Riding to the Top of the World

The email to Dylan and Erik began “file this under ideas I may regret suggesting.” I was, after all, proposing a 130 mile ride from Port Townsend to the top of Hurricane Ridge and back that would edge frighteningly close to 8,800 feet of climbing. Oh, and there’d be the 17 .5 mile, 5,200 ft climb to the top of Hurricane Ridge smack in the middle of the ride.

As it turned out, none of us had the time to commit to a 12+ hour ride that weekend (and Dylan couldn’t join us at all), so Erik and I settled on the “short” version, a 75 mile ride from Sequim to the top of Hurricane Ridge that still had around 6,500 feet of climbing all in all. That was definitely for the best. Between my crash, a cold, and a bit of lackluster motivation, this has been an embarrassingly low-mileage summer.


The elevation profile from the ride

I met Erik at the Seattle ferry bright and early on Saturday morning. After a quick stop in downtown Bainbridge to pick up sunscreen (lifesaver) and some coffee and pastries at Blackbird Bakery (maybe also a lifesaver), we started our drive up and across the Peninsula to Sequim. About an hour later we arrived in the booming metropolis of downtown Sequim, kitted up, and headed west for Port Angeles.

Thorough planner that I am, I just assumed we’d ride west on Highway 101, but Erik knew better. He showed me the Olympic Discovery Trail, a multi-use path that currently runs about 40 miles across the top of the Peninsula. There are plans to expand it to 120 miles someday, running all the way to the coast. It’s not the highest quality trail I’ve ever ridden on (bumpy pavement in lots of spots, very narrow in others), but it’s heavenly compared to riding on 101.

The scenery between Sequim and Port Angeles is absolutely stunning. Leaving Sequim, we rode through amazing farmland, back dropped by the Olympic mountains. At times, the trail takes you through short sections of forest, often on wooden bridges above the forest floor and over little streams and creeks. As you get close to Port Angeles, you ride along a rocky beach along the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

We made a quick stop in Port Angeles to down some Clif bars and check out the random sports-themed sand sculptures along the water before heading to the start of the Hurricane Ridge climb. The hill essentially starts in downtown Port Angeles. S. Race street turns into Heart O the Hills Rd as you leave town and enter Olympic National Park. We made one more pit stop at the Park visitors center to top off our water and hit the restrooms before we began the climb in earnest.


Pele!

After leaving the visitors center, you climb five miles to a toll booth, before continuing with the last 12+ miles to the top of the ridge. The climb is only 5-7% average the whole way, but I found myself hurting pretty bad on it. It was probably some combo of my general lack of fitness, and the strong headwinds we’d had to battle all the way from Sequim, but my legs started to cramp only a mile in to the climb. Erik (who’s a stronger climber than me anyways), cruised off into the distance as I tried every position I could to put out the fire in the back of my quads. Hands on the hoods, butt slid back on the saddle; hands in the drops, butt forward; etc, etc. I eventually settled into a pattern that seemed to work OK where I’d ride in the drops with my butt as far back as I could for a while, then stand up and mash for a while, ad infinitum.

I started to have some serious doubts that I was going to make it all the way to the top of the ridge. Fortunately, the road flattened out for a stretch before I reached the toll booth, which gave me the chance to drop it into a slightly harder gear, but spin easy. It was enough to work out whatever it was that was plaguing my legs, and I felt decent enough by the time I caught up to Erik, waiting for me in the shade near the booths.


I promise it’s not nearly as flat as it looks

We paid our $5 entry fees and continued our way towards the top. My legs were feeling a lot better at this point and I was able to hang at Erik’s pace. Riding along, chatting idly, and taking in the unbelievable mountain vistas unfolding to our left, the climb was passing by reasonably quickly. It certainly still felt like climbing, but the suffering was nowhere near that of the first few miles.

After four or five miles, the gap between Erik’s and my fitness began to manifest as a rather significant gap between he and I on the hill. He pedaled off in the distance and I was once again alone with my thoughts and the climb. I took advantage of my ever slowing pace and took lots of pictures from the saddle. The views are amazing throughout the entire climb. There are, of course, the snowy Olympics that seems to loom ever larger as you continue to climb. And there’s also the immense, forested valleys stretching for miles. But there are also little details like purple wildflowers lining the road and little snow-melt waterfalls cascading out of the alpine meadows to your right. Of all the places I’ve suffered on a bike, this one was almost certainly the prettiest.

There’s only so much I can say about the last five or so miles to the top of the Ridge. At some point, the mileage signs went from marking every two miles to marking every one, but it was still taking the same amount of time to cover the distance between them. I resorted to singing out loud at one point to pass the time. I still couldn’t get over how beautiful Olympic National Park is. And, despite the fact that the sign at the bottom says 17 miles to the top, you still have a ways to go once you pass the 17 mile sign, a fact that nearly broke my heart at that moment.

A little over two and a half hours after leaving Port Angeles, I made it to the top and rejoined Erik. We snapped the requisite shots in front of the park sign with elevation, then made our way into the snack shop at the visitors center to sit and rest for a bit. The greasy, salty, mediocre snack shop french fries were heavenly and did wonders to bring me back from the brink.


Once we’d regained a little energy, we went outside to take in the views. I suppose this borders on excessive repetition at this point, but I was blown away by the vista at the top of the ridge. There were majestic peaks as far as the eye could see standing tall over a valley thousands and thousands of feet bellow. It’s the sort of thing that inspires all sorts of poetic cliches about human size, times, and significance.

With our contemplative view-appreciating out of the way, it was time to reap the rewards of our 17+ mile climb. I have never done a sustained descent like that before. Thanks to the relatively shallow grade, we could mostly just let it rip down the hill and ride it like a roller coaster. There were a few scary corners in which I braked harder than I needed to and a few hair-raising moments when dickish drivers felt the need to pass on blind turns, but I was smiling ear to ear most of the way down.


One more for good measure.

We made it back to Port Angeles in about 45 minutes. I don’t know why all rides can’t just be long descents. Way faster and easier than pedaling. We wound our way back to the Olympic Discovery Trail and began our 20 mile ride back to Sequim. Fortunately, the dreadful headwind we’d fought on the way out was now at our backs. Even with tailwind to help us along, the ride back to Sequim felt a whole lot longer than the way out.

We eventually made it back to the car, did a quick change into real people clothes, and drove over to Port Townsend to meet Erik’s lady friend Katrina and her Londoner-friend Amelie (I think?) for dinner at a pub before driving back to Seattle. A burger and a pint do wonders for the soul after a hard ride like that. Truly an earned meal.

It was after 11 by the time I made it back to my apartment. We’d spent over 12 hours out on the Peninsula. It was, without a doubt, one of the best Washington adventures I’ve had since moving out here.

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