Crater Lake 1000k
by Jeff Loomis,
photos by Noel Howes & Shan Perera.
Thursday before the ride
I took the day off to sleep late, get my bike ready, pack and nap before the 10:30 PM start. In the morning I got my bike all tuned up and was ready to declare it “perfect” when I decided to loosen my pedals to make sure they weren’t stuck. I knew I would need to remove them with a small wrench for the trip home from the finish. Pedals were fine but I noticed what looked like a crack in the left crank. Closer inspection revealed it was cracking from both sides. I didn’t feel safe riding this for 3 days and nights. Uh-oh, panic time! I called my buddy Andy who is a great mechanic with a large parts stash. We were planning to do the ride together along with Noel and Shan, some other riding buddies.
Me: I can’t do the ride, I just found my crank is cracked
Andy (paraphrasing): You idiot, just take the left crank off another bike
Me: duh, OK, I’ll call you back
The left crank on a neglected bike looked like it would fit so I made the swap. Everything looked fine initially until I noticed the cranks wouldn’t line up with each other. It turns out my TA Carmina crank (the cracked one) has the square taper such that the sides of the square are parallel to the crank arm. Every other square taper crank I have encountered, including the Sugino I was trying to substitute, has the taper at a 45 degree angle. I call Andy again:
Me: I can’t do the ride (explain the problem)
Andy: Your commute bike has 46-30 chainrings right? (the same as the rando bike I am trying to fix.)
Me: Uh, yeah (mumble, mumble some misgivings…)
Andy: throw both bikes on the car and get over here
With the help of Andy’s fully equipped shop we swap the cranks and bottom bracket from my commute bike to my Boxer randonneuring bike in record time, adjust the front derailleur for a slightly different chainline, and the ride is saved! We also notice my right crank is starting to crack as well. Whew, that was a bullet dodged. I’m not impressed with the design of the cranks because it seems to focus the stress in a way that will cause these cracks. The original chainrings are still in good shape but the cranks are toast.
After a panicked pack due to all the wasted time my wife gives me a ride to the ferry dock along with the drop bags for the guys (they are riding to the ferry.) Waiting for the ferry we run into most of the other riders, including Hahn, a super strong rider who decided to do the ride at the last minute. The rest of us have booked train tickets for Monday or Tuesday after the ride finish on Sunday afternoon/evening. Hahn is so confident he booked a Sunday morning train ticket. He isn’t using a drop bag, planning to ride the entire way with only the contents of his handlebar bag. He even forgot his water bottles but fortunately finds some water that fits from the ferry cafeteria.
We roll out at 10:30 and after a fast start south out of Bremerton the pack quickly divides into the racers and the plodders. We decide early on to let the fast group go. It’s a long way to Klamath Falls. I run over some debris on the shoulder of route 3 and notice a rubbing sound. I ignore it for a while but Andy is sensitive to any noise from a bike. “Are you going to stop and fix that rubbing?” I decide to stop and Andy stops too. We discover a thick, stiff wire wedged between my rear tire and fender. Andy can barely turn the wheel with it in there. Yikes another disaster averted. We are now all alone at the back. A strong effort lets us rejoin the slower group but we notice that Shan is gone, having hung on with the fast group. We joke that he will pay for that effort later…
It starts to drizzle as we ride familiar roads through the night, passing Belfair, riding along the Hood Canal then past the prison to the first control in Matlock. We find tireless ride volunteer Vinny sleeping in the van with the drop bags, but he has left us some water and coke. It’s nice to ride these roads with minimal traffic in the quiet of the nighttime rain. The weather is warm enough I don’t bother with a rain jacket and it is light enough I don’t get really wet. We are all happy for our fendered bikes and think about the faster crew who mostly removed them to save weight. Somewhere around here we find Shan who has been shelled by the fast group and is now beat. Leaving the control we notice Eric, a rider from Chicago, has left the wrong way going back the way we came. He doesn’t hear our yelling and we hope he figures it out before putting in too many bonus miles.
After Montesano we head south towards Raymond. Empty log trucks are passing on the way to their morning pickups. They mostly give us plenty of room but one driver lays on his air horn right behind us and passes uncomfortably closely with the horn blaring the entire way. The road is completely empty so I guess he just hates bikes and doesn’t mind possibly killing someone. Entering Raymond around 7 AM we debate stopping at McDonalds or the Kosy Kitchen Café for breakfast. I vote McD’s for speed but Andy hates it. He is outvoted and we make an uncomfortably slow McDonald’s stop. The tiny early morning staff prioritizes the drive through customers. Conclusion: always listen to Andy. Somehow we never learn.
The route continues south to Astoria where we make a scary bridge crossing and look for lunch. Andy knows a great “hippie café” downtown but decides it will be too slow. We settle for a bad burrito. Our first sleep stop destination is Pacific City. The route is hilly but nothing too crazy. Sometime in the afternoon Noel jumps ahead. We regroup in Cannon Beach and make a quick ice cream stop. Unfortunately Andy and I end up dropping Shan and Noel pretty quickly on one of the many climbs along the coast.
