Friday, August 26, 2011

The Cure for Bike Hate

Mt Baker is the big snowcone on the right
Lately, the anti-bike sentiment has been growing in Seattle. I think the argument is that cyclists don't pay for roads, yet they get road facilities and take away the space that a car could take up. While I have thoughts regarding these arguments (and will voice them when my life is threatened by a motorist), I tend more toward the "flight" option in terms of a response. So I packed my car with bike and gear and headed north to Skagit County.

Lovely Mt Vernon is where I headed to, home of a really awesome transit center that revolves around Amtrak and free SKAT busses, plus restrooms and lots of free parking. From there, I headed out on a bike trail that I'd never heard of before, the Kulshan Trail, that led me east and out of town. I did a loop around Big Lake, partly on busy SR-9, partly on a quiet back road. On the highway, where it is often tranquil, it was a little busier since it was a week-day. Each time I heard a car behind me, where there wasn't much shoulder, I mentally braced myself for a horn or a yell, though one never came. The vehicle slowed, waited, then passed when it was clear.
along the S. Skagit River Rd

I then climbed up to a ridge where there were farms and ranches and barely any cars (now that's more like it!) and had great views to the mountains with Mt Baker showing its snow dome. I headed for the Skagit River where it runs along the North Cascades Hwy, but I stayed on a road to the south of the river. The sun had been heating up, but I was riding in the coolness of the trees and enjoying the breezes from the big green river below. There were more cars there than I remembered on any weekend day, and I sometimes wondered if I should turn on my rear light, but I think my pink jersey made me quite visible, contrasted against the green of the tree canopy.
the lovely Skagit River

Heading back into town, I saw a dog meandering in the road ahead and I thought that maybe I wouldn't be able to escape the ride without at least one type of confrontation. As she came towards me, I slowed and saw her tail wagging. I stopped and she came over to give me a good sniff; then she posed for a photo. Not long after, I saw a couple of cyclists and we waved and smiled to each other. What a great day to be on the bike; and no hate in sight or sound.
the locals were friendly

farmland and foothills

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Peek-a-Boo Hike and Swim

great view of Mt Baker!
Last weekend I was successful in swimming in a 3,000' mountain lake; it felt pretty cold but also invigorating and wonderful. This weekend, I raised the stakes about a thousand feet. Peek-a-Boo Lake near Darrington is at 3,900' feet and a little snow lingered around the shoreline.
Peek-a-Boo, I see you!
The last time I had hiked there was with a Mountaineers group, in a carpool with someone whom I had never met, but who was very familiar to me. Without naming (dropping) names, there is a guy in Seattle who is well-known for his contributions to the cycling community, both on the road and at the track (that's a pretty big hint). He has a brother that I had ridden with, or should I say "sat on his wheel as though my life (or, more realistically, my reputation) depended on it". As I was to find out on the drive to the hike, those guys were a threesome, with one brother who had "defected" into the world of hiking.

Our drive conversation turned to our lists of activities and found we had cycling in common, though he hadn't been doing much riding in recent years. By the time we reached the trailhead, both of us reminiscing about our respective rides and tours, it was as though we were long lost friends.

As we started the hike, we talked and talked, comparing notes on countless roads and events we had both done. Talking is a great distraction to any work you may be doing. Like climbing a switch-backing trail with plenty of elevation gain. Which is why, as I read the "Day Hiking North Cascades" trail description before Saturday's hike, which described "occasional direct attacks straight uphill", I had no memory of any such terrain. In my mind, the trail was a gentle ascent, with long, loping switchbacks.

my "Certificate of Authenticity" for WTA's Hike-a-Thon

This time around, my friend and I toiled uphill on the sometimes-rough, not very well maintained trail. At least it was shaded. When we got to the lake, I was definitely ready for a swim and we found a spot that was secluded and had a good entry point. After a little self-talk, I was in and swimming and still able to breathe. After spending some time at the lake eating, relaxing and watching the fish jump, we had more toiling to do, as there was a steep climb to get out of the basin.

lucky shot – fish caught in mid-air

Both hiking situations were positive overall, but it was as if, like the name of the lake implies, there were some games being played.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

WTA Hike-a-Thon: Lake #1

Since registering for the WTA HIke-a-Thon, I have decided to "compete" (I put that in quotes because I am so not a serious competitor in this realm) in the "Most Lakes Visited" category. For my purposes, I may as well be competing in the "most lakes swam in (swum?)" because, for me, that's really the true purpose of a mountain lake – cool off, float and refresh.

