[ Day 15 – June 27, 2012 ]
The overnight temperature dipped into the mid-thirties, dashing my plans for a spry, pre-dawn ride up to Rim Village. At about 6,000 feet above sea level, I slept cold and woke late, barely leaving my site before noontime checkout.
Once on the saddle, though, the seven miles of roadway and thousand feet of climbing went quickly. I was more excited about Crater Lake than I had been about any other landmark on the trip. I’d made a point not to read about it, watch videos, or even look at pictures before seeing it with my own eyes. I wanted an introduction untempered by second-hand imagery; simply knowing that something great awaited me was enticement enough.
The mountain played along in this intentional game of withholding. Like the Grand Canyon, the caldera withheld its full splendor until only a few meters from the rim’s edge. Even the rim itself remained a mystery, concealed throughout my ascent by low-flying clouds and thick, imposing evergreens. Less than a mile from the rim, I still could only guess at what lay ahead.
The uphill grade began to level out, hinting at an arrival. The brown gabled rooftops of Rim Village poked into view above the evergreens and I could hear the sounds of cars and people, the buzz of human excitement and inspiration. I stood upright and powered forward, anxious to see what had pulled me for so many miles.
And then, in one swift reveal, the great curtain of earth gave way and Crater Lake laid before me in all its grandeur. The scope of this monument exceeded even my lofty imagination. Never in my life had I seen such a brilliant blue color, such striking reflection, such magnificence. This grand tapestry of earth, water, and light—from the snow-dusted slopes of the caldera to the cloud-speckled sky above—spread across my field of vision in duplicate: a jaw-dropping skyline complemented by an impressionist double, mirrored on the surface of the clearest lake in the world.
After a leisurely lunch outside Crater Lake Lodge and a partial hike up Garfield Peak, I returned to Rim Drive. The two-lane roadway is a monument in and of itself: at thirty feet wide, thirty-three miles long, and with an annual snowpack of over thirty feet, preparing the road for motor traffic requires over a million cubic feet of snow removal each year. It’s a process that takes months to complete, and until finished, much of the road remains closed to motor vehicles.
Though West Rim Drive was clear all the way to Cleetwood Cove, it was closed to motorized traffic after North Junction. Beyond that point, I shared the roadway with only a few cyclists and runners.
At a park ranger’s suggestion, I stashed my bike at the Cleetwood Cove trailhead and hiked down to the lake for a quick swim. Near the water’s edge, a few park workers were busy preparing the dock for summer boat cruises, while another small group of young men were busy stripping down to shorts, just as intent as I was to polar bear in Crater Lake. I took advantage of our shared pursuit and introduced myself. As it turned out, these four young men—Dan, Nate, Josh, and Ryan—were college athletes from the northeast, visiting Oregon for the Olympic Trials.
I led the charge into the lake, jumping from a fifteen-foot ledge into water that was as clear as the air above it. We took turns recording our feats (on photo and video) for posterity, cutting the cold and mosquito swarms with laughter and the camaraderie of shared experience.
I marveled at the richness of this moment, at the privilege and possibility of being an able-bodied, unrestrained human being. I thought back to my afternoon at Lake Tahoe and the power of these cold water swims, these “life-affirming acts,” as Niko called them. My heart beat with a satisfyingly palpable thump. How many days, weeks, and even months had passed without being so aware of my own heartbeat, without such a potent reminder of my own vitality (and mortality)?
I savored this experience at the water’s edge until the sun dipped behind the rim. My newfound compatriots and I hiked back out to Rim Drive, where they began the run back to North Junction and I began the ride to Chemult, some thirty miles away. I rode with renewed wonder, racing the setting sun down the Crater Lake Highway, past the Pumice Desert and the ramrod-straight lanes of SR 138.
I finally came to rest at a sno park north of Chemult. Too tired to even set up my tent, I laid my sleeping bag on top of a picnic table and went to sleep under a marvelously starry sky.
[ Daily Miles: 56 ] [ Total Miles: 805 ]