Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Crossing The Columbia

If you think I was gonna drive all the way across the state last weekend without doing a little John Wayne Trail recon, then you are a fool, and I know you are not a fool and therefore, I know you did not think that.

From what little I know about the trail so far, there are quite a few discontinuites that require detours. Of those, the three that have the most impact to the experience would seem to be:
  1. The section along Rock Lake that is privately owned by someone who won't cooperate with the state on allowing passage by trail users.  I'll get into this in more detail another time.
  2. The currently closed 2+ mile long tunnel at Snoqualmie pass.  We did stop at the Hyak [snopark by winter/JWT trailhead by summer] and talk to one of the attendants, who told us that the plan for restoring passage to  the tunnel was underway and that it would probably be open by around June of this year.  That was great news to me, as I wasn't even aware that funding had been secured.
  3. The currently closed railroad bridge over the Columbia.  And the subject of this post.
We're all familiar with the I-90 bridge at Vantage. This view is from just south of the bridge on the shoulder of Hwy 243, looking north. You get here by exiting I-90 just before you cross the bridge, if you're traveling from the eastside to the westside.

The trouble with riding your bike across the bridge at Vantage is that the traffic is heavy as a wet blanket, bat-outta-hell fast, and there's no shoulder. Ugly business on a bike.

But despite that, I'd still do it. I'd just time it for early in the morning, when traffic was light, and bite the bullet. The bigger problem, from the perspective of someone (me) wanting to travel across the state on the JWT is that the detour takes you so far off the trail on nasty, shoulderless, RV-laden roads that I assume would kill any middle-a-nowhere pioneer solitude mojo that you (I) may have built up in previous days.  The forced shock of re-entry into the greater Puget Sound mass of population and advanced civilization is just a couple of days away, but why rush it.

Aside from Vantage, there exist a coupla other crossing structures in the vicinity.  3 miles south of Vantage is Wanapum Dam, with its gorgeous road over the top.  And in-no-uncertain-terms gate.

We all know what 9-11 did to civilian travel across the top of dams, but I've heard different reports of cyclists crossing at Wanapum, even post-2011. So we stopped at the dam museum (the only dam office with public access) to ask about the possibility. I might as well have announced that I had just arrived from Pluto on a VW microbus that I'd converted into a spaceship fueled by spent coffee grounds. But after just a few moments processing my request, the attendant made a coupla calls. The short of it is that anyone crossing the dam would have to go through the same clearance as someone visiting the dam for a tour (i.e. school groups, which visit regularly), which takes a coupla weeks, and would have to be accompanied by an escort at all times. Which sounds sort of hopeful, except that educating a group of school children on the inner workings of a major hydroelectic powerplant just flat sounds like a LOT better use of PUD employee time and energy than helping some nutjob ride his bike, unimpeded, through a bunch of sagebrush. I was told that I was pretty much dreaming, but I was also given the name and number of the PR person for the dam (who arranges the school tours). So the door wasn't totally slammed shut; there's a slight crack. I may or may not follow up.

Another 3 or 4 miles south of the dam, is the rail crossing at Beverly.  This is the actual bridge used by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (aka JWT).  This is maybe an engineer-thing, but it's breathtaking, spectacular, in my eyes.  What I wouldn't give to ride across it on my proposed journey.  But alas, it's closed.  And I'm pretty sure it won't be re-opened anytime soon. 

On the other side, the trains took a 90 degrees right to begin the climb out of the gorge. And thus avoided slamming into the cliff.

We drove into the town of Beverly, got out of the car and hiked down the JWT.  This is the gate that restricts you (me) from crossing.  Although I don't exactly see any "No Trespassing" signs.

Patty says:  "Yo dumbass!  Barbed wire.  Don't be stupid."

A (very) small grown-up part of me knows she's right. And at the same time I struggle to summon the maturity necessary to accept as fact that this bridge is really, truly closed.  (Notice how there's barbwire on the top and bottom but not on the sides? Just sayin.) On the way out, I was mercifully (yet temporarily) distracted by this fine piece of tallbike yard art.

