After our sixth evening out Mykenna and I were getting dialed in. We both awoke with the rising sun, ate breakfast (cold instant coffee and Pop Tart Bites) and were packed, strapped and rolling by half past five.
We made good time on good roads when, a mile outside of Pine City, we followed bike tracks to a burned-out railroad trestle. In September of 2020 the towns of Pine City and Malden, Washington were overrun by a freak wildfire, and within minutes the small towns were burned off of the map. The fire had taken the entire top level off of the trestle leaving only charred ten-inch spaced ties.
Mykenna and I had crossed similar trestles – minus the burn damage – on the Willapa Hills trail, but here my partner simply said “nope” and started down the steep embankment towards a significant stream crossing. A barb wire fence and a vertical bank made the stream crossing seem improbable, so we scampered back up onto the railroad grade.
Several sets of fresh bicycle tire tracks led to the bridge so I muttered “I’ll go first” and started across. The first twenty feet were dangerous but not stupid dangerous, so I marched blindly on. A couple ties rocked under my feet as I wrestled my forty-pound bike forward. “I sure am glad I made it across those” I thought to myself. At somewhere around forty feet out the ties simply started to disintegrate under my feet. “Don’t come out here,” I shouted back to Mykenna.
“No way I’m going out there,” he intelligently responded.
Well shoot. Time to take stock of my situation. Falling from this height, survival seemed doubtful, I’d be messed up for sure. Going forward seemed over the top stupid. Going back seemed horrible, but it was my only option. I made my way over to the steel substructure and gingerly stepped over each tie onto semi-secure structure. The steel was littered with broken and charred wood and my legs were shaking pretty good, so placing each foot required concentration. With the awkward load on the handlebars my bike did everything it could to kill me and end this ride once and for all.
“Damn that was stupid,” I said as my feet touched gravel.
A bit of backtracking and rerouting took us to Pine City and then back onto the trail to Malden. Rows of burned-out cars and charred trees told the story of what had happened nine months ago. In 2013 we had detoured off of the trail to roll through Malden, in 2021 there was nothing to roll through.
The last few miles into Rosalia went by slowly, but finally we were riding into town in search of anyplace that might have a quick breakfast and hot coffee. We settled on the small grocery store where, much to my disappointment, an out of order sign hung on the coffee machine. I settled for a couple of four hundred calorie bear claws and a can a Monster energy drink. I know that Monster ain’t no good for ya, but sometimes it’s like ice on a burn.
The sun was now high and for the first time on this trip we were feeling significant heat. Outside of town I stopped to empty rocks out of my shoe only to realize that the bottom of my super awesome Quoc gravel shoes had completely blown out – thus the shoe full of gravel. A few layers of electrical tape and we were back on the trail.
Between Rosalia and Tekoa the trail goes through a wildly overgrown swamp where you can either walk or put your front tire into a rut and pedal obliviously on, hoping for success. We made it through without incident and soon we were cruising good gravel towards Tekoa.
“See that bridge there,” I said to Mykenna, “that’s Tekoa.”
Oh but wait, we have a “victory lap” to ride.
We followed the railroad trail seven miles north – away from town – before turning south on the dusty, hilly Stateline Road. The dust was wreaking havoc on my drivetrain, but I was feeling remarkably refreshed on the hills. Finally we were coasting into town where a fist bump with my friend was the only finish line celebration. I took a photo of my watch showing the time and date and headed up the hill to meet our friend Tammy and get some breakfast.
Start to finish it was six days, six hours ten minutes.
I describe the XWA as “powerful.” I think that’s a good word.