Early-Season Ride: Hood Canal and Tahuya Hills

Early-Season Ride: Hood Canal and Tahuya Hills

The Bicycle Quarterly Team’s early-season rides usually head into the Cascade foothills to our east. There are plenty of quiet roads that seem to dead-end in the mountains… until you realize that they are connected by gravel roads! This allows us to string together a variety of rides – free of traffic and in beautiful surroundings.
We love those rides, but sometimes, a change of scenery heightens our sense of adventure. When Mark suggested a ride along the Hood Canal and through the Tahuya Hills, it didn’t take much to persuade us. Especially since he promised some gravel in the mix.
Steve (black), Mark (yellow) and I met on the 6 o’clock ferry from Seattle to Bremerton. By the time we prepared to disembark, dawn announced the new day. Spring is coming, and the days are getting longer!
The first kilometers along a busy highway were quickly forgotten, because we soon found ourselves on smaller roads. From Belfair, we headed along the Hood Canal into the Tahuya Hills. This is a favorite road that we’ve traveled during many a Seattle International Randonneurs brevets, usually in the middle of the night.
This morning, the scenery was especially spectacular. We saw three layers of clouds hovering above the sound. The water in the distance was still blanketed by a thick layer of fog. Above were low clouds (or perhaps dissolving fog), with a high cloud cover above. And best of all, the sun was shining on us!
A little further, we surprised a huge bald eagle by the roadside. The eagle looks big in the photo, but you cannot see its wingspan: It was at least 1.8 m (6 ft). I did not realize how large these birds really are, until one flew right by my shoulder!
Soon we entered the Tahyua Hills. This time, we did not take paved inland route, but a gravel road that hugs the coast line. We had seen only three or four cars since leaving Belfair, and now we had the road entirely to ourselves.
A coastal route may sound flat, but the Tahyua Hills deserve their name. Cyclists whisper about these hills – most have heard about them, but only the hardiest actually have ridden here. I reality, the Tahuya Hills are fun – a rollercoaster of ups and downs with tight turns that test the skills of the riders and the quality of their bikes. Mark and Steve’s randonneur bikes were up to the task. The terrain was a bit more challenging for my Specialized Diverge long-term test bike, but I made it fine, too.
We rode into the fog that we had seen in the distance, just as it started to lift. We were glad to have fenders, because the previous day’s rain had left the gravel muddy. (A gravel bike without fenders makes little sense around here, even on sunny days.)
We rode along beautiful bays, now back on pavement, but still away from traffic. Time flew by, with spirited pedaling and animated conversations to distract us. It was a typically wonderful ride with friends.
Just as we were getting hungry, we reached Seabeck with its general store. Weekend rides like this one aren’t timed events, so we stopped for a leisurely lunch.
After lunch, we soon turned off the main road again. Flanked by the Puget Sound on one side and a Navy base on the other, there was hardly any traffic until we reached Bainbridge Island.
Here, we split up. My companions were keen to get home, so they continued on the busy highway. I preferred the backroads for a wonderful spin over the narrow, twisting two-lane blacktop. It’s hillier and thus takes longer than the highway, but for me, it was a nice end to a great ride.
I would have caught the same ferry if I hadn’t stopped at the store in Winslow to buy a second lunch. The sun had come out, and I enjoyed my picnic at the ferry dock. An hour later, I was riding home along the Seattle waterfront. These are the best kind of pre-season rides: interesting, enjoyable and thoroughly low-key.

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Comments (22)

  • mike w.

    Great shot of the eagle! i had occasion to travel across Iowa this last weekend and saw dozens of eagles in their spring migrations, but none so closely. A truly impressive bird.

    March 4, 2016 at 6:44 am
  • Jimmy

    Fun Bald Eagle fact! They have enough grip strength in their feet to crush your femur.

    March 4, 2016 at 7:43 am
  • Doug

    Is that North Shore/Burma Road? Probably my favorite place to ride so near Seattle.
    Interesting historical tidbit: it was originally constructed illegally by local residents in the 1930s. That’s why it’s such a roller coaster.

