A Tale of a Bicycle Journey to Crater Lake

by David Getchel

I biked across the country the summer of 2008, no biggie. That was 3,558.09 miles over the course of 50 riding days. The summer of 2009 I biked to Crater Lake, Oregon. This was 1,132.03 miles round trip in 11 days. A higher average per day by 30 miles.

This endeavor was the toughest thing I have ever done. Physically and mentally. Also this was my first bicycle tour, meaning I haul my own gear. No support van, no leader, no lunch stops to ll up on food and water, not even fellow riders. I was the leader, I had to make the calls, keep carful track of my water supply and route.

From the wastelands to the ocean to redwood forests. This is what I fought so hard in my mind and body for.

Crater Lake, 1,943 feet at its deepest, 4.5 – 6 miles in width and as clear as a glass of water. Filled only by rainwater and snowfall.

Leaving Davis, California for Oroville I head out. This day was easy and flat.

I like to be minimalist and this is what I took for an 11 day trip. The big green bag had a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, shorts/shirt and an extra pair of biking shorts. Also a stove kit and a spare tire. The blue bag had my food supply (good for a couple days), journal, glasses and arm/leg warmers.

Front handle bar bag had camera, flashlight and my cue sheets/maps. On my back I had a 3 liter water pack, lock, first aid kit, tire pump and tubes, super bright neon windbreaker, TP and some other small stuff. What I want to work on is getting the weight of the backpack down. Some problems arose due to the heft.

For me, this was the right amount of gear. Not too heavy but enough to get me through. Keep me going, keep me warm.

My night on the outskirts of Oroville was ending with a beautiful sunset.

The next day proved to be a very long and very tough. I was too ambitious (not just this day but the entire journey) and set my sights 150 miles away on Susanville. Over 11 hours on the bike and I was still 40 miles away. This was not what I had in mind. Right after I left Oroville I started climbing and climbing and climbing. See, one problem about mapping this route out is I skipped over how much climbing I’d have to do. Not going to make that mistake again. I can climb, but I’d rather not for a 110 miles.

I was at a 200 ft elevation in Oroville and when I couldn’t ride anymore I ended the ride at Antelope lake 4,500 feet higher. As you can see by the graph, I climbed almost the entire day.

Finally got to a campground and set up camp. Had a gentleman offer me a beer (which was nice and cold) as he’d seen me riding up to the lake.

Heating up water for my instant mashed potatoes. Had a spam single as the main dish.

Leaving the next morning rode around the lake to get back on track.

More climbing, up to 5,950 feet. Then a very steep, sharp descent into Janesville which is close to Susanville. As you can see from the elevation chart it was -9-11% grade. It forced me to apply the breaks so as to not gain too much speed. Stopped halfway to let my hubs cool to not lock up the wheels.

These kind of descents are not fun because you can’t just fly down them. You have to be “feeling” your bike. What it and you can handle. What speed to take the turn at, how much to lean, cracks and holes in the road.

I re-routed in Janesville to try and save a few miles as I was behind schedule. Didn’t make it to my intended destination, Alturas. But I did make it to Likely. Finally had a real meal, which I’d not had for 3 days. Something I seriously needed and need to have every day. Asked the Most Likely Cafe staff where a good place to set up tent and they pointed me towards Tom at the bar down the street. Tom was awesome and set me up in a empty apartment he had. Took a freezing shower and washed my clothes in the sink. I was very thankful.

Had a super good sausage sandwich for breakfast and ordered another one for the road. 20 miles down the road I got to Alturas. Ate the second sandwich, filled up my water bottle at a donut shop and a nice old man left a couple bucks for me to get something, because I was on a bike, the cashier said.

Got to my next destination, Lakeview, Oregon!

It was still early and I had caught up to where I was supposed to be on this day. Pressed on 43 more miles to stop in Bly, Oregon and get a jump on the next day. It had an open convenience store. That’s about all I liked about it. The people, water and scenery were all lame.

The next day my stop for the night was Crater Lake! It was tough but rewarding as I had finally made it! What seemed like weeks ago (it was only 5 days) I left Davis to arrive here.

From Bly to the entrance of the park

From the entrance to the rim. You can’t actually see it until you drive/ride up 7 miles to the rim.

