2018 Ride

Day 5 Whitmore Lookout to Okanogan: Cattle Guards and Cedar Planks

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According to Woody Guthrie, the world’s “greatest wonder is in Uncle Sam’s fair land, it’s that King Columbia River and the big Grand Coulee Dam,” the latter of which we passed on our way to the day’s start point, the former of which we rolled alongside for a little while at the beginning. People began building that behemoth dam in 1933, and 9 years later the final concrete was poured. At peak flow, the dam is the largest power generator in the United States.  

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From Whitmore Lookout, we rolled west along the river for a little while, alongside the tall mullein stalks and the Conyza spotting the roadside before the expanses of sagebrush. The smoke was as thick as it has been on this trip. On the plus side, there was barely any traffic on Columbia River Road (BIA Route 140) through the Colville Indian Reservation, which we spent the majority of the day in. For the first few miles, nobody passed us going in our direction. Only a few passed going the other way. Before long, we turned northwestward away from the Columbia toward Omak Lake. We passed small wetlands and tule rimmed ponds along the way, enjoying the waterfowl and the dragonflies moving about. We were able to ride quite freely on the roadway and to converse with ease. Chauncey would shout out “Car Back!” whenever a car appeared behind us, and we’d all fall into a line along the road side. Jimmy, who ran the first 16 miles, didn’t speak much while his hearing aids were off. He can’t wear them when he sweats, and the day’s heat steadily built. We transitioned from relatively smooth asphalt to a fresh, pitch black chip seal that provided a different feel beneath our tires (and running shoes). It made things feel hotter. Dr. B began spraying me regularly at this point. He would generously spare some water on Jimmy, who was sweating copiously at this point. Right around then, we noticed clusters of wild horses running about. Before long, we moved in over the clear blue waters of Omak Lake.

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While we were rolling alongside the lake, my mom appeared with our friend Lena Lemke in tow. She used to live next door to us in Port Angeles, and she has since moved to central Washington. Food and liquid reinforcements had arrived! We replenished ourselves. After 16 miles, Jimmy jumped onto his bike. At this point, we had gained about 1000 feet, and there was another 1000 feet of elevation gain ahead of us. Lena and my mom leapfrogged ahead of us. We cruised ponderosa dotted slopes down to low gullies filled with elderberries. We continued to thoroughly enjoy the sparsely used road and the ability to ride more freely. 

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At mile 25, we ran into our first major road impediment of the trip: a burly cattle guard that I could not cross without the smaller wheels of my chair being swallowed by gaping chasms. I almost thought about cheating and going into the SAG van to get over the cattle guard, but as it happened Lena had cedar boards on the back of her truck that, once appropriately set up on the guard, I was able to drive over. Those cedar planks enabled me to cross over that section that otherwise would have been insurmountable. Thank you, Lena!

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About three miles on, we encountered another cattle guard. This time, despite having the cedar planks on hand, we decided to attempt going around the guard on the roadside. I quickly got my chair stuck in soft sandy gravel. Jimmy and Dr. B pulled me out of that one, but a mere 6 feet from there, on the other side of the cattle guard, I really got bogged down in some soft sand and gravel. Fortunately, I’ve got a lot of muscle with me, and Chauncey, Dr. B and Jimmy all worked hard to get me out of that quagmire. If it wasn’t for them, right now I would be a shriveled, dried up piece of meat being feasted upon by turkey vultures. My heartfelt thanks to the crew.

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Throughout all of my journeys, many things rock me all around: potholes, cracks in asphalt, uneven concrete, rocks and other objects on the roads and paths, attempts to go over or around cattle guards, etc. I’d like to extend a special thanks to BodyPoint, our sponsor of the day, for the straps that they manufactured that keep me solidly in my chair. They have been very supportive, in multiple ways, of Ian’s Ride 2018. Thank you, BodyPoint!   

Onward we went through the pretty country of north-central Washington. We passed some more native sunflowers, which appear to be Dr. B’s spirit flower, given the level of interest and passion that he directs toward them.

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After about 31.5 miles, we arrived in the town of Okanogan. We went through charming neighborhoods. A diverse vegetable garden grabbed our attention. We moved through downtown, and decided to add 5 miles to the day’s journey to get a little ahead. We are now coming into the North Cascades, and the next 2 days have high elevation gains. Tomorrow we climb more than 4000 feet, so we whittled away at that with some additional miles today. Julie Martin, a local who found out about our efforts through social media, provided a cheer along the way. We all really appreciate the supportive waves, honks and cheers that we get from many people as we work our way along. We started up state route 20, which will lead us through the entirety of the Cascades. In a few days, after another 120 miles, we will be meeting Russell in Marblemount.

