Mountains and backpacks and bears, oh my!

Well folks, I’m back from the North Cascades! And I know you’ve been worried about it since I posted about this, oh, back at the end of August, but I’m happy to report that backpacking by bike is possible!

In fact, this is probably the bike trip where I’ve done the least amount of biking, simply because I spent so much time hiking or backpacking — which is truly the best way to see North Cascades National Park. Highway 20, the road that goes through it, is pretty and all, but definitely does not do it the justice that hiking up above treeline does. Holy shmoly. Like Glacier National Park, this is definitely a place to see on two feet, from the backcountry.


cascade-pass(this, for example, is from my first 2-night backpacking trip, near Cascade Pass)


The riding part of my trip, starting and ending at the Amtrak station in Mount Vernon, WA, looked approximately like this:


…except you have to subtract about 95 miles because on my way east, I got a ride in a car with my friend, who was seeking the sunnier side of the mountains to go climbing while it pissed rain on the west side. We started in Marblemount, where he lives this season, and he dropped me and my bike off south of Twisp. Then I biked my way back west through the Methow Valley and then the rest of the national park. So maybe 340 miles of biking total, and so, so much hiking!


maple-pass-2(crazy lighting and fall colors on an amazing hike to Maple Pass)


I’ve never done this on my blog before, but in case you’re curious, this is a general day-by-day breakdown to get a sense of biking vs hiking or backpacking (feel free to skip this, of course, if you’re not curious) :

  • Day 1: train from Portland to Mt Vernon, WA
  • Day 2: bike from Mt Vernon to Mineral Park campground, with a stop in Marblemount to get backcountry camping permits. You can only get permits in Marblemount, and only in person. Which I was kind of into, actually, since it favors people who are already there ready to get their adventures going.
  • Days 3-5: bike the last few (8?) OUT OF CONTROL STEEP miles (holy shit, I thought I was going to die) until the end of Cascade River Road, then 2 nights of backpacking around Cascade Pass. A few post-backpack miles of biking out on the 5th day to Marble Creek campground
  • Day 6: a dayhike turns into an impromptu overnight stay at an old fire lookout. Would have brought more food and clothing (and my sleeping bag) if I’d known I could stay, but it was worth it.
  • Day 7: hike out from the lookout, bike back west to Marblemout to readjust my backcountry permits, bike eastward to Newhalem, where the visitor center is
  • Day 8-10: backpacking trip to the cross-country zone of Sourdough Mountain; bike back to Newhalem and the NPS visitor center on the last part of day 10 to return the bear canister I borrowed. Hike to Ladder Creek Falls, twice: once in the day and once at night when they light it up like Niagara Falls!
  • Day 11: so much rain. At the last minute, I biked back west to Marblemount to hang out with my friend. He drove to Leavenworth that evening, dropping me off south of Twisp. That night, a super lovely couple let me camp on their property and fed me pasta and wine.
  • Day 12: bike from Twisp to Winthrop, super low-mileage day of exploring
  • Day 13: bike from Winthrop to Lone Fir campground, near the top of Washington Pass. Mini hike on a loop trail from the campground. The condensation inside my tent froze the next morning. Brr!
  • Day 14: bike over Washington Pass, hike the amazing Maple Pass loop
  • Day 15: freeze my ass off biking down the west side of the pass, spend a good two hours hiking aimlessly but briskly up any hill I can find to warm up my poor fingers and toes, bike through the rest of the park, stay outside the park at Henry Miller Steelhead County Park
  • Day 16: bike back to Mt Vernon
  • Day 17: train home.

bigfoot(but enough of that. Did I mention I also saw Bigfoot?:)


How was the switching up of gear between bike camping and backpacking or long dayhiking? Surprisingly easy, actually, but perhaps I’ll post more in-depth about that later for those of you who are gear curious. I’m just SO PSYCHED to know that it’s possible. Even in bear country where you have to scrupulously hang any food or scented items you leave behind with your bicycle.

hanging-panniers(my panniers hung here near the trailhead for a few days while I hiked cross-country near Sourdough Mountain)


As is the case with most of my biking trips, I return full of wonder about the world, inspired by the amazing kindnesses and generosity of the people I came in contact with, and totally reinvigorated. I’m sure I will also have the inevitable downer moments of realizing I’m back to normal life now after 17 days of adventure and having to re-figure out what that looks like — but, of course, that’s sort of what I love about bike adventure: the reminder that normal life doesn’t have to be “normal,” that I can infuse some of the wonder and discovery of travel into an ordinary existence.

And while I figure out what that looks like, my soul is full of mountains…

sourdough-ridge(and mountain sunrises)

maple-pass(and just flat-out moutains)

and the Skagit River

skagit-river(which I followed for much of this trip)

and my belly is full of many, many wild blueberries and huckleberries

huckleberry-fingers(evidence of huckleberry eating:)

There are so many stories  and so many wonderful moments (did I mention I saw three black bears?), so much goodness, such an abundance of the bazillion things I love about this world, and such a good re-set of how I conceive of time — you know, all the things I could never even begin to convey on a blog.

I’m returning and immediately jumping into a bunch of work, but I’m slowly working on getting pictures (and more stories) posted over here. Check back early and often if you want more. Well, maybe not early, but often!


  1. How’d you like Twisp and Winthrop area?

    • Super awesome! It helped, of course, that they were sunny after the monsoon of the west side, but I really liked them! Twisp, especially, which seemed a little more authentic/less tourist-trappy than Winthrop:) You were there on your bike, yeah? What’d you see over there?

      • My wife and I spend Valentine’s day 2 years ago XC skiing, snowshoeing and fat biking out of a house just up the road from the Mazama store and just before the closed part (in the winter) of the pass.

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