Yesterday morning we hopped on our bikes, as we do most mornings, and headed south into Oregon. Walla Walla is so close to the WA/OR border that we end up doing a lot of cycling in our neighboring state. Since there's a perfect city park for a rest stop in Milton-Freewater, it's a rare ride where we don't end up there at some point on the ride.
The ride started the same as many of our rides: ride to Milton-Freewater for a quick pit stop at Yantis Park. There are decent rest rooms, plenty of picnic tables, shade trees, and even a nice sink with running water in the shelter where we usually stop.
We then headed west to Lower Dry Creek Road, passing numerous apple orchards on the way. Apples are starting to get red!
Up until this point the roads are primarily quite flat in the valley, but once we reach Lower Dry Creek Road, we started hitting some rollers and a long gradual gain in elevation as we continued south.
Here's the elevation profile for the full ride. So far we're still on the less steep portion to the left of the profile, but things would start to change soon.
I always seem to have a difficult time on Lower Dry Creek Road, with its rolling hills and gradual ascent, so Barry did his best to motivate and coach me along, coming up with some "Bear-isms" for me, like "This is the last climb," and "It's all downhill from here", "it's like the bike is pedaling itself," and "it doesn't even feel like a hill". These pithy sayings are optimistic, but unfortunately never quite true. But I do appreciate his efforts!
There's a steep, short climb at the end of the road as it climbs up to meet Highway 11. Then, after crossing the highway and enjoying a nice descent (the dip about 1/3 of the way from the left on the elevation profile), there is a very long climb to a ridge prior to descending into the small town of Weston. The scenery is gorgeous, though, and we especially loved this beautiful barn. A sign said that it was built in 1916.
Once we got to the top of the ridge and almost to Weston, we looked down and could see the "empire" of Smith's Frozen Foods. (No relation!) There is a nice descent into town, but you can't go too crazy, as there is a stop sign and left turn at the bottom.
Weston is small and quaint and was quiet on this Sunday morning since most everything was still closed. Love little historic downtowns like this!
Weston has one of the cutest public libraries I've ever seen. Fun-sized, just like in Belize!
Not much action at the Police Department!
After checking out Weston, it was time to head a few miles west towards the next small town, Athena, not too many miles down the road.
There was a long climb out of the other side of Weston. On the elevation profile above, we're at the high point and pedaling up and down the little bumps in the ridge. The worst, as Barry would say, really is almost over at this point...or so we thought.
We crossed Highway 11 again and had a nice descent into Athena.
Athena also had a charming historic downtown with a slight edge on Weston because it had a bike lane. Surprising in such a small town, but we'll take it! Though with the amount of traffic at this time of day on Sunday, we really didn't need it.
Some of the old buildings were a little shabby and/or boarded up and for sale. Ripe for historic preservation...let's hope someone sees the potential here, as the architecture is gorgeous.
Leaving Athena, we climbed back up to Highway 12 and turned towards the north. There's a huge shoulder on the highway, and soon we'd hit a several-mile descent. Sounds great, right?! Well, up high on the ridge, all of a sudden there was a strong wind blowing -- right in our faces. We really hadn't had any wind all day, and when we least needed it and from the worst possible direction, there it was. Even pedaling downhill can be challenging with a stiff headwind, so we had to put our heads down and pedal hard. So much for this part of the ride being fun. It was simply to be endured.
We were relieved to reach our turn at Lower Dry Creek Road since the minute we got off the highway, the wind didn't seem as bad. The lower we went, the less of a factor wind was.
Once we got back to the valley and were cruising fast along Old Milton Highway, heading north back to Walla Walla, I realized I could really use a cold beverage. The water I had left was very warm, as was the day (mid-90s), so it was just not refreshing. We've been wanting to stop at this little Mexican place, Jalisco Market, right at the Oregon side of the border, so today was our chance.
It proved to be a good choice indeed. This place is Mexican-run and completely authentic, homemade tortillas and salsa (muy caliente!), and everything made to order. The food was delicious and inexpensive, and the sodas were exactly what we needed at that time -- sugar and caffeine. We don't drink sodas normally, but on a long, hot bike ride, we make exceptions.
I wasn't all that hungry (mostly thirsty), so ordered just one Taco Placero (pork), but Barry went for broke and got the huge Burrito Veggie.
We just adore little places like this and will certainly be back!
We finished up our ride by riding the last ten miles or so back for a total of 62.7 miles (for me, Barry did a bit extra to get 65). I hadn't intended to ride a metric century (62.5 miles or 100K), but riding with Barry, I often ride more than I planned. It's those "Bear-isms" that get me!
