Setting Out for an Adventure: Midnight Forests
By Benjamin Rainbow / Back Alley Bike Repair
The view from above. As you near the end of the Seattle to Portland journey, you are greeted by unforgettable scenery.
Leaving after dinner for a 250-mile bike ride was different. The riding summer of 2014 had been very good to me and many others, but my riding buddy, Johanson, had just got back into riding — on a borrowed bike — after suffering a collarbone fractured two and a half months earlier. Only a week after returning from cycling across the entire state of Oregon during the Oregon Outback ride, a car hit him only a few blocks away from home. He was sorely in need of some rad getting, and I was fit for going big and towing him, if need be.
I liked the idea of whizzing past the familiar sights under the guise of darkness, making sections of the achingly straight Interurban Trail novel, if not mildly exciting. The old becomes new, changing with different and indirect light sources. The senses pick up on nuanced features like road conditions, nature sounds, and the automated routines of the night life. With the stellar dynohub powered optics of my Edelux front light and Johanson’s Luxos U, we had dialed in our beam patterns to not blind pedestrians or drivers. Our trip through the night was made positive, in part, due to our presence on the road as road users and as light sources. Moving through the night, we were not merely obstacles to be avoided by high-speed vehicles, rather two light sources with the similar road presence of a motor vehicle. If you’ve relegated generator hubs and dyno lighting systems to the tire sidewall rubbing inefficiencies of 10 years ago, you’re missing out on a sublimely awesome technology and a gateway towards adventure cycling. Additionally, dynohubs and lights make just as much sense commuting around town as they do exploring B-roads.
Soon we were beyond the crowds and humming through the crisp August evening air. Rabbits zig-zagged across the paved trail, anxious yet comical. In our stealthy night moves, we witnessed a cargo train derailment. A sudden and harsh crash kinked a pair of cars and sent them off the tracks, skidding in a cloud of dust. We slowed, gawked, and then carried on with more ammo for our spirited banter. Taking things in stride, our pace was a deliberate and relaxed 16 mph.
We ticked off the string of small towns — Algona, Pacific, Sumner, and Orting. Familiar sights during the day were sleeping for the night, recessing into a blanket of stillness. We left the Foothills trail into the darkness, the presence of Mount Rainier being felt as we gained elevation along Oroville Road. Things were getting a bit loopy when we took stock in Eatonville at 3 a.m. — the occasional logging truck getting an early jump on staging their rigs for a morning pick-up, pockets of dense fog and a dropping dew point made it feel like rain. A pair of young deer ambled across the sleepy main drag and the crisp, summery night was casting its spell. We agreed to push on another hour or so more until we found a suitable turn-out for a “ditch nap.” From the time we rolled into the Alder Lake day-use campground until I was cozy in my SOL bivy sack took about 11 minutes. I’m fortunate to be able to sleep about anywhere and I’ve developed a talent of napping on top of picnic tables. Away from snakes and critters and an ad-hoc bit of shelter should the weather make a turn, I can usually count on an uninterrupted hour or so. And so it was, awakening to the 5:30 a.m. gray skies gathering light and an early-bird-getting pair of anglers bumbling around looking for “The Spot.”
Elbe to Morton: Starting the day off 140 km (85 miles) from home, pedaling towards a volcano at 5:30 in the morning is what I call an adventure. This is exactly what we set out for. By riding through the night, we transformed a familiar route into a transport stage, putting us in striking distance from the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
Morton to Randall: 17 miles up Highway 7, Morton was our stop for coffee, a warm breakfast and a good laugh at our small victories thus far — Johanson’s arm was staying together, the seasonal weather was on point with a tolerable bit of humidity in the air, we made it through the night, and we were pumped up. Across from Cody’s Cafe was a huge, six feet slogan of a tree ring in burnt font: “Welcome to Creechville, 1903.” We later found out it was memorabilia from a film recently shot there entitled, “A Bit of Bad Luck.” If you’re from around those parts, I hear it’s kind of a big deal.
After breakfast and with daylight “creeching” in, we sought a nap spot under a tree in the park along the creek. Rested, we made small adjustments and prepared to climb the rest of the day. On our way out of the park, the resident attendant called us over to ask if we’d camped out there. “Well, we did take a bit of nap,” I said. “It’s not free to stay in the park,” he asserted. “Well then, what do you charge for a nap?” I asked, my wallet already in my hand. There was a slight charge in the air, while Johanson spoke conversationally about our route and our intentions, asking about road conditions. The attendant advised caution on the busier roads, claiming forest workers wouldn’t have much, if any, tolerance for touring cyclists. I explained that we were totally jazzed about exploring the Gifford Pinchot Forest because it was lush and full of features, and that meanwhile, the Methow Valley and Eastern Washington had their collective hands full with wildfires and crazy weather. “Y’all should count yourself as lucky,” I said, “the East Cascades are on fire.” Confronting stereotypes can easily get out of control. Given an opportunity, I find lending a bit of perspective helps a lot. There was no charge to nap in the park.
