Cascade 1200

6/24 - 6/30 2010

Ride Report with Geologic Notes by Chris Heg

The Cascade 1200 is a bicycle ride of 1240 kilometers organized by Seattle International Randonneurs in accordance with the rules of Randonneurs Mondiaux and Audax Club Parisien. The Randonneurs USA (RUSA) website has a good general introduction to randonneuring. Most of the geologic information in this report is from the book Roadside Geology of Washington, Alt and Hyndman, Mountain Press, Missoula, 1984.

The ride is 774 miles. The time limit is 93 hours.

Day 1

94 riders left Monroe, Washington at 06:00 on June 26th. We started out in a large group rolling through Snoqualmie River Valley for the first 15 miles until we reached the hill at Ames Lake Road. This was the first of many many hills that would sort the pack into groups by strength and speed.

The route crossed over from Snoqualmie Valley to Issaquah, then went south through the small town of Cumberland (first control stop) towards the area west of Mount Rainier. The area from Monroe to Enumclaw was completely shaped by glacial action. A deep layer of mixed rock from sand to huge boulders is all that's left of a layer of ice 2000 feet thick that once covered the area. Satellite images show north-south gouges like claw marks from the glaciers that form the basis of valleys like the Snoqualmie River Valley. The many lakes in the area were formed by indentation from the uneven lower surface of the glaciers.

We often find ourselves sharing the road with motorcycles because they like the same roads we do for the same reasons. The relationship is usually amicable even though we are slow and they are loud. ;-)


The next stop was in Eatonville. Many riders opted for the bakery but it looked crowded so I went on to the grocery store. There was a good view of Mount Rainier from the parking lot. 

We continued south past Alder Lake and through the hills between Eatonville and Morton. The area between Eatonville and Elbe is covered by material ejected from Mount Rainier, mostly in a giant mudflow called the Osceola lahar. The Osceola lahar 5,600 years ago produced a wall of mud 460 ft deep down the White River valley that covered an area of over 130 sq mi centered between Enumclaw and Buckley. That is why we saw all of those "Volcano Evacuation Route" signs between Cumberland and Elbe. If you hear sirens, climb the nearest steepest hill you can find. It's probably on the route anyway.

Adder Lake:


Don and Elaine Jameson heading up to Elbe:


I stopped briefly at the excellent Bean Tree Coffee Shop on Main Avenue in Morton.

Until Morton, we had headwinds and crosswinds. Once we turned East, we had a very nice tailwind that lasted for the next 100 miles. Hard to complain about that!

The road over White Pass crosses 2 volcanic regions, the 40 million year old Western Cascades and the 10 million year old High Cascades. The road from Morton to the bottom of the White Pass Climb is surrounded by the older Western Cascade rocks. The White Pass climb and descent to Rimrock are a mixture of Western Cascade rocks and High Cascade volcanic flows from Mount Rainier. Adams and Rainier are two of the 5 living volcanos that make up the current High Cascades. They are driven by the melting of ocean floor material that is still sinking beneath the continent off the Washington coast. They have grown up through older extinct volcanos of the Western Cascades.

Davis Lake Road:

A glimpse of Mount Adams to the south:

and Mount Rainier to the north (That's Robert Higdon, Chris Gay, Joe Platzner, and Ralph Nussbaum.)

Starting the climb to White Pass. This is 1/2 mile from the turnoff to Cayuse Pass.


On the 12 mile climb up White Pass. 


View of Rainier from the South


Sunset on the White Pass climb.


Still climbing.  That's Robert Higdon, Ian Shopland, Chris Gay, and George Moore.


At the summit, still in daylight. The tailwind was a wonderful thing.


After that, we raced down the east side of White Pass to the very nice Clear Lake control (thanks for the sandwiches and drinks!). The route took us around the south side of Rimrock Lake for a few extra climbs before the last 20 mile descent to the overnight control at Naches. We rolled down the narrow Tieton valley with the full moon playing hide and seek over the southern ridgetop. It was a fantastic night with the wind at our backs and the moon lighting the hils and shining off of the fast flowing river. The last 5 miles in the Naches Valley I did solo at 22 mph. It was a memorable day, maybe the best I have ever had on a bike. 225 miles with 10000 feet of climbing in 17.5 hours on the clock and I felt good at the end of it.

