Ordinarily, I'm a morning guy. The sun comes up, I get up. Simple as that.
When you live down south, this is a good thing during the summer. I've started long rides at or before sunrise in the summer in Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee just because I wanted to be done before it got so hot that the dogs wouldn't even come out from under the pickup truck to chase me.
Of course, during the winter we start brevets early just to finish as much as we can before dark. Rolling out onto almost empty roads in the foggy pre-dawn to start a 400K in March, you feel an electric charge when that big fiery ball in the east finally peeks over the horizon. Like Superman, I draw my power from your planet's yellow sun.
But I must admit that I like what's going on here in Seattle for me now.
It's still a little chilly in the mornings, but by noon the temperatures are in the mid- to upper-60s. And the sun isn't even beginning to set until 8 pm. If you work for a company that's on Central time -- as I do -- this works well. You get up when the sun comes up before 6 am, so you're "in the office" before 7 am. Since that's 9 am Central, you work a 9-to-5 day and knock off at 3 pm, giving you five hours of daylight.
Plenty of time for a 100K.
And so, Thursday, I was able to once again enjoy excellent weather and knock out my monthly permanent populaire. For May, it was RUSA route 0981, which runs from Des Moines to Black Diamond and back. I picked this route because the start is a 20-minute drive from home, and because it has a good amount of climbing (almost 3,000 feet).
The starting location had good parking at a strip mall not far from this sculpture of a man kissing a fish. I bought a fresh Gatorade from the convenience store there and headed out on time. Some early discrepancies between the cue sheet and current street signs in the first few miles had me pausing a bit, but I was eventually able to make it out of Des Moines and through Kent.
The "just after school" traffic was starting up, but I had quiet roads with bike lanes for most of the trip. Just past here, the route put me briefly on the Interurban Trail. After a couple of miles on that, I turned off onto a nice quiet road that went inland towards Auburn.
In Auburn, the golf course and park were very active. The route wound alongside the Green River, so it was flat and scenic.
Less than an hour after I started, I was at the first control.
It was kind of nice to have a control that wasn't a bakery. I decided right then that I would eat some meat when I finished.
The route continued on Green Valley Road, which I had taken a couple of months ago when I rode from home in West Seattle to Black Mountain. Although you're climbing most of the way up Green Valley Road, it's very gradual and the valley funnels the wind to drive you. Just past Flaming Geyser State Park you finally see the Green River again just as the road tips a little more steeply upwards for a mile or two.
At the end of Green Valley Road, you have to get onto Hwy 169. It was very busy when I hit it about 5 pm, with lots of dump trucks. The road has a wide shoulder, but it has rumble strips and a lot of debris. It's not the most pleasant part of the route.
Fortunately, you are soon in Black Diamond. Out of respect for the cow, I did not stop at the bakery in town but instead headed on towards Franklin. The air was so clear that Mount Rainier lurked like a white ghost off to my right.
Franklin is supposedly a coal-mining ghost town. There's a trail that leads from here down to the old town, where the foundations of many buildings remain, as well as the old shaft into the mine. Despite the resurgence of coal as a source of "clean energy" -- not to mention renewable -- there does not appear to be anything in the works for re-opening this mine and bringing those precious coal-mining jobs back to the struggling Seattle economy.
Such a shame to let land go to waste being beautiful, when we could instead suck resources out of it.
The route skirts the edge of the Green River Gorge Conservation Area as it heads back southwest, then gets on a series of roads before dumping you back onto Green Valley Road again just past the river.
Although I was no going "downhill" out of Green Valley, the wind made me work. Soon, I was in Auburn trying to find the next control -- the card has it as a gas station that is no longer there, but the cue sheet says it can be an open control. I settled on a bakery this time (sorry, beef), where I sat in the sun out on the terrace and ate a tasty muffin.
My stomach less empty, I passed through Auburn and headed north on the Interurban. There were lots of commuters heading home now, both on the trail and in their cars. The cyclists were friendly, but the cars did not seem to have much patience for me, particularly when I went through Federal Way. Maybe I mis-read the vibe, but it's possible that Federal Way may be one of those Seattle suburbs that are just best avoided by cyclists.
Finally getting out of Federal Way, I descended towards Poverty Bay and rode along the beach in Redondo.
This area is super nice, with homes of all shapes and sizes -- although not much of what I would consider "poverty." The weather was great, and everybody in the area obviously wanted to go to the beach. This stream of cars stretched for a mile.
And, no, I did not see anybody else who had had the epiphany: "Why don't I get on my bike and go to the beach instead?" Of course, that may have been because the road coming back from this beach was painfully steep. Or it could be that the road doesn't have a bike lane, but just a shoulder with an intermittent car parked on it interspersed with regular patches of broken glass.
If they built a bike lane, would people use it? I like to think so.
After a few more Washington coast up-and-down knee-wrecking climbs, I was back in Des Moines. Apparently, the Overlook Hotel there is for sale.
There's a bike lane in front of it. I did not see any ghost bikes.
Generally, I liked this route. It may be more fun to do on a weekend or at a different time of day, since rush-hour commuters can make some areas unpleasant. Up near Black Mountain and Franklin, there are a lot of dump trucks hauling gravel on weekdays -- while most of them passed with enough space, anything with that much mass going 60 mph is a little nerve-wracking when it passes you. Plus, they spill a lot of gravel on the roads and tend to tear up the pavement, so you have to watch where your wheel is going.
But the scenery -- other than in the denser neighborhoods separating the coast from the country -- is very nice, and the terrain has a good mix of challenges. So I would do this route again, particularly now that I know where things are.