Visiting Takhlakh Lake & Mount Adams By Bike

The advent of August brought with it a fantastic opportunity for some gravel grinding and adventure deep in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. On this day, I would join my friend Amos for 44 miles of biking on mixed surfaces and more than 4,000 feet of elevation gain — a tough day with a great reward in the middle.

Ever since I moved back to Lewis County in 2014, I’ve spent a lot of time at two of Washington’s three big volcanoes. Mount St. Helens is one of my favorite places in the world, Mount Rainier is beautiful beyond comparison, and Mount Adams — well, Mount Adams is the forgotten child of the three siblings.

With no visitor’s center or easy road access from a highway, Mount Adams quietly looms over surrounding forests, fields and meadows in relative silence. It’s the perfect area to enjoy some peace and solitude, with tourists and sightseers opting to see something a bit more “accessible.”

This trip would prove how arduous the journey is, yet incredibly rewarding to stand in the shadow of Mount Adams — and to do so by bike sweetened the experience.

The pavement ended just three miles into our ride, near the Cat Creek Campground. Wide tires were a necessity to get through some of the terrain that lay ahead.

The journey called for 44 miles done in a loop, with just over 4,000 feet of total elevation gain. Difficult but doable, but the beginning part of the ride was a shock to the system. The first five miles brought us up nearly 800 feet of elevation gain on Forest Road 21, which if we followed through to the end would drop us into Packwood. But we would turn right and hit some pavement about 8 miles into the ride.

The pavement of Forest Road 2160 was a welcome change from some washboarded gravel, but it wasn’t without its own challenges of rolling terrain. This photo shows one of the 3% ramps.

After turning right on FR 2160, we made our way southward on FR 56 and promptly turned left onto FR 2329. The gravel wasn’t bad, but we were coming up on a very spirited ascent. Before we tackled it, though, we grabbed a quick bite and washed it down with some water before punching up the hill.

Forest Road 2329 just kept climbing. About 1200 feet of gain over nearly 5 miles. It was SLOOOOW.
My Hammerhead Karoo 2 head unit showed the ascent as a definitely arduous one — with varying degrees of difficulty. With an already heavy bike frame and not much in the way of climbing gears, I would be in for a tough but still enjoyable time.

Punching up Forest Road 2329 was not for the faint of heart. A road with only enough width for one car plus a couple feet made for some interesting times when vehicles passed. Just about everyone was friendly and waved back when I waved hello and thank you for their consideration.

However, even as tough as FR 2329 was, Amos and I were able to make some conversation about some topics relevant to life — and I realized I’ve come a long way. Just two years ago, I had to stop three times to catch my breath while riding up a similar grade on an equally heavy bike.

Just to give you an idea of how heavy my bike was today…the bike itself is 25-26 pounds and there was easily 15 pounds of equipment in my bag. It made for some tough climbing, especially on portions of the road that were more technical with rocks and washouts.

We averaged about 6-7 mph up the climb (I readily admit Amos could have smoked me by just motoring up the road if he wanted to), and before we knew it we were up at a road intersection. This was another perfect opportunity to stop, take a drink, grab another quick bite to keep the calories and carbs coming, and just enjoy the quiet sounds of wind through the trees for a couple of moments.

Pointing east to Indian Heaven before turning back south on FR 2329…

Now the worst part of our ride would hit us soon as we continued on FR 2329 through an interesting-looking fir forest. We began to notice that each time we would ascend and begin sweating, flies and bees wanted to become our friends (or maybe more than friends). We would respectfully decline their overtures before more would join the fray and buzz all around us as we tried to concentrate on our climbs.

And there were plenty of climbs — just this section of FR 2329 alone outside of Takhlakh brought us up and down some really punchy rollers, totaling about 800 more feet of elevation gain before it flattened out near Keenes Horse Camp for a bit.

Amos just kept plodding along even with all the flies and bees trying to get his attention in the worst way.