Coupla days later, we found ourselves on the west side of the river, looking down upon the same brilliant structure.

This is the JWT, as it heads up out of the gorge, toward Ellensburg.

Turning my camera 180 degrees, this is the view as the trail heads into the Yakima Firing Range.

At this point I'm so damn fascinated with this trail that even if I never end up riding it, I will consider the hours checking it out to be time very well spent.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Seattle Getaway

I've been way delinquent on visiting Jacque in Seattle. Patty's been over a coupla times, but I've been extremely lame. Jacque's carved out a cool life for herself there and this weekend was finally time to make things right and check it out.

(Note:  I've had major blogger trouble with this post.  Among other things, the aspect ratio on the pictures is all goofed up and I don't know why and no longer have any time left to fix it or even care.  Let's just call it blog art.)

First time putting the Elephant in the trunk.  When I had Glen put S&S couplers on it, this was actually the main reason, as far as why.  Maybe I'll put it in a suitcase someday and fly with it, but car trips to the west side were the main motivation.  It worked out so-so . . . I definitely need cable splitters.  I thought I could just un-couple the frame and fold it over on itself, with the cables intact, but that turned out to be a major pita.   Much room for improvement.

Backyard of her Wallingford rental.  The redbike did get put back together.  Add Jacque's fastbike (L), and her commuter (R), and the three of us were set.

This is her commuter.  Pretty amazing - it's provided by her employer.  There is no way all the employees can drive and park.  So there are all kinds of programs designed to help people get to work by other means.  She has to maintain it while she uses it, but there are maintenance agreements with a coupla LBS's that make it super affordable.

Scott McSpadden's been doing some work for us and he recommended that we check out a place called Bottleworks.  It was Friday night and we had transportation.  Who were we to argue?

There's a saying that beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.  We are simply proof that beer makes us happy.  As you can see in the background, it's an amazing place, beer-wise.  The Rocket Market on steroids, as I texted Scott. 

There was a fine Americana barbeque dinner at Jacque's that night, followed by a merciless and unprincipled game of gin rummy.  L-R is Jacque's roomate Britta, Jacques's BF Nate, and the three of us that you already know.

Jacque and Nate are recently into rock climbing, so we went with them to the gym on Saturday morning and watched 'em work out. 

I don't know any rock climbing lingo, but if you make it to the top of a technical climb on a MTB without putting your foot down, you just "cleaned it".  Nate cleaned it.

Bouldering.  aka hanging out on walls with anti-gravitational angles. I'm not sure what to say.  I'm glad they have each other to enjoy this with. 

Cool rack outside the climbing gym.
Somewhere in here was a trip to Paseo's for a cuban sandwich.  It was a 30 minute wait in line and then it was cash only.  I took some pictures of the line and the sandwich, but they have become lost.  What will live on forever, however, is that sandwich, in my memory. It was a religious experience.

After lunch church, we went to what Jacque refers to as the "bicycle boutique" in Fremont.  Swrve, Outlier, Ibex and other way-cool brands I've never heard of were in stock. At retails prices. Wool and Schoeller.  Leather.  Fashion and function.  Bags and baskets.  We avoided the big hits, but you can't get out of a shop like this without buying something

Patty scored a Lazer helmet with built in LED light in front . . .

. . . and rear.

I scored a killer leather ankle strap and a tool roll manufactured right down the street.  I put both to work immediately.

Jacque scored a Bern helmet.  Which she broke in when she took me on a ride to show me her commute to her two different (part time and full time) jobs.  We wound through that U-distict and onto the Burke-Gilman trail.  Sometimes, showing your life to someone from out-of-town makes you appreciate it a little more, even though you already know how great it is.  Pretty sure this was one of those times for Jacque.

On the way back, Jacque treated me to a beer at one of the neighborhood establishments.

Dig my rad helmet hair.  Beer still makes us happy.

