Saturday, March 14, 2009

lesson two, part two: two lakes.

The gravel goes on for miles, following closely the eastern shore of Lake Sammamish. At first, it passes mostly between starter mansions or upscale condominiums. Sometimes the path is little more than a glorified alleyway between two large fences, whose gates are always electrically operate. Huge hard-anodized padlocks keep the riff-raff from intruding on an acre or two of dilapidated lakefront, complete with mostly rotting, empty boathouses. Every driveway leading up to the main road is littered with "Private Drive," "No Trail Exit," and "No Trespassing." Of course you can see the tops of cars whizzing by in the sun just twenty feet away. Being a good citizen, you should heed the sings and continue always forward.

Here and there, slowly collapsing treehouses crouch in the trees, empty and forlorn. Their sorry state suggests the children of these strange neighborhoods left long ago. Leave them to their moldering fate and keep moving. No one else rides their bicycle on this path, just retired dogwalkers who give you dirty looks. One woman is so confused by your cheery bell she screams and jumps away from you as you grumble past on the loose gravel. As she falls behind, hear her tell her husband, "I didn't even know what that was!"

The bike handles the gravel well. The secret to riding a bike on the gravel is to let it do the talking. Listen to the bike and let it do the walking, let the wheels find their own way on the ever-shifting ground. You will find that the bike does not want to fall down any more than you do, and will go to great lengths to avoid it, as long as you let it. Slip into low gear, spin, and keep your eyes on the horizon. Do not mind strange apparitions that may appear.

Before long you will find yourself in Redmond. A grumbling stomach leads you away from the gravel that has been numbing your hands for the last forty-five minutes. Next to a large parking lot is a burrito place populated by unpleasant men eating lunch on their break. Read your book and eat your burrito as these young men, who are nothing at all like anyone you have ever enjoyed, complain about how people abuse the new $1000 commission for new contracts. Their sentences are populated with dull vulgarities and a general lack of enthusiasm. Eventually they make fun of a coworker who was dumb enough to try and get married before contemplating how many skiing weekends left in the season. Feel glad that such people find each other so easily before setting off to find the big park on the north end of the lake.

A small amount of wandering around more office parks, which are the primary defining feature of this bike ride, locates it. A massive field with a handful of playing fields and large buildings. A nearby freeway drones as it marches over the low green hills to the west.

Wander around aimlessly, wondering what to do next. A group of men assemble model planes in one spot, while in another dogs frenzied with happiness bolt to and fro, bark and hop. A sign promising a "Mysterious Thicket" sounds promising, so you dismount and start walking along the old concrete path. Soon the promised thicket appears, and not long after that a muddy path so enticing it simply cannot be ignored.

Such paths are usually a good opportunity to feel ludicrous dragging a bike where no one should be doing any such thing, and this particular trench of mud is no exception.

It is always wise to keep in mind, however, that if you find yourself having a miserable time dragging your bike somewhere, you will be rewarded somehow. In this case the reward after slogging through thick mud and manhandling the bike over kneehigh roots and over blackberry patches is a secluded spot in the middle of the Mysterious Thicket. A pathway of soft moss-like grass leads along the otherwise lifeless field. Bare trees stand guard as you find a spot in the shade to sit on spongy earth to clean several pounds of mud out of your outrageous fenders, read a good book, and drink a good beer. Only one person and her dog, a huge wienmarner, wander by after forcibly pushing their way through the thicket. Otherwise a quiet, motionless respite. Small birds skitter amongst the dead grass catching their lunches. Suddenly the thin buzzing of a model airplane as it loops about over the trees. Only then can you hear the barely audible drone of a freeway not far away.

Soon however, the waning sun encourages a conclusion of the ride, still many miles away. Rather than pushing back the way you came, choose to find new ways to get home. A new path is found that leads out over a large peatbog and then over the lake itself.

The ride now continues on an aggressively manicured bicycle path running along a broad valley. The Sammamish rivers flows lazily to the left, between it and the path is a barrier of impenetrable blackberry bushes. The landscape largely farmland subsumed by more recent development that spreads along the roadways. Across a massive featureless green field are huge buildings, utility unknown. Lines of tall narrow trees along the path. Mounds of earth piled at intervals. At an otherwise featureless bend in the river stands several dozen identical condos, arrayed in a long line along the path. All but one unoccupied.

And so the path continues along the river, passing under another massive interchange as it started to make its way westward again. Between the river and the freeway is a trailerpark that reminds you of a Cormac Mccarthy book.

Eventually the Sammamish River trail become the Burke-Gilman trail. First it runs alongside a massive traffic-choked arterial littered with car dealerships and various other forms of suburban detritus. It then pulls away and cruises through some of the affluent lakeside neighborhoods of Seattle. Trees and parks and the smells of more than barbecue. Pairs of racers, chatting easily, breeze past. Rounding a corner, be sure to stop and shoo the big cat you mistook for a dead dog off of the path. He grumbles at you, lets you pet him, and promptly resumes his leisure on the trail.

At the end of the ride now, leave the trail for Ravenna park, a lush glen not far from home. The muddy road follows the brook at the bottom of the crevasse. Tall mossy trees and, high above, an arched bridge. In the middle of the city you started in, a quarter mile from home, and finally you feel alone in the woods.

The last small hill is hard on your tired legs, but get up and spin the muddy hill and emerge from the hidden woods into your neighborhood. Ride past the tired college houses and their tattered, littered lawns and the commuters headed for their own better kept neighborhoods to the north. Another fifty-five miles in King County. See you for seventy-six more this Friday.

1 comment:

  1. Doug - oh so lovely - I want to ride with you - but this is the next best thing -rachel