“Nothing but darkness and despair await you in Tekoa”-Me. May 29th 2022
I had fallen asleep the night before listening to the steady sound of Rachel’s breath, followed by the distant cries of several coyotes echoing through the walls of the coulee. I slept straight through the night, only waking at dawn to the soft sound of rain and birds.
I had been the most excited for this last day of the trip. I had yet to see any of the trail beyond Rosalia and I had also received permission to ride a section of trail that is closed to the public.
Several years back, I had been put in contact with the landowners of the closed section of trail west of Ewan in order to ask about trail conditions and water sources nearby. They were quite helpful, providing me with quite a bit of information about the area. They also let me know that Ewan is pronounced “E-Won” (because of course it is).
I had contacted them again back in January, letting them know that I would be coming through in late May, and formally asked if I could have permission to ride through, assuming that we passed quickly, didn’t bother any cows, stayed on trail, and most importantly, left zero trace that we had been there. To my surprise, they said yes.
This was a pretty big deal for two reasons; One, the property in question (based upon the gates at each end) is only about a four mile stretch of the trail, but it requires a fifteen mile detour, and two, there are two very particular landmarks on this property that I really wanted to see. *We’ll get to that shortly.
We ate breakfast and packed up camp pretty quickly, excited to start our day. It was sprinkling and the forecast called for scattered showers all day with highs in the low to mid-fifties.
Matt and I were both prepared for the weather and dressed in appropriate layers to stay both warm and dry. We were pedaling by eight-thirty and it wasn’t long before the rain subsided and the cloud cover began to soften, teasing us with little breaks of blue sky.
We passed by the Revere Grain Elevator where the Wagons and Riders were amassing their trucks and trailers (they would be camping there that night), and headed east. The trail through this area was nice and fast-rolling. It parallels Rock Creek for a while before crossing into a ranch where the trail becomes a shared access road.
Shortly past the ranch, we came to a private gate where Texas Lake Road crosses the trail. This was the detour to Ewan that we didn’t have to take. Trail users have to ride south and around back to Ewan, but we had permission to ride straight through.
It felt a little weird to be out there on a farm road, lifting our bikes and climbing over a locked gate that definitively says “NO TRESPASSING / DETOUR REQUIRED” but I had to trust that we were good, and I had the correspondence with the landowners saved on my phone in case anyone was going to give us any trouble. I honestly wouldn’t have blamed them. We looked very out of place on a cattle ranch in our brightly colored cycling kits.
The area that the trail goes through here is beautiful. I can’t possibly imagine the thought of this place being what is essentially my backyard. Rock Creek cuts through the area and the ice age floods left behind countless basalt formations that rise from the landscape like ancient monuments.
We passed through rock cuts and over berms that crossed grazing fields with mesas sticking out of them, until finally, we rounded a corner and I saw what we had come here for; The Castleton Formation.
Castleton is a basalt spire landmark made famous by the railroad that once passed through here. It’s a fantastic structure that seems more at home in Utah or Arizona than in Washington. The fact that it’s basalt and not sandstone is what really tells the story of the power of the geologic events which took place here ten thousand years ago.
*Up to this point we had seen no cows, so of course there were all these cows at the one spot I wanted to see.
For the most part, these cows wanted nothing to do with us and scattered pretty much immediately after catching sight of us, except one, who trotted ahead of us for some time, not budging from the trail. Eventually she hopped down into the field and let us pass freely.
It wasn’t long until we came to the other landmark I had come here for; the bridge over Rock Creek. There are a lot of steel and wooden trestles on the trail, but the Milwaukee Road was known for their use of concrete arches, and there happens to be one on this stretch of trail, which has become inaccessible due to the closure.
The final gate leaving the property was open so we rolled through and rode a few hundred yards into Ewan where the Rock Lake detour takes you through some fields south of the lake. It’s a shame, because I’ve been to Rock Lake and it’s easlily one of the most beautiful parts of the entire trail. A landowner has closed a one mile stretch on the lake, requiring the detour, and the last photo I saw had a gate reaching over and across the trail, making it impossible to get through.
I couldn’t get permission to ride this stretch, and I’m not one to poach the very trails that I spend so much time advocating for, so the detour was the only option.
