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  1. #1
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    John Wayne Pioneer Trail/Iron Horse State Park Cross-State Tour

    Hey Fellow Warshingtonians,

    I recently completed a cross-state tour on the John Wayne Pioneer Trail. For anyone not familiar, it's a (mostly) state-owned trail that occupies the former railbed of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, aka the "Milwaukee Road". West of the Columbia, it's managed by State Parks as the Iron Horse State Park. The trail surface is every bit as diverse as the landscape across our wonderful state. It was an awesome trip that spanned 6-1/2 days and 380 miles.

    I wanted to ride on pretty specific gear (fatbike), and between getting that gear and the route all figured out, it took me over a year to get ready. But the planning was almost as fun as the trip. Almost.

    Information about certain parts of the trail was not always that easy to come by, and so I wanted to get a thread up to make my modest contribution to this great forum we all benefit from. I know I've been able to sort a boat-load of stuff out, thanks to all the rad contributors here. I did a lot of picture-taking and writing about the trip and I know that this won't have mass appeal on this forum and so I won't go on and on, but for those who are smitten by the lure of this incredible public resource and the adventure it holds, as I have been (I know you're out there ), there is a ton of information at the following links, which I've broken down by section, travelling from east to west:

    Intro
    Prologue: WA-ID Border to Tekoa and Beyond
    Day 1: Just Past Tekoa to A Ways Past Ewan
    Day 2: Middle of Nowhere to Ralston
    Day 3: Ralston to Othello
    Day 4: Othello to Ellensburg
    Day 5: Ellensburg to Snoqualmie Pass
    Day 6: Snoqualmie Pass to Puget Sound

    Probably anyone in the state though, would appreciate a few pics, so I've put up one from each day. The basic route is HERE.

    John Wayne Pioneer Trail/Iron Horse State Park Cross-State Tour-route_shot.jpg

    Prologue
    6 miles in, after bailing early from work on Friday. Just after having a beer and some real-deal bar food for dinner. Me on the left with my fattie, Eric in the middle with his rigid 26" MTB (Surly Troll) and Scott on the right with his Trek 29er and Bob trailer. Three different approaches to skinning this cat. (Scott wasn't intending to go the whole way, but took the opportunity to get on the trail with us for the first couple of days.)

    John Wayne Pioneer Trail/Iron Horse State Park Cross-State Tour-waf-00.jpg

    Day 1
    Eric and Scott, as we approached Rosalia.

    John Wayne Pioneer Trail/Iron Horse State Park Cross-State Tour-waf_01.jpg

    Day 2
    Out in the middle of nowhere. So awesome.

    John Wayne Pioneer Trail/Iron Horse State Park Cross-State Tour-waf_02.jpg

    Day 3
    Crossing a live Union Pacific Line on our "ghost liine".

    John Wayne Pioneer Trail/Iron Horse State Park Cross-State Tour-waf_03.jpg

    Day 4
    Heading down into the Columbia River Gorge.

    John Wayne Pioneer Trail/Iron Horse State Park Cross-State Tour-waf_04.jpg

    Day 5
    Keechelus Lake (aka "Stump Lake") atop Snoqualmie Pass.

    John Wayne Pioneer Trail/Iron Horse State Park Cross-State Tour-waf_05.jpg

    Day 6
    Finishing up on the Burke Gilman with the rush-hour commuters. Sweet.

    John Wayne Pioneer Trail/Iron Horse State Park Cross-State Tour-waf_06.jpg

    For those of you out there that know this trail and share my passion it for, I hope this is a bit of stoke. For those that are just in the process of discovering it, I hope this is a bit of stoke.

  2. #2
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    Absolutely incredible. Thanks so much for sharing! Having lived in Ellensburg since 1985, I became a Milwaukee Road fan myself and have logged a lot of miles on the trail between the Crab Creek corridor and the Snoqualmie tunnel. The section you weren't able to ride between Doris and Ellensburg is worth doing but perhaps in the spring or fall when temps aren't so high and the sandy soil has been moistened a bit by the rain. There used to be an old homestead between Doris and Cheviot which I visited in the late 1980's prior to the expansion of the Yakima Firing Center. When I returned to look for it in 2010 I couldn't find it and think it may have been wiped away. Somewhere I have pictures of that.

