Ride The Willapa 2022: Another Fantastic Ride

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

The first-ever poster for the ride that would eventually grow into Ride the Willapa, posted in late 2015.

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.

Support staff at Ride the Willapa 2018. This year was the first year of the updated RTW logo and design.

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… 🙂

Riders from the Olympia Bikes & Brews crew make their way up Ceres Hill Road to head toward Boistfort on the Chris’s Challenge course during RTW 2022.

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.

A rider on the West County Scenic Loop route at RTW 2022 talks with Boistfort firefighters at the Baw Faw Grange rest stop.

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’s staff members were a lifesaver and helped immensely with parking. The staff shirts were super awesome too.

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.

Our riders are always a laid back and jovial bunch, and I’m really gonna miss ’em all.

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.

One of my favorite photos of any of the RTW events I’ve helped direct: Steve Ward and I in the back with the first-ever bikepacker camping group deep in the Pluvius Hills of the trail in 2019. I really hope RTW can bring this component back to the ride!

Recapping The Flood of 2022

Water. Water everywhere.

Less than a week into 2022, smack dab in the middle of a global pandemic, Mother Nature decided to unleash another round of rain-filled fury on Lewis County, Washington.

The latter part of this past week was filled with anxious times, nervous moments, and a lot of work to ensure people remained safe from rising floodwaters. And thankfully, for the most part, the floods didn’t pan out to be as bad as it could have been for most of us.

This site is primarily about biking, but when a large-scale event like this interrupts life as you know it, you write about it in the immediate aftermath. As such, here’s a recap of the past few days.


THE START OF IT ALL

Here in Centralia, we had a major snowstorm the day after Christmas that dumped more than 6 inches of snow in the lowlands and much more at higher elevations. In the week leading up to and through the New Year’s Day holiday, much of the ground stayed frozen as frigid temperatures dipped into the high teens and low 20’s. The snow and packed ice stuck around for over a week, throwing a major wrench into people’s normal routines.

This past week, the snow began to slowly thaw. Last Sunday temperatures rose above the freezing mark for the first time in days. Monday and Tuesday brought about some light rain that melted most of the remaining snow in the lowlands, and there were some rumblings in the forecast that an atmospheric river was going to shoot some significant rain our direction.

All one had to do was look back at 1996 to see how this weather scenario was likely to play out. In that flood, large swaths of the Pacific Northwest were impacted as a winter of heavy snow in the mountains gave way to a rapid warming trend that melted a bunch of that snow, brought significant rain, and caused rivers and creeks to rise.

At work we shared our memories of 1996. Fortunately for my family and I, we lived on a hill in Rainier, Oregon — yet we still felt the storm’s effects as hillsides across our area gave way and creeks rose, trapping us at home for the better part of a week.

It was a week I remember well. Now, 26 years later, I live just 54 miles away — but only five blocks from a river that was forecast to see moderate flooding.


THURSDAY DAYTIME

The atmospheric river delivered as promised, and boy did it ever: constant heavy rain all day coupled with temperatures in the 50s. Distant hills, visible from roads in the Twin Cities of Centralia and Chehalis, still held a significant amount of snow at the storm’s onset. With the sharp rise in temperatures, that snow was going to melt rather rapidly and create a worrisome scenario for a lot of folks.

I made my way to work that morning, and it was absolutely pouring down rain. Salzer Creek, which is normally pretty calm even during rainstorms, was flowing fast in the morning but had not flooded anything yet, and I was able to make it to work my usual route: Tower Avenue from Centralia straight over the viaduct to Gold Street, then just a few miles into Chehalis.

River forecasts began to get my attention just an hour into work. You see, Centralia and Chehalis sit near the confluence of three rivers: the Skookumchuck, the Newaukum, and the Chehalis. The Skookumchuck and Newaukum flow from sources not too far from the Twin Cities, and the Chehalis has its source just a few miles west of Pe Ell. All three were projected to flood to at least “moderate” stage, which not only was bad news for folks living near the rivers, but certainly was for anyone living downstream from the confluences of these rivers.