Even though Takhlakh Lake was our destination, we saw so many beautiful sights on the way. The forest itself to me is a place of grand peace and serenity — and to see flowing rivers, babbling brooks, and adventurous animals running to and fro brought a lift to the spirits.

On one section up a brisk ramp of FR 2329, several small waterfalls fed a roadside stream that meandered its way toward the Cispus River.

This roadside waterfall provided a welcome distraction from the arduous climb up FR 2329 from FR 56.

After a few more tough and technical climbs in which sections of the road had ruts from winter snowmelt, or rocks jutting out from the roadbed below, we descended down a steep section of the road and passed a couple of cars coming the other way. One of the drivers remarked to me that his car didn’t belong out there (understatement of the century), but he looked like he was doing okay. We were suffering just as much, so we found a momentary kinship in our shared struggles to get through this road.

The descent brought us down to one of the most pristine areas in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest: Takh Takh Meadow. Less than two miles from Takhlakh Lake, this meadow is a small prairie that seems to extend outward a long way, breaking up the forest scenery and providing a feeling of openness in the seeming middle of nowhere.

Takh Takh Meadow was indescribably beautiful. If you’re ever up in the Takhlakh Lake area, visit this meadow and hike the trail adjoining it!

We continued our descent to Takhlakh Lake, and Amos told me he had never been there before. With the weather conditions a balmy 70 degrees, and a slight wind from the south, what perfect conditions for a first-time visit.

As for me, it was my third time up here, and every trip I’ve taken to this place has been done on the seat of a bicycle.

Takhlakh Lake is home to a campground that offers one of the most pristine views in the Northwest. Again, it’s overlooked by many because of the rugged nature of the area surrounding it.

I kind of like it that way.

Two people in a small boat drift on by as Mount Adams stands watch over Takhlakh Lake on Sunday, August 1, 2021.

We spent a few minutes taking in the sights before hopping back on our bikes and initiating a descent down FR 23, the main road in this section of forest. We hopped on rather quickly as we knew our water supply was diminishing and our muscles would get sore if we just sat around. We struck a good balance between enjoying the moment and recognizing the necessity of continuing on.

The descent down Forest Road 23 is long and winding, and the first portion of it requires ultimate care due to the condition of the gravel. Potholes and washboarded areas loom, and we kept our descent at 15-18 mph to stay safe. After six miles of descending on gravel, the road surface switched to pavement and we descended a lot faster. Amos hit a top speed of 40 while I hit 36, all the while looking over the surface of the road for potential hazards.

Amos gets ready to tackle another descent past a FR 23 reassurance sign.

We exhausted our water supply at the bottom of the grade, a perfect time to do so as we had one final ascent. Turning back onto FR 21 from FR 23, we had to climb about 650 feet over 5 miles to get back to the car. With 4-6 percent grades at maximum, this was doable although by this time my legs were screaming at me to stop the torture.

After a great sports-based conversation, we found ourselves back at the FR 56 intersection and the pullout area where we left the vehicle. The final ascent was nothing to scoff at, but again I remembered how difficult it was for me on a similarly heavy bike when I first tried it in 2018.

Not only was this ride great to do to enjoy some mountain and forest scenery, which we have in abundance in the PNW, but it was a great barometer to measure where I’ve come from and where I’m going from here.

This month I am shooting for a goal of 1,000 miles in the saddle, and it won’t be easy. Starting that quest with a ride like this is a great way to get into a good mental state and get ready for the grind.

Amos and I smiling for the camera on a bridge over the Cispus River.

I heartily recommend riding the gravel roads of the Gifford Pinchot, especially the route we did today. It’s good climbing practice, and a great route on which to test equipment for multi-day rides in mountainous terrain.

Here’s my Strava track from the ride today:

Nobody Meets By Accident

Me with my friends David and Scott, who graciously helped my staff and I during the Ride the Willapa event in Pe Ell, WA on June 26, 2021.

