We rode to Seattle on Sunday, for a ceremonial tire dip in the Pacific ocean. I made it!!!! I’m sure I will have lots of thoughts about this adventure in the future, but for now, I am mostly grateful. I’m proud that I was able to pass an extreme physical test that lasted for months and which pushed me close to a breaking point. I’m also grateful (in a general, non-religious way) that I had the physical capacity to accomplish this. I’m grateful to my colleagues at Barrow Neurological Institute for supporting me and allowing me the time to bike 4300 miles, and to the Barrow Foundation for publicizing the ride and helping with money raising. I’m grateful that my sister and brother, Rachel and Jon, picked up the slack left by my absence during a difficult family time, generously and without complaint. I’m indebted to Ruth, my daughter, for creating this blog and faithfully maintaining it over the course of the trip. Finally, I’m incredibly grateful that Kathy, my wife, supported me in my crazy desire to do this, and cheerfully volunteered to take on a host of tasks that I should have been there for.
I’m relieved that the ride is over, but also sad that I don’t have this challenge to look forward to. I made great friends during the ride who I will miss. I will also miss the singleness of purpose; waking up in the morning and knowing that the day consists of breaking camp, finding a place to eat breakfast, and biking all day is a much less stressful existence than the multitasking that usually is a part of everyday life. Seeing the country on a bike allows one to experience small towns, and the slow changes in geography than occur at this rate of travel is completely different than simply flying to your destination. I’m sure I will want to experience something like this again. Not soon, though.
On Thursday, we had our last day of climbing, going 3600 feet up to Mount Washington Pass and then another 400 feet to Raine pass. The climb was steep but beautiful and the descents were frightening.
We spent the evening at a campground on Diablo Lake which is amazingly turquoise, created by a dam that was the highest in the United States what it was built.
Friday, we started our southward journey to Seattle, leaving us with about 85 miles to go. We are staying in Darrington, the logging center of Washington. Unfortunately, that meant logging trucks bearing down on cyclists for much of the day. The next two days are both short and flat; it feels like a victory lap after 4200 miles.
Today we biked 75 miles and climb to 4600 feet over loop loop pass. It was quite steep as well so all in all it made for a hard day of biking. We have one more climb tomorrow and then three flat days into Seattle, finishing the ride on Sunday. I can’t believe this is almost over.
Climbing the pass was interesting in that we started almost at Sea level with vegetation that looked like Arizona and finished in a dense pine forest. On the way down we got our first look at the northern cascades which is what we are climbing tomorrow. Quite rugged and still snowcapped, unlike the mountain passes we been climbing over the last several days.
Today was a short 43 mile ride from Republic to Tonasket WA. There was a modest climb but overall the ride was fairly easy. This portion of Washington is hot and dry, with vegetation that looks much like Phoenix. This will likely change as we continue to climb into the Northern Cascades over the next couple of days. Though Washington overall is a blue state, this part is not; I’ve seen countless “Keep America Great Again” signs throughout the last couple of days. I guess the last couple of years has made us great once more.
Tomorrow starts the last two tough days of the trip, with a steep climb to Loup Loup Pass. After Thursday, we head south toward Seattle along a flat bike path.
On Sunday, we biked along a river for 40 miles, then climbed about 1100 feet to a plateau. The ride was beautiful; went through the Kalispell Indian Reservation where we encountered a buffalo herd, and saw many bald eagles. The climb was a prelude to Monday, when the ride was 82 miles over the Sherman Pass, a climb of over 4000 feet. This was a real challenge, complicated by road construction and huge logging trucks. However, it was quite beautiful, and getting to the pass felt like a significant accomplishment. We now get into the Cascades, with a pass every day for the next 4 days, before a couple of flat days into Seattle. The days are waning; it still seems amazing that this journey is almost over.
On Saturday we rode a short 35 miles from Sand point to Newport Washington. Most of it was a beautiful ride along a river. Stopped at a small town called Priest River for a cup of coffee; the main road was blocked off for the annual Timber Day celebration. There was a parade, a logrolling contest, ax throwing, tree cutting, and other similar competitions. The whole town seem to be quite into it and it was great fun. An interesting parade item was an old school bus decked out in flowers and looking like an old hippy van except that the back was plastered with Trump stickers.The parade has a standard local police and fire department contributions, but also trucks filled to the brim with logs, goats, and logging equipment.
On Thursday, we biked a little more than 100 miles from Libby, Montana to Sandpoint, Idaho. Of the 16 states we go through, Idaho is the only one I have not visited previously. Sandpoint is a trendy town on the northern edge of Lake Pend Oreille, the largest lake in Utah. It’s a beautiful spot, surrounded by mountains and with a sandy edge, giving the town its name. The lake was formed by glaciers, so that it has the same deep blue color as Lake Tahoe. This is our last rest day; we bike for 9 more days and finish in Seattle on August 4.
Sandpoint grew initially as a railroad town; it is a stop on the Northern Pacific Railroad system. The line was opened in the 1870s; like many of the western railways, much of it was built by Chinese “immigrants”. It is now part of the Burlington Northern system, the largest freight hauler in the US. The incredibly extensive railway lines throughout the US has been one of the surprises for me on this trip; I’ve never had a real understanding of the extent to which rail movement of goods is such a large part of the economy. Trains are more than 4 times cheaper than trucks to move the same amount of freight, and cleaner as well (yes, got this from Wikepedia). It’s also really scary to cross tracks on a bike when raining.
Today we rode from Eureka to Libby Montana. We rode along Lake Koocanusa for the majority of the ride. Koocanusa is a mash up of the Kootenai tribe, Canada, and the USA, all of whom have some ownership stake in the lake. The lake is actually a reservoir formed by a huge dam in the Kooteney river.
It’s actually amazing that we are now west of the Rocky Mountains. Tomorrow we head south west to Sandpoint Idaho, and then on to Washington state. The big climbers in Washington will be in the Cascades; I think Eastern Washington will be fairly flat. We have 550 miles left to go; as the ride winds down, I have competing feelings of relief that the ride is ending as well as regret that an amazing experience that I am unlikely to repeat is coming to an end as well. This is been a challenge physically but has broadened my perspective about the range of people in the US as well as the amazing variation in geography.
On Monday we had a rest day in Whitefish, a small town with a number of good restaurants, bars, and art galleries. Kathy met me here, and we spent much of the time with a friend from the bay area who has a house in Whitefish. We also had dinner with friends from Phoenix who have a house in Eureka which I bike to on Tuesday. It was great fun to be in a new place and have familiar folks to hang out with.
On Tuesday the ride from Whitefish to Eureka was both beautiful and hair raising. The road was narrow, the shoulder minimal, and logging trucks frequent and fast. I am staying this evening with friends who live in Eureka. Eureka itself is much less trendy than Whitefish and much more poverty stricken. It’s much more typical of the small towns in eastern Montana that we stayed at in the previous week.
Tomorrow we go to Libby, our last town in Montana before spending one night in Idaho and then on to Washington.