On Labor Day, I scouted the routes and logistics for the Bicycle Quarterly “Un-Meeting”, which will be held (or “un-held”) in Packwood on September 13. After a few rainy days, it was a gorgeous sunny morning. With my family, we had been hiking in the area, so I started in Greenwater with the climb up Cayuse Pass. It was sunny and warm, but a few clouds obscured the top of Mount Rainier.
The sign on top of Cayuse Pass became a casualty of avalanches or snowplows a few winters ago, so now the “proof of passing” is the road sign at the top.
I added the bonus climb to Chinook Pass – an out-and-back that was well worth the effort for the magnificent views at the top.
I wasn’t the only one enjoying the mountains. This VW Beetle-based Bugatti kit car roared down the mountain, making me a little envious of the fun its crew had. Except I had as much fun as we both roared down the long descent of Cayuse Pass. They stayed behind me for a long time, until I waved them past to get a better view.
The last miles to Packwood always are into a headwind, but they passed quickly. Here is the library, right in the middle of town. We’ll start our rides here at 9 a.m. The Hotel Packwood is across the street…
… and the campground is next door. The Bicycle Quarterly crew will stay at the campground, and we’ll have a campfire on Saturday night.
Packwood is nice, but its true attractions are the roads that radiate into the mountains. I went up Skate Creek Road, a perennial favorite that winds its way up a narrow valley.
Skate Creek Road is hard to surpass, but this small forest road is even better. It climbs and climbs at a moderate gradient, with views of the mountains from time to time.
I had no trouble finding the turn-off to Forest Road 84 – a good thing, since it’s part of one of our rides. Despite the sign that the road isn’t recommended for cars, the gravel was very smooth – more like hard-packed dirt than normal gravel.
For the first time, I came through here on a clear day (once I had been through here in a snowstorm, and twice at night). The view was as spectacular as I had imagined it, but I was disappointed that Mt. Rainier was still surrounded by clouds, with only the very top peeking out.
Then my attention was occupied by the descent. It’s ultra-fast if you let the bike roll, and great fun.
I re-joined Skate Creek Road in the Nisqually valley, and got another glimpse of Rainier’s summit – well, almost.
I entered the National Park through the back door. (I have an annual pass, and this route is 10 miles shorter and free of traffic.)
I always enjoy the old suspension bridge at Longmire, but even more today…
…since this was my big dinner stop. I had to wait 30 minutes for the restaurant to open, but it was well worth the wait. (I wrote some postcards in the mean time.)
The early dinner was followed by the long climb up to Paradise. While it’s a significant climb, it’s not very steep, and the gradient varies, so whenever you start to get tired, it relents, and you get a little rest. I stopped on the bridge over the Nisqually River and looked at the glacier (barely visible, covered with rocks, up the valley). The clouds above were a bit disconcerting – I had to hurry to get over the top before it got dark and really cold.
Looking down gave me a vertiginous view of the river… better to get going before I got dizzy.
The Paradise Lodge was as beautiful as ever, with a piano player and guests lounging after a day exploring the mountain. I resisted the temptation to stay for dessert, since the sun was setting outside.
And what a sunset it was, with the mountains glowing in orange and pink.
Just to tease me, there was another “almost” view of the mountain as I passed Reflection Lakes. It was twilight here, and I encountered a young black bear leaping onto the road about 40 feet ahead of me. I braked hard, and we both were equally surprised as we faced each other at close range. By the time I got my camera, the bear had disappeared into the undergrowth.
The super-fast descent to Box Canyon had me shiver a bit on my bike, but the climb up Backbone Ridge warmed me up alright. It was dark now…
… and as I looked back, I finally got a view of the summit free of clouds. I’d been chasing this view all day over four mountain passes, and here, in the fading light, the mountain finally revealed itself.
One mountain pass remained, but even the climb up the long side of Cayuse Pass wasn’t as challenging as it had been when I last rode it after 500 km during the Volcano-High Pass Super Randonnée.
It was 10 p.m. when I crested the pass. The ride back to Seattle was another 100 miles, but it passed quicker than I thought. In the still night, my bike seemed to fly, and even a few light rain showers didn’t dampen my spirits. Leaving Enumclaw on small roads, not a single car passed me for the next two hours, nor did I meet anybody during the next hour on the Green River Trail. I arrived home at 4 a.m., a little later than planned. It was a lovely ride, and I honestly can say that I enjoyed every minute of the 19 hours I was on the road. I just hope that the weather will be similarly nice next Saturday, except with fewer clouds over Mount Rainier!
About the Bicycle Quarterly “Un-Meeting”: The “un-meeting” isn’t an organized event. There is no entry fee, no services will be provided, there are no rules, and there is no insurance or liability of any kind. All that happens is that the Bicycle Quarterly crew will be doing a few rides starting at the Packwood Library at 9 a.m. on Saturday, September 13. Distances will range from 40 to 80 miles, and anybody is welcome to join us. In the evening, there will be a campfire. The goal is to meet like-minded cyclists and to have a good time. On Sunday, we’ll ride back to Seattle. We’ll post the route sheets in a few days, so you can print them out and bring them along. We hope to see you there!