Wilkeson to Carbon River Bikecamping

Bike camping at Ipsut Creek along the Carbon River inside of Mount Rainier has become something of an annual tradition in my life, first starting in 2015. The backcountry campground used to be a popular car camping destination, but after the road was washed out in 2006, it’s only been accessible to hikers and bikers willing to make the 10 mile roundtrip trek.

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In previous years, I’ve driven to the park, stopped at the ranger station, and parked near the gate, thereby limiting my riding to a (very) manageable five mile, slightly uphill ride. This year, however, I accepted an invitation for a trip that would start in Wilkeson, about 20 miles outside of the campground.

Before I get into the details of this trip, I think it would be helpful to give some background on this trip.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I used to bikecamp all the time. A few years ago, it was normal for me to ride fully loaded into work on a Friday and be gone the whole weekend. Over the last year, however, due to a bunch of different factors, I simply have not been riding my bike that much.

I was invited to join a group of women riding in Montana this summer with Masi, Ortleib, Exped, Adventure Cycling, and Skratch Labs, so to prepare for that trip, I decided I should probably start riding again, with purpose. As part of the trip, we are all being given full bikepacking setups from Ortleib, a new Masi bike and new Exped sleeping mats and pillows!

 New (to me) bike and bike bags from Ortleib!

New (to me) bike and bike bags from Ortleib!

So back to the ride….

One of the other women on the trip also lives in Seattle and put out a call for a partner to join her on a trip last weekend. I decided this would be a great opportunity to test my new bags (the bike is being built) and a good training ride. Two birds with one stone!

When I was first sent the Ride with GPS route, I felt confident about my ability to complete the trip. Sure, the ENTIRE way there was uphill, but I quieted my fears by thinking about the gentle grade, my previous experiences, and the ride back to the car. 20 miles of sweet, sweet downhill.

Fast forward to Saturday, deep in the pain cave, regretting every decision I’ve ever made. This ride was hard. Really freaking hard.

Twenty miles is a long way to ride uphill. Thankfully, I made the last minute decision to ride a bike I bought for my boyfriend which has a triple. That means a granny gear.

I lived in that granny gear all day Saturday, and hoo boy, was it a challenge.

If you haven’t done this ride, I highly recommend it (at least the portion from the Ranger Station to camp.) It’s a beautifully graded, gravel trail through the most amazing old growth forests. At camp, there is ample space for everyone I’ve ever seen up there (be sure to register for your backcountry permit at the ranger station) and clean toilets.

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Some helpful tips:

There aren’t any fires allowed, so I recommend bringing another form of entertainment.

Bring your hiking shoes and turn it into a longer trip. From the Ipsut Creek Campground, there’s a beautiful 7ish mile hike to the Carbon River Glacier. This hike is NOT fun in biking shoes, so bring a spare pair.

Bring a water filter. The old water source that used to be right before you got to camp has been washed out, so now the potable water is up the trail a bit at the Ipsut Falls.

 

Gals at the Dalles

There's something about rolling hills, farms and open prairie that just does it for me. I absolutely love it. Add gravel roads, cows, a challenging climb with a screaming descent, the opportunity for dispersed camping and you've got my perfect ride.

Two years ago, I was introduced to the Dalles Mountain 60. This route is typically ridden in one day on the second Saturday in March, with whoever shows up. When I did it in 2016, a mixed bag of cyclists showed up, but primarily roadies with really fancy bikes and spandex. Most people seemed ready to test their mettle on this early season ride and go as fast as possible - up and over Dalles Mountain, down Maryhill Loops, and over Old Moody Road. Scenic photos be damned, they were going for King of the Mountain!

My style of riding is quite different. I'm in it for the journey- photos, fun stops, and whatever may come my way. The problem with doing this ride in early March, however, is you're battling daylight. It's a long, challenging ride with some decent elevation gain. If you don't hustle, you won't make it back to the city before sunset and it gets COLD and DARK out there. 

So after my first experience in the Dalles I knew that I wanted to go back. I was in love with the scenery and wanted more, but wanted to do it on my own terms. And that's how Gals at the Dalles was born.