The overnight was in the middle school at Naches. The food was good but the showers were cold and the wrestling mats in the gym were pretty hard for sleeping. This was my first time with mass sleeping arrangements on a brevet so it was a learning experience. Another time might take my sleeping bag outside and sleep on the ground as long as the weather stayed dry.

Day 2

At the beginning of Day 2 we had to pay back some of the great wind assistance from day 1 by riding 44 miles upwind and 2000 feet uphill to the Lodgepole campground control, about 6 miles short of Chinook Pass.

One thing that made the climb pleasant was the air of spring in the valley. There were many wildflowers - lupines, orange honeysuckle, Nootka roses - and butterflies around. The blooming season is brief on the eastern side of the Cascades and we were lucky to see it.

Eventually, I got to the control and got ready for another sleigh ride back to Naches.

I stopped along the way to take a picture of Fife's Peak. It is the remnant of a large Western Cascade volcano.

Most of the way down was in sight of the American River or Naches River:

This is near the bottom, back at Naches. We are now in the Columbia Plateau region which is covered with basalt lava flows from east and south of this area. We will see much more of this over the next 2 days.

The route went parallel to the highway for several miles on Old Naches Highway. It winds through the orchards with a few extra hills thrown in to keep it interesting. It was starting to get hot, at least for us Western Washington residents. The next 18 miles to the Fruitdale control were tacking to windward on farm roads with a few hills thrown in for good measure (is there a pattern here?). I rode this stretch trading off with Don and Elaine Jameson and Dwight Brown.

The next control was at Fruitdale on the edge of Yakima where we found an oasis:

I was having some problems on the second day with the toes of both feet hurting and I was also getting saddle pain on the left. I started taking my shoes off at every stop and that helped some.  Eventually 2 toes in my left foot went numb and stayed that way for some time after the ride was over.

After a nice 8 mile run through Yakima on the bike trail along the Yakima river, we had a somewhat less nice 40 mile ride on the shoulder of Highway 24. It was in the low 90's and there was a singular lack of shade along the way. We finally came across what I call the Des Marais Cutoff Rest Area (two grain silos by the side of the road):

Here's Don figuring out how we get ourselves out of this mess:

Sometimes the sun went behind the clouds. We like clouds.

Finally we reached the top of the rise after 20 miles and crossed into the Columbia River valley:

Here we are at the welcoming gates of the Hanford nuclear reservation:

We stopped for about 1/2 hour at the Vernita Bridge rest area to rest, fill our bottles, and put our heads under the faucet before heading to Mattawa. There is a short steep climb just after the Vernita bridge that gets you from the Columbia river up to the plateau, about 300 feet in 1/2 mile. We were fortunate enough to get there when the sun was behind a cloud. 


This is the view of the Vernita Bridge and Rest area from the top of "the wall".  The rest area is that little patch of trees on the far side.

When we got to the top of the climb, we found the sag wagon stopped with Irene Takahashi, a rider suffering from heat exhaustion.  She was barely able to sit upright at the time and we thought she was done. I am glad to say she rested and hydrated for a while, then continued to complete the full 1200k with time to spare. That's hardcore.
The plateau north of the river was interesting.  Part of it was real desert:

And part of it was amber waves of grain. We had a bit of a headwind for the 14 miles into Mattawa control.

There was another great stop with sandwiches, ice, and shade at Mattawa. Many thanks to the volunteers!

A good sized group left Mattawa together to ride the remaining 40 miles to Quincy.  This is on the road that passes between Saddle Mountain and the Columbia River. We got plenty of extra nutrition on this stretch due to the huge number of bugs that came out at dusk.

We had another beautiful sunset over the Columbia River.

