October 1st, 2022 was the Inaugural grand depart for Troy’s fall 310+ mile bikepacking route called the WA High-Lite. Over 22,000′ of elevation gain. Here is the route: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/40194737
Here was Troy’s tracker he made: https://www.bandok.com/livetracker?id=24&fbclid=IwAR3kgotxdJt8FAi7vYEJ9DLjaGXZOjipIMG12vR7kw5w38hdKZhgmNhqMoI
This came about for a few reasons. The main ones I’m aware of is it gives XWA racers a chance to ride the “High Route” portion of the XWA which may or may not be melted out and logged out enough to be passable for the XWA grand depart in May and gives you a taste of the Lite version of the XWA that employs the newly completed railroad trestles to cross the Columbia river.
This year (and some previous years) the “high route” still had too much snow at elevation (the high route reaches nearly 6000′ elevation). This portion of the XWA was an original part of the XWA but we’ve always had to do the “Colockum Alternate” which now looks like a road ride in Nebraska compared to the High Route. It veers off the PTCT and rolls past Cle Elum into Roslyn and then up to Cle Elum Ridge on beautiful single-track. From there it drops into the Teanaway Community Forest briefly before climbing up towards Red Top Mountain Lookout area on Teanaway Ridge. It then descends down to Highway 97 before climbing all the way up to a viewpoint below Mission Peak. Just when you think your agony is over, the route drops down the abandoned road that parallels Devils Gulch. At the bottom you start a soul sucking climb back up the Peavine Canyon/Number 2 Canyon area before a much needed rippin’ fast descent down into Wenatchee. That is the “High” in High-Lite. The views are amazing and the challenge is real. This “High Route” section from Cle Elum to Wenatchee is nearly 80 miles and 12,000′ of elevation gain. Sound fun? It really is but you’ll have to dig deep. Some folks did it in one day. Our touring pace required two days to get to Wenatchee but we only rode during daylight hours for various reasons.
The “Lite” part of High-Lite is an easier version of the XWA in this central WA area now possible due to the re-construction of the Beverly Railroad Bridge and the Renslow Trestle over I90. It’s a way to cross the Columbia without having to cross the mountains into Wenatchee. This is a faster, more gravel bike oriented route. The Beverly Railroad Bridge is a 1/2 mile long bridge that was burned up in a fire in 2014. This completed section was monumental in many ways. You can read about its history here: https://palousetocascadestrailmaps.com/beverly-bridge.html
You can read about the Renslow Trestle here: https://washingtongravelriding.home.blog/2021/04/29/the-renslow-trestle/
Both of these Trestles made crossing the Columbia River possible. Before these were repaired, you’d have to take an alternate route around the Renslow Trestle and to get over the Columbia you’d have to organize a shuttle or risk your life riding on the highway…..that was a dead stop for most folks as there is no shoulder. You might be able to pull it off at 3am with a tailwind but even then it’s sketchy. Years ago when Randy and I rode the entire John Wayne trail to Idaho (now called the Palouse to Cascades Trail/PTCT) we dreamed up stashing pack rafts and crossing by boat and then retrieving the stashed away packrafts at a later date. Thankfully that is not necessary anymore. The High-Lite is a challenging late summer/early fall ride where views and trail conditions are very different than spring for better or worse depending on what seasons you like the most. It’s a really cool way to see some of the fall colors in central WA and test your mettle. You could get nice clear/calm/warm fall days or snow, rain, high winds depending on your luck. We got the warm,calm, sunny perfect days thankfully. I was actually a bit warm most days and was hoping for some clouds and cool breezes but was also happy to stay warm and dry (minus the gallons of sweat).
So that is the idea behind the route and some of its history. I don’t normally post about the routes in detail in these blog posts because they are just a journal of random bike/gear notes for myself but I’ll start by giving a little route overview with little bits of beta here and there and share some of my favorite pics I took along the route.
