Have you ever signed up for something without really understanding what you're getting into? Yup. That's more or less what happened to me today. When I awoke in my sprinkler-soaked tent, I had to chose between two routes to get to Clarkston, Washington. There was the short route following state route 12, then there was the long route which weaved through the country side. The short route was around 65 miles and relatively flat, but it was known for heavy truck traffic and narrow, unsafe riding conditions. The long route was closer to 90 miles and involved some climbing, but it was through safer rural areas. After all of the harassment I bore on the roads in Montana, I opted to take the longer route. Since I was no longer in the Rocky Mountains, I figured that the climbs would be negligible. Boy, was I wrong.
The route began heading South, then bent towards the West. The first 15 miles were a steady uphill climb, bringing me from about 1,000 feet above sea level to around 3,000. I arrived at an elevated plateau which reminded me of some of the farmlands I had seen in Kansas; wavy fields of crops for as far as the eye could see. However, unlike the green fields of Kansas which were patiently waiting to be harvested, these fields were all yellow. The hilly character of this land became a bit frustrating. I thoroughly enjoyed the brief downhill portions, but each downhill was followed by an uphill of equal magnitude. This mellow ride through Nowheresville, Idaho was becoming rather strenuous.
The ride took an extremely positive turn when I arrived at Winchester. This quaint, hidden town housed a little lake with a few B&Bs. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, the place was so far off the radar that there were almost no cars. Over the ensuring 20 miles I had the full roads to myself. I don't believe that more than 5 cars passed me on this stretch. This was precisely what I had hoped for, a relaxing ride.
Around mile 50 I arrived at one of the most incredible stretches I had encountered during this entire journey. It was a windy eight-mile downhill stretch through a surreal, all-yellow swath of rolling farmland. As my bike weaved around the tight switchbacks, my eyes were scanning all the scenery's nooks and crannies. It seemed as though I was descending into some sort of farm, valley, canyon hybrid. Yellow fields of crops covered the slanted sides of mountainsides and wrapped around mounds of Earth. This visual appeal of this scenery, both jagged and wavy at the same time, was enhanced by the myriad patterns that the farmers had etched into the land, presumably with their tractors. Some areas were crisscrossed and others had concentric circles, whereas some were free-flowing and unpredictable. This dull, yellow land was given such dramatic character by a windy black road cutting through this MC Escher-esque puzzle of crop patterns and geological formations. Again, I had encountered bliss on the road.
My mind was in a pleasant space after this segment as I neared my destination for the night, Clarkston, Washington. Looking at the elevation chart on my map, I saw that I still had one major climb to face before I would arrive. Ugh. I had already completed something like 60 hilly miles. I was less than enthusiastic when I arrived at the Idaho's Hells Gate State Park. Any more climbing was going to truly feel like Hell. Not really having any choice, I got to climbing.
Oh my gosh. I was really struggling with this 1,000 foot climb. It was so bad that I actually had to dismount and push for perhaps a quarter mile. I was sort of unsure as to why i was so tired. In general, the elevation profile seemed mild. I sure wasn't anyway near as high as I was in Colorado or Montana. It was really puzzling as to why i was so tired. My fatigue really didn't matter. I was within fifteen miles of my destination, I simply had to keep pushing.
When I saw the Snake River on the Western side of the park I was overwhelmed with joy. This means that I had arrived at the border of Washington state. In just a few miles I would cross from LEWISton, Idaho over the Snake River into CLARKston, Washington (get it?). This would be the fifteenth state of my journey. My excitement grew, despite the predominant sensation of physical fatigue that made it hard to elicit any kind of emotional response. Once I arrived at the bridge I mustered up just enough energy to snap a shot of the Washington State sign.
I arrived at the home of my Warm Showers host, curiously dubbed, "Gregory's Grotto." As I awaited the arrival of my host, I reviewed the ride's statistics that I regularly track on my cell phone. The distance, 85.9 miles, was rather long, but expected. The elevation gain, however, was a total shock. I had climbed 5,929 feet. What the heck? I scoured my ride history to see if I had ever climbed that much. My previous record for climbing was when I made my way from Eagler to Silverthorne, covering 71.7 miles and ascending 4,729 feet. I had beaten my personal record by over a thousand feet! And I did it in Idaho!? It wasn't until a day or two later when talking with my buddy Ben Spulber over the phone that I would realize that I had climbed an entire mile on this unsuspecting day in Idaho. I wasn't surprised that Spulber was the one to call me out on the mile climb, he's one of those guys who sees things in numbers which others just don't. Anyways, I am sort of glad that I didn't see that mile coming, because I probably would have shied away from it. Blissfully ignorant of the challenge was implicitly accepting, I charged right into a major personal accomplishment.
That evening I met my host, Greg, his daughter, Sky, and their friendly cat, Mr. P. Speaking of pleasant surprises, I was invited by my host to enjoy a delicious curry dinner from the tree house in his front yard. I obviously couldn't turn down such a nostalgic opportunity. That evening I hit the mat...hard. I mean I hit the mat about as hard as I would have were I in the ring with Mike Tyson. I was frickin' tired. Despite my exhaustion, I was able to muster a gentle smile as the sandman approached. I knew in my heart of hearts that I had accomplished something special on this supposedly insignificant day.