Crystal, Palisades, Sun Top

This year hasn’t lead to many mountain biking trips. Not sure if it’s the continual exhaustion from commuting, or if there isn’t much new in terms of trails left for me to discover nearby. There is a bit in the far-off reaches of Washington that I’d like to ride, but those are probably better combined in a bikepacking trip. The real epics this year have been my winter fatbiking excursions. New territory. New mode of transportation. New vistas. And new gear. It was exciting. I am looking forward to winter, again.

Nevertheless, quite a good little ride is the Cascade Triple Crown. This year, 2 serious contenders joined me at the 8 am starting line. It was frigidly cold, so I put on my wind breaker for the first 20 minutes. It was fun riding up the familiar roads and getting to know one of my comrades on this trip. He was riding strong, but for some reason seemed to want to hang back with me. At some point, he passed me, then I passed him, and then didn’t see him again until half-ways up the Northway trail on Crystal Mountain.

Riding up Northways, I was soon alerted by a voice that I was a slow poke: “Coming up on your left” was my warning to get over. A trail runner was light-footed passing me at twice my speed. Earlier, I had seen a bunch of cars and runners just below the trailhead. There must have been some kind of running event.

The tricky sections along the single-track climb are pretty fun if you can get them without maxing out the heart rate. Some are just really rocky, some switchbacks are steep and tight, some step-ups are just rideable.   And sometimes, you just walk. It feels good to walk.

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After a while, some views open up to the north: Sun Top is visible and a reminder that we are still to go there, today. In the meantime, we climb up this ridge.

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Higher up, the wildflowers are popping. Just gorgeous. Later on in the day, not many more wildflowers were seen, as the remaining peaks are lower in altitude then Crystal Mountain. I knew this terrific switchback section was coming up and vaguely intending on staying ahead to take some nice pictures. But, one guy passed me and so I still got one of us riding this sweet section:

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I had forgotten to bring my DeLorme InReach, and as I was riding up, I knew my only chance of sending ‘alive’ messages from my phone would be at the top of the mountains. Sure enough, full signal strength on Crystal to send a photo back home:

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My two compadres / competitors were soon ahead as I fiddled with my phone, air in the rear tire, and food for a while. They were both riding pretty nice bikes, and must have been looking forward to the descent.

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Somehow, I passed both at the top and one of them caught up with me was I was taking pictures and chatting with hikers. The cool thing on this ride is that you can see where you’re going next, or where you came from. Here’s Sun Top and Palisades behind me:

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Sun Top is about 1/3 over from the left, and Palisades are straight ahead.

Mt. Rainier was looking splendid, as per usual – time to ride the singletrack down! But first, a bit of gravel road.

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Chatted briefly with a gal from Arizona – who was hiking in 60 F temperature through this scenery.

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Afterwards, it’s a lot of fun and techy singletrack down, then some fast dirt roads and a looong grind back up on Corral Pass Rd. I filled up with water at the bottom and carried about 3 liters with me, in addition to a yummy Diet Coke. About half-ways up as I was pushing steadily and slowly, a couple mountain bikers were gaining on me. Who were they? Very slowly, the couple reached me and we rode up semi-together for a while. However, I was not about to burn any matches on Corral Pass Rd., so we started to drift apart at 0.1 mph. Funny.

Higher up, I passed the No. 1 guy, who seemed to not have a very good time. I tried to be as cheerful as possible in wishing him well, and rode up. My legs were still ok, but after a bit of coasting on the Noble Knob single-track, they felt like lead. Luckily, not much pedaling is required, safe for a steep hike-a-bike section a bit later on.

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I came across an older guy on a yellow 26″ Specialized hardtail, he looked a bit confused and inquired about the routes. A bit later on, I ran into a hiker who asked me if I’d seen an older mountain biker. When I said that I pointed him to the Corral Pass Rd. for the descent, the hiker seemed ok with that and turned around! Apparently, the bike dude had just crashed right in front of him.

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After rounding the above Noble Knob, I stopped for some coffee. Half expecting to see one of my compadres fly by any second, I wasn’t totally relaxed as I wanted to have my camera at the ready. However, no one came by. I sent another text messages that I was still alive.

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The next part is the rooty-annoying Palisades, at least on my hardtail it is a fairly serious torture. Luckily, there are these incredible views every now-and-then to pull me out of the tech-funk.

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The start of this ride was at the little Ranger Creek airport strip.

