It’s happening! I’m doing the Dolomites trip with Cinghiale again–3rd time’s the charm, or something?
So that means I have some riding to do before I get to Italy. Should probably include a hill or two in that riding…
The Mazama Ride goes over the North Cascades Highway from Marblemount to Mazama, where we spent the night at the lovely Mazama Country Inn. (Which was a great place, by the way–I’d gladly stay there again.) The next day–you guessed it–we rode from Mazama back to Marblemount.
The North Cascades Highway has been on my to-do list for a while, and is one of the treasures of Washington, yet I’ve never been over it, not even in a car. Until last weekend–and about time!
One of the things that has kept me from doing this ride on my own is logistics laziness. There are a lot of beautiful mountain rides within a couple hours’ drive of Seattle, and they don’t require the same forethought re: food and water (i.e., the lack thereof on the route) as the North Cascades Highway does.
There’s a good 60 mile stretch (of strenuous riding) between Newhalem and Mazama that has essentially nothing in the way of services. You’re probably ok on water, if you pack a water filtration device or similar, as there are roadside waterfalls and such. (Yeah, I just described a bunch of the amazing scenery as “and such.” One of the dangers of cycling around here is becoming jaded to the natural beauty of the area. It is a burden I must bear…)
Redmond Cycling Club caters to lazy people like me by putting on a supported ride. So instead of having to figure out how to carry 4 water bottles, a lot of food, and so on with me, I just had to carry enough to get me to the lunch stop. And then to the water/snack stop. And then to the water stop. And then I was at the Mazama Country Inn, wearing clean clothes from my bag that RCC had helpfully brought for me.
Yes, this was a lovely way to enjoy the North Cascades Highway, and it involved carrying a lot less stuff (and weight) on my bike than I would have had to carry on my own.
This mattered, because there was a wee little bit of climbing involved in the day. The first day, after a few bumps we had a long climb up to the 4800′ Rainy Pass, then a too-short downhill, and a climb up to Washington Pass at 5400′. By the numbers: 74 miles and 6600′ of climbing. The return trip was also 74 miles (weird, I know!) but just 5100′. Easy day.
I guess I could have done it loaded down with panniers full of food, water, and clothes, but this was way more fun!
Also making things fun was that my dad was crazy enough to sign up for the ride with me. I got an email about it, and forwarded it to him, saying “This should be fun!” He foolishly took me at my word, and signed up too. He then spent a lot of time moaning about being roped into doing the ride–until he proceeded to emphatically show the ride who was boss.
The RCC support made the ride utterly enjoyable (amidst the pain and difficulty that is the attraction of any mountain ride). There is nothing that steep, which means the climbing is eminently doable, and the descending is joyfully relaxing and non-technical. If I had not stopped for lunch and water on Day 2, I don’t think I would have needed to use my brakes until I got to my car.
Watching the ruggedness of the terrain, I was trying to imagine encountering it before the road, and being told “figure out a way to get through that.” The engineering and ingenuity behind the road just boggles my mind.
But miracle of the gentle-grade, not-very-twisty route through convoluted mountain ridges aside, it still isn’t an easy ride. The trade-off of a gentler gradient is a longer climb. After the initial bumps, the eastbound climb up to Rainy Pass is 18 miles of uphill. Not always a lot uphill, but constantly, steadily uphill. That is (for me) a couple hours of constant effort, no chance to coast/rest/catch my breath.
On a related note, one of the people at the Mazama Country Inn who was managing our dinner buffet seemed quite taken aback at how much food we were consuming, and how rapidly we were doing so…
Having not done mountains on back-to-back days yet this year, and having fewer hours on the bike than I would like (that all-consuming new job strikes again), I wasn’t sure how the trip would go. Sure enough, I woke up the second day really not excited about doing a big bicycle ride. Or going up and down stairs. Or getting out of bed, really.
But about 5 miles into the ride, something flipped on–it was like my body said “mountains two days in a row? Oh yeah, I know how to do that” and I started feeling better and better. Interestingly, my dad also felt stronger on the second day, much to his surprise and delight.
I’ve done a couple big, challenging rides this year, but this was definitely the biggest and most challenging. I still have a fair amount of training to go before the Dolomites trip (will get to the summer’s plans in another post) but it was reassuring that I could ride pretty strongly through both the days, and more importantly, enjoy myself while doing so. I also have to give credit where credit is due–if I haven’t made it clear enough yet, the ride organizers and volunteers of the Redmond Cycling Club were wonderful, and were instrumental in making the ride so enjoyable. Thank you!
To finish, here’s the only “technical” bit of riding–a fun swoopy turn descending eastbound from Washington Pass.