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Seattle Bicycle Tour

Seattle Bicycle Tour

September 18th, 2007  · stk

Day 4 - Sequim Bay to West Seattle (57.5 Miles)

5h 46m ride time – 10.0 mph avg - 32.7 mph max


We were anticipating a big day of cycling. We weren't exactly sure how far it was going to be to get to Seattle, but that was our goal - get to Seattle. To add insult to the mileage, they would all be traveled on busy highways. We were not looking forward to it.

Maybe that's why we were a bit late waking up and getting out of camp. We were trying to delay the inevitable. Highway cycling ... dangerous, noisy and not a lot of fun. Ugh.

We woke up at 7:30 AM and fixed a big breakfast. We ate yogurt (one of Alex's favorites), hot cereal, soft and hard-boiled eggs, doughnuts and hot beverages (hot chocolate and Carnation Instant breakfast). We weren't just eating, as much as we were stoking the fires that would have to sustain us through the morning bicycling.

By the time we took to prepare and consume all of that, take down the tent and load our bikes, it was nearly 9 AM. We crossed busy U.S. Highway 101 and began our busy-traffic cycling.

Fortunately, the shoulder on this part of Hwy 101 is nice and wide. Still, the constant noise of cars, the roar of 18-wheelers and other vehicles, makes for a nervous and disconcerted ride.

There is one benefit. Riding on a busy highway is always faster. It's partly because the road is well graded, with gentler climbs. It's partly because the riding is so unpleasant, that one tends to go faster, just to lessen the amount of time you're subjected to the onslaught of cars. It also due to the fact that all the traffic tends to provide a generous tailwind (or helps buffet any headwinds). Any way you slice it, riding on a busy road is a way to make better mileage.

And we did.

We weren't cycling long, it seems, before we'd traveled the 12-14 miles to the head of Discovery Bay and the turnoff to Port Townsend (pop. 8300). Here, we intersected the route that we cycled in 2002, on our big self-supported cycle adventure from Vancouver to San Francisco and Chico, California. In 2002, we had caught a ferry from Whidbey Island to Port Townsend and then cycled south, on Hwy 101, following the Hood Canal.

The intersection of our two journeys did not last long, because within three miles, we left U.S. Hwy 101. Here, we exited, crossed an overpass and began State Route 104, which would take us over the Hood Canal, to the Kitsap Peninsula.

Our State Highway start wasn't much fun. From the overpass, we continued to climb, grinding slowly up a large hill. The sun was out and it was hot. We climbed and pedaled, thinking that the next rise we would see the road roll over, but nope ... it just continued. We climbed, slowly, dripping with perspiration, for two agonizing miles. All the progress we'd felt we'd made early on, dissipated.

After the long uphill section, we had an all-too-brief 1-mile descent, only to face another mile-and-a-half climb.

We were not going to be getting very far with terrain like this!

Gradually, we gained elevation and eventually, the road leveled off (to the extent that there were no longer any huge hills, anyway).

We stopped only a few times, on this 20-mile stretch of highway. Mostly it was to devour a candy-bar, rest and drink some water. Once it was because Alex said she had to go pee and once it was because Scott found a nice baseball cap, in the ditch. (You can't go on a bicycle trip without coming home with a few found objects!)

Eventually, we descended to the Hood Canal and came to the Hood Canal Bridge. We were a little nervous about crossing the bridge, thinking that we'd be slowing up traffic for the entire length, but it wasn't that bad. Although there is a lot of traffic on the bridge, for the most part, there is a wide shoulder along it's length. The road does narrow at either end of the bridge (and each has steel grating one must ride over), we found the drivers to be very courteous. Scott tends to ride near the center of the roadway, in these narrow sections, as a visual cue that drivers cannot "squeeze by" and must wait until we get our precious cargo (Alex) across.

The Hood Canal Bridge is the world's third longest floating bridge and has a span of over a mile (6,521 feet or 1,988 meters). Apparently, the bridge broke apart in a severe 1979 windstorm and was rebuilt three years after.

Although the bridge crossing wasn't bad, it was far from pleasant or ideal. Scott did have a bit of time to stand up on his bike and look over the edge, spotting a couple of seals (or otters). Crossing on the Kitsap side was the worst, as we faced an uphill climb off the bridge and our speeds dropped considerably. It was with some relief that we regrouped on the far side and consulted the map.

