Sunday, July 8, 2012

Crossing Washington On The JWPT - Day 5

At the end of Day 4, it seemed as though the tour was unraveling . . . no river crossing at Beverly; being unable to ride the Yakima Firing Range section; and having to cut the trip short, which presumably meant that we would not be finishing at Puget Sound. The emotions were compounded by fatigue, and they sucked.

But at the beginning of Day 5, I was looking at a different side of the coin.  First, I'd had a great dinner with Patty in Ellensburg, followed by a brief visit to the hot tub at the motel and then a great night of sleep. My battery indicator was showing 100%.

Second, I was not in the kind of shape I'd wanted to be in at the start of the tour. Consequently, I'd suffered a little bit in the first four days, due to the fact that my system just wasn't acclimated to the physical demands of 6 or 7 hours a day in the saddle. But by Day 5, I was getting my riding legs under me. I'd been riding myself into a bit of tour shape, as it were. I don't recommend it, but sometimes things just work out the way they work out.

Third, I had jettisoned a bunch of gear in Ellensburg, including but not limited to my rear basket, sit pad, MSR bladder, tripod, camp chair, and a shit-ton of garbage from the blue bag. I don' know how much lighter I was, but it felt just riding-on-air huge.

And finally, the last four days of the tour, per the original schedule, were to have been full of R&R time . . . Day 5 was a 50-miler from Ellensburg up to Snoqualmie Pass, but then Day 6 was scheduled as just a 15-miler (basically moving from one campsite to another at Snoqualmie and spending the day hiking), and Days 7 and 8 were scheduled  as 35-milers (also with some downtime at another nice campsite near Carnation). A lot would depend on the trail conditions we would encounter and what other unknowns lie ahead, but the thought that was starting to evolve was that if we scrapped the R&R and just rode, that with some luck we might be able to finish the trip. Or in other words, condense the last 4 days into 2.

The revised goal for Day 5 then, was to make it up to Snoqualmie Pass, ride through the tunnel at the summit, and then as far down the west side as our energy and time allowed.  If we were successful, that would leave us with a do-able 70 or 80 miles on Day 6, and then we could jump in the car and red-eye it back to Spokane, arriving late Thursday night and in time for Art's funeral on Friday.

Patty has made it clear to me on numerous occasions that she doesn't particularly appreciate showing up on my blog. I try to respect that for the most part, but there are times when I cannot obey, and this is one of those.  Because I need to acknowledge what an important part of this adventure she was. There is absolutely no way it could have happened without her support. The latest example was bailing us out of our predicament down on the river and enabling each of us to continue with what we needed to do, but her support for this crazy idea of mine took many forms and covered many months. From side-tripping to do recon during car trips to Seattle, to putting up with my absenteeism on the many evenings when I was out in the shop late putting racks together, to putting up with all manner of maps and photography books and bike gear strewn all over the house in the weeks leading up to the tour. She was solidly behind me every step of the way.

I asked her to hold on to my bike while I snapped this pic as we were ready to start our day. Thanks, Patty, for all your incredible support. You're awesome.

As good as I was feeling, Eric was in quite a different place. The trip up through the Yakima Firing Range had beaten him up pretty good.  He'd planned to stay at the KOA in Ellensburg, but after arriving in town after midnight, he decided to preserve some energy and sleep time by checking in to a Motel 6.  According to him, the attendant appeared more than a little nervous about this dirty, unshaven dude rolling in a bike at that time of night. Probably had her hand on the panic button the whole time!

Eric was also pretty concerned about the fact that blood had started showing up in his urine. He called a nurse friend and they'd decided that what had most likely happened was that his kidneys had been bounced around so much on the tour that one of them had experienced some trauma, possibly a small tear, that was causing some bleeding.  I was worried too, and would have been very reluctant to continue if he'd had a fever or nausea or any other symptoms to go along with this. He assured me that he was otherwise feeling okay and I checked with him numerous times throughout the day to make sure nothing was changing. Pretty scary deal.

