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Friday, July 23, 2004

Secluded Places to Play


Since the very few people who read this live outside of Washington State, I don’t think I will be giving away my secret by writing about it here.  After getting pumped up riding the exercise bike in Seattle while watching Lance pedal through the French Alps, I decided I needed a day of biking in the Washington Alps.  I had in mind Highway 97 between Cle Elum and Leavenworth.  This is in one of the most beautiful areas of this beautiful state, on the eastern edge of the Cascades.  We pulled into a gas station in Cle Elum to get gas and pick up a couple of beers to ditch in a mountain stream for the end of the ride.

I asked the gal in the station about the abandoned highway that I had only partially explored on a previous biking excursion.  On that ride we found the entrance to the old highway at the end of a 40 mile, down and back, ride on Highway 97.  We knew we had 20 miles of grueling mountain road to ride on the way back, so we didn’t feel like being too curious.  I decided to leave it for another day.  The other day was yesterday.

We pulled off 97 at the sign for the old Blewett Pass highway.  We drove a few hundred yards and ditched the car off the road at an improvised campsite.  The highway is a biker’s dream:  an old two-lane road winding up through gorgeous mountain valley.  The area is totally secluded, and although the road is technically still open, we only came across one car on the twenty-mile stretch.  Besides the road, there are no man-made structures within view for the entire ride.

What is in view on this ride is some of the most spectacular scenery you will ever get the opportunity to experience on a bike.  If you don’t like riding steep mountain roads you may be in too much pain to enjoy it.  The cool thing about this ride is we had absolutely no idea where it went when we started.  We rode straight up the first five miles to the summit and then descended.  We descended some more, and then some more.  How much longer could we descend?  It is difficult to enjoy the ride down knowing that you have to eventually go back up the same way. 

You get a feeling of discovery riding on this ghost road for the first time.  Flying down the switchbacks we decided that not taking the road to the end would be admitting defeat.  We ambushed a coyote cooling himself in the shade.  I wondered about cougars.  I must look like a fleeing deer.  Spit out the rubber tires and metal tubing and I’d be good eating—if you like fat and gristle. 

We finally hit bottom on the other side and found a couple of RV’s parked beside a stream.  A little farther we came upon the junction to Highway 97.  Humping back up the mountain I looked up and saw what I thought was an eagle.  It was circling a few thousand feet above us--too far to see clearly.  As we rode up, it gradually came into focus as a huge bald eagle.  We could hear it screech, something I don’t recall ever hearing except in movies and things.

Someone just asked me how riding a bike up a grueling mountain road could possibly be fun.  That is something that I will probably never be able to explain to anyone who doesn’t ride a bike.  It just is.

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