A mentor of mine once said that keeping a blog was like keeping a pet; if you let it go too long without feeding it, there was no point even going back. And it’s been…dang, over six months since I posted. A lot of stuff has happened in that time. Not quite as much as during that gap in 2019 when I, well, I did a lot of things that I need to write about some day. But a lot of stuff has happened since I got back from Chile at the beginning of last August. Just not any stuff that I managed to get myself up on the horse to write about.
Mostly there were a bunch of trips I didn’t take, a bunch of stories I didn’t write. A lot of farm administration. A new airplane in my life. But I still fancy myself a storyteller of sorts, and way back in 2006 this thing did start as a “Roadtrip Blog.” So when I decided a few days ago that I needed to skip town to clear my head, it seemed as natural a time as any to try and feed this moribund puppy. Mind you, I’m out of practice, so it may be rough going at first. If you get bored with the purple prose, just skip it and look at the pretty pictures – you don’t have to tell anyone, and we’ll still be friends.
So here we go:
I’ve always thought there should be some sort of Roadtrip Bingo game with squares for “Improbable Encounter With Law Enforcement,” “Unidentifiable Food Object on Plate at Roadside Diner,” and “But Google Maps Says There’s a Road There!” If there were such a thing, my game card for this current excursion would be blank (so far), but a roadtrip is a roadtrip, so I’m gonna just take a leap and write about where I am now.
I’ve driven through Winthrop before, but it was midsummer, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t stop. I wasn’t even sure I was going to stop this time, at least here, but there’s relatively little farther I could have gone in this direction without waiting until June for the North Cascades Highway to reopen. And by then, probably folks on the farm would get to wondering where I was.
Basically, I decided I needed some time with just me and the road, and the Methow Valley seemed like it was at the end of a good set of roads to spend time on. Plus, they’ve got a ridiculously large set of winter trails – you can actually go town-to-town on your skinny skis, just like folks up in Alaska casually brag about doing.
Adding to the appeal of the Methow Valley is that it’s a pain to get to in the winter. Because the obvious way to get to it is by going straight east via the aforementioned (closed) North Cascades Highway. The practical way of getting to it is by going south, then east, then north, then west – not quite three times as far, but a bit faster than waiting for the snow to clear in May. And while you don’t get the glorious jagged skyline of the eponymous mountain range, you do get to trace the mighty Columbia up through a couple of bends.
Regardless, here I am.
The point of Winthrop was to finally get to ski the fabled Methow Valley. Whenever you talk about XC skiing in Washington, folks always say “You mean other than the Methow Valley?” So for years now I’d been promising myself that I’d check it out.
It’s, you know, pretty nice. As far as Roadtrip Bingo goes, I did at least check off the box of not knowing where I was going to stay that night until I was well underway. But Google steered me toward the Methow River Lodge; they had a room and were walking distance to the start of the Methow Community Ski Trail, and that was good enough for me.
The weather pattern here for the past few days has been frigid nights followed by warm afternoons. Great if you wait until the sun’s good and high (as high as it gets in these latitudes) to strap on your skinny skis, but somewhat challenging for those of us who get itchy to hit the trail as soon as there’s light in the sky.
My impatience was duly rewarded by rock-hard corrugated ice all around the Big Valley loop. Fortunately, since no one else was stupid enough to try that trail before it had suitably thawed, there were no witnesses to offer sympathy each time I failed to recover from a slipped edge and found myself awkwardly and painfully splayed on my ass.
Things had warmed up a bit by the time I had sense enough to drive up to Mazama, where there was rumor of nicely groomed trails. It was substantially more populated – perhaps fueled more by the availability of trailside hot coffee and pastries than the trails themselves. I picked a seven mile loop slogging upriver before crossing over and coming back down the other side. That was probably about five miles further than I should have signed myself up for, given the lumps I’d taken at Big Valley, but I was determined to earn that coffee and pastry. Besides, here I wasn’t the only person falling on my ass, so there were plenty of folks to commiserate with.
Regardless it was gorgeous, just stunningly gorgeous. Having limped back to Winthrop and soothed my bruised and worn body with a hot bath and a nap, I felt reinvigorated enough to round the day off with a dusk exploration down the other end of the community ski trail. The idyllic stillness was punctuated at regular intervals by fusillades of munchkins half my height in Methow Ski Team jackets, blowing by me at just sub-warp speeds like X-Wings off to destroy a Death Star. Occasionally a similarly-attired full-sized human would appear in pursuit of one of these squadrons and pause to shout some sort of apology over her shoulder at me. It was delightful.
Now, Winthrop is what you might call a “theme town.” Much as Leavenworth has gone all in on Bavarian kitsch, Winthrop threw its hand to a wild west theme, and its raised wooden sidewalks front businesses such as “Three Fingered Jack’s Saloon” and “The Old Schoolhouse Brewery.” They all looked charming, but the few places that were open at night were packed cheek by jowl, so I reluctantly skipped the restaurant scene. I wish I could convince myself, like so many others, that COVID is “over,” but I’m not there yet. Dinner was a selection of for-the-road nibbles I’d packed along from the Food Co-op back home.
Next day brought more of the same though at a bit slower pace, owing to the aches and bruises. And this time I checked the trail reports to see what had been groomed overnight, as well as strategically delayed my departure by flirting (masked and at a COVID-compliant distance) over coffee and pastries with the nice young lady behind the counter at the bakery. By the time I did make it to trailhead, things had softened up nicely, and I only landed on my keister a couple of times.
Two days of XC in a row are more than enough, even if it takes a six+ hour drive each way to get to them. But I’ll be back.