[yes this was almost five months ago - hey I've been busy with the rat race :(]
Start: Alice Creek CG, John Wayne Trail, Iron Horse State Park
Start: Alice Creek CG, John Wayne Trail, Iron Horse State Park
End: Lake Easton State Park
Time: 3 hours, 27 minutes
Elevation Gain: 1355
Day two greeted me after a not too bad night’s sleep. The nearby highway kept me awake off and on throughout the night. Open the tent- the weather is much like yesterday. Overcast with medium gray clouds occupying the South Fork Snoqualmie River valley. But no rain dotted the tent or the lonely John Wayne Trail (JWT). My general direction today would be southeast. And this happens to be the direction from my tent to the slightly damp picnic bench – where oatmeal would cook while I sipped hot coffee.
The oatmeal was hearty. I peppered it with raisins and then layered on brown sugar. The day before, I stopped in North Bend for some dinner items at the store and ever being the planner – I said I gotta get that little something for tomorrow’s morning breakfast. The glazed old-fashioned donut tasted fantastic with the oatmeal. Once the gullet was full, I broke camp and started riding the false-flat railroad grade southeast to the Snoqualmie Summit tunnel.
I was a bit tense this morning. Riding can make me anxious (see day 1 post). And you got that right if you are thinking the summit tunnel made me a bit worried. One thing that set up some jitters, was the day before, in North Bend at the local bike store, the owner stated he wasn’t sure the tunnel was open yet for the season. I thought holey crap; I didn’t even think to check this before I left. If I got to the entrance and it was gated closed, essentially my route now a box canyon, I’d have to retreat back down the Milwaukee line toward North Bend. The trip, sans calling a last minute audible to hit I-90 and ride the interstate, would be a bust.
But, the nice part of day 2 was a shorter mile total. All on the JWT railroad grade, thirty miles to Lake Easton S.P., I ride gently up hill for 10 miles, traverse the bullet straight 2.3 mile tunnel and then gently descend down the east side of Snoqualmie pass to Lake Easton – 20 miles later. Did you catch that the tunnel was 2.3 miles? Yes, indeed it is. This tunnel is the longest in North America that has been repurposed from rail to trail. Again, I am a bit nervous to this part of the day. But, pedal I did.
About three miles from the tunnel entrance and around a gentle right hand turn – in the distance I was surprised to see a bear staring back at me. Bear! Brakes! Holey crap! I have never ever been this close to a bear. Between this cinnamon colored black bear and me was about 35 yards. He looked at me and I looked at him.
Quickly I needed to determine if I had any possible exit route- so I craned my neck to the trail behind me to see where I could go. Yep, the trail was there in case I had to flee. But, I did not feel very good about this option. I was calm enough to reach into my handlebar bag and grab my camera and snap a couple pictures of the nob eared, cinnamon colored bear. After the pics were snapped and placed as 1s and 0s on the digital memory card of the camera, I decided to make a slight move forward to see what the bear would do. I pedaled a few strokes and all of sudden the bear turned left and bolted up the hill into the pines. This was my cue to start pedaling as fast as I could on up the JWT and not look back. After about 70 yards I stopped, fully winded and again craned my neck rearward. My friend had disappeared.
I nervously chuckled then widely smiled thinking this was quite the (dangerous) treat so far today. I assumed the day’s routine again – that being pedaling, pedaling and more pedaling. Having some adrenalin coursing through my body – it must of made my mind quite introspective. As I pedaled, it occurred to me, the concept of a real fear vs. an unreal (irrational) fear. That being the bear was real fear, the tunnel was irrational fear. This little distinction seemed to provide me some comfort approaching the tunnel entrance. But in my mind, I had to run through a series of rational thought exercises to quiet my “fear” of the impending black hole.
Bear will maul you. Tunnel is safe.
Bear will eat you. Tunnel is safe.
Bear will stand on top of your dead corpse and pound it’s chest in victory! Tunnel is safe!
The tunnel bore telegraphed its presence a mile or so down the old rail. I could see the top of the bulwark of aged gray concrete looming above the trail and the forest ahead. Well, its coming I thought. I could then see the tunnel bore in full view, just ahead. It’s open! Ok, here we go.
I snapped a few more 1s and 0s - digital cam self-portraits of me in front of the tunnel, gathered my bike’s headlight and my headlamp out of my panniers (yes needed two lights for backup) – fired them up and pedaled into the black hole.
