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Olympic Peninsula Winter Loop Ride

A Winter Treat When All Is Right

Most of my long range riding is over by the first of November. But having spent a good part of spring and summer doing 200-300 mile days it's hard to accept the cold air and stay cooped up at home watching the rain pour down.

And then January shows up. That's when I start watching the weather patterns looking for the perfect day. And inevitably we get a few. Cloud-free, low humidity, overnight lows above freezing. Of course no one would use a day like this to ride off into the mountain passes where wicked road conditions await along with hoards of skiers and snow boarders causing long traffic jams. When this window of opportunity opens I head for a day- long ride around the Olympic Peninsula.

This is a ride like no other for several reasons.

For starters, it's the middle of winter and you find yourself riding along the Olympic Peninsula on dry pavement. Now that's kind of weird. By the time you reach Forks, Washington's wettest city at 121 inches of rainfall a year, you wonder why all the business owners haven't closed down for the day so they too can enjoy the great outdoors.

But it is winter and it is cold. I wouldn't dream of doing this ride without heated clothing. I put on the full set ofGerbing heated clothing which includes my jacket, pants, gloves and socks. About 150 watts of heat wrapped around me for a 10 to 14 hour day on the road. Strange things begin to happen when you artificially heat your body that long and eventually you feel as if you are a real person living in a synthetic body. For some, this creates a somewhat out-of-body experience. Each time you stop, your thyroid must wake up and start discussing tactics with your brain's hypothalamus (your body's thermostat) so that you can come back to ground zero with natural heat production.

Combine a satellite shot like this one, lows above freezing and dry roads and you've got some great winter riding weather!

As for other heating options, simply putting on a layer of warm gear will provide you comfort up to about the first hour of riding. After that the wind has stolen all your body heat and you'll need to get off the bike and create some new heat doing some physical activity before you hit the road again. A cup of coffee is nice too, but dealing with this hour after hour gets laborious and you'll really start thinking about a purchase of electric clothing.

As for my route, I almost always run it in a counter-clockwise direction. This allows me to leave Seattle early in the morning and reach Lake Quinalt by noon for lunch by the lake in the cozy hotel restaurant. Then I'm back on the road arriving in Port Townsend or Port Ludlow at the dinner hour before making my final return to Seattle. Each year my route varies, but I make every attempt at staying off SR12 by using as many back road routes between Shelton and Aberdeen as possible. With a dual sport, you can do the whole stretch on paved and unpaved roads skipping SR12 all together.

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The Portland Options

Living in Portland doesn't lend itself well to making your way to the Olympic Peninsula for a one- day trip. But you can still get out in winter by running Highway 14 east to Hood River, then returning using the Historic Columbia River Gorge Highway.

Another alternative is to ride SR30 north to Astoria across the bridge and return via SR4 in Washington and finally I-5.

Elevations along both these routes should keep you off the ice if overnight lows are above freezing,

A clockwise direction beginning in Seattle will land you in Port Angeles about lunch time and in Shelton for dinner. Since Shelton isn't all too famous for fancy dinner houses, you can see why I choose the aforementioned counter clock-wise route. When I'm on this ride I tend to dine on the high side.

If you've picked your day well, road conditions will likely be stable along the entire route. However, stretches of 101 between Lake Crescent and Forks get almost no direct sunlight and if fog has occurred the night before it can be a nasty tarmac of black ice. The alternate to this stretch of 101 is to utilize SR112 and SR113 between Port Angeles and Forks.

Suppose the friendly weather window-of-opportunity comes along mid-week and you can get away and do the ride! Oh my! Traffic along the west side of 101 is next to nil and you'll ride for miles at a time never passing a soul.

I tend to make this a solitary ride. Group rides can tend to drag on as people move at their own pace to saddle up and ride. Inevitably one or two people take a wrong turn and the idea of keeping everyone together goes south. Dealing with this in high 30s temperatures can be more torture than fun. Eventually your 10-to-14 hour day has the potential to turn into a 16-to-20 hour nightmare.

I also don't bring a passenger. My girlfriend would love to accompany me on the back of the bike for this ride, but my stator has another idea about that. In order for us to both heat up with two full sets of Gerbing heated clothing, we would draw 330 watts from the electrical system. It would work well on a Goldwing or K1200LT, but on my FZ-6, or NX650, it would drain the battery in several hours and the charging system would never recover a full charge until we got it home on a full-blown charger. I once did the ride on a 250cc scooter and drained the battery all on my own. Fortunately I had brought along a charger and played charging games all day long at my break and meal stops. The most comical moment that day was when I plugged the charger into a set of Christmas lights hanging from a tree on the sidewalk in Port Townsend. Adapt, adapt, adapt.

So it's me and the road for an entire day. I can't think of a more solitary, pleasing way to welcome in the New Year, one that will be filled with great rides and many miles of pleasure. A trip around the Olympic Peninsula in January is a perfect way to get your riding year underway.

Patrick Thomas/Winter 2005


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