Where do I start? The awesomeness of the scenery? Difficulty of hauling a couple hundred pounds up a mountain pass on loose gravel? The thrill of seeing our little girls play happy and content with anything they find on the forest floor? Or the difficulty of the logistics of getting us and our gear to where we needed to be?
I guess the story of our trip should start at the beginning. How do you get 2 children, 3 adults, 2 cargo bikes, 1 mountain bike and 1 trailer moved 167 miles to the start of a trail? Well, momma and kids take the bus to the train station and catch the big train to Tacoma, WA, while daddy and aunty get a rental truck to move the bikes and gear. They drive it to the station that mom and kiddos get off at, unload gear, drop off truck, start cycling.
We followed the Cedar River trail south, camping between a river and the highway the first night. I was surprised at the number of late night/early morning bike commuters that used the trail we were camped beside. Nobody seemed to pay us any mind though, which was quite nice after a long stressful first day.
Day 2 found us riding to the end of the paved section of trail and slogging along with big smiles on our faces over well packed gravel, stopping only when we got to locked gates in a park. What the heck? Where did the trail go? We spotted a fellow working at one of the park buildings and went over to ask him about the trail, and he very nicely gave us the low down on the situation we had unwittingly gotten ourselves into.
The Rail to Trail that we were following (Cedar River), was the continuation of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail that was our ultimate goal for our vacation. Our problem, was that the trail went straight through 90,638 acres of watershed, used by the City of Seattle, and the whole space was closed to the public after September, 2001, and very few trail maps of the area have been updated since that time. We would have to go around the watershed.
Danaka’s bike was lightest when unloaded, so I rode it to the closest town (Maple Valley) and rented a moving truck to get us around this big glitch in our trip. The only other option was to cycle with the little girls along 20 miles of highway with virtually no shoulder, and it was halfway through the afternoon already, so with our slow pace, we would have to find a place to camp right beside the highway. Didn’t like that idea.
With the truck we were able to get all of us around the watershed and up to North Bend, where we checked out the town a little bit and ended up crashing for the night in the back of the truck in a corner of a grocery store parking lot. It was a ten foot box truck, and remember it had all our big bicycle gear already in it! So Seth’s and my bikes got tied in place along each side, over the wheel wells, Danaka’s got suspended in mid air at the back of the box, and all the panniers were stuffed into any crevasse we could find. It left just enough room for Seth, the little girls and I to sleep shoulder to shoulder across the back wall with our feet funnelled toward the front where Danaka slept at an angle in front of the door, which we pulled down part way but tied so it could neither be opened from the outside, nor closed and us get locked in!
The nice part about camping beside a grocery store, was that we were able to get nice hot food for dinner, and fresh fruit for breakfast!
Okay, so we finally found the trail we wanted, just outside town, where we unloaded everything, and then I had to drive back into town with Danaka’s bike to do the whole “dropping off the truck” business, and find a bike shop to tighten one of the cranks on the bike. I was directed to SingleTrack Cycles and received wonderful friendly service, advice and local knowledge of the trails. They were a breath of fresh air after a rather stressful night of moving truck shenanigans.
We got rolling finally around noon and went pretty much without stop all on an up hill grade until we reached Rattlesnake Lake, where Marin and I went down and played in the mud and tree stumps for quite some time. It was just too much fun to stop!
But we had to keep rolling, so we did, and found a camp spot with an amazing view! Oh yes, and we got to watch some rock climbers too. And a person gliding past in a motorized para-glider!
With awesome views and only intermittent rumbles from the highway further down in the valley, we finally worked our way up to the top of the mountain pass, topping out half way through the Snoqualmie tunnel, which is 2.3 miles of hard packed gravel and dirt, with long, shallow, narrow ruts from bicycles grinding through the sporadic puddle caused by water dripping (or full fledged trickling) down from the ceiling. Of course in over 2 miles of tunnel, you need lights, even though the path is straight and you can see slivers of light from each end. But once you’re in the middle and turn OFF the lights, you can’t see diddily-squat. It’s been a long time since any of us were in darkness of that kind. We did try the “hand in front of our faces”, but to no avail. Only when looking at the light from one of the entrances could you then see, not your hand, but rather the absence of that light when you passed your hand between yourself and the entrance. There was no outline of things or anything! After a while of riding, I would think I was halfway through, only to look back and see the entrance was still large and I was far from halfway. Around mid point the tunnel became almost disconcerting. I couldn’t imagine going through by foot and taking 100 times longer!