I can't remember if I've mentioned this already, but with the pump I was carrying, it took 400 strokes to bring one tire up to a pressure of 22 psi.  As a result of all the flat-fixing and pumping yesterday, I was running them at lower pressure, just so I could get the damn bike back on the road and keep from melting the pump into a ball of aluminum.  Compressing air generates a lot of heat and the barrel was too hot to touch at times!  Since we'd need to be covering a lot of ground on this day, I wanted to get back up to a good running pressure.  The $1 I spent at this compressor was probably the best one-spot I spent during the entire trip.

5 miles out of Ellensburg, we hit the Thorp fruit stand.  The fresh, cold cherries were quite possibly the best-tasting food on the entire trip.

It was great to be completing the transition out of the desert-ish zone and into the foothills of the Cascades. The anticipation of the mountains ahead was almost as delicious as the cherries.

Goats dig bikes, apparently.

The Iron Horse State Park was created out of and in order to manage the western portion of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail. The contrast between the eastern and western sections is night and day . . . because of the population density and resultant potential trail use I presume, the trail surface has been improved and is generally baby's-bottom-smooth.  The existing trestles have been refurbished with concrete decks and safety rails, and where trestles were missing, they have been replaced with new bridges.  It's a beautifully planned and kept trail.

Unfortunately, the exception to this is that the four tunnels between Thorp and the pass are closed, due to safety concerns over falling rock. I suspect that the amount of money necessary to repair them versus the number of trail users through this section is a tough nut to crack, funding-wise. I had read, however, accounts from people reporting that even though they are officially closed, these tunnels are passable. In every society, there is a certain unsavory element with a general disregard for the law that might take advantage of this situation and decide to trespass. Not us, no way. We didn't see a sign though, that said we couldn't take a ride up to the first tunnel and just take a look inside. So we traversed the gate and headed due west.

Just a few hundred feet after the gate, I flatted.  The cause?  Remnants of yesterday's flatstravaganza - a thorn that I either hadn't caught or that had worked its way through the tire and into the tube. Flatstravaganza after-effects would continue to plague us through the rest of the trip. The gift that keeps on giving.

We peered into this tunnel.

And this one, too.

The ride along the Yakima river was wonderful. What a shame that the official route has to detour this section.

One of our deerest friends was waiting for us by the side of the road.

I might have accidentally slightly over-photoshopped the blueness of the sky here. Possibly.

Just as we were getting ready to roll after the stop to take the above drainage canal pics, Eric noticed that my tools were missing. Damnit to hell. The seat bag is this one from Arkel, and it consists of  hard plastic shell that wraps around a soft waterproof roll-top bag. When you want to get to your tools, you just unsnap a buckle on the outer shell and take the whole soft bag out. Slick as snot, at least in concept. The bag was new to me just prior to and because of this trip, and so I didn't have any experience with it - the kind that would tell me that you have to have it set up just right or else there's a possibility that the inner bag could escape. Damnit to hell. I thought about just leaving it behind, but I had a Leatherman in there, along with some nice bike tools and a good fat tire-specific gauge.  Well upwards of $100 worth of stuff.  I decided I had to go look for it.

The last place I knew I had it was at the site of the last flat.  That was a long ways back, and I hoped it had fallen out somewhere nearer to where we were.  I'll be damned if I didn't end up riding the entire nine miles back to where I had the flat. No sign of the bag. Damnit to hell. I turned around and headed back, eventually running into Eric, who had been riding at a slower pace back down the road and looking in the "nooks and crannies". And he'd found the bag! Right on.  My dumbass mistake had cost us two hours, but at least we could get rolling toward Cle Elum again. Before embarking, I secured the bag in a fashion that guaranteed this would not happen again. And yes, zip ties were involved.

I don't know what gets you more time in purgatory, trespassing or lying.  Probably six of one, half-dozen the other. I was about to get some time tacked on due to one or the other, though.

