Sunday, August 01, 2010

Mrs. Mountain Turtle Goes to Carnation

Ever since I got a new tent for my birthday back in February, Kent and I have been wanting to go on a camping trip to try it out. The requisite synchronicity of our days off, good weather, and no other pressing commitments finally happened this week, so we loaded up our bikes and headed up to Tolt MacDonald Park in Carnation. Kent's Monocog has made it back from Wyoming and become an Octocog (somewhere during that 40-mile walk through the Great Basin, he promised the bike he would get it some new paint and some gears). He also got it a rack, which it failed to properly appreciate due to some tire clearance issues, so Kent has the tent, the Kelly Kettle, and most of the food in his backpack. This is hardly an equal division of labor, but given that I am going to be way slower than he is anyway, I decide not to protest too much. In the basket on the back of my Bridgestone XO-4, I have my sleeping bag and mattress, my thermos, snacks, and a rain jacket (it's a beautiful day, but the advice of tea master Sen No Rikyu -- “Be prepared for rain even if it is not raining” -- has served me well for as long as I've lived in the Pacific Northwest). I've got water and a few other things in my new CamelBak L.U.X.E., which is also being put to its first use on this trip. As we leave, I have the feeling that I am forgetting something, but I can't think of what it could be, and it's time to get going.

It's a beautiful day, clear and sunny and not too hot. We head out of Issaquah and are soon riding along on a wooded trail up to High Point. We pass a lovely spot by the creek which would be perfect for camping, but it's way too early to stop so we keep moving on up to High Point and Preston and onto the Preston-Snoqualmie trail. We come off the trail onto the Preston-Fall City Road and head towards Fall City.

It is starting to occur to me after a couple of hours of riding that I am not particularly comfortable on this saddle, and the traffic on the Preston-Fall City Road is freaking me out a little bit. A sign advertises “The Wizard of Oz” playing someplace along the way, and I think that I need a bike like the Wicked Witch of the West rides in the movie, so I can sit completely upright and spin speedily along with sinister music in the background -- minus the yappy little dog in the basket, of course. Just as I am also thinking that it ought to be close to lunchtime, Kent asks if I want a burger, and we stop at Small Fryes in Fall City. Their sign, which says “We Specialize in Grease, Salt, Sugar, and Caffeine,” clues me in that this is a not-a-nutritional-role-model kind of place. We park the bikes and enjoy the day's special -- cheeseburger, fries, and pop (orange soda for Kent, root beer for me) -- at a picnic table outside. I dig out my trail mix and we eat M&Ms for dessert. In the interest of full disclosure, there are also walnuts and cranberries in the mix, which are supposed to be good for you. I'm not much of a nutritional role model either, but I did a good job of keeping up appearances during all those years of being responsible for feeding two kids.

Fortified by lunch, we continue on to the Snoqualmie Valley trail, which is shady and flat, the best riding of the entire trip. There are signs announcing recent bear sightings. I note that Kent does not have his bear bell and ask if we should sing (his back-up method for keeping bears away). He doesn't think so, and I'm not sure whether to be anxious or relieved. But the ride is very pleasant and bear-free, and we come off the trail and double back a short way along the road to the campground, walking our bikes in over the bridge to our campsite. Kent goes to register and comes back with the news that our lovely wooded, secluded site is known as “Mosquitoville.” It is living up to its name and I now realize what I have forgotten – insect repellent! We set up the tent, eager to have a bug-free zone.

The tent is a Big Agnes Seedhouse 2. We wanted an ultralight tent that would be easy to set up, and that is what we got. The tent is 6.5 x 16 in. packed and weighs just 3 lbs. 6 oz. Its aluminum 3-pole system makes for a very quick and easy set-up, and little plastic clips attach the frame to the body. The woven nylon mesh construction ventilates well and we can see outside, above and around on all four sides. It comes with a rain fly but the weather is clear and we don't bother to attach it. With interior measuring 84x52, 38 inches high in the center, the tent would probably be too cramped for anyone very tall or very large, but we were very comfortable, and we both agree that this is a great tent.

