2008-09-13 48 -121

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Sat 13 Sep 2008 in North Cascades:
48.9503779, -121.9611570

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The geohash is about a hundred metres off a US Forestry Department road accessible near Maple Falls, Washington. It looks to be down quite a steep incline from the road, but there will be trees and I can bring rope.


Robyn ventured forth with her bicycle Успех, a large plastic T-Rex, and the fingers-crossed hope that someone from the Seattle area might also venture out for this location. It's Saturday!


As the geohash is two graticules east and one south of my home graticule, and as my normal means of transport is bicycle, I decided I needed a little help on this one. I know thepiguy could have done it unassisted, but I took the Skytrain and a 502 bus to Langley, to cut about 50km off the route. I left home about eight a.m. and was boarding the Skytrain at eight-thirty. At the end of the Skytrain I ticked off the bus driver for being slow to load the bike on the front rack, so I did my best to be really fast getting off. So fast that I lost a bike glove. That was almost two hours of transit to get here. It's ten fifteen.

I should introduce my bicycle, Успех (pronounced Oo-spyekh), also known as Speckles because I've never been too conscientious about matching touch up paint. Успех was a graduation present fifteen years ago and has commuted to work, gone camping, participated in Randoneering, raced in triathlons, been through the Rocky Mountains, around the Great Lakes, through northern Europe, and sat patiently in various garages during hiatuses in my bicycle-related obsessions. Успех could probably use some bottom bracket work, new tires, and a new chain, but whenever I have time for bicycles I want to spend it riding not repairing.

So Успех and I set off down the Fraser highway. I picked up a new pair of cheap bike gloves at a bike store I passed on the way and continued until we reached 272nd in Aldergrove and then headed south to Zeroeth Avenue to parallel the border to the crossing. I'm always amused by the fact that at the official border crossing there are guards with guns and dogs and passport control, but here in the middle of farmland the American farm road is separated from Zeroeth Avenue by a very small ditch that currently has no water in it. I do reach the actual border, however and have about as much trouble crossing it as I would have the ditch, with much less associated terror and guilt. I coast past all the cars waiting at the border, go into the "pedestrian" office, and show my passport. The agent looks at it, doesn't look anything up in the computer or enter my name anywhere and asks where I'm going. "Near Maple Falls," I say, ready for my carefully rehearsed reason for my visit, "hoping to meet up with some other people from an Internet-based adventure club." What kind of adventure club? Bicycles and kayaks and electric skateboards and dinosaurs and Fluxx and Twister: all the cool stuff. he doesn't ask, though. That's his only question. I've been admitted to the United States. It's 12:15.

My route involves a number of turns at first to get on the right roads, and I do it right by cleverly deducing that Sumas Avenue is not the same as Sumas Road. It goes pretty easily and I'm soon on highway 547 (not really a highway, just a nice road) which is also called Reese Hill Road. I should mention that I am in complete denial about the fact that this graticule is named after a park that is named after a mountain range, and I am also in denial that this road is named after a hill. A hill that the part of me that is administering the denial knows has to be of the up variety, considering that I'm currently within 50 feet of sea level. And up it goes. It's also a twisty hill, of the sort favoured by motorcyclists on a sunny Saturday afternoon, so I can't see how long it goes on for. I berate myself for my wussiness, but with frequent stops to gasp I make it to a point where it gets flatter. I pull out the GPS for a progress report, as I've been telling myself that if I get to the top by one p.m. I can look at the GPS. To my astonishment I'm only 18 km from the geohash. I know not to get too excited about this, as half of that is on roads of unknown quality, but I've been making good progress. I fantasize about waiting around at the geohash, doing crossword puzzles, and then looking up to see another geohasher arrive, astonished to find someone out here. Or perhaps as I'm labouring up the hill someone will come up behind with a car and think, "who but a geohasher would be out here, in the middle of nowhere, with a plastic dinosaur strapped to her bicycle?"

There is some descending from Reese Hill, but not as much as the climb, of which I'm glad because the geohash is at about 3000' elevation. But I'm in denial about that. I come across a group of more serious-looking cyclists, wearing brightly coloured spandex instead of a Dinosaur Comics t-shirt, and without a large plastic T-Rex bungie-corded to the backs of their bicycles. They are friendly and all say hello before they blow by me. I reach Maple Falls, where I buy and eat a sandwich before heading out to find my road. I see it ahead, a beautiful blacktop turnoff. I can't believe my luck. Ah. The blacktop goes about 20 feet and then it's gravel, barred by a gate. It's just the one-bar swinging gate with a path around the end. The sign says "no vehicles" but I know that in the US vehicle means motor vehicle so the sign doesn't mean me. My heart still sinks a little though, because it means that Thomcat, who geohashes by car, won't be a surprise visitor to this geohash location. Yep, it's just me. It's ten after two.

From here I need to follow a network of forest roads. If you zoom in to this level you can see the roads, and see that I have to make quite a circuitous route. I have each junction and the major turns in the GPS and have constructed a route that follows those points, showing that I have nine kilometres to go. I know that with all the switchbacks and squiggles that it is easily closer to fifteen, quite probably more. There will be no crossword puzzles today.

The road is, uh, challenging. I'm still in denial about mountains, so I won't say that it's almost impassibly steep. I'll just say that in the lowest gear on my road bike I'm falling over instead of going up. The gravel is not really gravel but a combination of large embedded rocks and very sharp loose rocks. I'm afraid for a flat tire through sidewall penetration. I stop and change from bike shoes to running shoes and start pushing. The speedometer records that I'm making four kilometres an hour. The GPS revises my ETA from 15:01 to 15:30 to 16:15 to 17:30. I don't think it's done yet. I rationalize that maybe when I get to the top of this particular road, only 850 metres away, that the road it turns right onto will be better. Because of course it's perfectly natural to assume that a steep road surfaced in sharp gravel will meet up with a level paved road further in.

At three-thirty I admit defeat. There is no way I can get to the geohash without spending the night on the mountain, even if I leave the bike here and go just on foot. It's sad, because I could do it. I'm just too sane to try. And there's no point at all pushing on to four p.m. just to see where I could get to by then. The answer will be just a few switchbacks on from here. T-Rex and I pose for a few pictures and turn around. Holy crap this is steep. I never see how steep a road is until I'm going down. This is too steep to ride down. I do for a bit, then my hands hurt too much from braking and from leaning forward on them at that angle. I at least get a better speed down than up and reach the gate just before four p.m. There's an exciting moment as a car going one way and a motorcycle going the other both stop in front of the trailhead within minutes of four p.m. but neither of them approaches nor is clutching a GPS receiver. I take 4 p.m. pictures and then head for home.

The way back is faster. I reach the border at 17:30 (the Canadians ask where I live and if I did any shopping or banking in the US) and am back at a public transit route at 19:00. It takes until after ten to get home. As I roll into the garage the bike computer says I rode 129.00 km, at an average speed of 18.68 km/h. That includes walking back from transit in the dark (no light) and dragging Speckles up the mountain.

Roadkill Count[edit]

Squirrels 3
Opossums 1
Weasels 1
Crows 1
Other birds 4


It's feasible for me to reach geohashes in this graticule, but they must be close to real paved roads in order for me to get them and get home. I will watch for top left hand corner locations and check back until I get a good spot and then this graticule will be mine.

Photo Gallery[edit]