What follows is a communique from the initial pre-ride of the Dark Divide 300 route, which took place in July 2021 written by scouting-party member Shawn (@emorandonneur)… Keep an eye out for more reports as scouting continues…
…We left Olympia in the morning via the multi-use trail system, which is a very nice way to get out to Yelm, where we did a few laps at the skatepark before pressing on with Mt. Rainer clearly in our sights. Coming from the east coast, it is wild to see a proper mountain towering above us 40 miles into a ride. After some route scouting that proved to be private driveway dead-ends, we backtracked and took 161 into Eatonville. It was already very hot out at this point, so we rinsed off at the public restrooms before getting lunch snacks from the food co-op in town.
Fueled up and sunburnt we headed into the Elbe Hills. We reached the chunky gravel roads and the steep climbing started. it was only day one and we were already feeling the weight of our loaded bikes. We went off course slightly to hit up a store in Ashford before camping along the Nisqually River at mile 80 of our adventure.
Day 2: We packed up and rolled out, headed for the Tahoma State Forest for another day chasing the Dark Divide. It was warming up quickly, and just a few miles outside of Ashford we encounter a washout and shallow river-crossing across Catt Creek with tank-traps on both sides. We took our shoes off, forded the water, and were on our way again. The water felt good as it was only getting hotter outside. 10 miles later and after some significant climbing on NF-84, we realized that the next road we were supposed to take, NF-8500090, was no more. It had become overgrown and abandoned. We looked at some maps and came up with a detour that would link back up with the route but skip some of the single-track by taking NF-85. This turned out to be some of the best riding of our trip with great views and long, gentle climbs. Our reroute was proving to be great, however, global warming and deer flies were trying to make us miserable while we slowly traversed and took in the sights.
At this point, about 20 miles and already several hours into our day, we may have realized that our goal of getting to Portland in 4 days would not happen, so we planned to figure out our options once we get to Randle. We began descending once we got back on route after our detour, stopping to take a break while fixing some tubeless issues, as one does. I don’t really recall too much of this section, but we did end up on an old road that is still paved but not used by vehicles.
We had ridden about 30 miles and were probably 10 miles from Randle at this point and it had taken us most of the day. Our paved, but not in-use road came to an abrupt end with overgrowth. We walked through some foliage and logs, got back on our bikes, and when we rounded the corner we discovered what was left of the road ended in a complete washout. We didn’t want to back-track our way up what was miles of downhill now that we were about 6 miles from town. We parked our bikes and scoped it out. Preston spotted a beer can with a recent date and “Randle to Packwood” written on it, so there must be a way to hike through, we thought. It turned out to be maybe a mile of hike-a-bike across a handful of decades-old washouts completely overgrown, including a section of straight up boulders with a stream running through it.
We hiked to the end and found that the paved road continued. We hiked back and forth through the washout, first with our bags, then with our bikes. Some sections were so steep we had to pull our bikes to the top with paracord. All in all, the ordeal took about three and a half hours in the high heat of the day. After getting all of our stuff to the paved section, we went to the stream and cleaned up as we all stunk horribly. Then we enjoyed a ripping descent that hit another brief non-paved section that was totally passable for us. Chris and I turned the corner to see Preston waiting for us- something was caught in his chain and ripped his rear derailleur clean off, bent the dropout and all. We quickly set it up single-speed and coast down to the IGA market in Randle.
After consuming lots of food and drink, we headed up the road to camp in Gifford Pinchot National Forest. We’d be heading back to the IGA in the morning where a minivan will carry us to Portland.