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  1. #1
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    Would like to explore Seattle, San Juan Islands: where do I start?

    Hey there. I'd REALLY appreciate some general advice in planning a bicycling vacation in the Seattle, San Juan Islands areas. I've "been to" Seattle a couple of times (my brother lives there) but never on bike. I don't know the area well at all and I'm at a loss where to start in planning a vacation.

    I'm from PA. Your state is SO BEAUTIFUL and there's so MUCH to see, it's hard to know where to start. Don't get me wrong: I'm not being lazy -- I've spent some good time reading ideas and suggestions on this forum -- but, not knowing the area, I don't know where to begin, what areas are must see, what roads and traffic is like, etc.

    It'd be helpful to get general suggestions of areas that are bike friendly and scenic. If I could get some ideas as to how to prioritize things in terms of general places to take in, from there I could be more effective perusing this forum for details in how to make it happen.

    I'm a pretty decent bicyclist. Good shape. 30-100 mi/day is pretty comfortable for me. I prefer road-biking and roads that are well-maintained and safe, re: traffic. I don't mind the hills.

    Maybe it'd be best to go with an organized bike vacation, which is fine, but if I were able to pull together a decent itinerary myself, it'd be so much more gratifying to go at my own pace (not to mention huge savings in expense).

    Hostels are fine. Hotels or resorts are okay. I love cabins. I could stay with my brother in Bellevue and branch out daily from there. He knows the area well but doesn't bike at all and doesn't have a good feel for how to go about this by bike.

    So, Whidbey Island? Bainbridge Island? Coastal roads? Lake Crescent Area?

    Thanks in advance,
    Tesgin

  2. #2
    Senior Member Seattle Forrest's Avatar
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    How much time do you have for cycling while you're here? Are you willing to drive your bike somewhere for a good ride? How far?

    How much are you willing to deal with in terms of hills?

    What time of year do you want to come out here?
    Don't believe everything you think.

  3. #3
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    Just sayin.. a ferry terminal is a good start ... a Friend lived on Orcas Isle ..

    we got there Via A bus from Sea Tac Airport .

    Bus & the ferry Routes are of course part of WSDOT the State Transportation dept
    http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/
    Last edited by fietsbob; 01-31-14 at 05:14 PM.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
    How much time do you have for cycling while you're here? Are you willing to drive your bike somewhere for a good ride? How far?

    How much are you willing to deal with in terms of hills?

    What time of year do you want to come out here?
    I've got a lot of flexibility. I'm in the early stages of planning my trip. I'm thinking summer or fall. I am very comfortable in cooler weather (in PA, I am comfortable riding in the 20s and mid-teens -- Fahrenheit -- for a couple of hours; in 30s, 40s, 50s, longer of course). What time of year would have the most comfortable riding weather in Washington?

    I could prolly arrange transportation by car. A few hours drive would be okay. Hills are no problem for me. Last October I did Bicycling Mag's Fall Classic in PA. It was about 90 mi and 4900+ feet of elevation. That was no problem for me. It was a long day and some nasty hills, but as a whole it was fine. I was pooped at day's end.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Seattle Forrest's Avatar
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    For starters, it's really never too cold to ride here. In Seattle proper, it gets as cold as 20 F once or twice a year. You can find colder if you want (go into the mountains or the desert) but we have mild weather. Spring is really nice because there's still snow on the mountaintops and that adds a lot to the scenery; fall can be good for the wildflower blooms and because some roads don't open until the summer.

    (1) Riding from Bellingham to Artist Point gets you about 50 miles of heaven, and you can double back for a century. That takes you to the top of the pavement on Mount Baker, with some steep grades and switchbacks that can be a lot of fun on the way back. Once you leave town the whole ride is on a country road, but it gets a lot of traffic on weekends. B'ham is about a two hour drive from Seattle.

