Ride Report: Blanchard, err, Chuckanut Mountain

Did I really think the ride wouldn't be that hilly? What made me believe Preston would bother looking for others to join him if he wasn't going to at least be leading a relatively serious ride. Sure, he "takes the winter off" and it's "just an early season ride," but me? This year? They say luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. What about when zeal meets sloth? Pain and embarrassment, that's what...

I had never heard of this place Preston called Blanchard (Google Maps insists we were actually at Chuckanut Mountain). I tried to find it on the Evergreen Trail Wiki (an outstanding resource) and came up empty. I asked Preston, and was told it's just a place he likes to ride up by Mount Vernon (a lie, it's actually much closer to Bellingham but he didn't want to scare me off with a longer drive). I should have asked how far we'd be going, or how much climbing we'd be doing. After all, I had only been on my mountain bike for longer than an hour once or twice in recent months. I was also walking quite gingerly thanks to going for a run on Thursday -- my first run in a year. Forty-eight hours later is when the true muscle soreness sets in. Way to time it perfectly, Doug. All I knew was the trails "kicked the shit out of the ones at Tokul." I like Tokul. It's my favorite local ride. And I really wanted to ride someplace new, with guys I don't usually get a chance to ride with. It was settled, agony be damned.

Across Bellingham Bay to Anacortes and beyond...

The climbing started at once. The grade was rideable, but my breathing was loud and instantly betrayed my lack of conditioning. My continued gasping for air would be a subject of much mockery throughout the ride, that is whenever Preston was close enough to hear it. At one point I apparently sounded like a scene from "Debbie Does Dallas." The dude, I hope. I was prepared for some hills, of course. And it's not like I forgot how to ride a bike or put on that much weight. But I wasn't ready for a 750-foot climb over the first 2.5 miles. If only this was the hardest climb of the day... but enough about hills for a moment.

Chuckanut Mountain: 14.5 miles, 3150' elevation gain
 I must say, as a first-time visitor to Blanchard, err, Chuckanut Mountain, that the trails were in excellent condition. They were very dry and tactile -- in March! The occasional rock and root step-ups made for just enough technical challenge to keep things interesting and to even provide the occasional spot to stop and session. We started on the backside of the mountain, just west of I-5 near the town of Alger. We climbed and climbed through an empty forest, not seeing any hikers or bikers until reaching a beautiful overlook, looking out across Bellingham Bay towards Anacortes and the snow-capped mountains of Vancouver Island further west, beyond the San Juans.

Preston had been talking of the hole periodically throughout the ride. As in, "Not sure if you're up for the hole." and "We should probably skip the hole." Now, to me, the hole doesn't sound like much. It sounds steep, but not very big. It was at the viewpoint where the decision to ride the hole was made.

"How far down does it go?" I asked.

"Oh, about a thousand feet," Preston replied with a smirk.

"We can't even be a thousand feet above sea level, it's gotta be less than that."

Farmland in northwestern Washington.
 We were higher than I thought, but not by much. We were at 1240 feet. And though the descent didn't take us straight to water's edge, it might as well have. For two miles we descended, sometimes gently, sometimes much more steeply. The trail was benched the entire way, providing plenty of exposure to keep you honest, along with the occasional root and rocky pile. The trail continued down, down, down all the way to Chuckanut Drive, one of the most popular roads in all of Washington. And coming up the other way were  two dozen hikers, trail runners, and dog walkers. Preston, ever the model mountain biker, dismounted for every hiker we saw and slowly carried his bike past. I followed suit. Truth is, I can't believe we're allowed to bike this trail. It's a short, 2.0 mile trail with 1100-feet of climbing, and it's crowded. The descent was exhilarating, but the climb back out? Well, now I know why he called it the hole. Agony. I pedaled maybe half of it, and had to push the bike the rest of the way. My tender legs were screaming in revolt from my run on Thursday and the short spin I did on Friday did little to stretch them out. This was shock therapy to my system. This was knocking the rust off with a sledgehammer and melting the soft surface below with a blowtorch.

This was exactly what I needed.

Back at the viewpoint, we sat and ate some food. Me, not really thinking along the lines of preparing for an epic, or even a mini-epic as this ride has become for me, didn't bring a proper lunch. Cliff Bloks and Gu. Yum. Preston explained our options: we could descend back to the car or we can add a little loop that leads to an even better descent, but it has a bit of climbing. A bit of climbing. Apparently "a bit" means 800 feet of gain. This is where I finally, truly, ran out of gas. I seemingly had to push whenever the trail tilted up, even in the slightest. I had no energy. No strength. I'd say I bonked, but I really didn't have anything in the tank to begin with. I was bonked when I sent the email off telling him I'd come.

We eventually reached Lily Lake, or was it Lizard Lake? I forget. My mind was focused on staying upright and getting back to the car safely. Which we eventually did. We descended for nearly four miles along an exceptional stretch of singletrack, virtually free of hikers and bikers. It truly was an outstanding stretch of trail. Fun, fast, and with plenty of little hits to catch air off of. That is, if you're not like me, and struggling to even stay awake. I cruised it at a comfortably fast pace and enjoyed it the best I could, but all I kept thinking about was making a return trip later in the season when I'm actually in better shape.

There's a lot of work to be done.

Get the details on this route at my Garmin Connect page: Click here.


Anonymous said...

Hey Doug -

Glad to see you are back to blogging again. Nice write-up, have always wanted to try Blanchard myself. Perhaps we can get the bastards up there later this year...


Matt Bouzek said...

I have a better route if you want it.

Matt Bouzek said...

I have a better route if you want it. mbouzek4@gmail.com