After the sunset, we turned onto Beverly Burke Road about 3 miles below the Priest Rapids Dam.  At this point we were at 177 miles on the day and 400 miles into the ride.  Beverly Burke Road started with a seemingly endless 7-1/2 mile climb followed by 6 miles of steep rollers.  Then it dropped off the edge of the world into the plains around Quincy. We went down a fast descent where the temperature dropped by 25 degrees from the top to the bottom. The day finished with 15 miles of flat to the overnight control at Quincy, at mile 208 for the day, 434 total.
The Qunicy stop worked much better for me than the previous night. There was plenty of hot water in the showers and I was better organized about getting things done.  I got 4 or 5 hours sleep, which was 4 or 5 more than I got in Naches.

Day 3

I left Quincy with Don and Elaine Jameson at about 5:30 in the morning. The road headed north through farmlands toward Ephrata in the Grand Coulee.  I was looking forward to this part of the ride because the landscape and geology are so fascinating. We started in the farming area around Quincy. It was hot but cooler than day 2.

We met up with Patrick Leahy along the way and headed into the Grand Coulee from Soap Lake. Soap Lake has extremely high salt and mineral content because it has no outlet to the ocean. All of the water escapes through evaporation.

You can see the white line at the water level from dry salts

The geology of this area is unique. The basic land form is a vast basalt flood plain formed about 15 million years ago from giant volcanic eruptions in southern Washington and in Oregon. The basalt is thousands of feet deep. The surface features were formed by cataclysmic flash floods that occurred during the ice age a million years ago. Glaciers blocked the Clark Fork River in Montana to form a lake 2000 feet deep with 500 cubic miles of water. Ice makes a poor dam so periodically the dam woud break and drain the entire lake across eastern Washington literally in a couple of days. What we see now is the channels scoured by the floods. The floods happened about 40 times as the ice formed and broke.

Here is a sample of the eroded lava flows that line the edges of the Coulee.

This is looking south from the climb up to the Dry Falls control.

This is Dry Falls. At one time this was a 3 mile wide, 400 foot high waterfall pouring the flood waters from Montana toward the Columbia River. The 18 mile canyon we just went through was formed by undercutting and wearing away this waterfall.

After another great control at Dry Falls, we got on Highway 2 and climbed up out of the Grand Coulee. This was a steady climb of roughly 800 feet in 4 miles up to the plateau.

As the road climbs it leaves the barren flood channels and enters the high plains of rich windblown sediments called loess. Eastern Washington is covered with this soil where the flash floods did not go. It is great farmland due to the vast irrigation system drawn from the Columbia River.  Here are the wildflowers and grasses of the brief desert spring.

This is looking back down into Grand Coulee from the top of the climb.

This is looking west from the top of the climb. If you stay on this road for 170 miles it will take you straight back to Monroe. All you have to do is cross that little mountain range up there. But that's not the way we're going. 

After about 10 miles rolling on the high plain, you drop down into Moses Coulee, another ancient flood channel.  It's always nice to see those "Truck on Cheese" signs, as some like to call them.

This is looking east from the bottom of Moses Coulee. The 7% hill was fun while it lasted.

The climb out of Moses Coulee is about the same as the one from Grand Coulee but it seems harder because it winds through a canyon and there are a lot of false summits. Fortunately I pretty much knew  what to expect since we did a 400k last spring that included this climb. This is looking north along Moses Coulee just before entering the canyon.

The next control was at a crossroads called Farmer in the old community hall.  Again we had fresh food, cold drinks and the all-important ice to refresh us before the next stretch. This was mile 68 on the day, mile 502 total.

We had a south wind that had been building slowly through the morning so we were going to have a tailwind on the next stretch. I knew the road north of Farmer from the 400k last year and was looking forward to doing it with a favorable wind despite the many rolling hills.

I left Farmer alone and averaged 17 mph for the next 32 miles down to Bridgeport. Granted, the last 8 miles was a nice 1400 foot descent.

I reached the Columbia river again at Bridgeport but we did not cross there.  We stayed south of the river for 10 miles and crossed at Brewster.  This is the bridge at Bridgeport.

