6/18/21 – Crater Lake, Oregon

Torres del Paines, Patagonia

There’s a new entry in the Sunride top ten rides in America:  The Crater Lake Rim ride. Previously I had asked fellow cyclists to offer their favorites. John Luft responded with Crater Lake, and it was every bit as exciting as John claimed it would be. Crater Lake’s deep pure waters are an indigo color that you never see elsewhere in nature. The smooth unrippled surface is like a mirror that perfectly reflects the surrounding snow-capped mountains, jagged rocks, and valiant evergreens that survive the long, tough winters year after year. It’s one of those places that is so beautiful words forever fail, like the peaks in Torres del Paines in Patagonia or the Wabash viewpoint in Yosemite. 

It’s a ride one could do in blissful solitude or enjoy with a companion. Judy and I had been vacationing the previous three days fishing at Diamond Lake while solar charging the three bike batteries we’d brought along. We loaded up the two bikes in the bed of our pickup and headed up to Crater Lake, about a 15-mile drive from where we were staying. Sunride with its overhead solar panel stands 10’ tall in the back of the pickup, attracting lots of attention, as it does on the ground. In the parking lot several people approached us and asked about our solar-powered electric bikes.

John on Sunride getting ready to ride around Crater Lake
Sunride sets out to circle Crater Lake

The Crater Lake rim ride would be a good test for the two Sunriders. Some have questioned if the extra weight of the overhead solar panel “pays for itself” in a net energy scenario. It’s a legitimate question that engineer-types think to ask. We’ll find out today.

I inflated all the tires to the same pressure. All the batteries were fully charged. We set out on a long uphill grade that was great for shedding some of the charge so that my bike with the onboard solar panel could make room for new solar input. We glided along effortlessly while other non-e-bike cyclists huffed their way up the hills. Then would come the fun part of racing downhill. At 20 mph the regenerative breaking kicks in restoring some of the charge lost going uphill. I would race past Judy going down hills. My greater body weight, along with the weight of the solar panel, the extra battery I was carrying, a picnic lunch, and both water bottles amounted to nearly 100 pounds. This additional load would represent extra work my onboard solar panel would have to carry. With 50% more weight there would be 50% more foot-pounds of work, and 50% more energy to get me around the lake.

The entire 33-mile ride around the rim of Crater Lake is up and down hills. Gleefully the two of us rode along, she passing me going uphill, and I passing her going down. We were like the countless butterflies, many flying in pairs, that happily accompanied us around the Lake.

After 10 miles or so the road was blocked for cars. Only hikers and non-motorized bikers could continue on. As is the custom with my wife, we stopped at every waterfall and viewpoint. The terrain was surprisingly varied. We passed through open areas that reminded us of the Dakotas. I almost expected to see buffalos. Then we passed through some of the most verdant, healthy, first-growth forest I have ever seen. Midway around we stopped for lunch at the Phantom Ship Overlook, the most beautiful spot on the Lake. It was utterly amazing that we had that spot, one of the very most beautiful places on earth, to ourselves.

We enjoyed a leisurely lunch while Sunride basked in the sun. As we finished lunch, two hikers happened along. We handed over the view to them, but before heading out we did a quick battery check. Judy still had three of the five bars left on her battery meter. I had all five of mine which means the sun had completely powered me halfway around the Lake. Judy had used roughly 300 of her 660 watt-hours. My bike, with its extra 100 pounds of weight, had in fact used 50% more energy, roughly 450 watt-hours, but the on-board solar panel, generating an average of 150 watts in the bright mid-day sun, had provided all 450 watt-hours during the 3 hours since we’d set out. Wa-lah! Sunride was in fact pulling its weight!

The second half of the ride proved to be more uphill and more taxing on the batteries. Judy’s bike was down to one bar, and it was flashing, indicating it was nearly empty. We gave her a fresh battery and she zoomed up the hill magically without peddling and completed the final three miles of the ride back to where we started.  

I still had three bars on my original battery. Theoretically, I could have gone around the Lake again; but I knew better. The shadow of my solar panel was getting smaller due to the late afternoon angle of the sun. The 150 watts I had enjoyed mid-day, was down to 75 watts and would be getting less and less as the sun was setting.

