I recently explored a newly opened forest area on Whidbey Island that happens to be close to my house. After an easy 2 mile ride there on the mountain bike, I had high hopes that the trails would be single-track and awesome. They were, and it was!
Late January rides are hit or miss in the Northwest, but when a nice day comes along, they may be the best time to be on the roads. Little traffic greeted me a few weeks ago on a winter ride on Whidbey Island.
This one was to have some hills, and my bike was a fendered island bike – an old Miyata RidgeRunner Team. Not the lightest bike, but it seems to go as fast as I can go on anything this time of year. I have ridden a few of these hills recently, but wanted to try out Swede Hill on the south end of Whidbey.
As the elevation graph shows, most of the big climbs were done in the first half of the ride. A couple were quite steep. Swede Hill hit at about the 12 mile mark. It went straight up from a picturesque beach area into a forested ridge. No real views west, but this picturesque farm awaited me at the top.
The next scenic stop was just past Clinton at the 20 mile mark. This area of the island is mostly high bluff. You can see Camano Island peaking out on the left.
The mountains were out, and I had great views of the Olympics and the Cascades, but I find most roads on the southeast side of the island are buried in dense forest with sporadic scenic stops.
This stop overlooked Baby Island – a small refuge where Holmes Harbor meets Saratoga Passage. It is on a small dirt road with a mean, steep hill up to the main road near the end. Very secluded, it offers a great rest stop and views north and east into the Passage.
The next time out, I’m going to reverse the course and see how it works out. It felt like a lot of work too soon going counter-clockwise.
I shaved about 10 miles off what I had planned when the route got a little too close to the cabin. I was done. The hills had taken their toll…
I had my first real accident of any consequence last night on my commute home. I was heading to our cabin for the weekend. It started with a short ride to the Sounder Train heading north to Mukilteo. From there, a quick ferry crossing to the island set me on my way. The climb up the hill from the landing was great, and when the land leveled out, I found myself speeding along the fast route home – Hwy 525. I was going to take the route all the way to Freeland, but decided to take the more hilly passage over Lancaster Rd, as I was trying to get away from the sporadic traffic, and it offers a nearly car-free alternative. It also offers a nice climb with a great descent to Mutiny Bay Rd very near my destination. The last part is a nice ride along the coastline.
The climb was good, but the descent was better! I love that hill – there is a second climb up to a false summit on the west side, so I tucked and hit max speed. On the other side of the second summit, there is another nice drop, and I recalled it turning right near the bottom. It had started a light sprinkle, but the roads weren’t wet yet. The bigger problem was that I was outpacing the throw of my light. As I neared the bend, I started to brake, but the wheels slid, so I let off and started pumping the levers. I quickly realized I was going too fast to make the corner, so I started picking my line while trying more brakes. As I went off the road still going about 20mph per my cyclemeter app, my bike and I pitched into a dense blackberry thicket, with me going in head first over the bike.
I remember a fast deceleration and my head tucking under my body. I heard and felt a loud spine crunching sound as I came to rest in a panic. I immediately thought I had damaged my neck or spine somehow – no head trauma, but my limbs were still there, and I could move. I fished the phone out of my pocket as well as I could – I was quite entangled in the vines. I called my wife and told her the bad news and asked for a pickup, giving her the rough directions to where I was. After hanging up, I started trying to get up, but it took several minutes of untangling myself from the bike and the vines. I remember looking out of what seemed like a briar tunnel. I was able to get up, but my neck was very sore, and I was worried about spine damage, so I just stood there. After a minute or two, Jan called me, and I saw her car lights. She got me in the car, and tried to hide my bike in the ditch, and we made our way to the ER for 4 hrs of waiting, x-rays, and worry.
Long story short, I was just fine. No broken bones, and a couple tylenol for the road. Unfortunately, when we returned for the bike, it was gone. Lessons (re)learned:
- Slow down when you know a bend is coming – don’t wait until you can see it.
- Don’t rely on your lights to help – especially when they are not projecting far enough based on your speed.
- Don’t bomb a hill at night even when you have been down it several times before with no incident – if the conditions are not perfect – no sense in the extra danger – could have been a car or a deer in the way.
- Don’t leave a perfectly good bike in the ditch for more than a few minutes…
- Don’t let it stop you from what you enjoy – went out for a short ride today. Still feels great to be on a bike!
P.S. if you see a white Velo Routier (Cycles Toussaint) on Whidbey Island, please drop me a line… Link to Bike Index
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:
- Hunqapillar on singletrack
- New road exploring
- 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.
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.
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.
Route out and back are here:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!