Two hours into work that day, I was called over to help set up the Emergency Operations Center for our Sheriff’s Office. Anytime the EOC gets set up, you know things are projected to be bad. My colleagues and I got everything wired in and hooked up, and before long things were humming in the EOC as emergency managers, sheriff’s command staff, county commissioners and more made their way to and fro.

By early afternoon it was becoming apparent that the rain and snowmelt might make things worse. Suddenly, the Newaukum was predicted to hit major flood stage and set a record height by nearly a half-foot. The Chehalis was revised upward at Mellen Street in Centralia, and the problem was expected to significantly worsen six miles north in Grand Mound. And the Skookumchuck was given a dire prediction.

Thursday afternoon’s flood prediction for the Skookumchuck at Centralia, courtesy of the Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service’s web page

The National Weather Service changed its flood prediction for the Skookumchuck to record height, by more than two feet. Record floodwaters had hit my neighborhood in 1996, with water reaching my block but nothing significant. This time, with two more feet than that, the effects were predicted to be much worse.

I spent the rest of the day at work trying to concentrate on the work at hand, but pangs of worry began to hit. I don’t remember much more about the day at work other than hearing reports of rivers rising rapidly and streets needing to be closed in and around Centralia due to China Creek rising.

On my drive home, I realized how significant and severe the troubles were already in Centralia. And the Skookumchuck hadn’t even hit flood stage yet at 5 p.m.


THURSDAY EVENING

On my drive back home to Centralia up Kresky Avenue, traffic began to back up before the hill near the Lewis County Mall. Once I crested that hill, I could see Salzer Creek had overtopped the roadway over the bridge just past Exhibitor Street. A car in front of me decided to risk it and drove through water up to the bottom of its doors.

I took no such chance and turned back to head to I-5 and go north.

Upon arriving into Centralia, I saw that several streets on my normal route had been closed. China Creek, which mostly flows underground and under several businesses and homes, had rapidly risen and flooded areas that normally don’t get hit.

It was bad. I couldn’t go north on Yew Street, east on Centralia College Boulevard or north on Washington. My only route home would be to take Tower Avenue north, which — oh yeah, goes over China Creek.

Several businesses in downtown Centralia were closed for the day due to the forecasted flooding. As I passed them, you could tell there was an urgency to their closure. Staff and volunteers had sandbagged several businesses’ doors and windows. People were taking this seriously.

China Creek was overflowing Tower Avenue, with about half a foot of water flowing over the roadway between Tiki Tap House and Bethel Church Downtown Centralia. Storm drains were overflowing, and the rain kept coming.

I was able to make it through, and I’m thankful I was. Someone later told me the creek basically bisected the town for a time, rendering the south part of town inaccessible to those living on the north side, and vice versa.

Predictions for the Skookumchuck River were still holding, so I had several conversations with my neighbors about whether or not we should voluntarily evacuate. I took a walk around my neighborhood and points south, getting photos when and where I could safely, as a way of sort of taking my mind off my own troubles.

I recorded a couple videos, too.

Here was the first one, from Washington and Main, just 10 blocks from my house:

Then I made my way to Centralia College, where China Creek had risen significantly and led to the campus shutting down for that evening and the next day:

It was obvious that swaths of Centralia were hit pretty hard by a creek not many expected to flood, but the rain had come down so furiously that day that the creek had nowhere to go but up, over and out. It wouldn’t fully recede until later the next day.

After my walk, I went home and my attention turned to the Skookumchuck. It was rising at a rate of about 4 inches per hour, and I began to contemplate whether or not I should consider evacuating as my house is just a few blocks south of the levee.


THURSDAY NIGHT

I prepared some food, checked in with some friends, and then got this on my phone in the form of a text, phone call and voicemail courtesy of the Lewis County Alert system:

You bet I was freaked out at this point. Conversations with some of my neighbors and friends intensified, and the general consensus was that those north of the railroad tracks three blocks south of the levee should probably go now, and those south of the tracks should prepare to leave should things get really bad.

