December 30 2011 Ride: the Unexpected

After a trip north to visit a student of mine who was laid up after surgery, I was left with a Friday afternoon all to myself, three hours of daylight, and two trails I hadn’t ridden before: the Interurban North and the Centennial Trail. Both trails run through one of my favorite places in this area, the cute little town of Snohomish. It’s an adorable mix of kitsch, beautiful old homes, antique shops and cafes, with a waterfront view of the Snohomish River.

It wasn’t an easy decision to bring my bike with me at all. The drive was long, and rain was threatening. The forecast wasn’t promising, with a 60% chance of showers as I left. But there were a few blue-ish skies to the north of my house, so I figured… what the heck, and at the last minute, threw The Raleigh on the back of the car.

Finding the trails in Snohomish wasn’t difficult, as the town has a visitor’s center right smack in the center of the old town area. They helpfully provided me with a map of the Interurban North, but were out of maps for the Centennial. The start of the Centennial Trail was only a few blocks away though, so directions were all I needed.

The Centennial Trail is an old railway converted under the Rails to Trails program. It looks, and rides, like any railway track conversion: smooth, wide and fairly flat.

The day was quite cold when I set out, and the blue sky seemed like I might end up chasing it the whole time under a cover of clouds. In fact, I was a bit miserable and worried about the chill. I had packed my bike, but not most of my cold-weather clothes, since one doesn’t generally layer on the long undies for a visit. Perhaps I would have been better off just hanging around in Snohomish with my camera, taking photos of neat buildings. The light was already so meager, however, that I figured I wouldn’t get great photos anyway. Might as well ride.

The trail soon became an elevated track above a rural neighborhood. With the houses down below, I could peer right into their backyards, like a cycling voyeur. What did I spot? Well, these guys look guilty of something, don’t they?

Certainly, they were guilty of being very far away in low light, so my camera wouldn’t fully focus on them. In recent days, as I’ve grown more experienced as a photographer, my camera’s rather basic functionality has become increasingly apparent. As soon as The Viva sells (and it’s now here, and eBay!), I intend to upgrade. I’ve spent days and days researching what will work best for me, and once I have the cash, I’ll go do some physical trials. I’m not letting myself actually touch any cameras until I have the cash, though. It would be too tempting to rationalize a credit purchase, and I need no more of that!

The trail soon rejoined the river, though it wasn’t as impressive at this point as the Cedar River. It was nicely fast-moving at least, providing for a bit of drama in an otherwise gray landscape.

Behind me, though, the sun was slowly winning the battle. The clouds were moving mainly south, and overhead, things were promising.

Still, quite dreary, don’t you think? That was the immediate problem with this trail for me: it was more of the same old, same old. Now, were I on the Cedar River Trail, I would have expected this landscape. But somehow I’d thought this trail would be… different. Keeping in mind that I’d been visiting folks in their vacation home, with beautiful views of the sound, and that to get to Snohomish, I’d driven over a patch of highway known as “the Trestle,” which crosses Ebey Island, a marshy wildlife and bird area. I suppose I was expecting something more… magnificent on this trail, but it was mostly semi-rural, with bare trees and brown grasses. The usual Northwest landscape.

Boy, do I sound ungrateful. There are starving people in Somewhere Not Here who would be grateful for that bike trail, missy!

Indeed. And a bit of sunshine doesn’t hurt.

Okay, that’s a switch. Just like that, the clouds whisked away, and I found my blue sky. The trail was instantly about five degrees warmer, and frankly, everything looks better in the sun. It’s like my butter theory: everything tastes better cooked in butter. Think about it… brussel sprouts? Butter saves those little green cabbage bombs.

But I digress.

You have to wonder…

At what point did the owner of this quarry think: “I don’t need that dumptruck anymore, so I’ll just let it sink into a giant hole. With that crane. Nope, don’t need those…”

This lake looks lovely (and listen to that alliteration!), until you realize that one side is bounded by the same quarry.

At least by this point, The Raleigh was being bathed in golden light (as was I). However, I was soon aware that folks in Snohomish must do strange things on their trails.

Seriously. There’s a container law in Washington. What exactly would you do with an alcoholic drink in the six foot strip of grass between the trail and the blackberries? Have a drunken orgy? Right next to the highway? I’m so confused.

At any rate, things became briefly much prettier as we neared a bend in the river. There were even viewing benches (or drinkin’ benches, I suppose).

I particularly liked the view of the little rolling rise beyond the river:

So spots of the trail were more scenic than others. I hadn’t ridden very far, however, when the clouds began to gather again.

Ahead is the depot for the small town of Machias. It’s quite a charmer, which just a few streets and an old railroad depot.

I was a bit unnerved by this sign, however:

Look, deer are adorable. Herons? I like ’em. But bears? That’s a bit much. Note there’s a number to call if you see a cougar, too. It’s called “911.”

To quote the marvelous Bill Bryson, from his novel about hiking the Appalachian Trail called Into the Woods: “What on earth would I do if four bears came into my camp? Why, I would die, of course. Literally shit myself lifeless. I would blow my sphincter out my backside like one of those unrolling paper streamers you get at children’s parties (I daresay it would even give a merry toot) and bleed to a messy death in my sleeping bag.”

I hear ya, Bill. That passage (and many others), made me laugh out loud when I read the book. Highly recommended.

After Machias, and not because of the bears, I knew it was time to turn around. The sky was getting quite dark again, and the temperature was dropping rapidly. I didn’t really want to ride wet and freezing, even if it was less than five miles back. I had an hour long commute back to my house, so wet pants didn’t appeal at all. Nothing like steaming up the windshield without the passionate make-out session.

