Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Seven (or more) Hills of Kirkland

Our first century of the year!

This past Memorial Day, a few of us set out for our first century of the year. For those not familiar with cycling nomenclature, you might think that's a typo... "you mean, 'the first year of the century', right?" Nope. A century is a 100 mile bike ride. Monday's ride covered 100 miles and was chock full of hilly goodness.

The 7 Hills of Kirkland begins at the Kirkland marina and offers a choice of seven hills over a 40 mile course, 11 hills over a metric-century 62 mile course, or 14 hills over a 100 mile course with 7,000 feet of climbing. Gary, Cary, Brenda, Warren, Kristin and I left shortly before 8 a.m. under a cloudy grey sky. Climbing over Market Street, Juanita Hill, and Seminary Hill in Kirkland and Juanita gave us an easy three hills under our belts before the first hour. Soon we were heading over Norway Hill in Bothell followed by Kingsgate Hill where we had our first reststop. (The cookies on this ride are my favorite reststop treat.)

The sun was now breaking through the clouds as we restarted our motors and dropped down to Woodinville for the first really tough climb of the day--Winery Hill. This climb starts as soon as you turn right off Woodinville Dr. onto NE 145th St. Our pace quickly drops to nearly walking speed as we crank hard up what feels like an 18 percent grade. A rider next to me commented to one of the two riders with him, "Hey, you're dragging again. I hear a scrape, scrape." Before she could reply to him, I said, "That could just be my tongue on the pavement." They laughed good. I smiled.

One of my favorite moments on this ride is at the top of Winery Hill. This was my fourth time on the 7 Hills and each year I'm treated to the same distant sound. As you near the top of the hill, you hear a faint soaring melody of a bagpipe. As you turn the corner, you see at the crest, a bagpiper dressed in full Scottish garb beckoning the riders upward and onward with his droning pipe. I think it gives every rider the extra boost they need. It was what Gary and I needed.

Shortly after our encounter with the bagpiper, we reached the crossroads where the 40-miler riders depart for their last hill and the 62 and 100-miler riders turn for Redmond and parts eastward. Brenda would be taking the shorter, and possibly wiser, route. We crossed the valley between Willows Road and Redmond-Woodinville Road and began our next climb up Education Hill. You know you're in trouble when you look at the cue sheet (the "driving instructions" for us bikers), and notice that all the roads have "hill", or some facsimile thereof, in their name: "Novelty Hill" (the novelty wears off mighty quick, I might add), "Redmond Ridge", and "Union Hill". Once over this series of rollers and climbs, we were rocketing down into the Carnation Valley for our second well-needed reststop. Warren and Kristin were detained by her first flat in two years. Cary rolled in just behind us.

Now the sun was shining and we were warming up a bit. Crossing the Carnation Valley is flat, fast, and cow-filled. But the speed is short-lived. Once we turned north toward Duvall, we had Stillwater Hill to contend with. By now, I've lost track of the number of hills I've climbed. I do know that the next reststop is a mere nine miles away. It's noon and I've reached the halfway point of my ride: 50 miles. No time for celebration. I gear down, turn right, and charge (trudge) up Stillwater Hill with Gary close behind.

The third stop came none too soon. More cookies, sandwiches, and "Oh the joy!" CHAIRS! After nearly 60 miles, it's good to be seated on something larger than a notepad. After a lengthy rest, we mounted our iron steeds once again and rolled west to High Bridge Hill and Maltby Hill. It was at mile 80 that I turned to Gary and offered my analogy for the way I felt at this moment in the ride. "Have you ever sat down to a huge, delicious steak. You savored every bite, ravenously working your way through one of the best cuts of meat you've experienced. Soon, you have just a few bites left and you're very full. You could push your plate away and be done. But, that steak tastes darn good and it would be a shame to let those remaining bites be tossed away." This 100 mile steak was darn tasty, but man was I full. Problem with pushing the plate away was... you still had to find a ride back to your car. So, we ate those last twenty morsels.

Our final reststop at mile 85 was back atop Education Hill. We freshened up, ate another cookie, enjoyed the sun, and noticed that both Cary and Kristin had rejoined us. Warren had indeed pushed himself away from the table back at 70 miles, so it was just the four of us for the remaining 15 miles.

