Day 5 – Riverside to Republic, WA – 100 kms
This day was mountain pass #4, Wauconda, at 4310 ft. It was a little tougher than Loup Loup Pass, but the weather helped by not being too hot. It was cloudy with sunny periods – mostly cloudy though.
After a quick camp breakfast, I rode the 26 kms north to Tonasket and stopped for a real cooked breakfast at a cafe there before continuing on to tackle Wauconda Pass. After Tonasket I noticed that Route 20 was narrower and not quite as well maintained as the previous sections had been. I also discovered that the shoulders were much narrower too!
Just before the Wauconda summit, there is the town of Wauconda – read, speck on the map – actually there are a few ranches around, but the town consists of a general store/cafe/gas station. I was glad to stop for a break there though, and it was only 5 kms from the summit. When I arrived at the cafe, there were two other loaded touring bikes outside – one with a BOB trailer and the other with panniers and racks – the first cyclists that I’d seen since day one! I went inside and found where they were sitting; not too difficult in the small confines of the cafe! I sat down and joined the other two travellers and found that they had met by chance at the cafe too! So all three of us had different tales to tell. They hadn’t seen too many other tourers either. John was from Seattle and was heading west on Route 20, I don’t recall that he mentioned where he had started from? The other fellow, Mike, was from California, and had just taken early retirement. He said that he had three months “leave of absence” from his wife and responsibilities, and was heading east, the same way as I was. He would be on the road much longer than me though, as he had the whole three months to tour wherever he liked. He thought that he might try for east coast of the USA and had started along Route 20 a day before I had, so he was quite impressed that I’d caught up to him. After a good chinwag and a filling lunch, we said our goodbyes and all rode off by ourselves. I didn’t ask Mike to ride with me, as he seemed to want to ride solo, which is my preference anyway. Mike mentioned that he was going to stay in a motel when he reached Republic, so I assumed that I probably wouldn’t see him again as I had planned to camp.
The rest of the climb to the summit went quickly and soon I was descending into Republic, where I stopped for groceries and an ice cream. I found out that it wasn’t too far to the campground, so I picked up a couple of beers and hoped that they’d remain cool.
I rode on to the Ferry County Fairgrounds; another cheap night, only US$6.00 and free hot showers again! I guzzled my beer while I set up camp and then relaxed for a while. This was a nice, fairly quiet place close to the highway, but not too close! I was the only camper for quite a while, until later in the evening when a couple with a 5th wheel trailer pulled in. I chatted with the campground caretaker and asked if there were any restaurants close by, on the road east, that would be open in the morning. He said that there was one at the top of the hill after I left the campground. “Good,” I thought, “I won’t have to cook breakfast!”
After cooking up some grub for dinner, I cleaned up, retired to my tent and read for a while before falling asleep. Funnily enough, the book that I took with me, would last me the whole trip, as I always had good intentions of reading quite a bit, but found my eyes closing after about a half hour of text.
Summit number 5 would be waiting in the morning, and it was higher than the ones that I had already climbed, although I’d be starting from a higher elevation – as if that was going to help!
Day 6 – Republic to Marcus, WA – 84 kms
I cut the day short at 84 klicks, which was enough riding for a hot day that included the climb over Sherman Pass. I had planned to ride to Northport, which was another 45 kms past Marcus, but after lunch in Kettle Falls, it was too damn hot to ride much further. A lady at the restaurant where I lunched, suggested that I camp at Marcus Island, which was only 8 kms from Kettle Falls. When I arrived there I was glad that I took her advice, as the Marcus Island National Recreation Area was in a beautiful location on the banks of Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake. The lake was created when the Columbia River was dammed by the Grand Coulee project. The campground was almost empty; US$10.00 though and no running water or showers. I had to take a dip in the lake to make up for the lack of showers, it sure felt good after after the hot ride though!
Sherman Pass was a grind, but I started fairly early before the sun was at its hottest. It was cool at the 5575 ft summit, as was the descent. It’s funny how you can feel the temperature changing as you descend at a constant speed. Unlike climbing, where you are just sweating your butt off, all the way up!
