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Tour Deshais: Closure a downer on dry stretch

REPUBLIC, Wash. – The Highlander Cafe and Store in Wauconda is the sole way-stop between Tonasket and Republic on U.S. Bicycle Route 10.

And it’s closed.

Or should I say, it’s no longer serving food, selling cold drinks or pumping gas. The bathroom is open, at least.

Maddy Love, the lonesome wayside store’s owner, was in the café Monday, tending to her final chores before closing the doors for good.

“Some people may be sad. Depends who they are,” Love said. “I’m not.”

Love is moving to North Dakota to be closer to her husband. She says the store has well-water problems, and she has some issues with Okanogan County’s handling of those well issues that she’s more than happy to air.

Regardless, the closing of the store is a sad development for travelers – especially bike travelers. The 40 miles between Tonasket and Republic are steep and dry. Without any services, the route is far drier. Might as well be steeper too.

A major part of designating USBR 10 had to do with convincing shop owners, hoteliers, grocers and others that bike tourism brings dollars to far-flung communities. Today’s travel showed me there’s a ways to go on this front.

Kathy Ciais, who owns the Northern Inn in Republic, says she likes bike travelers but “they don’t spend money.”

She supports cycling, and was more than accommodating to me, my 30-pound bike and 40 pounds of gear. She also said the recent official designation of USBR 10 was “awesome.” And she has an Adventure Cycling Association sticker on her office window.

Still, the bright side of bike tourists for her was that they may come back to Republic for a real vacation and spend some real money.

Ciais’ words rang in my head as I ate dinner later at Esther’s, the Mexican food place on Republic’s main drag. When I walked up to the restaurant, two bike travelers from California whom I had met earlier were scarfing down burritos on the patio – starving after missing lunch at their planned stop in Wauconda. Inside, I joined my four college friends who had climbed over Washington Pass with me days earlier.

We, the bike travelers, ate a lot and drank some. All seven of us. My college friends went on to eat ice cream elsewhere, and I went to Madonna’s Bar and Grill for beer. There, five bike-traveling medical students from the University of Connecticut ate burgers and sandwiches before heading off to bed down in the city park, which is open to cyclists free of charge.

Twelve of us – a dozen bike travelers – were in Republic on just one night early in the traveling season. How many more stop or pass through in one season?

I asked Ciais this question and she estimated that maybe a dozen stay at her inn over the course of a year.

“But it’s more last year than the year before,” she said, noting that she’s seen touring cyclists pass through Republic her entire life. “It’s beginning to get known.”


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