Snowiest Place On Earth – Mt Rainier

to the Snowiest place on earth

Have you ever been to a theater where a sheer curtain is draped across a set, the actors in front, but a different set is just barely hidden behind? As you set out on the bike this “sheer curtain”, a translucent cloud, drapes across the sky, the light diffused, The Mountain just out of reach and far to the east a sliver of cobalt blue.

Being that it is a holiday weekend the lines are long to get into the park, sitting in the line the sun beams penetrate the veil and you unzip your jacket moving from shadow to shadow not to overheat. Water tendrils gently cascade down a moss filled rock ledge, a weeping hillside. Just the sight is refreshing and reminds you of one of the names for Mt. Rainier, mother of many waters.

At the base of The Mountain, towering dark fir trees absorb the light from reaching the forest floor and the sweet smell of fir mixed with loamy soil fills the air. Then, as if a star is born, a bright spotlight reaches through and radiates the chartreuse leaves of a single vine maple on this forest stage.

Flowing over silt filled glacial rivers and through the switchbacks up the mountain side a blast of frigid air reveals that you have now crossed over the snowline. Layer upon layer of compact snow begins to rise on each side of the road creating a culvert in which to ride. Winds push across the ice and snow chilling the air as you tighten up your gear.

Winding around a bend, the mountain comes into view. You are always drawn to The Mountain, but today the dark swirling clouds and jagged slate rock give you the feeling that this can be a treacherous place, beautiful and peaceful one moment and stormy and deadly the next.  Climbing off the bike you move to the stillness and safety of the lodge and the scent of a cozy fire. Other travelers are enjoying a tranquil respite in leather couches mesmerized by the flickering flames on the logs in the grand fireplace.  

Looking out the window you see only a shear wall of snow. These snow walls act as buffers to the wind, smells and sounds that are familiar at the mountain. It is strangely quiet, odorless and still. This area has held the world record for snowfall in a single year, but this year you are thankful you can get to a place to see over the towering walls of white to glimpse the majesty of Mt. Rainier and the Tatoosh Range.

You head down the mountain on the road less traveled, toward Sunrise and Cayuse and Chinook Pass. The winter is hard on these roads which just opened for traffic two days ago, but it is a beautiful ride and you get to see The Mountain from a different view. Unobstructed slopes, single lane road, rough tarmac and the like do not dissuade your need for adventure. On you go.

Through rock hewn tunnels, cascading waterfalls, a marmot peaking over a snowbank and deer crossing the road you continue to the switch backs rising up to Cayuse and Chinook. Off in the distance Mt Adams and Mt St. Helens look like little sisters to Mt Rainier. The sheer veil of earlier in the day begins to swirl into dark and threatening formations as you travel off the mountain to warmer weather. 

Snoqualmie River Valley

Snoqualmie river valley

Stretching your head over your shoulder you take in the culmination of teamwork and precision; 34 motorcycles flowing gracefully through the slow serpentine pavement in the farming valley of the Snoqualmie River Valley.  Taking a slow deep breathe you feel the harmony of riding smoothly as a team and appreciate all the pieces that went together to create this moment and grateful that you pushed through the morning to experience this day.

Asking Google for the temperature as you finish your coffee, an automated voice comes back, “32 degrees”. Brrrr! Should you join the group for a ride? There is often a war with the anticipation for good and the struggle to prepare. This morning is no different, putting on constricting layers of clothes, challenging connections with communication devices, and minutes ticking down pushing you to get on the road to arrive on time are causing moments of frustration and thoughts of bailing on this day. However, you push through with the thought, “life is an adventure and adventures take work”.

As you arrive at Nash Powersports Indian Motorcycle showroom, the atmosphere is contagious, and anticipation fills the air. A banner reading “Happy 60th Birthday” pasted on the side of the building and 80’s rock music in overhead speakers adds to the energy, enthusiasm, and friendliness of the group. Smiles, laughter, and chatter around the bikes flow naturally as a kind eyed fellow biker approaches you with Indian bandana to welcome you to the group. It is amazing how one seemingly small gesture can warm your heart.

You cannot help but compare today with one year ago. When fear, isolation, and self-preservation filled your every thought. Like weathering a violent storm, you step out with some trepidation, but seeing the sunshine and the clear skies, you witness quiet murmurs turning to friendly conversations; isolation being replaced with connectedness.  There is hope in the air.

