The Cascade Rail Trail on Thrift Store Bikes

Today we drove to the town of Sedro Wooley, Washington and rode part of the Cascade Trail to the tiny town of Hamilton. We used our thrift store fat tire bikes to manage the flat gravel trail.

In the last couple weeks I found Trek Navigator 50 and Specialized Hardrock bikes, both have step-through frames and were under $40 each. I did some brake repairs on the Trek, upgraded the seat and added some Blackburn Click LED lights. My previous post is on the Hardrock and the upgrades I made on it, with a new seat, rack and lights.

These are not performance bikes by any means, but they are fine for riding like this. Rail trails are usually very flat and could be easily ridden on a single speed bike. The fat tires on these comfort-oriented hybrid bikes add traction and stability on the loose gravel surface and cut down the vibration and smooth out the bumps. I worry much less about having them stolen from the car rack while traveling— yes I do lock them to the rack.

The packs and panniers are all thrift store finds as well: TransIt panniers, a Nashbar trunk bag and a Roswheel handlebar bag.

Thrift store Specialized Hardrock

Thrift store Trek Navigator 50

We had lunch at a viewpoint on the Skagit River with a great view of the valley, surrounded by the peaks of the North Cascades. We parked our bikes and walked up to the riverbank when a great blue heron rose from the water just below and flapped off like a pterodactyl, landing on a far off sandbar.

Views of the Skagit river and the North Cascades
Views of the Skagit river and the North Cascades. The Cascade Trail continues to the east.

We continued to the village of Lyman, Washington with a fantastic old town hall.

Lyman town hall

We made it to Hamilton, Washington, about 12 miles from our starting point, took a quick tour of the town center and head for home.


The trail is a 12; wide flat gravel path reclaimed from the old railway bed. It passes houses, farms and wetlands along the way. Much of it is shaded and a great place to bike on a warm summer afternoon.

Cascade Trail

We saw very few people on the trail— fewer than a dozen over 4 hours. It is a wonderful resource and seemed underutilized on a sunny August Sunday afternoon.



A Vintage Specialized Hardrock Bike

I went by a couple thrift stores yesterday and found a vintage Specialized Hardrock with a step-through frame for $37. At the next thrift store I found a Velo seat that is perfect for this one— that fat grandma seat wasn’t original and was in poor shape anyway. The bike was dirty and I spent the evening with a rag and a bottle of 409 to clean it up, put air in the tires and added lights and a rack from my parts stash. It is old, but in good shape– not a bit of rust and judging by the tires, rims and gear teeth it wasn’t used much. It does have some scuffs on the frame– I need some stickers!


Specs: 3×7 drivetrain with twist grip shifters, Shimano Tourney derailleurs, center-pull brakes, 26×1.50 hybrid tires, quill stem.

I added the $7 Velo seat, mirror, rack, head and tail lights– had a red water bottle too.


It’s surprisingly light and the ergonomics suit me. After cleaning it up I went for a warm summer night spin around the neighborhood. Sweet!

My plan is to use a couple bike like this for our gravelly rail-trail trips. With the flat grades I really don’t need a full-out mountain bike and the fat tires will help with the traction and bumps. That will save our townie/commuter bikes from the dust, vibration and the terrors of car rack travel.

Dirtbag Bike Fender

I spent an afternoon wandering around downtown Seattle, “hunting” bikes. I didn’t find much, but this  beater Norco bike locked to a signpost caught my eye because of the total dirtbag rear fender created from baling wire and a scrap of thin plywood— looks like a chicnk of packing crate. I imagine it may have started out longer, but that’s not an absolute. It is a study in make-do practical minimalism: it’s just enough to block the stream of spray up the rider’s backside.

dirtbag fender 1 dirtbag fender 2

Day Hike to Independence Lake

The weather was dismal Thursday and we wanted to get in a day trip, so we headed to the Mountain Loop Highway with a short day hike to Independence Lake if the weather allowed. We drove from the Granite Falls end of the highway on up to where the ice caves collect at the foot of Big Four Mountain. The trailhead road is directly across the valley from the ice caves trailhead.

It was foggy and misty all the way up the road and the steep drop offs just when into the white below. The trail to Independence Lake is just 0.7 miles. It’s great hikes for kids or anyone with reasonable agility– there are some rocks and roots and a few short steep sections. Although it is short, I don’t recommend it for those with mobility issues.

When we got to the lake, we could only see a few yards in the fog and mist– we were literally in the clouds. We explored to the other end of the lake and had our lunch and then it cleared up enough to see to the other end. The peaks and cliffs above were still hidden from view.  The lake is at 3700′ elevation.


independence lake 8_14_2014 1

independence lake 8_14_2014 2

The trail continues up a steep set of switchbacks to some small tarn lakes and on up to North Lake, where you top out on a ridge and descend 700 feet to the lake.

