Shaking Loose The Wanderlust|
Sunday, March 07, 2004
Auth. note: This essay was written in 1996 about a ride that took place in 1994. But the song remains the same. I recently went back for a hike along the coast and passed by the trailhead to Sadie Creek. Joyce had changed and looked like a real town. Anyway, I still havenít fixed my bike to go for that first ride. But I promised this column would explore that situation as well as this: Scratching that unscratchable scourgeóthe wanderlust.
I could feel it in my bones. It had bit down deep like some vampire with a thirst for the sardonic. I blame my grandpa. Iím sure itís genetics. My grandpa took to the rails at the remarkable age of twelve. He had the wanderlust. Seems Iíve got the same disease and in March of last year, it had invaded my joints, nerve endings and synapses. I had it bad.
I couldnít just take off like I had in the past (ask me sometime about my Morrison-esque tour of the Western U.S.). I had just started a good job and it seemed somehow inappropriate to go to my boss: "Boss, I got it bad in my bones and I need a week off to go to Mexico or somewhere." If I wanted to cure the wanderlust it would have to be a weekend only affair.
A weekend doesnít seem like enough time to cure anything, even a good college-sized hangover much less that bone seated itch. But thatís what I had to work with. I can see why itís called an itch, but really, thatís too nice a term. Itís an attack of poison ivy, teenage angst and the blues all rolled into one unscratchable scourge. He was born under a wandering star, that one. So the ancient village matchmaker used to say. And such a man was expected to spend his life alone, eternally questing for the unreachable answer. But what did those old goats know. I blame my grandpa, but he was also kind enough to give me the cure. Itís simple. You just pick a spot on the map and you go there. A weekend may not cure a hard night of partying, but it can do wonders for a wanderlust.
Enter Tom Kirkendall and his Mountain Bike Adventures guidebooks. Thumbing through his books, I looked for the most outrageous ride I could find. Thatís how I ended up riding Sadie Creek. I read Tomís description of the trail a couple dozen times, imagining the climbs, the descents Ė imagining the Herculean effort he described. I could see that muscular god, pumped up, capturing the Cretan bull. I could see my legs bulging with the effort required to conquer Sadie Creek. I could do it. No problem. I photocopied Tomís description and his sketched map and then went down to REI to get a topographical map of the area. Working impatiently through Friday, I rushed out of work and with bike, tent, sleeping bag, food and water I headed west.
Fortunately traffic was light and I managed to find a place to camp with little problem (it was March) and the next morning I found the Sadie Creek trailhead without much trouble. The only thing that threw me was that itís hell and gone from just about anywhere. Perhaps the fair residents of Joyce would disagree with me, but I met both of them and when I mentioned it, they just said the fishing was good around these parts.
The trailhead is nine miles past Joyce. However, after camping and driving I needed to walk around and get the kinks out. As I was doing this I noticed by the outhouse a very large shell. For a second I had to check my sanity. But as I scoped out the area for large mushrooms, hookah smoking caterpillars, and rabbit holes, I realized this was simply a Pacific Northwest-sized snail shell. I mean the shell was a good six inches in diameter. I picked it up and noticed right away that itís occupant had died in his home and rotted away. Nothing like rancid snail in the morning to wake you up. It was in fact the largest snail shell I had ever seen and I wondered at the size of its former occupant. I put down the shell and went over to get my bike ready to go. Fifteen minutes later I was at the mouth of the trail and staring into deep woods.
And there it was. That feeling that was in my bones was finally working itself loose. It left a taste on my tongue, made my muscles twitch, pulled the air from my lungs. I stood on a pedal and started forward. The trail is 18 miles up, down and around some twelve mountain peaks. I knew what I was getting into and I was ready. At least, thatís what I thought.
You start in deep forest and quickly come out into clear-cut. Then itís back into some fairly new 2nd or 3rd growth (20 years). Then you start the steep climb. I had to carry my bike for much of this part of the trail as it was deeply rutted and wet. It was hot, steamy and full of bugs and it was only late March. I couldnít imagine what it would be like three months later. There was a point, straddling a deep rut, bugs biting, sweat streaming down my face, when I stood there thinking: This Sucks. Thanks Grandpa. But I prayed to Ned (Overend) and feeling better, I traveled on.
