An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Summer's Last Gasp Ride

Last year in July, Steve Hampsten, NW Framebuilder extraordinaire, organized a ride from North Bend, WA, to the top of Snoqualmie Pass and back mostly on gravel roads and a rail-trail conversion (also gravel). Called the Trofeo Strada Bianca, it was a great ride, with about 30-35 people showing up for a gentlemanly assault of the pass.

Inquiries into a repeat performance this year made it clear that Steve was too busy to make it happen. I enjoyed it so much last year that I decided to just throw it together and see where it went.

Using the same route, I created the Summer’s Last Gasp Ride on Facebook, to be run on September 20th, sent out invites to Steve and every other rider I knew, posted updates on a couple of the cycling boards I frequent, and then anticipated the approaching day.

Picking a date in late-ish September is a complete crap-shoot -- we might get summer-like sun and warm temperatures, or we might be calling in the Coast Guard for a flood rescue. Pretty much even money either way.

Well, with a few days to go before the event, the forecast showed some rain mid-week and then sunny and warm for the weekend. Perfect! And indeed it was a perfect weather day for this ride. Fog in the low lands, but we rose above it by the time we drove into North Bend, and it was sunny throughout. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Response on Facebook for the ride was meager, and Steve had to cancel the day before because of a project that came up last  minute. I knew I'd be getting into the local cyclocross season, so that ate into the potential attendees as well.

It ended up with three of us showing up, one of which flew in from New York just to make this ride and do a ride up to Paradise (on Mt Rainier) the next day. I asked him if this was a work trip. "Nope, just wanted to fly out and ride somewhere I've never ridden before." Something about turning 40...

We shoved off just after 9:30, and headed out at a sedate pace towards the first section of gravel. Several miles in, the first uphill brought us to the Iron Horse Trail, a converted railroad grade that travels over Snoqualmie Pass and all the way to Idaho (so I hear) and beyond. We wouldn't take this all the way to the summit, but it provided a nice easy gain in elevation.

Dropping back down to the highway level (Interstate 90, for those keeping score), some more pavement and a couple miles on the shoulder of the highway brought us to Tinkham Road, the next section of gravel.

A surprise left at the Denny Creek exit took us over the highway and up the final few miles UP to the summit (on pavement). Another downhill on the other side, and we were at the half-way point and our rest/food stop.

I recruited my wife (well, she volunteered really, but I think she was doing it as a birthday gift for me) to bring food and water up for us, and she, along with my thirteen-month-old daughter greeted us with smiles and nutrition. Perfect.

After loading up the carbs and a little more for the pockets, we got going again. The stop backed right up to the Iron Horse Trail again, and within a half-mile we were at the entrance to the tunnel...

Two miles of total darkness. Yes, we had lights. The provide what I consider to be barely enough illumination to make it navigable. I've ridden during some very dark parts of the night with no street lights, and even some night off-road riding, and none of that is anywhere near as disorienting as going through this tunnel. I was glad to be following. Not even a quarter of the way through, our New Yorker stated, "I've ridden in some unique places, but this takes the cake."

Finally through the chill air and back into (very bright) daylight, we doffed the arm warmers and vests, made sure the lights were extinguished, and hit the trail again. The Iron Horse Trail is deceptive in that it doesn't really feel like you're going uphill until you turn around and head back down. Twenty miles per hour was easy all the way back, and we only had to slow down for hikers, other slower riders, and a gaggle of rock climbers. And a photo op here and there. It probably took us barely more than half the time to get back as it did to make the ascent.

Cruising in the last few paved miles back to our destination, my thoughts turned to... FOOD!

Beers and burgers at The Pour House were the order of the day, while we regaled with tales of rides, trips, and other life

Yes, the day turned out to be perfect. The ride was not so long as to garner wishes that it were over, and not so short as to leave one wishing for more. Hard to top a riding day like this.

Will I do the ride again? Sure. Probably not in September, though. The odds just aren't there for another perfect weather day.

Hopefully we can have a few more riders along next time.

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