Northern Tier 2010

July 14, 2010

Pondering the Pend Oreille

Filed under: Idaho, Section 01, Washington — Henry Scott @ 10:45 pm

That’s a silly title (aren’t they all?), but it helps me to remember how to pronounce the name of this beautiful river that I followed all day. It has a rich history of logging and fur trading — hence the French naming, which my mother pointed out in the comments yesterday means “hang ear.” It is pronounced “Ponderay,” which I learned by asking a USFS worker at Panhandle Park, where I stopped to cook some lunch. Amusingly, at least to me, is that there’s actually a town with that name and spelling just a bit north of Sandpoint, Idaho.

Today was much flatter than I’ve experienced so far, but it was a fairly hard day for me due to headwinds and, I suspect, some built-up fatigue. I’m afraid I exacerbated that tired feeling by making a poor “second lunch” choice by stopping at McDonald’s in Newport. I’m trying to fake enthusiasm in the photo at right, which I took soon after leaving the Newport McDonald’s. In reality, I was really wishing I’d made a different food choice.

Just for the record, I’ve been eating lots of fruits, vegetables and nuts while I ride, and cooking simple pastas, grains and oatmeal when stopped– I tend to only mention the gross excesses for amusement… like today’s chicken club sandwich, chicken snack wrap, french fries, chocolate shake and two apple pies. I guess there’s a reason for why Tour de France riders don’t eat that kind of stuff during the race!

Anyway, despite the tired legs today, I had a great time and met a lot of interesting people. I met the man at left, Warren, on LeClerk Rd while he was adjusting the chain on his motor-assisted bicycle; he is literally riding around the country. He lives in Alabama and is making a big loop around the U.S. He’s been undertaking one adventure after another since his retirement from the Marines. (He started biking to get back to Alabama after hiking the Appalachian Trail… from Alabama!)

As the photo above indicates, I left Washington today and entered Idaho. I’m camped at another RV park, this time just a few miles south of Sandpoint. I had prettier choices several miles back, but I kept looking for something better. Before I knew it, however, it was getting dark, and this was my only option. That said, it was nice to get a hot shower.

Notably, once I reach Sandpoint, I’ll move on to the second section of the Northern Tier. I’ve been riding for seven days, and my total mileage is 485 for a daily average of ~69 miles.


July 13, 2010

Sleeping in the Rain

Filed under: Section 01, Washington — Henry Scott @ 9:00 pm

Despite the high winds and cool temperatures up on Sherman’s overlook, I went to bed without installing my tent’s rainfly. I did this so that if I awoke in the middle of the night, I could look up at the stars (my tent is entirely bug netting, except for the floor and fly). I realized that the high winds could bring some rain, so I went to bed with the rainfly close at hand.

I woke up at least four times during the night: the first indeed gave me a chance to look at the stars; the second I noticed clouds had rolled in; the third is just a vague memory, but I recall wondering from where the little spritzes of water were coming, yet I let myself fall back to sleep (?!); and during the fourth I realized that it was drizzling, and that my sleeping bag was already getting wet. Clearly, I underestimated how tired I was after the two climbs from yesterday!

It turned out to be quite hard to install the fly in the dark, but the fear of letting my warm-weather down bag get any wetter had me quite motivated. I was able to stay just warm enough for the rest of the night, but I wasn’t exactly snug. This was a dumb mistake I don’t plan on making again.

When the sun came out this morning I finally got comfortably warm, so I slept in a bit. Once I got out of the tent I was cold again due to the high winds, and since I had a long descent ahead of me, I bundled up with multiple layers, top and bottom. I even wore the hood from my rain jacket under my helmet. Starting the steep ride down so bundled up with cold, gusting wind made me feel like I was jumping out of an airplane. But, I stayed warm and enjoyed the 18 or so miles down to the Columbia River, and the (relatively) harsh conditions of last night quickly faded from my immediate memory.

The rest of the day was uneventful. The scenery along the Colville and Pend Oreille rivers was very pretty but, unfortunately, most of my photos don’t do it justice — there were lots of gorgeous, bright clouds today, but I had a lot of trouble getting good exposures because the clouds were so much brighter than the landscape. As a result, either the land would be too dark, or the sky would be washed out. The image above is one of the few exceptions for which the lighting was just about right.

It has been very interesting to slowly move from one river valley to the next, with mountain passes to mark the transitions. Yesterday, the Kettle Range (and Sherman’s Pass) brought me out of the San Poil river valley, and today I entered the Columbia river valley. My route has been mainly following State Road 20, which meanders along the smaller streams and rivers that eventually lead to the major rivers I just mentioned.

