Then it was back to loose fist sized gravel with sharp edges for the next 15 miles or so. At some point I entered a bird sanctuary where I saw a friendly Game Warden cruising along on his ATV. He looked to be having a better time than I.
Eventually that road spit me out in Wenas Valley, which is kinda what I would imagine the Garden of Eden looks like. Even the cows there showed me the courtesy of not smelling up the joint, as if to admit that they had it so good even they couldn’t fathom tarnishing the land.
At this point I was pretty tired, but still feeling good. While backpacking and leaning over a race bike both hurt pretty badly these days, riding upright wasn’t causing me any pain. I was getting tired, it was already 5pm, and I had the option to bypass the next stretch and just take a nice fast gravel road that I had ridden before to Ellensburg. I decided against it, as I had come this far and would feel like I had failed if I couldn’t finish the whole leg. In hindsight this was a mistake, but more on that later.
Ascending Umtanum Ridge was, for the first few miles, a dream come true. The road was packed sand with only mild rutting. I was making good time and in good spirits.
That ended pretty quickly. After those first few miles the road became very steep and rocky. Like “I’ve got both brakes locked and have been sliding backwards for 10 feet” steep and rocky. Knowing that my uphill skill set is much more refined than my downhill I had to face the fact that after the first steep hill I really had no choice but to move forward. I slogged my way up the hill for another hour, cursing more than a little, but keeping everything pretty much together. Even on the last uphill of the ridge, which is a bear of a climb that I actually got off the bike and walked to plan my course up. At the top, tired, sore, soaked in sweat, with the sun low in the sky I was again rewarded for my efforts.
Descending Umtanum was mercifully easy, with only one 200 yard section that was difficult. Eventually it evened out to the logging type road I had expected all along.
Riding back into Ellensburg was a mighty relief, so I rewarded myself with 5 tacos from my all time favorite taco truck, along with a Mexican coke.
Now for the lessons:
- I’ll never ride that type of thing alone ever again. It’s too dangerous, there’s too great a risk of mechanical failure, and there’s nothing like another set of eyes to assess a situation.
- Like any good scout, Be Prepared! Fortunately I had this beaten into my brain for the better part of a decade, so while I was nervous several times on the trip, I always knew that I had food, water, shelter, maps, extensive first aid and security covered. I also had left detailed notes on where I was going with my fiance, with check in times and planned route. Worst case scenario if the bike had broken down or I had gone down I would have had a cold night and some dehydrated food, but that’s about it.
- Be honest with yourself about your limits. I should never have tackled Umtanum Ridge. I was tired, and tired people make mistakes that fresh people don’t. I thought about this a lot on my ride home and came to the conclusion that since I’d had nothing but success in adversity during the first two offroad portions I was overconfident in the face of the unknown. It was stupid.
- I need crash bars and a skid plate. Pretty self explanatory. I’m done with the BDR for this season, but when I tackle it next year I’m going to be more realistic about my equipment needs.
- When you have the opportunity to get fuel, take it. Had I not done this when I got to the Nile Valley area I’d have had some serious range anxiety.
- HYDRATE! Your body needs a ton of water when you’re working hard, especially in heat. You don’t necessarily notice it when you get dehydrated, but if you’re not peeing every hour or so you need to be drinking more water. I found myself extremely dehydrated despite downing several liters of water over the course of the day. In that state your decision making is compromised, your muscles don’t function as well, and you get tired much faster.
Overall I had a great time. I’m happy I went, and I’m even more happy that I learned all these lessons the easy way. The whole trip was nothing but breathtaking views, so that’s the note I’ll finish on.