Labor Day fun on the JWT

For years, I’ve had the idea in my head that it would be fun to cycle the length of the John Wayne Trail – 110 miles from North Bend to the mighty Columbia River. Any plans I might have had got temporarily quashed in 2009 when state parks closed the five tunnels on the trail because of falling debris hazards. Our legislature was slashing the budget that year and there was no way it would find $9 million to fix them. (Although the state created detours for each one, the routes often went for miles out of the way and in one case involved the unpleasant task of bicycling on Intestate 90. Dumb.)

Flash forward to July 2013…and all the tunnels are open again! Some have been repaired. Others are enter at your own risk. (More on this later.) After negotiating with Nick on a “relaxed” three-day schedule for our adventure, we set off. First stop: Vantage. We needed to drop a car there so we’d have some way of getting home. Then it was back over the pass to Rattlesnake Lake in North Bend.

The drive wasn’t all bad. Mount Rainier peeped at us from behind the hills.

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All good adventures have some element of adversity. Little did we know that ours would start before we even left the parking lot in North Bend.

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Once Nick’s flat tire was taken care of, we imposed on an unsuspecting day-tripper to photograph the beginning of the journey – that moment when adventurers like us are full of the joy of anticipation.

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The beginning of the trail is not easy. Even though the gravel is relatively packed, the first 20 miles go up at a steady 2 percent grade. Just enough so that it doesn’t look like you’re going uphill, but steep enough that you feel like you’re having a bad day on the bike. Our equipment seems to be working well and we only stop a few times to make adjustments to seat height. Before long, we found ourselves near Exit 38 and the local rock climbing crags.

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The fact that we’re riding on an old railway bed is not lost on us. We cross a number of dizzyingly high railroad trestles. Fortunately, they all have railings now.

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There are also remnants of avalanche tunnels, built to protect railway cars from being jettisoned off the tracks by seasonal snow.

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After a few hours, we arrived at the famous  2.2-mile Snoqualmie Pass Tunnel. It’s so long that you can’t actually see both ends as you’re riding through. Powerful lights are a must. Despite the rising temperatures, Nick and I dig out our warm jackets. I wish I had some great mid-tunnel shot, but sadly no. You’ll just have to imagine the blackness.

Safely on the other side, we were all smiles.

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East of this tunnel is a section of the trail we know really well from cross country skiing. In winter it’s covered in snow and groomed for winter fun. In summer, it’s not nearly as exciting – piles of rubble and chewed up trail from the groomer. Even though it seemed like we were going down hill a bit, our shoulders and bums took a beating.

Once we were past Easton, though, we reached tunnel #2. This one is much shorter!

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Somewhere after this, Nick finally admitted that breaking the trip up into three days was a good idea. Thirty-eight miles of rough dirt had taken their toll and our muscles were jello. We entered Easton State Park, our destination for the night, with some trepidation. We had no reservations for a campsite on Labor Day weekend and were worried that the hiker-biker sites would be full. No worrying was necessary, though. We had the place to ourselves.

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After a quick trip to the gas station, we were set up with electrolyte replacements “crafted for explorers.” We definitely felt like explores, and it went down just fine!

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Stay tuned for day 2 of our JWT adventure tomorrow!

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