Friday, February 3, 2017

Day Three Summary, Finally an End to the Gravel - HOOD 300!

Start: Lake Easton State Park
End: Yakima
Miles: 76
Time: 6 hours, 01 minute

Elevation Gain: -1126 (Predominately DOWN HILL!)
Date: Wed, May 25th, 2016

So this day was going to be the first long day on the trip. 76 miles. I also needed to close out the John Wayne Trail (JWT) portion of my tour, which saw me riding the gravel grade for 68 miles total yesterday and the day before. Upon the first pedal stroke that morning, I had 29 miles of gravel remaining.

The trail, all things considered, is fairly fair in how it treats bicycle riders. The surface is mostly even, mostly firm pack and mostly fun. But, I was starting to get beat up by the constant gravel and rattle. I was looking forward to black pavement again.

I raised the campsite.

I headed back over the highway 90 bridge to the Parkside Café for breakfast.

I ran into a fellow bicycle traveler at the café. He was heading from Seattle to the George Concert venue by none other than a Long John cargo bike. This was the type of bike he was pedaling. Replace box with cycle gear and camping equipment and this was his conveyance.

It was quite a sight. He asked me about riding on Bluett pass to get to Leavenworth and I said it could be done, really, most of it is wide shoulders (I did it in 2012 on my first tour ... none other than the 2012 Cascade Traverse Bi-Pedal Expedition to Save Human Folly). But this was the conversation at the breakfast table and I had not yet seen his weapon of touring choice. I sure hope all went well. 

The weather that morning was blue sky clear but the gusts were kicking up and I knew where I was heading was to be very windy. Most of central Washington is peppered with renewable energy wind farms. Reason: most winds blow W to E as the warmer air of the central part of the state creates convective lift and the cooler air is sucked in from the west through the Cascades and pummels the center part of the state. 

The good thing is it turned out to be a tailwind. As soon as I rejoined the JWT, I picked up the gusts like I had a spinnaker sail on the front of the bike.

So the 28 miles of gravel seemed to go pretty quick. It was flat or slightly downhill and I even hit a couple more train tunnels. This is one of the Thorp Tunnels (tunnels #46 and #47) on Chicago-Milwaukee-St. Paul-Pacific Railroad on the JWT. The tunnels were closed in 2009 due to hazardous conditions. One has since been fortified and repaired, but the other is still in bad shape, but you can enter at your own risk - if you sign a waiver!

This was posted at the entrance.

Public safety notifications for Tunnels 46 and 47 (near Thorp) if you enter these tunnels you do so at your own risk. Prior to entering the tunnels visitors are required to fill out a waiver form and place it in the drop box located at the entrance of each tunnel.

But, the tunnels are only about 75 yards long and I ventured into the rough one and did so sans waiver. Take that!

As I rode further east I was getting closer to the town of Thorp. I could see the iconic fruit stand off in the distance. I figured this would be my jump off point and get back to pavement riding. I’d stop at the stand for lunch.

I was feeling pretty good after lunch. I only had 48 more miles to Yakima and it was for all intent and purposes all down hill – and on pavement!

Leaving Thorp I skirted highway 90 on the south side and I arrived in Ellensburg in about 20 minutes. Weaved my way through some industrial side roads to move through E-burg and soon I was on hwy 821 entering the Yakima River Canyon.

Let me give you a high level look at why I love this road so much (have ridden it many times on my motorcycle). Meandering and curvy - all the while though canyon land.

On its way to join the Columbia River, the Yakima River cuts from the Kittitas Valley (Ellensburg) southward through four major ridges: the Manastash Ridge, the Umtanum Ridge, the Yakima Ridge, and the Ahtanum Ridge to reach the Yakima Valley. This makes for some striking scenery.

The canyon is about 22 miles long and it’s a lovely afternoon. The wind has died down and the best part as I rode closer to my destination, I would be in a bed tonight! See, last night, a bit tired from camping for two nights, I called a trip route "audible" in Easton and rather than camp again for the 3rd night outside of Yakima, I booked a hotel for the night. Brilliant!

I road into town after about 75 miles and found the hotel, took a cat nap, showered and headed out for dinner at one of me and Jen’s favorite places - Cowiche Canyon Kitchen and Icehouse. Not too shabby for a bicycle tour!

A few other pics from the day:

Map/distance of the days ride:

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Day Two Summary, Bear and Tunnel - Hood 300!

[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
End: Lake Easton State Park
Miles: 32
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.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Day One Summary, HOOD 300!

Start: Home, Kenmore, WA
End: Alice Creek CG, John Wayne Trail, Iron Horse State Park
Miles: 52
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’!