May 132017
 

Last weekend I hopped on my bike with camping gear in tow and went for a weekend jaunt out to the Snoqualmie Tree Farm. Starting at home in the Rainier Valley, I rode all the way out to the tree farm via the I-90 trail, Preston-Snoqualmie Trail, Snoqualmie Valley Trail, and various back roads. That took about half a day, and then I spent the latter half exploring the network of gated logging roads within the tree farm. On Sunday I did the same in reverse, except on the way back I decided to go around the north end of Lake Washington via the Snoqulamie Valley Trail, Tolt Pipeline Trail, and Burke-Gilman trail. Hauling the trailer over the steep hills of the Tolt Pipeline trail was no treat and I’m not sure that I would do that again. I was sore for several days after this trip.

More about the Snoqualmie Tree Farm: This is the area just west of the North Fork Snoqualmie River Road and drainage; it was owned by Weyerhaeuser for decades, but now is owned by Campbell Resources. The area is gated and generally closed to public access, but a non-motorized day use permit can be purchased for $8. Think of it as a capitalist version of a nature preserve. You won’t find pristine wilderness or rugged peaks in the Snoqualmie Tree Farm and the lakes are rather mediocre, but what is available are some fun roads to explore on a bike and relative solitude on a weekend. Many of these roads were originally logging railroads, so they are sort of rail-trails and nice to bike on. Camping is not officially permitted within the tree farm, but national forest land is available not far to the east.

Another feature is that it is relatively close to Seattle and a mere 33 mile bike ride from Columbia City to the mainline road gate, making it a perfect destination for a car-less weekend jaunt (although I wouldn’t recommend the Tolt Pipeline route).

Aug 212016
 

The top of Mt. Phelps

The top of Mt. Phelps

My Mount Phelps trip was a rousing success! Pictures are here.

I biked from SE Seattle to almost the end of the North Fork Snoqualmie Road pretty much per the Google bike directions. This route worked well except for the jaunt through Snoqualmie Ridge; the trail connecting the Preston-Snoqualmie Trail to Snoqualmie Ridge is quite steep and it dumped me into a terrible maze of subdivisions, golf courses, and gated communities. On the way back I elected to take the Snoqualmie Valley Trail and ride a short portion of SR-202 to Fall City, using 356th Dr SE, which was a much better way to go.

Once in the North Fork drainage I took the Weyerhauser Mainline Road to Gate 10 (per Google directions), which had quite a bit of truck traffic on a Thursday afternoon. At Gate 10 I switched over to the County Road, which was pretty dead on a Thursday, I think I only encountered one vehicle during the 2 or 3 hours that it took me to ride to (almost) the end. I considered camping at the confluence of the North Fork with Lennox Creek, where a bunch of roads branch off of the main road, but the place had an unsettling vibe to it and I continued up Road 5730, further towards my goal, in search of a campsite. This turned out to be a wise choice because the confluence became a shooting range on Friday evening. There aren’t any real great campsites up Road 5730, but thankfully I had my hammock with me and so I did not need a flat spot to pitch a tent. I found a spot about a mile up Road 5730 where a large washout had occurred within the past several years and there were lots of boulders to sit on and make a kitchen (complete with a water feature running through the kitchen), and some nearby trees provided perfect hammock attachments.

On Friday I took my bike, sans trailer, the last few miles up to the Blackhawk Mine site and stashed it in the bushes. As far as the scramble route up Phelps, someone has posted a route to openstreetmap.org which I pretty much followed on my GPS. There is a disconnected lower and upper portion of the posted route; once you reach the top of the lower route, the goat trail peters out then you have to bushwack and navigate to intercept the upper route. There is also some good info on the route here and here.

After finding the upper route, I was soon at the summit. I was treated to wonderful views of familiar peaks to the east, and although the air was somewhat hazy, I could vaguely make out a silhouette of Downtown Seattle to the west. It was Seafair weekend and I could see the contrails of the Blue Angles. Unlike many of the tall Cascade peaks, the summit of Phelps is quite spacious and there is room to explore and spread out. It’s like a small ridgeline oriented almost exactly perpendicular to an imaginary line between here and Downtown, which is why is has that prominent dome shape when looking at it from Seattle. I hung out at the summit for about two hours before heading back down. On the way down I instead descended a gully directly to the south of the peak, which short-cutted around most of the upper portion of the openstreetmap route; I think this was easier than the traverse connecting the upper and lower routes, but this way might be a bit tricky on an ascent because you have to find a specific spot to get through some cliff bands, and the spot is not apparent from below.

