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Tour Deshais: Native American influence indelible along Washington bicycle route

NEWPORT – Wind-driven waves on an ancient glacial lake beat against the rocky shore, slowly carving out what we call the Manresa Grotto.

I was about 30 miles into my day’s ride, and the cool shade of the cave grotto was on my mind for the rest of the ride, as the sun beat harder and a wind urged my bike to slow despite my wishes.

The grotto – a series of caves not far off LeClerc Road – was named in the mid-1800s by the missionary priest Pierre Jean Desmet, after a renowned Barcelona cave that figures largely in Jesuit Catholic lore.

The grotto still is used for religious purposes today, for Easter Mass by the Kalispel people. Not incidentally, the Kalispels have used the caves for thousands of years and for purposes other than Christian worship.

The grotto, after all, is on the Kalispel Reservation, a tiny stretch of land that’s home to its namesake people.

It almost goes without saying that it’s a beautiful place.

During one of my cycling respites, two bald eagles took to the wind not 15 feet above me.

Another time, not far from the striking blue and white Our Lady of Sorrows chapel, a herd of bison kicked up dust in the distance.

The sights on the reservation – which included many nice new homes and a pleasant amount of traffic – was a testament to the world of the Inland Northwest. Ancient and modern all at once, wild and human.

The Kalispel land wasn’t the first reservation I crossed on my bike.

“Where you headed?” a young boy hollered at me on the Colville Reservation in Omak, a hot, brown land that couldn’t be further from the Kalispel’s green Eden.

“Tonasket,” I replied before realizing he likely wanted my final destination, not that night’s layover.

I also pedaled by Samish and Swinonish lands, and Sauk-Suaittle and Upper Skagit territory.

Of course, these are just today’s reservations, not the traditional lands that existed for millennia before Europeans and others arrived. But everywhere I looked, America’s first peoples had left an indelible mark.

Not just in the many place names, like Tonasket and Okanogan, Skagit and others. But also on the actual paved path I traversed for all these days.

For more than 8,000 years, tribes used the corridors that U.S. Bicycle Route 10 follows as established trading routes, surmounting the same low saddles for passes that I trudged over, one revolution at a time.

Then, as now, it was rugged terrain, and the easiest path was the best path.

With such deep history on my mind, I easily made time between Ione and Newport.

That is, until the final few miles into Newport, when the ribbon of concrete before me climbed a hill.

I huffed up the thing, just a bit more at ease knowing that this was probably the easiest, best way to town.

After all, people had been working on this route for a while.


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