Have you followed this whole journey from the beginning? Follow this link to find all the episodes of our North American Cycle Tour – 2019.
Tuesday 2nd July: Lone Fir Campground to Colonial Creek Campground (Washington, USA): 64kms
Ride Time: 4hrs 30mins / Ave Speed: 8.89mph
We awoke and got ready at 5 am to beat the forecast thunderstorms at lunchtime. We took the six-mile climb to the pass slow and steady with many stops, enjoying the view back down the valley. It was stunning. Low cloud hovered down along the creek in the cool, moist air, and the sun was still yet to break from the cover of the craggy mountain peaks.
We could see the last hairpin bend far ahead of us, and the last mile of the climb looked ridiculously steep. I had seen this picture many times before when researching the ride. To be actually here now experiencing it was exhilarating. I wanted it to go as slowly as possible, although one part of me was keeping an eye on the weather.
We had only seen a handful of logging trucks when we reached the hairpin. It was much larger and longer than it looked from a distance. It climbed sharply around until it straightened out and headed for the pass. I stopped just after the bend. The road had been widened to allow cars to pull over and enjoy the view back down the valley. It was expansive, something too big for a single photograph to encompass.
We hung around to get our breaths and take more pictures, hoping just one of them could show the majestic nature of this place high up in the clouds. It was hard to imagine that we had cycled all the way up here, fully loaded. Far down there in the distance, just beyond our sight, was where we started yesterday.
After a long while, we pressed onto the pass, arriving there together, as was appropriate. Now, we were standing at 5,477 feet, the highest point of our trip. Standing up there next to the elevation sign was the culmination of a lot of dreaming, planning and hard work. We had set ourselves a goal, a seriously difficult one, and met the challenge. We were very proud of ourselves and each other. We lingered a while, soaking it all in, but in the back of my mind, I knew we still had a long way to go today. Fortunately, it was mostly downhill.
True to his word, our neighbour from last night had left a spare water bottle under his van in the car park of the Blue Lake Trailhead. We topped up our bottles and left him our business card. At least we’ll have enough water to reach the next campsite.
We weren’t quite finished yet, though. Summiting Washington Pass was only the beginning. Immediately after the pass, you plummet down for a couple of kilometres only to have to negotiate one last climb, the short but steep Rainy Pass. Once again, we took our time, and bit by bit, we managed to drag ourselves up to the top.
We stopped for lunch at the Rainy Pass Picnic Site, a stopping-off point for the strenuous Pacific Crest Trail, which crossed here. While we ate, the skies began to darken, I immediately thought of our friend up on The Bell Tower as a crack of thunder rang out overhead.
The next 50 km would all be downhill. I remember thinking about how great it would be to freewheel that far and what a great reward it would be for all our efforts. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite like that.
It got cold really quickly, and our hands began to freeze. We’d sent our winter gloves to Bellingham from Libby, thinking we wouldn’t require them anymore – wrong!
Descending so rapidly means you need to squeeze the brakes constantly. Not only were our hands stinging from the cold, but our wrists were aching from the endless braking. We kept having to stop to wring out our hands and wrists and try and keep them warm. A few spots of rain were all it took to move us on, though.
As we descended lower, the temperature climbed marginally, and we could begin to start to enjoy the magnificent alpine scenery. As we arrived alongside Diablo Lake, we pulled into a carpark viewing area. This was the lake that first captured my imagination and prompted me to research the route. One picture of a lake led us to pedal ourselves across almost the entire United States. It was a treat to finally come face to face with it, even though the skies were overcast. Nothing could spoil its beauty, though, its deep, silent, blue-green waters reflecting the tree-covered mountains that towered over her, a small break in the clouds revealing a bright blue sky and creating a dazzling display of white light on her waters, making our eyes squint.
We hung around for about a half-hour, then proceeded down and across the bridge to the Colonial Creek Campground set aside the lakeshore.