This year, I was really looking forward to the stairs at the end. I had a plan: to not ride any of them. That plan worked out pretty well, as mounting and dismounting takes a lot of time and effort on the 20+ switchbacks. But, first, we need to go down a ladder – which was difficult as always.

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Sturdy log, but unsteady feet with bicycle held at an awkward angle over the abyss.

Reaching the bottom, which is White River trail, I filled up with water and actually had a pretty good time on the root-filled route. Skookum came afterwards, and it didn’t seem nearly as fun as White River, today. Not sure what’s wrong with me.  One pretty big washout took a bit of trail down with it, but a rope had been strung to help the trail users along. Thanks, guys!

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I noticed the sunlight getting a tad low through the trees here and there. Not too bad, I thought. The next climb is up Sun Top Rd., and I always have a really hard time on that one. This time was not that much different. After an early break, I thought I’d be able to ride up, but instead bonked hard. I told myself to just keep on pushing, eating and drinking – which helped eventually.

A few dim-witted people on ATVs and motorcycle were racing up – and then down within 30 minutes. Lots of dust and tire tracks were left behind. In the distance, someone was unloading their guns for the entire 2 hours it took me to ride up. Just what is wrong with people?

A Jeep passed, people were waving. Friendly people. Not everyone has gone mad in the world. The sun was starting to set and I had reached the top.

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The caretaker at the lookout on SunTop was super friendly. We chatted for a while and I paid a visit to the brand-new outhouse. All was well, again.

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Knowing that there are 1000′ of climbing on the SunTop descent left, I bid farewell after half an hour from the caretaker, and headed down the rocky trail from the lookout. Not feeling too spent was quite helpful in getting up the next section and then down, as was plenty of daylight. Farther down, Palisades was all lit-up by the sunset.

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Back at the car, I saw that one person had come late and was gone already, one person quit and one guy was still out riding. Someone had left a bag of sliced oranges on my car, too. What a nice gesture? Should I be eating those? Kinda weird – no note.

A small airplane was taking off the Ranger Creek airport. I watched as it made about 3 circles after take-off to gain enough height to leave the valley.

I waited for about an hour, and then pulled out of the parking lot. But just then, a bike headlight shone brightly through the trees and I pulled back in. Yay, another person finished! We hang out for a little while and chatted about the day’s ride. Excellent.

 

 

 

 

 

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Jolly Esmeralda, No. 4

The fourth year in a row to ride this loop, but it’s different every time. First year, I rode it alone and the downhill trails from Jolly Mountain and Esmeralda Peaks were mere goat paths. Second year, rode it with a guy from Seattle who knew all about rocks – and found a most impressive rock with a fossil imprint at the top(!) of Jolly Mountain. Back then, the trail was full with downed trees coming up the Middle Fork. Then, third year, I rode with a guy from Bellingham who knew a lot about remodeling houses. And now, this fourth time, I rode with 3 people from Seattle and the Tri-Cities, and the trails were in better shape for some parts (like the downhill sections from Jolly and Esmeralda), but a lot more downed trees and rocks were in other parts. The views were fantastic this time, though it almost seemed like it might stay cloudy early on when I didn’t see Mt. Rainier peak out above the clouds on the way up. But, then there it was!

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My riding companion for the climb was in seemingly the same condition as I. As I hadn’t been mountain biking much this year at all – I was close to surprised by the speed with which we rode while chatting. It turns out that we both ride about 40 miles on the Burke-Gilman each day – but in opposite directions.

The picture above shows Mt. Rainier just a bit to the left of center. Certainly pretty up here. And here is the area where we would be heading to in a while:

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The bikes were sunning themselves:

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No ride is complete without hike-a-bike, and there are a few steep sections on the trail that helped warm up my cold feet. It was only around 60 F, which was perfect for riding.

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We put first tracks on the last bit to the top (as evidenced by a short section of virgin snow) before enjoying the views and snacks. The utter lack of biting flies was greatly appreciated, which I had come to expect from my prior visits to the top.

The Alpine Lakes Wilderness is stretching out before us to the west, while the Stuart Range expands to the North:

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Right behind me is the valley that we’ll go down into. Big views for forested Washington:

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A couple motos came up as we were getting ready to leave – but they didn’t make it to the top for some reason. They had just come up from Salmon La Sac. A little further down, we ran into Grant, one of our group of four, and he looked to be in good spirits despite the schlepping of bikes.

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And just a bit behind him was Mike, who looked to be fresh as a daisy. Rode up strong right past us.

