Saturday, March 15, 2014

Klickitat Trail & Swale Canyon Bike Ride

On Saturday Emily and I decided to make the best of the nice warm weather and headed out past Hood River for some high desert mountain biking on the Washington side of the Columbia River.  We shuttled cars and biked a 31 mile “Rail-to-Trail” loop down Swale Canyon and then the Klickitat River to Lyle, WA.  It was a beautiful day and we saw lots of wildlife.  Click the title to read on….

After sleeping in a bit after a fun night with work friends at the Swift Lounge we got a late start out of Ridgefield.  By the time we had eaten breakfast and stopped at the Vancouver Cyclery to pick up spare tubes for Emily it was nearly 11am.  It then took us close to a two hour drive to get both our cars out to Lyle, WA where we left the Prius at the Klickitat River crossing off Route 14 and then took the truck and bikes to Warwick, WA along the Centerville Highway.  We definitely made the right choice shuttling as the drive up from the Gorge to the high plateau gained us a lot of elevation and it would have been a leg burner and possibly dangerous on bikes with narrow road shoulders and fast traffic.

I was super paranoid when we found the start of the trail on the side of the road in Warwick because the terrain and vegetation were nearly identical to that of the Lower Deschutes where both my tires had flattened due to “goat head” burs.  This time I was packing a brand new hand pump and both of us had 2 spare tubes with us just to be safe.  I don’t know what the thistle looks like that produces the thick thorns so I was very worried as we started off down the trail at 2pm, rolling over grasses and dry branches that definitely could have them.  Thankfully, we lucked out on the ride without either of us getting a flat.

The views on the trail were really amazing.  At the start we had rolling high desert hills with wind turbines in the distance and cattle all around us.  The first few miles were us following the Swale River over flat terrain next to the Centerville Highway.   We saw a couple herons, a falcon and a big red-tailed hawk.  We passed through a bunch of cattle gates that we opened and closed behind us to prevent any cows from wandering!  Soon we found ourselves descending the gravel path into the beautiful Swale Canyon.  This part of the trail is closed during the summer (fire season) so it was nice to ride it now on a beautiful day.  In the canyon we spotted a large marmot that ran into some rocks in front of us, lots of big squirrels and an Eagle flying high above us.  Later on we also saw some ground hogs and what I thought were prairie dogs?  

There were a bunch of old railroad bridge crossings that we easily rode over with our big mountain bike tires.  But there were made of parallel railroad ties with 2-3” gaps between them so we were careful not to stop and turn our tires or we would have fallen in.  We passed a couple who were carefully traversing the bridge on foot with bikes in tow.  The ride was super easy as it was all downhill along the Swale River and the gravel path was super smooth.  Occasionally we would pass old rusty machinery and piles of railroad spikes.  

When we reached the bottom of Swale Canyon we had to jump on the main road for 3 miles to pick up the trail again at the south end of the small town of Klickitat.  This was because the old railway bridge over the Klickitat River was out and there was no way to cross the very high and fast moving river safely.  Once we got past the town we sat on the side of the trail above the river and ate some late lunch before continuing onward down the last 12 miles to Lyle. 

The remainder of the ride was much flatter than Swale Canyon which gave our legs a bit of a workout.  We passed some waterfalls, skirted some landslides and crossed some very well maintained bridges alongside the river.  There were even a few sections of single track riding along the way.  We were both surprised to see the older couple who we had passed in Swale Canyon ahead of us on the trail.. still confused as to how that happened… I passed them with Emily a minute or so behind me on the trail.  A mile further down the path I stopped as I always do to wait for her and noticed that she was taking extra long.   When she showed up she let me know that just as she had passed the man he had realized he had a flat, and didn’t have a tube.  I peddled back to them and used one of Emily’s spare tubes to fix his flat so he could make it out the final 7-8 miles instead of having to walk.  They were really nice and very appreciative of the help.  Always nice to pay it forward because I’ve certainly been helped in the past myself.

From there the trail got super smooth and fast and before long we were just a couple miles outside of Lyle.  The river got funneled into a narrow slot canyon with some big rapids and we found ourselves crossing a remodeled railway bridge above it which provided a great photo opportunity and rest break as the sun was dipping low in the sky.  A quick mile later and we were back at the Prius in Lyle around 6:30pm with the sun setting over the south side of the Columbia Gorge.  

On the way up the Centerville highway to retrieve the Frontier we passed about 10 deer, a bunch of wild turkeys and saw more birds of prey.  It was then a long 2 hour ride back home for some dinner after our 31 mile ride.  Although our butts were sore from being on the saddle all day it turned out to be a relatively easy ride, with no flats, and a much better experience then my Epic on the Lower Deschutes a month earlier… 

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