We stretch out our sleeping bags. Kent dozes off for a nap, and I am glad just to rest, looking up at the trees. I can see and hear the mosquitoes, but they can't get us. Eventually, though, we have to emerge from the tent and fire up the Kelly Kettle to make supper. The wood smoke helps ward off the bugs, but even as we are feasting on macaroni and cheese, delicious little tins of smoked trout from Trader Joe's, chocolate, and hot beverages, the mosquitoes are feasting on us. Pants and socks do not deter these nasty little bugs in the least. My Salomon Whisper Midlayer Jacket, which was absolutely perfect on the trail and is still warm and cozy, does a better job of discouraging them but offers no protection for hands or face. Finally we bag up our remaining food and tie it up in a tree, less concerned about bears than raccoons. I see raccoons a lot at home and enjoy watching them, but I will not be amused if they eat our breakfast. We settle into the tent for the night, and soon it's dark except for the occasional glow of Kent's Peek Pronto telling him he has email, which he, being a smart man, chooses to ignore.

I wake up in the morning to the sound of loud cawing and squawking, sleepily wondering if someone has sent the Flying Monkeys after us. But it's just some crows poking around our campsite, probably looking for food. A bag in a tree is not going to be a problem for them and if they find it they will probably pull it apart and make a mess. We get up and get to our food before they do, firing up the Kelly Kettle again for cocoa and coffee, and breaking out bagels, granola bars, Spam, and more chocolate. We take down the tent, pack up, and are on our way around 10:30.

At this point, you need to understand that even though I am married to the Mountain Turtle, I am really not much of a bike rider, and certainly not a “mountain biker.” I walk just about everywhere I go, working, shopping, running errands, taking yoga classes, exploring trails on Tiger Mountain, meeting up with friends, going to church, and so forth all within a 2-mile radius of our home in downtown Issaquah. The last time I rode any distance at all was on Kent and Christine's Excellent Yurt Adventure back in October of 2008. And now, back on the trail, I am realizing that riding over 20 miles yesterday, much of it bouncing around off-road, after being off my bike for over a year, is probably not the smartest thing I have ever done. I am also convinced that the saddle on my bike definitely needs adjusting and probably needs replacing. Yesterday's minor discomfort has morphed into painful soreness today, and I end up taking ibuprofen and walking several short sections of the trail. Kent moves the saddle forward a bit for me, which is marginally less uncomfortable for sitting but leaves me feeling scrunched and puts more weight on my hands. My left hand is tingling and two fingers are numb by the time we make it back into Fall City and once again stop for lunch.

As we head out again, the road back to the trail has a lot more traffic on it than I would like. A giant truck comes up behind me just as I approach a big bunch of blackberry bushes sticking out into the shoulder. I can't stop, and opt to ride into the thorny bushes rather than into the path of the truck -- a good choice all in all, but the hand that was not tingling is now scratched and bleeding. As we pass bus stops along the road I fantasize about throwing my bike on the MT 209 back to Issaquah. But I really don't want to end our trip that way, so I keep on going, and eventually I am once again walking, this time on the steep climb up to the Preston-Snoqualmie trail. Kent and the Octocog are walking along behind me. It feels wonderful to be back on the trail, in the shade and quiet of the forest, away from all the cars and trucks roaring past. I clean off my hand, relegate physical issues to the “problems to be solved in the future” category, and enjoy the beauty of sunlight filtering through the green of moss-covered trees as we settle into the gentle climb back up to Preston.

We decide to ride along the shoulder of I-90 from Preston to High Point rather than deal with the traffic on the Frontage road. As we catch glimpses of the traffic backed up on the road, Kent proclaims himself a genius for thinking of this. It is noisy on the freeway but there is plenty of room to ride, and we're soon back on the trail down to Issaquah, under the trees. Kent spots a garter snake on the trail and we stop to admire it and watch it slither off into the woods.

We're soon home again, where I rest and drink lots of ice water, and reflect on something I have known for a long time, which is that I definitely married well. Although this distance is nothing for Kent, he never gets impatient with me for being slow or struggling, or leaves me in the dust just because he could. He shows me beautiful places and wonderful creatures and feeds me cheeseburgers and plans adjustments for my bike and enjoys taking way too many pictures of me and tells me I'm doing great even when my pace would make even the slowest of turtles look downright speedy. The best part of a great trip was getting to go on it with my best friend, and if “There's no place like home” it's because it's our home and we get to share it every single day. Home for me is wherever we are, and I'm looking forward to more adventures.

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