Tag Archives: Bike Overnight
7 April, 2013

Springtime Along the Columbia

It’s snowing in the passes as I type this. And not a small amount. But I look down at my arms, resting on my desk, and I see the deep farmer’s tan I got last weekend and I smile. We are now inside twelve months to liftoff and our early April crossing of the Cascades has us watching the weather and studying highway webcams like never before. What a difference a week makes. And what a colossal waste of time it is to try and extrapolate the weather outside today to what we might experience next spring. Yet we do it anyway.

Kristin and I had a monumental bike overnight last weekend: our first without the trusty Burly Nomad trailer. With Tubus racks installed and Ortlieb panniers attached, we made our way from Wenatchee, Apple Capital of North America, up to the beautiful mountain-ringed Lake Chelan. Saturday brought temps approaching 70F, bright sunshine, and a gentle 35 mile cruise up the western bank of the Columbia River with just 1500 feet of elevation gain. Kristin was carrying a lot more weight than she had in previous trips on account of me no longer towing the trailer, but she made light work of it.

Lunch with a view along the Columbia River.

Lunch with a view along the Columbia River.

It was the perfect ride alongside the mirror-like river, with weather those of us who live in WA can typically only dream of for March. We eventually turned onto seldom-used Route 971 and went up and over some hills to Lake Chelan State Park. The descent into the park was glorious: riding towards snow-capped mountains surrounding a pristine glacial-fed lake with vineyards and orchards all around. One of the most popular summertime parks in Washington, we would have it almost entirely to ourselves on this glorious weekend. That is, if you don’t count the beaver milling around on the rocks by our lakefront tentsite. Going camping on Easter weekend does have its benefits.

Columbia River near Entiat, WA.

Columbia River near Entiat, WA.

With camp chores completed, Kristin and I settled into our chairs, opened some beers, and enjoyed the sunset from our own private dock. Barefoot. It truly doesn’t get much better than this.

Beer, sardines, and our own private dock.

Beer, sardines, and our own private dock on Lake Chelan, just steps from our tent.

Come morning, we rolled ten miles eastward along the lake to the lovely small town of Chelan, where we were ecstatic to find an incredibly inviting coffee, wine & beer cafe open across the street from the church. Living in secular western Washington, you get accustomed to just ignoring religious holidays and assuming everything will be open. This isn’t the case in other parts of the state, as we’d find out.

A few miles later we found ourselves at the base of McNeil Canyon Road, a notorious hill boasting 5 miles of 12% incline, over 2200 feet of gain. The climb was long, and it hurt, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had feared. We’re each pushing between 65 and 75 pounds of bike & gear, so it was important to me to get a loaded climb under us early this season, just to see how she’d handle it. Kristin conquered it like a champ! As a reward, several miles of rolling, tailwind-aided, desolate asphalt greeted us en route to the village of Waterville.

Kristin mashing those pedals on her way up McNeil Canyon Road.

Google Maps’ street view feature might reveal a grocery store and a restaurant, but it won’t tell you that these  places of business will be closed for Easter. And, as I already alluded to, such a concept has fallen out of the norm where we live. Surprise! Fortunately, that uniquely-Washington staple — the roadside espresso hut — was not only open, but featuring sandwiches! I never tipped a barista so well in my life, but the sandwiches, cola, and icy water bottle refills were just what we needed.

Our original plan had us continuing up and over Badger Mountain, but we were already 50 miles into the day and didn’t have another big climb in us. Especially when the rip-roaring descent down US 2 was the other option. So we left Waterville and cruised on down Highway 2, averaging 35 mph for six effortless miles, until we were all the way back alongside the mighty Columbia. Never before had I hooted and hollered during a descent while on pavement. It was that great.

Diving back off the Waterville Plateau to the river.

Diving back off the Waterville Plateau to the river.

Kristin and I took turns leading the way southward along the eastern bank of the Columbia River, back to the Park & Ride where we left our car in Wenatchee. We capped off a 70-mile day (and 5,000 feet of gain) with some of the best burgers in the PNW at Dusty’s. The drive home was long, the sunburn on our arms forced a fitful night of sleep despite our tiredness, but when we woke, we did so on the T-1 Year Anniversary. And we celebrated.

18 February, 2013

Whidbey Island Weekend

Kristin and I had been to Whidbey Island, WA a number of times over the years, but always either to go mountain biking and hiking at Fort Ebey State Park or to take out-of-state guests to see the majestic views from Deception Pass on the island’s north end. Never had we ventured off the main highway that bisects this lengthy island, the fourth largest in the contiguous United States. And now we know those other roads all too well. We rode onto the ferry in Mukilteo under a soaking drizzle with the temperature sitting at 46 degrees. The “liquid sunshine” would come and go throughout the day, but despite a brief clearing in the skies, the temperature wouldn’t budge.

