Day 17 – La Grande, Or to Wenatchee, Wa
Distance: 421 miles / 683 kilometres
Temperature: Low 14 (La Grande – briefly) / High 35 (Most of the Washington interior)
Travelling Time: 8:45am-5:00pm
Today was a bit of a marathon. The last hour and a half or so was the nail in the coffin. 35+ degrees is too hot to be sitting on a bike. I was fine until the heat kicked in then my energy began to drain. Nonetheless it was a really good day of riding with quite a bit of slab (long straight highways) to make up the distance to reach BC and Canada tomorrow.
I’d heard so much from other riders about the route from Enterprise to Clarkston. I’d heard of canyons and several technical sections of riding. Well the route didn’t disappoint.
A brief chat with a local in La Grande at the Safeway gas station and I was off – he recommended a stop at Walawa Lake. This lake reminded me a lot of the Waterton National Park area at home, except no skin-tearing hurricane winds. It’s a unique lake that is formed from glacial morraine from the end of the last ice age. It lies at the foot of the surrounding mountains. A nice little tourist town with restaurants and shops to make a day or weekend of it. Adding it to a list of potential getaway vacations.
The ends of the Enterprise/Clarkston route are less than awe inspiring. Riding along through forest – not much to see, fairly straight roads with occasional sweepers, but I knew that would change.
I made a quick stop at the Joseph Canyon which is marvellous. It just appears from nowhere between the trees and has a fantastic stopping point for pictures. It’s like a mini-Needles or Grand Canyon. Igneous rocks and well worn river beds have carved a huge valley.
The highlight of the route was the ascents and descents to the canyon. Cumulatively, the ends of the 80 mile route account for about 1/3 of the total ride length. There are really good high speed sweepers to get started then as you work into the canyon there are really tight turns that follow the walls of the canyon and overlook the sizeable drop over the side. Really good pavement for the most part with only a few patches of loose gravel or fallen rock to be aware of. I still find ‘chip-seal’ roads a bit odd to ride on as they occasionally have a loose surface that you can’t see until you feel the tires moving underneath you – a bit unnerving. No surprises to report. This route also has very little traffic and most of the vehicles along the way were happy to move over and let me pass – how nice of them – Albertans, are you listening?
A cruiser rider had passed me taking pictures but I caught up with him at the descent down into Clarkston which is also freshly paved and very twisty – lots of 25 mph turns and a few hairpins. I think he was surprised to see me catch up with him, but for whatever reason, he didn’t let me pass. This was so much fun I left him standing still on one of the hairpins with a quick cut to the inside – that was the last I saw of him.
I knew that the slab riding was somewhat inevitable to work my way back across Washington to some of the Central/North Central riding routes. I did avoid the highway for a while on highway 193 that wanders along the banks of the Snake? River. Quite a beautiful ride – didn’t see a single vehicle for 30-40 miles. Apparently, if you take it right to the end during the week you can catch a ferry up the river and to Almota which is also supposed to be a good route – unfortunately, there is no ferry service on the weekends. Next time…
I managed to skirt along the edge of a huge thunderstorm that was forming. I made it all the way to Dusty (ironically named…) before it started to really rain. The frustrating part is it only rained for about 10 minutes then blew past. It took me longer to stop, get the gear out, get it on and get moving than the actual rain storm. 😉 Plus wearing rain gear when it is 25 and raining is ‘somewhat’ uncomfortable.
The rest of the journey was uneventful and not particularly noteworthy – although my fuel economy has been legendary – 45 mpg / 5.x l/100 kilometres. It was nice to see the Columbia River again towards the end of the trip – it is immense. Rolled into the hotel and have been holed up here in the air conditioned room avoiding the heat.
Tomorrow may be an early day to make it to Nelson, BC for my last riding day of the trip and likely my last experience with a curved road until next spring 😉