ITT attempt of the XWA to benefit the Alzheimer's Association
But what does that have to do with me riding across the state of Washington?
According to the Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation, regular physical exercise can help reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease by up to 50%. And I wanted to fundraise for a cause that was important to me, because that would help me to feel some external motivation to finish the ride.
It seemed that all of the stars were aligned and I would be granted the opportunity to bid farewell to Washington in my favorite way.
Eventually, I had to stop to sleep, still on the Olympic Peninsula, which was shy of my goal for the day, but was still a decent start to a long ride.
149.8 miles, 9,044 ft of climbing in 18 hours.
Naturally I missed a turn, which was no big deal, but added an hour to my day. The alternate route that Troy had devised dropped me down the most techy singletrack of the entire ride, and was quite delightful. Then I cruised along Denny Creek, slowly regaining the elevation that I had just lost, until ... I found snow. It was still fairly warm out (probably mid 40's), despite the fact that the sun had long since set and the moon was bright and shining. This made for soft snow that was slow and tiring to walk through. At first I was pushing/dragging my heavily burdened bike. This proved to be more effort than just putting the bike on my shoulders and slogging through the snow. But it also meant that I would occasionally punch through and post-hole up to my crotch. In short, what was supposed to take about 3.5 hours, ended up taking twice that, and was one of my most physically demanding days, ever. I did eventually make it to the hotel and was showered and horizontal just after 3am.
134.8 miles, 9409 feet of climbing in 23 hours
The riding down from Snoqualmie Pass would have been nearly impossible (similar to the previous night) due to snow. I took the advice of a friendly bikepacker named Todd and rode on the shoulder of the interstate for about 10 miles. It wasn't as bad as I feared, but I vastly prefer dirt to highway.
Overall, that day was a rest/recovery day. I managed 76.8 miles, 1813 feet of climbing in 12 hours. I also had a burger, fries and a blizzard at Dairy Queen in Ellensburg. I was enjoying my indulgence and recharging my electronic gizmos when a father and little girl (let's call her Mintberry Shortcake) tried to enter Dairy Queen. I had passed them on the ride through town and recognized her braided pigtails and their matching father-daughter skateboards. Sadly, dad had forgotten to bring masks and DQ was not going to be flexible about their policy. Poor little Mintberry burst into tears at the news and I sprung into action, taking their orders outside and bringing them their frozen treats. Mintberry, like myself, prefers a mint oreo blizzard. Her tears magically evaporated and she got to work on that blizzard like she was as determined to finish it as I was to ride my bike across the state.
That night was the best sleep I had during the entire ride- as reflected in the following day's numbers. Between Ellensburg and Ephrata were arguably the 2 biggest climbs and most awe-inspiring scenery in Washington. The Colockum Wildlife Area treated me to short patches of firm snow, amazing views, long, rocky descents and oodles of elk. I received a big morale boost when a fellow gravel rider joined me for a few miles on the way into Wenatchee. Shiggy is well-known on the Washington long-distance cycling circles and I was stoked to finally meet such a nice guy! The canyon had about a half a dozen creek crossings that at first were charming, but became quickly tiresome. The process of taking off shoes and socks and wading across the creek with my bike and then drying my feet off to put shoes and socks back on was time consuming and daylight was quickly fading. Eventually I tried scrambling/jumping across the creek which of course resulted in soggy feet. At the next crossing, I tried just riding across and my feet were of course soaked. We're talking water-sloshing-inside-the-shoes-soaked. I stopped to pour the water out of the shoes and wring out my socks. No time saved with that move. The next crossing I elected to angrily throw my shoes & socks across the creek as this would save me the additional step of attaching the shoes to my bike. Well, one of the socks that was hastily shoved into the shoe went flying into the tall grass along the creek. This lead to my stomping around in the tall, wet grass for about 10 minutes in the dark- much longer than it would have taken me to just attach the shoes to my bike as I had been doing. But eventually, I was able to recover my stinky, soggy, sock.
