So this was my fourth ‘real’ ride upon the Rodriguez Bandito. Ride one was a local group ride near Bellingham (AKA: The Donut Ride), second was a group ride out of Eugene and the third was was a summit & re-summit of Lassen Peak on my venture down to Interbike last week. Now on my route back home from Interbike I was taking as many back roads as humanly possible as Interstate 5 sucks life out of you like the torture machine in the Princess Bride.

So rising early from nature’s hotel off some random fire-road, I headed north through Klamath Falls, then east up the last lonely miles of pre-sunrise darkness to the Crater Lake Lodge. A lair of which will never ceases to impress and humble one, even in twilight. This was my second lake lap, as I rode the rim road last year with my 8 year old daughter on a tandem (and we got a hot lap in on parks tour boat around the inside of the crater too…but that’s another rad story). Crater Lake is simply a magical and majestic place that rightly deserves its place in our National Park’s library.

To note…on the drive up to the rim, there were plenty of signs warning of construction and closed roads. I was bummed…would I be able to ride it? Was this detour worth the risk?I parked and entered the historical lodge for a nature break and was able to procure a simply lovely latte from a simply crusty staffer. I was on my bike just before 7am after adding a few necessary layers, as there was still plenty of snow to found adorning the craters edges and northern flanks. I departed the lodge and headed out clockwise. Immediately after leaving the lodge area I scooted under the primary closed gate. Yes it was ‘CLOSED’ and the first arriving construction worker gave me a wave and nod as he opened it briefly for a truck…then quickly closed it back up. I was the only rider that was going through today. YES!! 3/4 of my ride was virtually car-free on this lovely Monday morning in September.

Oh ya, I was riding the Bandito, spec’d with a Kinekt post and a fresh set of Panaracer Gravel King tires. The fanfare this bike received at Interbike was impressive so I was excited to showcase it’s beauty with the backdrop of Crater Lake. Along the rim there are countless turnouts and vistas that are all worth a gander (see pics) but what got my attention immediately was the first climb as my legs warmed and my lungs snapped to attention. It was a crisp morning with a heavenly sunrise happening. I sat into the bike, into my Kinekt and powered up the first grade. The bike rifled forward on a road that was far from clean, strewn with rocks and debris and maybe at a 5% grade. I found myself ignoring the debris, letting the bike roll over whatever and just keeping my eyes up and the power on. It was a crazy feeling…and fully exhilarating. I was effortlessly climbing, floating over the road and letting my eyes wander out to enjoy the world I was in, not focused down on the road I was on. And I was hauling ass at 8000+feet!

As it was last year on my circumnavigation, there were numerous sections of ongoing construction with very rough gravel sections where the road had been stripped, leaving chunky, holy, uneven and downright awesome sections of gravel and pave’. Through each subsequent section I found it was easier and a whole lot more fun to simply ratchet it up and hammer through. With the Kinekt under me the bike was form-fitting to the terrain without hassling my body…I was looking for more. Even when the road was perfect I found myself drifting purposely onto the side-bars and riding the gravel slivers, peering into the craters liquid abyss and laughing at the joy of it. This is why we ride.

So what goes up must come down. The Rim Road has lots of both and the descents became a true testing grounds of control and function of both bike and body, repeatedly. So riders typically have to rise up and slightly brace the bike while descending at high speed, especially on mountain roads with countless divots, strewn gravel, frost heaves, obnoxious potholes, open cracks and the ceaseless and oft off camber corners. Bracing takes a good deal of concentration, energy and skill. Rising up and slightly unweighting the saddle while hauling ass is standard issue on big descents if you really want to fly. BUT, and I’ll say BUTT, with the Kinekt on board I was able to keep my BUTT in the saddle, take the weight off of my legs and drive the bike at speed with my hips, releasing tension from my grip on the handlebars. All those heaves, bumps, cracks and potentially disastrous features became afterthoughts.

On numerous occasions on this ride, I rode through stuff that I know would have normally launched, contorted, beat me and basically freaked anyone out at 45+mph.  Not so today. My lines where premeditated, my eyes where up and scanning and my butt was firmly planted in my saddle, thus keeping me in total control.

The Bandito is a one-bike-quiver, simply able to handle anything I want to throw under it. Road, gravel, cross and a fair bit of single track where all well within it’s breed parameters. With another set of 650B wheels in addition to the road set and I can retire a few of my other rigs. The only reservation I have about the bike, is the SRAM Red. I’m a Shimano guy so having to put more force into the upshift, and not finding the gear desired was a bit annoying, but nothing that couldn’t be overcome with patience, persistence…and a few double shifts. The hoods where not too my liking either…but we’re splitting hairs…BFD.

The Rim Road route culminates with a few, now traffic clogged, switchbacks returning you to the Lodge. I actually felt fresh, my arms and hands didn’t hurt from the descents and my senses where all crisp and open and still taking in the world around me, not under me. My legs felt the miles, but my body didn’t. I yearned for another lap…but the road was now fully closed. Too bad for all the other bikes I saw dangling from bike racks. Early bird gets the worm…er…road.

So? Is Crater Lake a ‘Bucket List’ ride? Yup. Do it, do it early, and do it often.