I had decided to ride up to Snoqualmie pass on the Iron Horse Trail and riding through the tunnel this weekend. I set out (late as usual, but not so later for me) but this interminable noise from my bicycle forced me to pull over and give it a once over to see if I could figure it out. After much examination I discovered a crack in my rear rim right at a spoke nipple. Well this more or less killed those plans, but then I thought what if I could get a new wheel made? So I called up Sammamish Valley Cycles on my cell and told them I was out and about and found a crack in my rim. They agreed to see me so I rode over to their shop in Redmond. They examined my rim and informed me that my conclusion was correct – I needed a new wheel. Then they told me they’d have it by Thursday and I could leave the bicycle there. I informed them that I was out riding right now and so they asked me to bring it back. Concerned over it’s eminent failure they assured me it would be fine, if I avoid doing any technical off-roading anyway. So I decided to revise my plans, not wanting to be as far away and riding so much on graveled trails as my initial plan called for. So I decided to ride to Issaquah for lunch and see how things would go from there.
It was a really nice day today, sunny a bit of a breeze but not too hot. August is usually the hottest month of the year and many times won’t rain all month. This was not the case this year as it had rained plenty and had been downright cold for many of the days. Most days were reaching only the low to mid 70s (f) which let me tell you is fine by me. Perfect riding for me is mid to upper 60s so it wasn’t too far from that. I rode through Redmond and on to East Lake Sammamish Way which is a familiar and easy route to Issaquah. I saw quite a few riders going the other direction, many seemed to have some sort of number on their bicycle – some sort of organized ride must have been going on. Reaching the point where E. Lake Samm way intersects with I-90 I jumped onto the East Lk. Sammamish trail and took that gravel route under the freeway. Wandering through the side streets of Issaquah I made my way to the Issaquah Brewhouse which is a Rogue Brewing outlet. Finding this in Issaquah was one of my great discoveries from my early days of getting back into cycling. I found it the first time I did the Lk. Samm Loop in which I had swung into Issaquah. Great beers and good food at a convenient location for many of my cycling adventures. They were alas really busy and I ended up just having a couple of beers and then getting lunch elsewhere. But more on them in another post.
So after a couple of beers I headed over to Pogacha which is a Croation pizza place. They have a restaurant in Bellevue that a friend had introduced me to years ago. Pogachas are a potato based flatbread that they cook in a wood fired oven. They make very simple and flavorful pizzas with them. The Croatian spices and the style which seems to owe a lot to traditional Italian cooking makes for wonderful food. The Issaquah branch is right at the end of the Lk. Sammamish trail (convenient) and while I have ridden by it many times, this was the first time I actually stopped there. It turned out to be happy hour so into the bar I went and got yet more beer. Along with that I had a Tomato & Fresh Basil pogacha which was priced right and filled me up. After all this excess of beer and food I felt the need to work it off. So I decided to ride the infamous “Zoo” hill.
At the base of Couger Mountain there is a small zoo and the sign with that single word on it gave this ride it’s name. Three miles of climbing, with 1243 feet of climbing with an average grade of 9%. Sections of this climb approach a 20% grade and there are few flat or downhill segments on it (though there are a few). I rode through Issaquah and let me tell you I was feeling those beers. I easily found the route, as I had seen those zoo signs on other trips. Riding up Newport way the route already begins to climb, but this is the sort of gentle incline that one can maintain a fine pace up. Shortly I came across the turnoff and the sign for the zoo. The climb pulls no punches and starts right off with a good steep section (see the whole elevation profile over at Bicycle Climbs). The road curves around, gets a bit steeper and then you pass the titular zoo. Then the real climbing begins as you dive into thick woods and sharp switchbacks. These switchbacks go around deeply cut canyons and the occasional car keeps you from drifting around these. There are no breaks on this climb. Luckily the traffic is occasional and I had no issues with cars. After a couple more of these switchbacks there is a ninety degree turn and then a long straight section. Straight but not flat. In this section there are a couple of flatter bits and one short downhill. But then just as one approaches the two mile mark, as if one needed any further proof that there is no god, are some of the steepest sections. It is worth noting at this time that I was under the impression that this climb was just over two miles long . Cresting what I thought was the last hill (and at around 2.4 miles) I approached a stop sign before which was a spray painted note “final ascent”.
So I turned left onto SE Cougar Mt road and continued to ascend. Once again there is not letup at the end as several segments at this point were among the steepest. And one segment was among the steepest – a near 20% grade for a short time at nearly three miles of continuous climbing. Then things flatten out and even a bit of a descent. Then the road turns to gravel. Not much of a marker for the end, but I figured this must be it. There was a trailhead for a cougar mountain hike so a chained my bicycle to it and collapsed on a log. I have to say that I have never felt closer to simply expiring on the spot as I had at this moment. Dizzy, weak and thoroughly exhausted I was totally destroyed. My head kept spinning so I grabbed a bottle of lukewarm Gatorade (the blue flavor) and walked up the trail for a .6 mile hike. I was given the option of the Nike missile site or a “Million Dollar View”, well not being a fan of the military industrial complex I chose the view. Not really sure if I ever encountered this but not too long I came to the top of the hill where a former army base had been. I walked around a bit then just laid in the grass for a while. Eventually I felt recovered and hiked back to my bicycle.
I was feeling okay, but just completely sapped. Instead of trying to work out a connector I rode down the route I had just ridden up. For one I wanted to be certain of the length, that the climb hadn’t forced the numbers out of my head. I was correct it was almost exactly three miles. The other thing was after doing that climb I need to just ride down it – like counting coup. Anyway I knew that Newport way was below and from there the I-90 trail – probably the easiest route back. And I needed an easy route, sapped as I was – even the merest hint of an incline reduced my to a pathetic pace. Basically from this point I slowly made my way home – I-90 trail, Lk. WA loop then Kirkland. I stopped at a convenience store for water then Whole Foods in Bellevue for dinner. The sad aftermath of the whole affair was that something I ate, most likely the take away from Whole Foods, gave me food poisoning rendering my evening a loss. But it was an epic day and it certainly made me pine for when I was in better shape then I am now.
This entire ride was 42 miles (67.6km).