Thursday, May 8, 2014

Ben Country 9

Date: May 3rd & 4th, 2014
Distance: 137.6 miles (over two days)
Song of the Day: Another Way Home - Valley Maker

My friend Ben hosts an annual ride at the beginning of may for his birthday. It is also a good way to kick off the bike camping season. While Ben Country is hard, it isn't as difficult as what I did back in March. That also meant there were a lot more people out. I think I counted 32 people who rode out there. It is amazing to see that many people out on bikes heading to the woods to go camping.

I almost missed it too. The start was 14 miles from my home. I had also been up late working on the bike. I had to manufacture new mounts for my front rack. So I didn't get much sleep. I was almost on my way out the door when I forgot about the flag. I made the flag for Ben Country last year, so I thought I would bring that out again. It took me about 10 minutes to find it an zip-tie it to the bike. So I ended up leaving my place late. I would have had just enough time to get to the start though. Except the lower Spokane Street Bridge was open. That took another ten minutes I didn't have. After the bridge I raced north as fast as I could. I missed the group by two minutes. I had to chase them down on the way to Edmunds.

After that it was all pretty easy. We caught the ferry to Kingston. Then took mostly back country roads out into the mountains. It didn't even rain.There were the usual amount of flats along the way. That just gave us time to hang out in the sun on a beautiful day. I wish I could express how amazing it feels to be part of a group of 35 people riding along. Especially loaded with camping gear and supplies. Who else does that? I can only feel lucky for being able to be part of it.

After a late lunch at a redneck burger joint, it was off into the mountains. No pavement. Steep climbs. Nothing I hadn't seen before. It did take quite a bit of time though. I wasn't really in any rush. I kept toward the back of the group to make sure that everyone was getting on okay. I passed Derrick, one of our founding members on the side of the road. He turned to me, totally exhausted, and said "Every fucking year." I could only smile. He knew what he was getting into. Besides, rule 54 is "do not follow Ben up a mountain."

By the time I reached the top I was actually surprised out how tired I had become. Sure I had done more miles in worse conditions with more weight on my bike, but not in a long while. The highest point of the trip was just a couple of miles short of the camp. The first few were even paved, and with a gentle slope made it so easy to glide almost all the way in. Almost. The last mile was a steep decent on a windy dirt road. One one side was the mountain about and on the other was a drop five hundred feet into the valley below. Who the hell makes a road like that?

I was the last rider into camp, and that suited me just fine. Everyone made it safe and sound. I even arrived before dusk. That gave me time to pitch my tent before nightfall.

As soon as the sun set thought it began to rain. Then it began to pour. Fortunately the advanced party of riders had set up a tarp to keep the rain off. We did get a fire going, but that took a bit of doing. For an hour or so most people just huddled under the tarp. As the evening wore on the rain let up. We stood around the fire. Talking. Singing. Drinking. Having a great time.

The next day the camp broke up into small groups. The folks in cars somehow escaped first. I made off toward the end with another dozen riders. We took our time riding back. It was raining again. The dirt roads had become muddy and slick. We did have a bit of time on some great country roads, but then it was onto the shoulder of the highway. Not as fun.

We wanted to regroup for food at Port Gamble, but the BBQ place was closed. The people who were tired headed back towards Kingston. I was in a group of seven who decided to mash down to Bainbridge. And we cruised. We set a great pace moving fast up and over the hills. I loved being loaded up and still being able to haul. We arrived at the ferry with just two minutes to spare.

I had such a great weekend. Doing almost 70 miles a day reminded me so much of being on tour. I love being on the road with everything I need to get by right there on my bike. And being with a group of great people who are having a great time. I really can't wait for the next trip.