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off-road adventures

I break camp in the morning and cycle on dedicated tarmac bike paths through gentle bucolic countryside. The sun is shining and I share the path with other cyclists, dogs and dog walkers, roller-bladers and other people enjoying the crisp clear early autumn air.

Bucolic country scenes.

Bucolic country scenes.

Rosehips line the path.

Rosehips line the path. They are best picked after the first frost.

I stop at an information centre to pick up the cycle maps of the peninsula and study them carefully. My next definite destination is Forks, where I will stay with Babs, who I met at a campground in Tok, Alaska. The maps indicate a number of mountain bike and walking trails in the Olympic Nation Park that attract my attention. I can, potentially, avoid some miles of highway.

Leaving Port Angeles, the major port on the peninsula, I ask a couple of cyclists for advice about how to get out of town and show them the off-road trails that I am considering taking. They tell me that the tracks are ‘rugged’ but not too steep and so I decide to attempt it.

I follow Highway 101 out of town and then turn off onto the 112 to find the trailhead of the path I want to follow. A sign at the trailhead indicates that the path is suitable for mountain biking but warns that steep grades and rough ground make it unsuitable for road bikes and that barriers exist to deter motorised vehicles that are too narrow to permit easy access for bikes with luggage. I pause to consider this information for a moment and then plough on. I am never predisposed to turning back.

Within five minutes, I am off the bike pushing up a steep narrow track but it levels out again and I can ride the bike for a while. Then the trail is crossed by a gravel road used by ATVs and the first of the barriers appears. I struggle to lift the bike over the sturdy steel barricade with a small gap just wide enough for an unburdened bike to coast through with one pedal raised and then get back on the bike. A few minutes later I am confronted by another of these obstacles and I stop, nonplussed. A group of three on mountain bikes hurtles suddenly down the hill whizzing through the barrier unimpeded. They grin and give me a thumbs up. I stop them to inquire if they feel that I can manage the path ahead, pointing out my proposed route on the map as there are a number of interlocking trails to choose from, and ask where it is possible to rejoin the highway. They assure me that all will be well and help me lift the laden bike over the barrier.

The path winds through dense fir forest with undergrowth of diverse ferns and my heart lifts. I do love to get off the road and my bike was made for this kind of terrain. From time to time I have to get off and push where the path is very steep or very rough but overall I am happy. The barriers which occur every time the path is crossed by an ATV trail are the biggest annoyance.

A sedate section of the trail.

A sedate section of the trail.

After a time I turn off the main mountain bike trail and follow a track that is obviously shared with ATVs and 4WD vehicles. All seems to be going well but things degenerate when I try to find the place where I should rejoin the highway. I can hear the traffic on the 101 passing and a number of paths turn off the track in that direction but they all peter out uselessly in the bush. I waste time pushing my bike along these dead ends, all the time aware that the sun is fast disappearing behind the hills. The track I am on is increasingly muddy and torn up by ATVs and therefore increasingly difficult to negotiate.

I come to a very steep side track and I can actually see a tarmac road, beckoning like a mirage, not far away, through the trees. I take the bike down the precipitous descent and follow the track until I come to a deep ditch, impossible to cross, separating me from my goal. Cursing, I back track.

At the steep section, I have to unload all the panniers and carry them individually up the rise. I reload the bike and continue until I come to another abrupt dip in the road which requires me to unload again. I am not feeling so happy now.

I decide to walk for a while, without my bike, to survey the scene. The track continues to wind through the trees, innocuously now, but with no sign of where I might be able to reach the road which is so close but so unattainable. I return to the bike without having solved my dilemma and continue – what else can I do? I round a corner, negotiate yet another almost impossible section of road, and then abruptly find myself ejected from the forest onto a smooth blacktop which leads across a bridge and back to Highway 101.

Dusk is gathering, thickly, as I speed along the 101 and then turn off to skirt the northern end of Crescent Lake. The road winds above the water and I keep an eye out for a place to camp. It doesn’t seem very promising as houses line the shore.

