Saturday, April 25, 2009

Hidden Lakes of Woodinville

We began our Saturday ride in the parking lot of Eastside Foursquare Church grouped together for a short devotional and prayer. I always enjoy our time gathered around our bikes in this informal and brief time of prayer before we ride. Many times, this short devo gets our conversation for the ride started. And many more times, our prayer has proven to be heard by Heaven when we return free of flats or mechanical problems.

After rolling down to the Sammamish River Trail, we reached Woodinville to climb the hardest hill of the day. I referred to it as "The Wall." This climb parallels NE 171st Street--a busy road east of Woodinville--and goes through the Reinwood neighborhood.

We huffed and puffed our way to the top and soon downhilled past Lake Leota, our first hidden lake of the day. Next, we passed Bassett Pond--not officially a lake, but a hidden body of water at least--and then turned into the Cottage Lake Beach Club passed Cottage Lake (our third lake for the day.) We passed a couple of LDS missionaries who, oddly enough, were not on bikes. I thought the mountain bikes were standard issue...

A brief ride down busy Woodinville Duvall Road took us to W. Snoqualmie Valley Road where we turned north. This stretch of road is popular with cyclists and takes you past dairy farms (advertising "aged cow manure") and rural homes overlooking the valley. After passing Crescent Lake (#4 if you're keeping track), we took High Bridge Road around to the northwest which offered a few more climbs until we turned south on Welch Rd. toward Lost Lake--also known as Devil's Lake (Lake #5).

Here we stopped for a short rest break and a photo of our group. The weather, while cold, was dry. Far better than last year's ride on this same route which was drizzley.

After Lost Lake, we rode west toward Echo Lake (Lake #6). This hidden neighborhood loops in a circle around the lake, which we did as well. We stopped at a small grocery store for restrooms and food. Rob decided to sit us down at a picnic table next to the nearby espresso stand. However, the picnic table was situated between a dumpster and a porto-potty (honey bucket, kybo, dewey, outhouse). Not the ideal location.

The other riders noticed my muffin. It was pink. Not light pink, but more like fuchsia. They were worried my innards would glow pink. I guess you have to be secure in your dietary masculinity to eat pink. Leaving the grocery store, we then rode north toward Hwy. 522 and the remainder of our route. Most of this route so far was brand new territory for us. But, now we where coming into more familiar roads as we continued west toward Woodinville proper.

Our last lake of the day was Crystal Lake (#7). Crystal Lake sits at the end of a long, quiet stretch of roadway--past the "End of county maintained road" sign--where a lovely log-built community club sits and homes dot the banks of the shore. However, as we neared the gate that closes this private community off from the rest of the world, we were met with a middle-aged woman with outstretched arms who exclaimed, "You know this is private property!" What a welcome. I muttered something like, "Just wanted to see the lake..." and turned around to ride away. The brochure for this neighborhood now reads: "Come to Crystal Lake: beautiful scenery guarded by jack-booted thugs to keep you safe!"

The sun was now shining as we headed back to Eastside. We opted for one more climb up and over Norway Hill. No lakes up there, but a great view to the East of the land we just cycled and the hidden lakes we just found.

Riders: Bob H., Gary, Kristin, Rob, Brenda, Dale
Dist: 44.83
Time: 3:18
Avg: 13.5
Max: 32.7

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

50 Miles with 8 Scouts

I'm an Assistant Scoutmaster with Troop 574. I'm also an Eagle Scout. This past weekend, my love for cycling crossed paths with scouting as I helped eight scouts in our troop work on Cycling merit badge. Our goal was to ride 25 miles on Saturday, spend the night camping, and return back the way we came for 25 more miles on Sunday. The ride would be fully supported, so the scouts wouldn't be carrying any gear, just riding. Our Scoutmaster, Rob Lee, would be driving the truck with our camping gear, a spare bike, and all our packs.

To make the route fairly easy for these new cyclists, I decided to keep our route in the Snohomish River valley. That would eliminate any long climbs and most of our riding would be flat or rollers. We gathered at Maltby Cafe at 8:30 a.m. Our group included eight scouts: Kyle, Robbie, Karl, James, Chris, Jacob, Sam, and Jonathan. I asked two other adults to join us and was blessed with four others coming along: Scoutmaster Rob Lee in the truck, his wife, Jennie Lee on a bike, Ken Williams riding sweep behind the scouts, and Mike Leaman riding in the middle of the pack on Saturday. I was out in front leading the way.

