Leavenworth & Wildfires
Located in the eastside foothills of the Cascade Mountains, Leavenworth is a quaint village with a bit of Old World Bavaria charm surrounded by rushing rivers, clear blue lakes, and fast-melting glaciers. This town is also the gateway to the Enchantments, one of the most magical hikes I've done in my life.
Leavenworth was the next stop after Winthrop, where I rode up to Slate Peak. Where the wildfire that would end up chasing me to Idaho started. Little did I know how busy this side of the Cascades gets in the summer! That was quite naive of me looking back at it.
If you don't know or have never been to the area, The Cascades split into two sides: the dry, high desert environment and the wet and rainy side. I was on the dry side, not quite in the high desert side yet.
Riding around the eastern foothills of the Cascades offers a unique experience in traversing the Rain Shadow area. In mountainous regions, a Rain Shadow is a reduced rainfall area behind the Leeward side, which faces away from the prevailing winds. Places like these are the most interesting to me, as you can see the change in flora & fauna a mile at a time, and sometimes less than that.
Best examples of this can be found in Mosier, Mckenzie pass, Hood River, Mazama, Barlow pass, and of course, Levenworth. There are countless other locations, but these come to mind when I think of that magical zone.
On my drive down to Levenworth from Winthrop, the wind picked up. It pushed the smoke eastwards, intensifying the heat in an already sweltering hot area. I would've never expected to experience 105 degrees (40c) so far north in a mountainous area! Unlike southern California, Arizona, or Texas, hot temperatures in the PNW are very concerning!
It was hot, dry, and smokey by the time I got to town. So it was too late to jump on the bike. So instead, I drove up the mountains towards the heart of the Cascades and found a spot by the Wenatchee river upstream.
I took that opportunity to read more of a book that Chris Distefano gave me called "A Dog In A Hat" and chill with my campsite neighbor and new friend Michael from Germany, who was traveling around the PNW on his motorcycle.
After a quiet night by the rushing Wenatchee River, I packed up and headed to town as early as I could. The air wasn't as smokey since the wind calmed down overnight. Ever since I first visited the area, I have been curious about the Chumstick Mountains separating the archipelago of towns alongside the river just down the valley towards the Columbia River. Such as Cashmere and Peshastin.
By the time I got out of Leavenworth, about 2 miles or so, I was already sweating, and I could feel the heat rushing through the valley. Luckily, soon after I got to the base of the first major climb, I was in the shade of the Evergreens. But like I said earlier, this is a Rain Shadow area, and I was headed towards the Leeward side, a more exposed and drier than a few miles ago.
I was cooked.
With the smoke rolling in and the sun was beating down on me, I was ready for the long descent into Cashmere for a taco break in the shade and a chance to refill my bottles. Unfortunately, the road out of town was very exposed, and it was almost noon by that time. I could feel my body giving up to the heat given how much Illiquid lost over the last 40 miles or so.
My legs seized up with every pedal stroke. I only had 14 miles to go, almost flat compared to the first part of the ride.
With barely any shade in sight, I started to crack.
I was trying to spin and get up the last steep pitch before the final flat road to Levenworth. But I simply couldn't. So I hopped off my bike and walked for a minute to get the legs moving again. I rarely get to this state of zero electrolytes in my body and a cramp with every move. Thankfully, as soon as I got up the hill, I found some much-needed shade on the side of the road.
I was so ready to be done with this ride by then.
A few seconds later, I got a message from Pat Daly on Instagram. Both of us were tracking Lachlan's progress on the Alt Tour in 2021. He sent me a video of Lachlan celebrating the tour's finish after a grueling adventure. Riding over 3424 miles and 219262ft of elevation.
I suddenly felt energized after that video, like I had taken a shot of espresso and had 2 cans of coconut water or something. The look on Lachlan's face sitting on the sidewalks of Paris was so inspiring that it made me forget the pain cave I was in.
I was so happy to be back in town before it got hotter and more tourist traffic came into Leavenworth.
As rough as that day was, I still reminisce about that area and the enchanting vibe of that side of the Cascades.