Click on any thumbnail for a larger photo
Day 1. September 4, Labor
Departure day arrived early: 4:30 a.m. The two large boxes were ready
to go, and we loaded them into Barry's pickup. Ever the pessimist, my plan
was to get to San Diego's terminal much earlier than the one-hour-before-
departure suggested by Southwest Airlines. When we slid the boxes
towards check-in, we found that many other people were even more
pessimistic, but the long line was fast-moving. After paying the $40 bike
fee (having been told that they would pay for the bike if it were lost, but
not if it was totally destroyed), I explained to the friendly girl at the counter
what a disaster it would be if my bike didn't arrive in Seattle at the same
time I did. Her assurances, backed by watching her accompany the bike
through the baggage door, relieved me somewhat.
My biking friend Doc once pointed out that, in equivalent distance units,
one hour on a plane equals one day in a car equals one week on the bike.
Three and a half bike-weeks later we dropped past Mount Rainier into Seattle.
My relief was unbounded as I saw my bicycle box drop through the "special
handling" chute, obviously in perfect condition. The five hours I'd spent
constructing this box paid off. (On a trip to Ireland a couple of years
ago the box was supplied by United Airlines. When the bike arrived at
Shannon the handlers were carrying the bike by the tubes, with the tattered
remains of the box clinging like toilet paper to a pine tree.)
I'd built the box so my mountain bike could be assembled by merely
putting on the front wheel. I'd installed wooden reinforcements to protect
vital protruding parts. A box-cutter taped inside one of the reinforced
hand-holds was easily retrieved, and I began slashing my creation. The
other box had my panniers and helmet, and within one hour assembly was
I never make an attempt to keep my touring weight low, using instead
this philosophy: If I think I'll need it and if fits then I'll take it. My Dell Latitude
computer, together with the necessary accessory pieces, added about
10 pounds to my usual touring load. The loaded bike (with full water bottles)
weighs about 115 pounds. Counting me, the entire package is about 300 pounds.
After firing up my GPS (I am heavy on instrumentation) to log the
starting point, I headed east. (My, this bike is heavy!) I expected that travelling
through Seattle would be relatively flat, with the hills appearing as I neared
Mt. Rainier. Wrong. There were many gut-busting lowest-gear hills before
reaching the gentle up-grade as I approached the mountains.
My choices for crossing the Cascades were to take Interstate 90 (bikes
are OK on interstates in Washington), which required crossing a pass of
elevation 3022 feet, or taking highway 410 into Mt. Rainier National Park.
The Park route was a few miles shorter, but required crossing Chinook
Pass, elevation 5440 feet. For scenic reasons I selected the Park route.
The excitement of beginning the trip had suppressed my appetite, but
as I entered Enumclaw (after about 30 miles of biking) the pangs suddenly
hit. I stopped for a jumbo jack. As I was finishing it I suddenly was hit by
pangs of another kind: conscience. I shouldn't be eating that stuff. But it
tasted so good I got another to take with me.
My plan for this trip was to stay in motels if one is convenient and not
overpriced (a relative term, depending on my state of fatigue). But it was
obvious that there would be no motels for me that night, and I was looking
forward to camping, since the temperatures had been in the 70's under a
sky with scattered non-threatening clouds. I passed the small community
of Greenwater and began looking for a camp spot.
My requirements are simple: relatively flat, in no danger of flooding,
and perfect seclusion. I checked a couple of trails that left the highway, with
no success. A paved road that headed towards a ski area looked promising,
as it would take me away from the traffic on the main road. After one half
mile I saw a road into the woods, made impassable to vehicles by a recent
ditch. But I maneuvered the bike past that obstruction, went about 200 feet
through the trees to a small clearing, and pitched my tent on a soft mat of
I was exhausted. I never do special "training" for a tour, preferring
to get in shape on the road, a process that usually takes about three days (of
misery). My cycling in the previous few weeks had averaged only a couple of
20-mile rides a week, so I knew I had some work to do. Today I'd biked
over 51 miles with a net gain in elevation of 2100 feet (about 3200 feet of
climbing) and my body craved rest. I finished off the second jumbo jack
and crawled into my sleeping bag. It was 8 o'clock, and just getting dark.
