Start: Home, Kenmore, WA
End: Alice Creek CG, John Wayne Trail, Iron Horse State Park
Time: 4 hours, 49 minutes
Elevation Gain: 2295
First off, day one of the tour, was 32 days ago, but was 1063 days since the last tour (Vines to Bitterroots). Almost three years have lapsed since the Burro was loaded with supplies and I was slogging through some far-off beautiful vistas. I guess I skipped a couple summers?
I named my blog CycleSlogger back when I created it in 2012. The name was meant to bring together blogging and bicycle touring (slogging) really. Um, does anybody blog anymore? Does anybody read blogs anymore? But- I do feel sometimes on the bike, it is what it is… a slog.
Slog \ˈsläg\: to keep doing something even though it is difficult or boring: to work at something in a steady, determined way.
A tour, a ride can be difficult, like trying to fight your way out of quicksand – on a bike of course. It can be sometimes boring. Long stretches of straight stretches of flat stretches can make you unexcited to say the least and sometimes down right comatose. You pedal, pedal, pedal and pedal. Miles comes slowly. Fatigue sets in. Sounds like a slog to me! But back to the definition, focus on ‘working at something in a steady, determined way’. Sounds like pedaling on a tour to me.
I had a person close to me, who I love dearly; ask me how my ride went? I had just finished the five-day, 300-mile (rounding up) ride and we were enjoying a glass of local Hood River wine. I set off to describe the best parts. I was proud in those sentences, felt vibrant telling fun and wonderful things. Then I recounted some of the more difficult aspects of the 70,000 pedal strokes such as some sustained 25 MPH head winds for a day and half and some suboptimum weather for two days. I went on to say, tours are not all fabulous, brilliant and amazing. I took a swig of wine. She just finished hers, setting the glass down, and said, “aw man, that bums me out. Cycling should be an adventure! Every day should be an adventure! I want you to enjoy every minute of every mile. This so bums me out…” At that point I switched to a shot of bourbon.
I almost quit, several times. Seriously. Exit strategies are easy to plan while you pedal away, mile after mile – especially if that miserable SOB climb in 90 degrees can be tempered, knowing you’ll throw in the towel, when you get to that day’s final town. There’s nothing else to think about sometimes. Why the hell am I doing this? Am I the world’s biggest fool? Or worse, I am just a fool in my eyes? What happens if I fail? Can I do this!? On and on and on.
I felt a bit defeated after my conversation with my good friend. I adore this person. It’s not her fault. No harm no foul. It did make me think. A couple days later, my own mental reconciliation and reparations had occurred and I returned to being gleeful of my tour and accomplishment. Thirty two days later and I still puff out my chest, clinch my fists and reach to the sky for a ‘job well done’.
So, the overall trip schema was, simply, ride from my front door to Hood River, Oregon. The route was planned to land on some tasty bits I had heard about, and wanted to ride, but had not yet had an opportunity. The route would take me on part of the John Wayne Trail (JWT) and then, three days later, Dalles Mt Road (DMT).
The JWT is quite the state gem. Oh just a 300 mile old railroad trail from west WA to east WA! It’s the old railway roadbed of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad (Milwaukee Road ) that linked the developing Lake Michigan port city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin with the west coast.
The DMT is a gravel road from Goldendale, WA over Dalles Mt and down to the Columbia River, just north of the The Dalles, OR. This road is emblematic of the options out there for scenic gravel grinding touring. It leave south of Goldendale, WA, makes a rise run-up Dalles Mountain in and then depends into the Columbia River gorge. It avoids lots o' highway - and this is NICE for us cycle tourers!
Per the plan I ordered my support battalion (n=2, one human, one super pup) to meet me at the rendezvous site in Hood River, OR. There the trip would complete and we would do four days of wine tasting and fun in Hood River.
The route was North Bend > Cle Elum > Ellensburg > Yakima > Goldendale > The Dalles and then Hood River. It was about one third dirt and two-thirds pavement. I had planned on camping the entire time (four nights).
