I managed to talk Steve B and Mike R into taking a mid-week day off from work and join me on a ride up to Artist Point – the end of Highway 542, above the Mt. Baker Ski area. The three days following the Autumnal equinox were predicted sunny and so we set off on the morning of Sept 23rd driving to the tiny town of Maple Falls, just six miles south of the US/Canada border.
On these rides oftentimes the biggest logistics problem is simply finding a suitable place to leave the car, but on this occasion we had no such trouble as the super nice lady manning the Maple Falls Visitor Center invited us to park in their lot. Problem solved.
The weather was sunny but the temperatures were crisp; arm warmers, full finger gloves and, for Steve and myself, knee warmers were in order. The route from Maple Falls to Artist Point is literally a no-brainer: stay on the road, ride to the end, turn around and come back.
After about twenty miles of shady rolling terrain we hit the steady eleven mile uphill portion. I’d just finished reading the latest issue of Bicycle Quarterly and one thing that Jan is really good at in his articles is reminding me to enjoy the ride, the physical motions, the scenery, the scent of the clean air, the silence, the warmth of the sun. While I was busy enjoying all of this bounty, Steve and Mike were well on their way to Artist Point. As John Wayne once said: “a man’s gotta know his limitations,” luckily I know mine, so I just settled into my locomotive pace and rolled steady onwards and upwards. I was riding a dead-end road on a weekday in late September traffic, hence was light and those few cars/motorcycles that did pass gave me plenty of space and some even flashed an encouraging wave.
The gradient was never too steep (four to six percent) the road surface was surprisingly well-maintained the sun was warm the air cool, all seemed right with the world. As I neared the Mt. Baker Ski Area Mt. Shuksan and its formidable Price Glacier came into view. One of the most photographed peaks in North America Shuksan is ruggedly beautiful, especially in the fall, but it’s a daring climb – from any side – and one that I never attempted.
Above the ski area the road makes some gutsy switchbacks, the engineers who surveyed this must have been inspired by those crazy roads that serpentine through the Alps and Dolomites. Peddling through the hairpins was a lot of fun and soon I could see Steve and Mike waiting for me at the end of the road parking lot.
The descent promised to be chilling so Mike and I donned vests while Steve opted for the full sleeved jacket. With his mountain bike handling skills Mike droped in first railing the corners. Steve descended with me as I took the curves cautiously – this was my first big descent on carbon rims and I wasn’t one hundred percent trusting.
We made quick work out of the return trip and after fueling up at the local gas station we decided to tack on an eighteen mile loop that Martha W has suggested. The fifteen minute stop combined with a tall can of Full Throttle had left my stomach sloshing and my legs dead. “So this is going to be a conversational pace,” I asked hopefully. The road was rolling chipseal with practically no traffic and for much of the first eight miles we rode three abreast at a moderate pace. At Highway 547 we turned left and motored down a steady descent into the microscopic town of Kendall. From there we climbed the final few miles back to Maple Falls and the car.
Pizza in Mt Vernon and a no traffic post rush hour drive home finished out a wonderful day of bike riding. For more photos go to: https://greenliteheavyindustries.smugmug.com/Artist-Point-2015/