Mountain Biking: Orcas Island

I have to admit that when the alarm clock went off at 5:15 Saturday morning, I began to question exactly why I was heading all the way to the San Juan Islands for a 2.5 hour mountain bike ride. After all, getting to Moran State Park on Orcas Island involves a 100 minute drive to the ferry dock, another 75 minutes on the ferry, then another 30 minutes or so in the car once on the island. It's a long way to go for a day-trip and I'm not the least bit surprised nobody from BBTC signed up to accompany me. Throw in the always questionable weather this time of year and even I was beginning to have second thoughts.

Yet we were out the door by six in the morning and on our way.

Kristin and I pulled into the parking spot near Cascade Lake at Moran State Park at about 11am and quickly let one another know our plans. She was going to lead the dogs on a strenuous hike up the Cold Springs trail and onward to the summit of Mount Constitution -- it's a 4.3 mile hike with 2100 feet of vertical gain. I'd likely see her as I was coming down the trail and, if all goes according to plan, we'd meet back at the car around 2pm.

As for me, I rode the 1.5 mile Cascade Lake trail towards Cascade Falls and then hopped onto the main road and climbed the asphalt to the Mount Constitution summit. The trail leading out of the parking area was a lot hillier than I expected and I was immediately huffing and puffing. I've come to accept that it takes me a few miles to warm up these days so I didn't let it bug me. Feeling crappy at the start of a ride is just a part of mountain biking for me now. After about 15 minutes or so I emerged onto the two-lane paved road that switchbacks up the side of Mt. Constitution, the highest point in the San Juan Islands at 2,409 feet. I locked-out my front fork, put me head down, and started pedaling.

The weather was cloudy but the sun was doing its best to burn through the fog and mist and by the time I was halfway up the mountain, the patches of blue sky outnumbered the white two to one. I rounded a hairpin halfway up the mountain and saw a 5-point buck standing just a few steps away. He didn't mind me stopping. Nor did he start to run when I put down my bike and took off my backpack. But the unzipping of the pack startled him and off he went. I usually keep a small 4 megapixel point-and-shoot camera on my hip but today I brought my 8 megapixel Canon 20D -- had I have the little camera, I would have likely got a shot of him. Oh well, he wasn't the only white tailed deer I saw on Saturday, but was the only one I wanted a photo of.

A number of cars passed me during the climb, many of them giving me the thumb's up sign to encourage me on. That's always nice, but truth be told the climb up Mt. Constitution isn't really that tough. It's about 2100 feet of total climbing from the parking area and it's spread across 5 or so miles. I made it to the lookout tower in an hour and two minutes, including the 1.5 miles of singletrack near the car and, as expected, the views of the other islands were hit and miss. One minute there would be clear blue skies and just a couple minutes later it would be a total white-out with clouds obscuring the view entirely.

My bike and the view from Mt. Constitution.

After taking a couple of photos and whoofing down some Cliff Bloks and jerky, I started my way down the trail leading towards Cold Springs, where Kristin was coming from. I didn't make it far before running into a couple spectacular viewpoints. And it wasn't long thereafter when I ran into Kristin and the dogs. They were ready to reach the summit and take a breather, but seemed to really be enjoying themselves. She'd take a break and enjoy the views and then retrace her steps back down the mountain.

A look down at Mountain Lake from Mt. Constitution.

Now it was time for me to start riding. I quickly descended the switchbacking trail down to Cold Springs and then hung a right and followed the North Trail around the back side of Mt. Constitution. There wasn't a single person on the trails on the back side of the mountain and I really enjoyed the solitude. The trails were bone dry -- yet grippy -- and in great condition. Although mostly pretty buff, there was just enough tight switchbacks and rocks to keep you honest and make things fun. Not to mention a few ramp-like rocks on the side of the trail from which to catch some air off. And best of all, the descent was gradual enough that you really get your money's worth after making that initial climb.

Once at Twin Lakes, I hung a right and continued the descent down to Mountain Lake in lieue of the trip up and over Mt. Pickett -- wanted to keep something in reserve for for next time! There was a few more people on the trail near Mountain Lake and the views were really pretty so I slowed down and took some photos and just enjoyed the day. I eventually came back to the section of road I began my climb on and rejoined the trail I initially started on. It was a lot easier going down then up, especially since I was feeling really good at the end of the ride. I got back to the car literally 5 seconds before Kristin and the dogs.

Reflections on Mountain Lake, Orcas Island.

I had a great ride and wanted to have Kristin shuttle me back to the top for a run down the steep Cold Springs trail, but the clouds had moved in and it was starting to get a bit darker in the woods than we expected. Instead, she followed me on foot up a nearby trail and got some photos of me riding. I compose the shot, set the exposure and even do a pre-pose for the focusing then hand the camera off to her. All she has to do is point the camera and press the shutter button when I yell, "Now!" as I ride into the frame. This works really well for us, as it ensures I can't criticize her picture-taking skills. If it doesn't come out good, then it's my own fault. The shots we got this weekend came out great!

Me catching some air on a lower trail.

What a beautiful forest to ride in!

With the day half over, we headed into the small town of Eastsound and had lunch at Rose's Cafe. After an awesome roasted red pepper and tomato soup, and an even better tasting turkey sandwich, we followed some country roads out to the western edge of the island to check out the beaches. The sunset didn't appear to be worth waiting for so we zipped off to make the 5:10 ferry back to Anacortes. After a nice nap on the ferry, we decided to stop off at the Skagit River Brewery in Mount Vernon for a couple of beers. It didn't help me stay awake for the remainder of the drive home, but it was a perfect cap for a great day.

The San Juans: totally day-trippable!

1 comment:

Criscipline said...

That sounded awesome. I'm so glad you had a great time.