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  • katherinearntzen

The Hardest Days Since The First

We have been bicycling for nearly two months now. There are a few days that stand out in my memory as being particularly difficult, though, and those are the accounts I want to share.

May 18, 2022

That was our first day on the bicycle journey. It had been cool, but sunny, the day before when we disembarked the train in Seattle, but when we woke up and looked outside on the morning of departure, it was cold, rainy and windy, the kind of wind that blows umbrellas inside-out.

We suited up in our rain gear, went outside and navigated the Seattle bike lanes down to the ferry terminal and waited in the rain for the ferry across Puget Sound, to Bremerton, where we would head south. The ferry was warm and dry, and during the hour-long passage, the rain stopped and the sun came out. We rode off the boat but the wind was so strong that we quickly decided to stop for coffee. Now totally out of excuses, we began riding, battling uphill climbs, a cold headwind, and suburban traffic.

Eventually, the route map took us off the main roads and past some peaceful inlets and lakes, lined with lake houses, but empty of people, on that cold, windy weekday. As we rode on, we realized that we had to keep riding at least 10 more miles to get somewhere we could stay for the night. The temperature was dropping, it was raining intermittently, and something snow-like was spitting on us as we finally arrived at a motel in Shelton, Washington. We rode 43 miles that day, and even though we have had worse weather days since, our unprepared muscles hurt more that first day than any other day since.

June 1, 2022

We stayed overnight in Clarkston, Washington, just across the Snake River from Lewiston, Idaho. After pedaling along the river for a few miles, we began going up and out of the Lewis & Clark Valley toward the Palouse Prairie. It was warm and sunny, but a headwind kept us from making progress. We stopped at a restaurant, then left around 3 pm to complete the last 15 miles to Winchester Lake State Park, where I had reserved us a yurt for the night.

I had seen it on the map, Old Winchester Grade Road, wiggling back and forth tightly like intestines, and I had seen the 4000 ascent on the elevation map. Our waitress that afternoon also happened to live on that road and nonchalantly confirmed that it was a bit of a climb, but this was not a nonchalant climb.

Nothing could prepare us for the intensity of that climb, especially after already having gone up about 4000 feet, already, throughout the course of the day. We quickly became fatigued and began walking our bicycles up the snaking hillside. Occasionally, we would try to ride again, but quickly found our legs and lungs too tired for the task. It took us four hours to walk our bicycles up the eight mile ascent. When we got to the top, it was after 7 pm, it was getting cold, and we had another seven miles to the yurt. We rode as fast as we could, being on a relatively flat road again, and got there with just a bit of daylight and no energy left to enjoy the surroundings.

Since that day, we have climbed many mountain passes and reached altitudes over 9000 feet. Yet none of these mountain passes were so steep for so long as our climb up to the prairie that day. Ironically, this climb could have been avoided if we had followed the main highway through the valley. I had chosen this alternate prairie route to the avoid the busy, shoulder-less highway, but obviously traded one evil for the other. Yet looking back on the torturous climb, I now recall the beauty the prairie with it’s yellow canola fields more than the pain of that day’s ride.

June 13, 2022

We woke up in Nevada City, Montana, an old gold mining town, to find that the cold rain that had plagued us the day before had persisted. After taking an extra long time to get ready, George asked Karma, the hostess of our B&B, for a ride to the top of the mountain between there and Ennis, the next town over. She kindly took us four miles up the hill with our bicycles, then let us free in the 40 degree, cold rain.

We rode down the mountain into Ennis, our fingers, toes and faces quickly becoming wet and numb in the chilly conditions. In Ennis, we stopped at a convenience store to warm up, then continued southward toward Cameron. What I didn’t realize until later, was that at that convenience store in Ennis, I had lost my Beavis & Butthead Cornholio pin, a good luck charm that my sister, Donna, had given me for the ride.

The 11 mile ride to Cameron was quite miserable. My feet were wet because my shoe covers don’t work as they should, my gloves were soggy, my fingers and toes were numb, my glasses needed windshield wipers, the shoulder on the road was narrow and we were continually being sprayed by the wet splatter from the big trucks and motor homes.

In Cameron, a town that consisted of a closed restaurant and a post office, we encountered Stefan, a Swedish cyclist, that we had met on the road the day before. He told us that he had slept in the post office the night before and suggested that we duck inside there to warm up and wait for the rain to pass.

Soon enough, we were out of the post office and back on the road. However, the rain had been replaced by a brutal headwind. We reluctantly pedaled into the cold wind, making such slow progress. We were cold, wet, and barely moving, but we had to keep moving. I had reserved us a cabin for the night, about 25 miles down the road, plus we were in the middle of nowhere. There was nowhere closer to stop, not even a post office.

We finally rolled into the West Fork Cabin Camp, cold, wet and windblown. Upon checking in, we were informed that Yellowstone had closed due to major flooding from all the rain. We were a day’s ride from Yellowstone, one of the few places I had specifically planned to visit on this journey.

We ended up on a 200 mile, week long detour down the west side of the Teton range and back up the east side through Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park. After all of that extra pedaling and some pretty amazing scenery, Yellowstone finally reopened and we were able to enter from the south instead. We may have encountered some bad luck, but the detour became part of the journey as we adapted to the situation.


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