Northern Washington and Southern BC
Loop Tour of 8 Mountain Passes
Washington State, USA and British Columbia, Canada
The Route, at a glance…
Sidney, Anacortes, Newhalem, Rainy Pass, Washington Pass, Loup Loup Pass,
Wauconda Pass, Sherman Pass, Nelson, Nakusp, Monashee Pass, Vernon,
Kamloops, Princeton, Sunday Summit, Allison Pass, Hope, Sidney
July 14th to July 31st, 2001 – 1,812 Kms
This was a solo (barring Basil), self-supported tour and only one of very few trips that I would ride with a BOB Trailer. The tour started out following the first section of Adventure Cycling Association’s, Northern Tier route. Once I had travelled as far as Kettle Falls, WA, I left the route and headed north for the Canadian border at Waneta, BC. I then travelled northeast to Kaslo, northwest to Nakusp, south to Fauquier, crossed Arrow Lake and then rode northwest to Kamloops. From Kamloops, I ventured south and then west again to return to Vancouver Island.
The weather, for July was very temperamental and certainly not predictable. I had many more cloudy than sunny days, but for climbing the grades of some of the passes, this was not unwelcome. However, I could have managed just fine without the rainy days! Bicycle touring can bring out some hardships and it is usually through adverse weather, but the few hardships are far outweighed by the many memorable and spectacular sights that one sees whilst touring these great lands of ours – on a bicycle.
On this trip, I had two new toys…
The first was new digital camera, an Olympus D-460Z. At the end of my trip, I found the digital camera to be very straightforward for uploading and editing photos to my PC, and ultimately this site. In addition, the photos are of a much better resolution than the photos from my previous trip reports, which were taken on film and then scanned into my PC.
My second “toy” was a Sharp TM-20 Pocketmail device, on which I typed my daily reports and then sent them as plain text email via any available payphone. The keyboard is quite small on the device, so touch-typing was out of the question. However, one’s fingers seem to adapt quite well after a few days, and speedy messages were possible!
I’ll mention here that I have only added a few photos throughout this blog post of my bicycle tour of 8 Summits, but all my images from this trip are available for viewing by clicking this link.
This trip report is compiled from notes and the daily email messages that I sent to family and friends whilst I was touring. I hope that my thoughts and words will allow you to share in my travels through some very scenic parts of Washington State and the Province of British Columbia.
Day 1 – Sidney, BC to Bayview State Park, WA – 30 kms
I caught the Washington State ferry from Sidney, BC to Anacortes, WA. and in retrospect, I think that this happens to be one of the most scenic ferry routes in the Pacific Northwest. Meandering through the San Juan Islands, watching small boats and yachts sailing by, is a great way to pass a couple hours of travel time. I never seem to tire of this trip as I do of the other many ferry routes throughout the Pacific Northwest.
At the Sidney ferry terminal, I met a cycling couple who were touring on a tandem and were on their way back to Seattle. They seemed to be packing only as much gear as I was, albeit for two people! After a second look though, I was sure that they had more, phew!
No problems with US Customs and Immigration at Anacortes Terminal, so I rode off onto Highway 20 heading east. I stopped in the town of Anacortes on the way for groceries and a bite to eat, then continued on to Bayview State Park.
Well it was an easy ride, but I’ve never seen so much broken glass on the shoulders of a highway, and not just in one place, but for many miles. Inevitably, I picked up a big chunk in my back tire which I discovered after hearing the dreaded pfft, pfft, pfft, or something like that, coming from the back tire. Anyhow, I disconnected the BOB trailer, flipped the bike upside down and then put in a spare tube. My tire liner must have been off centre, as there was only a hole in the tire and not the liner; weird! I did have a spare tire, but figured that the hole in the tire was not too excessive, so it should be OK for quite a few more miles yet.
Bayview State Park is in a really nice location, almost beachfront with great views of the ocean and surrounding Islands. The sign at the entrance said that the campground was full. “Great, what a way to start the trip,” I thought to myself as I pulled in. I asked the young ranger at the booth if any hiker/biker sites were available? “I’ve only got three hiker/biker sites,” he says, “and they’re all vacant.” Perfect, I took one and was thankful that bicycle touring has its privileges – in some places anyhow!
I had a nice shower and cooked up some one one pot cheddar rice and broccoli and that was after a peanut butter and jam sandwich. Well I was full after that lot I guess! Just enough room for a hot drink with brandy; damn, Basil forgot to buy brandy, and the next day was Sunday, damn again!
Day 2 – Bayview SP to Newhalem, WA – 128 kms
It was supposed to be 101 kms today, but somehow it ended up quite a bit more, so much for my map calculations!
After I packed up and left Bayview SP, I rode to Burlington for breakfast. There I found a nice coffee shop type restaurant, Denise’s on Fairhaven, and had a big feed for US$5.00. – That was to be the only good deal of the day!
