Selected Reports Tour2008

RSVP and Back Again – day 1

dawn in kirkland
Dawn in Kirkland

The first day of Cascade Cycling Clubs RSVP ride began early with my alarm waking me up at 4:30 in morning. The starting line for the ride was officially 6:30-7:30 and I planned to start around 7.  As I’ve mentioned before I’m always ride to the ride so I needed enough time to make it to Warren G. Magnuson park. There is one problem with this scenario: Lake Washington.  I live directly across the lake from the park, probably about a mile away. But lacking the ability to cycle on water I have to go around the lake to the north or cross one of the bridges to get there. The 520 bridge makes the trip just over 10 miles but you can’t ride on that bridge.  The shortest route around adds about 6 more miles and additionally would have me riding a section of the ride’s route but against the traffic. I could of course skip the start line and just ride directly to the first point of intersection, but I’ve never done this ride and wanted to experience the whole thing.  So what I settled on was to use the bus to get my bicycle across the bridge and then ride the remaining distance to the start line.

Of course taking the bus was not without its risks – the bus only had room for two bicycles on the rack and I could only afford to miss one bus. I was catching a bit of an earlier one figuring I could spend time at the start line drinking coffee or leave earlier if I ended up getting there early. I awoke before dawn and before my alarm clock after a pretty short night of sleep.  I of course had to sign up for this ride in January with out any knowledge of what I would be doing for work in the summer.  It turned out I was on one of the shortest projects in our companies history and that there wasn’t much leeway for vacation time.  The day RSVP started was a big milestone for work so I ended up working later then I’d want to the day before. And then of course I had to get everything ready, tidy up the house a bit and so on.  Add to that the fact that I never sleep well before trips I set out on a 100+ mile day on about 3 hours sleep.

Sunrise from the Montlake Bridge

Atlantis at the bus stopOf course the first bus that came by had two bicycles on the front rack.  This made me very nervous, I could if I hauled ass ride around the lake still and most likely make the starting line before 7:30 but I’d be fighting against the flow for a good bit.  But if I waited for the next bus and couldn’t get on the rack then I was truly boned – I’d have to just ride to the intersection point. So it was with much trepidation that I waited for the next bus.  Luckily it had no bicycles on it and after some fumbling getting mine onto the rack (first time I’ve ever brought my bicycle on public transit) I was set.  Fifteen minutes later I was across the bridge and putting my saddle bag and water bottles back on. With my ride recombobulated I set of to Warren G. Magnuson Park, crossing over the Montlake bridge to the rising sun. I cut behind the University of Washington and then hit a pretty busy two lane road to the park.  Pretty quickly I noted that the bulk of that traffic had bicycles strapped to them and that these were fellow RSVP-ers. There was a big line up of cars into the parking lot, but those of us riding in were able to ride right in.

start line
The starting line at Warren G. Magnuson Park.

BGTIt was 6:45am as I pulled into the park – right on schedule.  There were groups of people setting out, people collecting their registrations, dropping off their bags, using the facilities and so on. I pulled my bag out of my saddlebag and dropped it off (though I kept the saddle bag on), collected my souvenir passport holder, pinned my number to myself, hit the bathroom and then headed out.  I rode off with a couple of other riders at 7:05. The route begins with a quick series of residential streets and then turns on to the Burke-Gilman Trail. The BGT is a rail trail that is used as a pretty major commuting route and you never say more disgruntled riders then those struggling against this crowd. It stayed pretty slow and safe, the view of the asses in front of you didn’t change much.  There was a bit of excitement in Bothell due to a tree across the trail (it was stuck – people did try to move it) which you had to stop and hoist yourself over.  But otherwise it was a nice easy warm up to a long days ride. At Woodinville, about 500 feet from the apartment I lived in for five years, the route exited the trail and cut through town.  I took advantage of the facilities at the park ate some GORP and took off my socks. They day was warming up and was heading toward the hottest day we’d had in a while.

