On Sunday morning, Nick and I woke up feeling slightly less shattered than the day before, ready to tackle the next section of the JWT. (If you missed the first day’s adventures, go here.) Our day’s destination was Ellensburg where we hoped to catch a bit of the famous rodeo.
Instead of backtracking through the forest to the JWT, we rode a few miles down the road through the old town of Easton to the next trail access point. The 2010 census counted 478 people living in the city, which probably explains why the main street is largely boarded up.
Back on the trail again, it was clear that we were out of the forested foothills and starting to head towards the grasslands in eastern Washington. We pedaled along in the warm sunshine, making predictions about how many people we would see on the trail that day and how many of them would be on horseback. (The JWT is open to all non-motorized travel.)
The quality of the trail was much worse the further east we traveled. The bumpy hard-pack of yesterday was replaced by loose gravel. Still, we each managed to find a narrow strip of hard dirt on our respective sides of the trail to ride along. Fresh legs made it almost bearable and we enjoyed the scenery as it unfolded.
One of the highlights of the journey was riding next to the Yakima River. For some reason I imagined it was much bigger than it actually is. Perhaps it only seemed small because we were still relatively close to the summit of Snoqualmie Pass and it hadn’t had enough time to pick up tributary water.
About a third of our way into the day, we arrived in Cle Elum and found an old electric train depot. Turns out the Pacific portion of the “Milwaukee Road” railway line was the longest electric rail line in the country. It spanned some 600+ miles. The rail line was decommissioned in 1980, and today you can walk the rail yard which is being restored by the Cascade Rail Foundation. There is also a B&B at the Cle Elum Depot. (Imagine sleeping in a refurbished railway car!)
After a quick snack of apples and nuts, we continued on. The gravel got deeper, but the views remained incredible.
Towards the middle of our day, we arrived at the Thorp Tunnels. Unlike the Hyak and Whittier tunnels yesterday, the state did not dedicate any funds to repairing these tunnels. It shows. The concrete at the entrance of the tunnels is crumbling and sections of wall inside have caved. It’s not exactly dangerous, but I wouldn’t call it safe either. Don’t put me in one of those during an earthquake! In a surprising act of reasonableness, the state actually allows you to travel through these tunnels. There is an unsettling waiver of liability they ask you to sign before you do so, however.
Safely on the other side, Nick snapped a pretty good picture of me getting taking a short rest.
One of the things that failed to occur to me before we set out is how straight a rail trail might be. When it’s traveling long distances on even terrain, there simply is no reason to turn…at all! This lack of variation coupled with increasingly-difficult-to-ride gravel took a toll on our enthusiasm.
By midafternoon, things were even worse. The temperature, which had risen above 90 degrees, was frying our brains and muscles. We stopped at the Thorp Fruit Stand for fresh apple cider and peaches. It didn’t cool us off enough to motivate us to ride the last 6 miles into Ellensburg through deep gravel, so we cheated a bit and took the Old Thorp Highway into town.
One of the things I love most about visiting small town America – on a bicycle or motorcycle – are the kooky things you see. I really want to know who verified this claim in 1934.
We pedaled lazily to the KOA where cool showers revived us just enough that we could pedal into town for the rodeo. We missed the professional bull and bronc riders by a few hours. Our consolation prize was the local talent show, which featured mutton busting, barrel racing, team-roping, the businessman’s cow milking contest, and calf-roping. It was a real hoot.
We pedaled back to camp just as the sun was setting and collapsed into our tent, not quite wanting to admit that we were exhausted and not looking forward to tomorrow’s ride. Never mind though, we were going to leave early to (hopefully) beat the heat.