If you believe in omens then you would have had bad feelings about this trip. James was supposed to pick me up at 4 pm but at 4:05 PM while he was still in the shower he realized his mistake. We were behind schedule already and hadnt even left Seattle. The plan was to get one last epic mountain bike weekend in before the typical NW fall weather arrived. We debated between Ape Canyon at Mt. St. Helens and the Lake Wenatchee area. Both offered spectacular riding but weather would be the deciding factor. Lake Wenatchee won out since it offered the greatest chance at good weather. I didnt hear about any guys getting attacked by black bears near Mt. St. Helens (which I did about Lake Wenatchee).
The drive was pretty straightforward without much traffic. We stopped at The Alpen, a small drive-thru diner for dinner. Nothing says the weekends here like greasy fires and a milkshake from a roadside dinner. When we arrived at Grouse Creek CG the place was packed. There were full-size RVs and dirt bikes everywhere you looked. Oh, did I mention it was dark by now. As we drove around the small circle in the campground every head in the place followed us. Their look seemed to say, Where are the engines on those bikes?” We headed farther up the road and just a few hundred yards past the campground we spotted a side road. We backed up and took the left and found a sweet spot with a fire pit.
We set the camper up in no time and soon were relaxing with beers in hand. At hindsight we should have started a fire since it got cold fast. We enjoyed our beers and it was off to bed. Before completely crashing out for the night we reviewed the maps and guide books for the best possible rides. I was fading fast and fell asleep on my back, only to have James wake me to tell me I was cutting down the forest.
I woke to James filming me in my sleep. I got that someone-was-watching-me feeling and rolled over to see him there with the camera. I guess Im just photogenic all the time. We were both shocked to see it was 8:44 a.m. James was hoping for a relaxing morning without having to rush around. We began our day and around the time our two friends, Jim and Rob were supposed to show up I headed out to put a sign up for them. As I rode my bike down the short entrance driveway to our camp I thought I saw Jims 4runner go by. It was the right color and had two bikes on the back. I raced after them only to miss them by a few seconds.
I would spend the next 30+ minutes standing on the side of the road waiting for them to come back. Finally I decided to ride in the direction they went hoping Id find them at the next road. Almost to the next road I heard a car coming up behind me. I looked over and it was them. I asked how they got behind me and they said they just got there. The car I saw before wasnt them.
We changed and after making a loose plan of attack we headed out. As we entered the trail two motorcycles were coming out. No one said it but we all thought it: This day could be filled with motorcycles. The area is very popular with the motorcycle crowd. Little did we know these would be the only motorcycles and two of the four people wed see all day.
After a wrong turn we were quickly on our way in the right direction. The trail was great and the soil was tacky and had lots of grip. We railed around corners using berms built up from the motorcycles, bounced over whoops (small to large humps that form from motorcycles accelerating or braking). To our surprise it was very humid and sweat dripped from our reddened faces. My knees were feeling all the climbing we were doing. The forest itself was beautiful. The Vine Maples were fiery red and orange. Other smaller bushes were a bright yellow and as you passed by them brushing them, leaves would fly off. All these colors were contrasts to the bright green of the pine trees we rode through.
Soon we reached a decision point. The debate was whether or not we added to our loop by going up Basalt Peak. Just so you the reader understand, I dont usually look at the topographical lines on a map when I look at ride loops. After all my hiking theres not much I wont go up. Some climbs are painful but they’re not impassable if you put your head down and push forward. Jim would ride by James while he was filming on the climb of Basalt Peak and said Craig is there a point where you look at a map and think, this will take the fun out of mountain biking?
Well Basalt Peak was a major pain in the ass. We all knew it involved a lot of climbing but didnt know just how much wed be hurting. The start of the climb on the Minnow Creek Trail started with a nasty climb that I didnt even attempt to climb. Rob made us all look bad by cleaning (to ride without trouble) most of it. We should have known this trail was tough by the amount of vegetation growing over the trail. After a short, wet area along the Minnow Creek we started another nasty set of switch backs which would push me to my limits on this day.
I was off the back in no time and became Cougar Bait. Cougar Bait is a term for the last person in a group moving through the woods. This is because cougars will attack the last person, or so goes the myth. I just wasnt feeling it. My gas tank was empty and I just couldnt turn the pedals over. Since it wasnt a race I just did my pace knowing the guys would stop eventually and Id catch up or my climbing legs would come around. We stopped once and everyone admitted to be hurting. It wasnt just me who was in pain. The humidity at this point was like that of the east coast. Sweat dripped off my nose as I ate the second half of my energy bar. I looked over to see Rob squeeze his helmet against head and sweat poured out. The same thing would happen to me when I did the same. Looking forward to having lunch at the top, we pushed on.
I felt better on the second half and was rewarded with great views. Our lunch spot was on a short side trail. We had views of Glacier Peak, the Entiat Mountains, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and even Mt. Rainier. The sun felt wonderful against our skin as we ate. It felt so good I took off my shirt hoping it might dry some as I soaked in the warmth.
It was clear pretty quickly that the descent was going to be well worth all the grueling climbing we had done. The first section alone was spectacular. Now that we were going downhill the order of position was turned upside down. I was first followed by Rob, James and then Jim. I loved every turn and bump as I blasted down the side of Basalt Peak. It wouldnt be a epic day without a few tumbles. Jim had at least one or two while Rob had at least three. Unfortunately it was over all too quick as we came out onto Road 6210. Luckily for us we were only on the road for a short way before the single track started again.
Chikamin Ridge was a roller coaster of a trail for the first three-quarters of it. By this point Jim had taken my place as the Cougar Bait. When we stopped to check the map he told us he was in a bad place. As it turned out Jims suffering was over very quickly. He hit the actual ridge and an even better descent than the one before unraveled before us. This downhill had no surprises or rocks to crash on, just pure sweet riding. Were talking fast riding. The motorcycles had built up beautiful berms through sweeping hairpins. I was like a kid in a candy store. I quickly dropped the boys and when I stopped they commented on my riding and the smile that was across my face. This was the best downhill experience on a bike ever for me.
Soon we popped back out onto the Lower Chiwawa Trail and retraced our tracks to the road and our campsite. We did meet two older guys who gave us some pointers on the next days ride. They were the third and four person we saw all day! At camp James went to explore down near the creek to find a place to wash up. Before long the four of us were braving bone chilling water as we washed up in the creek. I ended up leaving my watch down there and had to go back after dark to get it.
Chairs, beers, chips and salsa were brought out as James prepared dinner. I tended to starting the fire to get a nice bed of coals going for later when the temperature would drop. Heaping plates of Yakisoba noodles with fresh veggies filled our empty bellies. As the night went on we continued to relax around a nice fire and relived our day.
Get out there!