18 January 2009

Three Musketeers And A Dynamic Duo On The Hood Canal

I was going to write about Fog White and The Seven Mental Dwarfs, but Bob Lagasca and Mike Richeson found legitimate excuses not to go ride with us yesterday. An email from Mike said something about the weather outside was like mid-January and a voice mail from Bob referenced “issues with his bike”.

So our gang of seven ended up being a fearsome fivesome, boarding the 6:10 ferry out of Seattle, bound for Bainbridge. Geoff Swarts and Vincent Muoteke had done the newly approved route 536 (Hood Canal Loop 2.0) on Wednesday, and were off to do the original Hood Canal Loop.


After disembarking the ferry in 34 degree weather, we started out in the dark at 6:40. By the time we got to Port Gamble, it was starting to lighten up, and we made a quick potty stop at the espresso stand, where Vincent tanked up on caffeine and Dave Harper downed a few peanut butter pretzels.


Geoff and I paused to take a few photos:


and then we pushed on. We rode together as a group across the Hood Canal Bridge and to Beaver Valley Road, where the Three Musketeers headed north, while the Dynamic Duo continued on out 104 toward their cutoff to Quilcene. The ride north toward Chimacum is mostly a flat road along the east side of the valley, and with the light fog, it was quite pretty.


We stopped at the Café/Bakery in Chimacum and Bill Gobie added a few layers, some toe warmers and we all had a snack, some of which apparently clung to my 3-day old growth of beard.



Riding through Quilcene, we continued heading South, and it looked like we might see some sun later in the day, though Dave was somewhat skeptical when I asked him if he’d remembered to bring his sunglasses. There was a touch of ice on the bridge and the temperature climbing Walker Pass was an even 32 F.



As I got almost to the top of the climb, I was approaching a turn and the sun came out in full force, shining brightly through the trees and rapidly melting the frost off.


The three of us had gotten separated by this time, with Dave out front somewhere and Bill behind me on the climb, having stopped briefly at Quilcene. As I dropped off the pass, once again, the fog layer turned everything gray once more along the Hood Canal.


But I could see some slivers of light which gave me great hope that this week-long low inversion layer might burn off.


When I came past the Hamma Hamma Fire Station, I noticed that after our December record breaking snows, our January record floods and a week of fog, the fire danger is decidedly lower than it was when I was here last July.


By noon, I was riding along with a nice tailwind, watching the winter sun sparkle off a most beautiful Hood Canal. The newly repaved Hwy 101 is simply fantastic to ride on, with wider shoulders along most of it, not much road debris and not nearly as much traffic today as I am used to.


I’m always tempted to stop at this place, drawn by the giant plastic hamburger. This is about 75 miles into the ride, with 12 or so miles left before our stop in Hoodsport, and the tank is usually just about on empty by the time I get here, but with a big gravel lot, set way back off the highway and looking like more of a bar than burger joint, I can just never quite bring myself to visit. One of these days……


By 1:00, just north of Lilliwaup, if I looked back north, the water was bright blue, but if I looked ahead to the south, it was gray-green, a very interesting effect of the fog having been burned off partly, but still a lot of cloud cover to the south.


Usually, riding with a group of randonneurs, we never stop here, since the control is only another 5 miles, but I just love to stop at the Lilliwaup General Store. The folks are so friendly and they have one of the funkiest toilet rooms in the northwest. That, AND I get to take a picture of my mighty hurricane of a bicycle, the lovely Katrina, visiting the woodshed.



Just after turning off of Hiway 101 onto SR 106 south of Potlatch, I always like riding past this grand old wood barn. When I was a kid, these were all over the Pacific Northwest. Age, neglect, storms and other effects of nature have collapsed a lot of them, and it seems they are never replaced with anything of beauty, but simple metal “structures”. It is sad to me that we are losing a great deal of beauty on our landscapes, as these glorious old structures to simple metal buildings that have no sense of character.


At the mouth of the Skokomish, the Olympics were reflected nicely in the calm river. Just past this, I joined up again with Dave Harper who had been doing the same thing as me, riding along watching the beautiful scenery when he’d hit a rock and caused a pinch flat.


We rode along together for the 20 miles of SR 106, me enjoying the chip seal, him lamenting the fact that it must be his day for mechanicals, as he’d just broken a rear derailleur cable, and was relegated to doing the last 30 miles essentially with a 3-spd. I rode up beside him at one point to grab a photo and he almost rode himself into a ditch when he looked over to pose. I will need advance warning of such antics next time so I can switch to movie mode.


After a quick stop for water (Dave) and potty (Don), we set off again out of Belfair, knowing Bill was ahead of us, with the sun now at our backs, and the anticipated headwinds nowhere to be found. It was a beautiful winter afternoon, with temperature hovering in the mid-40’s.


Dave got a ways ahead of me climbing up and over the hill on Old Belfair Hiway, but I caught up to him again before we hit Hwy 3 and we rode together again under the bright blue skies.


Eventually, I let him take off so I could kick back and enjoy the late afternoon sun on the water just outside of Bremerton. I knew we were too late for the 4:15 ferry, and had a good hour to get 3 miles. I wanted to just relax for the end of the ride.


So I watched the boats, I watched the birds, even getting to watch a seagull pull a fish out of the water and fly off with it.



Of course, there’s that last hill to contend with.




And after sweeping down the hill, around the corner onto 4th and into the Starbucks, there was Dave, who had arrived just a few seconds before me, and as I was taking off my helmet, up rode Bill, who had also stopped in Belfair and gotten behind us again. So we all finished within a minute of each other in just under 10 hours.

After sitting and having a mocha, I walked around the corner where I found the Dynamic Duo just finishing off their german sausages and beer; they’d finished about 10 minutes before us.

At about 5:25, we all headed off together, rode onto the ferry and after watching the last of an unusually beautiful January sunset,


the boat pulled away from the dock, with a group of endorphine crazed randonneurs exchanging tales of another great day riding 130 miles together, yet apart. Bill and I feasted on ice cream bars and Dave wolfed down a few more of those peanut butter pretzels, offering some to anybody who desired. I passed. Everyone seemed to be pretty happy.




I don’t know what it is, whether it is the time spent on the ferry before and after the ride with other folks who share this passion, the scenery along a most spectacular route or the solitude of riding along with nothing but the sounds of breeze in my ears, water lapping at the shores and gulls and eagles singing their songs of the wild, but I always seem to have some of my best cycling days riding around Hood Canal.

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