Wednesday, September 17, 2014

2014_09_05 North Cascades_Winthrop Weekend Cycling

Author:  Mike Hassur

There will be multiple contributions to this blog post; so I will try to summarize what we did this last weekend, and let the other guys fill in the details.

Our goal was to ride from Newhalem, WA on State Highway 20 over the mountains (Rainy Pass and Washington Pass) to Chris Fox’s cabin which is just outside of Winthrop, WA (see map for the ride) on Saturday and to retrace our steps back over the mountains on Sunday.    Each leg of the ride is about 75-79 miles with about 7000’ of climbing involved.  We had two sag wagons (Chris’ SUV and Mike’s van) which carried food, drink, sleeping bags (for Saturday night), etc.  Having sag wagons was nice in that we didn’t have to lug around extra food, drink, and clothing while riding.  There was always a sag wagon within a reasonable distance to restock with power bars and water and to shed clothing if needed – NICE!!

Everyone arrived at Newhalem on schedule, and we were on the road by just after 8:00 AM.  There is
Les, John, & Leon at Diablo Lake
a long climb out of Newhalem (approximately 15 miles) that takes you past Diablo Lake and up to the Ross Lake viewpoint/lookout.  As you climb, you see the lakes and the surrounding mountains from an ever increasing height.  It is pretty spectacular.  I was driving one of the sag wagons (my van) for the first leg of our journey.  I parked the van about 25 miles into the route, got my bike out of the back of the van, and headed back to meet the group.  There are, basically, three long climbs on this ride (the climb up to the Ross Lake viewpoint/overlook, the climb to Rainy Pass, and the climb to Washington Pass).  I made it back over the first of these climbs and descended a few miles before meeting up with the group.  Kurt, Martin, and Mark were ahead as the other guys had stopped to take some photos on the way up.  I descended further and joined Les, Dwaine, John, and Leon in climbing back up to the summit of the first climb (Ross Lake viewpoint).  We rode at a pretty good clip, but were still able to visit.  After the Ross Lake overlook summit; it was a nice, fast downhill for a couple of miles.

Ross Lake Viewpoint...

Next up, the long (~ 18 miles) climb to Rainy Pass.  We had only climbed a couple of miles toward Rainy Pass when we came to the spot where I had parked the van.  The other guys refilled water bottles, ate something, and resumed the climb toward Rainy Pass.  I, on the other hand, jumped in the van, drove over Rainy Pass, down the other side, and up Washington Pass.  I parked the van at the top of Washington Pass, grabbed my bike, and headed back to meet the group.  I shot west down Washington Pass (38 mph and above almost all of the way), back up the east side of Rainy Pass, and about 8-9 miles down the west side of Rainy Pass before I met up with our group.  Chris had turned the driving of his SUV over to Kurt and Mark, so he was riding with the group.  I turned around and headed up to Rainy Pass with the group.

Our group descended the short, fast eastern descent of Rainy Pass together.  Before we knew it, we were heading up the western slope of Washington Pass (which is about 3.5 miles long and reasonably steep (6% to 13% grades).  Chris led the first 2/3 or so of the way up and set a brisk pace.  In the last third of the climb, the group broke up a bit as we flogged ourselves to the top (at least that is how I felt).

Washington Pass Summit...
At the top of Washington Pass, Martin took over driving my van; while Chris got back in the driver’s seat of his SUV.  The rest of us descended together down the long (16 miles), fairly steep descent down the east side of Washington Pass.  It was fast, and it was fun to do it together.

After the descent from Washington Pass, we rode together for approximately seven miles over relatively flat terrain.  With fourteen miles to go, we had to make a decision: 
1.       Go 14 miles on pavement
2.       Go 4 miles on a gravel road
Most of the guys chose the pavement route, but Kurt and I decided to try the gravel road.  What I pictured and what we actually got were two very different things.  The gravel road was mostly “washboard” surface with lots of loose gravel and big rocks sticking up out of the road surface.  I was kicking myself for taking this route with my light weight, low spoke count wheels and carbon frame.  The wheels, especially, were not made for this type of abuse.  Finally, both Kurt and I jumped in the vehicles and got a ride to Chris’ house.