After doing our bike check, adding air to the tires, loading the truck, and sharing a prayer, we headed east from the Cafe. The first four or five miles of the ride was pretty easy. I kept the scouts in my rearview mirror and was pleased to see most of the group doing well. Our first great downhill was on Fales Road. At the bottom of the hill, we took a tight hairpin turn to the right onto Elliott Rd. and began our rolling ride along the river.

We made our first stop at eight miles into the ride at a pullout along High Bridge Road. The sun was shining and this made a great place to rest, eat some snacks, and check on all the scouts. So far, everyone was doing well. A couple of the bikes could have used a tune-up (or a replacement) but they were getting the job done even if some chains and gears weren't behaving as well as we would have liked.

After our rest stop, we descended down our second great downhill. It wasn't lost on me that these downhills would be challenging uphills when we returned on Sunday. It wasn't lost on the scouts, either. "We'll have to bike UP these won't we?", one of them asked. "Yeah. Right here is where Chris will probably throw up tomorrow," I said, referring to our capable and good-humored Assistant Senior Patrol Leader on the steepest part of the downhill.

Our route continued through beautifully scenic Snohomish County farmland, past dairy farms, modest homes on large acred lots, and forested greenspace. The weather was perfect, even if a little cool. Since our speed stayed a fairly consistent 8-10 miles per hour, I wasn't going to get very warm from any physical exertion, so I stayed dressed in a jacket, arm and leg warmers, and a knit cap under my helmet.

Our second stop was our lunch stop at about 16 miles into the ride. I found a wide gravel pullout along W. Snoqualmie Valley Rd. NE. All the boys pulled out their lunches and sat on the ground talking about the ride and whatever other topics came to mind. We adults compared notes and talked about how well the ride was going. No flats. No injuries. No one complaining. Could it really be going this well? Nine more miles would give us the conclusion.

The traffic was picking up along this stretch of road. But the boys did a fantastic job of staying single file, using their hand signals, and riding along the edge of the roadway within the traffic. It's stunning to think of how confident these guys were becoming when you consider that most had only biked in their neighborhoods or around a park or two. This was big-time road riding!

Our route now took us across the valley toward Carnation. We crossed the bridge on NE Carnation Farm Rd and turned along the river past horse pastures and small riverfront homes. We were arriving into Carnation and our destination was just a few miles away now. Riding through Carnation, I began thinking about my own ride this summer when I'll be riding through small rural towns and old town centers like this. Carnation is a lovely town to ride through and it's one of my favorite rural routes.

I asked Rob to drive ahead and check into our campsite at Tolt-McDonald Park while we rode the remaining few blocks. When we reached the entrance to the park, we gathered for a group photo and then Ken and Mike took off to head for home. They would call an hour or so later to say they cruised home at about 20 mph and made it just fine. I congratulated the boys as we rode down the street toward Tolt-McDonald Park.

We met Mr. Lee at the entrance and learned some disconcerting news. The park was closed. "Huh?" I thought, as back-up plans began running through my head... "Uh, scouts... you're 25 mile ride just turned into a 40 mile ride. We need to find a different place to camp..." As I was considering how very bad this could now become, the campground manager rolled up in his green John Deer Gator utility vehicle. "Park's closed due to the flood damage. You can't camp here. Nearest campground is in Fall City."

No way. I explained that it was open when I spoke to the lady answering the phones and taking reservations for King County Parks. She didn't tell me it was closed. She assured me we could camp here... "Well, I'll be talking to her on Monday. But, you can't camp here!"

Now Mr. Lee began. "I've got eight scouts on bikes. If we had cars, it wouldn't be a problem, but I can't tell them they need to ride 25 more miles!" At this point, another scout troop also walked up and explained that they were told the campground was open. The campground manager shut off the engine to his rig, threw his hands up in the air and said, "Alright, fine! You can camp over there. But no one else. To everyone else, this place is closed!"

Phew. I thanked him politely and we began setting up camp.

After getting our tents up, our gear in position, and our bikes stowed, we had a few hours of free time. It was 1:30 when we arrived and we wouldn't need to get dinner started for a few hours. So, Mr. Lee and I led the boys on a short hike. That's right, a hike. Because what better way to make sure these boys sleep well tonight? Get 'em good and tired.

