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.

22 Responses to Early-Season Ride: Hood Canal and Tahuya Hills

  1. mike w. March 4, 2016 at 6:44 am #

    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.

  2. Jimmy March 4, 2016 at 7:43 am #

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

  3. Doug March 4, 2016 at 7:53 am #

    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.

  4. Wdwagner March 4, 2016 at 8:05 am #

    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.

  5. David Pearce March 4, 2016 at 9:14 am #

    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!

  6. Ryan Hamilton March 4, 2016 at 9:53 am #

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

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly March 4, 2016 at 10:03 am #

      We missed you. Next time…

    • Steve Frey March 4, 2016 at 11:15 am #

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

  7. Ryan March 4, 2016 at 10:40 am #

    Any chance any of you mapped this?

    • Mark March 4, 2016 at 11:29 am #

      You can see the route here:

      • Bill Gobie March 4, 2016 at 1:33 pm #

        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!):

  8. Tim Foon Feldman March 4, 2016 at 2:58 pm #

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

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly March 4, 2016 at 4:57 pm #

      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…

  9. Gert March 5, 2016 at 3:07 am #

    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

  10. David Pearce March 5, 2016 at 4:56 pm #

    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!

  11. emem1956 March 7, 2016 at 1:49 pm #

    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?

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly March 7, 2016 at 1:56 pm #

      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.

      • Bill Wood March 7, 2016 at 8:30 pm #

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

        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly March 8, 2016 at 7:50 am #

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

  12. Alexander Fine March 8, 2016 at 11:31 pm #

    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.

  13. Ted March 9, 2016 at 5:50 pm #

    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!

    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly March 9, 2016 at 6:18 pm #

      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.