After Brewster we took Old Highway 97 north through the Okanogan River valley. After crossing the river we left the great basalt plain and entered a region of granite rocks formed deep in the earth and sediments from the ocean floor. The lands east and west of the Okanogan River were once large islands  separated from each other and from North America by a wide ocean. About 50 million years ago the American continent finished sweeping them up as it moved west. Much of the Okanogan valley is an ancient ocean trench that closed up when the land masses collided.
The first part of Old 97 was another stiff climb but it settled in to a nice gradual climb to the next control at Malott.

Partway along Old 97 we saw a sign the said "Road Closed to Through Traffic 5 miles ahead". The preriders told us that it was OK to proceed. It was much better than OK. We had miles of pristine pavement, so new it didn't have lines yet, and it was closed to through cars. As the flagger said to me as I passed: "This is a biker's dream".

Besides the great road, it was a beautiful place. Here we are looking across the river from one ancient shore to the other. The west side was an island the size of California called the North Cascade subcontinent. The east side was a smaller landmass called the Okanogan subcontinent. They are very different geologically.

There was another great control stop at Malott, mile 128 on the day. From Malott, the route diverged into two paths. For obscure reasons you either already know or don't care about most riders were doing a single ride of 1240 km but about 20% were doing two rides back to back, one of 1000 km and the other of 260 km. I was on the 1000+260 ride so my route went through the town of Okanogan before starting up Loup Loup Pass. That added about 12 miles to the total distance. This is the first part of the climb, before the painful 6 mile stretch of steeper slope.

I met up with Parick Leahy again on the climb and we stuck together the rest of the way to Mazama. About 5 miles before the pass we saw a good sized black bear loping across the road about 20 yards ahead of where I was.  He looked well fed, which was good for us.
Don Jameson told me that the Loup Loup Pass road was built by local people to carry goods from the Methow Valley to the Okanogan Valley. That's why it is not graded like an interstate and why it doesn't have a lot of grand vistas. It is a nice ride through the forest though. This is the sunset over Loup Loup looking west.

The same sunset looking east.

Finally, made it to the top!

We still had 36 miles to go to the overnight stop at Mazama. The first 10 miles was a 2400 foot descent into the Methow Valley.  It was great fun but we were a bit cautious because we had been warned about frequent deer accidents on this road.  The last 26 miles were a gradual climb into a headwind which we got through by working together in a mini paceline.  We arrived in Mazama at 00:56, 7 hours inside the cutoff time for the 1000k.
The food, shower, and sleep were wonderful but the place was pretty crowded since we were near the back. There were about 20 riders still on the road when we arrived at Mazama. I had foot pain all day and the saddle sore but I was amazed how the brain can stop paying attention to pain after a while.

Day 4

The following morning, I got to see what the Mazama stop looked like:

Most of the 1000+260 riders decided not to do the 260. They got car rides back to Monroe. That left Steve Davis, James Mckee, and I as the only riders left on the 260k ride (Brian Ohlemeier and Mike Sturgill did the 260k but they were about 8 hour ahead of us). Steve had already left so James and I teamed up after breakfast and headed out to finish the ride. We left at 08:10 and had 17:20 to do 162 miles. Not so hard except the mountain pass and the headwinds and the 624 miles we did to get there. We were almost the last riders to leave Mazama but for other obscure reasons we had to be done an hour and a half before the cutoff for the 1200k.

Washington Pass on the North Cascades Highway is a 17 mile, 3500 foot climb from Mazama. The morning was cool and overcast and there was a moderate headwind.  James and I decided to keep the pace managable and stick together. 
The ride from Mazama to Marblemount crosses the North Cascades subcontinent. Many of the rocks existed long before they were joined to North America by continental motion.  The peaks are high and jagged because they are made up of hard granite and gneiss (nice!) rocks crystalized deep underground. 
This picture is from about 3 miles below the summit. The spires to the right are part of the Golden Horn granite which formed underground after the North Cascades joined North America.

