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  • Writer's pictureAl S.

The End is Nigh - Vantage, WA to Forks, WA

Updated: Jan 26, 2023

The route from the Columbia River to Seattle was almost entirely on bike trails. A quick ferry ride took me from downtown Seattle to the Olympic Peninsula. Another 2 days of riding through the lush forests of the Pacific Northwest put me at my final destination... the Pacific Ocean. It was hard to believe that I had ridden 4428 miles from the Atlantic to the Pacific.



 

Jul 18, 2021

Mileage: 72.5 miles

Odometer Start: 5740.1

Odometer End: 5812.6

Avg Speed: 8.5 mph

Max Speed: 32.6 mph

Riding Time: 8 hrs, 28 mins

Vantage, WA to Lake Easton State Park, WA


Vantage, WA is located immediately next to the Columbia River. I had to climb out of the Columbia River valley in order to continue west and reach the Palouse to Cascades Rail-to-Trail. The uphill climb began as soon as I rode away from the campground. The hill is 12 miles long and gains 2000' of elevation.


Of course, just climbing 2000 feet would be too easy. There was also a fierce headwind all the way to the top of the ridge. The sustained wind was probably 25 mph and it was blowing directly in my face. The road was following a gully that climbed out of the valley. If I had to guess, I would say this gully was actually funneling the wind down the gap to the river at the bottom.


The top of the climb up from The Columbia River. Mt Ranier is visible in the background.

You can get an idea of the difficulty of this climb based on my average mph for the day. I was only able to average 8.5 mph over the course of 72 miles. My normal average over the previous 2 months was around 13 mph over similar distances. Even when I did the 16 mile climb up to the continental divide, my average for the day was still 12.8 mph.


I was incredibly relieved when I finally crested the ridge and could see the terrain flatten out. More exciting was the fact that Mt. Ranier came into view as I reached the top. This was the first time I had been able to see the snow-topped mountain in the distance. Mt. Ranier meant that I was getting very close to Seattle.


Another 20 miles down the road I reached the city of Ellensburg. I found a place that was serving brunch and took a well-deserved break. This town was also the point where I could access a trailhead for the Palouse to Cascades Rail-to-Trail. This trail would get me off the roads all the way into Seattle.


One of the several tunnels on the Palouse to Cascades Rail-to-Trail.

The initial section of the trail ran parallel to I-90. I noticed a large fruit retailer that was adjacent to an exit ramp, so I stopped and enjoyed some fresh fruit. Otherwise, I spent the rest of the afternoon burning miles and enjoying the sparsely populated trail. I stopped in Cle Elum and resupplied at the Safeway. Once I was loaded with some appealing food options for dinner, I proceeded to the campground at Lake Easton State Park.


The campground had a pair of sites that were specifically reserved for hiker/bikers. The rest of the sites are for people that arrive by car or RV. Many of the state parks in Washington have these sites set aside for hikers/bikers and they are considerably less expensive than the regular campsites. Basically, they will let you stay for $5 as opposed to $20+ for a normal site. Unfortunately, both of the hiker/biker sites at Lake Easton already had occupants with their tents set up.


I started talking to the 2 cyclists at one of the sites and they invited me to join them. Matt and Mario were doing a short out-and-back from the Seattle suburbs. It turned out that Matt had ridden cross-country in 2019. I expressed my gratitude for them sharing the campsite and then proceeded to get a good night's sleep.


 

Jul 19, 2021

Mileage: 69.7 miles

Odometer End: 5882.2

Avg Speed: 12.7 mph

Max Speed: 33.2 mph

Riding Time: 5 hrs, 28 mins

Lake Easton State Park, WA to Issaquah, WA


Shortly after dawn, I was up and ate a few granola bars. I then broke camp and said "bye" to Matt & Mario. I rode around Lake Easton to get back to the Palouse to Cascades Rail-to-Trail.


The eastern side of the Snoqualmie Tunnel. You need a light in the 2 1/2 miles of darkness.

About 5 miles down the trail I hit a small bump and suddenly there was a horrible noise coming from the back of the bike. I slammed on the brakes and hopped off to get a look at the problem. One side of the rear rack had come completely detached from the bike frame. The screw that had been holding it in place had vanished.


