Sunday, April 29, 2012

Two-Wheeling in the Tulips

It was seven years ago that I was on the Tulip Ride organized by Gary Strauss that I met my current ride buddy and friend, Annie. I had led a group on a wild-goose-chase, trying to find a backroad that existed only on my map and retreating only to be caught in a rainstorm as we hauled ourselves back to our cars. Since this weekend was the last of the Tulip Festival held in Mt Vernon, we thought it fitting that we go up there for a little ride.

We parked at the Transit Center in MV and, in a light mist, headed out to see some flowers. I had the current "bloom map" along and it was mostly accurate, leading us to two out of three fields of brilliantly colored tulips. Pink, variegated pink, purple, red, orange, they were all neatly arranged in rows and sections. Being that we were on our bikes and we had our little Italian bike shoes on, we didn't dare venture off the paved road and into the mud, for fear we would never click back into our pedals. We admired the flowers from afar for as long as we could stand the brilliant colors firing our rods and cones, then headed south and east for some varied terrain.

We climbed up and over the shoulder of Devil's Mountain on Hwy 534 toward Lake McMurray. The devil it sure was, as we were rained upon after reaching the east side of the mountain. Cheerfully, we thought that would help to clean off our bikes after they had picked up mud on the flats of the farmland. Then, we passed a series of lakes and crossed the Nookachamps Creek several times as it rambled through the verdant valley. We had an encounter with a friendly dog (see post here from last year regarding this same dog) and also with an aggressive one, though he was about as big as a rat and I was more worried about running him over than being bitten by him.
foods galore at the Rexville Grocery

Just when Annie noted that we were already at mile 45 of our supposedly 45-mile ride, we saw a sign welcoming us to Mt Vernon. At that point, sidewalks appeared, ranches gave way to homes and we started to look forward to our post-ride meal at the Skagit Valley Co-op. When we made it back to the car, we had rolled out a lovely 50 miles, with lots of scenery, quiet roads and a few challenges, much like the ones we encountered when we first met.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Two Barks Mean Faster

Otter Falls & Lipsy Lake
Today's hike was a relatively easy jaunt along the Taylor River Road and up to Otter Falls and Lipsy Lake. The mileage was 8.5 with only 650' of gain. The real test of the day was driving to the trailhead up the dreaded Middle Fork Road. While setting up carpools, I quizzed would-be drivers to make sure their vehicles were able to handle the punishment of non-stop potholes, some deep, but all relentless for the 12-mile drive on the unpaved section of road. We narrowed it down to two cars and I chose to ride in Nicole's Toyota 4Runner, a wise choice.

On the way in, Nicole was testing the waters and not just in a figurative sense, as some of the potholes were full of rainwater and it would splash! on the windshield. One particularly bad non-stop action section had us rocking and rolling into fits of laughter, as our bodies were reduced to rag dolls and we were thrown about in our seats.

After a restroom stop, brought on by all the jostling, we arrived at the trailhead and hiked up the road-trail, sometimes in snow, sometimes not, to a lovely waterfall with water cascading down a slide. We each imagined ourselves careening down that slide on a hot summer day, splashing into the pool below. I said imagined. It was too steep to climb up there and the water was too darn cold to swim in (yes, even for me).

a pair of shorts and sign mark the way trail
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On the drive out, I related a story from a book I had recently read called The Art of Racing in the Rain where the main character, a race-car driver, takes his dog in his car on the track for some laps. Told from the dog's point of view, when the driver said to the dog, "one bark means 'slower', two barks means 'faster'", the dog barked twice repeatedly and the driver got up to racing speed. I looked at Nicole and said, "Woof! Woof!" and she tried going a little faster so we could float over the potholes instead of sink into them as our wise-man passenger Bob had suggested.

And float we did! We floated past the cars ahead of us who employed the weave-and-bob method of pothole avoidance, "Woof! Woof!" and all those many bumps on the way in were slight disturbances in our forward momentum. "Woof! Woof!" as we passed people looking over a bridge as they signaled to us to slow down. They should have said, "Woof!"

