Cycling Oregon’s Crater Lake Rim

By on October 10, 2011
cycling Oregon's Crater Lake rim

By Carol Lovegren Milller –

World-renowned bicyclist, Lance Armstrong, once declared Oregon’s Crater Lake rim to be a premier bicycle ride. Therefore, when my husband asked if I would like to bicycle around Crater Lake, I jumped at the chance.

There was one small problem. I was not in shape for a major bicycle ride, and the Crater Lake rim ride is 33 miles. I carefully thought it through, how hard can 33 miles be? I knew I can ride ten miles in an hour; I merely needed to do that three times. Giving myself plenty of time, I figured the ride would take four hours.

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My riding companions were much more in shape for the ride than I was. My nineteen-year-old daughter Sierra rode her bike to work every day all summer, my seventeen-year-old son Chet had been riding extensively as part of ACL surgery rehabilitation. Even my husband Kyle, who had recently turned fifty, had been cranking out the miles in an effort to lose weight. Me? I had half-dozen short rides under my belt.

The lovely lake rim ride is all grueling uphill grades and terrifyingly long, steep, white-knuckle downhill grades, over a deteriorating road. On our first long uphill grade, as my son sped by, my husband calmly commented, “This is the longest grade we will do today — it is ten miles.” I gulped, “Ten miles — uphill?”

My daughter gave up riding with me in disgust. She was afraid if she tried to go that slow she would not make it to the top of the hills. My gracious husband often stayed back and encouraged me on. My son Chet? He would ride to the top, ride down to check on the old folks, then ride back up. On our last hill, he rode up and down five times!

Heading down the first big hill, I began to worry. Do bike pads burn like car brakes? What would happen if I wore out my brake pads half way down one of these endless curving grades? Am I about to find out?

Heading back up the next hill, I had plenty of time to enjoy the gorgeous, crisp fall day. Obviously the temperature was perfect since I alternated between sweat dripping from my elbows on the uphill grinds and shaking with cold (or was that fear) on downhill runs.

Crater Lake rim truly is a premium ride. The geology around Crater Lake is fascinating. Not only has incredibly blue water partially filled an immense volcanic caldera formed when Mount Mazama blew its top 7000 years ago, but the lake area displays an amazing geologic diversity.

Not only is the geology varied, but so is the plant life. The advantage of riding so slowly up the hills was that I had plenty of time to take note of my surroundings.  We started on the north side at a pumice desert. An area so porous and dry, almost no plant life can survive. We soon moved into an old-growth grove of hemlocks with massive trunks and characteristic drooping tops. At Cloud cap overlook, the highest point on the rim (7,800 feet), ancient white bark pines’ gnarled and stunted trunks bend away from the prevailing winter storms. On the southeast side, we cruised through a magical mossy section graced with refreshing waterfalls. Wild flowers one expects to see blooming in July were brightening the roadside in September.

After four hours of riding, I caught up with my family at a lovely overlook. I looked across the lake, and then stared at the map in dismay, half way? We are only half way? Would my already vigorously complaining bottom make it to the end?

Eventually we began the three-mile ride up to Rim Village. My hopes that it would not be all uphill were dashed when the smell of burning brakes on a passing car assaulted my nostrils. I grimly decided, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” while I resolutely ignored my screaming quadriceps. Once at the top I collapsed and gazed out over the water. After I wolfed down crumbled cookies, and guzzled life-giving water, my resolve returned.

I am sure that the last eight miles between Rim Village and the north entrance is not as difficult as the earlier hills, but my waning strength could not tell the difference. With only one final, gentle grade to go, I draped my body over a stone wall, stretched muscles tied up in knots and moaned, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”

Lance Armstrong I am not, but six and quarter hours later, I did it. I really did it!  Lance is right, it is a premier ride!

Carol Lovegren Miller lives in Oakland Oregon, population 950. Carol and her husband Kyle, of 27 years, have taken their three children on many adventures. Carol is a substitute teacher for middle school and high school students when she is not writing or traveling. Carol can be reached at [email protected]

About Carol Lovegren-Miller

Carol Lovegren Miller has been married to Kyle for 32 years and has three grown children. She bakes, cans, organizes church events, and substitute teaches in between her adventures and writing." Carol can be reached at [email protected]

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Cycling Oregon’s Crater Lake Rim