In the Footsteps of Railroad Dreamers and Builders:
Bicycling the Olympic Discovery Trail

Story and Photos by Bret Wirta – The Incidental Explorer

Distance: 140 miles – Time out: 6 days

Pet Friendly: No

September 18th – 23rd 2013

Trisha and I took a few days off after the busy summer had ended to bicycle over the route of the Olympic Discovery Trail (ODT). While we journeyed along the trail, we were also journeying back in time. The route of the ODT is over the former tracks of three tiny railroads that were stitched together through the primeval forests of the Olympic Peninsula over a century ago.

Because of isolated geography, difficult topography, economic disasters and local politics, it took a generation for the three railroads to lay one hundred miles of track, but when complete, the Port Townsend Southern Railroad, the Seattle, Port Angeles & Western Railway, and the Spruce Railroad shipped local goods to markets, transported strategic raw materials during both world wars, and opened the region to tourism. Beginning in 1890 and lasting for three-quarters of a century, these railroad tracks were vital to the economic development of the northern Olympic Peninsula as they simultaneously shaped its geography and character. But in the end, the three tiny railroads were swallowed up by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad in its quest to become a transcontinental railroad giant.

We began our journey in Port Townsend where Trisha and I enjoyed a delicious breakfast at the tiny Blue Moose Café just a block or so from the trailhead. Tana Mae and crew cooked big meals in their miniature kitchen. Trish said the veggie pecan sausage was delicious! With uncomfortably full bellies, we slowly pedaled south along the trail as it hugged the shoreline of Port Townsend Bay. It was mid-morning and low tide. A wrecked boat lay on its side in the wet sand while the sun sparkled on the water, like an impressionist painting.

A multi-modal path from Port Townsend to the Pacific Ocean was once just a crazy idea, but it’s fast becoming a reality. Today the ODT is 140 miles of quiet streets, busy highway shoulders, and rural paths along disjointed segments of railroad right-of-way. The trail runs across the northern edge of the Olympic Peninsula through half a dozen towns, two counties, tribal lands, private land, National Forest and National Park. All these agencies, municipalities and people have partnered to form the Peninsula Trails Coalition. The PTC doesn’t build or own the trail, their separate partners do that, but the PTC works hard to maintain the section of trail that have already been built.

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