After another lovely evening in my impromptu campsite and a good nights sleep in the hammock, I packed up my bike and trailer and headed back towards Seattle. It was Saturday and there was a lot more traffic on the County Road, however this time I found a gated road that followed the east side of the Snoqualmie River between Wagner Bridge and Gate 10. This was a very nice way to go, no traffic on a weekend, better road surface, and I think less up & down than the county road. At Gate 10, I again took the Weyerhauser Mainline Road, and much less traffic here on a Sunday. From there I followed my route back home, minus the portion through terrible Snoqualmie Ridge.

Aug 042016
 

I am currently on my way to climb Mt. Phelps, using only human power to get there from home.

Mt. Phelps (incorrectly named “McClain Peaks” on Google and USGS maps) is a prominent dome-shaped peak clearly visible east of Seattle. I have had my eye on this peak for a while and it took some sleuthing to figure out what it was; there isn’t a whole lot of info about Mt. Phelps despite its distinctiveness on the skyline. The confusion over the naming doesn’t help matters.

image

Anyway, the plan is to ride with my bike and trailer about 55 miles up the North Fork Snoqualmie drainage today and camp out near the end of the road near the Blackhawk Mine. Tomorrow I’ll scramble Mt. Phelps and maybe explore around the area time permitting. Then Saturday I’ll ride home.

image

May 242013
 

I successfully rode about 250 miles from Blewett Pass to Coeur d’Alene, ID. The route I took wasn’t exactly the one that I originally planned. Unfortunately the Google directions took me through some gnarly and questionable back roads, so I ended up mainly sticking to Highway 2. Here’s the three-day account:

Wednesday

Old Blewett Highway

Old Blewett Highway

In the morning, I hopped on my bike and BOB trailer loaded with camping gear and rode to work. It was pouring down rain and I was instantly drenched. After a busy day at work, I met some friends on King Street behind my office, where I loaded my bike and BOB into their Grand Cherokee. We headed over a snowy Snoqualmie Pass, I treated them to a Mexican dinner in Cle Elum, and then they dropped me off near Blewett Pass. This was the second weekend in Apri, too early in the season to be riding over these passes; lots of snow and the Snoqualmie Tunnel is closed until May 1, so I needed this boost to get me started.

It was raining during most of the drive, but it cleared up as soon as we approached Blewett Pass, thanks to a handy rainshadow effect. It was, however, dark when we reached the pass, so I quickly found a place to camp near an old mine powerhouse, set up my tent in the dark and then went to sleep.

Thursday

Apple Orchards

Through the blossoming apple orchards

I woke up at a semi-reasonable hour and started riding downhill on Highway 97. Shortly thereafter I reached Highway 2 and then consulted Gaia GPS, my mapping app. I followed mostly local roads eastward along the Wenatchee River, occasionally having to follow the highway.

Soon I reached Cashmere. I followed signs to “Riverside Park” hoping to find a bathroom, water, and power outlet. However, Cashmere proved to not be very fruitful. The bathroom was locked, the outdoor outlets were turned off, and the taps required a water key. Thankfully I carry a water key with me, but I had to move on to meet the other two needs.

Next stop was Wenatchee. I hung out at Confluence State Park for a while to recharge myself and my phone, then headed south along the Columbia Trail. My original plan had been to ride south from Wenatchee and up through the Moses Coulee via Palisades. However due to a sort-of late start and spending too much time navigating, I wasn’t making as much progress as I had hoped. It was about 1:15pm when I rolled past the Columbia Transit Center, and I knew from my prior route research that a Link Transit bus would be leaving here for Waterville at 1:30. After some negotiation with the bus driver about putting BOB on the bus (it actually fit perfectly in the wheelchair area in the back of the coach) I decided to warp myself to Waterville, giving myself over 2000′ elevation gain for $2.50. It was kind of like using one of those warp tubes in the video game Super Mario Brothers.

Pavement Ends

Then a gravel road

Paved Road

Nice paved road

In Waterville, a strong wind was blowing from the west; thankfully this was blowing the same direction that I was traveling, which would give me a nice tailwind. From Waterville, I headed east along a Rd 3 NW, which was nicely paved initially, but then became gravel after a few miles. The gravel surface wasn’t that difficult to ride on, except for the downhill sections where I would be tempted to pick up considerable speed causing my bike and trailer shimmy back and forth in a dangerous fashion.

After a few white-knuckled descents, I decided to head back to the nice paved Highway. There wasn’t much traffic on this stretch of Highway 2, so it was actually a pleasant ride. After a few more miles of rolling wheat fields, the highway made a dramatic descent into the northern part of Moses Coulee. I stopped for a late lunch in the sagebrush at the bottom of the coulee. Then I had to gain about 1000′ to rise out of the coulee and back into rolling wheat fields.

