Mt Rainier and Skookum Flats

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Long ago before kids and even before Ashley came along, I used to regularly ride one of the most beautiful mountain bike trails in Washington State called Skookum Flats. As the kids biking skills increased steadily over the last year, I would tell them about some of the more beautiful and challenging rides of Washington. Now that we are back in the PNW one of the first things I wanted to do was stay a few nights at a campground called the Dalles just outside of the Mt Rainier National Forest. What makes the Dalles campground so appealing to me is that it is along the Skookum Flats mountain bike trail. The day we arrived at the Dalles the kids and I did a little test run of the trails. I was a little nervous because I remember it to be a challenging ride. I was not certain that kids would be able to adjust to the roots and rocks of this type of riding. After a little hesitant riding they quickly found their comfort zones, smiles spread across their faces, and they began ripping down the trails. The next day Ashley joined us on a ride further down the trail to Skookum falls. Ashley said that either the trail got easier or she has become a much better rider. On a trail that used to intimidate her she flew down with ease. She, too, has had a marked improvement in her skills over that last year.

With the kids handling the trails so well, I planned a much more challenging route for our next ride. This trail is called the Suntop trail. It rides up a road to the top of a peak that looks across to Mt Rainier. It begins with a 7mile climb of 3500 ft elevation gain! From the top we drop quickly for half a mile then climb another 900ft over 1.5 miles. After that it is 6.5 miles of downhill riding. Once we get to the bottom we finish with the 6 miles of slight downhill riding of the Skookum Flats trail. We began the ride at 10am and started up. The road is a hard packed gravel forest service road that never for a moment let up in its steepness. For three hours the kids ground their way to the top without a complaint or a fuss. We came to the top and we were all a little hungry and ready for a drink of our, at this point, warm water. In my pack I had a bunch of granola bars, 4 apples, and some peanut butter pretzels. Not exactly anyone’s favorite food but it packs a lot of calories into a small and easy to carry package. I had planned to begin rationing for Ashley and I to ensure that the kids had enough food to make it all the way back home. When we reach a small parking lot and the trail to the fire lookout we got off our bikes to gave our legs a rest and broke into our food. However, before we could even begin eating a woman approached us with the most amazing question/offer. “Would you folks like an ice cream sandwhich?” We all thought she was a mirage or some other figment of our hot, sweaty and dehydrated imagination. But no she was real. I was like just out of a fairytale. We had just worked out for three hours in the sun and the heat and just as we were about to eat some, not exactly exciting, food on the top of a mountain miles and miles from any form of civilization. This wonderful woman offered us ICE CREAM! Yes ICE CREAM! We quickly overcame our surprise and graciously accepted her offer. I mean, come on, it was ice cream! After we each wolfed down our ice cream sandwiches she invited us over to the tents she and some volunteers had erected for their work party. She walked us over to their tent and began loading us up with all kinds of snacks such as carrot sticks, Gatorades, crackers, cookies, pretzels, potato chips, juices and yes more ice cream. As it turns out this work party was the idea of her Eagle Scout son. He and some volunteers made the trail from the parking lot to the fire tower ADA compliant. They had been working for the last 4 days straight and were just finishing up. His mother (ice cream lady) no ( ice cream angel) purchased tons and tons of food and snacks for the volunteers and was about to start loading it all up into her car and take home when this mountain biking family showed up (that would be us). So she was happy to unload some of her extras on us and we were happy to oblige.

After getting more than our fill of refreshments and topping off our water bottles we said our goodbyes to our amazing hosts and headed down the mountain. The trail wasted no time getting steep, narrow and throwing switch back and switch back at us. We had been riding for about 10 minutes when Alexander said that his brakes seem to not be working well. Sometimes there can be an air bubble in the hydraulic system so I gave his bike a good couple of vertical bounces (this usually does the trick) and we started down again. About 3 minutes later he said it was failing again so I told him to just use his back brakes. This worked for a couple more minutes and then the back brakes began to fail as well. We all stopped and I tried to bleed the brakes but nothing seemed to get the now front and rear brakes to engage at all. We were forced to make a choice between continuing down or going back up to where the volunteers were and ask for some assistance. We were now two miles from the top and maybe the workers are still there and maybe not. Not to mention it was uphill and none of us liked the idea of going up again. So we decided to continue down. At first Alexander drug his feet to slow down but the trail was very steep so that did not work long as a solution. Then we all switched bikes. Victoria rode by bike, Alexander rode Victoria’s and I rode Alexander’s. The thought was it would be easier for me to stop using my feet. Yeah, no. Yes, I could put my feet on the ground easier than Alex. But my 185lbs built up a lot more momentum than his did on the steep downhill portions. After my third endo I decided we needed to do something different. We had 6.5 miles to go and it was nearly all downhill. So I told everyone to slow down to a walking speed and we would take turns pushing Alexander’s bike. Alexander quickly said he would take the first turn pushing. He took point with me following him and Ashley and Victoria pulling up the rear. However, if you know Alexander, you know he thinks why walk when you can run. So that is what he did. He started running while pushing his bike. Now it should be said that his bike weighs 25lbs and he weighs 60lbs. So he was running while pushing nearly half his weigh down and narrow, rock and root strewn trail that was anything but smooth or straight. Needless to say I thought his run would last a minute or so. Two miles later I asked him if he wanted a break and he just casually said, “no I got this”. He was running along at a steady 10 min/mile pace pushing his bike despite the trail, despite the bike bear trapping him dozens of time (that is when the pedals hit the back of your legs and it hurts a lot) despite the heat and despite that fact that he already has ridden 11 miles today 7 of which were uphill!  After another two miles he was still going and his speed had not let up. I continued to offer to switch with him but he wanted to keep running. We poured the praising and encouragement upon him and he ate it all up. When we had 2 miles to go I stopped him and I hid his bike behind some bushes along the trail. I told him I would come get it tomorrow morning. I told Victoria to switch bikes so that Alexander could ride hers and I run that last 2 miles but Alexander would have none of it. He wanted to continue running. When we arrived at the bottom of the trail Alex had ridden uphill 7 miles, downhill about 2 miles and then ran 6.5 miles! All on his own accord most of it with a huge smile on his face. This kid is so amazing! We all were really proud of his and you could see he was just as proud of himself.

Driving to our last campground
Grandma Murphy playing Laser Tag with Alexander in the forest.
Looks like he has her on the run! Good tactical retreat. Not bad for 71 years old.
Victoria on one of our many hikes in this amazing old growth forest.
Skookum Falls.
Cooling off from one of our rides and then the tough hike up to these falls.
Hey, it is hard work keeping up with these two kids on their mountain bikes and then hiking straight up a hill to the bottom of these falls.
We each had a hypothesis as to how this hole was formed.
In the end we all agreed that Alexander’s was the most likely.
Seven miles of climbing and we reached the summit of Sun Top Mountain.
Volunteers making a difference and opening up these amazing views to everyone. Oh and they were very generous with the ice cream!
Tiffany and Kimmy came to visit us at the campground and were impressed by Alexander’s endurance run!
After all that exercise today Victoria was in bed early.
Alexander was happy to turn in early too, but he still had a little extra energy to read before bed.

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