Of the eight riders who made it out to the peninsula for this incredibly fun 17-mile ride, only three of us took the trail right from the start. The other five preferred to avoid the roughly 3 miles of on-and-off-again hike-a-biking that begin this ride by climbing the forest roads up to the Three O'Clock Ridge trail and rejoining the Lower Dungeness at the three mile mark. Their desire to avoid pushing the bike would net them an additional 2 miles of riding and 400 feet of elevation, but they said it was worth it. I like taking the trail because of the rocky viewpoint about 2 miles in, which was made especially pleasant on Saturday when my wife and dogs caught up to us and took a seat on the perch next to us -- even though one of my dogs almost knocked me off out of excitement.
We regrouped at the river cabin at 5 miles (we lost one rider due to stubborn knee pain) and continued on to the forest road. From there, the seven of us remaining took a 3.5 mile sojourn on a forest road up, up, and away to the Gold Creek trailhead. We reached the moment we had all been waiting for. I have to admit that introducing this incredibly fast, occasionally treacherous, and wonderfully under-utilized trail to new riders is one of the things that I look forward to each year on this campout and it was clear from the looks of anticipation on many of the faces in our group, that few of us had ridden it before. Those who had, get to go first.
And so we did. Gold Creek was in five-star shape. Super tacky thanks to the morning rain shower and still soft as ever thanks to all of the pine needles and relatively clay-free soil. The trail zips in and out of narrow drainages down along a narrow benched-trail with numerous blind corners. The ever-constant exposure on your left mandates that you keep your eyes focuses squarely on the trail and do not so much as steal a single sideways glance the whole way down. Although there were a couple of blowdowns (thanks to Mark and Brad for moving several out of the way) there was only one real WHOA! moment. Several miles into the descent, there is a large hump that looks like you could easily catch some air from. Don't. Not even three feet beyond this ramp-like mound, is a near-hairpin turn to the right as the trail takes a jog into a another little swale in the topography. Launching off that berm would leave you sailing -- and freefalling -- right off the trail into the forest. Fortunately, we all looked before we leapt.
Chris zipping along the Gold Creek trail.
Once back at the cars, four of the riders in the group threw their bikes into the back of Roger's pickup truck and headed back up to the Three O'Clock Ridge to descend the Lower Dungeness River trail in the unheard-of clockwise direction. It sounded like a blast, and I would have loved to join them, but Brad, Jerome, and myself had over an hour's drive to the Klahowya Campground near Mount Muller and needed to hit the road. Our group was down to three.
After a pretty decent burger at "Landing's" restaurant in Port Angeles (where the ferries from Victoria, BC let off) we contiued along 101 past Lake Crescent (is there a more beautiful road in Washington?) and out to my campground of choice. The campground was relatively empty of campers and we all shared that wonderful site #14 that Eric and Shane shared last year. And it was said once again, this time by Brad, "This has to be the most beautiful campground in the National Forest system." My thoughts exactly.
Sunday's ride at Mount Muller was every bit as painful as I remember it being each of the two previous times I've ridden it and while I pushed the bike less than in previous attempts, the 3 mile, 2200 foot climb that starts the ride does not get any easier. Fortunately, this time I remembered that the next few miles along the ridge aren't exactly a cake-walk either and I saved a bit in the ol' tank to help get me to the Mount Muller summit trail without much pain. The short spurts of downhilll through the forest were as joyful as ever and the views along the ridge stretched for miles. Mount Olympus was clearly visible for much of the ride, as was the whole of the Olympic Mountain range.
We passed several hikers on the trail, but never quite saw the horses that had post-holed their way up the trail. We didn't encounter a single blowdown on this 13.3 mile loop, but even as one of the hikers we saw said, "It's absurd how much damage those horses are doing to this trail". Her husband then went on to say that he saw a horse poke through the trail and fall off twice. We all remarked how we couldn't believe the horses didn't break their legs more often on this trail, considering how many knee-deep holes we encountered. Last year, Brian and I stopped on the climb to fill a few of them in. This year, we could have spent all day filling in these holes and still not have tended to them all. The words "lost cause" spring to mind.
The friendly fifties-ish couple atop Mount Muller made our day by saying that they've never seen a single instance of trail damage from mountain bikers, but they did have some hars words about the rest of the club. "Out of that whole club, you three tough guys are the only ones who came to Mount Muller. Tell the rest of those mountain bikers, they all get the Weenie Award!" Consider it done, Ms.
Jerome descending Mount Muller.
After a snack and some snapping of photos, we bid the couple adieu and left them to their sandwiches and mimosas and began the descent. I raced ahead to set up for photos along the infamous corner where the Lake Crescent and Mount Olympus come together as backdrop. From there, it's fun, root-dropping, switchbacking descent for a mile or so, then another short push, and then down, down, down dropping several thousand feet in a few short brake-tugging miles. But as fun as the descent is (one of the best in my opinion) I can't help but love the final trip across the valley floor just as much. There's something about the steam and light combining with the moss and fern-covered floor to provide such an otherworldly ethereal setting. It's the perfect cap to a perfect weekend. What have we done to deserve such splendor?
Kristin, the dogs, and the family fun wagon.