Rides to Remember

jan_helens

When it is cold and foggy outside, or when the rain is beating down, I like to remember the days when it was summer. My mind wanders back to long hours of daylight, sunshine and memorable rides. Like last October, when Mark and I headed out for an all-day exploration around Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens.

morning_adams

We spent the night in Packwood and got an early start climbing Forest Road 21, which winds its way into the foothills of Mount Adams. After an hour of climbing this beautiful road, we got our first glimpse of Mount Adams as the sun came up.

walupt_lake

A few hours later, we reached Walupt Lake, a beautiful lake high in the mountains. We enjoyed a brief stop, as we watched two anglers in their boats on the lake.

corner_gravel

It got even better from there. We took a small road that wound its way across a large plateau formed by a lava flow from a long-ago eruption of Mount Adams. The undulating road was fast and fun. This is what cycling off the beaten path is all about.

babyshoe_descent

After a very enjoyable ride, we reached Babyshoe Pass. Why doesn’t Mark look out of breath after reaching a mountain pass? Because we actually descended to the pass on a side road!

washboard

This “main road” across Babyshoe Pass sees more traffic. Bad washboard had formed and it detracted a little from our riding enjoyment. As so often, the smaller roads we had taken earlier had been more fun to ride.

washout_babyshoe

For once, we were glad when we reached pavement again. We were surprised that the freshly rebuilt road over this washout had settled again. How long will it remain open to traffic? Not that traffic had been a problem. We had been on the road for more than 6 hours by now, and seen only 7 cars.

smoky

The air became very smoky as we made our way into the valley. For a while, we were concerned that we might have to ride all day through this heavy smoke, and even considered turning around.

adams_fire

Fortunately for us, we soon realized that it was a local fire, just across the valley on the slopes of Mount Adams. There were at least two separate fires shrouding the volcano in smoke (above). Once we passed the plume of smoke, the air became clear again, and we enjoyed the sunny day.

dusty_herse

We enjoyed an outdoor lunch in Trout Lake. Unlike the last time I came through here, the weather was beautiful, and we could enjoy the famous blackberry pie with ice cream in the sunshine. As we sat on the porch of the little diner, our bikes were leaning against the fence nearby. They were dusty, but no worse for wear after riding gravel roads all morning.

mark_gravel_lane

Lured by the beautiful weather, we decided to add a little detour and explore another gravel road that looked promising on the map.

meadow

Forest Road 24 exceeded our hopes, with beautiful vistas and not a single car during the hour or so we cycled it.

mark_paved_helens

Back on pavement, we rode for hours on winding single-lane roads. For the most part, the sightlines were good, so we could enjoy the secure handling of our bikes on the descents.

rockfall

The Cascades are a young mountain range that remains geologically active. We passed another rockfall that had not been there when I last came through here a couple of years ago.

northwoods_open

One of the big unknowns of this ride was whether the store in Northwoods would already be closed for the winter season. You can imagine our elation when we approached and saw the big “Open” sign. Our joy dimmed a bit when we realized that there wasn’t much palatable food here, but at least we could get water for the upcoming climb.

mark_elk_summit_climb

The climb up Elk Summit is long and steep. On this day, we had not been pushing the pace, so it felt easier than usual. As the light was fading, we got a beautiful view of Mount St. Helens (photo at the top of this post).

mark_elk_summit

By the time we reached Elk Summit, it was pitch dark on this moonless night. We put on every scrap of clothing that we had carried in our handlebar bags. Then we launched into the descent. With our modern LED headlights, the winding downhill was great fun. After an hour of mostly downhill riding, we briefly stopped in Randle for more supplies. A peaceful ride in the wide valley of the Cowlitz River brought us back to Packwood. It was a day well spent, and a ride to remember.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. One of our companies, Bicycle Quarterly Press publishes cycling books, while Compass Bicycles Ltd. makes and distributes high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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19 Responses to Rides to Remember

  1. Bob Thomas says:

    How many total miles did you get that day? Sounds like a great adventure.

  2. Bruce Hodson says:

    Another well written piece about riding in a place that makes me rather envious. Your descriptions of these are largely responsible for my buying a new wheelset to convert my 54cm Surly Pacer to 650b and wider tires.