Sushi in the 'hood, later that night.  5 minute walk from her house.  Raw fish is not my thing, but wasabi is.  It all worked out.

On Sunday morning, Jacque wanted to take us to Bagel Oasis, about a "one-mile-walk away".  I think it was probably actually about 37 miles.  Technically in the Ravenna neighborhood.  I think. Maybe.  It was good, though.  Very wet dog outside, waiting for his bagel-addicted owner.

We dig Spo, but we remember why we moved to Seattle when we were about the same age as Jacque and we think her life there is pretty great and suits her pretty well. The ability to bike, walk and bus to so much of your life is especially great.  It was great to hang out in Seattle and we look forward to our next visit.  It's pretty killer that we're in a position to be able to enjoy both sides of the state.

Friday, March 25, 2011


Apparently there's a class of food called "Multi-Meat Frozen Pizza". Sounds like rocket fuel. Count me in.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Race Against Spring

Today was a gentle and welcome reminder that warmer days are imminent. And while Tuesday shop night has been a great refuge during the cold, short days of winter, nobody wants to spend their time in the shop as the days get longer and more comfortable, especially me. So we're packin 'em in and wrappin things up.

L to R: John, Eric, Joe and Jonathan
John was over to continue work on his constructeur-type rear rack for the bike he recently put together for Liza (super sweet bike, btw).  Eric's rack came back from powder and he was over to do the final install.  Joe was over to finish the cleanup on his rear rack and get it ready for powder.  Jonathan was over to fab a clamp and mudflap for his LHT (forgot to take a picture of this, damn).

Eric, in all his glorious reflectivity and porteurishness.

Since last Tuesday, he built up this new front wheel with dynohub (Novatech).  So when he installed the rack, he was also ready to mount the light and plug it into the power plant.  His ride home was illuminated by his new lighting system, which hung of his shiny new rack.  Saaa-weet.

The cleanup on Joe's rack was intense - lots of angles, nooks and crannies that had to be filed and sanded.  Joe was determined that it be done tonight.  It was. It is.

John came ready to make some hay.  Prior, he had just the deck.  He fabricated custom mounting tabs from scratch and then bent, and coped the stays.  We teamed up to get them fit and tacked.  There are some finishing details, but it's pretty much a complete rack now.

My job of operating the torch around this fancy-ass bike with the fancy-ass paint job and fancy-ass components totally messed with my head.  Oy, the pressure.  Fortunately I know this dude who drinks cheap beer, leaving us with ample heat shields.

It was well worth it, though.

So you might see a coupla more progress pics here and there, but this is pretty much it as far as shop nights posts go. As well it should be. Bring on spring.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Webb Slough SON Update

I've been doing a lot of thinking about how the Webb's Slough SON (SON = "Single Overnighter", credit Andre for the term) will work. It's pretty easy territory to just pass through quickly and get the hell out of on a fast road bike, but pretty crazy territory for planning to pack a bunch of gear to, watch an afternoon of boat racing and then spend the night in, logistically speaking.

But the geology and the town of St John and this insane event in the middle of farm country make it worth the extra effort. I hope. Could be a dumspter fire of a bike trip. But what's not to like about a good dumpster fire now and again?

Anyway, today was the day I'd set aside for some recon, by motor vehicle. It did happen and the following pics are from it. At this point, I'm confident that we have a good, solid, workable plan. There's definitely room to tweak and improve, but here's the basic layout:

Of the two race dates, Jun 18 and Aug 27, the Jun date makes way more sense: It's way greener and prettier and less parched, days are longer, and it's not in the middle of harvest, where you have to share the roads with farm equipment. Plus, I just feel that earlier is better. So that part's decided (executive decision).

Departure from Spo is somewhere in the 7-8 am range on Sat. Racing starts at 10, but goes pretty much all day, I think. (We don't need to see every race.) It will take us maybe 5 hours to get there if we do some dirt, less if we stick to pavement. So arrive noon to one-ish. Watch. Absorb something extremely different. Drink a little beer, eat some concession food. Bake in the sun. Get our heads square with the concept of sprint boat racing.

