An Adventure on Wheels: 2017's Ride the Willapa
We Biked, We Camped, We Toured, We Rode The Willapa On This Annual Two-Day Event!
The second annual Ride the Willapa took place over the weekend of June 24. The event stretches 22 miles along the Willapa Hills State Park Trail, which starts in Chehalis, mostly follows along the Chehalis River and Washington State Route 6 through farmland, a countryside valley, past Rainbow Falls State Park, and all the way to the town of Pe Ell, then back again for a total of 44 miles. The two-day event is a go-at-your-own-pace ride rather than a race. This ride was a great opportunity for beginners, families, and pros. Along the route was Tour de Farms, first aid and water stations, and the chance to camp out at either Rainbow Falls or Pe Ell High School before making the trip home the next morning. Though we rode this trail during an event, it is open all year round and we recommend checking it out.
Upon arriving at the designated parking area, we registered, got our swag bag and number and unloaded our gear. Our plan was to ride to Rainbow Falls State Park, set up camp, then continue to Pe Ell. The temperatures for the weekend were forecasted to be in the mid to upper 90's. We slathered in sunblock, attached our numbers, loaded our bikes, and headed out. It is worth mentioning that we had the opportunity for UPS to porter our tent and heavier gear to the campsite. We decided to give our new bikepacking bikes a full test by carrying all of our equipment with us.
The beginning of the path was paved and nicely shaded. It was still morning, so the heat was throttled by overnight coolness still captive in the trees and undergrowth. We had never done a ride of this distance, but this gentle, comfortable start inspired us. There were a fair number of stops set up with refreshments, and the first Tour De Farms tent had fenced sheep and fresh cheeses. It was beginning to get hot now, and our hydration packs were worth their weight.
A bit further along, was the primary cluster of Tour De Farms stops. We eagerly took the detour to these stops, as we had pre-ordered our lunch days ahead of the event and were getting hungry. Local farms offered fresh produce, dairy products, krauts, relishes and more. We stopped at each farm and sampled their offerings. Our lunch destination was Wedin Farm. A shady place to rest, listen to live music, eat our boxed lunch from Dawn's Delectables and take time to refresh.
Hunger satisfied and thirst quenched, we got back on the trail. The trail changes to gravel about 5 miles into the journey. The gravel, at first hard packed, became looser and thicker as we continued. With the now soaring temperature and the increase in effort, we were feeling the strain of this ride. The numerous hydration stops set up along the way gave us opportunities to rest, reapply sunscreen, and stay hydrated. We crossed many interesting bridges along the route and appreciated the views of the countryside as we passed through.
After what seemed like an eternity, we reached Rainbow Falls. Though the park was not the end of our journey, we were looking forward to taking an extended rest. We found a spot under a large tree with a wooded area behind us. There was shade, live music, and there were restrooms with showers. We unloaded our burden of gear and set up camp. Sprawled out on the grass, we lay there cooling off and letting our bodies rest. We stuck around for just a short while, hoping the day would cool before getting back on our route.
We sucked it up and headed back into the heat. The rest of route to Pe Ell offered little shade. It was incredibly hot now; we took breaks wherever there was the slightest shadow cast over the trail. Upon arriving in Pe Ell, we half expected to be greeted by a grand celebration, but it was a hydration tent, we gladly accepted the cold water. There was a band playing outside with an adjacent patch of grass and scant shade from some small trees. We stretched out here, on the grass for a short while. Afterwards, we cruised around the little town, stopped at Kettle Creek Cafe and enjoyed a cold drink and rested again.
We decided we would ride down to the high school, where camping was also available, and refill our hydration reservoirs. It was tricky to figure out, but the camp set up was in the rear of the school. There were no signs to direct us; we just rode around until we found someone. Luckily, there were restrooms and fountains in the locker rooms just off the gymnasium. Upon entering the gym, we were met with deliciously cold air conditioning. We filled our water bladders with cold water and headed back to the heart of Pe Ell.
We steeled ourselves for the return trip to Rainbow Falls and began our journey back. The excessive heat took its toll on us this day. We arrived at camp tired and a bit worse for wear. Eating, resting and hydrating were the only essentials now. We slept reasonably well and woke early.
Breakfast was available at the center pavilion for the camping participants. We just wanted to get back to our Jeep. One of us grabbed a quick cup of coffee, decidedly skipping breakfast. We packed up and on our way we went.
The trip back was just slightly downhill; it was delightful. Our bottoms were very tender from the prior day's efforts; it was wonderful not to have to pedal continuously. Back, safe and sound, our vehicle was as we had left it. We unloaded our bikes, loaded the Jeep and we were on the road to home.
This event was a tough one for us. We had not done that kind of distance before, and combined with the heat; it was exhausting.
We faced uncertainty at times with a lack of signage as to where to go, or what to do. Our butts were sore, and the trail was difficult in spots. All that being said; we hope to participate next year. We learned so much from this trip. Next year we may porter our gear with UPS instead of bikepacking it in. We know the route now, so we are better prepared. We have been toughening up our tushes with more frequent rides. Most importantly, we hope to goodness it is not so stinking hot next year!
Again, this trail is available to ride anytime you would like. A big thanks goes out to all the event sponsors, event staff, and the many volunteers along the route keeping us energized, hydrated, and safe during this wonderful experience! We’ll see you next year!
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The only thing better would be being there yourself!
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