Day Four: Promised Land to Lake Quinault
This is the fourth episode of a 9-part series on our 360-mile bicycle trip around Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula.
Day four dawned even wetter than day three. We got up, went through the usual motions of making ready to ride but it seemed to take a long time to get on the road. A vague sense of dread permeated the camp’s mood and we kept glancing nervously at the highway. What were we doing out here in the middle of nowhere anyway? Were we really going on in this nasty weather? Which one of us would have sense enough to throw in the towel and call a cab?
I suppose a big part of our apprehension lay with the logging trucks. Enormous, heavily-loaded-18-wheel rigs headed south, while empty versions of the species rushed north, kicking up giant rooster tails of water and a rush of wind that blew road debris in all directions.
Riding that highway looked not only miserably uncomfortable, but downright dangerous. We took turns finding excuses to delay departure.
But we had ground to cover so eventually, around 7:30 AM, we rolled our bikes out of the relative comfort of the picnic shelter and into the grimy typhoon that was northbound Highway 101.
To the drivers of logging trucks, time is money and they tend to travel with a heavy foot. Whenever they’d pass, a wall of water would follow in their wake, splashing us with a thick combination of dirt, diesel exhaust and road grit. It got in our eyes and ears and mouths and tasted like old landfill.
To their credit, most of the drivers pulled into the other lane and gave us as much room as they could. One or two even slowed a bit still, the ride was nerve-racking.
Most of the 18 miles we covered that day were up hill. The first 5 and ½ was a steady up grade, which made for slow going. I kept glancing down at my odometer watching the tenths crawl by at a geological pace. “Let’s see,” I’d say to myself, “we’ve covered a mile point three, which means we have only sixteen point….” About then a logging truck would whoosh past, the wind would blow me to the side of the road, I’d struggle to keep control, loosing my train of thought and having to start my calculations all over again. I’m not that good at math as it is.
Thankfully, this stressful day was to be short. A mere 18 miles to beautiful Lake Quinault where we’d camp early and get some sorely needed rest off the road and away from the logging trucks. Unfortunately, when we reached our days’ destination, we were greeted with signs indicating the campgrounds were closed. We stopped at the ranger station to find out what was the deal. “The nearest open campground is only 20 miles away,” the ranger said, pointing to a map, “the last 18 miles are dirt.”
We stared in bewilderment and disbelief. I looked at Mike. His skin was a deathly gray, dirty water dripped from his sodden hair. His face was smeared with dirt and grease and road grime. His eyes were turgid with desperation and fatigue.
It was like looking in a mirror.
Mike staggered back a step or two and mumbled something unintelligible. This latest wrinkle had clearly sent him around the bend. I grabbed him by his soggy jacket sleeve, dragged him over. “Does this man look like he can ride another 20 miles?” I demanded, shaking him roughly by his shoulder, “Well, does he!?”
“There’s a private RV campground just a mile up the road,” the ranger said, not seeming to notice the general back alley-wet-vagrant ambience we projected. She glanced at us, then, down at her map. “You might try there.”
Later, we ran into trouble again trying to sign in at the RV campground when the hippie-looking chick behind the counter wouldn’t let us pitch our tents. “You gotta have a hook-up,” she said, eyeing us suspiciously.
“A hook up?” Mike stammered, “what the hell do you mean?”
After some heavy manners and vague threats of litigation she reluctantly agreed to rent us lodging at the nearby motel provided we promised not to cook in the rooms nor otherwise use an open flame.
“Not us,” I said, giving her a fine big smile. “We’re just good law-abiding American citizens like yourself.”
She gave me a knowing look. “Yeah, well, the I-Ching, says to be cool,” she said, as she swiped our credit cards.
After a trip to a laundromat for a thorough wash and dry, a six-pack of beer, followed by a so-so dinner and drinks from the winter menu at the restaurant, we settled into our respective rooms for a good night’s sleep out of the cold, wind and rain.
The view from my room at Lake Quinault. Sun in the morning?
Mike chose the back bedroom so I got the one with a view of the lake. The storm was supposed to blow itself out by morning, but one look at the pendulous black clouds and heavy downpour left me with doubt as to the prognostication’s accuracy. If I had to face a third day of rain and 18-wheelers, I was thinking, I might just call that taxi after all.
To hell with what people would think.
To be continued…