Days 81-2: Crescent lake
We woke up in our hammocks in our less than legal camping spot on the Adventure route of the Olympic Discovery Trail. We had been in contact with our good friend Lily the day before and knew we could take our time before meeting her in the more populated area of the park by the weekend. Lily is a good friend from the Dartmouth Outing Club, the outdoor (hiking, biking, skiing, climbing, paddling) organization at Dartmouth and it is effectively how Joey and I met. Most of our best friends from our time at the College were forged within its events and listserves and not a day goes by that I don’t think about what that organization has given me. But anyway, Lily and her boyfriend were planning to drive up from Seattle on Saturday morning to meet up with us and hang out, catch up, and bring us some much needed peanut butter and jelly.
So we started our slow day around noon with a slow climb up into Crescent Lake. I don’t want to sound dramatic but Crescent Lake is hands down the most beautiful body of water I have ever encountered. Not only do its banks boast Olympic rainforest with all the biodiversity and lush green foliage that comes along with it, this glacial lake is clear as the day is long. When you look down from your perch (either on the 101 on the south side, or the “rail to trail” that we took on the north side) you can follow the steep cliffs ~50 down through the glacial flower, fading from green to blue to nothing below your feet. It is the most vertigo you can get standing on flat ground. We first encountered the majesty at a lodge situated on the Northeast corner of the lake. We led ru to the edge and hoped his swimming episode in Victoria wasn’t a fluke. After much coercion and the help of a very nice woman with a black lab we got him to launch off the boat ramp and swim in some small but promising circles. Your newfy is showing again, Rubert.
We examined the park map snagged from the lodge camp store and saw a viable alternative to 101. Although the sections of 101 on the Olympic Peninsula have been much kinder to us than their sisters down in the Bay Area, I still couldn’t help my flashbacks to the first week of the trip and the hellish 6 lane sections climbing up to Laytonville. That internal prejudice against one of America’s greatest scenic highways made alternatives all the more enticing. The Spruce Railroad Trail snaked the 5 miles around the lake on the remote northern side. With no other roads and nothing but protected wilderness on 3 sides and the lake on the fourth, this path looked to be the way out of dodge for us. Also Bikes and dogs are allowed! Oh happy day! To walk in the light of the justified is a rare and valuable thing.
So off we set! The path started out predictable enough. Unpaved railroad grade is our jam by now and we are fairly confident avoiding the roots and rocks that could blow our tires under the weight of our packs. The trailer is a different story though. To be honest, all you can do is have Ru run along side and watch the unburdened trailer bounce merrily down the trail. The frame held true though, and with the exception of a few narrow rock gaps, the trailer bobbed its way through the ferns and down the path. As we approached the Devil’s Punchbowl (the only part of the trail reviewed on Yelp), the trail began to change. We had been skirting around the edge of the lake on a railroad grade. Now the railroad grade turned inland into a tunnel and the path stuck the shore. We kept going along and the trail got narrower. I dismounted my bike to stay upright and started pushing it up the ever steeper grade. By this time the trail had gone past the edge of single track and into straight up hiking trail territory. I struggled to push my rig up the steep sandy inclines and Joey was quickly out of sight (Ru having relieved him of most of his rigs weight by walking on his own). I slipped further down the less than firm slope I was standing on and as my footing deteriorated I caught a glimpse of the water below through my legs. The steep rock above the water plunged into the blue green depths but appeared unchanged. In that moment I realized I was standing on a cliff trying to push everything I own up a 15% grade with no hope of recovery if I lost my balance. I could see it play out in my mind’s eye; my hand slipping off the brake, the gravel sloughing off the side under my feet, and my bike slowly but surely disappearing into the aquamarine abyss, sinking away and leaving me with no food, shelter, transportation or identification.