This is about a half mile below the summit, looking back on the road we came up. This is the classic shape of a glacier carved valley

Last major climb done!

Here are Jennifer Chang, Steve Davis, Matt Dalton, and James McKee at Washington Pass. Jennifer had a very hard road to travel on this ride and finished just outside the time limit. Despite that she showed great courage and determination in getting there, a real Randonneur spirit. I'm not sure why we do this but I don't think it's really for the trinkets. She got everything else there was to get out of this ride.

The last official pass of the ride. That's a nice chunk of North Cascade granite in the background.

Comming down the west side of the pass along Ruby Creek was not all that we hoped it would be because we still had the west wind that helped us on the first day. Nothing is free. But the sun came out and it was a beautiful day to ride.

This is the Ross Lake Reservoir. We stopped briefly here to stretch, eat, and enjoy the view. Ross Lake was created for hydroelectric power by Seattle City Light. The color comes from the fine sediments washed down from the glaciers of the North Cascades.

When we got down to Newhalem, James and I realized we were under the gun to reach Marblemount before the control closed for the 260 k route. I thought we could not make it due to the headwind and intermittent climbs.  We needed to get the engine running.

James said let's go for it so we made a paceline and worked hard to do the next 14 miles at 17 mph to just make it at the control closing time at Marblemount.

Leaving Marblemount, we continued at a more moderate pace but maintained the short time on the front before trading off. We made it to Darington by 18:30 and had a sit down dinner with several riders on the 1200K. Then we were off on the home stretch. We had a pleasent ride down to Arlington. Donald Boothby drove by and took our picture as he was trolling the route looking for his friends.

After we turned south towards Granite Falls it started to rain. We stopped and put on our rain gear. We finally felt vindicated to all of those riders who asked us why we carry so much junk and why we had fenders and mudflaps on a desert ride :-)

The last control before the end was in Granite Falls. Don Boothby showed up again to give us a hard time, er, encourage us on our way.

It was really dark by then and there are a series of turns and short steep rollers going around Lake Rossiger. After the rain, there was a ground fog that added a sort of mysterious adventure quality to the last 20 miles into Monroe. Both James and I had excellent lights so we had no problems navigating but we were very careful to double check every turn. It would be a bad time for bonus miles.

We made it into the finish at Monroe at 37 minutes past midnight on June 30th. Our total time for the 260k was 16:27 out of a possible 17:20 so it's good that we didn't loiter any more than we did. Donald was there to capture the occasion.

This ride was a great experience and I thank everyone involved in making it happen. I also thank all who shared the miles, especially James KcKee, Pat Leahy, Don and Elaine Jameson, Dwight Brown, Jeff Loomis, Steve Davis, Chris Gay, Robert Higdon, Joe Platzner, Wolfgang Nitsche, Dan Barbasch, Ian Shopland, Jennifer Chang, and other new friends whose names escape me. Hope to see you all in Paris next year.

Ballad of the Cascade 1200
Composed on the road from Dry Falls to Bridgeport

To the Tune of "Willin" with thanks (or apologies) to the late great Lowell George

I've been blown by the wind, broiled by the heat
Had my butt worn out, but I'm still on my seat
And I'm still willin'

Out on the road late at night, seen the full moon shining
Like a 6 volt head light,
downhill with a tailwind

And I've been from Packwood to Okanogan,
Yakima to Darington
I've ridden every kind of road that's ever been laid
Carryin' our mudflaps so we won't get sprayed
And if you give me snacks, drinks, and ice
And some chicken and rice
And I'll be willin' to keep rollin'

I've been burnt by the sun, chilled by the cold
I'm tired and sweaty, don't you know
And I'm still willin'

Struggled with broken spokes at Texico
They're signin' my card every time I go to Texico
And I'm still...

And I've been from Packwood to Okanogan,
Yakima to Darington
I've ridden every kind of road that's ever been laid
Carryin' our mudflaps so we won't get sprayed
And if you give me snacks, drinks, and ice
And some chicken and rice
And I'll be willin' to keep rollin'