Early on in this trip, I learned that our greatest highs and lows come in pairs. It’s not that they incidentally come one after another, it’s that they are inextricably dependent on one another. Day eighty-five was a perfect example of this. In the middle of the previous night, the sprinklers had gone off in the yard of the church we were staying at. Dakota and I were completely soaked and had tried our best to sleep through the rest of the night damp and cold.
Because of this hiccup, we ended up sleeping in and having a later start than planned, around 10:30AM. We had a 66 mile ride planned to Cle Elum, WA. On this ride, it seemed like everything that could go wrong did.
At the start, our scenery was more of the dry barren landscape of Eastern Washington. Tumbleweed blew by and piled at the sides of the highway. After a couple hours on the bike, we reached a beautiful gorge where the Columbia River ran along the highway. We stopped and admired it for a while.
Then, we had a fast three mile descent down the gorge and over the river. We flew down it and over the bridge. As Dakota and I finished crossing the bridge, Dakota saw that he had a flat tire and pulled over at the base. I looked around for G.O. and he was nowhere to be found. As Dakota began setting up his bike to repair his tire, I got a call from G.O. He also had a bad flat tire. Unfortunately, he was at the top of the hill. And I was carrying our only pump.
As Dakota and I worked on getting his tube patched, G.O. tried to catch a ride down to the base of the bridge. Because of the heavy traffic, the lack of shoulder on the bridge, and the steep grade of the hill, it wasn’t practical for us to ride back up to him. After about an hour, he caught a ride down to a gas station where we met with him. While he repaired his tube, I called churches looking for a place to sleep that evening. After a few no’s, a church in Cle Elum agreed to let us camp in their yard. After about an hour, G.O. had his tire and tube patched and ready to roll.
At the recommendation of the attendant of the gas station, we took an old highway towards our next city. It was about twenty miles of uphill riding with little traffic or interference. We each rode at our own pace. While riding, I received a call from the church that had earlier given us permission to camp on their property. I was worried they might have changed their minds. The church secretary was excited to tell me that when she let the pastor and board of the church know we would be camping on their yard, they decided to go a step further. They had reserved a room for us at a Holiday Inn in Cle Elum. I was overjoyed.
When we reached the top, we stopped to make ourselves a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and I told G.O. and Dakota about the good news. Next, we had a long descent into Ellensburg. On this descent into the Kittitas Valley, we also caught our first sight of Mt. Rainier nearly 100 miles away. It’s the largest mountain I’ve ever seen. It filled us with a sense of awe seeing this monolithic mass rising above the large hills ahead of us.
Once we had reached Ellensburg, we took a quick break before working towards our last leg into Cle Elum. It was nearly 8PM when we started this twenty miles to the finish.
Not long after we set out on the old highway to Cle Elum, the sun began to set. There was a narrow shoulder for us to ride on. We were nervous about traffic not seeing us in the dark. Fortunately, a car would only come once every five to ten minutes.
We were tired, but our ride was peaceful and slow. By the time it was completely dark, Dakota had ridden ahead of G.O. and I. We were resigned to the fact that we had another hour and a half of riding in the darkness. There was a peace with this.
On our right was the face of a steep cliff and on our left was a large open valley with a river winding through it. Every 15-20 minutes, we would see a train winding along the river, it’s light illuminating the terrain ahead of it. We felt a bit of regret, knowing this was a beautiful scene and we couldn’t fully see it because of the darkness.
G.O. and I stopped for a quick snack to keep our energy and spirits up. We turned our bike lights off and looked up to see the most beautiful star-filled night sky of the entire trip. I pulled a portable speaker from my bag and set it on the back of my bike.
We listened to American Wrestlers’ self-titled album and then Bon Iver’s album, For Emma Forever Ago. This was the perfect music for the mood. It had been over a half hour since a car passed us. We rode with our bike lights off in the center of the road, following the reflective lines.
G.O and I pulled up to the parking lot of the hotel just as the last song of “For Emma” finished. It was about 11:30PM. Dakota had checked in over 40 minutes before and was preparing our dinner. It was a hard day, but this hotel room was the perfect relief for us.
There was no bed I appreciated more than this one. That church in Cle Elum had no idea that we hadn’t showered or slept indoors in nearly a week. They didn’t know our sleep had been interrupted the night before and they didn’t know how late we’d be riding that night. We went to sleep tired, grateful, and feeling blessed by the generosity of strangers once again.