Best-laid Plans of Mice and Men

In our last post, we were headed eastward toward Michigan for a bicycle tour of the Upper Peninsula.  Unfortunately, a family emergency halted us in Wisconsin, and we canceled the tour, heading instead back west, to southern California.  Now, after 6000 miles of driving and only 40 miles of riding (we went on two short rides in Wisconsin while visiting family there) we are finally back home, planning a new trip.

Our automobile diversion took us across Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, a corner of Arizona, Nevada, and a two-hour traffic jam over the mountains into the L.A. basin.  By the time we crossed Utah, the limitations of running an office on the road became clear, so we filled the last remaining space in the car with a multi-function printer, which did come in handy over the next week.  Our trip home took us up the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), adding an extra day to the journey, but giving time for reflection and the chance to scope out the scenic route so many of our bicycle-tourist guests this summer have journeyed.

The amazing PCH is truly beautiful, but a tortuous route along the coastal cliffs much too daunting for our aged bones to consider riding on the bike.  At Cresent City, CA, we headed inland to the Interstate and home, saving the Oregon coast for another time, having driven most of it 18 years ago.  That portion, we might consider for bicycling.

But, now, we are faced with continuing our training in the rainy Pacific Northwest, where el ninõ is scheduled to bear down on us later this week, before heading out at the end of October for Florida, where we plan to ride the Keys, then ferry to mid-state to bicycle back to our starting point.  The new trip is much longer, with longer riding days, than the Michigan trip would have been, and is self-supported, meaning we have to tow the loaded trailer and share in the cooking and group camp duties.  But, Florida is as flat as bicycling ever gets, so it may be doable, even for old folks who have spent the last three weeks sitting and look forward to yet another week in the car before the ride.

During our 3-week travels, we did manage to keep up with work, to some extent.  WiFi is now nearly everywhere, with the exception of the small beach hotel we landed in, the only room available after a harrowing drive over winding mountain roads in the dark.  But, the cafe across the street had service, letting us catch up during breakfast, and we found another hotspot in a larger town up the coast at lunch time.  Having a printer was helpful for printing contracts, maps, and diagrams.  During the nearly two-week bike trip upcoming, we plan to carry only a Netbook, and will be camping, so expect limited service and not much time to tarry in coffee shops while keeping up with the rest of the tour group.  And, another two weeks in transit with long days in the car will also limit access.  Perhaps vacations are still possible in the Internet Age, even if not totally disconnected from that from which you need a vacation…

Cypress, Monterey Peninsula, California


Bike Friday Saturday

Less than a week before we head east, and a bit over two weeks before our bike tour begins, we are out on the bike again for a training ride. We were planning to go on Thursday, but too many things going on: work, late reservations from bike tourists on the Adventure Cycling Association’s Pacific Coast Trail, etc. Friday, of course was out of the question. So, here we are, Labor Day weekend, on the road.

Our destination today is Mason Lake County Park, at the north end of Mason Lake, 34.5 miles round trip. I had made this trip last year solo, and we had been to Lake Limerick, a bit more than half-way, earlier in the season, so it’s another comparison of our training progress. We got a late start, and it is supposed to be sunny and warm, but we need to get used to riding through the afternoon for our tour later this month.

First, a stop at the Shelton Saturday Farmer’s Market for some cookies, then dismount behind the library and push the bike up the steep switchback trail. This is safer and less traumatizing than riding up Old Olympic Highway in heavy traffic with no shoulders. We have also taken to riding the walking/biking trail from Mason General Hospital to the Island Lake road, as the car traffic takes more kindly to us if we don’t ride in the road, some of which is narrow one-lane boulevard with no shoulder.

Once out on Brockdale Road, there is a shoulder, of sorts. We turn on McEwan Prairie Road, which is relatively flat but a token half a foot to the right of the fog line. The Shelton-Bremerton railroad line crosses at a slight angle, so we check traffic and zig-zag to square up the crossing a bit.

A left on Mason Lake Road at the end of McEwan Prairie takes us to the Lake Limerick store for water and sports drink and necessary stops. The rest of the ride is rolling, climbing to an elevation of 280 feet east of Mason Lake before gradually dropping to the lake level at 200 feet elevation.  This would be an ideal country ride except for the thick coat of chip seal on most of the length of the road, that favorite treatment of Washington highway departments that vibrates the bicycle, robbing power and numbing every body part in contact with the bike.

The Nice Person and the Green Machine at the Mason Lake County Park boat ramp

The boat ramp is busy on this Labor Day weekend. Fortunately, one of the two picnic tables is available and we drag it into the sparse shade at the lakeshore to eat our boiled potato and banana lunch. Soon, we head back toward home, retracing our route. Only a few hundred meters into the chip-sealed section, we need to stand on the downhills and steering, shifting, and braking are visual and from the shoulders, clumsily pushing numbed digits against the levers.  The new bar ends help relieve the numbing somewhat. Despite the annoyance of riding on deliberately roughened roads, we are much stronger now than just a month ago, and only the longest and highest hills demand the lowest gears.

But, despite our respectable speed on the rare flats and gentle downgrades, a pair of heavily-loaded bicycle tourists overtake us before the Lake Limerick store. We stop briefly and move on, this time taking the walkway as low speed down the Old Olympic Highway hill downtown to avoid the deep ruts in the roadway pavement. A favorite stop at Urraco coffee roasters and espresso bar fortifies us for the obligatory push up the busy and winding hill home. I think we are ready for tour. Maybe one more long ride just to keep in tone before our long car trip.

Here’s the link to the map of our route.