One aspect that I enjoy about exploration and adventure is that one project often leads to another. While researching an upcoming trip a door typically opens to a new undiscovered opportunity.
While doing some casual online research on Troy Hopwood’s XWA (Cross Washington) route I stumbled onto a map of the Willapa Hills Trail: a rails-to-trails project heading west out of Chehalis, WA; fifty miles of trail from the I-5 Corridor to the tidal flats of the Pacific Ocean. The trail covers terrain that I’ve never had the occasion to explore, which was reason enough to go ride it.
Mykenna, Steve and I rolled out of the Adna Trailhead at 9:00 AM under a dry, thinly overcast, sky. The temperature was a cool 34 degrees. The forecast was calling for partly sunny skies with temperatures in the high forties, but starting out we were all a bit chilled.
The trail begins on pan flat smooth gravel, and yet within the first half hour my rear tire suffered a significant puncture wound. I was running tubeless, so it was time to try the plug method. My Lezyne plugs were too big – despite the significant hole – but luckily Mykenna had some smaller plugs and the corresponding tool. Two miles later the rear tire was yet again coating both my bike and Steve’s ride with white latex. Another plug, another two miles and it was time for a tube.
I started out running 42mm supple tires at 37psi but we had to inflate the tire to a much higher pressure in order to seat the bead, not wanting to mess around any longer I just put the tire on and started riding. My guess is that we had that thing up to 50-60 psi. I would later pay for not dropping that pressure.
The trail follows along some extremely scenic portions of the Chehalis River to the hamlet of Pe Ell. Four miles later the trail crosses out of Lewis County and into Pacific County, and at this point the trail surface takes a definite turn for the worse. Say goodbye to cush gravel and say hello to mud, puddles, loose rock and lumpy hardpack.
The trail goes into some beautiful forest, but the price of admission is two dicey trestles. Some reports have claimed that the first (western-most) trestle is ridable, and I’m sure Danny Macaskill would make quick work of it, but not me, I was walking. The second trestle, well that one can be nervy for someone uncomfortable with heights. The ties are spaced about ten inches apart – wide enough to fit my size nine feet – and several are severely rotted. You can avoid the trestles by riding Highway 6, but I would recommend against that as it also detours a very scenic portion of the route.
A few miles after the trestles the trail is washed-out, but an easy detour onto a side road is only a few feet away. The quarter mile of pavement sure felt good after so much of the rough stuff.
At mile 42 we hit the town of Menlo and spent a few minutes eating lunch at the local grocery store slash post office. We had climbed less that 500 feet. I asked Mykenna if he’d ever ridden 42 miles in Washington and climbed under 500 feet. “Nope,” he replied. A local man stopped by to share his thoughts on the impending end times; I hope he’s wrong.
The final eight miles into Raymond were rough and I was feeling beat up when we hit the paved trail east of town. We rode to the literal end of the trail took a photo and then turned around (actually the route continues two miles past Raymond to South Bend but it looked like we needed to access a busy road so we kept to the trail and turned around at the bay).
My watch read 2:00 and we had been out five hours. It would be tight geeing back before dark. The mud, the loose rock and the rough surface all fought our forward progress. At mile sixty every jolt was going up my spine and into my head. “Hey fellas,” I said “maybe we should ride to the other side of those trestles on the road.” This meant eight miles of road riding and neither Steve nor Mykenna put up any resistance.
We hit the road and immediately our speed went up to 20 mph. The traffic was light, the shoulder was wide, the grade was flat and we ate up the miles. The lure of the road was strong, and we continued rolling pavement all the Pe Ell. The road engineers weren’t as hill-phobic as the railroad engineers, but the riding remained relatively easy.
At Pe Ell we decided to go another ten miles on the road, which ended up being the final twenty miles into Adna. In hindsight we should have cut back onto the trail somewhere between Pe Ell and Adna as the road became quite congested and drivers went from rude to threatening. The negative drivers put a bit of a damper on an otherwise great day of riding, but overall it was good day of riding and seeing new territory.
Route can be found here: Willapa Hills Ride With The Boys | Ride | Strava