Banks Lake

Descending towards Banks Lake and Coulee City


With assistance from the tailwind that helped me all day, I arrived in Coulee City at about 6PM. I found a local diner and had a yummy chili burger for dinner. After dinner, I rode south along Pinto Ridge Rd, intending to find a nice unimproved campsite in the BLM land located just south of Coulee City. As I was riding up the grade on Pinto Ridge Road, my left knee began to complain; I think that this was because my bike seat was set too low. I found a spur road off of Pinto Ridge Road and followed it west for about a mile until intercepting an old Railroad Grade. This seemed like a reasonable place to camp so I spent a few minutes searching out a flat spot devoid of rocks and cow poop, and pitched my tent there just before nightfall.

BLM Camp Moonset Irrigation Tunnel

Friday

Hwy 2

Back on Hwy 2

I woke up at a not-too-early hour, made an oatmeal breakfast, packed up, and headed back towards Pinto Ridge Road. My original plan for this day was to take a leisurely and scenic route via back roads through the Coffeepot Lake area, and then Camp somewhere near the Tilford Creek Recreation area about 50 miles east of here (as Hwy 2 flies). However, my knee started bothering me again as soon as I began riding up the gravel spur road. I took this opportunity to raise my seat, which helped but the knee was still complaining. Therefore I decided to take the easy route and headed back towards Coulee City and Hwy 2, with its guaranteed pavement.

A benefit of following Hwy 2 is that the route is peppered with a handful of small towns around 10 miles apart. A standard feature of these towns is a town park somewhere near the town center, and generally with water, power, bathrooms, picnic table, and sometimes even a picnic shelter. These parks provide nice opportunities for rest breaks; I took full advantage of many of these parks since I only needed to go about 50 miles today.

Govan Schoolhouse

Old schoolhouse near Govan

Lunch Spot

Lunch spot in the lava

After passing through Almira, I thought I would try a shortcut along some backroads south of Wilbur. I attempted to evaluate the road surfaces on the Google aerial photo via my phone; this technique worked fairly well, sometimes I could pick out the yellow centerline and confirm that a road was paved. The shortcut I picked out looked like it would be mostly paved with a short section of gravel. The shortcut took me through the town of Govan, then became gravel. I found a spot along this road with interesting lava formations, and stopped there for lunch. After lunch I continued down Crick Rd. After fording a creek, the road appeared to dead end at someone’s farm house. Upon inspecting later on Google Earth, it looked like the road did continue, but today there was a large truck parked on the public road and it looked more like someone’s driveway, so I turned around and headed back through Govan and back to Highway 2.

Creston Picnic Shelter

Nice Picnic Shelter in Creston

After passing through Wilbur, some rain clouds started rolling through and it started to sprinkle. When I reached Creston, the rain was coming down pretty hard and the wind blowing somewhat-fierce. It was about 5:00 pm, and I was about 7 miles from the Tilford Recreation area where I was planning to camp, but the weather conditions made me rethink my plans. I found the town park next to Town Hall, it sported a very nice picnic shelter, complete with walls to block the wind, a stone fireplace in the center, and a bunch of flat benches that could be moved around. Water was available in front of the fire station on the same block. This place seemed pretty luxurious and pretty low-key, so I decided I would camp here for the night and make an early exit before anyone would notice or complain about my presence.

I made a nice veggie tofu stir fry with curry couscous for dinner, paired with Coors Banquet Beer from the local mini mart. After dinner, I put three of the benches together behind the fireplace, making a very cozy bunk. The rain subsided as night fell and I got a good nights sleep.

Saturday

The weather forecast indicated showers after 11am today, so I figured that I should get an early start for a change. I woke up at 5:30am, ate an energy bar breakfast, restored the picnic shelter furniture back to its original configuration, and pulled out of Creston by 7:00 (before the town sheriff might come around and kick me out). The skies were clear, but it was very windy and cold. Usually I have to shed layers after I get going, but this time I had to bundle up more after riding a few miles down the highway.

Sunset Highway

Original pavement on the Sunset Highway

I reached the Tilford Rest Area within a few minutes. It was incredibly cold and windy here; so cold that my phone battery went from 100% to 0% charge after 5 minutes of use. Again I was thankful that the wind was blowing in my direction of travel. This rest area was near the Tilford recreation area where I had wanted to camp before last night’s downpour. I thought about spending some time exploring the area, but I was eager to make forward progress, plus the chilly wind was not all that inviting. The nice volunteers at the “free coffee” stand at the rest area gave me some coffee, a charge to revive my phone, and a baggie of oatmeal cookies.

