Wow, it’s been awhile since I’ve written here on the blog. Sorry about that…with summer here and some epic rides coming up in the next couple months, I promise to be more active on here.
It’s for sure been a very busy 2022, with work, life stuff and doing a ton of marketing and organizational work for this ride I help organize called Ride the Willapa. That ride took place yesterday, and was the culmination of months of marketing, weeks of site preparation, and days of food and equipment purchasing.
A BIT OF HISTORY
Ride the Willapa started in 2016 as the brainchild of local businessman Dale Pullin, who owned a local fitness center at the time. He was also the board president of the Lewis County Community Trails Association, and wanted to utilize some recently interconnected segments of the Willapa Hills Trail between Chehalis and Pe Ell to host a bike ride and bring awareness to the trail. Thus, the Willapa Hills Trail Fat Tire Ride and Festival was started, and the first year drew 205 riders to the trail for a ride, overnight campout at the high school football field in Pe Ell, and return ride the next day to Chehalis.
That ride was an overwhelming success, and the next year it was renamed Ride the Willapa and paired with the Tour de Farms, which provided farm stops for riders who wanted to check out how farms worked. The farms put out products for sale, let kids get up close with the animals, and it was all around a pretty fantastic time. The 2017 ride drew 275 riders and we knew this ride was going to grow.
Building on the previous success of the event, RTW grew to 460 riders in 2018 and 550 in 2019. In fact, I started as ride director/coordinator/czar or whatever you want to call it, in 2018 – and I worked hard to market the ride especially to urban riders wanting to visit something more rural. The 2019 edition was my favorite ride yet as you could look any direction on the trail and see a steady stream of riders — and Rainbow Falls State Park was PACKED with campers that weekend.
In 2020 — well, we don’t have to get into this, but Covid hit the world and just about every biking event that year was shut down.
In 2021, we vowed to bring RTW back, but did so in hosting a one-day ride that was meant to build a rider base back up. We had to wear masks at rest stops and take much greater thought for everyone’s health, and all the riders were generally super cool doing so. But the temperatures hit high 90s with no wind, and most people were off the course by 1:30.
THIS YEAR’S RIDE: SMOOTH BUT STILL A BIT HOT
This year, we did our second consecutive one-day ride, but after fielding some feedback from several riders who wanted to see if we could try adding a road course in with the trail, we did just that.
I drew up a tough course that I had ridden before, and lo and behold it brought riders on a metric century with almost 3,000 feet of gain. I called that route Chris’s Challenge to personally challenge the riders to do this course, and hey guess what — about 30 riders did, with 14 more opting for the calmer scenic loop on the backroads that tied in with this route as well. I heard from a lot of folks that the initial hill climb up Meskill was tough, then the rollers throughout the course in the beautiful Boistfort area were pretty lovely. The trail jaunt to Pluvius and back offered a false flat the entire way through, with a more pronounced climb on the backend — and then the Wells Road climb topped out at 17 percent. It was my first time designing a course for an organized ride and I really hope everyone found it equal parts enjoyable and challenging. Even if I did have to hear a few swear words from some folks who hated me after the ride… 🙂
The sun beat down on us pretty hard, albeit ten degrees cooler than last year’s ride. Still, even with the warm sun beating down on exposed places in the trail, most riders opted to call it a day by 2:30, and the last rider was out by 3:30, which allowed us to close aid stations and send volunteers home before the peak heat of the day at 5 p.m.
I have to say, this year’s RTW was the smoothest and best ride of my tenure as ride director, and I think it was largely because the ride this year was mostly comprised of experienced riders who knew exactly what they were doing, where they wanted to go, and knew their equipment very well. We didn’t have many families with kids this year and I really miss that element of the event, but the organizing committee is speaking of possibly bringing back the two-day event and campout next year as we all continue to get out of the shadow of COVID.
It’s kind of odd that this year’s ride went the smoothest, because I noticed in the weeks and months prior to the ride that it was really difficult to come up with volunteers. I attribute that to a variety of reasons: gas and food prices are insanely high and a lot of people are trying to save what money they can; and COVID is still a thing whether a lot of folks want to admit it or not. There are still a lot of people skittish about attending large events, and we’ve seen that because of a ridership drop from our peak in 2019. But honestly, more than 200 paying riders for a ride in its sixth year that’s doing its absolute best to rebound from COVID is a huge win.
