Springtime Along the Columbia

It’s snowing in the passes as I type this. And not a small amount. But I look down at my arms, resting on my desk, and I see the deep farmer’s tan I got last weekend and I smile. We are now inside twelve months to liftoff and our early April crossing of the Cascades has us watching the weather and studying highway webcams like never before. What a difference a week makes. And what a colossal waste of time it is to try and extrapolate the weather outside today to what we might experience next spring while cycling Wenatchee. Yet we do it anyway.

Kristin and I had a monumental bike overnight last weekend: our first without the trusty Burly Nomad trailer. With Tubus racks installed and Ortlieb panniers attached, we made our way from Wenatchee, Apple Capital of North America, up to the beautiful mountain-ringed Lake Chelan. Saturday brought temps approaching 70F, bright sunshine, and a gentle 35 mile cruise up the western bank of the Columbia River with just 1500 feet of elevation gain. Kristin was carrying a lot more weight than she had in previous trips on account of me no longer towing the trailer, but she made light work of it.

Lunch with a view along the Columbia River.
Lunch with a view along the Columbia River.

It was the perfect ride alongside the mirror-like river, with weather those of us who live in WA can typically only dream of for March. We eventually turned onto seldom-used Route 971 and went up and over some hills to Lake Chelan State Park. The descent into the park was glorious: riding towards snow-capped mountains surrounding a pristine glacial-fed lake with vineyards and orchards all around. One of the most popular summertime parks in Washington, we would have it almost entirely to ourselves on this glorious weekend. That is, if you don’t count the beaver milling around on the rocks by our lakefront tentsite. Going camping on Easter weekend does have its benefits.

Columbia River near Entiat, WA.
Columbia River near Entiat, WA.

With camp chores completed, Kristin and I settled into our chairs, opened some beers, and enjoyed the sunset from our own private dock. Barefoot. It truly doesn’t get much better than this.

Beer, sardines, and our own private dock.
Beer, sardines, and our own private dock on Lake Chelan, just steps from our tent.

Come morning, we rolled ten miles eastward along the lake to the lovely small town of Chelan, where we were ecstatic to find an incredibly inviting coffee, wine & beer cafe open across the street from the church. Living in secular western Washington, you get accustomed to just ignoring religious holidays and assuming everything will be open. This isn’t the case in other parts of the state, as we’d find out.

A few miles later we found ourselves at the base of McNeil Canyon Road, a notorious hill boasting 5 miles of 12% incline, over 2200 feet of gain. The climb was long, and it hurt, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had feared. We’re each pushing between 65 and 75 pounds of bike & gear, so it was important to me to get a loaded climb under us early this season, just to see how she’d handle it. Kristin conquered it like a champ! As a reward, several miles of rolling, tailwind-aided, desolate asphalt greeted us en route to the village of Waterville.

Kristin mashing those pedals on her way up McNeil Canyon Road.

Google Maps’ street view feature might reveal a grocery store and a restaurant, but it won’t tell you that these  places of business will be closed for Easter. And, as I already alluded to, such a concept has fallen out of the norm where we live. Surprise! Fortunately, that uniquely-Washington staple — the roadside espresso hut — was not only open, but featuring sandwiches! I never tipped a barista so well in my life, but the sandwiches, cola, and icy water bottle refills were just what we needed.

Our original plan had us continuing up and over Badger Mountain, but we were already 50 miles into the day and didn’t have another big climb in us. Especially when the rip-roaring descent down US 2 was the other option. So we left Waterville and cruised on down Highway 2, averaging 35 mph for six effortless miles, until we were all the way back alongside the mighty Columbia. Never before had I hooted and hollered during a descent while on pavement. It was that great.

Diving back off the Waterville Plateau to the river.
Diving back off the Waterville Plateau to the river.

Kristin and I took turns leading the way southward along the eastern bank of the Columbia River, back to the Park & Ride where we left our car in Wenatchee. We capped off a 70-mile day (and 5,000 feet of gain) with some of the best burgers in the PNW at Dusty’s. The drive home was long, the sunburn on our arms forced a fitful night of sleep despite our tiredness, but when we woke, we did so on the T-1 Year Anniversary. And we celebrated.

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Doug Walsh

Writer, Traveler

Doug Walsh is a writer, traveler, cyclist, and gamer who spent two years traveling from Seattle to Singapore, the long way around, by bicycle and sea. He's the author of the upcoming novel "Tailwinds Past Florence."

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About Us

We're Doug & Kristin Walsh, a couple of Washingtonians who love to travel, both abroad and in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. We set off to travel the world in 2014, primarily by bicycle. We're back home now, but the travel bug continues to be fed every chance we get.

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