Olympic Raintreat

Sep 19-25, 2020
Cycling the Olympic Peninsula, WA

Full route: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/56776751

The original plan was to circle through Yakima Valley and Columbia River Gorge, but Oregon and Eastern Cascade fires pushed us westward. To be honest, we didn’t know whether this trip was going to happen until it happened. It spanned seven days, six on bike, and was absolutely filled with bike mishaps, unexpected changes of plans, nosy noseeums, rain (and rainbows), and stress. But even mediocre planning and a couple of rainy days can’t dampen the beauty of the Olympic Peninsula…

Day Start End Miles Elev. (ft)
1 Seattle Brown Creek Campground 73.2 3901
2 Brown Creek Campground Coho Campground 58.3 3493
3 Coho Campground Kalaloch 70.9 2838
4 Kalaloch Lake Crescent 76.5 3656
5 Lake Crescent Port Ludlow 81.3 4206
6 Port Ludlow Seattle 39.8 2927
topographic map of the olympic pennisula with our route overlaid

Day 0 -- Friday, September 19


Gear: Surly Long Haul Trucker, front and rear Ortlieb panniers.

Before heading out, I install my front rack, and replace the front brake pads.

Day 1 -- Saturday, September 20

Seattle to Brown Creek Campground (73.2 mi, 3901 ft)

Difficult start. We head out to Fauntleroy to catch the 9:55a ferry to Southworth. B gets two flats on his front wheel before we get to the ferry terminal! The first flat resulted in a shortcut across West Seattle instead of around the Alki Beach trail, leading to a terrible steep climb up a block of Genessee, literally the worst hill all tour. I thought I was going to to have to get off and walk! The second flat happened shortly after and after some consideration of options, we decide to try to catch the ferry and grab a new tire at a bike shop in Port Orchard on the Kitsap side (risky!). Caught the ferry with plenty of time to spare, and rode from Southworth to Port Orchard without incident. The guy at the bike shop was super friendly, but problem is, he didn’t have any suitable 700 tires. Apparently all of Kitsap peninsula has had trouble getting tires and tubes in – an issue with the rubber supply chain. There’s only so much we can do to boot the old tire, so we pick up the only thing they have, a tan-walled cruiser tire, and get on our way after some snacks and delicious chili mac+cheese from the farmer’s market. B pops a third flat a couple miles out of town, we swap in the cruiser, and there’s no problem with that wheel anymore.

The last 15 miles of the day was climbing on forest road and wound up being mostly gravel, much to W’s chagrin – he had swapped for a bike with fenders but small tires. We finished the climb into Brown Creek, and found camp at an abandoned campground about 1.5 miles uproad from Brown Creek. The campsite was amazing! We had the whole river bend and clay wall to ourselves. After a long and somewhat stressful day (what with all the flats and the time pressure that comes from unplanned mishaps), we pitched, cooked, and got to sleep. Little did we know the noseeums were getting us on the beach. More on that later.

Waiting for the ferry at Fauntleroy
Surprising amount of gravel climbing
The campsite was all for us!

Day 2 -- Sunday, September 20

Brown Creek to Coho Campground via High Steel Bridge (58.3 mi, 3493 ft)

We start the day by heading up to the High Steel Bridge, apparently the highest steel truss bridge and the 14th highest bridge in the US? Twin to the Vance Creek Bridge nearby which we also saw as we rode out. Much of today was forest road country riding, easy on the big tires, but much harder than paved roads. A very pretty descent out of the woods down to Matlock (a bend in the road with a general store) ended in us carrying our bikes out over a series of gullies cut at the end of the forest road, to prevent cars from driving through after logging is finished. After a bit more gravel, it’s an easy 20 mile paved segment up to Coho Campground, which rims Wynoochee Lake behind the similarly named dam. After a quick dip in the lake, it’s dinner, cider, and sleep. Those noseeum bites from the first day are starting to hit us.

