Zen On Dirt

PNW adventuring ‘on the way home’

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In my perfect little world, traveling by mini-van is a glamorous lifestyle. Shaking the wet off of our tent in the morning while trying to not step in one of the several large mud puddles that had formed in the area was distinctly non-glamorous.

We had beta to ride a trail on the way up to the Mt Saint Helens overlook. Most of the land in the area is National Forest with a few protected areas off limits to bikes and then a few areas completely off limits to humans…which I get. Probably not great to hike into the crater of an active volcano.

We got to the trailhead as the rain started to fall.

“I’m not riding in the rain,” I declared. I’m a Colorado and Arizona girl. I don’t do water falling from the sky. Plus, wet and muddy bikes and wet and muddy clothes when traveling in a van is no bueno. “Let’s go up to the lookout, and if it clears, we can go for a little hike.”

The lookout was beautiful…except that all of Mt Saint Helens was in a giant cloud. I sort of get the impression that it spends the majority of its time in a giant cloud. With not much better to do and with a smidge of cell reception, and thus internet access, we settled down in the front seats of the van to work. For several hours, we saw hopeful people drive up, take a look at the cloud bank and drive away. We never did see the mountain. We never did motivate to hike. We did see countless storms move up the valley, slam into the mountain, and deposit their rain on us.

Let’s go find camp. If we ride Ape Canyon tomorrow, we’ll be back up here. Maybe the weather will be better.

Two people who’s opinions I trust had recommended Ape Canyon when I first put out the ‘Where should I ride in the PNW’ question on The FaceBook. We headed for the trailhead, passing the sign for Ape Cave on the way. Ape cave? we asked.

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Turns out there’s a giant lava tube to explore! So we did. It was wet and drippy outside. It was wet and drippy inside. It was a cool temperatures outside. It was a cool temperatures inside. We doodled around a bit before decided we didn’t want to dedicate 2.5 hours to traversing the 1.5 mile tube and heading back to camp.

We woke in the morning, drove to the trail head, and started climbing.

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In the trees, the trail was fun.

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After breaking treeline, or ash-line, we were blown away. The Plains of Abraham proved to be amazing riding with even more spectacular views.

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We even got a few glimpses of the top of the mountain…until we ended up back at the parking lot where we were the day prior. Then it was socked in and we watched people drive up, look at the cloud bank, and drive away while eating lunch.

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The descent down Stevens Creek was a hoot. Deep, ashy trail with ‘gentle’ ruts. A little like skiing…except not quite in control.

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It was all fun and games until the final 900 foot climb back to the cars. We ran into a hiker in the parking lot and struck up a conversation. ‘This is the best kept secret in Washington,’ he admitted to us. ‘Don’t tell anyone.’

Lucky for him, it’s a pain in the ass to drive to from anywhere, so I don’t think it’s in danger of being overrun by people.

We headed towards Hood River, trying to find a hot spring on the way, but being turned back by me being a chicken and having a fear of climbing down exposed rocks. I need to get over this fear, stat, because I hate being lame.

A morning tip at a coffee shop took us to Surveyors Ridge. A long road climb with big views of Mt Hood amazed us.

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Fun trails on the way back down with big views of Mt Hood were even better.

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In the parking lot, we struck up conversation with another mountain biker. Where should we go run? Where should we go camp? Where should we ride?

Go to the waterfalls just down the road. Camp at Smith Rocks. Ride anywhere in Bend.

So we went for an afternoon jaunt up to a classic Oregon waterfall.

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Instead of going all the way to Smith Rocks, we found the one spot in the entire world where AT&T has service and Verizon doesn’t. I spent the entire evening rubbing in the fact that I could check email and Scott couldn’t. Actually, he could, and did, tether off of my phone, but the occurrence of me having reception and not him is so rare, it’s worth celebrating. And really, I don’t care that much about email.

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Classic camp. Chips. Bottle of wine. One pot dinner cooking. AT&T cell reception. 4 bars. 4G. 

We headed to Smith Rocks, a well-known climbing area, in the morning to find out that it was National Trails Day. No fee needed! Score. Actually, our Nationals Parks pass probably worked, but it was the principle of the matter.

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With only ~10 miles of trails, I convinced Scott to run instead of ride.

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A good decision because we were able to go up and over Misery Ridge. A good decision because we got to spend a decent amount of time outside. A poor decision because we were wrecked. There was much uphill hiking to be had and downhill shuffling.

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The bonus of stopping at Smith Rocks instead of Bend proper was that we got to by-pass the city entirely, avoiding any and all traffic on our way out. Our destination for the night – a remote hot spring on the Oregon/Idaho border.

We turned off the highway on a small dirt road, found a campsite, parked the van, and walked a little ways around a bend in the river.

There, on an island, was the hot spring.

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Wading across was only treacherous because I had a camera in hand that I didn’t want to lose.

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We soaked while watching the sun set, knowing that the trip was all but over.

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But man, what a trip it was.


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