Date: May 26, 2017
Miles: 68.7 mi
Time: 6 hours, 01 minute
Elevation Gain: +3229 ft
This day’s morning was preceded by a night’s night in a hotel. If you’re keeping statistics, last night was my first motel of the trip. Before that, two nights in a durn rip-stop nylon shelter (tent), and last night, a bit better, I lied prone in a measly 50 thread count top sheet and blanket with a popcorn ceiling overhead. But, hey, last night I enjoyed a cocktail, a beer and a burger – the night’s highlight. And the bed was not too bad as well. Well rested, today would be the LONGEST day of my tour and to add insult to a slap in my wind burned face, a major mountain pass was planning on lording its haunches and shoulders over me the entire day. I’m referring to Satus Pass. In the scheme of things not a beast of a pass, I’ve seen worse, but a steady grind up to 3107 feet. And, to arrive at Goldendale, the ride was approximately 70 miles.
This trip has had its share of wind. Never fun on a bike - unless it’s a 100% pure, unadulterated tail wind. And most of the time on a bicycle, as fate would have it, the wind hammers you from the front. As I woke, I was worried today would be a windy, slog-fest struggle. I glanced out of the windows of the motel’s continental breakfast room, and as I rubbed sleepy elbows with my fellow motel travelers over Sterno warmed stainless steel trays full of dried hash browns and runny eggs, with Fox news on the T.V., Yakima’s morning seemed calm.
I like Yakima. The Palm Springs of Washington!
My Love, me and our sweet pup Luna have recently stumbled across this town, going from town A to town B, with Yakima in the middle, not really worthy of a stop, just a town, basic, not-much-going-on, rural, dry, but it’s a nice gem really. I love the importance of the agriculture of the area, the Native American history and the Hispanic culture that is so part and parcel of many agriculture areas in this country. Did I mention hops? What about wine? Well, both, in quite a "hop-yard", vineyard, beer and wine producing tour-de-force. Very impressive as you drive around the Yakima Valley and realize just what the heck is going on here.
Hops. The Yakima Valley contains approximately 75 percent of the total United States hop acreage, with an average farm size of 450 acres (182 hectares) accounting for over 77 percent of the total United States hop crop. The second place producer is Oregon at a measly 15%. Hah Oreeegone! You just don’t mess with Yakima and its trellised 15 foot hop vines!
And wine is big too. Washington is the second largest premium wine producer in the United States. Yakima has four American Viticultural Areas (AVA) that produce very exceptional wines.
But I digress.
My overall ride today was divided into four subsections.
1. Yakima proper
2. Yakima Valley
3. Satus Pass accent
4. Satus Pass decent
Enough of Fox "news" on the hotel’s "continental" dining room. Time to mount up.
I worked my way through Yakima proper and targeted Union Gap to merge with U.S. highway 97 that would spit me out past the eastern end of Ahtanum Ridge and into Yakima valley and its namesake river. The gap is quite a geological feature.
At this point I had 15 miles down the wide shouldered hwy 97 past flat lands of the valley, paced by tough looking rural shacks and an occasional well-established farm. It was still morning. I was making good time and at times wondered when I saw beat up parked cars and pickups and single-wide trailers with faded blue roof tarps weighted down with used tires to guard against the infrequent rains of this dry valley, do these folks ever have a chance to ride a bicycle – for fun?
In Toppenish, I stopped for a granola bar at a gas station at a cross roads to 97. Across the street was a meat packing plant.
The smell of the plant was a test of my senses and sensibilities. The rancid, meaty, almost sweet like industrial smell assaulted me and I had to gasp. I ducked into the convenience store, grabbed a protein bar and got out of Dodge as fast as I could.
Back on highway 97, and still flat terrain, I had a mile until the highway went to the right at a 45-degree turn and vanished off toward the Simcoe Mountains. Satus pass was not apparent but I know it loomed, behind undulating, ever higher barren ridges, about 30 miles from my right hand signal and eased braking for the traffic light.
