An Olympian Warm Up

One question that I have been asked repeatedly is how one can prepare for endless days of constant cycling. If one were to use my last trip as the standard by which they measure adequate preparation, they would probably conclude that such a trip can be undertaken with little prior training, as I had never cycled more than 50km in one go prior to the first day of the trip. While that may be true, knowing what I know now about how my body responds to long rides, I decided that, this time, I would at least go on a few preparatory rides, and what better way to warm up than via a 28 km nearly uninterrupted climb into the Olympic Mountains?

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The Olympic Peninsula lies about 25km south of Victoria, and is easily accessible by a ferry that departs from the Victoria Inner Harbour. On a clear day, the range easily visible from even a slight elevation in the Greater Victoria Area. It is a majestic and inspiring range and a ubiquitous feature of Vancouver Island tourist paraphernalia.

I had been discussing this trip with some friends of mine from Cobble Hill for a couple of months now, and so after just a little preliminary organization, we were on our way, planning to arrive early in the evening, take in a motel, and head up to the summit the following morning.

Unbelievably, I forgot my passport, and while this wasn’t a trip-ending problem, it could have delayed crossing by about 4 hours while I cycled home and picked it up. Fortunately, US customs took pity on me and allowed me through with my driver’s license. Despite my luck, I’m sure that this rarely happens. Never forget your passport when trying to enter into a new country! I’m glad I got this egregious oversight out of the way before the bigger ride, where a mistake of this kind might result in drastic route alterations/limitations.

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The town of Port Angeles almost doesn’t deserve a mention, as it is a pretty undesirable destination in its own right. However, the motel was pleasant, if a little cozy, and the staff were very friendly. Given its geographical location, I can’t help but wonder why the town appears so dilapidated. It reminded me of Thunder Bay, another port town seemingly teeming with potential, only smaller. Perhaps its proximity to Victoria is in fact a hindrance to its tourism industry, as no cruise ship would bother stopping at both locations. That said, it is a gateway to many other popular spots in the Olympic Peninsula: Twilight-famous Forks, La Push, and, of course, the Olympic National Park.

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After an uninspiring breakfast at the local coffee shop, we headed towards the park’s main gate, a 9km uphill which, according to the locals, was the most difficult portion of the ascent. This was, as usual, completely wrong. $5 poorer and feeling good, we continued on. Briefly, the grade slackened, and it seemed that we were through the worst of it. Soon, however, the road picked up its previous grade, and I realized that I had not brought enough snacks to sustain to me to the summit. Lying on the side of the road waiting for my friends to catch up, I was approached by a German who was on his way (driving) down the mountain. He generously gave me some of his food, the likes of which indicated that he was also on a long journey: his trunk was full of neatly packed bags of food, homemade granola to mixed nuts for example. As well, he was carrying a ton of camera equipment. It turns out he’s a nature photographer, and he was on his way to Alaska to photograph the myriad of wildlife in Western Canada and Alaska. Check out his website here.

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Refueled and energized from the free snacks and great (albeit brief) conversation, I joined my friends who were now abreast of me and continued on. The summit was only 10km or so away now, and the weather was noticeably cooler. Fog meandered in and out of the valley and soon snow appeared at the side of the road. Yet the spectacular views remained elusive due to cloud cover. Finally, around the last bend, the fog briefly lifted and the mountains revealed themselves in all their glory. Whether it was due to some weird trick of perspective or the actual elevation of the road compared to the surrounding peaks I’m not sure, but as we looked across the vast valley it appeared that we were directly level with the mountaintops. The ranges continued into the horizon, and for a brief time, it felt like we were on top of the world. Unfortunately the fog never lifted completely and so at least some of the view was always obscured.

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After high fives and some pasta – a good chance to test my cooking gear – we rushed down the mountain hoping to make the last ferry back to Victoria. What took 5-6 hours to ascend was over in about 40 minutes as we sped down the smooth and sweeping road. Unfortunately, because we were rushed, I did not take the time to get a decent photo of all of us at the top. I’m certainly going to have to brush up on my trip photography if I’m to successfully document my next ride.

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The legs were feeling good the next day. Perhaps a certain degree of long-distance cycling fitness never goes away? My riding partners, who, by the way, nearly double me in age, also felt great, if a bit worked. With gear preparation nearly complete (stay tuned for a gear post), I’m ready to head off again. There are only a couple of weeks now until I head north, and the feeling of anticipation is becoming almost unbearable.

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