Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Three Dumb Guys Camping in the Rain


A couple of years ago I posted a little story about "Three Dumb Guys Riding in the Rain." You may choose to consider this post a sequel to that story. You may choose to consider this post evidence that while I am getting older, I'm definitely not getting wiser.

Christine and Eric are back east visiting relatives and Peter is off at grad school in Alaska so this week it's just me and the cat in Issaquah. I have Sunday and Monday off from work, so I leave a couple of bowls of food and water for Purrl Grey and load up my bike for a quick trip to the wilderness. Somehow I've managed to convince my buddies Matt Newlin and Jon Muellner that this trip was a good idea.

I leave home in the early, dark hours and ride the 19 miles from home to the Seattle Ferry Terminal where I meet up with Matt and we catch the 6:10 AM ferry to Bainbridge Island. The morning is mostly clear and a wind from the south urges us north, over the island, through Poulsbo and up to the Hood Canal bridge via Big Valley Road. On the western edge of the bridge we feast on roadside blackberries until Jon rolls up.

Jon is our native guide. He lives in Port Townsend on the northern tip of the Olympic Peninsula and we figured his local knowledge will guide us to some suitable camping spot. "We'll head down toward Quilcene and then take little roads up into the mountains," he says. "Sounds good," we say.

We head west on 103 and then south on Center Road toward Quilcene. The south wind is bringing weather up from the south and it's relatively slow going to Quilcene. Jon warns us that the local lakes have had toxic algae blooms this summer, so we stop at the local market for some water and provisions. We also stop at the Loggers Landing Cafe. It's before 11:00 AM, so we each have a hearty breakfast. While we're eating, it starts to rain.

Now you have to understand that there is nothing epic about this story. The wind is not fierce, the rain is not harsh, the terrain is not brutal. It's all not even really annoying. It's just enough to make you ask yourself "why are we doing this again?"

Maybe it's to see a part of the world that we haven't seen. Well, Matt and I haven't seen it. Jon leads us south out of Quilcene on 101. We turn on Penny Creek Road and then turn off onto Forest Road 27 where we climb towards Mount Townsend.

The views are probably pretty when not shrouded in drizzle and fog. We climb at a rate of about 1000 feet per hour for several hours. A bit of the road is gravel, but much of it is paved. There is almost no traffic here but at one point a car coming down the road stops and the driver asks us if this road does in fact lead to 101. Jon assures the fellow that it does and we continue climbing.

Somewhere about 4000 feet above Quilcene and 16 or so miles into the rain forest we come to a fork in the road. We also come to the realization that maybe deciding to camp in the rain forest on a rainy day wasn't one of our better ideas. Both forks claim to lead toward the Mount Townsend and Sink Lake trailheads. Jon confidently points us toward the fork that seems to go less up and promises us that we are within a mile or so of where we will camp.

This little gravel road winds for much more than a mile, a little gash clinging to the steep side of a mountain. We keep moving onward, avoiding the deepest puddles, optimism driving us around every bend. "We'll stop when we find anyplace decent to camp" we say.

Or when we run out of road, which is what we did. The road just ends. What continues on from the road end is an overgrown trail that, when explored on foot, yields no good camping prospects. We retreat back to the wide end of the road, where Jon wisely declares victory. "This is the place."

We all have bivy sacks and while I have packed a tiny tarp, Matt has a huge tarp which we quickly put into service. Despite being surrounded by forest, there are only a couple of trees that we can put to any kind of use. Jon scales one to secure one end of the tarp and declares the other to be the tree which will hold our bear bag of food in the night. The mountain and the trees pretty effectively block the wind, so a spindly stick, some cord and a single tent stake secure the other end of the tarp, while some more cord and branches spread the tarp out as a broad shelter. We even manage to channel the water running off the tarp into our water jug.

While these trips may seem like renunciations of the comforts of civilization, they are in fact excercises in the purest form of materialism. We relentlessly critique our equipment. My Kelly Kettle, Jon's stove and Matt's tarp are all declared to be brilliant. Matt decides his bivy sack is way too hydrophillic while Jon figures his old bivy is not breathable enough. I feel like the pig with the house of bricks with my REI minimalist bivy.

We have no great wildlife encounters, no spectacular stories to bring home. "You don't have to blog about this." "No," I counter, "I do. People need to know that these trips aren't all wonderful, gee that's nifty experiences. Sometimes you just have to go out to remember why folks have things like houses and heat and bakeries."

In the morning we pack up and roll down. Breakfast is great and it even stops raining for a bit. Jon rolls back to Port Townsend while Matt and I roll back over the Hood Canal bridge and back home via the Kingston Ferry.

This wasn't an S240 for me. It was more like a day and half with 162 miles of riding and some camping in the rain.

Jon's story of the trip can be found here.
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