While preparing dinner, a few of the parents arrived to spend the night and check in on us. We Old Goats enjoyed a delicious dinner of spaghetti, salad, and biscuits baked in a dutch oven. The scouts had Top Ramen. Hmmm... not exactly fare appropriate for replenishing your energy. But, that was their menu choice. And we used this as a teaching moment to help them consider better next time.

We gathered around the campfire later that night to enjoy a cherry cobbler, also baked in the dutch over, while we took turns changing a flat tire to knock off one more Cycling merit badge requirement. By 10 p.m., all the scouts had turned in for the night. I wasn't too far behind them.

It rained briefly during the night, but we awoke to blue skies and a warm morning. After a delicious breakfast of eggs, pancakes, and bacon prepared for us Old Goats by the gifted Chef Schumacher (Jacob and Sam's dad), we broke camp and gathered around our bikes to plan our day. We took time to talk about yesterday, how grateful we were to be able to enjoy God's creation like this, and what we thought of the weekend so far. Glowing reports from each scout. This was becoming a wonderful camping outing. Each of the adults remarked on how impressed we were with the way the boys rode.

By 10 a.m. we left the camp with me in the front, Mr. Williams and Mrs. Lee in the back and all eight scouts in a nice paceline in the middle. We took a brief stop at 7 miles into the ride and found Mrs. Lee had traded places with Mr. Lee. He rode up on Mrs. Lee's bike with long scout pants and work boots. Gotta hand it to him to giving it a go.

Our second stop was for lunch on the banks of Crescent Lake. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch with sandwiches, fruit, chips, and more and then I gave the boys a pep talk about the two long climbs ahead. "It's okay to walk your bikes up this hill. It's going to be hard, but you can do it." Off we went. The hill was short, but steep. A few of the boys walked it a short distance but soon were up and riding again. Now we were well past halfway home.

We reached our last long climb back up Fales Road and I was impressed to see all of the boys ride straight up. These guys were tough! Now with just four more miles to go, we pulled over, had all the boys call their parents to arrange their pick up, and then we punched out the last few miles.

Rolling into the Maltby Cafe, I was ecstatic. These guys had done it. I think I had just witnessed a miracle. No flat tires. No serious mechanical problems. No one hanging it up and dropping out. No injuries. No accidents. I congratulated each and every scout, thanked each parent, and especially thanked my co-leaders for making this event such a success.

Now there was just one more thing to do... Go get some ice cream!

View more photos here.

Riders: Mr. Horn, Mr. Williams, Mr. Leaman, Mrs. Lee, Mr. Lee, Kyle, Chris, Karl, James, Sam, Jacob, Jonathan, Robbie
Distance: 50.84
Time: Saturday - 2:26:38 / Sunday - 2:39:09
Average Speed: 9.9 mph
Maximum Speed: 21.8

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Duvall Grit

Not every weekend features the perfect riding weather. This "Easter Saturday" ride was not so much wet as it was grimy. And gritty.

The rain earlier in the morning had done a great job of adding lots of mud, muck, grit, and gunk to the roadway. But, surprisingly, we had a great turnout of riders for today's jaunt out to Duvall. A few new faces were first to arrive and I thought my regular group had become fair-weather riders. But a moment later, Jim, David, Johnny and Ken pulled up and joined our group, now 10 strong.

We took off towards Woodinville and met our first challenge of the day, straight up Woodinville-Duvall Road. The weather was cool, gray, and damp, but fortunately the rain had abated. The traffic along Woodinville-Duvall Road was heavy at best, but I was able to pick up a conversation with Rod, one of the new faces, as we ascended the long hill. Only about 10 miles into the ride, I got a call from Drew and Mike, two new guys. They were turning off to take a different route as the hills were just too tough for them today.

We pressed on towards Duvall and soon saw our friend Gary drive past with his bike on the car roof. He found us in Duvall and caught us as we turned up Cherry Valley Road. The traffic was a little calmer out here in rural Duvall. The rain sprinkled a bit and the roads were wet, but the quietness of this rolling country road gave us a good opportunity to visit with one another.

I learned Jim, a new rider and friend of Rod, that he had done a cross-country bike ride when he was 18. We talked at length about my upcoming Ride for Impact (3800 miles across the nation from San Francisco to Portsmouth, NH). He gave me several tips on making the most of this adventure. I received the encouragement and enjoyed talking it all up.

