Late last night I was bummin’ as I surfed four different weather websites to see if any would give me a glimmer of hope for the ‘morrow. It was raining pretty heavily last night, and so my heart was sinking. Piercing, lulling violin solo.
Then I woke up and saw that said websites had each gone a more dire direction… but that was good news! When the bastards go for hyperbole that means cloudy morning and sunny afternoons! But then I saw the ominous clouds when I let the pups out and kind of hemmed and hawed and then I said dang it, I’ll go, I’ll go, I’ll go, and then I walked back to the house and stopped, still in the frame, via the window of the car, and hopped up and down, red hockey jersey and all… anyone else remember that scene?
Tolt-Pipeline Trail Head, same name as a lesser-known work by Ayn Rand
Anyway, I did in fact say phooey, gave the pups a guilt bone each, decided to throw on leg warmers and booties at the last minute, and took off. I had a vague idea of trying to find some gravel trails, beginning with the Tolt Pipeline and connecting to the Snoqualmie Valley Trail. I had no idea I’d turn in nearly a century, around 98 miles according to Gmaps Pedometer. While it’s not quite technically a full century, according to IbisLad, offroad miles are counted at a two-to-one ratio. I figured I did around 45 or so gravel and single-track miles, so that puts me way over, right? Let me consult the New England Journal of Mountain Bike Science. (thumbing) Oooh, look at that schematic… Wait, can’t get distracted. Here it is: A Diffident Differential Analysis of Relative Output Over Varied Surfaces. Yup, I think I can conclude… yadda yadda… whoops, typo… yup. I think I can qualify today’s ride for a century. The intention, as I began to say, was to take out the Poprad for an initiation ride (going round in circles, wearing a dark hood, having the older brothers beat you with Nerf bats).
I zipped down the MTL hills to LFP, then on the Sammamish Valley Trail down to the Tolt Pipeline cutoff. For the last ten minutes of so of SVT a fellow pulled up and said, “Nice bike!” He was riding an orange Poprad with disc brakes. We struck up a conversation. I learned a bit about his experience on these bikes. I particularly wanted to ask about the flexy fork. He said the disc rotors would sort of wear in and the shudder/shimmy would get better. It’s kind of cool to ride side-by-side with an analog bike (same size, I’d warrant)… like those sneaky looks you take in the long business-windows as you ride past to check out your profile. You know you do it.
I was excited to start off on the Tolt Pipeline trail. Having ridden by it several times and wondering where it went, I was all gung-ho but promptly had to get off and shoulder-hike the bike due to the steep hills. Oh well, I wanted to practice some cyclocross! (See technical reviews, including considerations on knobby tires, coming soon). Then it was a series of up-and-down hills as I followed the general line of the powerline. Ran into lots of nice people. Like today’s ride, this stretch was a bit of a mixed bag; not sure if I’ll be in a hurry to do the Tolt Pipleline again. A little blah. There were lots of downed trees scattered about, which gave me more occasion to pretend I was cyclocrossing. Whew, hard work. However, I don’t think I’m supposed to stop and shake out a handkerchief and tenderly clean the Poprad of all the grime and mud. Maybe I’ll start a Gentleman’s Cross series, where we all wear cravats and titter a lot, saying things like “Did you perchance read Disreali’s latest book?” and “Nuoooo… but I caught his speech in Parliament, how droll!” Titter, titter. I wonder how that sort of thing would go over in Portland?
Anyway, soon I came to an area next to a park call Farrel McWhirter or something Park. And it was a dead-end. Eep. Should have brought a map. I kind of meandered around the little country roads for a bit and then finally found my way back to a main road which turned out to be: Novelty Hill Road. The McBain of my existence. And I was near the beginning, not nearer the top. Ugh. So there I was, new compact double bike in hand, huffing up Novelty Hill. Then I found some offshoots of what looked like more gravel trail, dutifully following some powerlines, so I dutifully tried them out, even asking a local how far they went, “Oh I think it goes on forever.” Sweet!
Nope. The gravel trail dead-ended at a fence for a horse pasture (man, it’s fun riding clipless along deep and dried mud ruts across a field, whewee.). I wound back to Novelty Hill Rd, got to the big precipitous downhill, waited to make sure no cars were coming (they soon did) and went shooting down hill at maybe 45 mph. That Poprad corners amazingly well, really responds to throwing weight around (the Trucker sort of looks back and says, what are you doing that for?) and the disc brakes are incredible… incredible, I say, on such downhills. Road-bike disc haters can suck my… uh… Avid BB7’s. Then on the W Snoqualmie Valley road, up to the Duvall bridge, and across to Duvall, and the start of the Snoqualmie Valley Trail.
Snoqualmie Valley Trail
I started getting goosebumps! And not just from the cloud cover… this was why I had gotten the Poprad! 31 or so miles of gravel goodness, awaiting exploration!
And like all good explorers, before I started off expeditionarily, I had to take care of bidness first. No, that doesn’t mean seeking approval and funding from the Royal Geographic Society; although, truly, that would have been nice, but I can hardly abide those insufferable, hide-bound reactionaries, with their out-dated views. No, I stopped at a cute little park called McCormick something and took a bike panda. Note the Carradice Barley bag: perfect for tools, pump, tubes, rain jacket, chow, sun screen, and more chow. Also note the Brooks B-17. I’ll mention it again… cue ominous space music. Maybe an old Roland Juno… that’s it… now hit the LFO, make it a little Doctor Who… aw yeah, there ya go.