Cyclists backed up at a light in Woodinville

Having lived in Woodinville for so long, as well as having followed the first part of the RSVP route on a number of occasions, this was all familiar territory for me.  The biggest hill of the whole ride was the one out of Woodinville but it was one I’d ridden many times. I was surprised to see myself passing people on the climb as I don’t consider myself a particularly great climber. I like to keep a steady pace though and clearly a lot of people dramatically slow down when they hit a hill.  I’d say that part of this is that most people ride patently ridiculous bicycles.  The smallest incline and most of these racing bicycles are in their lowest gear and people slow down and then stand up for pretty minor hills. Clearly for most riders a more sensible gear range, even if you can’t bring yourself to have a triple (I don’t recall actually using the small ring on this ride) is in order. These bicycles seemed to have something like an 11-22 cassette which had most riders out of gears immediately.

The Once past the “big” climb the route wends through some wooded rolling hills, a nice decent and then past the little town of Maltby.  From this point on ’til Snohomish its great country riding.  The route is gently rolling and now out of the woods revealed that it was getting much warmer. I was cruising along really well at this point and passed a rider on a Bleriot who noticing my Atlantis, caught up and we talked bicycles for a bit.  Then a car came up and we got seperated in the reorg.  Not too long after that my chain broke and I pulled over to deal with that. I always carry tools and a quick link so I was able with out to much fuss to splice the chain back together. It was hot work in the direct sun and I found I was sweating pretty good as I made this repair.  The break had twisted a few links so by the time I was done I knew the chain could break again if I shifted into certain gear combinations. So I kept it in about the middle of the range for the rest of the ride to Snohomish where I knew there would be a roaming bicycle mechanic.

Farmland outside of Snohomish
Farmland in the Snoqualmie valley outside of Snohomish.

Luckily the route descends from just past where I had the break and then it is the flat Snoqualmie Valley to the small town of Snohomish. There a lot of cyclists were taking advantage of the bakeries, a well known and great pie shop, the pubs and other amenities. I waited around for the bicycle tech to finish with an increasingly anal adjustment of a ladies brifters and then he put my bicycle on the stand and heard my story.  He basically refused to replace the chain on the grounds that it would slip due to wear on my freewheel which he had no replacement parts on hand for.  He advised me to just avoid certain gear combinations and to check at the official stop in Mount Vernon where they’d have more gear.  So basically this was a waste of time and in fact caused me more grief as I later discovered that when he put my beloved Atlantis in his stand he broke off one of the cable guides. This caused the tension to get released on my rear brake so I only figured this out a few miles later when I tried to use it.

Centennuial Trail.
The start of the Centennial Trail.

I didn’t notice the brake issue for a bit as the route was totally flat as it went through Snohomish and then onto the Centennial Trail.  The Centennial Trail was what had first brought me to ride the first part of RSVP route about 5years previous. I was very curious about all of the trails when I began cycling again 8 or so years ago. I recall what an epic trip it seemed back then, riding to the trail, then out and back on the trail and finally struggling back to Woodinville. Its a nicely paved, mostly wooded trail that runs by rivers and lakes and is generally pretty flat.  It has a few annoying road crossings, made more so in that cars have the right of way but often wave you along.  On this day I ended up in one of those situations where a woman waved me on, then changed her mind and started to go, then I went and it pissed her off. I prefer to just stop for the cars and they take their right of way, it makes for less confusion.  Anyway I felt pretty slow on the trail, there was  good headwind at this point and when it was out of the shade pretty hot. Starting to get hungry too. So I mostly just kept my head down and rode it out.  At the juncture with Lake Stevens the route exits the trail and goes through town to a parking lot where the first official food stop of the ride was.

Lake Stevens
The Lake Stevens Food stop.