The “Grand Depart” was 8am on October 1st at the start of the Coal Mines Trail in Cle Elum. I have the luxury of it being about 60 seconds away from our house here in Cle Elum. The night before a few of us gathered at the house and grilled out and shared stories. The next morning I thought it would be a fun idea to make breakfast for the folks who camped at the house and some of the folks we allowed to park here for the duration of the race. Even with an early start on the grill the pace picked up as people were arriving and it became a bit of a frantic hustle to deal with the food, house, guests and my own gear before we had to shut the house down and roll. I think I’ll forgo the food part if we do this again and just let everyone do their own thing that way we can get down to the start without having to rush. It all worked out fine and we all got there in time for a group pic for once! (Some of us missed the group pic for this years XWA because we were too chatty and messing around back at camp haha…sorry Troy). Thanks Jessica for the great group shot!
Right at 8am sharp the call to roll out was ushered and everyone shot out of the gate like bullets. There was a really good turnout for an inaugural race, 23! Dust was flying….meanwhile I was in a casual pace at the back trying to keep from not blowing up and sucking in the dusty air……quickly reminding myself that an “off the couch” bikepacking event was NOT a good idea given the days ahead of us even though I had some excuses (dislocated shoulder etc). The reality is that I had no excuse and was just going to have to get after it and try to keep moving. Randy and I had determined well in advance that we were going to do this route in “party pace” and carry full touring gear so there wasn’t any stress of racing etc. We immediately were gapped by the super fast riders off the front, almost comically. We had to keep in mind many of the racers in front of us were in full race mode, on gravel bikes with the most minimal kits you’ve ever seen (some with no sleep kits etc). And were talking folks who have just raced the Tour Divide and Smoke N Fire placing in top spots fast. The Roslyn crew put on quite a show for us coming through town with some cheering (Deanna and Irena’s pose I believe), a guy in a painters suit dancing (I think that was Daniel?) and various funny carboard signs with “encouraging” statements on them. I loved it haha. My kind of people.
Glenn from https://www.rideroslyn.com/ rode with us a bit as we climbed up “Ewok” towards Cle Elum ridge. This was our first climb of the route and thankfully was a nice grade on buff local and familiar single-track. Thanks Roslyn crew for the cheering squad and excitement. It would be the last we’d see for 300 miles haha.
My body was in shock mode as we started climbing out of town. It’s pretty normal for me to train myself into these events as the days go on. I get stronger and stronger each day but the first few days are hard. Digesting that breakfast burrito just minutes before didn’t help either. This route really dishes out some huge elevation gain right out of the gate too. We had a great chat with Glenn on the way up the ridge and then dropped down into the Teanaway Community Forest trails under the cool, but slowly warming skies. Views were a bit clouded by wildfire smoke but still pretty good. The route utilizes the BST trail which is always a winner, even when it’s dry and blown out. Randy posing for the shot (he’s actually riding the route backwards here for the photo op 😉 Here’s a great video on the geological past of the Teanaway Community Fortest. Thanks Shiggy for the link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0uiG5lMSRu4
It’s now game on….things are moving and our tires are on dirt and were leaving the comfort of town. The excitement is building towards completing this new route and getting an official legit finish. The route briefly drops into the TCF before heading up FSR 9702. This is a really nice stretch of road with great gravel/dirt and meadows. It does deliver some hefty climbs though as you get closer to Red Top. (Yes, the same area as Red Top lookout area. Also a great place to find agates there in the rockhounding areas if you’re into that sorta thing. I have a really cool one I found and had 1st Creek Rock shop cut it in half for me on their lapidary diamond saw).
If you time it right, when you drop down to 97 you can hit up a re-supply at the little store there at the Mineral Springs camp area right off the highway. We got there just as the woman working there was about to close up. She appeared to maybe be the owner. As we were buying snacks the woman asked about the “women behind us” and wanted to make sure she stayed open for them but she had to leave and close early for a wedding. Randy, thinking ahead bought a gallon of water and tucked it off the side of the trail for them knowing they would probably just miss this re-supply spot.
There is water to be filtered all the way up this route but doing chores is always a pain. Thanks Randy for that kind “trail angel” gesture. There was LOTS of climbing ahead of us but really wasn’t as bad as I’d expected or remembered. I had to walk quite a few of the steeper sections but started to get my legs higher up.
We were filtering water a ways up and ran into Keri and Annie. They had indeed just missed the re-supply as they watched the shop owner drive away but they did see the water Randy left for them. We all rode together for a short bit before deciding to just call it a night and camp. I took a great nap there on a rock and woke up to the moon rising above us. My phone can capture a pretty cool image of the moon somehow on super zoom.
