An Early Spring Ride to Castlegar, BC
April 8-9th 2006
Total Miles: 884 miles, 2 days
Seattle– Castlegar – Seattle
The winter hadn’t been that bad. Heck, I had been on a couple of a big day rides on Christmas and New Year’s Day, plus riding to work every day. But that doesn’t quench the desire for a multi-day trip, a trip that lets you get further from home and revisit old stomping grounds and find new ones. It was time to make one of those trips…
I had made arrangements to stay with a friend who lives in Castlegar. I hadn’t actually met him, but since I was planning on visiting him later this summer as part of a group ride I thought that it wouldn’t hurt to have a little pre-ride meeting. Jim (bubba zenetti) graciously accepted my request for a couch for the night and sent me directions. I kept a careful eye on road conditions and weather reports. While there are many ways of getting to Castlegar, they all require crossing at least two mountain passes. And the second week of April is by no means spring time in the mountains.
Saturday morning came early and I awoke to find a message from Jim wondering if I was going to cancel the trip. What Jim doesn’t know about me is that I rarely start a ride before 8am (unlike his 6am starts), so this was completely normal for me. I wrote back saying that I was on my way and gave him a rough estimate of when I’d show up at his garage door. I did a final check of road and weather condition, tossed some stuff onto the GS, geared up and said good-bye to the kitties. I was on my way.
I still didn’t know which way I was going to go even as I left the driveway. I had an inkling of which route would offer me the best conditions with the best roads and still leave me “fresh roads” to come home on. The skies over Seattle were gray and held no illusions of a dry day. I chose to go over Stevens Pass (Hwy 2).
The last time I was on Stevens Pass there was snow and ice on the road, but I knew that it would be clear by now. Thankfully, there wasn’t even much in the way of traction sand on the road surface. The ride over the Pass was quick – it was early on a Saturday and not many others were out and about yet. I thought about stopping for pictures, but whenever I saw a good “photo op” I had usually just passed a bunch of cars and I didn’t want to have to pass them again. Besides, it was raining, and we all know that those sort of pictures never turn out nice.
As I dropped down toward Wenatchee I again had to chose which way to go. I usually head for the Grand Coulee Dam and then north, but I wanted something different, so I stayed north on 97, following the Okanogan River. The orchards were full of activity with workers pruning branches, tractors spraying chemicals and/or fertilizers and new trees being planted. At this point the ride became a ride of smells. There were so many different olfactory sensations throughout my ride! The smell of the orchards, the frequent smell of new rain, heavy sap percolating from a timber harvest, the fresh washed pine needles along the Kettle River, more new rain… it was amazing. But I digress, because at this point something else amazing happened: the sun came out. Yes, for a short time I was able to ride without the rain spattering on my visor or washing across my windscreen.
Along 97 in the Okanogan
Along 97 in the Okanogan
At this time I needed to fuel both myself and my bike and stopped in the little town of Pateros. Not much going on there, so I ate and left, continuing north until I reached Tonasket and Hwy 20. The road climbs rapidly once I turned from the Okanogan Valley and the organization of the orchards gives way to sparse, low vegetation indicative of the arid climate. Eventually the “hard climb” is replaced by a “gentle climb” and I found myself passing through pine-covered hills, red needles littering the ground beneath their boughs. Then I noticed that the ground was being covered by snow, and I crested Wauconda Pass without fanfair. I pulled into Republic and checked in with my favourite gas station to find out what the conditions were on Sherman Pass. The cashier there said that the roads were clear; excellent! I could continue east for a while longer before heading north and across the border. The temperatures thus far had stayed within the 40s, mostly low 40s, but at least not too much colder than that. Sherman Pass would give me the low of the day, approximately 38. And it was here that I realized that I hadn’t plugged my heated jacket in from my last stop in Republic. It was cold.
