Average Speed: 9.58 mph; Max Speed: 33.14 mph
Elevation gained: 4,514.4 ft
Average Temp: 70 F; Temp Range: 41-86.0 F
On the Climb:
Distance 22.5 mi
Average speed: 6.98 mph; Max Speed: 24.78 mph
Elevation gained: 3,805.8 ft
Today was the day. The day I would climb my first ever mountain. Well, I rode in the Poconos last summer, where a 30 mi loop around Lake Wallenpaupack involved 3,000 ft of ascent. That’s pretty close to what I did today, only in the Poconos it was just me on my bike. Today it was me and….too much gear. I didn’t weigh it when I started out, and I’m not sure I really want to know. More than 50lbs, certainly. Maybe as much as 80 with water. Who knows.
The morning was the usual. Wake up, feel cold, make breakfast, pack up while eating breakfast, head out. There was one important difference though. The nature of my lodgings, in the back corner of a place that normally doesn’t allow campers, meant that I didn’t have water access nearby. After cooking dinner and breakfast, I had about half a bottle of water left.
Blue River is not a big town, nor is it one that gets up early apparently. A quick search on my phone showed that nothing nearby was open before 11AM. And since the owner of the place was doing me a favor by letting me stay, I was hardly going to pester the more traditional guests and risk him being less inclined towards helping the next cyclist in a bind.
I pondered what to do for a few minutes before mentally shaking my head at my own inattentiveness. I was riding on the McKenzie Highway right next to the McKenzie River. And this was exactly the sort of scenario that I had brought a water filtration system for. At the next location where the river bank looked remotely accessible, I pulled over and got out my Camelbak reservoir with the Sawyer Mini spliced into the line. Then I did a bit of scrambling—side note: bike shoes are not made for scrambling, and I almost slipped into the river before I figured out how best to navigate the short slope—and filled up. Gravity was enough to allow the watr to trickle into my water bottles, and 10 minutes later my problem was solved.
My water problem, anyway. The bigger problem was getting up the mountain.
Still, the McKenzie Highway was a pretty route, with some interesting sights.
And there was a short jaunt on a side road that paralleled the highway and was quite pretty (and had many fewer cars).
Then, all the sudden (only not really, because I was watching for it) was the turnoff for McKenzie Pass. There were signs up that the snow gates were closed, but there were also cyclists nearby that assured me that the pass was open to cyclists and pedestrians, just not cars past a certain point. (They also joked about how much gear I was carrying, and one asked if I could tote something for him as well.) Awesome, time to go! I plugged in my iPod, selected the Podrunner podcast for some inspirational beats, and began to climb.
The climb wasn’t terrible. It was barely bad. Long, yes. Tiring, definitely. But the people who designed the roads get an A+ for keeping the incline manageable.
I took some video as I was riding up, as I promised some coworkers that they could watch me swear my way up a mountain. In reality I only swore out loud twice (I thought a few more than that, but they didn’t make it past my brain-mouth filter) and never on the video.
The other riders were great. A few slowed down to chat about my trip. Others called out words of encouragement as they sped by on their unencumbered, lightweight road bikes. To my great shock, I overtook a few people as well, one of whom yelled out “You’re a beast!” as I did so. I told her to say that again when I made it to the top.
The lava field towards the top is a sight to behold. Largely barren and wholly beautiful.
And finally, after 3 hours of grinding my way uphill I was there. There’s a cute little lava castle at the top of the pass, but I took a pass on that (pun intended) and opted for the traditional picture in front of the sign. By the look of the sign, there have been a number of people passing through that don’t subscribe to the “leave no trace” philosophy.
Conversations with other cyclists proved very helpful at this point. Two separate people recommended Sisters Coffee as a place to stop when I reached Sisters on the other side. A third warned me that a combination of last year’s fire and some rain meant that there were some gravel patches on the descent and I should be careful not to let my speed get out of control. Both tips were much appreciated. The descent was every bit as fun as I hoped it would be, coasting a good deal of the way at speeds over 20 mph. And I did stop at Sisters Coffee. It was nice and relaxing, and clearly popular, but for all that their coffee didn’t wow me. Oh, it wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t spectacular either. Still, I drink not-spectacular coffee on a regular basis, so that wasn’t an issue. A coffee break and some calories was just the thing. I also stopped by a local market on my way out of town to pick up a few basics.
Then I made my way to my hosts for the night, Jim and Patty Everett. Their ranch is a beautiful, peaceful place, with a view that could almost induce me to move.
It is more than the view that makes this place special; Jim and Patty are welcoming and helpful hosts. I had a shower, did a load of laundry, cooked a bit of food for myself, and shared in some of the sides (veggies) they prepared for their meal. We sat outside (where I got to watch the birds at the feeder and continue to admire the view) and swapped stories, such as how they got into hosting after assisting with the bikecentennial in 1976, and I got to see the biker book, full of signatures, pictures, and postcards from previous guests. Jim also gave me some great tips for the road ahead, including where to stop for food and some things to see.
And now it’s time for an early night. The sky is starting to get dark, the frogs in Jim & Patty’s pond are raising a ruckus, and I can’t imagine a more wonderful day to have conquered my first mountain.
Roadkill count: 1 unidentified mammal