Moran by Bike

Made my annual pilgrimage to Orcas Island yesterday to ride at Moran State Park, one of my favorite places in Washington to go mountain biking. Did things a bit differently though this time around. Instead of driving to the trailhead, I decided to bike to and from the park as well.

I picked up Doug Caroll at his house in Woodinville and together we met Kris W. and Erik B. at the ferry in Anacortes. I convinced Kristin to come along to get some hiking in with the dogs -- she needed a day away from the books and work -- and this worked in that it provided us with a sag wagon of sorts. The rain started to fall on us while we were on the ferry, but it's an hour-long boat ride to Orcas Island and things were dry on the island. Chilly and overcast, but dry.

Once off the boat, we quickly pulled over and unloaded Doug's and my bikes and suited up. Erik and Kris had stashed some of their stuff in the truck for the ride back on the ferry and, before long, the four of us pedaled off. Orcas Island is shaped like a horsehoe: the ferry dock is in the southwest corner of the island and Moran State Park is in the southeast corner. So while Kristin took the main roads up and around the northern part of the island to get over to the park and start hiking, I led the group off onto some dirt roads. We'd still have to hook up with the main roads and go through the town of Eastsound which lies at the northern side of the island, right near the water in the middle of the horseshoe, but this got us some extra climbing, some tourist-free pedaling, and some extra climbing.

We made it to the trailhead in about 75 minutes. Kristin had left the Element in the usual spot and was already off on her hike with the dogs. As for us, we started out with the obnoxiously steep, but thankfully short Cascade Trail then crossed the main road and started up Mt. Pickett. The climb up Mt. Pickett was steeper than I rememebered it being from last year (or maybe I'm just not in that great of shape) and is primarily an old wagon road that climbs up a forested hilltop to about 1750 feet above sea level. It's a nice steady climb, but nothing big. From there we descend to Twin Lakes -- the last .5 mile of the descent on very fun singletrack -- and then begin the real PITA portion of the ride.

There are a few ways to get up Mt. Constitution and while the route I like to do isn't the most fun, it's definitely the most direct way to skin the cat. I climb the switchbacking trail straight up the backside of the mountain from Twin Lakes up to the summit. It starts out gently and finishes just as easy, but the middle? The middle is a kick to the teeth, climbing nearly 1200 feet in a mile. It hurts, and does require some pushing, but it's over with pretty quickly.

Once at the top, we regrouped near the monument. The sun was out, the clouds had lifted, and from our vantage point at 2200 feet, we could see all across the San Juan Islands, across Puget Sound, and back even into the Cascade Mountains and Mount Baker. There are few places reachable by bicyle as beautiful as this.

Nor as fun! After taking the mandatory photo of Kris and his bike in front of the viewpoint (he's a recent transplant from Illinois) we started down what most people refer to as "the spiral". There are a series of trails that can be taken off the top of Mount Constitution that spiral downwards and outwards around the mountain back to Twin Lakes. The descent starts on the south side of the mountain, and quickly takes you along a very narrow, highly exposed ledge above Mountain Lake, then plummets deep into the forest, across the road, and over around the backside of the mountain. The trails were in pretty darn good shape considering it's only April. There were one or two blow-downs and some occasional patches of mud, but all in all, we were hooting and hollering and zipping along at top speed. And, best of all, the morning rain we encountered on the ferry must have scared away all the hikers because we didn't see a soul -- highly surprising given it was sunny and 75 degrees the day before.

We finished up around the biker-side of Mountain Lake, then jumped back out onto the road where we began our climb to Mt. Pickett hours earlier. Doug C's back was seizing up pretty good so he zipped back on the road to the truck and would hitch a ride back to the ferry with Kristin while the rest of us re-rode the Cascade Trail in the proper, downhill direction then embarked on our own pedaling cruise back around the island to the ferry. We skipped doing the dirt road portion of the road ride on the way back and stuck to the main roads to save a couple miles off the back end and to make sure we got to the ferry in time.

Ride Totals: 45.6 miles with 6,222 feet of elevation gain. Spotted 1 deer, a nest with a rather large osprey in it, and some spectacular views.

(no photos, too busy riding)

Kristin and the dogs ended up hiking 12 miles. The dogs are starting to get pretty old and they're a bit sore and tired today, but they really enjoy days like yesterday and we were glad they came along. Of course, they were passed out sound asleep the second they got back to the truck and slept the whole way home, on the ferry, while we were dropping Doug off, and while we were out to dinner. Both were too tired to even climb the stairs once we did get home and rather than sleep on their beds upstairs, which they always do, they simply laid down in the kitchen and spent the night down there.

I'm sure they'd do it again today if given the chance.

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