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After we settled in the Quality Inn of Okanogan at the conclusion of the day’s ride, we enjoyed some beer that Lena generously provided, and enjoyed visiting with her. My mom appreciated Lena’s SAG companionship. We had a fine Mexican dinner at the very hospitable Rancho Chico Family Mexican Restaurant in Omak. 

Now, we prepare for venturing into the Cascades.  

Prologue: Trip to the Start

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We pulled out of the driveway, leaving a small crowd of friends and family, including sponsors Nelson & Boyd cheering us on with pom-poms and bubbles. Turning left on 101 we heard an odd rubbing noise coming from the right rear tire region. We unanimously and silently voted to ignore it and hoped it would go away. It didn't, squealing a little whenever we bottomed out over a bump in the road. We couldn't remember if the van had ever carried this much weight before: three adult bodies, two power chairs, four bikes and whatever is in the Yakima up top.

The universe tried to help lighten our load: looking back, there was a towel stuck to the bike handlebars, flapping in the wind. We pulled over to check the storage unit, but it was mysteriously still closed. No time for playing detective, we added some tie-downs to keep the thing shut. 

While we were stopped, we took a piece of one of the power chairs to use as a lever, wedging the offending part of the van frame away from the tire.

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Then it started raining. We packed for sunny and 90 degrees, but discussed the fact that we’d left the rain gear at home. 

After a few hours, the skies turned blue,  the terrain beige and flat, and that rubbing squeal only interrupted the travelling music once every ten minutes or so. 

The blue sky gave way to a dingy taupe from the smoke of a thousand fires. The van was repeatedly attacked by tumbleweeds. 

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Meanwhile Jimmy and Josh B were lounging at a brewery, apparently too thirsty to wait for us.We found them at the No-Li brewery and loaded their cheery selves into the van. The added weight made the van bottom out with greater frequency, even with all of us leaning to the left. Happily we arrived at our airbnb safely and unloaded the poor overburdened vehicle. 

We fueled up with dinner and beer at Manito Tap House in Spokane, where we were joined by good friends Todd and Karen who will begin the ride with us tomorrow. It's great to have the team together, and we are all excited for the adventures that await us!

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Proposed Route

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Here is what I have planned. I will head west from Coeur d'Alene to Spokane, then make my way towards the Grand Coulee Dam. I'll then head north through the Colville Reservation to Okanogan where I can meet up with the 20 and began heading West on this highway. I'll follow the 20 until Marblemount where I will begin heading southwest towards Edmonds. Here I will catch a ferry to Kingston and be on the Olympic Peninsula which I'm quite familiar with. The last couple days I will head north towards home in Port Angeles.

Why I chose this route

When first planning this ride  we knew we wanted to go across the state from East to West so that we could finish at home. We knew we had to start somewhere in Idaho and I've heard such good things about Coeur d'Alene that it was the logical starting spot. Also, there are some good breweries there! The next difficult decision was what pass would be the best for crossing the Cascades in a power wheelchair. Snoqualmie Pass is the lowest elevation, however there is a ton of construction there at the moment and I would be forced on to the John Wayne Pioneer Trail. I really considered this for a while, however doing tens of miles on a bumpy, dirt trail sounded miserable. Also, there would've been limited access to me for the support vehicle. So I then started looking at Stevens Pass. This seemed like a great route, the second highest elevation pass of my three options and there were plenty of breweries  along the route. However, as I started to investigate more I found that the section of highway between Everett and Stevens Pass is affectionately known as "Highway of Death". Now I'm not one to be averse to risk, but the ominous name of that section made me start looking for an alternative. I started to really look at SR 20. This was by far the most elevation gain of any route and also probably the most isolated. But it goes through so much beautiful national forest land and is supposed to have spectacular vistas. I'll have to cross Washington Pass which is 5477 feet and do a total of over 25,000 feet of elevation gain throughout the entire ride. Another big perk of taking the 20 is that it is part of US Bike Route 10. This really aligned with my desire for more connected bike routes throughout our nation and Washington state in particular. This seemed like a great adventure for my power wheelchair.

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How you can help

I have never been to Eastern Washington or anywhere along SR 20. I threw this route together with some tips from friends and some bike maps I found online. I'm sure there are sections where there are better alternatives. I divided the route up  into 13 segments and I'm hoping to get some feedback from people who have ridden any section that I've listed. I would love suggestions on any portion of the ride, however I would really love input on the best way to get from Getchell to Edmonds. I basically let the map suggest the best way for cyclists to get between those two points. Maybe it's a good route, but I am betting there's a better option.

Without further ado: The Route

Overall RouteCoeur d'Alene to Port Angeles

Note: to see the whole route on one map, click the link above, scroll down on the left side of the screen, and click "show all on map".

