July 24: Kettle Falls to Republic, Washington - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

July 24: Kettle Falls to Republic, Washington

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DO YOU KNOW the word "doddle"? I'm not sure how international it is. You'll catch on quickly, though, when I tell you we thought Sherman Pass was going to be a doddle. But it wasn't.

Sherman Pass is all that separates Kettle Falls from Republic, 73km down the road. The climb takes 40km of that. It starts lower than Logan Pass, the peak of Going-to-the-Sun, but it doesn't get as high. And it takes more than twice the distance to get there. Therefore it couldn't be harder.

And for a couple of hours, it wasn't harder. It was little more than a steady valley, the stream chattering to our left. The altimeter on our computers ticked up steadily but, as Steph said, "The hardest thing about this climb looks like being boredom."

Why? Because there's nothing but trees. We love trees but they are all there is on Sherman Pass. Dense lines of trees, one on each side, limiting the view to a tunnel. Trees, dry, bleached soil, on and on.

But then comes the last hour. It's not all that steep but it's steeper. And by then the damage has been done. The seemingly gentle valley has turned into a knee-capping. We rode, we slowed down, we stopped in the cool. Repeat, repeat. And in the end we got to the top, a lot more tired than we expected and a great deal hotter. Because it is hot here.

I felt irritable at the top. Irritated because I was tired and hungry, irritated by the loud, very loud snarling of Harley-Davidson motorbikes ridden only a little faster than we were riding, protracting the misery. Or ridden so hard that they came up like jet engines and set our ears ringing. What is it that's so good about riding like that, hearing nothing above your own racket, knowing you're ruining the peace for everyone else?

Two of them were at the top, in a small park where we stopped for sandwiches. A man of about my age but with a bulging, canary yellow T-shirt and leather trousers, smiled and said: "Hundred miles a day, I use to do."

I was unreasonably rude to him. I resented the way that he and others had ruined my morning, over and over, and that he now sought to somehow equate himself to our voyage.

"Used to?" I said, pleasantly I thought but intending the point to be made. "The world is full of people who used to."

He smiled, slightly abashed.

Beside him was a smaller, weasel-faced man. "You do a hundred miles a day on that thing?" he asked, disbelieving somehow.

"Have done," I said. "Between where we started and here."

I was happy to lie for the sake of... Well, for the sake of what? For the sake of being irritable, I suppose. We have ridden nearly 100 miles a couple of times since Montreal but never actually 100 miles. But I didn't like him and I didn't like the reference to "that thing." Boy, when I get edgy, I get edgy...

We whooshed down into Republic and left them far behind. It's only half as far down Sherman as it was up it. The difference is more than distance, though. The way up is a Spanish climb, green at first, arid later. The descent is French, green and airy. Except where fire swept through the forest some years back and left a first-war landscape of blackened trunks, big enough, far enough for a lay-by to be dedicated to looking at them. Not as scenic as verdant forest but a heck of a warning not to start fires, of course.

Which brings a question. If there is obviously such a risk of fire in the Rockies, and if the damage can be so extensive, why do all the camp sites and stopping points have fire rings and, quite often, wood for bonfires?

Republic, pretending it's still a pioneer town but in a more relaxed way than Winthrop.
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And that's all there was to the day, really. Republic is a pleasant enough place, lingering after the days it was created by gold-hunters. A couple called Tommy Ryan and Phil Creasor found gold in

The story of Republic's golden rise, told in a wall painting.
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1896. It was on Indian land, much of it, but who cared about that? The government couldn't be bothered to bring in the army to stop trespass and plunder and, when the Indians waved their agreements, Congress just changed the agreement. The best land passed to the prospectors.

Republic rules that its buildings must play the part of a 19th century gold town. Even our hotel obliged.
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The words of the prophet are written on the subway walls and tenement halls...
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In four years there were 20 saloons, seven hotels, nine shops and a mine that dug out 2,400,000 ounces of gold. And then it ran out. Unlike Oil City, Republic survived. But other places didn't and the countryside is sprinkled with ghost towns, the graveyard of instant money, instantly lost homeland - depending, of course, which colour your skin was.


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