We had seen a couple of service vehicles on the trail earlier in the day . . . there are utilities and different things to manage along the river that require the trail for access.  So we didn't pay much attention to the white truck that was now headed toward us.  We pulled over to let it pass but instead it stopped. The passenger door swung open and out . . . stepped . . . a . . . park . . . ranger.  He quizzed us down about where we had come from and and how we gotten here and we fell right into the sly little trap he set.  Based on what we had just told him, there was no way we could be where we were standing at that moment without having passed through the tunnels. Busted. Big time.  He chewed on us pretty good, but we took it like men and promised to never do anything like that again. Ever.  He reminded us that the two tunnels down the road were also closed and that we were to NOT to go through them. In no uncertain terms.  We assured him that we had changed our evil ways and were gonna "straighten up and fly right", as my mom used to say.

During all of this, I'd been straddling my bike, facing him. Suddenly, he took notice of my tires and said, "what kind of bike is that, anyway?"  But not in the curious way, in the incriminating way.  I could see what was going on and it was happening fast but it was happening in slow motion and before I knew it, he was around to the back of the bike, looking for the motor. Tires like that just don't belong on a pedal-bike. His  conclusion was obvious to you and me, and I'll just leave it at that.

And with that, we headed off towards Cle Elum.

The JWPT passing under I-90, just east of Cle Elum.

Eric hadn't been himself all morning - he'd begin to recover as the day went on, but the long hard ride yesterday had left him pretty wiped and non-energetic thus far. When a guy of his fitness level is lagging behind an out-of-shape dude like me, something's not quite right.  On top of  that, we were supposed to have made it to Cle Elum for lunch, around 12 or 1, and it was now 3.  We were both super glad to finally get to town and have a solid meal at a Bar and Grill there. BLT's were what often tasted right to me on this trip, and I had a fine one there.

I'd been dealing with another flatstravaganza-caused slow leak for the last thirty or so miles.  I'd had the tire off, but couldn't find the too-small leak. I was stopping every few miles to pump it up and it was getting to be a royal pain in the ass.  After lunch, we head down to the local bike shop and the mechanic there was able to find the leak and fix me up. All for $5. Thanks, man, sincerely. And best five-spot I spent on the trip.

Just on the way out of Cle Elem is a very nice little Milwaukee Road historical site. Sweet. The trail here is pretty rough for a few miles, due to a lot of horseback activity in the area. It eventually smoothed back out, though.

I'd hammered pretty hard on the backtrack to find my tools and as a result, I was feeling pretty crappy.  I would eventually feel better, just something I had to ride through.  I passed some time by practicing my mad self-portraiture skills. Lucky for you that you don't have to look at all the shots I took.

Slowly, the trail was getting all kinds of "foresty".  Awesome.

We rode up and peered into the remaining two tunnels. And I mean that.  After what we had been through, we would never think about riding through them. Ever.

We finally arrived at Keechelus Lake (aka "Stump Lake") which, according to the original schedule, was to have been our stopping point for the day.

That's I-90 across the lake. While we were enjoying the stunning scenery by bike,
they were picking their way through a miles-long construction zone by car. Suckas!

At this point, it was pretty clear that I had bagged the pass and that victory was therefore mine.

This train station-looking restroom building sits just prior to entering the big tunnel. The trail is off to the left.

At the entrance to the mother of all tunnels. If ever there was a photo opportunity worthy of stopping and setting up a self timer shot, this would be it. We look like we're dressed for winter riding because we could feel the air moving through the tunnel and towards us, and it was damn cold air.

Eric and I both build shit, at part of our jobs and in our leisure time. We could never quite get over our astonishment at what men had accomplished, without the use of much, if any, powered equipment during the construction of this rail line, which was completed, give-or-take, around 1909. Humongous berms of earth and mighty trestles through some of the steepest and wildest county.  This 2.3 mile-long tunnel, though, is in a category of its own.  The minute you enter it, you see a tiny white dot, the size of a pinhead. Which is the opening at the far end.  How on earth they could have built a 2.3 mile-long tunnel that straight and level in 1914 is beyond me and pretty much blows my mind. It's a magnificent gem and we're so lucky to have public access.

