On their birthdays, some folks do the same number of miles as the number of years since their birth. Though perhaps I could have ridden forty miles on my vintage 3-speed, the truth is that the twenty-two I rode nearly did me in! Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Yesterday I rolled out of bed determined to do a long ride. And by long, I meant at least twenty miles. I have, of course, done twenty miles on my bikes before. Just two days before, I rolled through 17 miles in two hours. I debated several trails for this ride, wanting something new. I have been intrigued by the Sammamish River Trail, and also by the Lake Washington Trail. As I didn’t really want to drive up to Redmond for the first option, I decided to try the Lake Washington Trail.
Upon consulting Google, I found that in fact, the Lake Washington Trail is really just a short section of a longer loop riders make through city streets and bits of trail, allowing them to circle Lake Washington, which is one of the large lakes that make up the watery Seattle area. The full loop is over 50 miles, which seemed a tad unrealistic on The Raleigh. I decided to try the ten or so miles that would take me from downtown Renton out to the city of Bellevue. As I work a few miles from there, I thought I’d check out the feasibility of the occasional summer commute to do curriculum work, and get in some practice for Ireland at the same time. The route seemed hilly enough for practice.
The following map is pretty close to what I did, but I started about 2 miles in, and ended about half a mile sooner, so take 5-6 miles off the total, and you have the ride:
That wavy line in the map should have told me something, but it didn’t.
But first, there was the issue of grips. My hands had voted pretty firmly: no Portland Design Dapper Dans. They were just too hard. A few weeks ago, one of the kind gentlemen on Bike Forums sent me a pair of fake-wood rubber grips that he liked for his bikes, for free, just to see what I thought. What I thought is that they were too long for my short North Roads handlebars. Still, given the Dapper Dan issue, I decided to revisit them. A quick visual comparison told me they were pretty close. I was able to pull one Dapper Dan off easily myself, but getting the rubber grips on without a lubricant of some sort proved impossible. So down to Jesse at GHY, I went. I had a plan: I would get the new grips on, then give him the old ones. Jesse has done a lot of nice things for me over the years, often at a very reduced price (or free, like… putting on Dapper Dans).
As always, he was happy to help. I rolled in and he said immediately: “Hated the new grips, huh?” On went the fake wood grips, and because they’re rubber… they squished up perfectly. The black end caps are not so beautiful (the nice BF member also sent me a couple wine corks, but they didn’t fit in the damned North Roads), but I have plans for those. “They look okay, with your cream tires,” Jesse noted. “Not beautiful, but okay.” True enough. The real test would be riding with them.
It took me forever to locate the beginning of the ride. I had never been to the park where my ride would begin and local signage was a tad vague. I ended up about a mile south of the park, past Boeing and Renton Stadium (who knew there was a stadium, really?). I parked my car, asked directions of a nice couple who were walking their dogs through the small park I was in, and headed off past Boeing over to Gene Coulon Park.
Once I found the park, I was unable to find the trail (I was really beginning to get annoyed at this point). The park itself had signs saying no bicycles were allowed. I defied this to use the restroom, then rode back out and inquired at the park maintenance shed. After several tries and a bit of confabbing among the maintenance guys, it was explained to me that I needed to ride down Lake Washington Boulevard for a while, until I reached the new Seahawks’ training facility, and the trail proper.
Lake Washington Boulevard has a wide bike lane, so that wasn’t an issue. The first thing I noticed, however, was that the hills were bigger than I’d expected. While The Raleigh has new lower gears and aluminum rims, it’s still no picnic to drag up a decent hill. I can do it, but repeated hills were something else. Still, I was determined, and when I get determined… let’s just say that I was going to Bellevue and that was that.
The ride to Seahawks Way (yes, football exerts its pull and renames streets) was a series of shorts ups and downs that had me wondering what I had let myself in for. Each time I reached the top of a hill, exhausted, I was able to coast down and recover just enough for the next one. It ain’t climbing in the French Alps, but still. When you are on a vintage 3-speed, standing on the pedals, tipping your bike from side to side to make a slow crawl up yet another hill, you feel a bit like Lance Armstrong. I imagine, however, that I looked less Tour De France, and more Touring France.
