Friday, June 26, 2009

Virtual Preview

AareneX over at Haiku Farm, in the "Swamplands" of western Washington, has proposed a "virtual trail ride", after the success of her summer solstice "virtual picnic." Those who wish to will tell what horse(s) they are riding and who their traveling companions will be. One can propose a route for a local leg of the trip--which already looks like it will be covering a lot of ground, so get your virtual selves in shape! The link above is the original proposal, and the next newest one gives more details.

I proposed that when they all get tired of the mud and slop on their side of the Cascades they could swing over here to the "east side" via the John Wayne Pioneer Trail and meet at the Ellensburg Rodeo arena ("The Greatest Show on Dirt!"). Then we can climb up Ryegrass and look back at Mt. Rainier (WE don't have clouds to block the view!) Then down to the mighty Columbia. This trail is part of a rails-to-trails conversion, on the route of the Chicago-Milwaukee-St. Paul-Pacific Railroad. The entire trail goes from North Bend, just east of the Seattle metro area, to the Idaho border, near Tekoa, Washington. (Or one can head north to Spokane on the Columbia Plateau Rail-Trail.)

View Larger Map

I needed to go check the trail, right?
Wednesday, my friend Pat, and her older steady mount Rusty, picked Kate and I up and we drove to the Boyleston parking area, in view of I-90, just east of the Kittitas exit (#115). This is a well maintained take-off spot, complete with "facilities."
One climbs a short hill to gain access to the John Wayne trail, where you have to sign in, because much of the trail is across Federal land (the Yakima National Guard Training Center) and they want to know who's where.
And we're on our way.
Our goal: the pass tucked into the juncture of the two ridges in the top left of the photo. Being a railroad grade, it is not steep, but the climb is steady (the map tells me we gained about 500 feet in elevation). We were in the saddle by 10:00, but it was warm (by the time we returned to the parking area, the truck thermometer read 85f) and there wasn't any cloud cover to speak of. After only a mile or so, Kate was dragging along, probably only because she did not want to get left behind by her buddy, Rusty.
Because of the need to keep the grade slowly rising to the top of the pass, high spots feature "cut-outs" like this.

And low spots have been filled in, with fairly precipitous drop offs to either side! The rail bed is fairly wide, though, maybe 20 feet, so I wasn't too worried, as long as Kate kept plodding along. However, every time we headed out into one of these open areas, the wind would come whipping down the canyon from above us. Pat was careful to keep control of her hat--a spook here could be disastrous!

Finally: our first (and only) trees of the ride (I forgot to put on sunscreen, and got a horrible burn on my shoulders!). This little bunch of trees and a gravel pit off to the north of the trail are all that's left of the railroad service yard shown on maps as "Boyleston." I walked the last quarter mile or so into the "rest stop" to give my back a break, as it was starting to ache a bit. Pat assured me there was a mounting block along with the hitching posts, all courtesy of the Kittitas Valley Trail Riders.
[Please note Rusty's red and yellow halter.]
In the shade. Notice the red and yellow halter now? When we first tied up (and took off bridles and loosened cinches) it was very pleasantly cool in the shade. But moments later a gust of wind blew a hanging, dead branch right into Kate's face. She pulled back (something she never does, but which was pretty justified under the circumstances). Rusty joined her. Kate's in my heavy duty rope halter and lead, with no hardware, for just such a moment. I would rather they fight it a bit and find out they can't get loose (Kate's dam, Zoey, had broken a lead as a baby, before we got her, and became a life-long puller, though she did get better). But Rusty's inexpensive little halter was a goner! Luckily, Rusty stayed put. I dread to think what would have happened if Kate had gotten loose and they led each other off to who-knows-where!
After getting everything settled back down, and taking a little break, we set off again to Kate's big surprise of the day. Remember that pass that was our goal? It's right around the corner.
Watch, now, here it comes...
Whoa! The Black Hole of Boyleston!
She did slowly walk up to join Rusty, but I felt it prudent to keep both hands on the reins.
We didn't try going in today--Rusty is not a big fan of the tunnel, which is about a half-mile long, and curves off to the north, so you literally can't see the "light at the end of the tunnel." (For you virtual trail riders, there is an road option over the top of the hill, if you're claustrophobic.)
Kate wanted us to think she was dieing of heat stroke as she drug her way back down the grade.
Until she saw this sight:
"Der's mah ride home!"
But she carefully picked her way back down the hill.
It was interesting to note that she hardly broke a sweat through the nine miles or so, but what wetness was across her back was more even with the Tucker saddle than with my roper--another vote for a new wider-tree saddle.

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