When we heard that our friend Jason from Swift Industries was planning a little weekend bike touring / fly fishing extravaganza for the 4th of July AND that we would be riding a portion of theIron Horse Trail, we couldn’t say no. We have been eyeing the Iron Horse Trail for quite some time because it looked like an intriguing gravel ride and because it seemed to have good bike tourism bones. Surprisingly, for a trail of its length, proximity to Seattle and general potential for awesomeness, there is very little information about it. There are some odd trip reports here and there, but nothing with photos that really give you a flavor of the trail.
We boarded the BOLT bus in Portland. For those that don’t know, the Bolt is a generally less sketchy Greyhound (though it operates The Hound umbrella). The coaches are newer, have WiFi and MOST importantly aren’t jerks about taking bikes. Interestingly, the buses don’t have racks but instead allow you to place them in the luggage area UNBOXED. For us, this illustrates that accommodating bikes is more about attitude/policy than hardware. We’ve taken the Bolt bus where they have accommodated upto 6 bikes sans bike rack. Also interesting to note was that the bus was full of Gen X/Y riders. Our generation may not be into owning cars, but it doesn’t mean we don’t like to travel. It just means we will travel to places that are easy to get around without driving.
After taking the bus to Seattle, we all gathered the next morning and got a lift from Steve, who actually wrote his graduate thesis on the Iron Horse Trail and is active in mapping and advocating for the trail. It was great to hear his insight about the potential and challenges of the trail.
We started riding at the trailhead at Rattlesnake Lake (about 43 miles from Seattle). The trail is unpaved gravel which is very rideable but is more enjoyable with some fat rubber. I was riding my new Surly Ogre with 2.3 inch tires and Laura was riding her monstercrossed Vaya with 45mm Vee Rubber tires. There was no tire skinnier than 35mm on the ride.
From Rattlesnake Lake we rode East on the trail, which is generally trending uphill. It climbs at a railroad grade, so it was pretty mellow, even with a load. There were short stretches of loose gravel and some pot holes to negotiate, but for the most part the riding was easy and freed us up to talk with each other and enjoy the scenery.
One remarkable thing about the Iron Horse is that it has some beautiful “backcountry” campsites just off the trail, with pit toilets. They were tastefully done and placed in some nice locations (the complete opposite of many hiker/biker sites around the country). One particularly striking site was perched next to a small waterfall and creek, tucked beneath some lush trees. We decided to take a break there for brunch. As luck would have it, another cyclist was also stopped, with a BOB trailer. He was actually providing support for a group of riders and wanted to ditch some of his load, so he gave us a sixer of Pabst, some V8 and muffins : )