Vodka and Cows

Day 5, the longest day yet (and the late spring days are looong this far north) began as we packed up the camping gear and took leave of our lovely hosts at Elma RV. After a quick BK breakfast we rode south along the Chehalis River through an increasingly agrarian landscape: stacks of hay bales wrapped in white plastic, barns and silos, a guy discing his field who waved at us, and grange halls plastered with announcements of Saturday pancake breakfasts.

There’s a dark side, though: Ashley noticed as many vodka bottles discarded along the shoulder as cows and horses in the pastures. And, of course, the occasional sign “FBI=DNC” or “TRUMP-PENCE” — this is, after all, a very conservative state and in many ways, as we ride past overgrown homesteads, abandoned doublewides, piles of junked cars, and long-shuttered and decaying corner stores, very midwestern.

After spending two peaceful miles trying to decide when we’d last encountered a vegetable, we pulled into a Chehalis Indian reservation gas station for a little corrective:

Coming into Centralia felt a little like leaving Kansas and entering Des Moines. We were suddenly negotiating traffic off I-5 and our first logging trucks, mixed with city traffic and commercial sprawl. Safeway proved a good bet for lunch and resupply, after which our Adventure Cycling Pacific Coast route cleverly directed us on side streets, right smack across the local community college campus, back to the rural roads we’ve come to love. Then, a right turn and a 15% grade; we fell out of love with the road fast. No more flat and rolling river roads for a while, but ones with “hill” and “grade” in their names. This paid off, however, when we finally leveled out on a logged-off ridge and caught a glimpse of the snow-streaked slopes of Mt. St. Helens, 35 miles to the north and 38 years after its eruption, the most destructive in US history.

Down off the ridge and we were treated to a lovely flat ride along the Cowlitz River, where pioneers came into southwestern Washington from the Oregon Trail 175 years ago.

The story goes that, back then, the California and Oregon trails diverged near Ft. Hall in present-day Wyoming. The Oregon Trail branch was marked with a sign saying “TO OREGON.” The California branch was indicated by a pile of fool’s gold. Everyone who could read, they say, went to Oregon.

A few surprise hills, but nothing too daunting, and now we’re checked into one of the few motels in Castle Rock, and sitting in Parker’s brewpub eating dinner and watching MLB. Life is good. Tomorrow we head due west to Oregon.

Day 5 stats: 79.2 miles, 2138′ of climbing, average speed 13 mph.

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