Fun on the JWT – the final day

[This is the third installment in our three-day bike adventure on the John Wayne Trail. Day 1 and two are here and here, if you missed them.]

Monday morning came early. We didn’t set an alarm, but as soon as our eyes opened, we hustled out of bed, wolfed down our instant oatmeal and tea/coffee, and packed up the tent. Temperatures were supposed to top 90 degrees again today and we wanted to get most of our final day of riding done before lunch, if possible.

The John Wayne Trail is interrupted in Ellensburg by the town itself. To pick it up on the east side of town, we had to thread our way on city streets back to the fair grounds. Once there, we picked up the trail, which was actually more like an overflow parking lot for horse trailers going to the rodeo. We threaded our way through horse poop, sticky mud patches, potholes, and other obstacles hoping the trail would improve as we got out of town.

Once we were on the trail proper again, it was much like yesterday – deep gravel with two strips of barely rideable dirt down each side of the trail. And it was still straight.


 This is Washington’s cow country and each of the animals greeted us as we rode past.


I’d like to spin you a yarn about how fantastic it was to sail through desert sage lands to the mighty Columbia, but it was not to be. Not too far east of Ellensburg, we realized it had taken us an hour to cover a paltry 4 miles. What?! Why?

In a word – sand.

Horse hooves had pounded and pulverized the rail trail until it was nothing more than a strip of soft, soul-sucking hell. As we pedaled, our tires plowed four-inch trenches. We had to stop every ¼ mile or so to muster the courage to keep moving forward.

This is the point in the trip where the devil and the angel on our shoulders start arguing:

See that road over there? It parallels the trail. You could take it for just a few miles. It would feel so good!

No! You came here to ride. the. John. Wayne. Trail. not ride some of the John Wayne Trail. HTFU and endure your adventure already!

(I’ll leave you to decide which was the devil and which was the angel.)

We soldiered bravely on for another mile or so until we reached a turning point – a mandatory detour.


I can’t lie. I was absolutely thrilled that we would have to ride on the road for a bit. Just look at that smile!


Not too many miles later, we discovered the reason for the detour. The final railroad trestle over I-90 had no deck! We’ve been known to carry our bike around construction sites and go places we’ve been warned not to go. In retrospect, the detour seemed like a pretty good idea.



The final leg of our journey was another 15-17 miles of trail and then a few miles on road to get back to our car, which was parked behind the gas station in Vantage. After a short snack break, we headed back to the trail only to discover that we’d have to be very careful on this next section. We’d be travelling through army territory!


We wondered which speed limit applied to us and whether we would actually encounter any tactical vehicles.


Sadly, once we were back on the trail, we found it to be in just as bad a shape as the previous section. We stared, disappointed, down the long stretch of sand. In the distance a woman, walking her dog, approached us. We rode up and down a 100′ or so of trail, and waited for her arrival.

“So, do you know anything about the condition of the trail between here and the Columbia? Is it all sandy like this?” I asked.

“Well, I only went about a mile, but my husband says its pretty chewed up by horses at this time of year. It’s better riding in spring when the winter rains have packed it all down,” She responded.

We sat on our top tubes for a few minutes digesting our disappointment at not wanting to finish the trail with that much suck. We looked at a map. We sighed. In the end we struck a compromise: We’ll ride the old Vantage highway back into town today and come back to finish this section of the trail in the spring.

And let me tell you … it was awesome! Smooth blacktop, beautiful scenery, lots and lots of downhill, oh yeah!






The final verdict on the trip? All-in-all it was pretty good – scenic, informative, and just hard enough to make me look like a genuine Rapha Continental model at the end of photo shoot.


3 comments for “Fun on the JWT – the final day

  1. Dave Derrig
    October 18, 2013 at 9:54 am

    Nice story, I enjoy your writing and fine details! There is no shame in avoiding sand for pavement, I would have done the same thing!


  2. Mark Erskine
    October 18, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    Great story! Now I understand your firm “no” when asked to do again! I’m off in 10 minutes to ride the John Wayne Trail at night. 10 miles up from Rattlesnake Lake and 10 miles back, but with a full moon. Should be fun, and a much easier experience than yours!

  3. Carry
    October 18, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    Mark, Sounds like a great time! You know this already, but that section of trail is forested. The moon may be partially blocked by trees, so bring your lights.

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