Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Day 3: Roll on Columbia roll on

Summers in Eastern Washington are known for oppressive heat which is why we are constantly being passed by vehicles towing boats to the nearest lake. Our Tuesday morning departure was scheduled weeks in advance for 8:00 AM; amazingly the weather broke the pattern by giving us rain from 6:00 until 7:45AM which dropped the temperature to the mid-50's for a pleasing start albeit with damp roads. Here I am (on left) riding south down the Methow River valley chatting up Jon, the strongest rider on this tour (photo plaudits to Paul):

The Methow River valley looks like another ideal place to live if you can get some of the bottomland and a source of cash:

By Tuesday we were about 100 miles East of where we started and but found ourselves in the deep West. Even the self storage places get in the act!

The pleasantries of the river valley were soon left behind when we turned East and started up a tributary. 
For those readers who have ridden the Blue Ridge escarpment, think Greenville watershed climb but instead of 6 miles it was 10 but had a view. This creek
 kept taking steps like the one above until it finally caught up to the road

Toward the top of the climb we came across the remains of a yellow pine forest fire, probably from 2 or 3 years ago:

All good things must pass, and so did those 10 miles.

After plunging down the far side (max speed 46.8 MPH) we came across the most spoiled trees I've ever seen. I thought they were apples but someone directed my attention to a sign in from the nets covering the orchard that spelled out CHERRIES. 

Next to these covered orchards were three ancient but operational helicopters

which waited for Paul to be riding by before applying power so the rotor wash (AKA bad juju) pushed him five feet sideways inspiring some choice words.

A 15 MPH headwind developed out of the northeast as we rode into the valleys below. Bike riders' reactions to headwinds mostly vary from discouragement to aggravation to instant fatigue. I've seen a strong gust almost stop a pace line if the leaders don't buck up to the challenge. For some reason my tolerance is higher and the howl of wind in my ears stimulates me to pedal harder, almost like the wind is giving me energy. Not to say that I prefer it over a 15 MPH tailwind! At any rate Paul and Lisa hung onto my wheel and we pushed on through the small towns of Okanogan and Omak.

At the far end of Omak we entered the Colville Indian Reservation which interestingly is a confederation of tribes. 

Our route through the reservation lands was on Columbia River Road which had very little traffic, development or agriculture but did have a very bumpy surface and an abundance of these grasshopper things that were squashed by the thousands on the lightly travelled road:

I mistook Omak lake for a branch of the Columbia river and knowingly informed others that we had reached the river. 

I'm not sure I'll be able to keep my well deserved reputation as a know-it-all since my audience won't be changing much over the next four weeks. The river was reached eventually, and it actually was pretty obviously the mighty Columbia:

This rock was part of the south facing river bluff. It seems to contain many faces of what Paul and I agreed were old men

One would think that once we reached the valley, the road would hew to the riverside for a gradual climb eastward to the Grand Coulee Dam where we would stay Tuesday night. But no! Better to climb up the bluff, then down, then up again. Here is a lone sentry over one of the climbs:

You can't accuse the Washington State Department of Transportation of obfuscation:

Reminds me of the Odysseus' passage between Scylla and Charybdis. Having pedaled bravely through the Grand Coulee Dam came into sight to the South. It doesn't look so big (from 4 miles back) ---  what's the big deal?

Fellow tourist Rachel had done the research on the dam tours. The last one was at 5pm and we got to the motel around 4:15 so there was a rush to get showered and changed. Across from the motel was a round building labeled as the Visitor Center. But of course that's not where the tour starts. You have to go to the other side of the river to the security gate. We did a power walk to get to the gate on time which was looking good when we got there at 4:55. But whoops! The tour actually started another mile farther up the hill. There was a lone fisherman driving down the road in the other direction so Rachel boldly flagged him down and asked him to give us a ride back the way he had come. He was a sweetheart and we piled in to the back seat, careful to avoid the tips of his rods. We got a quick lesson in the fishes in Roosevelt Lake before we pulled up to the little tour-start building, jumped out, and the Bureau of Reclamation guy said "Too late - the tour has started, the door has been locked and once the door is locked it can't be opened." I pulled out my smart phone and showed him the face which said "4:59" plain as day. It turns out the door can be unlocked, and amazingly it works just like every other door - you put the key in then turn it.

So we watched the 7 minute security video which explains how you go through a Bureau of Reclamation security checkpoint and darn if it doesn't look the same as going through a TSA checkpoint. They've been on red alert for an attack on this gigantic chunk of concrete since 9/11 resulting in what are in my opinion absurdly overblown security practices. In the end we were trundled into a van and taken back across the river, past the Visitor Center, to the top of the dam on the other side. Along the way we learned about all the things that you could do freely before 9/11, such as walk across the dam unsupervised and take a self-guided tour of the pump station.

Eventually they let us few trusted citizens out on top of the dam for 10 minutes, so I could take this movie for you:

Even with all that I recommend the tour over just watching the movies in the Visitor Center.

To wrap up with a look at the big picture, each day our progress is tracked on the US map posted at the assembly point with the red tape you see here.


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