I had trained all spring and can’t convey how stoked I was to head out. SO much goes into a trip like this. Training, planning, organizing, packing, ‘prepping’ the support team (aka subtle little hints… subtle little bribes… ‘hey you want to do some wine tasting this summer’!?). And factor in the fact my last tour was cancelled, and it had been three summers since I toured, a lot was riding on this tour.
About two weeks out from day 1, I started watching the weather. We were in a beautiful early May weather pattern. Warm 70s and some days into the 80s were delighting our Puget Sound area. It was a prolonged period of a high-pressure ridge, planted over the PNW. I was thinking, this is going to be a beautiful tour. But, all good weather comes to an end and about a week before my start the weather destabilized and a deep weather trough moved in. It was called Troughzilla.
A big ole low-pressure system moved in.
And the weather changed. Day one (May 23rd) was gloomy, but somewhat mild. Looked like a few sprinkles would get me on my way to the campground.
As I said before, the overall concept was to start at my front door and essentially, ‘hit the road’. I can tell you, it felt a little odd riding down my street, the street that I have ridden hundreds of times on my fancy shmancy, 17 pound road bike, with my loaded up tour bike with all the accoutrements for five days on the road. It was surreal.
I navigated the Burro down to the Burke Gilman bike trail, onto the Sammamish River bike trail, through Redmond, Fall City, Snoqualmie and to North Bend on highway 202 and then to Rattlesnake Lake where the trail head starts for the JWT! Then I had 11 miles on the old Milwaukee rail road bed to Alice Creek campground. Pitch tent, cook beans, drink beer, go to sleep. Pretty straight forward huh?
Well, just a few miles outside of Snoqualmie, my chain jumped a cog and got tangled up and forced the rear derailleur into a bad position, which in turn bent the hanger. ‘Fug’ I screamed. All of a sudden, day one was in trouble and the entire tour may be bust. The bike was rideable. But the chain was clacking tremendously. So, I pedaled to North Bend in hopes of finding a bike shop. The entire way my mind was raging, mulling over what this meant. Do I continue with a bad derailleur if I can’t get it fixed? Seems risky since I am on an old rail bed trail for two days – pretty isolated. Do I abandon the trip? I’ve never had a mechanical failure before. I thought to myself, I need to handle this and keep going! I pedaled on and did find a bike shop in North Bend. I told them what happened and asked if they could fit me in to look at it. Sure they said. Um yah, the hanger is bent pretty bad they observed. The mechanic tweaked it by hand and adjusted the shifting, said $12 bucks and off I rode! I was back in business.
I made it to Rattlesnake Lake at about 2 PM. This is where the JWT starts! Off the pavement I go – my larger, special-sized-for-dirt tires engage the trail. This will be interesting. First time for me on the JWT!
It’s a fantastic ride at this point. Still a bit gloomy, but no rain and the old railroad grade is up hill, but ever so slightly (1-2%). I make good time and the old trestles and scenery is fabulous! I make camp by 5:30.
I open a brew, pitch the tent, fire up the backpack stove, and cook some beans with salmon. Hearty, but not that tasty! I bed down at 7:30 reading my new book:
Life Is a Wheel by Bruce Weber
I am asleep by 9. Zzzzzzzzzzzz!
Now, for a little information on the campground. It is six sites, only accessible by the JWT. Has a toilet and nice tent pads. I‘m the only one for the night. But, just north of me oh by about two miles, and down hill by about 500 feet, running parallel to the South Fork Snoqualmie River is I-90! I happen to pick one of the sites that was in direct acoustic trajectory of the interstate NOISE. It kind of sucked. I thought about moving my camp to another site, but was already planted. So- as I’m reading my book, in go the earplugs. Yes, I always travel with earplugs! It can really save a bad, noisy night of sleep.
Day One is ‘in the books’!