Riding to Forest Road 6700

trailhead

There are many reasons to plan a ride. In this case, we had been looking at a map. We found Forest Road 6700, and it looked like it could provide an alternative to Highway 2 on the way from Stevens Pass to Leavenworth (below).

fr_6700_map

It had everything we could ask for: gravel (which means little traffic), a lot of squiggles (challenging climbs and descents), and the promise of wonderful mountain scenery. The plan was quickly put together. Ryan and I would meet at 2:30 a.m. We wanted to get an early start, so we’d reach Forest Road 6700 while the day was still young.

hwy2

We headed out of town on familiar roads. By the time the sun was up, we already were far from Seattle. We climbed the Skykomish River valley on the approach to Stevens Pass.

cascade_tunnel

Even though we were eager to get to the pass and explore the “new” road, we couldn’t resist taking the small sideroads that parallel the highway in many places. We got to pass the entrance to the longest railroad tunnel in North America on the old road to Stevens Pass.

climb_6700

The ride really started once we turned off the highway onto Forest Road 6700. As we got on gravel, we let out some air from our Hetre Extra Léger tires. The road started climbing almost immediately.

atmospheric_perspective

It was steep in places, but we were still able to admire the scenery as we climbed to the crest of the Cascade Range.

pass_wo_name

Reaching a pass you’ve never crossed before is exciting, especially one that had been so close-by, but hidden from view as we rode on more common routes. As we crested, a new world opened up on the other side. We saw valleys we’ve never seen before, and the road led us into unknown territory.

bridge_fr_65

The descent was great fun, even though it was a little rough in places. When we reached Lake Wenatchee, we had to decide whether we should turn west toward Stevens Pass, or continue on a grand loop via Blewitt and Snoqualmie Passes. It was an easy decision: Riding back via Stevens Pass lacked the sense of occasion that was inherent in the big loop. And we were keen on visiting one of our favorite roads over Old Blewitt Pass.

bath

Even though autumn was near, the day was turning hot. After lunch at a restaurant, we saw 97° F (36° C) on the thermometer at the store in Leavenworth – in the shade. On the approach to Blewitt Pass, we decided to cool off in the river. It’s amazing how quickly a cold bath will cool you. I was careful not to get the chamois of my shorts wet, though.

climb_blewitt

The old road up Blewitt Pass is a wonderful climb. The modern highway goes over another pass, so there is hardly any traffic here. We enjoyed the feeling of solitude as we wound our way up the mountainside.

descent_blewitt

The only thing better than climbing the north side of Old Blewitt Pass is descending the south side! The corners have good sight lines, and as long as you have wide tires and a well-handling bike, you can carry amazing speed around them.

cle_elum

As we approached Cle Elum, we missed the turn-off for the sideroad into town. Fortunately, we found a farm road that took us across the valley; we were grateful not to have to ride on the busy highway.

ryan_happy

More than 400 kilometers in his legs, and Ryan still looked cheerful! We had dinner in Cle Elum, then took the Iron Horse Trail on the old railroad line to Snoqualmie Pass. Riding on gravel at night was pleasant. We caught occasional glimpses of the freeway across the valley, and couldn’t help but remember how many miles we had ridden on its noisy, debris-covered shoulder in the “old days,” before we discovered wide tires and gravel-road alternatives.

tinkham_rd

A few miles on the freeway are inevitable, because there are no parallel roads. But with every ride, we try to reduce the stretches on the freeway by discovering alternatives. That night, I remembered Tinkham Road, a gravel road I had taken during a geology field trip many years ago. We were able to ride through the forest for 10 km (6 miles), in complete solitude, yet just half a mile from the freeway.

We made a quick stop at Snoqualmie Falls to look at the waterfall, then reached the suburbs of Seattle with more gravel trails into Issaquah. We were running a bit later than planned – what had been a planned 10 p.m. return time ended up being 5 a.m. – but I didn’t regret it at all. It was time well spent.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. One of our companies, Bicycle Quarterly Press publishes cycling books, while Compass Bicycles Ltd. makes and distributes high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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37 Responses to Riding to Forest Road 6700

  1. bgobie says:

    “steep in places”
    ! ! !

