Day 90 – Okanogan, WA to Winthrop, WA – 47 miles
This was our Loup Loup Pass day. A long climb of about 3500 ft. We would be climbing for roughly 20 miles. On these climbs we average about 4 to 6 miles on these climbs, so we had about 3 hours ( or more) ahead of us. And we used to think Fulton Hill was a challenge – that was about a 15 minute climb!
We like to start these days early and have every detail planned to a “T”. So when we got on our bike shortly before 6am, we were prepped and geeked for our long climb. We started out on a bit of a downhill from the motel onto the highway for the climb. Shawn was loving the feel of the air blowing in her hair, when she realized that there was a bit too much wind in her hair! She had left her helmet in the hotel room. At about 1/4 mile away, she added a full half mile to our mountain climbing day! Hey, every quarter mile counts!
For the most part, with very little exception, we spent the next 20 miles in our smallest gear or the 2nd smallest gear. It was a long slow climb, slow & steady. At first, there was very little traffic but then we saw truck after truck transporting fire crews. There have been new fires started, in addition to the Carlton Complex fire which is now contained but is the largest fire in Washington state history.
About halfway up, we found ourselves on the cliff side of the road with no guard rails! It was bad enough at Glacier with guard rails but this was kind of crazy! Sometimes when we’re moving slow, it is hard to ride in a straight line and with these steep drop offs (sometimes 500 feet down), well, we decided not to ride the shoulder! This only lasted a couple miles but a couple miles at 4 mph is a long time.
We kept seeing signs for road construction and finally came upon the flag man. They had a signal truck escorting traffic thru the construction zone but they just radioed ahead that we were coming and she told us to stay to the right. We were stopping every couple miles to rest, eat and hydrate. At one of our rests, the signal truck told us to watch out for the moose up ahead. Several other cars slowed down and also warned us. When we got to the end of the construction zone, we were happy to not have seen hide nor hair of that moose!
Our WS host from Tuesday night had sent us on our way with a ziplock bag of homemade cookies. Each time we got off the bike, we each had a cookie and multiple swigs of water or Gatorade or Strive. We also ate several Payday bars – Payday bars are fantastic energy food and have no chocolate to melt in our bags. We timed our rest stops to coincide with the groups of cars coming thru the construction zone – they came every 10 minutes, or so. Otherwise, we had the lane to ourselves – it worked out great! They had newly tarred chip seal – not great on the shoulder but the traffic lane was smooth. The reason for the one lane of traffic was for a crew to install the reflectors on the side of the road.
At our last rest stop before the pass, a guy pulled over to see if we needed anything. We thanked him & said no. Then he said, “Good job – you’re 2 miles from the top!” Well, that fired us up and we rode those last 2 miles with renewed energy! It felt so good to see the sign at the top of the pass! We were tired, but we made it, 3500 feet, 4 hours or more of hard work, it was such a good feeling to be done! There’s one more monkey off our back!
At the summit of the pass, we got off and took the obligatory pic. Then we broke out our sandwich for a more substantial fueling. About the time we were thinking of getting on the bike, another cyclist came up from the other direction. He was soon joined by the rest of his group. It was a group riding a supported tour of Washington. One of the group took a pic of the two of us and after a bit of conversation, we were back on the bike. We immediately saw the sign saying 6% grade for the next 8 miles. Needless to say, we didn’t pedal for more than 8 miles and made abundant use of the drag break. In fact, a couple miles down from the pass, we pulled over just to see how hot the drag brake was – and it was hot! Good thing we have it! It kept us at a sane speed going down that mountain!
Also on the other side of the pass was when we saw extensive fire damage! This was the section of the road that was closed several weeks ago, prompting us to consider a reroute. Incredible fire devastation on both sides of the road for as far as you could see in very rugged, steep land. As we rode along, we noticed new electricity poles and we saw the old, burned poles lying on the ground. We also saw a few farm buildings that had burned but luckily, the homes were intact. South of here, however, several hundred homes were lost. Obviously, the fires are a major concern in the area, and always a center of conversation at restaurants and watering holes.
Jim spent the entire climb dreaming of the cinnamon rolls that were available at the first town after the pass, Twisp, Washington. The “Cinnamon Twisp ” bakery had been mentioned by many bikers – we just had to try them out! We went in and looked around the entire store, no cinnamon rolls! They were sold out. The bakery lady said a guy came in and bought 17 this morning! The likely culprit, the support team for the bike group we saw on the pass. Grrrr! The first disappointment of the day! But Shawn was quick to point out that we enjoyed some fantastic goodies, despite the dearth of cinnamon rolls!
After Twisp, it was a quick ride to the next town, Winthrop. We had made arrangements to stay at a Warmshowers home. We spent a bit checking out this cute little (albeit tourist) town before heading over to the home of Tom & Carolyn. Today is Carolyn’s birthday and they are having a party, so we made ourselves scarce and enjoyed a fantastic pizza dinner. Walking back from dinner we were amazed by the sight of smoke billowing over the mountains from the fires still burning and also the color of the sky at sunset. Sitting outside, ash was landing on us!