As soon as we found a site and pitched the tent, the skies opened up. There wasn’t much choice but to get inside and wait it out. It took about an hour, but it was a good opportunity to rest and recover from the ride. Besides, now we were warm and dry, something we had been craving just a couple of hours ago.
Later on, a lady came over for a chat. She was also a cycle tourer, doing most of her rides in Europe. She wanted to know all about our tour and where else we had been – she was impressed! She returned an hour later as we were preparing dinner and bought us a beer each – a good one too! She said she couldn’t imagine an Aussie that didn’t enjoy a beer after a long day in the saddle, and she was right!
In the evening, just before dark, the sun finally appeared, and we walked down to the lakeshore and marveled at the colors. It was nature at her best. It would have been great if the sun had have been out all day, but nothing could put a dampener on our spirits tonight. It’s a downhill run from here all the way to the coast.
Wednesday 3rd July: Colonial Creek Campground to Rockport (Washington, USA): 61kms
Ride Time: 4hrs / Ave Speed: 9.39mph
It rained most of last night, but we were dry in the tent. It had stopped by the time we left at 8.15 am, but it was still overcast. The scent of wet pine wafted across the road on a slight breeze. It was a pleasure to breathe this clear mountain air.
We stopped to get some nice overhead views of Diablo Lake Dam before descending steeply to the banks of the Skagit River. A simple bridge took us over to the other side, and we began to ride through the dense forest again. We had two short tunnels to negotiate and a lack of a good shoulder before we came to Newhalem, the first place since Mazama where we could restock our supplies.
Traffic had gotten thicker since we crossed the river, so the stop at Newhalem was welcomed. We picked up some brunch at the General Store. Since the sun had now made an appearance, we went across to the Visitor’s Centre in the shade to eat it.
We tried to get accommodation in Concrete, but it was all booked, probably because of the 4th of July celebrations. So, we decided to ride to Rockport instead and stay at the campground there.
Still hungry, we stopped at Marblemount Junction and had another meal at the smart-looking Mondo Restaurant. We ate outside on the porch to keep an eye on the bikes.
The ACA route diverted off the 20 here, and we were pretty happy about it, as the traffic and the shoulder had worsened. We finished our lunch, crossed the small bridge back over the Skagit River, and rode down the Cascade River Road for a mile until we turned left onto the Rockport-Cascade Road.
There was almost no traffic on the road, and even though it was a bit longer, it was way safer. Unfortunately, our ride took a turn for the worse. The road was chip-sealed. This is a low-cost method of sealing country roads with small traffic volumes. The problem is, it’s quite rough and causes a lot of noise and vibration, even for our bikes.
The whole time we were on the road was a nightmare; we’d have to check the bikes to ensure nothing rattled loose. We were so happy to see the 530 that would take us into Rockport and leave that shitty road behind.
The 530 took us across the Skagit again and immediately passed by the Howard Miller Steelhead Park, where we would spend the night. The camp host showed us a site down by the river in the tent section. There was only one other tent, so it’d be very peaceful tonight with just the river to listen to.
Searching out a drink to round off the evening, we were directed to the Rockport Pub, just over the road and up a small hill. We stayed for 3 or 4 beers there while we chatted with the locals and swapped a few adventure stories. The locals around here are all outdoors people and pretty much all indulge in outdoor activities, especially hunting. Whether it be with rifles, bows, or traps, these people love to dress in camouflage and disappear into the forest for days at a time.
We bought a couple of beers to go (which they weren’t really allowed to sell to us, but Chloe the barmaid loved us by now) and headed back to set up the tent. To my surprise, I broke one of the tent poles while pitching the tent. Since it’s pretty old now, things will start to break. I quickly fixed it with some strong tape that I carry everywhere, and the tent stood the night OK.
We’re almost on the West Coast of Washington State. Read on for that episode- Concrete and Cowboys: Cycling from Rockport to Bellingham.