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Day 2: Ellensburg, WA to Richland, WA

Yesterday’s ride can be best divided into 3 chapters: Fresh in the Morning, Baking in the Sun, and The Final Push. Including breaks, they represent 42 miles in 3¾ hours, 41 miles in 6¼ hours, and 35 miles in 2½ hours.

Anyway, let’s start with the fun stuff. While I had initially planned to get up at 5:30 and hit the road at 6, I was feeling so exhausted on Friday night that I set my alarm for 6:15. I was also kind of slow to get going, so it was 7:15 by the time I started pedaling. One nice thing though was that I got to chat with my AirBnB hosts a bit. (They’d been out when I first arrived, and by the time I’d gotten back from dinner they were already asleep.) My host was so impressed with what I was undertaking that he took a photo of me, posted it to his Facebook, and used the post to plug this blog!

So if you’re one of David’s friends who found their way here via his post, welcome!

It was a nice cool morning and the overall route was downhill (net descent of 1100′ for the day) since I’d be following the Yakima River downstream, so I basically flew out of Ellensburg and into the Yakima River Canyon. The canyon runs roughly 25 miles, covering most of the distance between Ellensburg and the city of Yakima. It’s relatively unknown though, even to some locals, because I-82 bypasses it and in the process cuts out 5-10 miles. However this worked to my advantage, since I had relatively few cars passing me on the road and therefore got to enjoy the beauty of the canyon mostly in solitude. And just to give an idea of the variety of scenery, the two photos below were taken from exactly the same vantage point, but the first one is looking downstream and the second one is looking upstream.

Once I exited the canyon I immediately braked to a stop as I caught this view on the descent:

I assumed this was Mt. Rainier just because of how huge it is, but I’m told that based on where I was standing (intersection of Rts. 821 & 823) it’s more likely Mt. Adams. Either way, a pretty impressive mountain!

After that view, I descended into Yakima and got to use the Yakima Greenway to avoid going through downtown. The basic setup— an urban bike path hemmed in between a river and a highway— reminded me a bit of the Charles River bike path in Boston. But going between the Yakima and I-82 looks just a little different than going between the Charles and Storrow Drive.

The other thing is, as you get to the southern end of the Greenway, it becomes difficult to follow. It joins a road briefly and isn’t particularly well signed. Google couldn’t follow it either— it tried to direct me onto an unpaved and gated-off levee!

At the end of the Greenway, I grabbed breakfast at a Panera, and here ends Chapter 1. When I got out of Panera it was 11am, about 10 degrees hotter than it had been when I walked in, and the sun was really beating down. Fortunately, I had decided my next stop would be the American Hop Museum in Toppenish, which was only 16 miles down the road. Unfortunately, those 16 miles had no shade and were completely flat. You might think completely flat would be great after I had to cross the mountains, but the problem is you get no breaks. If you try to coast, you’ll just slow to a stop.

The museum itself was interesting, but I think they could do better. If you’re wondering why it’s all the way out here, the Pacific Northwest produces almost 2/3 of the nation’s hops, and the Yakima Valley is at the heart of that production. So the museum did have good exhibits on the history of hop cultivation and hop harvesting methods in the US. I also learned quite a bit about the different chemical compounds found in hops and what sorts of effects they have (bitterness vs. aroma, etc.). The place where the museum fell flat is that I was expecting an exhibit talking about all the different varieties of hops and what distinguishes them from each other. Unfortunately, there was no such exhibit. Also, the whole museum felt a bit dated to the late 1990s or early 2000s, so even if they had had such an exhibit it would have been outdated because of the number of hop varieties that have been developed since the beginning of the century. That said, I did appreciate the role Massachusetts had in our country’s early hop production.

Who knew Wilmington, Mass. used to be the leading hop producer in North America? And then Massachusetts was eventually passed by Hillsborough County, NH, which is today known as the home of Able Ebenezer and Windblown Skiing.

Ok, fine. I just needed an excuse to post some snow after being out in the sun for too long.

