Once and a while, the planets align and you have an almost perfect day. A day when the surf is perfect and there is nobody out, an action packed day of kayak fishing for big fish, or like the week we had mountain biking and camping in the Cascade Mountains with absolutely perfect trail and camping conditions.
It’s been windy so no kayak fishing. Because of the widely varied and quickly changing environmental conditions of this part of the Pacific Northwest, you have to have a “Plan B”. That is bicycle riding for me, especially mountain biking in the forests and mountains. With the forecast of at least a week of strong winds, we packed up the bikes and headed to the Cascade Mountains.
We ride up here quite a bit. The Forest Service roads and trails through the National Forest are great for mountain biking. No death defying jumps and downhills, but there are technical sections and some of the trails are very remote so you don’t want to get hurt or damage your bike. It is the mountains, so it’s pretty much all up and down. It has been mid-summer hot here, we got to the campsite and got everything set up just before sunset.
The weather was so nice, about 50°F at night and high 70’s or low 80’s during the day, depending on the altitude. Morning is an active time in the forests of the Cascade Mountains, we like to get an early start and ride through the woods this time of day to check out the forest life.
If you plan to ride up the mountain, it’s a good idea to get the major climbing done early while it is relatively cool. The temperature rises quickly as the sun comes up. It can be ten degrees hotter in the direct sun than in the shade. Riding the Forest Service or old logging roads up and the singletrack trails down is normally the plan. How far you can go depends on your condition. The big uphill climbs can be nearly ten miles of climbing. Then, ten miles of downhill single track. That’s a lot of bike riding.
We ride around looking for new places to ride and interesting things, of which there are many, along the way. When you are climbing a mountain on a bicycle, you have some time to enjoy the scenery. This is an ancient lava flow from when nearby Mt. Adams was an erupting volcano. Millions of years old, this lava flow stopped right here.
When you live or spend a lot of time in the mountains, one thing you learn straightaway is that the weather can change very quickly. The weather for the past few days had been beautiful. Nearly cloud free, sunny days. On the Sunday afternoon we were leaving, clouds started rolling in from the west, eventually obscuring the sun. With no internet or phone service, we did not know what the weather forecast was.
A few hours later, it started to rain. Then it started to rain harder. Then it started to rain really hard, pounding the top of the fiberglass camper. There was thunder and lightning that seemed like it was only a few feet away. At 2500′, we were probably in the lower level of storm clouds as the storm skimmed across the mountains. Then it started to hail, really hard. Hail can do a lot of damage to a vehicle, now I’m starting to worry a bit. Heard a tree fall nearby as the thunder and lightning continued, as well as heavy rainfall for some time. The next morning, I packed up my muddy bike, which had been lying locked next to my truck on what the day before had been the dry, dusty ground. Everything was damp and the bike had to be cleaned as we headed down into town, seeing blown down trees and evidence of minor flooding.
We knew the summer mountain storm had dumped a lot of rain on the dry, dusty roads and trails of the Cascade Mountains. We knew the rain had washed the dust off everything and left the roads and trails in perfect condition for bike riding. The weekend had passed, so there would not be many people there during the week. Seemed like too good of a situation to pass up so we packed up the riding gear and headed back to the mountains.
We went to a different camping spot this time. We drove up the mountain dirt road and couldn’t help but notice there was not a hint of dust. Usually this time of year your vehicle makes a dust cloud visible from space. Everything was clean and green from all the rain. The first morning there was a bit overcast in the aftermath of a major weather system, but we were ready to ride.
The reason we chose this campsite is that it is centrally located to many of the mountain trails between 2500′ and 4000′. These are not mountain bike trails, but trails that you can ride a mountain bike on. The trails usually run between Forest Service roads, some of them are very rough and remote. It was not a long ride from camp before we hit our first section of singletrack trail.
We were hoping for good trail conditions because of the rain and we got them. The trails were firm with great grip for my worn out rear tire with no dust or puddles. Everything was clean with a few drops of water left on some of the plants.
The following day was as nice as the day before. All the trails and roads were in mint condition and dust free.
This is one of many very large trees in the National Forest. Logging is limited in the National Forest, some of these trees are very old. You can barely see my mountain bike at the base of the tree.