Next town was Davenport, which had a small park with a gazebo and fine restrooms. After Davenport I found myself on the old “Sunset Highway” with its original concrete slab pavement with absolutely no shoulder. Thankfully there was virtually no traffic on this relic of a roadway.

At Reardan, I had a choice to make. I could just stay on Hwy 2 which would have been the easiest and most direct route to Spokane, however it seemed like Hwy 2 would become a busy 5-lane suburban arterial approaching Spokane. A more interesting and scenic route seemed to be to head north from Reardan and take Coulee Hite Rd to the Centennial Trail. I had been in communication with Amie’s sister, Wendy, and found out that she would be in Coeur d’Alene this afternoon and could pick me up there, which gave me some more flexibility today.

Muddy Road

The going got tough

I headed north along highway 231, and then hoped to take Spring Creek Grange Rd road east to connect to Coulee Hite Rd. Once again I found myself on a steep dirt road. A local resident out mowing his lawn told me that the road was pretty muddy in spots, but he assured me that it did go through, so I pressed on.

After some pushing up hills and circumnavigating around some mud holes, I made it to Coulee Hite Rd. The climate transitioned from high grassy plains to Ponderosa Pine forest as I made a lovely descent into the Spokane River Valley.

Soon I reached the Centennial Trail and began riding SE towards Spokane following the Spokane River valley. I quickly realized that I had made two miscalculations about the Centennial Trail: 1) The Spokane river flowed SE to NW, which meant that I would be riding upriver rather than downriver like I was expecting, and 2) the trail was not the railroad grade that I was anticipating, with many ups & downs along the way.

Centennial Trail

Putting the handlebars to the grindstone on the Centennial Trail

I took a shortcut through Spokane along Sinto Ave and stopped at Mission Park for lunch. Then I made the final push to Idaho along the Centennial Trail. I was running later than expected due to the Centennial Trail miscalculations noted above. Thankfully, the threat of rain this afternoon never materialized.

State Line

Success: The WA/ID border

I was riding at full throttle just shy of Coeur d’Alene when I heard a voice shout “Hey Owen!” It was William, Amie’s nephew. Wendy, William, and Anna intercepted me on the trail and we loaded my bike and Bob into Wendy’s pickup. I was whisked northward to Sandpoint and directly to a winter wonderland at Schweitzer Mountain where Amie and her family were staying for the weekend.

The adventure wasn’t quite over. As soon as I arrived, the whole family headed down for dinner at a nice restaurant on the mountain while I changed out of my stinky clothes. When I took my shirt off, Amie noticed two dark spots wiggling on my torso. Ticks! I was not amused, but everyone else was sitting at the table ready to order dinner, so dealing with the ticks would have to wait. I feasted an a fine salmon dinner while the ticks feasted on me. After dinner, Amie’s mother (a former dental hygienist) expertly and successfully removed both ticks while William and Anna observed from a distance.

Amie & I slept soundly in our own room that night.


IMG_2494 IMG_2512 IMG_2514



Sunday & Monday

We spent the day hanging out around Schweitzer, going to the hot tub, going snowshoeing, and then hung out at Amie’s grandparent’s house for a while waiting for our train to arrive. The westbound Empire Builder was on time and we boarded it around midnight. We had a sleeping car room and slept soundly until Monday morning when we ate breakfast through the Cascade Tunnel.

We arrived at King Street Station a few minutes early around 9:30AM. I had some pressing tasks to complete at work, so I walked across the street to my office, took a shower, and got caught up, while Amie took the bus home.

Unfortunately, it was impossible for me to take my bike home on Amtrak, since there is no checked baggage service at Sandpoint (and even if there was, I would have had to partially disassemble my bike and put it in a box). So I was relying on family members to give my bike and BOB a lift back to Seattle. During this period, I had only my fixed-gear bike available for transportation. It took almost as long to get my bike back as it took me to write this blog post (the bike won by about 3 days).

Apr 112013
 

I am currently headed east towards Sandpoint, ID with my bike and BOB trailer. It’s a little early to ride over the mountains, so I coerced some friends into dropping me off near Blewett pass. From there I’ll head north and then east, following backroads through the channeled scablands of Eastern Washington. The plan is to arrive in Sandpoint Saturday evening or Sunday morning, where Amie will be hanging out with family.

I’m hoping for dry spring weather, but the forecast is looking a
little iffy on Saturday. I might need to bail in Spokane and have Amie come pick me up.

