The 2nd Annual Ancient Lakes Fatbike Overnighter 2015
Two friends and I finally got out on Saturday, April 26th, for one of the rides that I have really been looking forward to since riding it the first time, something I call the Ancient Lakes Fatbike Overnighter. It is so beautiful, and so much fun, I am definitely making it an annual ride from now on.
My friend and coworker Boo has a nearly new XS 2014 Surly Pugsley, and although it had been out on a couple of day rides it was time to get it properly dirty and broken in. After our miserable experience attempting the Idaho Hotsprings Ride we wanted to get this year's bikepacking adventures off on the right tire, so we made plans with my veteran riding buddy John, and the good Dr. Ian to head back to Central Washington, where all of us had at least done day rides before, and where John and I had done the first Ancient Lakes Ride in 2014. This would be Dr. Ian's shakedown ride on his new Borealis Yampa fatty, and I had a new Rohloff Speedhub 500/14 laced into my rear wheel. With Boo's nearly mint Pugsley we were all psyched to get out there and break in some new gear, ride some dirt, dodge some rattlesnakes, and spend some time in the outdoors.
Good friends on awesome bikes
The loose plan was to head to Dusty Lake on the first day and camp out, find another undetermined destination for the second night, and then head back to Seattle to complete the 3-days/2-nights ride. Unfortunately, Saturday was looking pretty crappy weather-wise, so I decided to postpone the first day and start the ride on Sunday for just a single overnighter to Dusty Lake and back. Boo and I were carpooling, and Dr. Ian and John were going to drive together, but at the last minute the good Dr. needed to bail, so then we were down to 3. John, being the badass that he is, decided to brave the weather and go out on Saturday anyway. His plan was to do the ride to Dusty Lake, camp out overnight, and then ride out to meet us at the trailhead on Sunday so he could join us for the ride back in to Dusty Lake for Sunday night.
John the badass
Meanwhile, Boo's family has a cabin on Lake Wenatchee, and he offered it up for Saturday night as a place to stay for a halfway point on the drive to Vantage and the trailhead for our Sunday ride. The cabin is a rustic but cozy little hideaway, just a short walk downhill right to the beautiful lake. Boo and I drove over there and spent a cold but very relaxing day and night hanging by the fire insert, shooting the shit, and eating pasta, bread, and cookies till we were ready to explode.
Boo's cabin on Lake Wenatchee
Sunday morning, after a painfully lengthy packing session as Boo sorted out his gear, we finally had the car loaded and drove over Blewett Pass to I-90 and made our way east past Vantage and over the Columbia River. After crossing the river it was just a short drive to the Frenchman Coulee climbing area and the trailhead where our ride was to begin. John, not knowing what time we were planning on arriving, had been waiting quite a while, but met us with smiles and tales of good weather and a fun previous day's ride. At this point it was just gorgeous out, so after more fussing and sorting of Boo's gear, we were almost ready to ride!
I had planned on filming the ride with all of us carrying cameras and GoPros, but my digital curse struck once again. My fully charged GoPro ended up having a dead battery and I said, "Fuck it, let's just ride and forget the filming." Of course at this point I am really disappointed because I love documenting these rides and making YouTube films out of them, but it does add an incredible amount of work and complication to a ride, and sometimes it's just nice to skip the whole rigmarole and just ride the bike. And, we can always shoot stills and some video on our iPhones.
The first mile or two of the trail is incredibly rough, which may be why this is not a more popular riding destination. Still, our fatbikes eat up the terrain and we bounce and bump along until the trail more or less smoothes out, turning into a mix of rock, sand, dust, and dirt. Some of the soft stuff is just like flour, and our drivetrains quickly start grinding and creaking, sounding absolutely horrible in the quiet of the desert environment. We are three professional bike mechanics, but not one of us thought to bring chain lube, so we just try to ignore the sound of our drivetrains trying to sand themselves into a slow, horrible death. This is where I am thankful for the Rohloff, an IGH wonder machine where all the shifting and gears are sealed inside a dustproof metal housing in the rear wheel. Nevertheless, the chain and cogs are on the outside, and they sound just as bad as everyone else's, making me wonder if our bikes are going to hold together for the duration of the ride. On the positive side, Boo's Pugsley is finally going to get really and truly dirty!
