It was the first time in years that I had done a bicycle tour with companions.
This year’s bike trip involved a simple goal: Ride my bike from Mount Rainier to Crater Lake National Park, a trip of about 450 miles along Washington and Oregon Cascade Range backroads. My daughter and son in-law joined me separately (while the other watched their kids) for the first two days. The route promised sweeping views of towering volcanoes, but smoke from wildfires messed that up.
Of course, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I had allotted myself five and a half days to get it done. That meant 80 miles a day hauling 30 pounds of camping gear.
I used an excellent map produced by Adventure Cycling Association showing the route and tips on where to camp, refuel and avoid traffic. The map also showed contours of the course. But I quickly learned that those little hills on the elevation scale meant big grinders for lungs and legs.
The first two days of riding offered up some doozies.
On the first day, my daughter and I had ridden more than 50 miles before we came to a tiny mom and pop grocery store next to a campground. I asked the shopkeeper if we were on the road to Oldman Pass.
“That would be the road,” he said with a grin. “If you’re not an old man before you ride it, you will be afterward.”
We fortified ourselves with Gatorade and ice cream bars before tackling the 10-mile climb. We finished the day at a campground near Carson, Wash., on the Columbia River.
Most of the first day we rode through deep, shady forests, but on the second day, my son in-law and I rode south through sections of Highway 26. The forests were cleared back from the road and by midday we were roasting in the sun. At one point, I pulled off the road into the shade next to a stream. I was dizzy and woozy from the heat. It took us a half-hour before we felt good enough to continue.
The third day restored my faith in bicycle touring. There were only minor hills and pleasant riding. I also learned my lesson: Don’t ride during the hottest part of the day during a heat wave.
Just about lunchtime on day three I caught up with the Kiwis, Alister and Phil. Both were originally from New Zealand, though one had recently moved to Australia. “They’re both pretty much the same country,” Phil said. They were riding their bikes from Portland, Ore., to San Francisco.
A few miles down the road, we came to Detroit, Ore., population a bit over 200. It was bulging with tourists playing on the nearby reservoir and Santiam River. It was here that I forced myself to take an afternoon siesta during the hottest part of the day. By late afternoon I was back on my bike for another 15 miles to find a campground. The boys from Down Under joined me to split the cost. For the next few days, I followed that pattern of hiding from the sun in the afternoon and riding again when things cooled off.
One disappointing thing about the ride was the smoke from wildfires. The great views of all the major volcanos along the Cascade Range — Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, Mount Hood, the Three Sisters and Mount Bachelor — were turned to shadowy apparitions in the distance. A ranger at Crater Lake National Park said "there are basically three seasons in the park: winter, mosquito and fire."
Another rough experience was getting turned around in Bend, Ore., (that town is getting huge) due to road construction and missing signs. A sweet little lady on an E-bike set me straight.
One of the best things about the ride was meeting people along the way, particularly fellow tour bikers.
One tour biker stopped along the road to chat when we crossed paths far from the nearest town.
“I’m coming from San Diego,” he said. “I retired at 57 so I could do this sort of thing all the time. Now I’m 64.”
I also met three guys bike packing from Truckee, Calif., to Sisters, Ore., via dirt roads and single track. They said they were averaging 30 or so miles a day. One worked as a potato salesman. “I know Idaho Falls,” he said. “But I’m not selling Russet Burbanks much right now.”
When I finally rode into the smoke-filled Crater Lake National Park and the arms of my dear wife, I had mixed feelings. It seemed after five and a half days I was finally getting the rhythm of tour biking; I could keep going. But sitting in a car and traveling at three times the speed without any effort felt great too.