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Meanwhile, Kate and I were about to get down to business: the Jolly Creek trail descent. After warning her by saying ‘I’ll was this section’, Kate rolled on and rode the whole bit. Apparently, it’s all rideable. Who knew! This isn’t a picture of the super steep stuff, but you get the idea:

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It’s always impressive to see the grandeur from below.

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After making it through all the tough sections, Kate had a little spill and landed in a bush of blueberries. Blueberries? Hmm, let’s savor the moment:)

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Each bush of berries tasted slightly different. Some where a bit tart, others sweet, seedy, but all went down easily. After riding a bit more, the trail was very overgrown – with … wait for it: more blueberries. This time, we stuffed ourselves until I had actually had enough.

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Just then, Grant caught up with us, and we rode together up the Middle Fork Teanaway. Water crossings come every half-hour or so past this point, so it was easy to refresh or fill up with H20.

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One of my favorite parts is the climb through the meadow up to Koppen Mnt. trail intersection on the Deroux Spur trail. The surface is much more stable than it looks and the flowers on the meadow are almost breathtaking.

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The descent on the backside was fast and fun as always. The North Fork Teanaway Rd. has a few wash-outs and cars now need to park before the Iron Peak trail. How fun it is to ride without cars dusting me. The good life.

On the other hand, the Esmeralda Basin trail also looked a bit more eroded than usual and had us pushing early on.

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However, higher up the techy parts were rideable – great fun. And even better was to _not_ implode for the first time at this point of the ride.

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The weather was just perfect, and we took a good break at the pass with wind blowing strong and cold. Brrr. Time to get going!

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As per usual, my compadres were down and gone before too long, and left me to enjoy the rocky, steep downhill all alone. I walked more than the year before, probably not doing much mountain biking has left me feeling a bit sheepish. Afterwards, the Fortune Creek Rd. was waiting hot and steep as always.A 4×4 pickup loaded with people came bouncing down. Oooh, what a push back up to Gallagher Head lake!

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The last bit of singletrack is the Boulder de Roux trail, which apparently means reddish-brown boulder trail. Hmm, there is a mountain with that color at the top of the trail – so maybe that’s where it got it’s name from.

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The Boulder de Roux trail took me quite a while on this 1/4 mile obnoxiously steep section strewn full with boulder and roots. Time to walk-back-down. The last bit through the scree-slope was much less exciting than in prior years, when it was merely a goat path on a slippery slope. This time, we found a wide bench-cut through the slope.

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Nice, nice ride. After a bit chilling at the parking lot, Mike rolled in and we chatted until dusk.

 

 

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A Grand Canyon ride

Not through, but along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, that is. While the lodge and housing on the north rim feel like a tourist ant-colony, the surrounding roads are not used much and offer a great way to get some solid miles (and views) in.

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So, on a Sunday morning I set out to find my bikepacking friends who were on their tour of the Kaibab210 route. Not sure which way they were riding the loop from Jacob Lake, I figured that I would be riding it clockwise to get the most single track miles while I were still fresh. To intercept them, I headed north from the lodge. My route started/ended at the lodge, but without a GPS to record my route, I stitched it together by hand from the Kaibab210 route:

 

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The rented Specialized Camber rode well, even if the size M was on the small size. The AZT from the North Rim isn’t especially terrific: it’s in the trees, not that well maintained and goes uphill a lot. After a while, I got on the dirt road right next to it; all was well again. However, there was no sign of the bikepackers I was trying to meet. If they were riding the loop in 3 days, they’d better be through here by now! Figuring that they must be riding the other way, I turned around and hoped that I’d catch them somewhere on the Rainbow Rim trail.

Going the other direction  quickly lead to a dirt road which was much more scenic. There were steep, loose and rocky parts, sometimes all at once. The full suspension bike made climbing and descending a much more stable experience than my usual hardtail bike would have.

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After a while, the first viewpoint was reached near where Jörn and I had taken pictures not 18 years before. How time flies. 20160605_124839.jpg

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After talking with a Jeep’er, it didn’t seem likely that the crew had reached Point Sublime, yet. And, with only 1 mile left to go and no tire tracks in sight, I turned around hoping to catch them near the Rainbow Rim trail, instead.

A short while after I turned around, a text message came in that said that they were near the North Rim lodge and going to take a rest. I estimated that I could knock out the roughly 15 miles in 2 hours, and at least say ‘Hello’.  And I did!20160605_171140.jpg

It was nice to catch up for a few hours with Pascal, Lee, Scott and Ez, and meet new bikepackers Kurt and Caitlin. Good company until the late hours of the evening.

