Have you followed this whole journey from the beginning? Follow this link to find all the episodes of our North American Cycle Tour – 2019.
Saturday 29th June: Okanogan to Twisp (Washington, USA): 54kms
Ride Time: 4hrs 19mins / Ave Speed: 7.95mph
Ride Time to top of the pass: 2hrs 30mins / Ave Speed to top of pass: 6.33mph
It felt more than a little weird, riding back out to the highway at 7.45 am by myself. This was literally the first time I had begun a day’s ride without Shazz. My thoughts swung back and forth from Loup Loup Pass to riding without Shazz, and they echoed loudly in my head.
I cycled down to Okanogan and crossed over the river into town. The local market was open, so I stopped, bought food and water, and got myself a coffee. I left there at 8.17 am, strangely eager to get this notorious pass over with.
I had removed my front panniers and rearranged my gear to carry as much water as possible. I also carried my tools and spares and some warm, wet-weather clothes. I was now only pushing about two-thirds of my usual load. Shedding the extra kilos gave me greater confidence as I approached the start of the 31km climb.
The climb began with a long, curving 7% grade. Fortunately, there wasn’t much traffic around this Saturday morning. After about 9kms, the road leveled out but was still climbing past orchards. Then came a short 9% climb with no shoulder and guard rails. I had to wait till there was definitely no traffic before scrambling up it. The guard rails prevented stopping on the side. If I ran out of puff anywhere on this section, I would just be a traffic hazard in the middle of this narrow road.
I continued ascending up through a small village. Every dog in town was barking at me. I’m just glad they were all behind fences. Soon I came to the top of a rise. I knew it was a false summit as my computer told me I hadn’t come far enough – not by a long way! Over the top of the rises came a very steep and fast downhill. I kept going down and down, which bothered me, as I’d have to regain all this altitude I’d lost again.
At the bottom, I had gained enough speed to fly across the short bridge and up the steep rise on the other side about 100m. I thought my momentum might get me further up the hill as I was really flying. I was feeling a little bit disappointed but kept pushing, I couldn’t stop here either. There was no shoulder or guard rail, and the drop-off at this stage was a vertical 100m.
As I pushed further up the mountainside, I had to get off occasionally to let two vehicles pass. There was no sign of the dreaded logging trucks, but there were plenty of RVs, which I trusted even less.
The edge of the road was now perilously close to the drop-off; to make matters even worse, they had laid a curb on it. This meant there was no more getting off to let vehicles through. They would have to go around me. I would have to trust these people with my life. There was no other choice. It’s not a great feeling.
I was in a thick forest by now, but on the side of the rising mountain road, the views out over it were stunning. Some corners had room enough to pull over, and I took every opportunity to do so. Getting pictures was difficult. It was hard to capture the entire scene and do it justice.
I also used this time to eat and keep up my energy. I had bought some muesli bars and kept them in my handlebar bag. It was hard to tell, but I figured I was about three-quarters of the way up. I felt good still. I was even a little surprised at how good I felt. I was pretty tired, but I was pedaling OK. My confidence was still up, even though I knew the steepest part of the ride was a long section at the top. Still, as I ascended, my load got lighter. I was eating and drinking and peeing, so the load was obviously getting less.
The last 8kms were indeed steep. The grade gradually increased until the last few kilometers bent up to 9%. I was stopping more frequently now, but I knew I had the strength in my legs to do it. This was different from Sherman Pass; it wasn’t as long, and I carried less weight. Still, I was getting pretty tired and looking for some sign to tell me I was close to the top.
Soon after, the road began to even out again, till eventually, I passed a sign for the Loup Loup Ski Bowl, and in the distance, I could see the now familiar brown sign – the pass elevation marker.
I had done it, and I was pretty happy with myself. I parked the bike against the sign and took a minute to compose myself before snapping a picture in front of the sign with my bike.
Sharyn and Leone hadn’t passed me in the pickup truck, so I got some food and sat down to eat lunch, figuring they couldn’t be too far behind me by now. I waited for half an hour, giving myself time to recover fully and doing some stretches. Beginning to get cold, I set off over the other side of the mountain heading for Twisp.
The descent was a nerve-racking affair. The road was cracked and uneven, with large, randomly scattered potholes. There was no shoulder to speak of and a ton of blind bends. It was on one of these blind bends that an idiot in a pickup truck sped past me and just missed an oncoming car by a whisker. As I saw the oncoming car before him, I was forced from the road into a shallow ditch full of loose stones. How I didn’t get knocked over, I don’t know. Did either vehicle stop? No, cyclists only count as roadkill up here! The near-misses were repeated twice more before I was able to reach flat ground. They weren’t quite as bad as that one, but no one stopped or slowed to go around me. I would shake my fist at them as they sped past and I was angry enough by then to throttle them if I could catch them!
I pulled into the tiny Sportsman Motel on the edge of Twisp and knocked on the reception. Brian, the owner, had been watching TV and appeared as weary as myself. He took me over to the room, which was small but quite nice, and I asked him where I could buy a beer nearby. “Not to worry,” he said, “come and have a beer with me on the lawn under the tree.”
I figured it’d be a good place to be noticed by Shazz as they drove past, so I accepted his invitation and took two chairs over to the shade of a massive tree in his front yard. I sat as Brian came out holding two giant cans of Fosters Lager! I couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t seen that beer for years. No one at home will drink it, but I wasn’t in a position now to decline it. Anyway, it was hot, and I was tired and thirsty!
We sat out there for an hour drinking Brian’s beers before Leone pulled up with Shazz and her bike. We chatted for a while after unloading her gear and everyone checking out the room. Again, I thanked her for taking Shazz and bid them farewell as they were off to their wedding reception.
Once I was cleaned up, Shazz and I headed into town. Brian had told me about the Old School Brewing Company just over the bridge and up the road. We called in for some nice craft beers and relaxed a bit. Shazz couldn’t believe how fast I got over the mountain and how dangerous the road was. She was glad she didn’t have to ride it too.
We have only Washington Pass to go now, and the most dangerous one is behind us, but there’ll be no complacency until we stand up on top of the last one. That’ll be in a couple of days. Until then, we can relax a little as the valley we’re in rises slowly up to Winthrop.
On our way back to the room, we stopped at Hank’s General Store to get something for dinner. Hank has shot his share of big game trophy animals in his time – and they’re all mounted or stuffed and placed around his store. He even has bears and lions in various lifeless poses. I have to say it was more than a little creepy!
Back at the motel, it was a great night to sit outside and enjoy the evening breeze with a couple of beers. Brian and the lady who cleans for him came over and joined us, and we whiled the night away. I must say that I felt like a big weight had been lifted from my shoulders, and my mood was probably a lot more buoyant than it had been for the last few days.
If you want to know what happened next, head over to – Cycling from Twisp to Lone Fir Campground.