October 8th: Prelude
Autumn has long been my favorite season with it’s mix of weathers, crispness and that somewhat melancholy sense of change. It is often rather nice here in the Pacific NW in autumn and this year it has really been especially lovely. I kept thinking that I should do something a bit more ambitious than the day rides I’d been doing since getting my Atlantis back but it was getting so cold here at night that I just couldn’t bring myself to get out (especially in the morning). But then I happened to hear on the radio that the lows in Seattle had been 51 (f) on the same day that it was in the low 30s (f) here in Olympia. So I did some poking around and found that it was much warmer at night about everywhere else. Additionally it turned out that this week was about it for the extended good weather – showers were expected on Friday for then rain for the foreseeable future. So I hastily put together a route to the coast, bought a few items that I’d need (for instance I’d tossed all my tent stakes after my cross-country tour) and loaded up the bicycle.
October 9th: Departure
After the tour I was without a bicycle for three weeks and then was riding pretty regularly but nothing very long. A couple of days ago I took an ~40 mile ride out to Steamboat Island and that had been the longest ride I’d done since arriving in Bar Harbor in early August. But I felt good and thought I’d do fine on a longer ride. I’d really been wanting to go to the ocean for a few days, just wanted to go someplace to think, but it was about 70-80 miles depending on how much highway riding one is willing to endure. I poked around on Google Maps and eventually settled on a route that went south of the Capitol Forest and was around 76 miles. Now I knew that I’d have to leave early – not “early for me” but actually early – in order to get there before the light dwindles away. So I pretty much completely prepared the night before and the bicycle was loaded with everything but food and my day bag. I managed to hit the road not long after 9 am which was when I was targeting.
After weeks of cold, blue sunny mornings on this day it was grey and while still cold not as cold as a clear morn would have been. Still I was in long fingered gloves, wool socks and leg warmers as I set out. I stopped at a Safeway for a last bit of supplies (it turned out my headlamp batteries were waning) and then was off. The route went through Tumwater and then headed out toward Littlerock paralleling the Capitol Forest (you can check out the Google Maps route here). The route was rather flat for about forty miles, which allowed me to make pretty good time in the morning. However there were several hiccups in the route. The first was it routed me onto what is listed as “Abandoned Railroad” on the directions. I rode down 88th SW looking for said railroad but did not really see it before the road became a private road. I kept riding looking for it and was then chased by a dog (who gave up when I told him to go home) and then a home owner came out and told me this was private property and I’d have to turn around. Which I did. Riding back I did see what I assume is the “abandoned railroad” but it was completely grown over and had a ‘County Park – No Trespassing’ sign. Well I’d ridden out this way before and knew the roads that paralleled the “railway” so I just sort of made my own way.
This was some really nice riding, especially once I headed west after Littlerock. Farmland, forestland and some really empty roads. Eventually I intersected the Google route again and I was back on track. Not long afterwards I was on State Route 12 which was a lot more trafficked but had good shoulders. The route dropped off when I could and one of the best stretches of riding was one of these frontage roads: Elma Gate road along the Chehalis River. I stopped at a boat ramp for lunch and a bit of a break. The clouds were beginning to break up now and by the time I was routed back onto SR12 for another short stretch I it was mostly sunny and warmer.
Leaving SR12 the route turned Southwest-ish and for the first time began to more steadily climb (there’d be the occasional short uphill section but nothing sustained). It turned out that the route was climbing up toward the decommissioned Satsop Nuclear Power plant. I’ve seen these iconic cooling towers many times, including on three tours but this was the first time I rode right next to them. It is a big business park up there now, but it really is barely utilized. Underneath one of the big cooling towers there was a truck driving test going on but otherwise I only saw a few cars while I was up here. Not far past the towers there was the second adventure served up by Google Maps: the road ended and became gravel.
There had been a weird jog in the road right before this where you could make an argument that the bend north was going “straight” on the road so I backtracked and took that turn. But pretty quickly it became clear that it wasn’t going to head west at all and was in fact heading northeast. So I fired up the iPad and looked at the maps and found that the route did indeed expect me to ride on the gravel. So back up there I went and proceeded to ride about four miles of rolling hills on loose gravel. This became a private road for most of the way and had gates at either end of which the eastside one was open but not the westside one. I had to take off my panniers and wriggle my bicycle through the gate to get out. Not really the best route for Google to route you on – a road bicycle wouldn’t have had much of a good time on the gravel and in the winter I image this would be pretty impassable (and both gates closed I suspect). Past the gate I was on this incredibly back road that had a few abandoned houses on it but was mostly woods along a slough. Eventually it got a bit more populated and then intersected 107S. This seemed familiar and when the route turned onto Blue Slough road I knew I’d ridden this before: on my 2009 West Coast Tour.
Blue Slough Road is pretty up and down and it parallels 107 which you’d think would get all the traffic, but it was pretty steady with cars. When it ended I was in the tiny town of Cosmopolis which flows right into the bigger town of Aberdeen. Taking backroads through these towns I noted there was some new paths and trails that would be worth checking out on the way back. Once outside of Aberdeen there is one road to the coast and I’d have to take it there and back. This was a pretty busy highway but had big shoulders and was pretty flat. The wind always comes off the ocean and I recalled the last time I rode this there was a brutal headwind. Well there was some wind but it really wasn’t bad at all and luckily wasn’t a factor. The sun was sinking as I finally began to see the ocean and was right in my face as I crossed the (shoulderless) bridge into Westport.
From here it was only a couple of miles to Twin Harbors State Park where I would stay for the duration. I stopped at a convenience story less then a mile from camp for some refreshments – I got a bottle of locally brewed root beer, and then into the campground. There was a surprisingly more people then then I’d have figured for a Tuesday in mid-October but still the campground was mostly empty. These people were all RV-ers or fisherman and there was nobody else in the Hiker/Biker section. I made dinner and setup and it was completely dark after I finished eating. Any further exploration would have to wait for the next day.
Check out all of the pictures I took on this trip here: Autumn Bicycle Camping.