11 Nov Ride Report: Crater Lake
When I was attending college many moons ago, I met a girl. No, it was nothing of the romantic type, but rather, a beautiful friendship. I admire her sense of adventure and her openness to try new things. She told me that she was going to go on a road trip from Los Angeles to Oregon. She agreed to send me a postcard of her most favorite place she visited. 2 weeks passed, and I received a breath-taking photo of an amazing pool of sparkling blue water surrounded by lush green trees, which formed the perfect picture of the great outdoors. This was the exact vision you’d have if someone told you to imagine being at a lake in the woods. I flipped the photo around and read the message she wrote to me. Her message confessed that this was her most favorite place. She revealed to me it was a place called Crater Lake. I immediately bookmarked this moment and put Crater Lake on my bucket list of places to visit.
Fast forward 17 years later, I am standing on the same vista where the photo was taken. I couldn’t believe I was finally here to witness in-person how beautiful this place is. The water was perfectly blue, so blue that you would think people had poured an unsavory amount of blue dye into the water. The view from the mountain range that surrounds this lake, this crater, varies at different places along the circumference.
We had a sneak preview of the terrain as my carpool driver, Heidi, drove us into the park. Heidi was actually one of the riders who had joined our Adventure Cycling trip from Bellingham, Washington to Eugene, Oregon. She had mentioned early on that she was going to be driving back from Eugene to Bellingham and was looking to visit Crater Lake. This was in perfect alignment with my plan as I wanted to go to Crater Lake after our tour ended. I was considering to hit the road on my own solo bike trip to Crater Lake, but was discouraged when I heard about the fires that were scorching the park a few weeks before our tour started. The alternative to Crater Lake was to ride over to Bend and hang out there before making my way back to Klamath Falls to catch the Cascade train back to Los Angeles. Luckily, the cool and wet weather helped control the fires in Crater Lake, and Heidi still wanted to go after being on the road for 18 days.
On September 20th, Heidi arrived at my campsite in Eugene to pick me and my bike up for the 3 hour drive to Crater Lake. The trip offered beautiful views of Oregon’s forests as we snaked our way southeast between the Deschutes and Umpqua National Forest on Highway 58 and 97. We entered Crater Lake National Park on the north side on Highway 138, where we saw the scorched remains of the forest on one side of the road and the opposite side was untouched by the flames. Very surreal to be there when it was all up in flames a few weeks ago.
Heidi was kind enough to drop off my gear and wait for me to set up camp at the Mazama campgrounds’ hiker biker sites. We quickly made our way back to the south end of the lake at the Rim Village parking lots. The place was bustling with last-minute summer visitors who wanted to take a gander of the large pool of water before they leave for home. Heidi and I unloaded our bikes and walked over to the edge of the lake. It was the exact same place where my postcard photo was taken. I was in awe. Couldn’t help but crack a wide-smile as I marveled at how truly serene this scenery was and thought about how lucky I was to finally be here and ride around the lake. Heidi had done some research about the ride and told me that it was about 30 miles around and 3000 feet of climbing. This was not going to be easy. The day before, the park had closed part of the south rim for non-motorized vehicles, but today we were not so lucky. We started our journey going clockwise around the lake at about 1PM in the afternoon. The roads were unforgiving as I was shaken to the bone when we descended to the 9 o’clock position of the lake. At about every few miles, there were parking lots filled with cars and the passengers they carried scattered to the edge of the lake to take in the different views. Heidi, on her carbon road bike, was much faster than my steel touring bike. I told her to just keep moving and I’ll eventually catch up. I never did see her until sunset. The toughest part of the ride started right after the 9 o’clock area of the lake. The roads were being repaved, so much of the rim trail was uprooted with loose gravel. Our path was predominantly scattered with sand. I wondered how Heidi faired as she was riding on slick thin road tires. I was fortunate to have a bit of rubber beneath me as I was rolling on 1.75” Schwalbe Marathon tires. The road was a roller coaster ride where I spent a significant amount of my time spinning up steep ascents to be rewarded by sweeping descents. It’s funny that the rewards are so quick and few when you’ve taken so much time and effort to climb up each time. By the time I reached the 2 o’clock position of the lake, the novelty of being there started to phase. I was challenged by the roads and was wanting to make it back to camp as soon as possible. The only way was to keep going as turning back would have been equally as difficult. Moving forward is much better than going backwards. I continued on my way.
At about the 4 o’clock position, I thought I had reached the last hill of the day before I saw a sign that said I had about 12 more miles to go. How could this be? I was about ¾ done with the lake and I was a little half way in mileage? As it turns out, the road actually runs further south away from the lake and was closer to the main road that we took from the Mazama campgrounds. I had to ride up the same steep hills that we drove up to reach the Rim Village. It was painful and tiring. I had exhausted all my water source and snacks. I was running on fumes when I reached the parking lot. I was surprised to see that Heidi’s car was still there and she had her bike already packed in the back. She had visited the lodge and changed her clothes and was seconds away from driving back to Eugene. I had caught her in time before she left. We said our goodbyes as I made it over to the same viewing area to take a quick breather and enjoy the sun setting to the west side of the rim. There were only a handful of people there. The temperature had dropped considerably as I sat there and pondered about the significance of this moment. I finally got to ride around Crater Lake on a bike. This is a big deal. Only a few people get to do this, and I was so lucky to be one of them.
I rolled back into camp on a great downhill from the top of the lake into Mazama. The 6 mile stretch had sharp hairpins and smooth tarmac. It was a great reward after being on the rough terrain earlier that day. I had all my lights on as I flew down to my campsite in record time. When I arrived to my site, I quickly assessed my valuables. Nothing was missing. There wasn’t anybody else at the hiker biker area. I was alone for the night.