I unloaded the bike so that I could get a good look at the problem. It turned out that the head of the screw holding the rack to the frame had sheered off after 5000+ miles of use. The body of the screw was still in the frame and I did not have a tool that could remove it. I opened up my toolkit and cobbled together a temporary fix. I literally used zip ties and duct tape to secure the frame to my bike. Once this in-elegant solution was in place, I was back in the saddle and headed west. This changed my plans slightly because it would now be necessary to stop at the first bike shop to execute some proper repairs on this problem.


The Palouse to Cascades Rail-to-Trail was originally known at The Milwaukee Road and was operated by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific Railroad. That is a name that just rolls off the tongue. According to the information I saw, the railroad was completed in 1909 and the line ceased to operate in 1980. One dramatic feature of this trail is the 2 1/2 mile long Snoqualmie Tunnel that runs under Snoqualmie Pass.


I stopped at the parking area shortly before reaching the Snoqualmie Tunnel. This trail head provided access to the rail-to-trail, but it also had picnic tables, bathrooms, and running water. I spent a few minutes resting and re-hydrating. I was only there a short while when Matt & Mario rode up.


The western side of The Snoqualmie Tunnel.

I told them about my adventure with the sheared off screw and showed them why I couldn't fix the bike properly. It turned out that Mario had an amazing set of tools in his kit and was able to extract the remainder of the screw. With the body of the screw removed, I was able to use a spare screw to reattach the rack to the bike. I really appreciate their help. This saved me from having to stop at the next bike shop.


The Snoqualmie Tunnel does not have lights. It is 2 1/2 miles long, therefore, it is completely dark after you are a couple hundred feet past the entrance. It is essential to have a light on your bike to get through this tunnel. I had my trusty headlamp that was more than adequate.


Traversing the tunnel is a surreal experience. Once you are about 1/2 mile inside, you can see a tiny point of light at either end, but both points of light are so small that they seem unreachable. There is a point where it seems that the points of light are static. No matter how much you pedal, they don't seem to come any closer. And then, after about 10 - 15 minutes of riding you burst out into the light on the other side.


From the western side of the Snoqualmie Tunnel, it is downhill almost all the way to the end of the trail. A 1% to 2% downhill grade makes the riding very easy and I was able to cover a lot of ground very quickly.


I followed a series of bike trails toward Seattle and stopped in Snoqualmie for lunch. I ended the day in Issaquah where I splurged and got myself a room in a hotel. I felt like I was deep into the suburbs at this point. There were a lot of houses that backed up to the trails and I did not feel comfortable setting up my tent in some random wooded area with so many people nearby.


 

Jul 20, 2021

Mileage: 37.5 miles

Odometer End: 5919.7

Avg Speed: 12.0 mph

Max Speed: 36.9 mph

Riding Time: 3 hrs, 07 mins

Issaquah, WA to Kitsap State Park, WA


I slept late because I was enjoying the comfy bed at the hotel. Also, this was the first bed I had slept in since Bozeman, MT. Once I was on the road, the path into Seattle was actually relatively easy. There are a series of bike trails that run parallel to I-90 all the way into downtown Seattle. The trails are quite loud due to the road noise, but they are very safe because there is a dedicated bike lane completely separate from the road. This includes the several long I-90 bridges that cross Lake Washington heading into the city.


The I-90 bridge across Lake Washington heading into Seattle. The bridge had a dedicated bike lane.

I arrived downtown shortly before noon and located the ferry that would carry me across Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island. I purchased a ticket, and then proceeded to the waiting area until the ferry arrived. Bikes are directed to the front of the line and are loaded before the cars are allowed on the ship.


While I was waiting, there were several other cyclists that got in line with me. One couple was headed for a tour around the Olympic Peninsula, another was a very impatient commuter, and there were also several other casual riders that seemed to be heading over to Bainbridge just to enjoy the afternoon.


Riding the Bainbridge Ferry with the city of Seattle in the background.

It is a relatively short ferry ride over to Bainbridge Island. The ferry was docked and I was exiting the ship about 30 - 40 minutes after departure. Of course, I did not even make it out of the parking lot before I had another flat on the rear tire. Once that was fixed, I was peckish and decided to track down some lunch.


I checked Google Maps and found an Indian restaurant nearby. I had only seen one Indian restaurant the entire trip... that was in Gillette, WY and it happened to be closed the evening I was there. I decided that a big meal of Indian food was just what I needed.


