Day Three: Brewster to Carlton
This is the third episode of a four-part series on our 4-day, 100-mile bicycle trip through eastern Washington State.
Summers in eastern Washington tend to be sunny, clear and hot. The morning of our third day was no exception. The sun coming in the window at 5:30 woke me from a deep sleep and I lay there between the sheets for a few moments trying to figure out where I was.
Once my head cleared, I got up, took a shower, then, went upstairs and had breakfast with Carol, Steve and Mike. It was nice for a change not to have to get the stove going, cook, wash dishes and break camp. We sat around for an hour or so, drinking tea and eating fruit, talking and watching the Columbia River roll by. It was a real luxury. I felt like King Farouk. Steve and Carol’s house sits on a terrace high on the Brewster Flats. From their kitchen window you can see the Columbia and the little town of Brewster, where I grew up.
Soon it was time for us to go. We chatted with Steve and Carol as we loaded our panniers on our bikes then, said a fond farewell and started down the dirt road that leads to the highway.
Talk about a fun descent! It’s a good 500-foot drop in elevation between Steve and Carol’s and Highway 97 and we zoomed down never touching our brakes. It was early still, around 8:00, and the air was pleasantly cool. It felt like a gift just to taste that desert wind.
We rode along 97 for about a mile then, stopped in at the Brewster Supermarket to re-provision. Our plans for that day’s ride were flexible; we were thinking of either riding to the little settlement of Methow and camping at a site along the river, or if the spirit moved us, going all the way to the car at Twisp. We’d see how we felt.
At the supermarket we loaded up with vegetables and fruit and a few candy bars. If we needed to cook dinner that evening, we’d need to buy our food there; after our experience in Malott, we felt we couldn’t count on any of the little stores between there and Twisp, another 42 miles up the road.
We rode the six miles south on Highway 97 to the next little town of Pateros, where the Methow River empties into the Columbia. At the bridge, we turned west and headed up the Methow.
The road here is good, with wide shoulders. It’s river grade all the way, which means there’s nothing all that steep. The topography is mostly rolling hills with some fairly long pulls and short fast downhills.
I’ve found that most drivers are courteous to us bikers. They usually pull out to give us a wide berth and some even slow down. I make it a point to give a friendly wave whenever I can; there’s no use making an enemy of someone behind the wheel of a several-ton machine when I’m on a bicycle. It’s a rarity, but, occasionally, we’ll have an encounter with a motorist that’s less than friendly.
Just such an event happened that morning. Mike and I usually keep a several car length distance between us but on one stretch we were riding close together. Mike was on my rear wheel when a huge gold-colored pickup truck tore past us, swerving dangerously near and blowing its air horns. The truck had mirrors that stuck out a foot or more and one of them came within inches of knocking my head off. Once past, the dual rear tires skimmed the shoulder, kicking up a cloud of dust and pelting us with gravel. As the driver zoomed away, gunning his engine and producing a foul mist of black diesel fumes, I could see him giving us the bird. Later, Mike said he just couldn’t figure out what was so threatening to the guy about a couple of 60-year-olds on bicycles.
One gets used to sharing the road with cars and trucks, but this close call left us both a bit shaken. When we spotted a fruit stand, we pulled in to gather our wits. We bought some pastry and I drank a coke in the sunny little courtyard. Sharing the space with us was a couple who had arrived on a motorcycle. They were greatly interested in our heavily loaded bicycles and wanted to hear all about our trip. “You guys rode all that way?” The man asked when we told him how far we’d traveled. “That’s a long trip even on a motorcycle.”
We sat and talked with this friendly couple for fifteen or twenty minutes and it seemed to take some of the sting out of our encounter with the Phantom Gold Truck. I’ve discovered that most people I meet on my bicycle trips and good, kind, friendly and generous folk. The couple at the fruit stand reinforced this belief. I think that once you take a person out of his or her car, their moods and characters improve dramatically!
After we left the fruit stand, we cycled another couple of hours and camped in the small town of Carlton. There used to be a grocery store there, but it was shut down. Fortunately for us, a couple of Australians who were camped nearby brought us beers to enjoy with our dinner.
To be continued.