August 5, 2001

8/5/01 Winthrop, WA

66.3 / 5689 miles

Woke up to blue skies overhead but the sun was having a little difficulty lighting up these deep valleys.

I had only riden about a half-mile when looking behind me, I see snow covered Colonial Peak gold and white in the morning sun. So awesome, the peak seems thousands of feet above the campsite. Many religions call mountains places of power, and just looking up I can sense that too. It's almost hard to pull away.

Colonial Peak

For the most part, I had a short steep climb right from the campground exit, then a long steady climb the rest of the day. I guess I'm not used to the climbing or the altitude, so I take lots of breaks. One guy stops to see if I need any help. "No" I said, "Just four more miles to the first pass."

From the map I couldn't tell if Rainy Pass (4855') was a real pass or just a division of two watersheds. After climbing all day, I'm horrified to see a sign for "steep grade". It was a real fast descent but I couldn't help thinking of all the feet I'll have to climb again.

Five torturous miles later, I reach Washington Pass (5477') with about twenty other cyclists taking a break. It was just a large group of friends from Seattle out for a couple of days of cycling. They were young and old with some on a racing team, but most were open and friendly. While they were taking a snack, several fearless birds were practically stealing the food out of their hands. One even grabbed a whole Fig Newton out of the package.

Sittin' with the gang

Up at the visitor center, I cam upon a free Alpenhorn concert. Those are the long horns used in the mountains of Switzerland. A short walk away was a lookout. My jaw literally fell to my feet! Before me were the mountains. But they were so close, a person just couldn't take it all in. The lookout was also built on a cliff, so you could see the road thousands of feet below. It really was hard to absorb the sight.

Blow those horns!

I wasn't going to say anything, but since turning east, I've been expecting a little bit of tailwind. Because I'm sure the ocean winds could be a factor, I bided my time. But today, the clouds soon moved in, and so did a headwind. Nothing like climbing thousands of feet, pulling a trailer with the wind pushing you back. Even on the screaming ride down (top speed 41MPH), I could tell the wind was slowing me down.

One thing I noticed right away was the air was warmer and felt dryer. It still looked like rain but I wasn't worried. I was able to coast miles down that hill with very little effort. Eventually came to the valley floor and headed for Mazama WA.

In seconds, I knew this was like no other small town I'd been in the whole trip. Bob Marley was playing on some outdoor speakers. A few artists were peddling their wares outside. The Mazama General Store was a buzz with the young and young-at-heart. Conversation revolved around mountain biking, rock climbing and fishing. One business was even called "Troutfitters". The whole place just had an energy I haven't seen in "Small Town America!"

One person came over. "Where you headed?" Craig Herlihy asked. Turns out Craig did a Seattle-to-Washington DC ride for the Lung Association a few years ago. It was a fully supported tour with 750 riders. That's bigger than a lot of towns I go through. The next year, him and a friend did about 500 miles of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route in Montana. So we had a lot to talk about. When I told him I might be headed to Winthrop for the night, he offered a shower and a place to put up the tent.

It took about an hour to get to Winthrop. The town really reminds me of Dubois WY. Lots of tourists and all the stores have a western-look to them. By the time I got to Craig's house, he and his partner, Abbey, are gearing up for a spur of the moment barbecue. Craig also met a couple from Alaska, Betty and David, visiting some property they have here. And just like me, he invited them over.

Besides our hosts, Craig and Abbey, there was Lance, Norm, Todd, Steve, Betty and David. The locals love it here. Because the highway through the North Cascades National Park is closed in winter, Winthrop becomes a destination instead of somewhere you drive through. Besides all the summer activities, the area also boasts over 200-miles of groomed cross-country ski trails in winter.

But to financially survive in this remote wonderland, you need to be creative in making a living. Steve's been a river guide for years but now is also a plumber. Todd is a chef, local politician but also just got back from his brother's wedding where he was the minister.

Talked with Betty for a while. She has a PhD in Nursing and teaches at a university in Colorado. So we talked about healthcare and tried to solve all the worlds problems.

The food was great, the beer flowed and the music lifted our spirits. It was late when everyone started to drift home. Craig insisted I take the guestroom instead of putting up the tent. What a great host!

So, I took a shower and knew I'd be instantly asleep once I laid down on that comfortable bed.