Eventually weariness also got the better of Liz and we settled on a flat pull out with an old fire ring. We disagreed on where precisely to set up the tarp. I feared that the viney, three-leafed plant that was covering the ground in places was poison oak. I may have just been sleep-drunk or loopy from the fatigue, but I was not willing to risk bedding down with toxic foliage. We squabbled briefly before I gave in to the exhaustion and allowed my mind to shut off and my eyelids to fall closed.
Although it seems petty to whine about our race being cancelled when so many folks have just lost everything, its also human nature to mourn our own losses more than those of others. I had been preparing for the XWA race for over a year. Liz and I both felt like we'd lost something, but we would not take this one laying down. We hastily plotted our escape from the smoke filled skies and pointed the van towards the Olympic Peninsula. Although it was unhealthy while we made our plans, the air was predicted to be better out on the peninsula than anywhere else in two days.
Our first two days were pleasant in every way. We found a good deal of excellent singletrack. We spent some time with Tom and Donna at the Bike Garage in Port Angeles. Tom looks like a pirate but knows his way around bikes and the trails on the peninsula. His sister, Donna, is delightful and rides her townie to the bike shop everyday with her friendly pooch in the handlebar basket.
The air was initially hazy and smelled like a stale campfire, but it was dry and temperatures were mild. Liz and I happened upon an emu farm and munched on "Free Ground Apples." We conversed a great deal about not very much at all while we settled into the glorious pace of riding, eating, riding, eating and sleeping. We shared deep secrets. We ate a lot of gas station junk food, which tasted absolutely amazing, hunger, being the best sauce, after all.
Eventually though, the fact that we were riding through a rain forest would have to catch up with us.
When we pulled into Forks on our third day, we were remarking on how clean and delicious the air smelled. Soon after that, the rain began as a light drizzle. I figured it couldn't last any longer than the next climb or descent. My blind optimism on the bike lead me to falsely believe that we would gradually climb and be above the clouds and out of the rain soon. Or, worst case scenario, we would have to ride through the rain, but in about 10 miles or so, we would be through it. Well, I was wrong. The drizzle intensified and persisted.
One night out in the rain makes for a good story. Two days in constant rain whilst bikepacking can be a test of character and friendship. Our feet had long since turned white and macerated and SMELLY. Every time I got out of the saddle to mash on the pedals, there would be a warm and wet squish inside my shoes. Liz's ultra-light rain jacket was dreadfully soaked through and water was running down her arms. My cheap rain pants were drenched to the point of being little more than extra weight. There was nothing that could keep our hands dry. We tried Gore-tex mittens, nitrile exam gloves and finally, simple bare hands on the slippery grips. The air was saturated with water which made it impossible to keep our sleeping bags from taking on some of the moisture when we finally had to stop to camp for the night. We were grateful that there wasn't a cold snap to contend with, but I wouldn't ever describe the Olympic Peninsula as a particularly warm place.
In the morning after that tumultuous and soggy fourth night, we reminisced about our mutually craptastic night's sleep and quickly forgot about our brief quarrel. Liz and I have had some dramatic struggles in the past and we were both a bit trepidatious about surviving the trip with our friendship intact. The challenging conditions certainly weren't helping matters.
We did earn a respite on the coast. The wonderful thing about touring is that you can take your sweet time. We stopped and explored tidepools and looked for sea glass. I went for a short jog on the beach in order to get out to see anemones in tide pools before the surf came in, racing the high tide. Despite spending plenty of time on ocean beaches, I'd never had the chance to climb about a rocky shore like on the Olympic Peninsula coast. It was eerily beautiful and a welcome change from the hyper-green, dense forests. The trees along the coast were straight out of a Dr Seuss book!
We made it back to the van on our fifth day and shared a lukewarm beer and aired out our feet while smiling and enjoying that good, tired feeling that you only get when you've survived mental and physical exhaustion for several days in order to return to perfect comfort.
Feet of climbing: 32,870
Riding time: approx 38 hours
Animals seen: 1 seal, 5 emu, countless kamikazee frogs, 12 friendly slither noodles, 1 million slugs, 1 hairy spider, a dozen anemones