Day 12 : 74 miles and loads of climbing.
We have been asked to explain who the “I” is in this blog. Well we are both contributing but also alternating. So this “I” is David but it is Bernie whose bottom has been objecting to days in the saddle. They all laughed at my old fashioned Brooks leather saddle but it has proved its weight in gold so far.
Today started like other days – an hour to get up, have porridge, break camp and then start to ride. But thensomething happened which may have defined part of this trip. Bernie went ahead to fill the water bottles and I sorted out the last few things. I then pushed ny bike to the road and attempted to mount my bike – and it all went wrong. I am not sure what happened but the balance went, and the effort I put into getting the bike going was translated into a force that shoved the brakes off my handle bars into the left hand side of my back. I lay on the floor, winded and feeling like I had been thumped very, very hard in the rear chest muscle. I cried out in a combination of pain but mainly embarrassment. How could I possibly have been so stupid to have fallen off my bike with no help from anyone else and going a total of 0 miles an hour.
I expected the pain to ease off as quickly as the embarrassment, but it has proved slightly more durable. Anyway I struggled to my feet with Bernie’s help (who did very well not to laugh at loud at the idiocy of her husband who could not even mount a bicycle properly). It all felt a bit painful and so we set off – what else could we do. It was downhill for the first few miles and we thought it would ease.
Cycling through the woods early in the morning was amazing – even if it was slightly overcast. Beautiful tall trees and the occasional stream as we sped down to the main road. It was almost all downhill to Packwood where we stopped for a coffee. It was a bit drizzly but the welcome was warm. Bernie observed that there are definitely a group of American men in their 60s and 70s who congregate in the local coffee shops in the morning to drink coffee, swap views of the world and generally chew the cud. It is always men doing the morning coffee exchange, not women, although we assume the women must get together somewhere else.
After Packwood the road continued gently downhill for 16 miles to the metropolis of Randle. We stopped for “second breakfast” which has become our main meal of the day. Usually omlettes with hash browns and lots of side bits. Food was not too great today and the internet connection was crap. We were the only customers!
I made the serious tactical error of leaving Bernie to do the food shopping whilst I wrestled with the internet. “Error” is probably too harsh but there were a few things left in the food shop when she finished. We strapped them onto the bikes and posted a few postcards. I sent one to the orthopaedic surgeon at Oswestry who did such a brilliant job on my ankles in 2011 after my paragliding accident. I am conscious that it was his skill that gave me functioning legs and it seemed right to thank him again because we would not be here without his input.
We then faced the first big hill of the day. Randle is at about 700 feet; Elk Pass is 4,080 feet. The climb was in 3 stages. We climbed the first steep bit and then descended. There is something which makes all cyclists deeply resentful of a road that descends during a major climb. All that effort is lost as we dropped down a few hundred feet. It feels like losing unsaved work on a computer – I will just have to do the whole thing again! Being resentful to a road is, of course, my problem and not the road’s problem because the road has no feelings. But then again I suppose I could direct my ire to the roadbuilders.
Anyway after dropping back 400 feet we began the steep climb. It was tough! My back was in a pretty bad way although I could cycle OK. It was just the stopping and starting that caused rivers of pain to flow up the side of my body.
Half way up we met some guys working on a helicopter at the side of the road. They explained that they used it for logging – pulling fallen trees out of the forest. But they could not fly today as the mist had come down and so were doing some maintenance. We could fly down to Randle they said (about 10 miles away at this point) but cannot work! It sounded to us as if they were seriously skilled pilots, but might just take the helicopter down to Randle for a coffee later in the same way that we would pop down in the car.
After a challenging final section we reached the top of Elk Pass – all in the mist. No photos I am afraid (gadget to transfer photos still not replaced) but they would not show much anyway.
Then we dropped down – and I had a puncture. The road surface is pretty tough at times because all these roads are closed due to snow in the winter, and so get a hard time from the weather. We changed the inner tube and then carried on down. At one point there was a viewpoint which, as we were just under the clouds, gave us a view. It showed the destrutive path of Mount St. Helens which erupted in 1980. Vast streams of lava and mud flowed down the mountain at speeds of between 30 and 60mph. New landscapes were created, vegetation changed and everything in the ecology had to adapt to a new environment. This was described in sign boards at the viewpoint which were fascinating.
Then down again to cross Muddy River and the final few miles to Swift Creek Reservoir. We were offered the choice of camping at $16 or a hut for $50 for the night and opted for the hut. My back muscles were objecting which is hardly surprising as I had put them through 74 miles of cycling aftergiving them the equivalent of a boxing match with Mike Tyson (no – that is not right – Mike Tyson can punch much harder than falling off a bicycle). Anyway I lay on the bed feeling pathetic and Bernie was brilliant. There was a hot shower which would have been worth $50 on its own to be honest as we had only washed in cold water for the last 4 days.
Dosed up with painkillers I drifted to sleep – kicking myself for being so stupid for being assaulted by my own bicycle.