Today was a day of discovery. New roads discovered, abandoned roads explored and known roads enjoyed. Sometimes the best plan is to have no plan at all.
September 30, 2006
Total Miles: 378 miles, 1 day
Seattle, WA to Entiat, WA
I had considered going hiking today, but the idea of exerting physical effort wasn’t appealing to my lazier side. Instead I hooked up with Steve (my riding partner on the return trip from the BMW Campout) with the promise of exploring dirt roads on the east side of the Cascades. He swung by the house on his 1200GS, I hopped onto my “streamlined” (bagless) 1150 and we headed east. It was almost 9am and the morning was heavily overcast and chilly. I wore my heated jacket but something in the wiring wasn’t making a connection, so I was only able to enjoy it for its natural warming effect. I led us up I-90 towards Snoqualmie Pass and just a mile shy of the summit an amazing thing happened: we passed out of the bowl of cloudy soup and into clear blue skies. While the temperature gauge at the Pass read only 47 degrees and a stiff wind was blowing, the clear skies were a welcome change to the threat of rain that I was anticipating previously. Steve took us on a short detour through Cle Elum and stopped across the street from a bakery where we indulged on some tasty and more-than-likely unhealthy treats. With the wind steady from the west we got back on our bikes and headed for Blewett Pass. But not the standard fast sweeping corners of Blewett Pass that everyone else is familiar with. No, we were going to explore the Old Blewett Pass Highway, the one that originally carried miners and supplies over the mountains before the State came along and made the road wider and faster and safer.
It wasn’t too hard to find the turn-off, as the US Forest service still maintains it as a single lane road during the summer and signs were posted. Steve and I headed away from the main drag and looked forward to exploring history. The road didn’t waste any time carving its up way up the hillside. Patches of gravel, sudden dips and unmarked turns all combined to make for a casual ride. We stopped for pictures and were given a view of the valley below and endless trees all around us.
The sign for the Old Blewett Pass Highway
Elevation gain at Blewett’s Pass
View from the Old highway
The “abandoned” highway
More old highway
The road was narrow but I didn’t give that much thought until I rounded a bend and saw a truck parked on the side. There were two crews working on the road, removing fallen (and falling) trees. It didn’t appear that they gave much thought to the condition of the road itself. While there were painted markings indicating “future places of repair” it didn’t appear that it would happen any time soon. Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable glimpse into the conditions travelers used to face when crossing through such inhospitable country.
Back on to the main thoroughfare towards Highway 2 our speed picked up considerably and it wasn’t long before we were entering Leavenworth. Traffic was horrendous there, as the city was having Salmon Days or something extravagant that required a parade. We ducked off the main road and paid the local ranger station a visit. We were looking for some dirt roads that would take us north east of where we were, preferably a nice loop. Steve and the ranger chatted a while about various road options, routes and conditions. Steve was satisfied with the amount of knowledge he had acquired and I scoffed quietly at the ranger’s caution that the roads were “really rough”. Ha, probably no worse than what I had ridden on in Oregon last weekend. We folded up the Forestry map Steve bought, gassed up the bikes and looked for dirt.
It didn’t take us long. Just north of Leavenworth we took a turn onto Eagle Creek Road, a pleasant paved road that wound through a valley tinged with fall colors. The pavement stopped at a “T” junction and after a brief consultation with the map we hung a left and followed FS 7015. Wide gravel roads greeted us as we climbed the ridge towards Entiat. Pine trees covered the hillsides but we were still offered glimpses of valleys and ridges. We took a moment to air down our tires so that we would have more traction on the loose surface and then kept on going up. I was chuckling inside my helmet at the thought of the ranger’s words. “Rough road” indeed! We dropped down the east side of the ridge, with more but drier views prevailing. Some tight switchbacks brought us down to the valley floor where we then took up company with the Mad River. We followed it until it led us to pavement and Entiat shortly after that.
Cresting the ridge from Eagle Creek Canyon
Stopping to check the map
Good dirt roads
End of the dirt
More map consultation led to a decision to air up the tires, ride down 97/2 to Rocky Reach Dam and then look for the road that showed us a “back way” in to Leavenworth. Highway 97 wasn’t much of a diversion and I pointed out what I thought might be the canyon road we were looking for as we zoomed by it. More map consultation made us certain that this was the road we wanted. A quick U-turn put us at the foot of the Swakane Creek Road. We decided to air down our tires sooner rather than later, as the initial climb up from the Okanogan Valley floor was already gravel-covered. I said that I wanted to lead, as Steve’s bike was still too shiny compared to mine and he could use a little dust. I don’t think I traveled more than a mile when the road took an odd jog to the right and immediately became much less of a road. It had changed from a wide gravel road to a one lane, rocky and rutted passage through the valley floor. I paused to check with Steve if he thought that this was the right road and also if he wanted to take it regardless. He was all smiles so I put the bike into gear, rolled on the throttle and got back up on the foot pegs.
The GS took every bump and bounce in stride as I wove around the sharper and larger rocks. The road became less of a road and more of a farm trail that skirted the edges of the valley. Infrequent outbuildings dotted the scenery and other than the road itself there was little evidence of civilization. I was completely enjoying myself, thinking how we were out in the middle of nowhere with little chance of seeing anyone else, when I came around a bend and saw it: a white Ford Explorer. It was crawling slowly, painfully even, over the rocks. Despite its like-new appearance, it was creeping along as though it might fall apart any minute. As I slowed down and caught up to it I looked inside and saw a trio of small heads in the back seat, swaying from side to side with each movement of the SUV. It was the family outing, showing the kids what an SUV is really capable of. At this point the driver noticed my presence and crawled over to the far side of road, giving me just enough room to pass. I called out a cheery “thank you!” as I slipped alongside them and disappeared in a cloud of dust.
