Thursday, August 8, 2013

Ride Around Washington: Day 5

Day 4: Leavenworth to Yakima - Thursday, August 8

Today was one of my favorite days of cycling. Granted I've had a lot. Most of you know that in 2009 I had 52 days of cycling when I biked from San Francisco, CA to Portsmouth, NH. There were several favorite days of cycling that summer. So I can't say if today was in the top 10, but definitely in the top 25. And I was surprised with the section I loved the most. 

Our day began leaving Leavenworth and climbing Blewett Pass on US97. It's a busy highway and the climb is long. But Jim and I found a group of four women in their 50s or 60s that each were Ironman Canada finishers! We paced behind them for a good while and then Jim did the chivalrous thing and took the pull. Those ladies cheered! He casts a tall wind shadow and all of them enjoyed the easy pedaling. I think he has a fan club now. 

Soon we pulled off US97 and onto Old Blewett Rd. This is the old road that travelers used to cross Blewett Pass. It's rough, pock-marked with holes, and strewn with loose gravel in places but there's no car traffic and the scenery is spectacular! We climbed this switchback route up to the summit then prepared for a wild descent!

The ride down offered more great views, twists and turns, and a pedal-free ride. Then it was back onto US97 with more trucks and a long downhill. A flock of sheep were grazing near the road and I learned that a group of riders had to wait ten minutes today while they crossed the highway! 

At the bottom, we turned east toward Ellensburg. Climbed another hill where we got close-up views of wind turbines dotting the landscape. The terrain had changed and now we were riding through fields, pastures, and homesteads. But the tailwind and the long downhill heading into Ellensburg was fantastic. We were riding effortlessly at 30 mph for miles!

In Ellensburg we had our lunch stop at the Kiwanis Park. But then I decided to talk Jim into making an additional stop a couple miles up the road for a caffeine fix. Starbucks never disappoints. Well at least today it didn't!

Now the sun was hot and the most challenging part of the day was ahead: Yakima River Canyon. This 24 mile stretch follows the Yakima River through a desert canyon landscape with more climbing, great descents, and an unexpected surprise!

I have too many photos to choose from. The Yakima Canyon was surprisingly beautiful! The tall jagged brown ridges contrasted by the bright blue river with lush green foliage on its banks were really interesting. And every corner had some new sight to appreciate! The heat was blazing but I was feeling strong and of course my music (with a refreshed song list) kept me chugging along. 

At one point, I noticed a smiling guy standing next to his car parked on the left with a paper sign. The type was too small so I couldn't read it but he looked familiar. We passed him then I turned to Jim and said "Did you see that guy with the sign? I couldn't read it. He kind of looked like Mike Leaman."

Jim replied, "Yeah, he did. And that was something Mike would probably do."

A mile or two further and the guy was back, parked on the right in our shoulder and it was, in fact, our local riding buddy Mike Leaman! He was working in Yakima today and had spent the last hour looking fur us. His sign read "Free Hammer" and he was offering us his Hammer Nutrition products that we all use. I took some and a big swig of his water then we were off again. Who'd have thunk we'd see Mile out here? Now that's support!

Our final miles took us out of the canyon, through Selah's rolling farmland and small neighborhood and then we were on the Yakima Greenway all the way into Yakima and to our destination, the Yakima Sportsmen State Park. 

Upon arriving, I found Bryant who was picked up at the bottom of Blewett Pass. His knee had been hurting all week and he decided today he was done. His wife was on her way to pick him up. So we're sad to lose a fourth of our riding group but know he'll enjoy the rest and recovery at home. 

For me, I'm resting after a great day of riding. Yakima Canyon surprised me and I think I have a new favorite route on Washington. Tomorrow we head to the tiny town of Bickleton but first we get to see wineries, dinosaurs, a teapot gas station, and another long climb!

Dist: 99.7 (nope, I couldn't find 0.3 more miles!)
Time: 6:32
Avg: 15.2 mph
Max: 43.6
Elevation Gained: 4,783 ft 

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