THE SKI/CLIMB (part 1):
We grabbed our skis and climbing gear from the car, and headed out to the start point. By the time we actually started climbing it was just after 3:00 AM.
I was so hopeful, because our two skis done after hard bike rides had ended up feeling really great. This one, not at all. We were tired from the start. My legs felt like lead. I was so sleepy that I would close my eyes for four glides, open them for a few minutes, and close them again. I was practically sleeping on my skis. We saw lots of lights dancing out ahead of us that only seemed to get farther and farther away.
Even worse, it was starting to get light and we weren’t nearly as high as we wanted to be. About 1,000ft up, Paul mentioned that maybe the top of Palmer would be our end point. In that moment, I honestly wasn’t sure I could make it that high. All my mental energy was going into staying upright.
But, slowly, very VERY slowly, we worked our way to the top of Palmer. And, upon reaching it we both knew we weren’t going to summit. It had taken us more than 2.5 hours to go 2,500 ft. Incredibly slow compared to our typical pace. We paused to rest, and eat some snacks. It was now just after 6:00 AM.
After a bit of food, I proposed we continue up – even if we weren’t going to summit. I thought we should still make an attempt for a high point. Paul suggested that we were too tired, that if we wanted to do the ski down and the final bike ride we needed our energy. Totally exhausted, I had no oomph left to disagree, for better or worse.
Side note, and tidbit that weighed on my mind for a while: I still wonder what would happen if we had gone up farther. I really would have liked to say we’d made it higher, and I think it was a mental game at that point (at least up until the more technical parts). But who knows. Had we done that, we might not have had the energy to finish, which probably would have been more disapointing.
Decision made, we celebrated! We were REALLY proud of our effort to even get this far. Standing at 8,500ft from sea level (where we started) we felt pretty awesome:
We were ready to head down, but the groom below us was super icy. We decided to give it a bit of time in the sun to soften. In the meantime, I took a brief nap while sitting on my pack, and Paul took advantage of the sun to get a few minutes of shut eye.
THE SKI/CLIMB (part 2):
Finally, tired of waiting, we headed down around 7:00AM. The first part of the ski was a mess. The snowcats at Timberline had torn up more of the mountain than we’d ever seen. It was a bumpy, harden mess to ski through, and absolutely exhausting. We picked our down slowly, slightly bummed that we weren’t even going to get any good turns in.
But THEN, suddenly, there appeared a beautiful bit of groomed snow. It was perfectly softened, and absolutely untouched. We both yelled and celebrated as we started flying down! It was magical, and a really satisfying ending to the whole thing!
Once down, we stopped inside the lodge to eat cookies and juice, and rest up a little more before our last portion. Sleepiness was at an all time high.
But the food made us feel better, and we were excited to reverse all that climbing we’d done a few hours earlier. We changed back into our bike gear (which wasn’t exactly fresh and clean), grabbed our bikes, and started pedaling!
THE BIKE (part 2):
We ZOOMED down the 6mi on Timberline Rd. so quickly! I was still ever so slightly worried about my tube, but everything felt amazing. The strangest part was going through several cold air sinks that must have dropped the temperature at least 15 degrees in parts. In no time at all we were back down at highway 26 and heading away.
The 1,000 ft climb back up really didn’t feel too bad, except I had a pretty sharp pain in my knee. Not sure what the deal was, but it definitely slowed me down.
Other than that, we cruised pretty well! We stopped every 10mi or so for snacks and water (gummy worms and M&Ms were life savers!).
The day was delightful, and with the sun out again and the end in sight, we got some energy back as we headed into town.
Nevertheless, the last 15 miles into Hood River were pretty tiring. Things flatten out for a bit, and that’s right around where the wind picked back up. Even on the downhill we could feel ourselves working pretty hard. The last push took some “oomph”, but we finally, officially, MADE IT! Right back to the grass we started the whole thing on:
At this point, we packed up our stuff and stared the long trip home. Despite getting coffee in Hood River, we still ended up needing to split the drive back to my car so we could nap. And both of us stopped in Sandy on the way home to take 15minute naps so we could get back safely.
Upon returning, we dumped the gear on the floor and put away the damp things and the food. How showers were taken and snacks were eaten. And then, around 5:30 PM I laid down “for a nap”.
And that was it. I was done. Paul joined me just before 7:00 PM and we slept the entire night through. We were exhausted. But also, very happy to have finished.
THE AFTERMATH AND WHAT’S NEXT:
Several people have asked if we’ll try again. I think no. Part of it is the logistics and complications of the swim. It was so absolutely exhausting, and definitely the most dangerous part in many ways. Plus we swam near to a lumber yard, which can’t have been the most healthy water to be sputtering around in. It’s not something I really want to repeat in terms of “things that are enjoyable”. The bike ride + climb might be worth doing again on their own though. That was pretty cool, and I’ve always wanted to summit Hood starting from sea level.
Asked whether we’d do anything different were we to repeat the whole thing, I think we came up with three thoughts:
- Start earlier in the day to give ourselves time to take a nap at Mount Hood.
- More coffee, in general. Neither one of us had much caffeine, and in this case it might have been a game changer.
- Get new tires, avoid flats! (Note: I’ve now already done this 😂)
However, I think we’re both moving on to slightly different projects. Paul’s contemplating a backcountry Ironman. While this had a lot of similarities, it feel a bit short. A full backcountry Ironman might involve a 2.4 mile swim in Lost Lake, a 124 mile bike ride around Mount Hood (and the surrounding areas), and a 26mi hike from Lost Lake to Timberline Lodge.
I’m not opposed to the general idea, but I’m not fully inspired by the course (even though it’s going to be absolutely gorgeous). So, I’m thinking my ‘next’ might involve a long bike ride. The kind you do in a day, not so much a cross country trip. I’d also like to refocus on my bouldering and see if I can make some significant improvements there.
Regardless, I think this closes the chapter on the Picnic for now. It was a thing worth doing, and I’m quite happy to have done it.