Seeking Adventure: John Wayne Pioneer Trail (Oregon)

All trips have a beginning, and this beginning happened to be in Portland, OR. Fellow adventurers Justin and Remi flew in and met with our crew and photographers, and got the bikes built up and ready for the next couple of days of riding. We then made the 3-and-a-half-hour drive up to our home base in Cle Elum, WA, the mid-point of our two-day ride.

Day 1

Our ride along the John Wayne Pioneer Trail (the largest rail-trail conversion in the US) began in Vantage, WA, on the banks of the Columbia River. Not quite sure how to start off on the trail, we made our way through the barbed wire near the closed railroad trestle and headed west.

While researching the John Wayne Trail, we discovered one review which noted a “20-mile stretch of almost unrideable sand and rocks.” Prior to the trip, we joked and questioned the fitness of the mere man who couldn’t ride through a little sand, but this description was more than accurate; these 20 miles were exactly where we spent nearly 3 hours on our first day of adventuring.

As the saying goes, ‘if it were easy, everyone would do it.’ This might partially explain why there wasn’t a single other rider anywhere near this stretch of trail (we actually didn’t see a single other rider the entire day). This stretch of road was similar to what Max dealt with in all of the Mad Max films. Deep sand, car-tire-sized rocks, and 100-degree temperatures took their toll on us as we headed west. Shade was worth its weight in gold. Shade might not weigh anything, but we would have traded all of our gold for more shade that day.

We were rewarded a quick reprieve from the desert when we encountered an overgrown portion of the trail with thick greens and mud. How anything green could spring up in the sun-baked wasteland simply brought the word ‘oasis’ to mind—without the palms and camels sipping at shimmering pools. Shortly after, we received another ‘gift’ as we headed into a tunnel and were shielded from the sun for a few minutes and cooled down in the half-darkness.

We continued for another hour or so after the tunnel, which brought us to the end of the trail for the day. We celebrated what might be the most pathetic looking Strava segment ever with mildly cold beers, sandwiches, and Coke. We were in universal agreement that these were some of the hardest miles we’ve ever put in on the bike, and it showed as we spent over half an hour lying on the ground, eating and drinking as much as we could.

Arriving bacl at the house, we showered, napped, and decided to explore the town of Cle Elum as evening settled in. Cramping and sore legs were no match for the brilliant summer sunset.

Day 2

After eating breakfast and watching the Tour of Utah online, we pushed off, heading west from Cle Elum towards Snoqualmie Pass. The day started with a block headwind, and with temperatures hovering around 60, we welcomed the ‘breeze’ with open arms, especially after the 100+ degrees temps from the previous afternoon. Shortly thereafter, we were given the protection of trees, where deer, elk, river crossings, and flowers filled the first part of our ride.

After stopping to explore Lake Easton, the weather seemed to change to fall-like conditions within minutes, and we rode primarily in the cold and rain the rest of the way up to Snoqualmie Pass. This part of the John Wayne Trail was much more rideable. Packed gravel and dirt allowed us to make far better time, which we used for more adventuring. It’s amazing what you can see and find on the bike if you are looking for it.

We ended the day riding around Keechelus Lake up to the Snoqualmie Tunnel, an abandoned 2.3 mile-long railroad tunnel at the top of Snoqualmie Pass. By this time, we were no longer welcoming the drop in temperatures, but it made for a great bookend of bizarre weather on both ends of our trip. We capped off the day with, surprise, more food & story telling.

The section of the John Wayne trail we rode was nothing like we had expected, but everything we had hoped it would be, and possibly a little bit more. It offered some of the most fun and hardest miles we’ve ever encountered on bike. It also reinvigorated our desire for adventure, and reminded us of the importance of adventure. So on your next ride, make sure you take the time to stop and explore something new. You never know what you may find.

UP NEXT: THE PAINTED HILLS AND JOHN DAY RIVER

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