Big Hills and Bears

June 30, 2019

Day one. My friend Caitlin and I drove up to Sumas, Washington yesterday. Today we’re running last-minute errands. As we neared Sumas, my stomach churned. We stopped at a green space with a table and unloaded the bike and bags. I strapped everything onto Daisy, drank a send-off beer, danced a little, and off I went.

Huge thanks to Caitlin for driving me up to Washington. She’s an amazing person and so supportive.

The first few miles were pretty steep hills and I found myself walking the bike. Soon the grade lessened and I hopped back on the saddle and rode through a lovely country road lined with orchards. After turning past Sedro-Wooley, I hopped on a gravel nature path that took me most of the way to my overnight destination, Rasar State Park.

I took a trail into the woods at Rasar and a lush rainforest opened itself up to me. The hiker biker sites were lined with moss covered trees and massive ferns. The air was moist and birds were calling all around. The stress of dodging semis on narrow shoulders quickly melted away. I threw an assortment of ingredients into some tortillas for dinner and took a walk down to the Skagit River.

On the river bank, I met two other bike tourists, Avery and Nils. We clicked immediately and ended up watching the sunset with beers in hand.

Today: 57 miles, 800’

July 1, 2019

I woke up early in an attempt to beat the morning heat. I hopped on the same nature trail from yesterday for a few miles and grabbed breakfast and groceries at the last town for the next couple days. Today I would be riding into the North Cascades National Park. The road climbed steadily with breezy downhills every now and then. 20 miles in, I stopped at a beautiful rest stop on the river to shove some lunch in my face. Avery and Nils caught up and told me about a farm up the road. Another stop there for ice cream and local raspberries. The next miles went by quickly until we reached Newhalem, where the heartbreaking climb began.

We shifted down into our granny gears and made it up to the entrance of a tunnel. There’s a button at the entrance to turn on flashing lights that alert cars of cyclists in the tunnel. The climb let up for a glorious 35mph downhill section, but then it was all back up again. I struggled, walked the bike a bit, rode the bike a bit, and finally reached Colonial Creek campground.

The three of us grabbed a site and Nils’ partner drove up with fresh food and a kayak. I cooked up dinner, popped open a hard cider, and took the kayak out for a lap on Diablo Lake. Alpine cirques, glaciers, and pines soared high above me and I couldn’t help but dream about rock climbing up there.

Today: 50 mi, 2400’

July 2, 2019

The North Cascades are about as stunning as they are difficult to ride.

Today was a hard day. I said goodbye to my new friends this morning and immediately hit the start of a 30 mile uphill stretch toward Rainy Pass and Washington Pass. Up until now, when I would slide into a bad headspace, it was usually because I was hungry or dehydrated. Up until now, I could stop, eat a snack, and keep going in a better mood. This didn’t work on Rainey Pass. The miles were going by at a snail’s pace and I didn’t know how I would do it. I stopped at a pullout for a snack and texted a friend from my inReach for moral support. Then I cried up the hill. I probably cried five times. I couldn’t breathe but I kept cycling. After that catharsis, I accepted that I was going to be in the pain cave for a while.

Then it got interesting.

About 1.5 miles from the top of Rainey Pass, I spotted a bear about 75 feet ahead of me on the side of the road.

I stopped. It looked at me.

“Oh shit oh shit oh shit”

I whipped out the bear spray.

“BEAR! GET OUT OF HERE!”

He looked at me and started walking towards me. There were no cars around. Just me and this black bear. I was utterly terrified and clenched the bear spray. He changed direction and started prancing across the road. A couple drove by in an RV an he moved to the other side of the road.

There was no way in hell I was about to walk my bike across the road from a bear. A few other cars passed by and he ran into a bush 10 feet off the road. I still couldn’t move. I kept yelling, unsure what else to do. I stood around for a while, and finally decided I had to walk past the spot. Bear spray in hand, I walked up the hill and looked into the woods. There he was, looking back. I kept walking and kept yelling “HEY BEAR!” into the air.

I finally reached Rainy pass and took a glorious 35mph glide down a big hill. Now it was time to climb up to Washington pass. I was exhausted. On the way up, there were emergency vehicles pulling a car out of a deep ravine. One of the responders pointed out some clouds in a nearby canyon and told me there was a storm coming this way. It had been looming ahead all day, but now it was looking ready to pour. At this point I was in a state of acceptance that this would be hard and I would grind through. It started drizzling and I threw on a wind jacket. The droplets were refreshing. Drizzle turned into rain. I kept pedaling. Rain turned into sideways rain. Everything was getting soaked. Now I was really over it. About 200 feet before the top of the pass, I put my thumb up. A kind man picked me up in his Sprinter and the rain only got worse on the downhill. Part of me regrets not taking that massive downhill because I worked all day for it, but part of me is okay with not taking steep hairpin turns on a wet road with a fully loaded bike.

The Sprinter dropped me off at the bike barn, a refuge for bicycle tourists near Mazama. The property owner, Jim, is also a cyclist. He trained his dog, Stout, to greet guests. Upon arrival, I rang a cow bell and Stout came leaping over. I said “camper” and Stout showed to the camp spot, the compost toilet, and the outdoor shower. Jim greeted me and we swapped stories. This was such a delightful place to stay! Later that evening, we weighed my bike. I knew it was heavy, but I didn’t know quite how heavy.

My bike, with gear, weighs 90 pounds.

Now that’s cry-worthy. I’ll be ditching the mountaineering gear soon. Can’t wait!

Today: 30 mi, 5500’

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