It wasn’t a planned event. But by Sunday afternoon, I’d put in 177 road-bike miles over the course of three rides, possibly a record for me. I know some of you die-hard bikers may shrug and say “Ah, that’s nothing!” But for me, more of a hiker than a biker, it was significant.
How the Week of Biking came to be
It started with The Challenge of Vesper Peak, a post you can read in case you missed it. Vesper’s aftermath put me into a bit of a physical and emotional funk, and I bailed on my first planned backpack trip of the year. It would have been last week, it would have been four days, and it would have been alone. But I simply was not feeling it, and with zero motivation to plan and organize myself, I did not go.
That left me with four unexpected days off last week, Monday – Thursday. I can fill that easily, even when my mind-set is heavy, and I didn’t waste any time.
Monday I hiked Yellow Astor Butte with Doug. That was, as always, a fantastic hike, one of my favorites. If you haven’t done it, do so! The hike helped to lift my spirits, as it was an easy 7 miles of outstanding beauty and unfolding views of Shuksan and Baker… just what the doctor ordered! Though my ankle hurt with every step, the magnificence of the hike more than compensated for that. Here’s a few inspirational photos from that hike and link to WTA’s information on Yellow Astor.
Tuesday I saw a few clients, did errands, and picked a last batch of fantastic Whatcom County raspberries.
Wednesday, I had a good chunk of time, and took my first ride for the week:
Wednesday’s Ride — Lake Whatcom Boulevard to Birch Bay (64 miles)
I love riding to Birch Bay! In a post last year, Soul Restoration Bike Rides, I described the ride. It feeds my soul on a deep level, the lonesome county roads that lead to and from, the strip of Birch Bay itself, the miles and miles of riding that allow my thoughts to roam and my head to clear. From my house in Sudden Valley, it’s at least 60 miles, depending on which roads I take.
I always drive my bike down the .8 miles of steep hills from my house, as it’s physically impossible to ride back up. But where to park and start is always a challenge. I had been parking in the Valley View shopping center, the only real business strip in Sudden Valley. Though it says “Customer Parking Only”, I figured I AM a customer, sometimes, at the bank and small store. So to park and ride for the day seemed reasonable enough to me. But apparently not to management. On this Wednesday morning, someone came out as I was getting organized to ride and asked, “Are you planning to leave your car here for the day?” I responded, “Yes, for awhile while I go ride.” He replied, “Management has asked me to tell you that you can’t do that. It’s for customers only, while they shop.” He shushed my protests of being a customer, saying “I am just reporting what management says. You will have to park elsewhere. There is a Park and Ride through Gate 1. You can park there.”
Instead of fighting, I gave him a look, a shrug, and loaded my bike back into the car, drove the short distance to Gate 1, and repeated the process of getting ready. I was finally on the bike by 11:10.
Being on the bike provided a welcome break for my sore feet and particularly painful right ankle. As always there was traffic to negotiate getting out of Bellingham, but once on county roads, I fully embraced the ride. The most remarkable thing on this day’s ride was wind. I had it to my back most of the way to Birch Bay, which caused the illusion of flying! I didn’t quite feel like Lance Armstrong, but I did feel strong and powerful.
Riding in northern Whatcom County at this time of year means passing abundant fields of berries, corn, and other mystery crops. My usual route takes me to Red River Road, on the Lummi Indian Reservation. Corn fields here a month ago were mere starts — now they meant business! Always, I have loved Red River Road, as it connects to other county roads that eventually lead to Birch Bay. I won’t detail my route here, but I do have strong preferences of how I come and go from Birch Bay, which I am happy to share if anyone is interested 🙂
I came into Birch Bay from the southern most entrance, off of Pt. Whitehorn Road. Just an FYI — there is a park, Point Whitehorn Marine Reserve, that is off the same road, opposite direction of Birch Bay, and well worth a visit if you want a short and scenic hike that overlooks and takes you down to water.
Once into Birch Bay State Park, I stopped at the first restrooms and took a break at the picnic tables that overlook the water. The air was surprisingly calm here, with little wind. I enjoyed the most fantastic sandwich ever eaten on a bike, I am certain. I had put almond butter on two slices of well-toasted gluten free bread, and a huge pile of fresh raspberries in between. I had doubled wrapped it in foil, and put it in a quart size ziplock freezer bag. Still, despite my best efforts, it had leaked through a bit to my bike shirt pocket, where I had meticulously stored it. But I enjoyed every single bite to the fullest overlooking the water, and it was completely worth the bit of clean up required. Such heaven!
After a good 30 minute break, I headed up the Birch Bay strip, watching the families and tourists out enjoying the day. Both the tide and people were out, making for great people watching as I cruised that couple of miles. I turned up at Birch Bay Lynden road, which took me past the Birch Bay Waterslides. There was a sizable crowd of kids and adults enjoying the slides, another worthwhile stop if that is your thing!
Then I was into it. The headwinds and sidewinds. Most of the way back, that was my nemesis. I knew it would happen, as any windy day is bound to be magnified on open county roads. I’d had the wind at my back on the way, and a price had to be paid. But it caught me off guard, and at times I struggled. Two roads in particular, Olson Road and Ferndale Road, headed me straight into the wind. Fortunately, each offers great views of Baker over the open fields, and the distraction of the mountain offered some relief. I should have stopped to get a picture, but kept on going for fear of losing my momentum. By the end of Ferndale Road, I was wiped out.
The last ten miles went by in a blur. One pedal after the other, back to and through downtown Bellingham this time, not bothering to skirt around. I was tired, and admittedly crawled up the hills on Lakeway, the most direct way back to Lake Whatcom Boulevard. I arrived back at my car just before 5:00, my odometer reading 64 miles. I was relieved to be back, and satisfied with the ride overall.
The week went on. Thursday, Doug and hiked to Thornton Lakes/Trapper Peak. This hike was fantastic, and I WILL do a trip report on it for my next post. Stay tuned for that!
Friday was a work day, and I organized myself to ride to work on Saturday.
Saturday’s ride to and from work (53 miles) — the inspiration hits!
There are three standard rides to and from my work in Fairhaven. The shortest is about nine miles, directly to town via Lakeway Drive, through downtown, and down to Boulevard Parkway. Next and most common for me is in the opposite direction on Lake Whatcom Boulevard, down to Alger via Alger-Cain Lake road and around Lake Samish, then back Old Samish Way. That is my favorite, but it’s 22 miles and hence requires more time. Third is all the way down to Chuckanut Drive via Colony Road and up and over Bay View, which is 30 miles. I don’t get to do that one too often, but I love it when I do. I plan which way to go based on how much time I have before and after work — one, two, or three hours for each respective ride.
On this Saturday, I chose the middle ground. I was riding along Lake Whatcom Boulevard when it hit me. This was the day of the Tour de Whatcom Bike Ride, which I have done twice. My two times participating represent the only two organized rides I have ever done, and they stick in my mind. Two years ago I did the 100 K, and last year I did the Century Ride. While I was thrilled that I could accomplish 100 miles in a day, it nearly killed my back being on a bike for that long. No more Centuries for me, I’d decided.
As I rode along on this Saturday morning, though, I realized that I would be encountering all of the riders from this year’s Tour as they headed the exact opposite direction I was going. The Tour is a fundraising event, and while I’m not sure how many riders participate, it’s somewhere in the 100’s. Sure enough, I encountered the first riders just as I hit the road going around Lake Samish. After that, it was a steady stream, all the way around the lake and up the steep hills heading out of Lake Samish. Even on Old Samish Way I saw rider after rider, as the start time is flexible. It was motivational to cross paths with all these folks, and I felt some sadness that I was not among them.
The whole experience inspired me, but especially the last two riders I saw. They were two men, one upright and one lying down completely flat on what appeared to be a cycling stretcher. The one lying down was only using his arms to propel himself, and his vision had to be extremely limited. The other rider, I figured, must be his eyes and guide, as the one couldn’t do it alone. My best guess is the guy was paralyzed from the waist down, and this was his way to ride. WOW! This stuck with me the rest of my ride to work.
During my work day, I kept thinking back to last year’s Tour, and why I didn’t want to repeat a Century. 100 miles at a time took too much of a toll. But I COULD, I realized, still have my own personal challenge of sorts, see how many miles I could get in before weeks end. I already had a plan to ride to Lake Goodwin the next day, a 60 mile ride. If I rode home a bit longer on Saturday’s ride home, I could break 175 miles for the week.
I planned my ride as I massaged my clients. I wasn’t inspired to go down Chuckanut, but instead decided to head north again. I wanted more mountain views, and those quiet county roads. I also wanted to travel some of the roads I had been on in last year’s Century, as the Tour heads north all the way to Blaine after initially traveling south to Alger. I didn’t want tons of miles, about 30, and thus planned a route in my head that would be about that.
There were two highlights of my ride home. First was seeing the same two guys, the reclined biker and his guide, still out on the route but close to finishing up. Again, this inspired me to no end, and I felt again invigorated by the man’s strength and his companions dedication.
The second highlight was Noon road, a road I have only ridden once, and that was last year on the Tour. It’s solitude and beautiful views of Baker made it a perfect road to ride. I worked my way over there just to touch base with it. After Noon I had only a short distance on the Mt. Baker Highway, to get to Britton Road, then back to my stomping grounds of Lakeway Drive and Lake Whatcom Boulevard. I arrived back at my car, this time parked up three steep but doable hills at the bottom of Sudden Valley gate 5, just below my house. The total ride home was 31 miles, and my plan for a strong biking week was now taking shape as a reality.
Sunday’s ride to Lake Goodwin
I have ridden to the family summer home just twice before Sunday’s ride. The first time was as a teenager, with my sister Kari. We rode from Seattle, and mid-route we decided that we needed to buy a watermelon at a local fruit stand to bring to the lake. We tried to strap it on the back of Kari’s bike, and of course it fell off! I don’t remember much else about the ride, except that it was incredibly difficult, and we ended up calling my parents for a ride the last 8 miles or so. We were simply pooped out and had lost our motivational watermelon too!
The second time was about 8 years ago, from Bellingham. That time also wore me about, as the ride was 60 miles, which represented my longest ride at that time. I ride a lot more now, and have done at least a dozen rides over 60, so I felt confident about the ride.
Still, I was nervous as I dropped my car and belongings off at my boyfriend Doug’s house Sunday morning. The plan was that he would drive down later with my stuff, so I could travel very light on the bike. I left his house at 9:40 am, a light breeze and sunshine my companions as I headed south.
I rode down Chuckanut Drive, I ride I have done so many times it’s intimately familiar. Then into the small town of Edison and out onto those fabulously flat Skagit County roads. I stayed sufficiently distracted from the rough roads by views of the Chuckanut mountains with Mt. Baker emerging out of the clouds just behind. At times I was riding into the wind, but overall, it was easy going. I slowly worked my way down to Bayview Park, and eventually to Highway 20. All these roads were quite familiar, as I used to ride my bike to Anacortes (a bit farther along Highway 20) when my son played baseball there.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to ride Highway 20 at all on this day, as I came in at the road that leads straight to La Conner. I road into La Conner, and experienced a bit of confusion as to which way to go. I needed to find Best Road, my ticket down south. Stopping at a coffee shop for directions, the shop owner said I had gone the wrong way at the traffic circle. I backtracked, and ended up riding a couple of extra miles, but the advantage was that I stayed on good pavement the entire way. There are a variety of road surfaces in Skagit, and some of the lesser travelled roads are Chip Seal, which I don’t like. Staying on major roads avoided that. I was a happy rider!
Best Road led me to the Rexville Grocery, my mid-way point and planned lunch stop. I bought coffee and used the restroom, and ate a bar and nuts sitting outside in the sun. The grocery has a great local feel to it, and they cater to a variety of people. It’s out of the way, but has somehow established itself as a landmark of sorts. I relaxed for twenty minutes, but knew I had to get moving. The first thirty miles of the ride I’d been slow, stopping multiple times to take pictures and getting diverted in La Conner. I was ready to turn it on and get to the lake for a swim!
And I did. Finally, I hit my rhythm on the roads leading down through Conway and eventually into Stanwood. Mostly flat and fast, I was able to keep a good pace. I knew I had hills to ride getting up from Stanwood to the lake, and that stayed on my mind as I flew. But I was invigorated by the fast 20 miles from Rexville to Stanwood, and I was able to carry that into the long climb up Frank Waters Road to Lake Goodwin Road.
I arrived at the lake at 2:35, almost exactly five hours after I started. My sister and some of her family greeted me, and I got to enjoy a great late lunch and a much needed swim. What a ride!
All in all, it was a fantastic week of riding. And hiking. I did miss the backpacking experience, but there will be another time. Certainly I made the most of the week, and enjoyed it fully. Summer is definitely here!