AndyO Blog

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Stehekin, WA - Day 2: Bike trip

I finally got a good night's sleep, so I woke up at 9:00 a.m. refreshed and ready for adventure. The original plan was to take the Stehekin Bus to Rainbow Falls, and then walk back (about 3 miles one way). But we got a little behind schedule and missed the bus, which only runs every few hours. Instead, we decided to bike.

Ordinarily, biking would be a no-brainer, but Drew is actually still learning to ride. The night before, we'd tried out a "co-pilot" tandem, where a smaller bike with a back wheel is attached to a full size bike; but it felt incredibly unstable.The other option was one of those bike trailers.

The guy at Discovery Bikes said the tandem would be much better, and explained how once the back rider starts pedaling it stabilizes. So Drew and I gave it a test ride, and it worked!

Andy and Drew go biking

Stehekin Pastry Company

Soon we were pedaling toward our first destination, the Stehekin Pastry Company bakery. While the bike felt stable, every once in a while Drew would lean over too far, and I'd need to compensate. This was unnerving when the road narrowed or cars passed by.

As Brenda rode behind us, she told Drew "not to lean." Well, he didn't like that too much and said he wanted to go back. Fortunately, we arrived at the bakery.

The Stehekin Pastry Company is the perfect pit stop for bikers, hikers, and kids who want to turn around. Serving an assortment of pastries, sandwiches, ice cream, and drinks, it's located about 2 miles from the Stehekin Landing. The alpine ambience and friendly staff make you feel at home -- like eating at your favorite neighborhood restaurant.

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We ended up getting cookies, a lemon bar, and a blackberry scone (all of them delicious). Most importantly, it was enough to get Drew back on the bike.

Rainbow Falls

The trek to Rainbow Falls was difficult in places because of a few steep hills. When it got a little too tough, I jumped off the bike and walked . Along the way, we stopped at the Old Stehekin School. This is a one-room school -- like what I remember seeing on the show Little House on the Prairie

Cam and Stehekin School

According to the Stehekin Heritage Guidebook, the school was built in 1921 and was used for 67 years. A new school was built for the 1988-89 school year for students in Kindergarten through 8th grade (students have to move elsewhere to go to High School).

I liked how the room featured artwork and posters from students about the history of the school and Stehekin area. A message on the chalkboard read, "This is a historic building. Please treat it with respect."

Stehekin Schoolhouse 

After getting buzzed by (surprise!) bees and a few mosquitoes, we biked the steepest part of our journey to Rainbow Falls. When we got there, a red Stehekin Bus was parked in the turnaround (probably the bus we would have taken had we not biked).

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls is a towering 312-foot waterfall that drops onto a few different rocky terraces. The last section creates a beautiful fan of water spilling into an inviting alpine pool. Since the park ranger-led tour had left, we had the place pretty much to ourselves (and the hundreds of mosquitoes trying to attack us).

Brenda and Drew at Rainbow Falls

Stehekin Pastry Company - Part II

Once we left Rainbow Falls, we coasted down those same hills that had taken so much effort to climb. I often forget how exhilarating it is to fly down a steep hill on a bike, which Drew was experiencing for the first time. (It also makes me realize why people love motorcycles.) I actually slowed us down a little, since I knew Drew wasn't used to this kind of speed on a bike.

As we sped along, I started noticing amazing views that I'd missed on the way up -- when my vision had been narrowed by concentration and fatigue. One view was so spectacular, I had to stop to take a picture (which meant Drew had to stop, too). As I stood there, I heard the screech of a hawk echo above.


Then, for the second time that day, we stopped at the Stehekin Pastry Company. This time, I ordered one of their sandwiches on homemade bread (again, excellent). And then we were off again.

As we biked along Lake Chelan, the views in the mid-afternoon light were stunning, with towering mountain peaks, streaming sunlight, and deep blue water. I was starting to realize how Stehekin was joining my short list of magical places that include Cannon Beach, Oregon; Whistler, B.C.; Tofino, B.C; Monterey, California; and all of Hawaii.

Whenever I'm visiting these magical places, I think of what it would be like to live there. Then I realize that visiting is part of the magic -- that it takes on an idealized state in memory. You don't get to see the effort that goes into living in a place like Stehekin, which is dependent on boats and planes for many supplies. Maybe that's part of the appeal?

I was already thinking about when we could return.

