Whidbey Island Out(n)Back


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Not much action on the camping front this year, so I grabbed a chance to do a quick overnight (S24O) from my place in Freeland, WA up to Fort Ebey.  It’s about 30 miles one way, and a great chance to try:

  1. Hunqapillar on singletrack
  2. New road exploring
  3. Hammock camping

This also echoes the distance of a Lake Crescent trail I want to do later this year.  That gig is mostly singletrack, but I would use the same equipment.

I got underway around 4:45pm on Monday.  I figured it would take 2-3 hours, so I would likely have light to set up camp.  John and I had explored Fort Ebey’s mtb trails a few days earlier, so I knew where the hike/bike campsites were.

I packed light. There was a burn ban, so I didn’t bother bringing a stove. Just 2 water bottles, a toaster pastry for breakfast, and a can of salmon for dinner. Easy. I wore the clothes on my back and brought along a pair of wool long underwear for sleeping. No rain in the forecast. Other than that, just my hammock, fly, sleeping bag and roll. Oh yeah – I strapped some sandals on, in case the feet got sore, but that was just unused extra weight. I think the whole thing weighed in under 10 pounds.


The way up was stunning and uneventful. Heading north, I passed South Whidbey State Park, and Greenbank Farm. The stretch from Greenbank up to Coupville had some great hills and views, and the Navy Growlers were out practicing on the outlying field near Admirals Cove.


The long stretch across Keystone to Fort Casey yielded a few seals and many sea birds, but I saw not much traffic on a Monday night.

I searched through Fort Casey for a back route, and thought I had it following a gravel trail by the lighthouse, but it ended in a private road. I left it to chance, and wasted a few minutes, but it was worth the views.

stonehog-10.jpg The road down to Ebey Beach is amazing – no shoulder, but equally no cars.





After a short hop up to the bluff, and across an amazing open farming area, it was a quick ride to the new pavement of Madrona Way past the mussel farms in Penn Cove.



Penn Cove Mussels come from here!

At this point, I was starting to worry about sunlight – it had taken me about 2 1/2 hrs to get this far. I hurried on into Fort Ebey State Park, and set up the hammock. There was one other person in the hike/bike spot – a Pacific Northwest Trail through hiker. After a dinner of canned salmon on the bluff overlooking the Straights of Juan de Fuca, and a great sunset, it was off to bed.

The next morning was sunny, so I geared up and chatted with the hiker to learn about his journey. He was a 65 years old Granite Falls, WA resident, and 7 weeks into the trail that started in Glacier National Park. After 8 bears (one grizzly at about 10 yds), a pack of wolves, and countless coyotes, he was just heading to the ferry to Port Townsend to have a lunch reunion with his wife before finishing the last 150 miles to Cape Alava.

After a nourishing breakfast at the same scenic overlook on the bluff and a water bottle refill, I was off to ride the Kettles trail on the loaded Hunq!

Needless to say, the Hunq made short work of the trail, and I found myself heading back south and past the barley fields to Ebey Beach.


At the whisky source


stonehog-22.jpg I stopped at the old “Ferry Building” on the bluff to explore and take some pics, then it was back down to Keystone, Greenbank, and finally back to Freeland for some rest and a meal. stonehog-28.jpg


Route out and back are here:

Ebey trip out


Fort Ebey MTB


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Sometimes I do something that jump-starts my love of cycling all over again. 25 years ago, it was a ride on my first borrowed mountain bike up near Whistler, BC – felt like a total kid flying over railroad grade grapefruit size rocks, and nearly losing control.  That led to a 10 year segment of regular rides in the local Seattle rooty, muddy mountain trails.

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After a few months of putting all my miles in via commuting (a worthy endeavor if you live in a car-choked city like Seattle), I got out for my first mountain biking since Moab a few years back.

My pal John brought his new Jones Plus up – A bit about John’s bike – it’s a steel frame 27+ mid-fat bike with a very different geometry. I’ll put my notes on this below.

We headed up to Fort Ebey State Park and the Kettles trail system near Coupeville, WA. It’s an easy 25 miles north from the Clinton Ferry.


MTB at Fort Ebey

John on the bluff


John had ridden this area 20 years ago, but I had never been there, so we found our way into the middle of the biking trails and started on what we wanted to be a large loop around the area. There are roughly 25 miles of trails, but a loop is about 5-miles around. The trails turned out to be nice and moderate. Soft forest singletrack with a few rooty spots here and there. We had a few steep climbs and descents to test our dusty skills and bikes.

MTB at Fort Ebey

Nice soft singletrack

There was a really nice stretch out of the gun battery that threaded along the edge of a bluff overlooking the Straight of Juan de Fuca. Beautiful! After this, we joined the Hokey-a-do-do section – probably the most fun we had on a nice descent down to the Kettles trail. MTB at Fort Ebey

Bikes. I grabbed my 90’s Kona Hei Hei for its virgin voyage in the dirt. I really loved the light simplicity of the bike. It allowed me to climb some steep tech stuff that I wouldn’t otherwise make it up. The bike has a single front 32t chainring, and a 10-speed rear with a 34t big ring. I found plenty of torque on this trail. It was actually nice not worrying about a front derailleur. One place to shift.

