Earlier this May, I was one of five Therm-a-Rest employees on a three day bikepacking trip in north-central Washington & southern British Columbia. Bikepacking, or loaded mountain bike touring, is a great way to explore the backroads and trails of the Northwest because you can cover much more ground on a bike than you can on foot. We had seen some rudimentary trip reports on the area from mountain bikers and motorcycle tourists on various blogs, and decided we needed to go check it out for ourselves.
The starting point for the trip was the town of Republic, Washington, about six hours northeast of Seattle. While we intentionally left our route and timeline a bit open ended, the basic plan was as follows:
Day 1 we would ride north along Curlew Lake on a rails-to-trails bike path into Canada, headed towards a shelter in the hills above the town of Grand Forks, BC. Day 2 we would drop back down into the US through a combination of double track and paved back roads, and end up at the Deer Creek Forest Campground above the town of Orient, WA. Day 3 would be the big one. We would ride the Kettle Crest Trail – 30 miles of prime singletrack. Then, depending on how we were feeling, Day 4 would be either another day of singletrack or a quick ride on the road back to Republic. With this somewhat vague plan we rolled out of Seattle after lunch on a Friday and started the drive east. As would be expected, there were a couple hiccups along the way but hey, that only adds to the adventure.

Celebrating our arrival at the start of the tour. Photo: Randall Foster
Celebrating our arrival at the start of the tour. Photo: Randall Foster

After a long drive we checked into the Klondike Motel in Republic, and headed over to Republic Brewing Co. next door, for some beer, pizza, and route planning. With comfy couches,  live music and plenty of delicious beer, it was the perfect place to relax before setting off on our ride.

Day 1

Ready to go. Photo: Randall Foster
Ready to go. Photo: Randall Foster

Once we’d filled up on pretty much every breakfast food imaginable at the Pine Grove Junction, we packed up and hit the road.  Left to right are graphic designer Chris “C-Rob” Roberts, marketing director Jim Boswell, category director Terry Breaux, project manager Kyle Thackray, and dealer services rep Randall Foster.

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Day one turned out to be a bit slow, with a trail surface of deep sand and gravel, rather than pavement or dirt as we expected. This bridge was a great place for a rest and a snack.

We made sure to stay nice and hydrated. Photo: Kyle Thackray
Trans-Canada Shelter. Photo: Randall Foster
Trans-Canada Shelter. Photo: Randall Foster

The first night was spent at a shelter on the Trans-Canada trail, built in 1901. We shared the shelter with a young guy from Germany named Carsten who was taking time off after graduating college to ride the entire trail from BC to Newfoundland.

Classic Terry, in bed at 6:30 and sleeping on the table. Photo: Kyle Thackray
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C-Rob looks on as the moon rises over the valley. Photo: Kyle Thackray

 

Day 2

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After a hot cup of coffee and some oatmeal, we had a chilly seven-mile descent back down the trail for a second breakfast in Grand Forks, BC.

There are only two rules at the Happy Days diner. Photo: Randall Foster
There are only two rules at the Happy Days diner. Photo: Randall Foster
Double track for miles. Photo: Kyle Thackray
Double track for miles. Photo: Kyle Thackray
Back in the USA. Photo: Kyle Thackray
Back in the USA. Photo: Kyle Thackray
Sweet-talking Orient Dog. Photo: Kyle Thackray
Sweet-talking Orient Dog. Photo: Kyle Thackray

After about 40 miles on a beautiful back road, we pedaled into the town of Orient to load up on food. This little guy was sitting on the front porch of the store. The locals just called him “Orient dog,” and he managed to sweet-talk Randall out of one of his string cheeses.

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Once we had filled up on hot wings, burgers, chicken strips, and PBR tallboys, we started the climb up Boulder Creek road. This proved to be much more of a climb than we were expecting (the greasy food and beers didn’t help), and we learned to take Terry’s mileage estimates with a grain of salt. We rolled into camp 12 miles and 3200 ft of elevation gain later, just as the sun set.

Day 3

Randall and C-Rob packing up for day three. Photo: Kyle Thackray
Randall and C-Rob packing up for day three. Photo: Kyle Thackray

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The objective: 30 miles of primo singletrack. The snow at the trailhead probably should have been a warning sign.

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Sunny skies, cool temps, and smooth trails made for a perfect morning in the saddle.

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Unfortunately, after a few miles the fast smooth trail made a turn for the worse.

One of the few times when cold gas station burritos really hit the spot. Photo: Kyle Thackray
One of the few times when cold gas station burritos really hit the spot. Photo: Kyle Thackray

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We had pushed our way through a few significant snow patches, but we were supposed to continue to climb another few thousand feet and knew we’d see even more snow, so we pulled out the maps and decided to take a detour down some double track and forest service roads instead. While we were all bummed not to finish the trail, we got some excellent info for next time.

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Linking up a few forest service roads, we dropped all the way back down into the town of Curlew, WA. After some chili dogs at the Tugboat drive thru, we pedaled over to the saloon for some shade. This place had some character – their “top shelf” beer was Rainier, which was fine with us – and the cougars were on the prowl.

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We ended our trip at Curlew Lake State park after around 120 miles in the saddle. Not bad for a bunch of bikepacking newbies like us. The long weekend was filled with great company and amazing terrain, and we all agreed we’d be back. Stay tuned for round two…

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Our trip route.