Within a few seconds I fell asleep .....
Day 2. September 5
..... and awoke at 6, my 10-hour sleep having been interrupted only by an
occasional readjusting of my air pillow.
The temperature was 37, and breaking camp was a bit hampered by
cold fingers, but they quickly warmed up as I began the 3300-foot climb to
Chinook Pass. In my condition, that climb was brutal. Most of the rise was
in the last 10 miles, and my cyclecomputers (yes, I have more than one)
showed my speed at rarely above 4 mph, and occasionally below 3 mph.
I'd have biked slower except I wouldn't have been able to keep my balance.
Fortunately, traffic was light, but when a car approached from the rear it was
with great difficulty that I could maintain a straight line. I stopped at
every excuse, looking for views when there were none (too many trees).
I even went into a campground to check out the 9-foot diameter Douglas fir.
(I hope the Sierra Club will forgive me when I confess that the first thing
that entered my mind was "What a lot of 2 by 4's!") Finally I came to a stretch
of road that had an awesome view of Mt. Rainier. I joined the many people
who were oohing and aahing and snapping pictures. I thanked the
flagger who stopped me near the top for construction work, since I was
running out of normal excuses to stop.
Adding to the problem was my food. I normally like to bike about 15 or
20 miles before stopping for breakfast. I expected that there would be some
source of food after passing Greenwater, but that was not to be. All I had
was a box of Quaker chewey granola bars. When I would run out of energy
I'd down another granola bar and that would get me another mile or so.
After six hours of climbing I finally reached the top (5555 feet
according to my GPS) and resisted the temptation to dismount and kiss the sign. I
didn't pause to admire the view, but immediately headed down looking for
warm food. Visions of a big bowl of thick pea soup nearly caused me to lose
my concentration and bike over the cliff. I met a couple of cyclists on
their way to Seattle (from Yakima) and they told me that I could get a good
meal at a cafe called the Big Bear (or was it the Lone Wolf?) or something
like that. How far? Only about 20 miles, but mostly downhill. Encouraged, I
pressed on. It began to rain, starting as mist, then drizzle, then heavier,
with no clear point where I would be told that this is the time to stop and put on
my Gore Tex jacket. By the time I realized I was wet why bother? Around
4:30 stopped at a small store with a doubtful-looking deli-restaurant. I was
sure this wasn't the place, and contemplated getting some peanut butter
and ritz crackers, but the prices of $4.60 for the smallest jar and $4.25 for
the smallest box made me decide to stick with my granola bars. Back on
the bike, and a few minutes later came to the Red Fox cafe. Close enough.
I entered, and after looking at the over-priced selections ordered the chicken
parmagiana special for $7.95. Soup rather than salad please. The soup was
excellent. After finishing the forgettable parmagiana I wished I'd said
"Stop the chicken and bring me $8 worth of soup."
Time to find a camping spot. A friendly lady in the restaurant told me
there was a campground just a mile down the road. Normally I avoid
campgrounds (unless they have showers). This one didn't, and charged $11
for a spot. So on I went, and within a half mile found a trail that took me
to a cliff overlooking the Naches River. I pitched my tent under a tree, and
only a few drops of rain entered before I had the fly on. I put my bike cover
over my bicycle and panniers, and crawled into my cozy home. It took me
only 25 minutes between stopping (at 5:45) and getting into the sleeping bag.
Mileage for the day was 57, at an average speed (moving only) of 7.8 mph.
My body as a whole was complaining, but no particular parts seemed to be
worse than others. My air mattress was inflated just right, I still had some
granola bars to get me through the night, and I listened to some of my
favorite music: the sound of rain pattering on my tent.
Day 3. September 6
But even sweeter was the sound of no rain on my tent when I awoke.
