Day Two: Loup Loup Pass Summit to Brewster.
This is the second episode of a four-part series on our 4-day, 100-mile bicycle trip through eastern Washington State.
Steve and Carol shared their Brewster, Washington home with us.
What great friends they are!
I awoke with a headache. At first I attributed it to the 4,000-foot altitude but then, remembered the wine with dinner the evening before. We’d drunk more than a bottle and a half between the two of us, and now I was paying the price.
I rose stiffly and crawled out of my tent. I glanced at my watch. Ugh. Past 7:00 and I hadn’t even had breakfast yet. I shuffled over to the picnic table where the stove was set up and put some water to boil, though the thought of oatmeal, or any food for that matter, set my stomach to churning. I heard vague rumblings from Mike’s tent and soon he appeared. “You want breakfast?” I said.
“I think I’m gonna pass. Maybe just some peanut butter…” He headed toward the outhouse.
I knew we had a hard day ahead of us so I made a bowl of oatmeal and forced it down. We broke camp and with both of us looking and feeling fuzzy, started out. I had calculated that we had another couple of miles to the summit of Loup Loup Pass, but to our surprise, we reached the top in less than half a mile. By then my headache had died down to a dull throb, though my head felt like it was filled with cotton and my reaction time seemed slow. My stomach was still doing cartwheels.
From the summit of the pass to the tiny village of Malott on the Okanogan River is about 16 miles. The grade runs from -8% at the top—about the steepness of a double diamond ski run—to almost flat at the bottom. As we completed the half-mile to the summit, I was second-guessing that patch I’d put on the front tire the day before. I was planning the descent, thinking I’d need to take it easy, use my brakes a lot to keep the speed down. A blowout at 35 miles per hour can cause some serious road rash. The problem is, too much braking can cause tire failure as well; the rim heats up from the friction of the brake shoes, which in turn heats up the tube and can cause it to expand and burst through the tire. Don’t laugh, it happens!
All this was going through my mind as I crested the summit, took a deep breath and began to accelerate down the other side.
My touring bike, rider and gear weigh about 250 pounds and when you get all that rolling it just wants to go faster and faster. Within a few hundred feet I was going over 30 and I began applying my brakes. I slowed down a bit, but as soon as I released the levers, I was back up in the danger zone.
It went like this, back and forth, for a good ten miles. I stopped once to check on my rims but they felt only warm to the touch.
Once off the steepest part of the pass, the ride became something special. Tooling along at a comfortable 20 miles per hour for mile on end, never turning a pedal except to work the stiffness out of our knees, we passed from the evergreen forests and cascading streams to flowered meadows and the occasional farmhouse. Farther down the mountain, we began to see fields of alfalfa. Horses would raise their steaming mussels and watch us with perked ears as we rolled silently by.
Lower still; as the topography turned from precipitous to gently rolling, we began to pass through orchards. Acres and acres of neatly rowed trees stretched out of sight on either side of the road over hills and through small valleys. In the distance the hum of a spray rig could be heard. It was early and a few workers waved as they set about their day’s labors.
Soon we were seeing neighborhoods scattered about. There are a lot of modular and mobile homes in this neck of the country with the occasional old wood frame structure here and there. Farm implements, ancient pickups, hot rods and newer sedans were parked in the driveways.
By the time we reached the tiny riverside settlement of Mallot, my appetite had returned and my mouth was watering at the thought of some junk food at the little store we’d visited the year before. But once we got there, we discovered that it was out of business. A victim of the economic downturn, I guess.
We hemmed and hawed around for a while, I tried a Coke machine but it too was out of commission. By then it was after 10:00 and we decided to press on so we crossed the Okanogan River and headed out on Highway 97 to Brewster, 16 miles away.
The Okanogan River at flood stage.
It’s a nice ride along the Okanogan Valley. This is the same highway I used to drive from my home in Brewster when I was a teenager to see my girlfriend in Omak, 30 miles away. I knew it like my own back yard. Every curve, hill, bridge; every scent of creosote and sagebrush brought back memories. I might have got a little nostalgic along the way at any rate, there wasn’t much conversation.
It was a warm day, nearly hot, and the uncomfortable temperature wasn’t helping my hangover. I needed a Coke and some solid food as the oatmeal had worn off long ago. We stopped a couple of times to drink water and at an Indian graveyard, made cheese sandwiches and ate them half-heartedly.
We arrived in Brewster around 12:30 where we met our friends, Steve and Carol, at the local Mexican restaurant. After lunch we loaded our bikes into Steve’s pickup and he drove us to his house on the Brewster Flats, overlooking town and the mighty Columbia River.
"Don't touch my bags if you please Mister customs man."
It was mid-afternoon, my hangover had shifted gears. I was tired and irritable, in a nearly catatonic state and the next few hours, I knew, I’d be fit company for no one. Carol showed me to their guest room and I collapsed on the bed. Our hosts for the evening were keen on taking us to dinner at one of their favorite restaurants that night, but as I dropped off to sleep, I was thinking it would take a grand jury subpoena and a tow truck to get me out of that bed before morning.
To be continued…