41.6 mi / 11.1 mph / 365 ft. climbing
Home: Kittitas Valley Event Center Campsite
We had learned when picking up groceries last night at The Hitching Post in Easton, that they also served as a small diner (with the single attendant impressively managing food prep and retail purchases simultaneously). So we decided to do biscuits-and-gravy (and eggs) breakfast there rather than normal camp breakfast.
At the edge of town we huffed and puffed up a short steep hill to beat an oncoming train across the tracks (made it!), and then rejoined the Palouse to Cascades Trail for our third (and likely final) day.
The surface quality of the gravel trail changes from place to place, and, more-critically, from time-to-time. A ride report from four years ago saying that the gravel was deep and unrideable might be out-of-date because enough riders have compacted it in the intervening years. On the other hand, another formerly-good section may have had a new layer of loose, uncompacted stone spread across it. So last night in camp, a couple stopped by and asked to chat about our experience, because they were planning to soon ride the sections we’d just done. In turn we were able to get info from them about sections we were heading toward.
Most generally “the trail gets worse as you go east” is the common refrain, and that held true, as the loose stone was definitely more-plentiful and deeper this morning that in had been yesterday (but still far more civilized than the truly rough stuff you encounter east of the Columbia). We considered getting off the trail (and onto I-90) at the first opportunity, but decided to stick it out. And then either the surface improved a bit, or Rett just got more in the groove with it, because she was once again riding so fast on it that I needed to really push to keep up with her.
At South Cle Elum we coincidentally ran into the couple from last night, so we now had even more info we could share with them! After that we actually got off the trail for a few miles, onto Lower Peoh Point Rd., which mostly parallels the trail but has a decent hill to go up and down at the beginning. We watched our average speed, and it showed that the even with the hill, the road was the faster option.
Back on the trail, we entered an enchantingly remote-feeling section along the Yakima River, where the sun boiled up the heated aroma of the Ponderosa pines to really drive home the point that we now were in The West. The West of Westerns, of Country-and-Western music, and not of The Pacific Northwest, which is a wholly different place with wet green forests on the other side of the mountains. Again we saw only a handful of cyclists the whole day (I mean, it’s a weekday, and there aren’t really any population centers nearby), which added to the remote feeling.
We passed through two short tunnels (short enough that they didn’t get wholly dark inside), and while we stood on the trail as the hillside spit small rockslides in our direction, Rett finally admitted that despite her impressive effort, we’d be unlikely to meet her goal of reaching camp before her 2:45pm weekly therapy video call. That decision improved things substantially, because it meant we could ease up. Watch some butterflies soaring over the river while we ate lunch under the shade of a rare tree. Hop off the trail again to detour through the tiny town of Thorp, a place I-90 travelers know the name of due to Thorp Fruit and Antique Mall that billboards itself from the highway, but 99% of whom have never seen the town (it’s filled exclusively with surprisingly-nice houses for a tiny middle-of-nowhere town, we guessed filled with university professors using it as a rural bedroom suburb of Ellensburg, or Seattle retirees who wanted to stay close to the mountains but got tired of the rain). And then stop at the famous Thorp Fruit itself, where Rett felt her mom through the Rainier cherries she bought.
The trail runs right behind the market, and contains some of the few trees in the area, so we climbed back up to it and got Rett set up for her appointment in the shade, sitting in her camp chair with her phone stand hanging off the side of her rear pannier. We had decided that we wouldn’t return to actual riding on the trail after this, so I worked on getting our tires pumped back up and other travel planning.
For the final 9 miles we jumped to the road, and again, it definitely increased speed (especially since we were avoiding some of the loosest gravel yet on the trail). Prosperous green farm country filled the outskirts of Ellensburg. In the last bit into town, the heat might have gotten to Rett, and she needed a quick break and some sugar to continue. It’s far drier than we’re used to on this side of the mountains (like 25% humidity), so we need to be drinking tons of water.
We navigated our way to the camping area designated for us (essentially an open field of grass) at the Kittitas Valley Event Center (aka, the County Fairgrounds). There was one big evergreen and we set up in its shade. No picnic table, but a small building with electric outlets, and then bathrooms with clean hot showers nearby in one of the fairground buildings (which we essentially had to ourselves, since camping at the fairgrounds isn’t really a thing people do when the fair isn’t going on!)
Although the Event Center advertises camping on its website ($17 for dry camping), and the trail passes literally along one side of the field we were camping in, I could find no evidence anywhere on the Internet of any other bike tourers ever camping there. That makes Rett an unlikely pioneer; I had initially suggested we’d do a motel in Ellensburg, since the KOA on the other side of town charges an absolutely insane $77(!!!) for a primitive campsite, and figured Rett wouldn’t want to risk the untested and “weird” camping at the fairgrounds. But she said “no, no motel, let’s do the fairgrounds!” We’re generally far less-adventurous about finding places to pitch a tent than most long-term bike tourers, so it was pretty awesome that Rett was the one leading the way here.
One annoyance was a sprinkler watering the lawn nearby (grass pretty much needs constant watering around here to exist), but the rhythmic psht-psht-psht of the rotary sprinkler, combined with making dinner (pizza!) on the grass, and the late-hour summer sun, made for a very nostalgic evening. And, for the first time in three nights, it was nice to be warm!
After dinner, we explored around the empty fairground with the last of our bottle of wine in our cups (shh, we don’t know if alcohol is allowed or not!) It’s kind of wild how important of a thing this county fair must be around here, given how much real estate is dedicated to it, for something that’s used not much more than one week a year. It covers multiple city blocks of Ellensburg, largely open and connected to the street grid (Central Washington University is just north of it, the Safeway a few blocks southwest), but we were the only ones making any use of it.