The reward for all of this grunt work is the rest of the ride. The steamy jungle gives way to alpine woods and rolling singletrack, which gives way to The View. I was blessed with sun that day. No haze, few clouds and sweet sunshine. Facing North, the view stretched all the way from the city of Victoria across the length of the Straight of Juan De Fuca to the beautiful, wide open Pacific Ocean. A few hundred yards more and facing South, I had a view of the Olympics. They were literally stunning. I had eaten half my sandwich at the view looking north. I finished it at the view looking south. It was the best sandwich Iíve ever had and I didnít want to leave. Going through my mind were musings on how I would get a tent up here and when exactly I could get back.
Though I could have stayed there forever, I did have an adventure to finish off. The next part of the ride covered the last mountain top and the drop down the backside of the mountain. This requires navigation of a thin ridge line followed by a perilous descent. On one side of the trail thereís a cliff going up and on the other side a cliff going down. But what did I care? That nagging, pesky feeling that only that morning was seated deep in my bones was just about worked out. I was having the time of my life. I bounced around one corner and there was Lake Crescent far, far below. All I needed was a parachute and the cool water was mine to frolic in. Had I the parachute. As it was a rock nearly launched me over my handlebars and into the afterlife. I embraced my brakes levers, my feet raised behind me to about head level and for a suspended moment I was parallel to the ground. That is, I was on the X axis when what I wanted, rather desperately, was to be on the Y. Comical as it seems later, at the time it seemed like it was me versus gravity, time and the laws of physics. Luckily, I won the round.
Shaken and stirred from my more or less meditative ride by my knock on Valhallaís door, I did like any good dirt warrior would and walked for the next mile or so. Then, having cleared the cliffs, I started riding again. The third and final phase of the Sadie Creek adventure deals with some fast, steep, roller coaster logging roads. I attacked these with abandon. That wanderlust was just about gone and replaced with some hazy, adrenaline-induced high. I whipped around the hills and down, and pedaled furiously up and then down again. They were some of the more excellent logging roads Iíve ever had the joy to fly over. On the up side of one hill I saw what looked like a black snake stretched across the road. I was going fast and didnít really have time to turn so I readied myself for a bunny hop. As I got closer however, I saw my snake turn into a riding crop.
This isnít the first thing Iíve found on one of my rides. Iíve found a Benetton scarf, a genuine arrowhead, and my friend Damon found a fifty dollar bill Ė half eaten by caterpillars Ė on one of our rides in Minihaha State Park near Spokane. But if you were the one that lost one of these items, forget getting it back. The Benetton scarf is moth eaten and worthless, the arrowhead is in a museum, and the fifty dollar bill bought a fun night at a bar. The riding crop was attached to my bike for awhile, but it has since been broken by overzealous hands.
With my riding crop sticking out of my backpack I continued forward, though it soon became apparent I had taken a wrong turn somewhere. I was in a large clear-cut in low lying hills. I couldnít get a vantage point but could tell, generally, what direction I wanted to head in. I was semi-lost, tired and the shadows were getting longer. However, I had my trusty horsewhip. I followed various logging roads for about an hour and finally gave up and hit the highway which until this point I had avoided out of sheer obstinacy. After about two miles it brought me back to my car.
My bones ached. My muscles were flaccid facsimiles of their former selves. By blood seemed to have boiled away. I looked at the mountain ridge I had just traversed. Long shadows covered it. About fifty yards away I could hear Sadie Creek gurgling itís way to the ocean. I walked over and picked up the foul-smelling snail shell and rinsed it out with some water from my water bottle. That took care of some of the smell. I wrapped it in a plastic bag for the trip home. Years away and at a great distance I could see my grandpa standing before a similar mountain range, feeling, likely, how I now felt. His method of transport was different but no less an engineering marvel Ė form following function so closely it is art. His mouth seems insatiably dry, his bones fatigued to the point of breaking. But a smile breaks through the dirt and the dried salty sweat. Thereís nothing quite like shaking loose that deep-seated wanderlust and letting it roam free. I put my bike in the car and headed for the campground. That night, I slept well.