I had a relaxing visits in both Kettle Falls and Colville, both of which are on the Colville river flowing towards the Columbia. I continue to be struck by how friendly and helpful people tend to be. I’ve worried a bit about getting lonely on this trip, but it turns out I spend a lot of time talking with people. Just about any time I stop, someone will approach me, and we’ll talk for a good ten minutes.

Anyway, I ultimately pushed on to Iona, with my route taking me along the Pend Orielle River for a total of 85 miles. There was a decent climb between Colville and here, which made it so I could both start and end the day with nice descents.

July 12, 2010

Last Major Washington Passes

Filed under: Geology, Section 01, Washington — Henry Scott @ 8:00 pm

Today’s ride should have been much harder than yesterday, but I got an earlier start, it was a bit cooler, and I got lucky with the winds. I got packed up and left my camp in Riverside around 5:30. It was already reasonably light, but there was a nice blanket of stratus clouds — they slowly rolled back to expose the full-strength sun by about 8:00… just as I was to start my first serious climb from Tonasket (~17 miles from Riverside) to Wauconda Pass.

My heart sank because I feared my early start was for naught, but I had a gentle, and cool tailwind the whole way up. I made good time, and had a great descent to Republic. Republic had been my planned destination for the day, but it was only a little after noon, so I decided to think it over during lunch. I had a “deluxe” burrito — it was huge and smothered in cheese, sour cream and guacamole. Even by my gluttonous standards I thought only an absolute pig would eat the whole thing…. so I did, plus the entire basket of chips. I think the waiter was impressed 🙂

But, there was some thought behind eating so much: I had decided to continue on to cover one more pass for the day and camp at the top, and since there would not be running water, I didn’t want to make a big dinner. I spent a couple of hours in Republic visiting the fossil museum, ranger station and, most importantly, digesting.

During my time in Republic, however, the winds picked up and became quite gusty. I almost went back to my original plan, but I’m glad I didn’t because although shifty, the strong winds were predominantly westerly, giving me a much-appreciated push.

The 18 miles to Sherman Pass still took quite a while, but the views from the top of regrowth after a massive 1988 fire were amazing.

I got a great campsite and look forward to sleeping in the cool 5500′ temperatures here than the incredibly hot conditions of last night at 1000′. Tomorrow I’ll begin with a long, steep descent, and I won’t have another significant pass to get over until Glacier.

As a bit of a P.S., the geology today was incredible. I went through excellent exposures of gneiss, granite, sandstone, glacial till (with an odd assortment rounded rocks from pebbles to boulders weathering out) and even some serpentine. This area has a very complicated history of volcanism, rifting and glaciation over the past several hundred million years. I’ll add just two photos below: one is a nonconformity with gneiss at the bottom and glacial till at the top, and the other is an exposure of serpentine, which marks the location of a major fault.


July 11, 2010

Tsik — Tsik — Tsik — Tsik (Other Side of the Cascades)

Filed under: Geology, Section 01, Washington — Henry Scott @ 9:00 pm

The buzz of magnetostriction was by replaced the ratcheting sounds of irrigation once I made it over Loup Loup Pass and officially left the Cascades. What a dramatic demonstration of the rain-shadow effect! The hydroelectric power on the western side is derived from the powerful flow of the Skagit, thanks to the numerous melting glaciers and snowfields.

However, after dumping so much precipitation on the westerly side as the prevailing westerlies move air masses through the region, there’s not much left for the easterly side. Instead, the winds that cooled to the point of dropping their moisture as the were forced aloft over the Cascades are heated as they descend the other side — only now they’re dry.

As a result, just about the only green on the eastern side is along rivers or heavily irrigated cropland.

The descent from Loup Loup Pass to Okanagon was the least enjoyable downhill ride I’ve ever done: it was like riding into that unwelcome blast of hot air when you open an oven on an already hot day. It turns out that the temperature at the bottom was pushing 100 F, and there was very little shade to offer relief. It was a hard day for me, but after eating and rehydrating, I’m feeling pretty good.

Prior to ascending Loup Loup Pass, I saw some great scenery and had a good breakfast in Winthrop — the whole town feels like it is straight from a western movie, and there are lots of interesting places to eat. That turned out to be the last touristy town I passed through, but I met two interesting parties in Okanagon: Kevin and Kara from U. W.- Madison, and Chris from Germany. We’re all pretty much following the Northern Tier, and we commiserated about the heat over some Gatorade at the one open shop in town (a convenience store).

I’m camping at Margie’s RV Park (and pottery!) in Riverside tonight, despite my previous determination to avoid private campgrounds, let alone RV parks. But, it has turned out to be a great experience. It is close to a small grocery store with a friendly and helpful clerk, and the park has some good shade, tent sites separate from the RVs a very pleasant proprietor, and showers….all for only $5. Not bad!

