We in southern Oregon had a great opportunity this weekend, to ride the Rim Drive around Crater Lake before it was opened for the summer season. Thanks to a less than average snowfall over the winter, the road was ready to be cleared and opened, which is odd, since it’s typically mid-July before the road is ready for the summer. If that seems late, consider that the average snowfall at the lodge, which is lower in elevation that most of the road, is 44 feet (13.4 meters) each winter!
There are two parts to the Rim Drive, the West Rim Drive (~11 miles/19km) and East Rim Drive (~21 miles/35km). The western side had been cleared an open for a while, but the eastern side still had stretches that were under 10 feet (3 meters) of snow just over a week ago.
Here’s what a recently plowed stretch looked like (with my bicycle for scale):
What made this experience even more unique is that this is the first time ever that the National Park Service has held the road closed over a weekend to give access to only cyclists and hikers. By early afternoon, it was pretty obvious that they had made a popular decision.
Who could blame the large groups of folks out to take advantage? With absolutely no traffic to worry about on the two thirds of the loop around the lake, it was easy to relax and take in the scenery.
This view, from the northwest side of the lake looking south, is part of the reason for the title for this post. Just left of center is Wizard Island, the dormant cinder cone in the center of Crater Lake, which is the remains of an ancient volcano that blew its top. Further in the distance, frame right, you’ll see the snow-capped peak of Mount Mcloughlin [9,495 ft (2,894 m)]. And in the far distance, just a small peak in this image, but pretty large to view from here in real life, is Mount Shasta [14,179 ft (4,322 m)], down in Northern California. That’s 107 miles/172km away!
So just looking in this direction, there are three volcanic peaks.
Spin around the other direction and there are several lesser volcanic peaks, but 74 miles/119km to the northeast, a snow-covered Mount Bachelor [9,068 ft (2,764 m)] stood alone over the horizon.
It is pretty impressive to stand here and realize that this is just a very small piece of the whole Ring of Fire, knowing how it is shaping our landscape, not just here, but abroad. This made me think of when Goddess, The Boy and I were able to sit at the summit of Mount Fuji and watch the sunrise some years ago.
As you can tell, I love the landscape.
So the scenery and the landscape, oh, and a closed road, are what drew me to ride around Crater Lake. All told, the East and West Rim Drives total 32 miles/51km. Planning for some upcoming rides later this summer, I knew I needed to get more miles than that in my legs, so I decided that I would do two laps (64 miles/52km). If I was feeling good at the end of the second lap and if I had time, I was going to consider a third, plus a few miles, to get a nice even 100 miles/161 km.
Mind you, this is at an average 7,000’/2,134m elevation.
Hey, if you’re going to go, go big!
So it was an early start. A cool start. It was just 38F/+03C when I started. Through a comedy of errors leading to a leaking water bottle, I started with a wet jersey and underlayer. So it felt a bit cooler than that.
When I started just after 8am, there were only two other groups of cyclists starting from the south parking area. They got on the road about 10 minutes before me, and in typical parking-lot sizing up, I figured I’d see them again soon.
I left the parking lot, walked around the gate that kept the East Rim Drive closed to traffic and started riding, heading counter-clockwise around the lake. Pretty quickly I hit the first climb. It continued for the next 1.5 miles at an average 6% grade. My being cold from the wet top layers was soon forgotten. A brief reprieve with a gradual descent and it was back up again, another three miles at 6%. And so it continued. I didn’t see the others from the parking lot anywhere. Matter of fact, I did not see any other rider for 90 minutes. And they were headed the other way.
Then another rider.
Headed the other way.
Then groups of riders.
Headed the other way.
Finally, at about two hours into the ride, I saw the folks from the parking lot.
Headed the other way.
Once on the north side of the lake, I had to cross the gate that kept the other end of East Rim Drive closed and out into the tourist traffic. Which was surprisingly light for a gorgeous Saturday morning.
That’s when I got the picture of the lake.
A few more climbs and some quick descents while keeping an eye out for traffic and dodging a few inattentive walkers got me back to the car. It had warmed up enough that I was able to peel some warming layers off my arms and legs, refill the water and fuel bottles, then head back out.
This time I was going to go clockwise, opposite of the first circuit. This way I could see the views from different angles. I already knew that I would have some great descents, but also knew from the previous descents that I’d have some long climbs.
But the first 7.25 miles/12km going this direction went straight into a climb. No respite. Gaining the same amount of elevation that had taken 12 miles/20km to gain going the other direction.
To see what I mean, here is the elevation profile from my ride. The bottom of the dip in the middle is where I parked my car:
Each vertical line is one mile.
But to give you an idea of time spent, here’s a graph where it’s tracked by time. The vertical lines are still one mile each. The further the spacing, the longer it took to cover that mile, the closer the spacing, the faster I was going.
So where it was taking me around 7 minutes to cover a mile heading uphill, downhill was usually around 2:30. But if you look at a few of those very closely spaced lines, I was covering the miles in 90 seconds. That’s 40mph on the bike, not having to worry about traffic.
Except for the occasional bicycle rider who thought that since the road was closed, they could climb up wherever they wanted.
Anyway, as I was on the north end of the lake, back into the closed off East Rim, I caught up with a couple that was riding. He was riding up the center of the right lane, she up the center of the left lane. With a blind uphill turn coming up. I explained my experience earlier that morning on that same stretch, where I came around the corner and a group of six cyclists were taking up the whole road. And I was moving.
Luckily they were able to move over to give me half a lane. Otherwise it was going to be ugly.
Once she got over her surprise that I was on my second lap, she then mentioned that no one rides the lake counter-clockwise (my first lap).
Apparently going clockwise is easier.
Someone please look at the elevation charts above and please let me know how someone could figure that.
Granted, I had a lot more miles and a lot more climbing already in my legs when I started the second lap than I had the first, but I still don’t see it.
My only guess is that when going clockwise, when the entire road is open, it’s easier to pull over to the overlooks than it is to try and cross traffic. Otherwise, I really don’t know.
After two laps, there was no consideration of a third. I’ll leave that for another time.
I need more miles in the legs to pull that one off.
And perhaps a victim, er I mean sucker, er I mean support rider for that last lap to keep calling my abilities to finish into question whenever I start to cry.
You know who you are.
So the day’s tally – 64.26 miles (103.5km); 10,485 feet (3,196 meters) of climbing.
Some fantastic scenery.
And some amazing inspiration.
(I took this panoramic image from the south side of the lake last November, when I introduced Goddess to the northwest and Crater Lake; this is before the snow fell)
Finally, speaking of inspiration – when I finished after the second lap, I pulled into the parking lot and saw one of the original couples from early morning. I asked them their thoughts on clockwise versus counter-clockwise and he said that they had never rode it counter-clockwise and he had been riding it for 30 years. Then he asked how I felt, and I admitted that I was a bit beat after riding the two laps. They were surprised that I had got two in. Then he said that he felt pretty good after his one lap, then he said “I don’t know if I’ll be able to do too many more of these. I’m 84!”.
Any aches, pains or tiredness that I had melted away.