Juniper Ridge: The Specifics

Those wanting more info on this route can note the following:

The route we followed was 18 miles and can be found on Washington Green Trails maps 333 and 334. We left cars at the Tongue Mountain trailhead on F.R. 2801, where we would finish, and shuttled up F.R. 23 to the Dark Meadows trailhead. Follow the Dark Meadows trail west to the Juiper Ridge trail and then take that north to the Tongue Mountain trail and down to road 2801. It's a pretty straightforward route.

All in all, there's about 5,500 feet of total elevation gain throughout the course of the ride, despite starting at an elevation 1,000 feet higher than where you'll finish. We opted to include a side-trip up to Sunrise Peak halfway through the ride and the views from the top were worth the half-mile hike (just hide your bikes in the trees).

The next time I do this ride, I will be sure to 1) bring no less than 200 oz of fluids, 2) go earlier in the season before the trails are tore up by the motos, and 3) try to go after a rainstorm so the dust will be minimized.

Juniper Ridge

I left the Seattle area around 5pm on Friday night and drove down to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, slightly northeast of Mount St. Helens and due south of Mt. Rainier. I found a small campground to park my truck and transformed the inside of my Honda Element into my own personal living space for the night. It was nearly 10pm by the time I was done organizing my stuff and eating, but I felt pretty awake so I took out my laptop and managed to get an hour or so of work done.

Come morning, I had breakfast, broke "camp", and drove 10 miles down the forest road to the trailhead, where I was meeting the other 8 riders in our group. Once we all gathered up, we piled our bikes into three vehicles and drove 13 miles up the road to our starting point. Normally we cross-country, endurance riders frown on this form of shuttling and leave it to our armor-clad downhilling brethren, but even with the shuttle to the "top" we still had over 5,000 feet of climbing to suffer through. And suffer was the correct word.

The 18 mile trail offered a surprisingly abrupt wake up call less than 1.5 miles into the ride. The climb to the initial ridge proved daunting as we were all pushing and carrying our bikes up the steep trail. It took nearly an hour to cover the first 2 miles. It would only get worse.

The trail we would follow for the next 16 miles is frequently used by dirt bike riders and, as a result, is very dusty and trench-like. The area hasn't received rain in well over a month and the trail surface was several inches deep of loose sand and silt. It was like pedaling through flour.

And so we suffered, but the views were worth it. At several points throughout the ride, we were able to see four of the most beautiful volcanoes in the Cascade Mountains range simply by turning around. We headed north throughout most of the day so Mt. Rainier was often in our sights, but we were also flanked by Mt. Adams to the east and Mount St. Helens to the west. And, if you looked closely, you could see Oregon's Mt. Hood way in the distance to the south.

Without any exaggeration, this was a very difficult ride. Definitely the most difficult I've experienced in terms of the shear amount of effort it took to complete. As if the climbing and trail conditions weren't harsh enough, it was also about 86 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. Despite bringing 140 ounces of fluids with me, I nearly ran out with 7 miles to go.

Aside from the views and the tremendous excercise and comaraderie, the other reason to do this particular route is the downhill. The final 7 miles of the trail plummet 4,000 feet in elevation back down to the trailhead. After taking nearly 4 hours to suffer through the trail's first 8 miles, we were able to knock off the final 7 miles in just over an hour. Why so long to descend 7 miles? Because even with the net elevation loss of 4,000 feet there were still a couple of hike-a-bike sections to get past. But there were several extended portions of singletrack where it was hard to stay below 20 mph, even with the brakes on. Many finished the ride with scoching red brake rotors!

I was supposed to camp a second night and ride the Plains of Abraham area near Mount St. Helens on Sunday, but I had far too much work to get done and decided that one day of riding was enough this weekend. Those who know me, know that I'm not one to ever say, "no" and that I hate "missing out" on things. But with the upcoming deadline and a trip to British Columbia in the immediate future, skipping a short loop at Mount St. Helens wasn't the end of the world.

Canon A520... Will it Live?

If you haven't noticed the link on the right-hand side of the page, photography is one of my hobbies. I especially enjoy landscape photography. The problem -- there's always a problem -- is that my preferred mode of travel to get to said landscapes is by mountain bike. Carrying a hefty digital SLR and lenses around in the back of my Camelback on an all-day backcountry ride is not only tiring, but it's dangerous. Going over the handlebars and down a rocky hillside on top of $2,000 worth of camera equipment is not my idea of a good time. I've been there, I've done that, and if not for the peanut butter & jelly burrito in my backpack, I might still be crying. The camera was okay, but I had to drink my lunch through a straw.

So, as much as I like being able to take hi-res photos in the backcountry, I had to finally break down and buy a compact digital camera to take on these bike trips. I didn't want to, but with rides at Mount St. Helens and the British Columbia backcountry coming up in consecutive weekends, I had no choice. I went with the 4.0 megapixel Canon Powershot A520. It has nearly all the same controls as most of the cameras in the Rebel line of SLR's, and even has full manual control over the exposure with shutter speeds up to 1/2000 of a second just like the big dogs. Of course, the drawback is the limited optical zoom and the sloth-like write-speed. But a 4.0 megapixel compact with a big LCD and all the modes of an entry-level SLR for just $250? Not too shabby.

