Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Having a Blast on Mount St. Helen's

Saturday, June 21—Tour de Blast This was going to be a great weekend to ride... Eight of us gathered at Eastside Church to carpool down to Castle Rock, WA. We were headed for an 84 mile ride with 7500 ft. of climbing up Mount St. Helen's. As we gathered, a few of us realized that we've never seen some of the other riders in street clothes. Usually, these people are wearing bike gear, helmets, and sunglasses... With "regular clothes", make-up, and hair in place, a few are almost unrecognizeable! It reminds me of the Reunion Show on CBS' Survivor reality TV series. After weeks of seeing those competitors living on an island, you can barely recognize them when they appear clean and well-groomed. You get the point...

Our Friday evening ride was long and tedious for the guys who drove I-5. The "gals" (me and three women... just one of the girls, huh?), took I-167 and experienced smooth sailing. It was a precursor for Saturday's ride. The girls and myself would summit easily while only two of the four men would. But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

A filling dinner of pizza or spaghetti at Dirty Dave's in Olympia gave us the fuel we needed for the ride ahead and then we finished the drive southward. Our night's accommodations in Castle Rock was the Mount St. Helen's Motel. Three double beds and plenty of floor space for the five guys. So after unpacking, readying our bikes for the day ahead, and laying out our gear, we hit the hay. Only Rick decided to stand guard into the wee hours of the morning since he couldn't get to sleep.

Breakfast at the restaurant next door was good, filling, and probably unhealthy, but plenty of calories to burn throughout the day. The weather was looking to be far better than what we anticipated. We had brought enough clothing for anything from 30 degrees to 80 degrees...torrential downpours, snow, or whatever else came our way. But temps hovered around 77F with an overcast sky. Perfect riding weather. We were blessed.

The first miles turned over quickly for me with good conversation, great scenery, and a decent rest stop around Mile 18. The next stage was about nine miles of gentle climbing up to Elk Rock at 3800 ft. for our second rest stop.
I felt great and kept chugging along. Rick and Mike were long gone as was Kristin. But Warren, Brenda, Jim, Chris and I arrived at Elk Rock fairly close together.

After a fairly good rest, food, and photos, we raced downward on the long descent to Clearwater Lake. But, what goes down, must go up... at least on this ride. We had another climb of six miles to Johnston Ridge Observatory, at 4800 ft. elevation. Warren was done at Elk Rock. Jim turned around shortly after Clearwater Lake, and it was just me and the three ladies making the climb up to Johnston Ridge. (Mike and Rick were so far ahead of us, we figured they were probably done by now!)

I was surprised to see snow on the climb. In past years, the snow level is far above our highest elevation. But with the late Spring (was there one?), the snow was still in place and nearly 12 feet deep along the side of the parking lot at Johnston Ridge.

Our return flight down from the summit back to Clearwater Lake was fast and furious. Soon, we were back to climbing on our return to Elk Rock. The day was getting late, but I was enjoying the ride, felt great, and going at my own pace. I reconnected at Elk Rock with Kristin and Jim, and soon Chris arrived. Chris waited for Brenda and the other three of us started the amazing nine mile descent from Elk Rock. But our ride was interrupted by a disturbing scene. Another rider had crashed about a half hour earlier. EMS was on the scene. We heard he was unconscious, obviously bleeding from the head, and had to be airlifted by helicopter to Portland. The next day we learned that he was going to be okay.

The scene on the side of the road reaffirmed that our avocation is not without risk. Whether descending Mount St. Helen's at 42 miles per hour or just crossing the street in my neighborhood, there's risk. Life is fleeting. And I realize this life is not my own. It belongs to the Lord. I'm thankful... so very thankful... for every day I am given... to live, to breathe, to grow... and, of course, to ride.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Summits of Bothell... More Rain, More Hills

I wouldn't be complaining if this was February. Or even March. But this is June. This is spring. This is two weeks from the start of summer. Someone apparently hasn't informed those in the weather factory.

Our day began with five of us in the Eastside Church parking lot contemplating the impending ride and the current weather. We decided to take it on, bravely confronting whatever rain or wind would come our way. I knew we were doomed when my wife called in the middle of our pre-ride devotion and prayer to inform me it was dumping buckets at our home seven miles away.