We chose to spend the majority of our summer (2.5 months) in Walla Walla, Washington for several reasons. For one, neither of us had ever been to the Pacific Northwest, so we really wanted to get up here and check it out at the best time of year in this part of the US. Secondly, Barry did some research and determined that Walla Walla was much warmer and sunnier than western Washington (we'd also considered Seattle and Portland as possible summer destinations). He's all about hot weather, and we worried that the coast could be too overcast and chilly for us, even in the summer.
Another neat finding that turned up in his research: In 2011, Walla Walla was named the "friendliest small town in America" by Rand McNally and USA Today. Writers described it as “a town so nice they named it twice; a culturally diverse small town with happy faces everywhere you go.” After living in the very friendly country of Belize, we got a bit spoiled. We really enjoy being in places with friendly people who actually say "good morning" and smile when they see you.
And last but certainly not least, the road cycling here was reputed to be excellent, with miles and miles of lightly traveled rural roads. Since this year kind of evolved into the "year of cycling" for us after staying in warmer areas all winter long, Walla Walla was an easy choice.
We were able to find a really nice vacation rental townhouse (half a house) with a large, fully fenced yard for Paisley to play in and all the amenities we needed, including a washer-dryer, deck, and fully equipped kitchen. Perfect!
Since arriving here at the beginning of July, we've spent many of our waking hours exploring the rural roads by bike. It's sunny nearly every day, and even on hotter days, with the low humidity, the heat doesn't seem too stifling -- nothing like the drippy, humid southeast US (and Belize!) we were used to.
Just a couple of miles by bike leads us from the suburbs to pastoral countryside decorated primarily by farms. The landscape is a patchwork of every shade of gold and green. Fields of swaying wheat, Walla Walla onions, alfalfa, impossibly green corn, and a variety of farm animals are our constant companions. Striking hills dotted with wind farms and the Blue Mountains to the east provide a almost unreal-looking backdrop surrounding the verdant valley.
Oh, and there are birds -- lots of birds. From flycatchers to swallows to magpies to the most hawks we've ever seen, it is a birders paradise.
The farm animals are usually pretty interested in we strange creatures with wheels instead of hooves.
The city of Walla Walla boasts a charming downtown, and we've enjoyed riding to the farmer's market every Saturday and buying wonderful local produce. We got here in time for cherries -- both red and Rainier, though they are done now, but berries of every type, apricots, and peaches are everywhere; and locally grown apples can't be far behind -- we pass the orchards on every ride.
Since I managed to get so far behind on the blog while documenting our cross-country trip, I wanted to give you a little taste of what this area is like, but I have many more posts to write about areas we've visited -- and we've got a lot more to do before we leave as well. So stay tuned, and thanks for reading!
After traveling across the US from western North Carolina to northern Ohio to western Washington State during May and June, on July 1 it was time to turn around and head back east a ways to our main summertime destination, Walla Walla, Washington. We had a nice vacation townhouse rented for 2.5 months and couldn't wait to get there and check it out.
But back to our travels. The drive from western to eastern Washington over the Cascade mountain range was absolutely gorgeous.
We encountered something new to us while driving through Snoqualmie pass: the "rolling slowdown". Our long line of eastbound traffic had to follow a DOT truck ever so slowly for miles. And miles.
They were doing rock blasting on the westbound side of the highway at the east end of the pass, which we assume was the reason for these slowdowns. It was a bit strange because we really couldn't tell that they were doing any work in the eastbound lanes. I found this blog entry online that explains the "rolling slowdown" phenomenon in the pass. And given the date of the post (2011), this has been going on for a long time.
The silver lining is that the slowdown gave us plenty of time to enjoy the beautiful scenery and for me to take photos out the car window.
A little later in the drive, we stopped at a rest area for lunch near Cle Elum and had the most amazing views of the snow-covered Wenatchee Mountains to the north.
As we got closer to Walla Walla, we enjoyed beautiful views of the Walula Gap of the Columbia River in the tri-cities area.
Finally, here we are in Walla Walla, and we've had a great time investigating this beautiful area. It's far sunnier and warmer than western Washington, and the road cycling in the valley is incredible. We'll have a variety of posts on this area, so stay tuned!
Emily & Barry
We're a long-married, early-retired couple who are currently traveling as nomads with no fixed home base. After years of living in North Carolina (Emily's home state), we spent 18 months living oceanfront on Ambergris Caye, Belize, a year road-tripping the US in a Honda CR-V, a year in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and are now roaming North America in our 32' motorhome, Pearl, following warm weather whenever possible.
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