Radical Zones on Baker

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Reposted from the original blog posts on Bokanev.com and The Bandit Camp. This was one of the rides that inspired Cascadia Bicycling Team, so it's only appropriate that this would be one of the first posts on the team site.

"You boys wanna get in here before we get started?" the old man pointed to the bathroom next to our parking spot in the tiny roadside town of Glacier. With my winter bibs still only half on, while trying to balance my bare feet on my boots to avoid stepping on the cold wet ground, the best I could muster was a "started on what?" under my breath. "You guys heading up the mountain?" he continued. "Yes, we are". He proceeded to tell us that the gate on the road up to Artist Point was closed after the season's first snowfall just a few days ago. This was not a surprise. After we decided to ride up Highway 542 a few days prior, I have been religiously checking the WSDOT website to check on current snow conditions and saw that the final few miles of the climb up to Artist Point were finally closed the day before we were making our trip.

Once enroute, barely any car traffic, cool temperatures, beautiful morning light piercing the mist between the trees and a wide open road made the the climb up to the snow line quiet and enjoyable. And then we finally arrived to the gate. ROAD CLOSED. We stopped, thought about it for a few seconds, shrugged and continued past the gate. Up to this point we have been pointing out the tiny patches of snow on the side of the road like a couple of kids excited about the first snow day. As soon as we passed through the gate the snow started covering not only the sides of the road but the pavement itself. A single pair of tire tracks provided a reference to the location and direction of the road. With every foot in elevation gained we seemed to lose more and more pavement to snow until the tire tracks turned to semi slushy patches of compacted snow which made remounting and restarting uphill a challenge. But this was not a time to quit. We were too close to the top to give up and we had bourbon to drink. Ok, I lie, there were a couple of times when I floated thoughts like "maybe we have gone far enough" and "coming down this snow road will be sketchy", but we continued. And we made it. And we had bourbon. And we celebrated that our bikes carried us 99% of the way to the top (we carried the bikes the other 1%). And then we headed back down. 

Turns out this year marked the longest period of time that Artist Point was open for the season (115 days). Mt. Baker is an area well known for its snow extremes. In fact it holds the world record for the greatest recorded snowfall in a year. During the 1998-99 season, Mt. Baker received an estimated 1,140 inches of snow (that's 95 feet or 29 meters). That's a lot of pow.

Words by Andy Bokanev
Photographs by Andy Bokanev and Kelly Nowels

Kelly Nowels

seattle, Seattle WA, United States