I’ve recently started doing some scouting of my region by bicycle. While foot scouting is still my go-to method, bicycle scouting has a few advantages:
- You don’t have to carry a pack on your shoulders.
- You can cover much more ground in a given amount of time.
- Cyclists aren’t as threatening as walkers; people tend to ignore you.
- You can discreetly film places of interest with a handlebar-mounted phone.
A bicycle is a versatile form of transportation: you can ride it on regular roads, dirt/gravel roads, sidewalks, bike paths, some foot trails and short bushwhacks, take it on cars, buses, trains, planes and even packrafts. You can carry as much gear as you would backpacking, allowing you to take extended “bikepacking” excursions. You can also easily stash a bike in places where you could never park a car discreetly when you need to proceed on foot. To efficiently get an on-the-ground feel for the shadow routes and resources in your area, cycling may be the best option.
My latest bicycle scouting was an overnight trip to the town of Quilcene about 35 miles away. I am fortunate to live near the Olympic Discovery Trail, a popular paved bike trail/highway route which goes from Port Townsend at the north end of the Olympic Peninsula all the way to the Pacific Ocean, a distance of about 130 miles. I was able to take the paved trail or side roads for the majority of the trip, riding along two bays, through the Skallam reservation and along a lake.
There were surprisingly few people on the trail for a sunny weekend, which was good. There was one 24 hour gas station/deli en route and a couple of creeks where I could filter water. I took some video of sections of interest with my handlebar-mounted phone, and left some Scout sign to mark my range:
On a side road near Discovery Bay I passed a sign where the Pacific Northwest Trail used to head into the Olympic mountains before it was re-routed. The sign was at the end of a driveway; I started riding up it, saw a group of people, called out to ask if the trail was still in use, but when they didn’t answer I got spooked and rode away. On further research it looks like this is now an alternate PNT route that’s still used, so apparently they’re OK with people walking through here. I will be returning to scout this section at a later date.
From there I headed south toward Quilcene, using the highway and a side road along Leland Lake. As it was getting late I started looking for a place to stealth camp. I considered camping at a turn-out near the highway where a boat had been left full of trash, but when I walked down a trail I encountered all kinds of old tents, clothes and junk everywhere. Not wanting to camp next to what looked like a homeless encampment, I got out of there and kept riding south.
When I arrived at Quilcene the sun was setting and I needed to quickly find a place to camp. Looking at my gaiagps maps, I noticed a power line corridor near town that was crossed by a road near a river, so I biked the half mile to check it out. The road ended before the corridor but there was an overgrown trail that led to it which I was able to push my bike through. This led to a clearing under the power lines, surrounded by tall grass with views of the nearby mountains. After clearing some rocks I was able to make a decent spot for my tent and set up my stealth camp. I was also able to find a game trail to the river where I could get water.
I got up early the next morning and headed back the same way, scouting a few side roads as I went. On Highway 101 near Discovery Bay, I noticed that just below the highway was an abandoned road which had a “keep out” sign on it. Curious, I bushwhacked down to the road and rode on it for about a mile until it rejoined an active side road. This road doesn’t show up in any gaiagps map except the historic 1930 topo map; it looks like it was a section of a road that once ran along the railroad that used to go around Discovery Bay on its way from Port Townsend to Port Angeles. This is exactly the kind of shadow route that I look for when I’m out scouting; if I’m ever stealth travelling through this area I can avoid the busy highway and move quickly on foot or bicycle. I will definitely be back to explore this road further.
The rest of the ride home to Sequim was uneventful. Overall, this was an interesting if somewhat grueling trip of about 70 miles that gave me a better feel for the area and opened my eyes to the potential of scouting by bicycle. Stay tuned for more!