Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Day Four Summary, First Big Pass - HOOD 300

Date: May 26, 2016
Start: Yakima
End: Goldendale
Miles: 68.7 mi
Time: 6 hours, 01 minute
Elevation Gain: +3229 ft

This day’s morning was preceded by a night’s night in a hotel. If you’re keeping statistics, last night was my first motel of the trip. Before that, two nights in a durn rip-stop nylon shelter (tent), and last night, a bit better, I lied prone in a measly 50 thread count top sheet and blanket with a popcorn ceiling overhead. But, hey, last night I enjoyed a cocktail, a beer and a burger – the night’s highlight. And the bed was not too bad as well. Well rested, today would be the LONGEST day of my tour and to add insult to a slap in my wind burned face, a major mountain pass was planning on lording its haunches and shoulders over me the entire day. I’m referring to Satus Pass. In the scheme of things not a beast of a pass, I’ve seen worse, but a steady grind up to 3107 feet. And, to arrive at Goldendale, the ride was approximately 70 miles.

This trip has had its share of wind. Never fun on a bike - unless it’s a 100% pure, unadulterated tail wind. And most of the time on a bicycle, as fate would have it, the wind hammers you from the front. As I woke, I was worried today would be a windy, slog-fest struggle. I glanced out of the windows of the motel’s continental breakfast room, and as I rubbed sleepy elbows with my fellow motel travelers over Sterno warmed stainless steel trays full of dried hash browns and runny eggs, with Fox news on the T.V., Yakima’s morning seemed calm.

I like Yakima. The Palm Springs of Washington!

My Love, me and our sweet pup Luna have recently stumbled across this town, going from town A to town B, with Yakima in the middle, not really worthy of a stop, just a town, basic, not-much-going-on, rural, dry, but it’s a nice gem really. I love the importance of the agriculture of the area, the Native American history and the Hispanic culture that is so part and parcel of many agriculture areas in this country. Did I mention hops? What about wine? Well, both, in quite a "hop-yard", vineyard, beer and wine producing tour-de-force. Very impressive as you drive around the Yakima Valley and realize just what the heck is going on here.

Hops. The Yakima Valley contains approximately 75 percent of the total United States hop acreage, with an average farm size of 450 acres (182 hectares) accounting for over 77 percent of the total United States hop crop. The second place producer is Oregon at a measly 15%. Hah Oreeegone! You just don’t mess with Yakima and its trellised 15 foot hop vines!

And wine is big too. Washington is the second largest premium wine producer in the United States. Yakima has four American Viticultural Areas (AVA) that produce very exceptional wines.

But I digress.

My overall ride today was divided into four subsections.

1.     Yakima proper
2.     Yakima Valley
3.     Satus Pass accent
4.     Satus Pass decent

Enough of Fox "news" on the hotel’s "continental" dining room. Time to mount up.

I worked my way through Yakima proper and targeted Union Gap to merge with U.S. highway 97 that would spit me out past the eastern end of Ahtanum Ridge and into Yakima valley and its namesake river. The gap is quite a geological feature.

At this point I had 15 miles down the wide shouldered hwy 97 past flat lands of the valley, paced by tough looking rural shacks and an occasional well-established farm. It was still morning. I was making good time and at times wondered when I saw beat up parked cars and pickups and single-wide trailers with faded blue roof tarps weighted down with used tires to guard against the infrequent rains of this dry valley, do these folks ever have a chance to ride a bicycle – for fun?

In Toppenish, I stopped for a granola bar at a gas station at a cross roads to 97. Across the street was a meat packing plant.

The smell of the plant was a test of my senses and sensibilities. The rancid, meaty, almost sweet like industrial smell assaulted me and I had to gasp. I ducked into the convenience store, grabbed a protein bar and got out of Dodge as fast as I could.

Back on highway 97, and still flat terrain, I had a mile until the highway went to the right at a 45-degree turn and vanished off toward the Simcoe Mountains. Satus pass was not apparent but I know it loomed, behind undulating, ever higher barren ridges, about 30 miles from my right hand signal and eased braking for the traffic light.