Mostly dry roads as I gain elevation to Wauconda Pass
But the clouds never quite left me alone…
As stated on the Washington State Tourism site: “Sherman Pass Scenic Byway – SR 20 is a road less traveled. Plenty of open road, and few traffic jams, or stop signs along this path. The byway stretches 35 miles across Northeast Washington, much of it on the Colville National Forest, connecting the communities of Republic on the west and Kettle Falls on the east. The road climbs steeply to cross Sherman Pass, Washington’s highest maintained pass at 5,575 feet. Rushing creeks, waterfalls and forests of ponderosa pine, western larch, and Douglas fir dominate the eastern side of the Pass, starkly contrasted on the westside by the gray snag remnants of the massive White Mountain fire of 1988. This byway follows a historic route used by Native Americans as they made their way to fishing grounds of the Columbia River. The trail later became a pioneer wagon route and was named after Civil War General William T. Sherman, who passed through the area in the 1883.”
So there you have it, in “official language”. And here is a brief photographic essay:
The road up from Republic
The remains of an 18-year old fire on White Mountain
More rain on Sherman Pass
Still plenty of snow at 5,500′
From Sherman Pass the road drops quickly and curvaceously to the Columbia River/Roosevelt Lake area. From here I turned north on 395 in order to make the best time possible getting to Castlegar. I didn’t relish trying to find Jim’s house in the dark. And did I mention that it was raining? Its a quick trip up to the Canadian border and the rain actually paused slightly while I stopped at the crossing. The guard was less-than-pleased with my answers that I was going to meet someone I had never actually met other than online. I think he was actually a little concerned. Or suspicious. Its hard to tell with those guys. Apparently my explanation of “knowing” him for two years on a motorcycle forum put his mind at ease and he wished me a pleasant trip. And he stamped my passport (per my special request, of course).
I reached Castlegar after once again crossing over a wet and cold Pass, this one being Bonanza Pass. It continued to rain, a little fog crept in, the sand became hazardous and I was happy to reach the pleasant valley where Castlegar has taken root. I made a quick stop at the store for some “thank you” gifts and then got lost. Jim warned me that the directions may not be helpful, but fortunately the folks at the nearby gas station were, and I was once again on my way to my destination.
Jim, his wife Karina and their daughter Arija greeted me with an open garage (and open arms, too) and after introductions were made we settled down to lovely conversation, an excellent dinner and then more conversation. It is fun to finally meet someone in person whom you’ve only known online. The guest bed was ready, and I was very appreciative of it when it came time to close my eyes for the night. It was an excellent day of socializing and riding, and I still had the ride home to look forward to the next day!
Jim, Karina and Borris in Castlegar
I was up earlier than I expected, got dressed and packed up my bags. I didn’t want to get too early of a start as I figured that the passes would still be cold or even frozen from the previous night. Jim and I discussed different route options and checked the weather. The entire Pacific Northwest was under a cloud; it would make no difference which way I went home. I eventually said my good-byes, packed up the bike and rolled out into the rain. Always looking for new roads, I chose to head directly south, following the valley of the Columbia River as it crosses the border. This way I might also avoid any passes that were experiencing “inclement weather” this early in the day. I rode down 22 through Trail and then took the Alternate 22A to take me to the border. I had just passed a car and was coming around a wide open corner with two ancient trestle bridges in sight. I was startled to see that one was a railroad bridge, and the other was a one-lane bridge. With wooden decking. In the rain. Ick. I braked hard, took the bike down to 1st gear and gingerly made my way over it’s long expanse. I should have taken a picture. Directly after that was the US border crossing. It went much quicker than the last time and I was again on my way south. This section of road is very primitive and narrow. I’m sure that its great fun in the summer, but at this particular time it was very wet and covered extensively with sand in all of the corners. I kept my speeds down and instead enjoyed the passing scenery. The road hit a junction and I was now on 25 and coming upon Lake Roosevelt, a man-made lake that had apparently lost a lot of its water over recent years. As with most roads that follow the contours of a lake, 25 is full of fun little sweepers, a few elevation changes and of course, plenty of things to look at. Personally, I was fascinated by the exposed beaches left by the low water.
A rather sad looking boat launch
The BMW, looking good
Morning clouds over Lake Roosevelt
Route 25 along Lake Roosevelt
Exposed sands from receding waters
Looking across the lake from 25
I was content to follow 25 south until it ended at Hwy 2 and then head west for home. But then I saw the ferry. I didn’t realize that there was a ferry on this lake and immediately decided to take it. It was good timing, too, as they had just loaded the last car (there were three in all) and were about to depart. I parked my bike and while waiting for us to shove off I noticed the work that that state had to do in order for the road to reach the ferry. So I took some more pictures.
