Friday, September 11, 2015

Iron Horse Trail Overnight

Time to go off-road.  After-all, a cyclocross bike is an all terrain bike, right?  Here in Seattle, the pavement is terrible.  Years of under-funded infrastructure make larger tires feel like a necessity.  Big tires while still retaining speed seemed like the way to go.  The solution?  A used aluminum cyclocross bike.  My Trek Crossrip Elite LTD came with 32mm tires, which are fine for most things.  For our trip from Rattlesnake Lake to Keechelus Lake on the Iron Horse Trail I put some 35mms on and cut the pressure to 40psi.  Let's go for a ride on the Iron Horse- a well-known trail I've heard for which I've heard many good things.

Our group was quite motley: Brian towing a puppy in a trailer on road bike with quite narrow tires, Jeff riding a Franken-bike road/hybrid, Heather on a road bike, and Hess on a Kona Rove w/40mms.  Rattlesnake was a spacious trailhead for parking and our group gathered quickly.  This was the first over-night for most of us and it made for a leisurely ride.  Despite being uphill most of the way, the grade on the Iron Horse to the Snoqualmie tunnel is quite mild, even with baggage in tow.  As a rails-to-trails conversion, the Iron Horse is remarkably well-maintained with an even light-gravel surface and clean restrooms/camp-sites along the way.    
As we rode, I noticed site-after-site said “No Fires”.  Despite the ban on campfires on Western Washington being recently lifted, it looks like fires on this trail are banned regardless of the weather.  Apprehension built in me as the ride progressed, fearing my 8 raw sausages would be wasted lest fire be found.  The scenery made up for my worries even as I considered cooking one sausage with a pocket lighter. 
Fine views framed the forest of the Cascade Range as we passed a multitude of day hikers and mountain-bikers zooming downhill.  Clouds sat low on the mountains promising rain.  We stopped often to enjoy snacks and traveled at a leisurely 10MPH.  Brian caught up with us at the entry to the Snoqualmie tunnel.  The puppy Misha seemed content in her trailer without getting out so we proceeded into the 2-mile tunnel with lights ablaze.  As we zinged through the seemingly-endless cavern, numerous hikers lit the way with flashlights.  Likely they had parked at Hyak, just on the other side of the tunnel.  It was a thrill to ride in the dark, even at a low speed.  The trail within was packed dirt and concrete and the tunnel is reportedly expensive to maintain, as well as being closed in the winter months.
We had only gone 20-some miles but after exiting we were hungry and anxious about our food options.  After the tunnel we were done climbing for the journey.  Passing Hyak and then alongside Keechelus lake we viewed the long dead tree stumps of an older, higher water level.  Initially Hess was going to bring a camp-stove, but backed out of the idea at the last minute to save weight.  Brian and Heather also brought camp food to cook.  It wasn’t long before consensus was reached that we would need an illicit camp-site for a fire.
Jeff and Hess hiked up a hillside, unfortunately finding houses and a resident.  Further down the way was a legitimate spot a stone’s throw from the lake, with a nearby clearing suitable for an illicit fire, and where I would sleep by myself.  Camp was quickly established and the eco-log I hauled was quickly ablaze.  Dinner was had by all.  Jeff and I took a quick trip down to the shoreline to check out the aging, cut tree stumps and hypothesize their origin.  As the rain increased, the others retreated to their tents early while I managed the fire.  A warm fire in the falling rain is a rare pleasure, making the dying embers all the more hypnotic.  

It was a late start for the return journey.  Worried that I would hold back the group since they retired early, I was ready-to-go by 7:45, doing most of my packing before the rain settled back in to soak us for the rest of the morning.  I camped out under the restroom shelter while the group gathered itself.  We were on the road with no time constraints.  It was all downhill from here with everyone wearing as much clothing possible to stay dry.  Before long we ran into a rider headed to Montana, smoking a cigarette, not a habit you see much on the trail.  I felt slightly envious but his fingerless gloves made me feel cold on his behalf. 

This time we barreled through the tunnel at our high speed, the rain deterring day-hikers.  You can see the light at the end of the tunnel, if only as a speck.  With only one stop for snacks, our time back was much faster, the weather improving as we went.  It was liberating to go faster and not be concerned if anyone was staying with the group.  Loading our bikes in Jeff’s truck, I was satisfied using everything I brought after initially fearing I had under-dressed.  Every ride is a bit different, making it fun to assess how to be even more efficient the next time around.  Is wool clothing the way to go? Was it worth it using a front rack?  Did the tires feel that differently?

 Pix by me, Jeff, and Hess

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