Once we passed through and filled up our water at the parking lot, the trail turned sloppy real fast. Our tires sunk down in the loose gravel and I think all of us fish tailed a couple times before we made it to the camping sites on the south end of Keechelus Lake. Marin really liked the lake, as the shores were steep and a mix of rocks and sand. We spent a long time sitting on a tall outcrop, throwing rocks over the edge, listening for the splash.
That night we seriously discussed goals, miles, energy and expectations. It felt like we had been going for over a week, instead of having just finished our fourth day on the trail. We decided to cut the trip short, keep the camp set up the next morning and just do a quick day trip, then head home.
With only bare necessities and enough gear to get us un-comfortably but safely through the night if we got stranded somewhere, we headed out the next morning down the loose trail, with hardly any weight and a downhill grade. Eventually things levelled out and we passed through fields and farmland, swamps and over clear creeks. Our turnaround point was the “BBQ place” in South Cle Elum we had heard rants and raves about from multiple people. I guess there must be two places, because the one we went to had me wishing for Clay’s Smokehouse back in Portland after only three bites. Seth too. Not saying it was bad, it just didn’t come close to anything we were expecting.
Our ride back to camp was long. We were getting tired, and Danaka was having that mental struggle that anybody who has set out on a multi day physical challenge has experienced. Thinking you can’t make it, you’re too tired, your knee hurts like hell, but knowing that you have to make it cause you have no choice, and you still don’t have the energy to keep pushing through. “I can’t do it”. It’s a hard spot to be in. Fortunately Seth and I have both been there multiple times before. Once I figured out what was sort of happening, we were able to make some changes, pull together and get us all safely back to camp in time for a late dinner.
Next morning, we all felt a little sad that the trip was coming to an end and we were heading home, but there certainly was a lot of excitement and giddiness as well!
Heading back toward North Bend, we made great time. I mean, heading downhill with heavy bikes is a heck of a lot easier than trying to fight gravity with those same bikes going uphill. What took us two days for us to go from North Bend to Lake Keechelus, we accomplished in reverse in less than one full day. We had time when we got into North Bend, to find the library and use their computers to figure out what bus routes the girls and I would need to take to get us back to Seattle so we could catch the train home to Portland the next day. Once that was figured out, our next task was to find a place to pitch our tents for the night. We headed north out of town and found a pretty good stealth site completely out of view from the trail. It was a little stressful, trying to keep the little girls quiet as we made dinner and set up the tents with the light fading and them just wanting to play, but we did it! There were no surprises in the morning. No cows wandering through, or rangers knocking on our poles. Yippy!!!
Breaking stealth camps can be kind of awkward, as my family usually wakes up hungry right away, but you gotta get everything broken down as fast as you can and out of there so there is no evidence of what you just did. That’s where I found easy to grab snack foods come in handy. Namely, dehydrated banana muffins. The girls loved them and it gave all of us something to settle our bellies as least temporarily.
Back in town, we eventually found our bus stop. Scrounged up a few baked goods from a local café, and said our goodbyes as the bus arrived. It was back to the girls and I taking public transportation home and Seth getting yet another rental truck. Here’s where we made our last big blunder. Instead of calling the rental places first thing to make sure they had something available before we got on the bus, it wasn’t until after the girls and I were already on our way before Seth found out that he would have to catch the same bus to a neighbouring town to get the only available truck. Two hours later he was on the same route that we had just taken (bus only ran every 2 hours). At this point we were just rolling our eyes and shaking our heads, dreaming of simply being home.
There’s not a whole lot to tell about the rest of the trip. The girls and I received an escort from a very nice person through the confusion of Seattle’s transit centre and construction. The girls had a grand time chasing each other through the wide open spaces of the train station, making people simultaneously smile at them and jump out of their way. On the train home I finally had a chance to look in a mirror and figure out what had been making my head itch like crazy for the last three days. Lice. Oh boy! When I found those little critters, all I could think of was the nit comb stashed in our cupboard. That, and try really really hard NOT to scratch! Literally, as soon as we got home, I kicked my shoes off and went straight to the bathroom to comb my hair without saying hi to anyone. Seth, by the way, got the truck and they (Seth and Danaka) had a safe drive home, beating us by half an hour. Just enough time to unload everything from the back and come meet us a couple blocks away for the final drag of the trip.
Next day, Seth dropped off the truck and came home with “our” beloved dog Lorax to keep the girls entertained for the day while we unpacked and cleaned our gear. Danaka helped out a ton too, with reading a kazillion books to Marin and keeping an eye on Elita.
Whew! It’s been almost as epic trying to get this all typed out, as it was to do the trip!
If I left out any important stuff or simply left you wondering about something (besides the reason I hadn’t gotten this posted sooner), please leave a comment and I will rectify things.
THANK YOU FOR READING!!!!!