The day just got a lot more serious. At this point 97 became much more of a long grind with a vanishing point butted into some imposing treeless ridge - and the road arching to the right and up; just five miles more and its time to start climbing.

Hill at 12 o’clock and closing fast I thought.

As soon as I shifted the Burro down a few notches, the road’s wide shoulders, went away. As the two-lane road was now climbing quite an incline, the state DOT appropriated the break-down lane and made it a slow truck lane! I have about 8 inches of riding room. The Burro with touring bags is at least two feet wide.

Well, here we go I thought. Climbing. Climbing. Climbing.

At about two and half miles up the road peaked. Something was amiss. I thought this was the start of Satus pass. Um, no. False Summit! But, I get to ride down hill for a while. Nice.

At the bottom, after two miles downhill I stopped at the bottom of a bridge crossing Satus Creek. Nice to take a break.

Time to get moving. Now the real climbing can commence! Wait, I said that before.

At about mile 39 of today’s ride, I run into road construction. Single lane, flagger man with pointy goatee, wait time 20 minutes.

I have a nice conversation with the guy. I’m at the front and a few cars are pulling up on us and stopping their autos and waiting – just like me. The flagger actually offered me one of his Power Bars and some water if I needed it!

“Let me call the pilot car and we’ll give you a lift the friendly goatee-ed man says.

About ten minutes later the pilot car appears – flashing lights and all. Well, I don’t know many pilots that smoke on the job, but this gal was puffing a dangling cigarette as she whipped the truck around with both hands (pilot “car” is not actually accurate) and she put ‘er in reverse and backed up to me and promptly evacuated the left side of the truck as if she had pulled the emergency egress lever on the ejection seat kicking her ass out onto south bound highway 97 – door still open.

It took all three of us to load the burrow, all 100 plus pounds onto this steel extenda-how'd they come up with that-ledge that was welded onto the pilot truck’s back bumper.  I hopped into the passenger seat – making sure I had an emergency egress cord within reach.

The gal at the wheel was named Mel. What a treat. I get a lift and some nice conversation. She was full of questions about my ride - puffing on her cig the whole time. In return, I wondered allowed about the road construction life – she openly shared past highway projects and sorted tidbits of flagging cars, crusty union state DOT workers, anvil shaped thunder clouds shortening the day and various "flat cat" and "bovine centerline" road kills she's seen. My transit time was about 12 minutes and five miles. Hey, I’ll take it. Record one construction invoked assist on my 300-mile trip.

I still had fifteen miles to the top of Satus Pass. But here is the rub. Those cars that were delayed by the construction are now impatient, grumpy, zoom zoom drivers who are going to be harassing me as I trudge up the pass. And since I’m moving slow, as bikes do up a 6% grade, things came in nauseous waves as the pilot car released its "freight train". I had several waves on the way up Satus - peaceful, brilliant no-cars calmness and then frightening Elon Musk-ness Hyper-Loop, car to car, semi-to-semi, Pinto to Corvette to mini-van sheer terror barrages over my left shoulder.

I even jumped lanes and faced the opposing traffic and road uphill to get the hell out of the way of the highway buzz bombs in my lane. That was fun.

At 54.7 miles on the day, I reached the top of Satus Pass! Elevation 3107 feet.

Ok, mostly down hill now. But the wind was starting to pick up. Of course. I’m now pointed due south and down to the mighty Columbia River and as such exposing myself to the nuclear winds that funnel up river from the ocean and blast the central scablands of our lovely state. Fifteen miles, winds and a 250-foot minor hump are between beautiful G-dale and me!

I’m five hours into today’s trek. But, feel we’re going to deliver on the plan – I just need to keep my focus and handlebars square to the fog line of the road. At six hours, 46 minutes I roll into Goldendale and un-click from my pedals at the lobby sign for the Ponderosa Motel. Made it.

I'm checked in and take a nice little cat nap. When its time for dinner, just down the road is a grocery store. Get the usual salami, wine, cheese and cookies for desert.

The wind has not let up. Tomorrow will be interesting if this keeps up!

Map / distance of the days ride:

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 :(]

Date: 5/24/16
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.