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John Wayne rail-trail bike trip delightfully uncrowded

Cyclists cross a century-old trestle near Rosalia on the John Wayne Trail, which runs 253 miles across Washington. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)
Cyclists cross a century-old trestle near Rosalia on the John Wayne Trail, which runs 253 miles across Washington. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)

While the Eastern Washington portion of a cross-state rail trail continues to be snubbed for funding by the Washington Legislature, a few folks continue to explore this world-class route in the rough.

The John Wayne Pioneer Trail has rough sections, it has closed sections and it also has stretches that are easy-wheeling for fat-tire bikes.

The non-motorized route also has potential to stretch from Tekoa, Washington, connecting with Idaho’s Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, says Ted Blaszak of the Tekoa Trail and Trestle Association.

In May, seven farm families agreed in principle to allow the recreational use of a rail bed that runs through their property and connects Washington’s only cross-state trail with the popular paved Coeur d’Alenes trail that extends 72 miles in Idaho from Plummer to Mullan.

Connecting the two trail networks would create the longest rail to trail conversion in America, he said.

But for now, bikers are taking the John Wayne Trail as it is – a bit broken up in its run on the old Milwaukee Railway from the Columbia River east to the Idaho border.

Here’s a report from a Spokane couple – they wish to remain anonymous – who have a rave review after exploring portions of the trail on their mountain bikes.

“We did two sections of the JWT over the last two weeks. Permit from Washington State Parks was easy to get through with info from the Friends of the JWPT website.

“1. Pine City to Rosalia, 15 miles: evening sun at our backs and a gentle tailwind. Absolutely beautiful with trees, both aspen and pine; rugged rock formations; the Malden dump… This is the roughest section of the JWT, according to riders who’ve done the whole thing. Many gates to navigate by either lifting bikes over or around. A few barbed wire fences to go thru.

“Wildlife splendid, including deer and owl and raptors; a voyeur experience into different farms. The evening colors were spectacular. There’s a huge industrial plant hidden away and not sure what it is.

“2. Rosalia to Tekoa, 21 miles: Morning. Sun in eyes not bad; gentle tailwind. This is perhaps the best trail surface on the JWT. Wildlife everywhere. Pheasants, coyotes, raptors, chipmunks, deer. More removed trestles to go down and up.

“No trees; the farms and barns were beyond belief pristine. Still wildflowers, but weeds starting to grow. The fields were cultivated and planted right up to the edge of property lines. The marsh, is indeed, a marsh. The grass was shoulder high and a turtle was exiting the muck when we approached it. We had already been thru some wet areas and choose to detour. No signage nor indication of orientation which was fun, however we ended up at the Tekoa trestle and had to backtrack since there was a 100-foot drop.

“Tekoa had the best coffee/bakery place – Eclairs. Ferdinand ice cream for $2!

“It took us about 3 hours, relaxed, with a few detours and backtracks.

“Overall thoughts? What a gem. I kept humming ‘America the Beautiful.’ It’s so special to be able to not know where one is in the universe and be surrounded by rich colors, contours. No fat-tire bike needed, though the No. 1 section was a rough ride. In the future, I’d probably do it in April/May for maximum wildflowers and less growth that gets caught up in the brakes/derailleur, and no snakes!

“Can’t wait to continue exploring this marvelous system.”

“Oh yeah, and the maps on the Friends of the JWPT website were very helpful-despite my lack of orientation.”

Even the drive to the the trailhead was a dip into rural culture.

“Driving into Malden, three grade-school age boys set up a basketball hoop by the side of the road. The highway center line was the free-throw line and the road was the actual court.”


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