Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Skate Creek Loop Ride - Sort Of...

Author:  Chris Fox
Rolling out, with great expectations
for an 80 mile morning ...
It may not have registered on a Richter’s Scale, but there was a whole lot of shaking going on today as thinly clad cyclists with minimal body fat manifested the initial symptoms of hypothermia on the western road of Mount Rainier National Park.   It certainly wasn’t the expectation of  twelve Cyclopaths to etch such memories as they set out early Saturday morning for the annual “Skate Creek Loop”, an 80 mile ride through the beautiful forested and alpine setting.  
Entering the Park:  note the dry road...
The opening miles were marked by easy pedaling and stimulating conversations.    Then the 3,700 foot climb began to Paradise Lodge 18 miles ahead.     Conor and new arrival, Mario, took the lead while the remainder of us settled into a steady cadence.   Ominously, elevation and precipitation rose in inverse proportion to descending fog and temperature.    Mount Rainier was not to be seen.    After a few miles we passed Longmire Inn:   2,761 feet, another 11 miles and 2,700 feet to the Lodge.    Except for an occasional car we were alone on the roadway, the hour and the weather deterring many park visitors.    The rushing waters of the Nisqually River provided a background symphony.  
At the two hour mark four of us joined Connor and Mario at the Lodge.    While Jim went in search of hot chocolate, I found the men’s room where warm water brought life back to my fingers but the hand dryer had little effect on my wet socks.       
After a few minutes we decided to reunite with the others and check on their condition.   Leaving the warmth of the lodge a park ranger kindly warned the road might be dangerous and cautioned us to be careful out there; prescient words, indeed.    It took just a few turns of the pedals into the blowing drizzle to concede the 80 mile loop had to be dramatically shortened.   
While the ascent had been rather methodical, the descent was downright maniacal.   Chilled to the bone and lacking feeling in the extremities, maintaining control on the patchwork asphalt was quite challenging.   I found myself losing control of the bike as my shivering limbs transferred instability to the frame.    Tucking my knees to the tubing didn’t help.   The only answer, but not solution, was to dismount and begin running around, flapping my arms in a bizarre circulation inducing callisthenic.    Passing motorists, cozy and warm, probably thought it a tourist attraction; perhaps a comedian pantomiming an ancient Cascadian ritual.       
Further down the road we met the remainder of our group huddled around Les who was experiencing more serious symptoms.  Apparently he had taken his cycling reputation as the “Silent Assassin” to a new level by forming ice in his veins.  Fortunately, a car with good Samaritans 
David taking Les' place on "fire duty"...
stopped.  The driver - a paramedic/bike owner/former Category One racer - and his wife - a nurse - gladly transported Les (and his bike) to the Longmire Inn where the rest of us later found him by the warming fire.  Actually, he was behind the screen, appearing to be crawling into the fire.    Were we witnessing extreme measures to rekindle circulation?  No, he assured us, only adding wood to the flames.   We all huddled round him, sharing stories as we wrung water from our clothing and moderated our shaking.
Warming slowly...
Irrepressible Jim prerparing to "turn up the heat"...
In his book, An Ascent of Mount Rainier, John Muir wrote of his indebtedness to Mr. Longmire in 1888.    One hundred twenty-six years later similar sentiments of gratitude are extended  to the Longmire staff for the hospitality they provided to this group of cyclists who, finally, had sense to come in out of the rain.  
Conor, dry t-shirt and socks... and look at those shoes!!!
The “Skate Creek Loop” of 2014 was truly an epic adventure!    One the Cyclopaths will long remember for its drama and camaraderie.  

To see all of the photos associated with this ride, click on the following link: .

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