August 11, 2012

Around the Crater

Crater Lake is a caldera lake located in the south-central region of the U.S. in the State of Oregon. It sits around 6,178 ft above sea level, the mountain itself closer to 7,800 ft.  I rode a bike around the lake.

For the last couple of years I have been riding my bike to and from work 10+ miles a day.  You would think that would prepare you for a ride like this.

Four of us met at the Costco Gas station and commuted up to Crater Lake Village. Glen, the mastermind who put this together and an avid rider; Kacy, an equestrian who commutes on bike as well as Jeff, who logs the least amount of miles on bike.

The ride out from the Village started with a downhill section.  It consists of several switchbacks.  On a many-month earlier drive around the crater, I had thought this would be a blast on a bike.  So when we started the descent, I shifted up and pedaled like a madman.  My speed was greater then I could peddle so I hung on and went into the first turn.  I tried not to break, although I did a bit, not quite sure how much traction I would have.  Turns out I had more then enough. The next few hairpins were a fight against G-forces and keeping the turn tight. I felt the ground brush my knee at one point.  I even startled several motorists who, thankfully, did not swing too wide. It was exhilarating, having to lean around the corners like a cafe racer.  So 7,124' down to the low of 6,446 in about 3.5 miles.

The next 12.5 miles were some long climbs and some curious things.  After hitting 6,787' we got another downhill. Then two big climbs, the first from 6,638' to 7,367'.  Then another downhill to 6,778 up to the highest point on our journey - 7,664' at the 15 mile mark. My lower back, which gets stiff at times due to my work was started to act up.  Nothing really painful, just annoying.  Also, the tendon along the right side of my right knee was starting to get tighter as we climbed.  Everywhere we were treated to some of the most gorgeous views on the planet.  I kept getting slower after 10 miles (which was about the length of my daily commute).  Uphill is repetition, cadence and self distraction.  I would think of songs and peddle to the beat.  We passed bikers coming from the other direction, waving and smiling.

We stopped for a lunch break and I felt pretty good.  We had traveled just under 18 miles and traversed the highest point (near Mt. Scott).  From here on I would just fade. At 20 miles we reached the last of our big downhills, 6,744'.  Glen had mapped out the distance as being 28 miles for some reason.  Somplace around 23 miles we had a final break, figuring that another six miles would not be a significant distance.  I was offered to refill my water camel, a backpack that holds a bunch of water, with built-in straw.  Wary of the extra weight and knowing I have ridden five miles in harsh sunlight without any need of water, I declined... That would be a mistake...

At just around 27 miles, after climbing up to 7,396' I saw a sign telling me there was another six miles to the Rim Village.  This last four miles had been very difficult and the ability to peddle with any strength was taking its toll.  I went a couple hundred yards more but, had difficulty steering.  I pulled to the side of a turnout and laid down on a rock.  I was not out of breath.  I actually did not feel pain or sick or anything.  I just felt heavy and unable to move.  Mentally I wondered if Glen and Jeff had made the village, and how long till they came to find me.  The breeze felt very wonderful and I had pretty much decided to not move.

You always hear the term "hit the wall".  I am pretty sure that was what happened.  As I lay I started rationalizing my situation.  How no one would blame me for not making the full course.  How it was quite an accomplishment for someone who had not ridden more then 10 miles a day.  Consider we are around 6,500 feet above the elevation we live.  That has got to count for something as well.  Eventually they would backtrack and find me.  Then I got back up.  Still no clue as to why, it felt mechanical, like I was more a marionette.  I strapped on my helmet and buckled my camel pack, threw my leg over and started to pedal. It was a heavy feeling, like the gravity of the Earth had doubled.  I started up the hill in a low gear and just kept pumping.  Maybe another two miles and then I had to walk the bike due to my butt and the seat warming up to very uncomfortable heat.  I figure I walked about a mile and climbed back up and began the ascent again.

Finally I hit a flat and a slight downhill.  The construction on the road let me know it was not that much further and being downhill allowed me to coast.  It was actually taking quite a bit of concentration to keep straight and true down the path.  Kacy had started back on her bike to locate me.  She seemed relieved when we crossed paths.  The car was not too far behind her.  I would have gotten off and loaded up then and there, but the village was close enough that I just finished.

I had run out of energy, bike-sitting ability (heck, ANY sitting ability), water and most remaining virtues.  I pretty much wanted to lay down on my bed until the ache went away.  We had a celebratory pizza with beer at the Diamond Lake pizza place, then took the construction-slowed trip back to Roseburg.

We plan to go again next year.  I figure my ass muscles will just have stopped hurting by then...


flyingvan said...

Is there a high elevation camping spot you can stay in for a few days prior to next year's ride to build up a few extra red blood cells?

It's well documented that people who are very fit at sea level often do poorly at elevation, even compared to sea level couch potatoes. Two factors---lazy people get very efficient at pumping out extra red blood cells when actual work is demanded; second, athletes are disciplined breathers, with a good idea how fast they should breathe for the given exertion. Not so the out of shape folks; with no problem huffing and puffing their way to the fridge for more chicken nuggets.

There are Himalayan trekkers that prep by sitting on the couch smoking marijuana (not advocating this just an interesting point)

Very impressive ride, BTW. Can I come along next year?

Lee Kiester said...

Yes you can! I could even get you a Costco Jersey!

I knew the elevation would be a factor I was more curious to see how much of one.