Holiday in the Hills
The holidays in Seattle mean one thing: crowds. No matter where I would go I knew that I’d find lots of people. So I figured that I’d minimize my exposure to them by heading for dirt roads and just keep on going until I ran out of road or time.
May 28, 2007
Total Miles: 131 miles
Seattle, WA to North Bend, WA
While I wanted to “get out of town” sometime over the holiday weekend, I certainly didn’t want to deal with crowds. And I also wanted to check out a new set of tires that I had on the KLR – really nice new knobbies that would get me through mud and dirt like a professional! So I made plans to go for a short ride to North Bend, WA and explore the Middle Fork Snoqualmie road. I hadn’t been out here on a bike since I bought my first KLR in October of ’03, and that had been my very first outing on dirt roads. It would be interesting to re-visit these roads with a few miles of experience under my belt and see what, if anything, changed.
The first order of business was to stop in Issaquah, a mere 15 minutes east of Seattle on I-90. Issaquah, while home to Krispy Kreme and I-90 Motosports, also boasts the presence of Boehm’s Chocolate, simply the best chocolate available west of the Mississippi. I was going to stop on the way home but feared that they might close between now and then, so I made the detour on the way out. I bought about a pound and a half of pure, rich milk chocolate, secured it inside the Barbie Box and then hopped back onto the highway to continue east.
The source of chocolate
Something that catches my eye every time I head east out of Issaquah is an old concrete bridge next to the highway. It’s almost invisible, with trees and bushes growing on the traveling surface and moss on it’s railings. It is part of the original road that used to traverse the mountains before the Interstate was built. I like to imagine where this road went as it snaked it’s way through the mountains, traffic crawling along slowly without benefit of three lanes of divided travel. I’ve read of abandoned towns that used to be serviced by this road and think that some day I’d like to find out where they were. This time I stopped and took some photos of the bridge.
Ancient bridge from pre-interstate days
It’s been a long time since this bridge has been used
At North Bend I exited and made my way to the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rd, tucked back behind the town at the east end. It’s a short little paved run that twists its way past some private homes before abruptly crossing the river it’s named for. Here I found the hoards of weekend warriors that I had been expecting, their various chariots parked along side the road, in pull-outs and on the road itself. I wended my way through them, ever mindful of dogs and kids, until I got to the other side of the bridge and to the dirt. Forest service road. Then I opened up the throttle on the KLR, blasting down the wide-open road. Parked cars periodically littered the sides and I had the occasion to pass some late-comers as they made their way down the road with me. But then I felt something up against my back. I wondered if the lid of the Barbie Box had become unlatched and I reached around to check on it. Surprise! The entire box was loose, sitting on the seat with me and behind held down by nothing. Drat! I pulled over and was both thankful and surprised that it hadn’t just launched off the back of the bike at some point. I used my trusty cargo net to secure the box back onto the bike, pleased that I had made it a habit to carry the net with me at all times “just in case”. This is when I started to notice the mosquitoes. Dozens of hungry little buggers hovered around my open face shield, making me shudder just thinking about them impaling me with their little proboscis. I hate mosquitoes. I shut the visor and got back on the bike as quickly as possible, wondering how those schmucks on the river or hiking the trails dealt with such an annoying aspect of the outdoors.
Heading down the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rd
Thar be mosquitoes about!!!
More open dirt road
The river under overcast skies
Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rd
Once on the road the mosquitoes couldn’t keep up with me and I was left with my own thoughts regarding the road condition (good!), the scenery (great!) and the weather (getting better and better!). After about 10 miles of open roads I came to a junction. I had been up both branches before, but couldn’t recall which one had been better. Having all day in front of me, I chose the left one, thinking I’d take the other one on the way back.
Opening clouds to allow more views
Dat’s ma bike
This was the road to the Snoqualmie Lake trailhead. What I didn’t know was that the next bridge was gated (I think we had ridden around the gate the last time I was here). There were dozens of cars and trucks lining the side of the road. Half of Seattle had come out to the mountains for an easy day-hike. I verified that the gate was closed and thought it prudent not to ride around it in front of all these hikers. I did a not-so-graceful U-turn and retreated past the parked cars back to the junction. The road at this point immediately climbs up a hill and narrows considerably. The entire length of this stretch of road is only about 15 miles, but the terrain was as varied as the scenery. An easy stretch greeted me with a wide one-lane road nestled among green trees and even greener ferns. This is the kind of open forest that I enjoy, although seeing the massive stumps from old growth logging almost a century ago left a tinge of regret for what this forest could have really looked like.
