John's Gravel Tour: Bikepacking Seattle to Portland, Day Three

This is Day Three of our four day tour from Seattle to Portland via backwoods roads. Find posts from the rest of this adventure here.

Another morning in the Washington Wilderness comes. Still in my hammock, I wave to John as he's the first to start moving around. Coffee before all else for him, whereas I turn over in my cocoon and look to the rustling branches above for motivation. My legs are heavy and tired but I find myself wondering when haven't they felt this way? This is the point where bike touring becomes your reality. The idea that you wouldn't get up and go ride your bike for ten or twelve hours no longer makes sense. It's the third day of this tour and I'm in Gifford Pinchot National Forest and this is just what I do now.

Finally I unzip my bag, leaving my hammock with a grace similar to a baby deer's first steps. I'm not a coffee person, so I just start to pack up my hanging bedroom and do some stretches. The energy is there in each of us. Maybe it isn't, but we're all putting on our best faces. It's easier once you're on the bike, anyway. Once you're moving and inertia has lost all influence. This morning we're treated to a ripping descent right at the entrance to the campsite and for the other guys I think it was better than a second cup of coffee. I can't wipe the smile off my face, and suddenly we're at the river that lulled us to sleep the night before. I'm quick to get my filter, as I had drank the last of my water the night before. For others it's a chance to wash their cotton.

From the river things quickly changed, and our route took us onto a marked "road" that I'd be nervous driving anything over of overlander on. Silty, muddy conditions that (thankfully) didn't stick to our tires and shoes still let our tires sink in and make hard work of an already challenging series of turns and climbs. It might just be my super-limited experience with climbing, but none of the climbing this route has to offer is easy. Gear as low as you can for this unless you either like pushing or have a vendetta against your knees.

The thing I'm coming to understand about these Washington forest roads is that they are incredibly challenging on a bike. All you can hope to do is keep pedaling with a blind focus as little storms roll through dropping occasional rain drops until you reach the top and look down into the steep descent. Weirdly, it's about at this point that the clouds will break, and sun will come out in full force, and the road will very well turn to pavement. Maybe it was just our good fortune that this would just happening, but it certainly made for some fun down time. I might be a bit of a heliophile, but the sun's emergence filled my whole body with joy to once again feel the heat coming down on my back and arms.

It's almost as if the clouds are parted only above us as we continue to descend down the long paved stretch into Trout Lake- our lunch destination. Bear Creek Cafe is this tiny spot with huckleberry everything. I still have food on my bike that I'd like to justify hauling all this way, so I order some sides and a huge glass of huckleberry lemonade to go along with my peanut butter and apple taco. Sure, it's the weirdest taco ever but damn if it doesn't taste amazing. Truth be told, Trout Lake acts more of a detour (as you can see here on our route map) and once lunch is done we ride right back into the forest.

Mountains pass as the smooth pavement brings us back into Gifford Pinchot, and now the rain is making a more steady appearance. I find myself stowing my camera every few minutes, just to rip it back out as we come across another amazing moment of curvy roads and amazing landscape. To me, there's nothing all that weird about this, but I'm sure to other guys it seems silly. All this time John has been promising us the longest descent of the ride, and when it finally comes all of us lose our minds. The beat up gravel roads that have slowed our pace for days are forgotten on this beautifully paved road will turns so well banked it feels like an hour goes by without me ever touching my brakes. Our only stop, though there's still more hill to bomb down, is a final river that John explains is the last bit of wilderness we'll really have before civilization returns.

This river ends up being our longest non-food, non-camping stop of the ride as we strip down and finally wash days of dirt and stench off ourselves and our poor clothes. This river- well, all the rivers really, is freezing cold. None of us stay in it longer than a few seconds at a time, and my feet have gone totally numb by the way I've scrubbed all the necessary spots. Sneakily stowed, still-cold Rainier makes its way back out and, stuck in a sunbeam, I take my sweet time air-drying. Leaving seems foolish. Putting on clothes seems foolish. Doing anything other than staying in this moment seems- you guessed it, foolish. We've ridden 220 or so hard, hard miles to get to this point, so maybe I'm just starting to get a bit delirious.

But somehow I put clothes on and we do leave. I'd feel somber if we weren't still descending. Ever descending, onto Wind River Highway, with it's narrow shoulders and fast drivers. Descending still, into Carson, to a gas station, to a grocery store, across the Columbia and the state border in Oregon and the amazing Bridge of the Gods that I can't help but look down past it's grated surface to the river below through the 140ft of space between me and it. Descending, finally, to our manicured campsite at Thunder Island with a nearby restaurant, gas station, electric, water spigots, and bathrooms.

Our excitement couldn't be contained.