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ADVENTURE 17: Circumpedalate the Lake (Crater Lake NP)

Updated: Aug 2, 2022

Saturday, 23 July 2022, Crater Lake NP

Now don't give me any grief about 'circumpedalate' not being in the dictionary! 'Circumambulate' means 'to walk around something' (go ahead, look it up), so my word refers to the same thing on a bike. In this case, pedal around Crater Lake: 33 miles with 3500' of net elevation gain and loss.

If you think that sounds like a lot, you're right! There are NO flat stretches on this ride, called one the premier rides in Oregon if not the US. It flat-out scared me. I could compare it to my Cleveland-to-Charlotte tour in 2015, where I had a couple of days with 4000'-4500' of gain, but that gain occurred over 65-70 miles - nothing like the grades here.

The delivery and pickup times from the bike shop (10:30-4:30) gave me only 6 hours to complete the challenging ride. I had rented an e-bike (they only had those and mountain bikes available), which I resisted. You should do this under your own power, my ego chimed in. My legs countered with, Ahhh, but this trip is about trying new things, right? You've never e-biked before. That argument carried the day.

Just because I had an e-bike didn't mean I had to use that feature, right? When Mark dropped off the bike, he gave me a rundown on how to use it. By the time I got familiar with it, then attached the GoPro to the handlebars, it had just passed 11:00. Heeding Mark's recommendation, I headed out in the counter-clockwise direction. The road immediately turned uphill. Let's see how hard this really is, I thought, declining to turn on the e-assist. I ground out the distance, constantly hoping that it would top out around the next bend (of which there were many). After only 300' of climbing in a mile and a half (with a short stop at Vidae Falls),

the road crested, and the following downhill exhilarated me, speeding effortlessly down the forested road.

No view of the lake yet, so I gamely tried the next hill with no e-assist. Once again, I eventually topped it with no significant issue - I had yet to use the two lowest gears! 1050' of climbing done, 2450' to go. It did not escape my attention, though, how long the climbs took. Okay, I proved my point. Call in the e-cavalry. On my next climb, I turned it on to the lowest e-assist setting and took off. I only had to shift down two gears, not four or five! Amazing!

After covering eight miles, I got my first view of the lake

at the Phantom Ship overlook. (The Phantom Ship is a rock outcropping piercing the blue waters of the lake.)

Now the turnouts and viewpoints happened with regularity. Seemingly every bend revealed another vista of the other-worldly blue waters of the lake. Traffic never ran heavy, and the cars and trolleys always gave me ample consideration. Truly an epic ride.

Ron caught up with me near 1:00. (I've biked with him before - we did RAGBRAI together - but he opted out of biking here when he heard about the grades.) I had stashed a sandwich in the car, so I now ate it for an overdue lunch. He also brought me a second water bottle, knowing I would need it.

Shortly afterwards, I dove into another glorious downhill. For much of it, I kept my hands off the brakes, letting the bike gain speed. Then I hit the bump stretching across the lane. I heard something hit the pavement, so I pulled to a stop and looked uphill. In a minute, I saw it - the second water bottle had bounced from the cage on the bike, draining. Ouch.

At the end of the downhill, I stopped at the viewpoint, then turned on the e-assist again - but this time it did not engage. Curses! Turn it off, turn it on - nope, not working. At least I knew I could handle the hills sans assist, so I started climbing. Before hitting the top, I tried again - and managed to engage it. Maybe I should just leave it on now.

As I reached the north side of the lake, I noticed snow banks on the north-facing slopes.

They provided a contrast to the temps in the low 70s, but the unrelenting sun (no clouds) kept beating down, keeping me from cooling off.

More climbing, more flying downhill, more overlooks. After stopping to sip from my rapidly dwindling water, I noticed the e-assist had quit again. It took a few minutes, but I finally coaxed it back on. Now it worked for the remainder of the ride. And at the next turnout, I approached a young family that agreed to refill my remaining water bottle. Ahh, the kindness of strangers - I owe you one!

The e-assist did not actually make it easier to ride - I still put forth the same effort to maintain a comfortable pedaling cadence. The big benefit came from using a higher gear, thus taking less time to cover the distance - same effort, less duration. But it kept wearing on me, amplified by the direct high-elevation sunlight. Having to nurse my water supply, sipping when I should be quaffing, added to the stresses my body struggle to fight off. Those considerations, combined with an elevation averaging 7300', took a toll on my system. Eventually the gremlins liquified that sandwich lurking in my stomach.

I knew going in - I had seen the warnings - that very few of the pullouts had restrooms. Out of options and with pressure building, I had to scamper out of sight of the road and squeeze behind a tree to address the issue (and cover up my deposit). Back on the road and still queasy, I found a restroom a half-mile further where I could finish emptying my intestines. I also cadged another family to refill my water bottle. At least now I could make it back to the bike return.

I got back about 3:45, only a few minutes before the bike-shop van arrived. I showed him the problems I'd had, and he agreed that something flaky was afoot - he would check it out back at the shop. The adventure had exhausted me (and I still struggled with the effects of dehydration), so I let Ron check out another short hiking trail while I relaxed. Then we drove over to Mazama Village for a quick dinner (with lots of ice water!), and headed off to our National Forest campground for the night.

Travel note: the store at Mazama Village did not stock bottles of water - they used canned water instead. (Good for them!) One shelf contained bottles under the brand name 'Liquid Death'.

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