If you've ready my blog post about my trip last summer with Komorebi Cycling Team, you know about the magic that is biking with all women. So I'm not going to rehash that, but suffice it to say, I was intentional in planning this trip to be all women.

I put the call out on social media that I was doing this trip to Oregon, open to rad women, gave them the route, and to meet at Holstein's Coffee on Saturday the 20th at 10am. In the end, 18 women ended up making the trip to Oregon - 2 from Montana, 2 from Oregon, and 14 from Washington! A pretty damn good turnout!

One challenge going into this ride was fighting my internal voice that kept saying "You're too slow to lead a ride like this." And on some levels, it's true. For the climb up Dalles Mountain (the first 16 miles of Day 1), I was the slowest. But, that doesn't mean I couldn't lead in other ways. To combat this internal struggle, I did the following:

  • Made sure everybody else was as prepared as possible to ride ahead with the route, cue sheets, and knew specific details (like where to get water)
  • Made it abundantly clear that there was no expectation for the group of 18 to stick together
  • Enjoyed my own pace and rode my own ride

My plan totally worked and I was pleasantly surprised when at mile 37, we came down a huge hill after Stonehenge (seriously, there's a full size replica of Stonehenge in the middle of Washington) to find the whole group! I have no idea how long they'd just been hanging out eating lime salted cucumber (you can read about that here on Adventure Cycling) but it was the BEST SURPRISE EVER!!

From there, we rode the final 5 miles into the Deschutes River Recreation Area where we had staged a car with all of our camping gear and a cooler with cold LaCroix and beer. After loading up our bikes, it was a stunning ride 8 miles down the Old Rail Trail to a dispersed camping site for the night.

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Day 2 started with a seriously stupid number of flat tires on the sharp gravel, luckily most of them easily fixable. We only had to boot one tire but it proved to be a good learning experience. Eventually we all made it off of the Rail Trail and back onto the main Dalles 60 route, where Old Moody Road awaited us. 

I think this road should be called Old Moody Mountain, and I honestly think it's the hardest part of the entire trip. This road is like a freaking wall and it's all gravel and so steep. Once we finally conquered that, it was smooth, beautiful riding all the way back into the Dalles.

Ending back at Holsteins Coffee we all collapsed onto the patio in the 95 degree heat. Happy, exhausted, accomplished. And excited to do it again next year?

p.s. This time, I took 600+ photos, and who knows how many the other women took. To see a small selection, search for the hashtag #galsatthedalles on Instagram!

Olympic Adventure Route with Komorebi Cycling Team

I was a summer camp kid, attending the same camp every year from 1st grade until 10th grade (except for those two awful years in 3rd & 4th grade, but we don’t talk about that.) The two weeks I spent every summer, year after year at Camp El Tesoro in Granbury, Texas without a doubt shaped me into the woman I am today.

During those long, hot summers under the Texas sun, I learned the ins and outs of communal living, joys of simple fun, and to enjoy the crackle of logs on a campfire that my hands helped build. At summer camp, I also built my confidence, strength, and personality. All of the superficial insecurities that were hammered into me throughout the school year, either through mainstream media, locker room talk, or gossip disappeared at camp.

My older sister Mindy and I, first day of camp, early 1990's

 

At camp it didn’t matter what brands you wore- functionality was all the rage.  Even into our teenage years, we played with vigor; challenging ourselves on the ropes course, wrapping our arms around each other to sing silly songs after dinner, and shaving our legs together on the cabin porch under the hot sun.

Despite the magic that I knew camp held, I was always apprehensive before leaving…

Would I get along with the girls in my cabin? Would they be nice? Would they like me?Would I be the fattest girl in my cabin? What if they all know each other and I’m the only one who doesn’t know everybody? What if I start my period during camp?

Even though I’m now 15 years older and wiser, these same fears and apprehensions came rushing back to me when I received an invite to join Komorebi Cycling Team on a 3 day bike packing adventure in the Olympic National Park last month. I’ve been a longtime fan of Komorebi, an Oregon based group of women who go on really rad bikepacking adventures.  I can’t even remember how I found them, but I started following their Instagram and trip journals last year.

When Jocelyn contacted me to join as a guest rider for their trip, I jumped at the opportunity, pushing aside the anxiety, fear, and self-doubt. So, two weeks ago, I, along with 3 other guest riders, joined 4 women of Komorebi for what was for me, my most challenging bike adventure to date.