Boo on his shiny new Pugsley. Not shiny for long!
As we make our way northward, paralleling the Columbia River, it gets hotter and the sun starts to work on any exposed skin. John is already getting pretty burned, having already spent a day out here, and everyone adopts my no-helmet/wide-brimmed-hat style of desert riding. At an average speed of under 5mph and a more or less flat route, there just isn't much risk in riding without a helmet out here. But heat exhaustion and sunstroke are a very real threat, and it is better to stay covered up if you can stand it. In the interest of traveling with as little gear and clothing as possible I am riding in a long sleeve base-layer shirt, and wind-blocking long pants...all black. Surprisingly, for me it is not too hot, as long as we are moving and there is a breeze.
A happy rider!
It takes us about two and a half hours to get to Dusty Lake, and by the time we get there we are dirty and satisfyingly tired.
The Dusty Lake campsite
Although Saturday night John found the premium camp site to be totally packed with people, today on Sunday there is not another person in sight and we have the entire place to ourselves. Boo and I set up our tents while John lays out his bivy sack, and we start to think about dinner as the sun slowly drops behind the few wispy clouds.
As usual, I brought at least twice as much food as I need, and I immediately start foisting the extra off on my riding partners, who accept offerings of string cheese with appreciation, if not exactly enthusiasm.
It is going to be a beautiful night, with a half moon that turns out to be almost bright enough to read by. It is surprisingly mild and warm out, with a soft breeze blowing, and as the sun sets, the voices of thousands of frogs call us to our waiting sleeping bags. Too tired to even read, we each drift off to sleep listening to the croaking chorus.
Monday dawns warm and bright, with full morning sun glowing through my tent wall and baking me out of my comfy sleeping arrangements. I see Boo drag himself out of his tent, John somehow extricates himself from his bivy, and we all gather around last night's dinner spot to make breakfast. For some of us it's granola, for me it's potatoes and eggs, and for all of us it's coffee, with plenty of extra string cheese to go around!
Mmmmm, string cheese!
After breakfast John is packed and ready to ride in about ten minutes, and about fifteen minutes later I am ready as well, but Boo is still sortin' gear. Patience is the order of the day, and we have no place we need to be, so I take a walk, John finds minimal shade under a small bush, and we wait for Boo to get himself organized and ready to go. Bikepacking is a challenging balance of what to bring, what not to bring, and how to carry it efficiently in the very limited space you have available on a bike. John rides minimalist, I am a little more indulgent, and Boo is still finding his balance, having to deal with riding and carrying everything on an XS-size fatbike, which makes figuring out how to pack things that much harder. It will take time and practice, but he will get there and find his own style.
We finally get going, and by now it is midday and much hotter than yesterday. It has been cool enough to not worry about, but I expect that today or tomorrow the rattlesnakes will finally hatch and the trails will be covered with thousands of the little nasties. I want to be out of here before that happens! The ride out is hot, the guys are running low on water, and I am making it worse by wanting to film today. I brought an auxiliary battery pack and was able to charge my GoPro back up, so filming has begun again with all its back and forth for setting up shots, riding through, and going back for the camera. It is extra exhausting, but Boo and John are real troopers and their patience is a big help in trying to document the ride so others can vicariously enjoy it.
The Ancient Lakes Fatbike Overnighter video
It seems like too soon, but before we know it we are back at our cars for the hero shots, the high fives, and the assurances to make plans for the next ride. Boo's bike is well broken in, we are sunburned, smiling, and starving! It's time to get loaded up, and head into Ellensburg for some Mexican food, ice cold drinks, and lots of talk about what worked, what didn't, and what we will do different next time. Damn...I can't wait for next time!!!
Thanks so much to Boo and John for being great riding partners and good friends. I really look forward to our next fatbiking/bikepacking adventure together!