Palouse to Cascade Falls State Park Trail: Gravel Grinding

Day two:
Lake Easton State Park to the Ellensburg KOA
40.95 miles

On the morning of day two I woke up to a lot less pain in my knee but I could still feel it. Upon stretching and probing it I discovered a massive bulge. I was horrified! Had I pulled a muscle? Did I have cancer? Again I turned to the internet and asked my IG community what was wrong with me. They responded immediately, assuring me it was just a Baker’s Cyst. Phew. Crisis averted. They had also come through on the questions about my nether region – with all sorts of advice about seat adjustments, shorts, chamios butter, etc. But by far the most valuable advice was to make sure I was sitting on my sits bones, not on the fleshy parts. One person assured me that my sits bones would be sore but they would get stronger – as strong as my vagina is it would never get strong enough to sit on a bike seat all day. I committed to sitting correctly on my bike seat.

Also – in case you are like “What the heck is a chamois?” no worries – Kyle and I had no idea either and instead of looking it up with our totally awesome and fast LTE we just decided to wonder about it forever. Turns out that’s what we call that padded part of our bike shorts. So now you know. And we know. Just a reminder – there is no shame in not knowing what things are called or not being well versed in the lingo of a sport. We all start somewhere!

After packing up and adjusting my seat again we rode out of the state park. I was desperate for some Vitamin I (apparently we need to beef back up our first aid kit) and as luck would have it we passed a little gas station on the way back to the trail. Kyle popped inside and got me some anti-inflammatories which I immediately downed. Next thing we knew we were back on trail and the familiar vibrations of the day before were back.

The first couple miles of the day were rough. Not because we were even that sore or that tired but mostly because the trail itself was not the best kind of gravel. It is fascinating the things you start to take notice of when you try out a new sport. Suddenly you are relating to the world around you in an entirely different way. With biking you come to care deeply about different kinds of surfaces. The morning out of Lake Easton the trail was a hard compact dirt with egg sized rocks scattered across it. This meant you were constantly dodging them or biting your tongue when you inadvertently hit one. By some miracle the trail mellowed out after a couple of miles and we were back to riding on more firmly packed gravel.

We transitioned from the Western Hemlocks and Doug Firs at Lake Easton State Park to Ponderosa Pines and then dropped down to ride next to the Yakima River. Riding next to the river was gorgeous and giant willows and cottonwoods offered shade. One of the nice things about biking on the Palouse to Cascade Falls State Park is that we mostly get to ride next to each other, making for easy conversation. At one point though Kyle had fallen back a bit, probably to take a video (he can ride and do things with his hands at the same time, a skill I am VERY far from mastering) when I heard him shout, “I think I just saw something cross the trail up there.” I proceeded to question him about all the things it could be: a deer? A dog? He claimed it was a bear. Moments after stating that it had been a bear, a bear burst out of the bushes on the left side of the trail and sprinted up the trail away from us before cutting uphill on the right side and disappearing. We both proceeded to shout, “HEY BEAR” for the next five minutes or so as we got the heck out of dodge.

Right after our bear incident we came across the last bike-in campsite on the trail so we stopped for lunch. The first sixty some miles of this trail has a couple of adorable bike-in campsites dispersed along it. Unfortunately, unless you are doing the trip in significantly more days or just doing a short out and back, I am not sure how well spaced they are… That’s why we didn’t stay at any of them. But they are super cute! After snacking and refueling and following some shade from a Ponderosa around we hopped back on our bikes and cruised on.

Things were definitely heating up now as we descended lower into eastern Washington and started biking through more and more farmland. Although our legs and our energy still felt good our sits bones were complaining more and more every time we stopped and started again. Shade was increasingly hard to find so when we did find it we would stop for a short break. We found a particularly heavenly spot at the end of a short tunnel where there was shade and a very stiff breeze and we revelled in the refreshing feeling. We also found a gas station when we were crossing a road and stopped to chug an entire gatorade.