But that didn’t happen! After a minute of hyperventilating and using all my will to stay still I took a deep breath, put on my game face and pushed up the last little hill. My feet did slip out from under me but I increased my pace and ran up the hill, moving half a unit for every unit of energy but hey at least I’m not at the bottom of the lake. I reconvened with Joey at the bottom and we took some deep cleansing breaths. The bottom of the hill of doom was the Devil’s Punchbowl. It consisted of an especially deep, roughly circular pool with a bridge over the channel to the rest of the lake and a good cliff for jumping on the west side. I jumped off the bridge (~10 ft) and Joey jumped off a couple places, his highest being 40 ft. We spent some time at the punchbowl talking to folks, jumping off rocks and hanging around. We still had 3 of the 4 miles of the trail left to go and I was a little wary to continue. If there was more terrain like the entrance to the punchbowl, or if it got more challenging I wasn’t sure we would make it. We saw a lot of cyclists (none were loaded) coming through and we asked them how the terrain was. Some said it was fine, just a few parts you should walk, and some people said we would never make it and should turn back now or forever regret it. We judged this second group of people to be fools (filthy casuals) unaware of our skills and history. We pushed on. It did get easier after the first tunnel. The trail went back to the railroad grade and with the exception of a few larger than average rocks, all was well. We did climb up the barrier and go down into the tunnel when we got around at the urging of an older couple with bikes who had been coming to this part of the park for years. It was a rough hewn tunnel, bored through the native rock, about 50 feet long and 30 ft tall. Though the park service had piled debris at both entrances to stop people walking through, there were many signs of life including a pretty sweet graffiti octopus with question marks for eyes. It really spoke to me, ya know? Well anyway we kept on until it started to get dark, knowing that we wouldn’t be able to get all the way through. We camped illegally and I was super nervous about it.
The next morning, we woke up early to get a head start on all the people that will want to use this fairly popular trail. We sped through the rest of the rail grade almost without incident and reached a second tunnel. IT WASN’T SO BAD. There was no cliff slipping, vertigo inducing, ridicu-grade section, just some large rocks and a narrow bit I had to walk. I put my bike down and went back to help Joey lift the trailer over a rough patch and we set off again. We felt like a little pack, me out in front, coasting with one foot hovering over the ground in case I needed an extra push over a rock or root, Ru hanging out in the middle, not letting either of us get too far behind/ahead, and Joey following up in the rear, lumbering over rocks and pulling the trailer through fern beds. We approached the other side and saw some rangers fiddling with the donation tube. I stopped to let Joey catch up at the end and talked to the rangers for a minute. They warned me to keep Ru on a leash and I said “No worries, we’ll just pop him back in the trailer.” Their confused looks turned to bewildered admiration as joey pulled up and completed our fully loaded insanity.
After passing through the rangers we found that the path turned into the most beautiful 10 foot wide smoothly paved rail to trail I had ever seen. The path was not on google maps so it must have been redone this year. We have gotten to ride on a lot of fresh pavement. In fact, outside of Sandpoint we turned off a dirt road to camp and when we came back in the morning it was paved! I will never get over the feeling of fresh pavement beneath my tires. It is so smooth that for the first few miles, pedaling feels effortless despite the grade. But while we were getting wrapped up in the wonders of the path we almost didn’t realize we were taking an unplanned detour away from the only store we were scheduled to pass that day….and we were out of food. So bush whacking we went! We first went down an ATV path to a band camp (left our bikes up on the path) and decided that wasn’t right so we turned back. Then we went down another likely side chute that ended in a water tank and a cliff. Then we went back to the band camp path this time with our bikes and rode the 3/4 mile from the band camp to the campground and store. The store was meager at best but we got 2 sad boxes of mac and cheese and some over-priced, mass-produced muffins to tide us over until we saw Lily the next day. We continued on 101 for a few minutes before deciding to take the first disused logging road back to the bike path. Another bushwhack later and we were panting at the bike path once again.
We spent the rest of the day following the Olympic Discovery Route (sometimes on 101 but mostly not) and winding our way closer to the appointed meeting spot. About 1/2 a mile from the campsite the bike trip gods took pity on us and our vitamin deficiencies and we found A FARM STAND. Nothing like pick your own kale and a free library containing “Catch and Release: Your guide to attracting an Alaska Man” to make you feel like the world is on your side. We checked out the campsite and then decided to camp in the National Forest across the street. Nothing more to report, waiting with bated breath for our friends tomorrow!