Night falls. Luckily there is little traffic as I cautiously navigate the road in almost complete darkness. There is a campground marked on the map and I think, if all fails, it will do but it turns out to be the most vile form of RV resort and I cannot bring myself consider staying there let alone pay the $25 dollar fee.

I continue and finally, at the end of the long narrow lake, I find a path leading to a grassy patch, hidden from the road by trees, on the shore. A sign informs me that camping is forbidden but I decide that it is too dark to see it. I cook some noodles and put up my tent in complete blackness.

I wake early and take down my tent before cooking breakfast. I am disturbed while finishing my coffee at around 6.30AM by man, on a bicycle, with his dog but he is unfazed by my presence. We chat for a while and I ask him about the Spruce Rail Trail, the next section of my off-road adventure.

“You’ll be fine!” he says. I trust him.

I set off and, after a steep start, the path is relatively level and easy to negotiate, although, in sections, tree roots and rocks make riding an uncomfortable business and so I get off to push from time to time. The forest is beautiful and the morning light shoots down in golden shafts through the canopy. Glimpses of the water in Crescent Lake below are stunningly blue. I am happy again.

Blue water.

Blue water.

Morning in the forest.

Morning in the forest.

I cross a foot bridge and the crystalline water below seduces me completely.  I lean the bike against the bridge, strip naked and slide into the clear blue water. I swim out into the middle of the lake, floating on my back looking up at the sky. Heaven is simple things.

You might miss the bike path in this photo unless you look pretty carefully.

You might miss the bike path in this photo unless you look pretty carefully.

The trusty steed on the footbridge resting in the morning sun.

The trusty steed on the footbridge resting in the morning sun.

My private pool under the foot bridge.

My own private swimming pool under the foot bridge.

I stand in the sun on the bridge, drying out, watching the traffic speed along Highway 101 on the other side of the lake. Why would anyone want to be there when they could be here, I wonder. I dress again and continue through the forest above the lake until I reach a gravel road which leads me back to 101.

The path continues through through the forest.

The path winds through the forest. Why would anyone want to ride on a road?

Autumn colours. It makes more sense to call autumn fall here.

Autumn colours. It makes more sense to call autumn fall here.

Rainforest trees.

Rainforest trees.

On the highway again, it starts to rain heavily and I have thirty odd miles to ride before I reach Forks. About eight miles out of town I ring for directions and Babs and her husband, Denis, offer to come to pick me up. I agree to meet them wherever we intersect on the highway and am happy enough to avoid the last five miles or so of sodden riding.

{ 4 } Comments

  1. tom preston | October 10, 2009 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    Hi Anna, just finished reading your last couple of posts. Although feeling a little envious of your continuing amazing adventures and all the interesting people you meet along the way, I just wanted to say HI and thank you for keeping the highlights of your current life available to those of us who must be satisfied with living ours vicariously through you! Take care, my friend. Hopeful that I’ll meet you again somewhere somehow someday! My best to you. Tom, Alaska

  2. Kenny Joe | October 10, 2009 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    heya,

    I am the guy whom took you picture way up in the Yukon, will send some too you, soon. I need to find my camera cable to upload. Hope you are safe in your journeys.

    Kenny

  3. anna | October 11, 2009 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    Hi Tom, I’m glad to hear from you and happy that you are still following my adventures! I am still grateful for the hospitality and kindness you showed me in Alaska.

    Hey Kenny, it would be great to see your photos – it’s been a long time now. Take care.

  4. Jenny Gibson | October 11, 2009 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    hi Anna
    thank you for your postcard! It was great to hear from you! I’m at Mark’s and Andrea’s for the weekend of my birthday so was able to look at your blog after all but Robin’s deserted me now so I’ve only seen one post with pictures of that magical pool on the border of Canada. Hope the next stage is as good! Lots of love and strength, you have the guts, Jenny

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