We had agreed on an earlier start the next morning since we had closer to 45 miles to bike but things felt so leisurely around camp it still took us a while to get going. There were tents to dry out and snack to reorganize and none of us quite know how to pack up efficiently for a bike trip yet. Plus we had to stop by horse camp on our way out and get more water.
Finally, around 9am we were hitting the pavement and zooming downhill and neck-breaking speed. The steep hill that we had climbed up the day before was a fun rushing way to start the day. I squealed the whole way down.
Our downhill descent was stopped short by our turn off back onto gravel. We were taking FSR 2329 towards Takhlakh Lake and the unknown (we didn’t really have a plan for how far we would go or where we would camp that night). Once we turned onto the gravel road we were headed back uphill but it was nothing like the day before – the grade was gentle and I could have managed it all day if necessary. As we climbed hundreds of small waterfalls cascaded down the hills on our left side and views started appearing off to the right. With the light streaming through the trees and only the occasional car it was a pretty magical way to start the day.
Eventually we kind of topped out the climb and found ourselves traversing along on a rolling road that ran past beautiful alpine meadows. The trees were smaller and the light had that alpine feel to it. The continual change of elevation gain and loss felt great on the legs and we all couldn’t stop grinning and remarking on how beautiful everything was. So far it was a wildly different day than the day before.
Before we got to Takhlakh we had a pretty good sized descent and passed some meadows with giant piles of volcanic rock in them. We rolled up to the boat launch at Takhlakh right around lunch time and set up for snacks and a swim. The lake had an incredible view of Pahto, with clouds passing across it’s north face. Tyler got himself into a real pickle when he tried to sneakily put on his swimsuit bottoms under a towel, only to have a large group of boaters show up right then to launch their crafts. He had to sit awkwardly, waiting for them to leave, before he could continue his changing. He made up for it by trying to fly a kite!
After fueling up and rinsing off some of the sweat and chamios butter we peeled out of Takhlakh just as it was getting busy. We had only been on the road a short while when we came to an abrupt stop: a ROAD CLOSED SIGN was blocking our way. We all eyed it for a minute before deciding that it was probably closed for cars but certainly we could make it through! We were going to give it a try! Plus it was all downhill – which seemed like a good thing but in retrospect if the road had been impassable we would have had to come back uphill…
Luckily it wasn’t impassable, just VERY rough. There were many moments that felt like we were mountain biking with giant rolly rocks and rutted holes. There were a couple of puddles so big they spanned the whole road and I am super bummed I missed Kyle ripping through a huge one at full speed, sending water spewing out behind him. I was by far the slowest out of fear of biffing it but we all made it to the bottom safely where we encountered a bridge and a huge pile of boulders blocking people from getting in that way. We weren’t exactly sure at that point why the road was closed but we found out later the bridge isn’t considered strong enough to be safe for cars. Fine for bikers of all kinds though!
We were all riding a kind of high after our rough biking adventures and the next part didn’t disappoint. We rode past a campground that had open spaces but we determined it too early in the day to stop. After that we started climbing again, on pavement at first and then back to gravel. We passed a really popular area with ORV folks and made a dog friend who followed us for a while before heading off into the woods. We continued climbing away from the mayhem and were passed occasionally by someone on a dirt bike or a quad. They clearly didn’t know what to make of us. We were climbing towards a pass and on the way up, if we remembered to turn around, we would get great views of Pahto.
The climb was long but blessedly gradual and finally we made it to the top. From there we had a massive descent on beautiful gravel roads. The sun was starting to set and the light was changing and slanting through the trees. We had all layered up and were flying downhill, albeit at our own paces. I was, again in the back, but Kyle stopped and waited for me regularly. On a long descent you discover new kinds of pain. Yes, the breathing is easier, but staying out of the saddle for that long can get tiring on the legs.
We were all in an extreme state of bliss when we got down toward the bottom. We were still technically going down but at a very gradual pace. And we were within camping range. We eyed every potential campsite but headed towards the North Cispus Campground with our fingers crossed. Right before we got there we hit pavement and saw a dispersed campsite that was a possibility. It was right next to the road, which I didn’t love and it felt kind of muggy and dirty (you know, that human kind of dirt with little scraps of toilet paper here and there). Some of us stayed there while a contigency rode down to the Campground to see if there was space. They came back and reported there was one open space. While they weren’t quite sold on the campground Kyle voiced his desire to stay there over here so we went.
The campground turned out to be lovely! It was pretty dark and green, under a canopy of huge cedar trees but our campsite was nice and we had transported some firewood we found at the dispersed site so we were able to start a fire. We bought beer off the ladies in the campsite next to us who were lovely. Everyone got to changing and setting up their tents and making their dinners and later on Jamie and Tyler made us all a no-bake cheese cake that was to die for. We did a little rose-thorn-bud reflection on the day. My rose was definitely having such a chill and flexible group of people to bike with. People who were seriously okay with whatever came their way. When you plan most of a trip but leave many things unknown these are just the kind of people you want to have around you. My bud was definitely all the downhill – I am slow on the downhill because I am being cautious but I felt like I was learning a lot about how to feel confident on harder terrain. My thorn was the knee pain in my left knee that kept bothering me unless heavily medicated. Luckily Vitamin I is a thing. At the end of the day we had biked 46 miles and according to Sam’s watch done 10,000 ft of elevation gain (I don’t believe it) and it was glorious.
DAY THREE: BACK TO THE CARS
I don’t feel like day three deserves it’s own blog post. We rode FSR 21 to Cline Road and paralleled Route 12 for a while before actually riding on the shoulder of the highway for a short distance and then we were back at the cars. It was paved the whole way. The descent down FSR 21 was bomber. Tears were streaming down my cheeks from the cold morning air and we all barreled along, our tires whirring. It was so fun. Cline Road also ended up being really pretty – weaving below tall cliffs covered in maple and alder trees. There were plenty of houses and farms along the way and lots of ups and downs. The highway was the highway, loud and kind of scary but it was short and very flat. We did 25 more miles which were quick and were back in town in time to get a corn dog before the street fair had completely shut down. It was a wildly full value trip all the way around and I think all of us had a great time. I know I did.
Bikepacking trip number 2 – one for the books. I am only more intrigued by this sport!