Elwha Rainforest

DISCLAIMER: I am typically updating this blog at 9pm in a tent with a headlamp after riding a bicycle for 5 to 7 hours. There will be typos. Please excuse them.

The road out of Hurricane Ridge spit us out right back out in Port Angeles, where we beelined it to Bike Garage again. My tire had a bubble in it the where the tube was pushing out the sidewall, and to fix it a whole series of frustrating events ensued, including an incorrect tire replacement, a trip to the other bike store, a forgotten wallet and return to the other bike store, the removal of my fender, and FINALLY a functional rear tire. There are two morals of this story: if you're touring on 26" wheels, bring at least one spare, and pray to the Baby Jesus that you can find a bike shop as nice and accommodating as Bike Garage. 

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Tom (the Bike Repair Pirate) recommended we stay in the Elwha River Valley, a rainforest area which he described as a "mini Yosemite Valley", a whole 11 miles away. But how can you pass that up? Alright, screw you, Hurricane Ridge Legs, we'll go to the rainforest.

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The story of the Elwha River seems pretty incredible. The Elwha, like many other seaward flowing rivers in the Pacific Northwest, is spawning grounds for salmon. It is also an excellent source for cheap hydroelectric power. A dam was built on the Elwha over 100 years ago, which formed two major reservoirs and also drained the river, ending the salmon run. 

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These salmon are truly a keystone species: remove them from the picture and the whole ecosystem falls apart. No salmon means no food for orcas in the sea, eagles in the air, otters in the river, bears on the land, and ultimately no food for the forest itself. Salmon spend most of their lives in the ocean, and when they start to swim up river to their spawning grounds to give birth and die, a special kind of ocean nitrogen is returned to the rainforest fertility cycle. On top of all this, there are a half dozen distinct tribes in Washington alone whose culture revolves around the salmon run. When the Elwha was dammed, all that disappeared. 

That all changed in 2011. The Elwha Dam was dynamited and dismantled stone by stone. Slowly, the water began to flow through the river valley for the first time in over 100 years. A massive restoration project is in effect, with hundreds of thousands of native plant transplants, and reintroduction of salmon spawn. The salmon population is expected to grow over the next 20 years from 3000 fish to over 400,000.

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So thank you, tireless Native and environmental activists. Your idealist vision has been achieved in some form, and now some balance will be restored to this ecosystem, and these Florida bike tourists can tool around in this foreign landscape with pleasure.