bike up, ski down
midnight Thursday - Timberline Road
2,000 feet left to climb as we make the left onto Timberline road and stand on the pedals, coaxing laden bikes upward with unwilling legs. We’re moving at a snail’s pace, burning with the waste of the climb from Portland. A blast of upper-mountain wind whips across the road. Andy and I lower our heads and fight uphill side-by-side. Hours of pulling our heavy steeds through the dark has left us without much to say, so we grind uphill in our lowest gears, alone with our thoughts, bikes creaking in the night.
Tuesday evening, Forest Park - Portland
Andy and I are trail running when we turn the conversation back to a fantasy project. Pedaling to Mount Hood, climbing and skiing it, riding back. The next morning comes and I can’t get the idea out of my head. Why not now, damn it? It’s early summer and the roads are clear, the upper mountain snowpack in great shape. If we’re going to make this happen now’s the time. I check the weather that night and see a window of opportunity Thursday-Friday before weekend rain moves in. I text Andy.
“How about Thursday-Friday for our Hood adventure”.
“possibly” he replies.
I sleep on it and wake up inspired, I WANT this.
Timberline lodge is 60 paved miles and 6,000 feet above Portland. From there, Hood’s standard ascent route climbs the south side, steepening in a parabolic curve to the ice of the summit 5,000 feet above the lodge. The round trip totals over 11,000 feet of climbing and 120 miles on the bike.
From the first, I loved the sound of the adventure. This is just the type of thing that lights my fire, makes my pulse quicken, and palms sweat. The chance to put a variety of skills to use against a big landscape. Something a little crazy, a little risky, highly aerobic.
Bringing it to fruition was another thing entirely. There’s a flash of realization when you realize you’re going to jump. That the dream you’ve been scheming is just plausible enough for an honest shot. That moment came as I lashed my skis to my bike, clicked my boots into the skis, stepped foot to pedal and pushed off for a test ride around the block. With swelling excitement I realized this goofy-ass setup just might work . With boots attached to skis cantilevered out the back, the bike felt like a salmon on a fishladder. But it would WORK.
It was still morning on Thursday. We could finish packing during the day, leave that evening, and be on the snow at first light. I could barely contain my excitement and expressed my enthusiasm to Andy in a blast of rapidfire texts. I knew he was in when the reply came through.
"Ok ok, haven't committed yet! But you're starting to convince me”
The unifying theme of all my mountain passions is human powered travel. Some people ski, bike, or climb for the thrill of the movement, for the exhilaration of staring down a steep face. What I love most about running, skiing, and biking is moving through big terrain and feeling the scale of it.
Andy was intrigued by the project from the moment I first floated it. An avid cyclist and member of Portland’s lively cyclocross scene, Andy spends a lot of time looping the local hills on his bike, and splitboarding volcanoes in the spring. He’s down for an adventure and up for some suffering. A sly smile and a dry sense of humor make him a fun adventure companion.
A flurry of texts flew back and worth across town and before long Andy had rigged up a splitboard rack and was fully in. We finished packing our bikes with skiing and climbing gear, lightweight sleep setups, and a little food. We converged at the Willamette River, laughed at the unwieldy setups, and pedaled out of town down the Springwater bikepath. We slow-rolled the first miles, working out kinks and getting a feel for the bikes. Evening was setting in as we left the bikepath for the shoulder of the Mt Hood Highway.
The thrill of the launch faded with the daylight and we moved into full-on grind mode as the climb steepened out of Sandy. Andy’s blinky light faded off into the black distance in front of me. I was Alone in the night, the silence broken every so often by a semi roaring past, sucking the air from the road in a blast of red-lit noise before fading into the distance.
I pulled into the sodium light of the Thriftway parking lot and pedaled to where Andy waited under the awning. We wheeled our bikes into the store and stashed them in a corner before prowling the aisles. Hungry wolves picking salt, sugar, and fat off the shelves. I took pulls from a bottle of chocolate milk and surveyed the donut case. Andy walked over carrying a six pack. We paid and walked back out into the cool air of evening to gorge ourselves before cramming what remained into bike bags and swinging legs over saddles to resume the journey.
