Shaking it down in Skagit County - Part 2 - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

Shaking it down in Skagit County - Part 2

March 18, 2011

The temperature dropped into the upper 30s last night, so it's hard prying myself out of the sleeping bag. But once I'm up I can't get the tent packed and the bike loaded quick enough. Even though I'm all bundled up in two shirts, my rain pants and rain jacket, and my fleece gloves, my nuts are still bumping into my kidneys. I push east through a freezing headwind, backtracking to Concrete and then continuing on Highway 20.

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This is a poor part of Washington. Most houses I ride past have sagging roofs and peeling paint, and many have tons (literally) of stuff scattered all around them. From old cars and boats, to children's toys, washing machines, scrap wood, television sets, and household garbage, if it might have a use some time in the future or simply isn't wanted inside, out into the yard it goes. Late in the morning I pass a dirty old manufactured home with at least six old, rusted, broken down lawnmowers scattered among hundreds upon hundreds of other things—even though the property is cold, brown, swampy, and mostly shielded from the sun, where grass physically can't grow. I try to imagine how the place looks and smells inside, and how it feels to live there, knowing that you may never have anywhere better to call home. It makes me sad. I feel the same way as I pass a pharmacy and notice heavy iron bars protecting all of its windows.

Hard at work.
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I ride east into the foothills and start to hit some rollers. I sweat like crazy pushing up one side in all of my cold weather clothing, only to freeze everything flying back down the other. The thin sleeves of my bright yellow rain jacket flap in the wind and sound like a pair of helicopter rotors as I hit 30 miles per hour.

The bike feels great. Two days ago I had the hubs serviced, the drive train tuned, and put on all new brake pads, front and rear tires, and handlebar tape. Now it rides solid, almost like new, and I feel confident that I won't end up stranded because of a basic mechanical failure. That's an invaluable feeling when you know you'll be riding through Deliverance country in the backwoods of Georgia in a couple of months.

Along the banks of the Skagit River.
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I'm riding on the Adventure Cycling Association's Northern Tier route, which starts about 60 miles west in Anacortes and runs all the way to Bar Harbor in Maine, on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. I'll be on the western part of the route this summer, picking it up in Western Montana just before I head into Glacier National Park. My mind wanders and I try to imagine what it'll be like when I'm back in this area in July and August. I think a bit about the small towns, the dense forests, and the mountain passes, but mostly I focus on the more interesting stuff: the rock-hard thigh muscles, the out of control bike tourist craps, grizzly bears lying in wait along the side of the road, trucks with gun racks that actually have guns in them, and the most ridiculous tan lines the world will have ever seen. It's going to be an awesome summer.

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I make it to Marblemount and then leave Highway 20, breaking off onto a country road that soon turns back toward the west. I only see three or four cars over the next hour, riding alone and happy past a few ugly old homes, scattered stands of pine trees, and a bunch of leafless, scraggly-looking brown trees covered in moss. It's quiet and isolated out here and I wait with great anticipation for a bear, a mountain lion, a deer, a fox, or even a raccoon to pop out from alongside of the road, but the closest I get is an inbred Chihuahua that almost runs himself under my rear wheel.

Rural hospitality.
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I usually eat too much when I ride, but today I don't eat enough and it bites me in the ass. I'm pushing through the last five miles to Darrington and I'm done, toasted, totally finished, completely out of energy. I try to focus on the road, the narrow shoulder, and the logging trucks zooming past my left side, but my mind keeps coming back to the chicken teriyaki at Manna Teriyaki in Greenwood, the pork souvlaki at Taki's Mad Greek in Crown Hill, or even a giant, salty burrito from Chipotle over at Northgate Mall. I get so desperate that I start fantasizing about the king-sized Reese's Peanut Butter Cups at the mini-mart that I know waits for me just a few miles ahead. It's a sad scene. But I have just enough fumes in the tank to make it back to town safely, without passing out and falling into a ditch or underneath the wheels of a semi. I can't think of a happier ending to this great two-day ride.

Riding south toward Darrington on Highway 530.
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