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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lured by the beautiful weather, we decided to add a little detour and explore another gravel road that looked promising on the map.
Forest Road 24 exceeded our hopes, with beautiful vistas and not a single car during the hour or so we cycled it.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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