Moving right along, it was 1pm when I left the museum, and the 17 miles to my next stop was a ridiculous slog. At least the pavement was generally smoother and there was a tiny bit of up and down to let me coast just a bit. At the end of this stretch was the city of Sunnyside, which I’m guessing is the biggest thing between Yakima and Richland. I figured it was a good time for lunch, so I looked to see if there were any breweries in town that might also serve food. The first brewery I checked online didn’t have a kitchen but had a long list of food trucks on its site… and there were no food trucks on Saturday! I wonder if all the food trucks in Sunnyside are shomer Shabbat, because I’ve never heard of a brewery that has food trucks every day but Saturday. So instead I wound up at Snipes Mountain, where the blood orange wheat beer was just what I needed to beat the heat.

They also had an experimental IPA made with 6 different varieties of local hops. Not an amazing IPA, but it had a very nice aroma, and I appreciate the emphasis on locally-sourced ingredients.

I left the brewpub close to 3:30 so I still had to slog away in the hot sun, but at least I got to use the Lower Yakima Valley Pathway. It’s not an amazing bike path by any means, but at least it’s paved and it kept me off the road. Its most unusual feature is that it’s part of an interstate highway, a railroad, a bike path, and a local road all running parallel to each other.

7 miles later, I was in Grandview and decided for a change to stop at a winery. Yakima Valley Vintners is actually the teaching winery for the viticulture program at Yakima Valley College. Washington State produces more wine than any other US state besides California, and the primary grape-growing regions are along the Yakima and Columbia Rivers, so if any school would have a viticulture program, it would be one around here.

As a result of the winery being part of an academic program, they do some unusual styles and blends that have nevertheless won quite a few awards. (The shelves in the photo feature a selection of their award-winning wines. They’ve won so many awards though that they had to put up another set of shelves on the other side of the tasting room to feature the rest.)

Among other wines, I tried an albariño that was so fruity it actually tasted sweet and not at all dry, despite the fact that it had 0 residual sugar. They also had a great orange muscat, as well as a varietal called Lemberger, which I’d never heard of. While it didn’t work for me on its own (though the bartender said it pairs well with turkey), it tasted quite good in a 50-50 blend with syrah.

The upshot of going to the winery was that by the time I left at 5:15, the sun was much lower in the sky and some clouds had come out, so I was able to pick up the pace. Thus closes Chapter 2 and begins Chapter 3. I was now trying to power through everything because I’d told my friend Ben who’s hosting me in Richland that I would arrive between 6 and 7. (I love having friends named Ben. It confuses the hell out of everyone around us.) So, as mentioned at the beginning, I covered the 35 miles from Grandview to Richland in 2½ hours. It felt like forever, but it’s really not bad considering how much I had already done and the fact that I still had to climb 3 hills and pause a few times to stretch and catch my breath. Finally got to Ben’s at 7:45, so thanks for your patience with me running late!

To close out the day, we went to Atomic Ale for dinner. They’re part of the old generation of brewpubs, having been around since the 90s, and we went there more for the pizza than for the beer, but nevertheless they brew their own beer so they deserve a write-up.

With Richland having been home to plutonium production for the Manhattan Project during WWII, Atomic’s gimmick is that all their beers have names that riff on that theme. Ben recommended the Oppenheimer Oatmeal Stout, but that’s a seasonal beer only available in winter, so I settled for the Plutonium Porter. It was probably the lightest-colored porter I’ve ever had, but the taste was good if undistinguished, and it was a nice way to end the day.

Whew! If these posts are going to be proportional to distance biked then this will probably be one of my longer posts. I definitely overdid it yesterday and I needed the off day today. Fortunately, I had already planned to limit myself to 70-80 mile days from Richland until I’m over the Rockies. Hopefully that will give me some time to rest each day and build up my endurance. In the meantime, have a great end of June!

Total distance: 118.3 miles (personal single-day record!)
Average speed: 15.2 mph

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