Tuesday, August 14, 2007

R.A.W. Ride Around Washington: Mo' Miles & Better Stories

Saturday, August 4th: Raymond, WA

Our adventure began on Saturday with Bryant S. and I loaded with gear, bikes, and baggage in my wife's van for the long ride to Raymond, WA. Raymond is located directly south of Aberdeen and wedged in Willapa Bay off the Washington coast between Ocean Shores and Ilwaco. We arrived at 4 p.m., unloaded our gear, checked in, and said goodbye to my wife and kids for the week. My home for the night--and for the week as we moved from town to town--was a 2-person tent in center field on a baseball diamond about a mile from town. After an awesome salmon dinner downtown, we had our first riders' meeting of the week. We were introduced to our RAW Committee, camp and meals teams, the HAM radio and support team (more on them later!), and some of the 204 other riders. I drifted off the sleep shortly after the Raymond Oyster Festival fireworks show downtown ended.

Sunday, August 5th: Raymond, WA to Skamokawa, WA

Bryant and I arose around 6 a.m., dressed, packed, took down our tent, and then hit the semi-truck trailer kitchen for our first R.A.W. breakfast. The food, served buffet style, is actually really good. And we got plenty of it. Today's offering was scrambled eggs, ham, hash browns, cinnamon french toast, cereal, yogurt, juice, coffee and more. We then loaded our gear in the luggage truck and hit the road!

We rode south through Raymond and South Bend, enjoying the cute waterfront oyster communities. I saw several oyster operations with piles of oyster shells. I smelled them too. We discovered "oyster air" is worse than "dairy air." I only wish that a blog had the ability to share odors...

On Hwy. 101 around South Bend, we had to ride around an unusual road hazard: a guy sleeping on the shoulder, in the fetal position, with a baby blanket wrapped around his head. Dozens of bikers were whizzing by until five ladies passed, stopped, and checked on him to make sure he was alive. He was. They encouraged him off the road. I think we were the real road hazard for him.

We paralleled the Washington coast on Highway 101 through several small towns that were a dot on the map, but upon riding through them found no town at all: places like Nemah and Grays River. Our lunch was in Naselle at a High School of Hwy. 4 around 10 a.m. The weather was cold and drizzly with the temp around 57 degrees. And this was August? We biked fast after lunch just to warm up.

In Grays River we enjoyed riding through the only remaining covered bridge in Washington, built in 1905. We rode through it, turned around, and rode back. The smell of a century of wood, creosote, and history filled my nose. It was quiet, dark, and felt as if you were stepping back in time. We'd experience similar settings and senses in the days to come.

As we continued eastward, our last 10 miles met Km Hill with our first hard hill of the week, just an elevation of 760 ft. over two and a half miles. After a fast descent, we rounded the corner into Vista Park in Skamokawa overlooking the mouth of the Columbia River at 12:30 p.m. We set up camp, showered, and walked around town, enjoying the close-up view of three freighters coming up the Columbia.

Time: 4:15:39
Dist: 61.5
Avg: 14.4
Max: 35.0
Total Ascent: 3137 ft.
Max Elev: 790 ft.

Monday, August 6th: Skamokawa, WA to Battle Ground, WA

After a windy night on the Columbia, we ate our breakfast, packed our gear, and headed out of town. We rode a nice, easy flat section through a Columbia white-tailed deer wildlife reserve, then turned onto Hwy. 4.

As we rode, we passed one freighter heading west and could hear its engines humming along. We rode through Cathlamet, passed Mill Creek (a familliar place name, but far from the town bordering mine), and stopped at County Line State Park for a restroom break. We continued west toward Longview and at Lisa's Latte in front of a Shell station for our first latte of the ride (no espresson in Skamokawa!).

At one muralled corner in Longview, we realized we were crossing our tracks from STP last month. This corner where two routes crossed each other represented a lot of miles. We then crossed I-5 and turned south into Kelso for lunch at Tam-O-Shanter park.