Riding in an organized ride is one thing, but helping direct one is a different animal. You go from being a rider that wants to enjoy the ride and finish strong, to being a person that wants to ensure every single rider enjoys the ride and finishes strong.
I will say that ever since I took over as ride director of RTW in 2018, I have had an immensely greater appreciation for people who volunteer especially at rest stops and aid stations. Every volunteer is critical to a ride, and this year I saw just how important every single person who staffed the ride was, from parking to monitoring the route and running SAG vehicles. Interacting with the riders and being a friendly face is what folks seemed to appreciate most, and everyone who helped staff the ride went above and beyond in helping with that.
Overall, RTW this year was a success. I wish I could have made my way to the trail a bit more to grab more photos, but as fate would have it I had to continually check in on rest stops and aid stations, and shuttling back and forth ate up a lot of time.
RECOGNIZING THE FOLKS WHO DESERVE RECOGNITION
We had a good group of organizations and businesses who contributed to the ride this year. The Lewis County Community Trails Association is the parent organization of RTW and presented the ride for the sixth year; and our ride was staged from Owl & Olive, a farm and cafe just off the trail a touch east of Pe Ell. Jones Creek Brewing hosted a pop-up market and burger feed. In fact, when we announced RTW was taking place this year, Owl & Olive asked us if they could host the start and end point, and Jones Creek jumped right in as well.
Grocery Outlet in Chehalis donated the lion’s share of the food we gave riders (the Clif bars were such a huge hit it wasn’t even funny), and the Port of Chehalis and Valley View Health Center donated money that we used to purchase fruit and other foods to further support the ride.
Security State Bank sponsored our staff T-shirts and also recruited staff from their branches to assist with parking for the event. That was an area of critical need in which every single person was a fantastic help.
Aid stations were staffed by the good people of Valley View Health Center, UPS, Fire District 13 (Boistfort), and Fire District 11 (Pe Ell). Every station had either a certified nurse or EMT in case something arose, and for the first time ever at RTW, we had no medical incidents and to my knowledge only had to SAG three exhausted riders off the course. I had many compliments from riders about how friendly everyone at the rest stops were, and for this I cannot thank them enough.
My friend Joe Korbuzewski just started his own bike repair business, Goldspoke Cycle Repair, and drove down from Tacoma to provide mechanical support for the ride. (Please give him a buzz for your repair and maintenance needs!)
This year was also our second year not receiving any public funding to host the ride, which means that we organically raised $5,600 from ticket sales for the Lewis County Community Trails Association. LCCT has worked with Washington State Parks over the past few years to provide grant matching funds and help with advocacy to further extend the Willapa Hills Trail westward into Pacific County to Willapa Bay, and riders in RTW have been highly supportive of this goal.
I really appreciate and want to thank everyone who gave of their time on a weekend at the start of summer to help make our sixth annual Ride the Willapa a success.
A FOND FAREWELL FROM ME TO RTW
This was my last year directing RTW as I’ll be moving to the Midwest in the coming months. Sitting here at home typing this blog post has made me reminiscent of each year’s ride. I’m relieved the work is over but sad that all the riders and staff have now gone our separate ways until we all meet again. I’ve had the chance to meet some really wonderful people and forge some fantastic friendships with folks I might not have otherwise crossed paths with.
I’ve found cycling to be a great uniter of people. When you’re in the saddle enjoying the great outdoors, you don’t care what politics someone ascribes to or anything like that. You just want to enjoy the ride with everyone around you, and that’s an environment RTW has been so great at fostering. Our riders have been so great, so kind, and such a joy to get to know.
Directing the ride has been proof to my own doubting mind that yes, I can do difficult things, and yes, we can have nice things here in a rural county that oftentimes tends to get overlooked by state political leaders.
Although I’ve been the ride director, every single person that helps in the ride has made it what it has become. The ride is growing into something special, and the name Ride the Willapa is known among rails-to-trails enthusiasts across our state.
Everyone who has participated in the ride as a rider of staff member makes this event what it is year after year, and I can’t wait to hear of it getting bigger and better in the years to come.
I am really going to miss this event and everyone who’s been a part of it, and I am honored to have been able to contribute to Ride The Willapa for its first six years.