Jurassic Park meets Indiana Jones? This is what happens when you spend a week riding dual-sport motorcycles on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula searching for abandoned military bunkers...
Andy, our guide for this forthcoming adventure, has spent his entire life forging trails and discovering every inch of the Olympic Peninsula. He and his brother know the rivers, the lakes, the sea caves, plane wrecks and abandoned Native American villages waiting to be re-discovered… but that’s a different story. What we wanted to see were what I consider the ‘Ruins of America.’ Fortresses carved into Washington’s mountain lined waterways towering above the Pacific Ocean. World War II bunkers intended to defend the top left corner of the U.S. Andy had found them. Many of them, though we suspect there are many more. The cherry on the cake? What we were looking for could only be accessed by foot… or by motorcycle.
Our XT225s run cold. Freezing cold. And so we had to fire them up early that morning. It was our second day searching for bunkers. A few of us scouted the area the night before guided only by Justin’s memory of a previous trip. The cool breeze deceived me. I couldn’t tell if it was the brisk air, the vibration from my bike, or my nerves that shook me ever-so slightly. The feeling was welcomed, though. It was the same feeling I experienced last summer on my first ride, in this very place.
It was the same shiver I experienced when I took off for the Barstow-to-Vegas dual-sport ride in November. And the same one, still, that I felt the night before as we took twists and blind turns and slid into ruts - small challenges that I faintly remembered.
When we had finally reached Andy’s place, my nerves started to surge. I was certainly the weakest link, and keeping up with our group would be my personal hardship. That’s not to say I’m an anxious rider. A little bit of fear keeps you alive, right? Besides, any butterflies I might feel tend to flutter away as my tires cross onto dirt and my rear tire breaks loose. Once the danger increases, my concerns quiet, senses heighten, and endorphin’s release. An instinctual (self-preservation maybe?) reaction to danger that I’m grateful I have. Still, I knew I’d have to do some work not to fall behind.
Our bikes were perched on a wide ledge atop a huge mound of light brown earth that overlooked the Strait. There were only three paths up, and two of them were rather steep. The third boasted a muddy water hole. A choice we were overjoyed to make. Once we ascended the bunker, each in our own fashion, we stripped down and searched for our head-lamps while Andy disappeared. Bewildered a bit, we soon heard him beckon us from outside the entrance. Fortress ‘one,’ as it turns out, was something that Justin, Chris and I saw ...er, more like stood above unknowingly, the night before. Colossal in size and hidden from sight. Without a light, you could spend hours inside bumping into walls - some of them covered in a sound-proof material.
What’s so intriguing about ruins, any one of them, is the history; knowing that perhaps hundreds of people have traveled in-and-out of a place you’ve so recently “discovered,” having their own experiences throughout different stages of that structure’s existence. Their energy runs through the walls, and if you’re intuitive - if you just listen very closely - you can hear the hum. And, to add to this excitement was the fact that these ruins had the pleasure of housing some of the biggest and baddest weaponry of their age! Everything from six-inch to sixteen-inch guns that were only test fired once, and then later reduced to 500 tons of scrap metal. I suspect our citizens were sad for the waste, and yet grateful for the lack of necessity.
Constructed after 1940, numbered artillery batteries became active throughout the Olympic Peninsula, a preemptive measure deemed an important preparation for the impending attack that never made it to our shores. It’s a strange feeling to know that people lived and worked here, day in and day out, over three-quarters of a century ago. People who have visited, since, left offerings of “art” in the form of spray-painted gibberish and slander. A keen observer could spot such gems as a Ninja Turtle or Johnny Bravo stencil among the bunch.
A quarter-mile down a dried up creek bed – what looked like a tiny Grand Canyon filled with baby-head rocks - Andy made a sharp right turn off the single-track we’d been riding and into a deep patch of green grass. I slipped across most of it until the sight of our second bunker stopped me dead in my tracks. My freshly cut path ended at the pure definition of an American ruin. Andy had led us into a thicket of dense woods hiding a fortress of Jurassic proportion. Magnificent from the day it was built, Battery 249 - the name we later discovered - was one of few epicenters on the Strait that ran deep in the ground and connected the adjacent bunkers, stretching who knows how far in all directions. This explained why it was the only one we found that was barred across each entrance.
Like children glued to the window of some tantalizing display, we peered as far as we could between the steel barrier and made speculations. Air traveled from the depths and moved briskly past us - a relief of the heat built-up by our rigorous ride. We scoured every inch of the moss-covered, fern-riddled landscape, umbrella’d by massive pines that now block the once clear view of the Strait. I’ll never forget this relic of the past. Those wide, rectangular concrete openings outlined in flora. Vegetation folded over the bunker walls, windows and doorways like a blanket haphazardly tossed away. We uncovered an enormous cylindrical outline on the ground that, as later learned, was once home to one of the war’s most terrifying displays of weaponry – a massive sixteen inch gun that could shoot clear across the Strait. We lamented during our exit from the set of Indiana Jones, and traveled onward to the next.
Nothing sums up a good ride on a beautiful day like a cheeseburger and some soft-serve ice cream. The path paralleled the highway, then dumped us out into the parking lot of Granny’s - a dime and dash named “affectionately” after the notoriously… let’s say crotchety, grand matron of this family-owned establishment. Nourishment was needed. Three full days of dirt and motorcycles can suck your energy dry! Besides, our fourth day was going to be a doozy. This bunker was the most fruitful of finds with an obscured path that even our guide couldn’t quite remember. A second gate obstructed our path. With a shrug, Andy made a hard right-hand turn that took us from a manicured gravel road to soft, technical single-track.
At the top of an arduous climb, a thought came to me. We’d made it here pretty fast, considering the obstacles. More so, I made it - a moment which produced a smirk of satisfaction as I walked into bunker number “four” on our list. Though modest in stature, this final bunker was clean and barely touched by humankind. Upon entering the open room, your eyes take a second to adjust to the light breaking through. What catches your attention next is the remarkable view strewn across the window.
All of us mesmerized, we silently drifted towards the rectangular portal. Three of us leaned against this cold, concrete window sill, a mere five feet from a 300 foot vertical drop. It wasn’t the crystal blue-green water, or the jetties of dense wooded land. Not the fact that we could see Canada, or that we were the only ones for miles around- and maybe, years to come. It was the realization that the moment we left that last bunker, we’d be forever part of it - the colorful history attached to these forgotten fortresses. Adventurers after us may also ask, “I wonder who came before us.”
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