Up and over Washington Pass, and down through the Skagit Gorge to the lowlands - Over the hills and far away - CycleBlaze

July 13, 2016 to July 14, 2016

Up and over Washington Pass, and down through the Skagit Gorge to the lowlands

Climbing and descending Washington Pass

The Methow Valley has a “Hidden Valley” quality, and on a fresh clear morning I enjoyed peaceful well-watered landscapes dotted with settlements near the river:

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After a snack amid the greenery of Mazama, I began the climb to the pass. Its 29 kms is about the same distance as Logan Pass, but it felt longer, because it was--I climbed the 3500 feet to the summit in about three hours of riding, with an hour of stops along the way.  The road was in good condition, and with the grade about 5-6% most of the way, I rode in 3rd or 4th gear.  The scenery was spectacular, but a stop for a snack gave me a moment of magic: as I leaned on the bars, munching on my  granola bar, a huge cream-and-black butterfly alit on my left elbow for 30 seconds, and then slipped away across the road.

I met several cyclists on my climb, also going west.  Two fellows were on road bikes, each carrying just a small backpack.  Having started in Spokane, they were headed to the San Juan Islands, doing a hundred-plus miles each day.  I was impressed (even allowing for their being in their late 20's and 30's)--how did they manage with so little gear, I asked.  No problem, they said--we stay in hard accommodation. "Here?" sez I.  "Can you always find a motel or a lodge?" "Sometimes it's difficult," the older guy said. "Yesterday, we did 160 miles."

Four cyclists on touring bikes were a little slower than I was, so we were criss-crossing each other.  Pausing for my usual mid-morning snack, a couple of tortillas loaded with cheese and tomatoes, I waved as they rode by.  A few kilometres later, finding them stopped at a junction with a logging road, I did the same to say hello.  One of them said, "I saw you eating those cheese-and-tomato tortillas, and I couldn't think of anything else for the past few miles, so I begged my buddies to stop."

The landscapes surrounding the summit are splendid, a suitable reward for a slightly steeper climb (8%) over the last three kms:

Approaching the final few kms of Washington Pass, the 8% grade visible below the 'Liberty Bell' peak
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Looking back--down and East--on the ascent to Washington Pass
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Looking West from the summit, to the switchback before the final grade
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Sawtoothed splendour near the summit, looking SE
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The summit itself is a little more grand than the ones further east...

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...but still some way short of the standard set by Highwood Pass.

Nevertheless, I felt I'd crossed a watershed: 

Pretty much all downhill from here
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The descent was a superb ride, and I was glad to be going west (without a headwind, for a change) so that I could enjoy the landscapes.  It was all helped no end by warm sunshine and a brilliant blue sky.  I rode through a magical combination of rushing streams, dark wet cliffs, deep green conifers, and occasional flashes of snowfields, all set against a July sky the colour of cobalt:

Dark wet cliffs to the southern side of the road, the river in its gorge to the North
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Ross Lake reservoir, just N of Colonial Creek campground
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And regularly, breaks in the trees show snowfields on spectacular peaks to the SW
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I camped for the night at Colonial Creek campground, at the confluence of that creek and the dammed-up Skagit Gorge, below the outlet dam of the Ross Lake reservoir.  The water was clear, fresh, and inviting; and happily, less-than-cold enough for a bracing end-of-the-day swim.  My neighbours in the campground were a family of five, with three boys under 10.  (The energy!!)  Their mum, originally a Sydneysider from Down Unda, and resident in the States for 17 years, had just returned from visiting her parents.  We had an enjoyable chat about kids and parents, and families spread around the world; and, bless her, she gave me a dish of paella which was surplus to their considerable requirements.

Down through the Skagit Gorge to the lowlands

Leaving the campground the next morning, I continued my long descent from Washington Pass.  The many streams conspire to create the Skagit River, which eventually empties into Puget Sound.  Over the aeons, the river has cut a deep gorge, and SR 20 threads its way down that.  The gorge is narrow and steep, its forested sides burned by a fire some years back. Gradually, the conifers give way to share a mixed forest with broadleaf trees, and in doing so, they have grown fatter and acquired a crop of moss.

Further down the long descent, amid broadleaf trees, with peaks S and W of the road
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It was a pretty ride, with sunshine and shade dappling the road, the day clear and warm.  The downgrade meant I made good time, but a brisk headwind had shown up, and that meant I was once again pedalling downhill from time to time.

The small settlement of Marblemount marks the end of the gorge, and its diner offers a cyclist a picturesque spot to stop for lunch:

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I had little reason to push on to Sedro-Woolley, closer to the coast, and headed instead for Rasar State Park. This is a small park perched on the north bank of the Skagit, south of SR 20 and just west of the village of Concrete. The river here is much less frenzied in its journey to the sea, and Rasar itself is peaceful, offering a welcome break from the increased traffic on SR 20.

I found a delightful hiker-biker site, and pitched my tent amidst the green splendour of ferns and big cedars:

In Rasar SP, beside the Skagit
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Then, I walked the few hundred metres through the woods to the river, and enjoyed a late-afternoon dip. 

Back at my campsite, I made my usual cuppa, and was sitting at the picnic table scribbling notes on the day’s ride, when a couple of cyclists pushed their bikes into the adjacent campsite.  After a decent interval, and hearing Australian accents, I wandered over to say hello and offer some tea.  I listened to some of the extraordinary story of Travis and Fiona, from Adelaide, and their seven-year-old son, Patch (Patrick), who bounced into camp from beyond the surrounding trees.  This was the end of their first day in a journey to Washington, DC, which they expected to complete in mid-October.  Fiona was riding a Bike Friday, and Travis a long-wheelbase Häse cargo bike, with a seat up front for Patrick.  Here are the bikes carrying them across the country:

The bikes carrying Travis, Fiona, and Patch across the country
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I said to Travis and Fiona that they had an ambitious and challenging journey ahead of them.  They agreed, and said that they had both done some touring before, in Australia and in South Asia, but that this was the first time they had toured together as a family. They wanted to do this ride with Patrick and to make it part of his education and growth—he is severely autistic.

They spoke in a quiet and measured way about their undertaking.  I felt profoundly humbled and inspired—my trek was a pretty straightforward affair by comparison.  I said that I admired them all, and as a parent, Mum and Dad especially.  We chatted about the route ahead, and I offered some suggestions on the climbs, and on places to camp and buy food in the coming few days. As a backup for water, I gave them my remaining purification tabs, good for 50 litres.  Travis mentioned that he was making a video documentary of their journey, and on my return to Ottawa, I looked it up and made a donation to their project.  You can read about the family here: https://schooloftheroad.com/  “School of the Road” indeed–Patrick’s education has deepened mine.

With moments like this, and the mountains, what more could you ask for?

Today's ride: 182 km (113 miles)
Total: 2,068 km (1,284 miles)

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