Sunday, July 31st
Disclaimer: A briefer write up today as I’m writing it in the morning of the following day and want (need) to leave before it gets too hot or windy as I have another day of climbing, my third and final day, ahead of me.
This was my second day spent tackling Washington’s mountain passes. Specifically Loup Loup pass which stands at 4020ft, not especially high, but more than 3000ft higher than where I started off in the morning at Riverside.
I got going relatively early, leaving the campsite after speaking to Ian, one of several fire fighters stationed in the area for the summer. The previous year parts of the highway i’ve been riding out to the coast, Route 20, were entirely shut due to forest fires. I noticed later in the day the burnt trees, and close to me the charred black curb which was crumbling away in places.
I cycled a quiet riverside road to Omak where I stopped at a safeway to pick up food and use their wifi. More time passed than I would have liked and I left after 11. Now it was getting seriously hot and at this point I was a little oblivious of what lay ahead.
I passed through the twin city of Okanogan where everything looked closed or closed down – weeds overtook motel parking lots and faded paper blocked up shop windows. And from here joined the 20 heading West.
I made one more brief stop at Smallwoods Farmstore, one of many apple farms in the area. The store also housed a small coffee shop which made coffee using Blue Star beans – a local rostary based in Twisp, the first town the other side of the pass. It definitely takes the award for best coffee in the most unlikely place. I also bought a mug made by a local artist. Not the wisest purchase right before climbing a mountain.
Back on the road the sun was in it’s prime and I probably sweated more than I had at any other point in this trip as I dragged myself slowly up the 6% grade hill. The sound of the sprinklers teased me. I pass one of the riders from the Bike the US for MS group that I keep crossing paths with and check she is ok.
I carry on, hauling away. There’s a steep but brief downhill, and then a further 7 miles to reach the top. At least an hour and a half probably. A few miles in I spot the support van for the group cyclists and they offer me some ice cold water which I graciously accept.
The air cools very slightly as I climb, and there’s a little more protection from the trees the further up you get, but it’s still an intense heat.
After several last switchbacks the road plateaus slightly then raises up one last time for the summit. I take a photo of the sign and pull into a side road to sit down under a tree for a short time and eat some lunch. In the winter there is a small ski area at the top here, but it’s hard to picture it now.
I get ready to tackle the downhill. A sign warns of a 6% grade drop for 8 miles and I ride it as fast as I feel I can, not fully trusting my bike at this point in the trip. But it feels like i’m flying down and within 20 minutes or so I reach Twisp at the bottom. I’m also hit with a strong headwind which killed the last part of the downhill (as has been the trend recently) and is probably going to make the rest of the afternoon drag out.
I see the Blue Star coffee headquarters on the edge of town but unfortunately it’s closed. I stop at a supermarket which is filled with taxidermy for a while instead, then continue.
It’s around 10 or 11 miles to Winthrop, and 16 to where i’m aiming to sleep, a place Daniel mentioned the day before, and I researched this morning called ‘Barn Bicycle Camping’. It’s a bicyclist only camping area, setup by a couple who had room on their land to accommodate passing cyclists on the Northern Tier route. I brace myself for the wind and set off.
The road follows the Methow River, a popular spot for people to float down in tubes. Meanwhile i’m struggling along it into the wind as traffic flies by a little too close and fast, probably in a rush to get back to Seattle or Vancouver before the working week commences again, but days lost their meaning to me a while ago.
I reach Winthrop and pass right through. It’s a bustling tourist town, the kind where all the shops have that faux authentic aesthetic, made out of wood with lettering painted on.
I pass right through and push through the final 5 miles as the wind seems to increase. It doesn’t feel like i’m going to find the place i’m looking for. There’s a few driveways off the highway, some mailboxes, but it feels too windswept and neglected. Then finally see a wind dial poking above the trees from the top of a barn, it’s in the shape of a bicycle. Then I reach the driveway and see the ‘Bicycle Camping’ sign and know i’m in the right place.
More small signs direct me to the Barn on the edge of the property where cyclists can camp around. It’s a $10 donation, 20% of that goes to the Adventure Cycling Association. For that you get wifi, a place to camp, inside space to sit or cook, a compost toilet ,and a solar powered shower.
I sit down on a picnic bench an the dog which had barked at me earlier suddenly appears. His name is Stout and his owner, and the owner of the barn, Jim also arrives. He tells me how he wanted to train the dog to lead people to the campsite but I think it might take some time.
I put my tent up and enjoy the novel comfort of sitting in an old armchair inside the barn. Tomorrow: more mountains, another 3000ft or so to climb, but beyond them: the sea, and the end.