I ended up posting about the alert on Facebook, and it ended up getting a good number of eyes on it. I worded my alert to my local friends very succinctly in a way they could understand urgently:

Your life is more important than any property you own.

I got a bag ready and chatted with my neighbor to the south, who is pretty well in the know and said he and his family were going to ride it out overnight and wake up early to see what happens. I decided the same thing, checked river levels and set an alarm for 5 a.m.

You bet I packed a bag. I put two changes of clothes, a bag of travel size toiletries and some charging cords and cables. If I had to ride it out, I had somewhere to go thanks to generous friends.

Right before I went to bed at midnight, the river’s advance slowed a bit and gave me a slight amount of confidence that things wouldn’t be as dire as originally predicted.

I still didn’t sleep much that night, and it was in fact the worst night of sleep I’ve ever had in my own bed.


FRIDAY MORNING

After waking up several times throughout the night, I made the call to stick with the original plan to wake up at 5 a.m. I checked river levels, and I was surprised to see the river was rising slower than the trend indicated it would. The Skookumchuck was predicted at this point to crest a foot lower than the previous prediction.

I actually fell back asleep and got another fitful hour of “rest.”

Before long I made my way to work. I decided to treat this as a voluntary evacuation as well, bringing my bag of clothes and toiletries with me.

I made it in okay using Harrison Avenue and I-5, which both were completely fine in the morning. Most of my co-workers couldn’t make it in because of flooded roads near them, but fortunately they were all okay and safe at home.

Just an hour into my shift, such was not the case. In fact, the Skookumchuck started to spill over onto the Harrison corridor, prompting Centralia police to close the busiest street in town around the 10 a.m. hour.

Meanwhile, the Chehalis River was having its way with several low-lying neighborhoods and began to get dangerously close to I-5. The Washington State Department of Transportation made a decision to close I-5 between exits 68 and 88, and the parade of cross-state traffic tried making its way up side streets in an effort to somehow get north and south.

TV news helicopters showed footage of the rivers doing their damage in low-lying areas of Chehalis:

But in the middle of all this, we at work all noticed the faintest bit of blue sky start to bring sunshine and light through in the late morning. The worst was seemingly over, at least for most of us.


FRIDAY AFTERNOON & EVENING

I made my way through areas of Centralia that were previously flood-stricken by China Creek. The waters had subsided in the neighborhoods surrounding downtown and the college, and the creek was still swollen but within its banks. A day made a significant difference for the better.

Miraculously, the dire predictions for the Skookumchuck never came to pass. The neighborhoods on the south side of the levee west of Pearl Street were completely spared from any damage.

However, such wasn’t the case on the north side of the Skookumchuck. Pearl Street, which carries SR 507 between Centralia and points north, was closed at Sixth, just a few blocks east of me. The situation in the neighborhood north of the river became apparent in news reports and video from area residents.

Video courtesy of Shandle Channel on Youtube

It was clear that north Centralia would still be mostly inaccessible through the remainder of the day and evening. In fact, areas north of Centralia would get hammered pretty hard by both the Skookumchuck and Chehalis rivers.

Bucoda, a town in Thurston County about 10 miles northeast of downtown Centralia, was hit with moderate to major flooding. And south Thurston County communities of Rochester and Grand Mound would see the Chehalis River continue to rise Friday into Saturday.

Friday evening brought a bit of calm to my neighborhood, and although the river stayed high, it miraculously did not even eclipse the 1996 flood record. I can’t state how fortunate we are that the river did not overtop the levee; had it done so, my neighborhood would have been flooded and parts of downtown likely would have been as well.

I slept a LOT easier on Friday night.


SATURDAY

The weather was actually pretty decent, and I decided to take a bike ride and head down to check the conditions of some of our recreational trails.

It felt good to both be back on the bike and be outdoors again, and breathing the fresh Northwest air on a weekend day is just what one needed.

Only one problem: that air carried a certain stench to it when I got a bit too close to the flooded Airport Road Trail in Centralia. Riding in this area was probably a bad move.

