26.1 mi / 9.8 mph / 564 ft. climbing
Home: Lake Easton State Park hiker/biker campsite
Rett thought she heard a car last night and then bikes moving, so was concerned whether or not our bikes were still sitting outside our tent. I knew immediately that this was 100% a dream, since the nearest road was miles away. So I was happy to laze in bed together until 9am, more than three hours after sunrise, especially given that it was 45F at 8:30am.
Some coffee to warm us up a bit with Rett’s chia pudding carried from home, and it was already feeling like we were right back in the groove. Which was remarkable, since like all of our restarts, it felt fairly scary and insane to be heading off into the unknown outdoors. During the latter stages of our off time, when I’d re-read some of my old journal entries, I’d be like “who are these people doing these crazy things?!? How do they even do that?!? Surely that’s not safe or reasonable or possible!!” Even when I’d tell myself “uh, dude, those people are us“, I didn’t really believe it. But at least that gave me some perspective of how other people see us when we’re on the road. Usually when people see us and say things like “wow, what you guys are doing is really incredible!” or “oh man, I could never do that!”, I think “no, it’s really not all that incredible or difficult, we aren’t doing anything all that special, almost anyone could do it.” But now as someone who has done it but still has difficulty conceiving doing it again, I have much more sympathy for the perspective of people who have never done it at all. It’s funny how much recent experiences inform our subconscious of what is safe or reasonable or possible. And I guess that means pushing ourselves into new (or renewed) experiences, rather than the experiences themselves, is where the “adventurousness” truly lies.
On top of those intangible and illogical feelings of risk, we actually had brought significant practical risks with us. We had used our downtime to acquire a substantial amount of new equipment: a new tent, a new sleeping pad, a washed-for-the-first-time sleeping bag, a new water bag, a new blanket/sit-pad/yoga mat, and a load of new clothing. And all of it would be tested for the first time at a remote campsite in the mountains that would be impossible to bail out on? (Rather than an out-and-back “shakedown trip” to a local campground like we’ve normally done.) Yeah, that was pretty dumb, but all significantly exceeded our expectations (at least for the first night!)
We got back on the nearly-empty trail, and had nearly 600 more feet to climb to the summit. The views continued to be astounding, and compounded by the sense of privilege that bicycle travel allowed us to see them from this little-seen perspective. Near the end of the day’s ride, a walker I briefly spoke with commented how wonderful it is that the state makes this resource available, and I couldn’t have agreed more.
The best example of that public provision of resources came at the top, and the foreboding entrance to the Snoqualmie Tunnel. I cut my cycling teeth on family trips to the Elroy-Sparta trail in Wisconsin, where we stayed at Tunnel Trail Campground, so named for the three old rail tunnels that are rightfully the highlights of that granddaddy of rail-trails. The standout is Tunnel #3, whose dark, dripping, 3/4-mile length is three times longer than the other two tunnels. But the Snoqualmie Tunnel, at 2.3 miles, is three times longer than Tunnel #3!
Unlike Tunnel #3, the Snoqualmie Tunnel is dead-straight, so you can actually see the pinprick of light at the far end of darkness. Like Tunnel #3, it remains cold inside even in the heart of summer, but since it was already cold outside this day, we were already well-dressed and just added our rain jackets in case it was really wet inside. And then turned on our bike headlights and put our headlamps on our helmets. Inward we rode.
Surprisingly, on this trail that we’d nearly had to ourselves for a day, we suddenly saw a lot of headlamps coming toward us. There were probably a dozen walkers, all spread out, presumably doing an out-and-back from the Hyak trailhead that makes the opposite side accessible to people willing to cheat and simply drive a car to this spot. Pfft. That was a bit annoying, because I’d been looking forward to experiencing the darkness of this unique place in solitude, turning off our lights, getting photos, etc. But it was probably good for Rett, who had no interest in spending a second longer than necessary inside the blackness anyway.
We sure could see our breath misting up in the glow of our headlamps, and our hands got a bit chilly, but I don’t think it was any colder than the morning air had been. And, credit to the state, not only do they make this tunnel open and accessible (at least between May and October), but the surface inside is a higher quality than I remember on the Elroy-Sparta trail, and a concrete casing kept the water infiltration pretty minimal.
At that cursed Hyak trailhead, we did take advantage of the bathrooms and our first tap water since leaving Monroe (they even have showers too!) Then we began the long downhill, now on the dry side of the pass. Though first we had a long level run along the shore of Lake Keechelus, where Rett found us another perfect lunch spot watching the trucks on I-90 march like ants on the opposite shore.
Or, maybe that was the ants that we saw marching like ants: we had more silly fun than we’ve had in a while, giving voices to the colony of ants at our feet who were struggling to decide what to do with Rett’s Cheeto crumbs.
The trail surface remained comparable to the conditions on the way up: stay in the two compacted tracks and it was pretty ok, but risk sliding out if you surf across the rocky middle. The turnoff to Lake Easton State Park put us on a cool (and smooth) dirt hiking-like trail with a very different character than the rail-trail.
We self-registered at one of the two hiker/biker sites (for $12), and showered up at the (free, hot, individual-room) showers. Shortly after Craig arrived and took the other one, and then later on a couple more cyclists came looking! Not that surprising since the park is right off this epic bike trail, but that was more cyclists than we’d seen on the trail itself! And it definitely made for more bikes in (this loop of) the campground than cars, since it was otherwise nearly-empty (which meant the late-arriving cyclists had no problem finding a place to pitch their tents).
A bonus of the hiker/biker sites is that they’re right near a short trail that lets you sneak out of the back side of the park and take a shortcut to the one store in the nearly-ghost-town of Easton, which we walked to for dinner groceries (corned beef hash mixed with instant mashed potatoes, the latter being a new camp-food epiphany we had due to Rett’s dental work earlier this year!)
All the reviews of Lake Easton State Park say “good park, if only it wasn’t right next to the I-90 traffic roaring all night long”. But our site was one of the furthest from the highway, so the constant drone was actually significantly quieter than the roar of the creek 10 feet from our tent last night!