Olympic National Forest Winter Century (1/13/2018)

Even though these gravel 'epics' are getting to be a bi-weekly thing, I'm going to start writing up some of the more adventurous ones more as trip reports/explanations of what happened. We get asked about it a lot, and plus, I've been majorly slacking on this blog. I do have a job and biking seems to consume the rest of my free time...

That's a long fall to the bottom... 
Anyways, after a week of discussion and back-n-forth, we decided for a long, 'exciting' ride this weekend. Tom made us *promise* we wouldn't do more than 70 miles (you love us Tom). There was a lot of speculation as to which routes would work/go through, would there be snow, etc. which led to the creation of multiple routes like "snow backup 2" and "we might as well stop at the waterfall". We had two 'main' routes, one being 82 miles (Roger's reasonable route) and one being 67 miles (Tom's favorite, twice as much climbing but half the distance) and loaded several "well this may be useful" routes on to our GPS devices (3 Wahoo Bolts and 2 Garmins).

The day started at 5 AM - Daniel and I met up with Roger and then picked up Tom, took a ferry, and met Thomas at the trailhead. We started around 9, quickly made our way over an awesome steel bridge, and started working our way towards Brown's Canyon. Of course, we had a group separation within an hour at an innocuous fork in the road. Roger and Thomas had gone ahead, we had no idea which way they chose, and Daniel and Tom's GPS devices said opposite ways (of course). I should add at this point I loaded no route but instead was biding my time to load one... this is important later.

Dan at Brown's Canyon camping area 
Ultimately, Daniel took off along his route without telling us exactly what his plan was. He thought we were following him; instead we waited at the fork for 10 minutes and then went to the right. Fortunately at that point, all roads lead to Brown's Canyon, so we reunited again, finding Thomas doing hill repeats up and down the Canyon (... reasonable).

From there we began our first climb to 3200 feet. I'm still learning the scale for winter climbs (snow/no snow) for this area, and, to be honest, I totally suck at it. In the Cascades, 2000 feet seems to have snow this time of year; in the Olympics, 3200 feet only had a few inches of snow at the top (passable!). But anyways, we began our climb and the guys pretty much immediately ditched me. Well, Daniel tried to stay and talk to me, but it's really not fun having a conversation with someone whose heart rate is 130 bpm when yours is 170 bpm, so I shooed him on.

And it was beautiful. Like unbelievably beautiful. We started in a heavy fog and climbing up, we emerged out of it and rose above it, getting an incredible view of the mountains poking out of the clouds. The pictures don't do it justice - the sky was tinged pink around the horizon and blue sky poked above our heads. We had clear views of Rainier and Mt. Olympus.

The happiest when at the top
I met up with the group at the top and scarfed down my peanut butter sandwich. At this point, food count is 1/2 granola bars left, 1/2 shot blocks left, 0/1 sandwiches left and we're at mile 20. The first descent was spectacular - I can't say I was hanging with the guys, but I am getting closer on the descent. The new bike (DK - Rodeo Labs Flaanimal 3.0) has definitely made me a better descender, along with *finally* setting up my bike tubeless and running Schwalbe 38 mm G-one tires (!!). The road was extremely well maintained and just great. Ah. I want to do this again.

Our next climb was punchy. Tom, recovering from the flu, and I were close but he beat me by about a minute (damn it! That was my one window of opportunity to beat Tom at a climb!). Daniel and Thomas sprinted up that climb with Daniel sniping the end sprint from Thomas (applying Tom S. tactics there...). Roger just, you know, did his typical thing of methodically climbing up the hill at a extremely fast clip. The climbs were shockingly warm at the top, so, for the first time in months, we all felt a bit overdressed... Better to be overprepared!

Pretty sweet waterfall 
Now... the second descent. Omfg. I was pretty stoked to hang with the guys on this one, but this descent took things to a whole new level; it was a straight up mountain bike descent. I wanted Princess Elizabeth. We hit over 35 mph going down it, "it" being a rock garden with frequent washout, unseen drops, and foot deep channels. There were many times I almost ended up in a ditch, but there was one time in particular that the geometry of DK and my experience mountain biking saved me. I was stuck (remember, 'stuck' being going > 25 mph) in a channel and it curved ahead to off the road (which means hitting a tree if you stay in the channel), so I had to get out. When I tried to veer left, the front wheel slowed meaning the rear wheel started to rise, which means I almost went over the handlebars. In a split second, I sat my butt down hard (endo-stopped) and put more force into keeping the handlebars steady, which pulled me out of it and kept me alive (whew!). Needless to say, this descent "rattled" us all; I still can't believe I didn't break a wheel going over some of that stuff (both wheels in air type of jumps).
Arms fell off after that descent 

At the bottom, we decided we had to see the waterfall, so we made the 8 mile round trip with a short hike-a-bike section to see a flush waterfall in all it's glory. However, we then had to make a tough decision. It was 3:00, sun set at 4:30. 4/5 of us had night lights. We had already done about 8500 feet of climbing, and Tom's route required us to climb back the way we came. All members of the gravel party agreed Roger's reasonable route was the better option here - taking a paved road for about 20 miles and then jumping back on gravel.

"These sour patch kids will keep me going forever"
What a slog though after gravel excitement. We methodically did our road miles until at the end we discovered (...!) there was not gravel road where we thought there would be one. This happens a lot. At this point, we're at about mile 80 (I think?) and in a place called Matlock and it's dark and 5:45 PM. We found a gas station that was still open till 6, stopped, and binge ate junk food a bit. At this point, I was at -1/2 granola bars, 0/2 shot blocks, and 0/1 sandwich (the -1 is the granola bar Daniel gave me to keep me alive).

We're all tired at this point and need to find a way home. Roger and Thomas figured out to take the road back to the car is 26 miles (omfg) but we do have phone service. At the next 'possible' gravel road, Roger looks it up and figures out that we could hike our bikes through the woods and find a forest service road. That sounds a hell of a lot better than 26 miles of road at night with 4/5 lights, so we go for it. "It' involves minor bush whacking and one stream crossing (guess who didn't bring waterproof socks? Same 1/5 person who didn't bring a light :P but did have a saw and flask on him :P).
Always an adventure 

The night riding is actually extremely pleasant; the road is essentially smooth gravel and we have clears skies above us, so we can see the milky way. Incredible. At this point, Tom's route is the one that is working (...? this happened so many times). However, because I have mine set to map mode (remember, I didn't set a route to follow) I can see where we are relative to the car. I like to think I saved the day because at the end, Tom's route had us going right when we needed to go left to the car and I refused to go right (and since I had a light, the group followed me!). See, I'm a hero(ine)!

The journey
We made it back to the car in one piece, unbelievably relieved. We ate pizza on the way home, and all of us passed out in the car except for Roger (the real hero and driver). Daniel and I didn't get home till 12:45 AM and both Daniel and Tom and I had to lead the next day for Cascades CHEW series (Tom/Dan Strenuous, no idea how they did that, me: Brisk, my second mentored ride for certification!). Definitely all of it was non-trivial.

One of the best gravel rides I've ever done. The good humor and spirit of the group made it, plus the unbelievable fitness/preparedness of these guys.  We finished at 101.5 miles and > 10000 feet of climbing.

Strava link here: https://www.strava.com/activities/1355968602 

"When we were all happy and fresh faced at the beginning" (thanks for the photo Tom!)

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