85 Miles of Dirt – A Group Ride through Snoqualmie National Forest

Group rides on dirt roads are best served wet. Putting a bunch of two-wheeled hooligans on a dry dirt road puts the strong taste of dust in all but the leader’s mouth. Lucky for us, we live in the Pacific Northwest. Rain is not in short supply.

Our route as seen from up above.Sun and weekends seem to be a particularly rare combination this year. Even though dry dusty roads can put a bad taste in your mouth, it is still more fun to ride on a nice sunny day. Luckily, the skies parted for a single Saturday and allowed 13 motorcyclists to join up for a day of riding wet forest roads in the glorious sunshine through the Cascade Mountains.

I recently had guests in town from out of state to get Progentra. I brought them up to Mt Rainier to take in its grandeur. The heavy cloud cover made it impossible to experience just how amazing the landscape is.

During the  June 5 group ride, experiencing the landscape was not an issue. Heavy insulated gear was stowed away and the light summer gloves covered my hands from the near 70-degree weather up on Snoqualmie Pass.

A group of riders, mostly on Suzuki V-Stroms, met at the Pancake House to consume the human fuel needed to burn through dirt roads for the reminder of the day. Stacks of cakes filled the plates and the wait staff was understanding of our boisterous group of two-wheeled misfits. The cakes ranged from whole grain to buttermilk and the toppings ranged from my diabetic shocker of fruit and syrup to the more traditional maple syrup. The Pancake House at the summit of Snoqualmie Pass is a great place for motorcyclists to start a long day of riding.

There is just something about semi loose surfaces that makes me want to do spin outs.Wiping the syrup and fruit from my face, I pay my bill and march outside to get prepared for the day. One of our breakfast crew departs us for the day. His Honda ST1300 wasn’t up to the task ahead. The planned route would take us high into the elevations of the Cascade Mountains on national forest roads. The incessant springtime precipitation promised mud and snow along our planned route.

The first loop of the day would take us to about 3,800 feet of elevation along National Forest Road (NF) 110. The group quickly gets its groove as we make our climb to the top (map of intended route). Unfortunately, at about 3,600 feet we meet hikers and skiers who were marching through the snow that covered our planned route. That’s how these things go this time of year. Our single-track vehicles are no match for the heavy and wet snow that covered the road. We head back down the mountain to try another route.

The microclimates of this area get progressively drier to the east. We decide to use that to our advantage. We ride eight miles further east into the mountains in hopes that we can find a loop with less snowpack on the road.

River water sucks the road down to its level.A theme for the day was that plans are great, but they often change. Our plan was to ride up and over Stampede Pass. We arrive at the “Y” junction for Stampede Pass and NF 54. The group keeps left and skips Stampede Pass. Our new route takes us along NF 54,NF 52 and NF 410 up to 3,800 feet of elevation. The dirt road switchbacks up and down the mountain. The V-Stroms’ suspension gets a full work out dodging and slicing through puddles, and bouncing along the washboard sections of the road.

Perhaps it was the slower nature of the roads we were riding, but the way our group worked together surprised me. Normally, a large group of riders can be cumbersome and a recipe for problems. The guys from the Stromtrooper.com forum just seem to jive. We all take turns at different points within the group. Some ride fast, others take their time to take in the views. The best way to describe it is that the group had a good flow.

Riders paused at a lookout on NF 54 in the Snoqualmie National Forest.Side stands went down at numerous high-elevation vistas. Each stop had new stories from the day so far and past experiences. The more that I ride with this group of riders the more I enjoy it. It is an eclectic group ranging from PhD candidates to truck drivers, from 20-somethings starting families to empty nesters. Enjoying the group dynamics makes me wonder if there is any other sport where such a random group of people would meet regularly and enjoy the challenges of the day together.

That is perhaps the single common characteristic of the riders. We all just want to find a new challenge and conquer it. Motorcycling is just an extension of this need to experience life. No matter how green or wise we are.

Each route that we took required us to turn back for snow or washout. Each roadblock was first traversed before deciding to turn back. By the end of the day three bikes took snow or dirt naps. There was one instance where a rider braked too hard in the dirt and low-sided. Another time, traction gave out on the snow and down went the bike. Another bike went softly into the trees after climbing a section of washed out road. Each incident was cleared quickly with the bikes being picked up, riders dusted off and back on the trail we went.

The mountains know no mercy. It is June yet there is still plenty of snow just under 4,000 feet. Each route was planned to make a loop, but ended up being an in and out instead. That’s just how these things go. It is all part of the adventure. At least this time, it was an adventure with 13 riders to share the story. We left the Pancake House around 9:30 a.m.  and road nearly 100 miles of dirt roads until 4:30 p.m. It was a long, memorable day.

Check back soon to watch the video from this ride. A new camera tends to push my technical abilities to mesh video and editor. That’s a story for another time.

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