The Pacific Northwest is full of mountain ranges and roads that cross them. This weekend I would see how many I could hit as I rode north to visit friends. All in all, I crossed over eight passes, each of them enjoyable and inviting me to come back and visit again.
April 21-22, 2007
Total Miles: 907 miles, 2days
Seattle, WA to Castlegar, BC and back
It was time to head north again. Spring was here and the mountain passes were open. I made arrangements with my friend Jim in Castlegar to stay with him and he made arrangements to have some mutual friends there for fun and conversation.
I got a good night’s sleep Friday and woke up early on Saturday. I must have been excited about the ride because I was awake an hour earlier that I had planned to get up. Deciding that I might as well give myself some extra time to get to Jim’s house, I got up, got ready and left the house around 8am. Per usual, I wasn’t sure of my route until I was underway, changing my mind half a dozen times before settling on a general direction. I was going to scope out a route that was being planned for a ride later this summer. I would get a general idea of time and distance, as well as refresh my mind on some of the roads and whether or not they’d be adequate. I headed north on I-5 with plans on going east on Hwy 2 over Stevens Pass. Somewhere in the distraction of bad drivers, construction work and generally not paying attention I missed the turn for Hwy 2. I ended up going 20 miles out of my way to get back on the scheduled route, but that was ok: I left an hour earlier than I thought I was going to and I had time.
Stevens Pass had a light sprinkling of traffic and rain but for the most part was in great shape. Some warning signs near the summit threatened bad pavement and “30 mph” zones, but either they weren’t that bad or the GS soaked it up so well I never noticed. Other than that, the pavement was clean and gravel-free. I leaned heavily into the corners and tried to keep my deferred ticket in mind as I cruised down the east side of the Cascades.
The view from near by house
Wenathcee River near Leavenworth, WA
At Wenatchee I stopped by a moto shop in the vain hope that they would have a plug that would work in my BMW’s accessory outlet. The plug I was using had shorted out and blew the fuse so I was riding without the heated jacket. It wasn’t bitterly cold, but I would have been much more comfortable if I could have let the electrons flow around my body. Not expecting them to have it, I wasn’t disappointed when they said that they didn’t. The salesman did, however, offer to order it in for me. I appreciated his helpfulness but said that it wouldn’t be necessary as I was just passing through.
Back on the road I headed north on 97 to Orondo, where Hwy 2 once again picks its way east. The road rose swiftly from the valley floor along a large side canyon and I always get a kick out of looking deep into the canyon and tracing the original road’s route. I can still see traces of the asphalt from the initial paving. Someday I’d like to follow it on foot and see how far I can get as it up winds its way up to the plains above.
Hwy 2 as it leaves behind Orondo, WA
Looking east on Hwy 2
The old road left behind in the canyon
The fun little rise out of the Okanogan valley made me smile as always before I was spit out onto the rolling fields of central Washington. As I cruised along into a stiff headwind I checked my map against the proposed route. I figured that not too many people would find terrain like this entertaining so I made an adjustment and turned north at Coulee City, following the waters of Banks Lake. I enjoyed the calm waters, the empty roads and the unique geological history exposed in the rock walls to my right. A tall waterfall caught my eye and I circled back to get a picture. Much to my pleasure I saw that a rough dirt road led back to the rock face. I turned the GS down the lane and rode over the rough rocks, unsure of just what I’d do if I dropped the bike back there. The waterfall wasn’t very heavy and I have no doubt that it will dry up within a month or two. Which is a shame, because that area gets hot in the summer and I have no doubt that the cozy cavern at its base would be a very welcome retreat with a soft spray of water cascading in it. I took the pictures, turned the GS around and was soon back on pavement headed north.
Near Dry Falls at Coulee City
Near Dry Falls
Hwy 2 crossing the coulee
The base of a waterfall
The waterfall in its entirety
My bike waits for my return
The end of the road
Grand Coulee Dam
I gassed up quickly at the Grand Coulee Dam, knowing that I’d be returning to this area in a week with some friends. The road north out of the town stays high above the banks of the Columbia until the town of Elmer City, where I left the water behind and attacked the ridgeline by way of a road called Peter Dan. Minimal sand in the corners kept my speeds down but there was little else to slow me. This is a desolate stretch of road that twists and turns its way up, then down, a heavily wooded ridge sandwiched between the Nespelem and Sanpoil Rivers. Only 17 miles long, I was just getting into the groove of the turns when the road suddenly took a dive downwards and spit me out onto Rt 21. Fifty miles of scenic solitude awaited me. This stretch of road follows the Sanpoil River, etching itself along the banks or skirting the hillsides. Sometimes there are long straight stretches, farmland and pasture taking precedence over the dry pine forests. But then the cleared land gives way, the trees crowd in again and the road starts to twist and turn. Mile after mile I enjoyed this road, mostly dry but with some heavy clouds threatening above me.
