38.6 mi / 11.9 mph / 1664 ft. climbing
Home: Grant County Fairgrounds
We got an early start to beat the heat out from where it collects in the depths of the Snake River valley. We would climb 1400 feet up to Pomeroy, which the forecast said would grant us mid-80s highs rather than mid-90s, but we’ll see! Retrieving our groceries from the cooler left out in front of Mom & Dad’s truck (where it would be shaded from the sunrise), we said our last goodbyes and headed out to retrace the route they had taken on their way in.
WA-261 continued quiet and empty and golden-and-green as we made our way up the Tucannon River valley. Just before we reached our turn onto US-12, I saw a familiar shape in my rearview mirror; I guess the campground wasn’t our final goodbye to Mom & Dad, we had one last chance to tell them that the ride was going great so far, lucky to meet just half a mile before they went west on US-12 and we went east.
US-12 wasn’t as empty as the state highways, but still pretty comfortable (as expected, now that we’re on an official Adventure Cycling route: Lewis & Clark). The day-long hill up to Pomeroy was a nice one, with plenty of flats (and even downhills) mixed in to keep the variety-level high. The tailwind also made life more-enjoyable as always.
At one point I spotted a deer bounding through a field to our left, hurdling a fence with a joyful ease that I wish I had exhibited when I ran hurdles in high school. But then, maybe weirdly spooked by us on bikes, it veered in our direction to cut across the road just ahead of us. Luckily I’d spotted it and Rett was able to track it and slow down to let it by. But in its panic, it took the first roadside fence far less-gracefully (and much closer to how I actually ran hurdles), clipping its rear hooves on the barbed wire fence. It was able to maintain balance, cross in front of us before we collided with it, and hop the fence on the other side without incident; hopefully its legs hit the part of the fence without the barbs in it. A little later we saw a coyote (or maybe a fox?) do a similar crossing into a field to our right, where we would see it pop goofily above the grasses every three seconds as it moved along.
We reached Pomeroy by noon and immediately hit the grocery store for cold drinks, and then found a small covered parklet to eat lunch at while we decided where to spend the night. The city park was apparently an option if you talked to the sheriff ($0, shade, bathroom, no showers), and then Grant County Fairgrounds three miles out of town ($10, unknown shade, but showers), and then a motel ($unknown, hopefully shade and showers!) While Rett talked with her Dad on the phone, I went to the Grant County courthouse (where a friendly guy at the grocery store recommended we go to get all the info), but they were closed for the lunch hour. Got a nice view of this historic county seat though.
On a return trip with Rett (to show her the cute thrift shops, and the bank with the old wooden teller booth behind the facade’s ‘Nighthawks’-style curved glass window), we met a woman who had recently moved here from the Seattle suburb of Bothell, in an unusual down-on-the-river mobile-home park (with boat launch!) that Rett always said she wanted to live in whenever we rode by it on the Burke-Gilman trail. This time, I got the details on the fairgrounds from the clerk at the Washington State University Extension office next to the courthouse. It sounded good enough that we just decided to go straight there without even checking out the park or motel. Well, first another stop at the grocery store to pick up dinner supplies, and importantly, a big bag of ice. If it was cooler up here, we’re sure glad we weren’t still down at Lyons Ferry, because “cooler” != “cool”!
On the way out of town we also stopped at a “gas station” that was literally nothing but two pumps (with no building of any sort). Maybe it was the age of the pump, or maybe the heat, but somehow it took us both several minutes to figure out how to get gas out of it, but eventually we got our cooking fuel bottle topped off for $0.47.
At the fairgrounds, we headed right past the official, unshaded camping area to a spot near the grandstand in the shade of a big tree we’d seen recommended by previous bike tourers (and was officially sanctioned by the office). It was far from the bathroom and showers, and the water from the nearby spigot came out rusty at first, and the birds in the tree were none too pleased with our presence, but the shade was worth all of that. Rett sat in her chair watching TV on her newly-discovered phone-hanging-from pannier setup, while I went and showered and chatted with a newly-arrived group of five bike tourers doing a Portland (Oregon) to Portland (Maine) ride. They were mostly sprawled out on the grass next to their tents, too hot and exhausted to do much else after a 70-mile day where they spent much more of it in the peak heat. One of the guys, with a tinge of jealousy, said something like “I wouldn’t even think to ask my wife to do something like this”. Yep, sorry your wife isn’t a badass like mine is, buddy!
I also had a nice chat with Kay, a woman who lives in a house next to the fairgrounds and has been in Pomeroy for 43 years (coming from San Francisco). She likes to come and chat with all the cyclists she sees stop here to learn their stories. She said there has only been one other this year before us 7 today, a solo girl heading to Santa Fe who she was very impressed with. Kay also commented on the heat, so it’s good to know that it’s not just us, it’s hot for the locals too. She let me know all the vehicles driving by our campsite this evening were doing interim hog-weighings for this year’s county fair. And then she told an interesting story about a time 15(?) years ago when the country’s biggest wildfire was blazing in the Blue Mountains to the south, and 1400 firefighters descended on Pomeroy (population: 1400) and created a whole new, temporary city on these fairgrounds. She said they were completely self-contained, including their own police force! More common is apparently lightning-started fires in the wheat fields, and that made me recall the helicopter with a giant bucket I saw ferrying water between the Snake River and parts unknown.
When I was coming back from the bathroom around 9pm after getting ready for bed (and Rett was already in the tent), a fairground worker who had been walking her dog waved me over and said “just so you know, the sprinklers over by your tent turn on at 4:30 in the morning!” Shit. I guess our spot was too good to be true. Rett was pissed, but I was just glad that someone told us about the sprinklers before the sprinklers spoke for themselves at 4:30 in the morning! We get up early these days, but not that early, so we had to move over to the “official” camping area. It was now plenty cool with the sun on the horizon, and we gained a picnic table for breakfast, were closer to the bathrooms, lost the insane birds, and got to see the colorful sunset as we made a couple trips ferrying our stuff between camps, so really not a bad trade for 15 minutes of work. The luckiest thing was that the two of us could carry our tent with all of its contents inside without tearing it down. That was made possible by our new two-person sleeping pad, which we could grab at each end through the floor of the tent and use as a semi-rigid platform to keep everything together. It would have been impossible any other way, so in addition to its excellent comfort and (current!) lack-of-leaks, the Exped Dura 5R Duo reveals its worth in yet another way!