Cyclists

A group of cyclists pose for a photo during their ride on the John Wayne Trail.

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Editor’s note: Second of two parts. Local cyclist David Lygre joined horseback riders and wagons on the 35th annual cross-state ride on the John Wayne Trail. Last week’s installment focused on the start of the journey in Kittitas County. This week’s story picks up the trip just after the group crossed the Columbia River into Grant County.

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I guess I was the wrong beholder the day we crossed into Grant County. Others felt differently, though, which reminded me of what I read somewhere: every landscape is beautiful if you see it the right way.

I decided to join the annual John Wayne Trail Ride from Easton to the Idaho border last month after attending a public meeting about the future of the trail. While most of the group was made up of horseback riders and wagons, there was a small contingent of cyclists at the front of the group this year.

We pedaled across sometimes rough, sometimes sandy trail from Beverly to Smyrna (try finding them on your state map). The bikers stayed together as we helped each other deal with a wedged bicycle chain, a rattlesnake and three flat tires courtesy of goatheads (short, sharp thorns). In a swampy, overgrown section I became a moveable feast for mosquitoes as young Hunter, riding beside me, kept exclaiming how many bugs he could see on me, and where.

After the ride, at Smyrna, we packed everything up again and drove to Warden, skipping part of the trail that still has tracks, some still in service (between Warden and Othello) and others serving as a boneyard for old railroad cars.

On a rest day we toured a Hutterite colony about a dozen miles northeast of town. Each colony has a limit of about 125 people, and this one occupied about a township of land on which potatoes were the main cash crop. We saw spotless tractors, potato-growing and harvesting equipment and a massive woodworking shop.

Thanks to showers at the Warden Police Department we were able to sit closer together for our daily camp meeting led by Gaylord. Afterward most dined at the Corral Restaurant while Steve and I were the sole gringos enjoying supper at Las Tres Amigas.

To Lind

In the morning, driving the rolling hills from Warden to Lind to leave our vehicles at our next campsite, I again appreciated the skill of long-ago engineers to find the flattest possible route for the railroad and its builders to fill in low places and cut through hills. As we pedaled that grade we looked out at wheat fields doing The Wave in the relentless, welcome tailwind.

Their green was dotted with occasional yellow splashes of mustard.

We cycled a stretch where a work party from our group had just cleared a long section of tumbleweed-choked trail and removed several boulders. Later we negotiated at least a dozen places where small trestles no longer existed. Each time we had to exit and ride weedy, overgrown patches until we could climb back onto the trail. We arrived in Lind and camped at a site on the edge of town our group had developed for that purpose over the last three years.

Near the end of the day’s ride I fell into conversation with Tom, a tall, taciturn gentleman with a white beard and veteran of the ride. When I asked how his horse was doing, he smiled and explained he had just purchased the horse and was delighted with its performance. “When you’re older and have a few extra dollars,” he explained, “this can bring you a lot of joy.”

Happy hour

That night, like many nights, we camped near Rusty and Byron. Byron had a fine carriage pulled by two Tennessee walkers that were among the first to arrive in camp each day. Rusty, and sometimes others, rode with him. A life-long bachelorette, “by choice” she was always quick to add, in 1989 she did the extra-long (due to celebrating the state’s centennial) “ride” entirely on foot, walking from Tekoa to Olympia. As usual, she pulled out her boxes of wine and bottle of gin from her Kia Soul, in which she somehow slept, and hosted a happy hour for Byron, Steve, me and sometimes others as we sat around camp and discussed life.

The next day we cycled on the roughest trail so far from Lind to the remnant of Ralston, which consisted of a grain elevator. My leaking tires, courtesy of the goatheads, were filled with Slime, a goopy gel that seeks out and fills small punctures. Even so, every 45 minutes or so I’d have to stop and pump more air into them to keep them going.

On the ride Mark, another cyclist and amateur historian, especially on railroads, explained that Lind had a nice rodeo arena, but the rodeo was defunct. So an enterprising farm implement dealer, finding himself with lots of old equipment traded in on new, had a bright idea. He started a new annual event in that unused arena: a combine demolition derby.

Nearing Ralston, we spotted lots of garbage, including two boats, people had dumped along a road. Steve stopped to photograph the license numbers so the boats could be identified and reported.

At Ralston (nine miles south of Ritzville) we camped 20 feet from the trail. One nearby nuisance was skeletonweed. Another was rye, which local landowners don’t want carried by the wind to contaminate their crops. They could spray or otherwise handle the problem but cite liability problems doing so on state land (Iron Horse State Park), plus the cost. Meanwhile, the state hasn’t appropriated sufficient funds to control the weeds. On it goes.

That night I discovered two flat tires, which after crossing the Columbia River had been serving as pinatas for all the goatheads. I surrendered, replaced both inner tubes and crossed my fingers.

Cow Creek

The next nine miles of trail was closed by DNR due to a long-gone trestle over Cow Creek. Going around that gap meant traveling on someone’s property who didn’t want us to do so. As a result, we loaded all the horses, wagons and bicycles and drove 24 miles to where the trail resumed in the middle of nearly nowhere, a place called Marengo. There we unloaded everything and followed the bus in our vehicles another 20 miles east to our campsite for the next two nights, Revere, consisting of—you guessed it—a grain elevator. Then back onto the bus, back to Marengo, and begin our 15-mile ride.

Along the ride I met John, a genial back country horseman from Modesto, California. With a perpetual smile, he explained that he traveled more than a thousand miles, pulling a trailer with two horses, to join the ride because “it sounded like fun.”