Riding alone has its advantages, one of them being able to stop often for photos. I took advantage of this, stopping for photos of waterfalls, plant life, road conditions and scenery. And through this the road continued its gradual climb, offering up thick mud, packed rocks and big drainage dips for me to test out the effectiveness of knobby tires. Might I just say that knobby tires are the way to go? While I was a bit tentative at first, having the mud of Odessa on my mind, by the time I was coming back down this road I was simply flying along, pushing my way through the corners with nary a second thought given to the mud. I think I’m going to like this
Off the beaten track
Traffic gets lighter
Typical Pacific Northwest forest
Moss draped over a fallen log
Raindrops on a leaf
Spring flowers with young tree
The sun was gradually peeking out from behind the clouds and I took a break near the river, walking down to the boulder-strewn shore to see what I might find caught in the brush from the spring floods. I found nothing unusual, but I did enjoy the solitude of the riverbank, the sun on my face and the sound of the rushing water filling my ears. A cool breeze blew across the river and there were no mosquitoes to harass me. It was tempting to close my eyes for a while.
But I didn’t. Instead I got back on the bike and kept on going, always up and on increasingly rougher roads. The mud liked to collect in the corners which wouldn’t have been so bad, but this being a holiday weekend, there was enough activity on this road to make me leery of oncoming vehicles coming my way. I kept to my side of the road unless the sightlines were clear.
An open gate marked another decline in road conditions, this time evidently ravaged by winter rockslides and subsequent rebuilds. Large rocks had been incorporated into the road surface, often not all that well. I was standing on the pegs almost continuously now, flexing with the bumps and rock and maintaining my lines through the muddy spots. It was tough work and the sun’s more forceful appearance was making me consider taking a layer or two off.
I played tag with a Subaru Outback, him letting me pass but then me stopping for a photo while he passed me. I chuckled as I rounded the next bend and saw him in front of me, a fork in the road ahead of us. He went right, I went left and I laughed when I realized that this was the end of the road and this was merely a parking area loop. I smiled and waved as we went past yet again.
Taking a break along the Snoqualmie River
Almost to the end of the road
The Green Mule keeps watch
At this point I parked the bike, took off some gear and broke out the chocolate and water. I went down to the river’s edge (I was always following the river on this road) and saw a lovely split log perfect for lying back on. The trees blocked the harsh sun; the river played a background aria for me and the chocolate made my taste buds dance. I closed my eyes and soaked it all in.
Spring flowers and rushing waters
My view from where I rested
A great napping place (bottle for scale)
Going back down
After a while I got up, packed my supplies away and donned my gear. There was nowhere else to go but down, so down I went. I passed a couple of guys on bikes around the next bend, stopping long enough to exchange pleasantries before continuing my descent.
Now that I knew the road and had built up trust in the tires, I had a blast flying along the road. There was only a couple of times I came upon a vehicle going in my direction but each time they let me pass and I left them behind quickly. I stopped for a couple of pictures that I had made note of on the way up but for the most part I simply stood on the pegs and kept the bike moving.
That’s a tree worth re-routing the road for!
Close-up of moss
The main road out felt like driving down I-5. It was an even faster return to North Bend than I had anticipated so I proceeded with my secondary plan for the day: take as many back roads to Seattle as possible. I crept along to Snoqualmie Falls, taking pictures of some of the vast array of ancient trains they have in storage there. A couple of guys on sport bikes were pulled off to one side near the Falls themselves and I stopped to see if they needed any help. One of the bikes was leaking (a lot of) oil and his dad was coming with a truck to get them. Nothing more to do there, I continued down to Fall City, where I found the Fall City – Issaquah Rd and meandered along its lovely twisty pavement for a few miles. I was rudely spit out in Issaquah and since I already had my trophy chocolate I decided to head straight home rather than deal with the suburban sprawl that was between here and Seattle. A fast ride across the highway brought me home around 4pm, about 5 hours after I had started out that day.
Train at Snoqualmie Falls
Train at Snoqualmie Falls