Thursday, May 11, 2006

When is climbing NOT training?

Wednesday, 10 May

When you choose a beautiful, sunny spring day and ride your bike on (arguably) the most beautiful road in the entire state, you hardly notice 5000 feet of elevation gain. Until you walk up the stairs at work the next day.

In exchange for having to work last Saturday (and therefore missing the state road race at Elma), I got to take Wednesday off and chose to ride from Newhalem to Washington Pass on SR20. While the cooling towers of the unfinished nuclear plant at Elma are, well, cool, I'll take the North Cascades any day. The round trip was 85 miles, 40 miles of climbing more or less, and an average of less than one car/RV/motorcycle per mile passed going our direction.

This is such a stunning ride that it's hard to say what was best about it. Just the privilege and pleasure of being there is overwhelming. The peaks around Diablo Lake are still covered in snow and made for beautiful reflections at Colonial Creek. There was a nice little tailwind when the climbing started after the descent to Panther Creek; I have no complaints about going uphill at 18 mph when it's wind-assisted. There was some tough headwind in the 6 or 8 miles before Rainy Pass, and where the ground was completely covered in snow, the wind across the snow was pretty cold. Just when I was feeling tired and slow, I passed a couple on a Co-Motion tandem with a fully loaded trailer; they had stopped to stretch and were clearly taking their time. (Mick found out when he passed that they had taken 3 days to get from Anacortes to Rainy Pass!) At Rainy Pass, there is probably still 4 feet of snow along the road. The DOT crews cut the cutest little parking indentations into the snow bank for folks who want to head into the back country. There's a little less snow at Washington Pass--maybe 3 feet.

The return was uneventful, not super windy (which it often is), so that the descent down to Colonial Creek was screaming fun. Goretex jacket, knee warmers, and gloves were a must for the first 20 miles of descending. At this time of year, there are waterfalls down every rock face, and the surrounding air temperature drops 20 or 30 degrees because the runoff from the snowfields above is so cold. It was like riding through refrigerators.

Flowering currant, ravens, deer, the smell of the forest, and of course all the snowy peaks made all that climbing hardly seem like going uphill at all--and certainly not in the least like training!

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