Day 12 Yakima to Ellensburg WA

Flags in downtown Ellensburg

I had a record short day, due to high winds and the big national forest and 4000+ ft pass north of Ellensburg WA. My previous short day record was 43 miles between Saco and Glasgow Montana. There was a 30+ mph headwind all day that day. Today's winds in Ellensburg as reported by the Weather Channel: 37 mph with gusts to 43 mph. It is more than 55 miles from here to the next place with services and there is at least 3500 feet of climbing in the first 35 miles of those miles. Because of the wind in Yakima Canyon, which wasn't nearly as strong as the wind here now, it took me four hours of hard riding to cover less than 40 miles from Yakima to Ellensburg. I decided that I better not try to cover the next 55 miles today!

The Yakima Greenway and the Naches River

My day started well in Yakima. I was a little disappointed that, after riding into town with headwinds from the SSE, I got to ride out of town into winds from the NNW. Those winds were at 10 to 15 mph and, while they definitely slowed me down, riding was still enjoyable. I found the Greenway by following 16th St north until it crossed the freeway (US 12). The Greenway was great and, since I initial was heading both down river and down wind, it was also very easy riding. The Greenway connected to special path build alongside the interstate bridges on I-82 north out of Yakima. After getting over the river and through the ridge north of town, the path ends at WA 823.

Over the river and through the ridge...

On the other side of the ridge, WA 823 goes through the town of Selah, and then T's into WA 821 which runs north through Yakima Canyon to near Ellensburg. This was nice ride, even with headwinds pretty much all the way.

Looking back at the south end of Yakima Canyon

Yakima Canyon has the Yakima river, which cut it a long, long, time ago when the Cascades were being formed, the railroad, an aqueduct, and the road in it. It last for over 20 miles as it wanders its way through what is now a big ridge. I-82 takes a simpler route over the ridge. I noted that it is legal to bike this part of I-82, but, given the quality of the ride through the canyon, it would be a shame to go via interstate!

River, railroad and road in the Yakima Canyon.

Although the road through the canyon does not climb as high as the interstate does going over the ridge, I still measured about 1100 of climbing. The north end of the canyon is 300 feet higher than the south end, plus the road gets several hundred feet above the river several times as it traverses the canyon walls. The grades are moderate, but I did get down to 6 mph or so on some of the climbs. Part of that was due to the, almost continuous, headwinds of 5 to 15 mph. I averaged almost 10 mph trough the canyon. If I had been traveling south, I think my average would have been close to 15 mph and I would have done maybe half as much work.

In the northern part of the canyon, the road runs along the river

The road surface was rough and the shoulders were rougher. Sometimes the shoulders went away completely, but this didn't matter as traffic was very light. Mostly I rode in the road because it was a little easier on me. I was hurting from the rough road and really appreciated the few miles, near the north end, that had smooth pavement.

Mountains in the distance framed by the northern end of Yakima Canyon

It is a beautiful canyon and a very nice bike ride, but would have been a lot more enjoyable without the headwind which sometimes cut my speed to 8 mph on near level road. I often had to work hard to maintain that speed. I stopped once, at at turnout along the river, for a snack and to enjoy the river. I stopped several other times without getting off my bike to drink water and stretch my muscles which were sore from the long hard ride on the drops. Speaking of drops, this, like other 'headwind enhanced' rides, demonstrated to me that a touring bike should have drop bars. Even my fully stretched out on the hoods position, and it is really stretched out, was slower cranking into the wind than using my drops. Anything remotely resembling an upright position - I don't ever ride very upright - was much worse.

821/Canyon Rd - several miles of bad pavement and bad winds

Just as on White Pass, I was happy to get to the end of Yakima Canyon, in this case because of the wind, but hated to see it end because it was a so pretty. I looked forward to smoother pavement and a gentler headwind when I finished the canyon. Instead I got horrible pavement and headwinds so strong that it was hard to keep the bike going. Having to keep it going on a narrow, badly potholed, shoulder beside an ancient, tar seamed, concrete road with a fair amount of traffic including heavy trucks, kinda ruined my day. I was not a happy camper when I reached the end of that nightmarish stretch where 821 crosses under I-90. Fortunately, there was good restaurant at that intersection, so I was able to stop, get out of the damn wind, and recuperate with help from several cups of coffee and a decent lunch. I even had a nice visit with some other customers.

After lunch, I rode on, struggling to maintain 7 or 8 mph and keep my bike on the four lane road with a good bit of traffic. It wasn't fun, but it was a lot better than that last stretch of 821! The riding was so bad that I stopped again at a convenience store to consider my options. I was tired, it was a LONG way to the next place to stop, and there was a mountain pass between me and that place. Given the horrible winds, I didn't think I could do that ride unless I was fresh. Even then it would be challenging.

I rode on, struggling, into town, looking for a drug store. My right hand had been bothering me as a result of my riding - command shifters are hard on your thumbs - and my typing of ride reports - my toughbook is not the easiest computer to type on and it is particularly hard on my right thumb which I use to operate the, waterproof and therefore pretty heavy duty, mouse buttons. I didn't find a drugstore on Canyon Road, so I headed into downtown. Downtown Ellensburg is neat, albeit windy. You know a place is windy when everything moveable outside of store is tied down with weights, usually concrete blocks! The heavy glass and metal doors of the stores were blowing open a few inches with each gust. Flags stiffly rippling in the wind. are a good way of measuring this kind of wind speed. So, I gather, is the wind gauge, made by hanging a lumbering chain vertically in front of a local safeway store <grin>. This is a windy place.

Anyway, I bought a wrist brace and got some advice in a local drug store. They told me that there was a town, with services, some 23 miles away. Cool, that'll only take me three hours or so in this wind, but I can make it. I cranked - very hard - on north through town and then, when I thought I was close to the right place to head west, stopped to ask advice at a service station. The older man there told me how to get to US 97, and, when I asked about the town 23 miles away, told me that it wasn't on 97. He told me that the only services on 97 were a couple of campgrounds and that it was 'over 60 miles' to any other services. I had just passed a couple of reasonable looking motels, so I rode back and got a room for the night.

After taking a nap - I was very tired - and cleaning up, I turned on the Weather Channel to see just how bad the winds were. At various times for the next hour they reported 28 mph with gust to 36 mph and 37 mph with gust to 43 mph. The higher speed was reported more often. Now, after supper, things are calming down out there and they are reporting 26 with gusts to 33. The temperature is 57 and the wind chill is 40. I'm happy to be inside rather than trying to get over that pass and back to civilization before dark.

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