I asked the waiter to recommend the best chicken dish that they served. I was not disappointed. I didn't write down the name of the dish, but it was not something I was familiar with from the Indian restaurants that I frequent at home. It was an absolutely delicious meal and the recommendation from the server was top notch.


I continued north up Bainbridge Island and continued on to Kitsap State Park near the Hood Canal. I covered less than 40 miles this day, but I was savoring the feeling that my final destination was getting very close.


I may have been relishing the feeling of accomplishment, but at the same time I was experiencing some mixed feelings about bringing this trip to a close. It finally felt that I was getting really good at bicycle touring and I wasn't sure that I wanted the trip to end. I was able to ride all day, I was reasonably skilled at navigating, I could cover 70 - 100 miles every day and get up and do it again tomorrow, but most importantly, I was enjoying almost all of the small moments that constitute each day. Going home just wasn't that appealing right now.


The campground at Kitsap had several hiker/biker campsites that were separate from the rest of the campground. I was the only one there and had an entire section of the woods to myself. I got an excellent night's sleep with the sounds of the forest playing in the background.


 

Jul 21, 2021

Mileage: 87.8 miles

Odometer End: 6007.7

Avg Speed: 12.2 mph

Max Speed: 34.4 mph

Riding Time: 7 hrs, 11 mins

Kitsap State Park, WA to Fairholme Campground in Olympia National Park, WA


I left Kitsap State Park and made my way up to the bridge across the Hood Canal. I rode west on the Olympic Peninsula until I hit Rt 101. Highway 101 loops around the top of the peninsula and then heads south down the Pacific coast. This highway runs the entire length of the coast through Washington, Oregon, and California where it is known as the Pacific Coast Highway.


I followed it around to the small town of Blyn located on Sequim Bay. I stopped for lunch and a rest break before getting back on the road. I decided to stop here because it was convenient and there was an access point for the Olympic Discovery Trail located nearby. This bike trail runs across the northern part of the Olympic Peninsula and would keep me off the roads for most of the day.


Somehow, I missed the entrance to the trail when I got back on the road. I realized my mistake after a short distance because the bike trail was visible from the road. I began searching for a good spot to access the trail and quickly found a small hillside with some tall weeds that was acceptable.


The next 15 seconds would become the most embarrassing part of the entire 4400+ mile journey. As I slowly rode down the 20 feet of hillside, my front tire hit a rut that caused me to fall over, tumble off the bike, and lay there looking pathetic right in front of some little old lady with her dog. She asked me if I was OK even though she had seen that I was only going 2 mph when I fell. I stood up, dusted myself off, and told her that I was fine, just suffered from a bruised ego, and then went on my way.


This trip was 4428 miles long and this was the only time in the entire journey that I "crashed". I couldn't decide whether to laugh or be disgusted with myself.


My campsite at Fairholme Campground on Crescent Lake in Olympic National Park. It was a fabulous spot.

The Olympic Discover Trail is nice. Like... really nice. It is paved, reasonably flat, and is a lot of fun to ride. It follows quite close to the water in places and I could occasionally smell the salt water. I followed the trail across the top of the peninsula until I reached Port Angeles. I stopped in town to get a second lunch and took this opportunity to try to plan where I would stay for the evening.


I had already ridden 60 miles, but there were not a lot of options for camping in the area, so I decided to push further down Rt 101. There was a campground in Olympic National Park about 25 miles down the road and I still had a lot of daylight.


Rt 101 made for some good riding with nice wide shoulders and a moderate volume of traffic. However, the last 11 miles of the ride around the shore of Crescent Lake was one stretch of road that I wish that I could have avoided.


Shortly before reaching Crescent Lake, there is a sign on the side of the road for cyclists. It warns you that the next 11 miles of road has no shoulders and lots of curves which limit visibility. There is a button to push that lights up a set of caution lights for the next 90 minutes. These flashing warning lights are supposed to alert drivers to the presence of cyclists up ahead. It did not fill me with confidence. Obviously, I made it to the campground without incident, but the sign was not lying... avoid this stretch of road if possible.


The campground had a fantastic view of Crescent Lake. There were not a lot of open sites, but the campground host was extremely nice and very helpful. She found me an empty site and I got myself settled for the evening.


