Eileen and I needed a bit of sunshine and physical punishment this weekend, so we took our road bikes to Wenatchee this morning. Just north of East Wenatchee is an area called Badger Hill, which promised 18 miles of climbing followed by an epic descent back down to the Columbia River. Sounded like a recipe for paradise at the end of a cold, damp spring.
Sometimes rides don’t quite work out as planned. We ditched quite a bit of clothing before leaving the car because it was 60 degrees. Then we stopped about 1/2 a mile later to take off even more clothing. Those decisions came back to haunt us at mile 7 when the thunder started. You know the kind…it booms like a kettle drum for 1/2 a minute or more. Then, shortly after the thunder, the rain started.
Imagine, we’re creeping uphill at about 8-10 mph, soaking wet, looking for shelter just in case our hair starts to rise off our heads with the static. It wasn’t pretty, but neither of us were willing to give up yet.
Fortunately, two strong riders with deliciously beautiful calves caught up to us around mile 15. They looked more miserable than we did. One of them was wearing his special rain gear – the kind that soaks up the rain instead of rappelling it. They chatted us up before speeding on ahead. Their good humor was just the encouragement we needed.
At mile 18, I gave Eileen the choice of returning to Wenatchee the way we came or continuing on for another 30 miles. Apparently she thought I was having a really good time, and, not wanting to be a party-pooper, voted for the loop. I sighed inside, pasted a smile on my face, and we took off down the other side of the hill.
We couldn’t really enjoy the descent though. It was on dirt road, which was packed down for the most part but tended to kick grit up into our faces. Or maybe it was only my face that got covered with grit, since Eileen was smart enough to bring a bike with fenders. It was also cold. Really cold. Mounds of snow flanked the sides of the road and rain pelted us from above. My fingers froze into a death grip on the brakes. (Wouldn’t it have been nice to have those extra layers we left in the car?)
The dirt ended about 2 miles later with a deep patch of sand, which almost sent me flying. At the side of the road, I tucked my fingers in my armpits and tried to warm them while I waited for Eileen to catch up. Off in the distance, the quaint town of Waterville sat in an improbable beam of sunshine in the middle of rolling green wheat fields. With visions of hot drinks, we took off for salvation.
Right before we got to town, two other cyclists with deliciously beautiful calves caught up with us. They were part of the same racing team as the other guys who passed us on the climb. We followed them into town to Coyote Pass Cafe, the only thing that seemed to be open on Saturday afternoon. Turns out, the cafe wasn’t actually open at all, but the owner saw us and took pity, opening up just for us. Bless her.
We were a pitiful sight. Six cyclists in various stages of undress, damp clothing draped on a lonely space heater. This was now officially an epic ride.
The owner of the cafe found a few blankets, served up steaming mugs of coffee and plates of homemade bread pudding and cinnamon rolls with generous smears of frosting, and entertained us with tales of her nomadic life. We offered stories of our cycling adventures in return. Turns out several of us had ridden the Pacific Coast and one of the riders was a fellow tandem-racing competitor.
Gradually, the six of us warmed to the idea of getting back on our bikes.
Eileen and I bid farewell to Team Beautiful Calves and headed west toward the Columbia. The descent from Waterville to Oroville is legendary – and for good reason. In seven miles, you drop 2000′. By the time we reached the river, any memory of the misery of the climb, rain, and freezing dirt road had faded. All I could honestly think about was the likelihood that someone would shuttle me to the top of the hill for a second go round.
I was afraid that we’d have a dreadful headwind on the way back to town, but miraculously, the river valley was calm. We road along the highway for about 10 miles before turning onto the Apple Loop Trail – an idyllic path that hugs the Columbia River. It was sort of like the Burke Gilman only way better because the trail is smooth and the river doesn’t stink like goose poop. It was awesome.
We rolled into the parking lot where we left Eileen’s car just as our odometers clocked 50 miles. Our lungs and legs were thankful for the adventure, and we set our sights on dinner at South.
If this is the kind of epic ride that would tickle your fancy, the route can be found in greater detail here.