Saturday, January 6, 2007


Since moving back to Spokane about 3 years ago, I've stayed clear of the Palouse as a riding destination. I think the reason is that my memory of the Palouse is two roads: the Palouse Highway and Valley Chapel Road. The memory of driving around these roads as a teen hadn't inspired me to go and ride them later as an adult. This last summer I spent some time getting reacquainted with the Palouse.

I was pretty much right in my memory of the Palouse Highway. Not ideal -- lots of loud, fast traffic. But it has a nice shoulder and serves as a good arterial to many back roads and dotted lines.

I've not taken a ride beyond 15 miles or so for at least a month, maybe longer. So I decided that Friday would be a longer ride. And I would ride south.

I wake up and it is 23F. If I wait a while -- take my time packing a lunch, have coffee, read the paper, have another coffee -- then it may warm up a bit. It does. By 10AM it is 25F and I have fussed all I can.

I ride a couple miles and begin to rethink my ride. I'm warm, but I just feel so slow and heavy. I'm wishing for gears, but I'm riding fixed today. I'm carrying extra gear because it is so cold: an extra wool shirt and neck gator; my jetboil; a liter of water; an extra hotcup of ginger-water. Plus, I have a lock in my front bag, along with lunch and the other crap that finds its way into my bag. And of course my tool kit. A lot of crud... I am planning on a 5 hour ride in sub-freezing temperatures and I want to be prepared for it. The weight is worth the piece of mind.

As I pass Luna's Bakery, I notice both of my friends are working, so I stop by and said hey. My buddy Joe gives me some input on my route and suggests a couple cool roads. He had driven all these roads during high school with his buddies.

I pedal on a couple more miles to the Palouse Highway. The wind is sharp. I also don't want to listen to the traffic; I need quiet. So I pull on to Ben Burr road instead.

Most of my day rides share the same goal: to find some dirt roads that I've not ridden before. I head up Ben Burr road thinking of this goal. I've been down Ben Burr before. But I remember wanting to check out "Willow Springs Road." It's just a couple miles south. More climbing and Willow Springs leads me to Big Rock Road.

Big Rock Road is a fine dirt road that goes straight up for about a mile. I enjoy the first of 2 long walks as I push my bike up the steep grade. I am rewarded at the top: Big Rock levels out and curves it's way around the side of a mountain; the icy-cold winter views are stunning as I look out across Spokane to the north and the Palouse to the south.

I end up popping out on the Palouse and immediately find another road that I've wondered about: Weger Road. Like any good road, this too starts out with a mile-long walk up a steep hill. The reward on Weger is a long, rolling stroll through the Palouse on frozen dirt roads. The wind is still fiercely cold. Luckily, among the crap in my bag was a pair of sunglasses. Without them I'd be tearing up from the constant cold wind.

I enjoy lunch on Valley Chapel Road, amid high school memories of driving out Valley Chapel to go to "the bridge" and swim.

Lunch is soup: bullion cube with mushrooms, spinach, chopped onions and some dehydrated sun-dried tomatoes. All brought to a boil in an instant in the Jetboil. What a great device the Jetboil is. I also have some caponata; my Sicilian mother-in-law makes this for me. I can't get enough of it. I'll document it sometime because it is the perfect cycling food. Bread, banana, and a hard-boiled egg complete the lunch. Bumble bar for emergency. In this weather, a warm lunch is such a huge treat. I also keep my hotcup full of hot water -- I have a piece of crushed fresh ginger in the hotcup too. This makes for a nice flavor and guards against stomach troubles.

As I finish lunch, it starts to snow. It's coming down lightly and swirling in the wind. By the time I arrive in downtown Spokane, the snow is coming down harder and I'm glad to be getting home. Thanks to the chemical foot warmers and my wool I am never freezing. But I am cold. The ride only turned out to be about 3 hours and about 30 miles, but I found a couple new roads and found a way to enjoy the cold weather. Map of route is on

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