Bicycle Scouting the ODT

Bicycle Scouting the ODT

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.

A typical section of the ODT. Note how easy it is to discreetly film items of interest from a bike.

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:

Leaving Scout sign on the ODT

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.

A PNT sign marks a route into the Olympics that goes through someone’s driveway.

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.

My stealth camp in a power line corridor near Quilcene.

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.

Riding an unmapped, abandoned road near Highway 101.

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!

Anderson Mountain

Anderson Mountain

Panoramic views of Mt. Baker and Skagit valley near the top.

One of my ongoing missions is scouting sections of the Pacific Northwest Trail near me. For this trip I hiked over Anderson Mountain from Highway 9 to Alger, then did a loop from Alger along the PNT through Squires Lake.

PNT trail marker near the summit.

The trail begins at a gated forest road several miles south of Wickersham. It was a bit of a grind switchbacking up the mountain on a hot day, but several cold streams helped. After about 5 miles the road opens up to spectacular views of Mt. Baker and the surrounding peaks to the north and along the Skagit Valley. Near the summit I left the forest road and walked a nice section of trail marked with a PNT sign. I rejoined a forest road and got some nice views west to the Chuckanuts and the San Juans. At some point, due to the GPS track I was following, I got on an overgrown forest road that looks like it was abandoned 15 or 20 years ago. There were huge piles of logs on the trail and I finally ended up in deep bush with no sign of the trail. I pushed straight through the bush and finally connected to another section of the PNT foot trail, which took me the rest of the way down the mountain. Road-walking along narrow-shouldered Alger Cain Lake Road got me to Alger and the Shell station for refreshments. I hiked about 15 miles from Highway 9 to Alger and ninja-camped in the woods near I-5.

Lost in the bushes coming down the mountain.
Massive stump at the base of the mountain.

The next morning, fueled with a coffee, muffin and breakfast sandwich from the Shell station, I rejoined the PNT at the gated forest road just outside of town. This was an easy walk toward Squires Lake, with a side trip up Alger Alp, which has a nice vantage point over Alger. I followed the South Ridge trail to the Squires Lake Trail around the lake and back down to the highway. Several miles of road-walking got me across I-5 and back to Alger for more refreshments.

This was a fun little PNT scouting mission, but the trail toward the top of Anderson Mountain was confusing; you might have to do some serious bushwhacking to get back on trail. The mountain was surprisingly scenic, I had the trail all to myself, and Alger is a nice re-supply point that thru-hikers will welcome.

Lyman Hill

Lyman Hill

A typical view west toward the San Juans.

As part of my ongoing mission to scout sections of the Pacific Northwest Trail, I decided to hike over Lyman Hill (really a massive mountain) from Highway 9 then walk down into Lyman.

Starting from the gated forest road off Wickersham Road, the ascent was pretty relentless: nine miles and 4000 feet of switchbacks, the last part exposed to the afternoon sun. Fresh bear scat on the road, a bobcat and some circling hawks kept things interesting on the way up. The views west over Anderson and Blanchard Mountains, Lake Whatcom and the San Juans became more expansive as I ascended.

At the summit the forest road connected to the Gurdjieff Connector Trail (love the name), a shady, grassy ridge walk that was a relief after climbing a hot dirt road all afternoon. Then things got confusing as I entered an active logging area, where large tractors and piles of felled trees obscured the trail. I walked a little ways up the clear-cut to a high point, and suddenly I got a spectacular view north to Mt. Baker and the surrounding peaks. This was the best view of the hike, thanks to the loggers. In fact all the views on this hike were made possible by clear-cuts.

Spectacular views of Mt. Baker from a clear-cut near the top.

As I descended the east side of the mountain I got nice views of the Skagit River valley and the North Cascades in the distance. I hammock-camped on a piece of DNR land above a trickle of water and went to bed early so I could exfiltrate the mountain before any loggers arrived.

The view of Skagit valley coming down the mountain at sunset.

To my surprise, one or two trucks rolled up the mountain around 4 am, so I decided to pack up before dawn and hit the trail. I walked forest roads down the mountain for several miles, connected to Pipeline Road and walked a couple of miles into Lyman for breakfast. As a final challenge, two rather aggressive dogs approached me and made it clear they didn’t want me passing by their house. I quickly found a large stick and prepared to do battle, but fortunately their owner came out just in time and called them home.

All in all, a fun scouting trip of around 21 miles from Wickersham Road to Lyman. I didn’t see anyone on the trail, though I did hide from a couple of pickup trucks in the morning because that’s how a Shadow Scout operates.

Lyman Hill is privately owned but open to PNT hikers.