    We've got lots of great places to mountain bike here, but I have a special fondness for the Iron Horse and the history it represents.

    I can't wait to read the rest of your blog entries on the trip. Thanks again!!!

  3. #3
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    redtabby, thanks. I love hearing what longtime users of the trail know about it and remember. The history is pretty amazing. I hadn't even heard about the town of Cheviot, but I'll bet there were a lot of places along the line that existed just because of it and that have now vanished. I suspect that the town of Beverly got its life from the railroad and was probably humming at some point . . . but it's just an incredibly sad place now.

    I have the privilege of working with a guy who was an engineer on the line when it was running. Our perspectives are so different . . . for me the history is so awesome and for him it is so ho-hum. He spent so many hours away from home and on the line that it was just a job and not always a pleasant one. I get some great stories out of him though!

  4. #4
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    VERY cool! Did something along the same lines back in 1998. Rode from Kennewick to Seattle utilizing as many railtrails as I could. Also tried one time to ride from near Fish Lake (Cheney) to Ice Harbor Dam on the Columbia Plateau Trail but only made it as far as Benge. My riding partner hadn't been doing as much saddle time as needed for long distances. Riding on the old ballast was pretty interesting but mostly doable since a pickup truck had "keyed" the ballast into place as long as you stayed in that track.

  5. #5
    i'm schralping yer thread
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    Righteous, spovegas! That looked incredible -- always wanted to try something like that going the other direction.

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    Totally.freaking.awesome!

    Still shaking my head about the tunnel cop though. We're not scofflaws so we've teleported through the Thorp tunnels and found the de-materialization/re-materialization quite reasonable.
    "...Some local fiend had built it with his own three hands..."

  7. #7
    That Waters Guy
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    Seriously sweet trip, thanks for sharing that!

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    Really cool
    15 Yeti ASR-c
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    Thanks Spovegas - this info helps

    I've ridden most of the JW trail from Seattle up to Snoqualmie pass, but only some on the east side. Now I want to do more of it. This kind of post truly helps the bicycle community. With these pictures, I think I can convice my wife (and kid) to do a segment or two on the East side.

    THANKS!

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    Awesome trip and great writeups. I really enjoyed reading your blog entries. Sounds like a true epic.

    Cheers,
    Mike

  11. #11
    Squeaky Wheel
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    Thanks for the write-up and photos. I really, really enjoyed reading about your trip! Well done.

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    Thanks for all the positive comments. It's been a fun story to tell.

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    Thanks for this, really. Probably the most inspirational bike stories for me are the long travel tales of bikers just going miles and miles. The pictures are great too. I wish there was more I could say but I'll just leave it with thanks a ton!

    Sorry I had to edit my post for a question. You said you vowed to avoid traps then there is a picture of a door with "Danger traps" spray painted on it. What does this mean exactly? I've never heard of anything like that...unless you mean mouse traps!
    Last edited by Suffikins; 07-12-2012 at 10:00 PM.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Suffikins View Post
    ...Sorry I had to edit my post for a question. You said you vowed to avoid traps then there is a picture of a door with "Danger traps" spray painted on it. What does this mean exactly? I've never heard of anything like that...unless you mean mouse traps!
    I'm guessing rat traps, which would probably break your foot or hand if you got into them. Packrats and ground squirrels could be a real problem in a building like that.

    spovegas- your blog entries are AwesomeSauce! And I know the kid who's raising the goats you took a picture of, so it's a funny 'small world' moment to see them.

    Goatheads.... not the kind smiling at your camera, but the kind pincushioning your tire.... who ever thought the antichrist would come to earth as a plant?!?
    "...Some local fiend had built it with his own three hands..."

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    Love it Spovegas!! Looks like a fun tour... It's on the list!

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    Wow, looks like a great bike ride! Did you guys see anyone else using the trail? I've been on it from Thorp to Eburg and didn't see anybody.

  17. #17
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    Thanks for posting, we did a similar ride (although supported) going in the opposite direction starting from the West and heading East a bunch of years ago. We got as far as Vantage before our brains started to melt due to the heat out there and lack of shade.

  18. #18
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    FWIW: husby and I have been talking about this (and drooling over pictures and blog posts in envy, lol)...

