Saturday, September 19, 2009

1st Annual Volcano Tour

Day One (September 10th) Miles: 122 Climbing: 7367’ Triple Bypass Route Clockwise: Tracy drops me off in Greenwater at 6:30 AM—Cayuse Pass—Chinook Pass—Clifdell—Nachez—Rimrock Lake—White Pass—Packwood

Day Two Miles: 80 Climbing: 6000’ Skate Creek Loop Route Counter-Clockwise: Packwood—Steven’s Canyon—Backbone Ridge—Paradise—Longmire—Ashford—Skate Creek Rd.—Packwood

Day Three Miles: 76 Climbing: 6663’ HPC Route: Packwood—Randle—Iron Creek Campground—Windy Ridge—Iron Creek CG—Tracy meets me as planned and we drive to Packwood, where it is 100 degrees

Day Four Tracy and I volunteer at the third annual High Pass Challenge

I intend to make this an annual September trip, and perhaps doing it solo is really the way to go. I had a blast! The trip requires a perfect weather window, so one must be able to act on short notice. Also, it is so much more pleasurable to be riding after Labor Day, when the summer Rainier crowds have vanished. Ideally, every year I will tie this trip in with volunteering at the High Pass Challenge, unless I ride in the event.

I really enjoy the base camp concept. Not having to relocate to a new motel everyday is nice, and I seem to rest much better. Having my recovery food already in place enables me to relax and enjoy myself. Before I even checked in to the Cowlitz River Lodge, I rolled by the grocery store and stocked up.

It’s important to think out your timing and loop direction, as your choice can greatly influence traffic conditions and the weather you will experience. Going mid-week and off-peak in September makes the weather a little riskier, but guarantees extremely light traffic.

Having ridden a lot at Rainier, I kind of know the traffic patterns. On this trip, it wouldn’t have made much difference, as there was hardly any traffic anywhere, even over White Pass (Rt. 12) mid-day. As far as the weather, I was happy to be on Skate Creek Rd. at the end of my second day. At the “Packwood 4 miles” sign, it was 73 degrees, and I was in the shade. Four miles later, I was in the sun big time, and it was at least 90 degrees. While I didn’t enjoy the rough road conditions on Skate Creek, I definitely enjoyed the shade.

Going to Packwood to ride is not like going to a quaint village in the French Alps, but the people are friendly, and the location is ideal (well, not as ideal as Chamonix). The Cowlitz River Lodge offers a free continental breakfast, mini-fridges in the room, and a super cold air conditioner—all nice to have on those long cycling days. I guess the major issue is a lack of good restaurants, but I never have a problem finding something I like when I have a voracious appetite going day after day. Saving those three pieces of pizza from Thursday night’s dinner was the best choice I made on the whole trip. Upon returning from the Skate Creek Loop, I fired up the microwave and was eating right after I set foot in my motel room.

There are at least four really good (and really hard) days of riding available using Packwood as a base. In addition to what I did, it would be a great out and back ride to Sunrise via Cayuse Pass. I rode White Pass from the east, but riding from the west (Packwood) would give you an almost 3500’ climb. The next time I ride the Triple Bypass, I’d like to do it in a counter-clockwise direction, which would require doing White Pass first from the west. Finishing up the ride with a long descent from the top of Chinook Pass would be classic.

On Thursday, September 10th, Tracy dropped me off around 6:30am (I drove down and then she went to work!) in Greenwater, and I forgot to remove my trail running shoes that I had driven with! I wound up strapping them to the Camelback pack I used to get my stuff down to my Packwood base camp. This gave me the aerodynamics of a refrigerator, making descending a noticeably slower process. I had never worn a pack while riding a bicycle for an extended time, and it really wasn’t that bad, despite the heat and 122 miles I rode that day. I still prefer using my Moots Tailgater system for fast and light touring, but I only had to transport stuff for one day on this trip, and total weight was only about 4 pounds, even with the extra shoes.

As usual, a minimalist approach was required, and all I took with me were a pair of flip flops (plus the extra running shoes!), a Capilene t-shirt, and nylon running shorts. Yes, I had a toothbrush, but not much else, and I didn’t bring a book. This was a big mistake, as we have not watched cable television for over 7 years, and I was a little bored after the day’s ride was done. I tried the TV, but it was just so bad! I wound up taking my time at dinner, and going to bed early.

The plan was for Tracy to drive down from Seattle on Saturday and meet me somewhere on the return route from Windy Ridge. I started about an hour later than I planned, as I decided to linger and chat at breakfast, and then wait for the sun to warm Rt. 12 down to Packwood. After Tracy met me near Iron Creek, we headed back into the heat at Packwood, and later on enjoyed a great dinner hosted by Steve H. and other Team HPC friends. The next day’s weather was perfect for the third annual High Pass Challenge, making for a great conclusion to my Volcano Tour.

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