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