Vagabiker and I decided to take off towards the Cascade mountains for the long weekend after our initial plans to go dual-sporting in the Peninsula were ruined because of rain. The Cascades go from north to south through the center of Washington state and the weather to the east of the mountain range is usually warmer and drier because the mountains block the rain.
We were intending to leave around 10:00AM but we over-estimated and ended up leaving at a shocking 2:00PM. We both had issues on our bikes that we had to fix before we hit the road. Bad bikers fixing stuff right before a long ride! It’s a good thing nobody else was waiting on us. My Gerbing electric vest wasn’t getting charged from the XT. I couldn’t take the fuse out to see if it had blown, so I swapped it with the one on the SV and it worked. And Sterling’s GPS wasn’t getting charged from his mount anymore. He was unable to fix this and gave up and decided to reply on my GPS and mount. Fortunately we both use Zumos, so we decided to swap after one of them lost charge. It wasn’t ideal but it was the best we could do at such short notice.
We hit the road and headed north. We had plotted our route the previous night, which would roughly take us towards Sultan, then the Ben Howard Road towards Skykomish, on to Steven’s Pass, then off-road on a forest service road towards Lake Wenatchee, and finally another trail towards Lake Chelan, where we would stop for the night.
Unfortunately we had such a late start that we made it to Skykomish at 4:30PM. By the time we went over the pass and reached the first forest service road, we found that it was completely blocked by snow. Bummer! It had also been steadily raining and we were cold from going over the pass and reaching 4000+ feet elevation. We decided to continue riding US-2 to Lake Wenatchee and find a campground so that we could set up camp and relax and eat a good meal while it was still light out.
This turned out to be a good plan. We found a really good campsite at Nason Creek campground – the first place we looked. Being back in nature with the familiar camping smells was so fantastic. :) We set up camp and Sterling went out to gather wood while I started fixing our dinner of shrimp pasta. We ate by the fire and then went for a long walk. We didn’t find Lake Wenatchee but we did end up in this woody forested area mottled with pretty flowers. As the light started to fail, we returned to camp and hung out around the fire, sipping wine and scotch.
Day 2, we set out on the trail to Lake Chelan. We started on Chumstick Highway before getting on to the first FS road. It was a smooth, easy ride, even for a n00b like me, with lots of pretty views. There were a few spots that made me go *gulp* because of the height and drop-off, but I made it through them. Sterling was a fantastic guide and he kept a good pace that I could keep up with. At times he would take off into the distance, but I knew he would wait for me at the intersections so I kept my pace and went slow. I was probably excruciatingly slow but I wanted to finish the ride more than I wanted to go fast, and riding on dirt is still so unusual for me that I have to completely focus on it and take my time getting used to the feel of the bike on gravel, rocks and mud.
We got out at a place called Ardenvoir and stopped by a river for a light snack. This was when my battery woes began. I think I forgot to turn my bike off when we stopped and it completely drained. I learned how to push-start it down a hill (yay!) but I had to keep the revs up to keep it going.
We got back on the trail. By this time I was exhausted and very hungry. I thought the next bit would take “just one hour” before we emerged near Lake Chelan where I could eat and rest. Wrong. The next bit was definitely a notch harder and the trail was more a double track route rather than an FS road because we made a wrong turn. It was still gorgeous, but a lot harder and I made a few near-saves. We were going a lot slower now because of the nature of the road. And I was getting hungrier and crankier. My bad for not bringing along enough food because I thought it was just going to be an hour. An important lesson to learn about the nature of dual sport riding – always bring enough food for an overnight trip.