We no longer had any county maps to guide us and the only thing we had was a large-scale Washington road map and a detailed Bainbridge Island cycling/hiking map. It was obvious though, that we were to leave the Highway 104 and take Highway 3, south.

State Highway 3 was a narrow affair. We immediately missed the shoulders on U.S. 101, as traffic had to slow to a crawl, behind us and wait for an opportune time to pass. In places, it wasn't too bad, but there was one section where the automobile traffic was pretty bad. We passed a school bus, which had just let off kids (was school out already? It didn't seem that late in the day). After we cycled by him, he sat for ages, waiting for an open slot, so he could re-enter the roadway.

It was hot and getting to be mid afternoon and we were in need of some food! Since starting in the morning, we'd only passed by ONE restaurant and that was some "Fat Boy Burger" joint at the Port Townsend and Hwy 101 intersection. We were hungry!!

Fortunately, before the food situation became too desperate, we found ourselves in Poulsbo (pop. 30,000) and we exited the freeway, as soon as we could. We saw a sign for Burger King (one of our favorite fast-food shops), but in town, the signage was lacking. As it turned out, we were on the wrong side of the freeway and we had to ask a passing motorist for directions (we weren't in the mood for getting lost and having to cycle any more mile than we needed to).

We'd come nearly 50 miles! Whew! We were no longer worried about cramping or bonking, as it seemed that "body-memory" had saved us, yet again. (Body-memory is a term we use for the fact that our bodies, after what seems to be only a few short days, remembers that we used to do this stuff - hiking or cycling - day-after-day for many days on end. It's like our bodies say, "Oh yeah ... we're cycling (or hiking) again ... I remember how to do THAT!")

We each ate two hamburgers, french fries and Rachel (and the Oop) had some ice cream. Alex got a burger and fries too, but she dallies with her food so much and Dad was so hungry, that he ended up eating the remainder of Alex's meal, just so we could be back on the road again.

We asked one of the Burger King counter staff if the highway we were on would dump us right off at the Seattle ferry terminal. She didn't know (and I don't think she really grasped the idea that we were on bicycles, even though we told her so). We saw her again, as we were leaving and she asked us a question.

"Are you guys in some kind of race?"

When we said that we weren't in a race, just on a cycling holiday, she wanted to know where we were from.

"Well, we started on Vancouver Island, in Canada."

The look on her face said it all.

"Canada?! Oh my God! Wow. That's amazing."

We didn't get it. By car, Poulsbo is probably a day's drive from Nanaimo (assuming you catch a morning Coho ferry ride). If we had told this girl that we'd started in Pakistan, I don't think her amazement would have been much greater. It's funny how Canada (ewe, a foreign country) sounds 'so far away', even though, in reality - it's not. At least, it's not if you live on the Kitsap Peninsula.

We left Poulsbo and cycled the dozen or so miles left to get to Bainbridge Island and the Bainbridge-Seattle ferry terminal. When we crossed the bridge connecting Kitsap Peninsula to Bainbridge Island, which was uphill for part of the way, a driver slowed right up and followed us across the bridge. It was a really nice gesture and we each blew him a kiss, because it meant that we could relax on the bridge and provided us with a pleasant crossing.

We were now on State Route 305 and following signs to "Bainbridge Island" and "Ferry Terminal". The road across Bainbridge Island led us straight into town and quite literally, dumped us off right in front of the ferry terminal. It couldn't get any easier.

Waiting at the traffic light, we saw a sign pointing automobile traffic straight ahead and pedestrian traffic, to the left. We were in a bit of a quandary, because we had loaded the Coho Ferry as passengers. Was the Bainbridge island ferry the same?

We asked a pedestrian, while waiting for the light to change, but he didn't know.

The light changed to green and just because it was easier, we followed the signs for automobiles, downhill, to the toll booth. We didn't have to pay a toll going to Seattle (wow, a free ferry ride!) and we were instructed to cycle to the front of the automobile line-up. (We'd guessed correctly).

It was about 20 minutes or so, before the sailing, so we parked our bikes and had a bit of a rest. The sun was shining and it was actually warm enough, that we were seeking shade.