We decide to look for dinner in Tillamook so we can just go right to sleep in Pacific City. We crave Teriyaki but don’t find anything so end up settling for the Chinese steam table in the Safeway. We look for Noel and Shan but they end up passing us while we eat. We arrive around 8:30 to see them headed to the Mexican place by the motel where the organizer has booked some shared rooms. Vinny is sleepy and confused about the room assignments but we eventually agree to get up at midnight and sack out for 3 hours. 400km done.
We roll around 12:45AM after some snacking with a plan to stop in Newport for a real breakfast. There is a detour to an info control up Slab Creek Road where the coastal bike route skirts some dangerous bridges on 101. Near the top of the steep climb Noel’s GPS says the info control is here but we don’t see the described sign anywhere. The mile marker matches the cue sheet also. We hunt around for a while but eventually give up, figuring we will get the answer from another rider. The other side of the canyon is a screaming descent down dark, twisty roads. Shortly afterward we hit Lincoln City and get some rando gas station food. I make the unwise choice to eat a microwaved Jimmy Dean egg and sausage bagel that burns my mouth.
The sun is coming up and the views are beautiful as we make our way to Newport. Night riding is a good antidote to crazy 101 RV traffic. Unfortunately our route takes us though a trendy district where everything is closed. We see a bakery and beg though the glass but it doesn’t open until 7 and we are ignored. Andy asks a local if there is a breakfast place in town that is open and it is a mile back on the main road. We decide to press on to Waldport where we find an espresso stand with muffins and scones.
Traffic is picking up and we notice an incredible number of huge wheeled pickup trucks, often pulling boats or travel trailers. Most people are willing to give us room when there is no traffic but we often get squeezed when there is oncoming traffic. The giant motorhomes are the scariest. We saw one tour bus sized motorhome pulling a pickup truck with an ATV in the back. The traffic and noise are balanced by beautiful views. Rolling climbs are pretty constant. On one we are passed by a couple on bikes carrying small packs. Andy chats with them to find they are doing a credit card tour of the coast. He feels the need to leapfrog them on the next several climbs and I hang on too so we are feeling pretty strong. Noel is just a little way back but Shan is out of sight.
There are a couple of pretty scary tunnels on this stretch. It is a designated bike route but the shoulders are often narrow or nonexistent. After the final tunnel I stop at a view point and put on sunscreen. When I put my glove back on I get stung by an ant that was inside! Andy finds my reaction hilarious: “you were screaming like a little girl.”
Florence is a wasteland of strip malls and traffic. We decide to press on to Reedsport to eat lunch right before the major climb of the day. Now we are in full-on pickup truck pulling sand buggy territory. 101 is getting tiresome and I am fighting sleep from time to time. It is unusual for me to get sleepy during the day on these rides but maybe the night start is taking a toll.
In Reedsport we go to a great local restaurant for sandwiches and milkshakes. The staff is super friendly and quick. Shan texts that he is at the McD’s. I reply that we are heading out: get over here. We don’t see him as we leave.
The next section thankfully takes us off the main road. We follow the Umpqua river which goes all the way to our next sleep stop in Roseburg. That would be a nice flat ride, but we are not going that way. Instead we turn uphill on Loon Lake road. This is an amazing, fun climb along a beautiful stream. Before reaching Loon Lake, we head onto an even smaller road: Camp Creek Road. We know we have to climb around 2000 feet but the road is very gentle. Ominous.
We are startled by a pickup truck that pulls up with a redneck straight out of central casting at the wheel. He has a beer between his knees, is chewing tobacco, wearing a trucker cap and overalls with no shirt and has a stereotypical hillbilly accent. He is curious where all the bikes are going. We tell him about our ride and he enthusiastically wishes us a good ride. He and his buddies are fishing and bear hunting. They have to keep moving camp because “the rangers keep hassling us.” Currently he is on a beer run. We wish him the best and head onward.
After several miles of gentle climbing we reach the elevation gain. The road just heads up with one steep switchback after another. We see only one or two vehicles in a two hour period. The road has shifted in a couple places such that only a higher clearance vehicle could pass. This is a climb I would love if starting on fresh legs but today I am just looking to survive. I have to stand in my 30×32 granny gear on several occasions. Andy is waiting as I reach the top and Noel arrives a couple minutes later. The descent is crazy steep on fresh chipseal and loose gravel. Andy is gone on his 42mm 650B tires. I am a bit more cautious and Noel brings up the rear, stopping a couple times to cool his rims.
Once we reach the bottom we paceline it into Roseburg as the sun sets, anxious for sleep. Entering town we decide to stop at Sizzler just as they are closing. Noel has a slow leak so he fixes it in the Sizzler lobby while we finish dinner. I have not been to a Sizzler in decades, if ever, but it is rando heaven. The salad bar includes pasta, meatballs, dozens of salad fixings and a dessert bar. We load up, knowing we will sleep soon.