Jocelyn, Me, Meghan, Kim, Jude, Anna, Kristin, and Caitlin (l to r) (Photo courtesy of Anna Brones)

Three days of bike riding, 73 miles, 7300’ of elevation gain, 5 miles of backpacking, hot springs, and a whole lot of fun. Here’s a recap of the trip.

Route and Planning

The plan for the trip was 4 days together, 3 days of riding, and 3 nights under the stars. Roughly outlined as follows:

1st night- Thursday: Group rendezvous at Seal Rock Campground. Most of the women were driving up from Portland, while two of us were driving from Seattle/Tacoma area, so Seal Rock Campground, along Highway 101 was a good middle spot to start from on Thursday night.

Friday: Drive up to the start of the Olympic Adventure Route and park our cars at the Park & Ride at the junction of Hwy 112 and Hwy 101, just next to Laird’s Corner Market. (On Google Maps, this is marked as Wagner’s Grocery, but the sign says Laird’s.) They were INCREDIBLY friendly to us- helping fill up water bottles, use the restroom, and just overall happy to have us.

Packing bikes is both a science and an art I'd come to find out.

 

Portland apparently has an awesome shop called The Mountain Shop where you can rent all sorts of gear that you need to bikepack, including super rad bikes and the full Revelate bike bag setups. Two of the other guest riders rented Salsa bikes from this shop, and nearly every other woman rented a Sweetroll Handlebar bag for their rig. I stuck with my classic basket and bag, figuring I’d be fine for the mileage we had planned (spoiler alert: it was a poor choice.)

Friday’s mileage was planned to be 31 miles, nearly all off road on the Olympic Adventure Route, with planned camping at Fairholme campground.

Saturday: Day 2’s route had me all excited as we were heading to an area I’d been itching to ride for a while. 30 miles of road riding into the Olympic National Park Elwha River Valley and up to the Olympic Hot Springs. A flood last winter washed out part of the road, leaving the last 8 miles of climbing car free. The plan was to hide our bikes at the end of the road and walk the last 2.5 miles into the back country to access the Olympic Hot Springs and campground.

Sunday: In seemingly perfect planning, day3 would be our easiest, starting with a 2.5 mile walk back to the bikes and then an easy 12 mile road ride back to the car.

Food & Gear: With 8 women bikepacking for 3 days, it was really important to ensure that we didn’t all take a stove, tent, and water purifier.  A little coordination was in order to cut down on duplicated necessities. With a few quick emails, gear was split.

Food for bikepacking is seriously one of my biggest hangups, and I often end up eating freeze dried meals, as I’m just frankly not very creative when it comes to camp cooking. Lucky for us, Anna Brones joined us on this trip, who coordinated and cooked all of the food for all of us on this trip. Anna is an author, chef, photographer, gardener, and biking wonder-woman- she’s a true renaissance woman who just published her 2nd book- Hello Bicycle.

I’m seriously spoiled for all bike trips from here on out and can’t wait to try some of the recipes Anna prepped for us, as they honestly seemed pretty easy. We dined on hearty oatmeal each morning with dried fruit, homemade pesto and chickpea sandwiches on homemade bread, pad thai, and red lentil stew. I don’t even eat this good when I’m at home! She also made snack bags for each of us with homemade energy balls, but I unfortunately didn’t get to enjoy these as I forgot to tell her about my allergies to almonds, but according to everybody else, they were awesome.

This was my first time actually bike packing, and I tried out some new-to-me gear. I borrowed a Revelate Terrapin bag from a friend, with an Outdoor Research dry bag as a saddle bag. I’ve also recently invested in a Straggle-Check Frame bag, custom made for my size bike. It’s really cute- totally fits like a glove. And as I already alluded to, kept my Wald basket on the front of my bike and my go-to Revelate Mountain Feedbag.

