Saturday, 30 May 2015

Snowy Mountain Passes and Tire Issues

Location: Okanogan, WA 98840, USA
The rest day at the Bacon Bike Hostel was well taken and it was fantastic to just chill out just the two of us for the day. The morning after we got up early to get some miles under our belt before the first of five mountain passes in four days. Unsurprisingly as we were now in the notoriously wet state of Washington we loaded the bikes in the rain and headed out to join the Adventure Cycling Association's Northern Tier route which follows Highway 20 all the way west to the ocean.  Since the trip began we have had very few wet days and you can forget how miserable it can get. Low visibility, invisible water filled pot holes and tidal waves of road spray from passing trucks all added to low moral and frustration. It feels important to add that even though we are from equally wet England, Sophie and I have very little wet weather gear. We have waterproof jackets and socks, and Sophie has some waterproof "Chilly Grips" (fleece lined, outdoor rubberised farming gloves) but my gloves are not even water-resistant and seem to just get drenched and chilly pretty quickly. We had been forewarned that the first pass (Sherman Pass) was the worst of the climbs but looking online it wasn't as bad as some of the other summits we'd climbed so when the junction came to turn onto the scenic byway we were fairly confident if a little waterlogged.

The climbing on Sherman pass was not the problem with the day. The issue was two fold. Firstly the dense forest and low lying cloud meant that there was no stunning vista to distract you from the pedalling so all your mental energy was focussed on the mile markers and time. So all I thought about what how far we had come and how far was still to go. How fast we were travelling and what time that meant we were planning on getting to the top; this slows the world right down and quite soon I found myself focusing on every turn of the crank arm. The second issue was my so called waterproof and breathable jacket. It was failing spectacularly on both fronts resulting in my body and arms being dripping wet and cold. As we climbed and the rain turned to sleet then snow my body temperature was dropping and head to toe I was drenched. At the summit sign the visibility was down to about 30-40 feet and the standard achievement photo was forgotten as we hurriedly prepared for the long downhill to Republic. 

From bitter experience we knew that as bad as the climbing was the downhill would be worse. The normal joy of screaming down the hill at speeds of 35mph is replaced with screaming obscenities as the cold fingers become numb and quickly agonising. And the long, sweeping descent from Sherman Pass was no different to the retreat on Boulder Mountain back in Utah, however this time there was no definite safe haven to warm up in and the descent was so much longer. As we rolled closer into town a bald eagle swooped low over us and followed the road for a brief distance meaning we could get fantastic views of the amazing bird. My sentimental mind took this as a sign that it'll be alright and that we were doing well and keep following the road; the cold can do funny things to one's mind. We arrived with our Warm Showers host after not too long and were welcomed with a lovely warm house and home cooked fish and chips.

DiAnne was a great host and looked after us when we arrived. The food was brilliant and her stories of cycling and her holidays were great. We left with dry clothes feeling rejuvenated and ready for our second climb, over Wacaunda Pass, towards the ocean. The weather for the climb wasn't brilliant but nowhere near as bad as the previous day and the scenery was much more inviting so it wasn't too long before we reached the top and were enjoying the downhill towards Tonasket.  We stopped at this little town for lunch and headed off towards Omak to stock up on supplies for the next few days as our food bag was running low.  Our routine for shopping is that Sophie does the shopping while I guard the bikes.  I think we both think the other person has the better task but we only have the one card which is Sophie's, so she gets to look at all the pretty things and walk around the aisles talking to all the wonderful people while I'm stuck outside dealing with whatever the weather can throw at me.  However, during this ordeal in Omak a guy came over and started talking about cycle touring and our trip, he was in a bit of a rush to buy a few things for his lunch but it was nice all the same to interact with somebody.  The next thing I knew he was back out the shop and presented me with a host of things to eat; then he ran off to what ever he was up to.  Soph came out a little later and we headed off to our destination of Okanogan.

We arrived with Heather, from Warm Showers, just before she was heading out for dinner with friends and we had a brief chat about the birds in the area, about her job and how to use the hot tub. Oh yeh, that's right, Heather had a hot tub and while she was out we had a nice long soak resting our tired legs and enjoying all the amazing wildlife.  The next morning we rose early and started getting ready for the next mountain pass.  While loading Sophie's bike I noticed Sophie had a flat; no worries, a quick change was all that was needed.  Loading my bike I noticed a gash in my tire wall; bigger problem.  We don't carry any spare tires and had no way of fixing it so we needed to buy a new one.  A rushed journey to the local bike shop proved fruitless.  How were we going to sort this?  A quick message conversation with Heather resulted in finding a better shop in the next town over plus the offer of a place today stay and a lift there from a work colleague.  Winning.  The stress of it all meant that we needed a nice long soak in the hot tub; all's well that ends well.


  1. More ups and downs and of course great hosts! Mr P

    1. Things have to go wrong to test your mettle and the kindness of Heather and her friends Rick and Marie greatly received