Selected Reports

An epic journey through Snoqualmie Pass – part 2

If you haven’t read Part One of this trip report. that link will take you there. Or scroll down! Anyway one with the story, which finds me at Rattlesnake Lake State Park 20 miles from the Snoqualmie Tunnel but resolved to go on.

I lingered just long enough to drink some Gatorade, eat a granola bar and grab a map. The map indicated 20 miles to the Tunnel, then of course the 2 miles through it. So 44 miles round trip from here and it was already after four in the afternoon. I knew I was pushing it and that if I did this I’d be riding back in the dark, If I made good time I could be back here before 8 pm, which would be pretty deep twilight, especially with the heavy cloud cover. I nearly abandoned at this point, but this was as far as I had made it earlier this summer and I had to complete this trip. Riding through the Snoqualamie tunnel is one of those things that every PNW cyclist needs to do once, like the STP and riding the San Juan Islands. I also knew the odds were low that I’d make it back here this summer, so I pressed on. As I was heading out a group of cyclists came down the Iron Horse trail on their way to the Snoqualmie trail. This is interesting as the other times I’ve been here I saw few or no other cyclists. On the first half of this trail I would see a many of them, all returning to Rattlesnake Lake. At one point I passed a group of around eight off road unicyclists! I have to admit that made me grin and feel a lot better about the effort I was expending.

One of the many trestles on the IHT

I really was expending a huge amount of effort at this point. The trails
packed dirt and gravel was murder on my hands, I was tired and I wasn’t
really packing enough water at this point. There is no potable water on
this trail and while it crosses several streams I had no purification
on hand. I had a bottle and a quarter of water and I’d say that’s about
half of what I’d typically go through on a forty-four mile route. So I
was conserving water even as I was eating trail dust. There was tiny
cracks of sun filtering through the heavy clouds but as I climbed it
became increasingly foggy and cloudy. I was chasing daylight this whole
time, but I was struggling to get my speeds over 10mph. The rough
surface just dragged me down and while its 3-5 % grades are almost not
noticeable you are climbing for 20 miles. I began looking at my
odometer constantly, marking off each mile as I slowly rattled myself
into complete weariness. At about 10 miles to go it began to mist, then
rain. I stopped in the trees and pulled on my rain jacket (good thing
I’d packed that, though alas not the pants) and resolved to plod on. At
this point I was pushing it, I was cold and wet and I knew the tunnel
would be even colder. Then there was going to be a fifty plus mile ride
back after I had finished this. But I had to do it, I had to finish
this ride.

The rain came and went and finally I man’d my way the last few miles and made it to the tunnel entrance. It was raining good and hard now as can be seen by that picture. I had been slow coming up and was really pushing the clock so I hurried on. I turned on my E6 and headed into the tunnel which rapidly became absolute darkness. Not to far in I thought I saw a light ahead but it shortly disappeared so I had it pegged as a reflection. Riding in such darkness is pretty strange, it is hard to keep a straight line with no other reference points but your patch of light ahead. My Schmidt Dyno-hub/E6 performed really well in this situation and I was glad I had such a light. The tunnel was bone chillingly cold and with my wet clothes this was an issue. I rode as fast as I could trying to warm up but I was chilled through. Occasionally drops of ice cold water would fall on me shocking me with the intense cold. Less then half way I estimate I passed two people on foot with their dog that were the source of the light I had seen earlier. They had turned it off as they saw me as I provided enough light for them to see by. I kept riding with a mumbled greeting and soon the darkness swallowed them up. The tunnel just went on and on, cold, wet and luckily flat and decently surfaced (though still gravel). Eventually I saw the light at the end of the tunnel and came to the end. This was fairly abrupt as I think there must be a bit of a bend in this direction. I parked my bicycle at the end and stayed just long enough to take pictures and venture a bit out the other end. It was 7pm and I knew I wouldn’t even make it back to Rattlesnake Lake before nightfall.

