Archive for the ‘Cycling’Category

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.


Dave Derrig liked this post


10 2013

Labor Day fun on the JWT – part 2

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.

Brad Gibson liked this post


10 2013

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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


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.


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!


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.


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!


Stay tuned for day 2 of our JWT adventure tomorrow!


10 2013

Open Letter to CBC re: the Seattle Brews Cruise

Dear Cascade Bicycle Club:

I was shocked and extremely disappointed to read today that Cascade Bicycle Club is hosting the Seattle Brews Cruise – a ride that promotes drinking during the ride. Part of the reason I support the club is its ongoing efforts to ensure its rides are safe and promote cycling safety in general.  Not only is this event in contravention of these goals, it explicitly encourages unsafe riding behavior. As such, I would like to request that Cascade Bicycle Club rethink whether the club should hold the event as planned.

You might be thinking, “Aw lighten up already! One beer can’t hurt. Our riders know their limits and will be responsible.” The trouble is statistics say otherwise. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), 28% of all cyclists killed in 2009 had a measurable blood alcohol level. That bears repeating, more than a quarter of all cycling deaths involved alcohol consumption by the rider. Only 24% of the fatalities involved a BAC in the rider of .08% or higher. That means a rider doesn’t have to be legally impaired to increase his/her risk of death. On the contrary, a bicyclist’s risk of a crash begins to increase significantly at 0.05% BAC and climbs rapidly after about 0.08%. To put it succinctly, when a rider is only a pint or two down, the odds for a bicycle crash go up – sometimes way up. One study showed BAC over 0.10% increased injury risk tenfold.

The risks aren’t just related to cycling deaths either. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine shows that risk of injury also increases.Alcohol, bicycling, and head and brain injury: a study of impaired cyclists’ riding patterns, found that among the 200 patients studied “[a]lcohol use showed a strong correlation with head injury” and that, “[i]mpaired riders were less experienced, less likely to have medical insurance, rarely wore helmets, were more likely to ride at night and in slower speed zones such as city streets, and their hospital charges were double.” The study’s conclusion is unambiguous: “Alcohol use leads to a host of unsafe bicycling practices, increased head and brain injuries, and costs to the cyclist and community.”

What strikes me is that the risk of head injury and costs to the community are the very reasons cited for helmet wearing. And yet, the club has blatantly chosen to ignore these risks as it promotes behavior that impairs riders’ motor skills and judgment before they throw a leg over the bike.

The club discourages the use of headphones, riding on sidewalks, disobeying traffic laws, riding in a paceline if you aren’t trained to do so, and riding without a helmet – all because these behaviors compromise rider safety. Alcohol consumption is no different. It compromises rider safety and should be relegated to its proper place as a worthy post-ride celebration. Please consider canceling the Seattle Brews Cruise or at least canceling the mid-ride beer stop.

Finally, it strikes me that this type of ride could lead to legal trouble for the club. I’m not a personal injury lawyer and am not offering specific legal advice in this area. I’m just raising the red flag. If the club actively encourages behavior that it knows to be unsafe and someone is injured or killed as a result, could it be liable for gross negligence or wrongful death? Does promoting an activity that the club knows to be dangerous constitute grossly negligent behavior? Will the club’s waiver hold up if the club is found guilty of gross negligence? If you decide to hold the event as planned, it would be worth consulting an attorney about the club’s potential liability in the event of an injury or death. I would prefer the club spends its legal budget on creating positive change for cyclists, not on defending against avoidable lawsuits.

Thank you.


01 2013

The rest of the story

The dog bite I showed you on 10/28 was a pretty defining part of my weekend in the Methow, but really it was only a small part. Without further ado, the rest of the story…

On Friday evening, Nick and I high-tailed it out of town and headed over Washington Pass for two days of fun with John, Eileen, Sean and Susan. Despite the accumulating snow, we made it to Winthrop in time for a beer and mushroom burger at the Old Schoolhouse Brewery. Stephanie greeted us warmly with a  ”welcome back guys” and we raised a pint in honor of great beer and the wonderful weekend ahead.

The other four rolled into our condo around 10 p.m., having stopped in Arlington for dinner on the way. We chatted until our eyes wouldn’t stay open and then drifted off to sleep, dreaming of happy trails.

We woke in the morning to clouds, but no precip – a great sign! After a leisurely breakfast, we headed out to Pipestone Canyon. There was some confusion about exactly which route we were going to ride. Two trailheads later, we were off…on the WRONG trail! Oops!


In our eagerness to get going, we inadvertently rode up Fuzzy Canyon, not Pipestone Canyon. No big deal really. We rode back to our cars and found the proper trail up Pipestone Canyon to Cambpell Lake. About 2/3 of the way there, sleet started falling, which turned to snow the higher we got. We weren’t really prepared to bike in these conditions, but we were going up hill, our exertions keeping us warm. After a short sandwich break at the lake, though, we were on the way to hypothermic and still had to ride 4 miles downhill back to the cars.

Nick and I were hammering down the road as fast as we could to try to warm up. Just as we got to the trailhead, the two women we’d passed earlier and their dog came into view. The dog was pretty big – a heeler mix of some sort, probably 45-50 pounds. We slowed down and the dog loped past Nick, then me. Seemingly out of the blue, it whipped around and started chasing me. Before I knew it, the thing chomped my thigh and raced off to see if Nick would be a tastier treat. In an inspired  moment of brilliance (or fear) Nick took his foot out of the pedal and kicked the dog square in the face. After the owner finally got the beast under control, I pulled my pants down to check my leg. Yup, he got me.

The owner was very apologetic, but I was so hopping mad that I had to tell her to please go away for fear I’d punch her or say something I’d regret. She wandered up the road and I doubled over, wailing. I don’t think the tears were about the bite. It was painful, but not that painful. I cried because my faith in dogs – which had slowly been coming back after being corned by a couple – was destroyed. I cried because I couldn’t imagine someone with a herding dog being so stupid. I cried because my body had been violated.

With tears streaming down my face, I pedaled in anger all the way back to the car and hightailed it the shower to wash out the wounds. The other four pulled in a short while later and plied me with scotch. There’s pretty much nothing that the right amount of scotch can’t fix. We took a quick trip to the Twisp Brewery, made a heaping pile of pad thai, broccoli and fixins for dinner, then headed to bed to ready ourselves for another day of riding.

On Sunday, Eileen and John cooked up a huge batch of bread pudding for breakfast. This was good, since our poorly-researched ride on Virginia Ridge involved getting lost for a good long while on very steep trails that seemed to go up for hours. At more or less the top, we were greeted by a wild mountain rooster. He had some pretty sharp looking spurs, so I kept my bike between him and me. (Didn’t want to add rooster talon injuries to the dog bite.)


The best thing about getting back to the cars around 2 p.m. is that there’s plenty of time for another meal at the Old Schoolhouse Brewery. After that we still had time for a leisurely drive home with stops for picture taking along the way. Except for the dog bite, I’d say this was a pretty fantastic weekend.


10 2012