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Tour 2010: Riding Through

Monday, September 20th, 2010

” Single people, whoever they are, feel their lonliness most acutely when they come home from a trip. Everything is there just the way it was when they set out. The flower in the vase has dried up, but the desk itself hasn’t moved.”  -Santoka from his journals.

Reflecting on this tour I think it is fair to say that it was the most successful to date.  Sure it didn’t quite have the There and Back Again narrative of my 2009 tour to San Francisco but in pretty much every measurement it all went really well. It utilized the two weeks off that I had really well, it took me over a mix of new and familiar places, there were few problems, a good mix of sunny days to rainy and exquisite scenery. Returning from these trips there is always a bit of post-tour depression and while I can’t deny there has been some of that, its pretty mild. I’m still bicycling and wanting to do rides (which was not the case last year).  The worst thing this year has been a sense of restlessness, that you’d have thought two weeks of travel would have alleviated somewhat, but the root cause of that is I think a bit beyond the scope of this blog. Anyway Looking back at the tour there are a number of issues that are worth reflecting upon.

The Route

To begin with lets consider the route that I was worked out for this trip.  My initial goal was to ride the Sunshine Coast, the region of British Columbia north of Vancouver.  In riding to Vancouver I knew I’d want to stay there for a couple of days, so I knew I didn’t want to arrive there too early. I’d ridden there in two days a couple of years ago and even with a touring load three days is pretty reasonable.  I wanted to arrive there on day five or six so I fiddled around with Google Maps (the cyclotourists best friend)  and stumbled on the Mountain Loop Highway. In researching whether this has been ridden much I checked the Seattle International Randonneur’s permenant site and found several routes utilizing it. Randonneur’s ride all over a state and find many great routes so checking out routes they have ridden is essential.  I would later utilize rando info form my cross Vancouver route as well.  I was able to use Vicky Spring and Tom Kirkendall’s Bicycling The Pacific Coast books for routes and camping information from Birch Bay to Vancouver, The Sunshine Coast and the first day on Vancouver Island.  The cross island route I found in a combination of Bikely routes (another vital resource) and the Vancouver Island Randonneurs.  The Galloping Goose trail into Victoria and the Lochside out of Victoria I was familiar with and in the case of the Goose excited to fully ride for the first time.  Finally returning home I used the route I worked out on my very first self supported tour, but with a modified route from Edmonds to Bothell that Google Maps new Bicycle route feature roughed out for me. I often modified routes either sourced from Google Maps with bicycle club, brevet or my own experience.

My overall impression of this route was highly positive. The cross Vancouver and Mountain Loop routes, randonneur’s notwithstanding, are little bicycled routes and ones that people should definitely utilize.  It was not without some sense of irony that the two rainiest days were the days I rode those beautiful, wooded unique sections. There was however some improvements I would make to the route. The most immediate was the two 70+ mile days on the east coast of Vancouver Island. These were pretty dull riding days mostly on highways and could seriously stand to be broken up. Fortunately there was actually lots to see and do on those sections and it is quite amendable to being broken up.  This is how I would do this portion of the route again: Instead of Saltery Bay Park to Rathtrevor Beach Park, which was about~72 miles I’d ride to Denman or Hornby Island which would trim off about 35 miles. One could then ride one or both of those islands as one saw fit.  The following day I’d ride to Nanaimo, about 50 miles,  which was such a nice town that It’d be worth spending a bit more time there. There was numerous private campgrounds not too far from Nanaimo if one wished to camp instead of staying in or near the city. From Nanaimo to Lake Cowichan is about 50 miles of which only 20 or less would be on the highway the rest on much more pleasant Cowichan Lake road. Breaking the two days into three makes for three 50 mile days (more or less) which is pretty much how much I like to ride per day on tour. Plus the interesting northern Gulf Islands and towns would not have to be bypassed or blown through in service of grinding out miles.  So if anyway ever wanted to use my route, that’d be the one change I’d make.

The Bicycle and other Equipment

This is my third extended tour with this basic setup and I have to say I pretty have this aspect nailed.  There always is a couple of tweaks here and there but my core touring setup hasn’t changed for these three tours.  The main change this year was on the bicycle which I’m happy to report performed the best yet. I had no flat tires, no serious mechanical, in short the bicycle was just how one would want it to: a part of the tour not the focus of the tour.  I described in an earlier post all the changes I made to the bicycle so no need to rehash them. But it was of course my first tour with the Schwalbe Marathon Plus and I have to say I think I’ve found my tire. The 700x38s fit perfectly under my fenders and are pretty much my preferred size. No flats might be due at least in part to luck, but I have to say I rode on punishing roads, over much broken glass, dirt, gravel, horrible pavement, in heat, rain, everything but snow pretty much with no issues. I was checking air pressure regularly and the REI tubes I was using never lost much pressure even with pretty wide temperature changes from day to day. My new rear wheel from Rivendell was also rock solid, which was a relief: my last two tours were marred by worrying about the wheel.

