July 26: Omak to Winthrop, Washington - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

July 26: Omak to Winthrop, Washington

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LOUP-LOUP PASS is hard. Very hard. It's steeper than the others but, more marked than that, the road surface is unpleasant and the first third of the climb out of Okanogan all the more so. The reason is that there is no shelter in a land of arid, sun-whitened soil that reflects every ray of heat. The road veers up on the edge of a ridge and it is unrelenting. There is a degree of shelter later on, it's true, but all in all it is the most disagreeable hill in North America so far.

And unlike Wauconda, there's not an appealing cafe just after the top. I forgot to tell you that we were in the cafe at Wauconda, an atmospheric place full of cowboy artefacts and posters of Clint Eastwood chewing on a cheroot, when in walked two other cyclists. Now, when cyclists meet, they greet each other as friends, a family bond. We share stories of the road or simply ask where the ride is going and how it's been. Not these two. The woman in particular walked past us several times and couldn't have missed that we were there in cycling clothes. Bright Lycra doesn't fade into the background. Efforts to catch her eye failed.

There were a couple of words exchanged as Steph returned to fill her water bottles, but barely anything.

I never understand people like that. Almost everyone we have met has been full of enthusiasm, generous with advice and anecdotes. And we, we hope, have been the same. But there are always exceptions. Another was the couple, father and son, I think, whom we met coming out of Ione. We crossed the road to greet them and they showed every sign of wanting to pull out to avoid us. When they did stop, there were no smiles, the least of civilities and not even a bon voyage. We were glad to cut short the conversation, if that's the right word, after 30 uncomfortable seconds. And we felt rattled by the experience until the grind up out of Ione took up our concentration instead.

Anyway, the road from Loup-Loup drops down to Twisp, named after the Indian word for the sound of a wasp and the birthplace, I think, of the man who invented the transistor. There is a back road from there to avoid the US20. It passes the North Cascades Smokejumper Centre and I know you're going to ask what that is. And I can't tell you. We thought it must be a parachuting centre of some sort, people floating to ground with coloured smoke from their boots, but there is no runway and no landing ground. Not unless they were adept at landing between buildings and towers, anyway.

The Adventure Cycling map mentions the centre, which is a distinction reserved normally for state parks and the like. And indeed the smokejumpers are on, I think, national forest land. We turned off the road to look but nobody was about. There was a sign offering tours but no obvious centre. Mystified then as we are now, we rode on to Winthrop.

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Now, Winthrop is not your usual American town. Someone had the dream of restoring it to what it looked like in the early 1900s, so it now has the odd contradiction of a Wild West bar that

Cowboy country!
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sells petrol from 20th century pumps, and there's an old picture of George Washington advertising the presence of a cash machine.

We're not quite sure what to make of it. For what it is, it's well done. But why do it? Like a dog walking on two legs, it's impressive but not quite right. It's not tacky but it's not good taste either. What it certainly is is packed with cars, motorbikes and tourists.

Capitalism finds a product for every need. This, however, is one I hadn't considered.
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Tonight we are camping just outside the town with my friend Tim and his wife, Jill. Tim was in the group I joined four years ago to ride the Trans-America Trail, one of my numerous attempts to cross America that have ended in disaster. They live in Revelstoke, in British Columbia, and they

Blinding glimpse of the obvious in Winthrop
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have come across the border not by bike but on a bright yellow Honda motorbike with an equally custard-coloured trailer. We haven't been that exciting company for them so far because we haven't recovered from Loup-Loup, but we're off for a meal together tonight and that will make a difference. And tomorrow they are taking some of our luggage so that we can sprint over Washington and Rainy Passes like winged demons.


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