Taking your place in line the engines begin to rumble, this deep encompassing palatable presence of power and unity reminds you of attending a concert where everyone participates in the rhythm of the song that flows through your being, as if one heartbeat. The line proceeds and you are on the road taking your place in this rhythmic journey of community.

The air having lost its crisp bite of winter shines low morning rays on a field of daffodils pushing through the rich soil of the Green Valley. Blanketed horses munch on fresh hay whose sweet odor wafts across the gentle morning air. It is as if the world is waking up. The slow tendrils of distant wood fires prepare make you feel at home.

Ascending out the of the valley the Douglas fir trees become dense, and a damp pungent odor alludes to standing water and the remnants a cold, damp winter. Breaking out of the trees, majestic cobalt foothills with crisp white snow reflect the morning sun. What a sight!

After a break at Snoqualmie Falls, light banter, laughter and directions from the leader and his strategically placed team flow over the intercoms. It reminds you of participating in a river adventure where the leader aptly directs the raft, his rudder man steers the back and carefully placed row-man create a safe bridge in this traveling flow of 34 bikes. The synergy of everyone working together is rewarded by a graceful serpentine trail of bikes through the Snoqualmie River Valley. A bald eagle pair perched high in the trees, fresh plowed fields and muddy trails of a tractor’s movement from one field to the other add to the sense of oneness to this moment.

Culminating the day at the iconic XXX Diner for lunch, you are drawn to the scent of home fries and the sight of massive overflowing milkshakes served in glass steins. This will be a calorie rich day! You chuckle at the posted sign, “Warning! Nothing that you eat or drink here is good for you.” Throwing this caution to the wind, you stand in line, fight your way in to pick up your meal, and gather outside on hard neon orange and canary yellow chipped benches and reflect on the day. With a smile and nod you acknowledge that this day was worth the effort and a hopeful beginning to many more rides to come.

Check out Covington Shifters and Indian Riders of Auburn on Facebook. They have a passion for riding and are welcome to others joining them.

Nisqually Wildlife Refuge

Sharing some weekend wanderings off the bike – Billy Frank Jr Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. A peaceful place to be during these tumultuous times.

Jumping in the car with a close friend you head to Nisqually nature preserve near Olympia, but first a customary stop for coffee. Greeted by the vibrant and welcoming barista she creates your perfect cup of nectar. You sip the sweet, smooth caramel macchiato and know it will keep your hands warm on this winter hike. Yum!

Dropping down into the Nisqually estuary the morning mist permeates every open crevice of your clothing. Time to zip up your rain gear and head out to wander the boardwalk knowing the experience will be worth each step during this 5-mile journey. Pausing for a moment you breath deeply and allow the morning chorus of finch, crows, jays, and sparrows serenade you. There is such peace and calm.

Moisture laden lichen hangs from the bare trees as the boardwalk meanders through marshland and standing groves of cotton wood trees. The heavy fog muffles the sounds and filters the light as if you are in a world isolated from the outside. And in this fog the distant rumble of the freeway reminds you of the relaxing sound of the ocean surf. Fat finches hop from branch to branch and wood ducks glide on the surface of the water.

Sharing this moment with your friend you both stand in silence drawing in the beauty of this moment. New ideas filter to your conversations, old stories and shared moments add to the richness of the journey. Friendly bird-watchers with long lensed cameras share their knowledge of a solitary Grey Herron standing in the water, much like a bird dog holding point. Evidently, it is also waterfowl hunting season, so maybe he is just waiting it out.

Rounding the corner, massive weather worn twin barns harken back to an earlier era. Windows boarded up, white paint pealing from the trim, and a grand meadow reaches out toward the tree lined edge. You can imagine the activity, animals and people that must have worked this land you now have the privilege to enjoy.

As you head back to the car, engaging in conversation while enjoying the sights, sounds, and calming mist of the estuary fills you with gratitude for friends and shared experiences. This is a beautiful place and one that you would like to revisit, next time by kayak.

Alki Beach – Polar Plunge

Climbing on the bike for the first ride of the new year the clouds lay heavy over the horizon. Various layers hang like tulle around the trees, on this unseasonably warm. The thick atmosphere feels almost tropical, as the heavy damp air fogs up your shield. You lift your screen and moisture dampens your face; however you are thankful there is no bite in this blast!

