At first light, Mykenna and I realized that we’d slept less than one hundred yards from a semi-permanent encampment occupied by an odd lady and several dogs enclosed in a makeshift chainlink enclosure. She later told Mykenna that if he didn’t “behave himself” she’d have to release the dogs. He behaved himself.
The bivy thing on the XWA is an intriguing process. At first it seems simple: ride till you’re tired then throw down for a couple of hours and then ride on. In reality, finding a suitable bivy spot is tricky, especially if you’re searching for one after dark. Out in Eastern Washington once that sun goes down it gets dark, if it isn’t in the beam of your headlight you ain’t seeing it.
I was eager to get out of the wind and find coffee; at five till six I was packed and pedaling back towards Warden. Thank goodness the grocery was open and thank goodness for the coffee and breakfast burritos. I drank two cups and ate three bacon burritos (didn’t want to risk the chorizo). Mykenna rolled up as I was going in for my third burrito, and soon we were riding east on the Palouse to Cascades Trail (formerly the John Wayne Pioneer Trail).
I had ridden this portion of the P2C back in 2013 and I remember it being moderate, if not downright easy, and after three days of rough country I was looking forward to putting down some tailwind assisted miles. Trail conditions were not as expected.
From the very first pedal stroke out of Warden the trail was deep unconsolidated tumbled rock and despite a considerable tailwind Mykenna and I were pushing hard to maintain five miles per hour. This was all a bit depressing as I was counting on a few “easy” miles here. I was riding 1.9” tires, Mykenna was on 44mm rubber, as much as I was struggling my partner had it worse. I turned to Mykenna and said “this isn’t the John Wayne Pioneer Trail actually it’s the John Wayne Gacy Trail.”
“Who’s John Wayne Gacy” he replied.
“A serial killer from the eighties. Dressed like a clown and buried his victims in the crawlspace of is house.”
Mykenna thought it over for a minute before asking “why would they name a trail after a serial killer?” We were getting loopy.
We limped into Lind, got some food and coffee and soon we were off heading towards the one house town of Ralston where I hope to someday camp in the small oasis park. The trail conditions went from bad to badder. A few miles short of Ralston super rider and overall cool dude Justin Short caught up with us. He’d ridden from Ephrata and was bound for Tekoa – a double century day.
Unable to cross Cow Creek due to an unruly rancher we turned left at Ralston and headed towards Ritzville, thankfully on semi-well-traveled gravel roads. At Ritzville we ate McDonalds, drank some Starbucks (yeah I know I drink a lot of coffee) and then loaded our jersey pockets with Subway sandwiches. I got a footlong, Mykenna bought three.
We returned to the trail via some nice gravel roads. The trail was a bit better, but not much. The P2C Trail rolls all the way to the mini-town of Ewan at the base of Rock Lake, but thankfully Troy took us off trail and through Escure Ranch. We crossed the stone bridge spanning Rock Creek at the magic hour, suddenly we’d been transported to Brigadoon. This southeast quadrant of the state is beautiful in its rolling desolation, but this little creek crossing was truly spectacular. We stopped, took a few photos and then spent a few minutes simply absorbing the fact that we were in this place at this time.
A relaxing ride took us into Ewan after dark. My plan was to camp at a church where in 2013 we had gotten water, but eight years later conditions had changed. The church was now surrounded by a high no one shall pass fence; we decided to continue onwards.
As we rolled towards Rock Lake a truck with headlights illuminated sat still in the center of a large field. A truck idling in a field at ten o’clock, seemed odd, but who knows. When we got to Rock Lake I suggested that we ride the trail for a quarter mile and bivy there. The route doesn’t take the trail due to a collapsed tunnel, but whenever possible I prefer to camp at non car accessible locations. As we were crossing the gate separating the trail from the road an F350 pulled up and two guys got out. One guy was in in sixties, the other in his forties, they didn’t seem particularly threatening.
“Going out for some night riding are we” the older gentleman said.
“We’re in a race. A race across the state,” I replied.
“We’re just going to camp up the trail for a few hours and then be gone.”
“No camping on the trail.”
“Well camping is a bit of an exaggeration,” Mykenna added. “we just need to sleep for a few hours.”
The two kind of mulled it over and then the older man said “well okay, just no fires.” And with that they got in their truck and drove off.
“That was weird,” Mykenna said.
“Yep it sure was,” I replied.
Ten minutes later fellow XWA rider Tom Sumter rode up and asked to join us.
As Tom was setting up his bivy the wolves started to howl. Now this wasn’t some Disney call of the wild stuff, this was some haunting crazy desperate howling. I don’t know if those wolves were fighting, hunting, running away or what but it was scary. Not normal. I ate what was left of my Subway sandwich and pulled the bivy hood over my head telling myself that sound carries out here. Those wolves are miles away. Miles away.