We all woke up at daylight after a terrible nights sleep (for me atleast) and got packed up and rolling. I was greeted to a pretty cool view during a nature break before we left.
The route is pretty melow at this point and just gentle climbing on really nice gravel. Lots of great views and some late turning Larch trees.
Things do get harder after you pass the viewpoint for Mission Ridge however and there’s more up and down. You expect to start descending from that high point but the route isn’t done with you just yet.
After a fun descent down the old abandoned road that parallel’s Devils Gulch, we were greated with what was called “a soul sucking climb” lol. And was before seeing the 4″ of moon dust. This climb was not rideable once we hit the moon dust sand dune of a climb. Pretty memorable.
We all survived and even ran into the one and only Al Murphy. He was the gentleman in the mini excavator. I learned about Al from a guy I worked with doing trail work on the Mad River trail in the Entiat this spring. Al was the one who taught him to operate like a boss. I get to work with this person again next week so pretty excited about all that. Just a chance encounter with someone I heard a LOT about. Very nice guy.
From here we had a great ride down into Wenatchee where we split off from Keri and Annie. We got a hotel and immediately went out in search of food. We hit up the casino restaurant next door to the hotel and had an amazing burger and a few beers. The hotel was right off the trail too so super convenient and easy. So good. Got back to the hotel and updated our gear and tried to get a good nights sleep.
The next morning, since we got the hotel we decided we’d get up early around 4:30am and hit the road while it’s calm and dark, forgetting it’s actually rush hour on the highway there heading towards Rock Island so it was a bit noisy. But the shoulder is wide and not a huge deal really. Our re-supply would be the gas station just before the big Rock Island Grade road climb. There we’d pick up some extra stuff for dinner that night on the trail and max out our water supply as it’s a long dry and hot/sunny stretch from there until you hit the lower Douglas Creek area. Even that water has to be suspect for filtering given all the agriculture and cows etc in the area. However, I’m still alive to tell this story.
The Rock Island Grade is a fairly long switch back climb up and away from the valley. It’s a very nice road. The first part is the steepest then it starts to mellow out a tad. Along the way we ran into a rancher who stopped to say hi and tell us some stories of rescuing someone who had a wheel problem by taking them down into Wenatchee or something to that effect. Very nice guy though.
Once you hit the “top” there is a long stretch of ups and downs while you make your way north. The gravel is not terrible and has some nice spots to ride in if you hunt around. You can see cars coming for miles so it’s pretty safe too. Once you get up to the Duffy Creek Rec Site area you’re reaching the end and top before you get to drop down to Douglas Creek. You can camp in there behind the gate at Duffy Creek to btw if you end up here at night. (The rest leading up to this spot feels like it’s all private farm land). https://www.blm.gov/or/resources/recreation/files/brochures/duffy_douglas.pdf?fbclid=IwAR34GKsLqJSYG4iQ1ntgeR9RiWRsDzwJcRyT-XDGrYxryjc7WfO9RWkvToY
That area could use some more exploration to see if you can connect over via Duffy Creek. That could be a good alternate for the XWA if Troy leaves out the new upper Douglas Creek Rail trail from the XWA. It’s a very rough section requiring a ton of hike-a-bike. But it’s so pretty and worth it. I found a cool link to some history on the railroad that used to run through there. It was called the Mansfield Branch Line. 100’s of now and then pics here in this link: https://ndarrin97.blogspot.com/search/label/Bridge%20%2325?fbclid=IwAR1rF7PVMCu8KG6lh4CwAqMj3cdiQ4zfXuWOqgE806LqQExhKPBlZNfMSNc
After 7 miles of that rail trail you end up at the lower Douglas Creek area which has it’s own set of challenges like creek crossings etc. You can walk them, or choose to ride through them all like I did but then there’s the risk of crashing or popping a tire. I live dangerously so NBD. Ha! It was one spot where my 29×2.4 rear and 29×2.6 front tire came in real handy. But then you end up at Douglas Creek Falls which is super cool! We sat there and enjoyed the shade and filtered water and didn’t want to leave. We had this entire place to ourselves so it was extra nice and relaxing.