Called some people saying I made it, that I’m looking at Crater Lake with my own two eyes. The campground I stayed at was back near the entrance so I had to go back down the hill I’d just climbed. I have to say, the 7 miles up wasn’t that fun but the 7 miles down was! A gentle enough grade to not gain too much speed and curved enough to be fun.

Setup camp, showered, washed clothes, ate dinner at the restaurant, watched a presentation and went to bed. For the next day I had off, a day to explore Crater Lake and it’s majesty.

40 tough miles around the rim was really the only way I could have seen it all. Though for most of the ride you can’t see the water as you’re below the rim. I also hiked 2.2 miles round trip down to the water to so I could see and touch it. There is only one path down and it’s pretty steep.

The water was 58 degrees. I just stuck my feet in, that was good enough for me. Others were swimming in it though.

That nights feast! Chocolate milk, ham and cheese sandwich, Doritos and a celebratory beer. I wanted a local brew but those were all gone.

Also that night I heard a great talk by Ranger Dave on Pioneers, Politicians and Photographers. He talked about these 3 types of people and how they all had a part in preserving Crater Lake and turning it into a National Park. It was a very good and interesting talk.

Next day, fueled up at the buffet (they had the best bacon ever!) and headed to Medford, only 72 miles away. A nice 20 miles of downhill coasting to start off. Then it got really hot the lower I went. Really hot! I developed knee pain the day before that would continue on past the trip. This extreme pain slowed me down considerably.

Couch Surfed the first and only time on this trip. Tiazza, the host, was awesome! Made dinner and had a nice comfy couch for me. Talked, watched a little tv and went to bed.

Off to California next!

Crescent City, right on the water. Foggy, wet and cold.

Medford to Crescent City was tough mainly due to extreme knee pain. Slowly pedaled my way to California.
A campground located directly on the bay was my stay for the night. Could see the lighthouse ash by every 9 seconds off in the distance. A calm quiet night.

Met a fellow tourer who had come from Minnesota. I only saw 5 tourers this whole trip and didn’t get to really talk to them. I wanted to find out their destination, reason for going and just sharing stories of the road.

The next three days were very rough. I wanted this to be over with. I wanted to be home in a real bed, eating real food and just being in familiar areas. The scenery wasn’t that great and I wanted to get home so I pretty much stopped taking photographs. Only if something really caught my eye would I stop. It had to be really good!

Scotia the next town after Crescent City is a small “close knit” community that doesn’t like outsiders unless you stay the night in their super fancy hotel. Rode on a couple more miles to a campground.

Next was 128 miles into Ukiah, though it was supposed to be Cloverdale. My main downfall was I got a late start. Didn’t start riding until 8:15am. When you’re riding 100+ miles the earlier the better.

I rode until 10pm on the 101. Sunlight gone, 1 lane due to construction, running over pieces of wood was not a good end to the day. Didn’t want to search for a campsite or set everything up so I got a hotel room. Took a nice warm shower and got everything ready to get an early morning start.

Left early, 5:30am this time as it was my last day on the road. I was going to get to Davis no matter what! Made some coffee, ate some tuna and headed out with all lights going strong.

Another 128 miles and a bit of climbing but I did it! I made it home alive! Got home a little after 5pm. It felt so good to be done with it all! Called people to say I got home safe and sound and did nothing for the next 3 days but catching up with e-mail and veg out.

I left out some things that I will address here.

Will I tour again? Yes, but I will plan my route better and cut the mileage down to 60-80 miles a day. My gear worked well and would not really need to tweak that. Also finding someone to go with would be awesome!

Every day my main concern was water. Where was I able to fill up next? A couple spots in the beginning I was nervous because there was a lot of nothing those 3rd and 4th days. Every chance I got, I filled up. Most of the water being ok tasting. I even flagged someone down because I was really low and didn’t know how long until I could get water. They didn’t have water but a bottle of vitamin water. Very thankful for that. I was never worried about food as I re-supplied throughout the trip.

People in this world are douchebags. You’ve gotta be one to honk (yell or throw things for that matter) at a cyclist as you blow by. Sometimes it startles me, other times it doesn’t. In the end, it’s not a big deal but what kind of person does that?

People can also be kind to strangers. Letting them stay in an empty room, filling up their water, buying them a donut. All it takes is a little act of kindness. That’s really all that’s needed. Just remember, be kind, respect and thank them.

In the end I traveled 1,132.03 miles, averaged 102 miles a day, my speed averaged 11.03 mph and I logged over 102 hours of riding.