The most useful addition I made to my kit this year was a Musette Bag.  Rivendell used to sell these and I bought one prior to my very first tour, but had misplaced it since then.  On last years tour I sorely missed have a bag and ended up buying one in San Francisco where I really needed a way to carry stuff around.  The Musette bag is perfect: it takes up little space, carries a camera, book, journal with space for a few incidentals, weighs nothing. Its a pity that Rivendell doesn’t still sell these, but someone must sell something similar. Anyway my highest recommendation for the touring cyclist.  Archival Clothing seems to sell the closest thing to the bare bones cheap Riv Musette bag (and read this post for images of the Rivendell Reader and Bob Gazette with the articles on them.)

As for the rest of my gear, as I said the primary components remained unchanged. The key trio of tent (Eureka Spitfire), sleeping bag (Kelty Light Year CD 25) and cooking geat (Brasslight Turbo II alcohol stove and Snow Peak Trek 900 titanium cookset) continue to really serve me well, I can’t really recommend this gear strongly enough. I did bring a few other things this year which warrant a bit of a mention. Recalling a lack of potable water at some Provincial Parks in my Gulf Islands tour I brought a Nalgene collapsible bladder which proved its worth on numerous occasions. I bought a large Irish Strap from Rivendell (I’ve long used the small ones for strapping the tent poles to my frame) which proved itself well worth having, I’ll probably add another of these for future tours. I used this to last the full Nalgene waterbottle to my saddlebag, to tie down my bicycle on the numerous ferry rides, to secure groceries to the front rack and numerous other examples I’m forgetting. Beyond mixing the clothes up a bit that’s really about it for equipment changes (minus the power recharging change I discussed earlier).

The Tour

The ride beyond the previously discussed technical aspects of the route and the performance of the equipment, for me covers everything else. The timing of this tour was partially based on work (I had a project that run though July pretty much) and by a desire to tour after the kids had gone back to school.  My initial plan was to start on Labor Day weekend, using that day off from work as a bonus day. Due to how the project actually ended at work and the fact that the next project would be (theoretically) starting up early in September I decided to change the dates slightly so as to end on Labor Day weekend. I also chose to end the tour on Sunday so that I would have a day of recovery (labor day) something I’ve learned from previous tours is essential. This turned out to be rather fortuitous as, especially north of Vancouver, I was right about at the limits of my temperature range. That is to say I was right on the edge of being too cold at night.  It has been an unusually cool late summer so in other years this wouldn’t be the case. September is pretty much my favorite time to tour and this doesn’t change it. It was a lucky break for this year, but it does mean that the campsites were often pretty full. I ended up not having any issues with this though I worried about it to some degree.

The weather also really turned fast this year, with the rainfall in September being well above average, so again lucky. The weather in the Pacific Northwest can be fantastic in September, but its always a bit of a gamble.  I did have three days of rain, one all day as I rode to Port Renfrew the morning rain as I left Vancouver and the half day of rain on the Mountain Loop highway.  Only on the ride to Port Renfrew did I get completely soaked, the other two days I got wet but had dried off by the time I got to camp.  The weather on the rest of the days was nice; often cloudy, but with a good mix of sun. No overly hot days which can also be a trial, in the main I’d say this was about as good as it gets weather wise in the PNW.

I tried to camp more this trip and to avoid hotels by staying in hostels. This was in part to save some money (I was doing this trip a bit on the cheap) but also to try to do things a bit differently.  I’d done hostels on my first self-supported tour and found it a bit mixed. For this tour I got my own room at the two hostels I stayed at ( HI Vancouver Downtown and  HI Victoria), which while obviously more expensive was about half of a hotel or B&B in those expensive cities. I did end up at a normal hotel in Port Renfrew (the West Coast Trail Motel) which while not specifically anticipated I do often end up in at least one hotel unexpectedly for whatever reason.

