Sagebrush and orchards -- the Okanogan Valley and Loup Loup Pass - Over the hills and far away - CycleBlaze

July 11, 2016

Sagebrush and orchards -- the Okanogan Valley and Loup Loup Pass

I deliberately left Wapiti campgound a little later than usual.  I made space for an excellent breakfast, and thanked my hosts for running such a first-rate campground.

Beyond Wauconda Pass, the landscape changes dramatically.  Conifer forests give way to sagebrush as a rider enters the Okanogan River valley, which lies in the rain shadow of the Cascades, well over a day’s ride further west.  The 40 km downhill from Wauconda Pass to Tonasket offers a cyclist some beautiful vistas, full of soft colors:  

Bonaparte Lake area in the soft morning light, heading towards Tonasket
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E of Tonasket
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Still E of Tonasket, on a long downhill
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Old wheels & sagebrush
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Muted pastels in the Okanogan Valley
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I reached Tonasket at 11, and stopped at Shannon's Café for a quality snack of ice cream, coffee, and a brownie.  I enjoyed a chat with a couple of fellows in their 50's.  One warned me of spider (or was it "tiger"?) thorns, which lay across the roadside and liked to puncture tires.  Both were tickled by and complimentary about my ride, and I thanked them for their welcome.  It was an altogether pleasant pause in an attractive village, the only bad vibe delivered by my ***##!! Tracfone, which delivered error messages instead of completing my call home.  I resorted to my default-cum-standard procedure, a text to my brother-in-law in Colorado :(

South of Tonasket, nearing the riverside village of, well, Riverside, one sees huge granite whalebacks, weathered dark and looking as if they'd just been transplanted from the spine of Africa:

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And further along, on the back road beside the river, more whimsical steel-plate sculpture:

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A few miles further south and west, beyond the small towns of Omak and Okanogan, the SR 20 begins the ascent to Loup Loup Pass.  At just over 4,000 feet, it’s the lowest of the group of four on this route, although the summit is a full 3000 feet from the valley floor.  Its lower reaches proved to be as tough a climb as any I had done so far. 

Before beginning the climb, I  stopped for a mid-afternoon snack and a couple of handfuls of fresh fruit at the exemplary roadside café-winery-farm stand operated by Smallwood Farms. On the advice of the staff there, I took on a couple of litres of extra water – the unsupervised campground at Leader Lake, where I was headed, had no potable water.  It was the hottest day of my four weeks on the road, probably 30-plus degrees, and a stiff hot southwesterly was boring into my face and chest as I began.  Almost immediately, I was down to my lower gears, 3 and 4. I reached a brief plateau full of fruit orchards—I might have been in the Okanagan Valley further north in BC—watered by a rushing stream in a deep roadside ditch.  The climb resumed, and I had to go down to my lowest gear.  I was soaked with sweat, tantalized by that damn stream rushing and gurgling, and had the ditch not been so rocky, steep and deep, I might have scrambled down to cool off.

After an hour or so of this serious-but-not-dangerous discomfort, I reached the campground, and a peaceful place it was, too:

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Beautiful, to be sure, but the camping area was the trashiest I had ever seen, and Leader Lake—the source of that gurgling inviting stream that had tormented me—was malodorous, its bottom full of gooey sediment.  I forsook my usual practice of swimming in lakes beside campsites.  Yer not on the Canajan Shield anymore, John, so curb your enthusiasms.

I tidied up my campsite, bundling the plastic bottles and paper cups into the fire ring, where I burned it, taking care to stand upwind.  A cyclist I had met at the Smallwood Farms café had said that rain was forecast, so once again I rigged the tarp.  There was some high cirrus cloud and a few drifting white and grey clouds, so who knows?  

Although I had taken on some extra water at Smallwood's, I was running a little low.  Not far away, a couple of young Latino guys fishing so I asked them if they might have a little.  They kindly gave me a bottle, and in exchange I guaranteed them a bite--they laughed.

Tired from the long hot slog up to Leader Lake, I made an early night of it.  I expected an 80-km day ahead, including a climb to the top of Loup Loup pass. I was aiming for a campground near Mazama, at the foot of Washington Pass.

The night was clear and fresh...until after midnight, when the wind shifted to the north-west, and blew the not-so-fresh stink of the campground's toilet across the lake and through my campsite.  

Today's ride: 110 km (68 miles)
Total: 1,826 km (1,134 miles)

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