My Solitary Ride

reiter_road_to_index

I usually ride with friends; it’s great fun to enjoy a wonderful ride together, to share the experience, and to pass the time with animated conversations. I’m disappointed when the scheduling does not work out, when no one can make it, or when things come up at the last moment. That happened this week. But the weather forecast was great, so I used this opportunity for a solitary ride.

After testing various bikes recently, I enjoyed riding my own bike again. I had just equipped it with the new Babyshoe Pass Extralight tires. I put a few energy bars in my handlebar bag, filled my water bottles, grabbed my camera and mini-tripod, and headed out.

I left my house at 7 a.m., and an hour later, I already was heading into the hills. Two hours later, I swooped down into the Skykomish River Valley. I cruised through Snohomish. From there, I hardly saw a car as I headed into the hills near Lake Roesinger.

aero_tuck

To think that roads like these are just a few hours from Seattle! Sadly, we rarely see other cyclists on them – it seems that most riders prefer the flatter, busier roads in the valleys.

orchard_allee

When I ride by myself, I am more aware of my surroundings. I had passed this beautiful tree-lined road to a horse farm dozens of times, but never had noticed it.

Riding alone also means time to think and meditate. By this point in the ride, I already had come up with ideas for two articles that you may see eventually in Bicycle Quarterly, as well as a number of other evolving thoughts.

cougar_descent

Twisting downhills brought me back into the Skykomish River valley. There is one particular turn that you almost can take without braking. The road surface is smooth, and today, it was dry, yet clean after the recent rain. On the earlier descents, I had noticed the improved traction of the new tires. I realized I could recalibrate my ideas of what my bike can do.

Instead of riding in the drops, I got into the aero tuck, and built speed quickly. I changed into the drops just before the road began to turn. A light dab on the front brake, not to scrub speed, but to change the weight distribution and get more traction on the front tire. Then I was committed to the turn. It felt – it was – very fast. Almost too fast. Yet nothing untoward happened. I got pushed into the saddle by the g forces a bit more than usual, but the bike rounded the curve without drama.

I’ll just have to be careful when I next ride a racing bike, with narrower tires that offer so much less traction!

fallen_tree

It was windy, and I was battling a fierce headwind as I headed up the Skykomish Valley. When I turned onto Reiter Road, there were many branches lying on the ground. I considered the risk of getting injured by a falling tree branch, but with a few exceptions (above), all the fallen branches were small. Being in the trees had me sheltered from the wind, which was nice.

snow_on_reiter

I was surprised to see snow by the side of the road. It must have snowed here earlier in the week, when we in Seattle just got our usual cold rain. Reiter Road always is enjoyable, and my fatigue from riding into the wind vanished as I headed up this enchanted road.

Riding alone is different, as my speed varies more. In a group, I ride faster when I am not feeling great, so I don’t hold up the others. And I ride slower when my legs want to fly. Today, I was flying and flagging by turns. By myself, there was nothing to moderate my pace.

index_town_hall

It did not take long to reach my destination, Index. The small old wooden houses that line one of the three or four streets of the town look almost like a movie set. The town is set into a narrow side valley, surrounded by towering cliffs. It’s a charming town that is waiting to be “discovered.”

lunch_index

For now, the lunch choices are limited to a convenience store. My picnic meal had the calories I needed, but lacked a bit in nutritional value. And I missed the conversations that animate our lunches when we are out with a group of friends.

index_panorama

Although with a view like this, I wasn’t complaining. It would have been nice to share this with a friend or two.

compass_babyshoe

I took a look at my bike. I really count myself lucky. When I first started writing about bikes, I wouldn’t have dreamt of riding a René Herse. I didn’t even imagine that tires could perform so well. And I never came out here, since it was too far, and the backroads were too rough to be enjoyable. It’s not that I am stronger now than I was then – quite the opposite – so I really have to credit the bike for being able to do these rides now.

road_to_monroe

It was time to head back. The wind had calmed down a bit, but it still pushed me vigorously down the valley. I took the backroads from Sultan to Monroe (above), and I enjoyed the little rollers that add some challenge to this section. And unlike on a ride with friends, nobody dropped me on the hills, nor did I have to wait on top. It made for a nice flow.

snoqualmie_valley

From Monroe, I rode through the wide-open Snoqualmie valley. By now, it was so warm that I took off my tights and rode in shorts for the first time this year. Then I climbed the hills that separate the Snoqualmie valley from Lake Washington, before riding the Burke-Gilman Trail back to Seattle.

sunset

As I crested Phinney Ridge, I saw the sun set behind the Olympic Mountains. I got home a ten minutes later than planned, but still in time for dinner. It was another wonderful day on the bike, and it left me recharged for the challenges of daily life.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. One of our companies, Bicycle Quarterly Press publishes cycling books, while Compass Bicycles Ltd. makes and distributes high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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41 Responses to My Solitary Ride

  1. I’m struggling to go out on my own at the moment, with the grim weather and the dark I’m finding that after doing the commute that’s all I want to do during the week and rely on the club group rides to get me out at the weekend!

