It was the end of the season, Ride the Rim was over, and the park was about to close for the winter, so very few tourists remained at the park. We, too, were leaving. There was only one other guest waiting for the mid-morning shuttle to the rim, so the driver very kindly looked the other way and allowed our bicycles and all our gear onto the trolley so that we wouldn’t have to make the tortuous 7-mile climb to the top. Once up at the rim, we loaded the panniers on the bikes and began the day’s journey along the west rim road and out the north entrance of the park.
Finally, we were riding the rim! Or part of it, anyway. It was another gorgeous day, and the views were spectacular. The few drivers sharing the road and enjoying the tail end of the season with us were all very courteous.
We still did some serious climbing, but it wasn’t unrelenting anymore. We reveled in coasting down the hills we’d just climbed. Still, the climbing was challenging enough that we took advantage of nearly every one of the many opportunities to pull over and enjoy the views. The sky was clear, the lake shimmered blue, the caldera and Wizard Island were in stark relief…utterly breathtaking. And not just because of the climbing it took to get there!
The view off the other side of the road was completely different, with pines and rolling hills, and several mountains in the distance, including Mt. Shasta.
We intermittently climbed around the western rim of Crater Lake for about 5 miles and then we began descending. Oh glorious descent! We descended, and then descended some more. We descended right off Rim Road onto the straightaway that leads out the north entrance of the park. We continued screaming down the mountain for at least another 10 miles before we even had to think about pedaling!
Riding a fully loaded bike is like driving a packed tractor-trailer. There is nothing nimble about it. It takes a lot of momentum to make it feel light and agile. And yet, with a few days of rest and a magnificent downhill, that’s exactly what the bikes felt like plunging down the mountain. There was no traffic to speak of at the north entrance, and the pitch of the descent was just right: neither so steep that it felt dangerous, nor so flat that we had to work at maintaining speed. We whooped with joy! This is so much fun!
We’ve gotten so lucky this trip. We’ve enjoyed beautiful weather. Park employees told us Crater Lake is usually under 3 feet of snow by now, but we’re enjoying 60 – 65 degree sunny days and not a drop of rain or flake of snow to mar our experience. Rain is forecast again for Friday, but by then we’ll be gone. We couldn’t have planned this better if we’d tried!
On the north side of the lake, we rode through a burn area. Since August 1, major forest fires have been burning in the northwest corner of the park. We heard that just last week, the fires were so bad that smoke obscured Wizard Island from view! Then, just before we arrived, it rained and snowed, helping douse most of the inferno. Some hot spots still remain, but the smoke is largely gone.
The road out of the park must have been used for containment because one side was blackened while the other side looked completely normal. We could still smell a little of the forest’s charred remains, a bit like a very distant campfire. It wasn’t unpleasant, exactly, but our throats did burn a bit, so the air quality surely wasn’t pristine.
Eventually we rode out of the park perimeter and onto Highway 138 towards Diamond Lake and Medford. We continued to coast most of the way down to the Medford turnoff and then turned again onto the side road that took us around Diamond Lake. No longer coasting, we pedaled to the north end of the lake, passing more scarred and desolate burnscape.
At the north end of Diamond Lake, we found a general store…and it was still open! Unfortunately, the food shelves at this store were nearly empty, just as we’ve found at all of the so-called grocery stores along our route. It is the end of the season, and they were cleaned out of pretty much everything. We found a few canned goods that we thought we could cobble together into quasi-chili, and some disgusting fruit “pastries” we thought we could choke down for breakfast, but not much more.
We decided to stay in the national forest campground right next door to Diamond Lake Resort. As we rode around looking for the perfect camp spot, a very nice guy in an old truck with a camper shell stopped and asked us if we wanted a free camp. He said he was an avid cyclist and that we could camp for free in his camp spot since he was going to be completely self-contained in his camper. We took him up on it. He warned us the low was predicted to be 33 degrees that night. Yikes! Our coldest night yet.
The next morning, the only way we could think of to thank Alan for sharing his camp spot with us was to make him some espresso with our beloved Kitty moka. Thanks Alan!
Today’s mileage: 27 miles