Final Thoughts

This tour was a really good time, a nice break from work and a nice exploration of areas I’d mostly not been previously familiar with. Things went really smoothly, I had some nice interactions with nature and various people I met on the route. I saw a few other tourons now and again but none of the tour rats I encountered on the west coast nor the crowds. The more “off the beaten path” areas I visited were the highlights for me, but I enjoyed almost every place I rode through.  I do have to say that I felt a bit detached on this tour, perhaps due to a general familiarity with the touring routine, or perhaps its just as part of the touring on a time frame experience.  Even with flexibility you have to keep moving, you can only spend so much time anywhere. So it it starts to feel like you arrive at a destination of interest, you get off your bicycle, look around a bit and then just set off again.  Rarely can your spend hours in an interesting area unless it corresponds with a short day or a rest day.  This aspect I find rather limiting and frustrating; I would love to be able to do months long tours with only vague agendas.  Anyway this aspect, which I’ve certainly noted before, tends to give me this sort of detached, “just passing through” sort of feeling.  It is this and also as a nod to the Jack Kerouac novel (collected in Desolation Angels) that I dubbed this tour “Riding Through“.

RSVP and Back Again – final thoughts

Sunday, September 14th, 2008
My Atlantis in Victoria
My Atlantis in Victoria

I had a great time on this trip both on the group ride and even more so on my solo return home.  I said in the past that the reason I do Chilly Hilly every year is to remind myself why I don’t do large group rides.  I missed Chilly Hilly this year but RSVP filled that role.  I’d wanted to do RSVP for a while as I’d wanted to experience the group ride but without the total insanity of STP.  I’m a self-supported cyclotourist at heart and the vast amount of hand holding and the rigidity of these rides just doesn’t appeal.  As I mentioned at the beginning of these reports, it is just a totally different type of rider that can drive to a ride, do the ride as if they were a racer with noting on their bicycle but a single water bottle and then get shuttled back home. Again I think its this whole racer/cycling as a sport mentality.  Which though I may seem to sneer at it, really is fine,  I’m glad people are out riding.  For me though, its about independence, fending for oneself, seeing new sights, finding new routes and most importantly being able to slow down and think.. That just doesn’t happen if you are going too fast or riding too far.  Ones focus is totally different. So I tried to treat RSVP like a tour, not worrying about rushing through, seeing the sights and so on. But I still was in the saddle nearly all the time and I wouldn’t do those spur of the moment sight seeing or talking with locals and so on that occur on tour.  My pace is always much faster then normal on group rides and this was no exception.  Day 1 was the fastest century I’ve ever done, if still slow by roadie standards.  I think in general I prefer the one day rides, if I’m going to dedicate more then a day for a club ride I’d rather tour or do an S24O where I can get some thinking done. One thing I should say is that Cascade does a great job running these rides and much thanks to all the staff and volunteers that work so hard for these events.

Once I hit the solo portion of this trip it was just like I was one a tour.  I can’t really describe how different I felt, but all the things I mention above immediately kicked in. I took my time, I’d stop for whatever, I didn’t worry too much about pace. I did have a bit of schedule to make so that kept me motivated but in general I was riding at the pace of a one who is able to contemplate his surroundings. What this really brought home to me was that I wish I’d done a full on tour this year. Yes my other vacations (including Japan which starts tomorrow!) are all fantastic experiences, but I love touring more then about anything and I’ll miss getting more then this taste this year.

A final word on equipment for this trip. I was basically on a credit card tour so I was going pretty minimal with just my Paladin Saddlebag. That worked great for this purpose and it held four days worth of clothes, supplies, toiletries and so one perfectly.  Could easily do a week long credit card tour with just his bag I think.. My Atlantis kicked ass as always even though I had a bit of troubles on the first day. I should have replaced my chain before I set out, I’d actually thought about it but chose not to. A mistake. Otherwise it performed great, I really can’t get over how comfortable I am on this bicycle.  The only new kit I had was the Jack Brown tires which I can say I love. They handle so great and are just a tad rougher then my 37mm Panaracer Pasalas I’m used to. So far they are holding up so I hope I can use these as my primary non touring tires from now on.

So that’s it, another nice trip with only its shortness as my one regret. I’m off to Japan tomorrow and when I come back it’ll be into autumn here. The first half of October is often very nice so hopefully a bit more rec riding is in my future. And then it’ll just be winter commuting and the rare ride in the cold.  Next year though I’m definitely going to do a real tour, hopefully the longest one yet.

