We'd had such a wonderful recon/beer drop day ride just two weeks ago (as in, are you kidding me . . . February?!?), and this Spring is so mild and awesome, that we decided to bump it up a notch, and do an overnighter in the Q on this fine past weekend. Yeah, it's March and all, but it's been so mellow of a Winter/Spring. We'd been watching the weather forecast all week via multiple online channels and it was total thumbs up, across the board. What could possibly go wrong, then.
The ridge on the western side of the Columbia River Gorge is roughly 3000 ft above the river. In all my (limited) previous experience riding in this area, I'd never really come close to ascending to the actually ridge line. I'd pretty much lived on the eastern flanks, and maybe climbed 2000 ft above river level, if even that.
The plan for this trip was actually to drive up the old Vantage Highway, and tuck in behind the ridge, and climb 1200 ft up to the top, and then drop 3000 ft down to the river. What could possibly go wrong, then.
In order to execute the master plan, we'd have to drive a few miles in on Parke Creek Rd. A road in name only. (Hold this thought.)
We found our launch pad and set about putting our rigs together . . .
Ventana El Gordo fatbike under butt by this time, but the snafu gods were fickle and cranky in the week leading up to the trip, and so he would be making the trip on his trusty, proven, slightly skinnier steed, instead . . .
Scott was rocking his Necromancer Pugs . . .
I'd be shaking down my new Blackborow, with lots of attached gear, to kinda/sorta simulate what I thought might be my setup on the upcoming 4-day trip we were planning for the Q in early April . . .
This is the new cockpit, with ready access to the photo bag up top, and the Revelate Gas Tank bag down bottom, which holds all manner of snacks and frequently-used devices of whatever kind. Off to the right is a Bedrock bag that I really like that is fairly water resistant and which I used to pack a zoom lense and a pair of reading glasses, which sadly, I cannot get along without, these days. Left of stem is a Garmin Oregon GPS, with a mundane wireless bike computer mounted directly atop the stem. The crazy looking thing just to the right of the GPS is a Joby camera tripod, for timer shots, which was used exactly once, but for a very important shot.
After hitting the road and climbing and climbing, we were ready to climb some more. There were three route options, and all of them had pain written all over them . . .
We eventually cleaned the 1200 ft climb and rolled over the top . . .
The first part of the ascent is kind of this gradual, rolling meander along the top of the ridge. Scenic as hell, with the wind turbines in the background, might I add. The noise they make in communion is really mysterious and intriguing, and something I've not quite figured out yet. All the noises in the Q are interesting, actually.
We'd soon run across a herd of elk. Like, pretty much right in front of us. Close enough that we split the herd up. Off to the left and out of sight was a cautious sub-group that didn't want anything to do with getting near enough to us freaks to cross the road . . .
While were were still high up on the ridge, it just flat out made sense to stop and have a beer, and toast our bad selves for throwing down, as far as cobbling our shit together and making the time and energy commitment to drive out here into damn nowhere and ride our bikes into this lovely, God-forsaken country, and prepare to descend into the bowels of the earth, from which there was no way out but to climb back up. In the middle of March. So a toast to insanity, then. What could possibly go wrong, then.
From here, the descent began, in earnest . . .
Scott, "roughing" it . . .
While it was mostly downhill, there was a bit of uphill mixed in, for good measure . . .
What kind of self-respecting bike blogger would neglect to include a glam shot? Not this kind, for sure . . .
Contemplation, Scott style . . .
Down we went. (While it was supremely pleasant descending for miles, it was not lost on me that we would eventually have to scratch and claw our way back out.)
There was so much to look at on the way down . . .
Early Spring in the Q . . .
Randy flat hates it out here, but he hides his emotions well . . .
We detoured off the main (Army) road, and headed down a less traveled path deep into the Quilomene Canyon, with the intention of following the Q creek down to the Q bay . . .
Indeed, we arrived at the bottom . . .
And crossed the creek a few times . . .
Going downhill had never been so much work. And while we weren't exactly beat to hell, we'd put in a fair bit of labor. We were finally there, and it felt good to kick back for a minute.
We set up camp in the same old homestead orchard that we'd camped in two years ago, just before the big fire. Ward, Randy, and others were out here last year, but this was my first time back. Holy hell.
Here's a shot I took of the same orchard in 2013. What a different place . . .
Despite all the black death surrounding us, there were two hearty trees down there that somehow survived the inferno and are blossoming this Spring. A testament to the will of living things to continue to live. Here's a pic of one. WORD, brother tree!
Quilomene Bay is home to . . . and I shit you not . . . a SAND DUNE. The one and only other time I was down here I was on the verge of heat stroke and couldn't eat and was just trying to hang on and had no desire whatsoever to meander down from our campsite and check out the dune. So I didn't, and have regretted the missed opportunity ever since.
So I was not about to pass it up this time . . .
The crazy deal is, there's this rad freaking seriously legitimate sand dune at the bottom of the Q. Holy living hell.
We climbed up it and sat down at the highest point and drank a coupla beers that we'd brought with us and high-fived ourselves again for being so awesome. Who can get too much of that?
While we were there, the sun was going down and it was hazy overcast and the light was getting all kinds of awesome, and so we all took some pics . . .
We were sitting directly across from the Gorge Amphiteater, on yes, THAT infamous sand bar that is legendary for the massive congregation of boats and the associated partying and drunkeness and debauchery and nakedness and all forms of wildness that may or may not exist here on concert night. When the other fellas weren't looking, I snuck a quick kiss of the ground.
Due to the drawdown of this reservoir as the result of the repairs they are doing at Wanapum Dam, there are shoreline restrictions that we, umm, may have, uhhh, possibly, slightly violated on our way out to the dune. I can't be sure.
But anyhoo, while we are sitting there, atop the dune, mildy partying, in plain sight, a Sheriff's boat approaches (no other watercraft is allowed on the reservoir right now, so we're pretty sure it's the Sheriff).
We were fairly sure we were in for a scolding.
He motored past us and into the bay, where we had stashed our bikes behind the dune, to hide them from the view of such authorities. And where they were now in his plain sight.
Now we were positive we were in for a scolding.
But to our surprise, he motored back out into the reservoir, and headed upstream.
We will never really know why we weren't hassled, but our suspicion is that we appeared to be pretty harmless and weren't worth messing with. Maybe the fact that we are kinda old works in our favor in terms of him wanting to avoid an age discrimination lawsuit. Who really knows.
It had been a glorious day, packed with the type of magicality that fills your soul in a way that is hard to describe. Tomorrow would maybe be a bit harder, physically, but generally more of the same.
What could possibly go wrong, then?
As we retreated to our tents to retire for the night, supremely content, little did we know that in about 6 hours, we would begin to find out.