Chris' home near Winthrop...
Chris’ house is very nice.  It sits in beautiful countryside with a river running nearby.  The guys taking the pavement route arrived shortly after we did.  Soon, everyone had showered and was sitting around visiting. 

Winthrop brew pub...
John, Mark, & Mike - HAPPY...!!!
John, Mark, and I decided to drive into Winthrop to visit the local microbrewery.  It was great with a large deck overlooking the river that runs through town.  We each had a beer and a large pretzel with mustard.  I’m not sure if it was the pretzel or my hunger, but it was the best tasting pretzel that I’ve ever had!!  We purchased a “growler” of stout beer for the other guys and started to leave.  As we were leaving, we received a call from Chris’ house that the spaghetti dinner was ready and that we’d better get back if we wanted any.

We arrived back at the house to find a huge bowl of spaghetti and enough sauce to swim in.  We had purchased our supplies at Costco, so we had enough spaghetti, sauce, and Parmesan cheese to feed a small army.  I can’t speak for anyone else, but I had two heaping plates of spaghetti and did not feel “stuffed” – just sleepy.

Tired, full, and.... fading fast...

After dinner, we cleaned up the dishes.  By the time our kitchen chores were done, I was fading fast.  Amazingly, Chris’ house seemed to have plenty of room for the nine of us to sleep.  Only one guy, Martin slept on the floor, and he had a nice camping pad to sleep on.  I’m not sure what time I went to sleep, but it was probably between 7:30 and 8:00 PM.  I was told later that the rest of the guys stayed up visiting for another hour or so. 

The next morning Leon was up at 5:30, I was up at 6:00, and the rest of the crew slowly rolled into the kitchen after that to join us for breakfast.  Breakfast was simple:  toast, honey, fruit, and oatmeal – perfect!!
Sunday morning temperature:  32 degrees... warmed up quickly...

Our journey for this second day would be approximately 14 miles shorter than the previous day because we decided to drive people and bikes over the gravel road to where it met the main road (rather than taking the longer, slightly boring route through Winthrop).  This was accomplished remarkably easily with the two sag wagons (with one extra trip for Chris’ SUV over the gravel portion).  Before long, we were on the lower part of the eastern slopes of Washington Pass.  Martin, who couldn’t find his cycling shoes, was driving my van and Chris was piloting his SUV.  Martin headed on up in the van to see if he might have left his cycling shoes at the top of Washington Pass when he took over driving duties the previous day.  Chris drove his SUV part way up the climb, parked, got his bike out, rode up the climb ahead of us, and then turned around to come down and meet us. 

Leon & Mike:  heading up Washington Pass (east side)...
The climb up the east side of Washington Pass is a long (16 miles) grind.  About ¾ of the way up, we saw Martin coming down to meet us.  He had parked the van on the west side the pass, ridden his bike up the west side (in his running shoes) and part way down the east side to meet us.  By the end, John and Dwaine had proven themselves to be the strongest with the rest of us trailing in behind them at the summit.

From there, the group blasted down the west side of Washington Pass together and proceeded up the short, east side of Rainy Pass.  I had been thinking about Martin’s shoes and had a suspicion that they may have worked their way under one of the front bucket seats in my van.  At the top of Rainy Pass, we got a chance to look and – sure enough – there they were!!

At this point, Leon took over the driving duties in my van.  The group took off down the long descent on the western side of Rainy Pass.  We were in a pace line most of the way, so it was really fast and really fun. 

Kurt, John, Les, Dwaine, Mike, & Mark:  35+ mph...
Near the end of that 18 mile descent, Martin had a flat (rear wheel) which gave us all time to relax for a few minutes.  Once the tire was fixed, we negotiated the remainder of the descent uneventfully and headed up the last climb of the day toward the Ross Lake viewpoint.  We had just started this climb when we saw Leon (who had parked the van up the road and circled back to meet us).

