Thursday, July 21, 2016

Today We Conquered the Mountain!

It's been 11 years since I last rode my bike up to Johnston Ridge at Mt. St. Helens (2005 Tour d Blast). I guess it was time to do it again. Karen has never done it, and Melody has done it many times.

The three of us set off from the junction of Hwy 505 and Spirit Lake Hwy at about 9:15. We left Karen's car parked in the gravel lot (that was filled with huge piles of...gravel). The ride is pretty easy to start with; just a gentle grade. It kicks up a bit a half dozen or so miles in with a mile of a 6% climb, then eases up some, but steady climbing. 
The mountain comes into view for the first time.

There are a couple of short downhills (that seem like long uphills on the way back!), with a pretty good one coming down to "the bridge" (Hoffstadt).
Going across the Hoffstadt Bridge

We hadn't stopped at Hoffstadt Bluff viewpoint, but did pull into the Forest Science place. Melody and Karen got there before me. They were inside when I got there, getting water. I was good on water, so took the opportunity to stretch my back (it was giving me fits, feeling okay while riding, but not so okay when I tried to walk or stand up straight--it does this sometimes). I layed on my stomach on a bench that was quite toasty warm. In fact, one would probably say it was quite hot. I stretched, then got up when I started to feel like an egg frying. At least I could stand up straight after that.

We continued climbing. Melody, because she is a phenomenal climber got ahead of Karen, who was ahead of me. When I got to Elk Rock, Karen was taking a photo. I pulled over, and we took a few more.
Melody was already gone when we got to Elk Rock (the flies were a little annoying if one stopped too long).

From Elk Rock, we enjoyed the descent down to Coldwater Creek. At the junction, I looked back and couldn't see Karen. I stopped and waited to make sure she made the right turn. I was getting a little concerned when she didn't show up for awhile. Just as I was about to turn back to see if she had a flat, she came into view. When she caught up, she said one of her water bottles had flown out of its cage. She had to go retrieve it, and had a little trouble finding it.

At the junction to the old Coldwater Visitors Center (closed) is where the descent gets steeper to get down to Coldwater Creek. We lost about 1000 ft of elevation. Even though we knew we would have to come back up on the way back, and that we would have to regain the lost elevation, and then some, to get to Johnston Ridge, it was still a fun ride down.

In my opinion (and most others too, I'd wager), the last 5 miles from Coldwater Creek to Johnston Ridge are the hardest of the ride. It was hot, and the going was slow (although, I think I was faster this time than 11 years ago when I could count the spokes as they went slowly around). We took one bit of a break a little more than half way. 

We finally reached the top, and found Melody at the Visitors Center. There was a guy from London who actually rode his loaded touring bike up to the top. Kudos to him! I would not want to do that! I refilled my bottles, and used the restroom. I was a slight bit lightheaded, so grabbed a bar and water, and sat down on the wall outside. After I finished, I felt better. Karen took this photo of me at the top.
Woo Hoo! Made it! (Strangely, we forgot to take a picture of the three of us at the top. I guess we'll have to go back...)

Now for the downhill! I managed a maximum of 43.6 mph coming back down to Coldwater Creek. There was a headwind (Mother Nature's brakes). At times, I could feel a little shimmy, but just hung on, knowing it was the wind. Melody passed Karen and I as we were heading back up to Elk Rock. We had agreed to meet there for the rest of the ride down. As usual, I was the last to arrive. This time, I took a photo of Melody and Karen.

We made a brief stop at the Forest place for water. From there it was 16 miles of mostly downhill back to the car. We pulled into the gravel lot at about 3:45. We had done 74 miles with 7,129 ft of elevation gain, and we conquered the mountain!!!

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