“You have to turn back. The road’s closed and you’re not going any further,” the deputy sternly told me.

I had come to a complete stop on my bike. A large Lewis County Sheriff’s Office truck sat across both lanes of a rural road and the deputy inside was all business. Up ahead, I could see a railroad crossing, a train stopped beyond the crossing, and investigators looking under the train.

I certainly was not going to cross those tracks that day.

Rogers Road south of Chehalis is one of my favorite “connector” roads, and like the theme to Nickelodeon’s Roundhouse stated in the 90s, you truly can go anywhere from here: south as far as you wish, west out to the Pluvius Hills, or north back home.

I could do neither of those three on this rather chilly December day in 2018. I had to turn around and alter my route.

Concern for the situation sat at the forefront of my mind as I bombed down Rogers back toward I-5, over the overpass and past the Port of Chehalis. Before long I was at Jackson Highway and decided to just simply head home.

With my bike pointed north, I fought a crosswind from the west and was lollygagging on the shoulder. Twenty-five miles on this day would be a decent feather in the cap, I decided, and I had plenty to think about on the way.

Suddenly, two other guys on bikes pulled up on either side of me on the shoulder of Jackson and introduced themselves: David and Scott, and they lived not far from me.

“We saw you up here so we thought we’d catch up and say hey,” Scott said. “We can paceline it back if you want.”

We chewed up 10 miles together, each taking two minute pulls so the other two didn’t have to work as hard, and when we got back onto a couple rural roads, we spent some time properly introducing ourselves. David spoke of his job at a local textile manufacturer, Scott talked about his construction business. I shared a bit about my IT background.

We exchanged numbers and pledged to meet up for more rides, and the day was certainly not a bust.

Funny how things work: in the coming months after I met David and Scott, I began to ride with their cycling group on Saturdays. I started off skittish, learned how to paceline and corner at higher speeds than I was used to, and two new friendships turned into ten before I knew it. Most importantly, I had a regular cycling group.

Had I not been forced to turn around that day, who knows what would have happened in the months since.

Meeting David and Scott confirmed to me that nobody meets by accident — and that’s a tenet that has guided my life for the past two and a half years.

Every interaction happens for a reason, even if we don’t know why at the time. Maybe it is to bring someone a moment of joy. Maybe you meet someone and they become a resource of knowledge.

And on a rare occasion, someone that you meet ends up changing the course of your life.

I now look at my interactions with people I meet much differently after that day, especially while on my bicycle.

Every person from a kind driver scooting into the other lane to pass and give a friendly wave, a farmer whose property sits at the top of an eight-percent climb offering to refill my water bottles, even a hello and a smile given to someone whose path intersects mine on the Willapa Hills Trail — absolutely none of it happens by accident.

Life brings us these beautiful intersections with other people’s lives, and in the grand scheme of my life I am fascinated that I can intersect with others whose life paths were so different than mine a month, year, decade before we met.

Nobody meets by accident.

It’s with that central concept in mind that I put pen to paper and begin this new venture I like to call Bike Like a Brewer. Camaraderie and community are as important to me as coffee, cycling, cameras and climbing — and I will attempt to merge all six into this space.

In the coming days, weeks and months, you’ll see this website grow in form and function as I chronicle the miles I chew through as I pedal onward. The mission will always be the same: to share my love of cycling with the world at large, and to be a source of inspiration for everyone wanting to get out on two wheels.

Bike Like a Brewer will combine personal experiences with photos, guides, routes, anecdotes and more. It’ll be a resource, photo gallery, story book, and chat space all in one.

I hope you find yourself at home here as well, and that the content I share is not just a meaningful way to spend your time, but that we can mutually feel as if we are connecting over a shared love of cycling and the outdoors. This space will be as much yours as it is mine.

Nobody meets by accident, and I’m really happy you’re here.

Onward we pedal. This is going to be fun.