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29 May, 2010

Backroads: 142

Riding river roads north from the Columbia's southern swing is to fight a flow of beauty washing into your every sense, inviting you to stop and gaze, dazed and amazed. Climbing the Klickitat on Washington 142 from Lyle to Goldendale on a green May day, especially with almost no other cars around to hurry you, can take a while.

The river ran hard that day, swollen with silt, foaming at the mouth of each eddy. Late wet snow feeding a good flow, lupines a-blooming and the hillsides not yet be-browned, summer's scorch safely at bay for a while yet. The oaks of Klickitat at that fleeting delicacy when the leaves are full but still soft and the bugs haven't really punched in.

Right of of Lyle, the valley gets pretty tight, and the lack of easy bottomland cut off sprawl before it could crawl upstream. 142 swoops along the bank. Meanwhile, and old rail grade has been reborn as the Klickitat Trail, which I  now yearn to walk, downhill like the river, but at an even slower pace to enjoy the bird and water songs, gaze at landscapes and pollinated bees.

The valley never becomes an expanse, but it does open up a bit about 10 miles in. The town of Klickitat is here, but I didn't stop. Wahkiacus gets a name on the map, but I don't remember a town--one of the great things about this road is that so much of it is unbuilt upon. 142 zigs and zags up through the kind of torn and shorn landscape you get when tectonics are at fault, and comes out addled enough to careen eastly when the main river heads north.

Somewhere around here, the road narrows to one lane, which is harrowing only on the frequent blind curves. If I hadn't been so blissful from the ride, I'd have worried that maybe I'd misread the map (or it had mislead me), and I was on a road that pinched out in the hills somewhere, but nah, there was no need for that. As with the rest of the run, the road remained smooth and solid, unfouled and practically untravelled.

The last big uphill run, a line skewing up and across, an engineer's straight edge mocking slope and contour alike, signals the end of the river road. Once you pop over the rim, the road spreads back out into two lanes and sticks to the grid laid down over a century ago in the aftermath of the Indian Wars by men moving to consolidate their Cartesian way. On the flats, the roads run north-south or east-west, maybe cutting corners where it suits. Blockhouse Butte (oddly enough, a hill with a strategic view of the plain) is the only natural feature that causes a ripple in this grid that continues to Goldendale.

Route 142 ends in that town, where it T's out at 97. After the thrill of running the gauntlet under the guns of Blockhouse (I've since learned, much to my disappointment, that the Butte no longer has gun emplacements, there is no Corporal Agar up there making frontier warfare hilarious), 142's magic kinda fades, and it just becomes the seam between fields that ends up in Goldendale. By that time, I was already fondly reminiscing on the banks of the Klickitat, under rustle of oakleaves and scent of Ponderosa.

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