Steve’s Just Ride-
Day 3, Vantage, WA to
PLEASE NOTE: due to limited Internet access in many of the Western states that I have biked thus far, this blog is being updated as access allows. Sorry for the delay.
The rest of the ride up to about mile 40 to Ephrata is fairly uneventful. If seen while traveling in a car it would likely be cause for intense conversation as to solving the world’s problems, superficial chit-chat or a loud radio and cold air just to keep the driver awake. Alone on a bicycle, there are conversations with the occasional red-winged blackbird, the tuning in to the orchestra of crickets or the song of the wheat or wild grasses rushing in the wind. My natural music is infrequently interrupted by a “commercial,” the rubbing, slapping sound of a car or truck whooshing by as it passes over the rumble strip while giving wide berth to “the bicyclist.”
I arrive in Ephrata, a bustling town with seemingly a lot more activity than its 6,275 population would suggest. And, after spotting a hand-painted mural resembling kokopelli or some other type of petroglyphs/pictographs on the side of a second-hand bookstore, I decide to lean my bicycle there and make camp for lunch on the sidewalk. Aah, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, trail mix and a load of water in the warm mid-day sun--- I am so blessed.
I cycle on to Soap Lake and stop at a local grocery store to load up on water before the next 20 miles north on Route 17, known for its remoteness and lack of services. The little grandma in the deli where they sell old-fashioned (deep-fried) glazed donuts for 39 cents a piece smiles and asks where I’m headed. “Oh, be careful, honey. That road winds a lot and there’s a big climb.” I take her ad ice to heart and plod north on the mostly minimal-shouldered road.
About seven miles into this portion of the trek I notice that there is a back-up of campers, cars and pick-ups towing their boats to lake country. All of these folks had flown by me in the past few miles and here I pedal alongside and past them as they are all stopped for the sign that reads “Road Construction—One Lane Road Ahead.” We wait a minimum of 30 minutes before being led by the pilot truck into the zone. I ask the flagger if I could ride alongside these vehicles on the one lane and she just waves me onward and I hear her say into her walkie-talkie, “And there’s a bicyclist coming through too!”
The first part of the construction was like a lot of these types of sites at least to the eye of the layperson, lacking any activity and both lanes of the road looking just the same as the past seven miles: not under construction. But, eventually, I get to see what all of the fuss was about. We bump off of the regular chi-sealed asphalt (which was already a bit bone-jarring) to chip seal minus the seal or, in other words, simple gravel that makes every fifth-wheel or boat-towing vehicle handle in a squirrely fashion, let alone my skinny-tired road bike. At times, I ride the equivalent of the center-line to make room for cars and trucks to my left as we are both now occupying the left lane. I wonder how the construction signage implied that the challenge here was allegedly limited to the “one-lane road” when both lanes are entirely in this quagmire of loose gravel and rock.
Ahead, I see that the workers are spraying oil on the road and dust and spray rises from the gravel. Lovely. I wave to a motor home driver to move in front of him and speed up all the way across to the left-hand edge of the road and up within and arm’s reach and left of the camper in front me. I use the camper as a shield as we pass the spraying and hope that I don’t appear antsy to the camper driver as I surely am within the vision of his left side/rearview mirror.
Amazingly, there are seven miles of this jockeying and gravel riding on shifty terrain and it is more fatiguing than any climb that I’ve endured today. Speaking of climbs, by my mark, I should be getting to the “big climb” that the woman at the deli in