I Love Where I Live

IMG_5876That’s a direct quote.  My friend, Myra, and I were walking the Lester-Amity trails this weekend.  The sun was out, the sky a potent blue, the air crisp and the leaves still so very colorful.  We walked and walked as we talked and talked.  It’s a favorite activity of ours, and accomplishes many purposes.  Myra was commenting on how lucky she was to live right across the street from these beautiful trails, Amity Creek, and Lester River.  With all that nature, city life seems so very far away.  Since we’re neighbors, I am equally lucky.

It’s a benefit of living on the edge.  Literally.  Our house backs up to a regular city neighborhood.  But that’s where civilization ends.  Looking out the front it’s all park.  That’s no accident.  We built the house because of the park, and it fills the huge windows that surround our living space.

Yesterday I returned to the trails. IMG_5878 Since I was on my own and wasn’t trying to carry on a conversation, I ventured onto the narrower single-track trails recently built by COGGS. Fortunately, these trails are available for multiple uses, not just mountain biking.  I’d followed them before for snowshoeing, but things look entirely different without all the snow.

In contrast to cross-country ski trails, these paths can be a lot more flexible.  I loved how they twisted and wound through the woods, sometimes doubling back on themselves and doing switchbacks through the trees.  They covered a lot more mileage for the same amount of forward progression through the park.  I could see why they prove so attractive to mountain bikers.  The views of Lester River were frequent, and the rushing water a constant welcome background music for my walk.

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“We love the forest floor at this time of year,” noted another friend recently.  It was a good reminder to look down.  To gaze more carefully among the colors and growth at my feet.  To take in details, not just broad views.  My reward was noticing the late blooming hawkweed flowers along the trail.IMG_5869

I hadn’t a clue where my route would return to the main ski trails.  It turned out to be a lot farther away than I anticipated, and I turned toward home on the more direct ski trail.  That too held a surprise for me.  I discovered a view of Lake Superior I’d never noticed before. There it was, pure blue visible above the trees when observed from a high point in the trail.  It would be impossible to see when skiing in the park, given the one-way system of ski trails.  But when walking, anything goes.  And everything takes on a different perspective when viewed from a new angle.

I have to agree with Myra.  I too love where I live.

Thanks for Waiting

Fall colors.  We were sure we had missed them. With our cycling trip extending well into the second week of October, it seemed unlikely that we’d see the North Shore in all its splendor.  But we were wrong.

For the final two miles of our trip home, Rich turned down Seven Bridges Road.  There we could see that Lake Superior had sheltered at least some parts of the Northland.  Winding back and forth across Amity Creek on the narrow road, the trees were cloaked in color.  Even with the red maples having finished, the yellows and golds were a brilliant contrast against the pure blue sky.  A true welcome home present.

IMG_5846As soon as we schlepped our gear into the house, I headed right back out again – on my bike, of course, heading straight up the Shore.  Admittedly, the leaves were past prime, but they were still the core element of that quintessential fall day.  To complete the experience, it was cool and crisp with a bit of nip in the air.  The lake reflected the deep blue of the sky.

IMG_5856Cruising alongside Lake Superior was a cyclist’s paradise.  Wide shoulders, mostly smooth pavement, minimal traffic and little wind.  Exactly the conditions we hoped for each day of our cycling trip.  Add to that stunning coastal views, and there is little left to improve on the experience.  Indeed, we live in a beautiful area, with all this right on our doorstep.

I’d have to say, that the scenery IMG_5834rivaled that which we just spent a month inspecting from our bikes.  It was still worth traveling across the country to cycle through new territory.  But it also brings home the knowledge that we have it good, right here.

Thanks, fall, for waiting for us.

Glaciers Cycling Tour Stats

I can't help it, I'm a numbers person. Being a math major and spending my career in IT, my natural inclination to analyze things is enhanced by years of training. So in looking back on our Glaciers to the Sea cycling tour, I just have to break it down by the numbers.

First the basics:

  • 1,408 miles cycled
  • 30 total days
  • 27 days cycling

Our cycling tours are focused on enjoying the ride, not racking up the miles each day. We planned to do roughly 50-55 miles a day, and we came pretty close. This allows us to take a mid-morning break for either our first or second breakfast, see sights along the way and finish cycling around 3:30 in the afternoon. We enjoy having some downtime at the end of the day.