    I’m sure the first warm sunny and light evening we get I’ll be out there tearing it up :)

  2. Roy says:

    Nice … but what about the tires? :) Is my next tire a babyshoe or a hetre? In the almost too fast corner, would a hetre have different?

    • I was surprised by this – the standard Hetre has larger ribs that squirm a bit in corners. The shaved Hetre has no tread, and also less traction. I never noticed until I rode the new tires, and on the first familiar corner, I almost ran into the curb because the new tires turn on a slightly tighter radius.

      Now the Hetres still corner better than any narrow racing tire, simply because there is so much rubber on the ground…

  3. Thomas Dusky says:

    Great story Jan, I felt like I was with you on the ride. Please start eating better, empty calories might get you through the day but the wont get you through your 70’s. I am looking forward to many more years of reading your great stories, so do your part and stay alive! Next time pack a sandwich, some trail mix and a banana.

    • Don’t worry, I usually eat better than that. Apart from the ice cream, none of the food shown is part of my regular diet… But yes, I probably will pack a sandwich next time. We usually start earlier anyhow, and stop for lunch at a great taco truck in Monroe.

  4. Teemu Sauer says:

    I always enjoy your trip storys and have to wonder about thouse amazing landscapes you come through. I also notice very little cars on any of your pictures. Here in Finnland its quite different. useable Backroads are few. We luckily have a lot of cycleroads next to car traffic, also on longer roads outside Helsinki, but more than often one has to fit him/her-self onto the side of the road. It sometimes is not quite nice, not many cardrivers do not except a cyclist on the roadside, beeing overtaken by a car or even bigger vehicle is sometimes quite turbulent and makes the trip less enjoyable.

    • What about all those great gravel roads that are used for the 1000 Lakes car rally?

      • Teemu Sauer says:

        Jan, that´s what i am waiting for. My current bike is just too flimsy with the 25mm tyres to get along those roads. When my 650b cycle is ready i certainly will enjoy the gravel roads and landscapes, in middle of Finnland. I do not have a car so for that i must plan ahead. But hollidays will come and a nice summer too .

  5. miguel says:

    I’ve been a long time reader of your blog from the Philippines (of all places) and this is my first time to leave a comment. Mainly because I enjoy solo rides too, and hope to do more of it, but also because I wanted to ask, how do you take photos of yourself? Haha. Is the camera on timer, or do you use wireless trigger? Thanks, keep writing and riding!

    • Mini-tripod and self-timer. The head-on shots are a bit tricky, and sometimes, they show me doing a U-turn, since the timer goes off after 10 seconds. I have thought about getting a wireless trigger, but for real feature articles, having a photographer along for the ride is better.

  6. Adam in Indiana says:

    A beautiful, fun ride, Jan! Wish we had some scenery like that around Indiana. Just curious, do you know what your time and average speed was? And how this compares to a normal group ride of roughly the same distance?

    • I spent 10 hours on the bike, plus or minus a few minutes (total ride time was 10:40), and I estimate the distance between 230 and 240 km. Since I don’t use a computer, I don’t know exactly. I’d say we’d have gone at roughly the same speed on a group ride.

      • Andy says:

        As I ride longer, I’ve gotten better at keeping breaks to a minimum. It surprises me to think that between a lunch stop, a dozen or so tripod shots, and probably a few roadside stops if you are well hydrated, that amounted to only 40 minutes on a 240km ride. You must have perfected the art of keeping the wheels rolling!

      • Apart from perhaps five minutes of photography and waiting at traffic lights, my first stop was in Index, at roughly the half-way point, where I ate lunch. My second and last real stop was in Monroe, at km 180 or so.

        A comfortable bike and having food easily accessible in a handlebar bag means that I don’t need to stop often.

      • 20kmrando says:

        I really like the posts about rides, they really put me in the mood of riding. I don’t use a computer either, I sometimes plug in Strava, which I must admit can be quite fun. I reckon I started using it to track my rides, check them on google maps and be able to explore new roads. Now I often look at cycling computers/GPS, but I haven’t decided myself, I’ll probably stick with maps and a wristwatch.
        I think a lot of readers would enjoy a post about how you prepare your rides. ¿Is there any specific post about this in older BQ issues?.

      • Is there any specific post about this in older BQ issues?

        In the “Randonneuring Basics” series, there was an article about preparing your ride in terms of equipment (clothing, food, tools). I also wrote an article about “Collecting Roads” that talks about how to select your route. That article is available online on our “Samples” page.

  7. tony dadson says:

    so who took all those pictures of you?

  8. Andrew from NH says:

    Great account of a great ride! I also enjoy riding with buddies, but also savor solo rides as well. The riding in the northwest looks to be sensational and scenically unequaled. Thanks for posting these interesting descriptions of you sojourns and forays into the hills!

    • It took us decades to discover these roads and places. I now wish I had known what I know now while I was younger! But without good maps and on 20 mm tires, you just don’t find these places…

      • Russell Harper says:

        How about an e-book or website devoted to popularizing those roads. I’m sure that part of the reason you don’t see many cyclists there is that many of us don’t know about them.

  9. Jan, you perfectly summed up my thoughts on solo rides versus riding with a small group of friends. Both have their own distinct merits, and I can’t really say I like one over the other. When I’m riding local (Boston area) I’m usually with a few friends, and I value the camaraderie. But when I’m in the Catskills, my home away from home, (http://ridingthecatskills.com/2013/07/15/tale-of-three-hamlets-an-adventure-in-delaware-county-new-york/), I’m almost always solo. It’s amazing how much more scenery I take in and self-reflection I experience when I’m solo!

  10. Mark V Hillman says:

    Great, inspiring story! I always ride alone. But before I go for my ride this morning, I gotta ask, who takes the photos when you are riding? I always have a camera with me and lately I’ve been giving talks on my rides in Finland, but never have photos of me riding.

    Thanks for your inspiration,

    Mark

  11. aquilaaudax1 says:

    I love love long solo rides in the hills and on back roads. As you say, you can ride at your own pace, not have it dictated by those on the front. For me it’s a bit of a yoga like experience too. You start the ride thinking about random stuff and by the end your mind has become “empty”. I always come home knackered yet I feel “restored” and I am always in a great mood.

  12. B. Carfree says:

    I don’t encounter many cyclists on the roads I frequent down here in Oregon either. For some reason, many cyclists prefer those busy, flat roads to the wonderful zero-traffic roads in our local coast hills. I sometimes play a little game where I see how many miles I can travel before a car overtakes me. My record is 170 miles.

    • 170 miles is pretty impressive. We once managed 10 hours without a car on Mt. St. Helens, but we cheated in that 5 of those hours were on roads closed to cars.

      I think it takes a leap to go from the roads you know from driving or taking the bus to exploring others off the beaten path. I know it took me years to start looking for those sideroads. The catalyzing moment was when there was construction on Stevens Pass, and everybody was re-routed on an old road. I didn’t even know the old road was there, but when the construction was over, I kept taking the old road, now free of traffic. From there, it was a small leap to looking for other old roads and sideroads.

      Riding with a group who appreciates the old roads also has led to many discoveries. The Seattle Randonneurs’ courses really take in small roads and sideroads as much as possible these days. By pooling knowledge, there have been some wonderful roads discovered and shared.

    • Andy says:

      I think it would be a stretch to say that anyone actually prefers riding in car traffic…

      The empty roads are farther away and typically require seeking a ride that’s at least a few hours long (especially if it takes an hour just to get far enough away from highly developed areas). While I love the long rides away from traffic, understandably many people don’t have the time or desire to be out for 4, 8, 12+ hours to get that kind of enjoyment.

      • Few people prefer to ride in traffic. However, the backroads usually are hillier, and the pavement is rougher. Plus, looking for them takes imagination, and finding them takes research.

        You are right about many small roads requiring a longer ride, but even in places closer to Seattle, we see many cyclists on the busy roads in the valleys, while we have the small, scenic roads in the hills to ourselves.

  13. David T. says:

    You really show an appreciation of the countryside and places you ride through. And great meal!

  14. alpinejoy1 says:

    Great report and breathtaking pictures, as per usual.

    The only thing I feel a little bit sad about is what every solo photographer faces, whether it’s you or the naturalist Richard Proenneke in Twin Lakes, Alaska: A photo of the person going away from the camera isn’t completely true: You have to stop, turn around and pack up the tripod & camera, and go again.

    I wonder, how do you deal with this, and does it bother you? I guess it’s the bane of every photographer’s or movie maker’s existence. You’ve got work to set up a carefree shot.

    • You are very right – the photos all are posed. It does bother me, and I only did a few “photo shoots” during the 10-hour ride. There are many rides where I leave my camera at home on purpose – I don’t want my rides to become photo shoots and myself an actor.

  15. Matt Sallman says:

    Thanks for this story Jan. You are keeping me going while waiting for this miserable winter to release its hold on Metro Detroit. That and gathering all the pieces for my 650b bike. I’m beginning to wonder if I might just have it together before the weather breaks.

    BTW a shout out to Thomas Dusky above who worried about your health. He founded our Detroit Randonneurs club last year. Thanks to him, and all the other brevet leaders, who we owe so much for their hard work to create the rides we enjoy. I better watch what snacks I am eating in his presence this summer though!

    Matt

  16. Mark Schneider says:

    I really enjoy your posts on the great rides you do. As far as riding alone I’m at the opposite extreme. Almost all of my rides are solo. I live in a rural area and most of my neighbors drive pickups and think I’m crazy. Riding alone on narrow 2 lane roads is interesting, especially at night, I go a little overboard with reflective triangles and lights but I find drivers give me plenty of room most of the time..
    I notice you don’t have a large taillight or reflectors in your pictures, is that because you usually ride in groups?

    • I notice you don’t have a large taillight or reflectors in your pictures, is that because you usually ride in groups?

      I’ll talk about that in detail in a future post, but out in the country, I want to have enough lights to be visible, but not be so lit up that impaired drivers are fixating on me and thus involuntarily drift toward me. I find that a single red taillight, backed up by a reflector, is enough to do this.

      In the city, where I am competing with many other light sources, it makes sense to use more reflective materials to avoid being overlooked among the visual clutter.

  17. Barbara Kelly says:

    A wonderful post that has me dreaming about riding when it finally warms up here in northwestern Wisconsin where we have some equally wonderful road riding.

  18. Marc-André says:

    Beautiful ride! You are really Lucky. Aren’t you supposed to have winter too on the west coast? Here in Montréal, it is -15 C, -21 C for tomorrow morning….Snow almost up to my waist in the backyard!

  19. Peter Vanderlinden says:

    I always appreciate your ride reports. I commute daily so on the weekends I tend to pick other activities to keep active. You display quite an argument to getting out on my bike for a weekend ride. The scenery and associated experience made me very jealous. I have a question that relates to tires. I have never been a fan of super skinny tires. Some friends of mine are constantly trying to get me to go skinnier. I refuse because my wider tires make going “off the the beaten path” within reach and enjoyable. It is apparent that this crowd gets more joy uploading rides to strava than enjoying a mode of transit that can get a rider into the wild to breath fresh air. I am not judging but, it is apparent that they get something different out of cycling than I do. I digress. :) My question, I am wondering what started the movement towards skinny tires? These tires seem so counter intuitive. If you have already answered this I apologize for the redundant question. I always enjoy all of your writing in whatever platform I am reading at the time. Thanks for the countless hours of research and testing. I appreciate your real world approach. It sure has made my riding better and more enjoyable.

  20. Ford Kanzler says:

    Hi Jan,
    Here’s an idea for a future story or perhaps even a book. Working title (strangely enough) is Off the Beaten Path. It shows and tells about rides you and others are familiar with either in Washington or all across North America or even around the world. It features stories and images of spectacular, low auto traffic rides inspiring long-distance riding enjoyment rather than just “training jams.”

  21. Adam Blumenthal says:

    Another wonderful write-up, Jan. Funny you should mention branches falling from trees… During my ride Saturday (WTS #8), our small group was negotiating the valley roads between Carnation and the climb up to Grand Ridge/Duthie, when I thought I heard a “crack.” What I definitely heard, and felt, was a limb coming down on the right side of my helmet and then my right shoulder/tricept area. Fortunately, I didn’t lose control of the bike, nor did the branch hit my compatriot riding to my right and slightly behind me. I have a small dent in the shell of my helmet (time to replace it) and my neck is quite sore, but it could have been a lot worse. Funny how many folks don’t think they “need” a helmet when riding in such low traffic and “scenic” places! BTW, I am looking forward to finally meeting you one of these days. I’ll be riding the Spring 200k on the 15th, a day after stepping off my return flight from Shanghai. Perfect rando training, I suppose!

  22. petevanderlinden says:

    @ 20kmrando I just reread the comments and noticed that you commented on strava (before I did) and like to use it. I also think it is a great tool and useful to track training or plan routes. My friends use it to compare numbers for bragging rights . Something I got too caught up in. I decided to stop using it because it was a constant reminder of how slow I actually am. :) Just didn’t want you to think I was making taking a jab at you.

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