Following lunch we rode through the towns of Carrolls and Kalama--with a charming historic downtown, and doubled back to cross a series of railroad tracks into the Port of Kalama featuring the world's tallest totem pole. We then endured a five mile stretch of I-5 and exited into Woodland then climbed up into La Center. After a brief stop in a city park, we continued west through the county to Battle Ground for a 2 p.m. arrival.

Bryant enjoyed a massage from one of the three massage therapists accompanying the RAW riders. Then after showering and setting up, we walked over to the bike shop a block away. Bryant replaced his broken cleat with a new set of pedals after seeing the coming days climbing. Following the riders' meeting, we enjoyed watching several dozen skaters and BMXers getting air on the brand new skate park next to the ball field where we camped. The skate park was loaded with kids, all boys with one girl. She appeared a little older, so I asked her how long she'd been skating. Twenty years, she said. And she started when she was 13. Even at 33 she still fit in and was even teaching the kids new tricks!

Time: 5:22:14
Dist: 76.23
Total Dist: 137.73
Avg: 14.1
Max: 38.4
Total Ascent: 3523 ft.
Max Elev: 331 ft.

Tuesday, August 7th: Battle Ground, WA to Stevenson, WA

By 7 this morning, most of camp was gone. We headed out at 7:40 under a bit of mist. By Brush Prairie, the mist turned to drizzle, followed by a full soaking in Vancouver. I passed one gentleman wearing a garbage bag. I remarked how his 12 cent trash bag was performing better than my $60 Pearl Izumi jacket! I asked several other wet riders if they had just as much rain gear at home in their garage as I did.

As we came to a water stop just before the I-205 bike path, we decided not to stop (fearing we would freeze), but couldn't navigate the crowds blocking the path. So, Bryant tossing politeness to the wind, shouted "Clear the route! Clear the route!" Then got them out of the way and we were now riding up the center of I-205 in between the north and southbound lanes headed for Portland, OR. Fortunately, the rain abated as we crossed Government Island and entered Oregon.

We pedalled eastward along the Columbia seeing lots of houseboats where we wondered if the kids have to wear life jackets indoors. At a stoplight in Troutdale, OR, a group of riders at a storefront shouted to Bryant, "Where ya going?!" So, he stopped with them and pulled over to an attractive espresso stand within a home furnishings store (it wouldn't be the only espresso stand/home furnishings store we would see!). I soon joined him and we enjoyed a tasty rest before venturing onto the Columbia River Historical Highway.

The Historical Highway is a two-laned road winding first along the Sandy River, then up over land through small communities and woodland to then parallel the Columbia. Our lunch stop was at the Portland Women's Forum Viewpoint high above the Columbia. After a nice downhill, we pulled over at the Vista House--which at the time it was built in the 30s was panned for being a $100,000 outhouse. (It did feature the nicest restrooms of the trip... marble!)

I thoroughly enjoyed riding through beautiful, tall forested sections of the newly paved black and yellow highway lined by white picket guardrail fences of rock walls. It was the kind of roadway that makes a biker sigh! We passed several of the smaller waterfalls and then stopped at Multnomah Falls where we encountered a bright, shining object in the sky: SUN!

We continued east, a little on I-84 and several sections of bike path in the forest on original roadway built for the Model Ts. We had to climb down a series of stairs to reach another bike path and then arrived in Cascade Locks where we crossed the Bridge of the Gods. This hulking steel structure is made with a grate surface. When riding across it and looking forward, it appears like a solid riding surface. But, with one glance downward, it appears that you are cycling in mid air! Speaking of that harrowing moment, one other rider mentioned later, "Yeah, I saw God."

At the other end of the bridge, we crossed back into Washington and entered Stevenson. Our camp was at the Skamania Fairgrounds, another windy locale on the Columbia, under gray skies. We were among the first 50 or so riders in even though it was 2:30 in the afternoon. Our afternoon was spent walking around downtown, enjoying dinner with other riders, and then a riders' meeting featuring a local teacher discussing a bit of the area's geology, history, and astronomy.

