I grew up in the Midwest near St. Paul, MN. I spent many long days exploring the northern woodlands in the lakes country at my grandmother’s cabin, and the woody marshlands of the 80 acres my other grandparents lived on north of the Twin Cities. I built spears and bows with nothing but a knife and branches or small saplings and twine. I learned to stalk in close to the wary game that lived in Minnesota amid the sparse populations. I didn’t have access to video games or good television (is there such a thing?) when I was staying with my grandparents, so I had plenty of time to come up with diversions. I grew up reading great hunting stories of the west, and always dreamed someday of moving where the mountains were, and spending time in the field amidst elk, antelope, mule deer, and mountain goats. Most of all, I learned to enjoy camping, and being in nature.
21 years ago when I moved to Seattle, I was still a midwestern boy at heart with a fierce love of the outdoors. As such, I worked hard to find new places in Washington state to explore. I tried deer hunting in the Okanagan, but ended up making an elk camp in the Cascades a few hours from Seattle. It was in an area that had just been clear-cut, but still had swaths of older growth forest, and importantly, there were elk and few people hunting them. I have always enjoyed the solitude of this place in the woods, and recently had a chance to revisit it.
My wife and daughter had gone back to visit family, and I was itching to do an S24O (overnight bike camping), but I had a problem. I have a dog that I didn’t have a place to board easily. I worked out a solution in that I would drive up to the old elk camp and use it as a base for some riding around the area. It was also the ideal place to try out my new camping/touring/mountain bike.
I managed to scrape up through the overgrown back route into the old camp. It was apparent that nobody used the road anymore. I had to chop out more than a few overgrown branches, and one fallen tree on the way up to the old logging skid where we had made camp about 15 years ago. It was time to relearn how to camp in areas with no facilities. Pretty easy to rough it if you have water, food, and a shovel. Washington has thousands of square miles of wilderness if you don’t mind primitive camping, and the beauty and solitude can not be beat. I heard all of one or two other cars driving around the area, but none came over my “road” the whole time I was there.
I managed to camp here for two glorius nights, and had a couple of incredible rides. The first was to the near top of a rocky point that I always noticed across the northern valley. I had seen white specs on this in the past and always wondered if there were goats living there.
Long story short – there are:
The ride up was only about 5 miles total, but it climbed over 2500 feet, and with the temperature in the 80s, it was vigorous. I had to park the bike and scramble up the last few hundred feet, and the goats didn’t notice me until I was well within a hundred yards.
After the billy checked me out and decided I was more trouble than it was worth, I perused the ledges and noticed that the goat beds were quite evident on the rocks with lots of white fur and under coat stuck to the sharp rocks and plants.
After enjoying the views, I made my way back down to camp in a smashing descent. There is nothing like going 30mph on gravel on an un-suspended bike! The only rough parts were the washboard areas on the main forest service road. This ride was the highlight of the trip. Afterward, I took a nap in the trees with the dog, only to be awoken by a coyote that had made its way up the back side of our camp to within a stone’s throw. It decided we looked a bit out of place, and high-tailed it out of there. I think my dog thought it was coming over to play, and she never barked or made a noise at all. Beautiful critter!
When charging my phone later that night, I managed to drain my truck battery. After a few seconds of panic at being in the middle of nowhere, I relaxed knowing I had an easy ride back the 15 miles to the highway. The next morning I rode down the other route to the main forest road, and found a couple of fellows who helped out a guy in need of a jump start in a most unfortunate location.
Saved! That afternoon, I packed up camp and sadly drove back home to the city. Not before vowing to be back now that I had renewed my love of this place in the wilderness!