Thoughts and Adventures From Greenlite Heavy Industries

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Gravel Century (Almost)

Being a bad boy - sans helmet
A few weeks ago I was sitting in a cool bar in Georgetown drinking Manny’s with my buddy Chris when he started talking about how gravel centuries are becoming increasingly popular.  A spark was lit: an off-road century is just what I needed in preparation for Leadville.

The John Wayne Pioneer Trail in the Ironhorse State Park is a converted Railroad grade that runs from North Bend (20 miles east of Seattle) to the Columbia River.  I figured that I could do an out and back on the trail from our cabin at Snoqualmie Pass: the turn-around would be fairly close to Ellensburg.  Basically it would be fifty miles down and fifty miles back up.

I left the cabin at 8:30 on Saturday morning.  Instead of turning right and riding up to the JWPT trailhead at Hayak I made a last minute decision to turn left and weave my way to Lake Kachees via old logging roads.  The first four miles were up a vicious grade, but I was rewarded with an equal amount of screaming fire road descent.  I hit thirty seven miles per hour and decided that it would be wise to apply a little brake: no one had any idea where I was and it could be days before anyone came by.  It’s prudent to be a little cautious when you’re all by your lonesome.

I hit the trail at the Stampede Pass road and I rolled quickly down to Easton where I made note of the water tap.  Thirteen miles on I hit Cle Elum, where Smokey’s BBQ was just opening up at the newly renovated Railroad Depot.  I stopped in for a Coke; it was too early for lunch but I made a date with the owner to get some pulled pork on my way back.

By reading the mileage signs I figured that I’d be turning around at the Thorpe Trailhead, but at mile 47.7 I hit a deep dark tunnel.  Outside the tunnel was a little box into which trail users are supposed to insert signed wavers absolving the State from any liability.  I didn’t bother to
sign.  My little flashlight barely dented the absolute darkness inside that dang tunnel, so after about a hundred yards I said screw it and turned around (I’ll have to head back sometime soon with a better light).

I had prepared for a hot, sunny day in Central Washington, but instead I rode under gray/black threatening skies.  A few miles after my turnaround I ran into a trio of young guys loaded with overnight gear; they said that they’d come from North Bend the day before.  One dude was on what appeared to be his little sister’s Costco bike and another guy had loaded his backpack into one of those seat stay mounted child seats.  Hat’s off to ‘em, they were on an adventure much like some of the poorly equipped hair brained crap that I pulled as a teenager back in Iowa.

I could smell the thunderstorm as I rolled into Cle Elum, and all hell broke loose just as I parked my bike in front of Smokey’s.  I sat underneath the eaves of the train depot and ate my pulled pork, beans and cornbread watching the storm rage and then blow itself out.  I was a little worried about my gut-buster meal – was it going to fuel me as l climbed the final thirty miles or was I going to puking beside the trail.  Only one way to find out.

The gut buster that wasn't
Riding after the storm was nice as it was cool and the rain had dampened the trail enough to keep the dust down.  My legs and stomach were both feeling good but my ass had had enough.  My mountain bike position is a lot tighter than what I have on my road bike, which causes me to sit a lot further back on the saddle, thus putting more weight on muscle (i.e. butt) and less on skeleton.  By mile seventy my butt was bruised fairly deeply and I was entering into a misery situation.

I don’t mind suffering, but I don’t like misery.  Suffering is part of the game, if you want to do something big, something cool you have to work, maybe even suffer a bit, for it, but misery - that’s just miserable.  I ended up riding much of the final ten miles standing up.  I rode up to the Summit West Ski Area just to add a few miles to the ride as I’d turned around a bit early.  I stopped at the summit store to get an Orange Fanta and then headed to the cabin.  I arrived with ninety seven miles on the odometer, a more pedantic guy would have rode in circles for three miles, but me, I parked my bike, went inside, laid down and watched the Outlaw Josey Wales.  I’d had enough.

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