Hitting our stride now (or would that be cadence?), we spent five days wandering from Bend to Ashland --273 miles & 15,000 feet of climb. ("Wandering" because the loss of John's Adventure map cost us a wrong turn. Taking a delightful way out of Bend -- "Isn't this a great road?" -- should have known right then -- we rose 1,350 feet in 11 miles. Then the pavement stopped. Oops: back to Bend.)
Climbing the next road over -- the right one, this time-- we reached 6,400 feet on the flank of Mt. Bachelor. Now we were pedaling in Oregon's pristine Cascade Lakes region, one high-altitude alpine lake after another. (We camped at Lava Lake.)
For the next several days we remained above 4,000 feet with snow-capped peaks around us. Mornings were frosty, making it harder to peel off our sleeping bags, but more comfortable for climbing.
Finally we reached the 7,650-foot rim of Crater Lake and stopped to admire the intense blue water gleaming half a mile below us. It struck us funny that some tourists piling out of their cars at viewpoints found us nearly as interesting as the majestic volcanic spectacle in front of them.
One lady, almost flippantly, eyed our bikes and said, "You guys must be feeling energetic today. Where'd you start?"
"North of Seattle."
Her mouth gaped open and for a moment she was at a loss for words. Finally, in an almost choked voice, she stammered, "Unbelievable!"
After a couple more days of challenging hills and exhilarating downhills, we crested Dead Indian Summit at 5,200 feet and stared down at Ashland, our planned stop. Then we pushed off for a glorious descent filled with 15 miles of hairpin turns at breakneck speed, our wheel rims glowing cherry-red from the friction of braking as we dropped 3,000 feet. (OK, not quite cherry-red.) Bill met us at the bottom and guided us to the swank home we were able to borrow for a day of much-welcomed day of R&R.
Highpoint: Riding & camping in the traffic-free Cascade Lakes.
Lowpoint: Learning Bill can't join us after all, thanks to a debilitating bout of bronchitis.
Next: Gotta regain all (and a whole heap more) of the wonderful elevation we lost.
After an all-too pleasant day off in Ashland, with Bill showing us the sites and guiding us out for a final Thai dinner, we left extra early Sunday to resume the heavy climbing. The Old Siskiyous Highway led us toward California. I-5, closely parallel, here reaches its highest elevation on its entire extent; we went a bit higher and stopped to look down on trucks laboring up the winding grade. We ended the tough day at the Mt. Shasta, California, KOA (noisy with revelers late into the night). Mt. Shasta, the second highest volcano in the Cascades & Sierras, loomed over us.
Next day saw more big climbs, but most notably we began the infamous ( among cyclists) Rt. 89 stretch from McCloud to Truckee, some 300 miles of truly treacherous, narrow, no-shoulder-whatsoever, heavily truck-trafficked, 65-mph, windy, steep, worst-road-in-America riding. In some places, not only is there not a single INCH of pavement outside the fog line, there is no bush or ditch to dive into because there is NO bush or ditch -- just a little eroded rock wall and a sheer drop to a ravine with a rushing river far below. Not much safer were climbs with guard rails so close our panniers were nearly brushing as we lumbered by. Meanwhile, the logging trucks! -- going both directions at once.
It was a relief each night to finally get off into campgrounds and merely deal with mosquitoes and lack of showers. Each morning we would be awakened in the dark by the trucks growling out on 89 as they began their days around 4:30 or 5. It felt a little like roaring lions asking us to come out and play (or be prey?) Luckily the driving skills of the truck drivers proved admirably good -- not so some of the recreational drivers who honked & whizzed by us much closer than the trucks.
By late Tuesday we got a respite, ducking into Lassen National Park and camping at 5,658 feet. Next day we headed up to our highest pass so far, Lassen Summit, 8,515 feet high (with snow on either side of the road.) Views were spectacular both climbing and descending. We stopped to watch fumeroles and bubbling hot mud springs on the way down.
At the end of the week we reached S. Lake Tahoe, with some challenging lakeside hills (accompanied by fabulous vistas), and checked in early into a cute old- fashioned place called "Pine Cone Acres." This would be our half-day off, spent resupplying, resting, reading -- and listening to an afternoon thundershower drench the road outside.
Highpoint: Lassen National Park
Lowpoint: Rt. 89 most of the week
One cyclist wrily observed "A pass a day keeps the doctor away." No doctors for us this week. Heading south from Lake Tahoe we climbed the notorious Luther Pass (7,700 feet), followed by the even more notorious Monitor Pass (8,340 feet), followed by the most notorious of all, Tioga Pass (9,945 feet.) Sounds like a fairly gentle uphill course, does it, one to another? In fact each is followed by a glorious downhill -- which means each must be climbed from a starting point of 5,000 to 6,000 feet.
But the high elevations were not our only exciting times. We were delighted to continue running (that is, biking) into fellow cyclists headed the same way. In Markleeville (a cute mountain town between Luther and Monitor Passes) we met John and Jay, brothers and avid pedalers. (Coincidentally, Jay is an architect, as is our Tom.) We hit it off and enjoyed several days of biking together, sharing meals and stories. Soon after we met Tim and Melanie, a charming young couple from the Netherlands. While we did not exactly bicycle together, we kept running (that is, biking. again) into each other at the tops of passes or in towns.
Cyclist cameraderie is one of the best things about cycling long distances -- meeting interesting local townspeople is another -- and we had all of that in spades this week.
Toward at the end of the week (after climbing Tioga Pass) we were chased by thunderstorms, hail, rain and horrible drivers as we pushed into Yosemite National Park. (Strange fact -- riding with logging trucks is a lot better than riding with bad drivers in big RVs.) After a long day and more than 5,000 feet of climbing, we reached Yosemite Village, where we camped for two days in a hiker/biker spot. Huge granite cliffs towered over our campsite in every direction. On one of our off days we hiked up 1,000 feet for a closeup of Yosemite Falls -- and a look down at the village, which looked like a tiny toy town from that altitude. Tom climbed even higher on another hike he took by himself. On our final day we took Tim and Melanie out to dinner at Curry Village (another hot spot in the park) and said our goodbyes. Next morning we dropped rapidly out of Yosemite and into the flats of inland California. We were sorry to put the mountains behind us, at least for now.