    If anyone's going to repeat this epic, I would seriously suggest considering doing it WEST (Seattle) to EAST (Spokane). The reason is that while we can certainly get wind aimed from other direction, the really big winds come out of the west. I can easily back this up by pointing to any exposed tree or bush in Kittitas Co... it will definately lean away from the pass.

    This will seem like a trifling thing until the first day you get pinned down in 30 or 40mph gusts miles from home. In fact, doing almost anything in those conditions gets 'interesting'... ever tried to change a flat while making sure your tools don't blow away?
    "...Some local fiend had built it with his own three hands..."

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    Suffikins, thanks. My comment about avoiding traps was tongue-in-cheek, but I'm guessing what verslowrdr said . . . rats would dig this joint.

    Ward, it's a highly recommended adventure. On a side note, I'm really looking forward to the gathering in Oct.

    el donkey, there may have been one or two day users from the section east of E-burg, but essentially there was no one on the trail except us. Part of the big allure (for me) is that you have this awesome public access corridor *all* *to* *yourself*. The remoteness and "aloneness" is intoxicating.

    CraigH, not sure what time of year you rode, but June and Sept are the sweet spots, I think. Any more toward winter and you run into mud and snow in the pass (or risk the big tunnel still being closed, which would be a serious shame), and any more toward summer and you just fry in the central section.

    verslowrdr, killer observation - I don't think I've talked about prevailing winds in any of my blogposts, but it was just such a head-slapping moment, and I can't believe I hadn't thought about it during any of my planning. I was obsessed with the ideal of throwing myself into the middle of nowhere (east) and gradually riding my way back to civilization (west), and I'm not sure that I wouldn't go the same direction again, for the same reason, but at least I'd know to expect that I'd be riding into a headwind most of the way. I will say, though, that we had a baffling and unexpected tailwind through Cle Elum and Easton that was a godsend. Your description of how hard it can be to do even the simplest task without all your krap blowing away is spot on.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by spovegas View Post
    ...Your description of how hard it can be to do even the simplest task without all your krap blowing away is spot on.
    Realistically this only needs to go all the way on one side if placed properly...


    Sunday when we came home from a ride in the Taneum we had such high gusts back in the valley that we left the bikes loaded and just concentrated on getting our smaller stuff out of the truck without loosing anything or getting hurt. As it was I had to open the door by pushing with both my arm and a foot, then leave the door braced with my butt so it wouldn't slam back on a body part.

    Eburg airport's high gust recorded in that hour was 52mph.
    "...Some local fiend had built it with his own three hands..."

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by spovegas View Post
    CraigH, not sure what time of year you rode, but June and Sept are the sweet spots, I think. Any more toward winter and you run into mud and snow in the pass (or risk the big tunnel still being closed, which would be a serious shame), and any more toward summer and you just fry in the central section.
    It was a bunch of years ago so I can't recall what time of the year it was but if I had to guess I think it was June.

    Have you checked out any of the similar rail bed trails in BC? The main section of the Kettle Valley Railway (KVR) is most famous but there is lots more that you can connect together to ride almost all of the way across BC. The Trans Canada Trail (TCT) uses a lot of the KVR and other rail bed to link up new trail.



    Cycling the Kettle Valley Railway

  22. #22
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    Spovegas,

    My son and I are planning on doing this this summer and a have a few questions.

    What maps did you use
    At one point you mentioned permits, can you elaborate
    Did you or anybody you know ever try getting through crab creek and what would you recommend? Going through or around and if around, what route

    Thanks

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    wildsky,

    Maps: I took a gps with the route loaded, along with a set of maps that the DNR mailed me when they sent the permit. Neither was all that useful. The third thing I took was a set of applicable pages torn out of a WA state road atlas. These maps have great detail and believe it or not, they show the JWPT. This set of pages was highly useful.

    Permit: The section of trail from Tekoa to Lind (easternmost section) is managed by DNR, out of the Washtucna office. There was a guy there that had been there a long time (can't remember his name), that knew tons about the trail and his section. I talked to him and he was really cool, but I think he retired. At the time, it wasn't all that hard to go online and find the rules and regs for using that section of the trail, but when I try to do that now, it's hard to find anything. I did come up with this snip from the current website:

    To travel on thetraileast of the Columbia River,call
    (509) 925-8510 for a trail permit. Area managed by
    Washington State Department of Natural Resources


    Honestly, if it's just a couple of you travelling, I wouldn't worry about the permit. I got the sense it was something they had to do to accommodate agreements with landowners who are worried about some invasion by the masses. I doubt that anyone will hassle you.

