Ted King’s XLent AdventureJan Heine
Ted King and his wife Laura have long been champions of the cycling community in every sense of the word. Ted, of course, is best known as the ‘King of Gravel,’ having won Unbound (twice), SBT GRVL and many other big gravel races. Laura is a champion in her own right, often placing on the podium of races big and small. But that’s not what I am talking about: The two also have been at the forefront of building community around their cycling exploits. For years, they organized Rooted Vermont, a gravel ride and race near their home in New England. This year saw the debut of Ted’s XLent Adventures.
The idea for Ted’s XLent Adventures is simple: Spend a weekend bikepacking with Ted and Laura on wonderful roads. Unfortunately, the first two events this year, in California’s Mill District and in Vermont, had to be cancelled due to torrential rains and devastating floods. Fortunately, the weather was perfect for last weekend’s XLent Adventure in the Cascade Mountains.
Ted had asked me about some route suggestions that were off the beaten path, but still do-able for most riders. Given the vastness of the Cascade Mountains, we eventually settled on two days of riding based out of Packwood at the foot of Tahoma (Mount Rainier). We selected routes that showcase some of the amazing riding we have here in the Pacific Northwest.
For Ted and me, the adventure started on Friday, when we met to ride out to Packwood, bikepacking-style. Except that I don’t do much bikepacking, but usually camp with Natsuko, so my equipment consisted of a two-person tent and comfortable sleeping pad—not exactly superlight—while Ted has just updated his equipment for this year’s Tour Divide. Lesson No. 1: Don’t burden yourself with 30 lb (14 kg) of camping equipment and the heavy Bicycle Quarterly camera when chasing the ‘King of Gravel’ into the mountains!
On the plus side, I was riding my Oregon Outback Rene Herse, while Ted was on his mountain bike—the only bike he’d brought on this trip. We made good progress and realized we could eat dinner at the National Park Inn in Longmire if we pushed the pace a bit. The restaurant closes at 8 p.m., and we made it with 12 minutes to spare… A quick after-dinner spin down the beautiful Skate Creek Road in the dark brought us to Packwood, where we set up camp and met the first participants of the weekend’s XLent Adventure.
We woke up to a glorious sunrise bathing the peak of Tahoma (Mount Rainier) in a golden glow. We’d be heading up there later in the day, but first we’d climb the slopes on the left—the Sawtooth Mountains.
It was a small, but varied group that headed into the forest. Bikes included carbon gravel bikes, bikepacking machines, Ted’s mountain bike, and two steel all-road bikes.
The pace was spirited, but not competitive. Exactly as you’d expect from a ride intended to celebrate cycling off the beaten path. We reached Silver Creek Pass…
…and stopped for a (partial) group photo with a view of Tahoma. A ripping-fast descent followed. This year, new gravel has been spread on the forest roads in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and the surface was still very loose.
Fortunately, skill levels were high, and it was an enjoyable downhill for all. A brief interlude brought us through the back door into Mount Rainier National Park.
We traversed the suspension bridge across the Nisqually River…
…and enjoyed lunch on the porch of the historic Longmire Inn, with a view of the volcano.
The climb to Paradise—2500 ft (760 m) higher—was intended as an optional extension of the ride, but none of the participants wanted to miss it. No wonder—this road doesn’t just offer spectacular riding, but also spectacular views. And at the top, there was frozen yoghurt at the visitor center…
… followed by one of the best descents anywhere. (Sorry for the poor image—taking photos while descending curving roads at 45 mph is not my specialty.)
Dinner at a brew pub with live music ended Day 1—almost. When we returned to our campsite, we met Tom, who had cycled overnight from Vancouver (the town in Washington, not the city in Canada). He arrived late, rode the course a few hours behind us, and just now pulled into the campground. It was already too dark for photos, so here he is the following morning, still asleep in his bivy after his monster ride.
Day 2 took us south toward Pahto (Mount Adams). That’s another big volcano, and Forest Road 21 starts climbing immediately upon leaving the valley.
To our surprise, we saw two cyclists ahead. There aren’t many who ride here, and these two were carrying full bikepacking gear. Turns out they were from Belgium, heading through the mountains across Washington and Oregon. We quickly exchanged some routing tips—fortunately, their online research had already put them on the most scenic path. I envy their multi-week adventure of discovering these mountains for the first time!
For us, the destination was Walupt Lake—a beautiful lake high up in the Goat Rocks Wilderness. The lake is at 4,000 ft (1220 m) elevation, which meant 1.5 hours of solid climbing before enjoying the undulating road to the lake itself.
Here our group split, with a few continuing on a big loop via Forest Road 22 to Randle, while the rest of us decided to return the way we came. Either way, everybody had a great time. Ted and Laura are already talking about next year’s XLent Adventures, and there are plans for another edition in the Cascade Mountains. Don’t miss it!