Hi. How are you? It’s been forever. In fact it has been so long that inbetween when I last wrote and now Kyle and I picked up a whole new sport. “Holy heck,” you are probably thinking. But honestly I am not sure Kyle and I picking up a new sport is actually the best indicator of how long it has been since I last wrote. Because if I am being honest (and I am) since the first inception of this new sport into our lives and now it has probably only been two months. You know us, when we get an idea in our heads we don’t go soft, we go hard.
So we are bikepackers now. Well, I don’t know if you can confidently call yourself a bikepacker after one, three day trip but like I said: we go hard.
It all started about two months ago when I decided it was finally time to get a new bike. And Kyle decided that if I was getting a new bike he should probably get one too. And then he started looking into getting a new bike and decided he wanted a gravel bike. And then he decided I also wanted a gravel bike. And before I knew it we both had gravel bikes and all the bags and bits and odds and ends that go along with them to make them perfect for bikepacking. (Of course now that we have these bikes Kyle has come to the realization that what we really need is hard tailed mountain bikes, but that’s another story).
As addicted gear nerds often times the gear proceeds the actual adventure itself (see: fastpacking – we have the packs, the adventure is coming…). So once all of this gear was in the pipeline I knew it was time for me to get to planning. Cause as you know, planning is what I do best. Not only what I do best but I am discovering more and more that planning is truly what brings me joy. If I am bored, upset, angry, feeling helpless, down, lonely – WHATEVER – I can always just pop on the internet and plan something and it brings me immediate pleasure. I seriously should figure out how to capitalize on this but for now know that I love to plan things.
So I started to plan. What would make sense for our first ever bikepacking adventure? One time, many months ago (might have been two years) Kyle had I went out for a little seven mile run on the John Wayne Trail out of North Bend. The John Wayne Trail is a railroad grade trail meaning it is seemingly flat, pretty wide and nicely graveled. I remember someone telling me at the time (or did we read it on a sign) that the John Wayne Trail actually runs all the way from North Bend to Idaho. I was always intrigued by that fact although some part of me didn’t quite believe it. Wouldn’t I know more about it if it actually ran all the way to Idaho?
Well when I started planning I though, “Why not look into this John Wayne Trail?” And so I did and I found out a couple of things. First of all, it is no longer called the John Wayne Trail – it is now called the Palouse to Cascade Falls State Park Trail (which I like better because WTF does John Wayne have to do with it but I also like worse because that is a MOUTHFUL). Secondly it does it fact “run” all the way to Idaho, however the trail gets kind of rough on the other side of the Columbia River (like there are still railroad ties and ballast over there, not to mention a bunch of locked DNR gates). But from North Bend to the Columbia River it was supposed to be awesome and a perfect 110 miles. Sign me up.
You don’t actually have to sign up for anything so instead I put it on the calendar which is as official as things get around here and started making the requisite lists and documents and spreadsheets. In no time we were all set to go with campsites reserved and my parents recruited to come pick us up at the end (so we didn’t have to bike back cause yeah, no).
This last weekend we did the thing! And here is how the story goes.
Rattlesnake Lake/North Bend/Palouse to Cascade Falls State Park Trailhead to Lake Easton State Park
Kyle and I woke up late (for us) on Friday morning and took our time packing up and eating breakfast. There will still a heavy marine layer lingering outside and honestly, we figured it wasn’t going to take us more than six hours to bike 40 some miles so we didn’t really need to start until 11am. Of course we were basing six hours off of absolutely nothing – neither of us had been bikepacking before! The weekend before it had taken us around three hours of ride time to do 50 some miles in the San Juans but that was on pavement and our bikes weren’t loaded. We knew we would move slower, we just didn’t know how much slower.
Also there was the fact that most of our ride the first day would be all uphill to Snoqualmie Pass. I mean, very very very gradually uphill because this is railroad grade, but still uphill. Maybe that would slow us down? My ex-coworker Kelly said that when she did it at some point her legs just cramped up and she slowly fell over sideways. What if that was us? But we were just too damn exhausted from the week to wake up early so we said screw it and started at 11am.
11am sharp – we were in the parking lot velcroing and strapping and attaching our many bags to our bikes. That is something that is super different about bikepacking. Instead of having one nice little backpack that you throw on your pack there are all these bags that you hitch here and there – cleverly angling them off your bike or fitting them into these little negative spaces. It was definitely a new experience to figure out how to pack our normal backpacking set up into seven small bags instead of two big ones!