One more hill--Rose Hill--was all it took to get us on the downhill race back to Kirkland. Cary was just behind me, Kristin and Gary slightly ahead, and I kicked it up a notch and barrelled down 116th, flew around Northrup Way, and jetted past Carillon Point north on Lake Washington Blvd. and rolled into the Kirkland Marina at two minutes after 4 p.m. Our 100 miler hits the books at 6 hours 50 minutes. Somebody better still have strawberry shortcake!

Time: 6:50:19
Dist: 100.07
Avg: 14.6
Max: 38.9
Max Elev: 613 ft.
Total Ascent: 7218 ft.
Riders: Cary, Gary, Warren, Kristin, Brenda, Bob

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Five Trails Ride

This is one of my favorite springtime routes. I think I'll call it "The Five Trails Ride." The route takes you on five King County Regional Trails and through at least ten different communities.

We started at Eastside Foursquare Church in Bothell and headed south through Kirkland, and Bellevue. We turned west on the I-90 Bike Trail (trail #1) and crossed Mercer Island. The wind was blowing like my daughter's hair dryer as I rode with white knuckles across the I-90 span into Seattle. Upon reaching the other side of the bridge, we stopped to enjoy the view and then entered the I-90 bike tunnel. This tunnel is a treat for the first-timer. It's brightly decorated with children's murals and well lit. You can't tell that hundred of cars are hurtling along at 70 mph just over your head.

Once in the Rainier Valley, we turned south along Airport Way and then east through SoDo to make our way towards Alki. A few cruise ships loomed several stories above the waterfront, preparing for their voyage to Alaska. Hmmm. That would be a good detour. But, no, we've got a date with a Tully's on the Alki waterfront. We successfully made it to bike trail #2: Alki Bike Trail. This was not only a great day for cycling but apparently an equally good day for diving. Scores of divers waited along the waterfront for their turn to raise the red and white diagonalled flag and submerge in the cold dark waters of Elliott Bay. I shouted as we rode by something along the lines of "Hey, another sport that looks good in black tights!"

Our stop at Tully's was well timed. We enjoyed getting to know three of our new riders: Jake, a 15-year old who is attempting his third or better STP; Tom, a sturdy rider who fits in great with our group and our penchant for good natured ribbing; and his friend Cameron, a Scotsman and 10-year newcomer to the States to work for a small software company based in Redmond. We decided that anything Cameron said was entertaining. At one point in our ride, Kristin said, "Keep talking," and Cameron thought she was sarcastically telling him to shush. She corrected him, "No, I mean it! Keep talking! I love your accent!"

We departed Alki and headed south toward Fauntleroy much to Tom's dismay that we now had a good series of climbs ahead of us. The headwind today was blowing from the southwest, so it was considerable effort throughout the ride thus far to ride both south and west. We ached to finally turn east or north. And turn we did. We crossed through White Center and then dropped down to the Duwamish River Trail (trail #3 if you're keeping track). I wonder what this area looked like when the Duwamish native americans resided here. (It's slightly less than idyllic when the tide is out and you see a mud flat surrounded by shipping containers industrial parks and shipyards.)

Now we hit trail number four on the Elliott Bay Trail taking us along Alaskan Way and the Seattle waterfront. I thought about stopping for some nice, warm Ivar's clam strips, but have never read that to be good cycling food. Opted for the chewy granola bar instead and we pressed toward the Ballard Locks. My favorite part of this ride is the hidded pedestrian bridge crossing the railroad that is tucked between W. Government Way and W. Commodore Way. After bumping across it, we rolled out into the Ballard Locks. Stopped for a photo or two and then walked across the Locks amid the out-of-towners and their Seattle hosts showing them the sights.

Our return to Bothell was on Trail #5, the good old bumpy Burke-Gilman. We finished the day in sunshine, blue skies, and fair warmth. Not bad considering the day started with clouds and drizzle and three phone calls asking if we were still riding. Of course we're riding. Afterall, this is my favorite ride... It's "The Five Trails Ride."

Dist: 67.01
Time: 4:56:41
Avg: 13.5
Max: 35.0
Riders: Kristin, Warren, Tom, Cameron, Jake, Jim, Bob H.

