Riding Lower Dungeness & Gold Creek

"A wise statesman follows the people, especially if he is their leader." - Anonymous

And I would add that this goes doubly true (and isn't even much of a choice) when one is attempting to lead a ride with the likes of John, Stephanie, and Art. Not to mention all the other fasties who signed up for this weekend getaway to the Olympic Peninsula. Several of us had endured a frigid, rain-soaked, trip to the peninsula back in June and we were hoping that karma would reward us for giving it a second try. Besides, we had BBTC Prez, Brian Jones, with us on his first mountain bike trip to the Oly Peninsula so the weather had no choice but to be nice. It was perfect.

Saturday, September 17

Nearly a dozen weather-watching BBTCers gathered on board the 8:40am ferry out of Edmonds and headed straight across Puget Sound to the Lower Dungeness trailhead for the Dungeness/Gold Creek loop. The trail's first four miles or so offer a pretty vicious wake-up call, as brief sections of dowhill cruising do little to refresh the legs spent powering up the hike-a-bike stretches that litter the early goings. The group got pretty spread out right away, but everybody waited to regroup at all major intersections and at the river camp shelter 5 miles into the trail. This was several people's first time riding this particular loop and at about this time, everyone had one question on their mind: Is the climbing over?

Catching our breath at the river camp

Oh, if only it was. We rode along the valley floor to the forest road about 6 miles into the ride, hung a left, and descended like a stampede for nearly a mile before beginning the lengthy road climb to the Gold Creek trailhead. My speedometer hit 38.4 mph on the descent, as I was in John's one-handed-for-aero draft. We all got pretty spread out again on the several mile road climb, but the faster riders didn't seem to mind having another bite or two of their sandwhiches while waiting for the rest of us to arrive.

Now that I've ridden this loop twice, and this time a much better technical rider, I can say that with all seriousness that the Gold Creek trail is every bit as scary and fun as Devil's Gulch, and probably moreso. Sure, there are a couple of steep uphills on the way down, but for the the most part, this is you and your bike riding on a razor's edge at speeds too fast to even think of admiring the views across the valley. I glanced left at the mountains for a split second once and nearly plummeted off the trail. Lesson learned. What's even scarier about this was the speed at which John and Art descended. After a brief stop at an intersection I jumped on their rear wheel and tried to keep up. I was way beyond my comfort zone, inching close to 20 mph on very narrow singletrack with seeming hundreds of feet of exposure to my left, and after about 20 seconds, I couldn't even see them. Most impressive.

After the first brief creek crossing, the Gold Creek trail drops down a series of a dozen or so very tight switchbacks. Like Kachess Ridge, but tighter. They were a lot of fun and while I probably owe it to following Shane's perfect lines, I'm happy to report that, despite walking all 12 of them in April, I cleaned every single one of them except for the uppermost left-hander which caught me completely by surprise. At the base of the switchbacks was where the real fun began, however.

First, John eyed a huge downed tree -- on the order of 100ft in length and over 2 feet in diameter -- and hoisted his bike onto it and rode the entire length of the tree. The tree was snapped in multiple spots, but he made it look so easy.

John demonstrating his balance

Before you knew it, Art was over near a similar blowdown -- this one even larger in diameter -- and he was thinking of trying to ride over it. The log was about waist-high so several of us rolled some other logs into position to give him a ramp on the backside so he wouldn't flip off the log. After watching John and Art come closer and closer to making it up and over the log, I decided to give it a try. I was pretty nervous due to the height of the log, but was pretty sure it was doable. Man, was I excited when I was the first to clear it--thanks for the photo Eric! Art eventually cleared it as well -- even adding a trackstand on top of the log for good measure.

Rolling some smaller logs into place on the downslope side

That's me clearing the monster blowdown

The car's weren't much further and we all finished up strong with a big smile on our faces. There was, however, one casualty for the day. Jennifer was soldiering on intent on completing the loop by herself and noticed a creaking noise while pedaling the forest road up to the Gold Creek trailhead. After a brief inspection of her bike, she found that the upper portion of the seat tube, just above the top-tube weld, had cracked roughly halfway through. In the worst case of trailside misfortune I've yet to see, she endured all of the hard climbs, and lengthy hike-a-bikes, just to have her bike fail her before the fun began. Rather than risk the descent on the singletrack, she was able to turn around on the road and follow it eight or so miles back to the trailhead where Art, Lisa, Brian, and Jeff awaited her return.

Piset crossing Gold Creek

Some dined at the trailhead while waiting for Jennifer and the rest of us returned to the thai restaurant in Port Angeles where we stopped after riding Mount Muller in June. Once again, the food was very good, and we all left sated and happy. Some of us even had some left-overs. From there, we drove to Klahowya Campground, about 9 miles west of Lake Crescent, and just 4 miles past the Mount Muller trailhead. I picked this campground out of a book based on it being cheap and close to Muller, and although I definitely sensed some trepidation on the part of the other riders -- nobody had ever stayed there before -- it all worked out very well. The campsites were both immaculate and very large. We arrived in the dark, but it didn't take long before we were sitting round the campfire, beers and wine in hand, and passing around Joseph's 5 pound bag of pistachios.

The story continues tomorrow...

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