Two Wheeled Mule
April 30th, May 1st, 2006
Total Miles: 1022
Seattle– Castlegar – Seattle
They call someone who carries things illegally over international borders “mules”. Well this weekend I’d be a two-wheeled mule. Jim, my riding friend from Castlegar wanted a specific bike accessory that was currently unavailable in Canada. What better excuse to take a ride than to drop it off for him?
I had originally hoped to ride over Highway 20 (North Cascades Highway) on opening day, tentatively slated for May 1st. I checked at work and took the day off. Then I found that my local riding friends wouldn’t be able to make the ride as it was on a workday and they couldn’t have the day off. Therefore, I decided to roll both efforts into one ride: I’d drop the part off at Jim’s on Sunday and then hit the North Cascades on the way home. If it opened on time, that is.
Sunday morning was clear and bright in Seattle when I left the house at 8:30. I had packed up the GS with some minimal gear, feeling rather guilty that the great side cases were virtually empty, and headed north on the 5. It was time to make tracks north and get to some non-local roads. I considered slipping on over to 9 when I hit Arlington, but then considered that it would just slow me down, and I could hit it any day of the week. I kept north until I passed Bellingham where I jogged over on 542 to 9 and then up to the border crossing at Sumas. There was no line and the crossing was quick and uneventful. I did have to ask if radar detectors were legal in BC (yes, they are) as I was now sporting both a GPS and a radar detector on the front of my GS. This was to be the “test run” of the detector to see what it would do and how well it worked mounted where it was.
Lower BC passed along uneventfully and I kept heading east on the 3. Traffic was light and the mountains in the distance were cloaked in a frigid mantle of snow. It was a quick trip to Hope where I stopped to fuel up and take a moment to clean off my visor. Another rider stopped to admire the GS, asking if that was the kind of bike that was on the “Long Way Round” and then saying that he had never seen one in person. He was taking his young son out for a day ride on his ST1100 from Vancouver to Osoyoos. It was a good day for it.
From Hope I turned north to explore the Frasier River Canyon, as I’ve done many times before. The road was clear and dry and any traffic I came upon was not a problem for long. This was the first time that the radar detector went off for me. I don’t have any sound hooked up for it yet but instead have some bright LED lights just over the speedometer (appropriately placed, I thought) that light up when activated. It turned out that the patrol car was heading the other way and in hot pursuit of some unknown emergency. But it was neat because the detector went off before I even saw the car as it came around a bend in the road.
When I reached Spences Bridge I had to stop. It is almost a custom at this point. I wasn’t too hungry but thought that lunch would be a good idea. Besides, they serve yummy homemade bread and hearty soups – just the thing for this kind of day. As I ate my meal I watched a pair of nesting osprey about 50 yards from the back of the restaurant and had a casual conversation with my fellow diners. I got up, picked up a loaf of bread for my hosts-to-be and resumed my trip to Castlegar. I knew that I’d have to hustle in order to arrive at a decent time. From Spences Bridge I took my favorite Canadian road, the 8 southeast to Merritt. Once again the road did not disappoint and I was left feeling exhilarated after pulling off the 8 and onto 5A south toward Princeton. Once again, the roads were in good shape and there was almost no one on them. The wind had picked up slightly and it tossed me around a little bit, but it was really no match for the mighty GS. The sun continued to shine on me and the roads were dry and clean. This was a complete opposite from the last time I had ridden to Castlegar! And it was greatly appreciated.
Along the 5A towards Princeton
Along the 5A towards Princeton
At Princeton I turned east once again on the 3, lower BC’s main east-west transportation link. The road dropped quickly in elevation and was soon following the wide valley floor filled with signs for orchards and wineries. The Smilkameen River was coursing at my side as I crested one last ridge before dropping down into the Okanogan valley and Osoyoos. Time was slipping by so I continued on without stopping, climbing the other side of the valley to Anarchist Pass and points east. The miles flew by and I rode through Midway, Greenwood, Grand Forks and Christina Lake. The road out of Christina Lake was much cleaner and drier than the last time I had been on it and I was able to lean the GS over pleasantly in the corners. I considered stopping for some pictures, as the day was still beautiful and the snow in the mountains was fresh and clean looking. But while the day was beautiful, it was also fading rapidly and I knew that I had to keep on going. Before I left Seattle I was guessing that I’d arrive in Castlegar around 7:30, but hadn’t said as much to Jim because I really was just guessing. However my sense of time must be better than I give myself credit for, as I pulled into Jim’s driveway just before 7:30. He opened the garage door for me, I rolled my bike in and handed him his much-anticipated package. To say that he was excited would be an understatement. He ended up installing it that night before going to bed and was visibly pleased at how well it worked out. We talked for a few hours before retiring for the evening. Jim had to get up for work in the morning and I had some miles to cover.
