not know what they are. If animals are taken apart merciless by vehicles that mangle them at blistering speed, people do not look good either. I never actually spent a few words on people that I see, I do not want to come across as the European or the guy from the East Coast that comes here to look down on people. When I stop to tank up on water or food half of the vehicles that pull up are SUVs or pickups driven by huge guys with arms and chests as big as Popeyes. Often accompanied by big women wearing tank tops at least a size too small with cigarettes in their mouths and so much make up that you may think they have just walked off a set of a cheap movie. And more drugged-out-looking people than any place of this size should reasonably expect to have. On the message board out front I see advertisements for gun and automatic weapons shooting lessons, someone willing to teach someone else to shoot a gun. And then I see many clearly visible signs which remind us to live a moral life. Guns and morality: I suppose this kind of morality would be devoid of its essence without its guns to uphold it. Whenever you need a gun to prove a point morality has no place. As simplistic as this sounds it is what I think.
It's really cool to see cars with the Washington plate, it takes me a few seconds to realize that I am in the far northwester state which I have been waiting to get to for so long and not Washington DC, the place where I live. Before when I happened to see a Washington plate I caught myself thinking "WOW, I wish I was there". Now, when I see the plate I say "Wait a minute, I am right here"!
Past Colville traffic thins out and I reach Kettle Falls in no time. I find a spartan, no-frills motel where a hot shower and a bed tell me that life is very good. I lie on the bed and while I write today's journal I stare at the bicycle which rests neatly against the wooden wall. I can hear the gentle breeze outside and the passing vehicles that go way too fast. I will write for a while, I will fantasize about tomorrow's ride and then I will have a juicy steak.
Happiness can be simple. Can it?
The scenery just outside Sandpoint. The sky is clear and its blue so deep and dramatic that it makes you wanna cycle all day
The two women that provided me with some company for about 20 miles this morning
Logs being kept damp by huge water hoses
The Pend Oreille Lake shrinks and becomes a river bu the time I enter Washington
Here it is, the sign which heralds my entrance into the last State of the ride. Pretty cool moment it was
Finally, after days and miles and weather and scenery and dust kicked up in my face and my mouth by passing trucks as I enter Washington I leave the loved and hated Highway 2!
In Washington I ride on highway 20, not much shoulder but not much traffic either
Flower bed by the side of H20
I take country road 2110 off Highway 20, it is supposed to be a short cut. I gamble here because I do not know anything about the road, paved or not? The gamble pays off, the road is in good condition, it cuts right through the Colville Forest, and makes for another beautiful solitary ride. Thank you Google maps (Note the color of the sky)
The valley of country road 2110 before it climbs up into the hills
Entering Colville National Forest
Another little gem of this incredible country, Colville Forest, the view from the winding road 2110
The climb gets pretty steep at times
The pass on top of Road 2110
Bikers speeding by. The first guy has a huge Indian artifact on his motorbike
On the way down from the pass I bump into Ray, he started a week ago from the coast and is on his way to Veil, Colorado. Have a great ride and happy tailwind buddy!
The very welcoming town of Chewelah
I stop in the town park for a break and I see this Mexican guy selling fresh produce. I buy three peaches which I devour in a second. The best peaches I've had in the United States!
Highway 395 going North where I will rejoin highway 20 in Colville. 20 miles of strong headwind again
Highway 395, nice wide shoulder but lots of campaign bills supporting Republican candidates..mmmh
The amusing and interesting clock in downtown Colville
Along H 20
Scenery from highway 20