My First Dam Ride

This was "Mom's weekend away", and I wanted to visit the Coulee Dam area in Eastern Washington. Planning a point-to-point trip was too challenging for the time I had -- the wide-open spaces are too wide and too open. So I stayed in a hotel at Coulee Dam and did two day trips.

I started my first ride early in the morning -- a necessity due to high summer temperatures and lack of shade during the day. My original plan had been to leave from my hotel in Coulee Dam, WA, and travel south along the eastern shore of Banks Lake to Coulee City, WA. But when I arrived at my hotel the night before, I found it sat at the bottom of a mile long steep hill! 

I realized I needed to move to Plan B -- drive to the top of the hill and a bit beyond, and begin the ride at Banks Lake Park, which is located at the dam on the north edge of Banks Lake.  

Banks Lake, between Coulee Dam, WA, and Coulee City, WA

Now this is a beautiful place to begin a ride at 7:30 in the morning! I started heading south.


Near Northrup Point

Sometimes the road runs next to the lake, sometimes it is set back a bit, sometimes it goes between rocks. This was the first place I pulled over to take pictures -- what I really learned is that the gravel next to the shoulder is no place for a skinny tired bike! It's not as solid as it looks. (No, I did not fall over.)

Getting passed by RAW riders

The hill pictured above was interesting for two reasons. One, I started getting passed by other cyclists wearing numbers (some kind of event was going on). Secondly, I had been riding all morning with a slight head wind in most places. (It depended on whether I was next to the lake or not.) After I crested this hill, that changed, and I began to enjoy a tail wind. 

These first bikers to pass me were the fast group of RAW (Ride Around Washington) riders, and they were traveling light -- they weren't even carrying water bottles. You can do that when you have support! I was having to take care of my own water out here in the desert, but that's why Camelbak's were invented.

I entered Coulee City climbing a long steady grade at 17-19 mph. I knew I'd have payback's when I turned around. But I reached Coulee City -- just under 28 miles of riding in under 2 hours, an average speed of 14 mph. I was pretty happy about that. I was also pretty happy about Coulee City Park -- and SHADE!

Coulee City Park

I spent about a half hour here, eating, re-applying (stronger!) sun screen, and using the real bathroom -- always a plus when you don't have to settle for pit toilets or port-a-potties. Then it was time to head back north, where I now passed the main body of RAW riders who were still coming south. You know the grade I went up fast coming into town? The best I could manage downhill was 15 mph. I would have a slight headwind until I climbed over the big hill again. I didn't stop to take any more pictures until then, and then I stopped to get a picture of the Basalt Columns.

Basalt Columns

I rested here while I took pictures. I didn't know it at the time, but it would be the last shade of the day. Then up and over the hill, I was blessed with a tail wind for the rest of my ride!

I stopped in Steamboat Rock State Park, in search of shade. There are trees in the park, but I rode in about a quarter mile and realized none of the shade was accessible to me without walking through mesquite. So I just attempted my only self-portrait. When I left the state park, I saw a road sign indicating I only had 10 more miles -- this was nice, I thought I had 15. I finished the final 10 very strong, much better than I expected, and covered over 56 miles in 4:07 hours riding time. I arrived at my car at 12:30 -- earlier than expected. So the ride was great, but the last 20 minutes or so of sun was getting to be too much. I wasn't sunburned or dehydrated -- still plenty of water left -- I was just tired of being in the sun with no relief.

Self Portrait at Steamboat Rock State Park

Get more information about bike overnights.

Tip for this adventure -- Mom's European Food and Deli is definitely great place to each lunch in Soap Lake, the southern most point of the two routes. I found the entire area to be very friendly and welcoming, and also affordable. It was a great trip, and the most riding I've done solo.

2 responses so far ↓

akwoman59 - Jul 6, 2011 at 1:17 PM

Way to go, the first time is the hardest and then it just gets better and better! Keep riding!

Bill Wolfsen - Jul 6, 2011 at 3:23 PM

I have camped at Steamboat Rock State park many times in the spring. Across from the camping area is a trail that you can hike to the top of the rock. If you have time go across the top and look down at the deep clear water on the point. It's a good hike in itself. Another ride was while I was camped at Soap Lake and rode to Grand Coulee and back. As you aproach Dry falls there is a good climb but the scenery is great. I did not average the speeds you did but sure took a lot of pictures. It might be good to have a car at the end of this ride to allow more time to relax along the route.

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