Animal Miles

Definition – animal miles: riding extra (and often unintended) miles.

After a thoroughly enjoyable but all too brief evening with our friends Lexi and Mark, the next morning we drove to nearby Medford, Oregon to actually begin our cycling. As usual, we got a late start. We finally found an inconspicuous place to park the truck; we unloaded the bikes and were ready to ride at nearly 2:00 pm.

Getting ready to go
Julie's ready to roll!
Julie’s ready to roll!

Once out of Medford, Crater Lake National Park is a straight shot on the Crater Lake Highway (Highway 62) to the southern entrance of the Park. Easy peasy. Getting out of Medford, however, was a little more challenging. We wanted to take back roads through town, not the main highway.

Our day-to-day lives are so busy that despite the best of intentions, we weren’t quite as ready for this trip as we would have hoped. Unfortunately, Team Lumaca’s system administrator (aka Mark) didn’t have a chance to learn how to import Google maps onto our Garmin GPS before we left, so we wrote down turn-by-turn directions on a piece of paper to get us out of town.

And promptly missed our first turn. We rode five miles down a beautiful, undulating, bucolic back road before we realized our mistake. Whoops! We pulled out the smart phone and tried to orient ourselves to the original route. (Using the phone for navigation chews through the battery at an alarming rate, so we try not to use it except when absolutely necessary.) A very kind elderly gentleman saw we were lost, pulled over, and got us oriented again. There was nothing for it but to return the five miles we’d just ridden. He gave us the landmarks so we could find our turn, and we were on our way (back) again. Thank you sir!

And so, we’d ridden 10 animal miles before we even got started! We definitely need to work on our navigations skills!!!

Google maps had us on backcountry roads for the first 5 to 6 (real) miles before joining Crater Lake Highway. These back roads are everything you wish for on a beautiful afternoon bike ride. Quiet, low traffic, smooth pavement…Ahhh, we’d finally begun in earnest.

Crater Lake Highway, once we finally got there, was definitely more trafficked, and less enjoyable for that, but the drivers were very courteous. There was usually a beautiful shoulder: broad, clear of debris, and smooth. We rode some rollers and eventually made it to Shady Cove, more a widening in the road than a real town, where we stopped at the local convenience store for a potty break, water, and directions. It was now around 4:30, we’d gone maybe 20 – 25 miles (including our animal miles), and we needed to decide whether to get groceries now or continue to the next town and stock up there.

Buying groceries is a bit of an ongoing dilemma. You never want to be caught without adequate provisions. On the other hand, groceries can be heavy, so you don’t want to carry dinner fixins any further than absolutely necessary.

A kind gentleman at the convenience store estimated that the next town, Prospect, was about 10 miles up the road and he assured us it had a nice grocery store. He also confirmed what others said: there are campgrounds all along Crater Lake Highway, so we could stop for the night at any time. We easily had another 10 miles in us, so we happily cycled on, planning to get groceries in Prospect and then stop at the next nearest campground.

Cycling out of Shady Cove, we passed a grocery store and a nice campground on the banks of the Rogue River. But we knew we’d be shopping and eating within a few hours, so we continued on. Little did we know this would be the last campground for several miles, and the last real grocery store we’d see all trip!

Several hills past Shady Cove we saw a sign that made our hearts sink: Prospect 23 miles. Only then did Julie remember a rule of thumb she’d read on some blog somewhere that whenever somebody in a car gives you a mileage estimate, always double it! Drivers, ensconced in their cars, working only the gas pedal, are notoriously bad at estimating distances and hills!

There was no way we could go another 23 miles. It was approaching 5:00pm, we were tired, and while nowhere near dark, shadows were certainly getting longer. We had emergency food rations in our panniers, so rather than turn back and lose the hard-won altitude we’d gained, we rode on, trying to make as many miles as possible, relying on the local lore that there were campgrounds everywhere.

The cycling was still beautiful. We were in forest land now. Although the highway had been steadily climbing since we left Medford, the route was hilly, so our legs got a break on the short yet welcome descents. But then we started climbing…and climbing…and climbing! And then we climbed a single hill that was at least a mile long, and quite steep (6%) for our new climbing legs. We were down in our lowest gears but had to stop several times to catch our breaths. It took us at least an hour to climb that hill, and we spent as much time stopped to catch our breaths as we did riding!

Finally, we crested the hill and then began more than a mile-long descent. Oh no! We didn’t want to descend! We knew we’d have to make up that altitude on the next hill(s). Partway down we saw an even more demoralizing sign: Crater Lake 50 miles.

It was already Thursday evening, and the Ride the Rim event was on Saturday morning. How could we go 50 miles AND ride the rim in just two days? How had we miscalculated the distance so badly? Turns out, Google maps only calculates the distance to the edge of the national park, not to the campground or the lake itself. And so, we had underestimated our total distance by a considerable amount. That, coupled with our animal miles, meant there was no way we could arrive Friday night and ride the rim on Saturday morning.

At the bottom of the hill, we saw another sign, a welcome one this time, for a state campground just one mile down the road. The first campground we’d seen since leaving Shady Cove: Joseph Stewart State Campground. It didn’t matter how crappy the campground was, we were going to stop! Luckily, this campground is beautiful! And cheap: only $17 for a tent spot with no electricity. And they have (free) really hot showers!!! Woo hoo! (We found out later that this is the only campground with showers between here and the park. We got lucky!)

At the ranger’s recommendation, we selected a very quiet and secluded spot under a canopy of trees, overlooking a drought-stricken lake.

Today’s mileage: 37 miles (including our animal miles)


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