Our route took us north along the western shore to the first of three state parks. We pulled into South Whidbey State Park for a lunch break, just as the heaviest of the day’s rains came. With no views to be had, we enjoyed our sandwiches beneath a picnic shelter while enjoying the temporary warmth of our poofy jackets. Alas, the sun was soon shining and off we went, continuing northward along Smuggler’s Cove Road towards Crocket Lake and Fort Casey State Park. Unlike Fort Ebey, whose naval guns have long since been removed, the 10 inch artillery guns of Fort Casey remain in tact. I had always thought the fort was from the 1940’s, but in fact it was built in the 1890s, after the government realized there was no major defense along the western coast. The fort was given to the state for recreational use over 60 years ago and now offers visitors camping, history, and unobstructed views across Puget Sound to the Olympic Peninsula in the distance.

One of the three remaining 10-inch guns at Fort Casey State Park

One of the three remaining 10-inch guns at Fort Casey State Park

With still ten miles to go to our predetermined camping site, it was bad enough that Fort Casey stood atop a hill. Even worse was the sudden, dramatic shift in the wind. With chilled toes and out-of-shape legs already wishing the day was nearing its end, the arrival of gale-force headwinds made those final miles tick by slower than we could imagine. Struggling to go 7mph on the rare flats, it was over an hour before we pulled into the park. And the wind was only growing in strength.

Washington’s State Park’s system, like so many in the country, has been in a budget crisis of late. Suffering from understaffing and a reduction in services, many of the facilities one expects to find are temporarily locked up or missing. We knew the official campground at Fort Ebey State Park was closed through the end of the month but hoped the hiker/biker campsites, located a quarter mile outside the main campground, were still open for public use. After all, what does someone arriving by bike have to do with the needs of an RV? Just to be safe, we slow-pedaled up the road until a park ranger’s truck pulled out of sight, then doubled-back and pushed up into the woods unseen. I’m sure he knew we were there, and probably didn’t care, but it was best to not draw attention to ourselves just in case the no camping rules extended throughout the park. We waited till morning to deposit our $14 camping fee.

Kristin cruising past the gorgeous madrona trees of Whidbey Island.

Kristin cruising past the gorgeous madrona trees of Whidbey Island.

A short walk out onto the bluffs two hundred feet above Puget Sound squared us off against sustained 40mph winds and a plummeting wind chill temperature. Nevertheless, it was great to be walking around the park late at night, long after the last dog walkers and mountain bikers had gone home for the night. Sleep came easy, to a soundtrack of swaying trees and the clanging of the buoy bells off the coast.

We woke Sunday morning to find a trail race had been routed right through our campsite, just feet from our tent. Not wanting to be caught in a stampede of half-marathoners, we broke camp early and were pedaling along the shores of Penn Cove by 9:30am. Madrona Way, one of the my favorite roads on the island, isn’t just lined with the namesake tree but also wraps around one of the nation’s great mussel breeding grounds. With two weeks to go before the annual mussel festival, the tastiest tribute to shellfish I’ve encountered, we had no choice but to pedal right on through the quaint village of Coupeville. Our route on the second day led back along the eastern shore of the island, offering peek-a-boo views across the strait to Camano Island. Hill after hill rolled by under our wheels as the scent of Douglas fir and fireplace smoke mixed with the salty air and filled our lungs.

Harvesting those tasty Penn Cove mussels for the upcoming festival!

Harvesting those tasty Penn Cove mussels for the upcoming festival!

Though the highest elevation we reached all weekend was a measly 420 feet (128 m) above sea level, we nonetheless managed to accumulate some 6000 feet (1800 m) of elevation gain in just 95 miles (152 km) of riding. The wind blew the winter dust off our bikes, but it will take a couple more rides before the same could be said for our legs.

15 November, 2012

Mountain Mourning

The day we dreaded had come. We said goodbye to our sweet, sweet dog Annana who passed from us on Friday, October 19th. She was ready. We were not. Kristin and I had spent all but one of our fifteen years of marriage with dogs. You never realize how alive the house is even when the dogs are sleeping until you come home to a house with no dogs at all. Not wanting to spend the weekend sitting in the newfound quiet, we distracted ourselves from our pain on Friday by loading up our touring gear and readying for a weekend in the mountains. A bike overnight, if you will.

The first significant snow of the year was due to hit the Cascade Mountains late afternoon on Saturday, just as we expected to reach Snoqualmie Pass. There were other places we could have gone, but embracing the cold and the snow just felt right. It’d also give us a chance to test out our new tent and the cold-weather suitability of our Thermarest 35-degree “alpine blankets” and Sea to Summit’s +25 degree liners, the unorthodox-but-modular sleeping system I’ve been referring to in previous posts.