Dropping down into the valley you are surprised by the dense wall of fog concealing the foothills. Just the tips of the deep green fir trees force their way through this blanket of moisture giving evidence of the mountains beyond. You question whether your clock was correct when you left at 9am, since the thickness of these clouds push out the morning light, as if you are going through a tunnel. Carefully you keep the bike upright using your body weight to lean off the side through the turns allowing more contact surface from your tires on these damp, slick roads. Senses alert and reactions calculated you feel alive!

Traveling down the highway the winter trees stripped of foliage reveal red-tailed hawks, songbirds, and chickadees huddled on branches. On this wary day even, the wild animals seem hesitant, waiting, not wanting to take to the air. You can’t help but think of the similarities as we collectively travel into 2021 on a careful journey of wait and see.

Arriving at Alki Beach there is life and activity. The dense clouds of the morning have lifted, and a deep breath of healing salt air fills your lungs. Lines of people wait for fresh donuts at Top Pot Doughnuts and the scent of bacon and coffee lingers in the air.

Grabbing a cup of coffee, you head down to the beach to cheer on the few brave souls participating in the annual polar plunge. A crackling countdown begins over a megaphone and small groups of brave souls, jumping around to stay warm, strip down to their suits and run into the frigid Puget Sound. Cheers and laughter fill the air! Clapping you cheer them on and feel lighter for the community experience.

Walking through the heavy sand in motorcycle boots, you take a welcomed seat on a cement piling. A ferry passes by and swimmers in wetsuits with colorful buoys take their morning “laps” along the water’s edge. A sea lion gracefully breaks the water and rolls back down, as a sentinel Bald Eagle watches from his perch on a snag. A feeling of peace and hope envelope your soul. Amid all this craziness life is good and meant to be experienced.

As the day rolls on, you cannot help but reflect on how your morning started with tentative “footsteps”, but in care and forward movement you were able to experience more of life and the reckless abandonment of the polar plunge. It makes you wonder about this coming year. It seems to have begun tentatively. But maybe, just maybe, we will all come together as a community and plunge toward our goals and shared experiences.

Fort Warden State Park

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.

Traveling to the picturesque town of Index.

Waking up on this cool morning a heavy blanket of clouds fills the sky, knowing you are heading toward the mountains you wonder if the predicted sun breaks will actually come to pass. Should you pack for rain, sun, heat? Opting for a mixture of all you head out to meet like-minded travelers for an impromptu group ride.

Allowing the group leader to set the pace and travel the agreed upon route, you settle into your position. You appreciate the restful rhythm that permeates the group, each person taking their spot in the collective movement of the whole. A shared experience of community. Each stop, full of smiles, laughter, and conversations draws you into the group for the next leg.

A few of the leaves are showing the coming fall, the tips carefully painted with layers of yellow and brown, the green vibrant veins restricting their flow in preparation for the winter to come. The first signs of fall. Meandering through the country roads, corn fields ripe with ears of corn, pumpkin patches getting ready for fall festivities, and local farm stands dot the countryside. A very hometown feeling.

Groups of bicyclists are sharing the road, as well. Families and friends forming floating communities join their tubes for a lazy ride down the river. Hikers with foam beds and backpacks in tow, head out on the trails staking their place for the weekend. After all the division that has filled the news, it is good for your soul to witness the community, friends and families gather to share experiences and support one another.

As you travel closer to the mountains, the morning mist envelopes you and the dampness fills your lungs and coats your clothes. Glad you decided on that extra layer, you head deep into the forest. The dark chocolate colored trunks of Douglas fir trees with branches wearing sweaters of moss narrow the road in front of you. Old wood slat bridges speak of a times long past, and the sweet fragrance of a fresh blackberry pie fills the air as you travel through fruit laden blackberry brambles. You can’t wait to stop and enjoy the bounty of this season.

Reaching your destination, the mist enveloped mountain tops unveil granite cliffs as you look for rock-climbers in the crags. Climbing off your bike you breathe deeply the mountain air, glad for your leathers to protect you as you hunt for wild blackberries along the river’s edge. Sitting and enjoying your berry treasure you are very thankful you decided to take this trip today, an impromptu opportunity to get out and explore.