Sunday, July 29, 2007

Wander Around Washington -- 7-28-07

I'm awake at 5:00 AM and rolling again at 5:15 AM. My good timing continues and I roll right onto the 5:30 AM ferry headed to the Fauntleroy terminal in west Seattle.

Rather than take the hilly route across West Seattle, I take the longer, prettier route that includes the waterfront trails and Beach Drive.

I notice hand-drawn sharrows on the street. At first I think these might be some direct action from local riders but as I see more of these and some thin white lane markers, I suspect these are place-holders indicating where the city will lay down official markings.

I see the very familiar Seattle skyline, ride over the west Seattle bridge and ride north to my Pioneer Square work neighborhood. I stop for coffee and a maple bar at Zeitgeist and then head for home via my usual commute route.

As I'm rolling across the floating bridge which connects Seattle to Mercer Island, I cross paths with my pal Mark Vande Kamp. Mark is out for a morning ride and he reverses course to accompany me across the island. I give him the super-condensed version of my tour story. "We'll have to go riding," he says. "Yeah," I agree, "but maybe not right away. I think I'm going to take a few days off!"

On the east end of Mercer Island, Mark turns back toward Seattle and I continue on to Issaquah.

I'm home at 9:40 AM. Over the past 15 days, I've ridden 1341 miles, taken hundreds of pictures, and chatted with dozens of people about cycling in their parts of the world. I have lots to think about, and a lot of work to do.

I want to thank everybody who helped make this trip happen, the folks who offered their hospitality and time, the people who covered for me back at the office, the people who work in mini-marts and run ferries and build roads. And all the people everywhere who work hard to remind folks that a bike can be a good way to get around in this world.

Keep 'em rolling,


Wander Around Washington -- 7-27-07 (Vashon Island)

My dad believes in the concept of Karma, although he never refers to it that way. Instead I remember him saying to me over the years, "Son, clean living pays off."

I'm thinking of my dad this evening. As I work my way north toward the ferry terminal, I realize I'm low on cash so I'm looking for a cash machine. The gas station has a cash machine, but it's out of order. The lady at the cash register sees me looking at the machine and says "I can give you up to forty bucks in change off your card."

"Great," I say grabbing a Gatorade.

"Oh, you don't need to buy anything," she says.

"No," I insist, "I'm thirsty."

I get my quart of Gatorade and a bunch of change, thank the clerk and roll down the hill to the ferry terminal. "Just in time," the fare-taker tells me. I roll on the boat and it pulls away from the dock ten seconds later.

Clean living pays off.

I've never been a fan of cell phones, but my boss strongly suggested one would prove to be handy on this trip and he was right. I'd used the phone a lot to set up meetings, connect with folks and even do a couple of interviews but my favorite use of the thing has been to call my lovely wife. I call her now from the ferry, tell her how much I miss her, how close I am to home, how lovely Mount Rainier is off to starboard at this moment. I'll be home tomorrow. I'll camp somewhere on Vashon Island.

It's a short ferry ride to Vashon. The light is fading and the warm day is becoming a cool, clear night. I pull on my yellow rain jacket both for warmth and visibility. I turn on the lights on both my bike and my helmet.

Vashon is always lovely but there is something wondrous about the island at night. Only a few miles from the big cities of Seattle and Tacoma, Vashon remains a world apart. While the cities blaze and hum and click and whir with the business of men every hour of each day and night, Vashon remembers the rhythms of the sun and moon, the tides and the trees. The island sleeps. Here and there a dog barks at my passage, remarking on the unusual break in the natural order.

I could ride through the night, catch a late ferry to the mainland and perhaps be home by midnight. I have the legs and the lights to do it. But tomorrow will come soon enough and as the poet Bill Holm has noted "the heart can be filled anywhere on earth". My home is not just Issaquah or in the arms of my beautiful wife. It is not even just Washington state, this lovely state I've gotten to see know a tiny bit better over these past weeks. Willie Nelson said "home is where you're happy." I'm happy to be right here, right now.

I find a quiet clearing, not far from the road, dark and quiet and I roll out my bivy sack. By the light of my helmet, I see a small slug about an inch and half long. This slug is more active than most slugs I've seen. The creature is waving all four of its tentacles, it knows I'm here.

I don't know much about slugs, but tonight I learn something new. I'm settling in, drinking the last of my Gatorade and eating the last of a bag of chocolate chip cookies. I don't think there are bears on Vashon but as is my custom, I stash the food somewhere away from where I sleep. But before I do, I shake a few cookie crumbs out near the slug.

A tiny crumb is a big cookie to a slug. By the light of my helmet I watch the slug reach for a crumb with its lower tentacles. It seems to like the crumb, it grabs it up, stuffs the crumb in its mouth and chews. Then it reaches for another.

I settle in for the night. In the morning, all the crumbs and the slug are gone.

Today's stats: Dst 77.56 miles Ave 11.8 mph Max 29.0 mph

Wander Around Washington -- 7-27-07 (Trail and Tacoma)

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.

Wander Around Washington -- 7-27-07 (Olympia)

This morning I do touristy bike-geeky things. I take pictures of the capitol. I take pictures of bike lockers and bike racks by the transit center. I take pictures of my bike by a big war statue.

At 9:00 AM, I meet up with Larry Leveen at his house. Larry is one of those great guys who just plain gets things done. Larry literally wrote the book on bike commuting and then put it up as a free PDF here:

He has a bunch of other great stuff including printable summaries of the Washington State bicycle laws on his website here:

Larry and I chat for several hours. Larry has a good sense of what works in terms of growing a community that fosters cycling. "It's not just facilities and infrastructure, it's education." But jurisdictional issues make it hard to do programs and it's relatively easy to put a stripe of paint on the road. But a bad bike lane, something that encourages cyclists to ride in the door zone or dumps them into the path of right turning cars, often does more harm than good.

