2013: Discovering the Olympic Discovery Trail

Biking NW Washington’s Olympic Coast     Copyright P. Marsh

Have you ridden the Olympic Discovery Trail yet? I hadn’t even heard of it until I reached Washington’s North Olympic coast last September–on a “last-minute” bike tour. Indeed, it took a string of coincidences to put me on the road around the Olympic peninsula after Labor Day. Hopefully, I can inspire you to give it a try without waiting for your stars to align.

Wanting to escape from NW Oregon for a week, I had been studying my map collection, looking for a new route that would interest me enough to pack and get going. I realized that I would have to use some transport—either road or rail to jump-start this ride. (In 2012, I had ridden county buses from Astoria, Oregon to Bremerton, Washington in 8 hours, connected with the ferry to Seattle, then taken the bike trail north to my destination in Ballard. I arrived around 10 pm., and was pleased to find my total cost was less than $4!)

However, I had no idea if this system would work again with a real tour—until I received an email from a boating friend reminding me that the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival was on the coming weekend. Every few years, I have driven there, with my bike in the truck and my kayak on the roof. I decided then and there to go again, and reprise the bus-and-bike system. By mid-week I had packed the bike and was taking a test ride along the Astoria Waterfront before departing.

I stopped in at the dive shop on Pier 39 at the east end to talk to the owner and explained what I was planning. He stopped me in my tracks by offering me a ride to a dive camp he was leading on the Hood Canal that weekend, leaving Friday at noon. That would save me a whole day of bus riding, so I gladly accepted the offer. Now I had an extra day to prepare.

An Offer I Couldn’t Refuse!

We set off on Friday afternoon with my bike perched on top of a pile of air bottles and gear bags. I enjoyed the drive along the canal, not having to keep my eye on the road. That evening, I watched the dive students gear up with lights and compasses for a night dive, while the moon rose over the water.

They returned safely, and I was soon in my bunk bed in their comfortable cabin. Waking at first light, I slipped out quietly and was quickly on my way on Highway 101. It was cool, misty and silent for the first hour as I rolled north along the shore; then it began to rain lightly. I pulled on my cape and pedaled steadily north, trying not to rush. By mid-morning, the rain had eased off and I was settling into the task at hand.

From the signposts, I now reckoned the distance was over 50 miles, and my goal of reaching the festival by noon began to look a little too ambitious—especially for a senior citizen on a loaded bike with no serious training since March. But as the day warmed, and the traffic increased, I felt the pull of the festival–and the cult of wooden boats.

My effort was rewarded around noon, when I pulled off the highway and onto the bike path that took me the last few miles through the woods, past the paper mill, and along the shore into the Port Townsend Boat Haven–the municipal boatyard that stretches for about half a mile.

I threaded my way past big wooden schooners and motor yachts with their ribs and planking exposed until I re-joined the highway, now packed with festival fans. I found a spot in the huge bike parking lot at the entrance to Point Hudson, locked up and changed my shoes. The festival was packed with people and boats large and small, but when I reached the crowded ramps and pontoons, I found I could hardly balance on my tired legs!

Since there were only 24 hours left, I had to push on regardless to see everything. I camped at the county fairground for the next two nights, and on Monday morning picked up a bike map at the local bike shop before heading west. When I rounded the head of Sequim Bay and passed the Jamestown S’Klalom tribal casino, I was finally able to leave the shoulder of busy 101, and enjoy a quiet back road.

The Discovery Starts Now

This marked the start of the Olympic Discovery Trail (ODT), which parallels the coast with 40 miles of paved pathway all the way to Port Angeles. It wasn’t long before the path drifted north into the forest and began the marvelous stretch where it runs along an old railway bed, crossing three spectacular wooden bridges.

The first is the Johnson Creek trestle just east of Sequim, a 410-foot structure 86 feet above Johnson Creek that carried lumber trains until the 1980’s. Second is a 150-foot tall truss bridge over the Dungeness River that stretches 585 feet with the approaches. Its original firebarrel stations have been converted to viewing platforms so you can see the lower structure and spawning salmon in season.

Then I made a short detour off the trail and into Sequim to find some food. I settled on the fish and chip shop……………………………, and returned to the trail with a full stomach. I couldn’t believe my luck when two more bridges appeared ahead: a suspended trail bridge high above the Elwha River, followed by a new 210’ trail bridge that crosses Dry Creek.

When the sun set I started scouting out a camp site, and found a quiet spot just yards from the trail. Early in the morning, bike commuters started coming by with their lights on, which inspired to get up and be gone. The route continued west off-road and often between farmers’ fields, with great views of the Olympic peaks.

The last four miles to Port Angeles are right along the seashore, dropping you off right by the port before you encounter your first car. I passed on the last leg by the airport and turned uphill past some fine historic murals to find the library and do some emailing.

The quiet route west is along Hwy 112, which passes through some wild hilly country and has very few settlements. I camped near the ocean before pushing on to Forks, where I avoided the temptation to take one of the many “Twilight” tours on offer. There were no vampires to be seen either—not a few surprising because the temperature was around 95 degrees!

I picked up a few food items and a cold drink to carry me the last 25 miles to the Pacific Ocean. However, my enthusiasm flagged when the road dropped down into the mist and the mercury plummeted about 30 degrees! I pulled on several layers, and continued with less enthusiasm down a lonely forested road, until I saw a hand-painted sign saying “Rainforest Hostel” standing out in front of the trees. I was 20 yards down the road before I managed to react to this surprising discovery and jammed on the brakes.

I rode up the driveway to find a rather suburban-looking ranch house– the front covered with the flags of many nations. I found the owner working in the vegetable garden around the back, and soon settled in for the night. He lives at one end of the house, the guests at the other, with the kitchen and rather crowded living room shared with him.

This is indeed a unique independent hostel–at an economic price–that was in just the right place at just the right time for me. And another amazing surprise at the far end of the Discovery Trail.

About seamarsh

Still trying to find the answers to life's nautical questions.
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