Monday, January 16, 2017

Cycling in Crater Lake National Park ~ 7-4-16

Crater Lake National Park has been named one of the ten best National Parks to explore on a bike. After reading about it in an article by, we decided to add it to our "Must Do" list. We scheduled a short stop while on our summer road trip to Washington and headed to the park on the 4th of July.

The ride is a 33 mile loop, with about 3800 feet of elevation gain, around the rim of the lake. It can be completed either clockwise or counter-clockwise. We decided to do the ride counter-clockwise.

We arrived early in the morning and parked at Rim Village. There was plenty of parking and a restroom open for use. Crater Lake is above 6,000 feet in elevation so it was quite chilly and there was still snow in places. We layered up and hit the road. The first 3.5 miles of the ride were downhill. It was fun and fast. We then stopped at the Park Headquarters to pick up a cycling brochure.

The next 13 miles of the East Rim Drive were closed to traffic due to debris still covering the road in places. It was great to not worry about cars but we did have to keep our eyes open for tree parts on the road. Once on the closed road, we immediately began our first climb. It was 1.5 miles long and I thought I was going to die. Little did I know that this was just the beginning. I had read about the rides difficulty but I was not prepared for just how difficult.

At the 5 mile mark we were greeted with a nice downhill. I'm a slow climber but I can fly downhill! I knew that it was going to be short lived so I took as much advantage of it as I could to gather up some speed before hitting the next hill.

Near the bottom of the hill, we came upon Vidae Falls and stopped for a quick photo break. The waterfall was beautiful and I'm so glad we were able to see it since only cyclists and hikers were being allowed on the road.

If I had thought the first hill was bad, the second hill was 2 miles of sheer torture. I was glad that we were in the trees at this section because I wasn't able to look around. I was too focused on getting up that hill. Once at the top, we stopped for a short snack break. It allowed us a nice view across the valley to the south of the lake.  

Thankfully, what goes up must come down. We had a lovely, fast 3.5 mile downhill section. It was freedom to just go and not have to worry about cars. The road was wide open and it was glorious. We came around a left hand curve and saw the main reason the road was still closed. There had been a rockslide. It covered the road and had created several large gouges in the pavement. We decided to walk our bikes through this section to avoid getting a flat. 

The next 2.5 miles was another killer climb. Once at the top, we came to our first pullout, the Phantom Ship Overlook. There were two hikers eating their lunch here so we stopped and had them take our picture. It was the first time we had really seen the lake. It took my breath away! The water was so blue. I took advantage of our stop and shed a layer of clothes. We wished the hikers well and then were on our way. 

After a 1 mile climb we saw our first big snow drift. We had to stop and take a picture in the snow. This was also the last overlook before we started our longest descent.

We rode about 2 miles before we intersected a gate blocking the road. That was the end of our closed road section. We had completed about half of the loop at this point. We continued down the 5 mile downhill section. Since we were now riding with traffic, we had to hug the shoulder and be much more aware of our surroundings. 

We were riding right next to the lake now and were rewarded with amazing views the entire time. The day could not have been more beautiful. There were no clouds in the sky and the blues were breathtaking.

At around the 20 mile mark, we stopped at a pullout for another snack break. We saw other visitors and were able to get our picture taken together. We stayed there for a few minutes to take in the unreal views. We could see the boats making their way around the lake taking passengers back and forth to Wizard Island. Seeing how small the boats looked gave perspective of how massive the lake really is. Seeing the different currents moving along the water was mesmerizing.

We continued our way around the lake. As it was getting later in the morning, we began to encounter a lot more traffic. We also began to see a lot of cyclist doing the loop clockwise. Drivers were courteous and patient so I never felt in danger. 

At mile 27, we came to the North Junction. This is where the West Rim Drive begins and traffic really started to increase. We began our final long climb of the ride. I was really starting to get tired and I was ready to be done. I knew we only had about 5 more miles so I buckled down and pushed through. There were sections here that had no shoulder with large drop-offs inches away. These sections made me very nervous. 

Once we crested the hill, we encountered road construction. They were repaving the road so we had to ride along dirt for about a half mile. Luckily, we caught the end of the single file traffic line and didn't have to wait or lose our speed. 

Finally, we came to the intersection where the East Rim and West Rim Drives meet. We turned left to make our way back to the Rim Village parking lot. Now the lot was completely full with cars circling like hungry sharks. We loaded our bikes onto the car, changed our shoes, hit up the bathroom, and chatted with a few others cyclists we had seen earlier in the day. 

I was suddenly filled with pride and awe at what we had just accomplished. I had completed a ride that many people only dream about. It was painful, blissful, horrible, amazing, frustrating, and beautiful. If you get the chance to do this ride, GO! You will not be disappointed.

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