Days 92 & 93: Going for it into Walla Walla with the last big climb

I knew I had a big day ahead of me coming out of Clarkston on the road to Dayton, WA – some 4,000 feet of climbing through 50ish miles and a very hot and dry heat in the inland northwest. But the day ended up being more than I bargained for in the most wonderfully sublime and tiring of ways.

The road out of Clarkston started out flat enough:

With gorgeous views along the Snake River:

And then the road started going up:

For some reason (read willful yet blissful ignorance) I thought the climb to Hoosier Pass would be the end of my climbing. In a lot of ways it was just the beginning. But when I made it to Lolo I really thought it’d finally all be downhill to the coast. Nope. This was the day when monster elevation changes would become a thing of the past. But before I could soak up the sense of completion, I actually had to complete it.

Southeastern Washington was just as physically inhospitable as some of the other inhospitable places I’ve ridden, but even more otherworldly.

The climb just didn’t quit. In a day with 4,000 feet of climbing, roughly 3,000 of it was done in one go. I faced a lot of the same physical problems I had making it to Grangeville – no movement in the air, which exacerbated my body overheating, with tons of sweat pouring out of me. But I was motivated to beat it, and that’s what I did.

These pictures never show how steep these roads actually are. And they don’t end. Miles and miles of just going up. It’s so challenging, yet so incredible. It’s not just the beauty surrounding you. I’ve learned something on every mountain pass I’ve crossed. I’m going to miss the mountains.

Eventually the sweat pooling in my clothes was just too much. Off came the shorts:

On a practical level I don’t need anyone thinking I can’t control my bladder when they stop to chat in the middle of nowhere. So it was just cycling shorts for the rest of the day.

More otherworldliness:

And then I finally made the top, of what I guess was Alpowa Summit:

I was beat. But not beat enough to keep going. In fact I had a thought I’d never had before on the tour – I didn’t want to stay at another state park campground. I kinda wanted to just go for it. I wanted to make it into Walla Walla, my intended stop for the next day. This would have been a challenging 100-mile day, but then thought “why not just do two days of riding in one day then take tomorrow off with no change in my schedule?” And that’s just what I did, which was great, because it meant flying down Alpowa Summit with a newfound reason for speed.

I wish I could show you pictures of it but these descents are way too fast and way too fun to stop and spoil with pictures. No brakes, just a complete focus on the road around you at maybe more than 40mph, threading a needle on a bike through a canyon. Such an exhilarating experience, especially after grinding it out so slowly coming up to get to the top.

I stopped to get a coke at the antique store at the base and met Jules, who was quite the firecracker:

But the descent went on. It was a long one, which was fine by me. I zigged:

And zagged through what looked like the moon:

Bombing down a mountainside is fun, but a close second are the more gradual descents where you shift up to your highest gear and just cruise super fast, and I had a lot of that coming into Dayton:

In Dayton I stopped at a gas station to fuel up for the ride to Walla Walla. I was there nursing my Clif bar and Gatorade letting my body rest a minute when a man came up to me and started asking the questions that I’ve been asked so many times I can answer in my sleep. Seemed like a friendly, gregarious man. And then he says “you know, I’m one of those people that don’t like bikers.”

Here we go.

“It’s just I wish you had special roads designated for riding that wasn’t on the main roads. You get in the way when there ain’t much of a shoulder. I mean it’s not ok that you can even ride there. Logging trucks gotta go through there. It’s great that you’re doing this though. So where did you start again?”

“I left New York City on the 14th of May. And apparently I’ve been pissing people like you off ever since.”

He kept talking with a defensive tone and I stopped listening, not making the slightest effort to hide it. I’m not going to have that discussion with a simpleton. I may have had the patience to handle the thousands and thousands of feet of climbing I’ve done or to be out here for as long as I have, but I don’t have it for drivers who think they have more of a right to the road than me or more importantly fail to see the selfishness of their thoughts. All they see is me in their way. They don’t see a fellow, law-abiding citizen using the road as safely as possible that they can take a few seconds to giving some space to when passing, nothing more. With all the time I’ve been so vulnerable on all these roads it’s something that’s become very personal to me. So that guy in Dayton, WA? Yeah, you know what I think he can go do.

That was around 6pm and I still had a lot of riding to do. Since I knew I was going for the Motel 6 I embraced the idea of riding all day. It made me think of the last time I really had to do it, which I think was into Cleveland. I felt so much stronger on this day-long ride than I did then. I’ve come a long way.

I knew I’d be riding into nightfall, and I knew I had about 700 more feet of climbing to tackle, which soon came:

The setting sun kept peeking through the landscape as the road twisted up, like when I passed this:

They look like tin men turned into buildings, and they’re all over agricultural Washington. I’ve never seen them anywhere else. These are the things I notice…

I haven’t ridden into a setting sun since eastern Colorado. It made the ride into Walla Walla worth it:

The fields were alight with so many bizarre patterns and colors that my iPhone said “I give up” and just spit out the mediocre picture above. The reality was so much more vibrant and overpowering. It’s among the tour highlights.

And then all I needed to see to feel a sense of completion:

I was tired coming into Walla Walla but could have gone another ten more miles. That was a good feeling.

But in the room I started to feel it. I was tired. But it was a very satisfying feeling. When I decided to double the day I wanted to end it feeling completely spent like I had nothing left, and just spend the next day sleeping. I came pretty darn close to making it. Sleep would have come much easier if I weren’t feeling the pain from this:

Turns out my cycling shorts I wear under my regular shorts aren’t as long, and my legs were no match for the brutal eastern Washington sun. Ouch.

*** *** ***

Today I didn’t do much. I pretty much just slept. It’s incredibly hot outside around here and I certainly felt it yesterday. I just wanted to cool off in the shade.

But there’s no more rest. I make it into Oregon tomorrow with the coast only a few days away. I can’t wait!

-J

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