We woke up early on the day we were to meet Lily. The campsite was full the night before and it being the high season we thought it prudent to arrive before 9 to try to snipe a recently vacated campsite. Prudent it was because we got the best of the 3 campsites that opened up that day. We were in site 11, and couldn’t be happier. We had good tree cover for privacy and river access for funsies. We set up shop and paid the fee and then commenced our rest day. I was deep into East of Eden by now and was having trouble listening to Joey or for Ru while the book was open. We washed some clothes in the river, set the solar panel on the sunniest rock in the river and laid out on our sleeping pads to chill.
When Lily and Jonathan arrived we were well rested and ready to greet them like normal humans. That illusion was of course shattered when they gave us a cheesecake and Joey and I ate the whole thing without blinking and while holding a conversation in about 10 minutes. The rest of the day was spent catching up and chilling out. We hadn’t seen Lily since she briefly visited us in Portland over a year ago and we had never met Jonathan in person (only heard dazzling reviews from Lily over the phone) so we had plenty to chew over. Rubeus always gets a little jealous when we devote more attention to human companions than our furry friend. We noticed this at first in Yellowstone but Ru’s pouting has grown with his body. He started to throw a fit and was tearing circles around the campsite and when Joey ran over to calm him down, Ru threw himself against Joey’s legs and gave himself a black eye. Now that Ru was hurt and confused and convinced that we did not love him, he ran down and across the river. I saw him going and tried to get him back but he was determined. So I ran back up to the campsite and got Joey and the leash and we went down the the river to get him. We waded across the river and as soon as we reached the other shore, Ru swam back across. We returned to our shore and he set out for the opposite bank. This continued for a few more rounds until we were closing in at which point he turned and started swimming downstream! He was short enough to ride the current but in an effort to stay dry (it was getting dark) and upright we staggered through the river rock in the gathering gloom. We finally caught him and led him back to the campsite and by the time we got back to our fire he was shivering. I got his towel and began to dry him off. Then he nestled down in my lap next to the fire and I had to hold him as he whined for the next hour or so until he fell asleep. He has a lot of feelings.
The next day we took a nature walk with Lily and Jonathan and Ru and then said goodbye to our old/new friends. We set out on the Olympic Discovery Trail and got a couple dozen miles down the road. We found an unobtrusive place to camp and lay our heads.
The last week of the trip happened to us. We were along for the ride but honestly the gravity of the end of the trip set in and began to draw us to Portland so fast that the details blur together. Here is what I remember:
Day 84 (8/1): 101 and Forks Beaches
This was the beginning of our short days to the end. We only rode about 30-40 miles each day, sometimes even less. On this day, We took advantage of our last day at the coast. We rode down the 101 and stopped at beaches along the way. Ru loved the ocean much more this time, not because he was any less scared of the water but because he was more aware of the natural bounty available on the seashore. We spent as much time walking as we did pulling fish heads out of his mouth but he was a happy pup and that’s all that matters.
We arrived at the South Beach campsite later than we anticipated and of course every site was full. We decided to take our bikes up to the day use area at the top of the bluff and tried to wait out the ranger check as we made dinner. Unfortunately, a breakdown in the camp water system caused a slew of rangers and technicians to flood the day use area to access a control panel and there was no hiding. So we sneaky camped in the woods across the street. Shhhhhh….its fine.
We entered another reservation today. We travelled inland and the terrain started to get more rolling, larger hills and longer drops. We rolled right on through to the most curious town: Humptulips, WA. We stopped at the only store (I think only business actually) in the town and bought supplies for the night. I thought it was strange that they kept their onions in the fridge but they seemed firm and we didn’t have a lot of options so I figured we’d be alright. We have been eating food out of a sweaty pannier since May so we could take some less than fresh onions right? We found probably the best rogue campsite of the trip down an old logging road and made our dinner of onions, canned tomatoes, and pasta.
Those onions were not OK as we found out the next morning. Today’s ride was severely impaired by some food poisoning from the spoiled onions. Word to the wise; be wary of things refrigerated. We entered a lovely town whose name is just a little too close to the word Monsanto. I couldn’t get it out of my brain the entire time and I can’t say it didn’t color my experience just a little.
