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Mt. Rainier

A "Must-Do" ride - at least every two years

From Seattle, a trip around Mt. Rainier can be about 300 miles, and worth every inch of it. Areas of the road are open June to October, so plan accordingly.

There are two ways to approach it from Puget Sound � you could wind down the west side or take your ride clockwise out of Enumclaw. The latter will get you the best views. If you're coming in from Spokane or Portland, you'd be best adhering to the same wisdom; do the mountain clockwise, reaching the east face, Sunrise, by late morning. For this trip you'll surely want to pack a camera, some sunscreen and a bottle of water. Optional gear might include binoculars and hiking shoes.

Gas up now, there's not a lot of gas along this route. Begin your spin leaving on Highway 410 out of Enumclaw heading southward. Soon you'll be riding through the Federation Forest and onward to Greenwater, a nice place to stop and shoot the breeze with other riders. If you'd like to learn more about the Federation Forest, pull out at the interpretive center just before Greenwater. Nothing exciting to report here ride-wise, so enjoy the scenery and be keen with your deer radar.

The next stretch of road will lead you to the park entrance (free at this point) and you'll know you've entered the park when the road starts presenting you with 3 inch drop outs brought on either by seismic activity, or the National Park's inability to keep pace with needed road resurfacing.

Five miles up the road is the turnoff for the White River entrance and Sunrise - take it. Here you'll be required to pay the park entrance fee, which may seem a bit pricy, but is comparable to that of a movie ticket or round trip ferry passage, so quit your whining. Hold onto your receipt as it's good for 7 days and you'll need it to re-enter the park again later today.

The road to Sunrise is steep and twisty, but the reward is well worth it. You'll enjoy some spectacular views of the northeast face of Mt. Rainier. There are no guard rails here, which can give a new rider the willies. If this applies to you, watch the center line and traffic around you, keeping your eyes off the steep drop offs.

When you're ready to leave, retrace your route back to the White River entrance and the junction of 410. How's that back feeling now? Take a right and continue south on 410 three miles where you'll stay left and ascend into Chinook Pass - your first taste of some great sweeper turns to come today. That 20 mph sign with the 180 degree arrow on it is your message that you will soon be engaged in the results of some well planned road engineering as far as you and your motorcycle goes.

As for sweepers like these (of which there are about 20 along this ride) here's some wisdom. I get my kicks out of riding at a reasonable speed in these types of turns, and counting the seconds as I roll through them . It's almost meditative. If you're unclear about where to be in a turn when, you'll find David Hough's Proficient Motorcycling, http://store.mm411.com/catalog/index.cfm?fuseaction=catalog&parent_id=172,

book to be an excellent guide about making turns like these safely and with the utmost pleasure.

Now we'll head back down the hill retracing our route back to the junction of 410 and 123. At the junction turn left heading south on 123 toward Ohanapecosh, Highway 12 and Packwood. Head 14 miles south to the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center where you can learn more about old-growth forests, or just go 11 miles south to the Stevens Canyon entrance to the park at the junction of highway 706. If you opt for the visitors center, enjoy your time there, then backtrack up the road to the Stevens Canyon entrance.

The Stevens Canyon entrance is another pay point, which is why you kept your receipt from White River. Enter the park and get ready for some good twisties, stunning views and the road to Paradise. This stretch of road is 19 miles. While it's a bit of a kick on a bike, plan to pull out now and then for some photo breaks or just to soak in the view. One of the best stopping points are the pullouts for the Reflection Lakes.

If it's a warm day, you'll begin to feel the heat about now, if you haven't already. No doubt you've seen plenty of tank top clad riders with sandals and hopefully you don't plan to dress this way as it just feels soooooo yucky to hit the ground at 40 mph in a tank top. Read about the wet tee-shirt trick, http://www.soundrider.com/archive/tips/wettee.htm, and you'll be able beat the heat and be well-dressed at the same time.

Your fun and scenic stretch takes a left turn up the hill to the Paradise Visitor's Center, the busiest spot on the whole route. Parking a car up here can be a bit of a hassle, but you'll most likely find a spot where you can nuzzle your bike in just so. Did you bring your hiking shoes? There's more than a half-dozen trails leading off from the visitors area. The Paradise Inn makes a great stop for lunch. There's a full service restaurant open during lunch time, or, if you miss the serving, you can grab something at the snack bar located on the other side of the building. Take some time at the visitor's center where there's plenty of information about the geological and environmental aspects of the park, as well as some nice views from the observation deck.

It's time to head west and make the trek along the southwest side of the mountain. Descend from Paradise and follow 706 west toward Longmire. More twisties, more views and more scenic pullouts. Look at the moss and the aging wood on the ground in this untouched forest, which you can view as you ride. Before the days of logging this is what a forest floor might have looked like. Beautiful stuff! If you can't get your fill of visitor's centers, pull out at the Longmire Museum nine miles down the road for a look at the early days of the park.

Continue west on 706 toward Elbe. Two miles before Elbe town is Dan Klennert's Ex-Nihilo Sculpture Park, which you will be able to spot easily from the road � visit it! Klennert is an artist working in iron and wood media making some stunning sculptures that speak about our culture and showcase the creative ramblings going on in his mind. The park is free, and donations are gladly accepted. While you're here, if you think you need to use the restroom, do it � Elbe has NO public restroom facilities, which is something the Pierce County Commissioners should take a closer look at. What are these people thinking?

When in Elbe, there's a steam train open to the public, a few restaurants and a gas station (but no public restrooms he said redundantly). From Elbe, head north along SR 7 to Puyallup (Portlanders will want to go south toward Morton now). There are many routes back to Puget Sound, but our favorite is through Eatonville, Kapowskin and Orting, which keeps you off the interstate and away from the blas� route 7 past Eatonville.

If you make your way via Orting, be sure to pull out on 161 and get your final shot of the day, with Rainier in the distance, which will most likely be well illuminated by an early evening sun.

Side Trips

There are other vantage points of Mt. Rainier that can be had.

1. On the northwest end is the Carbon River entrance, which will provide you with hiking options, or off road options if you came on your dual sport.

2. Mowich Lake � an unpaved road leading to Mowich Lake awaits dual sporters and off-roaders.

3. The DNR operates an Off-Road/ATV area on the southwest corner of the mountain just west of Elbe.

4. Westside Road on the south side of the park just past the Nisqually entrance is unpaved and open for 3 miles of its original 13 mile distance. The travel is now limited because of continual flooding.

A ride around Mt. Rainier is something worth doing at least every other year. Once you've done the route clockwise, try it counter-clockwise. While the photo vantage points won't be as good, the change is welcome nonetheless.

Patrick Thomas/Summer 03


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