    I have driven road 6700 westbound. My stomach did a few flips at the first view of the descent from the pass.

  2. Steven D says:

    It sounds wonderful! What was the total mileage? Any chance this will become a permanent?

  3. Paul Ahart says:

    That really sounds like an awesome ride. I’m heading over to Leavenworth in another week for some R&R after a busy summer, and love riding and exploring the many “forgotten” roads of the North Cascades. I’ll make do with my Boulder 700c bike, but with 700×32 tires it’s not too bad on the rough stuff. With you extolling the virues of 650bx42, it really makes one start mentally tabulating the time involved in saving enough for a bike with the clearances to run them, and having an understanding spouse. My Blériot, sadly, lacks such clearances, at least with fenders.
    Jan, keep up the wonderful adventures; it really keeps the rest of us excited about the sport, even if we haven’t the time or physical condition to do such long ones.

    • You can do a ride like this in several day instead. Or if you are already in Leavenworth, it’s a nice day ride up there and back.

    • Steve Palincsar says:

      I’m not so sure your Bleriot won’t fit Hetres with fenders. My friend Joan’s Bleriot — a small size one — fits them fine with wide SKS plastic fenders, and my 60 cm Saluki fit Hetres with 58mm Honjos (although I had to do a little cutting to get the fender to fit at the chainstays).

      • Paul Ahart says:

        Thanks Steve. I’ve got a customer’s bike in my shop right now with Hetre tires, so will have to see how they fit my bike before he picks it up. Would love to run those.
        Paul

  4. Patrick Moore says:

    Sounds like great fun, though far too long all at once for me — you’ve crammed into one ride a month of such rides for me. Still, it makes me want to go back to the old logging roads in the Jemez mountains NW of Albuquerque, though I think I’d prefer 50mm+ tires to 42s. My 700C X 55mm Freds weigh 72 grams less than your 650B X 42 mm Hetres!

    Great writeup.

    • Schwalbe claims a weight of 360 g for the “Furious Fred,” whereas the Grand Bois Hetre Extra Léger we used weighs 357 g. However, just looking at the weight of a tire can be misleading. Most of the weight of a high-performance tire is in the tread, and making that thinner only reduces the life expectancy, while adding only little speed. Basically, a tire that is lighter than a Grand Bois Extra Léger is simply “pre-worn.”

      The supple casings weigh almost nothing, and the folding beads all wear roughly the same, since you cannot remove material without affecting safety.

      Most of all, the “Fred” is a knobby tire, and thus not suitable for riding significant distances on the road. What we enjoy so much with our bikes is that they offer the speed of a road bike with the ability to ride on gravel roads. I’ve found that unless there is lots of mud, you really don’t need knobbies. Even cyclocross tires for dry conditions have almost no tread at all.

      • Fred Blasdel says:

        I have extreme doubt that anyone who rides regularly in mixed terrain will ever wear out a Hetre EL without rupturing it. Given their tendency towards flyaway threads, which you yourself experienced reviewing the Calfee in your latest issue, I’m not at all confident that I could wear the tread off of them even sticking to pavement (as I did my first pair of original Hetres).

        A tire with so little rubber impregnation in the cords and only two layers of them is simply “pre-dryrotted”

      • Well, Ryan has worn out his first set of Hetre Extra-Légers. (He rides one bike exclusively, so it racks up the miles quickly.) Fred notes that the tires on our Calfee had a few threads fraying. Those actually were there when we got the bike. The bike had undergone significant testing by Calfee, and the tires were well-worn when the bike came to us. They survived a very strenuous 400-mile ride with lots of gravel descents at night fine.

        The Hetre Extra Légers do push the envelope quite a bit further than probably any other clincher tire available today. So they offer a better ride and very high performance, but there is no doubt they are a little more fragile. Ryan and I found that they work fine even off-pavement – for us.

