August in Puget Sound is an idyllic time that fools Californians into moving here just before the start of the 10-month-long rainy season. The forests are still green, The Mountain (Rainier) is “out” most days, visible from most of the populated areas where buildings have replaced trees, and you can even see Mount Baker, the northernmost of the major Cascade volcanoes, more than 100 miles away, from Hoodsport on clear mornings.
August, for the denizens of Chaos Central, the Unix Curmudgeon and the Nice Person, had been intended as intensive training time for our upcoming September bicycle tour. Yes, training. Most people planning a vacation prepare by buying traveling clothes, sporting goods, getting an overhaul or detailing the motor home, etc. But, for bicycle tourists, planning to ride your bike long distances involves, ah, riding your bike long distances. Several times a week, for months, before riding every day for a week or two or more.
But, this being Chaos Central, August was a flurry of activity other than biking. First, we finally sold our former domicile in Montana after a 25-month ordeal. Then, because we are members of Warmshowers.org, the bicycle touring housing exchange, and this being middle of the not-so-rainy season in Puget Sound, we get a lot of bicycle tourists on the the Pacific Coast tour route through our fair city. Some of them stop, which is sometimes good, because we can make excuses to ride with them for 20 or 25 miles before reversing course for home and other responsibilities.
Those other responsibilities include (since this is the Unix Curmudgeon’s Blog, after all) grinding code and tweaking remote client systems. A lot. As it turns out, the end of the government fiscal year brought a surfeit of piled-up work, the result of hiring freezes and threats of shutdown, etc. And, the Nice Person has a few quilts left to finish for snowbirds passing this way next week. So, we work early mornings, evenings, and weekends to be able to ride during the week, when traffic is a bit lighter, during the mornings and early afternoons before the temperature shoots up into the high 70s and becomes unbearable for us web-footed rain forest dwellers.
We’ve been riding, and sometimes touring, together for 25 years as a tandem team, and the Unix Curmudgeon has been a bike commuter and accidental bike tourist for 35 years, racking up nearly 50,000 miles on two wheels, including the 10,000 or so tandem miles. So, we should be at least used to the conditioning routine, and we are hopelessly behind, though in better shape for this tour than in some years.
During this month, we have managed to ride at least 10 miles on busy days, and have worked up to 20 miles, then 40 miles when we can spare the time, and ride at least twice a week. On this, the next-to-last-day of the month, a little over two weeks from the start of our tour, and a bit over a week from our departure date, we matched our 40-mile distance from a couple weeks ago with a “commuter ride.” We had received an escrow refund check from our house sale earlier in the month. It wasn’t a lot, but nearly enough to pay for gasoline to drive to our bike tour starting point and return (5000-mile round trip). We decided to deposit the check by riding to our bank, which is in Olympia, 20 miles away.
After our Tuesday morning yoga session at the Senior Center downtown, we headed up Railroad Avenue to U.S. 101, which becomes a four-lane freeway south of town. We exited at the interchanges and crossed over to the on-ramp, to avoid merging with 100-Kph truck and car traffic. Conversation on the noisy highway is impossible, but the breakdown lane is at least wide enough to keep the juggernauts a safe distance away, though dodging chunks of bark dropped by logging trucks is a matter of constant vigilance. We got a brief and serene respite from the traffic by following a short loop of the Old Olympic Highway at Oyster Bay, then found ourselves back on the freeway for a long climb up yet another of the ridges that climb up 80 meters (i.e., equivalent to more than 22 flights of stairs) between the many inlets. At the Steamboat Island Road, just inside Thurston County, we exit, stop for an early lunch at the small commercial strip, then dive steeply down to Madrona Beach Drive, which rolls gently several miles to Mud Bay Road, which crosses the muddy end of Eld Inlet, filled with water only at high tide. A hard steep climb up to West Olympia, then onto Cooper Point Road, which has no bike lane and is constantly congested at Black Lake Boulevard. We survive the intersection, conduct our business, then turn back left on Cooper Point out of the parking lot, a difficult maneuver in a car, and death-defying on a bike. Other cyclists are on the sidewalk. Later, when mapping the route, we find that Google will not let you map a bike route on this stretch of Cooper Point Road. Not bikeable. I believe that now, but years of commuting on Aquidneck Island (Rhode Island) and through Bremerton, Seattle, and Missoula have dangerously dulled my fear of traffic.
Fortified by a quick visit to Starbucks, we retrace our route home. The sun burns through briefly, so we hunt for our sunscreen at Steamboat Island Road and visit with bike tourists from Oregon we overtake at Subway. They step in for a late lunch, we continue on. We do not see them again. Approaching Shelton, we exit at WA 3, take a right, then U-turn on Arcadia to get left across a constant stream of uphill traffic and a left turn signal that won’t switch for bikes. Zig-zag through the hillside above our house, and we are home. Total time, 6.5 hours, total distance, 40 miles. Not good, but probably not bad for old folks on Medicare, and we did conduct business, visit, have lunch, and answered email over coffee. A good day. Are we ready for 55-mile days back to back three weeks from now? Maybe. We hear Michigan is flat, and the U.P. is relatively low-traffic. Later this week, we plan to reprise our trip to Hoodsport of a couple weeks ago, and maybe one more long ride before we pack the bike next week. Now, back to writing Perl code to deliver a beta test release before our trip east.