Ironically, our devotional thought for the day was about resisting discouragement! “So don’t get tired of doing what is good. Don’t get discouraged and give up …” (Galatians 6:9 NLT). The closing thought was "...great people are really just ordinary people with an extraordinary amount of determination. Great people don’t know how to quit." After reading that, I turned to the others and said, "I guess we can't bag out on this ride now!" However, only three of us would finish this ride. One rider didn't make it out of the parking lot. Well, technically she did, but it was in her car driving away. No bike ride today for her. A second rider, who shall remain nameless, (but who's first name is the same as mine and last name rhymes with "stir,") also turned away after about four miles, remarking something about warmer, drier weather in the South... like Bellevue.

So Jim, Ken, and myself pressed on. Our route was the Summits of Bothell, which covers eight summits in 38 miles with 3,250 ft. of vertical elevation gain. "More per mile than RAMROD," the website says. We began our ascent of Norway Hill and stayed fairly dry all the way until our climb up Brickyard Road. The scandinavian theme stayed with us. In our heaviest rainfall, Ken said, "The Scandinavians say there's no such thing as bad weather, only BAD CLOTHING!" How true. This was a day for the winter rain gear. But I've also learned over the years that when your clothing and body reach the saturation point, you really can't get any wetter.

One of the funniest moments was when Jim asked us to stop under the 405 overpass. He then proceeded to pull out a cheap, disposable hotel shower cap and placed it over his bike helmet. I've seen ugly helmet covers, but this takes the cake. But fair to say Jim's head stayed warm and dry for the remainder of the ride.

So up and down the hills we went. Getting wetter, climbing harder, riding faster. After 25 miles, I deemed our ride ready to conclude. We turned back toward downtown Bothell and climbed our final hill to Eastside Foursquare Church. Upon arriving in the parking lot, the skies dried up and the rain abated. But we had succeeded in resisting discouragement and not quitting. We're not extraordinary people. We're just ordinary cyclists with an extraordinary amount of determination. We don't know how to give up. Or maybe... we just don't have enough sense to come in from out of the rain.

Riders: Jim, Ken, Bob
Dist: 28.48
Time: 2:21
Avg: 12.0
Max: 32.7

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Five Trails... and Three Rain Squalls

"The Five Trails Ride" is one of my favorite routes. It takes you on five King County Regional Trails and through at least ten different communities. It's the one ride we do that covers more of Seattle and more touristy spots than any other.

Our group of nine started at Eastside Foursquare Church in Bothell and headed south through Kirkland, and Bellevue. Our first hill was just south of Carillon Point where a narrow pathway through a line of landscape trees leads you out of a cul-de-sac. It was just barely wide enough for Don on his tricycle recumbent.

As we rode through Medina and Clyde Hill, we hit our first rain squall. The rain shower was cold and fell heavy as we rolled onto Main Street. It lingered only briefly as we turned west on the I-90 Bike Trail (trail #1) and crossed Mercer Island stopping at the restrooms across from some ballfields where several little league teams were warming up. As we crossed the I-90 span into Seattle and were met by rain squall number two, I saw a kayaker paddling along with a swimmer in a wetsuit. Looked to me like another long-distance athlete on a morning workout. As I thought about my 2009 bike ride across America, it occurred to me that you can't swim across the U.S.

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.

As we turned west along Dearborn toward SoDo, we passed MC Electric cars. This dealership has probably seen quite an uptick in business with gas costing more than $4.20 a gallon. I've thought about trading my car for an electric. But, then again... I could also make a strong case to trade it for a new bike!

Once in the Rainier Valley, we turned south along Airport Way and then east through SoDo to make our way towards Alki. One of the things I really enjoy about cycling is the ability to smell the environment around me. Sometimes that's a disadvantage. But today, our olfactory senses caught a whiff of a nearby barbecue restaurant. It got me thinking... what if I planned a "progressive dinner" on bike?! Pedal from restaurant to restaurant. Might be good to purchase an extra large pair of cycling shorts for the occasion.

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. The view of Seattle from Alki makes a great backdrop for a cyclist's action photo as we cruised along the trail avoiding dogwalkers, rollerbladers, and families on bikes. We didn't spot Warren's favorite scene on this route--female volleyball players.