Rachel went to call Dave, our Big-Ride-Across-America buddy.

"If he's home," said Scott, "maybe he can meet us, on bike, at the ferry terminal. I'm sure he knows where all the bike paths are to get to his house."

While this seemed like a great idea, it didn't work out. There wasn't an answer at either their home telephone number, or his cellular phone number. (We found out later, that the cell number we had was an old one. Too bad, because he would have been more than happy to meet us.

We chatted with a couple of cycling commuters and walked around with Alex, who was happy to be out of her buggy. Finally, the ferry docked and we watched the vehicles unload. There were a bunch of cycle-commuters, that disembarked the ferry - probably more than 30. It seemed like an awful lot to us!

The ferry ride over took about 20 minutes. Rachel hung out inside, while Scott and Alex explored. Alex met up with a couple of kids close to her own age and ran around the exposed upper deck. Dad sat and talked with their mother, who was returning from a day's exploration. She lived down by the SeaTac airport.

It was a gloriously sunny afternoon and a very pretty ferry ride over to Seattle. We got someone to take our family portrait, with the Space Needle in the background (but wouldn't you know, it was such a contrasty shot that the background was all washed out.)

We asked our cycle-commuter friend about directions to West Seattle, via the West Seattle bridge. He said that it would be easy, just hang a right, after docking, and follow the bike path down to the bridge. Turn right and then we could pick up a path that had a bike lane, over a lower bridge.

While it sounded easy, it wasn't. On the plus side, there were plenty of bike paths, some of which were dedicated paths, devoid of autos and others that were mere bike lanes, delineated by a painted stripe. Traffic wasn't too bad and we were able to get to the West Seattle Bridge, without problem. It was there that things got muddled. It was unclear which bike path went across the bridge and which went somewhere else. We made several false turns and at one point, found ourselves at the water's edge. Clearly, this wasn't the way.

We had to backtrack and we must have looked very confused, because a cycle-commuter stopped and asked us if we needed help.

"Are you trying to get across the West Seattle Bridge?" he asked.

"Yes," we said.

He was about to give us directions, when Scott looked at him a bit more closely.

"Frank?" Scott asked, "Frank Kroger?"

"Do you know me?" asked this cycle-commuter.

"Yes!" Scott said, "It's Scott and Rachel, from the PCT!"

OH MY GOD! We'd bumped into "Satellite" (Frank Kroger), who we had first met while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. We'd met in Agua Dulce and then several times again, between Aqua Dulce and Tehachapi. It had only been a few days, but we had kept in loose Internet connection, since then. We knew he was working on the Seattle docks, loading containers onto ships, but never in our wildest dreams, did we expect that we'd bump into him.

What a fluke meeting! If we had been a minute earlier or later, he'd have been long-since down the road!

We chatted awkwardly for a few minutes, then he gave us directions across the bridge and into West Seattle and we said our good-byes.

I'm sure his directions were accurate, but there are no bicycle trail signs and many intersections. (We took another wrong turn and had to back-track a bit, before we were finally dumped off in West Seattle, where we wanted to be).

The trails are known and used by locals, but for someone trying to navigate them on a through-route, for the first time, they can be VERY confusing!

We had a few really big hills to climb, before we landed at the home of our hosts. We were huffing and puffing, but we finally arrived at Dave and Karen's.

It was about five in the afternoon. Dave was home, with their newly adopted, 1-year-old Guatemalan son "Joshua". He was a delight and a very happy and active boy. We drank beer, chatted, let the kids play (Alex was a little pushed out of shape that she wasn't the center of attention) and waited for Karen to come home.

It wasn't too long, before Karen arrived. They invited a friend over and we had a relaxing evening on the patio, our bikes propped up on a nearby picnic table, drinking beer, eating Dave's special "Mac'n-Cheese" and barbecued burgers and hot dogs. We both fit in a nice hot shower and put on our clean camping clothes.

Thank God for Friday. Thank God for Dave and Karen. Thank God for hot showers, good food, friends and getting off that tiny little bike seat!

It wasn't a late night. Alex crashed on the floor in the basement around her normal bedtime (8 PM). I think Mom and Dad went to bed shortly after, lasting only till about 10PM. We'd come a fair distance and were bushed.

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