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.
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.
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.
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
Merino Wool Jersey
1 pair riding bibs
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)
Eating stuff (bowl, mug, spork), pocket knife
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!