The scenery was fabulous, as usual when riding over the mountain passes. I rode through a huge area that had been decimated by a large forest fire in 1988. Quite a bit of the greenery was returning, but thousands of acres of burnt trees (sticks) still remained.
Before turning into the campground, I noticed that I had a bit of climb to start the day off when I left the next morning, but at least I could see the top of the hill, so it wasn’t like looking up at the mountain passes (wondering where they crested) as I had been on previous days! I also made plans to have a short day and stay somewhere just after I crossed over the Canadian border. Yes, I was to be back in Canada the next day, probably around lunchtime. I had already left Route 20 and was heading north on Route 25 after leaving Kettle Falls. Since leaving Winthrop, I had seen many logging trucks on Route 20, and I was hoping that they didn’t use this route. In general, most of the logging truck drivers gave me a wide berth, when they could, but they seemed loathe to slow down, which caused a lot of back draught if they passed too close. Also, when they first came out of the bush and could travel faster on the highway, there were bits of bark and branches flying out of their loads, that I had to dodge!
As I mentioned before, the North Cascades seem to be a favourite destination of motorcyclists. I’d never seen so many motorcycles, in a span of 5 or 6 days, as I saw there. I guess that they love all the curves and bends on the mountain passes. A lot of them were carrying camping gear, but I was yet to meet any of the riders at the campgrounds that I stayed at. They likely used the upper class places, unlike the cheap, smelly cyclists! Of course, with a motor, they could stray farther afield than I could, or wanted to.
I didn’t see any cyclists again, but I thought that I’d see lots when I returned to BC, as the Kootenays are a popular venue for touring cyclists.
No more mountain passes, for couple of days anyway. My sixth one would be the Monashee Pass at 1200m, I know, I quoted in feet before, but by then I would be back in Canada, using Canuck metrology! About 4000 ft by my reckoning. The Monashee promised some steeper sections than the grades on the Cascades. Monashee Pass is on Highway 6, east of Vernon, BC.
Day 7 – Marcus, WA to Salmo, BC – 151 kms
What a disaster of a day! This was supposed to be a short day, 151 klicks later…
I made it to the border in great time, then all hell broke loose. I figured that I must have pissed off the cycling Gods! I had planned to camp at a Provincial Park that is a few kilometres past the border crossing at Waneta. When I arrived there, I found that the park was closed to the public, due to a Girl Guide Jamboree, or something. This was just after noon and the sun was reaching its full ferocity. I was pretty hot already and very disappointed that my short day had been screwed up. So I scrounged some water from the girl guide people and thought that I may as well cover some of tomorrow’s planned route and carry on to Salmo, then maybe get a motel for a nice treat.
I had to backtrack a few klicks and then took the Waneta to Nelway road, which on my map showed as 15 kms long, with a short gravel section. As soon as I left the highway the road went up! Now it wasn’t highway grade anymore and quite steep for a long while. However, I must say that the views were worth the effort. The photo below show the highway that I rode up from…
Then I cycled down and rode on until I reached the Seven Mile Dam, a BC Hydro dam, quite spectacular, at kilometre 13 on this road. I hadn’t seen any evidence of being on the right road to Nelway, so I asked a group of ladies, who happened to be picking wildflowers at the side of the road near the dam, if in fact I was on the correct road. They confirmed that I was, but that the pavement ended after the dam and the road turned to gravel that had very recently been graded! I said that it would probably be OK, as it was only two more kilometres to Nelway. “Not so,” they said, in fact they told me that it was still another 20 kilometres to Nelway, so much for my map! I gave the road a try though, but it was impossible with the narrow tires on my touring bike. The fresh gravel was simply too deep and I couldn’t make any headway in it; my trailer just seemed to compound the problem too. Maybe a mountain bike with some wide tires would have worked, but I couldn’t get any momentum or keep a straight track. Of course, it was very hilly too. After about 1 km I turned back and resolved to make it to Fruitvale, the closest town at that point. Did I mention that it was damn hot?