I quickly got my camping clothes in order and made my way to the showers. Right after the showers, I hopped right back into my tent and was out for the rest of the night.
The next morning, I woke up as the sun started to break through the dense trees of the campsite. The morning was cold. I was told the temperature dropped to the high 30s. I had to pull out an emergency mylar blanket to help supplement my sleeping bag. The blanket held in the heat too well as it was coated with moisture, which started to soak my sleeping bag. I had to take those out to be hung dry. I made my way to the restaurant on the campsite and had my breakfast there. I wanted to get on the Internet to plot my way back home by way of Klamath Falls. I opted to buy 1 day of Internet service for $10. It was worth the price as I got all my travel plans in order. I booked a ticket for the train and looked at my route.
After breakfast, I made it back to my camp and decided to go for a hike near the campsite, Anne Creek Canyon. This canyon was located just north of where I was, so I walked down into the canyon and was reading the self-guided tour book along the way. There was a number marker on the trail to give you highlights of what you’re seeing. It was very informative and rewarding as I crossed over creeks and got to see various rock formations of the land.
I made it back out with time to spare. I went to the camp store and was pretty much online for the rest of the afternoon. I went back to the restaurant for dinner and bought myself a beer to enjoy at camp. That helped me unwind as I retreated back into my tent. About 10PM a group of people walked into my sanctuary and decided to camp a few feet away from me. They eventually settled down and we were all sounding off into the night with our snores.
One More Ride
The next morning, I met our visitors. They were 2 guys walking the Pacific Crest Trail from San Diego to Canada. These guys were out on the trail for over 4 months. They said the night before was probably the coldest that it had ever been for them. Their clothes were tattered and well-worn out. Their facial hairs grew out relentlessly once they knew one of the sacrifices of the trip was a razor. I went to have a hearty breakfast which consisted of oatmeal and bacon. I enjoyed the last few minutes of paid Internet before I returned to my campsite to break down camp. I loaded up the bike one last time. I rolled out of camp and was back on the road at 10AM. It was still a little chilly, so I had my Buff on. The good news was that the road away from the National Park was all downhill.
I was rolling down at close to 30 mph until I made it out of the forest and mountains. The road flattened as I rolled by the derelict town of Fort Klamath. Many of the buildings were boarded up and the streets were void of people. I carefully rolled through town, hoping not to disturb the locals, as I made my way onto the Crater Lake Highway 62. As the road intersected with Highway 442, I turned right onto Highway 1334 and continued south through some major road construction areas. The workers were nice enough to give me enough time to ride through without being tailed by a train of cars.
Highway 1334 continued along the Upper Klamath Lakes until it terminates on Highway 97, which was a 2-4 lane highway. Most of the road had a shoulder where I was riding in as I nervously watched 18-wheelers and cars speed by at 80 mph. There were some sections where the shoulder disappeared and I had to make sure I was in and out of the 2-lane road before the next monster rig roared by. I eventually got into Klamath Falls at around 2PM. I stopped by a theatre thinking that it would be a perfect place to kill time as I wait for my 10:30PM train to pull in. “Sorry. You can’t bring your bike in,” was what I was told when I asked if they can watch my bike for me as I watched a movie.
I eventually made it to a burger shack and ordered my lunch. I thoroughly enjoyed this meal and asked the kids who were working there about the town. They told me that there was a brewery in town near the train station at the old Creamery building. This was fantastic news as I made my way into the downtown area. I saw the brewery, but continued on to find the Amtrak station. I like to do this beforehand, so I won’t get lost when the time comes to leave. I headed back into town and walked the streets. I found the town bike shop and stopped in to chat it up with the guys. I finally made it back to the brewery around 4PM where I ordered a flight of beers and some food. This gave me time to eat, drink, and enjoy some reading. The weather was hotter than Crater Lake as temperatures were in the upper 80s, but eventually cooled down to the 60’s when I left to the station at 9:30PM. The servers and owners at Klamath Basin Brewing were very patient and understanding. They let me put my bike in the patio so I could keep a close watch. They told me that they are the first brewery that uses a geothermal brewing process. The beers were delicious and I was feeling good when I left.
At the train station, I checked in and got my bike boxed up with the help of the Amtrak worker. It took about 30 minutes for me to get settled down and ready to board my train. As the train arrived, conductors told me to go to the last car since my final destination was Los Angeles, the last stop of the trip. I made my way upstairs and was surprised to see how packed the train was. Luckily, I found a set of chairs that was vacated by passengers who had gotten off at Klamath Falls. I ended up occupying both seats for the entire length of the trip. It was difficult to sleep, but I managed to get a few hours in as the train rolled through Southern Oregon into Northern California. Sunlight finally broke through when we were passing the UC Davis campus. I finally gave up on trying to sleep and sat up to look at the changing sceneries as the train continued to push south.
I absolutely love riding the train and didn’t mind being on it for 23 hours. Yes, it is a long period of time, but at least you get to stretch out and take breathers at certain stations that allow you to disembark. Plus, there are dining carts for you to enjoy (expensive) food and beverages. You can even bring your own food if you like, but I wasn’t prepared for that. Instead I had breakfast in the dining car and lunch at my seat. Each meal was over $10. I was so happy once we reached Union Station and I found a Subway to grab a sandwich.
I picked up my bike on the second floor of Union Station, where they were loading people’s luggage. The workers didn’t have any qualms with me pulling my bike out and assembling it. All it took was a hex wrench to put the handlebars, pedals, and my Ortlieb bag holder into place. I rolled my bike and panniers out to the Gold line and took one more train ride home.
Let me know what you think about the story in the comments below. Is Crater Lake a place you would like to visit? I certainly hope so. It is magical and challenging, so be prepared. The park is closed throughout winter, but when it opens again, I would recommend that you make your way to see this marvel of a place.