By the time I got up Jim was gone to work and his wife Karina was kind enough to see me off. I left at 8:30 and retraced my steps back over Bonanza Pass (Poulson Summit) to Christina Lake. I followed the 3 back through Grand Forks and Greenwood, but when I got to Midway I turned south. I crossed the border there, a very small, one-man type of crossing. He asked the usual questions, including why I was crossing there. I said that I was looking for interesting roads and was hoping that the North Cascades would be open. Those must have been the magical words because a sort of recognition light up his eyes and he wished me a pleasant day.
Heading towards Christina Lake on the 3
Poulson Bridge near Christina Lake
Looking down from Poulson Bridge
Some day I’ll figure out how to get on that road!
I was hoping to reach Republic before I ran out of gas, knowing that I was pushing it but not sure by how much. As it turned out I still had a gallon to spare when I pulled up at the station. I filled up the bike and asked inside if they knew if Hwy 20 was open yet. They didn’t know, so I got back on the bike and took of on Hwy 20 towards Wauconda Pass, retracing my steps from less than a month ago. Again, I experienced completely opposite riding conditions this time, with blue skies, dry roads and warm temperatures. I reached the junction where 20 piggybacks onto 97 south and was treated to hillsides full of fragrant blooming orchards. I stopped for lunch at a small diner in Omak and was greeted by turned heads from just about everyone in the place. They were all fairly plump, older couples and had no qualms about “looking at the freak in the ski suit”. But there was no hostility, merely curiosity, and I sat down with a newspaper while I waited for my meal. Before I left I asked my waitress if she had heard if the North Cascades was open yet. She hadn’t heard one way or another, so I decided to continue on and assume that the road crews were on target.
Not much further south on 20/97, 20 takes to its own again, this time in the form of a wonderful stretch of pavement that crosses over Loup Loup Pass. I love this road, as it twists and turns predictably and smoothly. There isn’t much for scenery, but that is fine by me, as my eyes are on the road beneath me and the corners coming up in front of me. As I dropped down into the Methow Valley I was not surprised to see a herd of deer so great in number that at first I thought it was a domestic herd of goats. From there I passed through Twisp, where I stopped briefly to inquire yet again about the Pass. Yes – it was open! With a smile on my face I continued heading west on 20, passing through Winthrop, which looked almost naked with no bikes in sight. I smiled as I looked ahead of me and saw towering peaks and ominous clouds. I knew that there was quite a bit of rain forecasted for the areas I was riding through, but I didn’t know when the rain was expected. It looked like I was about to find out.
Coming down from Loup Loup Pass
Looking up at Washington Pass
At the top of Washington Pass
Blue skies and snow
On the west side of the Cascades
I rode for five miles before even seeing another vehicle and I relished the thought of having the highway to myself. The clouds be damned; I had my heated gear on, my trusty GS was beneath me and I was heading home! The road rose quickly and I realized that the ominous-looking clouds were primarily to the north while the road would head in a more southerly direction. I stopped for some pictures at the top of Washington Pass, impressed with the cut away snow banks that were taller than my bike. Then I also noticed that it was starting to snow. They were soft, almost gentle, flakes and I smiled at the odds: I was 4 for 4 in running into snow on my multi-day rides so far. It continued to snow for the next 15 miles but the roads were always clear and the sun was just around the next corner. The rest of the highway was pleasantly dry and I was once again tempted to lean the bike over as I shot through an especially tasty set of curves.
At the far end of Hwy 20 I had the option of continuing west to I-5 and then slabbing it home, or drop down at Rockport and take 530 home through Darrington. The day was still (relatively) young and the roads were cooperating, so I happily dropped down along Sauk River, enjoying the vivid green of spring in the overhanging trees. When I did come out on I-5 I was fortunate that rush hour traffic had dissipated somewhat and I was able to maintain a good pace all the way home.