Just barely squeezed my bike on board…
Ramp extension to reach the water
How low can you go?
The ferry was quick (7.5mph according to my GPS) and it dumped me off in the small town of Inchelium. Inchelium is a reservation town that apparently put its monies into something other than road signs. I found myself heading north instead of south (or even west would have been fine), which is the way I had just come from. I considered stopping and turning around, but the sun was actually poking its head out and the road was just as fine on this side of the lake. I kept going north until I found Hwy 20 – and Sherman Pass – again. I was looking forward to hitting Sherman Pass again because this time I knew that the road had no sand and was in good condition. It would make for a much more confident ride through the curves. Was I ever wrong!
I had just passed a couple of cars and was noting the rotting snow still piled in the woods and along the rushing stream when I noted something else: the snow was also on the tree boughs. I didn’t recall this from yesterday’s ride, and this snow looked fresh. I figured that it must have fallen overnight. And that’s when I noticed that it was no longer rain on my visor, but big fat wet flakes of snow. And little bits of slush on the road, too. I slowed down, cranked up the heated jacket and kept on going. After stopping for a couple more pictures, of course.
Snowing at Sherman Pass, with heavy clouds
It was beautiful to see it coming down
Coming down the pass was easy and I found myself in Republic again. I fueled up, thought about eating and then decided to keep on going. I chose to head south again, this time on 21, a fabulous road that follows the Kettle River all the way to the Columbia River. After seeing the low water in Lake Roosevelt, I was surprised to see all of the flooded fields in this valley. Water was everywhere, including coming down from the sky. To be fair, there were about 10 miles of dry roads along here, as well as a couple of wild turkeys and two Harley riders out for a joy ride (I had spoken with them briefly at the gas station). At the end of 21 is another ferry, the Keller Ferry. I had taken this one a couple of years ago and it was just as I remembered. I again arrived just in time to squeeze my bike on board. You can see the company I’m keeping on this ride.
Leaving the north side Keller dock
Playing with the Big Boys
Looking back from whence I came
Not-so-spectacular views of the Columbia
And then the roads straightened out. Sure, there is a dramatic rise from the Columbia River up to the plateau, but once you’re up there, its nothing but flat pastures and fields for miles and miles. And today that was mirrored by endless low clouds hanging threateningly overhead.
Looking northwest near Wilbur, WA
Eventually I reached water again, this time in the form of various lakes formed by damming the Columbia River. I finally stopped for lunch just passed the Dry Falls Dam near Coulee City at 2pm. I was making excellent time and knew that I could dwadle all I wanted. Lunch was simple and tasty, not to mention quick. I found myself back on the bike heading south towards Soap Lake. But first I came across a sign for the “Dry Falls”. I had time; why not stop? So I did. Here’s what I found:
Looking down from the top of the “dry falls”
This was all carved out during the last ice age
Well enough, I was now in the mood to “sight see”. As I rode south the traffic got quite heavy and I was only too pleased to pull over and take some more pictures while re-adjusting an earplug. These would be the last pictures I’d take on this trip, so enjoy them
Downstream from the Dry Falls, this is Lake Lenore
Looking at Lake Lenore
I eagerly anticipated Soap Lake, as I heard that it used to be a place for people to go for medical baths in the lake’s “magical” waters. I was quite disappointed with the town, however, and managed to ride slowly through it without being enticed to stop. At this point the roads left the water behind and became once again arrow-straight. I was now on 283 which then spit me unceremoniously onto I-90 where I joined the herd of people moving west. It was excruciating. I saw many RVs and trailers with dual sport bikes on them, no doubt from the DS100 race that had taken place over the weekend near Moses Lake. A guy driving a “KTM Racing” truck gave me a thumbs up as I went past and I waved back. The two of us ended up playing tag for the remainder of the ride, at least until I stopped for gas in Northbend and paid an outrageous price for it.
The bike is now in the garage, a completely filthy spectacle of weekend fun while I have since taken a shower, had some dinner and have sorted through the photos. It was a great trip, and speaks well of more to come this year.