  • 52 miles/day for days cycling
  • 47 miles/day including rest days

We aren't very good at taking rest days. The only days we stayed off our bikes on this trip were those spent visiting family and friends, which we intended to serve that dual purpose. Our first rest days were 18 days into the trip when we visited Rich's brother Stewart and his wife Kathy in Eugene for 2 days. Our third was day 28 which we spent with my friend, Anne, in Olympia.

Weather-wise this trip was fantastic. We had day after day of amazingly beautiful weather. Temperatures were nippy in the mornings, but they almost always rose to warm and sometimes downright hot during the day. I loved it!

  • 18 clear sunny days
  • 5 partly cloudy days
  • 4 overcast days
  • 3 rainy days

Wind is a huge factor in cycling. A headwind can take miles off our speed. We knew that we were cycling against the prevailing winds, going west and then north up the coast. But we beat all the odds. It was a cyclist's dream.

  • 28 days with tailwinds or no wind
  • 2 days with headwinds (and we frequently hid from it while climbing the hilly Columbia River Gorge)

One of our goals was to spend less than 50% of our nights in motels. Thanks to the boost from bunking in with family and friends, we exceeded this target for our 30 nights. I'd still like to up the amount of camping we do, but I won't complain about having a few creature comforts.

  • 4 nights camping
  • 5 nights with family and friends
  • 8 nights in Warm Showers homes
  • 13 nights in motels

Our Specialized Touring bikes are trusty steeds indeed. We have had a great track record for avoiding serious breakdowns on all of our trips, and this one was no exception. The only equipment failure that would have been a show stopper happened within range of one of the few large towns we visited.

  • 5 flat tires/new inner tubes (Rich) – roadside repairs, we carry 8
  • 2 tire replacements (Rich) – roadside repairs, we carry 1 and bought another right away
  • 1 wheel/rim tear at the spoke (Rich) – slow ride and cab back to Seattle, bike shop visit required
  • 2 bolts lost from rear pannier rack (Molly) – replaced when discovered, bought extra bolts
  • 1 rear view mirror scratched (Molly) – replaced at a bike shop when convenient

While I don't have hard facts on this one, there is no doubt that lattes outnumbered ice creams on this trip. Little drive-through coffee huts abounded in even the smallest of towns, and good coffee shops were also in abundance. My caffeine needs rarely went unattended. Yet humble ice cream shops were at a premium. In fact, we didn't find a single truly Mom and Pop ice cream stand. We managed to fill in with ice cream offerings in other establishments, but there was truly a deficiency in dairy delights.

Yes, there is only one conclusion. It was a most successful and enjoyable trip. No matter how I slice and dice it, the numerical score for this cycling tour is 100%+.

 

 

Riding the Rails

“All Aboard!” Yes, they really do say it. This was the first station where we were allowed to get off the train and stretch our legs. We were surprised at how warm it was outside, despite it being early evening. Parents chased little kids around to get the wiggles out. Some used the stop for a nicotine hit. Others like us just took advantage of the chance to get some fresh air. We suspected that the conductor got a kick out of delivering his time honored sing-songy signal, but he meant business. Within minutes we were rolling again.

We were on Amtrak's Empire Builder. The final leg to complete our circle back to the car was a train ride from Seattle to Whitefish, Montana. Amtrak's bicycle-friendly luggage policy made our one-way bike tour feasible, as well as providing an enjoyable journey. It became part of the overall experience.

At only $10 apiece to check our bikes, Amtrak was a bargain. It did, however, require some preparation. Stephanie was kind enough to scour the local bike shops to secure boxes ahead of time for us. Guided by Scott's expertise, Rich disassembled and packed each bike securely for the trip. With that, it was a no-hassle check-in at Amtrak. Next year it will get even better. Amtrak has committed to providing new roll-on baggage cars for bikes on all their long-haul trains.

The east-bound trip leaves in the early afternoon, which allowed plenty of daylight to see our way through the Cascade Mountains. With bright sunshine illuminating the fall colors, it was worth watching the scenery roll by. In contrast to airlines, the seats were well spaced and included footrests, and were very comfortable for sitting. Not so much for sleeping. Still, it was a smooth ride and nice to leave the driving and navigating to someone else for the duration.

Arriving in Whitefish at 5:30am, we felt fortunate to be only an hour late. The west-bound train was already nine hours overdue. The oil boom in North Dakota has wreaked havoc with Amtrak's schedules, taking priority on the tracks.