From the inside looking out, just before exiting the western portal.

One example of the trestles of which I was just speaking. Holy hell.

I don't understand, at all, where the time goes when you are on tour.  We would wind up riding 90 miles at an average speed of just over 10 mpg for the day, which meant that we were on our bikes and pedaling for just under 9 hours.  Yet we had left at approximately 8:00 am and now the sun was going down, maybe 12 or 13 hours later. It didn't seem that 3 or 4 hours had been taken up off-bike, but I guess there were flats to deal with and snack breaks and photo stops, and both a meal and bike shop stop in Cle Elum. At any rate, we'd made pretty good progress down the western slope of the Cascades, but it was getting time to find our place for the night.

There are four back-country campsites through the greater Snoqualmie Pass area that are accessible from the trail.  We stopped at the Carter Creek campground just as light was fading and thought we had died and gone to heaven - storybook perfect, complete with pea gravel tent pads. The fabulous white noise from the creek ensured a solid night of sleep - if Eric had farted a symphony, I'd not have heard one note - and as if that wasn't enough, we had the satisfaction of knowing that we'd come far enough to place ourselves in position to actually finish the trip. We finished setting up tents and then cooking under light of LED headlamps. We'd not be needing any more of the meals that we'd been carrying and so in celebration of our last night on the trail, we cooked up everything that we had left. As luck would have it, both of our freeze-dried entrees were Mexican selections, plus I had a few tortillas, so we had a highly-satisfying alpine fiesta in the dark.  Afterwards, Eric was toast and went straight to bed, but I stayed up a while and brewed myself a hot chocolate, to which I added a smidge of scotch that I'd hauled along.  I sat in the dark, listening to the raging creek, sipping my hot choco and life was SO sweet and I remember thinking that all the time and effort and money and everything that went into this trip was so totally worth it. This was maybe the pinnacle, for me.

Day 5 Ride Stats
90 miles
8:49 saddle time
10.2 mph avg
31.0 mph max
298 total trip miles


JMH said...

Wow, even though you clearly endured some personal/physical challenges along the way, you have also done something pretty amazing, and inspiring! Reading about your adventure got me wondering if there was something similar closer to home (Massachusetts), and that is how I came across the Mass Central Rail Trail. The MCRT is a 104 mile trail from Northampton to Somerville, Massachusetts. While not as long, scenic, or rugged as the JWPT by any means, the MCRT is still under construction in many parts, and doing the whole thing would require a fair amount of navigation and would still be an adventure. From what I can tell, about 25 percent of the trail is paved bike trail, and the rest is a mix of gravel and dirt roads. From what I can tell, someone could piece together the trail in 2-3 days...

Pat S said...

JMH, I'm clearly biased, but I think railbed tours are the bees knees. I just Googled the Mass Central Rail Trail and it looks like it would be perfect for a 2 or 3 day weekend trip. The fact that it's not finished is a good thing, IMO - just makes for a better adventure and gives you reason to do more planning, which is at least half the fun on a tour like this. I think you should go for it!

Anonymous said...

Just for the record, the tunnels between Ellensburg and Cle Elum are now open (summer 2013). You have to sign a waiver and drop it in the box before entering the first tunnel, but I haven't heard of anyone being niled by a falling rock. The dodgiest time might be in spring after some freeze-thaw has loosened some chunks...

mImO said...

I lived just south of the Columbia in Hermiston when I was between 6 and 10 years old. My mother got so fed up with goat heads (and my riding my bike off pavement - but not like it really mattered) that she ordered these hellacious solid rubber tires for my bike from Monkey Wards. They sucked, but they didn't flat out. I even carved some nobs into them (shhh).

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