Head out between 3 and 4. Hit the grocery store. From there, it's about a 12 mile ride to where we'll be spending the night. We've already ridden 50 loaded miles and then we've been cooking in the sun. One to 1.5 hours, so arrive at 5 or 5:30. Pitch camp, cook, eat, bullshit, pass out.

Early up next morning, all fired up about the 28 mile ride into Cheney on rollers. Breakfast at Willow Springs Station.  Hopefully we tip better than we smell. Limp back into town on the FLT. Go home and do yardwork nap the rest of the weekend.

You get the idea.  Enough talk.  Without further ado, here are the pictures.

23 paved miles from the end of the FLT to Pine City on roads like these, except that it will be way greener and prettier.

At Pine City we can either stay on paved and head straight to St John or peel of on dirt for the last 10.  Yep, that's a primitive road sign.

Not so primitve yet, just pretty.

Getting more primitive.  And climby.

This pic is for Patty (RN at Shriner's).

Our course is to the left.  Now getting way more primitive.

Just barely escaped the deadline.

Very scenic.  Erosion ruts are an avoidable nuisance.

Very soft ground. Erosion ruts no longer avoidable.  Picture doesn't do them justice, they were badass. Turned around (no small task).  It was the right decision.  I'm sure this will be all healed up by June.  But bring your mad bunny hop skills, just in case.

I went out to the slough, but couldn't get close enough to take a picture that meant anything.  It's still there, trust me.  Downtown St John, where we'll go to procure camp supplies after we leave the races.  Two grocery stores, meaning twice as much of everything we need (beer).

Cool storefront downtown.  It's not a LBS, dont' be ridiculous.  Looks like an office of a professional who happens to like bikes.

The eight miles from St John to Ewan along Hwy 23 are the suckiest of the trip.  Busy, 55 mph, no shoulder.  We will persevere.

From Ewan, we'll take Rock Lake Road north.  Almost immediately, the John Wayne Trail (JWT) railbed is on display.  Very cool.

These next four pics are from Mike Sirott, taken last year on a venture of the area.  He suggested that maybe we head up the JWT trail and camp here.  It's a ways above the lake and so we'd have to pack water in, but how cool would it be to watch the sun go down from this vantage point.

That's Lonnie.

So bitchin.

Thinking about pitching your tent in this tunnel?  I'm way ahead of you.

I took my bike along, hoping I could find the trailhead and ride far enough to find the cool camping spot.  I found the trailhead.  But the gate was locked.

And it was obviously not cool to blow it off.

I will be calling to find out if this is an option for us.

Just a bit farther up the road is this access area to Rock Lake.

I couldn't tell from the signs, so I asked someone there, and he said overnight camping is allowed.  (I totally trust him because I liked his answer.)  There are some decent spots, but I think we can cross the bridge, jump over a seriously sagging barbwire fence and get into some way radder camping territory.

The amenities are righteous.

Offset by the fact that no fires are allowed.  Boo.  We shall persevere, though.

I thought I'd check out the dirt road options for getting back to Cheney.  This one is on the NW side of the lake.  The surface is sweet.  Too bad it's so far away from the lake - the views are few and far between. 

But there are a few, and they're awesome.

That's a JWT trestle, and a tunnel just to the right of it.  Damn, so cool.

The road eventually got primitiver and primitever.  I didn't have the cajones to risk getting stuck in the middle of no-effing-where on a Sun afternoon, so I turned around, for the second time.

One very cool visual on the trip back is this view of the road ahead.  You can see almost four miles.  And there's another visual treat on this leg of the journey, but I don't wanna ruin it for anyone who hasn't seen it.  Better that you just round the corner and say "Whoa!  What a trip!"

At this point, I don't think you need me to tell you . . .     You know you should do this trip.  Don't you.