The Ghost Town of Monte Cristo

A Ride Report by Kent Peterson

November 23-24, 2004

"The holidays are coming and as we all know, holidays suck." Christine's manager prefaced his pep talk with this pithy summation of the workload at a retail grocery store in the days before Thanksgiving. Christine is one of those cogs that keeps the modern world running. In this 21st century world, people can type on their computer screens and click their mice and giant turkeys and yams and pies and all kinds of things appear at their doorsteps. It's like magic. Except it's not magic and behind the scenes there aren't elves. There are more computers and lists and bar codes and those turkeys don't just fly off the shelves and on to doorsteps.  They are loaded into carts and onto trucks by people who shop for a living, people who shop for six orders simultaneously and guide giant carts down grocery aisles at 5:00 AM. My wife Christine is one of those people, people who understand about terrible turkeys and horrible hams and all the other humbug that goes with the holidays.

Now I also work in retail, as a mechanic in a bike shop. Weekends are the shop's busy time, so my schedule is something like Christine's in that my virtual weekend lands in the middle of the week. Many weeks, Christine and I get to spend much of Tuesday and all of Wednesday together. But the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving are days that suck at the grocery store and Christine informed me that she'd be busy working. So I figured it would be a good time to go on a bike ride.

Next June I'll be racing the length of the Great Divide, so I'm using every opportunity to test out gear and ride in the high country. This time of year many of the mountain passes are closed but on one of my maps I spotted the ghost town of Monte Cristo. It looked like a great destination for a quick trip.

With the Monocog, I've been riding off-road a lot more but longish trips tend to involve quite a bit of pavement. Within a few blocks of my home, however, I can connect up with an unpaved trail that goes up to Highpoint. At Highpoint I ride on a frontage road to Preston, where I catch a rail-trail that winds toward Fall City. I ride a bit more pavement to Fall City and then I catch the unpaved Snoqualmie Valley trail and ride north to Duval. From Duval northward, I'm on familiar small paved roads through Monroe, out along Woods Creek and up past Lake Roesiger to Granite Falls.

One of the items I'm testing is a PocketMail device. This is a little gadget about the size of a checkbook that lets me send and receive email over any telephone. It doesn't require me to be within range of cell phone towers (which is good because much of my travel is in remote country) but I think it could be handy for relaying information to and from my Divide Ride. Mike Curiak doubts that I'll want to take the time to compose messages while I'm racing, but I thought I'd give it a shot. So in Granite Falls I composed this message while I at lunch at the local McDonalds. After lunch I relayed this message home:

Date: Tue, 23 Nov 2004 1:07 PM
Subject: In Granite Falls

So far, so good. It's 12:35 PM and I'm in Granite Falls. I left home a bit before 8:00 this morning and so far I haven't gotten rained on. But the forecast is almost 100% for rain tonight so my gear should get a workout. I'm probably going to camp at the ghost town of Monte Cristo (which sounds like the title of a Hardy Boys Mystery!)

More later

Kent Peterson

The ride up to Monte Cristo was summed up in this report, which of course didn't get relayed out until I was back in the world of phones. So is the Pocketmail device useful? Perhaps. But perhaps as Mike noted, a cheap notebook and a Bic would do just as well.

Date: Wed, 24 Nov 2004 11:44 AM
Subject: The Ghost Town of Monte Cristo

It's 5:30 PM on Tuesday November 23rd and I'm settled in a corner of a picnic shelter in the Monte Cristo campground as I type this. It's astoundingly dark here and cold enough that there is snow on the ground. I'm just about 100 miles from home, a home I left around 8:00 this morning. I had lunch in Granite Falls around 12:30 and the rain started shortly after I headed north from there on the Mountain Loop Highway.

In a few spots the Monocog's rear tire spun briefly as it sought the traction it always managed to ultimately find. This time of year the Mountain Loop Highway is not a loop but a spur that terminates a Barlow Pass. Here at around 4:00 PM I turned the Monocog right, around a closed gate and a sign warning me that I was proceeding at my own risk. That didn't strike me as being anything any different than what I'd been doing prior to encountering the sign, so I proceeded.

The terrain along the road to Monte Cristo is spectacular, a river winds down the valley between steep mountains of snow and stone. Night was swiftly descending as I found the campground and a few hints of the ghost town. The shelter I found was well stocked with wood and I started a cheery fire in the fire pit. The fire might not be life-saving but on a night like this it is certainly life-affirming.

The rain is gently rumbling on the metal roof of the shelter. The fire snaps and hisses and rages in its small way against the darkness. I am the only living person in the town of Monte Cristo. Tomorrow, in daylight, I will explore. The rain will probably still be coming down, but I'll explore and the roll home to a brighter, warmer, drier world.

Kent Peterson

Date: Wed, 24 Nov 2004 11:52 AM
Subject: Back in Civilization

You know you've been out aways when Granite Falls looks like the big city. I pulled in here at 10:40 this morning and I'm typing this in the warm, dry dining room of Ike's Drive In. The coffee is warm and it looks like the rain is finally letting up.

It poured all night and I was glad I had good warm gear and the extra shelter of the picnic hut. It got light around 7:00 AM and I explored the old ghost town in the rain. I'm not sure if my pictures will turn out or not but there are about half a dozen buildings still standing there.

I had no night visitors except for a curious squirrel that mooched some of my chocolate-covered graham crackers.

The rain made some of creek crossings a bit interesting this morning as I made my way back to the main road. What was a quick run over a couple of inches of water yesterday was a more calculated fording of a more angry stream that's now just below bottom bracket height.

The rain has been hard and soaking but it looks like the worst is past. I'll finish up my breakfast, call home, blast this note out into the ether and then ride home. I should be back by supper time.

Kent Peterson

Here's more about what happened on the ride, what worked and what needs work. The area around Monte Cristo is really, really spectacular and it's just below the snow line now. My Golite Fur sleeping bag worked great as always. Golite currently makes more conventionally designed bags, but my bag is one of the original ones based on Ray Jardine's shaped quilt design. It's basically a tapered quilt that drapes over me and an insulating pad. Ray correctly figured that the insulation beneath you in a sleeping bag gets compressed and really doesn't do anything to keep you warm, so why lug it around?

I'm still debating what to use as a sleeping pad. On my past couple of trips I've used a 3/8" thin closed cell pad. While it's light, it's also a bit bulky and I find myself waking every hour or so to to turn to a more comfortable position. I think I'll probably go back to using my slightly heavier Ultralight Thermarest. Despite it's name, the Thermarest is a bit heavier but it's more comfortable and I think it insulates a bit better.

In the extreme wet weather (I wound up riding in rain for about 9 of the 15 hours of riding) I found the combination of the optimistically named Showers Pass Century Jacket, a Mountain Hardwear Tech-T and a Devold Wool/Thermax bi-layer T-shirt to be quite comfortable. In general, wool is good. Even if my socks or gloves get wet, I can wring it out and keep going. And I've learned that a layer of Bag Balm on my feet along with double wool socks keeps things much more comfortable than any bootie or shoe cover I've tried.

I wound up hitting some more rain and a stiff headwind for part of the ride home. But compared to what I'll encounter on the Divide Race, this is easy stuff. The round trip was a bit over 300 kilometers spread out over two days with more sleep time than I get in the civilized world.

Oh well, enough typing now. I've got to baste a turkey.

Kent Peterson
Issaquah WA USA
November 25, 2004 (Thanksgiving)