Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mount Baker Ride

On Saturday morning I was one of four intrepid cyclists that set out from the Tim Hortons (where better to start an odessy into the US) to do the fabled Mt. Baker ride.
Why is the ride fabled? First off, it's a BIG mountain, resembling Mount Fuji in it's symetry and bigness, that on a clear day can be seen from most parts of the Lower Mainland. Secondly, it's a long ride, not quite epic (I've been reading too many of this guy's posts to think of anything under 300km as epic) but the entire expedition is a good day's work. Thirdly, because of the unbelievable SNAFU-fest that three of our club members experienced last year when, after getting separated, they took most of the day to find each other. The story is best heard over a glass of wine from someone who was there but, to give you the highlights, there was a miscommunicated meet up plan, a lack of cell phones and enough border crossings that the border agents on both sides were on a first name basis with at least one of the riders.

We left Timmie's at 8am with cell phones fully charged, meet up points well set out and lots of energy for the ride.

The border crossing was uneventful and the ride from Sumas to Glacier, about 40km, was mostly flat or false flat through scenic farms that gradually gave way to forest. I was glad that Joanne insisted I bring a jacket as with the jacket, arm warmers and gloves, I was still a bit chilly. When we reached Glacier to regroup the weather had warmed up and I tried to find room in my bike jersey pockets for my warm gear. This was an incentive to eat so I'd have less stuff trying to fall out of the pockets.

After Glacier the road started to undulate, with some longer hills, but nothing too difficult. We entered the park proper and rode alongside a river and through a forest with some truly huge trees. It was gorgeous and very quiet as there were few cars on the road.

About 20km after Glacier the real climb began. This wasn't as steep or as hard as either Cypress or Seymour but the fact that we'd already ridden 60km at this point made it a bit challenging. The road is quite narrow with lots of switchbacks and the occassional section with 3" of shoulder then a steep drop off down the mountain with no barrier to protect you from falling off the mountain. Joanne laughed at these spots as she watched me go from being a considerate cyclist giving the cars room to a road hog taking up the entire lane as I tried to put as much distance between myself and the edge as possible.

At this point there was more traffic, including lots of riders on speed bikes (the only descriptive term I know for the bikes is the rather vulgar "crotch rocket"). This disrupted the tranquility of the ride, especially the switchbacks on the road meant that they were directly below you and you could hear them coming for quite some time. Happily they passed us quickly and disappeared.

Joanne and I reached the first designated turn around spot and decided we had to make it to the top. Two or three km past that point I wasn't so sure I wanted to make it to the top. I also wasn't so sure I wanted to ride my bike anymore, or do much of anything other than lie down on something soft for a very long time. Just as I was seriously running out of steam we saw a chalet, which had to be a good sign that the end was near! Sure enough, we soon reached Picture Lake (that's either what it's called or it's a US National Park term for a scenic spot) and the road became a one way loop. After a few more minutes of riding we were at the chair lifts - we were at the top!

I immediately sat down and started to eat. I was on the road by a bunch of rocks, not really an ideal picnic spot, and people driving by seemed to be giving me odd looks. (I'm the tired yellow person in the above shot.) It may not look comfy, but at the time that asphalt felt as great as my couch!

While I was recovering, amusing motorists and inhaling my peanut butter and honey bagelwich, Joanne was taking pictures of the scenery (all the shots here are hers).

The view of the top of Mt. Baker.

Joanne in her victory shot.
Joanne and I doing the self portrait and totally missing getting the peak in the shot.

As Team Pink didn't show up we decided to head down. I haven't got back to my downhill kamakaze mindset that I had last year so Joanne disappeared in front of me pretty quickly. About five minutes down the road I saw Team Pink heading up and Joanne following them as she wanted to go up again (crazy lady!). I figured I'd be the slowest one down, plus I wanted coffee NOW, so I left them and kept descending.
The ride down was a beautiful as the ride up, it just went by a little faster. I enjoyed riding alone, I took it slow and appreciated the view. Just before Glacier Joanne and Brian whizzed past me and I went from my slowpoke reverie to thinking "gotta catch them" and just barely managed to catch up for the draft into Glacier. We stopped for coffee and snacks and enjoyed the luxurious softness of the picnic bench (if you're spent four hours in the saddle you understand!).
I felt surprisingly good after the coffee break and enjoyed the mostly flat ride back. At one point I got into aero position and took off, loving the feeling of the flat road, only to be abruptly brought back to reality by a short hill. My legs didn't feel so hot after all.
We were careful to stop at the two stop signs as we'd been warned others have been ticketed there. Another uneventful border crossing then a feast at Wendy's.
After the ride we headed over to Chez Pink for a Raclette feast, accompanied by appropriate amounts of wine.
A great finish to a great day.

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