    I snowshoed up the last few miles of the road a couple weeks ago. In a typical year it won't be open until August, this year you can probably do it in June or July. Here's a view from the road:



    (2) The Leavenworth Loop takes you from everybody's favorite Bavarian tourist trap out into the country, over a small and empty pass, through a state park with a pretty spectacular mountain lake, and then you enjoy a screaming descent back to town. About 15 miles of the ride are on a busy highway with big shoulders. You can't possibly do this ride and not have a smile on your face, it's like our The Beatles of road rides, even if you don't like it personally you'll have no choice but to admit that it's wonderful and spectacular. I do this one in April every year, that's generally when the road is dry and clear, it's warm and sunny out, but there's snow everywhere.

    L'worth is about a 2 hour drive from Seattle. You park at the park and ride, head E for a block, go N on Chumstick Highway, and from that point you're on remote country roads and there aren't many other streets to get lost on. You go through Plain, W when you get to the next highway (make a side trip to Lake Wenatchee!) and then E on Route 2, which takes you back to the car. This is a 45 mile loop. Here are a couple pics:



    (3) While you're in L'worth, follow Icicle Road to its end. I usually do this in the spring and turn back where the road is snowed out. Round trip is about 30 miles, you can tack this on to the end of the loop above. This is a quiet-ish back road, after the first few miles the only people you'll see are hikers, climbers, other cyclists, and runners.



    (4) Take I-90 to Cle Elum, find street parking, and ride out to the end of the pavement on Teanaway River Road. You'll go by lots of ranch country, open meadows, and a fragrant pine forest. Getting back to your car takes about 45 miles. Very little traffic except on the highway and you can avoid that with a map.



    (5) Drive to Newhalem or Diablo Lake, park at one of the campgrounds, and follow the North Cascades Highway as far as the spirit takes you. I think the ideal for this one would be to have someone drop you off in Mazama and then pick you up around Diablo, that would be 50 to 60 miles. But you'll have a lot of fun going up the road and turning back, too. If you start at Newhalem it'll take two and a half hours to reach from Seattle. Surprisingly little traffic on this one.



    (6) Riding from Darrington to Rockport is pretty nice, but not really in the same league as the other ones. It's a shorter drive though. You'll see some big mountains, rivers, lots of forest, and not a whole lot of traffic.



    There's a lot of fun to be had on Mount Rainier, too, and you can get to a good starting point in about two hours from Seattle. I've gone up Cayuse and Chinook Passes, and Sunrise (highest pavement in the state), Paradise is also a great leg stretcher. I got a flat (on tubulars!) trying to ride to Paradise, had to turn back.

    I haven't been to the San Juans so I can't tell you much about them. If you're a water person, there's a lot of gorgeous shoreline to explore. I'm more drawn to the mountains though, so that's what I know to recommend.
    Don't believe everything you think.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Seattle Forrest's Avatar
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    For the record, a lot of people ride their bike to the ferry terminal, ride out to one of the islands with their bike, then follow the shoreline for a grand loop. Bainbridge is nice, and there are places to stop for lunch on that one. If you come in the spring, you might want to ride through the Tulip Festival, it's flat but very scenic. Deception Pass is a hugely popular state park on the water, somewhere I've always wanted to ride. Even without leaving Seattle you can do 50 spectacular miles. But you should do at least one of the mountain rides.
    Don't believe everything you think.

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    Wow. That is wonderful. Thanks for the pics too. Now I'm getting pumped up. This is SO helpful. THANK YOU!


    I spoke with someone at Gerk's Ski & Cycle in Redmond. Very helpful, too. He suggested June-ish as being the optimal time of year, temp-wise. You seem to be suggesting a little earlier. Your thoughts? Is that too late? (re: the snow)

    He suggested the following, and I'm wondering what you think of these. I'm sure they're beautiful; are they the most scenic, though?

    My brother is in Bellevue. If I stayed there as a base and branched out, he suggested the following (some of these, e.g., Levinworth, are the same you suggested). These are my notes:

    Within a few hours by car (day trips):
    √ Olympic Pennisnula. This would be a three-hour drive from Bellevue. A lot of trails.
    √ Hit the parks: Ranier (two hours from Bellevue). Resource: visitranier.com has some bicycle routes: go to activities tab>road biking. (http://www.visitrainier.com/pg/road_...onal-Park-Area)
    √ Levinworth is a little town on east side of the mountains, by Wenatchee — drive to these two. Bavarian theme. Levinworth is an hour W of Wenatchee.