You can view the route I have planned to take in Google Earth by downloading this KML file:

toSPT.kml

Nov 042012
 

Route Map
Today I had a sudden impulse to go on a long bike ride, so I rode from home to Redmond via Issaquah and the East Lake Samammish trail. It was a typical gray, moist November day, but pretty warm and not too soggy. I went 28 miles in two hours, for an average speed of 14 mph, including a few breaks. I was expecting the East Lake Samammish trail to be wet and muddy, but it was actually drier than the paved I-90 trail since the gravel surface had no problem draining small accumulations of water into the subgrade.

A welcome addition to the East Lake Samammish trail is a public park and lake access in the City of Samammish near the northern end of the trail. Other than that park, the rest of the shoreline along the trail is all private property surrounded by ridiculous fencing.

In Redmond, I got a snack and then caught a 545 bus to Montlake. After another 7 miles of riding, I was home by 2:30pm (standard time).

 Posted by at 3:47 pm on November 4, 2012  Biking
Oct 012012
 

Over the weekend of August 2-5, I had a free 3-day weekend and I decided to ride up the Carbon River near Mt. Rainier and do some scrambling, somewhat retracing another trip I had done several years ago. This time my plan was to ride to Ipsut camp at the end of the Carbon River Road, camp there, and then scramble up the north side of Mt. Rainier as far as I could go with only an ice axe (obviously, I would not be going all the way to the top via this route). It was an ambitious plan, but a Thursday evening start and previous experience with the route would give me a nice head start.

Day 1, Thursday

Stopping for a snack along the Foothills Trail

Stopping for a snack along the Foothills Trail

I went to work on Thursday with my bike and BOB trailer all packed and ready to go. I had worked longer hours during the week and took an early dismissal to catch the first afternoon Sounder Train departing at 15:15. I arrived in Sumner around 16:00, where I unloaded my bike, BOB, day pack, and myself (a minor challenge unloading all of this within the scheduled dwell time at this station). I then headed for the Foothills Trail via back roads. The Foothills trail follows an old railroad grade that parallels the Carbon River from Sumner through Orting to South Prairie.

The biking portion of my previous trip up this way was so enjoyable that I pretty much repeated this portion verbatim, except this time I didn’t take AP Tubbs road south of John RD, which was a dreadful steep gravel road with a chain-link fence across it. (Recommended by Google bike directions, but not by me.)

I rode through Carbonado, topped off my water bottle at the Carbonado Post Office (water key required), and then continued up the Carbon River Road. I arrived at the National Park Boundary around 20:00 and continued up the washed out gravel road as darkness fell. I arrived at Ipsut camp about 21:30, made a quick dinner and then hung my hammock and fell asleep.

[See my bike route in Google Maps]

Riding up Carbon River Rd

Riding up Carbon River Rd late in the evening.

Day 2, Friday

Castle Peak

Today’s objective: Castle Peak


I had two days of hiking/scrambling available, so today was kind of a bonus day. I decided to save the longer scramble towards Mt. Rainier for Saturday, when I could get an earlier start. Today I thought I would explore the Ipsut creek drainage and scramble up Castle Peak. With a late start after sleeping in and repacking for day hike mode, I headed up Ipsut creek trail & over Ipsut Pass. At Ipsut pass I headed south almost to Mowich Lake and then scrambled due east along the north side of Mowich Lake (per Fred Beckey’s directions). I ended up at the ~6100′ point just SW of Castle Peak, which turned out to be a dead end. I had to backtrack south and drop a few hundred feet to a saddle to continue to the summit, which I reached at about 15:00. I ate lunch at the top while contemplating my next move.

Route down

Followed this gully to get back to the Ipsut Creek Trail


There was a lake at 5100′ below that looked really pretty and inviting. It also could be a shortcut back to the Ipsut Creek trail, however this route would require bushwhacking downhill for 2000′ through unknown and probably brushy territory. The contour lines on the topo map didn’t look too bad; and it sounded like fun, so I headed east down towards the unnamed lake at 5100′. The descent to the lake was a breeze, lots of glissading to be had. Then the bushwhacking began. I followed the lake outlet due north through a gully, and then some faint game trails continued down towards Ipsut Creek. About half-way down, there was a steep section alongside a waterfall; at that point a very strong game trail became visible, it led across the stream and then followed a shelf that bypassed some steep cliffs. After the cliffs, the trail fizzled out and it was a free-for-all down to the bottom of the valley, where I intercepted the Ipsut Creek trail and headed back towards camp.

I returned to Ipsut camp at 18:45, made dinner, and then got my day pack all ready for the next day’s long scramble. I even fetched a pot of water the night before so that I could make a quick breakfast and get an early start the next morning. I drifted to sleep listening to Mantras in Motion on my phone.