The rest of my gear list:

REI Passage 1 (1 person tent)

REI Joule Sleeping Bag

Klymit Static V Sleeping Pad

Merino Wool Top & Bottom

Puffy jacket

Merino Wool Jersey

Flannel shirt

1 pair riding bibs

2 t-shirts

2 pairs light wool socks (for riding)

1 pair thick wool socks (sleeping)

2 pair underwear (sleeping)

3 gel packs

4 Clif bars

1 bag dried mangos

1 flask whisky

1 spare tube, 1 patch kit, sewing kit, multitool, frame pump

Head lamp & spare batteries

Katadyne 6L Gravity filter (I brought it for the group to use while in the wilderness at the hot springs)

Toiletries

Eating stuff (bowl, mug, spork), pocket knife

Here's my ready-to-go bike. You can see I moved the water bottle cages to the front fork and mounted them with electrical tape. 3 weeks later, they're still there. A+

The Actual Ride & Weekend Experience

The actual bike riding on the Olympic Adventure Route kicked my ass. I thought I knew what single track meant and what it was like to ride it. I had no idea.

Kim getting rad (photo courtesy of Anna Brones)

The trail is beautifully maintained, 24 miles of stunning single track without any technical elements, unrideable roots or rocks, or sections that require dismounting. BUT, on my bike, with the weight in the front with my current level of skill and fitness, I struggled. I *think* if I would’ve been on a proper mountain bike, the ride would’ve been easier, but I still would’ve struggled. There was quite a bit of climbing and descending, and more than once, I found myself wishing for the same setup of the rest of the women on the trip, especially flat bars.

Jocelyn shows impressive technique

 

I owe a huge depth of gratitude to the women of Komorebi , and other guest riders- Jude, Anna, and Meghan for their graciousness, patience, and encouragement as I struggled through the ODT. I was by far the slowest rider, but they patiently waited for me, allowing me to gain skills as the day went on, offering tips to make things easier (seriously- thanks Jude for letting some air out of my tires! Why didn’t we do that earlier?!), and laughing with me as fell 5 times. Thankfully, none of the falls were serious, but I’m still nursing some bruises almost two weeks later. Who knew that blackberry brambles make a good, yet scratchy, cushion for crashing?

 

I've also never been THIS dirty. Our plan to ride to Fairholme got scratched as the allure of the closer Log Cabin Lodge along Lake Crescent stole our attention. They also happened to have free hot showers, beer on tap, and open camp sites. Did I mention we stayed there? 

Dirt tan

 

Saturday and Sunday’s rides were all on paved (or forest service gravel) roads, so it was much easier to keep up with the group through these sections.  The ride into the Olympic National Park and Elwah River Valley were much less noteworthy than Friday’s Olympic Adventure Route, if only for less crashes, but nonetheless just as beautiful.

After the parking lot, the road is closed to cars, thanks to a flood this past winter. It’s an 8 mile ride to the Olympic Hot Springs Trailhead, all uphill. With an average grade of 4%, the climb was pretty easy and we took it slow, savoring the outlook at the Elwah Dam and stopping for a baby deer in the road. Fairly quickly, we reached the parking lot where we converted our bikepacking gear into backpacking gear, stashed our bikes in the woods, and began the 2.5 mile hike to the hot springs.

Bikepacking gear doubles as backpacking gear pretty easily it turns out

The hike up to the hot springs is also quite easy, although it is also uphill. At this point, it had been pouring rain for the previous 2 hours, so we were all thoroughly soaked to the bones, hoping that our dry bags were keeping our tents and sleeping bags dry, and eagerly anticipating the hot springs at the end of the trail. When we reached the camp ground, we quickly set up, and  were shortly off to the promise of hot water another quarter mile down the trail.

Sure enough, just down the trail, a series of 6 or 7 hot springs awaited us. It’s just as magical as you can imagine. We quickly stripped down and hopped in, eager to relieve our sore muscles in the hot water. It was pure bliss.

Meghan finds bliss in the hot springs

 

This was only my second time in a hot spring, and the first in a totally unregulated, natural one. At one point, I found myself in disbelief – was I really soaking in a hot spring with 7 other, totally badass, bike riding women, drinking wine? This was awesome.

We finally got hungry and headed back to camp for another delicious dinner made by Anna. Quickly thereafter most of us went to sleep, as without a fire to warm us up, we were wet and cold. Even though I was exhausted, sleep didn’t come easily that night as I was freezing, but luckily, the sun rose early and warmed things up. We ventured back to the hot springs again after breakfast for one more dip.

