The Iron Horse Trail is always a pleasant refuge from car traffic and should not disappoint. After a couple of blocks in North Bend the route is entirely on gravel. There are several pit toilets and portable toilets along the trail. Water is only available at Hyak. No food or support is available on the route.
Wildflowers are still in bloom. Boxely Creek is running unusually high and noisy for this time of summer.
Most of the route west of the tunnel is protected from the sun, winding along the shaded south side of the valley above I-90. East of the tunnel there is very little cover. Expect full sun exposure for those 10 km. Typically a westerly wind builds throughout the day. You will probably get hit with headwinds in a few exposed spots on the way back.
The shaded area at the west tunnel portal is a good place to stop for a snack. On the east side you will be in full sun.
Expect all pedestrians to have ear pods screwed into their ears, and all dogs to be loose. The trail is popular with families so be cautious around small children. Many cyclists on the trail seem unfamiliar with passing conventions, such as ringing bells and calls of “On your left.” Be careful.
The trail is in very good shape, but being gravel you must always watch for holes and loose spots especially when descending. The east end of the tunnel is very rough.
Inconvenience at Hyak
If you have not been at Hyak recently (at the east end of the tunnel, 46 km into the ride), there is some irritating news: The water spigot on the restroom building has been removed. Water is only available in the restroom sinks, which is kind of gross. And the sinks do not fit larger water bottles! My 24-ounce bottles would not fit under the faucets. Bring a 16-oz bottle if you intend to refill at Hyak. I did the ride with three 24-oz bottles but would have liked another. Address complaints to the Washington State Parks Recreation Commissioners and Directors’ Office firstname.lastname@example.org.
A unique highlight of this route, the Snoqualmie Tunnel is over 3 km long. It has no artificial light. It is profoundly darker than any night riding you have done! Full night riding gear is required: good headlight, tail light, and reflective vest. A headlamp is recommended in case you have a mechanical inside the tunnel. Expect other tunnel users to have inadequate, inappropriate, or zero lights and reflective clothing. Ride cautiously, it is hard to judge distance inside the tunnel. Do not use a flashing tail light in the tunnel.
Riding into the tunnel can be disorienting. Stop for a minute and let your eyes and brain adjust to the darkness.
The tunnel is very cold! The air typically cools as it blows from the west to the east portal. Don a jacket before you enter the tunnel.
Time for Gravel!
RUSA recently implemented a new timing rule for gravel brevets and populaires. 20% additional time is allowed on unpaved segments over the time allowance for pavement. In other words, the minimum speed on gravel is 12 kph vs 15 kph on pavement. (Technically the rule is 1 minute additional per gravel kilometer.) Additionally, gravel distance will be logged as part of your RUSA record. The maximum speed remains unchanged from 34 kph (which inconveniences control workers with 20% longer hours).
The time allowance for this ride is 8 hours and 29 minutes. Which should not encourage you to slack off: I can tell you riding uphill for 50 km even on tame rail-trail gravel is a fair bit of work!
Gravel timing does not apply to ACP-sanctioned brevets.
Presently gravel timing does not apply to RUSA permanents. Because permanents are free-route there is concern a person could free-route on parallel paved roads while taking advantage of the relaxed gravel time limit. Email the RUSA board with your ideas for addressing this problem: email@example.com