        Riders’ weights, skills and riding styles vary quite a bit. When you then add the different terrain that people ride, it makes sense that different people will find different tires optimal for their riding. Fortunately, there are many offerings in 650B that pretty much cover the spread from the Extra Léger Hetres via the standard Hetres all the way to a Schwalbe Marathon.

      • Patrick Moore says:

        The FF is 14.2 oz on my Pelouze mail scale. In fact, all three I ordered weigh the same. The tread is indeed light, but I’ve put a couple of hundred miles on them on dirt, gravel, and pavement so far with no discernable sign of wear, and the reviews I read were about 3/1 “pro” for gravel road durability.

        Certainly the tread of the FFs is no thinner than that of the Parigi Roubaix I also ride, though they are not much heavier at 55 mm (on 44 mm rims) than the 29 mm P-Rs: 360 vs 285 (from Velo Source; I never weighed mine).

        The tread is minimal — I’d go so far as to say largely useless on sandy surfaces compared to, say, the road tread of Big Apples, and I am surprised how fast they roll on pavement at ~30 psi (they require more pressure than heavier-sidewalled tires of the same width, even smooth treads. Granted that they won’t roll as well as no-tread tires, still, there is a huge difference even compared to Big Apples and certainly to otherwise good-rolling small block knobbies like the WTB Exiwolf. I rebuilt my cassette with smaller cogs because of the ease of pavement rolling as much as dirt rolling, to gearing similar to what I had used with the same bike when running 35 mm Kojaks.

        Odd, but these so very suppled tires require higher pressures to be safe against pinch flats on rocky terrain than heavier tires, as I learned within 2 miles of rocky singletrack recently; OTOH, they run much smoother at higher pressures than do heavier tires of similar width.

        Jan, you really ought not to pronounce before you at least look, or perhaps even try. To say a priori that the FFs are simply “pre-worn” compared to the GB EL is simply parti pris — unless you have tested the FFs, in which case I’d love to hear about it.

      • The Furious Freds do sound like interesting tires. We usually don’t test knobbies, since Bicycle Quarterly is mostly interested in road cycling – even if that includes unpaved roads. I am sorry my comment about “pre-worn” tires was easy to misunderstand. I meant to say not that the Furious Freds are pre-worn, but that any tire that any significant weight savings over a Grand Bois Extra Léger tire have to come from a thinner tread.

  5. Joel Niemi says:

    After Lake Wenatchee, did you ride to Leavenworth via Plain? (versus down Tumwater Canyon on Hwy 2?) And, are the north/south sides of Old Blewett out of order in the text?

  6. Leon Webster says:

    A nice story with the usual beautiful photos. Thanks much

  7. Josh says:

    I love your posts, but I always wonder why you don’t post high resolution photos. I would really enjoy seeing the landscape and bikes in more detail.

    • The blog gets so many viewers a day that high-resolution photos would overwhelm the data transfer capacities that are commonly available. For high-resolution photos, we offer Bicycle Quarterly and our books.

      • Josh says:

        I totally understand that you risk exceeding your allotted bandwidth, and respect that answer. But personally, due to the respective content, I see the blog, the magazine and the books as being, at least in part, different entities all together. I read the magazine because I like to nerd-out over bicycle minutia, the books because I love classic bikes, and the blog because I enjoy reading and seeing photos of your adventure rides (the ones “off the beaten path”).

      • Maybe we should publish a book with stories and photos of these rides…

      • Alex Merz says:

        It is not a difficult thing to serve your photos from SmugMug or Flickr or any of several other services that are inexpensive and reliable, and embed the links here. Flickr has the added advantage of a large community of cycling enthusiasts, so your photos would provide a good way to draw traffic and attention to this site and thereby to Compass.

      • Steve Palincsar says:

        How about posting the hi-rez photos on a photo sharing site like flickr and including links to them in the blog? That way, the load is on a site with the capacity for it.

      • Tim Evans says:

        Then why are the photos clickable at all?
        When I click on them, they just open up in a new window at exactly the same size. Is it my Apple computer?

