The cool air and Leon's gentle reminder motivated us to get pedaling in short order.
|A quartet of Cyclopaths flying in formation early in the day.|
The gradual gradient leaving Ashford and entering the park was a good fit for getting chilly riders warmed up. The road was still wet but there was only light traffic and we rode at a comfortable and sociable pace. Multiple conversations were in full swing. Adam shared what he had learned regarding current gravel/cross bike offerings. Later Rex and I discussed some of his wheel building experiences. The Cyclopaths seem to maintain a good balance of performance pedaling and social camaraderie and I especially appreciated this balance after my early training season.
|Posing in front of the inn at Longmire. No need for hot chocolate, fresh socks, or a warm fire.|
After a short stop at Longmire the ride resumed at an increased pace. Conversations continued but we were now into a more scenic and challenging portion of the climb. This section of this long climb is still one of my favorites and it did not disappoint. At one point, as Mount Rainier became visible, I shouted to the group "We'll forget the suffer but remember that view!".
|This image shows demonstrates how quickly playing paparazzi can get you dropped. But I wanted to take a step back and let my camera absorb more of the road and trees. These twists and turns are some of my favorites.|
As we passed Steven's Canyon Road the group chose to separate a bit. Before long I was following just Leon and Adam. The air was feeling cooler and we were seeing more snow. Adam commented that the air felt thin. I responded that Leon's pace was making my lungs work a lot harder. Leon ignored us and kept cranking the pedals and later claimed that he wanted to test his fitness. He certainly tested mine.
|Adam is looking strong here and the blue skies gave us all an little extra to smile about.|
After regrouping at Paradise we discussed the idea of descending through Paradise Valley. A barricade read 'Road Closed' but the pavement was bare as far down as was visible. Les cautioned us against the idea. Later we thanked him as we passed the Paradise Valley Road East outlet. Many feet of snow still covered the bottom reaches of the road.
|How many times have I asked the Cyclopaths to pose with Mount Rainier in the background? Too many! This day Adam's Giant Defy anchored the shot.|
A group photo was planned at Reflection Lake. Neither the mountain, hidden in clouds, nor the reflection, buried in snow, was willing to cooperate.
As Stevens Canyon Road turned down hill the air began feeling warmer and the sun broke through. As we passed Stevens Creek we experienced a number of temporary waterfalls. Water cascaded off the high rock walls and down to the road surface. On a hot climb up in July or August we would have surely cooled ourselves in the water. But this day we enjoyed only their beauty.
The remainder of the descent was uneventful. Just what we hoped for.
As the air continued to warm we started on the short section of Highway 123. We rode conservatively and enjoyed the marvelous scenery. At least until the Highway 12 junction.
The pace quickened, leaders changed, I followed wheels, and pretty soon just David and myself had a gap on the rest of the riders. David pulled me most of the way to Packwood. Thank you David. It wasn't until the last mile or so that I noticed a rider coming up from behind. Adam had closed the gap and brought Les with him. It was a strong show of power from Adam and we silently hoped it had taken some of his edge off.
As we provisioned in Packwood the sun continued to smile on us. I was able to remove my extra layers. Leon cheerfully and efficiently repaired a front flat. Rob shared some cold water for topping off bottles. And we generally enjoyed the warmth, company, and the choice of messages on patron's t-shirts as they drifted in and out of the convenience store.
|I like to bring home the detail shots. Mechanical issues often attract the attention of my camera. Although just a flat front tire, I asked Leon for a smile as he quickly swapped tubes.|
As we embarked on the road for which the day's ride was named the discussion of the upcoming climb was broached. Adam seemed unaware that, on occasion, the pace has seemed to elevate on this final climb. I characterized this increase in pace as 'A gunfight' and advised that I, for one, had only brought a blade. At first the pace quickened within reason. Eventually Adam went off the front.
As many Cyclopaths recall this climb is never too steep and the grade tapers. Leon watched Adam ride away and then quickly organized the four nearest riders into a team. "One minute pulls" he cheered. I guessed that Leon was planning that our group of four would loose time on the bottom half of the climb but then share the work enough to make up the difference on the top half of the climb. David, Les, and myself bought into the plan and went to work.
Over time Leon's group dwindled to just Leon and myself. One minute off the front was not enough for me to keep my battery up. Eventually I told Leon I couldn't pull and he seemed to have no problem towing me the remainder of the distance up and over the top.
As fine a plan as it was, we did not catch Adam until Adam wanted to be caught. He turned around to regroup. Nice ride Adam.
At about that same time the sun chose to hide behind the clouds. Cooler temperatures followed us the remaining ten miles as we each chose our own pace to finish the ride. I fought some cramps and Les slowed to shepherd my in. Thanks Les.
As the group trickled in we all seemed to express the same series of emotions. Despair from that final effort, satisfaction of completion, and then gratitude. Gratitude that we can cycle our way up and down the mountains, at speed, with our friends.
During the ride Leon asked me to be this rides photo journalist and I happily agreed. It is an honor to ride with this group and I get to relive the day while I create this document. I am also afforded a venue to share my gratitude with Leon for leading us. Both as the ride organizer and as the pace maker. Thanks Leon.