Setting up camp in the rain isn't too bad---breaking camp in the rain is the
pits. The day was sunny, with no wind, and the temperature was the same
as when I set up camp: 48 degrees. My plan of crossing the Cascades
before the snows had worked. Now I must outrun winter heading south.
I slept in some dry warm-ups, but my biking clothes were still wet.
Although I carry a spare set, I figured they would be wet from sweat in a
few minutes anyway, so I suffered a bit as I put on wet cold clothes. The
shock was short-lived, and it did help wake me up. After taking a picture
of my camp, I packed up and set off, and within a few miles came to
the Black Bear Cafe. This was the place I'd been told about. I now felt
ready for a big breakfast, so I ordered a cheese omelet with a request
to "be generous with the hashbrowns". She was, and one glance at the
mountain of beautiful potato slivers made me realize that I'd also bought
lunch. I managed to finish the potatoes, and made sandwiches out of the
sourdough toast and most of the omelet. (Ziplock bags are an essential
on any tour.)
The biking was generally downhill along the Naches River, and I
maintained an average speed of about 15 mph between my camp spot
(near the small community of Nile) and Naches. Then the terrain flattened,
and a slight headwind caused my average speed to decay quickly.
I'd learned from the internet that there was a poker room in Yakima, and
I decided to add a chip to my collection. I managed to find the Sport Club,
a casino-bar-restaurant in the middle of downtown. I locked my bike and
went in. The poker room was in the back, and I was not greeted at all by
any of the five sourpusses who sat around a pan table (pan is a card game)
waiting for their game to start. I asked the group if I could buy a couple of
poker chips. I was ignored. So I went back front and asked who was in
charge of the card room. Ted. Back to the card room. "Is Ted around?" I
asked. "I'm Ted", said the most grungy-looking guy in the bunch. "Ted, can
I buy a couple of chips for my collection?" "No, we need them for the game."
That's a first. Since poker chips only cost about 30 cents, I'd never
seen a place that didn't want to sell you one for a dollar (the face value of the
ones I collect). I think Ted just didn't want to get up. Not the friendliest
card room I've seen.
The region around Yakima is apple and peach country. I stopped at
several fruit stands, buying an apple here, a peach there, and even a
small watermelon which I ate most of on the spot. I took a picture of the
most impressive squash collection I've ever seen.
My butt was getting sore and
I needed excuses to stop.
I was in the mood for a motel room. After 58 miles I saw a couple of
motel signs in Toppenish. I entered the lobby of the first and asked the
fellow what his cheapest room cost. $42.50. (And, of course, that's before
all the taxes they slap on, which would probably come to another $5.)
"Oh", I sighed, "that's beyond my budget", and turned towards the door.
Often this causes the owner to say something like "Well, just what is your
budget?", allowing me to make a counteroffer. But it didn't work this time,
and he allowed me to exit with no further comment. I tried the motel next
door, and they asked if I was a business. "Sure", I replied, ready to swear
that my panniers were full of carpet samples. "Well, in that case, you get
a discount off our regular price of $79, which makes it only $72, plus tax.
And we have an indoor pool and in-room coffee." I successfully contained
my laughter, and decided that I had a few more miles left in my exhausted
The next town was Sunnyside, another 19 miles. There I pulled into
a supermarket and with the help of the yellow pages began calling motels.
The first had rooms for $75, the second had an automated telephone
answering service that kept going in circles and repeatedly asked me to
punch in the room I wanted, and the third had a room for $27.70 and that
included tax! Hold that room! I got directions, bought some frozen orange
juice, and a few minutes later entered a large room at the Sun Valley Inn.
It has a TV (with a remote), a strong shower with lots of hot water, and
even a small refrigerator-freezer. Free local calls, so now I can see if my
computer has survived the first three days.
Priorities: mix up the orange juice, put my NiMH batteries on charge,
hand wash my biking clothes, shower, eat some of the omelet sandwich,
and hit the sack. Distance for the day 78.6 miles.