The clouds were seriously ugly at this point, the light was fading… ah well, it was short, Centennial Trail, but it was reasonably interesting, once the sun came out!

Hey… is that another cloud?

The final approach was dry, but dim.

Though to be honest, for all my griping about bland scenery, I was a bit disappointed to be back at my car so quickly. I would love to come back here another time and ride more of the trail, which is about 30 miles long. Perfect for my first half-century! And at the end, there would be Snohomish to explore and nibble pastries at, which is a bonus.

At this point, rideblogs usually end. The ride’s done, so who cares about my trip home? Well, you might, if you’re one of my regular birder… I mean readers. On my way out of Snohomish, I took the wrong road and ended up heading due south, when in fact I needed to go west, then south on the freeway. Having nearly purchased a home near there at one time, I knew the area well enough to figure I could take a back road over to the freeway instead. As I turned onto the rural byway, I noticed a field full of birds. Big birds. Big white birds. HUGE white birds.

Of course, I slammed on the brakes and parked. What on earth are those? Perhaps I looked like an idiot, traipsing through some farmer’s field in near-darkness to try to photograph a flock of birds, but given the number of folks stopping nearby to stare out their car windows, I can’t believe the only attraction was my insanity.

The very dark skies played havoc with my ability to take a clear photo, as I couldn’t hold the camera still enough to take advantage of the zoom. I tried to walk over, but the big white birds were having none of that. In the end, I retreated to the car and coupled zoom with tripod, but I really didn’t have the equipment to get a totally clear photo. This is why I need a better camera!

Not too bad, unless you zoom in. But yes, that’s a flock of Trumpeter Swans, migrating through. Standing nearly 5 feet tall, they’re really impressive birds, I must say.

High on swan sightings, I made quick work of my commute. I snapped one last shot of The Raleigh in my rear-view mirror:

Quite a day! On the ride home, the sky opened up and pelted the car (and therefore The Raleigh) with rain. I wondered how the Brooks was holding up under its BikeCap, which had never been tested as anything other than a thief deterrent. I’m happy to report that aside from being a bit clammy on the underside, the saddle was totally dry after nearly an hour at 60+ mph in the pouring rain. Not bad, BikeCap, not bad.

Happy New Year, folks. May you see many swans, and other unexpected delights!


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Love to ride my bikes!
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15 Responses to December 30 2011 Ride: the Unexpected

  1. monk says:

    Nice “swan song” for 2011! Also, thanks for the alliteration. I like using those but couldn’t remember what they were called. Too long out of school so, “Thanks, teacher”. 😉

  2. Duncan says:

    Hello there

    Excellent blog with photos and commentary. I’ve recently purchased dutch-style bikes for my wife and myself (Work Cycles bikes from a dealer in Portland), and we’re enjoying riding around our neighborhood in southern Michigan during this mild winter.


  3. anniebikes says:

    Holy cow. Trumpeter Swans! What a delight to behold…wish I’d seen them. Thank you for a memorable ride. Love your sense of humor. And, by the way, I adore brussel sprouts plain. No butter for this girl.

  4. Erin B says:

    As one of those people starving for bike trials and less snow so I can enjoy them, I would love to be able to bike on those trails. They look lovely to me, and so nicely paved. I really miss paved trails.

  5. CJ says:

    I would love to see trumpeters. I remember reading The Trumpet of the Swan when I was a kid. I did see one swan, recently, and was strangely excited about that. It was hanging around a creek near a local trail, which seemed like an unusual place for a swan around here, I thought.

  6. rideblog says:

    Monk, it’s what I do :).

  7. rideblog says:

    Hi Duncan, thanks for the praise! Michigan seems like the perfect terrain for those bikes, and I bet they’ll hold up well in the weather.

  8. rideblog says:

    Annie, brussel sprouts with butter is like ice cream without chocolate! I mean, it’s doable, but… 🙂

  9. rideblog says:

    Erin, as soon as I got home, The Lovely Man killed my commentary by pointing out that I could have had to ride in the rain on a road :). I guess I’m spoiled! Though these trails are a long drive from home, so I can’t get too used to them.

  10. rideblog says:

    I’ve never read that one, CJ. I’ll admit, from a distance I thought they might be Snow Geese, then I realized they were waaaay too big and graceful for that. But last night, as my kids blew on their paper new year’s horns, I thought: “God, we sound just like those swans!” Graceful, yes. Sonorous, no.

  11. disabledcyclist says:

    Awesome ride and write up up it as always,my friend (though you mispelled eBay Island :P),loved the pics,looks like a sweet trail to do a half century on indeed! I’m hoping (actually planning) my first half century this Spring out and back the Virginia Creeper trail (write-up and pics will go with,of course).I hope you and yours had an awesome New Years so far,my friend,and may 2012 bring many miles pedal’d,and many more smiles (you know…at least until the Zombie Apocolypse next December,LMBO! 😛 ) 🙂

    The DC

  12. rideblog says:

    Thanks, DC! I’d rather be at Ebey Island than eBay Island, that’s for sure. Though if the Viva will sell there, I’d hang out at eBay Island. 🙂

  13. disabledcyclist says:

    LOL,I hear ya! I’ve sold a few there myself over the years (my much loved and missed Monocog comes to mind). Good luck selling it,it’s a nice ride for sure 😀

    The DC

  14. Miranda Bower says:

    Sounds like a wonderful ride. I recently visited the north west and visited the Centennial Trail as well as many other linking rail-to-trails paths including The Hiawatha Trail, a breathtaking journey through local history!
    Thanks for sharing

  15. rideblog says:

    That trail looks cool, Miranda. I find The Raleigh a wee bit unstable on crushed gravel, which is probably just my imagination, but it does limit what I ride.

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