Hurricane Ridge and the Olympic Peninsula

Tacoma Narrow bridge 260 miles later, much more windy this time across.Tacoma Narrow bridge 260 miles later, much more windy this time across.

Olympic Discovery Trail on my way to Port Angeles and the bottom of the Hurricane Ridge climb.Olympic Discovery Trail on my way to Port Angeles and the Hurricane Ridge climb.

We are up in Tacoma, Washington visiting family for Thanksgiving, so yesterday I rode from Tacoma up through the Kitsap Peninsula onto the Olympic Peninsula, attempted to climb Hurricane Ridge but only made it halfway before running into snow and ice on the roads, and then rode all the way back to Tacoma – a 260 mile adventure that started in the dry upper 20s degF at 1am and ended 20 hours later at 9pm with the last 8 hours riding in rainy mid 30s degF. I crossed the Tacoma Narrows bridge twice, but both times at night so I still haven’t seen it in the daytime. At 1am on my way out, everything was perfectly calm and very cold. On the way back in, it was quite windy pushing my bike sideways on the bridge and very wet.

In between the beginning and the end, I made all kinds of discoveries that matched and even exceeded my expectations for riding in the Pacific Northwest. It was quite dark riding across the Tacoma Narrows bridge, north through the Kitsap Peninsula, and crossing the Canal Bridge onto the Olympic Peninsula. The roads were almost entirely deserted until I made it to WA-3, WA-104, and US-101 where I started to pick up quite a bit of truck traffic presumably heading towards Port Townsend and Port Angeles.

There was a nice shoulder wide enough for trucks to drive on (daytime only to allow passing), but the storms from last week have left a lot of debris in the shoulder which is hard to see at night. Fortunately the trucks were spaced far enough apart that I could usually time it to hit the downhill ahead of the trucks riding in the middle of the road and then pick my way through the shoulder slowly on the next hill while the trucks caught up and passed. Speaking of hills, the ridges on the peninsulas run almost perfectly north to south, and the state highways run from southeast to northwest meaning that there were constant long hills at a 3-5% gradient diagonally up and down the ridges – most in the 300-500 foot range. But many of the local roads are laid out in a grid pattern regardless of the topography – so some of the east/west roads are super steep. Towards the end when I was really tired and six hours late and using my Garmin to navigate back the shortest way home, it made a comical elbow pattern that ended up with a huge amount of climbing, which I was happy for because of its ridiculousness and how it was exactly the route I would have picked if I had known the topography a little better.

Topocreator county elevation map for the four counties on this ride. (Click to enlarge and see more detail)Topocreator county elevation map for the four counties on this ride. (Click to enlarge)

The Olympic Discovery Trail
I noticed when I was planning out the route that there looked to be a nice long extended bike path called the Olympic Discovery Trail running roughly parallel to Hwy 101. I figured it would be a boring, flat rails-to-trail path, but instead found an awesome trail that was part rails-to-trail and part hotwheels track. The trail starts out near Blynn and works it way all the way over to Port Angeles going through redwood groves, open prairie, and eventually along the sound with stunning views of Vancouver Island. Because the trail was covered in moss and wet leaves, you had to take your time in a lot of the corners, but I didn’t mind because most of the corners were switchbacks in an amazing place where you wanted to slow down and look around and/or take pictures.

The Johnson Creek Trestle on the Olympic Discovery Trail.The Johnson Creek Trestle on the Olympic Discovery Trail.

Huge tree.

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Spits and mountains
The Olympic Mountains are the central topographic feature of the Olympic Peninsula, and they are spectacular snow-covered peaks visible from across the sound in Seattle. We were fortunate to have beautiful weather this weekend when we explored Seattle with views of all the big mountains, Baker, Rainier, and the Olympics.

Seattle Aquarium and the Olympic Mountains.

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Downtown with Mount Rainier in the background.

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But I was fortunate with this ride to see the mountains up close. I had seen on the National Park Service page that the Hurricane Ridge road was closed, but since I had already planned out the route and knew that there were tons of roads to explore I figured I would head up there anyway. I thought that I would be turned around at the bottom, but instead the road was open to the Heart of the Hills area almost 2000 feet above sea level. There was no one at the gate, so I just rode under it and continued up the mountain. I only made it another mile or so though before it started snowing and the roads were covered in an icy slush. After one close call, I decided there was no way I was going to make it all the way up to the top, so I stopped right at 2500 feet, which also happened to correspond to 11,000 total feet of climbing after 133 miles.

Before climbing the ridge, I had headed north to the Dungeness and Cline Spits (long permanent above sea level sand bars) and got the reverse view looking back towards Hurricane Ridge. You start climbing from sea level in Port Angeles right up to 5200 feet if you make it all the way to the end of the road.

Cline Spit looking back towards the mountains.

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By the time I made it back to Sequim, it was starting to rain pretty good. I was soaked through and very cold, but stayed just warm enough if I kept riding hard enough. Sunset happened just after I crossed over the Canal Bridge back onto the Kitsap Peninsula, but it got dark pretty quick. It was not easy finding my way back home with all my devices running out of battery, including my lights. No rear light for the last few hours, and only one headlight which I accidentally dropped at 25mph. It was surreal watching it tumble down the road with the light still on. Fortunately, it didn’t break and had enough battery to get me the rest of the way home. I kept it on flashing mode, and pointed it back behind me whenever a car came up on me. Plus, Kristine had given me this awesome reflective rain vest which I had on so cars could probably see me from half a mile away. By the end I was thoroughly drenched and all my devices were on their last leg, but I made it back across the bridge (much, much windier on the return trip) to complete the ride.

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