We loaded Judy’s bike onto the truck. I decided to bike back to camp. Judy urged me to take her second battery that still had plenty of charge left but I felt with three bars I could make it the 15 miles back to camp even without much help from the sun. I calculated correctly. In the final hour of the day riding, with my solar input dwindling to just 50 watts, I too cruised into camp with one bar blinking. What a fun day!

So, where does today’s ride rank with my top 10 rides in America? Well, the Natchez Trace still ranks # 1. Even though for half the ride around the Rim we had the whole road to ourselves like the Natchez, and even though the scenery at Crater Lake was absolutely spectacular, the feeling I had on the Trace was the greatest feeling of all. New York City remains # 2. There’s just something about Central Park, the bike trail along the Hudson, riding past the Statue of Liberty, and cruising Broadway in the greatest city in the world that will forever be sublime. Then I debated about # 3, the ride around Lake Tahoe. Both Crater Lake and Lake Tahoe are unbelievably beautiful. Tahoe is twice as big, a full day of joyous riding; but there’s nothing like Crater Lake, and seeing the whole Lake, from every view, is profoundly awe-inspiring. I decided Crater Lake is my new # 3, edging Tahoe by a nose, or a spoke as it were. Thank you, John Luft, for sharing this gem of a ride. Any others?  Anyone?

John posing in front of Crater Lake.
Crater Lake. Can you see the water line in the reflection?

The last two days of vacation we spent riding around Diamond Lake, a 12-mile jaunt along a dedicated bike trail that meanders through the forest. A beautiful ride in and of itself, meriting honorable mention as a top ride in America. We passed old Douglas Fir trees eight feet in diameter with green healthy branches perched upon by bald eagles and osprey surveying the lake for fish. 

Eight foot diameter Douglas fir at Crater Lake Oregon

Ducks and Canada geese dotted the water’s edge. We rode the trail twice, going in the opposite direction the second day. You see more coming from a different vantage point.

A tree had fallen across the path requiring us and all other riders to lift our bikes over the 8” diameter log. On day two, I came prepared with my battery operated Sawzall. Unfortunately, I was only able to cut through half the log when the battery gave out. Fetching a stout tree limb, I was able to lift the log into the air enough to get another four-inch diameter log under the cut. Our idea was to break through the remaining uncut portion of the tree. It didn’t work. Another rider approached. We conscripted him and his thinking on how to rid the path of the fallen tree. The two of us were able to lift one end of the tree higher so my wife could get a 6” diameter log under the cut. With one end of the tree now higher in the air we were able to jump on the lifted end of the tree and break it at the cut; however, it ended up just splitting the tree beneath the cut so we were unable to better our predicament. Along came another couple, the man a big strong Paul-Bunyan-looking guy. He picked up the thick end of the tree all by himself but also was unable to do anything but impress the rest of us with his strength. 

Surveying the whole situation Paul Bunyan, showing both brains and brawn, came up with a new idea.  What if he went to the other end of the tree, the tree “top” about 30 feet off the path, while the other cyclist and I lifted the heavy end and together the three of us simply dragged the tree off the path. The two ladies approved the idea and cheered us on. It worked! Now the dozens of riders each day, many of them little kids, wouldn’t have to lift their bikes over the log to carry on.

John with one foot resting on the conquered log.
The conquered log and one of the five conquerors.

I suggested a plaque be placed at the site reading something like, “Yankee ingenuity triumphs again,” or “Together we can do things none of us can do alone,” or “America, the great can-do country, did it again.”

The next day would be our last day of vacation. We loaded up the bikes the evening before and drove away the next morning toward Roseburg on Hwy 138. There are five beautiful waterfalls along the route. We stopped at four of the five.

John chilling at Clearwater Falls
John chilling at Clearwater Falls

There were short hikes from the road to the waterfalls. It was another perfect day. Special thanks to my lovely wife who did a great job riding, hiking, and taking all the photos.

John's wife and biking partner, Judy
John’s riding companion at Crater Lake

6/18/21 – Crater Lake, Oregon

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