The next morning, we went on a short hike at Imperial Point – well worth it!

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Time to sign off:

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Iron Horse – East

The Iron Horse state park is split in the middle by the Columbia river. While the western portion can be ridden straight through from Seattle to the Columbia, the eastern portion is more of a patch-work with missing sections and unruly land-owners denying public right-of-way. In addition, the start and stop of the eastern section are in the middle of nowhere, making the 210 mile long one-way a bit difficult to get off the ground.

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210 miles, 8000 ft. of elevation gain

When the opportunity to catch a ride with Chip presented itself, I was hooked. I had wanted to explore the Saddle Mountains and the Scablands some more, and the route promised to take in those sections along with a plethora of other new-to-me territory. With an extra day off from work, we planned to complete the ride with two overnights.

We were dropped off at Beverly – behind us is the closed trestle over the Columbia.

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Photo from CA.

I had not met Chip before, so I was pleasantly surprised to find a kindred spirit, and incidentally with a very similar outfit and fitness level.

The initial ride along the Saddle Mountains was interesting in several ways: For one, the ponds had an eerie color, the grasses and reeds contained rattle snakes, the trail was full of goat-heads, and besides the seemingly serene trail where throttle-thumpers gassing it up. We rode past all this unscathed with a good tailwind. Riding was too easy.

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Through the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge.

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Soon, we left the little basalt formations & ponds, and rode through farmlands.

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Looking west – back from where we came from.

It was fairly warm, warmer than I had experienced in 6 months. Not putting on sunscreen would lead to a pretty good burn by the end of the day, which lead me to wear my long pants all day long.

After a while, the first major detour began. Othello would be straight ahead, but the rails are still being used on this section, so that we headed north to go through another part of the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge. The route there went on gravel and pavement through farmlands, orchards, and prairie.

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Looking across the Goose lakes from a view point just off the highway.

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Hayes Creek is also right next to the highway.

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Just a mile in on Morgan Lake Road are the headquarter & visitor center for the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge. We stopped in for the shade, and CA discovered running water by the gas pumps. Yay! Filled up and hosed myself down. Dust and sweat were replaced by cold water.

While the gravel road through the refuge sucks (its thick and rolly), the views are pretty nice. Lots of farming is interspersed with the protected areas – the idea behind this eludes me. We went briefly off the main gravel road to get a bit closer to the lakes. Beautiful!

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After another hour of gravel and highway riding, we found ourselves at a little mexican restaurant in Warden. Several sweet and cold beverages were consumed, along with a delicious green-chile chicken burrito. CA was suffering a bit from the heat and only nibbled on a coke, but still rode strong.

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The Iron Horse trail from Warden to Lind goes through sage brush and lifted my spirits significantly. The evening was quiet and we were enjoying the easy riding and tail wind. It was good being away from the highway, again.

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With the last bit of sunlight, we set up camp on the trail. Permits are required for this section, and CA had taken care of everything. Excellent – as I had no idea that that would be something to look into. After all: it’s a state park, i.e. it’s supposed to be public! Odd.

Day 2

After an excellent night’s sleep, we rode onwards towards Lind. The grocery store there opens around 6.30a on Saturday, so we planned to have a good breakfast.

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It took us a bit longer to get to Lind than I had thought, partly because I am just really slow in the mornings. We also needed to detour to the paved road as a small trestle was out and the trail was completely overgrown near Lind. After a good breakfast incl. coffee, we stocked up on a few provisions and were off again.

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The gravel trail was fine for the first few miles, but after a while it became rockier along with a deft headwind – so that I suggested we use the perfectly empty highway next to it, instead. As such, we rode the half of the Lind-Ralston Highway to Ralston. Ralston is a few houses and a park where we met a few kids playing with dogs and were offered water by one of the residents. Since the town park’s water was still off, we greedily handed over our empty bottles and thanked her.

Without even stopping to look at the Iron Horse trail in Ralston, we continued our journey on gravel roads: first to bypass a spectacular collection of the finest goatheads in central Washington (or so we were told), then to get around the Iron Horse State Park section through the Cow Creek, which is guarded by an armed landowner, or so I was told. Nothing that 17 miles of gravel and pavement wouldn’t fix.

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Photo by CA.