Go here for all photos.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Not-so-Big Dan's Ride

Dan and Lee
We used to call him "the big guy" or "Big Dan", but from the moment I caught sight of Dan on Saturday, I realized we would have to come up with a new nickname for our friend. This was like his coming-out ride for the season; the first time we had seen him on a bicycle since the transformation had begun, some six months earlier. He had lost 77lbs!

His ride, Indianola to Hansville, including the Point-No-Point (yes, that's the point) lighthouse, was a yearly tradition, much like Chilly Hilly on Bainbridge Island is opening season for the 8,000 or so cyclists who dare to ride its many hills. And, in keeping with his perfect record, the weather was shaping up to be absolutely spectacular!

Our first treat came while on the ferry, as the captain pointed out a pod of orcas on the port side of the boat. I though the ferry might begin to list to one side, given how many people crowded at the windows. We watched the whales swim, breach and frolic, all with a backdrop of Mt Rainier.

After disembarking, we met up with a couple more riders from the west side, swelling our numbers to 20, which is roughly 15% of our club's (COGS) total members. We all headed out toward Indianola, with a stop by the water for a scenic rest and a chance to doff some clothing, as they day was warming up. Up and down the hills we went, with me wondering when my energy would be gone, but knowing that lunch was only 25 miles into the ride.

Just 2 miles from our lunch stop, there was loud crashing sound; when I looked back, I saw one of the riders sprawled in the middle of the road. The loud sound had been the whack of Tom's helmet against the pavement but, other than a cut on his knee, it seemed he was spared from injury. We made sure he wasn't dizzy before he got up and offered him water and antiseptic for his cut, but otherwise he got away injury-free. We joked that with such a loud impact sound, the road was probably more damaged than he was, so maybe we should leave the scene quickly, before a Kitsap county official caught up to us and fined us for road damage. Off to lunch we went.
Mt Rainier presiding

The store in Hansville now has a restaurant, an improvement over the to-go sandwiches that have previously been available. We ate tugboats and cascades and freighters and all other relevant sandwich names for this beautiful spot on the peninsula, then headed to the lighthouse for more scenery. Once we were satiated with views of snow-capped peaks, we set off for the return trip to Kingston, a mostly non-eventful, yet thoroughly enjoyable part of the trip.

On the return ferry ride, conversation revolved around older riders and the concept of being fit in your 80s. With all the weight Dan has lost, he figures he not only has a chance of making it to his 80s, but of being one of those great guys who will be talked about.  Oh yeah, he already is one of those great guys that gets talked about!
always smiling!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

April Fools

We gathered in the trailhead parking lot on May Valley Road, ready to start a circumnavigation of Squak Mt. But first, I offered to distribute some extra weight into everyone's pack. After all, it's spring and this is a training hike of sorts, so I took out an iron, a can of nearly-full paint and a textbook, and asked who wanted which item. And the answer to my query surprised me, as someone in the group asked how much each item weighed because you can't just indiscriminately add weight, you have to do it incrementally. That's when it was revealed that the questioner and another hiker already had extra weight in their packs because they were training for a backpack and a climb. Now who's the April Fool?

Since that went over like a can of paint over a waterfall, the leader Nicole and I (her mentor) decided it was time to start hiking. She showed everyone the route on her detailed map, then bid them a good hike as they all filed up the trail in an apparent hurry. Um, Nicole, we didn't talk about this segment of the April Fool's joke; we are going to hike with them, aren't we? Yes, we did start hiking, trailing the group which had taken off quickly, in pursuit of their training goals.
the group snakes uphill

While the forecast was for rain showers, we were pretty lucky fools, as we endured about 1 minute of small hail after lunch and then some steady, but manageable rain for about 10 minutes later in the day. When we returned to our cars, the skies opened up even more, having spared us from the worst while on the trail.

One April Fool (me) even spotted a Trillium, the harbinger of spring and after photographing it, nearly crushed it while being thrown off balance. Luckily for everyone's sake, I was able to regain my composure and can say that we have indeed entered the season of Spring... no foolin'.
first sighting of Trillium