Yesterday, JamisLad and I went for a ride up north — it was to become his longest ride ever, by a couple of miles! We landed in Arlington, parked near the grocery store then made our way east toward Darrington, under a dark and foggy sky. I had some initial doubts — it was forecast to be nice — and wondered if there would be a replay of my last outing to the area, i.e. a soaker. But no, soon enough the fog burned off and we had a beautiful, blue-sky view of the snow-capped mountains on one side, and rivers and green-capped mountains on the other.
- Ride: Skagit Century Loop (counter clockwise)
- Route: Arlington – Darrington – Clear Lake
- Length: 103 miles (for the day we did add some bonus mileage)
- Elevation: 2051 feet
- Ride time: 6.75 hours
JamisLad led off at a good pace as we averaged 17mph until Darrington. Traffic was light, the sun was bright, and conditions couldn’t have been better. We soon rounded north on 530 past Darrington and came to Giles Road which, per Lord Google, showed a possible route north, parallel to 530. It turned out to be the powerline road, dirt and gravel — and therefore grist for future gravel ride mills. We returned to 530 and continued the fine pace north until we turned off, crossed a grated bridge over the Sauk River and onto the Concrete Sauk River Road, a lovely low-traffic rambler through the woods and along the river. I think in the entire stretch of the next 20 miles we were passed by two cars. The road itself was in rough chipseal condition, but the splendid views and isolation were worth it — easy for me to say on my Grand Bois Cypres 32 tires, I should point out, while the JamisLad was on 25’s.
If you’re considering following this route, and it’s a warm day, you may consider crossing the bridge to Concrete to get water — unfortunately there are no services along the backroads between Darrington and Clear Lake (or Sedro Wooley). Soon the Concrete Sauk River Road curved toward the Concrete bridge while we turned left, striking out on the South Skagit Highway — another fine example of a previous main thoroughfare taken over by a younger, faster sibling on the other side of the river. This section wasn’t quite as rough but the chipseal was starting to get to us. I couldn’t get over the unparalleled parallel views of winding along not one but two rivers, the Sauk and the Skagit, for fully half of the century miles.
Soon enough we turned on to Old Day Creek Road, a shortcut down to the tiny town of Clear Lake, and we encountered our first real hills of the day (only just over 2000 feet of elevation gain total). The JamisLad was not feeling it, and you could tell because normally he goes after hills in a ‘hill in a handbasket’ style but he had run out of water and I think was hitting some bad dehydration. I split my remaining bottle with him and we trudged on. It was that part of the ride when you start to greedily check the odometer for motivation; just 10 miles to go… just five… almost there…
We pulled into Clear Lake and at first it wasn’t clear there were any stores, grocery, gas or otherwise, and for a moment I thought we may have to haul up next to the Harley’s in front of Evelyn’s Tavern when we spotted the small convenience store right next to it. Whew! That was a good sight. I got some ice cream and Vitamin Water and enjoyed standing in the shade for a bit.
Next up we continued south on Highway 9 for 20 miles — which was not fun as we were buzzed plenty by yokels — though in fairness the far majority did give us room. I think the next time I would route us around Big Lake, then across to the Lake Cavanaugh Road in order to hook on to Granstrom Road (the one SurlyLady and I took in the downpour). That’s a nice, shaded, and relatively car-free alternate to Hwy 9 with some nice rollers, and let’s you out back on Hwy 9 not too far from Bryant, where the very northern section of the paved Centennial begins.
We made it through the annoyance of Highway 9 then and much appreciated the smooth asphalt of the trail (have I mentioned before how smooth it is?) and then the JamisLad had recovered enough to sprint into Arlington.
All in all this was a fun, scenic ride. I’d make a few small changes the next time, but I was very pleased! Good training too, as High Pass Challenge is fast approaching and I need to get in more training miles like this.