From here you climb out of Douglas Canyon/Palisades area and start working your way towards Ephrata. You’re not out of the woods yet though once you hit the Palisades. You start a new set of climbs up and over the ridge before dropping into Davis Canyon just before Ephrata. I really enjoyed that section. It wasn’t a slog like I remember it and had great views. The drop into Ephrata though is always nice..super fast!!
Once in Ephrata we re-supplied again. We were refilling our bottles by the gallon from here on out. We were both feeling pretty good at this point. We’d worked out some bugs in gear/bikes and fitness. Day 3 or 4 of any bikepacking trip is kinda when I start to get that grove going and things are settling in and feeling good. From here you roll out of Ephrata and it’s a pretty easy ride from there all the way to Moses Lake. A nice long ranch road with no traffic and then some backroads into town. The ORV area in Moses Lake is not a super fun spot but it’s not terrible either. Just depends on what day and time you roll through so keep that in mind. Sat afternoons are probably NOT recommended….learned that the hard way on the XWA the 1st year. Yikes . Moses Lake has a brand new Loves truck stop on route which is pretty nice.
We did an 85 mile push to Othello from Douglas Creek. It was a pretty long hot day with about 25 miles of the route having to be a re-route around the new closed Columbia Wildlife area. Bummed we didn’t get to ride there as I heard it was a “top 5 most beautiful spots I’ve ever ridden” place…and that’s saying a lot from who told me. This involved a re-route on paved roads to Warden and then gravel into Othello. By the time we hit Othello we just wanted a hotel and a spot to re-supply food and get dinner and all that. We had an awesome front desk gal help us out that evening with all the info and also into the next morning. Such a good feeling to get someone like that when you’re exhausted. Turns out a few of us all got the same lady and she took good care of us. Her name was Sharon.
One of the interesting things we experienced when riding into Othello was in all of the dips in the road the air would get super cold….like 10 or 15 degrees cooler. It was super wild. Warm,cold,warm, cold and so on. There must’ve been some warm low inversion or something just over the tops of the fields.
The next morning we rolled out of Othello and on some rolling pavement before hitting the Crab Creek area which is super pretty. Again, super smooth gravel and very little traffic if any. We had a local from Smyrna stop and chat us up and that was about it. Very nice guy with his family in the truck. They just wanted someone to chat with I think. It’s a pretty lonely place out there.
The The beauty in this stretch was pretty endless even though it was super smoky. The smoke didn’t really bother us though at all. We rolled into Beverly and re-supplied at the gas station there then rolled out to find a place to crash out for our last night. We found a great spot.
I think I got my best nights sleep that night. Probably knowing we just had one more day to go to finish. In the morning we topped off some water at the water station the Army Training Center runs..thankfully it was open and working.
We knew there was a long day ahead of us climbing the Army Training Center part of the PTCT. It turned out to be a super pleasant ride, nice rideable grade and very few soft/rocky spots. We also had almost NO wind and pleasant temps….that was pretty amazing. Sometimes you can get hellacious headwinds through those railroad cuts and soul sucking heat.
We arrived back in Cle Elum after 6 days. Two nights in a hotel and 3 nights camping. I’d consider our trip a “hustling tour pace”, riding all day from sunup to sundown basically with no side trips or long breaks. Or “Sport tour” as Jason called it haha. Overall a great experience. I think if I did it again I’d want to try racing it and riding into the night like I’ve done in previous races. Each day you add out on the trail compounds into it’s own type of wear and tear on you and your gear. It was nice to do a tour with an old friend and get a legit “finish” to a bikepacking event. That’s always motivational. Thanks to Jessica and our dogs for showing up at the finish to greet us! It was nice to have a little cheering/barking squad at the end.
As for gear notes, I kept notes along the way on my phone of things I’d change or update or look into etc. I won’t post any nerdy weights of things this time as I have multiple posts with all that stuff in it. I bring pretty much the same stuff each trip now. It just comes down to what bike I’m riding, what pace, how far, what weather and all that. I broke my notes into categories that had me thinking the most.
Bike setup and components
- Make sure shifting is dialed AFTER you pack your bike. Give it some good test ride time to make sure there are no kinks in the cable housing. No better time to do it then before the race and in the comfort of your own home/shop.
