A few years back I did the real Tour de Whatcom and it was a fun experience, one that I will likely do again and again and again. But I’ve also had this other route in my head for awhile and have just been biding my time until conditions were right. And by conditions I mostly mean, my condition. When would I be in condition enough to ride a 30 plus mile loop around Lake Whatcom that included the gravelly Wickersham Truck Trail with all its up and down elevation changes. I am certain this has been done by others, just not anyone that I know. I’ve been a little anxious to do this route, because of this cool combination of on/off-road and a little anxious to get it done the first time so it can become a known element that I can incorporate in some sort of a routine.
Ok, I did it. Yesterday I did the complete circumnavigation of Lake Whatcom by bike, or more real, with bike. That is, with bike because I was carrying and dragging my bike for a significant portion of the loop. You see, I was a bit early in the year for riding the Wickersham Truck Trail. At this time of year it would really make a better snow shoe adventure than a bike adventure and that is why I spent about 8 hours carrying and dragging my bike though ankle and knee deep snow over most of the Wickersham Trail. Somebody will be wondering what’s up when they see my bike track running over top of their snowshoe track in 2 feet of soft snow.
My plan was to ride from Whatcom Falls Park, south along Lake Whatcom Blvd, around the bottom of the lake on South Bay Drive/Park Road, turn up Hwy 9 towards Acme, enter Wickersham Truck Trail, ride most of the trail but be prepared to slog through a bit of snow at the high spots, then get back on the road at the North Lake Whatcom Trailhead and ride the North Shore Road back to Whatcom Falls Park. All in all, I was thinking 4-5 hours, 5-6 worst case. Apparently I underestimated “worst case” because it took me 11+ hours car to car. Yes it was grueling and likely stupid, based on the discrepancy between my planned worst case and my reality worst case. But on the bright side, it’s good to know that next time I do this route, there will be little chance of posting a slower time.
I won’t go into all of things that I learned doing my first Tour de Lake Whatcom, but here are a few.
- Follow weather ahead of the ride so you have an idea of how much snow has fallen and how much might have melted out.
- Check snowshoe trail reports because good snowshoeing means poor mountain biking
- Be prepared for the worst
- Tell people where you are going, and update them before deviating
- If relying on cell, have a big pocket charger and cord
- GPS using apps may interfere. I was tracking using Endomondo, route finding using Google & Trailforks and looking at elevation using Gaia. One or more of them conflicted and I got erroneous position information that led me to make, what in hindsight was, a poor decision where I expected 2 hours of snow slogging, I got into 8 hours of snow slogging.
- Dress appropriate and be prepared to spend a lot longer out than you think you will, and have gear to stay warm for the “lot longer than you think you will” eventuality.
- Check out any number of “Ten Essentials” lists and try for a high score, maybe 9 out of 10, or heck even 10 of 10.
- Leave early on new adventures because you want any time over runs or problems to occur during daylight, not after dark.
- Keep a good attitude. Piss poor attitudes lead to piss poor decisions made out of emotion rather than rational decisions. Remember, whatever happens, it’s all part of the experience, so keep it a good experience.
- Live to climb another day – experience from climbing days. No peak, nor biking trip should be your last, be ready to call it quits and turn around, change plans, or call for help.
- Take lots of pictures for you to remember and share, or for your loved ones to find later so that they will know that you perished doing something you loved 😉
So overall, what I can say is that I did it, it’s done, and the first one is in the books. I covered enough of the 10 essentials to enjoy my alone time, but spent some of that time thinking about few upgrades to my bike kit. In hindsight it was fun, but for next time I will make sure to check both recent weather and recent conditions before venturing out, as well as sorting out the GPS stuff so that my next Tour de Lake Whatcom will be like a real bike ride for the vast majority of the route.
Bike wise Whitey did just fine, even shod in Big Bens. For the pavement they rolled along nicely. For the gravel power line road they worked great also. For intermittent light snow patches they were also fine as long as I didn’t expect them to act like knobby tires. And for bike carrying through deep snow, The Big Ben’s easily equaled the performance of even the most expensive tires 😉
Neat little view of the route from Relive. Mileage recorded was less than the 36-37 miles actually travelled due to GPS issues noted above. Also my top speed of 39 mph was achieved by failing to turn off the tracking after getting in car. What can I say, I was a bit tired.
I did a little rough mileage/time breakdown, thought might be helpful if you choose to be as stupid as I:
Whatcom Falls to start of Wickersham Trail – 16.6 miles in 1.5 hours 🙂
Wickersham Trail to North Lake Whatcom Trailhead – 12.2 miles in 8.5 hours 🙁
North Lake Whatcom Trailhead back to Whatcom Falls – 8.7 miles in 1 hour 🙂
Look for a couple of updates to this post as well as future write ups of this route, as I intend to make several more loops of my Tour de Lake Whatcom, as weather and conditions allow naturally.
UPDATE – I’ve now registered for the real 2018 Tour de Whatcom. The way I figure it, compared to this 11 hour ordeal, the real tour will be a donut run. (I am now knocking on my wood desk)