Sunday, March 11, 2018

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Saturday was the Spring Populaire for the Seattle International Randonneurs (SIR). Since it was about as perfect a March day as you could hope for in Seattle, and since I wanted to meet some of my fellow randonneurs in the area, I signed up.

We started from Woodland Park, which is near the Seattle Zoo. The park is gorgeous, with soccer fields and ball parks and Green Lake, which is popular for rowing. The neighborhood around the park is nice, too, with lovely homes and at least one very good coffee shop.

I got to the start of the ride nice and early and chatted with some of the other cyclists. It was a huge turnout, with 50-75 riders. In talking to them I learned that this was the first RUSA event for some, while others reminisced about the heat on the last Gold Rush Randonee or how they will be doing their fourth Cascade 1200 differently.

The organizers welcome us and briefed us, and reminded us that most of the route was on multi-use trails. Since the forecast was good, we would need to watch out for other folks enjoying the day there. Then, promptly at 9 am, they let us go.

With such a large group, we naturally clumped up to almost do the ride "audiax style." On the way out of town, one lady in a car took exception to the group of six or so that I was with, telling us at a red light that "you should be in cars."

She was mostly the exception, however, as the drivers in Seattle are used to bicycles and usually manage to deal with us ... although, to be fair, we didn't always deal well with them this morning. We continued to climp up at many red lights and stop signs, sometimes blocking cars from coming out as we came around them and headed for the far lane. In our minds, we we just trying to get out of their way -- but I think that, had I been in a car like the lady earlier had said I should be, I might not have seen it that way.

After passing by a marina full of sailboats heading out for a gorgeous day, and then climbing back up through Golden Gardens Park -- with a painful stop halfway to write the answer for an information control -- we passed through a series of neighborhoods. The streets were fairly quiet for 10 am on a nice Saturday, and most of the traffic was us.

It was a good group of riders. There just may have been too much of a good thing here.

Not far past our third information control, we got on the Interurban Trail going north. Then, we turned east up a short steep hill. I was at the top of the hill when somebody mentioned that there had been another information control at the bottom, so I got to enjoy the steep hill twice.

We crossed over I-5 heading east, and then enjoyed a really fun descent down towards the lake. I'd done this descent a few weeks earlier when I tried the Luck of the Drawbridges permanent, but this time I was with a small group and could follow their line. It was a blast!

At the lake we got on the Burke-Gilman Trail again, heading northeast through Kenmore before transitioning to the Sammamish River Trail. By now, this stretch has become very familiar to me, but it was nice riding it with a group. I had people to talk with, and of course riding with a group allows you -- and inspires you -- to ride a little faster.

We took the Sammamish River Trail down to Redmond, where we stopped at the Whole Foods control and everyone got something to eat and drink and sat in the sun for a bit. I had a cup of coffee and a croissant and chatted with a bunch of folks. People were leaving in bits, and I've gotten so used to short controls that I began to get antsy, so soon I headed out with two other fellows.

The three of us became four before I stopped in Woodinville to use the rest room. As I came out, another group of 10 or 12 was coming by, so I joined in with them.

Since it was about noon now, there were a lot of people out walking, biking, rollerblading, and skateboarding on the Sammamish River Trail and the Burke-Gillman Trails. Although we had a fairly well-behaved group of very experienced cyclists, it meant for a lot of surging and slowing, stopping, scooting past on the grass, bell-ringing, calling out, and post-pass apologies. We were all just trying to enjoy ourselves on this very nice day on a multi-use trail, but there was too much "multi" on what is really just a narrow winding bit of asphalt with lots of stops for crossing traffic.

Maybe we could have broken up into smaller groups, but the trail itself stymies that. You would be in a smaller group, and then you come upon a traffic jam with a family pushing a stroller and a Strava-segment seeking cyclist zipping by the other way, so that the smaller group behind your smaller group catches up and now you're a big group. The big group passes four runners nicely, with "Hellos" and "Good afternoons," when all of a sudden another training triathlete down on her aerobars comes around the corner ahead and you've go to scurry back over to the right. Then you get around the corner and there's a big group of randonneurs ahead waiting for a light to change, and abracadabra your peloton is once more massive.

Again, a confluence of good weather luring more people than had been initially forecast onto a limited facility -- too much of a good thing.

Trail traffic got even thicker as we cruised along the top of Lake Washington and past the University, and I think we were all happy to get off the trail and head inland. As we all know, however, inland means "climbing," and the route had a number of harsh face-slaps in the final miles before hitting the ultimate control at Zeek's Pizza.

It was a good group to ride with and a beautiful route on a lovely day. Apparently, the route is also a permanent, which is why there were so many information controls to keep people on the preferred roads. Had it been a March day like many other days around here, they would have been necessary; but since many of us were rarely out of sight of other cyclists and hence would not have had a chance to "take a short cut," they were just opportunities to slow down and gather our thoughts.

A more normal March day also would have made for less traffic on the trails. Was there anything that the organizers could have done differently about that? I don't think so. They warned us at the start that there would be a lot of people out that day, and that should have been obvious to us all. And you have to remember that this was a Spring Populaire -- the end-caps of the randonneuriing world, where we lure new riders in with a good route and expose them to things like route sheets, brevet cards, and controls. SIR chose a relatively flat route, with just enough climbing to keep things interesting and provide the elevation necessary for a fun descent or two. The route starting in town also made it more accessible -- I heard at least one rider say that this would be her first brevet and that "it was so close to home that I had to come."

Nobody could have foreseen sun and 60-degree temperatures for the second Saturday in March in Seattle. It was a good thing ... but it was a good thing for both cyclists and non-cyclists, and everybody deserves the right to get out and enjoy this beautiful planet on a perfect weekend.

PS: If any of you want to see video from this ride, Yogy Namara posted a video. I'm the geek in the Gran Fondo jacket.

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