Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Wander Around Washington -- 7-21-07

7-21-07 Walla Walla to Richland

I wake at 5:00 AM and write some notes before I pack up my stuff and head downtown. Coffee Perk doesn't open until 8:00 AM, so I go to the Starbucks next door for some coffee and a slice of banana bread.

I leave Walla Walla at 8:00 AM, heading north on the low traffic SR125. I ride past the Walla Walla prison and out into farm country. After 18 miles I turn west onto SR124.

The farms here are huge, industrial agri-business operations with enormous irrigation networks and acres of corn and soybeans. For a brief second I think "who eats all this corn?" but then I realize that I do. It's what makes the high-fructose corn syrup that's packed into the gallons of beverages I'm downing to fuel me through this heat. It's used to feed the cows that become the cheeseburgers I'm scarfing or the other cows doing their bit for the nation's dairy supply. That Mocha Fudge ice cream doesn't just magically show up at the store. And now with biofuels we are making choices about growing food versus growing fuel. With the way I choose to get around, my food is my fuel. Years ago John Stamstad told me "I read food labels the opposite way most people do. They look for low fat or low calories. I look for the maximum calories per dollar."

A bit further down the road I pass an organic vineyard and I think of Laura Stone. I know I'm certainly no food saint and I think Laura is doing something interesting and valuable. Food is energy and right now the human race is doing some very strange things with food and energy. But are there enough Laura Stones to feed the world? I have no idea. But as the man said, "the times they are a changin" and what we are doing today with lots of oil and lots of water we may have to do differently down the road. It all takes energy and maybe a key source of that energy is going to be women like Laura and other folks who might not have the answers but are out there asking questions and getting their hands dirty.

At 12:30 PM, I stop to refill my water bottles at the park where SR124 connects with Hwy 12 right by the Snake River. It's 87 degrees now with a few light clouds that occasionally provide breaks from the sun and I'm going through liquid at a pretty fast rate.

I cross the Snake River and follow Paul Whitney's directions through Pasco, Kennewick and Richland. Paul is a randonneur and he's emailed me turn by turn directions through the towns. Randonneurs are used to following cue sheets and when you get directions from a randonneur, they are usually pretty good. Paul's route shows me some of the paths in the area and takes me along the river, through a park and eventually to his house.

The way I'd selected who I see in various areas worked like this. When we first came up with the idea of the round the state tour, we published the tentative schedule of when I'd be where in the Bicycle Alliance Newsletter and on our website with an invitation to folks along the route to get in touch with us. People in various places called or emailed. I'll be the first to admit that we were not super organized in figuring out who the key people we should be talking to in a given area. I was going on this trip because I didn't know a lot about many of the areas I'd be visiting, so I know I offended some people by not seeing them as I passed through. And before I left, I'd gotten a couple of "I can't believe you are not coming to community X" notes, to which I'd had to reply with my regrets that I just couldn't hit every place on one trip. In the case of the Tri Cities, Paul Whitney had offered up his couch and he said he'd show me around. I knew Paul through some of the Seattle International Randonneur's rides and we'd ridden together for a bit on last fall's "Big Lebowski" 600K brevet.

I got to Paul's place at 3:00 PM. I'd stopped to down a quart of milk and an ice cream bar in Kennewick and by the time I got to his house I was fairly baked. "You've got a nice trail along the river there," I said, "but I didn't really see anyone using it."

Paul smiles at me and points out the obvious, "Did you happen to notice it's a little warm? You saw a lot of people in the shade in the park and maybe right by the water, right? In the hottest part of the day, would you want to be out on the open trail? It gets more use in the mornings and evenings."

Paul goes on to tell me about the area. "Agriculture and atomic power. People are here, these towns are here, because of the rivers. It's desert here but we've got water. The government put Hanford (the big nuke site) here because mostly there weren't people here but there was water."

"So pretty much all of this got built up after World War II?"

"Yep. And the big agricultural stuff is all post war as well. Pasco is more farming, Richland is more on the energy side of things." Paul is a mathematician and does something involving statistics and lab work.

Paul, his wife Julie and his kids David and Laura are very generous in opening their home to me. Paul and I talk about the local infrastructure and riding conditions. All the bridge crossings are very bikeable and walkable, something I wish I could say about the Seattle area. I ask about things that limit riding, is it the heat or the traffic or what? Paul thinks for a bit and then replies "Wind. The heat you get used to, but you do get smarter about it and you may try to avoid the hottest part of the day. But wind can stop you. I've had rides where I had to call Julie to come pick me up because I couldn't keep the bike on the road. But most of the time the wind isn't that bad, but the other thing is the dust. The wind will kick up the dust and that's just no fun. You can't breathe or at least you don't want to be breathing in that super fine dust."

"Is it like mutant, atomic dust?" I naively ask, thinking of the big nuke reservation north of town?"

"No," Paul laughs, "it's just plain old dust, but dusty days keep me off the bike." Paul goes on to tell me about the great riding, however. "Most days are great and we've got great road riding here." The Tri-Cities Bike Club is very active in the area and they have several rides each week and have mapped out many great loops in the area. Much of Paul's riding is commuting or rides out in the country and he says that tomorrow morning we can meet up with a couple of his pals and we'll get in some riding.

The day's stats: Dst 79.88 miles Ave 11.5 mph Mx 23.5

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