Making our way to the sleep stop at the Travelodge we follow a cue that says “meander through park.” Huh. Good thing Noel has the route in his GPS or we would be screwed. Mark the organizer is waiting for us and has saved a room with 3 beds. Mark also reveals that Hahn is sleeping, having underestimated the course a bit. We leave the bed by the door for Shan who is the last one left out on the road. Deciding we have plenty of time on the final day we allow ourselves 3 ½ hours of sleep, setting alarms for 2:30AM. 730km done.
Today is the shortest day but we have to climb around 7000′ to the peak of the Crater Lake rim road. There are a few downhills on the way as well to make a total of about 10000′ of climbing for the day.
We awake to find Shan has arrived during the night but only slept for one hour. He was at least an hour back at the top of the climb and then made a wrong turn coming into town. His GPS battery was dead and he had a miserable time but finally found the Travelodge after two hours of riding in circles.
Breakfast at Denny’s fortifies us for the day and we are on the road by 3:30 or so. There are few turns between here and Crater Lake and we take off enthusiastically. Unfortunately the lack of rest is catching up with Shan and he drops off the back on every climb. Eventually the three of us left decide we are going to ride and hope he catches up. He does find us when we stop for a snack at the Dry Creek store control but then he immediately decides to nap so we press on.
The scenery today is awesome and the roads mostly have decent shoulder to give us room when the RVs speed past. I fix my only flat of the ride this morning. We climb steadily and are making good pace when we find Mark waiting for us with cokes and snacks in the late morning. I tell Mark I could kiss him when I see the cokes. He isn’t enthusiastic about this idea.
We stop at the Diamond Lake resort for lunch. Andy says, “This is a resort, but for working people.” Noel thinks it is straight out of the ’50s “like everything in Oregon.” It’s a pretty cool spot that I would like to visit when I have more time to spend. I have a rueben, fries, and a milkshake. Hopefully that will power me to the top. As we leave the resort we pass the biggest campground I have ever seen along the shore of Diamond Lake.
Once we enter Crater Lake park we lose the shoulder but not the RVs. Fortunately it is getting later in the day so there aren’t too many vehicles entering. The speed limit is theoretically 40 but some cars still seem to be in an awful hurry given that it is a park road. Some of the climbs are getting steeper but I am still enjoying the day. Noel passes us when I stop for a restroom break and I fall behind Andy on one of the climbs. Eventually I reach the rim road and stop to enjoy the views of the lake. There is still some significant climbing to the highest point, and then a fast descent to the lodge and the penultimate control.
At the lodge we regroup and meet up with Eric and his family who had arranged to meet him there. We get a photo overlooking the lake. There has been a reroute on the final section to get us off US-97 into Klamath Falls and there are two riders from Vancouver who can’t read the cue sheet in English. The reroute isn’t on the GPS route so we tell them to follow us. We all head out and enjoy the winding descent from the lodge followed by a long, fast, straight downhill for many miles.
We enjoy a tailwind on some rural roads and make fast time to US-97 for the final stretch into Klamath falls. It has high traffic and narrow/no shoulders in spots so I am designated to lead the train to the turn onto the dirt road reroute. I memorize the turn info and as we take off a cloud of bugs appears. They are so dense they are pelting me like raindrops in a thunderstorm. I try to speed up to get out of the cloud but that makes it worse and I keep dropping the others. They are getting in my mouth, jersey, helmet, glasses, everywhere and I am very agitated. This is actually the worst part of the entire ride for me. Later Noel tells me he just slowed down to keep pace with the wind and barely noticed the bugs. Finally I reach the turnoff and we head away from the marshy lake with the bug clouds.
Everyone is thinking we have an easy 12 miles to the finish now but there is one more surprise in store. We know about the 6 miles of dirt but it turns into a steep climb and it is now dark. One of the Canadian riders loses traction on his skinny racing tires and goes down. He is OK but very tired. He also has no rear light, his battery having run down. We try to keep him in the middle and flag down a car, asking how far to the end of the dirt. The driver tells us only 500 feet of dirt and then “just one steep climb” before coming down in an old fort. Well, cyclists know that when a driver tells you that a climb is steep, you better believe it is STEEP.
It turns out we have what amounts to a mini mountain pass between us and Klamath Falls. Fifteen or twenty minutes of hard climbing get us to the top, where we start an incredibly steep, twisty downhill. It is now completely dark and I drop my chain for the only time on this ride. Everyone else is gone as I struggle with my inexplicably hard to remount chain, covering my hand with grease. Finally I get back on the road and everyone is waiting for me at the bottom of the hill.
Ten minutes of easy riding later and Mark is greeting us at the finish motel. The best cold pizza and local beer awaits us. Mark even has a gojo wipe for my greasy hand. He’s the best. 1000km done in 71:26. Shan rolls in just after midnight, having skipped the optional dirt road reroute.
Many of the riders booked Monday morning train tickets or got rides from family. We opted to sleep late, rest, and eat several meals on Monday before heading out on the Tuesday morning train. Tales were told over beers as randonesia kicked in and we were already planning the next ride.
Andy had everything organized for us to have our bikes ready to go in the Amtrak boxes the second the train station opened. He was first in line to get the boxes and we got all the bikes packed up just in time. Then it was a relaxing twelve hour trip back to Seattle.