The last 20 miles or so of the ride were uneventful except that the traffic was picking up, and we had be more vigilant for cars and campers.  Everyone made it back to Newhalem in one piece, feeling good, and with lots of memories from our weekend together.

Chris Fox:
Our host, friend, and fellow Cyclopath


Read on below for more accounts from this trip…

Click here for all photos associated with this trip…


Dwaine Trummert's Thoughts:

The white van was loaded and rolling at about 4:30 a.m. Although the anticipated aurora borealis did not materialize Les and I managed to entertain ourselves with conversation as the night turned to day. The drive was uneventful save the awe of the Oso Mudslide. Amazingly, it seems all four vehicles arrived at the rendezvous within a minute of each other.

Having never seen highway 20 by day I was quickly taken in by the scenic beauty. It seems another rider's eyes were also off the road as one of our 23mm tires lost a fight with a 24mm or taller bit of road debris. Many riders stood over Kurt as he quickly fixed the flat. Others circled and took pictures of the event. Leon padded his elevation numbers by sneaking in just a little more climbing.

The view over Lake Diablo was stunning. The lake is long and we were given many chances to admire the beauty. Les was especially jealous of the boaters exploring the lake via their canoes and kayaks.

Pre ride discussions prepared me for the leapfrogging that the two sag wagons would be engaged in. But Chris took me by surprise. He was parked part way up Rainy Pass. As we approached the rear hatch of his Audi popped open and he offered up mini sandwich rolls. 'Yes Please!' was my reply. Then he unsheathed a large knife and split a refrigerated watermelon in half. Next he tossed it on the hood of the car, sliced it into giant wedges, and we each made children of ourselves and sticky messes of our jersey fronts as we inhaled the fruit. Sweet. I quietly emptied most of my pocket food into the car. We would be eating well this day.

With Mike setting the tempo the final ascent to Washington Pass was done at pace. After summitting all nine riders regrouped at the top including both sag wagons. Drivers were swapped, bikes loaded and unloaded, layers were added, a set of shoes went missing, and we all set out for the big descent.

That big descent had just one corner of concern. After accelerating to well over 30 mph we were presented with a near 180 degree left hander. I looked into my tiny helmet mirror and felt good that I would reach and complete that corner before the first of two Hogs caught me. I was wrong. My 18 lb Asian carbon wonder bent into the corner and danced under my body weight as we negotiated the turn. Cool (or maybe oblivious) as a cucumber the Harley rider leaned his beast over and we went round together. We each held our line and shared the lane with no ill feelings apparent. It wasn't my favorite maneuver of the day and I was happy to come out the other side in the same condition as I went in.

'Cyclocross junction' was the last stop before reaching the cabin. A discussion ensued about taking the 13 mile long cut or toughing out the 4 mile cyclocross dirt road. I expressed my lack of fear of dirt roads. And it was my intention to ride with the group no matter which way was chosen. To my surprise the riders split four to two between road and dirt. I went with the larger roadie group. The ride was enjoyable but felt long as we knew the off roaders would be cracking open their second cold one before we arrived. Along the way we saw lots of activity in the tiny town of Winthrop, many white tail deer, and a peculiar farm with an eight foot high wooden fence all the way around?!

The cabin was spectacular. Chris was an excellent host. Saturday evening was the highlight of the trip as we cooked and chatted and bragged about swimming in the creek and snacked and then feasted on the giant bowl of spaghetti that Kurt had prepared. Leon's wife sent pineapple upside down cake and I dressed it with some of Leon's fresh raspberries. Heavenly. The time with the group at the cabin was especially nice as we could have normal conversations without the interruptions present on the road.

Mike laid down on the couch at about 6:54 p.m. and was out by 7. The group moved to the television room for another hour but 80 miles of fatigue caused the evening to come to an end much too soon.