This was mile 37 on the route and I arrived around 10:30am.  They had a smorgasbord of bagels, fruit, peanut butter, cookies, energy bars and so on. Plus stations of water and a Gatorade analog of some sort.  I ate a bagel with peanut butter, a banana and various snacks as I refilled my water bottles and fixed my rear brake. A bit of a rest and a visit to the blue rooms and I set off.  I was trying to not spend to much time at stops and I knew that I’d probably end up spending a lot of time in Mount Vernon to get my chain fixed. All told I was there for 20 minutes. The route takes a couple of back roads through Lake Stevens and then rejoins the trail for a little ways.  I was following people a ways ahead and they went straight through a junction we were supposed to turn at. Some guys hollered me down (thanks if you are reading!) and I got on the right path. I hope those people ahead of me were other trail users.

country riding
Nice country riding

ArlingtonThe route is in serious rural territory now, with chipseal rearing its ugly head. I’d gotten into a fairly packed group at a stoplight and  there was much jockeying by various riders. At one point a rider on a Univega Gran Tourismo from the 70s or early 80s rode past and hollered out that he thought that he was on the oldest bicycle. I shouted back that he still might be, mines only three years old. After some smaller hills that were fully exposed to the now hot day the route does this fantastic descent into Arlington. Fully wooded, 12%, winding roads, they are a real good time to just fly down.  Luckily it wasn’t very crowded anymore and I was able to just bomb down these.  Then you hit Arlington which has a hill as you arrive on the outskirts, and then an immediate descent to the main street.  Last time I was here, on my 2007 tour (in which I used this route as well) I stopped at a cafe in a building that also housed the Rivendell Hair salon!   This time I was still full from the food stop, so I kept on riding.

ClimbingWe now find ourselves on Highway 9, which at this point is filled with a decent amount of fast traffic. It does have a wide shoulder though so for the most part this was okay. But it was now plenty hot and highways never have much cover. So hot, dusty, fast traffic, not really a good time.  But I knew from last year that after 5 or so miles there is a turn off to I-5 which is where most of the traffic is going and then it becomes pretty nice as it goes through woods and around Big Lake.  So this went as I expected until the Dan Henry’s indicated a turn off from hwy 9 on a road I didn’t take last year. I’d heard there were a couple of changes to the route so I figured this was one of them. Its possible that last year I just didn’t take this bit, which was good as it pretty much just added miles and hills and intersected with Hwy 9 again at Big Lake. So that’s pretty much the story for this part, the longest climbing of the ride, if not the steepest. But now it was very hot and it seemed that whenever you exited the woods was when a hill would start. A one point on this section a tire popped on the rider ahead of me, with the sound of a gunshot. I was startled but I checked that she was okay and she was, so I rode on.

Mount Baker in the distance
Mount Baker in the distance

After a nice twisty descent the road interested again with hwy 9 at Big Lake.  The climbing and the heat had caused me to run through my liquids and on those back roads there were no facilities. So I was very happy to reach Big Lake which I knew there was little grocery store at the far end. I rationed my water ’till I reached the store and then pulled off for a break.  I replenished my bottles, drank an entire little bottle of Gatorade and ate some peanuts and half a muffin. I clearly needed salt and electrolytes.  I was feeling a bit tapped from the heat at this point and ended up resting here for 20 minutes.  Of course it then turns out that the Mount Vernon stop was only 5 easy miles up the road. I had reached the last big food stop at 76 miles.  I’d been riding with my too short a chain for 50 miles now.

Mount Vernon Food Stop.
Mount Vernon Food Stop

As I had just stopped 20 minutes before I was pretty set for food and drink. I made myself a peanut butter sandwich which I saved for later and had some watermelon which was kick ass at this point.  Then I went and waited in line for the mechanics. There were two of them working at a frantic pace and 4 or 5 people ahead of me.  Almost all of the repair they had to do was brifter adjustment.  This is why I prefer friction shifting – it isn’t susceptible to cable stretching or requires precises adjustments. There were a few tire, tube, spoke replacements and finally I was up. I told him of my need and he informed me he had no chain but maybe one of the mobile mechanics did.  Then as we were waiting for this guy to come in, I again got the skipping issue. I said I just wanted to be able to use all my gears and if they could just add links I’d be happy enough with that. So they used a couple of links I had and a couple he had and they managed to get my chain to a usable length again.  It cost me a lot of time though, I was there for just over an hour and I had thirty miles left to go.

