There are many reasons to plan a ride. In this case, we had been looking at a map. We found Forest Road 6700, and it looked like it could provide an alternative to Highway 2 on the way from Stevens Pass to Leavenworth (below).
It had everything we could ask for: gravel (which means little traffic), a lot of squiggles (challenging climbs and descents), and the promise of wonderful mountain scenery. The plan was quickly put together. Ryan and I would meet at 2:30 a.m. We wanted to get an early start, so we’d reach Forest Road 6700 while the day was still young.
We headed out of town on familiar roads. By the time the sun was up, we already were far from Seattle. We climbed the Skykomish River valley on the approach to Stevens Pass.
Even though we were eager to get to the pass and explore the “new” road, we couldn’t resist taking the small sideroads that parallel the highway in many places. We got to pass the entrance to the longest railroad tunnel in North America on the old road to Stevens Pass.
The ride really started once we turned off the highway onto Forest Road 6700. As we got on gravel, we let out some air from our Hetre Extra Léger tires. The road started climbing almost immediately.
It was steep in places, but we were still able to admire the scenery as we climbed to the crest of the Cascade Range.
Reaching a pass you’ve never crossed before is exciting, especially one that had been so close-by, but hidden from view as we rode on more common routes. As we crested, a new world opened up on the other side. We saw valleys we’ve never seen before, and the road led us into unknown territory.
The descent was great fun, even though it was a little rough in places. When we reached Lake Wenatchee, we had to decide whether we should turn west toward Stevens Pass, or continue on a grand loop via Blewitt and Snoqualmie Passes. It was an easy decision: Riding back via Stevens Pass lacked the sense of occasion that was inherent in the big loop. And we were keen on visiting one of our favorite roads over Old Blewitt Pass.
Even though autumn was near, the day was turning hot. After lunch at a restaurant, we saw 97° F (36° C) on the thermometer at the store in Leavenworth – in the shade. On the approach to Blewitt Pass, we decided to cool off in the river. It’s amazing how quickly a cold bath will cool you. I was careful not to get the chamois of my shorts wet, though.
The old road up Blewitt Pass is a wonderful climb. The modern highway goes over another pass, so there is hardly any traffic here. We enjoyed the feeling of solitude as we wound our way up the mountainside.
The only thing better than climbing the north side of Old Blewitt Pass is descending the south side! The corners have good sight lines, and as long as you have wide tires and a well-handling bike, you can carry amazing speed around them.
As we approached Cle Elum, we missed the turn-off for the sideroad into town. Fortunately, we found a farm road that took us across the valley; we were grateful not to have to ride on the busy highway.
More than 400 kilometers in his legs, and Ryan still looked cheerful! We had dinner in Cle Elum, then took the Iron Horse Trail on the old railroad line to Snoqualmie Pass. Riding on gravel at night was pleasant. We caught occasional glimpses of the freeway across the valley, and couldn’t help but remember how many miles we had ridden on its noisy, debris-covered shoulder in the “old days,” before we discovered wide tires and gravel-road alternatives.
A few miles on the freeway are inevitable, because there are no parallel roads. But with every ride, we try to reduce the stretches on the freeway by discovering alternatives. That night, I remembered Tinkham Road, a gravel road I had taken during a geology field trip many years ago. We were able to ride through the forest for 10 km (6 miles), in complete solitude, yet just half a mile from the freeway.
We made a quick stop at Snoqualmie Falls to look at the waterfall, then reached the suburbs of Seattle with more gravel trails into Issaquah. We were running a bit later than planned – what had been a planned 10 p.m. return time ended up being 5 a.m. – but I didn’t regret it at all. It was time well spent.