High steel bridge
More country riding
Camping by Lake Wynoochee

Day 3 -- Monday, September 21

Coho Campground to Kalaloch (70.9 mi, 2838 ft)

W departs to head home through Olympia. The rest of us forge on, climbing westward out of the forest. This day was the worst of the highway riding, a few dozen miles on 101. There’s little shoulder on this stretch, and lots of logging trucks, though thankfully the ones passing us going north are empty. It starts raining midday, and the wet pavement and shards of highway glass prove too much for B’s tires. First flat hits us a few miles south of Lake Quinault, and is patched hastily off the side of the road in a wet gully. Lunch in Amanda Park. B+I head out while M+M stay to deal with an emergency work situation, but B pops a new flat within a quarter mile. He thinks about giving up and catching a bus back to Olympia. After some research back at Amanda Park, we decide he’ll continue onwards on the bus, which stops in both Kalaloch (our destination for the night) and Forks, where B will either rejoin us or hop on another bus to Port Angeles. As B waits for the bus to Kalaloch, M+M+myself hop back on the road in the rain. At some point as we near the ocean, the rain and traffic both drop off, and it’s a pleasant ride to the coast. Not to mention, we encounter tons of fresh lobsters peeking out of the earth on the side of the road. We arrive at Kalaloch, meet up with B, and pitch in the driest patch of earth we can find. Finally, ocean.

Flat number N of too many
That west coast sunset

Day 4 -- Tuesday, September 22

Kalaloch to Lake Crescent (76.5 mi, 3656 ft)

Sleep eluded me the night before cause of all the noseeum bites, so I wake up groggy and grumpy. But at least the lobsters from the day before are there to greet me! We saute up a few pounds of mushrooms with 2 eggs and enjoy a most decadent breakfast. B catches the bus to Forks while we hop back on the road. The shoulder on 101 widens and the ride to Forks is pleasant and mostly dry. Lo and behold, the sun is out in Forks! Which I’ve seriously never experienced. After lunch, we head out, with B, towards the Olympic Discovery Trail (ODT). As we exit town, a trailer blowing by us catches on fire, and we’re forced to pause on the side of the road as the thing turns into a torch and the FD comes in to put down the flames.

The ODT itself is a luxurious, beautiful paved road through the woods, with little to no traffic on the sections that are shared with cars. Intense bike and bridge infrastructure connects sections across classic PNW ravines. The final 10 miles are back on 101 around the south edge of Lake Crescent. There’s no shoulder on this section, but there’s a flashing light that cyclists can turn on to warn drivers of our presence. This part had us most worried but wound up being fine. After checking in at Lake Crescent Lodge, we hunker down to watch the sunset and have a massive meal of Beyond meatloaf, wine, whiskey, and cheesecake by the fireplace.

The sun shining down on Forks, WA, a rare occasion
I could just ride the ODT forever and be happy

Day 5 -- Wednesday, September 23

Break day

No biking today, M has meetings, so we’re just hanging out at Lake Crescent Lodge. It rain, rain, rains outside, and we eat, sleep, and read. Very decadent.

Not a bad view over Lake Crescent

Day 6 -- Thursday, September 24

Lake Crescent to Port Ludlow (81.3 mi, 4206 ft)

Back to action after all that lounging around doing nothing. Forecast is for showers all day, so we head out early while there’s still some blue in the sky. At the end of Lake Crescent, the mist clears and a rainbow greets us. We hop back on the ODT after a few miles, blowing through Port Angeles, Sequim, stopping in Blyn for a convenience store (very fancy) lunch. To get to Port Ludlow, we climb over the peninsula to the east of Discovery Bay. The shoulder is a bit non-existent on the climb, but we make it. Some nice rolling hills follow before we descend into the quaint seaside town. We stay in the fancy inn (only one in town), and celebrate B’s birthday over dinner. Robes, bathtubs, and porches are enjoyed.

Morning greeting
Egg and I maybe?
Quaint and fancy port town

Day 7 -- Friday, September 25

Port Ludlow to Seattle (39.8 mi, 2927 ft)

Finally, the way home. We leave Port Ludlow late in the day after M finishes her meetings. The Hood Canal bridge was a bit harrowing, with high speed traffic and much risk of tire puncture (really holding our breath that there are no more on this trip). We catch the ferry at Kingston, climb out of Edmonds on the other side, and make a quick stop at Lenny’s as we ride down the Interurban. We head home via the incredibly unorthodox route chosen by B which took us through Ravenna gorge and Interlaken. Home sweet home…

One of the last climbs on the peninsula
Hood Canal bridge; covered in sharp bits