Our bikes arrived in perfect condition and Rich made quick work of putting them back together. Already the loaded bike felt foreign under me as we set off for the nearest café. Although folks still saw us as touring cyclists, we had to admit the sad truth that we would cycle only four miles before surrendering the bikes to the car. But still it was nice to pretend. Our riding is taking a different form these days.

 

Seattle by Foot

Our bikes were safely stashed in the basement. With the tour officially completed, and the steep hills throughout Seattle, I felt justified in trading my cycling shoes for my only other pair of footwear. My Keens sandals just became walking shoes.

Our good weather fortune followed us to Seattle, gracing us with clear blue skies and days reaching the 70s. I shuddered to think that the temperatures back home were stuck in the 40s as I enjoyed two days of lovely warm sunshine.

Our cycling friends, Stephanie and Scott, took us under their wing and pampered us with good company, excellent food and welcoming surroundings. We immediately agreed to their proposal to attend the pancake breakfast at the Swedish Institute. Filling ourselves on light rolled pancakes smothered in lingonberries to the accompaniment of accordion music, we were fascinated by the stories of a young family that had just returned from a year traveling around the world. Our mere month on the road paled in comparison.

We'd been in Seattle several times before, but that still left plenty to explore. The eclectic area of Freemont was just across the bridge, and provided a fun place to walk. It was also a convenient location to meet a friend for coffee, where I marveled at the artistic prowess of the local baristas. Seattle is a coffee Mecca.

Rich was content to adhere to having a rest day, but that term is not part of my vocabulary. So I ventured out on my own walking tour. I thoroughly enjoyed the Queen Anne area where our friends live. It was alive with ethnic restaurants, boutiques, outdoor cafés and of course coffee shops which attracted all manner of customers. People watching at its best.

I made my way down to Seattle Center, which I'd actually never seen before. It was pulsing with activity, largely populated by families. The sunny day seemed to bring out the joy in everyone, particularly those who were playing tag with the ever-changing patterns of water in the huge fountain. And of course, the Space Needle presided over everything.

It was inevitable that I would make my way to Pike Place Market. A lover of farmers' markets, I can't resist the sights, sounds and smells of the vendor displays vying for attention in that vibrant space. The ethnic shops surrounding the market are also a draw, offering so many options to tempt the palate and specialty goods to meet any niche need. Pike Place has always been a favorite of mine.

While my bike rested, my feet got a workout. And I covered just a little more of Seattle's bounty of offerings. It was a good trade off.

 

The Last Few Miles

At the Finish: 30 days, 1,408 miles

All good things must come to an end. Including our Glaciers to the Sea cycling tour. Interestingly enough, there seems to be a pattern to the final day of our long cycling trips. Last year, we completed the Grand Gaspé Tour with a 9 mile day. This year we topped that with cycling 11 miles to reach the finish line. And we added a bit of a twist to our finale.

After a hilly ride yesterday and a particularly steep incline to reach our host home, we were relieved to coast downhill a short three miles to the waterfront in Bremerton. In that distance, we passed the 1,400 mile mark for our trip! At the water's edge we took time to enjoy the Harborside Fountain Park. It is a unique tribute to the US submarine forces, with fountains that look like the fantail of a submarine. We thought they were cool enough with the water cascading down them, but soon found that they spouted out of the tops as well.

Our real purpose, however, was to take the ferry over to Seattle. Being cyclists afforded us the privilege of boarding first. We quickly headed out to the bow of the boat where we could take in the sights. The initial passageways were narrow and scenic, and it was comfortable outside watching the world slide by. Once we reached the larger bay it became windier and chillier, and we retreated behind windows where it was more comfortable.

Docking in Seattle, we were met by our friends Stephanie and Scott. They arrived on bicycle, and we cycled the final 8 miles of our trip together. It was a pleasure to have someone else to lead the way, and most of it was on bike trails. With no hills.

Arriving at their house meant the end of the trip. It should have felt like a momentous moment. But somehow it was all lost on me. I didn't feel a sense of accomplishment, relief or celebration as I dismounted my bike. It felt like any other time I got off my bike and removed my panniers for the day. We were already deep in conversation with Stephanie and Scott and eager to see their new house. After all, they had been our Warm Showers guests last summer as they cycled their way across the country. So it felt a natural and fitting finish to our ride.

We left the Glaciers a month ago, and made it to the Sea. All our miles are behind us. At least for now.