Fantasy ride around a big mountain

October 19, 2012

Taking my lead from the Perimeter Bicycle Association of Tucson, Arizona, I have fantasized about making a grand circuit on my bicycle around Mt. Adams, which is a great snow capped peak in the Cascade Mountains just north of the Columbia River. This snowy eminence figures prominently in Native American tradition and culture in this part of the Pacific Northwest. This 400-mile route would take me along the edges of two more peaks in Washington State, Rainier and St. Helens (pictured above).

My intention has been to do this ride in order to attend the Turner Lectures on religion that are held every October in Yakima, Washington. Although I have previously cycled over half of the route, I have been fascinated by the thought of doing the round trip.

Because of logistics dealing with route, the schedule of the lectures, and my own time commitments, it has been difficult to devise a feasible plan. I have spent hours trying to figure out ways of doing it, with modest dependence upon public transportation to ease some of the logistical challenges.

My most recent plan was to take Amtrak from my home in Vancouver, Washington, to Centralia, Washington, and then take two days cycling on U.S. 12, over White Pass, and on to Yakima on the edge of one of the nation’s most productive agricultural regions.

After the conference, I would cycle through the Yakama Nation to Toppenish, and then over Satus Pass on U. S. 97, and westward on Washington S.R. 14 to the town of Washougal, where I would get on a local bus to do the last few miles.

Everything was ready to go, until the rains came. After a record-breaking summer without precipitation, the skies opened up. Although the Cascades didn’t get the six inches, with a little snow on White Pass, that some had forecast, the weather was windy, wet, and disheartening. I drove to the conference rather than risking the bike ride.

As modest compensation for my disappointment, I used the trip to explore some of the unknowns that will help me bicycle the trip next time. Here’s what I learned.

My plan for the Amtrak-U.S. 12 trip to the conference is reasonable, and the two and a half day trip home by way of Satus Pass is well within the range of possibility.

There is a route from the motel in Yakima to the church where the lectures are presented that cyclists could use with relative safety, even at night if they have good lights (as I do).

U.S. 12 is a challenging ride for cyclists because it has virtually no shoulders for the 70 miles from Yakima, over White Pass, to the town of Packwood. Traffic is fairly light, however, and storekeepers along the way tell me that cyclists do use the route.

I have satisfied my intense curiosity about Forest Service Road 25, from the village of Randle, down the eastern slopes of Mt. St. Helens, to Spur S.R. 503 to Cougar and on to Vancouver. This route is doable on a bike. It’s paved and challenging, but with little traffic. The photo at the top shows Mt. St. Helens as seen from Forest Road 25.

From Randle to home on this route, however, is a full hundred miles, and there’s hard climbing on the northern edge of Clark County as I come toward Vancouver. It probably makes sense to take the easier-going road from Cougar to Woodland and hope for a city bus for the rest of the trip home.

Will I ever take this fantasy ride around the great mountain? At the point, I don’t know, but for another twelve months, as I wait for next year’s Turner Lectures, I live in hope (or is it fantasy?).