I was pressed for time on Saturday, with a week of final exams upon me, so I opted for a short hike to Mirror Lake from a trailhead where you drive most of the elevation gain, leaving yourself with only 650 feet of gain in 1.5 miles. I grabbed a friend and we set out on the trail.

It was a pretty nice trail except for the paper plates that were either hung from tree branches or nailed (!) into the tree trunk. These were directional arrows for some cryptically-named party who were apparently arriving in separate groups. It lent a white-trash ambience to an otherwise middle-of-the-road trail. Luckily, the signs eventually pointed away from the lake so we wouldn't be running into the miscreants.

At the lake, we were happy to see a couple of families camped, with sociable children giddily running about, thrilled to have spent a night out in the wilderness. It was a welcome change from the typical camped-out family where the children look like they are at a forced-work camp, they are deep in video game withdrawal and they have reverted to throwing rocks into the lake. These kids were definitely future mountaineers and stewards of wild lands (let's hope so). Hats off to the parents!

Just past Mirror Lake, the trail crossed the outlet and descended to a lovely flower-studded mountainside. We spotted Columbine, Tiger Lily, Larkspur and Lupine and those were just the ones we knew the names of. With the sun out in full strength, we headed back to the lake and found a nice point of entry.

This being my first mountain lake swim of the year, I was a little apprehensive at the temperature of the water... would I really be able to swim? I got in, breathed shallowly, sticking close along the shoreline. Yes, now I remember how this is done. I pulled myself out on a rock, warmed a bit and got back in. Much better, except my hands were going numb. My friend managed to untangle my camera from my pack and take a photo before my hands completely checked out.

I got out, bundled up in my down jacket and felt the blissful feeling of summer come over me.
There's still time to donate to my Hike-a-Thon efforts for the WTA; link is here. Thanks!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

WTA Hike-a-Thon Kickoff Hike

The first Saturday in August began in a cloudy, murky way. The air was cool, they sky was grey and I was to be leading a Mountaineers hike to a ridge near Mt Rainier where I'd had great views the week before (see post). My optimism soon kicked in, though I brought warm clothes just in case, and at 6:45 AM, I was out the door and on the way to meet my carpool.

Once we organized ourselves into carpools, got the directions straight and made a potty/snack stop, we were on our way up to the trailhead. My passenger spotted sunlight; we oohed. At the trailhead, there was a significant patch of blue above us, enough so that most of us were in shorts and light longsleeves or shortsleeves. Once we attained the ridge, someone called out, "Rainier!" and there she was, clouds clearing a bit, making her look dramatic. The plan was to wander the ridge long enough so that the sun could work its magic (in the PNW, we see it so infrequently, it's not a stretch to think the sun is pure magic) and we could have lunch with a view and continue on to the high point, Noble Knob, to see the noblest of knobs, Mt Rainier.
Knob from lunch spot

We spotted a mini-knob on the shoulder of Mutton Mountain and ascended to an open viewpoint, with flowers galore and a lovely view of Rainier. While there, the views were steadily improving, with Mt Stuart popping its head out of the clouds. We ate, we talked, we lingered, we photographed, as we were in no hurry to leave this wonderful vantage point, except that there were other vantage points to wander to.

And wander we did! First, we set off for the Knob, where we ran into many other view seekers: mountain-bikers who had parked their steeds below and hiked up in their cleats (ouch), a bunch of dogs, none of them terribly friendly ( except for one otherwise sweet dog who was preoccupied with chasing butterflies) and their respective people. A big day for the Knob. Again, my group lingered and soaked up more views, then descended and headed to the fork in the trail. And we took it, heading southwest to the other side of the knob, below some rock formations and with a slightly different vantage point of Rainier.
mountain sketcher

Only when we saw all we could see, did we head back toward the trailhead. Mileage for my first Hike-a-Thon hike: 8 miles, 1200' of gain. If you would like to sponsor me, donating money to WTA to keep all those trails in good shape, follow the link for my HaT page.