Swakane Creek Road
View along Swakane Creek
Rougher than it looks
It gets narrower!
The branches start grabbing
It wasn’t long after passing the Explorer that the road became even less of a farm trail and more like a wagon trail. The rocks had given way to dirt and pine needles, with small sections of shallow sand just for flavor. The sides of the trail were now closed in with trees and brush. Branches reached out from the edges, giving me reason to duck or feel them slap against my gear. The valley walls closed in and the road surface was rising up above the river. More trees, varied terrain and keeping an occasional eye out behind me for Steve kept me happy for many miles. I was beginning to see why the ranger had cautioned us of the rough road conditions. We had crested a small ridge and were coming into a tiny alpine meadow where ground moisture appeared to be quite common. I came around one bend, trying to avoid the slick-looking mud when I came across a second truck. This one looked authentic with its rusty paint, passengers who looked like they worked hard and junk piled up in the bed of the truck. I pulled off to one side to allow it to pass, mentioning that there was one more bike behind me before I continued on. The road crossed a small field before diving back into the trees and up the hill. The evidence of past rains was extreme in the size of the ruts that had dried into the surface. I picked a line on one of the flat tops and started to make my around the bend. That’s when something went wrong and I found myself on the back of a bike bucking its way across the ruts. I sideswiped the hill more than hit it, but it still stopped the bike and tossed me off the side.
Steve wasn’t far behind me and I watched with some concern as he navigated the patch I had just fumbled. He made it by and continued up the hill to park the bike safely out of the way. I was taking pictures of my bike when he came walking back down the hill to see if I needed any help with getting my bike out of there. Because of the way it stuffed itself into the rut, it was pretty much standing up anyway. I got on, started it up and powered my way out of the rut and up to where Steve had left his bike. That’s when I noticed that the brake pedal was no longer where it should be. A quick inspection and roadside repair job and we were once again on our way, with only a sore pinky to show for it..
The road had a couple more ruts to challenge me, but I had learned my lesson and took them a little more carefully. We continued to follow the road for a bit longer before coming to an unmarked junction. Where were we? Judging from the GPS, the map and landmarks, we made our guess. Unfortunately, the map wasn’t very clear on just where we might be, so our guess was off a little. Instead of coming down Derby Canyon Road we had found Nahohna Canyon. It was still a pleasant descent down into pavement and, eventually, lunch in Cashmere. It was 3pm and we had been going steady since 9am that morning with only our sweet morning treats to keep us going. The weather had gotten hot and I for one was ready for a break. Steve recommended a Mexican restaurant that served up a tasty burrito and lots of water.
Tricky rutted road
No, I didn’t park the bike there…
“Primitive Road – No Warning Signs” understatement!
Checking the map again
I think I earned lunch today
After lunch we had another choice to make: where to go? It was around 4pm and there was only so much daylight left this time of year. I suggested looking for the Old Cascade Highway, a section of road no longer used now that a faster route was developed over Stevens Pass on Highway 2. Steve’s eyes lit up at the idea and we scattered out of Leavenworth. Via Plain, because you can’t pass up that many good, empty corners when you’re that close to them. Coming out of Plain we were back on Highway 2 and heading west with surprisingly little traffic. We crested Stevens Pass without fanfare when Steve was quick enough to point out the possible entrance to the Old Cascade Highway. It was a steep gravel descent with a 10mph corner, but as soon as that section was navigated we found ourselves on old pavement, center line remnants still visible. The surface wasn’t too bad but there were many long gravel patches and the turns were covered in gravel and asphalt that had been reformed into washboards. The trees at this elevation were changing and the low sun lent an artist’s palette to the scene. Even more surprising was when I rounded a bend and saw something fairly large run across the road about 50′ in front of me. It took me some time to consider what it might have been and I am now convinced that it was a young black bear, even though it was more sable in color.
Old Cascade Highway
Taking the short way back
Further down the “highway” we came to the end of the road – the original bridge had either washed out or been removed and in its place was a pedestrian bridge and a turnaround lot for cars. I had heard of this bridge and knew that it was passable by bike, but walked the distance just to be sure. I rode across and then took pictures of Steve as he came across. On the other side the road resumed where it had left off, eventually spitting us back out onto the new Cascade Highway. We followed this west towards home, with Steve promising a detour at Index. Sure enough, at Index we turned off from the main road and took a brief tour of the town. It was rather uninteresting until we turned onto Reiter Rd. This road is narrow and by now the sun had dropped low enough that the headlight from Steve’s bike was the only source of illumination in the dark forest we were riding through. The surface itself was in great condition, but it was narrow with no shoulders or line markings. It twisted and turned along the mountainside, giving us occasional glimpses of the valley to our left. When Reiter Rd ended, we chose to follow May Creek Rd instead of rejoining Highway 2 again. But at Gold Bar we were out of options of back roads, not to mention out of light. We rode west to Monroe where Steve gave one last shot at making the final miles interesting. We dropped south on 203, passing through Duval, Carnation and Fall City before meeting up with I-90 and a fast ride home. This last section was done in the dark and through deer country, but nothing got in our way and I was able to enjoy the hide-and-seek the half moon was playing in the clouds. It was 11 1/2 hours when I pulled back into my driveway since I had left that morning. Just another day ride.