    Within biking distance of Bellevue:
    √ Loops around the Lakes: 80 mi around Lake Washington, around 30 mi around Lake Sammanish. Actual biking trails around Lake Washington, roads around Sammanish, well-established
    √ Whidbey Island, 90 min drive N to Anacortes to ferry to catch Whidbey Island)
    √ Bainbridge Island is a possibility

    Overnight trips (would need to arrange lodging):

    √ Definitely do San Juan Islands. For sure Mt. Constitution. Spend at least a few days here.
    Great planning resource: sanjuanislandtrails.org and Wild Life Cycles on Orcas Island

  8. #8
    Senior Member Seattle Forrest's Avatar
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    I would probably go in April or August/September in a typical year. April has lots of good weather, and there's usually still a lot of snow. August is usually perfect weather, easy to go the whole month without rain or cloudy skies. This year we're having a snow drought and it probably won't last as long, but it's really hard to say.

    Olympic Peninsula: lots of great stuff. Big lakes, big trees, open ocean, rain forest. Lots of elk. A fun ride is Port Angeles to Hurricane Ridge: start with your tire in the Salish sea and ride 17 miles until you're 5,240 feet above sea level. Enjoy a screaming descent!

    Rainier: Sunrise doesn't open until late June in a typical year, too snowy. If your timing is good, you can do Chinook Pass before the road is open to cars, but after it's fully plowed. Pics below. It's a pretty awesome ride. Rainier area is one giant mountain that towers above everything else, if you go north it turns into many different mountains at similar height. Hard to explain, but it's a different feeling. Can't really go wrong with either.

    Leavenworth has some really awesome riding. Spring and summer come early there, so we rain people love it. You could do ride #s 2 and 3 above as a single day in L'worth and have a 75 mile blast.

    Bellevue:

    Lake Washington Loop is pretty awesome. If you get pressed for time there's a separated bike lane (with a metal barrier) on the freeway, which goes over a floating bridge. Just fantastic. Otherwise you can mostly do paved MUPs and low traffic streets, see great city parks, go by water front, etc. I have fun every time I do this ride.

    Haven't done Whidbey, but Bainbridge was fun. It's kind of nice to take your bike onto a boat and then do your ride.

    Haven't been out to the San Juans, but a lot of people say Mt Constitution is one of the better rides around.





    Don't believe everything you think.

  9. #9
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    SF,

    Hey, beautiful pics! Thanks for sharing and for the time you put into this post.

    Also, BTW, congrats on dem Seahawks. Impressive showing! I'm just happy they took SF outta the picture, cuz SF took my Packers outta the picture. Pretty amazing performance against arguably the best offense in NFL history. Wow.

    Anyway, enough with the off-task...

    This is giving me a great start in planning. I haven't decided whether to ship my bike or just rent locally. Do you have any places you'd rx for renting?

    Also, have you done anything with any of the local bike clubs? Cascade Bike Club? Would that also be a decent place to start? Looks like they've got a ton of organized rides as well...

    Tesgin

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    Oh, and I'm curious: exactly how tough is Ranier? How long would it take to get to the top?

  11. #11
    Squeaky Wheel woodway's Avatar
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    People die on Rainier. Unless you are very experienced you'll want to go with a guide service. Such as:

    http://www.rmiguides.com/mt-rainier/

  12. #12
    Senior Member Seattle Forrest's Avatar
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    Ha ha!

    Tesgin, you're probably not in on the joke, I'm going to explain it and take the funny away. There are a handful of roads that go partway up Rainier, and I assume riding them is what you mean, "to the top" of the road. Sunrise is the highest road on the mountain, at about 6K feet. People climb to the 14K summit with ropes and ice axes and crampons, and that's kind of dangerous, a ranger died in the middle of a rescue not too long ago up on one of the glaciers. Not much to worry about riding a road bike on Rainier.