But after eating lunch in this town we decided to cave to the reality of our bodies and find a place to be. There was a state park at the top of a hill with a lake and a hiker/biker site. Perfect! We later discovered it came with 2 RVs full of rowdy party people and one campsite of old people who do not sleep and yell over the fire to each other all night because they are hard of hearing. Less than perfect!
After a night of little to no sleep and some rash decisions, we entered the 1-5 corridor. This meant that we were SO CLOSE to Portland but SO FAR from viable camping spots, legal and otherwise. So we did what Americans do when faced with a problem; we threw some money at it! We got a hotel room in the last town of the day and ate Taco Bell for dinner. You know you can sub beans for the meat in pretty much anything they make?
With 101 far behind us we hopped from bike path to road and followed the STP markers southward. The STP is a ride done from Seattle to Portland every year in July. Thousands of people ride together and their route is marked by stamps on the road. This made our job easy, and we didn’t have to check the map all day! That is until we got close enough to our camp spot for the night that we had to go off route. We stayed in the hiker biker site at Lewis and Clark State Park. We paid for the site and were told we had to walk to the “yellow phone” and make a reservation as well. This is the silliest and least effective way I have seen a state park handle the walk-in vs online reservation problem. If I have paid for the site and am occupying it, what’s the deal? You cannot make same day online reservations in their system and you cannot reserve a hiker biker site. Why did I spend 20 minutes talking to a guy in an office in Seattle over something I have already done? Whatever, checking the boxes. Also the water reservoir got so low the water spigots started sucking air in instead of pushing out water. They have it together 😉
Day 89: (8/6)Bridge of Doom, Leaving Washington
We were informed that on the STP, they stop traffic on the Longview/Ranier Lewis and Clark Bridge over the Columbia. I can see why. We rode a couple hours through frontage roads and finally arrived in Longview. This was our last town in Washington and the last stop before we tamed the beast. I looked up the bridge in the ACA forums and the message was clear. It is the best way to get to Portland without going through Vancouver but it is a “grit your teeth and bear it, but only once” type of bridge. The shoulder is only about 2 feet wide and the trailer barely fit at some points. The bridge was about 2 miles long, 1 mile up and 1 mile down. We merged in with the traffic and tried to be bold and confident in our movements. The traffic went down to 1 lane in either direction and so it was easier to negotiate, but the shoulder went down to 18 inches. I started to fall behind and Ru noticed, I could hear him whining. But Joey, ever concerned with the safety of the trailer, knew he could not look back without swerving into the lane and so he kept on course. I caught up with him on the downhill side and we took some deep cleansing breaths on the side of OR-30 when we got back to solid ground. Only once was right.
We got some food at a discount grocery and headed out of town to find a place to camp. We had planned on camping in a state park near the bridge but we soon learned that the park was at the top of a 600 vertical foot hill. It would have taken us an hour to get up there, only to rip down first thing in the morning so we got a little more creative with our campsite.
Originally we planned to spend this night in Scappoose at the house of our friend Alyssa’s mother who is an angel of mercy and also didn’t know how much we stank when she agreed to it. But in our infinite wisdom we decided to spare her the trouble and just get it over with. We had ~50 miles to go and we wanted to end the trip on a real day of riding. Highway 30 has a bike friendly shoulder from the border to Portland and we stayed on it clear until the St Johns Bridge. Those first 30 miles were layered with so much expectation we only took one break and barely ate anything. That did great things for our times and bad things for our tempers. As soon as we saw the St Johns Bridge we knew we had made it and the end of the trip began to wash over us. We wove down through NE Portland, onto the East Bank Esplanade and to Clinton St. We had to go to Tacqueria Los Gorditos one more time before getting to my friends’ house. It saved our mood and my tum tum but the downside is it made me give up on another dream. As we were coming into town I realized that I had the possibility to make my ending mileage read 3,333 on my odometer. After the burrito detour we ended up finishing at 3,339 when we arrived in Johnson Creek. A missed opportunity for greatness? Sure. But burritos are more important.
We were greeted by excited squealing from Charlotte and impressive vertical leaps from her labradoodle Ollie. The adventure is great and the trip changed my life but there is nothing like a homecoming to put your heart right.