We talk about the Effective Cycling people. "The problem is a lot of people will never even consider riding in traffic and a lot of EC folks spend way too much time and effort railing against facilities." I tell Larry about a site I tend to point people to, Michael Bluejay's How Not To Get Hit By Cars. "I like it because it's more pragmatic and less dogmatic."

Larry and I agree that one of the things that makes us safer as cyclists is if there are more of us out there. And that's where facilities can help. But it's not all one thing or the other. Bike trails, bike lanes, vehicular cycling, sharrows, helmets can all be part of the mix but each of those things can also be a point of controversy that absorbs huge amounts of time and energy.

Larry has good advice on how not to get bogged down in the "you're wrong!" discussions. "Keep the ego out of it. Work on what you can and if folks wind up using it, that's great." He points to his commute guide. "We just made it." Larry left space on it where folks can put their own logos and stuff and he encourages folks to print it out and use it. "It's been used by a variety of other states and towns." He's found it pirated in some cases but usually people ask. "I don't have a problem with people making copies, that's why we made it, but it's better if they ask. I can keep track and keep people up-to-date with revisions." As with many things, there is more to do than time to do it. I tell Larry I'll be happy to help with the next round of revisions.

Larry is getting ready to head off on a camping trip, so I thank him for his time and all his great work. It's 11:00 AM now and his shop is open so I swing down to Oly Bikes to snap a few pictures, get a local bike map and advice on the best route out of town.

Oly Bikes is a tiny shop, but they make great use of their small space. They sell a lot of basic transportation bikes and Larry told me that business is up 20% this year and 40% for the last month. Since coming to Olympia, I've seen more bike trailers in use than I've noticed anywhere else. Larry attributes the popularity of the trailers to the presence of Evergreen College and it's environmentally minded students. There are a lot of folks in this town riding bikes instead of driving to do errands, get groceries and do other practical things.

Wander Around Washington -- 7-26-07

7-26-07 Portland OR to Olympia WA

Even though I'd told her that I in no way expected her to be awake when I left, Beth got up very early this morning to make sure I had everything I needed before taking off. I take her up on her kind offer of breakfast and we have a wonderful quiet chat over coffee, cereal and toast before I take off at 5:20 AM. Beth's notes of that chat are here:

I work my way north and west through the streets of Portland, past the college and out of town via the St. John's bridge. I stay on the Oregon side of the Columbia, stopping briefly at a minimart in the little town of Deer Island for some coffee and a candy bar.

At 10:10 AM I cross back into Washington via the Longview Bridge. The traffic is heavy on the bridge and the narrow shoulder is strewn with bark debris from the passing logging trucks. As has been the case earlier on this trip, I'm glad to be riding a bike with fat, tough, two-inch wide tires instead of some faster, skinny-tired machine. My green bike might not win and beauty or speed contests but it's proven itself to be a great bike when the road conditions are less than perfect. The Schwalbe Marathon tires let me hold a straight line and roll over a lot of road junk that would puncture more fragile treads.

I work my way through the Longview traffic and head north on the relative quiet of route 411. I'm basically following the Seattle-To-Portland (STP) route backwards and I stop for snacks at Castle Rock and Winlock, where I take a picture of the World's Largest Egg.

It's been years since I've ridden the STP and my state map doesn't have the detail to list all the small local roads but my navigation seems to be going OK. I see a few other riders out enjoying the day and as I get closer to Centralia, I start following some local Dan Henry marks.

Like hobos of bygone days, some cyclists leave marks for their fellow travelers in the form of a visual code. On this trip I have relied on the State Bike Map and various local bike maps for navigation, but often I've found the knowledge of local riders is my best guide. In this case, the Dan Henry marks get me close to Chehalis via some lovely local farm roads. In Chehalis I cross I-5 and then roll north to Centralia.

I'd arranged to meet Phil Meany in Centralia. Phil is a very nice retired fellow who'd been the Centralia College librarian for nearly 40 years. He is also an avid cyclist who has served on the Washington State Bicycling Advisory Committee. Phil and I meet up at Santa Lucia Coffee Roasters in downtown Centralia. We have a wide-ranging chat over coffee and Phil tells me about the local cycling and history. He hands me some local ride sheets he's produced and tells me about work he's done to promote the area as a cycling destination. Since the Centralia area features many quiet country roads, is equidistant from Portland and Seattle and right on the Amtrak line, it is be a good get-away destination for riders from either of those cities. One of the sheets Phil hands me is for the Historical Lewis County Bicycle Ride. I suspect that the Dan Henry marks I was following earlier mark out one of the loops of this ride.

Phil also advises me on my route to Olympia. "The shoulder will disappear right at the Thurston county line, but it the road widens a bit further on and then the shoulder returns." I still have some miles to cover today, so I thank Phil for his time and the great information and head north at 5:30 PM.

I roll into Olympia at 7:45 PM, snap a picture and know why I've been lugging a spare camera around. One of the weaknesses of my cheap pen-cam is that the shutter button is fragile. As I snap the photo below, the shutter button jams inside the camera. The shutter directly on a micro-switch which is soldered to the camera's circuit board. I should say "was soldered to the circuit board" because it just sheared off. I guess I'll be taking pictures with my other camera for the rest of the trip.
I explore a bit of Olympia, grab a burger and some onion rings for supper. As darkness falls I find a quiet place to roll out my bivy. (This trip has taught me that I would make an excellent hobo!)

Today's Stats: Dst 135.62 miles Ave 11.5 mph Max 29.0 mph