    My landlord went to the top, and used RMI. She loved it! Anyway:

    Cayuse and Chinook Pass were pretty easy, and pretty scenic, too. The pics in post 8 are from this route. (Start somewhere near or east of Enumclaw, depending how far you want to ride.)

    Sunrise is a long grind but never terribly steep. Not very scenic most of the way, it's kind of a mole stroll.

    It's been a few years since I've made it to Paradise! There are two ways to ride up there, and it's pretty incredible. People say the Stevens Canyon (from the east) approach is better.

    I haven't been to the Mowich Lake (NW corner) area in years, either, but I don't remember it being especially steep or scenic.

    Don't believe everything you think.

  13. #13
    Squeaky Wheel woodway's Avatar
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    The road to Mowich Lake is gravel (often washboarded).

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
    Ha ha!

    Tesgin, you're probably not in on the joke, I'm going to explain it and take the funny away. There are a handful of roads that go partway up Rainier, and I assume riding them is what you mean, "to the top" of the road. Sunrise is the highest road on the mountain, at about 6K feet. People climb to the 14K summit with ropes and ice axes and crampons, and that's kind of dangerous, a ranger died in the middle of a rescue not too long ago up on one of the glaciers. Not much to worry about riding a road bike on Rainier.
    Very cute. Thanks for the chuckle. I didn't ride bike, but I did drive to the "top" of Rainier, which of course is not the top of the mountain. I don't remember what it's called but there was some kind of lodge up there. Quite beautiful.

    SF, I also came upon THIS LINK which is a trip planner -- including RideWithGPS maps and routes -- for the Olympic Discovery Trail, on the Olympic Peninsula. It's 130 or so miles. Any feedback on that route? Is it worthwhile doing the whole thing? Or are there parts that might be worth skipping. I have been to Lake Crescent about five years ago with my brother: breathtaking!


    Also, you wouldn't, per chance, have any RideWithGPS routes mapped out, would you? I have a Garmin Edge 800
    which I absolutely love. It'd be a great help on a trip like this, especially when I'm in unfamiliar territory.

    On another note...

    Looking at your photos -- which are, again, quite good btw -- I can't help but notice your bike. What a beautiful bike! How long have you had it? I do love my CAAD-10, but must confess I'm liking that thing!

  15. #15
    Senior Member Seattle Forrest's Avatar
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    I haven't done the Olympic Discovery Trail. Truth is I haven't spent all that much time on the Oly Peninsula. I know that Port Townsend is pretty nice, Lake Crescent is fantastic, the part where you go by the Elwah is nice too, and that coming out on the ocean is spectacular. Also there will be some pretty boring spots along the way, mostly between PT and PA, and approaching the ocean after you leave the Crescent/Elwah area. Overall it should make a pretty good ride, worth doing.

    I've got a bunch of GPX routes, I'll get some stuff together and post them for you on Monday.

    I love that bike! I've had it for three or four years now, it's been all over the state with me.
    Don't believe everything you think.

  16. #16
    Senior Member Seattle Forrest's Avatar
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    As promised, here are a bunch of track logs you can use to navigate.

    I'm trying to put these roughly in the order of their awesomeness. They're all nice, the ones with shorter drives aren't as spectacular but the tradeoff is you spend less time in the car and more on the bike (or doing other things).

    1. Icicle Road & East Leavenworth Road
    2. Leavenworth / Plain / Lake Wenatchee Loop
    3. North Cascades Highway (Winter route, Passes)
    4. Teanaway River Road
    5. Cayuse & Chinook Passes, Mount Rainier
    6. Darrington to Rockport
    7. Sunrise, Mount Rainier
    8. Mount Baker
    9. Leavenworth / Wenatchee Loop
    10. Lake Washington: North Half, South Half
    11. Monroe to Snohomish (Short drive)
    12. Bainbridge Island, Chilly Hilly Route (Short drive, ferry ride)
    13. Snoqualmie Pass (Short drive)
    14. Swauk & Blewett Passes
    15. Gold Bar to Skykomish
    16. Green River Gorge (Short drive)
    17. Vashon Island (Short drive, ferry ride)
    Don't believe everything you think.