Mount Vernon
Riding out of the Mount Vernon food stop.

churchIt was now 3pm, the hottest part of the day.  But we were closer to the water and a then veil of clouds had arrived to lower the temperature and block the sun a bit.  Along with this came an increasingly vicious headwind. There is pretty much a constant wind that blows east from the sound (as I experienced on my Olympic Peninsula Tour, it blows against you ’til you turn south) and as we got onto the Skagit Flats it became brutal. After getting through Mount Vernon, and under the I-5 you hit these flats and it is uninterrupted pancake flat farmland to the water.  Decent country riding otherwise but the wind was punishing. Due to the delay I’d had in Mount Vernon there wasn’t as many riders around so I had to be careful to stay on the route. I had a few rides following me at one point, which of course makes one even more careful.  At last there was the turnoff to Chuckanut Drive and a little mini-stop just before it. This stop had water and watered down Gatorade for free but was selling other things. So it was some organization and not Cascade but still it was welcome. I ran into a rider on a Rambouillet here as well as one on a Long Haul Trucker. Also a tandem team snapped my picture as the Rivendell Poster Boy. Shortly after this I set off for the series of hills that is Chuckanut Drive.

Chuckanut Drive
Chuckanut Drive

There was a bit of flat right after the mini-stop and then you cross a wetland and it begins. Chuckanut Drive hugs the coast from the Skagit Flats to Bellingham.  The coast of Washington state on the Puget Sound is a rocky, glacier carved affair which means hills and constant changes.  But none of the hills were that tough and I have to say considering that we were at 90 miles at this point I pretty much hauled through this.  Its an incredibly scenic route, with the Puget Sound just past a lane and some trees and you’d go from being on the edge of a cliff to diving into deep woods. It’d suck with a lot of traffic but I only saw a half dozen or less cars over the 11 miles of the drive.  I even passed a few riders on this section as well as all this magnificent scenery.  As I began the descent out of Chuckanut Drive I hit 10,000 miles on my odometer. This is a pretty accurate account of the miles on this frame (I put it on before I rode it at all) and was a big milestone for it.

Chuckanut Drive

After that descent there was one last climb with the infamous RSVP lemonade stand at the top. This has apparently been a fixture on the RSVP route for ages with a family raising money ostensibly to put their kid through college. I got a cup and left a couple of bucks for his further education. It was incredibly cold, too cold even. But a good sharp lemonade, not overly sugared.  I pretty quickly set off and from this last hill, it was downhill, into Fairhaven and various arterioles to the edge of Bellingham where the Days Inn and the official end of Day 1. My mileage at this point was 107 miles.  I was staying at Western Washington University so I still had a bit of riding to do. Of course its a back up a hill, but then its simply winding through the college and I was at the dorm I’d be staying at.


I quickly checked in, collected my bag and wheeled my bicycle into the elevator and up the three flights to my room.  I was in a nice new seeming dorm that had rooms with a connecting bathroom for every two rooms. I was in a corner room and there was a little hallway with the two rooms and the bathroom off of it. The other room’s occupant was either in town or had yet to arrive so I was able to leisurely shower. Rarely had I even enjoyed a shower as much as this one.  Putting on fresh clothes was always quite welcome. That done I needed pizza and beer and walked into town to find them.  The places I initially targeted, a wood-fired oven pizza place and Boundary  Bay Brewing were overflowing with cyclists so I set out to find a place I could get right into. Rudy’s pizza was where I ended up and while it was mediocre pizza, it was by the slice and so I was able to eat immediatly. I also had a couple of IPAs while I was there. After alleviating my caloric needs I walked around Bellingham during a beautiful sunset. Walking past Mallard Ice Cream parlor, I felt the need to try their hand made Ice-cream and got a basil cone that was amazing.  After that I walked back to Boundary Bay and finding it much emptier was able to get a seat at the bar and have an excellent Oatmeal Stout. Full up I headed back up to campus and read for a bit and then went to sleep.

Sunset in Bellingham

Total miles for the day: 113.3 (182.3km)
Ride Time: 8’6″

See all my pictures from this day, in my RSVP day 1 gallery.
Index to my entire RSVP and Back Again adventure

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