Time: 4:53:04
Dist: 66.67
Total Dist: 204.4
Avg: 13.6
Max: 31.0
Total Ascent: 3336 ft.
Max Elev: 879 ft.

Wednesday, August 8th: Stevenson, WA to Maryhill, WA

This morning we were told to sleep in as we could not arrive at Maryhill State Park any earlier than 12:30 p.m. Asking a bunch of road-weary bikers to sleep in is like asking an 11 year-old to take seconds on dessert... eagerly and immediately obeyed! We rode through Stevenson, an attractive small town tucked between railroad tracks and the mighty Columbia, and then onto Highway 14. Our route took us through scenic mountain valleys, forests, and glimpses of the Columbia River. At our first rest stop, we recognized the warmth and brightness that we had missed all week--the sun was out in full force telling us, "Welcome to Eastern Washington!"

At 14 miles, we reached the first of six tunnels equipped with bicycle notification lights. Riders pressed a button beneath the roadsign that caused it to flash at both ends signalling drivers bicyclists are in the tunnel and to reduce speed. The tunnels were short, dark, and fun!

At 22 miles, we entered the cute town of Bingen where we found our second Espresso/Home Furnishings store of this trip (an odd combination, but it works!). We stopped for much needed iced lattes, chairs, restrooms, and a photo. While taking a photo with the Betty Boop statue outside, our fellow rider who agreed to take the shot, explained to Bryant and I that "When Betty Boop was first introduced, she was presented as kind of a slut." Hmmm. Good to know. Thanks for taking the photo. You meet all kinds on a bike trip like this.

As we rode eastward, the weather got hotter and the landscape got browner. We enjoyed an awesome tailwind helping us ride 22+mph with little effort. Our lunch at Horsethief Lake State Park gave us a long descent down to the water as we realized we'd have to climb back up this! Our lunch offering of cold Yakisoba was quickly redubbed by Bryant "Yucky-soba." We left our lunch with wind in our faces and a mile long climb out of the State Park.

We continued East with our great tailwind, stopped briefly at Wishram Heights to look out at the Columbia, then arrived at Maryhill Museum. The museum, a three story art and history museum, proved to be a welcome relief from the heat and a place where we could walk around without our cycling shoes and relax for awhile.

Today's route offered our first "extra miles option." Bryant and I decided earlier that we were on this ride for all the miles we could get. Our reasoning was simple (as were we), we calculated this ride cost us about $1.52 per mile, so we wanted our money's worth. But more importantly, more miles meant better stories. Thus our slogan for the ride: "Mo' miles, Better stories!"

The extra miles took us past Maryhill State Park an onto Maryhill Loops Road. This road reminded me of the serpentine roads depicted in sportscar commercials. We climbed up to 1200 ft. and reached the top where a single shade tree blocked the sun while we refreshed ourselves in a freshwater spring. The wind was bad at every turn and just as bad on the descent. At the end, I rolled into camp while Bryant stopped at a small store. On his way in, not more than a mile from camp, he got his first flat. Our camp had been keeping a "Track the Flats" tallyboard and now Bryant could say to himself, "You're on the board!"

Time: 4:46:33
Dist: 71.45
Total Dist: 275.85
Avg: 14.9
Max: 37.7
Total Ascent: 4560 ft.
Max Elev: 1343 ft.

Thursday, August 9th: Maryhill, WA to Crow Butte, WA

We left at 7:45 a.m. and began with a long 1 mile hill up and out of Maryhill. At the top is a full-size replica of England's Stonehenge, built as a memorial to WWI soldiers. We could see Mount Hood far in the distance. We continued east to an overlook of John Day Dam where we were warned of severe crosswinds on the descent. Boy howdy! This was a white-knuckle ride down where we had to lean our bikes into the wind to keep them from blowing off the road and hold on for dear life!

There were nice views of the Columbia today, but mostly we saw hot, dry, dusty desert. The tailwind continued to give us amazing speed and the ability to go uphill at 20 to 23 mph!

