Now that everything is done and my bike is basically clean, let’s go over some final takeaways and gear choices.
The Bike Set Up
The Bike that I rode is a Rodeo Labs Flaanimal 5.0. I couldn’t have been happier with how it performed on the trail, given the variety of surfaces we encountered and the abuse it was put through. The key to this bike is the tire clearance. I was equipped with a 650b wheelset that I had built by Kelsey and Joey at Cascadia Wheel Co. The wheels are lightweight, yet very strong and they are tubeless ready. I had these wheels built specifically with J-bend spokes so that I could fix things on the trail if need be (although I’ve never found the need to even true them in the three years I’ve been riding them).
*Matt was also riding a set of 650b wheels from Cascadia Wheel Co with a set of Teravail Sparwoods in 27.5 x 2.1
With 650b wheels, my bike will clear a monstrous 2.4″ tire, but a tire that large also has huge knobs more suited to a mountain bike. I chose to roll on a set of Maxxis Ikons in 27.5 x 2.2, which have a nice cross country tread. They provided plenty of grip on all of the surfaces we were on, yet still rolled plenty fast over pavement and hard pack. The nice thing with a tire this big is that it allowed me to run well below 20psi, which really takes the sting out of the chunkier gravel.
My tires were set up tubeless with Orange Seal Endurance sealant, and I had no punctures that I was aware of. *Matt had a rear puncture in the mud outside of Tekoa but it sealed up immediately.
I also use a Shockstop Stem from Redshift Sports to smooth out the buzz from the endless gravel. I can’t say enough good things about this stem, it’s worth its weight in gold if you’re thinking about taking on the entire trail.
Beyond that, my bike has drop bars because that’s my preference. You could ride anything on the trail that you’d be comfortable on, the only advice I have here is that in my opinion, having multiple hand positions is one hundred percent necessary to prevent nerve and muscle pain in the hands and forearms.
Gear & Tools
What did I have on my bike at all times? Once we met up with Rachel and Paul I was able to remove a lot of stuff, going down to just my frame pack. I kept a wind vest, arm warmers, and food in there, but I kept tools and emergency supplies with me as well.
- Pump. My pump unfolds with a foot peg and has a pressure gauge as well.
- An assortment of zip ties.
- Two extra spokes.
- A spoke wrench.
- A hair tie / rubber band.
- A knife.
- Tubeless tire sealant.
- A small first-aid kit.
- Crank Brothers multi-tool complete with chain breaker.
- A small Leatherman tool with scissors and pliers.
- WolfTooth pack pliers, with spare quick links (they operate as tire levers as well as a chain tool).
- CO2 and a charger (to reseat a tubeless tire).
- Lezyne tubeless tire plug kit.
- A Voile strap and canvas tie down strap.
- Two Tubolito tubes.
- A Park Tool tire boot.
- Valve core remover.
- Charging cable.
- Nitrile gloves.
- A Railroad spike I found outside Warden.
We could discuss tire size, wheel size, and tire pressure for days and still find someone that disagrees. Everyone is different. What one person may find to be an acceptable trail surface, another may consider to be unrideable, and everyone has different bike handling skills as well. What I will say, given my experience, is that somewhere between a 50mm and 2.3″ tire is really the perfect size for the trail. I believe that a fat bike is overkill and would be far too cumbersome on nearly every surface I came across. I’m sure one could probably get away with a 45-47mm tire if you really had to, but a tire that small will dig into the deeper gravel, slowing you down and forcing you to constantly correct course.
It goes without saying that your experience may differ.
I learned a lot about Palouse mud. Like, that you simply cannot ride it. It’s impossible. It will cover your bike and fill every opening within three or four rotations of the wheels. It’s also heavy. If you encounter mud east of Rosalia, you need to pick up your bike and carry it around or through. Do not attempt to ride it. It will clog drivetrains and destroy spokes if you aren’t careful, and you will be left in the middle of nowhere with a mud-covered bike that will no longer work, even if you manage to clean it.
I had lots of mud clearance and it made no difference. You will lose the battle, but you can win the war if you just hike it.
In all my years of riding the trail, I’ve always used Dumonde Tech original lube (the green stuff) and I’ve never had an issue. I’ve watched as dust and dirt clogs other people’s drivetrains, producing sporadic shifting and terrible sounds.
Earlier this year, I started using the WT1 lube from Wolf Tooth and I have to say, I’m impressed. I don’t know what lube Matt had on his chain when we started, but by the end of day two it was grinding pretty bad, and by the middle of day three, it was downright terrible. I cleaned and lubed my chain the week before leaving and it remained quiet and lubricated for the entire trip (even after all of that mud). I never touched my chain, and even after washing my bike, it shifts quietly and cleanly without a spec of rust from the water.
Even though I ended up with a support vehicle, I should mention the tent that I have. I have a Nemo Dragonfly 2p, which is a common lightweight tent for backpackers, but I have the Bikepacking version. This means that the poles fold significantly smaller, allowing the entire thing (poles and stakes included) to fit between drop bars or be stashed into an anything cage. This saves a ton of room when trying to fit everything on your bike because you don’t have to worry about where you’re going to fit your tent poles. It comes in a 1 person version as well, but the weight and price difference didn’t seem worth it to me for a smaller tent. The 2 person version is plenty roomy when you’re on your own, and Rach and I also had zero issue sleeping side by side in it.
The Palouse to Cascades Trail is an absolutely amazing experience. The diversity of landscapes that it crosses through is astounding, and it really showcases what a beautiful state we live in.
Having said that, taking on the entire trail is not to be taken lightly. While it is a Washington State Park, long stretches of it are still very remote with unimproved surfaces and few, if any services. You need to be prepared and capable of dealing with any issues that may arise.
There are long stretches with no access to food or water and you need to keep this in mind if you’re going to be self-supported. Phone service is also minimal in large sections.
The weather can be a major issue when planning a trip. A wetter spring will produce glorious wildflowers and brilliant greens, but it can leave eastern sections a muddy disaster. Riding in the summer can leave you on trail with temperatures well above ninety degrees and no shade to be found for days, not to mention ticks, rattlesnakes, and the possibility of wildfires. Early fall can be nice but the landscape won’t be quite as impressive.
Many folks ride the trail in sections, because of all of the planning and risks that come with riding the trail in its entirety, and that’s just fine. If you do choose to take the whole thing on, I highly recommend you really take the time to plan it out. Know the detours, know where there’s water and food, know where you’re camping, and have a contingency plan should anything go wrong. Some sort of GPS tracker (like an inReach) should also be at the top of your list of requirements.
If you plan and prepare accordingly, you’ll have the experience of a lifetime.
You won’t regret it.