Days 3-5: People of the Land; People of the Sky

(This is a photo-shy blog entry. Very poor bandwidth where I’m camping tonight, so you will have to imagine most of the pictures.)

I woke in a soft bed at the Ellensburg Super-8, and silently thanked the inventor of the inner-spring mattress. 

I had a rest day to kill here so I pottered around town visiting coffee shops, book stores and public parks, towing my trusty cart behind me.

I spoke to John, the proprietor of Bailey’s Bibliomania for quite some time. He’d had a bad car accident in Alaska some years ago that he said made it hard for him to remember people’s faces. After he inspected my rig and heard my story he said “Next time you come through, just tell me that you’re the walker. I won’t forget that!”

I bought a $5 well-thumbed copy of “Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo” from John, and repaired to the public park to review how easy I had it compared to Eric Hansen in Borneo in the 1980s.

Soon it was time to buy a bottle of wine and walk the two miles to the house of Tamara and Neil, friends of friends, who had invited me for dinner and to stay the night.

From Neil, a Land Use lawyer for the county, I learned that water rights are as much an issue in Kittitas county as anywhere else in the west, and from Tamara, who is doing a PhD in the history of science, I learned that diagrams and their history is an area of study in its own right. It was fascinating.

Another night in a soft bed. I could get used to this! But Thursday morning came, and at 8:00am I was out the door and heading north. Not to the trail, but to the Ellensburg airport.

Rarely has an airport pickup been accomplished on foot, but that’s how I gathered up my friend Peter who had flown his small plane in to spend a couple of days with me on the trail.

Peter is an avid adventurer who has just this month climbed the Grand Teton and hiked in Glacier National Park. I had warned him that this walk wasn’t going to be “mountain-pretty”. He assured me that he’d seen enough of that postcard stuff recently, and was ready for some unpleasantness. He’s my kind of guy.

Getting from the airport to the trail required a 3 mile trudge through business-park purgatory and subdivision hell, so I got him off to a good start. But by 10am we were on the Iron Horse Trail and heading west again.

The day got hot, and disaster soon struck. Walking past a gate, the hub of my cart caught on a cement block and yanked on me causing the webbing on the front of my waist belt to separate from the padded section at the back. My power train was cut!

But with Peter’s ingenuity, and the zip ties I was carrying (thank you Dave R!) a repair was soon made and we were on our way again. 

The sun blazed down. No trees, and a trail as straight as a laser. This was the grim march I had promised Peter.

It was 1:30 before we pulled into the enormous Thorp Fruit and Antique market that anyone who has driven I-90 will recognize. We got sandwiches and peaches and talked to a couple of friendly mountain bikers who told us that they thought one of the two tunnels west of here was likely closed and that we’d need to make a big detour. Ouch. 

We pushed on, knowing that before we’d have to face this detour we would at least be able to cool ourselves in  the Yakima river.

More hot, treeless, arrow-straight miles followed. And then we spotted the mules, and they were a beautiful sight.By late afternoon we finally entered the canyon of the Yakima, and the going got pretty. So pretty that I had to appologize to Peter. He was ready for unrelenting hardship and ugliness, and I’d accidentally delivered him into an Eden in central Washington. 


Even better, we’d met bikers coming the other way who confirmed that both tunnels were open. Hooray, no detour!

We had done 17 miles. That was quite enough and we camped on the banks of the beautiful Yakima, just before the first of the two tunnels.

Friday morning Peter was awoken by an elk  bugling. Apparently it was loud, but I slept through it. The Canada geese flying up the river in honking formation woke me a little later.

We were on the trail by 8, and though we both had sore feet, we made good progress through the tunnels and along the bluffs above the river, and finally through leafy canopies joining overhead. It was glorious.

We made the Cle Elum area in time for Peter to catch his taxi back to the Ellensburg and agreed that he’d probably joined me for the most beautiful section of the trail. Oh well, you can’t win them all.

As he flew home Peter found me at my camp site, came in low and dipped his wings as he passed. After that North-by-Northwest excitement I washed my underwear, soaked my feet, and prepared for the night.

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