Day 4: Moses Lake to Spokane, WA

When doing long trips like hiking or biking the third or fourth day is typically a problem.  The initial adrenaline has worn off.  The novelty of being out of the office, school or work has worn off.  Most importantly, your body is tired.  This is the time when you want to say; “I quit.”

I was concerned about the “I quit” issue since today I needed to do over 110 miles to reach Spokane.  I didn’t really want to hit the century (100 mile) mark this early in the trip.  The problem was that after leaving Moses Lake, I didn’t see on the maps any motels or hotels until Spokane.  So, it was Spokane or bust.

I spent hours mapping out the optimal route using Strava.  Strava is a bicycle app that also shows you what other cyclists have done.  This gives it the ability to suggest the most “popular” bike routes.  I mapped out four choices.  My first choice was 111 miles.  The problem with this route is that it went through one town around mile marker 45 and then no other towns until Spokane.  Strava’s most popular choice was 160 miles, which was a no go this early in the trip.

I looked at another route that hit three towns.  It was ten miles longer for a total of 120 miles.  The clincher was that the last 35 miles into Spokane were labeled “most popular” by Strava.  I chatted with my wife and we agreed that an extra ten miles was probably worth it since it went through more towns.  I also liked it because the last 35 miles were on an east-west road and the weather report said that would give me a tailwind.

That choice of a route turned out to be a disaster, but more on that later.

The first part of the ride from Moses Lake to a town called Ritzville was lonely.  The road started off with two lanes in each direction and a wide shoulder.  As I pedaled out of town the road started shrinking.  First, the road dropped down to one lane in each direction with a shoulder.  Then the shoulder started shrinking.  At least the large telephone poles with their nice mile markers were still there.  Then the telephone poles shrunk in size before disappearing.

I was soon on a two lane road with nothing else.  No homes, no farms, no telephone poles, no cars, no trucks….nothing but wheat.  A vehicle passed in either direction about once every ten minutes.  I have not felt this isolated in my life.  It was like being in a zombie movie where almost everyone in the world has died.  For those of you worried about my safety, there was no fear for the first 45 miles.  The only thing that would have killed me was boredom.

After pedaling for three and a half, isolated hours in zombie land, I reached Ritzville.  Ah, I thought civilization, however, brief.  I was wrong.  Ritzville looked like it was once ritzy but that was a long time ago.  My guess is that Ritzville and many other towns around here thrived when farms were small, relatively close together and primarily used physical labor.  Today, with giant farms, heavy equipment and relatively few farmers there is less need for many rural towns.

I searched Ritzville for an open restaurant.  All I wanted was a sandwich, but I couldn’t find anyplace to eat.  On my way out of town, I passed a bowling alley that had a bar sign.  Under the bar sign it said, “we serve breakfast.”  If they serve breakfast in the bowling alley, maybe they serve lunch?

I carried the bike inside the bowling alley and the place was dark but there were four people inside.  It was not a good sign but what did I have to lose?  I asked if they were serving lunch?  One of the four people said, “sure, we can do that.”  Lunch (grilled cheese and a side salad) was excellent.  Plus, they had clean bathrooms. Then the bill came for just $5.80.  That was a real bargain given I am writing this from a restaurant in Spokane that just charged me $30 for a bowl of tomato soup, a bowl of mac-n-cheese and one glass of apple cider.

With a full belly it was back on the bike for 30 miles to Harrington.  The first part of the ride was great.  The road was smooth, sealed and I had a tail wind.  Then I switched onto “North Hills Road.”  The wind now tried to push me over as it gusted.  The road was not sealed and bounced me up and down.  Not surprisingly, given its name, I pedaled up and down a lot of large hills.  I arrived in Harrington, another semi-deserted town with a dying main street.  They did have a nice park with a bathroom and a working water fountain so all was good.

The final town before Spokane was Davenport.  This was where I would pick up the “popular” route.  I hit Davenport 85 miles after leaving Moses Lake.  It was a nice place and had a main street that was alive with shops, banks and a nice new park.  I was excited.  It was 4:15 pm and I had only 35 miles left.  I was thinking, this is great.  It is day 4, I don’t want to quit ,and the easiest part of the ride is about to happen.

At that point the entire day went very wrong.  The “popular” route from Davenport to Spokane was route 2, which was a graded highway.  Graded highways are where the construction crews blast out parts of hillsides and fill in valleys so that cars go straight.  It was also a busy highway. At this point I was trapped and had one choice; just to pedal onward to Spokane.  The first 13 miles were not bad.  The highway department had built a shoulder that was wider than a car.  I hugged the far right side and had plenty of distance between cars and myself.  There were relatively few trucks since long distance truckers use the interstate and the local truckers were all done for the day.

Then I hit Reardan, the last town before Spokane.  I stopped and had a milkshake to give me some energy for the last 20+ miles.  The highway changed leaving Reardan.  The shoulder was narrower, and it was no longer clean of garbage.  The ride after breaking the 100 mile mark was becoming less than fun.

At the edge of Spokane, at Fairchild Airforce base, the shoulder became filled with rocks, glass and other debris.  My rear tire punctured.  I was on a highway with cars whizzing by and the shoulder was not wide enough to fix the bike.  I had done almost 108 miles and made it to Spokane, but not downtown Spokane.  I thought to myself, “I quit!  This entire ride is dumb.”

Then I pulled the bike and myself off the road, mentally rebooted and stuck out my thumb to hitchhike.  About 20 cars and trucks passed me before someone stopped.  The man who stopped was named Roger.  Sometimes saints come in baseball caps.

He was part of the local Spokane Indian tribe and worked for the tribe as a tree scaler.  The tribe owns trees that they cut down.  To prevent lumber mills from ripping the tribe off tree scalers estimate how many usable board feet are available from each tree before the saw mill begins to cut.  If the mills output and the tribe agree (within 2%) there is no problem.  If they don’t agree then someone has to figure out why.  Who knew there was so much economics in cutting down trees?

Roger said he was just going down the road to the gas station.  I offered to buy gas for his truck if he was willing to take me the 12 miles I needed to go to get to my hotel.  He drove me into downtown using many of the same roads I would have had to pedal.  Getting a ride all the way was a smart thing.  The last 12 miles into Spokane were not designed for cyclists since it was strip malls and fast food restaurants, plus a shoulder filled with more debris.

I got the bike and myself into my hotel room and flipped the bike over to start changing the tire.  The rear wheel was badly out of alignment and the rear tire had two deep gashes.  It was almost 8 pm and the internet showed every bike store around was closed except one.  REI was open until 9 pm.  I called and the repair man said he had time for an emergency repair.

The store was only a few blocks from my hotel.  Randy the bike tech was amazing.  He spent a long time truing the wheel.  He replaced the tire and tube with heavier, but more puncture resistant stock.  He oiled and cleaned the chain and drive!  By 9 pm my bike was like new again, ready for another day of adventure.  After a shower and an expensive dinner (see above) my faith in humanity was restored.  I am looking forward to pedaling into Idaho tomorrow!

Economist Advocating for Using Cash