We reached the end of the trail in a deserted cabin that stood on top of a hill. The view from there was an enormous vista of blue sky and green plateau as far as the eyes could see. It was gorgeous and I wish I had been in a better state of mind to appreciate it. I was so drained by now that all I wanted was to get somewhere with food. We were well and truly lost though. The GPS had brought us to a dead end. We doubled back a little and came to a hill with a track running down it that had a grade of about 20%. Sterling rode both our bikes down it and at the end we found that the only way forward was to cross over onto private property. There was a ditch marking the separation and he dragged both our bikes across it. From here we scrambled around on the meadow trying to find a way out. We could see a road far in the distance but no clear way to get to it. We followed the path as much as possible until we came to a closed gate. The road was just beyond it and we couldn’t get to it. Our only option was to either follow the other path and hope it wasn’t gated, or go back the way we had come, back out over the ditch, up over the steep hill and the 2.5 hours back to Ardenvoir. And then I dropped my bike. It was all a bit too much.
What followed then can only be termed divine intervention. A truck showed up on the horizon and drove towards us. Mind that this was in the middle of nowhere with no sign of civilization. Not even a bird or a rodent. And then a truck shows up and the truck contained an old man with a dog. The old man had a key to the gate. He looked very amused to see us and didn’t stop looking amused until he passed through the gate and disappeared. We got the hell out of there too.
It has been quite a trying day. I wouldn’t think much of riding 7-8 hours on the street, but 6 hours of riding on dirt over a little over 60 miles had sapped my mental energy. Lack of food had a lot to do with it, of course. We found food in a shitty little sportsbar in Entiat, the closest town to the end of the trail. Then we rode west towards Leavenworth and went up Icicle Ridge Road to look for campgrounds. The two that we checked were full up, but a climber we met pointed us to a free campground that was popular with climbers in the area. We found it and set up camp. It was dark pretty soon. I slept like a baby. It rained a little during the night, but it wasn’t too bad.
The next morning, we woke up, tore down camp and rode to Leavenworth for breakfast. It was a lovely twisty ride with fantastic views of snow-capped mountains. We at the Good Mood Food cafe. The food was simple but tasty. I got a ham and egg and cheese croissant and Sterling got a breakfast burrito. This time we had the foresight to order lunch to go – a falafel wrap and a turkey wrap, with some apples and bananas.
Today we decided to do a trail between Leavenworth and Peshastin that we found in his map book. It started off pretty east, mostly gravel and completely deserted. We found some nice turnouts with good views of the mountains. I began to think that this would be a relatively short ride.
And then we hit the mud.
Every time we thought we had gotten through the worst, there would be more ruts just around the corner. Sterling rode my bike over two of the worst ones. It was tiring and sapping work, not fun at all. I tried to stay in the ruts as much as possible and steered slowly. My technique was probably crap because I all but walked my bike through them. I didn’t really care though. I just wanted to get through them. I dropped my bike a couple of times and the battery died a few times too. Ugh…
The moment we hit tarmac again was a sweet one and I thought of pictures I had seen of bikers kissing tarmac celebrating being back on paved land again. We came out into a cool little valley that the road wound through. We had made it! It had been three hours but we had made it through, our bikes and boots covered with mud. We made a pretty sight!
We made our way to Cashmere and found a small park. It was raining now, so we climbed up into the only sheltered spot, a children’s bright yellow slide and sat there eating our lunch.
From Cashmere to Leavenworth where we wanted to spend the night. We ended up at the Bavarian Ritz which failed to live up to its namesake , but it had hot showers and a comfortable bed, which seemed like the height of luxury. We spent the rest of the evening lounging around the little fake Bavarian town. We stopped at Pavz, my favorite place to go to, and got a chocolate gelato crepe topped with whipped cream and chopped nuts, and a strawberry crepe with whipped cream. Then coffee and chess. We didn’t realize that fake Bavaria closed at 9:00PM though, and my desire to eat tasty German food and drink German beer came to naught. :( Better planning next time? We ate at a sad little sports bar instead.
The next morning was a lazy one with breakfast and lounging around in the sun. We made good time back to Seattle. The XT isn’t very happy going above 60mph so what would have been a fun ride on the SV was just something to get through. Anyway, back home safe and sound. I’ll probably make another post about the dual sport riding experience and my thoughts about it soon.