August 3, 2009

Switchback to Heaven

This weekend is a long weekend in British Columbia. It's called Civic Holiday (or BC Day) but it's really just an excuse to have another long weekend during summer months. Other provinces in Canada also celebrate this excuse (with the exception of Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Yukon) and don't get me wrong -- we will take any long weekend offered.

The boyfriend and I decided to round up the gang (ok, our friend Brad) and go for a motorbike ride on Sunday. The destination of choice? Mt. Baker in the North Cascades of Washington State. Baker is visible to Vancouverites on a clear day. And it's always spectacular.

image courtesy of Derek K. Miller

We headed east on Hwy 1 (also known as the TransCanada Highway) and took the Sumas exit.

As we approached the border we took our helmets and sunglasses off, shut the bikes down and coasted forward. It was still only 10:30AM but it was already hot. The wait wasn't too long and we were soon on our way. We headed south towards Sumas and then east to Maple Falls. If you look at the map below you can see Maple Falls and the yellow line that continues east. The wiggly yellow line is Highway 542 and it heads all the way into Mt. Baker National Forest.

View Larger Map

Or should I say all the way up Mt. Baker, and end at Artists' Point.

It's the wiggly part that I want to talk about.

The boyfriend and Brad are seasoned motorbike riders. They have been up Mt. Baker before and said it was "a good, fun ride" (and I quote). And it was until we left the town of Glacier and started to head up. At first I was having a great time. The road was windy, the trees provided some shade and the traffic was relatively light.

But then the trees thinned, the air thinned, the sun hotter and the road. Well, see for yourself.

images courtesy of Erik Anderson

I wanted to show what the road looked like so I found the above photos online. I would have taken some of my own but I was too freaked out to think about anything but getting to the top. And then getting down again. Several times I cursed my gang for the recommendation of a good fun ride. I was sure that they would have to leave me there, head back to Vancouver and get a truck to come back and pick me up. The picture below, the boyfriend is actually holding me up.

And this is the view from the top (the boyfriend took this). I was in the line for the outhouse (????)

We hung around the parking lot, drinking in the exhaust fumes from the other bikes and cars, then I swallowed my fear and we headed back down.  The trip back down was actually much easier than going up.  I allowed gravity to pulled me down and around the switchbacks.  The only embarrassing part was when I had to pull over to allow a group of cyclists to pass. (I'm not kidding!) Whatever.

By the time we reached the border we had been on the bikes for almost 10 hours. It was a long, hot day. When Canadian Customs asked if I was bringing anything back I told her no, in fact I had left a couple of pounds behind. She had the decency to laugh and say that I did look rather hot. She was not being complimentary.

We made it home by 6:30PM, and eased our tired bodies off the bikes (butt weary -- literally) and onto the couch. All-in-all it was an adventure and the only way my riding will improve. I have to overcome fear and tackle things that I think are beyond my ability. As it turned out it wasn't beyond my ability. And I had the best sleep last night that I've had in weeks.


gh said...

:) Ha, your very funny and certainly a good read which is why I enjoy following your blog.
That road looks fantastic and I would love to ride that someday.
We have a look-out point that is open for tourists in the warm seasons called Perkins point which is in the Bear Moutain region. I took a ride with my gang some years ago and although it seems nothing like what you rode on Mt Baker, your story reminds me a bit of that trip. There were actually intersection where there were stop sign as the road was at a steep incline and leaning as well. Very difficult to manage handling the bike while stopped on such leaning and steep incline. Going down was a much more difficult task and one of the lesser experienced riders with us dropped his bike a few times.
10 hours of mostly in the seat is a long haul, but you have some good pics and memories out of it, and much more experience to boot.
great story!

Sharon McPherson said...

OMG! But how exciting! Great achievement. :)

Atomic Lola said...

There's not much I enjoy more than a scenic bike ride. Looks beautiful. Of course, I live in Illinois, which is flat and redundant.
I did go on a great ride when visiting Alaska, though.

drollgirl said...

you are one brave woman!!!! i would have been PETRIFIED as a passenger on this trip, let alone the DRIVER!!!! bah!

Lianne said...

Gary, next time I go back, I'll let you drive.

Sharon, thanks. Sometimes it really is about overcoming fear (even if I didn't have a great time doing it -- lol).

Lola, I want to hear all about the ride in Alaska!

J, maybe if you were on behind me you could have put your hands over my eyes, and it would have been better!!!

Dan Johnson said...

Good for you! Great post!