From Republic the Rt 21 has a slight jog before resuming its northward direction. The land is wide open, a vast valley with the road hugging the east side. The pavement sweeps along the edge, rising and dropping in elevation with the whim of the land. As I head north the valley narrows, becoming busy with the river, the railroad and the road in its limited space. I was nearing the Canadian border and I had my eyes peeled for my friend Jim. He said that he’d ride south to meet me and expected to find me around 3:30 or so. It was a little after 3 and I felt that I had been lollygagging too long already today, what with detours and photo stops Therefore I was surprised (and pleased) when I rolled up to the border crossing at 3:29 pm. Excellent timing, despite myself. The crossing was the easiest I had ever had and it was mere minutes before I was putting my gloves back on and pulling away from the guard shack.
And then immediately stopped to allow 11 deer pass across the road. The last one waited longer than the rest, even though by then I had come to a complete stop to see what it would do. Only after I started to roll forward did it streak across the road to join its brethren. Stupid critters.
Scenery along Rt 21
More scenery along Rt 21
The Sanpoil River
Abandoned barn along Rt 21
My bike enjoys a break along Rt 21
I made it through Grand Forks and around Christina Lake before I saw the single headlight of Jim’s Triumph bearing down on me. I pulled the side, he swung around and then we were both heading north over Paulson Pass. It was cold there, with snow still along the side of the road and a light drizzle coming down from above. I was really wishing that my heated jacket was working, but thankful at least that the heated grips were doing their job.
Jim and I arrived at his house an hour earlier than we expected, due to my being as far along the route as I was. It was fine by me. I kicked back with some hot chocolate and a chocolate bar and enjoyed the conversation with Jim and John, who was already at the house. And while Jim was ambitious enough to pull my faulty plug apart to find the cause, John was kind enough to fix it and put it back together. I’d have heat for the ride home!
The night flew by. More people came by, borscht and sausage was brought out, I ate more chocolate and beer was consumed. It was a very pleasant evening and I was sorry when I said that I would have to get some sleep. It was with a smile on my face that I crawled into the guest bed and closed my eyes that night. It had been a long and pleasant day.
Unlike me, I was once again awake earlier than usual the next morning. I got dressed and came downstairs to check with Jim on the weather and the odds that the North Cascades Hwy would be open (it’s not due to open for another week). Dave had stayed the night as well and the three of us eventually geared up and pulled our bikes out of the garage. They would ride with me as far as Rossland, at which point I’d head south and they would continue on with their own plans.
Nancy Green Lake in BC
Jim coveting my bike
Jim and his… sausage
John in his new sleeping bag (now with lamolite!)
Garlic sausage, beer and chocolate
That’s a lot of garlic!
Murphy makes himself at home
Packing up Sunday morning
We headed back towards Paulson Pass but turned off to go over Strawberry Pass before we hit the summit. I had mentioned that I might want to stop for pictures, but the weather was not cooperating and eventually Dave stopped and asked me about the photos. Since we were already stopped I took a couple of shots, both of which were fairly nondescript. From here Dave suggested that I lead and I inadvertently took off before they even had their gloves on. I eventually slowed down to allow them to catch up, but it took a long time. At Rossland I pulled into a gas station. We said our “thank yous” and “good byes” before parting ways.
Strawberry Pass on 3B in BC
Jim and Dave reading my stickers
Is this a request?
The road from Rossland to the border crossing at Frontier is short but sweet. The pavement wasn’t very good, but the corners are well marked and there are many of them. It is a tiny border crossing, with little buildings taking place of the countries they represent and stop signs indicating where you’re supposed to wait. The border guard was having an issue with the Oregon truck in front of me but I had my earplugs in and couldn’t catch what the problem was. But finally the pick up pulled away and it was my turn. The guard asked me a couple of questions and seemed exasperated that I had “all of those bags and cases” that were empty. I mentioned that I had some clothes in one and an overnight kit, but he surprised me when he let me go immediately after that. I guess I looked honest enough (and he obviously doesn’t understand a BMW rider’s need to have lots of space “just in case”).