Bike to Work Day - Close Calls

Bike to Work Day was May 18, followed by our regular Saturday ride on May 19. In the span of those two days, I was reminded once again of my need to be a vigilant and defensive cyclist if I want to keep riding into the years ahead.

My morning ride to work was uneventful. It was the afternoon's return that shook me up. I was riding from the Lynnwood Convention Center to my home near Thrasher's Corner east along 196th in Lynnwood. I was coming fast downhill into an intersection and saw the light ahead was green. I was prepared to cruise through the light, passing on the inside right of a small sedan that also was entering the intersection.

What I completely missed, IF it was there to be seen, was the driver's right turn signal. Just as I came up on her right rear side of her car, she began turning right. I saw that I was going to hit and began shouting--actually it was more of an extended yell--something like, "AHHhHHHhhhhhh Nooooooooooooooo!" I think that scared her far more than the slight bounce she heard as I ricocheted off the corner of her car and turned with her around the corner.

Fortunately--very fortunately--I stayed upright and never hit the pavement. She pulled alongside of me, realizing that I had hit her car, to confirm I was alright. My first word to her were, "Did you have your turn signal on? Did you??" She said she did and I apologized for not seeing it. I assured her I was fine and she drove on, probably as shaken up as me. Mark that one "Close Call #1."

I prayed a prayer of thanks for the angels around me and gingerly passed throught the intersection to head home.

Saturday's Ride:

I'll elaborate more about Saturday's ride in the next blog, but I want to relate two more "close call" incidents that built on my experience Friday.

We were heading south along Bellevue Way near the Mercer Slough and had just crossed the street to ride the sidewalk along the Park and Ride to reach the I-90 trail. At one of the exits to the Park and Ride, a SUV pulled up and looked south at the oncoming traffic. He has in our line as we rode south down the sidewalk. As I rode in front of him to cross the Park and Ride exit, I noticed he was only looking south and hadn't turned his head in our direction--in front and to the north of him. "He's going to pull out and hit us," I thought.

By now, I was right in front of his rig when he moved his head and appeared to begin his turn. Just then he saw me in front of him and realized--I hope--how close he was to crunching a biker under his wheels. I glowered at him as we rode past. Mark that one "Close Call #2."

Later in the morning, our group was at Harbor Island between SoDo and Alki attempting to cross Sw Spokane Street to get on the bike path on the south side of the street. We had pressed the crosswalk button and patiently waited for the street light to turn red and our crosswalk light to give us permission to cross safely. A good full second or two after the street light was red and we had the crossing light in our favor, an 18-wheeler came barrelling down the bridge and flew through the red light. I recall Jim N. saying, "Looks like this guy's not gonna stop." No way could he. And if we had already started across that street, we would have been toast. Or at the very least, our ride would have been rerouted to Harborview ER. Mark that one "Close Call #3."

Suffice it to say, these three instances reminded me how dangerous cycling can be if I'm not completely alert and mindful of where I am and what's around me. As much as I desire to trust drivers to be intelligent, aware, and respectful of my rights, I still realize that I can't. Not yet. And it reminds me, as a driver, to keep my eyes open and "share the road." I hope you'll do the same. I've got a lot of riding still left to do!

Skagit Headwind Classic

On Saturday, May 12, six cyclist set out to Burlington, WA to enjoy a 62-mile venture around Skagit and Whatcom counties in what is known as the Skagit Spring Classic. We, however, have renamed this year's ride the "Skagit Headwind Classic." And with good reason.

The weather, for an early May morning, was surprisingly pleasant. I decided to remove my fenders and throw caution and superstition to the wind... literally, it would turn out. The sun was burning through the clouds and the rain was nowhere near the Skagit flats. Oh, but there was wind.

This year's route was a reverse of 2006, which was a nice change. We set out riding south and a short loop to the east before heading north to Chuckanut Drive. Riding south, we would discover, was the best direction of all with a nasty wind coming from the northwest. But our south and east riding was very short lived and once we turned north, we tucked into a tight paceline, fought for all we were worth, and maintained a 16-18 mph pace that felt like we riding hard enough to push 22 mph. At one point, we wondered what speed we could ride into the wind to stay upright yet perfectly still. Yeah, the wind was brutal.