The IHT contines on for another 80 miles to the east

One odd thing before I leave the eastern end of the tunnel, was there was a collection of stuffed animals, a backpack and typed up poems hung from the wall at the end. I have no idea what that was all about, but I didn’t spend
much time wondering before I turned around and headed back in. The
light again faded quickly and I was alone in the dark with only the
light generated by my own activity. I pushed my pace now and buoyed by
success I made it through in good time. Long before I came to the end I
saw a faint dot which slowly expanded as I got ever near it. This was
the cliché of the Light at the End of the Tunnel, and it was pretty cool. I’d say it was about half the distance that I could see it as a speck at first
that then became the huge entrance. I passed that couple and their dog
heading back and right at the entrance two young people on bicycles
just getting ready to go in. I assume they were parked on the east as
it was serious gloaming now and I was seriously pushing it myself.

Push myself I did and I had to. It was still raining and I had 20 miles to
the end of this trail and then from there about 35 miles back home. And
I was seriously chasing daylight, up here in the mountains the sun was
gone and the thick layer of clouds and fog were not preserving the
twilight. I rode fast toward lighter skies and now the slight gradient
was in my favor. But I had to mind rocks, potholes, loose gravel and
big puddles of water. It was a stressful, manic ride but now my ride
was getting shorter with each pedal stroke. The water situation was
dire but here I think the rain help. I drank about a 1/3 of a bottle of
water on the entire ride to a store, about 25 miles. Slowly I began to
lose all light, at first when I’d be in the trees but then also in the
open areas. I could no longer read my computer and was judging distance
and time on the few landmarks I recognized. Oh yes those porta-johns
were at about 5 miles in. Eventually it ended in pitch black at a gate
above a road. I had turned onto a slightly different entrance at
Rattlesnake Lake then the one I was used to but it was just a ways up a
road from the lake. I road down and it was such a relief to be off
gravel trails. The Iron Horse trail doesn’t have any call for
suspension but that many miles is murder on ones wrists. You have to
hold the handlebars more firmly then you would on the road or they
rattle around in your hands. And that leads to wrist fatigue and
numbness. I was definitely feeling it but it felt better to be on the

I was so happy to be on the road that when I saw a sign
for North Bend at the point where I’d turn on the Upper Snoqualmie
Valley Trail I decided to risk the unfamiliar road then get back onto
gravel trails. This road soon started to descend and threw in some big
curves as well. There wasn’t a lot of traffic but enough to keep me on
my toes. My lighting performed admirably this whole ride and I really
can’t recommend the Schmidt/E6 combo highly enough. But here and in a
latter fast descent is where I wish I had a secondary light. That is
definitely going on the “to-buy” short list. Anyway I rode down this
twisty decent till I came to the I-90 and crossing it found myself, as
I had hoped, at that intersection not far from where I had entered the
Snoqualmie Valley trail so many hours ago. From there it was a couple
of miles to North Bend and I stopped at a QVC for much needed water and
food. Rarely have I been so happy to come into a town.

DoubleshotI loaded up with water and in need of real food I got some bread and cheese which I proceeded to eat in the QVC’s Starbucks cafe. Needing calories I also ate some gas station donuts – Hostess raspberry filled donuts. While I have moved on from such crappy food in general, I do have a fond place in my heart for these. My dad used to only get these at the start of long road or fishing trips when we’d get up at literally the crack of dawn. I almost never eat these now but occasionally, and usually on road trips, they become necessary. And they were essential now. I really can’t recall the last time I’d had these, but they turned out to be pretty flavorless, and I did have to eat the whole box. Luckily I had a lot more miles to go 🙂  I was pretty short on energy at this point, I had ridden 92 miles now of which more then 50 were on gravel trails and had climb the height of Snoqualmie Pass. I recalled a post from Kent Peterson extolling the virtues of the Starbucks “Double Shot” energy drink when in need of a serious pick me up. I was in need so I downed one of those and while I like my coffee black and hot I found this amazingly satisfying. Soon afterwords I refilled my water bottles, deposited my remaining food in my pannier, made sure all my blinkers were on and visible and headed out.