I chose the kids room, North bed, lower bunk. Les ended up above. Mark and Kurt filled the South bunks. The next morning I asked if anyone heard any snoring. Mark or Kurt said yes, but that it was coming from the North side of the room. I looked at Les and said 'Huh, I didn't hear any snoring from your bunk'. Sometimes these events teach you as much about yourself as those around you...

There were 18 heavy legs the next morning. We started riding in cool weather and at low speed. Everyone was taking their time to get warmed up. The group slowly gained momentum, however, and soon we were climbing the back side of Washington Pass. I tried to emulate previous Cyclopath photogs and did my best to get Mike into a few shots. After putting my camera back into my pocket Les noticed that John had snuck up the road a bit and said something about bridging. So we did.

But John wasn't riding like he wanted to be caught. Bridging took a lot out of us and we just rode his wheel for a while. Pretty soon it was just John and myself. After seeing his work on Triple-By-Pass I was plenty proud to hold his wheel. My respiration rate was almost as high as Cyclocross racing but I was able to sustain. John's body english made me think he was hardly working. We stayed in this formation until the final turn. He had pulled me this far so I tried to return the favor by leading the last stretch. We summited together. Thanks John.

After the down and back up to Rainy Pass the group had a fair amount of descending to do. We learned how little work is required at the back of a downhill paceline and how much work it can be at the front. The 24mm roadside debris managed to pinchflat another Cyclopath tire. Martin showed his bikehandling skills (and put himself on Dwaine's Cyclocross roster) as he coolly slowed his bike from 30+ while riding downhill on just the rim. Near the end of the ride Chris had the forethought to stop at the tunnel and press button that energizes the 'cyclist in tunnel' light as each of us approached. Cool.

Despite rubbery legs and a sore derriere Newhalem came too soon. From my point of view it was a spectacular weekend. The Cyclopaths are such a dynamic and fun group of guys it is no surprise that the event was so enjoyable.

Many thanks to everyone involved. Long term thanks to Les for the 'your not built to climb' challenge and then eventually introducing me to the group. The usual thanks to Mike and Leon for creating and fostering the Cyclopaths.

Special thanks to Chris and his exceptional hospitality. His roadside treats were a wonderful little surprise. And despite just getting to know each other he made me feel like an old friend.

It is my hope that this type of event becomes a regular on the Cyclopath calendar.


Kurt Maute’s Thoughts:

Early Saturday morning Mark Delrosario and I departed to Newhalem leading a carpool that passed east of Oso thru the March mudslide area.  We were in awe of nature’s destructive force wrought on by the devastating slide that killed 43.   We arrived in Newhalem just before 8:oo am and were greeted by fellow Cyclopaths and a stiff wind that chilled the group and left us all wondering if we had packed the proper clothing.  We were on the bikes just after8:00 and soon passed thru a long dark tunnel that challenged our eyesight.  We were thankful that Les had activated the flasher designed to warn cars that cyclist were in the tunnel.  At about the 15 mile mark, I hit something in the rode that pinch-flatted my front tire but gave most of the group time to rest and take in some nutrition while I made the necessary repair.
Kurt fixing flat (plenty of supervision form other Cyclopaths)...

At 20-something miles into the ride, Chris had parked his Audi Q5 that served as one of two sag vehicles.  On a win-win accord, I sagged while Chris suited up to ride with the rest of the group further up the pass.  I enjoyed the drive (nice “ride”) and recoupment time and would rejoin the group just before the long decent down Washington Pass then thru the long rollers that are part of the last 8 or so miles we would ride on scenic North Cascades HWY.  We had formed a pace-line with most of the group and maintained good speed with little effort expended except during pulls.  We regrouped at a junction where we would ride parallel to HWY 20 on Goats Creek Road.J.

