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Chewin’ the Fat Boy: October, 2016

By Susan Swan

Chewing
The first time I rode State Highway 20 from Western to Eastern Washington State was the year it opened, in mid-September, 1972. That ride, on a 380 Suzuki, was ample affirmation (then) that Washington State is a beautiful landscape, and the NW a great place to ride. Like a lot of riders, I didn’t get off the bike and take in many scenic overlooks. It was too much fun on the road. In 1972 I never saw the view from the observation area on Washington Pass, just uphill from the biggest sweeping curl of the entire new leg. But this past week I finally did. Wow! Living in the remote NE corner (called the Forgotten Corner) of Washington State, a sparsely-populated region my friend Diane affectionately calls “East Egypt,” I’m not inclined towards crowds. So traveling westward over SR-20, essentially the long way over to the Seattle area to catch up with family and celebrate my son’s birthday, and engaging that trek on Labor Day weekend, there wasn’t much of a chance I’d be stopping at the overlook or any other touristy place along the way. But after the family gathering, we decided to travel back to East Egypt the long way again, finding that near 90 percent of the crowds that had made stopping just days before unpalatable, were no longer underfoot. We did the full-out touristy thing from Historic Snohomish, Washington—taking Highway 9 to Arlington then Highway 530 to meet up with SR-20 at Rockport. Once on SR-20, a few miles east, Cascadia Farms has a roadside stop that’s worth the gam-stretch, making their own ice cream from berries grown onsite. General Mills bought rights to use the farm’s name for organic products some years ago (an offer not to be refused) but the milkshakes made there are so thick and loaded with fruit you could probably turn them upside down and they wouldn’t slump. Raspberry was the flavor of choice and take my word for it—it was exceptional—maybe the best ever. Back on the road we’d planned to stop just east of the summit of Washington Pass to stretch our legs, do a bit of watering and see the highway from above. Alert: You may never be as impressed by a scenic overlook as this one. Not just because it’s one of the most dramatic visually, or because of the panoramic view above the best riding section along that stretch, but because of its artfully and imperviously constructed footpath to the ledge, allowing the site to endure an enormous volume of foot traffic. Constructed of rustic and aboriginal materials, they nailed it. And now that the busy season is over, and before SR-20 closes for winter snows, the time is ripe for your crossing. If you haven’t experienced the North Cascades Highway/SR-20, I highly recommend you do so right now. Wildfire season seems to have been kind to the Okanagan this year; the threat apparently extinguished for 2016. Fall colors will be a visual feast by mid-October, the crowds are thinner and eateries (and drinkeries) along the way will be happy to greet and treat you. The aquamarine of Ross Lake alone is worth the ride, but there’s so much more history and majesty and fabulous roadway to enjoy. The “company” town of Newhalem, owned by Seattle City Light, is charming adjacent to the Skagit River; further east, the Methow River Valley is lush and rimmed by the Cascade Range jutting skyward, shortening the hours daylight falls on the valley floor. Here, the economic crown is Winthrop, a whopping tourism success with Old West frontier-inspired appeal. A host of shops along a nice boardwalk include coffee stops and restaurants all created by a forward-thinking consortium of planners, business people and donors back in 1972. Their model finds the children and now grandchildren of those folks making a living wage and therefore able to remain in the unspoiled region, surrounded by wilderness areas, National Forests and state game ranges. Check out the 222-foot rustic metal Sa Teekh Wa pedestrian suspension bridge over the confluence of the Methow and Chewuch rivers. The bridge and trail are just one part of the area’s abundant recreational and visual allure. Mid-size towns further east include Twisp, Okanogan, Omak, Tonasket and Republic where we had dinner at Freckles Barbecue with wonderful hostess Dawn. The Republic Brewing Company was closed but Freckles carried RBC’s brew, Falligan’s Red, a good complement to a satisfying and fairly-priced meal… There are many other towns, lodging and refreshment options along SR-20. And now that the peak season is ebbing, things can become even more enjoyable. Road conditions and closures are found at 800.695.ROAD or at www.winthropwashington.com.

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