The trail was virtually deserted from Duvall down to Carnation. I saw lots of crazy little yellow birds unfamiliar to me. They didn’t seem to recognize me either, as I caught a couple of them peering at me through tiny little binoculars. This is definitely THE way to avoid HWY 203 from Duvall to Carnation. I think any touring or cross bike would work; not sure about skinny tire fancy racing bikes. I was having a ball on the gravel, bunnyhopping the concrete lips at bridges, and trying to go faster and faster. How cool to combine the things I love about MTBing (being out in nature, under trees and sun, away from people and cars) and roadie-ing (going fast… and faster). The Poprad worked and rode like a dream. Next up was Carnation, then I continued on to somewhere near North Bend, where you have to get off on Tokul Road.
Take me to the River...
Somewhere near North Bend I think.
There were lots of girl’s cross-country runners (some kind of high school teams out there or something?) near Carnation which made for some wary riding. After a long, long time I finally got to the end of that section of trail; however, rather than continue on to North Bend and Rattlesnake Lake (I’ll save that for another day) I doubled back, found a trail-head area, had a hunch the road would lead out to the 203 highway again, maybe up past Fall City, and bingo my sense of direction/spatial guessing worked! In fact it wasn’t that much South-Eastier than the turnaround point where KonaLad, Surlygirl and I stopped on our very first century, several weeks ago. I did all this because, I’d had a sudden hankering to take a hunk out of that cheese hill we did last week on the Flying Wheels. On to Fall City then where… the whole town was shut down for some crazy kind of fair! I love small-town fairs! I don’t like small-town affairs, however; everyone seems to know about it within days. Who needs that.
Pavement City sounds just like Fall City
I walked my bike through the throngs: slack-jawed locals, city folk, city folk gradually gentrifying, hippies, gangs of teenage girls having really important conversations, gangs of boys trying to overhear. I got some free water at a church booth, which was really sweet of them. I don’t think they liked it when I poured some on my steaming head and started writhing around vampirically, accusing them of putting holy water in holy plastic. Exit Fall City. Hm. has a ring to it.
Exit Fall City; enter from left side, ex-chief of detectives. Pauses to light his pipe.
I found myself roused from the contemplative life of retirement in the country due to a series of horrific murders here, in my old borough.
That’s how I would start a Conan-Doyle play if I ever wrote one. Or, if I were to write for Conan O’Brien, more like this:
So, did you see on the news, the serial murders across town at all the cross-dressing stripper bars? Yeah? Awful stuff. Really is. The police already have a name for the guy, did you hear that, they’re calling him ‘Jack the Stripper’. (ba-dum-pish).
Anyway, out of Fall City, left on that road that goes right to the golf courses, around the corner and then… breath-holding moment… the Issaquah-Fall City road and mini-mont ventoux, or mini-toux if Mike Meyers were writing this. I stopped to put on some sun screen and three roadies went past, friendly enough, but the third guy gave me that top-to-bottom look (roadies, you know what I mean). True, I was wearing a way-too-large cotton t-shirt with something equivalent to The Clash on it and was riding a cross bike with knobbies but that didn’t mean I ain’t got game! So of course I had to scramble to put things away and catch up. I passed that guy up on the hill bends and was bridging up to the other two when I dropped a chain (and that was the first time I realized, oh yeah, you’ve got a compact double!). Dang it. Oily fingers, no sticks around, and I dropped the Poprad so the left brifter has its first scrape.
Eventually caught up to that trio again, big-ringing it up the hill, man it’s almost embarrassing what a big deal I made of this section last week; I realized today it’s not that bad. Then on and up and around and back down that splendidy long downhill toward Lake Sammamish, so much better when at full speed and without the hordes of bikers, and so much better with the disc brakes. At the E Lake Sammamish Road turn I soon hopped on the gravel trail that follows the lake, the very trail that had me thinking Poprad exactly seven days ago. And it was very pleasant, lovely views, people were charming, unaffected, grills were grilling, shills were shilling. Unfortunately, toward the end, I realized I’d had enough gravel trail fun for the day as the Brooks saddle was starting to hurt, and seriously. I’ll have to get both lighter and burlier perhaps. But that’s the goal anywhoo. I got back up on the paved road (ah… much better) and saw a roadie way the heck off. Talleyho! The next fifteen minutes I pretty much burned all my matches catching that guy. Holy crap. But I did, just at Marymoor.
Sweet fescue to the rescue.
Up the Sammamish River trail and then I pretty much pooped out in Redmond. Pulled over into this grassy area near the trail, took off helmet, cap, glasses, gloves, radio, machete, iPhone, bluetooth earpiece, bluetooth (prosthetic tooth colored blue), Clash t-shirt, corset, girdle, randonneuring sash and laid my hot ass down in the cool grass. Just like the randonnerds do. And let me tell you, it works. Just five minutes resting on my back, looking up at the sky through the wavy tree branches, feeling the bugs crawl around underneath me… much needed. Then I got up, called the Surlylady, went a few blocks to Herfy’s, blah, bad food, ate half of it, then back on the trail and flogged myself home.
Technical review of the Poprad is to follow. I can say now that it meets and exceeds my every hope and expectation. I have done three centuries on three different bikes, and all three offer such different characteristics, with strengths peculiar to each if mostly relative. For instance, the Sarthe is the go-to ride for group outings, for sure. The Trucker would be my choice for loaded touring or super-epic rides. The Poprad is going to be an awesome choice for on- and off-road adventure. I’m a lucky guy.