115 miles - Total: 3034 miles
If I had thought that Vancouver was just around the corner and I was going to stroll into it like a war hero then I'd better think again. I am a big time fool, that's what I am.
Today has been the toughest day of the trip and it is mainly my fault. I could have made it shorter but my stubborn brain, my hubris and the fear of sitting around somewhere sulking about how tough this day had been motivated me to go all the way to Okanogan. I wanted to quit. I want to quit. I am worn out now. I am spent. I do not want to get back on that bike ever again. Well, at least for another 12 hours.
My attempt at humor does conceal a deeply-ingrained feeling of frustration and exhaustion, mental and physical. Today anything you can think of, except rain, winning the lottery or running into Marion Cotillard, happened. Two difficult climbs, a gruelling ascent of 24 miles, a flat tire which I fixed by the side of the road, cold and hot weather, mountains, desert, traffic and for the whole 115 miles the relentless, unforgiving, devastating, motherf%$ing piece of shit that is the wind. Oh don't worry. During the ride I managed to conujure up classier cuss words for the wind than this.
It was unbelievable. It was beyond frustrating. It was a joke. South, West, North, whichever direction the road went the wind was invariably a headwind. I could not take it anymore, I lost my cool, I yelled, I cursed at the wind, I cursed at everything, even at the day I started this stupid bike ride. Just when I thought it was all going to be downhill (not just literally) things are getting a bit complicated. Of course I could slow down. I could do 40-mile stages and in a month I would be in Vancouver as fresh as a rose. But where's the challenge in that?
I am looking at the map. There are about 300 miles between me and Stanley Park, the place where I want to end my fund raising bike ride. There are some mountains in between. The Cascades mountain range, besides being dubbed the Swiss Alps of Washington state, offers several climbs and no services for 106 miles. If I start the climb I'd better get all the way to the other side unless I want to sleep in the open. Which wouldn't be the worst thing. The worst thing is that I have no more tubes and the weather forecast for Tuesday sees thunderstorms. I can't think of anything else at the moment but I am sure there's going to be more. Smile needed here?
I am out of the motel at 7:45am. The cheapest motel of the journey and the fastest Internet connection, go figure. With the cool air and temperature of 60F I climb on the bike and I feel tired, weak and dizzy. For the first time since I left DC energy has deserted me. My strength has drained from my body. It brings me back to three months ago, but three months ago made sense, now I should be relatively fine. What's going on? Not much I can do about it here, I am in the middle of the mountains so I try to shake it off, I try no to think about it and I start the 24-mile climb to the top of Sherman Pass. I am not gonna chew this up. I am gonna wing it, I don't care. Health comes first. take your time. Every turn is a tiny victory, I try to refrain from looking at the odometer every other yard but I can't. I stop several times to sip water, eat some chocolate, take pictures and to focus on the scenery, which is of course not bad. Luckily, I begin to feel slightly better, the longer I get into the ride I stronger I feel. My apprehension goes away and I begin to forget about the initial dizziness. I would never feel 100% today but I manage to ride the bicycle, which is good enough.
I cross Columbia river and I quickly leave the broad sweep of the river valley behind and I say hello to the gentle rushing and subtle rise of Sherman Creek. The climb throws me a few steep sections, but they're the exception and not the rule. I thought it'b be harder. Wait. I talked too soon. About half way the grade picks up and I know it won't stop until the top of the pass, 12 miles later. I try to look at anything but the speedometer or the road in front of me. The sight of a long climb can sap my enthusiam, especially when my confidence is at its lowest. I watch the trees at the sides of the road, only trees so tall that block the view to the valley. The road winds, snakes up large hills and presents steep grades. It becomes apparent that this is the toughest and longest climb of the whole trip. Unlike the mountain pass rides of Montana, there aren't any snow-capped peaks or deep river valleys to distract me from the work. I ride with evergreen trees on both sides, evergreens in the front, and evergreens behind. Along the way I hum a song but I can't remember the words past the second verse so I keep singing the first verse, my thoughts wander off into the long highway of my life and I am amazed at the things that pop up in my mind in moments like this. I spend hours lost in thoughts and have vivid fantasies about eating spoonfuls of nutella out of a jar. The mood at the top of the pass is half excitement and accomplishment, half dread over what's to come. I don't enjoy descents and with a strong wind I am bound to being slapped around and kicked from side to side. Also, I am slightly irritated by the very loud snarling of Harley-Davidson motorbikes ridden only a little faster than I am riding, protracting the misery. Or ridden so hard that they come up like jet engines and set my ears ringing. What is it that's so good about riding like that, hearing nothing above your own racket and knowing you're ruining the peace for everyone else? These guys don't even look at the scenery, they just shoot to the next bar where jugs of beer will be happily thrown into their accommodating bellys.