Being fairly fresh compared to the rest of the group, I led the ride on where Leon would later note that we were supposed to keep the pace reasonable…  sorry Leon I didn’t want to arrive at the cabin with gas in the tank 

At the junction of Goats Creek and HWY 20 near Winthrop, Chris offered a choice to ride a shorter distance on gravel or ride thru town, a longer loop but paved.  Mike and I decided to take up Dwaine’s Cyclocross  challenge and took the gravel washboard path.  We would later regret that faithful decision as rocks pinged off our rims and it got a bit sketchy. At one point I thought my fillings might come loose on a particularly rough section, so I caught a ride with Chris while Mike continued to tough it out.  Chris and I had a great chance to get to know each other as we arrived first at the Fox’s beautiful and accommodating cabin.  I would learn that we had something besides cycling in common as he is a lawyer and me a former Contracts professional at NASA and Boeing 

When the rest of the group arrived, some decided to check out the near-by river while others ran into town to pick up some beer for the evening.  I was happy to get dinner going with help from Martin and Dwaine who were happy to assist.  We would later enjoy a spaghetti dinner outside with great weather to accompany the great conversations and reflections of the day.

We would all head to bed early as we were tuckered out from the full day we had all enjoyed together.  The next morning we would benefit from a hearty breakfast and later get started after much logistics, some of which I enjoyed watching from a cabin window as it was near freezing outside.  Leon and I stayed back to be the last to leave for the ride so we got to visit a bit, Leon being anxious to get started.  We would join the group about 9 miles into the ride where climbing began in earnest.  For the first 8 miles we rode as a group but Mark and I decided to fall back a bit to keep from redlining.  We were concerned that with the most demanding section still ahead, that we would hold up the group, so we decided to catch Chris as he backtracked from his assent up the steepest section – way to go Chris!  Mark did start out alone but we would collect him shortly after Chris returned.  As we three arrived by car at the top of Washington Pass (5477 ft), we would see the remainder of the main group just nearing the top.  It was time to fuel up so most enjoyed the “Costco Special” wrap slices and oranges that Chris had brought along.

I joined the remainder of the climb up Rainy pass where Martin and I had an opportunity to connect then re-join the group at the top of the pass.  Martin was able to find his cycling shoes that had been misplaced in Mike’s van, which I’m sure he was thankful for not to having to complete the ride in running shoes.  As we gathered the group, Chris told a story about the saying “it’s all downhill from here” and also mentioned that there was a nice clear lake (Rainy Lake) nearby where there was a paved path to the lake that was suitable for bike riding.  Mark and I, in addition to sagging, enjoyed visiting Rainy Lake on a whim.  When Mark and I set out to catch up with the group, we were amazed that we had to go over 20 miles as the pace was very quick being mostly downhill.  We ended up driving to the location that Leon had parked then backtracked up the pass.  As the group gathered at the van and took in nourishment, Chris encouraged me to finish the ride as the views are spectacular and it was mostly downhill.  I set out a few minutes early thinking I would be caught by the rest of the group but that ended up not to be a concern, as I emptied the tank once again while enjoying the views.

As we all said our goodbyes and thank-you to Chris and Mike at the Newhalem gathering lot, some groups discussed having lunch together at a burger joint on the return car ride.  We decided to pass on Buffalo Burger, in favor of another burger joint that Mike had spotted. It ended up being closed due to power failure so we pushed onto a Wendy’s off I-5.  On the car ride back, we listened to the disappointing Hawks game on the radio and I took solace that while we didn’t do the full ride, by most measures, we can still hold our heads high, if compared to normal cyclists.   We are hoping to return next year and give it another go should  the opportunity present itself. Thanks for the great memories all!

Mark Delrosario's Thoughts:

I'd also like to second the sentiment about how fun it was to enjoy the good company of fellow Cyclopaths.  It was an adventure being in an area of the state I have never visited before.  Riding with the group has brought me to many firsts; first ride with Mike and Leon happen to be the Climb, then on to Mt. Rainier, numerous mountain passes and ridges and now the North Cascades Highway.