As I left Burlington, the sky started darkening! I reached Sedro Woolley and left Highway 20 to take the South Skagit Highway, as suggested by the ACA map. This turned out to be a road with no shoulder, but the traffic was so light that it didn’t matter. The road was tar and coarse chip, and quite rough in places, Basil didn’t like getting bumped around that much! In fact, the coarse road surface set up vibrations that must have made my new small flasher tail light – installed on the BOB trailer fender – go flying; it smashed into a hundred pieces! I had the damn thing zap-tied on too! That was another $7.00 up the spout!
Along this route, I passed four other touring cyclists who were stopped at the side of the road. I waved and said my hellos, and continued on as they seemed to be just starting up again after a rest – or problem? I figured that I might see them again later on – this was not to be. Just after passing them, I felt a few raindrops, which multiplied in no time to a downpour so I put on my raingear and pedalled on. At least the temperature was mild, which negated some of the unpleasantness of the rain. Shortly after, I was riding along minding my own business, when two pit bull dogs decided to rush out from a yard and chase me. Luckily I was going downhill and outran them. [Loose dogs do seem to be a problem when one travels on back roads!] When I first noticed them coming for me, I didn’t have time to zap them with my Doggie Dazer, so I forcefully yelled “NO” at them and held out the flat of my palm facing them. It worked! They held still for a few seconds, which gave me the edge to pedal away… phew!
After about 45 kms I had to rejoin Highway 20 – or “Route 20,” as it’s called in the USA. There was some great scenery as I rode next to the Skagit River, but I was too wet to appreciate it and arrived in Marblemount looking like a drowned rat! Basil was not impressed with his first rain experience either! I was tired out, as there had not been many opportunities to stop, and besides, who wants to stop at the side of the road when it’s raining? I went into a restaurant in Marblemount, had some hot soup and fish & chips costing US$11.00! Pricey, but I felt much better after that and even the rain had petered out by the time I left.
I carried on to Newhalem, where the campsites are run by the Forest Service, US$12.00 per night, whether you drive a 40ft motorhome, ride in on a bike, or simply walk-in. What a rip-off! And there wasn’t even a shower! Most of the Washington State Parks only charge US$6.00 and a shower was only 25 cents! Anyway after the wet ride, had there been a motel, I would have gladly taken it, but there was nothing else for almost the next 90 kms. I decided that if it was be another rainy ride the next day, then I probably would get a motel room in Winthrop instead of camping; I thought that I might need it, with two mountain passes to clear!
Day 3 – Newhalem to Winthrop, WA – 122 kms
A long day… 8 1/2 hours after leaving Newhalem, I reached Winthrop. Rainy Pass summit took 60 kms of climbing, barring three small downhill stretches. Then I still had to go downhill for a short while and start climbing for Washington Pass. Rain and drizzle made me change riding clothes about 10 times, as I was either too hot, too cold, too wet etc. What a difference from yesterday’s rains, which were quite warm; especially as I climbed higher in altitude the ambient temperature was cooling considerably. I was quite worn out when I reached Rainy Pass summit, and at almost 5000 ft, it was very chilly up there with that cold drizzle of rain to substantiate the naming of the pass!
Before heading up the pass in the morning, I stopped in the small townsite of Newhalem to transmit my Pocketmail messages and also to pick up some bananas from the small general store there. I had a chat with the storekeeper and gleaned the information that Newhalem is a company town, owned by Seattle Power & Light. The three dams – or Ross Lake Dam Project – that I would see on my climb up the pass, are the main hydroelectric power supply for the city of Seattle, WA and are operated by the worker/residents of Newhalem.
There were no services for the almost 100 kms riding between Newhalem and Mazama – and not much in Mazama. It’s a good job that I had bananas, granola bars, peanut butter and jam with me, as I had to “refuel” about every 20 kms. The road grades were not too steep, between 6% and 8% grades I’d guess, but they seemed to go on forever! There were also two tunnels to negotiate (where my tail light would have come in handy!), but these were no problem as both tunnels have a flashing light system that one can activate, warning motorists as to the presence of cyclists inside the tunnel. I stopped at the Rainy Pass (El: 4855ft.) summit picnic area – there weren’t too many fools picnicking there on this day! There were no picnic shelters so I huddled in the doorway of the out-of-order washroom to make my sandwiches. Of course, I was all sweaty and wet from climbing to the summit; as a result, when I was stopped, the cold wind and drizzle just froze me, and soon I was shivering. I put on some more clothes after finishing my snacks then rode off for the all too short downhill run that was the prelude to the next climb.
Oh! I saw my first bear of this trip; he was ambling across the road about 100 ft in front of me, as was crawling up one of the hills. Where was my bear spray? In the BOB bag! Dummy! Anyway, I gave him a blast from my air horn and he scampered away. But as I rode by, I noticed that he was standing on the bank, up on his hind legs at the edge of the bush, watching me intently. He seemed to be on his way to the close-by Ross Lake Resort – they probably had good garbage! I was obviously not worth pursuing – or maybe he was eyeballing Basil?
I digress though…
Washington Pass at 5477 ft. was even colder and wetter than Rainy Pass had been. I was looking forward to the downhill after the summit, but I had to keep my speed in check due to the wet roads resulting in reduced braking ability. Too bad about the rain, as there were a myriad of photo ops, especially riding down to a big hairpin bend as I was descending. However, I did get some photos at the summit…
The rain let up for a while as I continued the downhill run and I even thought that the sky was looking a bit brighter. Wishful thinking though; I ran into a rainstorm just as reached Mazama! I decided that instead of camping in the wet somewhere, I was definitely going to look for a motel, but there was nothing to speak of in Mazama accommodation-wise, so I continued on.
I eventually made it to Winthrop – where serious rain was busy depositing itself – very tired, wet and still not in the frame of mind to look for a wet campsite. Now Winthrop is a tourist town with a Western flavour, raised sidewalks, western style storefronts etc. So it’s the worst place for a cheap cyclist to find a cheap room! And to compound the problem there was a forest fire burning quite a few miles north of Winthrop, resulting in most of the forest firefighters taking up all the spare rooms! Anyway I found an expensive room, well not really expensive by Winthrop standards, especially if the Canadian dollar had been worth more, but it wasn’t and I suffered the consequences. Too bad that there wasn’t a Motel 66, or the like, there!
Undoubtedly, I had just picked the wrong place to splurge on a dry room, instead of soggy camping. Soggy Basil was happy for the warm and dry room though!
After a nice hot shower, I washed some clothes and realised that I was starving. I walked a block down the main street and stopped in at the Duck Brand Inn and Restaurant. I had a huge feed of pasta, fresh bread and a pint of locally brewed Pale Ale to wash it all down; I felt the day’s tribulations slip away!
Back at the motel, I struck up a conversation with a group of firefighters, who were staying there. They told me that the biggest of the fires was almost under control and that they, unlike me, really liked the way it had been, and still was, raining! I just hoped that I’d fare better the next day and that the rains would abate for my route.
Day 4 – Winthrop to Riverside, WA – 90 kms
This was a much better day, both riding wise and weather wise. The sun came out for much of the day, making it almost too hot! By the time that I reached Okanogan the temperature was touching 30 degrees!
I found an excellent cafe in Winthrop that was open early in the morning, and had myself a leisurely breakfast before braving the asphalt once more. On leaving Winthrop, about a mile out of the main town site, there were more motels, but in retrospect, I still couldn’t have been bothered looking for them in the rain on the previous evening. The thing that really peeved me though was that originally I was going to camp at the KOA, but I figured that it was too wet to camp, right? Well it turns out that when I rode by, their sign said that they had Kamping Kabins! Probably a hell of a lot cheaper than the US$70.00 I paid for the motel room! I guessed then, that I’d be bitching about that US$70.00 for the rest of the trip!
I saw lots of firefighter’s trucks on the road, but thankfully, could neither see nor smell any evidence of forest fires. I also started seeing lots of motorcyclists travelling the Cascades Highway, much as I was, with camping gear strapped to their machines. Though I doubted that they could take in all the sights and sounds as I could from my bicycle.
Number 3 Summit was Loup Loup Pass which was a much easier climb than the previous day’s toil up to Rainy Pass. After leaving Twisp, the climb to the 4020ft summit began. It was a steady climb and I was thankful that the sun hadn’t reached it’s full ferocity whilst I was riding uphill. The ride down was cool, and with a dry road I made good time down to the more desert like area of the Okanogan valley. This area is so much like the Osoyoos and Penticton areas in my native BC. Very dry looking, but when irrigated, lush, good fruit growing country. After Okanogan it was a few miles more to Omak, where I had lunch at a McDonald’s before continuing on to Riverside where I camped.
Best deal yet! I stayed at Margie’s RV Park and it was only US$5.00 for a nice grassy spot with free showers too! Riverside is a very small town with just a quaint general store in the town site where I bought a beer, an ice cream and something to cook for dinner. The RV park was also a small place with about 20 camping spots, but very clean and in a nice, quiet location. Anyhow I had only cycled for about 5 hours, so I had arrived there early and very much enjoyed relaxing with my beer in the nice warm sunshine. Even Basil had dried out! As I was writing this, the clouds were rolling in, bummer! “Well, so long as it doesn’t rain again,” I said to myself!
The next day would be Summit number 4 and my destination of Republic.