I promised during my last post that I would offer you a specific story rather than a philosophical shpeel. I keep to that promise:
Yesterday was a big day. The route which we're biking, The Northern Tier, has its riders brave five mountain passes in the Cascade Range of beautiful Washington state. The mountain passes are:
Tiger Pass (1200 feet of climbing)
Sherman Pass (5,575 ft)
Wauconda Pass (4,310 ft)
Loup Loup Pass (4,020 ft)
Washington and Rainy Pass (5,477 ft and 4,855 ft)
As we had been advised by a seasoned bike tourer early on in our trip, "There are five mountains. Climb one a day." And so we did. Each one was beautiful, challenging, and greatly rewarding in and of itself. But I would like to tell you about our last and final day of the passes...Washington/Rainy Pass.
(Side note, I lump the two passes together because Rainy Pass is just a little hump of a thing that one must climb consecutively with WA pass).
We began our day with our typical biker meal of oatmeal, granola, some protein powder, raisins, and maybe even a dollop of peanut butter (if we haven't become entirely disgusted by it at this point...which I have not. I believe we're at 23 lbs total consumed?). Heading away from our lovely hosts' home at about 7:45am in the sweet town of Mazama, we made one more stop at the local (and MUST SEE) general store for some snacks and morning treats.
The Mazam"ans"(?), from what I could surmise in our short time there, are kind, open, and friendly people. During that morning we had a wide range of folks come up to us and warn us about the mud slides that had apparently occurred on the road of the pass that we were intending to climb. The night had harbored one of the most intense thunder and lightening storms that this neck of the woods had ever seen...
"Hey, did you hear about the road closure?"
"So, you biking the pass? Hear about the mud slides? Eh, you should be fine, say they'll open the road again around 2pm."
"Hmm, I don't know, there are mud slides up there, good luck."
And on and on. And while these warnings were much appreciated...this was our last climb and I had the feeling that there wasn't much that would deter us from getting up and over it in some way or another.
Newly laden with bananas, water, and Gatorade, we pushed away from Mazama at around 8:45. The morning, despite the night's storm, was gorgeous and the temperature had cooled down significantly (yes!!). Other cyclists we had spoken with who had toured in the past compared their love of the magnificent Glacier National Park to their experience in the Cascades. I see why. The grandeur and majesty of the land around here is something to be witnessed rather than written about.
The climb up the pass was absolutely breathtaking. Sharp peaks stood, quiet and lofty in the hazy distance, and many of the rocky faces held snow in their craggy pockets. Slowly and methodically I cycled my way, switchback over switchback, stopping every now and then to grab a handful of nuts and take a photo. It's impressive that, in this zig-zagging carving fashion, one can make their way through, what look like, impenetrable peaks. The sun was shining, the wind was cool, and the views were crisp.
Along the way we would see cars winding their way along the road, yet with the knowledge that the road had closed, I found it a bit unusual that there would be any traffic at all. A few cars, coming in our opposite direction paused long enough to tell us that there were mud slides up ahead. While I'm grateful for their warnings, there was no way we were turning around now. Our logic was:
1. Bike up Washington Pass....we can't not! 2. Hope that we're allowed through to the other side.
3. If mud slides block our descent, we'll enjoy the ride back down to Mazama and hitchhike over once the road is clear.
But we were certainly not NOT biking over this famous last pass on our route.
From the top, looking back I could see our climb; its snake-like shape gently carving its way through the mountain.
It was a relief and a joy to see the elevation sign, not so much because the climb was overly difficult, I believe many people could bike their way here (especially seeing the pregnant woman arrive on bike not too long after us!), but because it symbolized a proud moment for the Inventure team. We had made it. We were here. After over two months of our journey, we had completed the last mountain pass.
All of us lingered up at the top ('us' includes the Inventure riders and our great friend and cycling team addition Max who's been with us for some time now) eating snacks and talking to other cyclists who had taken advantage of the road closure. While there we had the opportunity to chat with a friendly Department of Transportation (D.O.T.) worker who had been working on clearing the mud slides from the night. Apparently there were 6 slides total and some cars stuck in between a few of them. Luckily, no one was hurt that night, and he was hopeful that if we were patient, the road would be open for us bikers in a few hours. Lucky are those who travel on two wheels...sometimes.
We decided to make our way over the little hump of a guy, Rainy Pass, up ahead and linger around the road closure until further notice. Once up there, we were able to truly see the power of Mother Nature and the impressive amount of rock and earth that had been moved over the road. With the help of digger trucks and our D.O.T friend, we were fortunately able to skirt around the slides, lifting our hefty steeds over the guard rail, through thick mud, and running streams of water.
Although it didn't seem like we had lingered too long on the mountain waiting to get down, I guess Mother Nature thought otherwise. A backpacker we had met while waiting had predicted correctly: yet another storm was brewing. We looked back and noticed it rolling in fast and dark. Perhaps naively we thought we could out-bike it. But there's no playing with the forces of nature and out here, everything seems a bit bigger and more dramatic.
I'm convinced there has been an angel watching out over us on this journey. Laugh if you want, we have been so fortunate so often. In this case, the angel must have helped us run into more kind D.O.T workers, Gary and Jim, who let us throw our bikes into their pick up truck (yes, we basically threw them) and hurry out of the hailing-raining-wind that was howling upon us. Taking time out of their work day, they drove us kooky cyclists down into the nearest town of Diablo where, amazingly, Lily had a connection with one of the main things this small town is known for: the North Cascades Institute (a beautiful and well respected environmental education center located on the aquamarine-colored Ross Lake).
Thanking the two workers profusely, we sopping cyclists were relieved to arrive to this busy, warm, and friendly institute, getting in out of the storm and being greeted by open and kind folks. Although we did intend to bike further and make it to our pre-planned hosts' home, we thought it best to accept the offer of the Institute and stay the night here. HOW LUCKY ARE WE!??!?! Not only did they happily arrange a room of four beds for us, but they called the cook immediately and alerted him to four more guests for dinner and breakfast.
Paying it forward? I think so.
As if that wasn't enough to be grateful for, our original host for that night decided to drive to US with a beautifully and lovingly prepared packed dinner: polenta and pasta with goat cheese, fresh salad with homemade dressing, multigrain chips and homemade hummus, and a bottle of champagne.
Lying in bed that night, warm and full, I lulled myself to bed once again with the words, 'thank you, thank you, thank you.'
With light, gratitude, and love, I send YOU so many thanks as well for supporting us on this journey. We are nearly finished and it is bittersweet for me. I have awed, struggled, been pushed and challenged, and met by infinite blessings in these past 2 months and have loved this Inventure. But for now, no conclusions, no endings...just movement. Just an undulating pattern of adventure, of sharing these gifts we've received and passing it on, of keeping my eyes open, of creating a lifestyle which strives never to forget this time...