The detour turned out to be quite nice; it winds through the emerald green hills of the Palouse on gravel roads which are so well groomed, they may as well be paved. It was also not at all flat, which honestly, was a nice break from the constant rail grade. We were climbing pretty much out of the gate, and it felt like for every climb there was a winding descent leading to an even longer climb (seriously there is a A LOT of climbing here).
This would be our first experience of the Palouse hills, which felt odd, because we were just riding through scarred basalt towers and cliffs, and Rock Lake (a nine mile long basalt chasm) was literally over the ridge to our left. The geologic landscape of eastern Washington never ceases to amaze me.
I’m glad we chose to ride in spring because the Palouse is just otherworldly this time of year. Everything seems like it has a saturated filter on it, making the greens impossibly green, and once the clouds break to blue sky, it feels like you’re riding through the old Windows XP desktop background.
And the sun did indeed break through. I found myself cursing my long sleeve thermal jersey at the top of every climb as I stopped to take in the views.
Soon, the climbing ended, and we were rewarded with a two mile descent down to a paved road outside of Pine City. The trail parallels this road but there are three burned trestles between Pine City and Malden, which forced us onto the road for a bit (this detour is only about three miles and we saw a total of one car while on it).
*This is an interesting area because the trail follows Pine Creek, which is aptly named because a forest of pine trees grows all along the banks and up the hills that follow the creek. It’s a shocking change of scenery that happens so quickly, it’s hard to believe we were just in the rolling hills of the Palouse.
We rode through Pine City (which is not a city, in fact it barely qualifies as a town) and on into Malden. The pine trees here make it feel like you’re in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California instead of eastern Washington, it’s a strange change of scenery.
There are fire scars on all of the trees here, and the closer we got to Malden, the more evidence of fire there was.
*Back in September of 2020, the Babb Road Fire started out near Rosalia and tore down this valley, devastating both Pine City and Malden. Malden took the brunt of it with the majority of the town being burned to the ground. It was an absolute tragedy for the folks who live out here, most of which lost everything. I had driven through this area last year, and while there is visible recovery and construction going on, it’s not enough to make Malden whole again. I cannot possibly imagine what these folks have been through in the past few years, and my heart aches for them.
The trail picked back up as we entered Malden and the surface returned to the larger rocks that we had been riding on that morning. I had heard so much about the rough surface between Malden and Rosalia that I had been dreading this stretch of the trail, but honestly, it was far faster and smoother than what we had dealt with the previous day between Warden and Ralston, especially on 2.2″ tires.
As we rode towards Rosalia we crossed two bridges over Pine Creek and there was a long section in a cut with standing water and lush vegetation. I wish I would have stopped and taken photos of these but Matt and I were moving along at a nice pace and I was just kind of in that zen mode of pedaling forward.
The trail makes its way to Rosalia in a huge, lazy arc, and as soon as it turned south, a strong, chilly crosswind hit us, making me happy to have chosen a long sleeve thermal jersey. The clouds off to the west were concerning, because they were definitely dark and they appeared to be moving right towards Rosalia.
I didn’t really want to get stuck in a spring downpour so Matt and I decided that we had to race the storm into town. There are a few gates that we had to stop and unlock and just as we passed through the culvert tunnel that took us under East Dixon Road, we hit our first rain drops. It was just a light shower but it made Matt and I push a little harder.
Approaching town there are a few missing trestles which required us to bomb down the edge of the railroad berm and climb up the other side, the last one dumping us out onto Gashous Road on the edge of town. We passed the rodeo grounds, excited to have beat the storm into town and took a right turn onto Whitman Avenue where Rachel and Paul would be waiting for us at the park.
The road ahead looked odd, almost as if it was unfocussed and blurry, and that’s when I realized that the downpour was coming right at us, only a few hundred feet ahead.
“Tree!” yelled Matt as he quickly rode up over the sidewalk under a huge oak tree in someone’s front yard. I followed right behind and we took shelter from what turned out to be about a five minute spring cloudburst of epic proportions.
As soon as the rain subsided we continued into town, meeting Rach and her Dad for lunch.