Less than forty eight hours after a heavy and sustained downpour, the trails were already starting to dry out under the mid summer sun. There was a thin layer of dry dirt on top and damp below. There was almost no dust. This dirt is mostly ground down volcanic rock, so in most places, there is very little mud, even when wet. Pretty close to ideal trail conditions for mountain biking.
The mornings were cool, but it warmed up quickly. We were usually riding by 8:30AM.
The weather and trail conditions continued to be just about perfect for the next couple days.
Met a couple horseback riders on the trail and a couple people on gravel bikes on one of the roads, other than that, we had all the trails to ourselves.
One day, we decided to ride higher up the mountain. It takes a little while to get there when it’s uphill all the way. We aren’t here to race, we’re here to ride, so we stop and look at all the wonderful things there are to see in the Cascade Mountains.
The roads up the mountain are fairly steep in places. Some of those places were made more difficult because of water damage from the recent severe thunderstorm.
It was already starting to get warm as we reached the higher elevation. As the evergreen trees thinned out, Mt. Adams came into view.
As we got about as high and gone as far as we were going to go on this day’s ride, we got a good look at Mt. Adams. Nearly all the snow has melted and the glaciers are looking very small on the black south face of the mountain.
There were a lot of animals running around the mountains. Even though we take precautions with our food and trash, we still have unwanted interactions with some of the wildlife.
On the other hand, there were a lot of butterflies hanging around the camp. Apparently, there is something in worn, sweaty bike clothing that attracts them. Sometimes, they would land on your arm or leg, you had to be careful not to instinctively swat them.
One evening, this small herd of cattle moseyed right through the campsite. We saw a lot of cattle on this trip to the mountains.
Feeling pretty good, we decided to take a long ride up the mountain to a distant trailhead of a long downhill singletrack trail. Even though we got an early start on the day’s ride, by the time we reached about 4000′, it was already getting hot.
We reached the trailhead just as my legs were starting to give out from the consecutive days of mountain riding. From the trailhead, we got another good look at the south face of Mt. Adams, almost totally devoid of snow.
We turned the bikes downhill after couple hours of stiff climbing. This is what we come here for.
Before dropping down the side of the mountain and into the forest, we rode through high alpine meadows and burned down trees.
This trail does not get a lot of use due to the long climb needed to get there, but it was in perfect condition today. It was a great, flowing trail, but you had to be alert because there were some technical sections that come up quickly. This is a remote trail, not a place you want to get hurt.
I use a Garmin GPS, which works pretty well. I still carry a compass because the GPS is not always 100% correct.
There were a number of blown down trees from the recent storm. It’s going to be a while before the trails are clear again, perhaps not before winter knocks down even more trees.
There are a couple water crossings on this trail. Not that big of a deal in the middle of summer when the streams are barely flowing.
We crossed over to a trail that we had ridden before. This is one of our favorite trails and it was in perfect condition. This trail runs along a good size creek and has many waterfalls. In the deepest part of the forest, the scenery is spectacular.
It was our last day to ride. The trails were starting to dry out a bit, still pretty perfect. We were out of food and the legs were somewhat heavy from all the alpine bike riding. It was Friday, the weekend would surely bring an end to the perfect conditions when horseback and bike riders hit the trails.
Yesterday’s long uphill climb left the legs a little sore, so we decided to ride across the mountain instead of up. The sun is getting lower in the sky, leaving some forest trails almost dark as night, even during the day.
There was plenty of prime singletrack to be ridden.
There were a number of side trails that were not on the map, probably game trails or trails made by cattle. Some of these trails led to some great spots, well off the main trail.
Another day of great mountain bike riding on perfect Cascade Mountain trails. The trails we rode today were mostly in the forest, much cooler than riding the more barren higher altitudes.
This trail has a number of log bridges that cross deep ravines and fast flowing mountain streams.
On the last stretch of trail leading back to the camp, I rode over a trail I had ridden on the first day we were here, nearly a week ago. There was only one set of tracks on the trail and they were my bicycle tracks from five days ago. Not another bike, man or animal had been on the trail since then.
And that was a wrap for a fantastic week of mountain bike riding in one of the most spectacular places in the country. We could not have asked for better conditions. We did a lot of riding, saw a lot of cool things, nothing broke and nobody got hurt. An amazing week of mountain bike riding, hope to be heading for new trails soon!