Camp at Ipsut

Camp set-up at Ipsut Camp

Day 3, Saturday

Curtis Ridge

View of Curtis Ridge from below


I woke up around 6:15 and hit the trail about 7:00. First, bombed up the Carbon River trail at a quick pace. There was an unannounced detour at the lower Carbon River crossing, the trail on the west side was closed and all traffic had to cross here and use the east side trail. I reached the 6100′ ridge above Mystic lake around 10:00 and left the main trail. From here, a well worn path leads to the foot of Curtis Ridge. Once attaining the ridge, I was treated to a nice view of Carbon Glacier. I continued southward up Curtis Ridge, and made it to the 8700′ level. There was a constant roar of ice and boulders crashing down Willis Wall, plus I saw a couple huge snow/ice slides rumble down the wall. Further travel beyond 8700′ would have been possible with an ice axe; however, while I did have an ice axe, I lacked the time, since it was about 15:00 and I still had to hike all the way back to Ipsut camp.

Ice fall on Willis Wall

A large ice fall rumbling down Willis Wall

On the way down, I ran into a family of curious mountain goats. I didn’t mean to chase them, but they were right on the path and kept heading further down, looking back at me, and then moving further down the path. This went on for about 1500′ elevation. Once back on the Carbon River Trail, I high-tailed back to camp, wanting to get there before dark.

By the time I reached the suspension bridge, my feet were so sore that I could barely walk anymore. However, this time I decided to try an experiment. I had a pair of those funny-looking toe shoes with me, which I had found a while ago at the REI bargain basement. The trail was in good shape from here to camp, so I took off my hiking boots and put on the toe shoes. This was a wonderful improvement! Although the toe shoes had thin soles and I had to walk gingerly over rough spots on the trail, there was instant relief to the spots on my feet that had been abused by the boots. I couldn’t walk quite as fast with the toe shoes as with the boots, but it seemed like the toe shoes forced me to walk with a more-gentle gait, making the walk more comfortable overall. I hiked with the toe shoes all the way back to camp, about 3.5 miles, and deemed the experiment a success.

I was back at camp about 20:00, where I bathed in the glacial-fed river, cooked dinner, then retreated to the hammock. When I had arrived at Ipsut Camp on Thursday evening, three nights ago, there was only one other party camped in this large former car-camping site. By Saturday night, the place was packed, maybe 20+ parties camped here.

Looking back down

Looking back down towards Ipsut Camp from Curtis Ridge

Day 4, Sunday

Carbon River Road

Heading back down the Carbon River Road


Woke up around 6:15, cooked breakfast and packed, then pointed my rig downhill around 8:30. I reached the ranger station 45 minutes later; there was much more activity here on a Sunday morning compared to a Thursday late evening. The ranger station was actually open! I stopped for a snack and bathroom break.

Railroad grade & cemetary

The old railroad grade passes behind the Carbonado Cemetery (stay left and follow the trail into those bushes)


Next stop Carbonado. This time I decided to be a little more adventurous and thought I would see if I could ride the railroad grade between Carbonado and Wilkeson, which is not officially developed as a trail. I located a spot where the grade crossed the road just outside of Carbonado, and it looked like it had a pretty good path. I met some locals on the path who confirmed that one could ride through all the way to Wilkeson. It was rough going at first, for example, there were concrete blocks set with a gap narrower than bob, but then it was a nice cruise down a gentle grade with the occasional minor obstacle. As for whether I would choose this route if I were to come up this way again: it’s a tossup, the highway would certainly be faster, but downhill I think the grade was the more pleasant and fun way to go.

Took the highway between Wilkeson and South Prarie, where I picked up the Foothills trail, but not before getting sidetracked by an trail-side espresso stand, where I was lured by the call of an iced mocha. Lots of folks out on this 80-degree Sunday. I knocked off the foothills trail non-stop and then found a nice cool place under a railroad bridge in Sumner (where the BNSF mainline crosses the Carbon River). It was 12:30 and I thought I would hang out here while the most intense sun of the day passed. From this spot I had a good view of Mt. Rainier and could pick out the spot on Curtis ridge where I had scrambled to yesterday. I also took this opportunity to check on the weather report to see just how hot the experts thought it might get today: 95 degrees!

Shady spot under the tracks

Nice shady spot under the tracks. Complete with view of Mt. Rainier!