The final bike ride down from the hot springs was one of the best descents I’ve ever had in my life. Not worrying about cars is phenomenal! I have no idea what speed I reached, but I’m sure it was fast. I would seriously climb that hill again just to fly back down it!

 

Reflections on the trip

Now that I’ve been home for almost two weeks and have had some time to think and heal my body, I’m filled with gratitude to Jocelyn, Kim, Kristin, and Caitlin from Komorebi for allowing me to join them on this trip. I’m also hugely thankful to Jude, Meghan, and Anna for joining me as guest riders. Having your presence helped me feel less like the “new girl” and like were in this together. Your willingness to be vulnerable, authentic, and show your true selves all weekend was inspiring.

The difference of riding with all women, as opposed to a mixed gender group is hard to explain. Small things, like checking in with each other throughout the day to make sure we were all doing ok, both physically and emotionally. I’ve NEVER experienced that with mixed-gender groups. Open and honest chats about our bodies, challenges with our partners, and drinking wine in the bathroom together as we waited for a blessed hot shower is something that doesn’t always happen.

Over fireside conversations we made a conscious decision as a group to stop apologizing and to practice gratitude. This seemingly small act influenced so many conversations throughout the weekend, as instead of saying  “Sorry I’m slow” when I reached the group who was waiting for me, I would instead say “Thanks for waiting for me!”

Even though these women live in Portland (and Anna near Tacoma), I feel like I gained 7 new friends in a whirlwind of a weekend. I’m super excited to know them and can’t wait to hopefully see them next time I’m in Portland!

A Swing...and a Near Miss

Call it luck or perhaps good planning, but until this weekend all of my bike camping trips have gone off without a hitch. No major mechanical issues, getting lost, or unexpected difficulties. For the most part, I've known exactly what to expect in terms of ride difficulty, length, and weather and have prepared accordingly.

Well, for some reason, I royally screwed up this trip. And I feel really bad because it wasn't just me at stake this time. I took a bike camping virgin with me! GAHHHHH.

My plan was to ride out to Scenic Beach State Park as a way to test out the route for the upcoming Swift Campout and to take part in Adventure Cycling Association's National Bike Travel Weekend. In a few weeks I'll be leading the Bikery's group on this same ride, and since I've never been to this park, I figured it'd be a good idea to give it a whirl.

Holy hell it's a good thing I did. I missed one crucial turn about 5 miles into our ride which resulted in a whole lot of extra dumb climbing. Overall, the difference in elevation was only about 100ft between the two routes, but if you compare the elevation profiles, the route we took has a bunch of nasty big climbs vs. gentle long climbs.

The route we took: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/9322607

The route we meant to take: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/14232946

My bike felt wonky on the ride out there too, and I can't figure out if it's because the weight was distributed unevenly or I was just carrying too much stuff. My friend's bike wasn't a touring bike I was carrying most of the gear (cooking and sleeping stuff) and he just had a backpack and seat post rack. This, plus the heat made for a very slow going trip.

All the stupid climbing was availed when we pulled into camp and the rangers happily assured us that even though the sign said "Campground Full", the hiker/biker sites were still open. Winning on bikes, yet again!

We quickly set up camp and made the wise decision to not put the rain fly on the tent. With an overnight forecast of 60 degrees and no rain, we both were willing to risk a bit of dew for the rare opportunity to see towering pines and stars from the tent. Definitely a wise choice.

No rain fly, no problem.

The beach area at Scenic Beach is about a 5 minute walk from the campground. We grabbed a snack and a beer and headed down to check it out. The day area here is huge, with tons of picnic tables, bbq grills, and a few volleyball courts. Even though it was being well used, there was still lots of space and it didn't feel crowded. After checking it out, we headed back up to make dinner, eventually coming back down to the beach for the sunset.

 

In the morning, we enjoyed the requisite cup of coffee outside, a quick bowl of outmeal, and then headed out. We had a goal to be on the road before temperatures soared into the 90's, as nobody wants to ride in that.

Unsurprisingly, the ride back to town went a lot faster than the ride into camp. It's funny how riding the intended route works like that.