Within 30 feet the temp dropped to a cool 34F. I did not want to linger too long and let the mind get away from me and saddle me with self-doubt. As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I was pleasantly surprised to see at the end of an understood, but not able to see beyond my LED lights, vanishing point – a very small dot of light. Could this be the other end? Or perhaps another traveler to whom I will converge with somewhere midway - in the darkness and be ever so grateful of the passing, comforting tunnel visit, OR maybe robbed of my wares as if the Hole-In-The-Wall gang still existed and held up trains!
The tunnel was really peaceful actually. The tunnel has been restored and the old dirt surface very smooth. You make good time – it feels slightly down hill heading east. The faint white light steadily got brighter and bigger. I stopped to take some photos.
After 34 minutes of pedaling – a long time in a pitch black tunnel, I popped out through the east tunnel portal. The sun was shining and an older couple was advancing toward the entrance with their headlamps on. They were going to walk through and have a picnic on the other side.
Being that I was now in the Snoqualmie Pass Ski area environs, I decided to head to the ski area and grab some munchies and charge the iPhone. This decision required a 180 degree route reversal and I was forced to pedal uphill for about two miles to the base of the ski hill. I stopped in a coffee shop, charged the phone and hung out for about an hour. The sun was out, but it was windy and there was a chill in the air for sure. I was hoping I would leave the Seattle – slash- western part of the Cascades less-than-optimal weather behind but it was clear the temps were going to be cool and a strong wind was in play for the rest of the day. But, I only had 20 more miles to the camp ground.
The JWT, from the east tunnel portal, routes along the south shore of Keechelus Lake. The lake is the source of the Yakima River. It’s a beautiful ride. I-90 skirts the north end of the long lake – I’ve travelled this road likely 100s of times in a car, always wondering what the far side was like.
After about 9 miles the JWT peeled off of the south end of Keechelus. Looking at my GPS unit, I had about 12 miles to the campground.
Three miles from the lake, I came across Whittier. This must have been a stop on the old Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. But, doing a quick Google search, I could not find much information.
I continued to ride, the trail crisscrossed with the Yakima River – it was lovely. Three miles out from my day’s destination, Lake Easton State Park, low and behold, Lake Easton appeared. I continued to ride around the shore and found the entrance to the State Park. Yea I’m in. I pitch my tent. The campground is very empty.
My day 2 ride planning told me that across the highway was a diner with some 2 star reviews. I head out on the unbagged Burro (aka the Fargo) and she handles like a young colt, bucking, snorting, happy and feeling spry. Me too actually. All of our heavy gear is back with the tent. It’s about a mile and a half to the Parkside Café and Turtle Lounge.
I roll up and it looks pretty quiet. I stroll in through the glass front door and a nice waitress greets me and says – sit anywhere you’d like. Every seat, booth and counter top spot is open – nobody is in the place. I need to find some juice for the iPhone, so I sit down in the corner, next to an outlet. I notice on the south wall a large ‘sculpture’ of a turtle. It took me a while to take it all in. The sign outside said HOME OF THE TURTLE. This must be the Turtle. I mean this thing takes up the entire south wall, made out of flagstone, has turtle teeth and a turtle eyeball (yes one, the sculpture was in profile) a little turtle hat, straddles a wood stove and has an alcove on the right with a door – which to my delight I find out leads to the Turtle Lounge.
Ah ha! I’m moving. Unplug the iPhone and head under the turtles neck – into the dimly lit bar. I’ll have an IPA and a burger, medium and with fries. I start to relax. The day’s ride – slash- chore is done. I just need to drink and eat. Nice. The bartender was going through the bottles of booze on the shelf behind the bar and calling out to a man sitting at the bar. Bo, we only got three bottles Smirnoff, one bottle Jack, one bottle Cuervo left. I gathered the man at the bar was the owner. When she got to Glenlivet, she started to be a bit more animated and said this bottle has been hear for years. Bo- nobody ever orders this crap, she said. Its too expensive she continued. Bo said yah probably should get rid of it. I was so tempted to order a shot, but I thought I gotta ride back to my tent and the IPA was hitting the spot anyway. By the way, I do love all single malts – including that “crap” Glenlivit. I ate, drank, relaxed and rode back to the campground and hit the rack.
Anyway- here are more pics from the day.