I’m going to take a moment and reflect on the next photo. After a sandwich and a can of coke (I only like soda when I’m on long rides, it’s weird), we were all set to conquer the rest of the trail. Tekoa is only twenty miles from where we are standing in this photo, and the Idaho border is roughly five miles beyond that.
Twenty-five more miles? On Rail grade? Piece of cake. We’ve got this all wrapped up! It was just past noon, which meant that at the very latest, we would be standing in Idaho at three pm, loading up the bikes and headed to Spokane for a hot shower, beers, dinner, and a wonderful Hotel bed.
Unfortunately, none of those assumptions would turn out to be correct, and this photo is the last time I would be smiling on the trail.
Leaving Rosalia is pretty amazing; the trail immediately spans a massive arched concrete trestle south of town before entering an absolutely massive rock cut. We had the wind at our backs, pushing us quickly to the east which is exactly where the storm had gone. It would loom ahead for the rest of the day, a harbinger of the horrors that would await us in the Palouse.
*I didn’t think to stop and get a good photo of the bridge itself, so here’s one I took last year on Memorial Day weekend with nice blue skies and temperatures in the eighties. What a difference a year makes.
So anyway, back to dark clouds and rain…
It would sporadically rain for the rest of the day and the temperature would never crest fifty-two degrees. Matt and I rode hard as the rolling Palouse region rose around us, the trail winds and bends around the hills, cutting through the larger ones. We were making good time but I couldn’t shake the fact that the sky ahead kept getting darker as the clouds amassed over Tekoa.
We blew past Pandora and came to the Seabury Trestle, which is an interesting bridge because other than having no actual railroad tracks, it is essentially as the railroad left it, meaning, it has no railings and there are large gaps in the decking.
Shortly after Seabury, my Garmin alerted me that we only had ten more miles to go, and I got excited, however, this is also where things began to go terribly wrong. There is a stretch of trail referred to as “The Swamp” which I think is more aptly named “The Trench“, because that’s what it is. It sits down below the surrounding land and fills with water. It used to be filled with waist high sawgrass but State Parks recently cleared it and created a ditch on the side to divert the water out of the cut.
It’s technically working, as the trail is clear through there now, but it was actually raining, which meant that the new ditches were filled and overflowing back onto the dirt surface. So it was just a long, deep stretch of mud with no way out of it.
Matt and I preemptively bailed out to Lone Pine Road which parallels the trail and has a nice gravel surface, bypassing the entire section of mud. We thought we were clear to Tekoa but we we would find out shortly that we were very, very wrong.
There would be more mud. There was mud coming into Tekoa, and there was much, much more mud in the five miles between Tekoa and the border.
Palouse mud is sticky, like the consistency of peanut butter. It sticks to itself, picking up more and more as you try to ride through it. You cannot shed it. It just sticks to your bike, clogging up every gap and crevice that it can find. I had to use my knife to dig it off of my bike.
It’s also heavy. There were times when I could not lift my bike to get out of the mud and I just had to drag it behind me. Every time I would clear enough to ride again, we’d encounter another patch. It was very slow going getting into Tekoa.
By the time we had reached the Tekoa Trestle I had no interest in pictures (which I regret now because it was just completed and made rideable without a long detour through town), I just wanted to finish this day. The rain had been picking up and and as we crossed through Tekoa, it had turned into a steady shower, making me feel the sense of urgency to finish the last five miles as quickly as I could.
That last five miles would be the longest, hardest five miles I’ve ever had to push through. I’m not going to write about it. I’m still mad. The experience is still raw and I’m not going to delve into the inner workings of my mind and the points at which I was questioning all of my choices and my unending obsession and desire to ride this trail.
I’ll just let these photos tell the story.
We loaded the bikes up, changed into less wet and muddy clothes and headed up to Spokane where I took the hottest and longest shower of my life. Beers were shared, burgers were eaten, and stories of the last four days were told.
Would I do it again? Yes. Yes I would.
Thank you for following along and sharing my passion for the trail. I will have a follow-up soon with an outline of my bike, setup and gear, and I will update my other post to include the east side of the trail as well.
Cheers, and happy trails.