And then we were off. Not without the requisite jaunt down the wrong trail/road to begin with but we got ourselves sorted out and on the trail we would ride for the next 110 miles to the Columbia River. I guess you could say it was uphill but also it certainly didn’t feel that way. The first couple miles were busy with day hikers and mountain bikers but slowly the crowds began to thin out as we climbed through shady evergreen forests and crossed over railroad trestles which passed through tree tops – the forest floor hundreds of feet below.
There were a couple of interesting things we realized right off the bat. For starters, the trail paralleled I-90 because hello, it used to be a railroad. Also, because it was a railroad we realized quickly it wasn’t exactly going to go anywhere crazy amazing, but it was going to get from point A to point B with minimal elevation gain and loss. So that’s nice but also seeing things is nice? We weighed the pros and cons and decided we were still enjoying ourselves very much.
My friend Sadie – biker extraordinare had advised us to maintain a nice low gear on the way uphill so we didn’t burn out our legs. Great advice! We peddled easily past little bike in campsites (these were adorable and would have been great to stay at if we were only doing ten or twenty miles) and stopped to grab water occasionally out of babbling mountain creeks. Eventually the pass grew closer and ahead of us a tall, dark tunnel loomed, carved out of the side of a mountain.
“Wait – we are going through that?” yelled Kyle from behind me.
“Oh yeah, did I forget to tell you about the tunnels?” I shouted back.
“I didn’t know about any tunnels, how long is it?” he hollered.
“I think maybe like 2 or 3 miles?” I admitted.
You can imagine his shock. And it was in fact two or three miles long. The old railroad went right through the mountain and now that was our route as well. We paused at the entrance to don our headlamps and then we set off into the dark. And holy shit it was DARK. The entrance became the size of a door and then a window and then a pinprick and then disappeared all together and in front of us was pitch black. Condensation dripped from the ceiling and my headlamp swept over stained stone walls. I couldn’t help but imagine zombies looming out of the darkness and Kyle and I kept up a constant stream of chatter and whistling so we didn’t have to think about the darkness pressing in around us.
Finally up ahead we spotted a point of light but as we got closer it wavered and moved until we realized it was only hikers, walking through the tunnel. I didn’t envy them, we were getting through much faster. Once we were past them we were finally able to see a tiny dot of white ahead of us which grew bigger and bigger as we zoomed towards it. The air grew misty and I could see my breath rising up in front of me. Finally we burst out of the other end of the tunnel and into cascading beams of light filtering through the trees. We came to a stop and turned around to look back at the tunnel and the giant wooden doors that were flung open, inviting people into it’s yawning depth.
On the other side of the tunnel, now headed downhill, Kyle announced that he liked not knowing what was coming and asked me to never tell him anything ever again. We rode south of the lakes at Snoqualmie Pass – heading toward Lake Easton. Away from the freeway it was quiet and we had more time to assess the aches and pains our bodies were experiencing. Kyle was suffering his normal amounts of chaffing and I was seriously wondering how any woman sites on a bike seat all day. In a moment of vaginal-desperation I posted a video about the state of my lady bits on my instagram asking for advice.
I was also starting to experience a real miserable pain in the back of my left knee. I had played indoor soccer the night before we left and after playing soccer my hamstrings are always really sore. I figured that was what was going on but as we approached the campsite the pain got worse and worse until I was seriously favoring that leg and whenever we got off our bikes I was limping. Fear of not being able to continue biking started to creep in.
Finally we made it to the turn off for Lake Easton State Park and found ourselves back on pavement headed to our campsite. Sweet, sweet pavement. I suddenly understood the incredibly glory of a flat surface. We cruised to camp where we bought a bag of ice for my knee and a bundle of firewood. And then we were in camp and I was able to put my leg up and it was orgasmically good to ice my knee pit. I almost cried. We got camp set up and took showers (what is this bikepacking life?!?) and made ourselves some delicious freeze dried meals and all the while I iced and stretched and ice. I couldn’t even straighten my leg it hurt so bad. How is the world was I going to recover from this? We had no other option than to take some vitamin I and sleep on it. So that is exactly what we did. But not before giving our firewood away because we realized we were too tired to make a fire and we didn’t have chairs to enjoy it from. We added lightweight chairs to our purchase list.