Hey y’all! I’m so excited the publish this post from one of Cycling Sojourner Washington‘s contributors, Josh Cohen of the Bicycle Story! This is a post about his research on the under-explored Olympic Peninsula. Reading it made me jazzed to drop everything and go do this tour. Hope you enjoy it, too!
For me, the days leading up to any adventure are often underscored by as much anxiety as excitement. Chronic over thinker that I am, I expend unnecessary nervous energy thinking of the what-ifs and the could-bes. Luckily, it only takes a few minutes of pedaling before the anxiety is cast out and excitement takes the lead. Luckier still, a few minutes of pedaling outside of Port Angeles connects you to an amazing, newly-paved section of the Olympic Discovery Trail. As you cut through the forest along the old railroad right of way, you get a glimpse of the jagged Olympic Mountains jutting high above above the forests and farmland. A little further down the trail, the forest is cut open by the Elwah River making its final twists and turns enroute to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It’s calm, it’s beautiful, and I couldn’t help but smile.
So began my tour around the Western Olympic Peninsula Tour. This four day ride around the contiguous United State’s northwestern corner is marked by stunning vistas, quality riding, rich Washington history, and a deep sense of adventure. Rather than try to capture the play-by-play (pedal stroke-by-pedal stroke?) of the trip in this short blog post, I’ll give you some of my adventure’s best highlights.
The morning of day one was spent on Hwy 112. The road traverses the northern edge of the Peninsula, paralleling the Strait of Juan de Fuca for several hours. The farms and forestland to your left are backdropped by the massive and wild Olympic Mountains. Beautiful purple wildflowers line the road. At times, the Strait of Juan de Fuca comes into view. The weather was sunny and beautiful on my ride, and I could see across the Strait to Vancouver Island.
Perhaps THE highlight of the trip for me was my visit to Ruby Beach on day two. Just off Hwy 101, Ruby Beach is a stunning example of Washington’s rugged and remote coast. Over the millennia, powerful waves have worn away pieces of the land to create the seastacks that rise out of the water just off shore. The air is filled with a salty mist from crashing waves. It is the sort of scenery that motivates me to get out on my bike and explore time and again.
Though it’s a very different scene than Ruby Beach, Lake Quinault is similarly inspiring in its beauty. Formed by the path of an Ice Age glacier, Lake Quinault is rimmed by steep mountains on all sides. I sat on the lake shore at Willaby Campground watching the sun set, reflecting on my day’s travels. Moments like that are the epitome of bike touring to me.
That is just a small number of the great sites along the way. There are too many more forests, mountains, meadows, rocky coastlines, lakes, wetlands, estuaries, and rivers to count.
One of my favorite parts of bike touring is meeting other riders out on the road. The common experience of traveling by bike usually creates a bond and often leads to interesting conversations. I met the first two of six tourists on this trip outside of the Fork’s grocery store. Alex and Vink were also from Seattle and doing a similar round-the-Peninsula trip for Labor Day. On the morning of my second day, I awoke to find another bike tourist had set up in the campsite next to mine while I was sleeping and we chatted over our morning coffee. He was a young guy from Mexico, maybe 19 or 20, riding all the way down the coast back to the border. Later that day, I ran into Vink and Alex again. We ended up riding 30 or so miles together and having lunch at a cafe near Lake Quinault. Riding by yourself provides valuable time with your thoughts, but the miles do tend to pass faster when you have people to chat with!
Monday night, I met Mike, a software engineer from LA who was riding from Olympia down the coast to LA. He wasn’t a cyclist, but he saw the bike as a means to explore the coast at human speed, so he took a leave of absence from work, got himself set up with a touring bike and camping gear, and headed out. Very awesome. On my final day, I was fixing a flat a few miles outside of Olympia, when a couple in their early 70s rode by on touring bikes heading the opposite direction. They stopped and came over to say hello and see if I needed any help. It turns out they were from Austria and were taking a month or so to ride from Seattle to San Francisco.
The Sense of Adventure
Between the timber land, the National Forest, and Olympic National Park, there are long stretches of undeveloped land on the Peninsula. There were times when I’d go for an hour or two without seeing a building or anything else of the sort. And though there were still cars passing on the road every so often, parts of the ride felt wild in a way I don’t often experience living in a heavily-developed region like Seattle. That remote feeling, coupled with the fact much of the area I rode was new territory for me, was exciting and refreshing and made this feel like a real adventure.
Logging played a critical role in Washington’s development, and the Peninsula – with it’s massive ancient forests, rich soil, and wet climate – was an epicenter of our logging industry. Most development on the Peninsula (which largely didn’t come until the early 20th century) was tied to timber. And though logging has slowed down significantly over the years, it is still an important part of the Peninsula’s culture and economy. Long before people knew Forks as the setting for Twilight, it was the self-proclaimed Logging Capital of the World.
Riding from Port Angeles to Olympia felt like a tour of my state’s history. I often rode past uniform second and third growth forests lining the highway. Other times, it was past “slash” from recent clearcuts. Other times still (especially through Olympic National Park) it was through ancient trees that have stood watch over the Peninsula for thousands of years. There are also still active mills, miles and miles of logging roads, and of course logging trucks. And though the remnants of logging aren’t always the prettiest scenery, I found it fascinating to see first hand places I’d only previously read about.
As I sat in the train from Olympia to Seattle watching the landscape fly by a whole lot faster than it had in the days past, I was in a slight state of euphoria. As I retold the story of my trip to friends and family over the days that follow that sense of satisfaction returned. The beauty, the experience, the feeling of accomplishment, touring around the Olympic Peninsula was a special thing.