MTB at Fort Ebey

Strappin’ Flower Power

John had his Jones. That bike was a revelation. One of the things I like about mountain biking on singletrack is the sensation of skiing through the woods in the off season. This bike actually accentuated that feeling as I was very upright in my riding position. I felt like I was standing up floating down the path. No feeling of diving down a steep descent. Pretty cool. The bars were wide, but I didn’t have any trouble clearing the few tight spots I encountered.  It’s also a traction beast!  He rode right over the roots and up the loose gravel without any trouble.

I was able to climb a bit better on my Kona, but I only attribute it to the weight. It required more technique in picking my path during one of the ascents which had loose gravel in the middle of the trail. I had to stay to the edges while climbing to avoid losing my grip.

I will definitely be getting out to this area more. Only saw a few trail runners the whole day. And this was on a sunny summer Saturday – prime time!

MTB at Fort Ebey

All Grip!


Gorge(ous) Rides


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Hmmm – finally getting back to this writing business.  I just returned from an amazing 24-hr trip to Oregon.  It was a make-up for a trip I missed a year or two ago with a great pack of folks I met on the Seattle/Portland Riv Rumble.

Unfortunately, I missed the first ride on Saturday, and rolled into town around 6pm.  I met Aaron at the new’ish Freebridge Brewery in The Dalles, and there we decided to make a last minute plan change and head to Portland for a Rumble reunion with Chris and Andy. We made it to the Chen Palace™ around 10pm.

After lots of catching up, whisky tasting, and whatnot, we hopped the bikes and made our way to a late night ramen restaurant.  On the way, we rode by Rivelo, Portland’s Rivendell dealer run by their old GM John Bennett.  We also did a loop across the Willamette River on the new Tilikum Crossing transit bridge (no cars!).

After some crashing on Chris’s couch, we woke up to a sunny Easter Sunday and made Big Breakfast in the ChenKitchen™.  Folks started showing up like this was some kind of tradition, and everyone was well fed by noon.  That’s about when Aaron and I decided to get over to Rivelo and do some local economy boosting.  He rode an Appaloosa while I picked out some Grandpa’s Tar Soap.  When we were situated, we made our way back to The Dalles via Lyle, WA.

Here, a great 20-miler happened.  Rainbows and unicorns (or at least camels).  Pics:




Columbia River (way out yonder)




Wet one


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Nothing like a commute where it pours the whole way.  I squeezed a cup of water out of my gloves tonight.  Cold, too.  I had a nice case of numb arms when I got home.  Kind of great!


Something is grinding on my pedal stroke on the Toussaint.  I figure it is either pedals, chain (needs lube), or bottom bracket (hope not).

Oh well – have to use the other bike while I figure it out.  Off to DC for the rest of the week.


Bar Width and Handling


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As a follow up to my post on trail, this is a related experiential review on the role of bar width and the interaction with trail.  This may impact someone’s decision on whether high or low trail is right for them by basing it on one’s comfort with wide or narrow bars.  It also may impact the decision based on what you will be using the bike for, and where you plan to do most of your riding.

Low trail is great with narrow bars

On my Vélo Routier, having narrow bars is comfortable, and I have no problem putting feedback into steering even at higher speeds.  I currently use 42cm Noodles, and have plenty of control.

Higher trail is great with wider bars

Wide bars (48cm and wider) work very well on higher trail bikes.  They give you the leverage you need to turn during even an “in the rails” higher speed maneuver.

The further away from your steering axis you have your hands, the more they will have input on steering – this is true for any bike and any amount of trail.  To get a consistent steering input impact and feel, you should be able to compensate for higher trail with wider bars.

Adding bar width to compensate for trail will keep steering input feel approximately equivalent//

This is why offroad motorcycles/bicycles have wide handlebars, and most city or road motorcycles/bikes tend to have narrow bars.  Big generalization here, but I have definitely noticed this on several occasions. This is not really a discussion based on rider ergonomics and comfort, but a general handling conversation.  If you are a rider that needs a wider or narrower bar, it may help to understand how that will impact handling based on what trail geometry your bike has.

Real World Example

In prep for my last adventure, I wanted drop bars due to the length and time I would be in the saddle.  The Oregon Outback, at 360 miles and mostly dirt roads, would be an endurance test.  I wanted the most hand positions possible, and had done long rides in drops with plenty of comfort.  I used 44cm Noodles on my mid/high trail Hunqapillar with the thought that they would add a bit of leverage, but be very close to my “perfect” rando bar, the 42cm Noodle.

Reality was a bit different.  While I was plenty comfortable with the bars, and had no hand numbness or pain, there were several times where I wished for more leverage.  The amount of weight I had on the bike made these bars too narrow for the dirt trails.  I had to put a lot more effort into keeping the bike tracking at low speeds and up hills.  This was less noticeable when I was on nicely paved sections, but the dirt roads added difficulty.

On the fast downhills, the gyro effect tended to add to the effort required to steer.  I was hit by an incredible wind gust at the very bottom of a 30+mph descent near the end of the ride, and I barely escaped launching off the side of the dirt road.  If I hadn’t been near the middle of the road, it would have been grim – the bike tracked me all the way to the far edge before I got enough muscle into keeping on the road.

Lesson – I’m putting a wider bar on this bike.  Likely either the new Choco bars from Rivendell, or the Albatross/stache bars I’ve used in the past.  A nice Jones H-bar would be great, as well, providing even more leverage and plenty of hand positions.


44cm – a bit too narrow