All of us rolled into Tullys' along Alki to enjoy some refreshments and coffee. The sun was shining amid a blue sky dappled with white clouds. Our coffee and conversation ended in time for us to remount our bikes and head west and then south along Fauntleroy past the ferry terminal and then uphill through White Center. Our favorite wild-haired descent was just ahead. We flew down Highland Park and dropped down to the Duwamish River Trail (trail #3 if you're keeping track).

We turned north along Elliott Bay and passed a couple of cruise ships heading for Alaska as well as carload after carload of cruise ship passengers making their way to the terminal. We rode trail number four on the Elliott Bay Trail taking us along Alaskan Way, the Seattle waterfront, and past the Olympic Sculpture Park as we pressed toward the Ballard Locks. My favorite part of this ride is the hidden pedestrian bridge crossing the railroad that is tucked between W. Government Way and W. Commodore Way. It's a little-known gem that surprised several of our riders that were new to this route. 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 route along the Burke-Gilman trail--fifth and final trail--was greeted by our third, and fortunately final, rain squall. We dried out as we reached the University of Washington and then hit our stride and stepped on the gas keeping a fast pace through University Village, Sandpoint, Sheridan Beach, Lake Forest Park, and Kenmore. As our group returned to EFC, Ken commented that this ride was like a vacation around Seattle. He had seen more of Seattle today by bike than he had over most of his years living in the area! Hey, every day on a bike is a vacation for me!

Riders: Jim, Brenda, Warren, David, Ken, Don, Bob, Bryant, Cary
Dist: 68.8
Time: 5:08
Avg: 13.4
Max: 37.0
Total Ascent: 3318 ft
Max Elev: 411

Seven Hills of Kirkland

The Seven Hills of Kirkland has become an annual ride every Memorial Day. In talking with other cyclists, this is either an "I love it" or "I hate it" kind of ride. The short route covers 40 miles and seven hills in and around Kirkland. The metric century is 58 miles and adds about 4 more hills. The full century (100 miles) extends out to Carnation, Duvall, and Monroe and adds even more hillwork. Although I usually take on the century, this year I chose to ride the metric century with riding partners Jay, Jim, and David.

We started out around 8 a.m. and made quick work of the first set of hills around Juanita, Kenmore and Bothell. The weather was cloudy and cool. I called it Goldilocks weather... just right. Our first rest stop was around 20 or so miles at an LDS church in Kirkland. We stopped very briefly there before taking on the challenging Winery Hill.

Winery Hill is notable for the Scottish bagpiper at the top of the climb playing encouraging notes to beckon the cyclists onward. As we reached the top of the hill, the rain began. Fortunately it was brief.

We stopped a bit longer at the LDS church and partook of the best chocolate chip cookies we've had. Then it was time to head east toward Redmond and off the shorter 7 Hills route for the longer metric century. The rain began again and I pulled over to don my bright yellow jacket. The jacket didn't stay on for long as once we reached the top of Novelty Hill, I was warm enough and the rain had stopped again. There are days like that as a cyclist... clothes on, clothes off.

At Union Hill, we reached the fork in the road. Century riders turned left and Metric Century riders turned right. I was actually glad to turn right. I knew I'd be home and in the shower before the 100 mile riders even reached the finish line!

Our final rest stop was at an Episcopal church in Redmond. This gave us one more chance to refuel with moist chocolate brownies and to refill our water bottles. Then we were off to rejoin the 7 Hills route and make our last climb of the day.

As we reached the Bridle Trails neighborhood, we were now in the last 6 miles of the ride--and it was all downhill! Returning to Kirkland, we rode under the 7 Hills of Kirkland banner, and turned into the Kirkland Marina to be greeted by the best strawberry shortcake, hot coffee, and a place to sit and rest before heading back to the car. I looked at my watch. Yep, if I was on the 100 mile route, not only would I still be riding, but I'd be out there for at least two more hours. I wasn't complaining about my early finish... not at all. Think I'll take another bite of shortcake!

Riders: Jim, David, Jay, Bob
Dist: 58.8
Time: 4:24
Avg: 13.3
Max: 39.3