July 10, 2010

First Significant Climbs

Filed under: Geology, Section 01, Washington — Henry Scott @ 9:00 pm

Greg and I took another hike this morning, and he then got back on the road to Seattle. Although it was definitely worth it, this got me on the bike a little later than ideal considering that it was going to be a hot sunny day, and I had my first two significant passes ahead of me.

The climb started gently and provided some great views of Diablo Lake, and excellent exposures of the Skagit gneiss.

Before long, however, there was dramatic change in the geology, and rather than dramatic exposures of the igneous and metamorphic rocks of the eastern part of the park, thick deposits of glacial till became much more common.

The two passes were challenging, but really not that bad. My average speed dropped quite a bit, but I decided to ride conservatively and save my legs for tomorrow — yet more climbing is in store.

Despite having plenty of daylight left, I decided to make camp along the shores of the Methow River, just a few miles east of Mazama. That made for a little over 50 miles for today and about 150 overall. My plan is to keep going kinda slowly to enjoy the scenery at least until I reach Glacier NP.

July 9, 2010

Buuuuzzzzz! (Entering North Cascades NP)

Filed under: Geology, Section 01, Washington — Henry Scott @ 9:00 pm

As I approached the park, I couldn’t help but notice the heavy duty power lines following the Skagit, like me. The power lines produced a constant buzz — the kind of thing one notices while traveling by bicycle. Although my biggest interest in the park is its geology, my first stops all had to do with the power lines. As you may have guessed, if you didn’t already know, the city of Seattle runs quite a few hydroelectric facilities off of the Skagit. There are a few large lakes in the park that are manmade to build up potential energy for driving turbines. Anyway, in addition to the NPS visitor center, there’s a company town in Newhalem for the Seattle Light Co.

It was still early after visiting the visitor center and Seattle Light museum, so I decided to continue on for the next campground, which is called Colonial Creek, and it is right on Diablo Lake — the first of the hydroelectric lakes.

It is a beautiful emerald green due fine particles of “glacial flour” suspended in. In this part of the park the dominant outcrops very old, and heavily metamorphosed crystalline basement rocks referred to as the Skagit gneiss.

I only ended up riding 25 miles today, but that gave me time to relax, get cleaned up and set up camp before Greg arrived at 6:30, and we then took an unexpectedly, at least by me, steep hike up to Pyramid Lake.

July 8, 2010

Following the Skagit

Filed under: Geology, Section 01, Washington — Henry Scott @ 8:00 pm

It was very sad to say goodbye to Jennifer, but we had a good morning together in Anacortes. After a surprisingly pleasant breakfast at a bowling alley, she followed me to the start of the Tommy Thompson Trail, took a photo of me making the “official” start, and off I went.

We heard from some locals on Orcas Island that July 5th is the typical start of summer weather in this area, and that seems accurate based on my short time here. Our first several days on vacation were cool and foggy, but it has been warm and sunny since the 5th. Today was no exception — in fact, it was hot!

Fortunately for me, I got a lot of relief from the heat because my route had me following the Skagit river once I reached the town of Sedro-Wolley at about the 30-mile mark. The Skagit is a beautiful river, with steep, undeveloped banks providing much-appreciated shade. I must admit, however, that today’s heat, while still near the coast, got me thinking a bit about what is in store for me as I reach the Midwest when summer is in full swing. Alas, I’ll leave any more worrying about that for when I get there.

My goal for today was to get close to the town of Newhalem — the entrance point for North Cascades National Park — and that worked out perfectly. I biked pretty much continuously except for a few stops to get water, chat with a few folks I met along the way, and to eat lunch Mill Creek, which feeds the Skagit.

I went through a few small towns with a lot of character such as Concrete and Rockport.

After getting some groceries in Marblemount, which is about 14 miles from the park entrance, I continued east with an eye out for a suitable camping spot.

After just a few miles (84 miles total since I started this morning) I came across a turnout for an old road that has been closed and subsequently abandoned. Large boulders have been placed at the entrance to prevent vehicles from entering. The roadway is still discernible, but it is covered with moss, and small trees are already taking root in the potholes. It is amazing to see how aggressively nature reclaims what is hers!

Apparently this old road was just to provide river access because it only continued for a short distance, but it got me far enough off of the main road, and I have a great campsite from which all I hear is the sound of the water.

After dinner I was in bed a little before 8. I was almost disappointed to find I have cell phone access here, but that gave me an opportunity to call Jennifer. I caught her as she was looking for her car at the South Bend airport — she got home safe and sound.

My plan for tomorrow is to get to North Cascades NP early to make sure I can get a campsite for tomorrow night. If I’m successful in getting a site, my friend Greg from Seattle will drive over and join me for a night.

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