    March 4, 2016 at 7:53 am
  • Wdwagner

    We have bald eagles here in SW FL… Competing with the other “common vultures” for roadkill. The turkey vultures seem to,respect them and let them have first dibs.

    March 4, 2016 at 8:05 am
  • David Pearce

    How great you guys are! What a lovely and inspiring text / photo essay. It will be spring soon, and just in time! Now will the winter of our discontent be made glorious summer! And great on you to get that instant pic of that magnificent Eagle!

    March 4, 2016 at 9:14 am
  • Ryan Hamilton

    Sheesh. The only weekend when I had a conflict. No fair!

    March 4, 2016 at 9:53 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      We missed you. Next time…

      March 4, 2016 at 10:03 am
    • Steve Frey

      Ryan, we’ll definitely have to go back again with you. North Shore Road is a treasure!

      March 4, 2016 at 11:15 am
  • Ryan

    Any chance any of you mapped this?

    March 4, 2016 at 10:40 am
    • Mark

      You can see the route here:

      March 4, 2016 at 11:29 am
      • Bill Gobie

        Leaving Bremerton the shoulder of WA-3 is narrow to nonexistant and usually strewn with tire-killing debris. In another month or two there will be blackberry vines reaching into the road. Even with light early morning traffic it is an uncomfortable stretch. The beginning of this route is a safer way to leave Bremerton (and it should doubly appeal to you guys since it requires a lot of climbing!):

        March 4, 2016 at 1:33 pm
  • Tim Foon Feldman

    “…the Cascade foothills to our east.”
    The route description and Mark’s link indicate a ride to the west of Seattle.

    March 4, 2016 at 2:58 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Sorry it was easy to misunderstand. We usually go east to the foothills, but as the text said, for a change of scenery, we headed west to the Hood Canal…

      March 4, 2016 at 4:57 pm
  • Gert

    Sitting here procrastinating by re-reading this, while it is raining, sub 40F temperature and windy. I am not the least envious of your ride.
    Real spring is still more than a month away here, so rides like yours are way off in the future.
    But still an inspiration to get out anyway. Thanks
    So I better get dressed ( a lot) and get out and build character

    March 5, 2016 at 3:07 am
  • David Pearce

    What could be more beautiful than three bicycles & two cyclists standing in front of the Seabeck Landing General Store? I don’t think anything in this world, or the next!

    March 5, 2016 at 4:56 pm
  • emem1956

    The ride looks beautiful. You mention the Diverge having some difficulties. I know you’ll have a long-term report on it in BQ, but I’m considering buying one now for my son while he’s here in this country (he lives o/s). Any hints as to what its shortcomings were compared to the rando bikes? The roads you show don’t look that bad. Was it just tyres?

    March 7, 2016 at 1:49 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Fender and brake issues were the most important shortcomings. The 32 mm tires were fine on that road… The Diverge is fine for a mass-produced bike, but the best custom bikes really are incredible machines.

      March 7, 2016 at 1:56 pm
      • Bill Wood

        HI Jan, in the most recent BQ you mentioned that the Diverge’s brakes were fine… what was the issue on this ride?

        March 7, 2016 at 8:30 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          We haven’t investigated yet, but it appears that the Diverge’s fork/headset don’t handle the forces of disc brakes well…

          March 8, 2016 at 7:50 am
  • Alexander Fine

    Brilliant ride! That’s the sort of day that many cyclists live for.
    Regarding brake issues, I use a similar set-up and felt a bit of shudder as well. After ruling out play in the headset, the shudder I felt seemed to be the brake pad having a bit of play within the caliper. The fork may resonate a bit too much too but even by rocking the bike at a standstill the pad jiggles a bit.

    March 8, 2016 at 11:31 pm
  • Ted

    Would you mind sharing your favorite (if any) supplement in your bottles? I’m pretty new to distance riding and could use all the help I can get. Thanks!

    March 9, 2016 at 5:50 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      My favorite is 1/3 apple juice, 2/3 water. Electrolytes, a few calories, and easy to find anywhere in the U.S. (European apple juice can be more acidic, and not as easy to drink.) On this ride, I used half a Nuun Electrolyte tablet per bottle, since I didn’t have apple juice in my fridge.

      March 9, 2016 at 6:18 pm

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