I'll be putting it through its paces this week at Mount St. Helens while riding the "Juniper Ridge Epic" trail and, especially on Sunday morning when I'll be surfing the pumice slopes at the mystical "Plains of Abraham" area. Check back Monday to read all about it.

Until then, I give you this link: If you're ever in the market for a new digitial camera, this is the ultimate resource for information, incredibly heady reviews, and plenty of consumer reviews too.

If you're interested in the Canon A520, here's the link to go directly to the consumer reviews:

Gone Mulin' for Her Man

I have a confession: I'm originally from New Jersey. I know, I know, I'm one of them, but I'm working hard to make this less readily apparent. For starters, it's been 8 months, 2 weeks, and 3 days since the last time I said "yous guys". And I make sure to use the long-A sound when complaining of my car's broken radiator, or the long-E sound when requesting more syrup. As you may have guessed, I don't get many opportunities to showcase my newfound linguistic flexibility.

Despite my best efforts to "talk right", my accent usually betrays my origins within several minutes of conversation. Yep, as shocking as it may be to people in the northeast not from Brooklyn or Boston, we all have an accent. Not necessarily that fake wannabe-Italian Soprano's accent either (although there's tons of that in northern New Jersey -- it used to just be one or two lonely guys in an Iroc talking that way, but now that the show has somehow made it cool, it's pervasive) but just a very obvious northeastern accent. People who travel a lot around the country, or who have lived in different regions are well aware that we all have accents. People who stay in the northeast and live rather sheltered, regional-centric lives, fall in the trap of thinking everyone but them has the accent.

And of the three things I miss least about New Jersey, right at the top of the list is... ding, ding, ding... you guessed it... that New Jersey accent. It's enough to make my skin crawl sometimes.
  1. New Jersey accent
  2. Toll booths every 8 miles
  3. Visible air
So imagine my surprise when a new "authentic" New York deli opened up in a nearby shopping center and our waitress was imported from northern NJ to work there. Well, actually, I don't know if they flew her out there just to work the late shift at this deli-cum-diner, but she was most assuredly of New Jersey upbringing. The overly loud voice, the smacking of the gums, the HAIR! In other words, I wished she would have just gone away.

I had just picked my wife up from the airport. She was back east visiting family (also in New Jersey) so we decided to give this place a try for a late, light, dinner. The menu was huge, in a good way. They were sporting every kind of hot and cold sandwich you can imagine, on a variety of different types of breads, with a fair amount of typical NYC Jewish fare thrown in for good measure. I think the place was called "Famous Goldberg's" so that latter point was of no surprise. Besides, if I were to make a list of things I miss most about living in New Jersey...
  1. Crisp autumn weather
  2. Good Jewish delis

So, aside from the waitress giving us her best Spinal Tap "the volume of my raspy voice goes to 11" impression, I was actually pretty psyched to be there. The various new and old dill pickles were promptly served to us right after sitting down, the place smelled right, the menu was huge. It was all good.

And so all was right in my world until I flipped to the back of the menu and looked to order a Taylor ham, egg, and cheese sandwich and found that it was not an option. The horror! I flagged down the waitress, "Yo, Rita!" -- just kidding -- and asked her about the omission. She didn't know what it was. Turned out she wasn't from Jersey after all. She simply had a sinus infection.

And just as I was getting really disappointed, my wife leans over across the table and tells me that she brought something back from New Jersey for me. I had no guess. With all the flirtiness of someone with a really juicy secret to tell, she informs me that she has 6 pounds of John Taylor's Pork Roll in her carry-on bag.

For those who don't know, Taylor Ham (aka pork roll) is a New Jersey delicacy. Now I know that the words "pork roll" and "New Jersey delicacy" may be slightly off-putting, but you've got to trust me. On a hard roll (aka Kaiser Roll) with some eggs over hard, American cheese, and a healthy smothering of ketchup, there is nothing better. Cut some slices about 1/4 inch thick, fry them up till the edges start to char a slight bit, and voila! You've got one awesome breakfast sandwich!

And yes, you can order it online and have it shipped to you, but it's expensive. You really should just go to New Jersey and get it from a small sandwich shop or delicatessen. My favorite place to get it when I go back to visit family is a spot called "Burger Express" in my hometown of Carteret. The funny thing about this place is their giant rotating sign -- one side simply reads "Fried Chicken" and the other "Cheese Fries". Knowing the true name of the place is a sign you are definitely from Exit 12.

For those less inclined to travel to NJ anytime soon, I implore you to buy some online. This place seems as good a place as any to order it

And now to complete the list...

  1. Crisp autumn weather
  2. Good Jewish delis
  3. Taylor ham, egg, and cheese sandwiches