The Airport Road will probably be impassable for several days if not a couple weeks. There’s a lot of debris washed up by the river that needs to be cleared off.

I had to turn around and head down Scheuber Road to get closer to the Willapa Hills Trail. Unfortunately, Highway 603 was closed, which meant access to the paved portion of the trail was cut off. So I decided to climb a few hills and take back roads over to the Adna Trailhead.

From Adna on west, it was amazing to see how high the Chehalis River still was from trestles that withstood yet another flood event.

The Chehalis River angrily makes its way through Adna, Washington, as seen from the historic Bridge 5 on the Willapa Hills Trail.
Bridge #5 makes its way over the angry Chehalis River. Crazy to imagine that just a day ago, it would have been very dangerous to cross this bridge.

While things in Centralia started to calm down considerably on Saturday, the story wasn’t the same for people to our north. Rochester and Grand Mound suffered from severe flooding of the Chehalis River, as predicted.

These two reports from The Chronicle in Centralia describe the damage to our area very well:

“Major Rochester Flood Leaves Homes and Properties Damaged,” by Isabel Vander Stoep, 1/9/22

“Twin Cities Residents, Businesses Begin the Recovery Phase After Severe Flooding,” by Eric Rosane, 1/8/22


EPILOGUE

All told, the worst fears of a flood that would rival or surpass the 1996 and 2007 flood never came to pass. We are incredibly fortunate that the Skookumchuck didn’t come close to surpassing the record level predicted on Thursday.

But even though most of us were spared from significant damage, there are a lot of people who have gone through their own hell from this storm and flood. Fifty people evacuated their homes to a shelter set up at Centralia Middle School Thursday night, and one person in Cosmopolis died in the flood there.

There will be a lot of folks working hard to ensure that people affected by the storm get dried out and help their lives resume. The coming days and weeks will be tough for some people, but if what I saw during the storm was any indication, there are a lot of good citizens of our city and county who are willing to help and already doing so.

In fact, many of those people are the reason this flood was not worse than it was. I am super thankful for all of them.


POSTSCRIPT: ONE ORGANIZATION NEEDING OUR HELP

As I previously mentioned, there are a lot of people affected badly by the floods. The one organization I feel compelled to help is the Lewis County Gospel Mission. They’re based out of Chehalis and they serve as a day shelter and food ministry for a significant portion of our homeless and transient population.

The mission had at least two feet of water in their building, and getting it back up and operational again is going to take time, money and effort.

If you feel so inclined, please drop them a few dollars at their fundraiser over on Facebook. The generosity of people in our area has resulted in nearly $3,000 being raised as of the time of this writing.

I can think of no organization more deserving of support than the Lewis County Gospel Mission. Let’s be a blessing to them in their time of need. I have donated and I urge you to do the same.

Calling It a Year, And What a Year It Was!

When this year started, I had a goal to simply ride more miles than I had in 2020. Little did I know that goal would change so many times over the course of the year as I became a harder, better, faster and stronger rider.

Last year as the pandemic hit, I decided to make the most of the opportunity ahead of me. Social distancing? You don’t have to ask me twice. I hopped on the bike early and often throughout 2020, amassing 6,543.21 miles over the course of the year.

(Yep, six digits in sequence, all to the hundredth.)

I felt like I made some major momentum last year, so I went ahead and bought a 2021 Trek Emonda from Trek Bikes Olympia. Despite the supply chain disruption, I lucked out and was able to get an Emonda SL in 61cm frame size. And on top of that, I bought a used Wahoo Kickr indoor trainer from a friend so I could also ride indoors during rainy days — which we get so many of here in the Pacific Northwest.

I made it a goal this year to ride 600 miles per month and end this year at 7,200 miles total. If I kept with a 600 mile per month pace and a whole lot else went right, this goal would be achievable for sure. Especially with an indoor trainer, a total of twenty 30-mile rides in a month would be my baseline.

January and February started off as well as I could have hoped, putting me at right about 1200 miles total and right on target for my goal. Each month from there to June, I ramped up the mileage each month, hitting 836 total miles in June and putting me well ahead of my goal. After half the year was over, I began to explore the possibility of hitting 8,000 miles and push even harder the rest of the year.

