In 2004, inspired by bicycle touring pioneer Shirley Braxton, we decided to have an incentive to continue bicycling regularly by planning a “birthday miles” ride, in which you ride, in one day, as many miles as you are old. This was a good plan, as we often get “too busy” to ride, resulting in some late-season catch-up training and then a “grueling test of endurance” on ride day. 2012 was no exception.
Having planned overnight bike trips that somehow never were realized, a few short rides, and sporadic riding, I decided in late September to start training, which consisted mainly of solo rides of 30, 43, and 22 miles, with a 10-mile tandem ride thrown in for good measure, and no real plan for the “big ride,” somewhere between the La Conner Quilt Fest in early October and a trip to Montana in mid-October…
As it turned out, my Saturday class at the Quilt Fest was cancelled, so I moved to a Friday class, leaving Saturday open. Ah, a good opportunity for a ride. We had first discovered the La Conner Quilt and Textile Museum while riding the MS Tour in 2005, 2006, and 2007, stopping at the museum at the end of the first day’s 50-mile ride. The second day’s ride was a loop through the Skagit Valley up into the foothills to the north, then back. The MS Tour used to be called the MS150, and the route included 75-mile options, the northern loop which stretched past Lake Samish to Bellingham and then back down scenic Chuckanut Drive to join the 50-mile loop at Edison. We avoided the 75-mile route during the MS Tour because we knew we probably couldn’t finish in the 8-hour time limit, usually reduced to 7:15 because we were in the back of the starting order, and because the extended route had even more hills.
So, with the only restriction being to be back in La Conner by 5:30 or so, I set off at 7:45, bundled against the temps in the mid-40s, shedding some layers by the time I reached the base of Bow Hill. Climbing to the 20-mile mark, where the MS Tour split, I would be in new territory. Ahead, I saw a cyclist pull out onto the road, headed north. Giving chase, I caught up with him in a couple miles. Dan was about my age, and out for his Saturday morning loop, which would take us to the county park at the north end of Lake Samish, so I asked if I could ride with him. His route deviated from my planned route, climbing high into the hills before swooping down onto the west side of the lake.
As Dan headed back south, I continued around the north side of the lake, then up a steep climb to Bellingham, turning on the Old Samish Road.
At Chuckanut Drive, I turned north, over the hill into the Fairhaven section of Bellingham, a small city absorbed by the larger on, now a thriving neighborhood of shops and businesses as well as the cruise ship terminal for cruises to Alaska. My lunch stop was a coffee and scone at Tony’s Coffee, a Fairhaven landmark for many decades.
Chuckanut Drive, Washington State Highway 11, is a popular scenic drive that winds down the steep coastline from Fairhaven to the Skagit Valley. For bicylists, it is a harrowing passage of steep climbs, limited shoulders with no guardrail, and heavy auto traffic. However, the vistas of the San Juan Islands are not to be missed. At bicycle speeds, every scenic turnout becomes a photo opportunity.
After a snack stop at Larrabee State Park and some further adjustments to the shifting, we press on. Dense forest lines both sides of the winding road, but the scenic turnouts soon reveal vistas of Padilla Bay and south to Fidalgo Island and the Swinomish Channel that divides Fidalgo from the tulip fields of Skagit valley.
Soon, the highway begins a long, winding descent into the valley. I rejoin the old familiar MS Tour short route at Bow Hill Road, stopping at the bakery in the old town of Edison, crossing many tidal channels before climbing again toward Bay View, where the constant vibration of riding on chip-sealed roads sends my front reflector flying off into the woods.
The downhill into Bay View offers a chance to cruise at the posted speed (25): a truck towing a boat fails to pass. After another brief uphill out of the seaside village, I pull off the road onto a bike/pedestrian path that follows the shoreline. The surface is smooth, and a brisk tailwind quickly powers me through the marshes and back onto the road, just reaching the 60-mile mark.
The tailwind speeds me through the now-dormant flower fields. At the traffic circle at the edge of La Conner, I calculate I am about two miles short for my mileage count, so I head east and south, then turn back and roll through downtown La Conner, ending where I started, at the historic Planter Hotel at the south end of main street. The odometer reads 112.01 Km, elapsed time, 8:41. It is just about 4:30pm, plenty of time to put away the bike and shower before our 6:30pm evening program.