RSVP and Back Again – day 3

Friday, September 12th, 2008
My Atlantis in Stanley Park
My Atlantis on the bicycle path in Stanley Park

The day dawned bright and clear and promising to be another hot day. I had a couple of tasks that needed to be resolved in short order: Coffee, Food and collecting my bicycle from the RSVP storage room.  I had awoken around 8 and the bicycle storage was open ’till 11 so I wasn’t particularly stressed about that. Coffee and food were much more pressing, so after getting myself ready I headed out looking for same.  I was kind of interested in a breakfast type place but not really wanting to spend much time looking I settled for Delany’s Coffee house. I got a bagel and a muffin there and worked my way though a couple of cups of coffee. Their coffee wasn’t bad and the calories were welcome.  While I was there I read through a number of haiku from The Sound of Water: Haiku by Basho, Buson, Issa, and Other Poets. I love haiku and Sam Hamil is the best translator of them I’ve read, a poet himself he really retains the music of the words.

This world of dew
is only a world of dew —
and yet. -Kobayashi Issa

The RSVP ride has options for return to Seattle, but that just doesn’t sit well with me. A lot of cyclists have no problem driving to rides, taking the bus back and driving home, only riding on the ride. I suspect this is again the influence of racing on normal cycling which creates some sort of concept of riding as a sport as opposed to transportation or an activity.  So I never planned to take the RSVP bus back, but with the craziness at work I did have limited time.  My plans had begun at taking Sunday off and spending the day in Vancouver then doing a week long tour back, to using a combination of ferries and riding over three days, to finally a two day return using a combination of riding, ferries and at the end the Victoria Clipper.  So for today I needed to ride to at least Sidney BC and could ride to Victoria if I felt so inclined.

Back streets to Stanley Park
Riding from my hotel to Stanley Park

It got very crowded at the coffee house, I figured it was a lot of RSVPers looking for breakfast before taking the bus home. I got another coffee to go and headed up to the bicycle storage at the Coast Plaza Suite Hotel. I collected my ride, girded my loins and headed out to my hotel.  From there I packed up, finished my coffee and headed out.  I had decided that I’d spend a bit of time in Vancouver before heading out to Vancouver Island. As a kid we used to vist Vancouver a couple of times a year (I lived on Fidalgo Island, only about an hour and a half south) and one thing we used to do a lot was bicycle around Stanley Park.  While I still frequently visit Vancouver, it is more often the downtown part for various music events and I hadn’t been to Stanley Park in probably 16 years.  So I decided to do the loop around the park before heading out of town.

Stanley Park bicycle path
Stanley Park bicycle path

LighthouseThe path is a 5.5 mile one way loop around the park . When I used to come here as a kid the path was shared by cyclists and pedestrians and I don’t think it was one way. Since then it is seperated by height and being one way is clearly safer considering the amount of traffic it gets. It isn’t a place to ride for exercise, but for a scenic leasurly tool around one of North Americas great parks. One such a beautiful day this was a real treat, the shockingly blue skies highlighting the various public art and sights of Vancouver.  Highlights including lighthouses, the Lions Gate Bridge, a large collection of totem poles, numerous instances of public art and of course spectacular scenery.

riding out of Stanley Park
I took my time riding around the park, making sure to check out all the things I’d remembered and to see what had changed or been added.  The cricket fields were still there though didn’t seem to be a match this morning and it looked like they built a large new visitors centre by all the totem poles.  Most of the way around the park is Second Beach and it already was getting filled by people out to enjoy this hot weekend. After an hour or so I exited the park and continuing on the seawall path began the route to Tswassan where the ferry terminal to Vancouver and the Gulf Islands is located. I was now around 11:30 in the morning but I wasn’t in any rush.
The seawall bicycle route
Most of the waterfront in Vancouver is parkland with a bicycle path running along it.

Sculpture in the waterfront parkI was following the Bicycling The Pacific Coast route by Vicky Spring and Tom Kirkendall (in the third edition, they now have you go up north along the Sunshine Coast and riding more of Vancouver Island) and it follows the coast while in the city and then takes a route around UBC, then the airport, across the Fraser River and then west to Tsawwassen.  I wanted to make steady progress, but again I wasn’t in any rush.  I’d pretty much decided that I’d stay in Sidney instead of riding to Victoria today as that would allow for a bit more riding on my final day. Plus last time I rode through Sidney I only stayed long enough to get a new bicycle computer and to buy a cup of tea.

There did seem to some discrepancies from the Kirkendall and Spring route in the years since the book was published but I only got off route once and for only a couple of blocks. In general riding in Vancouver is great. They have tons of signed bicycle routes, even if they are just on the streets, they are well signed and usually safe roads.  Even when I was riding right downtown it was so much better then riding in Seattle (which is much better then most of America). The drives don’t seem angry that you are there, they are used to it and just consider it typical. Really a dramatic difference, drives may pass you at about the same speed, and give you similar space but they aren’t afraid or angry and its much safer.

