Monday, December 18, 2006

After the Wind

It's a bit before 4:00 AM on Sunday December 16th. I get out of my semi-warm bed, where Christine and I have been sleeping, "wrapped up up like ornaments waiting for another season" to use Dar Williams' phrase. A huge windstorm passed through the Pacific Northwest on Thursday night, making my commute home rather interesting and knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of households including the Peterson's.

Friday was kind of fun. All the downed trees and closed roads made it easy for me to skip work and no power means no computer and no computer means Christine's job at wasn't happening either. We made coffee and soup on the backpacking stove, read books by candle and LED light and listened to the news on the battery-powered radio. "It's like camping," I told Christine. "If we were camping, we could build a big fire to stay warm!" she retorted.

The cold is a problem. Night time temps are below freezing and as time goes on our normally electrically-heated place gets progressively colder. Saturday was a day for hunkering down. It's not clear how long the power will be out here, so we gathered in supplies from what stores are open and running on back-up power systems and generators.

Christine knows that the lights are on in much of Seattle and she's planning on taking the bus in there to Christmas shop and have "good food and a warm beverage somewhere where I don't see my breath." I'm also planning on getting out, following through on a plan I'd made earlier in the week. I'm riding up to Snohomish to have breakfast and ride in the countryside with my friend Mark Vande Kamp. The 4:00 AM start is considered "normal" for me.

What isn't normal, I reflect, is actually taking off clothes in preparation for going outside. At home, I'm bundled in many layers including my Montbell Thermawrap jacket, but the Montbell is a little too warm for riding. I keep my base-layer of wool intact but trade the Montbell for my Marmot windshirt. I add some reflective gear, turn on all my bike lights and head out into the darkness.

It's really dark, and mostly quiet. I work my way north through dark intersections. Here and there I hear the growling of portable generators. Microsoft's Lake Sammamish Campus seems to have emergency power and I smell woodsmoke coming from the chimneys of the big, dark homes along the lakeshore. Up in Redmond there are pockets of power and darkness. As I climb up 208th Avenue I work my way around downed tree limbs and power lines. At the crest of Novelty Hill the recently sprouted sprawls of Redmond Ridge and Trilogy gleam as if celebrating their powerful good fortune, but just past these glowing islands Novelty Hill plunges steep and icy to the dark Snoqualmie Valley.

I work my way north up the eastern edge of the valley, my studded tires rumbling reassurance on as the frosted pavement gleams beneath the beams of head and helmet lights. There are lots of fallen limbs along the road and dire signs of destruction. A sliver of a red-orange moon hangs low in the eastern sky and the stars twinkle in the smoky air.

I know that "Road Closed" signs do not always mean a road is impassable and I've ignored a few of these signs in my time. But some times, times like now, those signs are true. The sign in front of me is backed with barricades and the barricades have police tape extending to the very edges of the roadside forest. Of course, I have to make certain, so lift the tape and slip my bike under. By the light of my helmet light, I creep forward. "Gee, the road seems dark ahead," I think and then I realize there is no road there. What had been a tiny tributary, a capillary creek is now it's own river, charging headlong to join the Snoqualmie. What had been the road is now empty space, a chasm I could only cross if I had E.T. himself packed in with my bike supplies.

I retrace my tracks, riding south to the Woodinville-Duvall Road where I cross to the east side of the valley before resuming my northward trek. Duvall wrapped tightly in darkness but as I roll north on SR-203 I start to see lights. It's 7:00 AM as I roll into Monroe. The mountains to the east are beginning to show hints of sunrise and the town is lit with Christmas lights and neon open signs in the cafes and coffee shops.

I now roll east again on the old road to Snohomish. I roll up to the Twin Eagles Cafe a few minutes past our scheduled 7:30 AM meeting time but Mark is understanding when I tell him about my reroute. We feast on big, fat-laden breakfasts and catch up on details of each other's lives. We opt to ride a loop north and east. Mark has to be back in Seattle by mid-afternoon and both of us are here mostly to make sure the other gets out and gets some miles on the bike. Snohomish is pretty much equally inconvenient for each of us, which is why it is the ideal meeting place.

We ride and chat and solve many of the problems of the world. Between the two of us, we have an impressive array of opinions and trivia but sometimes we find things that stump us. Today's mystery is the white stuff on the branches. We pause to investigate.

It looks like snow, but it's not snow. It only shows up on dead branches and we see quite a bit of it along one section of Woods Creek Road. Mark investigates while I photograph it. This is one of those times I wish I had a better camera to take close up shots. It seems like some kind of fungus. Mark dares me to taste it but I decline. "Put it on your blog," Mark suggests, "somebody will know." (Now that I am somewhere with an internet connection and posting this, Google tells me that there is a thing called Snow Fungus but I'm not sure if this is the same stuff.)

Our loop takes us back to Monroe where we split up. I roll south down the valley. It's light enough now and a bit warmer, so I stop to take some pictures of birds,

downed power lines,

fallen trees,

the layer of woodsmoke on the hills,

and abandoned pumpkins in the field.

I'm home by 2:00 PM. I've got 168 kilometers on the bike computer and there still is no power in Issaquah. But the crews are out there working and more and more homes are coming back on line. Soon it will be our turn.

I hope.

Stay warm folks,



jim g said...

If you twist the focus ring on your pencam 'round to the other setting, the little camera works passably well for closeups, just hold the camera about 1-2 feet away from what you're trying to snap. See this or if you prefer metric units, this.

Anonymous said...


Glad to know that you and yours survived that one, we kept up on it over here and it didn't sound too good.



Unknown said...

Glad you're doing well. We're also hoping for power soon - staying for now in Auburn with Mom, who has power - commute is now ~ 40 miles each way, and takes hours and hours.

Best - John the Recumbent Guy