I awoke at first light, rested and ready to tackle one more day of climbing towards our lofty goal of Crater Lake. The top of the road leading to the lake is situated at about 7,500 feet above sea-level, making it the high point on this and any other bike trip I’ve undertaken thus far. After much indecisiveness about the merits of seeking out the fabled Umpqua Hot Springs, we decided the nearly three miles of dirt road each-way was too much of a liability and got back out on the highway. I do hope to return to this area some day and experience the hot springs, as well as have a go at some of the roads we traveled without all the 15-20 extra pounds of supplies.
Despite being solidly in-rhythm from nearly a week of riding, Anthony and I made slow progress on the lonesome slog towards Diamond Lake, our planned lunch-stop for the day. It didn’t help that every few miles we’d get a strong whiff of animal scent, clear indications that territory nearby had been marked. We hoped not to be crossing any boundaries. Again, we felt both fear and elation at the prospect of being so far from significant settlements, but mostly elation. During this bicycle journey, I lost track of the number of times a sense of awe washed over me, the moments when I looked around and knew all was right with the world and that Anthony and I were experiencing some of the best bits.
The historic Diamond Lake Resort was built a long, long time ago. I say that not just because I read the signs at the front of the building, but because we really did walk into a different era. This mountain lodge and diner looked mostly the same as I imagine it was when it first opened in the 1920’s, and in a way, I was happy about that. Not everything needs to be updated, and when traveling by bike, it’s much easier to appreciate establishments just on the account of their willingness to feed us. I had the most delicious open-faced turkey sandwich with mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, washed down with as much coffee as I could stomach. Bike touring meals are THE BEST!
After charging our electronics and lingering a while in the diner, we remounted our bikes and soon we were passing through the northern entrance into Crater Lake National Park. Cyclists pay $5 for one-week passes, though most come through the gates in cars and then do just the scenic 30+ mile “rim loop.” Between the northern entrance and the first glimpse of the lake sits a lava field, barren and expansive. We stopped for a photo, which did not turn out well, probably because of our exhaustion and mind-numbing dehydration (how did we manage only to drink water at the Diamond Lake stop, I’ll never know?). However, the panorama photo below gives a sense of the place.
After climbing far more than we had hoped and expected, we were finally rewarded with magnificent views of Crater Lake from an observation looking down upon Wizard Island. We took a good while to take in deep blue alpine waters that filled the 2,000-foot vacancy left by what must have been one impressive volcano eruption. This was the moment we had been waiting for, climbing and climbing and suffering, stifling saddle-soreness and general fatigue. These are the things that prepare a person to fully appreciate life and the beauty directly in-frame. I know that Crater Lake would not have meant what it does to me now if I had gotten there from some metropolitan city in a matter of gasoline-fueled hours. I accept and value the discomfort I experienced. It was worth it.
After Anthony finished making friends with the local chipmunks, we decided to walk to the very top of the mountain, where a “watchman’s tower” stood guard over the forest for one-hundred miles in every direction. Once manned full-time by a fire-lookout, this place now serves as the very best viewpoint from which to take in the southern part of Oregon. It is also 8/10ths of a mile of uphill hiking that nearly bested us. We felt mostly good about our decision to go to the top once we saw the views, but it was not until two separate fellow-hikers to talk that we really felt good about the decision.
The first was a man, perhaps in his 50’s, who noticed my Cal Triple Crown jersey, which I earned by completing three double-century rides (200-mile, single day events) in one calendar year. He’d completed just about every double century out there and had earned the jersey several times over (I’m on my fourth consecutive year, currently). Clearly an endurance nut like us, he was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, although he did not share enough for us to know if he planned to do it in its entirety.
Not two minutes after we split off from the man, a woman walked by, and then called back at us. She’d noticed my jersey, too, and her brother was a fellow wearer. She’d done many rides with her brother, including STP (Seattle-to-Portland), which is still high on my list of rides to complete. What was it about this place that caused people to suddenly notice my jersey? Do the endurance crazies all seek out thinner air or is it just that I had worn my light jacket on days where I also wore that particular jersey?
After descending from the watchtower, we spent a few minutes chatting with two biker tourists of a different variety. Anthony was impressed by one of the leather-clad fellow’s sidecar setup. I don’t really get the arrangement, whereby the flexibility and efficiency of the motorcycle are drastically reduced, but I will say that it looks cool. Anthony also noticed, and I was reminded, that “bikers” and “cyclists” get along quite well when both coming from the shared mindset of the long tour. Leather and lycra do, after all, share the bond of two wheels and the freedom of the open road. We are not that different.
From the watchtower viewpoint, we enjoyed a spectacular descent, first to the Xanterra-run Crater Lake Lodge and then more steeply into Mazama Campground. This campground was much larger and busier than the others we had visited and it took us nearly 20 minutes to pass through the line to pay for our hiker/biker site. With the increase in campers came an increase in facilities, though, and the general store was full of things a cyclist might want to eat and drink fireside. Before long, we were setting up camp and knocking back the customary 6-pack of Deschutes Mirror Pond Ale.
The hiker/biker area was littered with dry pieces of wood and we soon had a supply greater than any I’d ever witnessed while camping. We proceeded to burn that fire from sundown until after midnight, taking down a series of high-calorie foods. I ate a pizza and then some peanut-brittle, while Anthony ate an entire family-size bag of Cool Ranch Doritos (yikes!). As had also become customary, we had purchased some riesling (absolutely terrible, unlike others that had come before), and that kept us going as long as the fire would hold out. Eventually, though, we gave in to our fatigue and extinguished the fire, settling in to what would be the most unsettling night of the trip.