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MT HOOD (IN THE BACKGROUND), LIEF (IN THE FOREGROUND)

As promised, I disappeared from my blog for several days, lost in the Cascade hinterlands. Back in civilization now, I’ll fill you in on the details of what went on out there.

Leaving Cascade Locks I headed east for about twenty miles along the Columbia River, racing (and beating) an enormous grain barge as it churned its way against the river current. The ride was alternately sunny and bracing with a brisk tailwind punctuated by several brief but intense showers. At the delightful little town of Hood River (“windsurfing capital of the world”) I turned south again riding through pear and apple orchards not unlike those in my hometown of Chelan, Washington. From there it was climb, climb, climb until I found myself on the south side of Mt Hood (see photo.)

Near the top of that climb, a fellow bike tourer pulled up beside me. He was an Englishman named Paul from Manchester, England on vacation with his wife and child. He was the first (an only) fellow biker I was to meet riding south on the Cascade-Sierra route. We traded stories and learned that we both planned to camp at the upcoming Frog Lake. Then he left me in the dust which was no reflection on my biking prowess as he was unencumbered by the camping gear that slowed my ascent. You see, his wife carried his gear in the camper that was waiting for him at Frog Lake.

I received a cordial invitation to dinner from my English friends which I had to turn down because of my finicky eating habits. I had no such objection to a cold beer which they offered in lieu of the meal and which we consumed around their campfire just as darkness fell. Their always-smiling young son, James, seemed only to enjoy the camping life as I never heard so much as a whimper from him all night and into the morning.

20130904-193315.jpgSWEET BABY JAMES AND PAPA PAUL

Baby James and family were heading to the Timberline Lodge on Mt Hood for the day so we said goodbye in the morning. My route followed a succession of climbs and descents (what else?) along well paved and nearly deserted Forest Roads. Although we bikers bitch endlessly about cars on “our” roads, I must admit it was somewhat disconcerting to ride along for hours without seeing single car. My understanding is that these roads were built for logging traffic which was non-existent because of the Labor Day weekend – or perhaps because logging on Federal land is much reduced in recent years.

Bicycle touring is, to a large extent, a matter of dealing with physical and mental challenge. Sure, the scenery can be captivating, as the Mt Hood photo illustrates, but far more of one’s mental processes are devoted to anticipating and dealing with less esthetic matters such as the logistics of combatting thirst, muscle fatigue, and hand numbness. The combination that seems to work well for me is: Twinkies, Mountain Dew, and Ibuprofen. Twinkies for their calories – a lengthy bicycle ride through the Cascades is no place to start a low-calorie diet. Why Twinkies in particular? Because that’s the kind of food available in the small convenience stores that serve as “groceries” in rural communities.

Mountain Dew is 99% water so it does quench the thirst but equally important is that .001% called caffein. Climbing 3000 ft on a 6% grade at 5 MPH takes two to three hours so the kick in the ass caffein provides is hard to turn down.

Round about noon, the muscles in my shoulders and neck start to rebel from constantly gripping the handlebars. Ibuprofen quells the rebellion to a manageable level. So, if you’ve ever wondered how Mary and I have ridden thousands of miles on bicycle – now you know: junk food and drug abuse.

20130904-200630.jpgCAMP SITE NEAR SANTIAM PASS

Before I had ever ridden a long distance ride, I imagined that I would camp along the road wherever I pleased. In fact, that rarely happened on previous rides – mostly because we would have been squatting on private land. One great thing about this ride is that much of it is through state and Federal land on which it is quite possible and often perfectly legal to just set up camp wherever. That’s what I did near Santiam Pass. The only real consideration is the presence of a creek for water.

I had hoped to make it to Crater Lake before September 8 when I set out on August 27. By my fifth night out it was abundantly clear that I had been far too conservative in my planning. It now appeared I would reach Crater Lake by September 3. I called Mary and set up a rendezvous. While difficult, the steep hills I climbed each day did have back sides which I descended at speeds in excess of 30 MPH and I was averaging about 90 miles per day.

My wilderness idyll was doomed to end near the town of Bend where I encountered legions of Labor Day vacationers with their kayaks, coolers and bicycles strapped, tethered and taped to their speedings SUVs.

A LONG climb out of Bend against a hot headwind took me past Mt Bachelor to Elk Lake where I had rendezvoused with Mary two years ago when I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. This time I occupied a camp site big enough for a motorhome with my bicycle and set up my little tent, using perhaps one percent of the available space. I strolled over to the modest Elk Lake Resort next to the campground where a folk concert was in full swing. Later I walked up to the PCT trailhead and remembered coming off that mosquito infested section of the trail. This time the mosquitos were absent.

On the morning of my final day I had the first thirty miles to myself again between Elk Lake and SR 58. Mucho traffic and a hellacious headwind from there to the Crater Lake turnoff where I had arranged to rendezvous with Mary. I got to the rendezvous and 3 PM and had to watch the traffic for four hours until Mary arrived. I had covered 681 miles in seven days astride my Greg LeMonde road bike; Mary covered it in one behind the wheel of her 350-hp Dodge Ram.

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