I’d say the four-month stretch between July and October was my best cycling stretch ever. I averaged about 750 miles per month and even had my first-ever 900-mile month in October, clocking in at 913. With the goal of 8,000 well in sight, I tapered off a bit in November and decided to take December super easy.

Now at the time of this writing, I’ve hit 8,115 miles and I’m opting to take the rest of the year off. Granted it’s only 11 more days until the new year, but I’ll be traveling out of state for the holidays and my body really needs to rest and rebuild before I get back at it in 2022.

This past year was my favorite year of cycling ever, and here are five reasons why:

Organized rides came back in a big way. The pandemic year of 2020 made me realize just how much I missed the greater cycling community. With rides coming back this year, I had the chance to partake in events such as the Columbia Century Challenge and Tour de Blast — and organized my last Ride the Willapa ride before handing the reins to our ride committee. The camaraderie of organized rides cannot be beat, and there’s just something about making a new friend or five out while spinning on the backroads of the Pacific Northwest.

The Lewis County Over the Hill Riders and the Cowlitz Velo crew joined forces to conquer the 2021 Columbia Century Challenge. This was one of several organized rides we were all so happy to see return this year.

I became a much better climber. This year I wanted to really dedicate myself to better pacing on ascents and increase my power for harder climbs, and it worked. I totaled more than 320,000 feet of elevation gain this year, coming within earshot of doubling last year’s 180,000 feet climbed. I did several rides that brought me up 5,000 feet of gain, including the Spirit Lake Highway ascent twice. I can’t wait to see how well I do in outdoor riding season next year.

Climbing Spirit Lake Highway to the Mount St. Helens area twice this year was a true high point of the year for me.

I kept learning and adapting to new tactics and techniques. An absolute game changer for me this year was my friend David Scott telling me that I should try to stay in the big ring whenever possible and switch to the little ring only when necessary, such as when climbing or to prevent a cross-chaining situation. In the second half of this year, I began to really increase my efforts on flats and small ascents by staying in the second ring — and it paid off in that July to October stretch of cycling in which my mileage increased big time. I plan on really putting this to practice in 2022, especially in 50 to 100-mile rides.

Even on solo rides, improving my speed and efficiency went a long way to getting me to 8,000 miles this year.

Indoor training helped me improve greatly. I used to have a fluid-head trainer, and that became boring after awhile. Now with a smart trainer and Zwift helping simulate resistance and gravity of hills, I dedicated myself to putting forth some serious efforts on hilly courses. I’ll write more about Zwift in a separate post, but in short I can’t say enough about how its structured workouts and group rides really help to keep my fitness up when I have to shelve the Trek in the rainy season.

With virtual riding that mirrors the outdoor riding experience, Zwift gives riders a good workout and has many fantastic social aspects as well.

Everyone was more positive and supportive than ever. This year hasn’t been easy on several personal fronts, but I can honestly say that the good people in my cycling group and extended network have been just awesome throughout all the hard times and the good. Whether it was the death of someone close, sickness hitting again or just some other mental difficulties that would randomly pop up, there was never a shortage of people that encouraged me to get outside and ride with them. For you all I am so thankful.

The Autumn 2021 Group Ride on the Willapa Hills Trail was a fantastic event that brought some wonderful people together. In some ways this encapsulated my entire 2021 cycling experience: a year of great camaraderie and support while out and about.

Eight thousand miles in the saddle was an achievement for sure, and this year’s mileage was nearly 1500 more than I’ve ever done before in a calendar year. But I think this year, I became much more intentional about my riding. I wanted to ensure I enjoyed every mile, every conversation and every foot of climbing. And I did.

To everyone who has been a part of this year, whether through riding with me, following along, providing encouragement, and any other way — you’ve been a big part of this year and I appreciate you.

2021 was such a great year in the saddle that I can’t help but get excited for next year. Let’s carry on the momentum and stay strong! Ride on, everyone!

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.

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).