Newhalem The Long Way
I just spent a long weekend wandering around central Washington, flirting with Canada, and generally getting acquainted with Beast and its touring capabilities.
This trip was born a few months ago when a friend of mine invited me to join her on a camping trip to Newhalem Campground, which is within North Cascades National Park along the Washington/Canadian border. I’d just gotten Beast, so this would be the perfect opportunity to give my new bike a workout.
By the numbers, the trip was five days long, covered 1246 miles, and included three nights of camping and the surprise appearance of one naked guy.
(Unfortunately, no, I’m not kidding about the naked guy.)
Day 1: Home to Yakima Canyon, WA
Thursday, June 4, 2015
I woke up slightly hungover and wasn’t even packed, but I’ve already taken enough camping trips on Beast to be able to load up fairly quickly. After a short bit of superslab, I took backroads to Detroit Lake and FS Road 46 (Breitenbush).
46 is a terrific curvy road, and I only had to pass a group of eight slow-rolling Harleys with Florida plates to get to enjoy it all to myself.
It wasn’t long before I found myself rolling out the east side of the Cascades and into the metropolis of Dufur, Oregon. There’s gas available in town thanks to a newly-reopened gas station, but I decided to fill up in The Dalles instead.
I crossed the Columbia River into Washington and headed east on Hwy 14, and took a moment to visit Stonehenge.
From Stonehenge, I turned north on Hwy 97 and enjoyed the high desert terrain and smell of sagebrush. But my mind was occupied by thoughts of spice and honey, because I’d been tipped off to something amazing located out here in the middle of nowhere.
The place sneaks up on you suddenly, and even looking for it I almost missed it.
This small Greek Orthodox monastery is inhabited by some very industrious monks and nuns. Can you say “best baklava ever”?
Look for it on Hwy 97, just south of Brooks Memorial State Park.
The rest of the afternoon was a slog on 97 through Yakima. Lots of stoplights and commercial traffic with the temperature passing 80°F and no shade. There aren’t a whole lot of options out here to avoid it.
Eventually, I made it to Yakima Canyon. The road wound along the river in sweeping curves. I still had plenty of daylight, but decided to camp at one of the sites along the river. The campground I chose was quiet, but it had no potable water, and as I unpacked my gear I realized I’d forgotten to buy water at my last stop in Yakima. I also forgot to bring my water treatment drops and the river was looking awfully murky. Bummer!
Fortunately for me, there was a small group of people nearby enjoying the river view, and they gave me a liter of water. I tried to pay them for it but they refused, so thank you random Washingtonians for your generosity.
The sun was beginning to sink behind the hills that formed the canyon, and my friendly water-giving benefactors soon departed for home, leaving me alone except for a small camp trailer on the opposite side of the campground. I cooked up some dinner. I planned out the next day’s route on my map. I discovered that the campground was infested with ants. The dirt and grass patches around my site were pocked with ant nest holes, and my tent was covered with the little pests. So I pulled up my stakes and moved my tent over to the asphalt pad next to my bike, but as I was doing so, I happened to look at the trailer across the way just in time to see a man walk out from behind it.
Dude was buck fucking naked.
He rummaged in one of the compartments on the side of his trailer, then walked back around and out of sight. There was no way that he didn’t know I was camped where I was. Creepy! In over twelve years of backpacking and motocamping, this was the first time I’ve regretted not having a gun. My friend 10guy gave me his hatchet to borrow before I left, and let me tell you, I had that thing out at the ready.
The man emerged again a short while later, fully clothed this time. And he stayed to his side of the campground while I stayed on mine.
Just after the sun set, a VW camper van pulled into the campground and a woman hopped out and paid the site fee. I felt a lot better knowing another person was around. But I still slept with that hatchet next to my hand.
No water. Ants. Creepy naked man. The riding’s good in Yakima Canyon, but I’d give camping there a pass.
Day 2: Newhalem Campground, North Cascades National Park
Friday, June 5, 2015
I awoke to this beautiful view:
I was packed up and on the move by 6:45am, and I had twisties for breakfast thanks to the north end of Yakima Canyon. I gassed up in Ellensburg, Washington and had a nice plate of pancakes, eggs, and sausage downtown at the Palace Cafe.
Hwy 97 climbs out of Ellensburg and into the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. It was fun riding when I wasn’t stuck behind a semi truck. My route then took me on Hwy 2 toward Wenatchee through hills covered in apple, pear, and cherry orchards. This section had too many stoplights, but once I got back on Alt Hwy 97 the ride was as smooth as the Columbia River beside me.
After yesterday’s happenings, a day spent doing nothing but riding through beautiful scenery might be considered boring. But look at these mountains!
That’s only one stop along State Highway 20. If you’ve never been on this road, it’s truly incredible. The mountain crags are steep and rugged, and every curve revealed a view that just kept getting better and better.
I made it to Newhalem Campground around 1:30pm, pulled my cot out, set it up, and took a nap until my friends arrived.
Day 3: No Canada
Saturday, June 6, 2015
I wanted to ride to Canada and Mount Baker today.
I did not make it to Canada, nor did I ride to Mount Baker.
I did manage to find a shower at Silver Lake County Park.
I was in Silver Lake County Park because my map made it appear that the road to the park also crossed into Canada. The map was a lie. The road headed north so close to the border I could have thrown a rock into Canada, but then it curved south and eventually dumped me into Sumas, Washington, where there is a border crossing. By now, it was 85°F. There was a line of cars waiting to get into Canada. And the air was fragrant with cow manure.
I decided to save Canada for another trip.
The highlight of the day was stopping at the little farm stand outside of Marblemount, Washington for some fresh strawberry shortcake.
Day 4: Whidbey Island
Sunday, June 7, 2015
After a leisurely morning of breakfast and packing, I said goodbye to my friends and headed west on Hwy 20. My destination was my sister’s house in Seattle. But first, I rode to Anacortes and wandered around for a while, stopping at Rosario Beach for lunch.
I also rode over Deception Pass, which had awesome views but was so crowded with people and traffic that I decided to press on without stopping.
This was my first time on Whidbey Island. It was very pretty in spots, and I’d like to go back again when I’d have more time to explore.
I arrived at the ferry terminal at the southern end of the island just as the ferry was about to board. My first ferry crossing with motorcycle! Boarding was easy, and motorcycles get to board first and depart first. And it made for an amusing SPOT track where it looked like I rode across Puget Sound.
Day 5: A Visit To ADV Mecca, then Home
Monday, June 7, 2015
My last day on the road started off with a ride to downtown Seattle to meet my sister for breakfast. Finding parking was nerve-wracking, as was riding up and down the steep hills in the area. It’s good to know that I can handle Beast in heavy traffic.
My reward was a tasty waffle dish at Sweet Iron.
Of course, no visit to Seattle on a big pig of an adventure bike is complete without stopping by ADV Mecca.
There were lots of cool bikes parked outside.
A few of them looked like they belonged to folks on epic adventures.
This adventure didn’t end up being quite as epic, and I’ll spare you the tale of how I ended up stuck in rush hour traffic in 90°F weather. It was past midnight when I finally rolled into my garage, but thankfully my carriage didn’t turn into a pumpkin.
Total Miles: 1246