Monday, July 28, 2014

2014_07_27 Skate Creek Loop – Third Time’s A Charm

Author:  Mike Hassur

Saturday, June 14th    “Skate Creek Loop Ride #1”:  terminated at/near Paradise (the name "Paradise" was a real misnomer on that particular day) due to frozen/wet riders.

Tuesday, July 22nd:    “Skate Creek Loop Ride #2”:  terminated before the ride even began – raining at starting point (weather forecast said no rain until PM – whoops).

Sunday, July 27th:      “Skate Creek Loop Ride #3”:  sunny, zero percent chance of precip… let’s have at it!!

This ride was put together sort of at the last minute.  We knew that Brent Moody was going to be in town over this weekend, and we wanted to do a ride with Brent.  We didn’t have a big group, but we had a good one - Conor, Leon, David Crawford, Brent, Mark, and me (Mike).
Brent:  ready to go...
Brent and Mike

We arrived at the starting point just east of Ashford to find sunny early morning skies and cool (low to middle 50’s) temperatures.  Everyone arrived on time, and we were heading toward the Nisqually entrance of Mt Rainier by about 6:10 AM.  We rode briskly and talked.  Before we knew it, we were passing the Ranger Station (no Ranger at that hour) and heading into the Park.  As usual, the winding ride up to Kautz Creek was amazing – ancient trees, fern, etc.  It’s not hard to see why people journey from all over the world to visit the roads on which we ride our bikes.  Our group stayed together as far as Kautz Creek.  By that time, Conor and David could contain their enthusiasm no longer.  They took off and would not be seen again until Paradise.  Brent, Leon, Mark, and I visited our way up the mountain. 
Brent, Leon, and Mt Rainier...
Mark, David, and Conor heading to Reflection Lake...

Brent, Conor, David, & Leon:  Mt Rainier and Reflection Lake...

After visiting the Paradise Lodge, we regrouped at Reflection Lake, took some photos, and headed toward

Steven’s Canyon.  Mark had set off toward Steven’s Canyon before the rest of us – the idea being that we
Looking back up Steven's Canyon -
we came over the middle ridge on our way down...
would catch up on the Backbone Ridge Climb.  After Sunrise, Steven’s Canyon is probably my second favorite place in the Mt Rainier area in terms of grandeur and scenery.  I love the way that the road runs at pretty much a 90 degree angle to the “fall line" of the wall of the canyon (meaning that there are sheer rock faces rising to the left of the road and a BIG cliff on the right side) – pretty awesome stuff.  The road is steep enough that it’s not hard to maintain a speed of 30-35 miles for most of the approximately 10 mile descent to the Box Canyon area.  It is a beautiful, fun descent; but you need to keep your eyes on the road and not the scenery (remember the cliff), and the rough road makes it a chore to get your camera out of your jersey pocket while speeding down the road.  I know – that is not a smart thing to do, but c’mon – you have to get some photos; and, if you stop, your buddies are out of sight by the time you get started again.  Anyway, the descent was its usual awesome self, and everyone made it safely.

Conor, David, and the view from Backbone Ridge...

Next up - the three mile climb to Backbone Ridge.  This is not a steep climb.  It allows you to sort of float up the climb while visiting with the rest of the group.  What is notable about the Backbone Ridge Climb is the view at the top.

After cresting Backbone Ridge, we headed down to the Ranger Station and out of the eastern park
Pace line heading toward Ohanapecosh...
entrance.  We, then, road in a pace line past Ohanapecosh and on over to Packwood with our traditional stop at the Shell Station.  This section was fun as it was mostly downhill and pretty fast.  We didn’t stay at the Packwood stop as long as usual.  It was pretty much “hit the bathroom and leave”.

The final leg of our ride would take us on the 10-11 mile climb up Skate Creek Road with the final 11 miles to the cars being mostly downhill.  As usual, Conor and David were out of sight almost immediately.  It has long been a Puyallup Cyclopath tradition to time trial up the Skate Creek Road Climb.  There is a 9.1 mile Strava Segment up this climb which is all the motivation that we need.  Unfortunately, as the trees next to the road on this route have grown, they have managed to interfere with the signal to our bike computers more and more – to the point where it is now difficult to get Strava to recognize the segment – bummer!!  Undeterred, we headed up as fast as we could go.

At the top of this climb, we regrouped and headed toward the cars.  Conor and David, who had been ahead of us, backtracked and met us a few miles from the cars.  We rode the final few miles together – perfect!!

Well, after three tries, we finally got it right:  no rain, no freezing temperatures, and sunshine.  It was great seeing Brent – can’t wait until you visit again, Brent – and the rest of the guys.
David, Conor, Leon, Brent, and Mike (apologies to Mark who should have been in this photo)...

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