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    Thanks, for this. I'm very appreciative of this. You clearly love bicycling and are proud of your state.

    I'm loosely thinking of doing my trip to Seattle some time toward the end of summer: prolly August to early September. Your rx's on this page are going to advise me heavily in my planning. Who knows -- maybe we can connect when I'm out there!



    Tesgin

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    SF, question or two for you...

    I was looking at the First North Cascade ride you posted. I notice that on the decent on the second half your speed went to zero a number of times. I'm wondering if this was cuz of break pads overheating and you needed to stop?

    Also, I'm wondering if, per chance, you also use the RWGPS site? Do you have these posted there too? The RWGPS site is great as it has a lot of additional features. E.g, slope. If not, don't go out of your way. Just wondering. If you do have an account on RWGPS, what's your user name?

    Thanks in advance,
    Tesgin

  19. #19
    Senior Member vwchad's Avatar
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    As far as island rides go I really enjoy Whidbey and Camano. Camano is an easy 40 mile loop. You can't really get lost. Whidbey is also great. Start at the Mukilteo ferry. I don't have exact directions, but when we ride over there (I live less than 5 miles from the Muk Ferry), we zig-zag up the island, avoiding the main highway that runs up the middle as much as possible. We usually head to Coupeville. Great little pizza place in town to refuel for the return trip. Hit up Fort Casey while up there as well. Very cool to explore. The round trip is just shy of 100 miles, but mileage may vary depending on exact route. Lots of hills on Whidbey too, BTW.

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    Nice. Great tips. Thank you!

    Tesgin

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    Quote Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
    As promised, here are a bunch of track logs you can use to navigate.

    I'm trying to put these roughly in the order of their awesomeness. They're all nice, the ones with shorter drives aren't as spectacular but the tradeoff is you spend less time in the car and more on the bike (or doing other things).

    1. Icicle Road & East Leavenworth Road
    2. Leavenworth / Plain / Lake Wenatchee Loop
    3. North Cascades Highway (Winter route, Passes)
    4. Teanaway River Road
    5. Cayuse & Chinook Passes, Mount Rainier
    6. Darrington to Rockport
    7. Sunrise, Mount Rainier
    8. Mount Baker
    9. Leavenworth / Wenatchee Loop
    10. Lake Washington: North Half, South Half
    11. Monroe to Snohomish (Short drive)
    12. Bainbridge Island, Chilly Hilly Route (Short drive, ferry ride)
    13. Snoqualmie Pass (Short drive)
    14. Swauk & Blewett Passes
    15. Gold Bar to Skykomish
    16. Green River Gorge (Short drive)
    17. Vashon Island (Short drive, ferry ride)
    This is excellent! Thank you for sharing this.

  22. #22
    Senior Member Seattle Forrest's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tesgin View Post
    SF, question or two for you...

    I was looking at the First North Cascade ride you posted. I notice that on the decent on the second half your speed went to zero a number of times. I'm wondering if this was cuz of break pads overheating and you needed to stop?

    Also, I'm wondering if, per chance, you also use the RWGPS site? Do you have these posted there too? The RWGPS site is great as it has a lot of additional features. E.g, slope. If not, don't go out of your way. Just wondering. If you do have an account on RWGPS, what's your user name?

    Thanks in advance,
    Tesgin
    I don't use RWGPS, but I'll check it out, some of those features (like slope) might be interesting.

    I can't say why the speed fell to zero during the descent in that North Cascade ride, it was a while ago. I remember stopping for photos several times. It also might have been my GPS losing its signal briefly? It wasn't the brakes overheating, though. That happened to me on another ride, in the Methow Valley outside Winthrop once. (Great ride, highly recommended, very long drive from Seattle though.) It was out in the desert, it got up to about 95 F at times, it was very steep with a lot of elevation to lose, the narrow road had a lot of sharp turns, and to top it all off, I did the ride on a set of black carbon wheels. I'd slow down for a curve, hear a weird squeal, and notice I had very little braking power. Kept stopping to let them cool off. Fortunately, for about 20 miles, I only saw one other person up there.
    Don't believe everything you think.

