Sometimes it’s hard to know how to start a rideblog entry, but this one was easy. I just used the ad that regular reader w1gfh referred me to in his comments on one of my previous rides. It perfectly suits this ride, which proved an unexpected “day(s) of joy.”
On Saturday, our entire family loaded into my Honda Accord and drove an hour-and-a-half to the tiny northwest town of Elma, Washington. Why, you ask? Well, that’s where the MildewHome lives. When I met The Beloved, he came with a 36 foot motorhome, which was sort of exciting to me at first. I now find staying in it rather uncomfortable and sneeze-inducing, but the kids and The Beloved still love it. When we purchased our house, the HOA excluded large moldering vehicles, so we decided to permanently park it in Elma.
Elma is a small town in south-west Washington, nowhere near much of anything, really. It has a couple advantages over any other small town where a MildewHome could take up permanent residence: a real, old-fashioned variety store; and a bowling alley. The local RV park, which also has a nice swimming pool, is within walking distance of both of these attractions. The kids, as you might imagine, love the place. So the MildewHome lives in an RV storage area there except when we drive it a few miles over to the RV park. When we’re feeling really flush and like throwing money around, we actually drive it somewhere like the beach. This happens perhaps once a year.
Hither we headed, to camp at the RV park for the weekend. Upon our arrival, The Beloved decided he’d better test the MildewHome’s leveling system, which didn’t want to retract last time we tried to leave. Sure enough, the MildewHome was stuck and we had driven to Elma for nothing. While The Beloved was trying to get the system to work, The Boy and The Youngest Girl played in a giant pile of dirt in a vacant lot nearby and The Eldest Girl stood around looking bored (she’s in training to be a teenager). “Hey,” she finally said, “can I ride your bike?” I had brought The Raleigh, thinking I would ditch everyone and take a ride once we were settled and they were all in the pool.
The Eldest Girl is currently disdainful of… well, everything, but she thinks my interest in bikes is particularly stupid. This doesn’t mean she doesn’t like her own bike: she does. But anything I like must be inherently profoundly uncool. I greeted her request with reluctance, but then gave in. It took her a few moments to master riding the bike, which is far too big for her. Once she got it, though, I couldn’t get her off the dang thing!
Apparently, The Raleigh has a better ride than her Columbia mock-mountain bike. I’m shocked, as you might imagine. Anyway, The Beloved wisely proposed something to keep the kids from killing us in a frenzy of MildewHome-missing misery: “Why don’t we go over to that lake we can see from the freeway, you can ride your bike around the bike path, and the kids can swim?” This was amenable to all, after a stop at the variety store to blow money on useless Chinese crap, which is a favorite activity for our children.
The little lake we could see from the freeway turned out to be two lakes: Bowers Lake and Inez Lake, which were named for Inez Bowers and her husband (whose name was not immortalized in water, and therefore I can’t remember it), who once owned the lakes. They form Vance Creek Park. While the kids waded around and The Beloved kept an eye on them, I rode The Raleigh around Bowers Lake on the paved walking path. This took about six minutes, as the lake is rather small.
It was quite pretty, admittedly, even though the locals stared at me as though I were an alien from the planet Urbanity. No one else in Elma was cycling around the lake, much less doing so on a vintage 3-speed wearing pale blue pedal pushers, a dolman-sleeved navy and white sweater and a floral helmet. Clearly, I was one of those citified liberal types, trying not to warm the planet and hoping to raise everyone’s taxes. Little did they know about the MildewHome. I’m sure that would have raised my Elma street cred, as it guzzles gas like there’s no tomorrow.
After I’d circumnavigated the entirety of Bowers Lake, I found the kids waiting for me at the start of the path, riding their Razor scooters. The Beloved was on rollerblades, which I used to love but now think are totally terrifying. We headed off together around the lake. This took all of ten minutes, and only because The Youngest Girl kept stopping and declaring that the path was boring and she wanted to swim instead. Unlike her elder sister, her boredom is rarely feigned. She genuinely dislikes anything strenuous, which I find fascinating as the rest of her family are outrageously athletic. I didn’t think it was possible to be genetically predisposed toward lolling around, but I know now that it is.
The Beloved shepherded our flock over to a quiet area to paddle around, and I headed off around the lake for the third time. This wasn’t very satisfying. I pondered giving up, but then I decided to ride down the road that brought us to the park. I figured it probably dead-ended just beyond the lake.
The road is quite rural and pretty, lined with tall grass and several small private lakes, along with Lake Inez. There’s just one strange feature to the landscape…
See those weird shapes in the background? Yeah, those are nuclear plant cooling towers. Back in the 70’s, the state started the Satsop nuclear power plant, also known as WPPSS (Washington Public Power Supply System). Funding soon ran out, though, and the plant never became operational. The wasted money earned the plant the nickname “Whoops,” based on that acronym. It’s now a tourist attraction, surrounded, apparently, by an office park. The towers loom large over the landscape in Elma, like two great big cigarette butts someone ground out in the middle of the horizon.
The road didn’t dead-end at the end of Lake Inez, but turned. The Raleigh and I stopped by this sign, which we found sort of quaintly charming.
A gentleman in a truck pulled up and leaned out his window. “What are ya takin’ a picture of?” he asked. “The bike and the airport sign,” I said. “Oh yeah?” He scratched his head. “Well, it’s a great day for that.” I didn’t disagree. After he pulled away, a woman working in a garden next door called out to me. “You are the first person who’s ever taken a picture of my airport sign.” I suggested there was a first for everything, and headed down the road to find the airport.
The Raleigh was totally ready to ride down the runway, but I was a bit afraid of being destroyed by a Cesna. No one took off or landed while we were there, and the only machine I saw near the runway was a guy on a riding lawnmower cutting the grass.
The road rose over a small creek, then dived down into a pretty lane lined in head-high grass. It was a bit like cycling through a wavy green tunnel. I’m not sure the picture conveys how lovely it was.
The sky was a brilliant blue covered in slow-moving marshmallow clouds, which made the light hard to capture properly. Either I washed out the sky, or the bike. The camera just couldn’t decide what to do with the glittering strong light. At the end of the grassy lane, The Raleigh and I rounded a corner and I actually said, and I assure you I am accurately quoting myself: “Oh, f**k me,” which, it turns out, is my citified reaction to exceptional rural beauty.
If those were grape vines, we’d be in Tuscany. As it was, the corn was glistening and brilliant, the earth was rich and dark, and no amount of camera fiddling quite caught the ephemeral glory of that moment.
I then texted The Beloved that he was on his own for a bit, as I was in cycling nirvana. The degraded asphalt road was rattling my arms off, I was freaking out the locals (one woman and her baby just stared at me as I rode by her house, waving like an idiot), my hayfever was in full swing (real hay!), but it was worth every second. The Raleigh and I couldn’t decide which side of this barn was more picturesque:
… the broken down side, or the side by the house, which was perfectly, recently resided in dark, barn red with white trim (we didn’t stop there, though, as it was a bit too close to the house with the surly mother and baby).
The other side of the road ran along a very pretty river, far enough below the road to make photographing it with the bike difficult. I figured folks reading this blog have seen bikes and rivers before, anyway.
We finished a few moments later, though I could easily have ridden for another hour. I didn’t think The Beloved would appreciate being totally abandoned with three swimming kids and only one towel for long, however. We pulled over to take a last photo as we waited for two enormous trucks overloaded with hay bales to pass.
Next time, Elma… I know where you hide your rural beauty. I’ll be back!