When I got dropped off at home late in the afternoon of August 20th I went to open my screen door but couldn’t. It was what I heard was a typical scorching NC summer afternoon with plenty of humidity to go around, and the door had swollen shut. It always swells shut when it’s hot outside so really nothing had changed since I left. My car keys and wallet were in the same place on my desk and so was the shirt I threw on my couch on my way out the door 10 weeks ago. There was a bit more dust in my room than normal and the weeds in the yard were a bit higher, but really it felt like nothing had changed and I had only been away for a few days at the most. On the other hand I lived what seems like an entire other existence over the summer, completely contained between the two oceans. This alternate life is absolutely packed with memories and experiences and exists only in what seems like a far off land of bike touring while I am back here eating my standard cheerios in the morning and watching SportsCenter in the evenings.
I guess this isn’t a surprise at this point and many of you have cheated and looked at photos on Facebook or the Cycle20Ten site, but we all made it. On the afternoon of Wednesday August 18th our massive crew cranked over a few last remaining hills, into the open flats of the coast, through downtown Anacortes, and up to the pebble beach of Washington Park on the Pacific. We thus completed our 3600+ mile, 66-day journey across the US and most recently completed our final riding exam, The Cascades.
We started talking about the Cascades before the trip even started. At that point they were a mythical mountain range that were so far off in the future we couldn’t even imagine ourselves there, but as legend had it they were big….really big, and stood between us and the coast. We talked about them all trip and compared every hill, steep grade, and pass to the up and coming climbs. Then, all the sudden, we were camping in Colville, Washington and the sun seemed to set quickly that evening as we were in the shadow of Sherman Pass, our first and also biggest pass. That night the group was abuzz with a mix of nervousness, anticipation, and also a curiosity of how it would go.
As is always the case, the night flew by and the alarm woke us at the customary 6am. We packed up, ate, and rode to the base of the climb. According to the maps, the climb was 23 miles long and climbed over 4200 feet to the pass where we’d be camping that evening. If you’ve never climbed a pass on a loaded touring bike, let me assure you, it’s both and experience and remarkably challenging. The days of averaging 12 or 18 mph are long gone, and you put the bike in its lowest gear and crank hard to keep it upright at 4 or 5 mph. At 5 mph that’s four and a half hours of climbing in fully exposed sun….if you don’t take any breaks. We tackled this climb just like any other challenge on the trip, broke it down into manageable chunks and would bike for a few scheduled miles, take a break to drink, then knock out another chunk before a rehydration break. And slowly but surely we cranked around one last switchback to our camp at the pass. Everyone’s legs were pretty taxed and we took the afternoon to relax in the cool mountain air and nap in the shade of evergreens while we hydrated with ice cold water from the old fashioned hand pump on the top of the mountain. Rest was much needed and enjoyed as we had three more passes waiting for us before the Pacific.
Our next day’s pass, Wauconda was thankfully a lot smaller and we made short work of it after some really tasty pancakes in the morning. In the afternoon we finished up an 80+ mile-day by riding across the desert-like Ocanogan valley to the base of Loup Loup. Loup Loup has the reputation of being the hardest pass of them all and the next day we got a late start after a bikeshop visit so started the climb at the steamy hour of 11. Loup Loup very quickly lived up to it’s reputation by having an extremely long and very steep climb in the exposed sun right at the bottom. The first few miles left us cowering in shade and wondering how this could possibly go on for 18 miles to the top. Somehow it did though and our breaks were much more frequent on the relentless grade. I’m not sure how for 18 miles we could climb such a steep grade and not be above Everest but we eventually made the pass and quickly decended into the town of Twisp that held many promises of refreshment. The steep grade of Loup Loup made for a very quick bomb down hill to the famous Cinnamon Twisp bakery where we munched on the tastiest cinnamon rolls of the trip and quickly made our way to the city pool to soak away the heat exhaustion.
The next morning we made our ascent up our final climb, Washington Pass. We had been told that this one would also be tough but as we climbed up we made our way through the snow covered Cascade peaks with incredible vistas in every direction. The scenery was so remarkable that we didn’t have time to notice that we were climbing thousands of vertical feet. Our breaks involved taking tons of photos and before we knew it we were taking a group shot at the sign. We spent the night on top under a clear starry sky with the craggy peaks of the Cascades lit up by moonlight all around us and the following morning we made the steep and cold decent into western Washington.
Our last night of the trip we spent in Concrete, Washington. We had one last group dinner…which just so happened to have karaoke. We had an extended meal while most everyone thoroughly embarrassed themselves in front of what had become an extremely tight knit family over the last 10 weeks. We went back to camp and sat around in the dark on a basketball court with our journals out and spent hours recounting places, people, funny quotes, and close calls. When people spoke of Cleveland or the Appalachians it almost felt as though they were referencing another trip from years ago simply because we had generated so many hundreds of stories and experiences in those 10 short weeks.
The next morning we packed up our dew soaked tents one last time and hit the road for a flat and casual 50 to the beach. We’re pretty strong at this point so we could have crushed it out in a couple short hours, but the breaks somehow ended up pretty close together and seemed to linger just a bit. About 20 miles from our ultimate goal we rolled into a DQ and stopped for some grub. We knew parents and friends were all waiting on the beach for us just a short ride away but we lingered for a long lunch, played a few extra games of cards, and had just one last blizzard. We relished in those last few minutes that we all had together as a group of 16 people that had endured and experienced so much together. As soon as we rolled to the beach and the first person greeted us our dynamic would be forever gone and we’d never be able to get all 16 of us together and be so in the moment ever again.
We ceremonially dipped our front tires in the Pacific and thus successfully completed the Cycle20Ten tour. The events afterwards were a complete blur that included a lot of tasty food, packing bikes, and flying on really early flights that ultimately resulted in me being back in my office….a lot less fun than biking just in case that needed clarifying. Its really challenging to wrap up a 10 week trip on the road with 16 people across America in one quick email and this thing is already getting super long. Maybe browsing the few thousand photos I’ve posted will help. Initially, I was a bit concerned about having 16 people out there since it’s just more opportunity for stuff to go wrong. Now that everyone made it, the large was just more opportunity for craziness each and every day. I usually read a few books on a trip like this, but on this ride the action started at 6 am, add in 70 miles of biking, gas station breaks, long lunches, cards, basketball, swimming pools, football, rivers, Frisbee, more eating and maybe getting caught in an awkward conversation with a drunk redneck and before you know it it’s dark, 11pm, and the 6am alarm is bearing down on you.
The frenzy level of excitement that was with us before we left stayed with us the entire time and now that we are back home it’s still here. People kept telling us that biking across the US was the opportunity of a lifetime. We simply told them it was the opportunity of the summer of 2010. This trip did not quench anyone’s desire for travel or adventure, Rourke might be done camping actually, and we will all be back out on the road racking up photos and memories in very short order.
In addition to bringing everyone home in one piece, even though that piece may have some scrapes and chick magnet scars, we were successful in our efforts for UNC’s Linberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. We beat our 2007 mark by raising over $20,000 with our ride. It’s not too late to donate either if you find you have a surplus of cash hanging around the house. Just hop on the Cycle20Ten site.
Well…We biked it and we loved it. Check back soon, there are talks of hikin’ it and likin’ next summer. I’m off to fix my screen door, or maybe just leave it so it jogs my memory next time I roll in from another epic journey.
You can peep some photos….lots of photos so give yourself some time, on our site www.Cycle20Ten.com or on the troop site at www.Troop845.net.
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