A Backyard Adventure That Feels like Riding Around the World: Exploring the Majestic Rain Forests of the Pacific Northwest
Article and Photos By Tim Notier @2upAndOverloaded
Marisa and I have ridden our KTM 1190 Adventure, 2Up, and some would say overloaded, to the southern tip of South America, and halfway up the African continent. But we have found little slices of nature right here in the States that made us feel as if we were in some exotic corner of the world.
One of our favorite camping spots within the United States was in the heart of Washington’s Olympic National Park, which contains the only rainforests in the lower 48. It’s an unimaginable landscape filled with trees draped in layers of moss like royal gowns, the sounds of birds chirping and the wind rustling. And a perfectly compact gravel road twists through the scenery like a yellow brick road to OZ.
As we pulled down a narrow dirt road that made a loop around a lake, we were surrounded by the thick foliage of the Quinault Rain Forest. Long strands of moss hung from the trees and gently swayed in the wind like the hands of a maestro silently conducting a symphony of birds chirping and insects buzzing. As I breathed in the thick air, I could smell a thousand buds blooming throughout the forest, along with hints of decaying wood and fungus that covered the damp ground.
Smells can sometimes trigger certain memories of places that we have been to on our journey over the last five years and 125k miles. The earthy fragrance of our current surroundings immediately took me back to the milkwood forest where we had camped in South Africa’s Wild Coast. I remembered looking into the misty woodland and being overwhelmed by the exotic trees that twisted out of the ground like the wands of ancient wizards. It was a magical scene, one where if I had spotted a Faun sitting on a large branch playing a pan flute, I would have just accepted it without question. It was hidden gems like those that we hunted down like treasure hunters of nature.
In Olympic National Park, I was glad to find myself once again in a location that left me absolutely awestruck. The low octopus-like branches of the milkwood forest were now replaced by tall and mighty giants. Marisa and I got off our motorcycle and walked down a short path that led to the world’s largest Sitka Spruce. I dubbed it ‘Spruce Almighty’ as Marisa read the plaque describing the 191’ tall monstrosity with a 58’ circumference. We stood beside the massive trunk with a diameter that we could only compare to the goliath baobab trees we had encountered in Botswana.
The hike to see Spruce Almighty wasn’t long, but the narrow trail that cut through the forest was filled with a thousand still shots that could have been taken in for hours. I knew that we could have surveyed the area in greater detail, but the humid air was causing us both to sweat profusely while in our full motorcycle gear. My motto is: All of the gear, all of the time. Except for when hiking in jungles and climbing Mayan ruins. It is sound advice that we have learned the hard way after multiple blisters and near dehydration.
We walked back to the bike to figure out where we could go to further appreciate this wonderland of flora. A quick glance on Google Maps showed two possible campgrounds, North Fork, and Graves Creek. We decided to follow the small river systems that fed Lake Quinault and head towards one of the campgrounds to spend the night in this mystical paradise. The road had been suitable for RVs and large campers to travel to the RV parks that lined the lake, but quickly turned to gravel that weeded out most other vehicles.
Our new path was lined with thick foliage that you couldn’t see ten feet into. We passed half-fallen trees that bowed back to the earth in large moss-covered arcs. They looked like woolly mammoths grazing on the shrubbery of the forest floor. I couldn’t believe how exotic the environment was. It reminded me of our ride through the jungle on our way to Tikal where we rode through with wide smiles, knowing that we were about to be dazzled and amazed by what was to come. There were no jaguars or monkeys In the Quinault Rain Forest, but we did see signs that warned us of bears. One nice thing of riding through Central and South America is that there aren’t a lot of large carnivores that we had to constantly safeguard ourselves from. But here, we were definitely in bear territory, or as I call it, bearitory.
As we pulled into North Fork campground, it was an entrance equal to Jurassic Park. The sides of the road were lined with elephant ear sized ferns, old-growth cedar and spruce trees that were so vibrantly green it seemed as if nature had dragged the saturation bar in Photoshop all the way to the right. I pulled the KTM into an empty site, and we were finally able to take off all of our motorcycle gear that had left us sweating throughout the day’s ride.
Marisa set up our Big Agnes Blacktail Hotel Bikepacking tent as I assembled our camp chairs and prepared dinner. Our normal diet on the road is sometimes not as healthy as we would like it to be, but cans of Clam Chowder made the perfect supper after an amazing ride.
There was a rushing river down a narrow path that we washed our dishes in and filtered water to fill our bottles. It had been an excellent day’s ride through a rainforest that neither of us will soon forget, and we were so thankful that we were able to spend the time that it took to absorb our surroundings in detail.
Once back at our site, we hoisted our remaining snacks of apples, nuts, and other bear tempting goodies high into the air via paracord and a carabiner. Feeling accomplished of what we had seen that day, we sat down and smiled. Then our neighbors came over to inform us that earlier that day they had seen a bear walk directly through our campsite. He had been sniffing around and rummaging through the firepit. Having ridden throughout Africa, we were pretty levelheaded when it came to distancing ourselves from our food at night, but it’s never comforting knowing that you’re sleeping directly on a spot where a bear was just seen.
I knew that immersive natural landscapes also came with the creatures who have called it home for longer than our single night’s temporary residency. All I could do was hope that as long as I respected our animal neighbors, they would in return leave us alone. The problem is that even a small squirrel rummaging through the woods can sound like a monstrous beast when your mind is paranoid.
Needless to say, we survived the night. And before exiting the Quinault Rain Forest, we made sure to ride down every offshoot of the few roads that penetrated further into the National Park. The ride through the same fascinating scenery on a cool brisk morning energized us more than any amount of coffee could have. After branching off every vein we could, we completed the loop and returned to Highway 101, where we continued on our journey of collecting token after token of a lifelong memories.