That’s me… Photo credit: Kevin
About this time last year, my buddy Dan and I were riding the Washington Backcountry Discovery Route from south to north. After one day of sunny weather (riding the I-5 slab down to Stevenson, WA) it rained everyday… It rained HARD everyday. But in spite of the rain the whole north end of the route was basically on fire, and most of the trails were closed. Wisely we chose to call it quits after 3 days when we reached Cashmere, WA. Dan headed east to his home in Idaho and I plowed through the pouring rain over Stevens Pass to my cozy little home in Everett, WA.
It was an automatic fact that we were gonna start again where we left off, and complete the rest of the route the next year. Dan and I made a plan to link up on August 1st in Leavenworth WA, for Round II. One year later and man what a difference. Day one found me headed to a campground in Leavenworth, and the temperatures were scorching, up over 100 degrees, and that was torturous for a coasty boy like me. Also joining us for this years ride would be Dan’s pal Kevin. I got my camp set up in the mid-afternoon heat, and sent a text to Dan to let him know I’d arrived. Dan and Kevin rolled in for a quick meet up and planing session. They would be staying in a hotel in town for the night.
Dan with his new knife
We talked routes, camping, weather, and various other logistics. We made a plan to meet in the morning at the Safeway parking lot at 0800 to begin the ride. Before they left I presented Dan with the little Mora bushcraft knife that I made for him. You can see more about the knife build here: The Morakniv Project
The rest of my day was spent keeping my camp chair in the shade and waiting for the sun to go down.
Remarkably I did manage to get a little sleep as it cooled down to 90 something during the night. We linked up at 0800 and were quickly on the road. We made a steady climb up toward Chumstick Mt. The views were great, and trail was manageable. The dust… Yikes! The dust was legendary. At one point we rolled through a logging area and the road turned into deep ruts filled with a fluffy talcum powder type dust that just billowed out from beneath our motorbikes. I can’t go into too many gory details about how awful it was because my two riding partners were motoring through it on bikes that weighed 2-1/2 times more then my little StrikeForceMoto, and they are gonna read this and know what a big baby I am.
Kevin roosting along the trail
Actually I can admit that this was a tough day for me. The heat, the dust, the loose angular rock on the trail, all demanded constant attention. As we dropped down into the Entiat valley to the little town of Ardenvoir we started to see the first signs of smoke. The smoke got pretty thick in spots and we were unsure if this was from a new fire, or one the forest fires that were already burning several miles up the Lake Chelan basin. There was a USFS fire crew training at Mad River where we stopped to chat with a couple other ADV riders, the fire crew informed us that there were no new fires in our intended path, and the other riders told us that the town of Chelan was totally choked in thick smoke.
We took a break at the little store in Ardenvoir and reconsidered our plan to camp at 25 mile creek on the shores of a Lake Chelan. Dan and I were thinking of motel camping in town. Kevin was still considering camping somewhere and then linking up with us in the morning.
Map of the fire
Well, by the time we climbed over the last ridge and started working our way down to the lake it was really nasty. There was a smokey haze hanging in the sky, and it was starting to burn my eyes. The normally beautiful S. Lakeshore Drive was a grey hazy mess, and the lake itself was mostly hidden in the thick blanket of smoke… Every so often we’d get a glimpse out on the lake and there were still people out there on boats and jet skis.
After a fuel stop I led the boys up to the Apple Inn. I’d stayed there years ago on a KLR trip where I visited the Hawk Watch site on Chelan Ridge. Kevin apparently had choked down enough smoke by this time he had convinced himself that a motel was a good idea, so he decided to stick with us.
I made a feeble attempt at cleaning some of the dust off me gear before I tossed it all in the room. We all got cleaned up and spent the evening telling stories and talking about the days ride.
A new day but the same old smoke… We walked a few doors down to the Apple Cup Cafe’ and scarfed down a big breakfast. The rising heat and acrid smoke were testing our patience as we got loaded up and on the road. As soon as I had some airflow blowing through my jacket my outlook on the world improved dramatically.