Atlantis at the Maritime Museum
Now that’s a big anchor.

Riding by UBCI stopped for a bit outside the Maritime museum before continuing on, there I enjoyed a Mint Aero Bar, one of the true Canadian treasures. As I was following along the coast I saw vast amounts of recreation on this beautiful day. A huge number of kayaks set off as I rounded one cape and of course tons of sailboats, sunbathers and at one point a beach volleyball tournament.  One stretch I had to walk my bicycle along the beachfront path as it was so packed with people.  But eventually I was back on the road and riding up the only real hill of this day as I climbed up to UBC.  But once up the hill it was very gently rolling hills on a well shouldered arterial. I was able to make up some time here, just cruising along for over ten miles. Eventually the spread out houses got more dense and there were some shopping and then some light industrial. The route seemed to dead end on a highway and I pulled over to double check I was on it. There was a big bridge that it said I should ride over and as I was scoping that out a group of riders whipped past. Figuring they knew what they were doing I immediately set out after them.

Crossing the bridge
Crossing the Arthur Laing Bridge

I followed these riders onto hwy 99 and the Arthur Laing Bridge over one of the branches of the Fraser River. Once over the bridge we were at the airport and the club riders circled around to a bicycle trail that ran below the bridge. The route I was on followed the road to the airport and then just before it turned off to Richmond. The bicycle path had a sign saying it went to Richmond and the Airport but I chose to follow the printed route.  I suspect the path post dates the book and it would have worked out, but I felt I didn’t quite have the luxury to explore it.  It worked out fine anyway, as I was deliberating two girls on old 80s bicycles passed me by so I ended up following (and later passing) them on the published route.  It was only a mile or so to the Richmond turnoff and soon enough I was in this airport town.

Veggie Buffett
Veggie Bunch – Vegitarian Buffet.

As I rode down the city streets of Richmond I spotted Veggie Bunch, a vegetarian Buffet. I was plenty hungry at this point and this looked like just the ticket.  I locked my bicycle up and headed in. I was the only one at the buffet (it was 1:30 now) but I loaded my plate down with a little of everything and pretty quickly put it away. As is usual with a buffet, some was good, some not so good but I was full and ready for the next leg. Behind the Veggie Bunch was basically a huge warehouse that was an indoor Asian market. I walked around it a bit and bought a bottle of water and a peanut crunch thing of some sort.  A nice little break from the ride and I was now feeling ready for the last bit to the ferry.

Temple
A temple I rode past.

The route goes through Richmond and then follows pretty major roads through various fringe city types of places.Dragon Some interesting sights along a road that sort of paralleled Hwy 99, a large mosque looking structure, the temple pictured above and what looked like a Chinese theme park with a huge plastic dragon at the entrance. Just past this was a crossing with a major road that lead to the freeway and things became less trafficked more back road feeling. A couple of turns and one a true back road I crossed the freeway and was at this stop where you wait for a van to take you through the George Massey tunnel.  This tunnel is not accessible by bicycles and the nearest bridge crossing that is, is over ten miles out of the way. So the Ministry of Transportation provides a free shuttle service for cyclists through the tunnel.

George Massey Tunnel
George Massey Tunnel

Where you wait for the shuttle on this side had a bench and a sign with the crossing information.  There were two college kids lounging on the bench with their old bicycles as I pulled up.   They took up the entire bench, primarily by leaning their bicycles on the front and while they greeted me friendly like they made no offer to move them.  One of them, the boy, was wearing only a speedo and was lying down eating spaghetti out of a Tupperware container. The girl noticing my Obama Spoke Cards asked if I was from the US and when I answered in the affirmative, informed me that she was as well, from Georgia.  I felt like I was on the set of Gummo. I went and sat under a tree and ate my Asian Peanut thing and drank some water.  Eventually the van arrived, which had this neat trailer that could fit about a dozen bicycles and was easy to load up. A woman rode up just before we left and so we were four in the crossing.


Tswassen.

After having to endure the banter of the two kids on the short crossing I set out as soon as they unloaded my bicycle. Across the parking lot was a couple who had a various Rivendell accouterments: a Country Bag on one bicycle and the man was wearing a Rivendell cap like mine.  I talked to them briefly before setting out, they seemed like my kind of riders, practical and out enjoying the scenery from the saddle. I had I think around 45minutes to ride 9 miles to the ferry. Not particularly daunting but I really, really didn’t want to miss this. So I totally hauled ass to the ferry. It was a flat route with only a couple of bumps as it crossed freeways and I kept my speed around 20mph the whole way.  The ride had been technically quite easy so far so I really didn’t mind expending effort here.  There was an increasingly strong headwind as I approached the water but I made great time.

Ferry Landing
The ferry departs
As the tardy man stands in
The first winter rain – Yosa Buson

I pulled in at the ferry at 3:45, after having ridden about 44 miles.  I had made it well before its 4pm sailing to find a couple of other cyclists in the waiting area. A couple others pulled up while we were waiting. Two of these were islanders who had ridden to the mainland but a couple others looked like solo tourists.  Always good to see.  It had clouded up as I rode down and now it began to drizzle a bit.  Luckily the ferry pulled in and we loaded on before the rain became anything beyond rather pleasant.

Ferry Terminal
Ferry Terminal

I was on the Queen of Vancouver which pulled out of the terminal around 4:20.  This is a big ferry taking a lot of cars and pedestrians to Vancouver Island.  The crossing took about an hour and a half and I mostly walked around the ferry enjoying the crossing of the Georgia Strait.  The ferry had a cafeteria, a cafe and a duty free shop and I checked all of these out as well.  I went outside and listened to a naturalist presentation on the flora and fauna of the Strait and then feeling a bit cold went in to get a cup of Green Tea.  Returning to the outside I read a few more haiku.

With dewdrops dripping,

I wish somehow I could wash

This perishing world -Matsuo Bashō

Islands in the Strait
Islands in the Strait.

About half way across the strait a storm hit with rain, thunder and lightening. We caught only the edge of it and soon moved away from it, but it broke up the scenery. It also became quite windy at this point and I moved to the opposite side of the ferry to be in the lee of wind.  The late half hour or so was going around the Gulf Islands, of which I recognized all the ones I’d visited in 2004 for my Island Tour.  Around 6pm we landed with the weather still looking a bit sketchy as we waited to ride out from the ferry.

Ferry docking
Ferry Landing.

Not inclined to linger I walked up the ramp and as soon as possible mounted the bicycle and set off. I was riding with one of the locals while the other tourons were dilly dallying getting themselves ready.  I’d done this ride before on the aforementioned tour so it was easy sailing for me.  Across the parking lot, over and overpass and onto the Lochside Trail.  It was just over 5 miles to Sidney and on the trail a pretty quick 20 minute ride. I arrived at Sidney around 6:30pm, on a nice, if cool, summer evening.

Lochside
On the Lochside Trail

At the turnoff to downtown Sidney I talked briefly with the local lady I’d been sort of riding with. She lived just outside of town and was riding on the trail a bit further. I bid her safe riding and turned down into town. I rode past a couple of hotels and after doing a quit circuit settled on the Best Western. Probably could have found something more quaint but I really didn’t care much- I was just here for the night and only intended to sleep, shower and so on.

Exhausted, I sought
A country inn, but found
Wisteria in bloom. -Matsuo Bashō

After checking in and taking said shower I walked into town in search of three things: a bookstore, beer and food.  I wanted a book to read tonight and on the Victoria Clipper the next day as I was done with my little haiku collection.  It turns out that Sidney prides itself as a big readers town and there was something like ten bookstores in this tiny city.  One of these was open late and I hit it and picked up Haruki Murakami’s latest work to be translated: What I talk about when I Talk about Running.

Sidney
Sidney

I walked down to the waterfront and there was the Beacon Landing Pub.  I wasn’t that inclined to search around so in I went and immediately ordered at a Lighthouse Brewing Beacon IPA which was pretty decent.  Along with this I got Halibut and Chips which was super good.  A second beer, Vancouver Island Brewing’s Pipers Pale Ale was decent.  I read a bit of the Murakami and then headed out. I visited a beer store and picked up a bottle of porter and walked around town a little bit. It was dark now and there wasn’t too much to see so I headed back to the hotel. I read a little, drank my Porter (which was really good, but I failed to note the brand) and watched a bit more of the Olympics.

Distance ridden today: 49m/78.8km over 3’58”
Distance ridden so far: 246m/395.9km

To see all my pictures from this day:: RSVP Day 2 Pictures
To see my accounts of the rest of the trip: RSVP and Back Again

RSVP and Back Again – day 1

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008
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
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.

Woodinville
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.

Lemonade
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.

WWU
WWU

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
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