A gray line on the map followed the west side of Roosevelt Lake. I had traveled along the east side last spring and while enjoyable, it was time for something new. I missed the turn of course and had to travel back over the bridge on the Columbia River again to get onto what was called Sheep Creek Road. Ah! What a pleasurable find! Narrow two-lane pavement that wound tightly along the banks of the lake/river, an infrequent farmhouse, a little bit of gravel, twisty corners around exposed rock faces; it was all there. Traffic was almost non-existent and the only people I saw out were a couple of farmers who waved as they tossed hay bales in the hazy sunshine. Not to say I was completely alone. I also saw a couple of wild turkeys, some deer and a bald eagle that soared about 50’ above me. A short three-mile stretch of dirt road surprised me, but I was surprised even more when it ended just as suddenly as it had started.
Along Sheep Creek Rd
The rising (gravel-covered) road of Sheep Creek
Across the river
There were many corners like this one
Occasional straights to let you enjoy the sights
Flowering trees on the hillside
Eventually nirvana ended and I was left at the awkward junction of 395 and 20, somewhere west of Kettle Falls. I had 260 miles on this tank and figured that I ought to fill up before tackling Sherman Pass. But there was no gas at this junction and I didn’t know how far Kettle Falls was. Oh what the heck; I could probably make it to Republic and if nothing else, I had a spare liter of fuel in my emergency case. I turned west on Hwy 20 and headed into the clouds. It was cold enough to be thankful once again that John had repaired my electric jacket and I had the heated grips on as well.
Sherman Pass was just as wonderful as I remembered it, if not a little straighter in some parts. I knew of a rider coming out from New Jersey who was interested in riding this stretch of road across Washington, so I now looked at it with a careful eye. What would he think of this road as a complete stranger to the area? Would he expect the entire route to be twists and turns? Sweeping vistas? Well, he would get both, but not consistently. I crested the summit in a light rain, the clouds high enough to allow me a peek-a-boo view of the Cascade Mountains in the distance. I was alarmed at the number of recently dead trees as well. I expected the standing timber from the forest fires of ’88, but I could see that something was killing the living trees. If we had a dry summer, this mountain would go up in flames quickly.
View of the Cascades from Shermans Pass
Dying trees on Shermans Pass
Remenents of a fire in 1988
Clouds and mountains
I made it to Republic without any problems, although it would have been nice to have a full tank of gas coming over the pass so I could have given those Goldwings in front of me a run for their money. But I was easy on the throttle and played “cruiser”, tooling along easily and conservatively. I was three miles from the gas station when a local took up residence in front of me. Whatever the speed limit was, he went about 7-10 miles below it. He drove me crazy, but other than following a tad too close I displayed no other (visible) signs of agitation. I wanted my gas and I wanted it now!
With a full tank of gas I happily continued westward on Hwy 20. I passed an RV early on in this stretch so I was loath to stop for many photos, but after a couple of straight stretches put a lot of space between me and them I felt like I could spare the time to stop. I considered heading north and checking out some additional side roads near Wauconda but I missed the turn and didn’t feel like turning around again. Instead I put my energies into getting the most out of this bendy road that blows through the emptiness of northern Washington. The sun was coming out, the pavement was dry and clear and traffic was only coming towards me. It was time to play.
Coming toward Wauconda, WA
Fun stuff on Hwy 20
More Wauconda-area fun
The old homestead
I played all the way into Omak and then decided to stop for something to eat. I excitedly pulled up to a taco bus, but no one was around so I settled for Magoo’s Family Dining in downtown Omak. It was acceptable, but by no means outstanding. I sat by the window and watched as people walked by, noticing who looked at my bike and who was oblivious to it. It does look rather impressive, with the big silver sticker-clad cases, the leather top case, the tank bag/pannier set up and the big tank. I was pleased that it was mine.
After lunch I rolled down Main St, took a shot of the local view of marriage and then made my way out of town and into the next town of Okanogan. From Okanogan the road rises out of the valley and into the foothills that precede the Cascades to the west. Loup Loup Pass is only about 30 miles long, but they are the most consistent, remote and delight thirty miles. The only civilization is a campground near the summit and signs for a ski hill somewhere near by. I was intrigued by side roads with names like “B&O Mtn Rd” and “Woody Mountain Rd”. Someday I’d check them out too. But for now I had a mission: fly over Loup Loup Pass and down the Methow Valley. The Pass was easy enough. No traffic, no deer, no gravel. There was nothing to stop me from leaning into the curves as they presented themselves in rapid succession. The sun was shining, the air was warm enough to turn off the electrics and the road was mine.