Riding through the fireweed
Our route took us along the north shore of the lake and up Copper mountain. Like all of our morning starts we were treated to another marvelous stretch of fast mountain twisty turns. But soon enough we were scrambling up another dusty, rock strewn gnarly hill climb. We followed a wonderful trail through an old burned area. Blackened trees, bleached silver pines, and gorgeous fireweed had us stopping frequently for photos. At one point Dan gave us a temperature check… 69 degrees! Now that’s more like it. But I noted that we were above 6000 feet elevation and that certainly helped.
I was delighted to recognize the outcropping way up on Chelan Ridge where I visited the Hawk Watch crew at their raptor migration counting station years ago. Back in 2010 I’d ridden my KLR up there to spend the afternoon with the bird counters.
Eventually the trail led us down into the Methow Valley to the little “town” of Carlton. We stopped at the Carlton Mall, which was really only a general store and gas pump on the outside. But on the inside it was a treasure trove of cool outdoor stuff, catering to the legions of fly fishermen that come to the area. I can honestly state right here, “That was the coolest mall I’d ever been to”.
Our route had a detour due to a washed out section of forest service road up in the Benson Creek area. The bypass was pretty straight forward, north in WA158, east on SR20 where we’d pick up the WABDR again at Loop Loop road. Now for some of the more dedicated off-road riders out there this may have been an inconvenience, but we enjoyed a very “spirited” mini Moto GP blasting through the sweeping bends along marvelous North Cascades Highway.
Loop Loop Canyon road was just the kind of place ADV motorbikes were designed for. The trail wound its way along green meadows and heavy forest. Scenery straight out of a Touratech catalogue.
We made a quick inspection of China Wall. This place was pretty cool, I made a mental note to do some further research on the origin of the name and a bit of its history when I got home.
And then it was down the Ruby Grade. Reading other trip reports I’d learned that the Ruby Grade was a steep downhill with lots of ruts and big boulders that led down into the old mining townsite of Ruby.
I lead the way down and within about 50 yards I had the little StrikeForceMoto sliding down into a deep rocky rut. The bike stopped abruptly and launched me forward. I did an over the handle bars dismount, snapped the kill switch off as I landed on my feet. Then I grabbed the the bike upright and jumped aboard, just as Dan was coming around the turn and toward the rut. I shot out of the rut in a flash, as Dan was thinking he’d have to stop and help me get my bike out of there. I later told him my hasty exit was to avoid him getting his bike stuck behind me, but truth be told it was more in an effort to snatch my bike up before anyone realized I had gotten in a little bit of a pickle. No harm to the moto, and since there were no pictures… Well, maybe it never happened.
We paused for a bit to read some history at the Ruby townsite. It wasn’t long before we were cruising up to the gas pump at the general store in Conconully . The state park in town was a welcome home away for home for the evening. Real green grass to place our tents on, and…Showers!
Night lights on in the tents
We got camp set up and later that evening the boys walked up to the Sit & Bull tavern for some grownup beverages. Dan and Kevin met the mayor, and a local named Joe…(every town has a “Joe”, right?) In speaking with Joe, Kevin confirmed that the name “China Wall” came from the similarity with the Great Wall of China. The site was built as a silver ore concentrating site, but in 1989 the price of silver dropped dramatically and the project was abandoned. So there you have it, research complete. Thanks Joe
This would be the perfect place to insert the highlight video… It might save me from writing stunning beautiful epic & awesome a whole bunch of times.
Nighthawk Border Crossing
We arrived at the Canadian border at about 1030 hours. For Dan and Kevin it on into Canada, headed east on Hwy. 3 Then they’d drop down into Idaho. For me it was a wonderful mini Iron Butt ride across Highway 20 through the gorgeous North Cascades. It certainly reinforced the idea that my little WR250R is capable of far more then I will ever be able to demand of it as a rider.
Kevin – Dan – Kat
Finally a shoutout to my two great riding partners, Dan and Kevin. You guys made the trip an adventure. Thanks, Kat