As we biked through the open farmland, a straight flat trail stretching out in front of us, my bike started doing a weird thing: the derailer would get stuck forward and then would snap back into place after a second, making it feel like I had one full pedal rotation without any traction. We stopped and stared at my bike and cursed the fact that neither of us are bike mechanics/know anything about bikes. There was nothing to do but to make it to town and ride straight to the only bike shop in Ellensburg. So we bypassed the road that would have taken us to our campground for the night and went to find someone to fix my bike. But first we called my parents who were meeting us at the Ellensburg KOA and asked my dad to come meet us in town. He obliged.

Bike shops are so nice and air conditioned. The bike mechanic who spotted us when we walked in, all sweaty and dirty, nodded as I explained what was wrong and seemed completely unphased. As he lifted my bike up onto the stand he commented on how light we were traveling and we beamed with pride. Turns out being lightweight backpackers translates pretty well to being lightweight bikepackers. Also turns out I had a bent derailer hanger – no surprise because we had been setting our bikes down on the gear side like IDIOTS and at one point my gears jumped out and bit my ankle and I kind of dropped my bike in pain… and then I picked it up and threw it. No, I didn’t throw it but I did drop it and I was angry at it. Important lesson learned in just how gentle we need to be with these little baby bikes.

My dad met us outside after we were done having the bikes checked out and purchasing some chamois butter. After a quick stop at the grocery store for ice and tonic we headed to the KOA where my mom was waiting for us. After another shower (so much showering when you bikepack) we relaxed with a GnT in hand and a giant bowl of homemade guac at our disposal. Turns out my grandparents were at the KOA as well (a regular family reunion) and we ate our fill of tacos and popcorn and sat around a crackling fire, chatting. There was just one wrench in our perfect mood: the next day.

While we were in the bike shop the mechanic had mentioned, “Oh and well tomorrow you should take the Vantage Highway to Vantage!” I was a little confused because that wasn’t the trail so I asked him why we wouldn’t just take the trail and he commented that he had heard the trail was kind of hit or miss after Kittatas. Kyle wasn’t pleased with that information so I did a little more research at the KOA and discovered that it wasn’t necessarily hit or miss but it did go through the Army Training Base and that whole section (20 miles) was sand. It wasn’t that I hadn’t read this before… it just didn’t really mean anything to me before. Not that it meant anything to either of us now. Neither of us had ever rode through sand and while it sounded terrible we hadn’t come out here to take an easy, flat paved road to the Columbia River. Or could we? We were torn. Every ten minutes or so one of us would muse: what are we going to do tomorrow? And then we would waffle back and forth. Eventually we decided to just sleep on it. We had ridden in the heat today and it had been fine, certainly we could get through whatever tomorrow had in store for us.

So we left that decision for our morning selves to make and fell asleep to the roar of I-90. Also my bike short tan was coming along nicely.

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As Edward Abbey said, "An indoor life is the next best thing to a premature burial."

6 thoughts on “Palouse to Cascade Falls State Park Trail: Gravel Grinding

  1. Chamois butter: the husband swears by it but I always give it an eye roll. I’ve biked with and without it and never thought it made a difference. It’s also kinda gross. So funny about the bear. We just hiked a 14er and all the way to tree line I was banging my hiking poles on the rocks and talking loudly to ward off any bear encounters. Not that bears don’t exist above treeline, but it feels like you’ll see them from afar rather than having them just appear out of the trees a stone’s throw away. Scary!!

    1. yeah I had a hard time telling if the Chamois butter really did anything… I might have just been better at sitting by that point! And man does it make things slippery down there…

  2. You’re doing heavy mileage for first timers–way to go!
    Wear 2 or more pairs of bike shorts with chamois until you get the proper cushion. I’m 6’2″ and I wear 3 Pear Izumi’s on distance rides. I know how expensive they are but I been doing this for decades. Don’t know how “it” is for women, but boys have our own issues. Good luck!

    1. Haha! Thanks for the advice! Yeah, but the end of the trip things were really looking up for the undercarriage. Can’t wait to get out and do it again!

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