A fleeting desire passes through your mind as you walk along the shores of the Pacific Ocean with hail pelting the windward side of your body, a need to feel the raw beauty and deep penetrating dampness of this Olympic Peninsula again. “Why don’t we take a ride next weekend?”
Dressing in thermals and chugging the last bit of hot coffee, you hit the road with a group of friends out for a late November ride. Welcome’s and laughter fill the air as everyone gathers. Starting the bikes in unison a low rumble vibrates the ground rising into your chest. This is not the deafening harmonics that cause pain, but a warm sense of camaraderie…you know your fellow travelers are with you. As the words from the riders meeting echoes in your mind. “No rider is left behind.”
Settling into formation you travel across the Narrows Bridge while the weak rays of the late fall sun barely penetrate your gear. The last remnants of fall colors cling to the birch, maple, and willow trees, much like the falling tendrils after the grand finale during a firework show. In this backdrop of faithful and steady deep forest green fir and cedar trees, you are thankful to catch the concluding scarlet, mustard, and translucent leaves that still cling to the tips of the trees.
Traveling toward the northern waterway, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the clouds begin to close in around you. Your wide dry pavement has now turned into a single ribbon as you drop down into the cold, damp peninsula. This experience is reminiscent of hiking into a cave during the heat of the summer, each step taking you into cooler temperatures, darker terrain, and moisture flowing from every location. But the adventure and beauty compel you to continue.
Arriving at Fort Warden Historical Park a white row of barracks reminds you of a time past where military personnel sang cadence in the streets, traversed the cliffs while racing through the obstacle course and watched the coast line through hidden bunkers. Today, the peeling paint, rust weeping nails, and moss-covered fences cause you to respect the changes caused by time and weather. Sitting down at the water’s edge, the salty scent of kelp fills your airways while the rhythmic crashing of the waves soothes any tension. You take a deep sustained breath, exhale, and allow the world’s problems to dim.
Going the long way home, the sun drops low in the sky and any warmth from the horizontal rays seem to just miss you. Cottonwood trees wrapped in moss as if they are wearing green fleece pajamas drip with moisture. This is what you were coming for… feeling the Olympic Peninsula in the depth of your bones. It is different from sheer cold, which numbs the outside of your body working in, this cold penetrates through layers of thermal to the very depth of you.
People bundled up in layers work their land, a bald eagle flies overhead, and thick coated deer graze on the slopes nearby. The damp smell of earth and welcoming sight of warm log fires fills the air. Everyone taking advantage of the last bit of sun before more cold and rain drenches this landscape. As the golden rays of the setting sun hit the mountain, you see the low level of the fresh snow. A sign that winter will soon be upon us. Thankful for the willingness of others to take advantage of this perfect day for a late fall ride, you wave goodbye. Home to warm up your bones, sit by the fire, and share this adventure with you.