1 am Friday - Timberline Road
It’s cold now and we’re ready to rest. I look to the left side of the road and see the gravel strewn pullout, the shells of a few fire rings. Andy and I car-camped here before our first Mt Hood climb, four years earlier. We’re close now. We crest the last climb to the dim white bulk of the mountain towering over us and flourescent light spilling from the lodge doorway. We ride into the brightly lit entryway and flop down on the benches. I’m slumped against the wall staring at the floor when I hear Andy rustling feverishly through his things.
“Ahhhhh man…I forgot my pants... he said, looking up from a pile of gear strewn across the bench.
The pants weren’t the only problem. He’d also forgotten his gloves, and his coffee for the morning? That was back in Portland too. With clear weather in the forecast his biking tights would serve for leg coverage, but the gloves were a problem. After a couple of tense minutes, Andy poked his head out of the climber’s registration booth with a broad smile, waving a pair of lost-and-found gloves. Oh yeah, we’re back baby. Gear readied for the morning’s climb, we lay down on the the heated floor for a few hours rest.
It wasn’t long before hordes of climbers began working their way through the registration area. I left Andy to the clanking of boots, harnesses, and booming voices to seek peace under the stars. I woke from the four-hour nap bleary and stiff, yesterday’s effort still fresh my body. Andy walked out to say good morning grinning ear to ear, in his right hand the steaming mug of some flustered climber. We piled our things in the corner, pulled on boots, and walked to the snowline to begin skinning.
After a slow and labored climb up the south side, we stood on the summit looking North up the Cascade chain.
We punched seats in the snow and flopped into them. I sat back exhausted and as I did a roar filled the air. We looked up just in time to see a swept-wing plane roaring up out of the south. It completed a perfect barrel roll 500 feet above the summit and disappeared behind the mountain trailing smoke.
We were at the top of the trip, high above Portland and all downhill from here. After a brief rest we rose, ripped skins from skis, and prepared for the descent.
I was skiing the firm snow of the summit pitch when I heard the staccato chatter of a snowboard’s edge desperately seeking purchase, and a second later Andy shot past. He flailed wildly with his whippet, trying arrest his fall, finally coming to a stop a couple hundred feet below. I skied down and found him shaken but unhurt
“Shit man, I don’t do this enough”.
Reminded of the long road that lay between us and our beds in Portland, we linked turns down softening snow to the lodge.
A slow and lazy transition back to the bikes as we struggled to keep moving. Once in the saddle the descent down Timberline Road went by in a flash, and soon we were through Government Camp and biking toward Silent Rock, a place for reflection on the road to and from the mountain.
Food was constantly top-of-mind. We pulled candy bars, jerky, and gummy bears from our bike bags in an endless stream. Midway through our descent we stopped off at at Skyway BBQ for some real sustenance.
A short while later we pulled into a gas station for snacks. Andy looked to his watch and then to me.
“Dude. I think we can make it in 24 hours!”
With fresh resolve we shoved iced coffee and handfuls of sour gummies into our bags and remounted. Down the highway and back to the Springwater Path, where we took turns leading, pulling each other down the gentle slope of the Willamette River drainage. A biker passed us, his eyes playing over our bikes trying to make out…
“Fuuuuck YEAH!!” he yelled as realization dawned
By the time we pull into Southeast Portland we’re heavy, sluggish, and ready to be done.
Just shy of 24 hours after leaving the river, we rode the steep ramp to the fireboat dock. Relieved, excited, and exhausted.
It was fun to throw ourselves at the project, and we were thrilled with how it turned out. From the beginning, uncertainty was a big part of the fun. We were practiced in the individual skills the adventure required, but had little idea of how stacking them would pan out. Strapping our fiddly setups together before the trip, all that mattered was the confidence to give it a shot.