Thursday, June 23, 2011

Desert Rivers 400k: Yakima Canyon Always: Final PBP Qualifier

For some reason, the 400k has always been my favorite length of brevet. Mind you, I've only done a handful, but still it seems to suit me. This one, the Desert Rivers 400k, was one of my favorites because the route featured the Yakima River canyon.

I have loved driving our family through this canyon for years now, all eyes peeled for Bighorn Sheep (except mine as the driver, right, though yes I do peek through my peripheral vision when I can). I have loved every minute floating a raft down the Yak looking for those fat 'n happy trout. It was on such a trip that I introduced the SingingCyclist to fly fishing for trout.

I have loved bank fishing the Yak as well. In fact I remember one time in particular taking a day off work over 15 years ago to drive up to the Yak from Seattle with a fishing pal. He didn't tell me he had to be back just after lunch! I was just getting into it, but when he told me he had to get home I was shocked. I thought we had the day to ourselves. I threw out a few more desultory casts, then dragged in my line and started to step up onto the grassy bank when I spooked a monster trout lurking just under that deeply undercut grassy riverbank. Instead of working the bank for that monster's pals, I had to drive us back home. The memory of that "one that got away" moment haunts me still.

Now I have a new Yakima treat to add to my list: riding up and down the canyon in rain and sun. We had both. In all shades of exploratory dimensions, the Yakima River canyon never disappoints. Fisher folks talk about their "home waters". I know what constituted home waters for me in Colorado: the then under-appreciated St. Vrain River and it's various forks. Hardly a river by most standards, but sweet and special by those who knew it. Today, could my home waters be the Yak? I don't get there enough, but it is in the running as far as fishing goes. And for biking river valleys or river canyons, the Yak is up there as well. Though I do recall my first 300k through the Umatilla River valley, and that was pretty fabulous too. But then I can't forget riding through the car-banned upper Virgin River Valley in Zion National Park with DartreDame. That was as glorious an evening, river bicycle ride as one could have in a lifetime. Well, now that I think on it, cycling the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal towpath along the Potomac River was pretty darned special too.

I guess I've come--in writing this very post--to the inescapable and now clearly obvious conclusion that my most favorite bicycle riding is through beautiful river valleys and gorges. I suppose I've always know that, but hadn't consciously put it forward before. Well, there you go.

See that railroad track? One night--I think on the very trip SingingCyclist caught his first fish--Dartre, Singing and I were camped out behind Red's Fly Shop. Red's used to be very low brow, just a shop with places to pitch your own tent. They rented drift boats and guided sports, but that was about it. Now, it's a regular high brow lodge. Not the same.

But back to the track. We were dead asleep after a day of raft rowing, fishing and frolicking. Suddenly this freight train came down the track which was just across the river, and I'd have sworn--Dartre and I both would have sworn--that that freight train was about to barrel right through our tent and run us over. It was so loud it was unimaginable. Singing slept right through it as kids will do. 

Next morning we realized that it was the fact that the train noise carried across the river added to the fact that the track was right up against the tall canyon wall that so enhanced the roar and rumble of that train. It was like nothing else I've experienced!

Part of what makes river valleys so special is their dramatic evening lighting and soft breezes. Swallows love these rugged cliffs for nesting, and cycling through swooping swallows as the Sun's rays tinge a reddish glow onto our world is sublime. Even grazing cows and goats appear happier in the gloam. All is right and settled and patient with the world between the Sun's setting and darkness.

As you come up and out of the gorge heading South, the orchards take over again, and the sky opens up. The Desert River becomes more desert than river once more.

The photo above is of one cyclist among hundreds I encountered driving back home through the canyon the day after the brevet. This Your Canyon for a Day event opens up the canyon to bicycles and people of all kinds and ages and sizes, and closes it to cars.

Here riparian habitat meets the cycling habitat. It was festive and colorful and a true happening, this opening of the canyon to cyclists only. With my bike on my roof rack they thought I was one of them and let me through. For safety's sake, though I drove slowly, it would have been better had I avoided the canyon that trip.

But driving back through the Yakima River canyon where I had just ridden my 400k was even better because I knew that by finishing this Desert River 400k brevet I had qualified for Paris Brest Paris. I was on my way!

Much thanks to Paul Whitney and Cathy for organizing and volunteering for this brevet!!

Keep it riparian,