Republic sits at the bottom of the Sherman pass and it is probably the only pleasant town created by the gold hunters which remains today. Gold was found here at the end of the 19th century and luck has it that it was on Indian land, much of it, but who cared about that right? The government couldn't be bothered to bring in the army to discourage trespassing and plundering and, when the Indians waved their agreements, Congress just changed the agreement. The best land passed to the prospectors and of course the Indians did not see a cent of what was made with the gold and the mining. I ride through the Main st extremely annoyed. Things are going well today. I am tired and hungry but no food I can think of satisfies my hunger. I immediately continue West without stopping for water or snacks. Like a machine I push on with my eyes glued to the road, it is one of those very frequent moments when my body is detached from my brain. I start climbing again and there is another Pass that awaits but this one is not as fierce and long as the Sherman. It still takes me almost two hours to top the Wauconda Pass at 4210 ft. By this time I am tired and thirsty. Both water bottles empty, I still have 25 miles before I reach the next town. Stupid. What was I thinking? Why didn't I check the water bottles before leaving Republic?
The big ride down from Wauconda sends me down 1,000 feet at least. I risk a lot as I ride fast and cannto be bothered to slow down, check for approaching vehicles and take the usual downhill precautions. I just get the hell down the flank of the mountain unable to think properly. I get to the bottom and the world around me changes dramatically. The landscape turns dry, with many shades of yellows and browns, broken up only by the narrow strip of land that runs along both sides of the Okanogan River, where orchards with orderly rows of trees gently creep up the hillsides next to abandoned farms and a few small homes that are empty and are falling apart under the unforgiving sun. The scenery is alienating. It used to be a town but it is just empty hillside now. Not just a town but a boom town with a thriving mining community but it has been abandoned and has dwindled to less than a ghost town because only a few houses are left intact. All you can see are the tracks on the ground or rusting gates to an open field. The poverty and sad state of the land seem out of place compared to everything that came earlier in the day.
This is the high desert of Tonasket, a land so barren and dry that I did not think it could exist in Washington State. No wonder there is no life here. The scenery reminds me of Arizona or New Mexico. I ride the slowest and toughest 25 milse when my mouth goes numb because there is no saliva. I am spitting air and I would do anything to sip ice-cold water now. I would break the law for it. I ride through the headwind with my head bowed and my teeth clenched so tight I might have chipped them. Every pedal stroke is a curse, every yard is a damnation. I don;t even have the strength to yell or to curse. I am scared of stopping because I would stop for good and I can't. I need to keep going. I fight a gusty headwind all the way while I ride on H20 which drops into a deep rocky gorge and then plunges into the town valley.
After what it feels forever I arrive in Tonasket with a blank stare on my face and my legs so heavy that I can't walk properly, I just drag my body along the pavement like a zombie. Tonasket is probably the poorest town I have seen. Dusty buildings, basic houses, trailer parks and abandoned structures. Then I am reminded that it is located in the Indian reservation and it makes perfect sense. The place, with a dry temperature of 96F, resembles another ghost town weren't for the families of the descendants of pioneers that work hard at preserving their heritage. I should have called it a day right here with 80 miles already in the legs, lots of climbing and a questionable level of fitness. I almost fall to my knees as I dismount off the bike in the gas station but liquid and food come to my rescue. I drink 1 lt of water and 1 lt of gatorade in less than 3 minutes and gulp down a flavorless ice-cream. I cannot eat anything else. I feel too sick. I press on into a headwind that drives me nuts. The next 30 miles go just as slow as the previous 30. I crawl from mile to mile stopping every second or so it seems to curse at the wind and beg it to please have mercy. Needless to say the wind turns a deaf ear and I have no choice but to go ahead hoping to reach a hotel-serviced town as soon as possible. A two-lane road that follows the Okanogan river in slightly narrow valley which is exposed to the wind. I ride by several fruit fields and old-looking houses. The day seems neverending but finally at 6pm I reach Omak which seems like a perfect town to spend the night. I look at the map and if I got this far I might as well ride another 6 miles to Okanogan. The town is empty and depressing. I reach the west side of town where an even more depressing hotel run by an Indian family (from India) will be my shack for the night. I shower for what it seems like an hour trying to wash the grime off my legs. I am too tired to stretch and all I can find for dinner is a trite cheeseburger and fries at the local Bingo and Casino, a place so dark and depressing that creeps me out. I ingest the food without even looking at. The crowd of the place...oh forget it, I can't even find the energy to describe them. I gingerly walk back to my room realizing that my mouth agape with crustry lips and broken skin, my vision is blurred and my toes numb. I sit on the bed and I write about the day's events with a sardonic smile on my face.
Tough day. Vancouver seems as far away as it did when I was in DC. The dinner was crap, I am still thirsty and I am sore in places I can't describe.
It is one of those days, it is a day in the life. I take it, I take all of them.
If I got this far I can go a little farther.
I will pass out in a moment.
Crossing Roosevelt lake
The climb up Sherman Pass begins
The creek that parallels the road
The climb gets steep
A rare widening of the road with a pretty valley
And back to the steep climb
The view is obstructed by the trees
After more than 3 hours I get to the top
The view from the top looking West
The dreaded descent
The pretty town of Republic
After two more hours of toiling up hills on top of the Wauconda Pass, I had enough
Surreal scenery down in the valley, they have all long gone
The evergreen state? This looks more like New Mexico or Arizona
Hot and dry
The town of Tonasket sits in a cool valley among the dry plateaus
Even this tiny town has seen better days
Looks like a set to a horror movie
Highway 20 to Omak
"On the road" kind of scenery
The town of Okanogan, as empty as you would expect it