I roll out of Olympia around noon. My destination is Tacoma but as I often tell new bike commuters, "the most direct route for driving isn't necessarily the best route for bicycling." This is very much the case when attempting to ride from Olympia to Tacoma (or vice-versa). The direct route is Interstate 5 and a combination of marsh land to the west and McChord Air Force Base to the east effectively eliminate the possibilities for side roads. It's legal to ride the freeway here and I rode the freeway last February when Brad, Michael and I came down for Lobby Day, but today I figure I'll take a longer, but more pleasant route.
I basically go what seems like the wrong direction. I go east to Lacey, catch the Chehalis Western Trail south to Rainier and then follow the Yelm to Tenino Trail
north and west to SR507. This big loop takes me around the Air Force Base and even though it adds miles to the day, the route is on pleasant, shaded corridors where the trains used to run.
At 2:00 PM, somewhere north of Rainier, I catch up with a couple of riders whose loads indicate that they are out for something more than just a day ride.
Mel Roberts and Dennis Neusel are headed to Centralia for a couple day trip and once I convince them that I'm headed to Tacoma and yeah, I know it seems like I'm headed the wrong way, we have a great chat. Mel and Dave are both not just cyclists, they are cycle activists. I would've thought I was the only person taking pictures of things like roads and shoulders and trail surfaces and gates, but I would be wrong. Mel excitedly shows me pictures he's been taking of the trail. Dennis and Mel are both active in the Kent WA Bicycle Club and the Kent Bicycle Advisory Board. Our both being on this trail at the same time is completely serendipitous, but these two guys are yet another example of the kind of person I've met every day on this trip. Good roads and quiet paths in the forest don't just happen, they happen because people who care, people like Dennis and Mel and Larry and Carley and Emily and Todd and Beth and John and Liz and all the rest, make them happen.
At 2:30 Mel and Dennis roll off southwest toward Tenino while I turn northeast toward Yelm where I catch SR507 heading north.
Mount Rainier dominates the horizon, reminding me that I'll be home tomorrow.
SR-507 features something rare and wonderful, rumble strips that seem to have been designed with some consideration given to bicyclists. A few days ago I took pictures of bad rumble strips on Hwy 12, strips that take up most of the shoulder. In contrast, the rumble strips on SR-507 are built into the fog and center lines, effectively leaving the full width of the shoulder available to the cyclist. In addition, every dozen feet or so there are gaps in the rumble strips enabling cyclists to move from the shoulder to the traffic lane. Much of the time on a country road like this the shoulder is the best place to ride, but of course a cyclist might have to merge into the traffic lane to get ready to make a left turn or to avoid some debris and it's good to see a road design that recognizes the legitimate needs of non-motorized road users.
The relatively quiet SR-507 merges with SR-7 which becomes Pacific Avenue as it rolls north to Tacoma. For a while there is shoulder and a bike lane but there is also road construction, the urban franchised "everybody knows this is nowhere" sprawl and the five o'clock rush hour. The road and traffic get worse and even though I'm an experienced urban cyclist, I wouldn't recommend this route at this time to most cyclists. For the first time in several weeks and over 1200 miles, I'm advised by one of my fellow road user to "get the f**k off the road!" I'm sure that it's easier to yell at one cyclist going 12 miles per hour instead of the hundreds of other drivers stuck in traffic going 12 miles per hour but I'm guessing this fellow, who looks like he answered a casting call for "red-neck pick-up driver", isn't saving all his rage for me. I've always been a "choose your battles" kind of guy and I figure this fellow really isn't in the mood to really discuss traffic, transportation and the rules of the road. I stop for a yellow light that mister truck blasts through and the last I see of him he's raising his blood pressure over some woman in a minivan who happens to have committed the sin of being ahead of him on his road.
At 5:25 PM, I'm in downtown Tacoma. I haven't scheduled any big meetings here but Gene Smith is a local cyclist whose offered to buy me dinner and show me around.
Gene is a great guy. We'd met a earlier this year at a commute seminar I gave at the Tacoma health department and we'd also ridden together on an SIR training ride. Over burgers we talk about the city, riding and roads. Tacoma still has some cobbled roads and steep hills, it's a place where local knowledge pays off. When I tell Gene that I came in on Hwy7/Pacific he says something like "Wow, that's...uhh...brave." I think the word he was searching for was "stupid" but I appreciate the substitution. The next time I visit, I'll map things out a bit more carefully.
After dinner we ride around town for a bit. Gene has to get home and I too am anxious to get going. I roll down to the waterfront and take a few pictures in the fading light. It's been a good day's work, but I'm thinking I can get a little closer to home. I head north to see if I can catch a ferry to Vashon Island.