Story and photos by Mike McQuaide
With thousands of miles of snaking tarmac that winds, wends, climbs and descends through some of the country’s most stunning and varied terrain – alpine meadows to jewel-like islands; arid desert to lush rain forest – Washington State is truly an amazing place to ride a bike.
And now Mountaineers Books of Seattle has published “75 Classic Road Rides: Washington,” a new guidebook that details 75 of the state’s best road-riding routes. It’s authored by Bellingham resident and long-time Adventures NW contributor, Mike McQuaide. (Hey, whad’ya know, that’s me!)
Recently, we had the chance to sit down with McQuaide (again, me) at his vast Columbia neighborhood compound to get the lowdown on his new book.
Can I begin by saying that you are one truly handsome human being. Much taller, thinner and younger-looking in real life. What are you 27, 28?
Tell me about the book.
Basically, it covers 75 really cool, really fun road-riding routes – most of them between say, 30 and 80 miles – that take advantage of or showcase a particular area’s signature physical features. A well-known climb like Badger Mountain near Wenatchee or Lion Rock near Ellensburg, or a cool stretch along the Columbia River over near Nespelem, or a pancake-flat route down through the Skagit Flats, etc.
What type of rider is this book for?
It’s for anyone who loves that feeling of self-propelled power and freedom that you can only get from pedaling a bike out on the open road. That wind-in-your-hair, bugs-in-your-teeth-from-smiling-so-big feeling. The only requirements are a passion for cycling, a thirst for adventure and a hunger to see some really beautiful places.
So it’s for passionate, thirsty, hungry riders?
Exactly. You don’t need to be fast, skinny or have some bizillion-dollar bike. You just need to be someone who loves riding a bike.
How’d you come up with routes in the book?
Along with including my own personal faves, I endlessly badgered and bothered my bike-riding friends and acquaintances for route suggestions. I scoured Internet sites too, such as Strava, mapmyride, ridewithgps and the like to see what routes people are riding, and I relied on the kindness of strangers – riders, racers, bike clubs and bike shops in parts of the state I wasn’t quite as familiar with. They turned me on to a LOT of amazing routes.
Such as …?
Well, there’s this amazing 80-miler over in Okanogan County that goes from Tonasket to Oroville by way of tiny Sitzmark Ski Area up in the Okanogan Highlands. Then it cuts west along the glistening Similkameen River and after meandering around for a while – passing through tiny Nighthawk and along Palmer Lake, returns to Tonasket. What’s nice about that one – beside the lovely high, dry Eastern Washington forest vibe – is that if 80 miles seems too far, the book describes how it can easily be shortened to a couple of 40-milers. One hilly, one not so hilly; take your pick.
Then there’s BOMROD: Best of Mount Rainier in One Day, which lots of Seattle-area folks ride. It’s kind of an alternative to the popular RAMROD – Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day – but without the 50-mile ride to and from Enumclaw. It’s all within Mount Rainier National Park: up to Sunrise, then back down and up to Cayuse Pass, then down and up to Paradise via the east approach, which is really spectacular. With every pedal stroke Rainier appears to expand and grow before your very eyes. Then, back down and up Cayuse again, depending on where you parked. It’s a mega-climbing day, that’s for sure. But way mega-beautiful as well.
Then there’s Steptoe Butte, out in the Palouse, which is a quartzite bump that rises a thousand feet above the surrounding wheatfields. There’s a three-mile climb to the top but rather than switching back and forth like the road to Artist Point, the Steptoe Butte road spirals ‘round and ‘round the mountain as it climbs. And the views from the top are incredible – on clear days you can see for like 200 miles and into four states. The road’s a little rough but with out having to slow down for switchbacks, it can make for a crazy-fast descent.
Does every route in the book have mega-climbs on it?
Mega-‘course not. There are mellow routes in Leavenworth, Yakima, around Bellingham, down Skagit way – throughout the state, really – and every route in the book can easily be shortened or lengthened. Many route descriptions also detail how to avoid a route’s steeper, pointy bits if you’d rather avoid any spots of bother.
Did you have any wildlife encounters?
Let’s see, I nearly got run off the road by a rafter of turkeys near Lake Crescent on the Olympic Peninsula. And on the Forest Service roads above Winthrop, I found myself dodging cattle. Dead snakes too, lying in the road up on the Waterville Plateau. And of course, those giant pinecones in the hills above Wenatchee – I found myself slaloming through those quite a bit.
Giant pinecones on the road—does that count as a wildlife encounter?
‘Course it does. You know those things bite, right?
OK. Anything odd or unusual happen while working on this book?
Besides interviewing myself? Hmm, let’s see … this one time, I was down in Orting, getting ready to head out on a terrific 60-mile route throughout rural Pierce County. I was parked at a Safeway and as I’m putting my bike together, there’s this guy in a pickup truck a couple spots away just totally rocking out by himself to Stevie Ray Vaughan. He’s got it cranked at least to 11, if not 12 and the whole truck is vibrating, pulsating up and down like it’s alive. Which is cool, I’m a big Stevie fan myself, so when I pedal out, I nod to the guy – who’s dressed like he’s on his way to work: Carhartts, some kind of reflective vest and a John Deere-type hat.
Four or five hours later, after riding all over the place throughout the Puyallup River valley, down near Eatonville and along Lake Kapowsin, I’m riding back into Orting and as I get closer to the Safeway, I hear what I swear sounds like a rock concert – in fact, a Stevie Ray Vaughan concert. I get back to my car and guess what it is – the dude in the pickup truck! He’s spent the last five hours rocking out in his pickup truck blasting Stevie Ray Vaughan at full volume!
What’s your favorite route in the book?
Hmm, tough question. But at the risk of sounding like a Whatcom County homer, I’d probably have to say the 100-miler that starts in Everson, heads up through cornfields and pastureland to Sumas, takes a turn for the steep up Reese Hill, and then follows the Mount Baker Highway up to the ski area – or all the way to Artist Point when the road’s open that far. On the return ride to Everson, you basically just follow the Ski to Sea road bike route.
Then again, there’s this 80-miler from Packwood to Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park to the Stevens Canyon entrance and back to Packwood that’s truly spectacularly, amazingly, beautiful. I saw a bunch of elk on that one, along with a momma bear and two cubs in that meadow just below Paradise.
And of course, anything near Walla Walla, which has such a cool, college-town-in-the-middle-of-nowhere atmosphere, and is fairly bike-obsessed too. A real good route is to follow Middle Waitsburg Road north up and down those Dr. Suessy Palousy-type hills to Waitsburg and from there you have a number of options: out toward Dayton and Bluewood Ski Area, climbing up through deep, dark Umatilla National forest and the Blue Mountains, or on the way back to Walla Walla, head south toward the Oregon border and Kooskooskie, which is really fun to say. Try it.
It’s all right.
Anyway, the above and about 40 or 50 other routes are my favorites. With the rest of the ones in the book just a tadly smidgen behind.
Any last thoughts you’d like to share about the book?
Yes, just that this book is quite possibly the best book ever. It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry; it’ll make you think. In fact, if you took all the Harry Potter, Hunger Games and Twilight books and placed them end to end, they wouldn’t come close to matching “75 Classic Rides: Washington” for sheer, unadulterated bicycling awesomeness.
And that’s a fact!