By 13:30 I was getting restless and pressed on. From here I took some back roads through Sumner and then took the W Valley Highway to the south end of the Interurban Trail. I have tried several different routes to get between Puyallup/Sumner and the Interurban trail, and now I think I like the W Valley highway route the best. The “highway” had very little traffic and nice wide shoulders most of the distance. Because of the heat, I had been dreading the ride on the Interurban Trail. This trail follows a utility corridor from Auburn all the way to Renton with virtually no shade. I attacked this 14 mile segment in small doses, stopping to rest in the rare shady spots like beneath arterial underpasses.

Resting in the shade

Rare shady spot along the Interurban Trail


Soon I was in Renton, where I took my favorite route via the nice shady trail along the Black River, SW 7th St, a shortcut through the Fred Meyer parking lot, Shattuck Ave, the Perimeter Road around the Renton Airport, and then onto Ranier Ave just about where the bike lane begins.

The final push up Seward Park Ave was torturous, as well as the Seafair traffic that I subsequently got caught up in, but soon I was back home where cold beer and a wonderfully tepid bath awaited.

Rainier View

View from Rainier Beach, almost home. I can still pick out the spot I attained on Curtis Ridge.

[More Pictures Here]

Aug 042012
 

The Route
On July 4th, Amie & defected to Canada and went on a bike trip. We have some friends that live on Vancouver Island in the town of Bowser, a bit north of Naniamo. We have been meaning to visit them for several years, and have been meaning to go on a bike camping trip for a while. We had no other plans for the 4th, so about a week prior we concocted a plan to flee to Canada for an extended weekend and ride to Bowser, about a 190 kilometer ride.

We departed early Wednesday morning on the Victoria Clipper, a fast, although somewhat expensive way for us to shuttle ourselves and bikes to the southern-most tip of Vancouver Island. We arrived in Victoria around 11:15. Amie mounted her Surly Long Haul Trucker, and I mounted my Novara Safari with Bob trailer in tow with our camping gear. We only hung out in Victoria long enough to get our gear in order and figure out how to get out of there.

Heading North on the Lochside TrailWe headed north on the Lochside Trail, a very nice rail-trail that extends all the way from Victoria to Sidney & Schwartz Bay. We had all day to get to Saltspring Island so we didn’t concern ourselves too much with the ferry schedule. As a result, we arrived at the Schwartz Bay ferry terminal at 3:05pm, just in time to miss the 3:00 ferry, so we hung out for about 2 hours in a grassy area surrounded by parking. While waiting, we witnessed an entertaining garbage can fire ignited by a careless smoker. I helped extinguish the fire with the remaining water in my water bottle, before a ferry worker carried the smoking bag away.

Saltspring TeepeeOnce on Saltspring, we rode towards Ganges and had a yummy dinner at a place called The Treehouse. Saltspring Island is like BC’s version of Orcas Island, and Ganges is like the Eastsound of Saltspring. After dinner, we rode towards St. Mary Lake. Amie had searched around online before we left town, and reserved a teepee for us for the night. We arrived at our cozy teepee just before dark.

On Thursday morning, we rode a short distance to Vesuvius and boarded another ferry to Crofton. The BC ferry system is impressive, the ferries are frequent and reliable, the number of routes is mindboggling, the workers are friendly and helpful, and each ferry sports a portrait of Queen Elizabeth somewhere on the passenger deck.

Crofton FerryAnyway, once in Crofton, we navigated our way north on back roads. The goal for the day was to get to Nanaimo and camp on Newcastle Island. We stopped for a nice lunch in Chemainus and then continued riding north. By about 16:00, it was getting pretty hot. We located a dead-end road that went alongside the Nanaimo river, hoping to find a good swimming hole. Sure enough, we found a perfect spot by the river. Some locals were having a booming beach party a bit downstream. As we were sitting there having a snack, some of the locals came down to our spot; their plan was to jump in the river and float back down to their beach. This was quite entertaining, especially when one of them exclaimed “let me show you how it’s done” moments before slipping on the algae, landing her butt on the rock, and then tumbling into the river. Beer may have been involved.

We cruised into Nanaimo around 19:00 and had a nice dinner on a floating palapa restaurant (remember, this is the Canadian Southwest). We then boarded a water taxi to Newcastle Island and set up camp just as it was getting dark.

Preparing to board the Water TaxiWe started out the next morning by riding around Newcastle Island, then took the water taxi back to Nanaimo. In Nanaimo, we intercepted the E&N Trail and headed northwest out of town. The trail follows a straight gradual incline out of town, then feeds into the Nanaimo Parkway trail which continues a bit further before ending in suburban Nanaimo where we were on our own to navigate through a land of expansive parking lots, strip malls and multilane arterials. We continued northwesterly following mostly backroads but sometimes having to ride on the busy Island Highway. I was mostly relying on OpenCycle maps cached on my phone for navigation, but this didn’t always work out perfectly. For example, at one point I thought I had found a nice backroad that would parallel then rejoin the highway; it turned out that the road just dead-ended, requiring about 20 meters of bushwhacking to connect back to the highway.

