North Cascades Highway – WOW

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Photo by Peng Chuang

Sunday brought perhaps the best cycling adventure yet in Washington state – an early-season trek up the renowned North Cascades Highway to Rainy Pass (Paula) and Washington Pass (Timothy).

The views and the sounds (waterfalls providing the backdrop to an unending climb) are beyond spectacular. Physically it’s a tough grind even for the best climbers among us. For the worst climbers (that would be Paula) it’s an even greater challenge, but certainly doable. And the glorious descent – ecstasy.

One of our Cascade friends organized the trip. After a two-hour drive from Seattle, we gathered in Newhalem to use the restrooms and then continued the drive to the Colonial Creek Campground. Most of the rest of the group drove another 1.5 miles UP to an overlook before starting. Thanks to a miscommunication, Timothy and I were among a small group who wound up starting at Colonial Creek – meaning an extra 1.5 miles of climb to kick off the ride.

The weather was perfect (though a wind tunnel at our Newhalem stop nearly carried us to Kansas, making us more than a little nervous about the upcoming ride … but all was calm once we started riding). Temps were in the low- to mid- 70’s for most of the climb. I briefly saw an 83-degree reading on one of the unshaded sections – another argument to make this trip early in the season.

The state DOT closes the highway for the winter; watch for reopening announcements if you plan to do this ride in the springtime. Also, be sure to carry a hydration pack and plenty of snacks; no water or food is available along the route.

Timothy finished the day with 65.1 miles and 6,014 feet of elevation; I cut it a bit short with 55.3 miles and 4,977 feet. This was a day after our 74-mile PACES ride (more on PACES in a later post), so not a bad effort for a couple of out-of-shape kids …

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