All the Volcanos – The Cascade Mountains

It’s not until you try and ride across a city of 600,000+ people that you fully appreciate urban sprawl. It took us a full day and around 100 kilometres to travel from north Vancouver to reach the border at Sumas just to the south of the city.  We’d been reminded not to argue with US border officials, therefore only managed meek protests when we were told that our 10 November departure (as issued on arrival in Alaska) was non-negotiable and not extendable.  Our plans for a lengthy  exploration of National Parks in Arizona and Utah were deflating faster than a Thermorest in a cactus desert, but then he laughed, thumped down his stamp, and demanded an additional $12 for a renewed six month visa. Welcome back to the USA!

All time (but not weather) constraints thus removed, we joyfully pedalled off into the Cascade mountains, the first of a seemingly endless range of mountains that we’ll be following for the next month or so. Sumas is the start of Adventure Cycling Association’s ‘Sierra Cascades’ route – a mapped course designed for cyclists that extends from the Canadian to the Mexican border, roughly following the Pacific Crest hiking trail. Regarded as Adventure Cycling’s toughest sealed road route and featuring a ridiculous amount of uphill, it certainly pushes all of our buttons, and we’re looking forward to having someone else to blame for dodgy directions and lousy route decisions.

The route also heads inland through the North Cascades National Park on Highway 20 – the area where I spent a memorable summer a few years ago, doing fieldwork for road ecology research project investigating movement patterns in American black bears (in other words – do the big black bears cross the road?). So I got to spend the first few days happily tripping along memory lane, revisiting lots of sites from my trip in 2010. Ed patiently submitted to viewing everything from our field house to favourite diner – thank you Ed and I promise to be more enthusiastic about viewing old Telecom telephone exchanges and other work sites that you hold dear in future.

Fortunately Highway 20 is also pretty spectacular, winding past rugged mountains …

moody lakes ...

moody lakes …

… topping out over Washington Pass, where the wet forests of the west abruptly give way to the dry pine and scrubby brush of the arid east.

… topping out over Washington Pass, where the wet forests of the west abruptly give way to the dry pine and scrubby brush of the arid east.

Despite the dry rocky landscape, fast flowing rivers and several lakes provide relief from the heat.  As Ed remarked when we were cooling off in the Yakima River on a scorching afternoon – ‘if the Murray River flowed this fast it would empty in a few days!’  The water irrigates the Yakima Valley, which is lined with apple and pear orchards, vineyards and hop farms.  Hence, Yakima is an excellent place to relax and taste the local produce – which we did (with thanks to Ann, Dan & Annika for their hospitality).

Once past Yakima it was into a routine of alternating between farmland featuring …

the ubiquitous American barn,

the ubiquitous American barn,

… and often a dazzling array of ancient vehicles and rusting machinery

… and often a dazzling array of ancient vehicles and rusting machinery

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vast areas of wilderness,

and endless kilometres of narrow forest lined roads

… and endless kilometres

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of narrow forest lined roads

…and a taste of small town USA with shopfronts, signs and streetscapes somehow oddly familiar after decades of watching American movies.

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Not too mention encounters with some friendly and interesting locals …

But above all, our route has been dominated by the line of volcanic peaks that march south along the Cascade Ranges. From the moment we crossed the border and caught glimpses of Mt Baker looming in the distance, there seems to always be another volcano out there waiting …

… Mt. St. Helens - minus most of its northern side

… Mt. St. Helens – minus most of its northern side

Despite being sidetracked by side trips to investigate Mt. Rainier …

Mt Rainier

… the fantastic ride out to Windy Point at Mt. St. Helens …

… the fantastic ride out to Windy Point at Mt. St. Helens …

… and the ride around the rim of Crater Lake …

… and the ride around the rim of Crater Lake …

… we are starting to see some significant southward movement on the map.  However, progress often comes to a complete halt when we spot a roadside patch of ripe berries,

… a sunny lake …

… a sunny lake …

or just those days …

when it’s a case of one steep, hot climb too many

when it’s a case of one steep, hot climb too many

As always, we’re primarily motivated …

by food ...

by food …

... and finding a peaceful spot to spend the night

… and finding a peaceful spot to spend the night

Great scenery and entertaining wildlife aside, it’s often the people you meet that stick in your memory.