The day just got a lot more serious. At this point 97 became much more of a long grind with a vanishing point butted into some imposing treeless ridge - and the road arching to the right and up; just five miles more and its time to start climbing.
Hill at 12 o’clock and closing fast I thought.
As soon as I shifted the Burro down a few notches, the road’s wide shoulders, went away. As the two-lane road was now climbing quite an incline, the state DOT appropriated the break-down lane and made it a slow truck lane! I have about 8 inches of riding room. The Burro with touring bags is at least two feet wide.
Well, here we go I thought. Climbing. Climbing. Climbing.
At about two and half miles up the road peaked. Something was amiss. I thought this was the start of Satus pass. Um, no. False Summit! But, I get to ride down hill for a while. Nice.
At the bottom, after two miles downhill I stopped at the bottom of a bridge crossing Satus Creek. Nice to take a break.
Time to get moving. Now the real climbing can commence! Wait, I said that before.
At about mile 39 of today’s ride, I run into road construction. Single lane, flagger man with pointy goatee, wait time 20 minutes.
I have a nice conversation with the guy. I’m at the front and a few cars are pulling up on us and stopping their autos and waiting – just like me. The flagger actually offered me one of his Power Bars and some water if I needed it!
“Let me call the pilot car and we’ll give you a lift the friendly goatee-ed man says.
About ten minutes later the pilot car appears – flashing lights and all. Well, I don’t know many pilots that smoke on the job, but this gal was puffing a dangling cigarette as she whipped the truck around with both hands (pilot “car” is not actually accurate) and she put ‘er in reverse and backed up to me and promptly evacuated the left side of the truck as if she had pulled the emergency egress lever on the ejection seat kicking her ass out onto south bound highway 97 – door still open.
It took all three of us to load the burrow, all 100 plus pounds onto this steel extenda-how'd they come up with that-ledge that was welded onto the pilot truck’s back bumper. I hopped into the passenger seat – making sure I had an emergency egress cord within reach.
The gal at the wheel was named Mel. What a treat. I get a lift and some nice conversation. She was full of questions about my ride - puffing on her cig the whole time. In return, I wondered allowed about the road construction life – she openly shared past highway projects and sorted tidbits of flagging cars, crusty union state DOT workers, anvil shaped thunder clouds shortening the day and various "flat cat" and "bovine centerline" road kills she's seen. My transit time was about 12 minutes and five miles. Hey, I’ll take it. Record one construction invoked assist on my 300-mile trip.
I still had fifteen miles to the top of Satus Pass. But here is the rub. Those cars that were delayed by the construction are now impatient, grumpy, zoom zoom drivers who are going to be harassing me as I trudge up the pass. And since I’m moving slow, as bikes do up a 6% grade, things came in nauseous waves as the pilot car released its "freight train". I had several waves on the way up Satus - peaceful, brilliant no-cars calmness and then frightening Elon Musk-ness Hyper-Loop, car to car, semi-to-semi, Pinto to Corvette to mini-van sheer terror barrages over my left shoulder.
I even jumped lanes and faced the opposing traffic and road uphill to get the hell out of the way of the highway buzz bombs in my lane. That was fun.
At 54.7 miles on the day, I reached the top of Satus Pass! Elevation 3107 feet.
Ok, mostly down hill now. But the wind was starting to pick up. Of course. I’m now pointed due south and down to the mighty Columbia River and as such exposing myself to the nuclear winds that funnel up river from the ocean and blast the central scablands of our lovely state. Fifteen miles, winds and a 250-foot minor hump are between beautiful G-dale and me!
I’m five hours into today’s trek. But, feel we’re going to deliver on the plan – I just need to keep my focus and handlebars square to the fog line of the road. At six hours, 46 minutes I roll into Goldendale and un-click from my pedals at the lobby sign for the Ponderosa Motel. Made it.
I'm checked in and take a nice little cat nap. When its time for dinner, just down the road is a grocery store. Get the usual salami, wine, cheese and cookies for desert.
The wind has not let up. Tomorrow will be interesting if this keeps up!
The wind has not let up. Tomorrow will be interesting if this keeps up!
Map / distance of the days ride: