Trail News: Work Begins on the Long-Awaited Willapa Hills Trail Overpass

Design rendering courtesy of Washington State Parks and Otak, Inc.

A long-awaited solution to a dangerous crossing on the Willapa Hills Trail west of Chehalis is now in the works.

Contractors with Tapani Underground began site preparations this week at the junction with State Route 6 three miles west of Chehalis, moving earth and staging equipment for an expected year-long project to build an overpass over a dangerous section of road.

As a result of this work beginning, the trail has been closed between Cabe Road and Dieckman Road. In a news release issued September 22, Washington State Parks officials said the closure will last about one full year.

The $3.3 million overpass will give trail users safe passage over a section of road that has been a headache for cyclists, equestrians and those on foot for at least a decade. The trail crosses SR 6 as the highway curves, reducing sight lines for cyclists and drivers, and creating a hazardous crossing scenario. The overpass will solve this dilemma by elevating the trail over the road and eliminating the at-grade crossing.

Washington State Parks and the Lewis County Community Trails Association jointly held two public meetings in late 2018 and early 2019, asking for public input on the idea of an overpass. Feedback from the public was generally positive, and those in attendance weighed in on the design and aesthetics of the structure.

Initial cost estimates for the project came in at about $5 million; however, in recent months, that has been revised downward, with Tapani of Battle Ground winning the low bid of $3.3 million earlier this year.

Project area aerial imagery courtesy of Google Earth

A PERMANENT SOLUTION TO A PERSISTENT PROBLEM

Ever since the trail has been in use for the best part of the past decade, the biggest safety issue along the WHT corridor has been the at-grade crossing at an area known as Littell, three miles west of Chehalis.

Once a station for the Northern Pacific Railway, Littell is known today as a place where three transportation corridors meet: State Route 6, Stearns Road, and the Willapa Hills Trail. As the site stands now, SR6 and Stearns Road connect at a curve, while the Willapa Hills Trail maintains a straight line through the area.

As such, sight lines are poor for trail users, especially westbound. Trees adjacent to the eastbound lanes of SR 6 make it near impossible for westbound travelers to see traffic until they approach the shoulder.

Although signage recommends 35 miles per hour around the curve, traffic is known through this area to blow past at the full 55 miles per hour speed limit in the area.

The Washington State Department of Transportation addressed concerns in 2018 about the trail/road conflict by installing bollards to separate the lanes of travel, with the goal of getting drivers to slow down around the curve. Crews installed flashing lights that can be activated by trail users as they approach the road.

However, this measure has been seen as a stopgap solution to something more that is needed, and after a period of advocacy from trail users and the LCCTA, State Parks joined in the chorus — bringing support for an overpass to an all-time high.

This design rendering by Washington State Parks and Otak was shown in a public meeting in 2019, and details the design brought forth to deal with several challenges in the project area.

GETTING CREATIVE TO GET THE JOB DONE

With the consensus about the necessity of an overpass at Littell having been reached, the real work began. What will the overpass look like, and how exactly is it going to work given the unique challenges of a major curve, intersection with a local road, and adjacent private property?

These details were the focus of public meetings jointly hosted by Washington State Parks and the Lewis County Community Trails Association.

The first, held in late 2018 at Adna Junior/Senior High School, aimed to bring together Parks staff, those who owned homes and property in the proposed project area, and trail advocates. In this meeting, initial details of a proposed overpass were unveiled, with details such as aesthetics and design being influenced by property owners who asked for as natural a look as possible for the structure.

In the second meeting, held at the Veterans Memorial Museum in Chehalis, an open house style format allowed for people to mingle and talk with State Parks staff and LCCT committee members. A design was unveiled that took previous feedback into account, and incorporated public recommendations on a natural look to the structure.

To deal with the curve of the highway and stay within Parks right-of-way, the bridge will include slight curves on both sides — which will act as a natural way to encourage trail users, especially cyclists, to slow down. On one end of the overpass, a small overlook will be built that will provide a view of Mount Rainier off to the east.

Initial work on the area so far has included raising power lines along Stearns Road to accommodate the 17-foot height of the structure, and clearing earth to make way for giant earthen ramps to be created. Those ramps will have to settle for months before any construction on the overpass itself can begin.

Trees and native plants will be planted in the project area to better tie the structure to the surrounding environment visually.

The sign says it all: Don’t try to get around the construction site. Just don’t.

HOW TO GET AROUND FOR NOW

State Parks has made it clear that there is no safe detour around the construction area, and I generally tend to agree with this.

However, experienced cyclists can try to use Highway 603 to Twin Oaks Road, and take Twin Oaks for its length back to SR 6. You’ll have to use the shoulder of SR 6 and then turn left onto Bunker Creek Road, then head to Dieckman Road and arrive at the Adna Trailhead.

This detour is for experienced cyclists only and is not generally recommended — however I do this route regularly without trouble at non-peak traffic times.

The easiest and best way for now, however, is to simply start your journey in Adna. Two Discover Pass lots are right alongside the trail on Dieckman Road, and extra parking is available at Back Memorial Park nearby.

For more project information, visit Washington State Parks’ website.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR THE FUTURE

Once the overpass is completed, it will unlock more than 30 miles of consecutive trail between Chehalis and far eastern Pacific County — with the attractive benefit of this corridor being car-free and separated from traffic.

The Willapa Hills Trail is part of the Cross-State Trail project that aims to link the Willapa Hills Trail and the Palouse to Cascades Trail, and this overpass over SR 6 will eliminate one the single most dangerous part of the trail that has acted as a barrier to people wanting to use this section for years.

A Cyclist’s Guide to All 56 Miles of the Willapa Hills Trail

The Willapa Hills Trail is a 56-mile trail link between the central I-5 corridor and the Pacific coast that offers a challenge for just about any cyclist.

Starting in Chehalis, Washington and ending in the town of South Bend on the Willapa Bay, not far from the ocean, the trail was once a railroad that has since been converted to trail use by Washington State Parks. More and more people have been discovering the trail and enjoying it over the past couple years, and especially I’ve noticed more traffic on it since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Willapa, or WHiT as I like to call it, is a perfect break from urban life and offers a great opportunity to get a great bike ride in without having to worry about traffic. It’s close enough to amenities and yet far enough to feel like you’re going somewhere new.

Hopefully if you’ve found this post, you’re looking for some info on the trail in consideration for an upcoming visit. My goal is to help you prepare and ensure you’re good to go with what you need to tackle this journey.

Riding the trail from start to finish is a day-long excursion; you’ll want to plan an entire day around this journey and the associated travel from your home or wherever you’re staying. Although parts of this ride are very difficult, I trust you’ll find it an enjoyable trek regardless of mileage you ride.

All information on this post is current as of October 10, 2021.


Who Is This Guy Typing This Out?

Oh hey, in case we’ve never met, I’m Chris Brewer, an avid cyclist who lives in Lewis County. I have biked from Chehalis to Pluvius (mile 32) and back a number of times — more than I can count on both hands, for sure. However, I’ve only ever ridden the entirety of the trail twice. Frankly, part of that is due to trail conditions, which I’ll describe later on in my post here.

In case you’re still wondering if I know about what I’m talking about: I’m the board president of the Lewis County Community Trails Association, a group that enjoys a fantastic partnership with Washington State Parks and works hand-in-hand to help provide grant funding and much more. I’ve ridden more than 33,000 miles since I started biking in 2012, with thousands of miles logged on rail-trails and scenic routes here in Washington state.

I also directed the annual Ride the Willapa bike ride on the WHT from 2018 to 2021. My love for this trail and this section of the world runs deep, and as such I hope you feel the same appreciation I do for this recreational gem when you read this and ride the trail on your own time.


What to Bring and Consider

The key to a successful journey on the Willapa Hills Trail, as with just about any bike ride, is proper preparation, planning and packing. You’ll want to be outfitted with proper gear and sustenance to make a 56-mile journey; in this particular instance, a non-negotiable is a bike with wide tires for starters.

Here’s what I bring on each trip:

  • My mountain bike, of course (in my case, a Trek Marlin 7 with RockShox front fork)
  • Two bottles of water (I refill at a restaurant in Pe Ell and at the Menlo Store)
  • Sunscreen and extra chamois cream
  • Two extra bike tire tubes, two tire levers, and a bike pump
  • Portable charger and cords for phone, GPS head unit and watch

Here are some things you should consider:

  • The entire 56-mile trip will take you at least 5 hours if you’re in relatively good shape, and that’s just time in the saddle. Doing this one way will take you an entire day. Plan for this as you travel, and consider having someone drop you off on one end and pick you up at the other; or camp out or get a hotel overnight in Raymond or South Bend and ride back the next day.
  • I’ll repeat this point: Several parts of the trail are very difficult. Remember to take breaks and rest where and when necessary. Conserve your energy, and gear down on sections that are either uphill or have deep gravel. Don’t be ashamed if you have to walk your bike through or around some sections, or if you have to re-route.
  • Always, always be respectful of landowners and people living adjacent to the trail. Respect goes a long way. Don’t make unnecessary noise and don’t litter. Basically, don’t be a jerk.
  • On the topic of littering: the WHT is a Leave No Trace trail. There are no garbage cans on the trail. If you generate trash, pack it out.

The Lay of the Land

Now a slight majority of the trail is in a condition the vast majority of people would refer to as “complete,” with refurbished bridges, compacted gravel, and rights of way improved for cyclists, pedestrians, and equestrians to enjoy. The entirety of the trail in Lewis County is feature-complete, while most of the trail west of the Willapa Hills in Pacific County requires a lot of work.

But I’ll have you know: if you have a mountain bike, you can ride the entire Willapa Hills Trail in its current condition.

It’s not the easiest journey, but it can be done.

Before I get into the granular details of what you’ll find along the trail, I want to show this Google map compiled by Wayne VanWeerthuizen, who founded the Willapa Hills Trail Fans group on Facebook. This is the most definitive map showing current trail conditions, and Wayne does a fantastic job updating it as conditions and construction change the complexion of the corridor. It has a LOT of info and is pretty exhaustive, so take your time with it.

If you, like me, appreciate the work Wayne has done on this map, please drop a note in the WHT Fans Facebook group and let him know.


The “Finished” Portion of the WHT

The start of the Willapa Hills Trail is easily reachable from Interstate 5. To start the trail from its true beginning, you’ll need to hit the Chehalis Trailhead off of Exit 77. It’s only 5 minutes from the freeway, and you’ll be off and rolling on the trail in no time. OCTOBER 2021 UPDATE: As of October 2021, the trail is closed three miles east of Chehalis for the majority of the next year, and you will need to originate your trips from Adna, at the Dieckman Road Trailhead. Please read more about that here.

The segment of trail between Chehalis and Adna is paved and 5.5 miles in length. Three historic trestles cross rivers — the first two take you over the Newaukum, and the third goes over the Chehalis River. This section of trail is rather easy, and if you’re traveling by mountain bike you’ll find this segment an appropriate warm-up for the gravel section to come.

One problem area is an at-grade crossing of Highway 6 at a funky curve. Take appropriate caution through here and make sure you look both ways before crossing, and hit the button for good measure to activate the yellow lights that warn cars you’re coming. (An overpass will soon be built to remedy this problem area.)

10/10/21 EDIT: Once you park at the Dieckman Road trailhead, it’s an easy hop, skip and a jump onto the gravel portion of the trail.

Once you cross the trestle over the Chehalis River at Adna, the trail transitions to gravel and you won’t see pavement again until mile 51 at Raymond. This is where the trail shines and the scenery starts.

The trail passes through several stands of forest between Adna and Rainbow Falls, making the journey pleasant and providing shade on warm days.

Off and on between trail miles 6 and 12.5, you’ll pass through several wooded areas and along the Chehalis River. This is a personal favorite section of the trail because of the peaceful setting and the condition of the trail. You’ll find the compacted gravel in this area rather enjoyable.

Two trailheads exist on this segment of the journey: the Adna trailhead at mile 4.5 and the Ceres Hill trailhead at mile 10. Equestrians visit these trailheads and this area frequently, so ensure you’re staying aware of their presence.

Once you get past mile 12.5, the trail will straighten out for four miles or so. This can be a bit of a drag, but power on through it — there’s a respite at mile 15.5 as you can take a side trail to Rainbow Falls State Park, which offers good camping and amenities. Hiker and biker campsites are available at the park, making it an ideal spot for bike packers to rack out for an evening.

Trail conditions gradually get a bit tougher, as the depth of the gravel deepens a bit and the terrain varies. Still, a mountain bike is no match for it, but you will find yourself expending a few extra watts to maintain the speed you had earlier.

The straight stretch ends and finds a slight curve toward the Dryad and Doty areas around mile 16.5. A bridge takes you over the Chehalis River and out toward Doty, where you’ll come to a small hill and hit another straight stretch of trail. From here it’s not long to Pe Ell, a good spot to grab lunch at a variety of cafes. A couple small stores exist and offer good opportunity for you to replenish food and water you will need for the remainder of the trip.

The Tin Snug in Pe Ell is a personal favorite. It has a lot of great food and drink, and as a bonus, they offer bike parking!

West of Pe Ell is where the gettin’ gets good. The trail starts ascending at mile 23 and lasts for a few miles until you get to mile 29, bringing you up the eastern flank of the Coast Range in the Willapa Hills. You’ll gain about 400 feet from Pe Ell to Pluvius summit at a grade anywhere between 0.5 and 2 percent, making the climb achievable by anyone in just about any shape or condition.

Once you reach Pluvius, it’s time to enjoy a downhill stretch that you can enjoy for 5 miles or so — with a brief interruption. The scenery in this segment is absolutely wonderful, and as a bonus, about 4 of the miles of trail swing out from SR 6 and you have no road noise to contend with.

Now there’s one area you need to be watchful for. There are two unplanked bridges between mile 32 and 33 of the trail. I’ll put it in all caps here: THESE BRIDGES ARE CLOSED. DON’T TRY TO CROSS THEM.

There is a side trail that takes you off the main path and onto State Route 6. I don’t think this is an officially sanctioned route, but as it is the only safe path to get past the two bridges without incident, I’m giving it a brief mention here. Look to your left once you get on a long straight downhill stretch and you’ll find it. If you go under the highway you’ve gone too far.

Dismount your bike, walk your bike to the highway shoulder, then cross safely. Bomb downhill for about 1/4 mile then you’ll see a small trail off to the right allowing you to jump back on the trail. Bingo, you’ve bypassed the two trestles.

Now things start to get a bit tougher…


The “Wild West” Part of the Trail

The unplanked trestles at mile 32 mark a stark change in the trail conditions, as the majority of the trail in Pacific County is technically rideable, but nowhere near the shape it is in Lewis County.

That’s why I recommend anyone attempting this use a mountain bike with a suspension fork to make the going a bit easier.

This part of the trail starts off well enough, finishing the descent from Pluvius to the small community of Frances, but before too long you’ll be riding on some rougher terrain. The trail gradually goes from smooth surface to a mishmash of rocks, mowed grass and much more as this section generally consists of the old railroad bed and nature’s reclamation of the corridor.

Because I’m unfamiliar with the mileage along this section of trail, I’ll use the names of communities that are spaced about five miles apart as they’re easily findable along the trail.

Between Frances and Lebam, the trail is gentle enough and provides for some decent trudging along. At Lebam, though, things get a little interesting, requiring a detour onto Lebam Road and then Robertson Road to avoid a washout that needs repaired. (Refer to the trail map embedded above to show the detour around this section.)

Once back on the trail, the conditions become a bit rougher as larger rocks make their presence known under your tires. For a traveler who has been in the saddle all day, the segment between Lebam and Menlo is where you’ll start to feel a bit of fatigue set in. But there are plenty of shaded areas to rest, and the scenery along the trail is beautiful, especially the hills off in the distance.

Plus, a couple of river crossings help as well.

Bridges in Pacific County have a bit different surface than those in Lewis County. Notice the gravel along the length of the deck on this one.

The community of Menlo is only about five miles from Raymond and provides a really nice place to stop. The Menlo Store offers water, snacks and more for you to fill back up again and get you to the finish line. I highly recommend stopping in here, as the folks running the place are super friendly to cyclists and the decor inside is reminiscent of the railroad era in this community.

Once through Menlo, the going gets tough. I mean it, this is the toughest section of the trail and one that you’ll have to grit your teeth through. Once you pop back onto the trail and exit Menlo, you’ll immediately hit deeper gravel. Gear down and take note of channels you can ride through safely.

Passing Camp 1 Road, the deeper gravel continues and after 1/4 to 1/2 of a mile, you’ll encounter a trestle that is blocked by ecology blocks. Take the trail to the left and you’ll have to ride the shoulder of SR 6 to get past this. The shoulder is wide enough, but you’ll want to ride defensively and in a fashion that vehicles can see you. You’ll only need to ride the road for 1/3 of a mile or so, then take a slight right onto Heckard Road and immediate left to get back onto the trail.

The difficulty continues from here, with the trail going through some rough patches of briars and dips. In fact, if you opt to take Heckard for about 1/2 mile and rejoin the trail, I wouldn’t blame anyone for doing so.

Mowed grass strewn about the trail can make a journey difficult. It did for my crew on a late August 2021 ride on the section west of Heckard Road near Raymond.

Grit your teeth and grind your gears to get through this segment, and before you know it you’ll cross a couple of roads and find the reward: the gravel ends and the pavement begins on the outskirts of Raymond, and you’ll pass along a slough that connects with the Willapa River. You’ve just about reached the western end!

From here, the trail is easy to navigate and get through toward Raymond’s city center and the city of South Bend. The trail comes to an abrupt end at a crossing with SR 101 just north of South Bend’s city center, but anyone wishing to pedal onward to the coast will find 101 a very adequate road with wide shoulders and several amenities along the way.


In Conclusion

The Willapa Hills Trail from beginning to end is a great feather in the cap (or should I say helmet?) of any cyclist, and the trail presents a wide variety of conditions and challenges for anyone willing to tackle it all. Although it’s only about 75 percent of the way finished, State Parks is committed to seeing the trail through to completion and I think it won’t be too much longer until we are all able to enjoy it in finished form.

With that said, I hope you’ve found this condensed guide a bit useful for planning a trip on the trail. Hit me up in the comments if you have any comments, criticisms or observations, and thanks for reading!

Great Video on Urban Planning and Walkability

I was checking out some YouTube videos earlier and this one popped up in my Recommended section. Yup, I’m a bit of a nerd…and I’m okay with it.

This video by Not Just Bikes is a really good look at several American cities, honing in on Houston as a prime example, that make it a virtual requirement to own a car to even exist.

It’s much the same way in Centralia, although it’s getting better. Our city is small and while there is a decent network of sidewalks, there’s not too much yet that invites walking and biking to get around town.

This video shares some salient points and reflects a lot of my concerns about some areas here in Lewis County. It’s a really good watch.

Salient quote: “Nobody should have to own a car just to participate in society. And designing a city that way is criminal.”

Back with more posts on my own cycling soon…but I thought this video was very thought provoking and worth a share.

Reflecting on 5,000 Miles So Far in 2021

The highlight of my 2021 rides: Two times up the ascent to Elk Rock on the way to Mount St. Helens. One of my favorites.

It’s been a long year in a weird world. And the only constant has been my cycling exploits, much as it was last year when things were just starting to get weird.

Last year I made one of the biggest purchases I had ever made. After a few days of searching for a new bike to replace my 2007 Specialized Tarmac Comp (itself a very good bike), I found a Trek Emonda with a 62cm frame at the Trek Olympia store. One day in October, I brought my friend Chris with me, and went and picked the bike up.

The next day, Chris and I rode together and logged 64 miles in the saddle. I was able to pick up a couple Strava segment KOM’s on each direction of the Pe Ell McDonald Road ascent, and I knew this bike was going to absolutely fly up the hills and be a pretty punchy experience.

Things really kicked into high gear after buying that bike, and they never really slowed down. I picked up a Wahoo Kickr indoor trainer from my friend Trey, signed up for Zwift, and began riding virtual miles in my own house — complete with the simulated feel of climbs and descents via changes in resistance on the trainer.

The in-game screen on Zwift, which simulates different environments and courses, bringing a fun element to indoor cycling.

Zwift really pushed me to be better this year, and there’s one part of it that really helped: Pace Partners. These in-game “bots” stay at a consistent power level, ensuring that anyone who follows it or stays near it has to do the same. This helped me figure out how to regulate myself on climbs and sprints, especially when it comes to not burning myself out on segments when I still had a bunch to ride later.

As a result of all the riding in Zwift, when the spring cycling season began, I shot out of the gate like a cannon and was mowing down 40-mile and 50-mile rides with relative ease compared to what I had done in 2019 and 2020.

Organized rides came back this year, including the Columbia Century Challenge, which this year was staged out of my hometown of Rainier, Oregon. This ride was a grueling course of 110 miles with more than 7,000 feet of elevation gain. We climbed 1,200 feet in the first four miles alone on that one.

This llama at mile 106 of the Columbia Century Challenge wouldn’t talk to me. What a poophead. At least there’s a cool view of Longview, Washington in the distance.

The very next week, a bunch of us got together and rode the Tour de Blast, another grueling ride of 7,000-some odd feet of elevation gain. After having ridden up to Elk Rock with the boys two weeks earlier, we were back at it, but this time biking from Toutle Lake High School to Johnston Ridge and back.

I seemed to GAIN energy as I went along, and I finished that ride on a 20-mph sprint back into the high school.

Look at my bike leaning against this wall. Never mind the mountain behind it. Pssssh.

Then the NEXT week, I had to put on my ride organizer hat and direct the annual Ride the Willapa, the biggest bike ride in Lewis County. This year we had 225 people register for our scaled-down event, and because of the searing heat, 160 showed. I was still happy we got to put this event on and am eager to help with it again next year.

Sometimes the ride director has to serve as the water gopher too. That’s the way it works.

Those events were cool, but honestly the best part has been getting to ride with so many good people. I do more than my fair share of riding alone, but this year has consisted of everything from slow gravel rides in the National Forest to pace lines to the Castle Rock Bakery and back with the good people of the Lewis County Over the Hill Riders.

There are still three months and change to go in this year, and barring injury I am projected to hit at least 7,500 miles if I keep up my current pace. Let’s see what happens from here!

The Lewis County Over the Hill Riders & Cowlitz County Corncobbers (LOL) at the Columbia Century Challenge. GREAT PEOPLE!

An August Day on The Willapa Hills Trail, In Pictures

The Willapa Hills Trail is one of Washington state’s newest and wildest recreational resources, and it begins seven miles from my front door.

Once a branch line of the Northern Pacific Railway connecting Chehalis and South Bend, the rail line was abandoned in 1990 and acquired by Washington State Parks for purposes of trail development in 1993. TrailLink has a nice history of the route here, and much of that history is still on display and in use as the trail goes over many of the same bridges once utilized by steam trains in the early 1900s.

‘Tis a privilege to traverse the trail, and I do so often. Each time I do, it seems there is something new to discover along its right of way: a different perspective of the Chehalis River, the sun angle showcasing the vibrance of the foliage, or wildlife scurrying about and crossing the trail in front of me.

On Sunday, August 8, I decided to take my new Trek Marlin 7 mountain bike for a spin on the trail to get acquainted with the bike’s geometry and see how well it handled the gravel compared to my converted Fuji road bike. I’m a road cyclist through and through, but I’ve been feeling a need to diversify lately, so I sold some stuff and in turn bought the Trek.

My Trek Marlin 7 is a beast, quite literally: XL frame, 29×2.4 tires, and a heck of a suspension to keep me rolling over all terrain.

I took off from the Adna trailhead and pointed west, having told a couple friends I wanted to log about 40 to 50 miles. From Adna, this route is rather simplistic — just keep heading west on the trail for 18 more miles until you reach Pe Ell, then continue up the Coast range foothills to your heart’s delight before heading home.

Only this ride would bring me even further. Cool weather and good nutrition helped in my effort to tromp up the Pluvius pass, back down the other side, and reverse my route to get home again.

The stretch of trail between Adna and Meskill — about 8 miles — is mostly shaded, with compact gravel providing a nice surface.

I didn’t take into account the fact that yes, I could fit two water bottle holders on my bike, but the geometry of the bike prevented me from bringing one as it was too big. Rats, I’ll have to do better next time. But that does bring me to a good point for anyone traversing the trail: there are a few good opportunities to get water at Rainbow Falls State Park (mile 15.5), Jones Creek Brewing (mile 20.5), and a small smattering of cafes in Pe Ell (mile 22).

From there on out it gets pretty remote, but we’ll get to that later.

Heading west from Meskill Road, the trail enters some wide open farmland for about a mile before following some trees. This stretch is more than three miles of straight dusty trail, and really isn’t one of the trail’s highlights, honestly.

On this day the wind was out of my west at about 4-5 mph, ensuring I wouldn’t have a fast trip to Pe Ell and beyond. Most of the time during the summer, that’s par for the course — a northwesterly wind keeping my ride honest and governing my speed. Can’t complain about that with a bunch of scenery around.

My mountain bike is about 30 pounds, and the bag I attached to the seatpost added 5 pounds to it. Usually in my bag I’ll bring an extra tube, tire levers, CO2, an allen key set for quick fixes, a tad bit of food and a camera. The bag usually weighs down my converted road bike, but the Marlin handled it like a champ and kept sailing westward.

This bridge over the Chehalis River at Dryad was built in 2015 to replace a trestle washed out in the flood of 2007. While most of the trail retains its original route and character, floods in 1996 and 2007 necessitated some new construction in places.

The trail passes through areas that seem nondescript now or only have a few homes remaining, yet were once thriving and vibrant mill towns. In fact, lumber was one of the main reasons this railroad existed, with trains bringing wood by the carload from these small timber towns like Doty, Dryad, McCormick and Walville to South Bend for export.

Very little signs exist that these mill towns even existed, with time and nature taking over the land. Yet the trail remains.

Photographer Clark Kinsey photographed some of the mills along the route in the early 1900s, and the University of Washington Library has several of his photos in their online collections. Here’s one of a steam engine at the Leudinghaus mill at Dryad.

The trail flattens after traversing Doty Hill and turning due south, a sign that the community of Pe Ell is near.

West Lewis County isn’t exactly known as a recreational haven. The stretch of SR 6 between I-5 and the Pacific County line only takes you to one place well-advertised that you can spend the night, and even then you have to bring your own tent, bivy or RV. That’s Rainbow Falls State Park, and it sits right off the trail at mile 15, halfway between the Chehalis Trailhead and the Pluvius hills.

Most of the tourism marketing focuses heavily on the Twin Cities of Centralia and Chehalis as they’re halfway between Portland and Seattle, and especially on the Mount Rainier area of east Lewis County. Mountain tourism is big business around these parts, and it seems that the western part of the county hasn’t gotten a lot of respect in regards to tourism.

That’s changing, though, and it’s about time.

The Tin Snug opened just a couple of years ago and has become a must-stop location for food and drink in the heart of Pe Ell. On this day, I met a group of cyclists who had been visiting from Seattle and Vashon.

Washington State Parks has made some significant investments in the trail over the past decade especially, paving the first five miles between Chehalis and Adna, and laying down compact gravel for the remaining mileage in Lewis County. The trail is functionally complete over its 26 mile length in Lewis County — but there are 30 more miles of it that exist in Pacific County and connect to towns at the mouth of the Willapa River.

It won’t be long before all 56 miles of the trail are connected and fully rideable by folks from all walks of life, all ages and all abilities. But there’s still some work to be done, and piece by piece it’s coming along.

The High Bridge at mile 23 rises 75 feet above the Chehalis River below. Built on top of already existing infrastructure, this concrete and wood bridge offers a nice view of the river and valley.
The Pe Ell High Bridge was completed in 2018, enabling people to once again enjoy the views of the river below as train passengers had many years before.

Over the past few months, I’ve met more people using the trail that have traveled from areas that require a full day trip or weekend to get here. People are taking notice of the trail, its rugged nature, peaceful surroundings, and maybe most importantly it’s separation from traffic.

On this day, I met cyclists from Gig Harbor, Seattle and Vashon — areas that are at least a two-hour drive from Rainbow Falls State Park, where they said they were staying.

Two cyclists passed me at Walville, an area that is smack dab in the middle of a 2 percent grade up the Pluvius Hill. It’s a bit of work on a mountain bike, but these two were up for the challenge and rode very well.

Riding west of Pe Ell is where the real adventure begins. The trail begins to ascend out of Pe Ell and waves goodbye to the Chehalis River, with Rock Creek taking its place and meandering along the trail, under it and away from it in a winding and twisting path that you seem to follow along for at least five miles.

Over the first 22 miles of the trail between Chehalis and Pe Ell, you only gain about 200 feet in elevation. Over the next eight, you’ll gain about 500 as you ascend gently toward Pluvius.

And the ride is absolutely beautiful.

The Willapa Hills Trail crosses the Pacific County line at Walville, at trail mile 26, and continues its ascent toward Pluvius, where a railroad turntable once operated, allowing steam trains to make the ascent and descent.

The history in this area is quite rich, with forested areas overtaking what once were the mill towns of McCormick and Walville. Pluvius, at the top of the grade, has an interesting history.

Author Stewart Holbrook, in his book Far Corner, describes a visit to Pluvius and the area’s “sole resident” telling him that it rained 362 days out of the year there, with the other three being “g**d*** cloudy.”

Guess what, it sprinkled on me at Pluvius on my ride. The dude was right.

Once you climb up Pluvius, you get to descend through a rather scenic area, including this spot I like to call the Alder Tunnel at trail mile 30.

To ride the trail is to come front and center with the history that brought this trail to life as a railroad more than a century ago, and each time I ride it I am invigorated and filled with a respect for the people who came here before I did. They lived a hard life, and the logging industry out in these parts could not have been easy.

There is an interesting feeling that comes when you realize the juxtaposition of this corridor having been so many people’s lifeline to the outside world before the automobile era, and here I am having driven my car to it so I could ride my bike across it for leisure.

Go west no further, young man: The trail comes to an unimproved and somewhat dangerous trestle at mile 32. Washington State Parks recommends that no one try to cross this, and I support their recommendation.

In these deep woods of the Pluvius hills one finds a sense of self-worth and peace, takes some time to pray for a few, and points the bike back east to head home after a full day of cycling. An unplanked and rotting trestle curves into the distance and I have no intention of traipsing across it.

Off I climb again back east, and while I am not the biggest fan of out-n-back rides, I do enjoy getting to see areas of the trail I just rode through from a different perspective.

Climbing out of Pluvius is an exercise in and of itself.

The ascent from Fern Creek at mile 32 as you head east ducks back into the beautiful forest, away from the traffic of SR 6 and the frantic feeling of daily life. It is here that one can find a sense of peace and disconnection from the real world, if only for a short time.
I can’t help but think that the Pluvius area would make a great camping area for bikepackers. I would fully support creation of camping pads trailside, much like the ones that can be found alongside the Palouse to Cascades Trail.

By this point in my ride I’ve reached the 30-35 mile mark and I’m feeling okay. The mountain bike and its flat bar setup are a welcome change from the drop bars I use all the time on my road bike, and I enjoy the increased stability the bike offers. More than 30 miles on the MTB’s maiden voyage is a GOOD DAY, and I would nearly double that when all was said and done.

I didn’t take many photos on the way back, but of those I did take, a few areas always cause me to stop and pause to enjoy the serenity of those specific spots.

In the rail line’s later years, speed limits of 10 mph were implemented in places due to deteriorating condition of track or erosion nearby. This sign is one of the last remaining intact symbols of the last days of the South Bend Branch as a railroad.
The Chehalis River, looking west from the High Bridge west of Pe Ell. Note the water level: it’s critically low, lower than I’ve ever seen it on many rides through here.

When my day in the saddle ended, my Garmin Edge reported that I had traveled 58 miles. I was thoroughly spent, having done nearly a metric century on a mountain bike on gravel. Infinitely tougher than a metric century on a road bike. Couple that with 900+ feet of gain and it was a day well spent in the saddle.

I’d definitely recommend a visit to the WHT for every cyclist in Washington state. It’s a great way to enjoy a peaceful ride, and also to come front and center with the history that shaped our region.

Here’s my Strava track from the ride:

Oh yeah, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t provide directions to the trail. My favorite place to start is from the Adna trailhead, five miles west of Chehalis. From I-5, take Exit 77, head west toward Pe Ell, and follow the signs to the Willapa Hills Trailhead (take a right at Bunker Creek then another right at Dieckman, then a left into the trailhead). Discover Pass is required.

Here’s a Google Map to the Adna Trailhead (this might work better than me describing it).

Visiting Takhlakh Lake & Mount Adams By Bike

The advent of August brought with it a fantastic opportunity for some gravel grinding and adventure deep in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. On this day, I would join my friend Amos for 44 miles of biking on mixed surfaces and more than 4,000 feet of elevation gain — a tough day with a great reward in the middle.

Ever since I moved back to Lewis County in 2014, I’ve spent a lot of time at two of Washington’s three big volcanoes. Mount St. Helens is one of my favorite places in the world, Mount Rainier is beautiful beyond comparison, and Mount Adams — well, Mount Adams is the forgotten child of the three siblings.

With no visitor’s center or easy road access from a highway, Mount Adams quietly looms over surrounding forests, fields and meadows in relative silence. It’s the perfect area to enjoy some peace and solitude, with tourists and sightseers opting to see something a bit more “accessible.”

This trip would prove how arduous the journey is, yet incredibly rewarding to stand in the shadow of Mount Adams — and to do so by bike sweetened the experience.

The pavement ended just three miles into our ride, near the Cat Creek Campground. Wide tires were a necessity to get through some of the terrain that lay ahead.

The journey called for 44 miles done in a loop, with just over 4,000 feet of total elevation gain. Difficult but doable, but the beginning part of the ride was a shock to the system. The first five miles brought us up nearly 800 feet of elevation gain on Forest Road 21, which if we followed through to the end would drop us into Packwood. But we would turn right and hit some pavement about 8 miles into the ride.

The pavement of Forest Road 2160 was a welcome change from some washboarded gravel, but it wasn’t without its own challenges of rolling terrain. This photo shows one of the 3% ramps.

After turning right on FR 2160, we made our way southward on FR 56 and promptly turned left onto FR 2329. The gravel wasn’t bad, but we were coming up on a very spirited ascent. Before we tackled it, though, we grabbed a quick bite and washed it down with some water before punching up the hill.

Forest Road 2329 just kept climbing. About 1200 feet of gain over nearly 5 miles. It was SLOOOOW.
My Hammerhead Karoo 2 head unit showed the ascent as a definitely arduous one — with varying degrees of difficulty. With an already heavy bike frame and not much in the way of climbing gears, I would be in for a tough but still enjoyable time.

Punching up Forest Road 2329 was not for the faint of heart. A road with only enough width for one car plus a couple feet made for some interesting times when vehicles passed. Just about everyone was friendly and waved back when I waved hello and thank you for their consideration.

However, even as tough as FR 2329 was, Amos and I were able to make some conversation about some topics relevant to life — and I realized I’ve come a long way. Just two years ago, I had to stop three times to catch my breath while riding up a similar grade on an equally heavy bike.

Just to give you an idea of how heavy my bike was today…the bike itself is 25-26 pounds and there was easily 15 pounds of equipment in my bag. It made for some tough climbing, especially on portions of the road that were more technical with rocks and washouts.

We averaged about 6-7 mph up the climb (I readily admit Amos could have smoked me by just motoring up the road if he wanted to), and before we knew it we were up at a road intersection. This was another perfect opportunity to stop, take a drink, grab another quick bite to keep the calories and carbs coming, and just enjoy the quiet sounds of wind through the trees for a couple of moments.

Pointing east to Indian Heaven before turning back south on FR 2329…

Now the worst part of our ride would hit us soon as we continued on FR 2329 through an interesting-looking fir forest. We began to notice that each time we would ascend and begin sweating, flies and bees wanted to become our friends (or maybe more than friends). We would respectfully decline their overtures before more would join the fray and buzz all around us as we tried to concentrate on our climbs.

And there were plenty of climbs — just this section of FR 2329 alone outside of Takhlakh brought us up and down some really punchy rollers, totaling about 800 more feet of elevation gain before it flattened out near Keenes Horse Camp for a bit.

Amos just kept plodding along even with all the flies and bees trying to get his attention in the worst way.

Even though Takhlakh Lake was our destination, we saw so many beautiful sights on the way. The forest itself to me is a place of grand peace and serenity — and to see flowing rivers, babbling brooks, and adventurous animals running to and fro brought a lift to the spirits.

On one section up a brisk ramp of FR 2329, several small waterfalls fed a roadside stream that meandered its way toward the Cispus River.

This roadside waterfall provided a welcome distraction from the arduous climb up FR 2329 from FR 56.

After a few more tough and technical climbs in which sections of the road had ruts from winter snowmelt, or rocks jutting out from the roadbed below, we descended down a steep section of the road and passed a couple of cars coming the other way. One of the drivers remarked to me that his car didn’t belong out there (understatement of the century), but he looked like he was doing okay. We were suffering just as much, so we found a momentary kinship in our shared struggles to get through this road.

The descent brought us down to one of the most pristine areas in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest: Takh Takh Meadow. Less than two miles from Takhlakh Lake, this meadow is a small prairie that seems to extend outward a long way, breaking up the forest scenery and providing a feeling of openness in the seeming middle of nowhere.

Takh Takh Meadow was indescribably beautiful. If you’re ever up in the Takhlakh Lake area, visit this meadow and hike the trail adjoining it!

We continued our descent to Takhlakh Lake, and Amos told me he had never been there before. With the weather conditions a balmy 70 degrees, and a slight wind from the south, what perfect conditions for a first-time visit.

As for me, it was my third time up here, and every trip I’ve taken to this place has been done on the seat of a bicycle.

Takhlakh Lake is home to a campground that offers one of the most pristine views in the Northwest. Again, it’s overlooked by many because of the rugged nature of the area surrounding it.

I kind of like it that way.

Two people in a small boat drift on by as Mount Adams stands watch over Takhlakh Lake on Sunday, August 1, 2021.

We spent a few minutes taking in the sights before hopping back on our bikes and initiating a descent down FR 23, the main road in this section of forest. We hopped on rather quickly as we knew our water supply was diminishing and our muscles would get sore if we just sat around. We struck a good balance between enjoying the moment and recognizing the necessity of continuing on.

The descent down Forest Road 23 is long and winding, and the first portion of it requires ultimate care due to the condition of the gravel. Potholes and washboarded areas loom, and we kept our descent at 15-18 mph to stay safe. After six miles of descending on gravel, the road surface switched to pavement and we descended a lot faster. Amos hit a top speed of 40 while I hit 36, all the while looking over the surface of the road for potential hazards.

Amos gets ready to tackle another descent past a FR 23 reassurance sign.

We exhausted our water supply at the bottom of the grade, a perfect time to do so as we had one final ascent. Turning back onto FR 21 from FR 23, we had to climb about 650 feet over 5 miles to get back to the car. With 4-6 percent grades at maximum, this was doable although by this time my legs were screaming at me to stop the torture.

After a great sports-based conversation, we found ourselves back at the FR 56 intersection and the pullout area where we left the vehicle. The final ascent was nothing to scoff at, but again I remembered how difficult it was for me on a similarly heavy bike when I first tried it in 2018.

Not only was this ride great to do to enjoy some mountain and forest scenery, which we have in abundance in the PNW, but it was a great barometer to measure where I’ve come from and where I’m going from here.

This month I am shooting for a goal of 1,000 miles in the saddle, and it won’t be easy. Starting that quest with a ride like this is a great way to get into a good mental state and get ready for the grind.

Amos and I smiling for the camera on a bridge over the Cispus River.

I heartily recommend riding the gravel roads of the Gifford Pinchot, especially the route we did today. It’s good climbing practice, and a great route on which to test equipment for multi-day rides in mountainous terrain.

Here’s my Strava track from the ride today:

Nobody Meets By Accident

Me with my friends David and Scott, who graciously helped my staff and I during the Ride the Willapa event in Pe Ell, WA on June 26, 2021.

“You have to turn back. The road’s closed and you’re not going any further,” the deputy sternly told me.

I had come to a complete stop on my bike. A large Lewis County Sheriff’s Office truck sat across both lanes of a rural road and the deputy inside was all business. Up ahead, I could see a railroad crossing, a train stopped beyond the crossing, and investigators looking under the train.

I certainly was not going to cross those tracks that day.

Rogers Road south of Chehalis is one of my favorite “connector” roads, and like the theme to Nickelodeon’s Roundhouse stated in the 90s, you truly can go anywhere from here: south as far as you wish, west out to the Pluvius Hills, or north back home.

I could do neither of those three on this rather chilly December day in 2018. I had to turn around and alter my route.

Concern for the situation sat at the forefront of my mind as I bombed down Rogers back toward I-5, over the overpass and past the Port of Chehalis. Before long I was at Jackson Highway and decided to just simply head home.

With my bike pointed north, I fought a crosswind from the west and was lollygagging on the shoulder. Twenty-five miles on this day would be a decent feather in the cap, I decided, and I had plenty to think about on the way.

Suddenly, two other guys on bikes pulled up on either side of me on the shoulder of Jackson and introduced themselves: David and Scott, and they lived not far from me.

“We saw you up here so we thought we’d catch up and say hey,” Scott said. “We can paceline it back if you want.”

We chewed up 10 miles together, each taking two minute pulls so the other two didn’t have to work as hard, and when we got back onto a couple rural roads, we spent some time properly introducing ourselves. David spoke of his job at a local textile manufacturer, Scott talked about his construction business. I shared a bit about my IT background.

We exchanged numbers and pledged to meet up for more rides, and the day was certainly not a bust.

Funny how things work: in the coming months after I met David and Scott, I began to ride with their cycling group on Saturdays. I started off skittish, learned how to paceline and corner at higher speeds than I was used to, and two new friendships turned into ten before I knew it. Most importantly, I had a regular cycling group.

Had I not been forced to turn around that day, who knows what would have happened in the months since.

Meeting David and Scott confirmed to me that nobody meets by accident — and that’s a tenet that has guided my life for the past two and a half years.

Every interaction happens for a reason, even if we don’t know why at the time. Maybe it is to bring someone a moment of joy. Maybe you meet someone and they become a resource of knowledge.

And on a rare occasion, someone that you meet ends up changing the course of your life.

I now look at my interactions with people I meet much differently after that day, especially while on my bicycle.

Every person from a kind driver scooting into the other lane to pass and give a friendly wave, a farmer whose property sits at the top of an eight-percent climb offering to refill my water bottles, even a hello and a smile given to someone whose path intersects mine on the Willapa Hills Trail — absolutely none of it happens by accident.

Life brings us these beautiful intersections with other people’s lives, and in the grand scheme of my life I am fascinated that I can intersect with others whose life paths were so different than mine a month, year, decade before we met.

Nobody meets by accident.

It’s with that central concept in mind that I put pen to paper and begin this new venture I like to call Bike Like a Brewer. Camaraderie and community are as important to me as coffee, cycling, cameras and climbing — and I will attempt to merge all six into this space.

In the coming days, weeks and months, you’ll see this website grow in form and function as I chronicle the miles I chew through as I pedal onward. The mission will always be the same: to share my love of cycling with the world at large, and to be a source of inspiration for everyone wanting to get out on two wheels.

Bike Like a Brewer will combine personal experiences with photos, guides, routes, anecdotes and more. It’ll be a resource, photo gallery, story book, and chat space all in one.

I hope you find yourself at home here as well, and that the content I share is not just a meaningful way to spend your time, but that we can mutually feel as if we are connecting over a shared love of cycling and the outdoors. This space will be as much yours as it is mine.

Nobody meets by accident, and I’m really happy you’re here.

Onward we pedal. This is going to be fun.