A key component — no, the key component — of my Seattle training camp idea last weekend was a long bike ride. The idea of seeing a place by bicycle is a new one for me — something that was completely out of the question for much of my adult life — and it’s novel and exciting every time I have the chance to do it. (It doesn’t always go well — steering a heavy beach cruiser through Kyoto was frankly terrifying — but my enthusiasm for the idea still lands somewhere around WHEEE BIKING WHEEEEEEE!) Plus, I was staying with friends who regularly bike in the city. Double plus, Michaela lives there now. I was going to ride my bike a very long way around Seattle, end of story.
OK, not my bike. After some investigation into flying with a bike, I decided instead to rent from a Seattle shop. I am nervous enough about bikes, especially road bikes and especially ones I intend to ride kind of far for kind of a long time, that I only wanted to rent if I could find a bike that I knew would fit me and that I knew I’d be comfortable riding. Lo and behold, Gregg’s had the Trek Madone — Penelope’s fancy carbon big sister — in my size for $50/day. Renting with them was so easy: I reserved online (of note: the only two bikes reserved before the weekend were the two smallest women’s bikes; short ladies are fiercely protective of our bikes?), and brought my own pedals, lights, flat kit, and helmet to Seattle. Turns out the latter two things were included in the rental, but better safe than sorry, I suppose. At the shop, they put the pedals on, adjusted the seat, and sent me on my way.
I had asked around and Googled for some options, and ultimately this 50-mile route around Mercer Island, through Bellevue, and around Lake Washington via Woodinville started to stand out. We could hop on near our friends’ place, they could vouch for the quality of the Mercer Island loop, and after that — well, it would be an adventure.
We went to sleep on Saturday with the weather predicting a consistent 70 degrees and sunny. We woke up on Sunday to rain and predictions of more rain every hour for the rest of the day. We whined in our friends’ living room, ate bagels, whined some more, called the bike shop to see if we could extend my rental for another day, whined, lined up a rental bike for Pete just in case the weather cleared, whined, waited, and all of a sudden we could see the mountains that clouds around the lake had previously rendered invisible. Clearing? Maybe? Other than one final rain shower while Pete rode his rental bike back from the shop, things were looking brighter. We made a break for it.
Now seems like the time to really spell out that among the five of us, three had never ridden in Seattle, two were on unfamiliar rental bikes, one of us was riding her road bike for the first time, and none of us had ridden 50 miles in months, if ever. We were perhaps not, as they say, operating at full capacity. And I’d like to blame that for the fact that not even two miles into the ride, as we went to make a tight turn onto the bridge to Mercer Island, I totally wiped out. I thought we were stopping, so I unclipped my left foot, and then I realized we were actually just turning slowly onto a narrow path. I thought I could still make the turn, so I leaned hard to the right with my right foot clipped in and no momentum and, well, that’s how I ended up on the ground underneath Penelope’s carbon big sister. An auspicious beginning.
I knew I was fine; I was more freaked out about the bike, and once I finally disentangled myself from it, I could see that it was fine, too. I squirted water on the scrape on my knee, hopped back on, and rode over the bridge, figuring that at the very least, I’d learned something about how to deal with that situation in the future. (Except I hadn’t, because I did the same damn thing on another tight right turn later in the ride. I think I’m OK on my falling quota for a while. Sorry to the family I cursed in front of; it was awkward for all of us, really!)
When we finally hit Mercer Island, I encountered some of the most blissful bike riding I’ve experienced in my life. The roads were well-paved, the weather was perfect, the cottages were fun to ogle, there were hiking trails everywhere, and traffic was minimal and bike-aware. Pete sped ahead but the rest of us kept a solid pace, too, and something like 12 miles later, we pulled up at the far edge of the island, near the I-90 intersection.
The next five miles were the only un-fun part of the ride — a long out-and-back through the stoplights and strip malls of Bellevue, engineered solely to get us to the other side of I-405. We knew from the map that it was going to be obnoxious, which didn’t stop us from rolling up to every single stoplight and saying “Well, this is obnoxious.” I would look at how long those five miles took relative to the rest of the ride, but it would be too sad.
We finally made it out of Bellevue and onto the 520 bike trail, and I got a bit worried that I’d led us astray. While nicely paved and separated from the road, this trail also just does exactly what its name suggested (parallels Route 520), which turned out not to be much to look at — some marshes, maybe, but mostly traffic. But things perked up significantly at mile 20, when we a) stumbled upon a 7-11 and b) made the turn onto the Sammamish River Trail.
It’s possible that the miraculous appearance of (a) had some bearing on my enjoyment of (b) — there were 49-cent slurpees, and hot dogs, and string cheese, and I finally found a proper band-aid, and we had a long and serious debate about whether to go to this Celtic-Cajun bar and grill(e) in the same strip mall as the 7-11, so it was a pretty solid rest stop. But I think I would have loved the Sammamish River Trail under any circumstances: 10 miles of wide, paved, flat, beautiful, generously bathroomed pathway. (It also connects to the East Sammamish River Trail, which isn’t paved yet, but when it is, that will add another 10 miles of bliss, and then, oh, Seattle, I will be back.) Michaela and I were riding along at a totally comfortable, chatty pace, and yet one 15+-mph mile after another rolled by — unheard of for me. At one point, I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had to shift gears. Flat roads: They’re something special.
From there, we picked up the Burke-Gilman trail, a member of the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame, a thing that exists. Again, Seattle really got this one right. While the number of intersections that required stopping picked up as we got closer to city limits, we were still basically on a bicycle freeway — and one with hilarious fish-shaped water fountains, gorgeous lake houses, and playful husky puppies to watch along the way. We took the trail onto the University of Washington campus, then hopped onto city streets for the final downhill miles back to our friends’ place.
Nobody should get away with 50 miles in Seattle on a day with rain forecast for every hour without at least a few sprinkles, and sure enough, in the last five minutes of the ride, it started to rain. It only seemed right.