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posted by AndyO @ 8:28 PM   0 comments

Friday, August 23, 2013

Stehekin - Day 1

We got up at 7:00 a.m. to take the Lady Express 51 miles "up lake" to the remote area of Stehekin -- an area only accessible by boat or float plane. It's a 2-1/2 hour ride via the Express, which we immediately dubbed a "3-hour tour" (see Gilligan's Island).

The boat trip up to Stehekin

Thanks to the crew's announcements and Lady of the Lake newspaper, I learned a lot on our journey:

  • Lake Chelan is the deepest lake gorge in North America.
  • Lake Chelan has two basins, the smaller Wapato Basin (400 feet deep and 12 miles long). The Lucerne Basin is 1,486 feet at its deepest point (and 386 feet below sea level).
  • The Lucerne Basin holds 92% of the lake's water.
  • Stehekin resides within North Cascades National Park.

After a brief layover at Field Stop Landing (16 miles up lake) to pick up more passengers and cargo, we arrived at Stehekin Landing around 11:00 a.m. The Landing was also the location of North Cascades Lodge, our home base for two nights. But check-in wasn't until 2:00.

Stunning Stehekin Landing

We stowed our bags in the Lodge General Store behind the ice cream freezer, and hiked to the Golden West Visitor Center. While we were looking around, the ranger there told me that much of the materials for Golden West, including window frames, stairs, and doors -- even some glass panes --came from the Victorian-era Field Hotel. Brenda and Drew explore the Golden West Visitor Center

From what I read, starting around 1905 the Field Hotel had been one of the finest places to stay in the Northwest, catering to both miners and tourists. But the Lake Chelan Hydro Project, started in late 1920s, would raise the lake surface 21 feet, submerging the hotel's location. Not wanting to let the good materials go to waste, they recycled as much of Field Hotel as possible.

Golden West Visitor Center

After that, we went to lunch at the North Cascades Lodge, and finally got into our room around 1:30.

A curious vibe

As we circulated through Stehekin, I started to notice how different it was from the town of Lake Chelan.

  • There were a lot of serious backpackers here, as Stehekin is a trailhead for many North Cascades trails. 
  • People living and working here (only 95 year-round residents) possess a brand of hospitality and community that goes way above most small towns. A few examples: Everyone waves from their car. People ask where you're from and seem genuinely interested. The owner of the bike rental shop offered a free bike for Drew to practice on during the evening.
  • The tourists also seemed to be of a different caliber than the jet ski types at the other end of the lake. In addition to the hikers, many people seemed to be visiting from all over the world (for example, our neighbors next door at the lodge were European).

The great outdoors

For dinner that night, Brenda cooked up a very western hot dogs and beans. We decided to eat on our deck to enjoy the tremendous view.

The "tremendous view" on our deck

As we started eating, a few bees buzzed us (as had happened all day long). But within minutes, there were squadrons of bees dive bombing our food. The first person to fold was Cameron, and then Drew.

But when I had five or six bees swarming me (and my food), I threw in the towel, too. I like to enjoy my dinner, and this wasn't enjoyable. Finally, Brenda gave up. Dinner tasted great once I stopped swatting bees.

Later on, I went outside to view the sunset, an explosion of pinks, whites, and blues in the sky that seem to be amplified by the surrounding mountains and lake.


As night replaced twilight, I stepped outside to view the stars (which I thought would be extra bright due to the lack of light pollution). But I kept catching a strange fluttering out of the corner of my eye. After this happened a few times, I realized these were bats!

I'd never seen so many bats chasing insects, never had them passing so close to my head. They glided in near silence, and every so often I'd get a better view of them opening their wings to slow down. But I have to admit, it really creeped me out! (I knew enough about a bat's sophisticated bio-sonar system to understand they probably wouldn't run into me.)

I retreated indoors to a bedroom window, where I watched the bats swooping past lights. Then I saw some people walking up the path from the road, a mother and young son. They stopped dead -- pointing at the bats circling around their lodge door. I watched as they finally gathered enough courage to walk into the swarm. 

Like a scene out of The Birds, the mother stood there in horror, as the bats streaked around her, hurrying her son to unlock the door. I guess she was as creeped out as I was. They got in and slammed the door.

I slept well that night, thinking of bats flying around outside. I hoped they got a few extra bees so we could eat dinner on the deck the next day.

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posted by AndyO @ 7:40 PM   0 comments