We descended into Stillwater and turned north up Rt. 203. The grit and gunk was really flying off of people's wheels. Today's lesson was all about fenders. If you didn't have a fender, you were relegated to the back of the pack. And even with a fender on the bike in front of you, there was no guarantee you weren't going to get filthy. The only guaranteed position to stay dry and dirt-free was in front... Guess where I was? That's the dividend check for being the ride leader!

As we pulled back into Duvall, I found a great coffee shop for our stop. We were nearing 30 miles into this ride and I knew my group was ready for some caffeinated refreshment. I pulled into Tressa's Bakery and we posed for a nice group photo. We laughed heartily at Ken's face... covered in mud and striped across his forehead with gunk.

After hanging out for awhile enjoying the warmth of a latte and a pastry, we returned across the valley and back up the hill toward Woodinville. I turned the group onto Old Woodinville-Duvall Road and enjoyed the quiet peloton riding through the trees and pacing me up the hill.

While today's ride featured far more traffic than I typically prefer, and my bike was now fully coated in mud, spray, and gunk, it made for a great story to revisit as I saw my rider-friends at church during Easter services. It reminds me that while I can shower to remove the gunk of a day's riding... It was Jesus' sacrifice on the cross that removed the gunk from my heart.

Now that's an Easter message worth sharing.

Dist: 45.59
Time: 3:08
Avg: 14.5
Max: 35.4

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Red Brick Road Revisited

Ah, sunshine! As our group gathered on this Sunday afternoon enjoying the April sun, we watched folks exit Eastside Foursquare Church following the morning services. The day was beautiful and warm. No jackets, leggings, or shoe covers were needed today. In fact, Ken greeted me by sharing, "I feel naked! I'm not wearing a jacket or cycling pants... just a jersey and shorts! I'm naked!" Thanks, Ken...

Our route today was to hit the Old Red Brick Road in Redmond. This has been a favorite route of mine for a few years now. And each time I take our group there, we always have one or two riders who have never experienced it. Today was no exception. We had our usual faces: David, Ken, Gary, Warren, and myself, but were also joined by Tom and his wife Charla, who had not ridden the Red Brick Road before.

We set out on the Sammamish River Trail and soon discovered that everyone and their sister was on the trail today. It's like Seattleites had just discovered the sun and were relishing it's warming power. So, we left the trail and rode the streets through Bothell, Woodinville, and onto Rt. 202 into Redmond. We stopped briefly at the Bella Botega shopping center to buy... of all things... sunscreen!

Now lubed up with SPF50, we turned east and began climbing Union Hill. It seems Union Hill has gotten steeper since I last rode up it from the west. So huffing and puffing, we reached the top, rode another block, and turned right for a sweeping downhill. I always love it when a seriously hard climb comes with a payoff like this.

After just a few minutes on Redmond-Fall City Road, we reached the entry onto the Red Brick Road, also known as Mattson Road. Here's the historical tidbit...

The Mattson Road contains the longest stretch of exposed historic red brick highway in King County. In 1901, the northern route between Seattle and Snoqualmie Pass, first developed as a road in 1865, was realigned to create what is now 196th Avenue NE in order to eliminate a long, difficult grade. The dirt and gravel road was often impassable, and with the growing popularity of automobile travel, local resident James Mattson and his neighbors pressed the county to pave the road to provide an all-weather surface. In 1913, the road was paved with red bricks manufactured in Renton. In the late 1910s, the road became part of the Yellowstone Trail. This was a well-signed and promoted transcontinental driving route developed by automobile promoters to encourage and direct early automobile travelers in the age before state or federal highway networks were created. In the 1980s, the King County Roads Department restored the brick surface, which had deteriorated severely.

As I said, I love taking riders who have not experienced this stretch of roadway. For Tom, this was a new experience, a new ride, and a lot of bumpiness.

Upon completing the stretch of red bricks, we headed back west for our return. I decided to give my group just one more sizable hill to tackle so we took Willows Road and rode up the long winding back way into Kingsgate.

The sunshine, the red bricks, and good cycling fellowship made the Sunday afternoon ride a good one. I wish every ride was this good... if a little bumpy.

Riders: David, Ken, Gary, Warren, Tom, Charla, Bob H.
Dist: 27.81
Time: 2:03
Avg: 13.4
Max: 35.0