Pedaling the Snoqualmie Tunnel and Training for the Ride for Major Taylor
Registration closes Friday for the June 27 Ride for Major Taylor. Sign up today!
MTP youth experience an adventurous day in the saddle during their 20-mile ride through the tunnel and down the mountain.
Mist hung in the air and gravel crunched under my tires as I pedaled up the Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail toward the historic Snoqualmie Tunnel about 20 miles away.
My destination was Hyak, just over Snoqualmie Pass, where 17 Major Taylor Project youth would gather in two hours to participate in one of the highlights of their season: the Tunnel Ride, an opportunity to test their skills, have some fun, and increase their endurance leading up to the Ride for Major Taylor on June 27.
The Palouse to Cascades is Washington's longest bike trail, beginning near North Bend and continuing for 285 miles across the state on the old Milwaukee Road railroad corridor. The youth were set to ride a memorable 20-mile section of this epic trail, thanks to weeks of planning and organizing by Cascade’s Major Taylor Project coordinators, Hope Grant and Josh Stowell.
Stowell strikes a pose by the tunnel during a pre-event planning ride several weeks earlier.
Views of snow-capped peaks emerged as the trail climbed steadily upward, and I passed groups of long-distance riders on bikes laden with camping gear for multi-day bikepacking trips. A bear ran across the trail 20 yards ahead of me, and I stopped to give it time to clear out before proceeding.
Wide, well-maintained, and rising at a moderate grade, this segment of the Palouse to Cascades Trail is a great day trip for beginner or intermediate riders with a mountain, hybrid, or gravel bike with wide tires. The Palouse to Cascades is one of more than 30 must-ride routes on Cascade’s list of “Washington’s Best Beginner and Intermediate Bike Trails.”
I spotted a Cascade Bicycle Club backpack up head, and I pedaled hard to catch up to Bao Vo, an MTP Ride Leader and project alumnus. He recently graduated from the University of Washington, and we chatted about his goal to find a job in architectural design in the Seattle area. Confident and poised, Vo is a shining example of the character-building qualities that MTP cultivates.
Helmet? Check. MTP Coordinator Hope Grant, left, makes sure everyone is OK during a rest stop.
Churning upward and enjoying the fresh mountain air, I soon encountered two more MTP volunteers. Before long, two hours had passed since I’d left the trailhead and we were at the western entrance to the Snoqualmie Tunnel.
Once used by trains but now maintained for recreational use, the tunnel is an engineering feat that bores 2.3 miles through the mountain. Bike lights are mandatory. It's pitch-black inside.
The temperature dropped as we rode in single-file, our lights illuminating the dirt trail and concrete walls encasing the tunnel, which dripped water from the melting snowpack far above our heads on the snowy summits. The temperature dropped at least 10 degrees within minutes of entering, so I was happy to emerge into bright light on the other side, where I warmed my numb fingers in the sun.
Don't forget your lights!
Just ahead, the large MTP crew was gathering and doing pre-ride preparations. They would do the same ride I had just completed, but in reverse.
Stowell and Grant, accompanied by Education Director Stephen Rowley and Education Coordinator Amy Korver, passed out headlights for each student thanks to funds donated by Amazon. Assisted by multiple MTP volunteers, they helped students clip the lights to their handlebars, handed out snacks, and made sure everyone had full water bottles.
MTP volunteer Ben Truelove was among the many volunteers who made this ride possible.
“A huge shout out to the volunteer ride leaders,” said Rowley. “We couldn’t do this ride without them.”
Then, with lots of audible whoops and shouts from the students, and encouragement from the adults, Stowell led the large group into the tunnel single file. Bystanders stood by and watched as the train of students entered the West entrance and disappeared into the darkness, illuminated only by their bike lights.
Into the darkness.
Korver rode “super-sweep,” taking up the rear and ensuring none of the youth dropped off or had mechanical problems. MTP youth and ride leaders called out the presence of people walking and bicycling in the opposite direction. Then, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel appeared, and the youth emerged on the other side, elated by the experience.
Made it through!
After a short bathroom break, the group continued down the mountain, headed for the Rattlesnake Lake Recreation Area, where Rowley had driven ahead in the MTP van to set up a lunch station.
Despite being all downhill, the trail descends at a moderate grade, making it a safe ride for individuals with little trail riding experience--but also making it necessary to pedal rather than coast. The trail crosses multiple bridges, passes by massive scree fields covered in colorful lichen, and offers stunning views of the Cascades and multiple waterfalls and creeks. We passed families on electric bikes riding uphill, and paused to watch groups of rock climbers scaling steep rock pitches.
Afterward, everyone was tired following multiple hours in the saddle. Personally, I was impressed by the ability of the MTP coordinators, volunteers, and my work colleagues to pull off such a big event. As for the trail, I highly recommend this segment of the Palouse to Cascades for anyone seeking a fun day trip within a short drive of Seattle.
In a typical year, MTP participants finish their season by riding from Seattle to Portland, a challenging 206 miles. This year, due to the cancellation of the in-person STP because of the pandemic, MTP students will finish their season with the Ride for Major Taylor.
Open to up to 500 riders, the June 27 Ride for Major Taylor offers two routes that begin and end in the White Center neighborhood of Seattle. Registration closes this Friday, June 18, so enter now before the deadline, as there is no same-day registration.
The 63-mile loop heads south through Tacoma and then proceeds to the Port Defiance ferry, where riders board a boat to Vashon Island. Participants then ride the length of Vashon Island and take a second ferry back to West Seattle before continuing back to White Center for the finish line meal and high-fives.
The 26-mile route loops down to Burien and then heads back northward along Alki Beach before concluding at the White Center Bicycle Playground for the finish line meal.
The Ride for Major Taylor is a crucial fundraiser for MTP, with 80 percent of the registration fee going directly to the Major Taylor Project. All participants receive an MTP-colored orange and black sling backpack, as well as ride support, water, and food stops.
About half of the 500 rider slots had been filled as of Monday. Sign up today, and when you encounter MTP students on the Ride for Major Taylor, don’t forget to ask them about the tunnel ride.
Click for a map of the Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail eastern segment.