Thursday, May 5, 2011

I Found Spring Hiding Out in the Columbia Highlands

I was invited to join a group ride on Saturday from Okanogan to Nespelem and back.  Both NOAA and predicted sunshine and temperatures in the mid-60’s for that area of north central WA, so after Thursday’s snowfall, I could not get out of town fast enough.

I had to make a quick stop at Two Wheel Transit to pick up my bike.  My chain replacement turned into a chain AND rear cassette replacement.  I seem to have to buy a new cassette every year (much to Geoff’s glee) (Editor's note: I do not glee at premature cassette wear - PCW) and I DO get my chain checked regularly for wear.  And no, I am not a big gear grinder.  Bottom line is Campagnolo is not kidding when they say the life of their 10 speed chain is 1000 miles.  Tom, mechanic to the stars, had the Hampsten ready to roll and I was on my way west.

We headed out Saturday morning from downtown Okanogan, crossed the Okanogan River, and immediately began climbing into the hills to the east on Omak Lake Rd.  The route turns rural very quickly and winds through dry sagebrush rangeland with some scattered Ponderosas.  After about 3 miles the road tops out on a little ridge and you leave the trees behind and enter a region that looks like southwestern Montana –big blue sky, steep rocky hillsides and no structures or people.  And here is where we found spring.  The hills were green and starred with bright yellow bunches of Arrowleaf Balsamroot.  The bluish- green sagebrush leaves released a fresh, spicy scent as they warmed in the sun.  Omak Lake appeared several hundred feet below the road on the left, a long irregular shaped glacial furrow rimmed by white limestone.  Coming from Snowkane, this was almost sensory overload and so much the richer to be experienced on a bicycle.

The road flows along south for many lovely miles before bearing left to follow the Columbia River.  Here the road is called the Columbia River Rd.  It traces the north shore of the river rolling up and down rocky banks.  There are almost no cars out here and the drivers of the ones that do pass, usually roll down their windows and wave.  They are smiling, but you know they are thinking “what are those crazy people doing way the heck out here?”

About 5 miles before Nespelem, the road switchbacks for a couple of miles up the old banks of the river in the days before the Grand Coulee Dam.  One rider who knew the route (it was new to me) told me the climb was steep, but short.  Another told me it was not steep, but long.  It leaned more towards the not steep, but long variety of climb, but with very distracting views.  It was a good thing there was no traffic because I was weaving all over the road as I looked around.

The road topped out on a high plateau above the river and in a couple of miles, we were in metro Nespelem.  There is an option to take Highway 155 and make a loop back to Okanogan, but we opted to return the way we came for a round trip of 90 miles.  155 has more traffic (any road would have more traffic) and we were in a state of sun-soaked cycling bliss.  So after a stop for a snack and water, we headed back through spring’s hiding place to Okanogan where the temperature was 68 degrees.  It was about 52 and getting ready to pour in Spokane at that moment.  This made it even sweeter.

Miss Clairol 

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