I returned over the same mini-mountain and visited with the girl guide people again, scrounged some more water from them and asked, ever so politely, where the hell was the road to Fruitvale? As I had seen no road signs to help me. “Back up the hill,” they told me to go, “and make a left onto a back road.” I verified that this road was not gravel and off I pedalled. This back road had some short steep climbs that tempted me to ditch my trailer and gear over the embankment, but I persevered. Did I mention that it was really damn hot?
I eventually arrived in Fruitvale and thought that would be the end of the road for the day – not so!
A fruitless search in Fruitvale for a motel room. An Oriental fellow at one place said that the last room had just been let, even though his sign said “Vacancy.” I don’t think that he liked the smell of me! Anyway, he sent me off to find another place that was “two minutes away.” Yeah, right, I rode for about three kilometres and found dick, nada!!! I turned around and said to myself, “Screw it.” As tired and hot as I was, I may as well continue on in my planned direction and go another 26 kms to Salmo. Back in Fruitvale, I stopped at the supermarket and picked up a litre of cold milk and downed that immediately – instant food! Then I filled my water bottles from a gallon jug of ice cold water, that I had also purchased, and poured the remainder over my head, boy that felt good! Did I mention that it was really, really, damn hot?
By the way, I had lost the desire to camp, through tiredness and being TOO DAMN HOT! Besides, the town park in Fruitvale was closed due to a boil water advisory in the area – great eh?
At least the road to Salmo was fairly flat and I found a riding partner for about half of the way. Lloyd, a fellow from Fruitvale was having his afternoon ride and pulled up beside me. He started chatting about my nice touring bike, and my trip etc. He seemed like he was in the market for a new bike and ready to begin touring. I offered to let him haul my crap for the rest of the way to Salmo, but he wisely refused. Anyhow, he was a pleasant distraction for about half of the distance to Salmo and he helped perk up my energy level. He had to turn back, so I had a quick rest stop and a snack, then said goodbye to him and pedalled on.
All in all, notwithstanding the heat, the day’s riding was also being marred by constant headwinds all the time that I was riding north. Just before Salmo, I found a nice (read, cheap) motel with a vacancy and a convenient diner across the street. I took a room, unloaded my stuff, and had a nice long shower. Then off to the diner for a big feed, and a couple of cold beers… life was good again!
I was tired as a dog though, so I definitely promised myself that the next day WOULD be a short day!
Day 8 – Salmo to Kokanee Creek PP, BC – 78 kms
My short day was OK, even though I rode 78 kms, they were easy kilometres, with just a little headwind in the morning. No major hills with cooler, overcast weather helping too. I had breakfast in Salmo; Salmo appears to be a dying town – read, “run-down” – but breakfast was OK. I didn’t rush out of the motel too early this morning either, as I was fortunate enough to have cable TV that had the Outdoor Life Network, which was televising the Tour de France. I watched the 13th stage of the race live and had watched the replay of stage 12 on the previous evening. The way that those professional riders cycle up mountain passes at warp speed (in my mind) left me thinking that they’d enjoy pedalling some of the hills for me! Guess not!
The ride to Nelson from Salmo was pretty boring, but the last 9 kms into town was all one great downhill run. Nelson, without doubt is built on a hillside! Some of the local hills on the town’s streets are just about un-rideable, at least they are with a loaded touring bike! Nelson seems like a nice place and is a lot bigger than I had imagined – in fact it is a city. It was their annual Streetfest on the day that I arrived, so I think that the whole population of Nelson was downtown! I picked up a spare tire and a new pair of bike shorts (impulse buy!) at one of the local bike stores, meandered around the street market, had lunch, bought groceries and pedalled out the 22 kms to the park. And this was a real nice ride on Highway 3A, pedalling adjacent to the banks of the Kootenay River.
Upon arriving at the park, I was told that the hiker/biker camp area was free – bonus! And the showers were free too! Apparently, the hiker/biker area was donated by a couple and they even had a very nice covered cooking/camping shelter built for the weary hiker/bikers.
The campsite was a little away (400m) from the main park, but next to the group camp areas. Luckily there were bear bins there too – to stash food etc. for the night – which were a superior and much more convenient alternative to hanging my goodies from a tree. As an added bonus, I found out that there was a marina store 1 km east of the park, with a liquor agency, mmm, cold beer! I rode off in a hurry!