We soon found the Seahawks training facility, which is rather hard to miss. There’s a football field in there, you know.
The Lake Washington trail began a few blocks away, right next to the freeway (and with an immediate hill, of course). The Raleigh and I paused to ponder the scenic beauty.
I was uninspired by the short stretch of this trail. It mostly hugs the freeway, dipping down into a sort of tunnel of barriers on one side, blackberries on the other. Eventually we reemerged onto Lake Washington Boulevard, and the ride was more scenic, if equally hilly. One of the longer stretches, where I had to stop not once, but twice to catch my breath, was exceptionally pretty as roads go, even without a view of the lake.
Yes, I just climbed that hill. Those red flowers represent the bleeding of my soul. And that was only two-thirds of the way up.
I was passed repeatedly by folks on road bikes of every description. The Lake Washington Loop, as it’s known, is a popular weekend day ride for many roadies. Often, as I was laboring up, wheezing and gasping, they rode by me so quickly I might as well have been just sitting there. I was struck by the number of couples out and about. In many of these pairs, the man and woman were unequally matched in terms of fitness or even in terms of bikes. The men looked bored as they continuously circled back to their lady-loves, and the women looked over-tired and annoyed. There were many very fast women, of course, on this route, but they were generally riding in larger groups, not as half of a couple. And men wonder why their wives won’t ride with them, when it is so obvious to a casual observer. They would be better served buying a pair of matching 3-speeds and riding flatter trails, or riding tandems.
At any rate, I was wishing I was half of a tandem at this point! I could have done with more legs. Finally, I found myself cycling past a City of Bellevue bike kiosk. Bellevue is a very upscale suburb of Seattle, and they do their kiosks right.
Here, The Raleigh and I contemplate the amount of information helpfully provided for us. We even picked up a copy of a cycling map of Bellevue, and looked it over together.
The Raleigh was very impressed with our free map, so we kept it, just in case. Just a few more miles to downtown! This was a very welcome thing, as I had nothing to drink with me. I had stopped to get water at a local convenience store before (okay, I was hoping for peach Snapple but willing to settle for water), but their credit card machine wasn’t working and I had no cash. I kept thinking: it’s mostly on city streets. I’ll see another store and stop there. No such luck. So by this point I was terribly thirsty and starving, as it was also noon.
The Raleigh and I soon found ourselves in the bike lane again, but traffic had definitely picked up. So when we spotted what looked like a short trail paralleling the road through shady trees and meadows, we took our chances. The Bellefields Trail is part of the Mercer Slough Nature Park, and this section of pretty paved trail was one of the nicest parts of the ride.
So green and peaceful, compared with city streets!
This old log cabin was both mysterious and oddly beautiful, and resulted in my favorite photo of The Raleigh. We are actually in Bellevue proper by this point, but this little trail was a rural gem! It also ended in a short hill so steep I had to walk the bike up the last 100 feet, at great peril to both The Raleigh and myself. It felt virtually vertical!
A signpost told me where to go next, and points to the plethora of routes available along this loop (which can be shorted by riding across Interstate 90 and Mercer Island, over to Seattle).
So helpful, those rich people in Bellevue with their taxes and their public services! That part that says “Renton 2.6” is deceiving, though, as that takes you to the city border, not to downtown. My total ride at this point was already over eight miles, all of it up and down rather steep hills.
Finally, I coasted down a long hill into downtown Bellevue, trying to enjoy myself by not pondering the fact that I would shortly have to reascend it. A more important question now loomed for me: where to eat. I know many restaurants in the downtown area, and wanted something quick, filling, but light. After all that work, I didn’t want to eat a burger and fries and negate the whole ride! A sudden flash of insight reminded me that Whole Foods was just across the freeway from downtown, closer than anywhere else I was considering. With great relief, I pedaled the last mile uphill into town. Look back at that map I posted at the beginning of the ride. See that giant hill in the middle? That was my last few blocks to Whole Foods.
Nothing keeps your vintage Raleigh safer, I find, than parking it next to a beautiful custom-made Serotta road bike!
