Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Iron Horse Trail

This past Saturday, Kasia & I put the knobbies back on our mountain bikes, drove to North Bend, and had our first ride on the Iron Horse Trail. This was a "dry run" for our planned July 4th trip (more on that later), and it was definitely successful.

The Iron Horse Trail part of Washington's "Rails to Trails" effort. It's approximately 110 miles long, stretching from Rattlesnake Lake near North Bend past Ellensburg to the Columbia River near the town of Beverly. I've found conflicting information online about the status of the old railroad bridge crossing the Columbia into Beverly; if we ever get out there, we'll find out for ourselves.

Heading west from Rattlesnake Lake, we rode the following trail sections:
With a tiny bit of exploring, we logged about 41.6 miles.

The long and not-so-winding road.

The trail conditions were mostly as expected: packed dirt and gravel, rather smooth, and gently sloping up towards Snoqualmie Pass. Allegedly, the slope never exceeds 2.2%, but it is nearly 20 miles uphill, and the inability to coast does take its toll.

The route is quite scenic. In addition to the expected mountain views, numerous small waterfalls punctuate the trail.

The temperature that day was not hot (probably mid 70's) but after an hour or so of chugging uphill, we began to feel the heat. If the day had been a little hotter, we would have taken off our shoes and soaked our feet in the cool runoff from the waterfall.

One thing that really surprised us was the temperature variations along the trail. Several areas were dense with vegetation (trees, moss, ferns, etc) along small streams. Water evaporating from the streams must have caused a cooling effect. Biking through these areas was like entering a refrigerator. It wouldn't surprise me if these little "natural evaporative air conditioners" were 10 or 15 degrees cooler than the surrounding areas.

There were also numerous wildflowers in bloom. It's probably a little late in the season to be looking for wildflowers, but given our freaky Spring this year, everything seems to be running late.

Of course, you can't have a railroad in the mountains without trestles...

...and tunnels...

Stay right.

...and avalanche danger:

About 1 mile from the summit (near the "avalanche area" sign above) the trail was covered in snow. It wasn't much, and it was easily traversed, but it was quite a surprise.

The Snoqualmie Tunnel was cool -- literally. Before we even entered the tunnel, we could feel waves of frigid air wafting from the entrance. Inside, it was a spooky place: very dark (duh), cold (maybe 50 degrees or so) and wet (water dripping from the ceiling). It felt like a scene from a horror movie, but without the glowing eyes peering at us and human skeletons nailed to the walls.

On the west side of the tunnel is a small picnic area with a few tables and a chemical toilet. Both were highly appreciated.

After exiting the tunnel on the east side, we enjoyed a few minutes of sunshine, then headed back through the tunnel to head home. The downhill slope all the way to the truck was a welcome relief.

We loaded the bikes onto the truck, and headed back home. Enroute, we felt a chemical imbalance in our bodies, as if our grease, salt, sugar, and caffeine supplies were critically low. A quick stop at Small Fryes in Fall City easily remedied the problem.

The four primary food groups are well covered.

As mentioned earlier, this ride was a "dry run" for our planned July 4th ride. The 4th falls on a Friday this year, and we will make the most of this. The plan:
  • Drive back to Rattlesnake Lake near North Bend early Friday morning.
  • Bike to Cle Elum along the trail (about 50 miles).
  • Spend Friday and Saturday nights at the Iron Horse Inn Bed and Breakfast.
  • Enjoy the caboose accommodations, the jacuzzi tub, and the outdoor hot tub.
  • Explore the area (including Roslyn) on Saturday.
  • Ride back Sunday morning.
We can't wait!

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