We rolled out of our driveway Saturday morning in 44-degree weather and quickly did our only descending of the day. We dropped from our ridge-top neighborhood into town and was soon on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail (SVT), one of the two gravel rail-trails we would spend all but a few miles on this weekend. The sky was gray, the fiery leaves flickered and danced in the breeze.

Kristin riding the SVT

We reached Rattlesnake Lake, the junction of the SVT and John Wayne Pioneer Trail (JWPT), about 90 minutes after setting out and were taken aback by the clear blue skies. As my sister Jessica would say after seeing the photos, “It looks like summer!” It wouldn’t — and couldn’t — last.

Fargos in the wild: Rattlesnake Lake, WA.

The JWPT climbs steadily for roughly 19 miles towards Snoqualmie Pass. The trail corridor, extending eastward all the way to the Columbia river along the old Milwaukee Railroad, constitutes Iron Horse State Park and contains multiple access points leading to rock climbing, hiking, and fishing opportunities, all while myriad mountain creeks crash down from the ridge above just feet from the trail. The views from the trestles, despite the trail running a few hundred yards south of Interstate 90, are breathtaking. The mileposts counted off a descent beginning at 2136 as you climbed your way eastward, with each mile announcing your progress towards Chicago, the original end of the line.

We rested briefly at the entrance to  Snoqualmie Tunnel, a 2.3 mile-long tube deep inside the belly of the mountain upon which resides the ski resort where nearly every adolescent in the greater Seattle area first gets their turns. The world-famous Pacific Crest Trail also crosses  directly above this tunnel. Having towed our fully-laden Burly Nomad trailer up 2500 feet of damp gravelly gain, I took the opportunity to rest atop a picnic table. The sun was so bright I had to bury my face in my arm.

Doug taking a breather before plunging into the darkness of Snoqualmie Tunnel.

The tunnel, usually a parade of hikers and cycling families on weekends, was devoid of human life. My NiteRider MiNewt 600, a secondary light I use when mountain biking at night, lit the way for the two of us as we pedaled in eerie silence through the pitch black. The only noise being the soft crunching of sand and the occasional dripping of meltwater seeping through the concrete surface of the tunnel walls.

We emerged in a blinding snowstorm. Annana was on our minds continuously as we climbed the pass, but now we couldn’t help but laugh. A mid-October snowstorm, “And we chose to ride into this?!” I laughed. Hungry and in need of some water we decided to ride into the small community of Hyak and get some burgers from the gas station near the ski resort (a post-snowboarding ritual of mine). We loaded up on burgers, filled our bottles and my dromedary bag with water, and most importantly of all, snagged a few extra plastic baggies for our feet for the next day. And what a difference they would make!

The snow had somehow intensified while we were munching down our burgers and was now rapidly accumulating on our handlebars and our jackets as we rode back to the trail. It was clear we weren’t going to ride all the way to Lake Easton State Park, as our initial plan had called for, so we opted for a stay at one of the backcountry campsites along the JWPT near Lake Keechelus. About four miles further down the trail, tucked amongst the fir and hemlocks, is the Cold Creek Campsite. A lone vault toilet and picnic table are yours to use for the honor-system donation of five dollars. We pushed the bikes past the postage-stamp tent pads and found a nice snow-free clearing amongst the trees to set up camp.

Under the tree umbrella near the shores of Lake Keechelus.

It was our first time setting up our new Hilleberg Nallo GT3 in the wild and we were both taken aback by how much larger the tent seems in its natural habitat. Buyers remorse set in, if only briefly, when we saw how much real estate we’d need to secure each night in order to set this nylon mansion up. Later, tucked inside the roomy interior, with our gear dry and safe inside the vestibule, we reached a different opinion: every square inch was precious!

Dinner this night was somber. I had packed a couple of the Mountain House freeze-dried meals I bought in bulk from Costco (a food item I have been meaning to sample for nearly twenty years, but never had… the verdict: not bad if you get them cheap). We spiked our hot cocoa with some whiskey I brought along and sat in the supreme silence of a snow-capped forest. Nearly six inches had fallen by the time we hit the sack. And nearly twelve hours passed before we were jolted away by the bombardment of bough-fulls of snow free-falling out of the trees onto our tent. Though the temperature hovered around 32 all night long, we both slept soundly with our sleeping liner and down blankets.

The way home…

We packed in relative quiet and pedaled off into a rapidly melting snowscape. The 45 miles back to our house went by fast. Too fast. For an empty home awaited us. Just as it would for the 17+ months to come before we embark on our bicycle trip into the great unknown.