After 114.2 miles, 9255 feet of climbing during 19 hours of effort, I parked my bike behind the bathroom building in the Lion's Park in Ephrata and closed my eyes after shoving my shriveled feet inside my sleeping bag. About an hour later, the most powerful sprinkler system known to man started jetting water up and over the roof of the building, directly onto my sleeping bag (and me). I thought I was under some sort of attack and sprang out of my bag and tried to make sense of where I was and what was happening. Moments later, the sprinkler cycle returned and sprayed more water onto the now vacant sleeping bag and my brain clicked to ON. I grabbed the soggy bag and pad (I had not set up my waterproof bivy as there was 0% chance of rain forecast) and relocated it 5 ft to the other side of my bike. I then contemplated life choices for about 12 seconds before crawling back into my now soggy sleeping bag, where I proceeded to shiver and startle for the next several hours until the pre-dawn birds started to chirp and it was time to pack up in the dark and start pedaling.
The weather continued to be absolutely perfect, until I arrived in Warden. The town of Warden, Washington is probably not the prettiest place I've ever ridden. There were feed lots and tumble weed and a gas station with a nice porta-potty. But I did encounter Travis, a friendly Washington State Parks ranger just outside of Warden. He had some sound advice about the coming segments, including where to find water in a pinch, where the burned up trestles were and how to bipass around them. His last words were, "Be safe, its a desert out there." Soon I understood what he meant. Temps were forecast in the eighties, but it felt hotter than that. There was no shade and the dark rock surface of the trail absorbed the heat and felt like it was baking me from below. Additionally, there were some gnarly sections of impassable trail that were entirely clogged with tumbleweed. This required me to schlep my bike up a steep, sandy and erosion-prone embankment to exit the trail and bushwhack past the clog. When I would try to navigate some of the shorter clogs, the tumbleweed violently scrapped my legs and became entangled in my wheels and drivetrain.
Eventually I was through the worst of the tumbleweed, desert and the shadows grew long as the light grew golden. I had arrived on the Palouse at golden hour and it was a huge emotional boost to be back on my home turf. Green and gold, rolling, pastoral hills and bright yellow canola fields are familiar scenes during my typical gravel rides from home and were a very welcome sight. I called Matt as I was approaching Ritzville, thinking I would ride through the night and be home in the morning, just a few short hours away. The milkshake, sandwich and fries in Ritzville were amazing, but a few hours later, the air was growing dank and cold and I was looking for a place to catch up on my shut eye after only about 125 miles, 3000ish ft and 19 hours of effort. I was able to sleep soundly for about 2 hours before a very loud train came close to my chosen bivy site, causing me to feel intensely awake and ready to ride.
I was enjoying the constantly rolling hills of the Palouse when low and behold, another bikepacker was headed my way. This turned out to be Tucker. He had set out the previous day from Tekoa, Washington on the full XWA route and was unaware of the snow issues ahead. I was elated to see another bikepacker and wished him luck as well as promising to share my route data as soon as I returned to cell-service. He reminded me of the 3 burned trestles on the route near Pine City and Malden and I assured him that I knew to detour around the devastated towns.
Well somehow I botched that and when I came to the first blackened trestle, I realized that the sleep deprivation was probably starting to affect my brain's executive functions more than I was aware. I also realized that I would have to do some negotiating with fences and a creek crossing to escape the trail and detour onto roads. I decided that the straightest line to Rosalia would be the best detour, and found myself on delightful gravel, albeit VERY steep hills. My knees were starting to develop some telltale lateral pains. When I pulled into Rosalia I sat myself down in a local diner and had a heaping dose of french fries and coffee to help motivate me through the last stretch.
The coffee and fries did little to revive me. At this point, it was becoming difficult to walk in a straight line, let alone mount and dismount the bike. There were some wind gusts to contend with and I elected to forgo the victory lap around Tekoa to the state line and back, telling myself that I didn't want to keep my driver waiting. Jennifer graciously offered to pick me up on her way to Spokane after her last ever day of grad school. That last day ended up being 85.5 miles, 3484 feet in about 14 hours. The lack of sleep seemed to dramatically affect my performance.
Although it was not my intent to ride the XWA in such a sleep deprived state, by doing so, I felt like I had a taste of what early Alzheimer's might feel like. I didn't like it.