With my Pickets trip cancelled, I had a whole weekend of nothing to fill with endless possibilities. In accordance with my duties as the family’s Chief Vacation Officer, I called Paradise Inn at Mt. Rainier National Park to see if Nick and I could get a room on Saturday night. (A long shot, but one that proved successful.) So, on Saturday morning, we drove to Enumclaw, the start of our second sub-24-hour bike adventure of the year.
Our intention was to follow the grueling RAMROD route but in two days instead of one. We would ride in a counter-clockwise fashion 150 miles or so around the park, riding over two major hills for a total elevation gain of more than10,000’. Some people call this two-day ride “wimp-rod.” With loaded touring bikes, it’s anything but wimpy!
Day 1 dawned cloudy, which was just fine by me. Riding in the heat can be exhausting. We rolled out of the Safeway parking lot and headed toward the sleepy town of Buckley. The roads were flat and the traffic relatively light. Before long, we were enjoying the solitude of country roads near Lake Kapowsin. We took our first break at a public boat launch on the lake where we met the local sheriff and a sheriff-in-training. Both were quite friendly and advised us to ride Camp 1 Rd for beautiful views of the surrounding area. We agreed to follow up on his suggestion on our next ride in the area.
From the lake it was a short ride into Eatonville and the start of hand to hand combat to get to Hwy 7. The Alder Road Cutoff is not for the faint of heart. There is no shoulder, traffic is heavy, and cars generally don’t care much about bikes. We rode defensively and made it through this section of the ride without incident. Needless to say, Alder Lake and the 8’ wide shoulders along Hwy 7 were a welcome sight.
We stopped in Elbe for the obligatory French fries at Scale Burger and were treated to the sight of the Mt. Rainier steam train heading out on its afternoon tour. If you’ve never seen a steam train take off, it’s a pretty awesome. Very loud actually. But cool. I was surprised to discover that even after it got going, we could ride our bikes faster than the train. Maybe it wasn’t at full throttle pulling tourists.
We continued to roll east towards the park and were happy to see the big log arch entrance, welcoming us to the final 17-miles of our first day’s ride. We rolled along the twisty forested road through dappled sunlight to Longmire where we took a brief break before what would prove to be one of the most grueling climbs I’ve ever ridden.
Beauty is commensurate with how hard you have to work to find it. And Mt. Rainier is one spectacular mountain (even if we only got peek-a-boo views on Saturday).
We arrived at Paradise in plenty of time to enjoy a beer on the patio and chat with fellow tourists before indulging in salads and a big plate of pasta at the Inn’s dining room. A ranger talk capped off the evening and we dropped off to sleep, dreaming of the next day’s ride.
We intended to sleep in, but bright sunshine drove us from our beds at 7 a.m. No matter, when the mountain is out, there’s hiking to be done! After a big buffet breakfasts, we headed out for a short hike to Myrtle Falls and Alta Vista. The mountain didn’t disappoint! Wildflowers, mountain vistas, THIS is what it’s all about!
Remembering that we had a many-thousand foot descent ahead of us, we didn’t linger. The ride into Stevens Canyon was cold but oh-so-amazing! Twisty, mostly sans cars, and with views galore!
We stopped briefly to look at Box Canyon – a river carved slot hundreds of feet below the road. Then it was on to the hardest part of the day’s ride – the ascent over Cayuse Pass. Nick thought it was the most beautiful part of the ride. Long, winding, not too steep and very rewarding.
We were somewhat surprised to find no happy resting spot at the top for lunch, but when you have another fast descent ahead of you, the miles roll by until a more suitable spot presents itself. There’s not much to say about the final 30 miles or so of the ride. Once you’re out of the park, cruising along 410 to Enumclaw, the road is busy and cars don’t give you a lot of room. We simply put our heads down and rode. It wasn’t long before we were pulling back into the Safeway parking lot, dreaming of a big bag of cherries to refuel us on our way home.
Was this ride worth it? Absolutely. I’ve grown up with Mt. Rainier in my back pocket, and it was amazing to experience the mountain at a different pace, on two wheels instead of two feet.