North to south touring cyclists seem few and far between along this route, with most having taken the Pacific coast option.  But we’ve encountered a few people pedalling for days, weeks or months.  German cyclists seem determined to live up to the stereotype, usually sporting perfectly symmetrically packed and spotlessly clean panniers.  Our comment to one couple ’Oh, you both have Rohloff (‘high-tech’ German brand) hubs’ was answered with ‘But of course – we are German!!

I also love seeing the young and/or less cashed up out touring with whatever gear they can cobble together – such as the tennis racquet bags from the opp shop that I saw repurposed as frame bags; and the range of ancient, battered old bikes given a new lease of life is amazing.

With a birthday approaching, and after being offered a ‘senior’s discount’ at a campsite, Ed had been a little more age-sensitive than usual – thus it was a good time to meet Bonnie and Dewey in Bend, Oregon.

Dewey was a little down, frustrated at his physical limitations after suffering a spinal injury in a skiing accident three years ago.  At age 84(!).  This couple did so much to inspire us and were such great company that we left after two nights feeling like we’d known them for years.  It really reinforced that there are times when you may not be able to improve your physical condition – but you can choose your attitude to life and your situation.

So now we’re approaching the High Sierra mountains, hoping that the snow holds off until we make it over the highest pass thus far – the 3031m Tioga Pass to enter Yosemite National Park from the east.  Hot days in the valleys are now contrasting with chilly nights at higher elevations – the first sign of winter apparent in our frozen water bottles up at Crater Lake …

Rubber side down,

Ed & Gaye

13 Comments

  1. Greg Hindmarsh

    Hi . Just started following your great journey.
    Came across the link through the Simpson Desert Bike Challenge newsletter.
    I was a 2002 rider (ordinary rider)
    My wife and i have recently purchased touring bikes so we can read your stories and get fired up
    for some big rides ourselves.
    Cheers Greg and Jane.

    Reply
  2. Catherine

    Absolutely glorious, I’d say more but I’m busy looking at the photos. I’m so glad those tough hills haven’t stopped you, they look terrifying!

    Reply
    1. Gaye Bourke (Post author)

      My legs hurt!! :)

      Reply
      1. Bob Holmes

        We met you two in Bridgeport as you were searching for a Garmin charging cord. Hope you enjoyed the Tioga Pass and love Yosemite NP. Safe travels. Bob and Ken

        Reply
  3. Tony Shields

    Great post. Beats reading an annual report. A US border guy with a sense of humour – great find!

    Reply
    1. Gaye Bourke (Post author)

      It’s a bit hard when you’re sure someone’s pulling your chain but can’t be a smartarse back cos you might get booted out of the country!!

      Reply
  4. Els

    ‘if the Murray River flowed this fast it would empty in a few days!’ – I don’t know – you should see the Murray at the moment – Norieul under water and most of the floodplains downstream of Lake Hume ;-)

    Your stories and photos are wonderful. I particularly love the one about a peaceful spot to spend the night. Something about the photo just makes me smile and wish I was there!

    Reply
    1. Gaye Bourke (Post author)

      It’s such a contrast to see these super arid landscapes with so much water flowing through – all that snow melt that Australia doesn’t have :)

      Reply
  5. Prita

    How superb. As usual I have little to say other than love the write up, am wildly jealous, and best of luck for the continued journey :-)

    Reply
    1. Gaye Bourke (Post author)

      Thanks Prita, we are really enjoying the USA but also kinda keen to get south into the more unknown part of the trip :)

      Reply
  6. I. Hulk

    I love the feeling of freedom i get whenever i read your blog and the yearning to pursue something similar. It must be so liberating to just focus on the basics for such a long period of time; food, shelter, friends, bikes and Strava… Zen-like. You two really make me pause and think about life and what it all means. Keep on truckin’

    Reply
    1. Gaye Bourke (Post author)

      See you in Peru – the mountains are waiting ….

      Reply
  7. Marilyn

    Continue to enjoy watching your travels. We enjoyed our trip to Europe. Gave me huge appreciation for your current lifestyle. Think of you often…fondly. Marilyn & Simon.

    Reply

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