"Watch out for rabbits," had been one of Michael Manderville's key bits of advice while we'd been finalizing the details of our ride down to the Transportation Lobby Day in Olympia. Annually, the Bicycle Alliance of Washington coordinates a "Lobby Day" where bicyclists meet with their elected representatives to convey the importance of passing legislation to improve conditions for bicyclists. This year, we partnered up with various other non-profits including Transportation Choices, Feet First and the Sierra Club for lobby day so there were a lot of us headed down to Olympia. Since we comprise a pretty eco-conscious group of what my son likes to call "damn hippies", we weren't about to drive to Olympia in a fleet of single-occupancy motor vehicles. Rachel Smith at Transportation Choices did a terrific job of coordinating a fleet of Flexcar minivans and various van and carpools while other folks used Amtrak to get to the event. Michael Manderville, Brad Hawkins and I rode our bikes.
We'd run various scenarios on paper and Bikely and we'd realized that no matter how you work it, Olympia is about 75 miles (120 kilometers) from Seattle and it's even further from Issaquah. Michael lives somewhat closer to Olympia, in the town of Kent, and Brad was spending Monday night at his in-laws in Tacoma, which is closer still. Since we were trying to get to Olympia by 9:00 or 9:30 AM, the closest approximation of a logical plan involves me leaving Seattle an hour when most sane folks would be sound asleep. So Monday night, instead of going home, I slept in the back of the Seattle Bikestation and at 3:00 AM I find myself headed down the Interurban trail toward Kent, dodging rabbits.
There are a lot of rabbits on the Interurban trail in the wee hours of the morning. Michael and I met up at the Kent train station some after 4:00 AM and rode the Interurban to its southern terminus. I notice that rabbits run at about 25 kilometers per hour, which happens our cruising speed this morning.
We work our way over to Pacific and follow the STP route south toward Puyallup. At the top of the Puyallup hill we take a quick snack break at a Chevron station before continuing on.
There really is no good, low traffic route between Seattle and Olympia, marsh land to the west and Fort Lewis to the east pretty much wind up squeezing traffic into the I-5 corridor. Because it is effectively the only route, it is legal to ride a bike on I-5 from south of Gravelly Lake Drive to the outskirts of Olympia, so that is what we do. We meet my pal Brad at the Gravelly Lake exit and the three of us roll south on the freeway shoulder.
We all have experience at doing this. The tricky part is the entrance and exit ramps. You can either watch traffic carefully and cut across the ramps or go off and then back at each exit. Brad and I tend to watch each exit and choose our battles, taking the exit sometimes and crossing it at others but Michael is super fast at cutting across each exit. A quick glance in his mirror and over his shoulder and he's across the exit faster than you can blink. And he's definitely kicked up his speed once we've hit the freeway. "Wow, look at him go!" Brad comments.
A flat tire slows Michael down and Brad and I pull up behind him. While we're working on the flat, a WADOT truck pulls over to the shoulder and the driver turns on the truck's flashing light. It's still bit before sunrise and while we all have our lights and reflective gear it's nice to have this big, solid truck warning traffic. While we're chatting with the friendly WADOT guy, Michael says the worst words you can ever utter on a bike trip. "You know," he says, "I never get flats." Brad and I glance at each other with the certain knowledge that only comes from bitter experience. H.P. Lovecraft knew it and randonneurs know it. There are certain things you do not say, lest you anger forces that men cannot comprehend. But it is too late now.
Michael finishes the tire change, we thank the WADOT guy and we all head out.
The day had started to dawn while Michael was changing the first flat, so when his rear tire punctured again less than a mile down the road, at least we had more light to see by. Since Michael "I never get flats" Manderville never gets flats, he only carries one spare tube. And he doesn't get a lot of practice patching tubes by the roadside.
But now he sets to work patching his tube. Brad digs through his own kit and comes up with some glue and better patches and advises that we might as well patch the first tube while we're at it. We also take advantage of the time to take a few pictures.
The third flat is a few more miles down the road, again on Michael's rear wheel. By now Brad is fantasizing that he's in the pits at Indy and while practice might not make perfect, we do get this last flat changed in record time. I contribute one of my spare tubes to the cause and soon we are rolling again.
For the record, the first flat was caused by a staple, the second was a snakebite pinch flat, and the final deflation involved a bad valve stem. But we chock all of them up to the unified flat-tire theory commonly called "angering the tire gods."
We finally manage to make it off the lovely shoulders of Interstate 5 and follow Brad's lead into Olympia. Despite the three flat tires, we arrive at the meeting spot at the United Churches of Olympia, right across the street from the Capitol at 9:30 AM, just as the meeting is getting underway.
The morning is kind of a lobbying 101 course and a briefing on legislation we are working on. After lunch we all went over to the capitol to distribute literature and talk with various representatives. My own district is the 5th and Barb and I chatted with one of Senator Cheryl Pflug's assistants and we had a very good meeting with Representative Jay Rodne. I especially appreciate the time Representative Rodne took with me. We talked about the traffic in Issaquah, how transportation isn't just a problem of cars, but of moving goods and people. I talked about my kids and my wife and myself and things we are doing to try to be part of the transportation solution.
Barb Culp, the Executive Director of the Bicycle Alliance, is an old hand at this political stuff but it's all new to me so I was really glad to have her with me in these meetings.
At 3:30 in the afternoon, there was a public hearing on House Bill 1588, a measure providing mobility education to students in driver training programs. A bunch of us testified before the committee, expressing our views and trying to make a difference. I wound up sitting next to and testifying right after the lobbyist from AAA, who was the sole voice expressing reservations about the bill.
We all have various levels of speaking and persuasive ability, but my friends tell me I did a good job in front of the committee. Barb, Michael, Brad and many others testified and I think this bill will move forward. Or maybe not. Even if we don't succeed this time, we did get to voice our views.
After the hearing we all headed back to the church. Michael got a ride back with one of the carpools and Barb hauled Brad and I northward with our bikes strapped to her Subaru.