Monday, July 18, 2011

Paradise Found

from the parking lot at Paradise
The rain on my car windshield was growing more steady and I asked Allison if she had a Plan B for the day. "No", she replied. "Are you really going to do the full 60-mile ride in the rain?" I wondered aloud, knowing that I would have to do it with her if she said yes. She said she would see what the conditions were like when we got to Longmire, 2,700'. We were meeting some people for a yearly ride around Mt Rainier, starting at the base of the mountain and riding up to Paradise, 5,450', down to Packwood and returning on a paved seasonal road through the forest. The weather forecast called for a chance of showers in the morning (yes, they have fallen), then "showers with thunderstorms in the afternoon". Notice the lack of the words, "chance of" for the afternoon forecast; this omission worried me.

Our arrival at Longmire coincided with a slight break in the weather, as the rain had paused. It looked like there would be just a few other parties to keep us company on the mountain today, but we were at least prepared to go up to Paradise and assess the situation. We were also prepared for rain, a cold descent and carrying extra gear. On the ride up to Paradise, it rained for a bit, then stopped, then the sun peeked out for a moment. I shouted to the sky, "Yes! We need more of that!" with all the enthusiasm I could muster without maxing out my heartrate and continued on to the final stretch to the top. 
cycling or sledding, your choice
snow makes for good waterfalls

Ahh, it was Paradise! No, really, it's called Paradise and must have been named on a clear day. The Tatoosh Range was visible, the mountain itself was partially clouded over, but there was some clearing to the east, where we were headed. Allison and I decided to do the full loop, as did the other party that was up there at the time. I bundled up in wool underlayer and jersey, a rain jacket and vest, with long-fingered gloves and knee warmers. I think it was the best-prepared I'd ever been for that type of riding; gone were the days of shivering all the way down the mountain. 
Allison is bundled up

We started down on the road to Stevens Canyon, first passing Reflection Lakes, then Louise Lake (where I gave a nod) and admired the wonderful assortment of wildflowers along the way. Penstemon, Lupine, Paintbrush, pinks and blues and reds dotting the roadside adding to the beauty of the ride. The descending was lovely and not too steep, with views, sun and fairly decent pavement. There's a sneaky little climb for 2.5 miles over Backbone Ridge which sucked the joy right out of me, but once that was done, it was more sweeping curves and a feeling of freedom and strength that made me feel invincible.
blue sky!

I saw no one behind me and pushed on alone to Packwood into a headwind. Once there, I purchased and consumed half a box of cookies while little by little, everyone else arrived, including a pair (Pete and Shan) who had started further down the mountain and a tandem (David and Nancy), all who were looking pretty fresh.

I left the stop with Allison to head up Skate Creek Road and soon remembered what it is about her that makes her stand out among cyclists. She isn't particularly fast, but she is very consistent and, no matter the length of the ride or the type of terrain, she will maintain a steady pace the whole way. This is in stark contrast to me, who loses bits of energy throughout the ride, until I am struggling to keep up with the people I had ridden away from on the first climb of the day. I think the process is called "payback". And so I was paying for the next 10 miles, trying to stay with Allison, sometimes succeeding, other times not. 

The rain began to fall when we were just about done with the climbing, so it was nice to cool off and I didn't put my jacket on. I caught up to Allison as she donned hers and together we looked for our shortcut road, an unpaved Forest Service road that would shave 20 miles off the route. Of course, in the rain, which was consistent by that point, it was 3 miles of wet, mucky road, with potholes of muddy water and sweat dripping into my eyes and condensation fogging my lenses and then finally laughing myself silly at the situation.

Just then, I remembered a quote from a friend about living in the present: "Paradise is where you are right now". Although we were 2,700 feet lower than Paradise, it felt pretty good to have completed a challenging ride in somewhat challenging weather and know that my car was ready with its heated seats for the drive home. 

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