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    I do have another question:

    I just read a news story yesterday about some 11-year-old girl in Wenatchee that shot a cougar that was stalking her brother. Yowza. I hadn't even thought of that!

    Is safety an issue if camping alone on any of these routes? Olympic Peninsula, or North Cascades area, etc.?

    I was looking at the Ride Around Washington event in June (Cascades Bicycle Club), which would be pretty cool. It's in much of the same areas this year that I'm interested in. But I was leaning toward doing some of the routes, Forrest, that you've scoped out, cuz they look excellent. That seems preferable to me. But then I think about safety issues if camping alone. Is that ill-advised?

    Maybe it's better to stay in cabins or hostels, etc. if traveling alone?

    I'd appreciate any input there. I would assume riding alone would be fine (aside from camping)?

    Might be a nutty question, but when I saw that article I was somewhat taken aback.

    Thanks,
    Tesgin

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    Senior Member Seattle Forrest's Avatar
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    Yeah, I just heard of that a couple days ago. Crazy!

    Don't worry about cougars. It's very rare for them to attack people, and when they do, it's almost always children, or older people. Kids are smaller and look like easier prey. Also, most wild mammals avoid the people when they can, we're dangerous, some of us hunt. I don't know exactly how much to trust Wikipedia but if it's even close to accurate, this is relaxing: list of fatal cougar attacks in North America by decade. There have none so far this decade, 3 from 2000-2009, 7 in the 1990s, etc. Out of the 10 deaths in the last 24 years, all but 1 were in the backcountry.

    I camp alone all the time. 34 nights last year. I'm going for 45 nights this year. Up close in camp I've seen mountain goats, marmots, and plenty of deer. Except for the deer, it's only been in hike-in camps far from the road.

    * If you're going to do the North Cascades Highway, I'd highly recommend staying either at the Buffalo Run Inn, which has a hostel option (I think it was $50 a night when I did it last year?) or at Colonial Creek Campground on Diablo Lake. I love Colonial Creek, the best sites are ~100 feet from the shore, the downside is that it can get crowded.

    * If you do one of the Leavenworth rides (that includes Icicle Road) there are hotels in L'worth in the $100 a night range, a lot of campgrounds on Icicle Road for about $10 a night, and you can camp for free at a rock climbing area called Barney's Rubble. People camp in a big dirt parking lot, their fires scare the beasts away.

    Here's a trip report from a weekend I spent camped at Colonial Creek, with a ride up part of the North Cascades Highway. The photos aren't so good, but it'll give you a better idea of the scenery. I'll put a few in here too.

    This is part of the campground:



    An overlook on SR-20 (NoCas Hwy) about a mile east of the CG:



    ^ It's a glacial lake, the color is all the rock flour from the glacier melt.

    Approaching Colonial Creek CG on the way back:



    Important note: The camp has potable water, but no food. There's a small town with a store ~15 miles to the west, and another ~50 miles to the east. You won't find food or potable water between them. It can get hot and sunny in the summer. You'll pass a lot of creeks, rivers, and waterfalls near the road, though. You'd be very smart to bring a water filter or purifier of some kind if you go here. A Sawyer Mini is 2 oz and $25, you can even make it part of a Camelback type system.

    For what it's worth, North Cascades Nat'l Park and the area around it is my favorite place.

    The frame cracked on that bike. Cervelo warrantied it, but they let me pay the difference and sent me an R3 instead of a replacement RS.
    Don't believe everything you think.

  25. #25
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    SF, another question for you (or two!)...

    You use a Garmin GPS. I'm curious what you do for keeping it charged on multi-day trips? Do you use a solar charger? If so, which?

    Also, for SF or anyone, I'm curious about the tires you use on your Cervelo. Do you use 700x23? Any problems with that if you do? I ask cuz I got some info from Adventure Cycling and they rx larger volume tires -- 700x28!! -- for their tours. I imagine that that's cuz they are looking at week long (or longer) trips on a heavily weighed down touring bike. Your thoughts?

    Tesgin

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