Day One, August 12Coeur d'Alene to Spokane

Day Two, August 13: Spokane to Davenport

Day Three, August 14Davenport to Hesseltine

Day Four, August 15Hesseltine to Whitmore Lookout

Day Five, August 16: Whitmore Lookout to Okanogan

Day Six, August 17Okanogan to Winthrop

Note: day six may be overambitious. 40 miles with a 4000 foot climb is really pushing the limits of my chair.  I may try to extend day five a bit to lighten the load for day six.

Day Seven, August 18Winthrop to Bridge Creek

Day Eight, August 19Bridge Creek to Newhalem

Day Nine, August 20: Newhalem to Darrington

Day Ten, August 21: Darrington to Getchell

Day Eleven, August 22: Getchell to Edmonds

Day Twelve, August 23: Edmonds to Discovery Bay

Day Thirteen, August 24: Discovery Bay to Home

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Coeur d’Alene to Port Angeles

Hey there, Ian's Ride followers! It's time for another big adventure. I'm ready to do it again! Click here for 2016' s ride in review. The beauty of our state was so enjoyable in 2016 that I'm going to try and ride from East to West. This August, we are going to start in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and finish in Port Angeles, Washington. That's just two short months away! The exact dates and route will be coming soon. The route in particular is still up in the air. I'll be reaching out for as much help as I can get in this department. Crossing the Cascades in a safe and realistic way will be tricky. It was brought to my attention that my platform for the 2016 ride was really important, and that I should try to carry my message forward. Ian's Ride the nonprofit was formed and I'm officially an executive director and even have a board! With all of my mileage and elevation testing in 2017, I think I'm ready to brave crossing the desert of Eastern Washington and doing the long climb over the Cascades. Here is a link to my 2017 adventures.

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Here's the plan so far. I have three bike riders joining me for the entirety of the trip. All three of them were also part of the 2016 ride: the two Josh's and tall Jimmy. They will do all they can to keep me alive. They have agreed to this knowing it will be a 450+ mile ride with over 25,000 feet of elevation gain at the slow pace of 7 mi./h. This means they will have to do long hours of climbing without the reward of coasting freely down the other side. They are pretty special, and I'm lucky to have them.

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Heat and elevation gain will be my biggest obstacles. Going through Eastern Washington in the middle of August will certainly be a challenge for me. If you recall, I cannot regulate my temperature. I can't sweat in response to heat or shiver in response to cold. This creates some difficulty if you're doing a wheelchair/bike tour for long hours each day in direct sunlight. So I have four main strategies to help keep my temperature controlled. First, try to start out each day with my body temperature as low as I can get it overnight in an air-conditioned room. Second, I'll use a canopy over my wheelchair to shade me from the intense sun. Although the umbrellas were entertaining during the last ride, we want something a little sturdier this year. The product I have in mind is rated for up to 50 mi./h winds. Third, I will be using an ice vest to hopefully keep my core temperature down. Finally, I'm working on an easy to use mister that can be mounted right to the chair. This should offer some evaporative cooling and be a nice form of artificial sweat.

As for the elevation, it's going to be a little trickier. There will be some days that require big climbs and nothing saps a wheelchair's battery like going uphill. I will definitely be bringing a second wheelchair that I'll keep fully charged and could swap into once my first chair is out of juice. In addition, I'm hoping to have a second bank of batteries on my primary chair. Our plan is to use lithium batteries to keep the weight down and have them lightly secured to the back of my chair. Fire hazard is the biggest worry here, so we're working on something easily detachable if disaster should strike. I wouldn't want to use these batteries if I were riding alone, but I feel confident enough in my team to use them for the big elevation gain we will be facing.

I guess I better also refresh your memory on why the heck I do these daunting rides. Before I was injured, I had a great fondness for bike touring. This joy was lost, or so I thought, once I was confined to a wheelchair. A few years after my injury I finally started getting back out onto the trails, this is where I found my solace and was able to reestablish my identity. I eventually traveled all of the trails in my area and wanted to expand out. Ian's Ride 2016 was born. It soon became much more than this. I have met so many great people with spinal cord injuries that also love being outside, they often lack safe access to the outdoors. Being outside has given me a feeling of independence, joy, adventure, and a return to who I was before my injury. Because of this, I am happy to advocate for others to get outside and enjoy the healing qualities of the experience. If you want to read more about my story, click here.

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Now you may be asking, what can I do to help? I need route suggestions (my next blog post will detail what I've got so far). I certainly welcome any financial help. I'll need to fund this journey with the majority of cost going to hotel stays and food. I will be seeking corporate sponsors to cover the majority of the cost. I am happy to share my story, so I could use some media involvement, any connections with TV, newspaper, radio, etc would be welcome. I always welcome ride-alongs. If you're in the area I am riding through (see the coming route blog post for maps) I would love to have some local expertise or just a friendly chat while slowly charging across state. I'm just a normal guy wanting to go on summer ride. This wheelchair is my bike. I am of the firm belief that more people, not just the mobility challenged, should get outside and pursue a passion.