At 33 miles, we came to our only town we'd see today, Roosevelt. This "town" was a collection of a few dozen homes, a couple of farming/industry businesses, and a mini-mart where I bought some Gatorade and an ice cream bar. We rode downhill to lunch at Roosevelt Park Picnic Area, a nice location with plenty of shade and a chance to watch three kite boarders catch 10-12 ft. of air and they boarded across the Columbia.

After lunch, we rode up and out and back onto SR-14. At 51 miles, we pulled over at a water stop and he discovered he had his second flat of the trip (Bryant=2; Bob=0!!). Just a few miles further, we could see Crow Butte, an island park with a causeway. Our camping spot was a grassy beach area just across the water. But we had bonus miles still ahead of us!

We added 28 miles to our day by riding to nearby Paterson and Columbia Crest Winery. Before Paterson, we saw our first onion processing plant. The theme of this year's RAW, "Oysters to Onions," had been fulfilled. At Columbia Crest, we parked our bikes inside a beautiful flowered courtyard giving it the look and feel of an Italian villa during the Giro. The property and winery building is meticulous and lush. It refreshed our senses from all the dirt and dust. Inside, I sampled some Merlot, refilled my water bottles, then headed back into the headwind. It took us a half hour to get there and more than an hour to return.

Once at camp, we realized we were in for a windy night. The winds were blowing 20-30 miles per hour it seemed and my poor four-pole tent was not rated for high winds. We hit the river for a brief swim before dinner, then enjoyed a fun awards ceremony during our nightly riders' meeting. Just one day left!

Time: 6:14:45
Dist: 89.92
Total Dist: 365.77
Avg: 14.3
Max: 36.3
Total Ascent: 4768 ft.
Max Elev: 959 ft.

Friday, August 10th: Crow Butte, WA to Walla Walla, WA

As we left Crow Butte, we quickly found ourselves riding just behind a trio of ladies we had gotten to know a little bit earlier in the ride. These three gals from Selah, WA are married and had left the husbands at home with the kids for a week of riding together--wearing matching jerseys daily! We caught up with them and enjoyed great conversation and appreciated their riding skill (we were cranking!) for the next hour or so. Soon we had crossed out the first 19 miles and hit a water stop. We parted company and turned south toward the Columbia.

We rode through little towns like Plymouth along some orchards and farmland. During these morning hours, the sun created a warm, scenic ride for our final day. Before crossing the Columbia for our last time, we rode through a short bike tunnel then climbed onto I-82, entering Oregon once more. We passed the McNary Dam on our left then climbed out of the gorge through Umatilla, OR and onto Highway 730. The remainder of our morning was on this hot, dry highway punctuated by a lunch stop at Hat Rock State Park.

Besides the unique Hat Rock, the other entertaining feature was the flier posted on the trees informing other park users that this space was reserved for "BYCYLISTS." Not an impossible word, but apparently one that they misspelled not once, but twice!

After lunch, we continued out Hwy 730 under the hot Oregon sun until we crossed back into Washington. We were in Walla Walla County and the end of our ride was nearing. We then turned east onto Hwy 12 which would take us all the way into Walla Walla. But once again, we had extra miles to cover. At Touchet, WA, we climbed up to Gardena and wove through quiet farmlands overlooking the rolling hills of the Palouse. Soon we were coming into College Place and back into city streets. Just a few miles remained. We turned a corner and saw the Walla Walla Fairgrounds, our final stop. As we rode into the fairgrounds, we were greeted by cheers, music, a commemorative patch, and best of all, cold soda and shade.

Our Ride Around Washington was complete. Our journey of six days and more than 460 miles left me hot, tired, sore, and yearning to do it all over again! We were RAW, but we had mo' miles and better stories!

Time: 6:13:05
Dist: 95.6
Total Dist: 461.37
Avg: 16.4
Max: 34.3
Total Ascent: 2812 ft.
Total Trip Ascent: 22,136 ft.
Max Elev: 776 ft.