- Same goes for brakes and general tune stuff. Go over the bike and make sure everything is going to be as trouble free over the entire route as possible. I’d start with new brake pads, new chain/cassette and make sure you don’t have any lose bolts. Also make sure everything is accessible to be worked on after it’s packed.
- Bikepacking bikes are not to be overlooked for wanting higher end components. This is when you really need the reliability of quality gear. Treat yourself to nice stuff. Use the older stuff with wear during training.
- I ran 29×2.4 rear, and 29×2.6 front. Maxxis Recons. I’d say they were fine for tour mode but they were a LOT of tire to roll on this route and the benefits of them in some areas really didn’t outweigh their drawbacks on everything else. 2.2’s are plenty. Just make sure you load them with Stans….lots of stans. And carry extra incase you get in goathead hell. We got lucky and only had a few but fast sealing thorns thanks to a re-freshed tubeless setup. Do not try and run only tubes on this route…you’ll regret it quickly.
- I ran standard cages on my Whiskey fork but should’ve swapped out for larger Anything cages and larger bottles. Small bottles are a pain to have to keep refilling.
- Bring extra chain lube. We used a lot on this route.
- I need to update my chain link/quick links too to make sure I have an extra chain link section and two or more 12 speed quick links. I never needed them but when you do you have to have them or you lose your lowest gear if you run 1x. I only had one set and it kinda made me nervous
- I ran a new Revelate front triangle bag and it was night and day better than old custom bag I had made 12 years ago. It supported a higher volume so easily. Nice easy to use zippers and the “map” pocket on the other side was perfect for my cords and battery etc.
The feed bags however creaked the entire ride, as did my rear seat bag. I keep managing to not fix this. It’s pretty annoying so I need to update some things there to fix that. It just comes down to rapping the creeky bits in some gaffer tape or friction tape to break the rubbery squeak. No big deal just keep forgetting to do that.
- This is one area where I’m constantly trying to update. This time I moved my Wahoo into a spot where I could use it well and also run the charger cable from my dynamo to it. During the XWA I had it on the factory out front mount and you could not plug in the cable while it was mounted.
- The dynamo worked great. I used it to keep the Wahoo and Inreach topped off. It doesn’t supply enough power to charge my huge phone but that’s OK. A powerbank and a hotel stop here and there keep that all going fine. If I rode at night I’d had my Fenix light with pre-charged batteries too.
- A 3 or 4 port fast 45 W charger would be ideal to bring so you can charge everything in one shot from one outlet. I had all kinds of cords and extra batteries I didn’t need. I have range anxiety with my electronics but slowly getting over that fear.
- All electronic stuff in one place was handy (map pocket of frame bag)
- I also need to mount my Inreach in a better spot. There’s no need to have it accessable really, just needs to be in clear view of the sky so you can’t mount it anywhere really
- I use safety/keeper straps on everything so I don’t lose them which is handy when you lay the bike over or whatever.
- I really enjoyed using our super light Nemo tent. It comes in fully packed at just over 1.5lbs, with rain fly/poles etc. It’s crazy light but not sketchy light. It’s very usable. I don’t think I could ever chose a bivy over that thing now. Maybe if I had to “stealth” camp more but even then….
- I need to update my mattress. I’ve been using this terrible old one that is super small and uncomfortable….all in the name of weight and space. But a good mattress if you’re going to camp and try to get real sleep is key. I’d leave other things at home to make room for a good mattress.
- I’m really bad and keeping up with the personal hygiene stuff when out touring. It just seems exhausting to have to do certain things so I usually let them slide, then pay the price for it later.
- Keeping the rear end clean with baby wipes and using A&D ointment at night to prevent saddle sores is key. I got quite a few of them but thankfully they never bothered me.
- I’m never going to be able to not sweat, so the key with me is going to have to be using a lot of Chamois cream to keep the friction down in the saddle area.
- I’ve never drank so much water while on a ride in my life. We were drinking a couple of gallons of water a day. Filtering where ever we could and buying water everywhere. I drank non-stop it felt. Same with food. We could eat anything we wanted.
- Need to update my supply of electrolyte tablets. I cramped up a lot the first few days but the tablets helped a ton. I’m sure I was just dehydrated going into the event, then body was in shock.
- Bigger bottles are key. Don’t bother with the small ones.
The end 🙂