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Day 1: Seattle, WA to Ellensburg, WA

Well! Saying today was an adventure would be an understatement. It started out low-key enough; I took off from my cousin’s house at around 5:45 and paid my respects to Husky Stadium on my way out of Seattle.

From the UW campus it was easy enough to get to the Route 520 bike path across Lake Washington. So far so good. First surprise: The Route 520 bike path from the east shore of the lake to Redmond is ridiculously hilly. I was not prepared for hills so early in the day. And then every uphill was followed by a downhill, so I knew I’d have to regain the elevation once again when I started my ascent into the mountains. Speaking of ascents, Redmond to North Bend is pretty flat, expect for this one really steep climb by Snoqualmie Falls. But eventually, 37 miles in, I made it to North Bend for breakfast at the wonderful North Bend Bakery.

If this scenery looks familiar to you, it’s because North Bend was used for filming the TV show Twin Peaks.

Coming out of North Bend, the serious climbing up to Snoqualmie Pass began. First off, I had to ride a few miles on I-90 for lack of any other road in the area.

Notice the absence of the customary prohibition of cyclists on the sign. This is quite intentional. Nevertheless, biking uphill on the shoulder of a 70mph highway isn’t exactly fun.

Ah, but things were still just beginning. Once I got off I-90 I had to climb a dirt road up to Iron Horse State Park, which is a gravel rail trail masquerading as a state park.

As any cyclist can tell you, gravel is hell to bike on. And it was 11 miles on this trail to the pass, at a 1-2% grade. Without the gravel I probably could have pedaled a 1-2% grade at 12-13mph, but as it was I was struggling to maintain 9-10mph and had to take a break every few miles.

Eventually I got to the Snoqualmie Tunnel, which is a truly impressive engineering feat.

As you can see, the tunnel is dwarfed by the mountain, but it in turn dwarfs a person. And more relevantly, it cuts out 400 vertical feet of climbing (2600′ at the tunnel vs 3000′ at the pass). The most impressive part though is that the tunnel is about 2¼ miles long, according to my odometer. And you’d better bring a headlight because there are no lights inside. If you’ve ever dreamed of biking through a giant, pitch dark tunnel with 50-degree temperatures inside, this is your chance!

On the bright side, this meant I was officially through the worst of the Cascades! On the not so bright side, I was still stuck on a gravel path for the next 20 miles. The problem was, the only paved road through this area is I-90, and I didn’t exactly relish the thought of getting back on it. Also, for a good distance it was on the other side of this lake:

18 miles after the pass, and 78 miles into my day’s ride, I was in the one-horse town of Easton and completely exhausted. The woman at the grocery store recommended this paved road I could take for a few miles, but it would have added almost a mile to my route. And I really didn’t want to do any more gravel. So given my determination to solve a problem by any means possible, I said fuck it and got on I-90. For 10 miles.

Finally at 3:30 I rolled into the small city of Cle Elum, which I had been expecting to hit at 2. But hey, better late than never, and I went for a much-needed beer at Mule & Elk.

They have a number of good beers here, but I particularly recommend the saison and the brown ale. Also, you can’t go wrong with horns on the tap handles.

Another nice thing to recommend the place is that people in Cle Elum are really friendly, and since I was still wearing biking gear I wound up in conversations with a number of people at the bar who were interested in hearing about my trip and telling me some of their own stories. One was a guy named Greg who, after we finished our drinks, invited me to join him at Taneum Creek Brewing. I initially declined because I had plans to meet a friend for dinner in Ellensburg at 7, but he offered to drive me and my bike to Ellensburg. I was still going to decline, but just then it started drizzling and I feared the worst regarding the weather. So we shoved my bike into his Prius (yes, my bike fit in the back of a Prius!) and went over to Taneum.

It’s a pretty new brewery, so their offerings are limited, but the apricot hefeweizen was cool, and they also have a super floral imperial IPA that really isn’t overwhelmingly bitter despite its triple-digit IBU count.

In the realm of the truly random, at one point Greg put me on the phone with his half-Israeli friend, and we exchanged pleasantries in Hebrew to the amazement of everyone in the brewery.

True to his word, Greg gave me a ride to my AirBnB in Ellensburg, saving me over 20 miles of biking. Yes, I know I’m supposed to be biking across the country and not skipping segments. Many people who’ve done it, though, have told me that the most important experience is the people you meet in the process. So I figured, all things considered, it was worth getting to know a local person and hear his story even at the expense of biking a continuous path across the country.

And after all that, I did indeed get to Ellensburg in time to shower and meet my friend Jesse for dinner. I concluded my evening at Iron Horse, despite the emotional scarring inflicted on me by the trail of the same name. Their peanut butter brown ale is top-notch and an absolute must-try if you’re in the area.

Here’s to an easier, flatter day tomorrow with more pavement and a higher average speed!

Total distance: 91.4 miles
Average speed: 12.9 mph

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