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Aug 21 2013

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Back to the US

08-09-August,-735-Miles

08-09 August, 735 Miles

We discussed heading into Alaska to turn our potential Silver National Parks Tour into a Gold which would have added about 3500 miles to our journey. Eventually we decided against it as it would have meant long days every day for the rest of our trip and we were quite enjoying our relaxed pace.

Vancouver Island had been on our list of places to visit as it is reported to be lovely but we didn’t have time to do the place justice, it would have just been a fleeting glimpse. Another location added to our ‘next time’ list.

Reluctantly we left the comfort of our Mike Wiegele cabin and headed back towards the US on a route suggested to us by Ginny (who we met at Great Falls) and people on a couple of forums. Once again we had a lovely day to ride and the British Columbia scenery continued to delight us. Not as dramatic as the Icefields Parkway but lovely nevertheless.

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It’s only when you see thousands (millions?) of tree trunks lined up ready for shipping that you realise just how many trees there are here. You don’t often see the areas where the trees have been cut down so they must manage the forests very well. I was surprised to learn the forestry industry only accounts for 3% of GDP for the area.

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The area we were in is called the Okanagan Valley in BC and Okanagan County in the US. In addition to the forestry and lake products there are a lot of fruit trees and vineyards. The traffic wasn’t too bad apart from in Kelowna where it was absolutely solid with red traffic lights every few yards.

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As we passed through Penticton we noticed there were hundreds of people just floating by on the river on all sorts of inflatable items. It looked like they were having a great time.

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We’ve been really lucky with our border crossings, I assume we’ve just hit them at the right time and chosen quiet ones; this one was no exception.

We decided to make an early stop at the first suitable place we saw. This happened to be a motel in a town called Omak, home of the Omak Stampede and World Famous Suicide Race. Being ignorant British citizens we’d never heard of it but it sounded like fun.

At the nearby grill the waitress told us the Stampede was a rodeo and at the end of the day there was this special Suicide Race. It sounded like a county fair type affair with the added bonus that we could see a real live rodeo. Maybe an extra day’s stop-over was required?

After returning to the motel we picked up a Stampede timetable but were disappointed to see the rodeo didn’t start until 19:00 and only lasted about half an hour; the rest of the activities were mostly static displays. Seeing a rodeo will have to go on our list for next time as well.

As we rode out the next morning we passed the show ground. Lots of teepees but it was too early for anything else.

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US state highway roads have road signs that often contain the shape of the state as the background. Here in Washington it was slightly different, I guess this represents George Washington and was certainly the most interesting shape we saw used in this way. Highway 20, the North Cascades Highway, is an excellent road with lots of twisty bends and interesting scenery.

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Just as I was about to expire from starvation (that’s my little joke, I’m always hungry) we came to this brilliant little town called Winthrop. It was like an old Western town with covered walkways and old buildings etc. It isn’t authentic, having been rebuilt like this in 1972 when the 20 was nearing completion and it was obvious more people would be passing through the area, but it certainly looked the part. The building programme was funded by a legacy and the townspeople themselves – a good example of public planning and cooperation and just how Kevin had imagined Tombstone would look, he loved it.

We had breakfast in a place called Three Finger Jack’s which claims to be the oldest legal saloon in Washington state. Wandering down the road we spotted a shop with a museum which had loads of miscellaneous items and was really worth the visit. It also had an area set up as an old shop, including the biggest till I’ve ever seen and a model of a man with a very suspect beard.

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Highway 20 continues beyond Winthrop across the Cascade Mountains. It was definitely one of the best riding roads we’d ridden in the US. Shortly before leaving the Cascades National Park we called into yet another visitor centre where we had a chat to a nice Canadian couple sitting next to their Harleys. They had trailered their bikes in and were having day-rides out – this seems to be the preferred method for a lot of riders.

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We hadn’t realised quite how close to Seattle we were going and the Friday afternoon traffic caused quite a delay for us but we eventually reached Mount Rainier. It was definitely touch and go whether we’d get to the Sunrise visitor centre before it closed but with much scraping of bits on the bottom of the bike and only one warning flash of lights from a Ranger vehicle we negotiated the steep, bumpy and twisty road and made it just in time. I got chatting to a lady who rides a bike she calls Benny. She’s just moving back to Montana (our mutual favourite state) to be nearer her Grandmother who was also there chatting away.

Sunrise has a cafĂ© that was open until 19:00 so we called in to have a hot dog and the obligatory ice cream. One of the young lads serving detected I was English (not Australian or Canadian as lots of other Americans think!) and asked me to tell him everything about the UK…where do I start? He said he intended to visit there at some point; I hope he makes it.

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Sunrise park is 6,400 feet above sea level and has some wonderful wild meadows around it. These are currently being regenerated as generations of visitors have left them rather worn out. The meadows are now ‘off limits’ and I sincerely hope they remain that way as they looked beautiful with all the flowers in bloom.

Mount Rainier is 14,411 feet tall and considered to be one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world, primarily because the large volume of glacial ice around it would melt if it erupted and overwhelm the surrounding areas with mudflows (lahars). Its last volcanic activity was over a hundred years ago. Fortunately it was behaving and we were treated to spectacular views of it in the evening sunshine.

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We stopped in the small town of Packwood where most places were full but we eventually found a motel for the night. It wasn’t the best place we’ve stayed in but it was reasonably clean and served its purpose.

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