      • That is how WordPress does it. Actually, the clickable photos are about 25% higher resolution than the ones in the post, but I agree that it’s not much.

  8. Olivier says:

    Hi Jan,
    Which route planner are you using ?
    Regards

  9. bgobie says:

    Current Forest Service paper maps are important when planning routes in national forests because online maps show many roads that no longer exist or are impassable or pass through restricted areas like watersheds. Paper maps also show the current road numbers, which are sometimes different from those on online maps. I have come to prefer RideWithGPS for designing routes. Editing works much better than in BikeRouteToaster.

  10. Sam says:

    Hi Jan,
    Great ride.It’s great you take advantage of your gift to be able to do these kinds of rides. To not do so would be a shame. But just remember how truly lucky you are to be able to do this: most of us simply could never do rides this long, no matter what. I’m an extreme case in some senses, but my body simply can’t do more than 50 miles. Anything over 40 is an epic for me, that is planned and cherished and takes days to recover. And it’s not for lack of effort or trying. I could quit my job and train full time and it wouldn’t make any difference. (I should add that I could do more when I was younger but got very sick travelling in Nepal and have never been the same) For most healthy adults, their limit is probably around a 100 miles. Anything above that and you are a gifted endurance athlete (and obviously there are plenty of them out there, but still a small percentage of the overall population). I guess my point is what’s easy for some ain’t easy for others, but it’s hard to know that when it’s coming easy for you.
    I should start a blog for the other lame riders out there called “Sucking on the pavement” or something like that, but I doubt that would get much interest!

    • It’s not the length of the ride that matters, but the spirit. You could do this ride in 3 days, or find some gravel roads closer to home.

      And really, neither Ryan nor I are particularly gifted. We train some, but most of all, we just go. We’ve optimized our bikes and equipment, which helps make these distances comfortable. When I was younger and in much better shape, my limit was about 150 miles in a day. I could go further, but it took a lot out of me. But that was with narrow tires, sub-optimal geometries, etc. Our journey of discovery that led to the bikes we ride today also has enabled us to change the way we ride.

      Finally, you adapt to being in the saddle. I know that I ran one marathon, and it was super-hard. I also think that if I had stayed in running, the next one would have been easier. And so on…

  11. mike cherney says:

    What a great ride you guys had on rd 6700 and a wonderful description for us to read !
    This is the kind of riding I most enjoy, explorations into unknown areas on mixed surfaces.
    The type of equipment is really secondary, each rider has their own approach and style anyway.
    Please, more of this !

  12. Dylan says:

    These ride reports are both inspiring and infuriating. Inspiring because this terrain is in my regional backyard and, well, just wow! Infuriating because I just can’t seem to pull the right strings in my busy life to carve out the time for such adventures. Always, busy busy!

    But, mostly, thanks. While the majority of your posts I find engrossing, the ride reports are just over the top. Someday when things slow down a little (or I become a bit more selfish of my own time), I’ll be checking back for some route inspiration. Or maybe there will be book by then?

  13. thebvo says:

    Gorgeous ride! 300 mountainous miles in 26.5 hours? Thats incredible! Even if I could keep spinning, I don’t know if I could stay awake.
    How do you plan your food for such a long ride? Do you mark stores on your map and plan to make stops at each store to keep your bags light, or avoid the stop and keep going with a heavier bag? Guessing my calorie needs over a day or two day ride hasn’t been an exact science yet, but I’d like it to be.

    • We usually carry a few bottles of Ensure Plus, a liquid meal replacement, a few bars, and maybe a bar of chocolate. On this ride, we stopped for two sit-down meals, lunch and dinner. I think I had an ice cream bar in Leavenworth. Between all that, our calorie needs were met.

      Generally, I find it easier to carry more food than try to buy it along the route. I can carry 600 km worth of food in my handlebar bag, if need be.

  14. Ford Kanzler says:

    Good story. Brief copy and lots of good photos! The enthusiasm comes through.

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