51 miles - Total: 3085 miles
A few hours of sleep did the trick.
The energy is back and with it the eagerness to get this over with. I don't have the beautiful Sacagawea to lead me to the Pacific like Lewis and Clark did but the charting of my own Northwest passage is almost complete. Just one major hump before I report back for duty. I climb the Loup Loup Summit and on the way down the scenery opens up, I look afar and through the haze I see a wall surging behind the hills, peaks as jagged as a jeans zip and covered in snow like Alpine peaks. The North Cascades mountains appear. I do not recoil, I do not grumble, I do not look for a way out. I want to climb those peaks and then motor down all the way to the coast.
Today I decide to play safe. I ride as far as I can go before the climb into the North Cascades. I reach Winthrop at 2pm and a nice clean motel on the south edge of town will do just nicely. Tomorrow I will set out early to tackle the two passes and the rest of the ride into the North Cascades National Park. It should be awesome. The only uncertainty will be the weather. There's a storm coming tomorrow, nobody is certain as to when and how long it will be.
I sleep well and I take my time as I know that I only have a short day. I leave town at 9am and the steep road climbs up like I have only seen in the Appalachians. The climb to the pass is 21 miles long, the first third of the ride is tough and steep, definitely the steepest climb of the journey. Fortunately the road surface is pleasant and traffic very light. As I leave Okanogan behind I am surrounded by tiny plateaus where cherries, golden apples, peaches and the likes are grown. And vineyards. Apart from these gardens of delicious fruits of the earth the place is rocky, sun burnt and desolate. It is hot and despite the dry heat I sweat copiously. The reason is that there is no shelter in a land of arid, sun-whitened soil that reflects every ray of heat. The road veers up on the edge of a ridge and it is unrelenting. There is a degree of shelter later on with the tall pine trees but all in all it is the toughest climb so far. In the later stages of the climb, the route enters the Okanogan National Forest so the road is shaded by the tall pines on both sides. Traffic is extremely light but you get the odd truck carrying logs that spits all sort of debris the moment it passes me and the strident, ubiquitous mindless and noisy motorbikes. Once or twice when there are no vehicles within earshot in either direction I stop to listen to the bird songs from the trees or the wind hitting the tree tops which makes a suave sound. From time to time I hear a suspicious rattle from the forest but I don't see anything. I just take in the silence, I let the sweat soak up my clothes and I realise how lucky I am to be here in this blissful solitude among the mountains. And I am thinking about the people that will never know what they are missing. Maybe those birds are creeper or woodpecker.
The road from Loup-Loup drops down to Twisp, the descent goes fast but it is not as steep as the Logan Pass so I don't have to hit the brakes for the entire duration of the 8 mile stretch. The road takes me into town, which is named after the Indian name for 'wasp'. The centre is tiny, just a main road with little wooden buildings but surprisingly pleasant. A lovely bakery is my first and only stop for the day and I indulge in Asiago cheese croissant and a pesto roll. This is proper bicycle touring: no hurry to go places, no long distances to cover so local food can be sampled at every opportunity. I almost go to the riverside for a dip in the water but I resist the urge. I ride 6 miles north and the wind today decides to blow from the south which means that I get the unique privilege of having a tailwind. It carries me down the hills and on the mounds of the bluff river area. It is incredible, I only now realize how influential the wind factor is. It sets the line between the happiness and the miserable moods. The ecstasy does not last long though as Winthrop, the next town along the Methow river valley, is only a few miles farther up and it will be my final destination for the day. I feel in good shape when I reach the town and I am slightly sad to stop after only 50 miles, it feels like a wasted day but it will be a long one tomorrow.
After yesterday's miserable ride, I felt surprisingly well this morning and with the wind blowing my way, the beautiful mountains within sight and the energy back in my body I could have gone for a much longer stage. If everything goes to plan I can still be in Vancouver on the 35th day of my journey. Just like I planned.
Winthrop has been rebuilt to look like an early 1900s frontier town. The result is of course a sort of Theme park town but the vibe is good and the Main st is pleasant. I find out that the whole town reinvented itself with the completion of the North Cascades highway in 1972 to take advantage of the tourist trade; there is an excellent ice-cream place in the main street. I have a large steak dinner with mash potatoes and vegetables and two more ice-creams after dinner. This is fuel for tomorrow's climb. I am ready.
Today on the steep climb of the Loup Loup pass I rediscovered the pleasure of riding the bicycle. Most importantly, I relate it to my recent (or present?) situation of paralyzing fear of the unknown. The bicycle is so empowering. By now it is a third limb, a part of me. And when I am on that road the bicycle becomes my legs and my feet, I make them move, I make it happen, I control it, I give it life and it gives life back to me in oh so many different ways. And the hours spent on the road besides cursing at the wind and eating junk food, give me ample opportunities to reflect and soak in the magic of the outdoor. Its smells, its colors, its perfect lines, its shapes. I cannot even begin to find words to describe the beauty of a world that I have soaked in and absorbed through the medium of the bicycle.
I am getting messages of love from people I don't know that are ill and, like me, are looking for answers. I am so grateful for your messages of support and for sharing your personal struggle with me.
The North Cascades mountains or Vancouver will not be the finishing line. How's that saying? Every beginning is a new beginning's end. So, with three days left, the end is nigh and so it is a new beginning. Bring on the mountains.
A storm? So what.
The town watch in Okanogan, it reads: "live better electrically"
This is where my beloved cherries are grown
The arid and dry land gives way to a lushier vegetation as I make my way up
The climb is the steepest of the journey
And it goes on for 20 miles
On the Pass
The descent is pleasant and not too steep, unlike the ascent
And at one point the view clears and I see the North Cascades mountains in the distance
As good a view as any I have seen on the journey. The snow-capped rocky peaks of the Cascades. I will be there tomorrow.
The descent is always windy but this time the cool air won't make me shiver like on the Logan Pass, just use the rain jacket. Why didn't I think of that coming down the Glaciers??
The charming town of Twisp, just one main street
And the delicious bakery on main street
Methow river with its green banks. The river creates a small but lush valley which feeds several villages
Methow river from the west bank in Twisp
Post Office in Winthrop
The river in Winthrop
Winthrop city centre