Two of my favorite places to bicycle are the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469-mile road managed by the National Park Service, and the Virginia Creeper Trail, a 34-mile rail-trail conversion between Abingdon and Whitetop, Virginia. I was planning a two-night camping trip and I kept trying to choose which one I wanted to ride. Then it occurred to me that I didn’t need to choose; I could ride part of both.
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Toward the middle of our second day on the John Wayne Pioneer Trail, we arrived at the Thorp Tunnels. Unlike the Hyak and Whittier tunnels of the day before, the state has not dedicated any funds to repairing these tunnels. It shows. The concrete at the entrances is crumbling and sections of wall inside have caved. It’s not exactly dangerous, but I wouldn’t call it safe, either. Don’t put me in one of those during an earthquake! In a surprising act of reasonableness, the state actually allows you to travel through these tunnels. There is an unsettling waiver of liability they ask you to sign before you do so, however.
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For years, I’ve had the idea in my head that it would be fun to cycle the length of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail, 110 miles from North Bend to the mighty Columbia River. Any plans I might have had got temporarily quashed in 2009 when state parks closed the five tunnels on the trail because of falling debris hazards. Flash forward to July 2013 … and all the tunnels are open again! Some have been repaired. Others are enter at your own risk.
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Sometimes, it’s nice to bike with friends. Or, at least, a big, rolling group of friendly Alaskans. That’s what I figured, when I registered for the 2012 Chena Hot Springs Bicycle Classic from Fairbanks to Chena Hot Springs, a breezy 62 miles that I would traverse in reverse on the following day.