    On a side note, the shorts in the photo looking at Mt. St. Helens: Are they from Kucharik? I once had a pair of his (back when I raced roads). I have been tempted to try them again as my current wool bibs are beginning to become a bit used up after four seasons. They are also a bit long in the leg for summer riding.

    Cheers Jan!

  3. Tim Tyler says:

    Would love to see a map of this ride!

  4. Richard Harker says:

    Looking at the photos its hard to envisage what the legs are going through but with scenery like that, it doesn’t matter.

  5. Tim Bird says:

    Wow Jan – that’s a crackin’ ride with some lovely views. Cycling adventure! Yeah, this time of year really makes one savour the memories and yearn for the first warm spring days. Right now Britain is plastered with snow and encrusted with ice so your ride looks really good.

    Your mention of Trout Lake brought back memories of a summer I spent there, as a student, 20 years ago. I stayed near the general store and it was my first time in the Pacific North-West. What a great introduction. I camped high on Mt Adams for a few days and was bowled over by the seeming endless wild high country. Heck, no villages, pubs or tea shops. A real shock for an Englishman.

    It was fire season and one afternoon I heard a siren. My host, Dave, roared up to the house in his pick-up and bundled me in along with a couple of shovels. We belted along a dirt road toward a pillar of smoke and ash barely a mile away in the woods. I could see a forest service fire truck following us some distance behind. The fire truck got lost but Dave knew his way and we arrived to find a house engulfed in flames and the nearby bushes and trees, beginning to burn. I soon found out what the shovels were for and we had a desperate time of it. Other volunteers and the fire crew arrived in the nick of time and the fire was contained even though we all to take cover briefly as a stash of ammunition exploded!

    Looking forward, Jan, to your next adventure in Cascades.

  6. Bill Pustow says:

    Thanks! Very nice ride discription.

  7. Frank says:

    It’s nice to see Mark’s “Three Hands” in action here – I very much enjoyed his tale of the bicycle’s history in one of the recent issues of BQ. There is one picture of the Three Hands in that issue which shows the bike equipped with a lowrider rack – but does it have lowrider braze-ons? I can’t see them here on this page.

    • The rack attaches to the bag support rack and the dropouts. There are no mid-fork braze-ons. It’s perhaps a little less stiff, but it works well.

    • Mark Vande Kamp says:

      The lowrider without adding braze-ons was a project completed in Alex W’s basement. When I ordered the bike I didn’t fully appreciate how much I’d prefer it to my old bike (that has mid-fork braze-ons). I think a quickly removeable rack is a great option on a rando-style bike because it makes it much easier to “ride to the ride” and also opens lightweight bike-camping options.

      • Frank says:

        Dear Mark and Jan, first I have to apologize: I think, you referred to the Goodrich as “Six Hands” in BQ, not “Three Hands” (what was I thinking?)

        Anyway I was asking about the lowrider because I have ordered a Rawland Stag randonneur, which will lack lowrider mounts as well, and I would probably also like to use a lowrider rack sometimes for exactly the same reasons as you. A Tubus Smarti rack mounts to cantiveler posts, which the Stag will have, but it doesn’t seem to play nice with a small front rack that is permanently attached there. So I guess, it’s P-clamps for me – or a custom rack.

  8. Bill Gobie says:

    This little pocket of Washington state is a marvelous area. If you want to get away from wheels entirely I can recommend backpacking into the Indian Heaven Wilderness.

    I have had two memorable rides on Road 25. In 2010 a nighttime descent from Elk Summit in precipitating fog so dense our headlights barely lit the road. My glasses were fogged and covered with water. I followed another rider’s taillight the whole way. The turns were so tight I was sometimes astonished at how far to my left or right his taillight moved.

    The second was last summer, also a nighttime descent, this time in perfect weather. I let the bike run when the road ran straight, and braked hard for the curves. It was fantastic fun, and no little bit dangerous: miss a curve and you could become a real-life Wile E Coyote shooting off into the void, unlikely to ever be found. I worried about deer and elk on the road, but saw none. But they were present. When I stopped to collect myself after almost overshooting a curve I heard a herd of little hooves clickity-clicking down the road behind me. They were gone before I could find them with my helmet light.

  9. Alex Brede says:

    Jan –
    I would love to do this ride as a weekend tour with my wife. Could you send me a brief outline of the road names?
    Thanks!
    Alex

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