It was turning out to be a long day when we rolled through Parksville and we were getting hungry. We asked a local for a suggestion for a good place to get dinner, but she basically encouraged us to press on to Qualicum Beach and take the high road into the town center. This we did and found a nice Italian restaurant. After dinner we continued at a moderate pace and arrived at our destination in Bowser as it was starting to get dark. We got settled into the guest quarters at our friends’ house and slept soundly.

Eccentric Art in BowserOn Friday, we mostly hung out around the house and recuperated. The highlight of the day was a visit to an expansive art installation by a local eccentric, on a medium of found items and trees.

On Saturday, we went spelunking at Horne Lake Caves. This was recommended to us a few days ago by a local in Nanaimo. We saw the sign for the turnoff while biking northwards, and didn’t quite know what to expect, but it seemed interesting so we headed there on Saturday. Spelunking in Canada is quite different from what you might find in the states. This was a provincial park; they had a little visitor center set up in a trailer at the parking lot and they offered guided tours of the caves and you could rent helmets and headlamps, but none of these were required to explore the caves. We had brought our own headlamps and we just headed up the trail to one of the cave entrances. The caves had no infrastructure other than a gate that they locked at night. No railings, no walkways, you could just crawl all over the stalagmites and anywhere you pleased. Amie Spelunking There was an underground waterfall in one of the caves, and we thought that was the end of where we were allowed to explore. Then we encountered one of the tour groups. The tour guide told his group basically “okay you have a decision here; some of you may want to stop here and we’ll meet you back at the entrance, but if others want to continue, you can climb up the waterfall. Just maintain 3 points of contact!” We followed the group and climbed quite a ways further up into the cave. In Canada apparently you are responsible for yourself without having your hand being held all the time. I think their national health care has resulted in a less litigious society; if you get hurt, you just go get yourself fixed up rather than suing for damages (or having an insurance company sue on your behalf). Anyway, we emerged from the caves unscathed, although maybe a little muddy.

On Sunday we loaded our bikes into our friend’s pickup and got a ride back to Victoria. In about 3 hours we undid what took us 3 days to ride. There is mountain pass just north of Victoria where the highway becomes steep and serpentine; we were glad to have bypassed that area by riding via Saltspring Island on our way north. We got to Victoria with plenty of time to spare before our catamaran departed. While riding around looking for someplace to get lunch, we stumbled upon the Victoria Pride Festival and had some nice food cart food and entertainment. We arrived back in Seattle at about 21:00 and we rode the remaining 5 miles down Rainier Valley towards home. A refreshing cool breeze blowing from the Salish Sea welcomed us home.
Sailing the Salish Sea on Sunday

May 112012
 

I have been taking advantage of the recent nice weather over the past few weeks and I checked off two more Fitness Challenge activities. Now I only have four left to do.

First was the Cedar River Trail. I loaded my bike onto a 143 bus after work and took it almost to Black Diamond, where the Green-to-Cedar Rivers Trail begins, which meets up with the Cedar River trail after a few miles. I cruised down the old railroad grade and picked up my secret code (snapped a photo of it without even stopping). It felt a little bit like cheating since I only had to ride the trail one way, when the challenge activity presumes a round trip. I made up for this by riding all the way home from Renton, and got home at dusk. Total trip was about 23 miles.

Cougar East Trailhead

Changing from Biking to Hiking mode at the trailhead


For the second activity, I went to the east side of Cougar Mountain. I took a Sound Transit Route 554 bus after work to the Issaquah Transit Center, and then rode about 3.5 miles up SR-900 to the Squak trailhead. From there it was about a 3 mile hike and about 1000′ of elevation gain to the top of Wilderness Peak. I chewed through that in about 45 minutes, reaching the top at about 7:40 PM. There wasn’t much up there at the top, not even a view, only a fancy bench, a logbook, and the all-important secret code word. Then I turned around and did the same in reverse, making it back to the Issaquah Transit Center by 8:45 and home about 30 minutes after that.

I have been enjoying these weekday evening jaunts into the foothills. The trails are not very crowded, I can get almost anywhere quickly via bus on a weekday evening from downtown, it gives me more flexibility to pick a day with nice weather, and best of all I don’t have to use up a weekend to complete these fitness challenge activities.