It was almost 10pm when I left North Bend and I was heading back to Kirkland taking the fastest most direct route I knew. This though was all on
roads, mostly with good shoulders, but also a decent amount of traffic.
The first part was especially worrying, the descent from Snoqualmie
down to Fall City. Just past the Salish lodge at the Falls, the
Snoqualamie-Fall City road drops a lot of feel in a series of
switchbacks. The first and only time I rode this (which was on that
trip earlier this summer to Rattlesnake lake) the road had been grooved
for repaving and considering the speed and traffic was terribly
dangerous. So add in night and exhaustion and you can see why I was a
bit concerned. As I passed the Salish lodge it was pretty packed with
cars and the unmistakable sounds of techno leaking out. This also was a
bit worrying as Saturday night drunks were not something I wanted to
encounter. Nothing to do though so I pressed on. A couple of cars
passed me just as I began the descent and that was going to be the
trend – a few cars now and again with some breaks between. Luckily the
road had been resurfaced so that fear was gone. So another fast descent
down twisted roads with cars coming both directions in unpredictable
rates. Only one problem when a Saab had to actually wait for a couple
of cars on the other side to go by before they passed me, flying the
finger as they finally went by. Otherwise not a bad descent and I
managed to keep up a good pace on the flat and gentle hills of the rest
of the route to Fall City. At one point during this part of the ride I was chased by a pair of dogs. I tried Wille Weir’s technique of making yourself look big and barking back at the dogs, in order to establish yourself as alpha dog. It didn’t seem to work so I just poured it on and left them behind. I’m not a fan of dogs, no cyclist is really, but I was glad to see they didn’t get hit by any car before they gave up the chase.

The Fall City-Redmond Road is a road I often find myself on at the end of a tiring day of riding. This was the latest I’d ridden it but it is a pretty familiar road to me. It has fast traffic and a steady stream of but it has a wide shoulder for most of it (there are these short bits where barriers almost force you into the traffic) but it is a straight shot into Redmond. At night there was less traffic but always some and always it seems at the worst time. How is it that you can go miles on a road with no traffic and then the first time you say a car in ages there is another one going the other direction at just the right time so the car passing you can move over? That seems to happen far beyond statistically probably amounts. Again my lights served me well and it really was just a head down keep on pushing. The end of this road as it comes into Redmond is a frightening combination of road work and a couple of climbs followed by more road work and a fast descent in heavy traffic. The road edge comes and goes and traffic cones and barricades block your path at inopportune moments. But I survived all of this and made it into Redmond in good time. A bank mounted clock informed me that it was 11:30 which was much earlier then I had figured I’d be there. I figured there was a good chance that it was denying Daylight Savings time but I just couldn’t be sure without stopping and checking my phone. I wanted to get home so I figured I’d find out when I get there.

I was now on the final leg, Redmond to Kirkland. The downside was that I had to ride up the Sammamish Valley walls, there is no route that fully avoids that. I was at about 115 miles now, the furthest I’ve ever ridden in a single day. I made my way through town and negotiated the streets to Old Redmond Way. This begins with a steep curving climb, which then settles into a  steady climb. These road climbs, then flattens for a light and repeats
this pattern for three lights total. Over a mile of near constant
climbing and then I’m over and heading downhill all the way to my place
in Kirkland. As I pull in my Odo hits 120.6 miles and I find that it is
12:15 in the morning. 14 hours I was out riding around 11 of those
hours on the bicycle.  Not a fast pace and even below my other
centuries a factor which I think those gravel roads and that continuous
climb to the 2600 feet of the pass. My Atlantis performed amazingly in
the rain, mud, gravel, fast descents and steady climbs. A long day of
riding but satisfying.

Read Part One of this trip report and check out my Flickr gallery from this ride and my gallery of this route on my cycling site.

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