Long and hot! to Omak, WA

Sunday August 2, 2009, 69 miles (111 km) – Total so far: 4,172 miles (6,714 km)

We spent the night at K Diamond K ranch, a working ranch which is diversifying into a guest ranch to try to support all the children of the family.  I wish them well; they’ve got a beautiful lodge and a super staff.

Inside the lodge the family built

View from the front window

This is an open range ranch.  That means they let the cattle roam up in the hills, and drive the horses down and across the road every night.  We went out to watch the horses last night.  I’d envisioned something like the running of the bulls in Pamplona, only with 40 horses.  Not exactly!  It was more like herding cats.  Some horses were ready to go, some were attracted by grass or shrubs growing beside the road.  They all finally made it to the meadow.  But since the horses know they’ll get feed the next morning, they all wandered back across the road, and up behind the lodge, last night and this morning.  It was so quiet you could hear the horses walking up the rocky path, and occasionally whinnying, through the night.  Same thing happens with the cattle, only they were born at the ranch, spend the summer up in the hills, and come back down for hay in the winter.

We at breakfast this morning, and didn’t start terribly early, but it was still cool.  The ranch was 3.5 miles south of Republic, and downhill from town, so we started with a climb, ending in a 7% climb back to Washington 20, AKA the road into Anacortes.  The climb continued through town, including a cut covered with loose rock.  There was a rattle up above, but the side of the mountain didn’t come down – there was a deer partially hiding behind a bush halfway up.  At the top of town was another cut, and another deer, although this one was standing just above the retaining wall.  Most of the road was lightly populated from there up to the top of the pass.

Scene climbing above Republic

From there the road climbed gradually most of the way up to Wauconda Pass, at 4,310 feet elevation.  Take 1,200 feet off the top, and add 1,600 to the start, and this was much easier than Sherman Pass yesterday.  There was a two mile climb, at about 5-6%, starting three miles from the “summit,” but that wasn’t bad at all.  Most of the last five miles I spend staring at the ridge to our left, and wondering, “Why didn’t they take the road over that little gap?  Or that next one?”

What's wrong with the gap between those hills?

Wauconda Pass

If there wasn’t much to see on the east side, the west side was even worse.  There’s probably a dozen beautiful views on the way down, but the west side was hazy with smoke for various lightning-sparked fires in the last few weeks.  Near Wauconda, close to the top, there were some irrigated hay fields.  Lower down, the land dried up.

High west side of Wauconda Pass

Down closer to the bottom, approaching Okanogan River

The road on the way down had pretty good grades, 5% or so, for much of the descent.  There was a 5-15 mph headwind that slowed us down, and made pedaling the flatter parts something of a chore.  In addition, the road was a lumpy chipseal for much of the descent.  It almost made me wish for the election-year pavement back in Kentucky!

We found a cafe in Tonasket for lunch, then faced a decision.  It was 100° at 12:30, and 26 miles to Omak, with services available 2/3 of the way there, in Riverside.  Stay or go?  Looking ahead, Omak was a better place to start tomorrow, so we drank up and headed south.

The Okanogan valley reminds me of southern California.  Instead of trees, there’s just scrub.  And the smoke looked almost like LA smog.  You could see visual degradation in a mile, and the ridges farther down the valley were almost complete obscured.  There was a small band where the clear air above transitioned to smoke below.  To add to the similarity, draw a line where irrigation ended.  One side was green, with cherry and apple orchards, hay and even a corn field.  The other side was desert scrub.

Irrigated hay field, Okanogan River, and desert on the far side

Scrub uphill from the road

Riverside did, indeed, have something to drink.  But the payoff came when we got to Omak — a Dairy Queen!  A blizzard never tasted better, and sitting in the AC while drinking some ice water cooled me down to where I started feeling human again.  I don’t expect we’ll have to do something like this again; the low desert (below 1,000 feet), un-buffered by forest, altitude, rain, or ocean — well, we’re almost done, and I don’t think they’ll apply again this trip!  I don’t think I’ve sweated this much since eastern Colorado, but with 18% relative humidity, it didn’t feel quite as hot today as further south.

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