Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Iron Horse Trail

Technically where Mark Canizaro and I are riding is called "The John Wayne Trail in Iron Horse State Park." Some folks call it the John Wayne Trail in honor of the Duke but that name always seemed more fitting to me when referencing the drier parts of the trail east of the mountains, where you'll see tumbleweeds and snakes and the terrain really looks like cowboy country. Here in the Cascades, where the network of old railroad grades has been steadily converted to hiking, biking and horse trails by the ongoing efforts of folks like the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and the Mountains to Sound Greenway, my friends and I have always called the big trail up to Snoqualmie Pass the Iron Horse.

The big tunnel under the summit is always closed in the winter and while we'd just gotten word that all the tunnels along the route will be closed indefinitely, we aren't planning on riding as far as the tunnels today. Only a few blocks from my doorstep we're on the Highpoint Trail and then onto the quiet frontage road to Preston. At Preston we catch yet another rail-trail towards Fall City. Years ago the old train trestle had been knocked out in a flood and not replaced, so we have a steep drop down to the road that connects to Fall City. Just past the tiny town that is a city in name only, we climb up the eastern edge of the valley and onto yet another rail grade, the Snoqualmie Valley Trail. It's a Sunday when we thought that most people would be watching some football game that promises to be super, but rural King County still has a fair number of people who prefer their sports to be of the non-spectator type and we see folks riding bikes or horses, walking dogs, running and hiking all along the trails. It's one of those days when February when the simple fact that it's not raining and not bitterly cold puts a smile on every face we greet.

We ride past the iron ghosts of trains in Snoqualmie and follow back streets and more of the trail to North Bend. At the bakery the locals pronounce us "tough" for planning to camp out, but any day that includes a bakery stop really can't register too high on the tough meter.

We return to the Snoqualmie Valley Trail and ride it up to Rattlesnake Lake where we join the Iron Horse Trail. Since the trail is the old rail bed, the grade is gentle, only about a two percent climb. But that two percent adds up and only a few miles from the lake, significant portions of the trail are blanketed in snow.

Our plan had been to camp at the sites at either Alice Creek or Carter Creek but the snow slows our progress and we're running out of daylight. The snow is getting deeper as we head east and realizing that darkness will descend on us before we reach either campsite, we decide the smart thing to do is to turn back west and back track until we find a likely campsite.

We're looking for a combination of an accessible stream and enough flat space to pitch Mark's tent and my tarp and at 4:30 PM we find the right mix of geography. The Iron Horse parallels Interstate 90, but the trees and the stream mask the noise of the road less than a third of a mile away.

Since we each have brought enough food to feed a couple of men for a couple of days, we feast as soon as we've pitched camp. It's pretty much completely dark by 5:30 PM and after swapping stories of our various travels and solving most of the problems of the world, we each settle into puffy nylon cocoons around 6:30.

In the morning, we're up soon after the sun and after a first breakfast in camp, we pack up and roll back to the world where we keep the stuff that doesn't fit in a pannier. Next to the Raging River (yes, that's really it's name) we see a huge bald eagle that's faster than Mark's camera.

At North Bend we have a big second breakfast at Twede's before rolling back to Issaquah. With 72 miles over the course of a bit under 27 hours, our trip pushes a bit over the strict limits an S24O but we're liberal enough in our definitions to declare this journey a total success.
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