Speaking for myself I found the long mountain highway terrain a challenging end of season ride.  The rest of the group steadily ascended the road as though it was just rolling hills.  It is an impressive sight to see a team of orange jerseys flying on the bikes.  Our typical rides do not consist of a Sag wagon so having one around was a welcome relief.  Being able to have the time to recoup allowed me to survive and finish out the rides on both days.

Thank you to Chris for the hospitality and for the positive encouragement.  Thank you to Mike for being our Manager, Directeur Sportif and Captain on the Road.  Besides taking on those responsibilities, Mike is riding awesome and perhaps in his best form ever according to Leon.

I overheard talk of 'when I am old and not able to ride anymore.'  I don't believe that day will come anytime soon nor is there any hint of any one of you slowing down.  What I have witnessed is that cycling has been a fountain of youth and I continue to be inspired by the older members of our group.


Leon Matz’s Thoughts:

Kurt's paragraphs did a nice job of recounting the weekend and Chris's two sentences captured the essence of the weekend.  Here is my two bits.

It was an incredibly wonderful weekend. A terrific way to bring to close a terrific main cycling season.

Their were three not so enjoyable parts of the weekend for me. 1. Taking off in very strong head wind from Newhalem with the front of the pack hammering like we were at the end of the ride not the beginning. Thank goodness the wind slowed some as we headed up the canyon and the testosterone eased some. 2. While riding back up Washington pass on day one I got stuck not being able to make the turn downhill to join the cyclopath train.  I worked real hard to try and catch up but the speed train was too strong and fast for me.  Soon the train was out of sight, and I was trying to not make people wait too long for me. Even though on a descent talking is hard just having your mates around makes it fun and makes you feel connected.  In my case being dropped left me feeling isolated and lonely. 3. As most of you know I am a early riser and like to get going on the bike. When I woke up at 5:00 it was very dark an only a howling coyote seemed to be awake. When it finally became light outside the 32 deg. temp shocked me. Another one of my major weaknesses is the ability to handle the cold. Mike devised a wise plan for me and Kurt to be the last two to get a ride to the paved road and the start of the climb. My weak patience was tried as we waited for Chris to return to get started riding.

Even though the riding was terrific and the views ever changing and spectacular it was the camradare that we shared over the weekend was what will stick with me. From the quiet talk with Chris about our memories about catholic schools, to talking to Martin about his wonderful family, to listening Dewayne talk about his job, to teasing Mike about his lack of telephone bars.  I am truly a blessed man to have such good friends that I could share a weekend with.  You are a very special group of people. Accomplished cyclists, who are very bright, hardworking and caring men who are incredibly fun to be with. THIS LAST WEEKEND WILL STAY WITH ME A LONG TIME!! When I get real old and real senile I expect that  I will recount this special weekend with all that will be willing to listen.  When my dad and mom were alive but in their last few years I heard over and over the "Good Old Days".  Thanks for giving me such a special memory "As the Good Old Days !!!!


Les Becker’s Thoughts:

Nice comments Leon, I too will cherish these memories for a long time. The riding was exciting as it always is on a Cyclopath ride. But mostly I value the connection with great friends. Hadn't seen Chris, John & Martin much lately so particularly good to reconnect. One memory stands out. I thought Chris was joking when he suggested dipping into the freezing Methow River. So cold it was painful even to walk ankle deep. But I couldn't let Chris and Martin shame me as they first took the plunge. So in I went... and quickly came out!

Again thank-you Mike for all the organizing (and for riding with me up Washington Pass Sunday) and to Chris for being such a gracious host.

Les & Mike together on Washington Pass...

Chris Fox’s Thoughts:

Good morning Cyclopaths.     Thanks for a wonderful weekend with you getting high in the Cascades.    Here are a couple of photos taken on the eastern descent from Washington Pass.    No cars, just cyclists enjoying the open road and alpine splendor.

Ross Lake Viewpoint

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