Inside, I ate brown rice shrimp sushi, drank organic peach iced tea (and purchased one “to go”) and downed half a dark chocolate and coconut candy bar. That’s living!
The Whole Foods restroom supplied ample room for a sweaty self portrait.
Now that my belly was full, I was feeling rather triumphant. I drive to Bellevue nearly every day, as The Boy goes to school there and my ex works there. Riding there on my bike was therefore a rather surreal experience. It only took an hour and a half (that tells you something about those hills, given I did nearly twice that distance in two hours just two days before), which is about as long as the drive is during rush hour…
I kept wanting to shout at people I rode by: “I came from RENTON, do you hear me? RENTON! Did you know I just rode here from RENTON? Really! From RENTON! ON THIS HERE BICYCLE!” The theme from Rocky kept playing through my head. I was pretty sure this was only impressive to me, however.
Homeward bound at last, I made frequent chocolate stops (well, the sun had come out and I couldn’t let it just melt, you know?), including this one at the other end of the Bellefields Trail.
Weeping willow… chocolate with coconut… I mean, come ON. This is birthday heaven!
I stopped at one point on a particularly long ascent, to have a last bite of chocolate. Every time I stopped on this ride, kindly roadies slowed down to ask if I was okay. You see, if you are on a 17 pound road bike, clipped in and wearing lycra padded bike shorts, you don’t see why anyone would stop halfway up a relatively modest hill to catch their breath. But when you are riding a 30-pound 3-speed, and your pedals have started making a creaky noise when you stand on them, and it’s eighty degrees and there’s peach iced tea in your basket and your underwear have started to stick to everywhere you don’t want them… stopping makes a whole lot more sense.
One gentleman on a shiny new bike circled round and said: “Is that an old Raleigh?” I assured him it was. “It must be older than you!” Just two years, as of today. He was kind enough to not believe it. Then he told me all about his old childhood Raleigh, and his brand-new $5000 Cervelo composite: “The wife gave me the okay.” He also told me about his wife breaking both her wrists in a fall, and the resulting nerve damage in her hands. She used to ride on a tandem with him, but even that now hurt her too much, so he was missing their rides together. He eyed my upright bike with interest, though he said he thought I was nuts riding such a heavy bike up such big hills. Probably, by this point, I agreed with him. When he took off, I was able to stay behind him to the top of the hill, then watched him disappear into the distance in seconds. I sincerely hope his wife is able to ride again with him, as he seemed like a very sweet husband. That was a heckova bike, I tell ya.
And then we were back on Lake Washington Boulevard, in the sunshine, looking at where we just came from (“just” meaning an hour before):
See those buildings waaaay in the distance? I was JUST THERE!
As I stopped to take this picture, two older women wearing matching outfits, with matching short haircuts climbed out of their SUV and onto a pair of matching orange-and-white Specialized road bikes. They reminded me of my ex-mother-in-law, whom I’m still close to, and her partner. I’m not sure why, but lesbian retirees with matching road bikes is adorable. I know, they might have been sisters or just good friends. Right. And I didn’t just ride to Bellevue, but fell off the turnip truck yesterday.
See that big building with the airplanes? I’m going THERE!
In the meantime, I’m pausing HERE!
By the time I arrived home, I’d been riding for about three hours (not counting lunch and a few chocolate breaks). Given my normal rate of relative speed on this bike, about 12 miles an hour, this was a ridiculously long ride. And oh, am I paying for it today! But I’ll be back, Lake Washington. This seems like an excellent way to get in shape for Ireland, after all, unless I blow out The Raleigh’s cranks trying to ascend like Lance.
What’s that? How were those grips, you ask? Well, in a roaring compliment to Sailorbenjamin, who sent them to me, they were almost wholly invisible. I thought about them probably three times on the ride, mostly to notice that I wasn’t really thinking about them. Were they “comfortable?” Not exactly. It wasn’t like I was riding around with my hands on clouds. But they were perfectly perfect. Not too hard, not too soft. Goldilocks says: “just right!” Now I just have to do something about those gawd-awful end caps!