The landscape morphed from lush, rolling wheat fields into scablands, land scoured long ago, often to bedrock, by floods from melting glaciers. Mesas and other rock formations peeked over at us and the ranches nearby as we reached Revere.

There we took a rest day. Steve and I cycled behind Byron’s carriage carrying Rusty and two others to see the remains of a nearby homestead. After a few steps inside a shed built into the side of a hill — perhaps a cool place to store food — I heard the unmistakable sound of a rattle. My yell at Rusty to step back triggered one of the quicker moves ever made by a 78-year-old woman. The snake was impressive, though its size was hard to estimate because it was coiled. I’m reluctant to tell you how big I thought it was because you might think of some fish stories you’ve heard.

Ewan

The next day was a pretty ride to camp in a large field near the small community of Ewan. We pedaled through scablands featuring a creek and waterfall and kept company with an irrigation canal used for growing hay. Ranch homes here and there were nestled under outcroppings of bedrock. The remnant of one piece, carved through to make way for the railroad, was called Castle Rock.

We eight cyclists did an extra-credit, 7.5 mile ride along Rock Lake, a deep, long scenic oasis in the dry country. Under a tree that had fallen across the trail we handed bicycles ahead to each other, then crawled under ourselves, and finally turned back when we reached a barrier indicating private land. For some, this was the prettiest part of the entire trail.

The following day, 23 miles, was hard but also scenic. Much of the first half was on winding gravel roads that bypassed a section of trail intruding on private property. The steep roller-coaster grades reminded us we were in the green hills of the Palouse. An early morning airplane buzzed low, spraying nearby fields.

A steep descent on an old stagecoach road brought us, at the bottom, to “hole-in-the-ground,” a common place (or on the resulting, steep climb) for long-ago outlaws to rob the stage. We cyclists ground up that grade in our lowest gears and on top rejoined the trail where we enjoyed the ambience of something that had been scarce for days — trees, especially of the ponderosa pine persuasion.

Malden

A mile from our campsite in Malden we passed dozens of old vehicles that appeared to have been dumped down a short hill near the trail to their final resting place. Later we learned it was a junkyard the owner had been ordered by the town to clean up.

Malden provided water, showers, garbage disposal, spacious parking with nearby picnic tables, and even a small library, all of which we enjoyed during our final day of rest.

The Sons of the Pioneers crooned out of the speakers at the Malden Congregational Community Church, inviting us to breakfast the next morning. That evening we dined at the Masonic Hall. The next morning cowboy music again beckoned us up the hill for breakfast. At our daily meeting Gaylord stressed that spending dollars in each community was an effective way to build local support to keep the trail open and improve it. Another piece of goodwill was Byron continuing his tradition of giving children rides in his horse-drawn carriage when the school bus dropped them off in the afternoon.

In camp I walked by a horse trailer and talked with Paul and his wife, Mary, who was disappointed my name wasn’t Peter so that we could sing together as a trio. Paul was one of three electrical engineers (Byron was another) who worked for Honeywell and helped develop devices used in the space station.

Smudges of clouds adorned an otherwise clear blue sky as we rode east from Malden to camp at the rodeo fairgrounds in Rosalia, the first town we’d seen in days that had such things as stores. The short, 10-mile ride passed through lanes of trees on an often overgrown trail bearing many gates we opened and closed. The surface was rough, with too much gravel. Bicycles with the widest tires fared best on a day that should have been easy, but wasn’t.

With temperatures rising to 90 degrees, most of the riders, out of consideration for their horses and themselves, and unlike in previous years, decided not to ride in the Rosalia Battle Days parade before embarking on the 20-mile ride to Tekoa in the heat of the day. The parade commemorated the Indian War of 1858 in which Colonel Edward Steptoe’s troops were defeated at a site on the east side of town.

The trail, quite overgrown in places, again passed green wheat fields in rolling Palouse country. We fought our way through a three-mile section called “the swamp” that brought one cyclist nearly to tears. Our feet got wet as we pedaled, and sometimes pushed, our bicycles through at times dense, eye-high stands of grass and weeds while the mosquitoes took a gram of flesh from each of us. But we persevered and were happy to reach Tekoa.

The Tekoa Rodeo Association provided a fine meal for us, and 25 or so of us received a white scarf, awarded to those who completed every day of the ride. The 2016 ride was officially over.

To the border

Next morning, before heading home, Steve and I had one piece of unfinished business. We cycled onto the trail, rode six miles east to the Idaho border, and then back. Unlike the previous day, when I was too busy staring at the trail, finding the best surface to ride, the smooth trail gave me a chance to once again enjoy the fertile fields showing off their wares. The only disappointment was pedaling over a few places where mudders recently had their fun at the expense of the trail and its other users.

Will I ride in 2017? My goal was to complete as much of the trail as is currently legal and practical. I’ve scratched that itch so I probably won’t be back. There would, however, be one good reason to return — all the good people I met. I was surprised how well the horse people and cyclists got along. Indeed, we cyclists were made to feel very welcome, and I was reminded of the cowboy song “where never is heard a discouraging word.” That was certainly my experience.

The larger question is the future of the trail. One way to help is to support organizations such as the John Wayne Pioneer Wagons and Riders Association (www.jwpwr.org) and the Friends of the Trail (www.friendsofjohnwaynepioneertrail.org). Local citizens can also help by using the trail and encouraging their state representatives to support and fund it. Indeed, the trail needs much work to improve its surface, fill in gaps, deal with unusable trestles, and satisfy the demands of local landowners.

It will take time and money. Will it happen? I close with words written 90 years ago in a different context: “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

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