116 miles - Total: 3201 miles
Without a doubt Highway 20 in the North Cascades is one of the great mountain rides in America.
A physically exhausting day but I dodged the expected storm. And the mountains exceeded expectations. Haughty in their beauty, solemn in their appearance, intimidating in their shape. I loved the climb and loved the long descent even more. No more climbing to do now. I am on my way to the coast.
The North Cascades are the real deal. Glaciers was higher but ended quickly and its appearance too charming, postcard-like. The North Cascades are real mountains, wild, untamed, with constant snow along its slopes and on the highest peakes. These are angry-looking peaks, smooth vertical walls of dark rock hit by winds that would move mountains. I am now looking at the Skagit hills, past those, twenty miles west lies the Pacific.
I have a terrible night, even for the standards of this bike ride. I keep waking up every hour. At 3, at 4, at 5. I decide to end my misery and I finally get up at 7 and I shake off the stupor I am in. It looks still very dark outside. I dare not look at the sky because I know...the unsavoury weather forecast gets it right again. It's raining and in the direction of the mountains the sky is so dark that it is almost blue. I go back to bed but there is no point in tossing and turning and the blanket over my head won't make the rain go away. I know what I want. I want to get out of here and climb the mountains. I don't care about the rain. I want to go West. I eat three muffins with a warm apple cider and I am on the road.
The rain has stopped in the valley but who knows what's going on up there. The fresh air hits my face like a thousand knives, I am wearing everything I have. Four layers, apparently it is not enough. I wish I had more layers. It is very cold this morning and I need more hot beverages in me. After 15 miles I stop in Mezana where I have a hot chocolate which does me good. This is the last stop before the climb. I ride for 20 miles before I reach Washington Pass. This pass is different from the others, it is windy, it is cold, snowy and unwelcoming like a real mountain should. This is quintessential Rocky Mountains. The road exposed and winding. It's amazing how the climate changes as soon as I hit the top. On the other side the climate is even worse: it's windy, cold and damp. I put on the rain jacket on the way down, it is the coldest I have felt since the beginning of the trip. I shiver on the way down and I long for another climb to feel warm again. The stunning scenery makes up for the cold temperature though. This road affords some of the most breathtaking views I have seen in the States and I urge anyone to visit this place. The jagged line of the mountains is streaked by snow. I don't run into a single cyclist today, I am the only one doing the Cascades.
The descent is long. I only stop for a few seconds to take pictures. The view is perfect from any angle it seems so I snap away and after reviewing my work it was hard to select a few for the journal. I keep going pushing on the pedals with my head down most of the time. I am mindful ofthe storm and if it did come there would be no place to hide from it. The road goes a bit up then down, then up and then down again. The wind is insane on this side blowing from all directions. The strong winds are the worst part of the descent, I feel like I could fall any time. I gain speed, I hit 30mph but many times over I am slowed by the gusts of wind. Most of the wind is head-on so it is not going to blow me off the road. Luckily the heavy clouds that hover above don't produce any rain. The road drops abruptly into a valley that keeps shrinking to the point of becoming a gorge and I cannot help but thinking about the first explorers that opened this passage, how the hell did they find it and how did they manage to squeeze through? The road is a two-lane highway, one lane in each direction but there is a generous shoulder so I am not bothered by the traffic. After the Rainy Pass, expect a few short hills, it is all downhill. Most of the downhill grades are around 6 to 8 percent. After an hour or so, I begin to enter the valley leading up to the Ross Lake area. It gets as windy as it can get. I squeeze hard on the brakes as soon as I feel I am losing control of the bike. I stop at a number of overlooks to watch the views. The cold from the climb and the gusty wind begin to take their toll. On the descent my toes go numb and I lose life in some of my fingers for a few hours, my thumb is still numb as I am writing this (8pm).
The road drops even farther until it reaches Lake Ross, its water is a milky, glowing, turquoise, a soft, pearly green that twinkle in the sun. The top of the water is agitated and hit fiercely by the gales which create waves that ripple ferociously. It looks just like those lakes in airbrushed postcards or TV programs. It looks so awesome that doesn't seem real but it is. I stop, I gaze and I marvel at the beauty of all of this. I let the wind hit my drenched clothes as I stand beside my bicycle, I breathe in and out and when I focus on my body I feel the heaviness creeping in on my muscles. I smile. It really begins to sink in how far I have traveled. I look at the bike and it looks worn out, dirty, beaten up. Maybe we look alike. We have taken a lot on the roads of America. Cold, rain, heat, sunshine, wind, even a couple of falls.
At Newhalem the descend ends and when the valley widens and the road flattens I realize that I can now begin to dream about the Pacific, it is not too far, maybe a day or two. I feel energized and encouraged by the change of scenery and by the assuring fact that the wind has decided not to follow me. It stays behind to batter the steep rocky sides of the mountains. I am done with climbing. The valley awaits. On the west side of the Cascades it is not as arid as on the other side of the Pass but much more fertile and lush. I ride past berries and apples fields and vineyards. I am in full flight. I average 19mph and I am getting hungry. I ride another 35 miles without taking a break. I have a town in sight and I ride efficiently for two hours. I reach Concrete at around 6pm with more than 9 hours on the road that as sure as hell have left their mark. Concrete is a totally depressing town where the only motel that seems just about okay, run by a jovial Korean man, will be my home tonight. The room smells like bleach and I am the only guest in the whole place. The internet connection is slow so I won't write too much. At least I have a chance to dream about Vancouver. I am almost there. And I feel fine. Tired but fine
8:30 am the sky looks heavy with rain when I leave the motel in Winthrop
The North Cascades in the distance
Taken in Mazana, before I start the climb
Here we go
This is where I came from
Concrete, Main st, total desolation. Where the hell am I? I ask