Riding on these gravel roads is noisy. Not just a little bit noisy – it’s so loud that conversations are almost immediately squelched. Gravel is also dusty when cars pass. At this point, I must say that my least favorite trail surface to ride on, is just this kind of gravel that we were on. Pavement would be bliss. And single-track unthinkable. On the upside, only a couple cars passed us during the 10 mile gravel detour.

Grain towers provide the only shade in this part of the country, and so we stopped at one just near the tracks where we were about to pick up our Iron Horse trail, again.

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Photo by CA.

Back on the trail, we were immediately immersed in scabland-country. What beauty!

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After crossing a couple closed gates for which we didn’t have the combination lock-code, we crossed under the Columbia Plateau Trail – where I had been 360 days before. I remember that I was looking down from the bridge and being glad that I was riding up high were I had a much better view.

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Right afterwards, we went off the Iron Horse and into the Escure Ranch. This section had been a major motivation for me to do this ride, and it did not disappoint. Even just riding some double-tracks felt very fun and mountain-bikey.

 

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The riding was easy, but the views got better20160409_151014.jpgand even a waterfall presented itself along Rock Creek

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Not many flowers were out yet, but I got one of them. The detour didn’t last long, and soon we were back on the Iron Horse for a few miles, before we took the next detour to avoid another landowner.

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The grain towers of Revere.

The detour went along fairly nice gravel roads and certainly through some first-class scenery.

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Photo by CA.

 

To our delight, a church in the little town of Ewan had a water faucet.

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Photo by CA.

Our next stop was at Rock Lake for an afternoon snack break.

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The next detour was just ahead, as the Iron Horse along Rock Lake also has some landowner who doesn’t believe in right-of-ways of land deeds. Please someone proof me wrong, but this is just too outlandish that the railroad didn’t have right-of-way in its days, which then would have been transferred to the Iron Horse state park some 30 years ago.

This detour was again on gravel roads and through barren fields that were being plowed on a Saturday evening. We were covered in dust by passing pick-up trucks a couple of times, as well as dust from the plowing operation. The gravel was pretty thick in places and it was unreasonably hilly. I was not in a good mood. To proof to myself that this was ridiculous, I took this picture. It sure looks awful.

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Well, maybe I was just in a bad mood, then. Luckily, we did eventually rejoin the Iron Horse and were immediately in a new environment: pine trees everywhere!

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As the evening came, we rode the trail through the backyard towndump of Malden. A bit farther on we got off our bikes and set up camp for the night.

Day 3

The evening was nice, but by morning the dew had turned to frost and ice. It took me a while to gather my things and eat a small breakfast. Once Chip saw that I was up, he was ready to ride in a matter of minutes.

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I may look cold, but I was not.   Photo by CA.

The trail winds around and through farms and ranches, and it was very nice to be out this early in the day as the world is just beginning to wake up on Sunday.

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At times we were riding straight into the sun and it was difficult to see, but behind us lay a golden landscape.

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Our goal for this morning was breakfast in Rosalia, though we didn’t know of any place that should be open. And, nothing was open at the early hour of 8 am on a Sunday.

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After some fiddling with gear and food, we rode towards the next (and last) town on the Iron Horse: Tekoa. This section was quite nice and the fields were green and it was not dusty. A good headwind made us work for our progress.

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At the small town of Lone Pine, the trail was taken over by reeds and grasses and though it is much more level than the gravel road next to it, progress seemed in-ordinarily slow. Only a couple pickup trucks covered us with dust, which seemed like a fair trade.

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Pickup truck passing on my left, I took a serene country photo.

Tekao (pronounced Tee-koh), seemed like quite a charming little town. With advertising for retirement apartments and a first class small-town restaurant, we ate like kings. OJ, coffee, veggie omelets, toast and jam – and running water. Chip arranged for our ride to come pick us up soon at the Idaho border, so we didn’t linger too long and rode the last few miles with stuffed bellies. The trail had changed character once again, as we now rode through hilly terrain to the Idaho border.

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Tekoa Mountain.

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Somewhere down the trail, Chip yelled: “We are in Idaho, now!” and with that, I turned around and had myself a nice nap. 50 hours after we hard started, we had covered the 210 miles.

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The route certainly covered some new terrain for me, and it was nice riding with Chip. But, the amount of gravel road detours was beyond my limit for a wanting a second helping. Chip, who has ridden the Tour Divide twice, seemed fairly unscathed by all the gravel grinding and might just continue on into Idaho soon!

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At the eastern end of the Iron Horse trail. Long pants kept the sun off.  Photo from CA.

Let’s do some mountain biking on the next trip, Chip!

 

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