We found relief once we reached the protective covering of Chuckanut Drive with it's old growth trees lining the cliffs overlooking Bellingham Bay. The sun shining on our first rest stop--with a huge spread of homemade cookies and the usual biker food--made the day look like the worst was behind us. We bombed down the descents of Chuckanut and then turned east to Lake Whatcom. We broke free of the trees and found bright sunshine warming us up.

After crossing I-5 and turning south, we reached our second rest stop at Donovan Park and gave thanks for a southerly heading. After grouping back up, enjoying the spread, and making the necessary visits to the boys' room, we began our return to Burlington. We met our biggest climb of the day as we ascended Bow Hill Road. We were once again riding west and finding that the headwind from the morning was still blowing strong. In fact, it was now a will of the spirit to keep the cranks churning forward with turn to the west or north. We turned at Edison and headed south along Padilla Bay. The views along the water were gorgeous and to add to our pleasure, we were finally riding south with the wind at our back.

The finish line was now in sight and the taste of Elementary kitchen-prepared spaghetti, garlic bread, and salad, was tantalizing our taste buds. Hey, we had just ridden 62 miles with more than a third of it in a nasty headwind... We wanted our darn spaghetti! We were hungry and we earned it! We congratulated each other on a strong effort, chatted about our next ride, agreed that the day was beautiful and the wind was awful, but to steal the old golfer's quote, "The worst day cycling is still better than the best day at the office." Then again, my office sure doesn't have a headwind like today.

Dist: 62.48
Time: 4:11:33
Max: 31.7
Riders: Johnny, Bob T, Jim, Bob H., Bryant, Rick

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

One Bad Hill to Swallow

This was hands-down the hardest EFC Cycling Club Saturday ride ever. And, oddly enough, the best-attended Saturday ride ever. Which just means misery must really love company, because we had plenty of both.

Fourteen of us met at 8 a.m. at Eastside Foursquare Church, ready for what turned out to be a absolutely beautiful day for riding. I had found a new route online called Issaquah Alps that looked challenging and covered some new territory in the Newcastle/Renton area. So after a great devotional by Kristin, and a short prayer, we headed off for a morning of riding under the "late April sun"--admittedly an oxymoron for the Seattle region.

Being a ride leader has it's blessings and it's curses. But, leading a ride from a map that you personally haven't yet explored--that's mostly curses. Fortunately, I only had about three missed turns--only two that my ride group would have noticed with a third that thankfully led to the road I had intended for. With a smaller group, it's easier to lead, but the "friendly criticism" is inversely proportional to the size of the group. Bigger group: more polite. Smaller group: rip into the ride leader! After the first wrong turn, I was glad I was leading a polite group... a rare treasure.

As we began exploring new areas like SE 88th and May Valley Rd. in the Renton/Cougar Mountain area, it became apparent that most of our newcomers to this ride were either younger or stronger than us regulars. Okay, in most cases, they were both. And their ride pace showcased it. We took a loop up the backside of Squak Mountain that probably had some nice views, but I was too busy focusing on keeping my lungs inside. As hard as this little climb was, it was merely a foreshadowing of what was to come.

We took our break at the trailhead to Squak Mountain State Park and were pleased to meet up with some other riders from the International Christian Cycling Club. After a bathroom break, some conversation, and a group photo, we headed north to Issaquah and prepared to meet our toughest match of the day.

They call this "Zoo Hill." Perhaps because it's home to the Cougar Mountain Zoological Park. But, it might also be that this hill reduces you to animal instincts. This is 1100 ft. of elevation climbed in 2.5 miles. (Insert expletive or groan, whine, whimper, or gasp here.) This is one of those climbs that focuses your thoughts--"Why am I doing this?", "What is that terrible gasping sound I hear? Oh. That's me", "Is that the crest of the hill? No... crap. There's more. Much more." But as bad of a hill this was to swallow, when you do finally reach the top, you feel like you've accomplished something important, something noble, something that will cause you to be in considerable pain for the remainder of the week.

However, there is one thing more painful than a hill of this magnitude. It's Kristin's comment at the top... "Hey guys, we should do this climb again this summer!"

Dist: 55.17
Time: 4:00:34
Avg: 13.7
Max: 38.9