Not so bad after all: near Republic, WA

Saturday August 1, 2009, 48 miles (77 km) – Total so far: 4,103 miles (6,603 km)

It was a long climb, but not as bad as I expected.  I feel like I could ride some more, but we have a hint of a steak dinner tonight, and Virginia just won’t climb another pass today!

The ride started about 6:30 in Kettle Falls, with a four mile coast down to the Columbia River. There was a sign near the river that said, “Kettle Falls Generating Station” which got me excited, as I thought the dam was 30 miles or so downstream.  Well, the dam is, and the generating station is a wood chip (and maybe coal?) plant, likely just using the water to make steam.

Columbia River, Lake Franklin D. Roosevelt

The bridge was pretty nice.  No extra width, but full road with no traffic and a nice surface.  We turned left and started climbing a steep-ish hill, then coasted back down, and repeated the process several times.  I started getting nervous.  We have all this distance to climb, do I have enough energy to climb it all two or three times?  It’s a good way to burn up nervous energy, but burning extra energy wasn’t going to be a problem today.  Finally, one last look at the river, and we turned west and the climbing got steady.

Virginia coming across the bridge

Columbia River and valley

It wasn’t too hard a grade, averaging about 5%.  (No, I probably wouldn’t have said that two months ago!)  I made most of the climb in second gear or higher.  There’s a psychological boost in having a lower gear if you need it, then not needing it!  For the most part, we paralleled Sherman Pass Creek, which had running water (unlike so many rivers since we left Glacier).  You could hear the babbling brook most of the way up, except when the road left the creek or there was a cut to block the noise.

The scenery wasn’t that great.  Hey, we’re climbing the highest year-round pass in the state of Washington!  (Which probably means the highest one they plow regularly…)  Where’s the view?  But for the most part we could see only the trees on either side of the road, or the next ridge, 500-1000 feet above where we were at the moment.

The road climbed through trees

Ridges next to the road

Foliage and vegetation?  Well, there was a sign for $30/gallon huckleberries in Kettle Falls yesterday.  Right across the river was a road cut covered in bushes full of ripe huckleberries!  The vegetation was pretty lush lower down, with younger trees and shrubs growing underneath the forest canopy.  Higher, there was sparse grass under the trees, and that’s about all except for the brush near the road.

The climb was 23 miles, and only 4,200 feet instead of the 5,000 I’d been worrying about.  I was within 3-4 miles of the pass before I could see Mount Sherman.  And I maintain the grade kicked up a notch in the last five miles.  Virginia says I’m nuts, we were just getting tired there.  All I know is I had to shift down to granny gear to make the last five miles.  But we made it!

Mount Sherman near the top

It's official. We made it. Here's the sign!

Then it was payback time.  7.5 miles at 6% downhill, a flatter spot, and a few more miles, then coasting at 15 mph (instead of 30) for a few more.

Near the top, there was evidence of a massive fire.  I think they contained this fire at the crest, because there was hardly anything on the western slopes that had survived.  Interestingly, this White Mountain fire burned in 1988, the same year Yellowstone burned.  Most of it’s re-seeded and growing, except for some bald spots near the top.

Evidence of fire in 1988

Also on the way down, it got hotter.  This morning, the temperature rise as the day went on was just about balanced by the temperature drop as we climbed.  It was pleasant, maybe 75-80°, on top of the pass, with a breeze blowing (which limited our speed on the descent).  But it heated up quickly on the way down, already 90° when we stopped for lunch.  A hot little town, with most everybody hiding in the air conditioning.  We were early for the ranch we’re staying at tonight, so we went to the library (incredibly busy for a summer weekend!) and chilled for a while.

I think we have a pass a day for the next three days, but this was the biggest single climb in Washington — maybe even the entire trip!  We’ve been over higher passes, but the base was always higher.  I’m still very glad we didn’t climb Chief Joseph Pass going east, though!

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