Heading for Tonkaset, WA
Hwy 97 south of Pateros, WA
The beginnings of Loup Loup Pass
One of many corners on Loup Loup
Looking at the road to come
A rare view along Loup Loup
They update this sign frequently
Usually trees are tight along Loup Loup Pass
Coming down the west side of Loup Loup Pass
Methow Valley view
And then it ended. At a “T” junction I could turn right and head for the North Cascades Hwy and continue my way on Hwy 20, but that route was currently impassable, 20’ of snow covering the roadbed that I would be riding on. Instead I hung left, heading south into the sun and into the beauty of the Methow Valley. This valley is known throughout the state as one of the most beautiful and today it showed all of its glory. The clouds were rolling high in the sky, exposing snow-clad peaks. The lower mountainsides sported a dappled green coat, the light green leaves of spring growth contrasting with the deep green of the older pine needles. The valley floor was dotted with blooming orchards, green fields and charming farms. Recent rains had cleansed the air and everything had an incredible sharpness to it. My grin could hardly be contained within my helmet. This is why I ride.
The valley came to an end but my euphoria rode on. I was now back on 97 and in the wide valley of the Okanogan. Even now the clouds were forming interesting shapes as they poked over the Cascade Range. I breathed in the fresh air, pulling in the scents of grass, blossoms and sage. What I recalled as a previously boring and tedious ride down the straight roads of 97 was today a Zen-like enchantment. Nothing could go wrong. Traffic was light, the temperature had climbed, the wind had died down; everything was good.
The sign from Omak, WA
Methow Valley road
Sunshine and smooth roads
Beebe Bridge over the Columbia
Apple boxes ready for the fall harvest
And it continued to be good as I reached the town of Wenatchee and changed directions to the west. I was on Hwy 2 again, retracing my steps from the previous day’s ride over Stevens Pass. But instead of Stevens Pass, I would peel off to the left and instead enjoy the depths and heights of Blewett Pass. The sky was still bright and the orchards held more blossoms than their cousins in the warmer valley I had left behind. Traffic wasn’t going to easily let me have the road to myself so when I overtook three cars, an RV and a pick up in a couple of mighty passes, I knew that I wouldn’t be stopping for any photos this time through. I wove through the tasty chicane at the north end of the pass, the roadbed deep in the valley of mountains. The bubbling river matched the road turn for turn, and I rolled on the throttle with each exit. The turns loosened up a bit and I gave time to contemplate the old roadbed still visible along side parts of the new pavement. Erosion was doing its job and in some areas the road was only a couple of feet wide. I should like to come back and hike along the old road someday as well. But not today. Today I was on a mission to pull every ounce of fun from this road possible. And I was doing a good job of it too. The corners kept coming, some of them long sweepers that rose up and up while others dropped me back down into the darkness of the forest. About two thirds of the way through the clouds had amassed enough to let me know of their presence by spitting down on me. I ignored the moisture and kept on going, knowing that there wasn’t much left to enjoy of this stretch of road. And just in time for the last couple of miles I caught up with the first vehicles to slow down my pace. I passed them anyway and finished off Blewett Pass in style.
Then the wind kicked in. While I was sheltered in the valley that Blewett Pass traverses, the wind to the south had been busy blowing in from the Sound. I rounded a corner and immediately felt the headwind. I checked my fuel again and wondered if I would make it all the way to Seattle, but reasoned that I could always stop along the way if need be. I merged onto I-90, joining in with the rest of the travelers who were coming home from weekend trips. This was the most traffic I had seen all weekend and I was thankful for truck lanes and multiple passing points. I kept pace with a couple of cars, as I find that keeps me from forgetting to keep the throttle hand in check. I crested Snoqualmie Pass in another light rain, barely enough to notice. But the air was damp and cool and I was yet again thankful for a working heated jacket.
Apple blossoms near the start of Blewett Pass
Traffic on Blewett Pass
Despite the headwinds I was making good time flowing down the west side of Snoqualmie and chose to not push my luck by pulling in for gas at North Bend. I’m glad I did, as I was able to put 7.4 gallons in my 7.9 gallon tank. I merged back onto the highway and the few remaining miles home flew by. I made a quick detour to a lookout near my house to catch the evening sun glinting off of the buildings of downtown Seattle, but the clouds chose that moment to converge over the sun and foil my plans. I took a picture anyway and then headed home, still feeling the joy of a wonderful ride.
Home again, home again