Tuesday, June 25, 2013

June 24, 2013: MIM Day 9, Clarkston WA to Dayton WA - (The Soul-Sucker)

I love bicycle touring, but if today were typical, or even common, I'd be home watching TV. Today's ride was only 67 miles, but it was cold, wet, gloomy, wind-blown, chock full of long climbs, and even had another flat to fix. If there was any scenery to admire, I sure didn't see it.

Reviewing the ride on the map before leaving showed a 2000 foot climb early in the day, then a gradual descent, then what looked like an inconsequential 500 foot climb just short of our destination. The first climb started out pretty shallow, but then ratcheted up to between five and eight percent, pretty much in sync with the worsening weather. We were on a shoulder that was rarely smooth, and sometimes pretty narrow. We were finding Washington drivers to be pretty courteous, especially by comparison to those in Idaho, but it could have just been that Washington's highway department graciously provided two lanes for uphill traffic. It was therefore easy for vehicles to shift over into the center lane as they approached us from behind. There were notable exceptions, such as the truck pulling a bulldozer on a "Wide Load" trailer. Through the rain, I saw him coming up in my rear-view mirror and there was no sign that he was going to move over, in spite of the empty lane next to him. I sprinted to a wider section of the shoulder, but Fred was behind me and got to experience a close encounter of the terrifying kind. I absolutely do not understand what goes on in the minds of these drivers.

After a lunch stop at a cafe in Pomeroy, we headed back out in a light rain, expecting a couple of easy hours on a shallow downhill, followed by that little 500 foot climb, before a final drop into Dayton. Well, that might have been more or less true, were it not for the wind, which was such that the downhill was not even noticeable. During a rare break in the rain, Fred had a flat, which we fixed by replacing the tube. We were unable to find any cause for the puncture, but the replacement tube did the trick. Back on the road Fred was having trouble staying at pace. Luckily, I was feeling pretty good at that point, so I offered to stay in front and was able to move us along at a steady, if not speedy, clip for the next 15 miles or so. 

At that point, Fred said that he had to stop, and plopped down on the roadside gravel. I honestly thought he was done for the day. After a little while, some liquid, and a cereal bar, he announced that he was ready to get it done, boarded his bike and took off with determination. By the time I got going, he was already a quarter mile in front. I settled into a low gear and leisurely pace, expecting him to fall back pretty soon and not wanting to invest the extra energy necessary to catch up.

Incredibly, he found some kind of second wind and stayed out in front by the same margin. He stayed out there even when we hit the supposed 500 foot climb that ended up more like 1000 feet, and went on and on and on in the rain, the cold, and the head-wind. Every curve revealed yet another stretch of 5% or higher grade. Finally we were at the top of all visible hills. We had every reason to believe the summit to be right around the bend...

Well, instead of the summit, we found what appeared to be nothing less than the gates of hell. Ahead of me, Fred was stopped by the side of the road, still as a statue, staring ahead at a sheer vertical wall of asphalt, disappearing into the clouds above, but not before somehow pitching up even steeper than normal earthly geometry allows. I pulled up next to him, hissing, "No fucking way!" He responded with resignation, "Way." I tried again, but his response remained the same. I frantically searched behind us for a kindly pickup truck, or even a car with an empty bike rack, equipped with some kind of anti-gravity device capable of getting us over the soul-sucking hill ahead. With our destination less than five miles away, it seemed that we had reached the end. We were doomed to be reduced by the rain and wind to globs of once-human mud, remaining forever part of the roadside amalgam near Dayton, WA.

After a couple of minutes of stillness, Fred drew upon some strange inner pool of courage or recklessness, turned toward me and said, "C'mon. There's strength in numbers. Let's go." It was like something out of one of those war movies, when the hero jumps out of the foxhole, leading his platoon on a suicide mission to wipe out the enemy machine gun nest. Like one of the guys in the platoon, I didn't stop to think, I just followed. Or maybe I went first. Now it is all a blur...

In truth, it really wasn't that bad. All cyclists in hilly areas know the illusion. From the top of a hill, the next one looks impossibly steep and long. Nevertheless, we were thrilled to find that it really was the last one, and we finally started our rainy descent, still against the wind, into the attractive little town of Dayton.

Just before hitting the actual "downtown" strip, we passed a brand new, three story Best Western hotel and I told Fred that I wanted to come back to it if the Blue Mountain Motel turned out to be, umm, "disappointing." There was a "NOW OPEN" banner in front of the Best Western, bouncing up and down on it's bungee cord tethers in the wind to emphasize its availability. We rode through town, finally seeing the hotel sign "Blue Mountain Mo" (the T, E, and L were apparently burned out) a block up. After a brief inspection of one of our rooms, I told Fred that I didn't care if we had to pay for these rooms as well, I wanted to go back to the Best Western, with its large, clean, comfortable rooms and bathtubs full of hot water. He quickly agreed, and when asked if we could still cancel, the proprietor of the Blue Mountain Mo said, "Certainly." Perhaps given the way we looked, he feared having us there as much as we feared being there. Whatever. Our blessings on him, his children, and his children's children.

The view from the lobby of the Best Western

We left Clarkston an eternity earlier, at 8:45 AM. We arrived in Dayton at 6 PM. It took that long (including lunch and rest stops) to cover just 67 miles. We climbed around 3600 feet. I did not even take out my camera, but Fred has one of those ruggedized, shock and waterproof cameras, so here are a couple of shots he took during the day. The one of the wind turbines is the edge of a pretty large wind farm of about 150 turbines in this part of the state. The other one is a surprising sunset through the clouds, taken from our wonderful Best Western.


  1. Seth, vivid writing. Thanks also for the pictures, except for those of Fred in that ghastly Gators outfit. The trip would be so much better if you guys both wore 'Canes gear. Danno

  2. Glad you survived to tell another interesting tale!