The Snoqualmie Valley Rail Trail

We got out for a ride last week on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, between the towns of Duvall and Carnation, Washington. We got a late start and the weather was cloudy and gray and threatening rain. We had walked a few miles of the southern portion of the trail a month ago and I was curious about this northern section that follows the Snoqualmie River. The banner photo above is from the trail a couple miles south of Rattlesnake Lake at the north end of the trail. This section runs very flat and mostly straight for about 11 miles between McCormick Park in Duvall and Tolt-McDonald Park on edge of Carnation.

We started out about 1 PM on a Wednesday afternoon and found the trail nearly vacant, which is so different form our usual experience on the heavily traveled Burke-Gilman and Sammamish River Trails. We had a leisurely ride out through the pastures, corn fields and wetlands of the valley.

The path surface is mostly 5/8″ minus crushed gravel and packed down well. There is some forest duff or dirt mixed in on some parts. We are both running 32C tires with a touring/randonnuer tread and I didn’t know what to expect. Neither of us have any real experience riding off pavement, so this was a bit of an experiment. I figured we could always turn around if the going got too rough. We did ride the Interurban Trail south of Bellingham, Washington earlier this summer and this is fairly similar– just a bit rougher overall. We did notice that the rougher surface effects speed and coasting power. The only time we felt at all challenged was where loose gravel collected at the ends of the short bridges.

We rode along at 10-12mph and took in the fresh air and views, traveling just 22 miles round trip. It is odd to be on a road that is so straight in this area. With all the hills and waterways, there is no lack of twisting curves. On the path there were sections that you could it going off into infinity for a couple miles.

We like to hike and these more rural rail trails are much more like forest hiking. I have one fat tire bike in the project cue and I’m looking for another. These trips are short enough that we really don’t need expensive technically sophisticated bikes to enjoy them, but a little more traction and cushion from fat tires would be great.


snoqualmie valley trail 8_13_2014 1
A typical farm road crossing on the trail
snoqualmie valley trail 8_13_2014 3
There are sections that run arrow straight for a couple miles across the countryside. You can almost feel the old trains rumbling along.
snoqualmie valley trail 8_13_2014 4
There is a suspension bridge at Tolt-MacDonald park leading to the campground. The bridge is not part of the trail.

snoqualmie valley trail 8_13_2014 5

Urban photos

I have an Associate of Applied Science in Commercial and Technical Photography from Seattle Central College. I attended in the late 1970’s when silver-based film photography was at it’s heyday. It was like a boot camp and I learned to do it all, from 35mm to 4×5, photographing in the studio and on location, and all the lab skills needed for black and white and color film and print processing. I covered the physics and chemistry of image-making from A to Z.

With the advent of digital imaging, I don’t miss the darkroom much and the ability to make images with no regard to film and processing budgets is very liberating. Of course I miss the nuance of fine printmaking, but I can use my camera as notepad and recorder, documenting life whenever and wherever, which suits my journalist side. I do need to be more prolific– there’s little excuse for that.

I like whimsical and unexpected views and every once in a while, it can smack you in the forehead. I was at the Pike Place Market one day and the workmen were climbing a ladder while the two people inspected something in the steep street below. The camera sees whatever you point it at, however you point it…

Sinking la Table

Kickstand Upgrade

Kickstands are looked upon like training wheels in some cycling circles. They do add weight, but can be a real advantage with a loaded bike in urban settings. They can help when securing the bike, allowing the bike to set near rack or post without chewing up the frame or in a rack without bending a rim. I had installed a typical cast aluminum single-leg kickstand in my Trek PDX, but the addition of a front basket reached the limit of stability for that option and I went looking for a double kickstand like the ones I found on cargo bikes. Some of those stands are large steel contraptions and the legs are in a fixed vee and swing up on each side of the bike. I wanted something lighter and more compact and found the Massload CL-KA56 stand. It is cast aluminum with adjustable length plastic feet and a clever arrangement that brings both legs up together on the left side of the bike with no issues with chain clearance on the right. It also clears the crank arms and pedals, so I can actually rotate the pedals completely which is great for tuning up the drive train. The bike can teeter-totter a bit with one wheel or the other 1″ or so off the ground, so either wheel can be spun for tuning and repairs. With no load, it tends to balance with the rear wheel off the ground. The feet have a broader bottom than the spiky single stand and should be more stable on soft ground. It does weigh 540g (1.19lb)— no free lunch! It reminds me of my motorcycle.

The installation was trouble-free. The stand came with a hex bolt and a top plate and also included a shorter Allen head bolt and lock washer. I found that the PDX has a bottom brace with a hole that allows the kickstand to be mounted without the additional top clamp and the front and rear edges are rolled down to provide a lip which keeps the stand from rotating. Tighten the bolt and go!


Massload KA-56 kickstand
Kickstand deployed
Massload KA-56 kickstand
Kickstand stowed