"Why in my day, we didn't have bikes
with fancy gears. Nope, one gear was enough and we didn't need any of
them new-fangled indexed shifters neither. And we didn't just stick to
paved roads, no sir. We'd ride up old jeep tracks and logging roads and
mountain trails and when it got too steep and snowy, well then we'd
just push our bikes up through the snow. And we liked it..."
The old codger's voice is clear in my head. The noisy world of men is
far away now and I'm high up on the Keechelus Ridge. My tires crunch
through the foot-deep snow and I'm slowly making tracks as I trudge
along beside the bike. It's late April in 2005 and even though I'm deep
in snow, the air is warm. The effort of the climb is good; sweat drips
off my brow and my arms ache from pushing the bike, but I know this
effort is not just making me tired. The mountain is working to make me
strong. My day is today and the codger's voice is my own. And I like
The trip began, like most good adventures, with a vague map and a plan
sketched in broad, fuzzy strokes. On May 1st my friends Robin and Amy
will be holding a ride to help raise money for my Great Divide Race
Fund. Robin had plotted out a reasonably sane 100 kilometer loop from
North Bend to Snoqualmie Pass and back and I told him I'd check out the
mileage and work up a cue-sheet. Of course, 100 kilometers is just a
little jaunt, so I figured I'd add a side run up the Keechelus Ridge.
I'd find a place to camp and test out some more of my equipment.
I've been very blessed by the outpouring of support I've gotten from
various people to help me in my Great
. I try to keep up to date with thanking everyone
on my sponsor
but I also want to keep folks up to date on my preparations. I
never really feel like I'm alone on these trips, I'm out here with the
good wishes of many many folks and I try in some small way to convey a
bit of what it's like out on the trail.
I leave home at the completely civilized hour of 8:30 AM and ride the
familiar roads and trails to North Bend. Here I start checking mileage
for Sunday's ride, so I'm stopping at each turn to jot down miles and
cues. I ride past Rattlesnake Lake and get on the John Wayne Trail.
Robin's directions mentioned turning off the trail before the first
trestle but I'm not quite sure how he defines "trestle". There is a
tiny bridge over Boxley Creek and just before the creek I see a tiny
single-track trail heading off to the left. The Monocog and I are
suckers for tiny single-track trails and we follow this trail down as
it gets smaller and eventually ends at a "NO TRESPASSING" sign. As I
backtrack up to the main trail it occurs to me that even someone with
as well developed a sense of adventure as Robin wouldn't send a group
of roadie randonneurs down such a tiny trail. I press onward.
In the morning the sky is clear but a layer of fog hangs below my
campsite. The sun rises before 6:00 AM and so do I. I break camp and am
back on the trail by 6:30 AM. I'm following my tracks from yesterday
through the snow. Even walking it is faster to descend than it was to
climb and after an hour and half I reach the first section that
is clear enough to ride for a bit. At 8:30 AM I'm back down below the
snowline and at 9:00 AM, I'm back at the paved road. I follow Gold
Creek Road back to Hyak, resume my logging of ride cues and follow the
John Wayne Trail back to Rattlesnake Lake. At North Bend I put the
finishing touches on the cue sheet and then ride familiar trails and
roads to home.
At Snoqualmie Summit I stop to fill my
water bottles and I buy a couple of Payday bars and a pint of milk at
the gas station. Then I ride the three miles down to Hyak.
Now I'm done with logging cues for the day and the real adventure can
begin. My vague map shows that Gold Creek Road connects up with some
some small gravel roads that wind over the Keechelus Ridge in the
Alpine Lakes Wilderness, so that's where I'm headed.
I cross north over the freeway and follow Gold Creek Road as it gets
smaller and less civilized. The road turns to gravel and at various
forks in the road I take the motto of the Mountain Gazette
my navigational adviser: "When in Doubt, Go Higher."
This advice leads me to the snow. At first there is a little snow.
Just when I start to think I'm really
out in the woods, I see a sign like this:
Yes, that high voltage tree is warning
about an underground power cable that runs right over this wilderness
ridge. I guess you have to be cautious about how deep to drive those
The views, of course, are spectacular.
I'm a poor photographer and the camera tries to flatten the land and
pack it into a little rectangle. But the deep green of the trees and
the grays of the mountains and the fog, the blues of the sky and the
water and the silence and the sounds and the scents and all that is a
part of this high hard land are far more than can be contained in words
or pictures. You can only know if you go and that is what keeps me
At one point I see a small grouse. The human brain is always working,
trying to shape what we see into what we know. So when the oddly shaped
rock moves, I can recognize it as a grouse and when the big bear up
ahead stays still it eventually resolves into it's true nature as a
fallen log. From the woods later I hear a "whoom, whoom, whoom," a
like a cross between a bullfrog croak and a vacuum cleaner. Since I
doubt that either bullfrogs or vacuum cleaners are found at this
elevation, I conclude that the sound is probably the mating drumming of
grouse against a fallen log.
The snow is getting much deeper now. I'm reduced to walking. Since I
spent the first two decades of my life in northern Minnesota, as a
child I really did walk miles through the snow to get to school.
Actually, many days I walked through the snow to the bus stop but I
soon learned that you get a lot colder standing around waiting for a
bus than you do walking.
I take short steps through the snow,
leaning on the bike and trying to plot the path of least resistance. I
keep thinking that eventually I'll
crest the ridge but the road twists, mostly up with a bit of down, for
I have to stop every now and then to
break the caked snow out of the bike's spokes. My feet sink into the
snow. The air is still warm but the damp snow soaks into my shoes and
In the distance I see a microwave relay
tower which must be located on the highest spot on the ridge. I'd been
thinking that I could cross the ridge and camp somewhere along Kachess
Lake but I know now that I'll run out of daylight before that happens.
At 7:30 PM, I find a nice spot to camp.
I pitch my tarptent, roll out my sleeping bag and settle in as the sun
is setting. I'd just gotten the Tarptent
last week and this is it's first field test. The tent is a brilliantly
designed bit of minimalist gear. With the poles packed inside my folded
sleeping pad my tent, sleeping bag and spare clothes all fit inside a
single nylon drybag that rides on the Monocog's rear rack.
Dinner is a continuation of the day's snacks, mostly Clif and Mojo
bars. I save weight on these trips by not packing cooking gear. When
I'm near towns I can load up on foods but I always try to have at least
a day's worth of food with me on the bike.
A few weeks ago I met up with a couple of former colleagues for
breakfast at a local diner and Ken commented on my bike. "I can't
believe how much stuff you carry with you!" I pointed out that what was
on my bike was basically the full load I'd be carrying for the Great
Divide Race. Ken amended his assessment to "I can't believe how little
stuff you carry with you!"
As this part of the earth turns away
from the sun the sky fades through from blue to red and then becomes
infinitely black. The stars shine bright and steady in shades of blue
and white. The air gets colder. I layer on almost all my clothes,
feeling like a genius because I have a spare pair of wool socks. I
wring out one wet pair of socks, try my best to blot my shoes dry and
settle in for the night.