Thursday, August 07, 2014

The BC-Washington Loop: Phase 4: Omak to Oak Harbor - Washington Pass

Click to enlarge...

1 Grand Coulee: Dam! That was a great ride down from Omak.  The dam itself is the most powerful generating facility in North America.  Pictures don't do it justice.  With names like Electric City and Elmer the local communities are small and pin their hopes on tourism and agriculture.  The peaches, cherries and apricots are fine - sweet and cheap.  Great breaky.

2, 3 and 4 Grand Coulee to Pateros: Fire and Water.  This was probably the most isolated road I have ever driven on.  As usual in Washington, with incredibly light use, the surface was immaculate. The road starts curving through some amazing terrain, and ends being like a dead straight ribbon which undulates over light rolling desert hills.  You might see a coyote, a vulture or a dust devil, but you likely won't see another vehicle.  In our case, we saw one: it was a huge camper I could see heading north miles ahead of us.  It took a while to catch him because like us, he realised that speed enforcement was not ever going to be an issue on this road.
Great scenic curves leaving Coulee City.

Wind up your Hyabusa here.  Look at the surface and no smoky bear anywhere in sight.
4 Pateros: Back on the SR20. The forest fires you heard about in Washington state, well Pateros was ground zero.  We stopped, but with the American Red Cross, exhausted looking fire fighters, and destitute families pulling burned wreckage out of what remained of their homes or melted trucks, taking pictures seemed crass.  There were hand painted signs everwhere thanking the firefighters for their gallant effort at saving their towns.  Leaving Pateros, ironically, we encountered the biggest thunderstorm I have ever had the "pleasure" to ride though.  This was the same one that hit BC some hours later that day (forcing the evacuation of our daughter from her camp in Enderby later that night).  The drops were huge - it was a deluge, and just what the forest fire needed to control it.  The rain, hail and lightening just added to the surreal sight of smouldering desert: we got soaked and could have been forgiven for thinking we had crashed and gone to hell, such was the wasteland and carnage we passed.  Riding through it, you would see a completely burned landscape, with the occasional house, green lawn and perfect fruit trees, the fire having burned a perfect rectangular perimeter around it...Wild.
Before the deluge.  Notice the blackened desert on the right.  This went on and got worse for hours....
The the rain hit...
It kept coming...surreal with the scorched earth...
 5 Twisp: The rain was so bad, we tried stopping at several small communities, but with power poles incinerated there was no power, and everything was closed, with residents forced to leave for food, shelter etc.  We saw no one in these towns.  Finally, one small store in a place called Twisp was open.  The County Sheriff and town police officer had made it their HQ, as it was the only place with a generator (and doughnuts).  For us it was a chance to stop, eat (we hadn't eaten since a few pieces of fruit in the morning which seemed like a different era...90F and sunshine, reduced to 60F, heated vest and a deluge...)  We grabbed a bowl of soup each and hung our jackets up.  When we left, we felt guilty about the lake of water we left under and around our table!
It seemed like the whole of Twisp was gathered in the General Store and Pharmacy.
6 Washington Pass.  SR20 is an amazing road, but the crown in the jewel is from Winthrop up and over Washington Pass and down to Diablo Lake.   Thunder, lightning, rain, snow, hail and gusts of wind hitting 50mph couldn't take away from the views.  Topping out at 5000 feet, the pass is guarded by Silverstar Mountain and the most amazing glacial valley.  The road is amazing and speeds of 85mph are easy up until the hairpin switchback section just west of Silverstar mountain where you should take the signage seriously.  Then its down down down all the way to Diablo Lake - aptly named, as, just as the signs warn, this area is famous for devilishly extreme side and head gusts.  Well with a thunderstorm passing over us, we got the full meal deal.  The lake itself reminds me of Payto lake near Banff = it's glacial blue and set among some gorgeous mountains with treed islands. Got to say, the Strom took it all in her stride and tracked really well particularly the winds.  Again the trail wings were amazing in the soaking conditions - there was no aquaplaning, those big sipes cleared water well.  

Washington Pass may only be half the height of Tioga Pass in Yosemite, but it's every bit as impressive...You ride up that ribbon on the left.
Yes, that's snow to the right of the road...
Snow...Those hand guards are worth their weight in the rain and cold wind.  The adjustable Madstad screen is worth the money over the stock crap.
Diablo Lake.  I won't wax lyrical - the picture speaks volumes. This is where the rain stopped and the wind started.

From here it was back to more familiar terrain, through Sedro-Wolley (hey, I don't name them) and through to Oak Harbor and my in-laws place to dry the gear out and change the oil.  Why not, Mobil 1 4T is 8.97L down there!  We took a side trip the next day to Hurricane Ridge via the Coupeville to Port Townsend Ferry and up to Port Angelis.  It was impressive, and Hurricane Ridge was spectacular.  But that's for another day... 

Getting back to the island from Oak Harbor is easy.  Take the Anacortes - Sidney ferry for an incredibly scenic (cheap) 2 hour trip through the San Juan's, Souther Gulf Islands.  You ride on and off first (no booking needed for bikes).  The customs are quick in Sidney - 30 seconds for us.  It certainly beats riding up to the Peace Arch, waiting in that lineup, catching the Tsawassen Ferry and paying over the odds for the "pleasure..."  We had a great ride back up the island to Nanaimo.  2100km all told.   

Would I do this trip again?  Yes.  I wouldn't change the bike, the packing or the company!  I would change the daily destinations though, as mentioned, and there would be  few places I'd skip altogether - Whistler, Vernon, Nelson to name three.  I'd also take more time to visit places like Winthrop and spend longer in each location.  It was a bit of a whirlwind, but it left a great flavour in our mouths.  


  1. Great post Paul. Your photos are fantastic! Good to see that the electronics survived the deluge of rain that you went through. That camera housing really is watertight. Great series of blogs... you've got the job. ~Andy

  2. Thanks, Andy. Really enjoyed the trip. Sanding topsides of boat right now, or I'd be out on the Berg. You been out?

  3. Get that 'kin dragon of my bike! :)


Please Leave a Comment: