Saturday, March 28, 2009

lesson four part one: sylvania

a map

First, go to the dive coffee shop down the street. Drink burned coffee and eat a vegan scone while looking at yet another dull day outside. Buy another scone and slip into the back pocket of your dirty windbreaker, free your bike from the trash can you locked it to, and head north once again. The air is cool and the sky is unpromising, but so far the roads are dry.

Follow the Burke-Gilman north through more privileged neighborhoods than your own. Houses so close to the lake they look like houseboats. Ride past piles of garbage pretending to be mansions. Ride past the clogged minimall streets and the golf courses.

Find and follow the good old Samammish. Ride fast, reap the easy miles -- later the going will be slow. Carve your way around the bends: this early and there's hardly anybody out. Listen to that thin hum as the tires bite the pavement. The new handlebars have changed your bike: now it handles like the quick road bike it was meant to be, even though ten pounds of gear are strapped to the fork and handlebars.

Eventually the trail finds its way around the big hill and turns south. Into the wind now and the sky is darker. Find the new trail leading under a green willow next to a couple of shaggy ponies. The new trail looks big and bad, totally unpromising. Little more than a muddy track up the sheer walls of the valley.

Dismount before even trying, as your slick road tires will find no purchase. Push the bike slowly up the grade, stop frequently and turn to see the valley fall further behind while breathing hard. The track so steep and loose your shoes slip. Pause and think about the many muddy miles ahead and eat a banana. Twenty miles in and the ride is really only beginning.

At the top of the first brutal hill see the Tolt Pipeline open like a book: a green highway through the countryside, charging roughshod up and down the grades. Countless little valleys between here and the horizon, beyond which undoubtedly lay more unfriendly topography.

Mount the bicycle and begin the first dicey descent. Come up the other side and begin another. Up and down a muddy road surrounded by the mansions of horse breeders and other rural aristocrats. Some of them give you strange looks as they walk their dogs on the trail.

Struggle up another very steep grade. Standing on the smallest gear, the rear wheel begins to slip. Don't stop though: if you let the bike find its own way, you will not fall. Just keep grinding the mud with your slick one inch tires. Struggle past a wealthy looking middle aged woman at the top of the little climb and manage to let out a strained, "Hello." She, of course, does not reply.

The trail continues through the woodsy exburbs of Seattle. Large houses and small along each side, the occasional subdivision carved out of a pasture. Find the home you were surely meant to die in surrounded by family in a distant, warm future.

One long gradual and especially wet descent has you barreling along at thirty miles per hour. Grip the handlebars and stick your body out over the rear wheel and scan the trail ahead for obstructions and dodge exercise ipod walkers deaf to the world about them. Do not think about how easily your tires slip on this wet earth and ride as if you were the wind blowing through the tall grass, there but no affected. Hit the brakes and cross another lonely rural road. You are deep in the woods now, it seems. The Tolt Pipeline reveals itself for a brief moment at the bottom of a gully, looking like an ancient aqueduct more than anything else.

Eventually the Tolt Pipeline Trail comes to an end and the Snoqualmie Valley finally reveals itself. Patches of green hemmed by a forest slowly making the transition from winter to summer.

Ride past another farmhouse, this one perched on stilts on the steep valley wall. A couple of merino sheep watch as you ride through the grass in what could be called a front yard and join a steep, narrow driveway. As the road descends under a canopy of lush woods, it becomes steeper, and then ludicrously steep and also treacherously slick. So tricky that to ride it would be foolish: dismount once more and walk your bicycle slowly to the floor of the valley.

Once there ride along a little two lane highway with no shoulder then turn left to cross the broad valley. Wet farmland beneath a wet sky. On either side, little hills nestled beneath a mix of gray and green and the Cascades hidden behind thick gray clouds. Stop and watch as the semitrucks scare the ducks from their pond.

Ride across the bridge and then past a shrine devoted to an old relic. Find the gravel path running alongside the highway. It is lined on both sides with bare, spindly trees for as far as the eye can see. As you turn off the road onto and begin to crunch through the gravel, the clouds above finally have their say as a mist begins to fall. And so you ride south along the valley, passing rivers and green fields bordered by sullen thickets.

1 comment:

  1. sounds nice. i wish i had seen this part of seattle when i came up to visit. after talking to craig about where i should move, i might be willing to give the uber-hip northwest another go. i'll tell you more later.