    Crab Creek: One of our group had previously gone through this section in August and said it was a major bushwack. Since we were going through in June, he thought it might be swampy, in addition to the bushwack. So we decided to try and find a detour. Our route involved about 3 miles along a live rail line, which was un-rideable and miserable, so I wouldn't recommend it. But the route is HERE. If you have the time to drive out and do some recon of this section, I think it would be time well spent.

    Hope this helps and hope you have a great adventure.

  24. #24
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    Got it done. 8 days from ID to cape flattery. Working on the ride report but first cut is here
    Life and Times in the Land of Cromwell: 2013 Bike Across Washington to End Alzheimer's

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    Way to go! I just live a few blocks from the Craig's Hill cut as you arrive in Ellensburg from Kittitas (and the still-visible siding at Regal). We ride down to the Renslow trestle for conditioning all the time. I'd be interested in how you did with re-routes and whether the I-90 crossing at Vantage was a white-knuckle ride? Congratulations on a fine trip.

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    Spovegas or anyone else - I am considering riding the JWT North Bend to ID this summer. I have an old rigid mountain bike I would like to use. It looks like Spovegas's partner Eric did it on a rigid bike. I have a friend that did the ride last summer and says he would recommend at least suspension forks due to rough conditions. Any opinions of the feasibility of doing this on a rigid bike? Thanks in advance.

  27. #27
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    You can do it on a rigid, but it won't be very comfortable, based on our experience. You probably won't be pushing as hard as Eric (I don't know anyone who does!), but when he got into Ellensburg after our stretch of a few days through the eastern portion and then a late night push through the Yakima Firing Range, he had blood in his urine. He was obviously concerned, and he works in the healthcare field, so he called a nurse friend and they talked their way through it and the conclusion they reached was that his kidneys had gotten jostled around enough that there was probably a small tear that was emitting some blood.

    You can take your time on a rigid and probably be fine, but it might not be all that much fun. The eastern portion is kinda wild.

  28. #28
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    My son and I rode the whole thing last summer. He was on a hardtail the whole time and I was on a hardtail from Othello to Ellensburg when my bike broke and I had to buy a replacement at walmart. I sent my full suspentionbike ahead and fixed in Ellensburg.

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    I'm planning to do the North Bend to Vantage section next month and am wondering if anyone has any recent info on the condition of the trail. I've ridden it from N. Bend as far as Easton, but I read some older reports that the trail deteriorates a bit once you get down towards Cle Elum and beyond.

    Thanks

  30. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by kcwa View Post
    I'm planning to do the North Bend to Vantage section next month and am wondering if anyone has any recent info on the condition of the trail. I've ridden it from N. Bend as far as Easton, but I read some older reports that the trail deteriorates a bit once you get down towards Cle Elum and beyond.
    My info is from September 2013. The section from Ellensburg east through the Yakima Firing Range is a bit rougher than west of Ellensburg. The trail surface is looser and the rocks are bigger. I'd recommend at least a 1.75"/45mm tire. IIRC, the roughest section was the detour around the closed tunnel, and that wasn't that long (< 1/2 mile).

    In reply to the other query, I rode from North Bend to Tekoa on my SS hardtail, and didn't suffer internal injuries. I did have some pretty beefy tires, though (Kenda Honey Badgers @20-22 psi).

    Finally, it is absolutely true what they say about the goatheads at Smyrna. I made it through with the Honey Badgers and Mr Tuffys, but everyone else in our group double-flatted. When you get within 100 yards of this point (https://maps.google.com/maps?q=46.84...num=1&t=h&z=17), dismount and carry your bike.

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    Thanks for the update, I had heard that all the tunnels were now open, good to know they aren't. I'll be on a rigid 29er with Schwalbe Big Apple tires, but one of the guys is planning to ride a cross bike which was great from NB to Easton, but maybe he should figure something else out if it the gravel gets pretty deep further east. Good to know the goat heads are past that....

  32. #32
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    Quote Originally Posted by kcwa View Post
    Thanks for the update, I had heard that all the tunnels were now open, good to know they aren't...
    It's just the one tunnel in the Yakima Firing Range. The others are all open.

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