 

Jul 22, 2021

Mileage: 56.1 miles

Odometer End: 6063.8

Avg Speed: 12.7 mph

Max Speed: 28.4 mph

Riding Time: 4 hrs, 23 mins

Fairholme Campground in Olympia National Park, WA to Rialto Beach, WA


I was not in a hurry on this final morning of the journey. It was only around 40 miles to the ocean and I knew that I could easily cover that distance before noon.


It was nice and cool when I started riding. I actually wore my long sleeve shirt all day. In addition, I left the campground wearing my rain jacket to keep warm. There was a decent hill climbing away from Lake Crescent and by the time I reached to top I was warmed up. I stopped at the top of the hill to remove that outer layer.


This was my first glimpse of The Pacific Ocean in the distance as I approached Rialto Beach near Forks, WA.

About 5 miles down the road, I realized that when I stopped to take off the rain jacket I had placed my high visibility vest on the rear rack, but forgot to put it back on. I stopped, but it was already gone. I wasn't going to turn around at this point.


That vest had traveled with me from the very first day of the journey in Baltimore. That was the 2nd item that I had lost due to carelessness on this trip. (The first was a tent pole that was lost in Townsend, MT).


I turned off Rt 101 shortly before the town of Forks, WA and headed for Rialto beach. I ran across a small restaurant and stopped for an early lunch. This break also gave me some time to reflect on the journey over the last 2 months.


The entrance to Rialto Beach on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State.

About a mile from the beach, I got my first sight of the ocean. I came around a bend in the road and could see breakers off in the distance. When I got my first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean, I stopped to take a picture and a strange notion crossed my mind. I'm not going to lie, I thought to myself that it was not too late to turn around... I could go back to the main road, keep heading south, and extend the trip for a bit and dip my tires in the ocean a couple hundred miles south of here. I was not at all sure that I wanted this journey to end.


Regardless of these thoughts, I kept heading to the water. Very soon, I was on the beach. I took my shoes off and made my way out onto the beach made of large pebbles. All of the stones on the beach had been worn smooth by the action of the waves. I found a good spot and sat down. I sat there for almost an hour just enjoying the sun and contemplating my accomplishment.


Dipping my tires in The Pacific Ocean. I could not believe the journey was over.

Eventually, I asked a family sitting nearby if someone would be willing to take my picture. I explained where I had come from and everyone offered me their congratulations. I got my picture with my tires in the Pacific Ocean. It was now time to head home.


It was a 15 mile ride back to the small town of Forks. I was in town by mid-afternoon and decided that getting a hotel room would be a good option for this evening. The shower felt great and I went out for a nice big dinner.


As I sat eating dinner, I had a lot of memories running through my head. The entire trip was 4428 miles over 75 days, 9 of which were rest days. Most of the rest days were planned because I wanted to take time to see a museum or visit a national park. I had people buy me meals for no particular reason, I had people stop and help me with mechanical issues on the side of the road, and I had good moments and bad moments. The trip was hard, but I never came close to a point where I thought about quitting.


Traveling by bicycle is an amazing experience. Most people travel by car or plane and they only experience the country as discrete points on a map. They may drive down the interstate, but they only encounter a small portion of the land they cross. It is very unusual for these travelers to be able to stop and exit the vehicle on a whim. There are so many interesting views or odd landscape features that remain un-investigated because there is not enough time to stop. There may be hundreds of miles in between points where these travelers actually get a chance to interact with their environment. They travel so quickly that they miss almost everything. They never get to see that it isn't particularly far from downtown Big City, USA to some of the least populated corners of the country.


Conversely, the bicycle gave me a sense that all of the different parts of the country are truly connected. I can draw a line on the map from my home on the east coast all the way to the Pacific Ocean and I can say that I experienced all of that line... both the good and the bad.


This journey left we with a deep understanding that all of those disparate "points" of the country are connected. There may be an incredible diversity of ecosystems that constitute the United States, but none of them exist in complete isolation. The same goes for the people of this country. We have our differences, but we have much more in common... many people are just not able to see it. This trip taught me that it is not actually that far from Baltimore to rural Nebraska.

As I finished my meal, I realized that the only thing left to do was figure out how to get from Forks, WA to my home in Baltimore, MD.


 








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