Randall to Babyshoe: Our chosen route was based on a ride Jan Heine of Bicycling Quarterly had scouted in 2010. With guidance from Johanson’s Garmin 800 GPS unit, we had identified a few slight changes to the actual road network from years ago. We were after what geographers refer to as “Ground Truth.” US 12 from Morton to Randle is a grin-and-bear-it for cyclists — the meter-wide shoulder, just barely enough for “sharing the road” road users. Randle was our last stop for Chili Fritos, a couple of bananas and a summit beer. The next 50 km (30 miles) were not simply climbing miles. We were gobbling up undulating ribbons of buffed asphalt between Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens and the Cispus River, with its features. The sky alternated between blankets of diffuse gray and dappled sun highlights. The multitude of forest green patchworks was punctuated by small scale logging sites and their skillful extraction of trees hugging the steep, carved hillsides. Johanson signaled to me early on to climb on at my own steady pace and let him with his healing arm assume his own. When not encumbered by injury, Johanson is an exceptionally strong rider and a very able adventure mate. His performance thus far indicated to me that the eight weeks off the bike had impacted him physically, but mentally, he was like an animal let loose from a cage. His riding on the borrowed Disc Trucker with Jones bars was more steady than spirited. I felt confident blasting ahead, where the pavement gave way to graded gravel, that he’d be right behind me.
Babyshoe to Mount Adams to Trout Lake: A dense cloudbank welcomed us to Babyshoe Pass, elevation 1,325 meters (4,350’) and the threat of rain marked the beginning of the descent. The gravel near the top was in good condition and our speed picked up. Warm, dry air pulled us down the mountain into a signature Pacific Northwest mid-summer afternoon. Mt. Adams splashed across our panorama vista to the east. As our decent relaxed and we neared Trout Lake, Johanson’s cell service kicked in and a text from a friend, who was following our trip via the social medias, informed us of mythical huckleberry shakes and burgers. Much like the whole day and the 180 kilometers (110 miles) we just covered — we indulged, and then decided to get a room at the Trout Lake Valley Inn for a shower and a full night’s sleep. If I could have that day over again, I’d do everything exactly the same.
Trout Lake to Carson: Trout Lake had already left an indelibly positive grin mark in our minds by the time we rolled out from the country store with provisions — homemade sandwiches, fresh jerky and a bottle of Coke. Highway 141 was closed to two-way traffic for chip-seal replacement and as cyclists, the flagging crew waved us through. The road was ours to share with the occasional escort vehicle. Near the top of our climb, I incurred the only flat of the trip (a small piece of glass in a smooth, well-worn Surly Knard tire, a casualty from the campground we just passed?) and fashioned a makeshift repair stand from a downed tree limb. With a quick lube of our tireless chains, we crested with ease and took off into one of the most well-favored, downhill mountain roads in the forest — creeks, plateaus, stepped waterfalls, fragrant wild berries, serpentine roads, undulating pavement and vast forested vistas. Our storybook descent seemed lifted straight out from Where the Wild Things Are and dumped us into Carson — a small, stagnant, logging town — for sandwiches and a beer. Next time through Carson, we’d be remiss if we didn’t take our sandwiches to Backwoods Brewing Company. It would be our last landmark as the road shoulder heading out of town degrades into a mere inches-wide swath of pavement strewn with road debris, all the way till we arrived at the Bridge of the Gods and the Columbia River.
Bridge of the Gods to Historic Highway: Things were going great. My fear that the final push to Portland would be into the sun and headwinds along the freeway could not have been more wrong. The trail network connecting to the Columbia River Historic Highway from the Cascade Locks is an absolute gem. About a third of the historic roadway follows protected trails. For us, that meant a sun-dappled, century old roadway of waterfalls. The remainder of the 25 miles to Portland followed low trafficked, back roads.
Pro tip: If a route or section ever claims to be Historic, Classic, or Old, it’s probably an awesome bike ride. And on that Saturday afternoon, about 45 hours from when we started, as we rolled into Portland in time for a happy hour beer, we accomplished exactly what we had set out to do — have an epic bike ride.
Thank you to 2014 for a most memorable year in the saddle. Cheers to all and happy cycling adventures in 2015.
An accomplished life-long cyclist dedicated to the ideas of community and culture, Benjamin began Back Alley Bike Repair three years ago to serve and inspire the Downtown/Pioneer Square community in Seattle. Originally from the heartland cycling headquarters of Minneapolis, Minn., he has developed tools, crafted grants, taught maintenance classes internationally and continues to be inspired by long rides with friends.