There I was, 118-odd miles into my Whidbey - La Conner permanent. Riding the flat sections near the river, I was making good time. I had taken my time at some of the contrôles using it to recover and such, but I still had plenty of it to fritter away. After all, how much would I need to cover those last 8 or so miles?! All good.
The scene now shifts to barely a half-mile away, and I think you know what is coming: I am on all fours, climbing this terrible mountain, wondering if I am ever going to get to the top?! I am in my lowest gear, with a howling left knee, looking up at this wall, and wondering where the clichè'd crampons were in my Carradice. SIR has struck again!
Start to Coupeville
It began much better than this, honestly. I got an early start on the permanent, leaving home at around 5.20. My wife dropped me off at the Ferry terminal, and I was second in line. A nice breakfast on the relatively short ride ferry ride to Clinton left me fueled for the ride ahead. Time was 6:30. Not wishing to waste these empty roads, I left Clinton at 6:30, after a nice break at the Passenger wait area. Downtown Clinton was empty, and not a soul to be found.
My mind wandered back to those empty roads... Why do we love to ride? We love riding at night because of the stars, the lack of traffic and the melancholy stillness. We love riding during the day because we'd enjoy the outdoors better and daylight is not to be wasted. We love riding early in the morning because of the sunrise, the quiet, and well, empty roads. Is there ever a time of day we don't love to ride?! A randonneur uses every excuse in the book. Someday someone is going to have to write a book about randonneuring. I bet it will become some kind of classic like "Old Man and the Sea" (which is required reading for a randonneur by the way).
The next few miles were spent climbing and descending over and over again, but on perfect pavement, clean empty roads and wonderful greenery. The odd car would go by, but the stillness was mostly broken by a cough of mine that I couldn't shake away. Every now and then a dog would bark in the distance, unnerved undoubtedly by this oddly-attired man on this weird rolling contraption. Boundaries were respected, and knowing glances were exchanged, one side curious, the other side, wary.
Near the Keystone Ferry Terminal turnoff, I was back on familiar ground. My wife and I toured these parts in 2005, and took this very same ferry to Port Townsend. Plesant memories. I pondered stopping for coffee at one of those wheel-away huts, but the call of the general store was too strong. By the way, it hides inside a gas station.
Coupeville to La Conner
Coupeville is a small town. A gas station to the left, and a mall to the right. You'd miss the commercial area if you blinked. But the town had the first traffic light in the last 27-odd miles, and so missing the contrôle was pretty much out of the question. I am sure somebody (no names!) will prove me wrong! ;) I was greeted by a cheery clerk who informed me that there were no services between here and Oak Harbour, a hardy 10-mile ride. No point bragging. But this is a nice contrôle with all the rando essentials: clean restrooms, perfect location, food and water.
I was genuinely excited about the next few miles. I knew I was going to go over Deception Pass, but it has been a few years since I passed this way by bicycle. There are some wonderful-but-devious roads away from SR20 (Madrona Road being one of them). This road features 18-20% hills, and we found it hard going on our tour. We didn't take any of these roads today, as the road hugged the coast, and the waters of the sound glistened blue in the distance.
I rolled through Oak Harbour, but traffic - though heavy - was extremely courteous, with everybody moving to the left lane at the first sight of a cyclist in the distance. Oak harbour has some of the very few traffic lights on this route. The wide shoulders of SR20 gave way to narrow shoulders and somewhat oddly high traffic past Oak Harbour, where the uber-strong rider Ward Beebe lives. Now Ward is one of those people who I get to see at the start of the ride and never again. I half expected him to be out riding. This weather was not to be missed.
Deception Pass is oddly not that hard of a climb, but the road does climb gently for a little while, but you are completely in the shade and concentrating on riding the narrow shoulder that the grade passes by in no time. Around a little bend, and suddely you see the structure ahead, with beautiful ocean views opening out in front of you. I rode the two bridges quickly through, waiting for breaks in traffic each time. This was a time to stop, admire, and EAT! I spent about 10 minutes eating and gawking much to the amusement of the people passing by.
The turn to Deception Road comes just as a tempting downhill beckons, and caution is recommended. However, this is the end of beautiful pavement for a while, as chipseal takes over, but cannot ruin a beautiful descent to the water, and a nice sequence of turns. This stretch is hilly though. Snee-Oosh road reminded me of the Tahuya Hills. Narrow roads, chipseal, and no traffic. You go through a beautiful red bridge (which had me ruing forgetting my Camera), and you are in La Conner. My preferred stop is the grocery store.
La Conner to Arlington
This was a nice stop for me. Eager to get some rest, I lollygagged (or faffed around, take your pick), eating, drinking, getting rid of trash, and basking in the sun. It was a glorious day, and plenty of people were out enjoying the many little shops that make up La Conner. Many of the roads from this point on were completely familiar to me. These roads are really busy during Tulip Season in April, where these fields are full of tulips of every conceivable colour, and lots and lots of people and traffic. Do not ride this route on an April weekend. Save for a little hill on Fir Island Road, the route turns completely flat. I was also treated to several beautiful vistas of Mount Baker, with just a little cloud on top. Not very many cyclists out today, but I saw my first cyclist on Cemetery road, just before I found myself in Arlington.
Arlington to Snohomish
Arlington serves several roles in our permanents. Starting contrôle, ending contrôle, and of course, contrôle. Today, it was just a contrôle. I was bonking a bit on Cemetry road, and ate my fill here. I waited about 10 minutes for the cleaning of the bathrooms to finish, and spent a good 20 minutes here. I left a little upset about wasting so much time, but I shouldn't have. Worrying about a fast time on a permanent isn't worth it.
I was clad in my usual Blue Jersey, which sadly is getting a little frayed around the pockets, and my trusty Showers Pass jacket, which shows the battle scars of one too many road repairs. My shorts are getting frayed too, and I am scared of buying wool shorts because they will boil me when it's hot out. I bought these cheap shorts in Canada for about 20$ a pop, and they have worked well for me. Would be hard to replace these, but a trip to Sammamish Valley Cycle seems imminent [eDelux, here I come!].
I took the Centennial Trail option, and sucked for the first few miles that the trail gently climbs. But, the lack of traffic was a great thing indeed. My goal was to get to Snohomish by dark and that goal looked pretty much unattainable. A lot of walkers, some with dogs, some on roller blades, and precious few on bikes littered the route. Leaves were aplenty on the trail, as is a nice coating of the green stuff. Takes careful riding sometimes.
Just before Snohomish, I met two riders with Carradice bags, and when I called out to them thinking they were randonneurs, they stopped and turned around to meet me. It turned out to be un-randonneurs, but people who were interested in our style of riding anyways. I did my best to get them to come and ride with us, using the Winter Ride Series as bait. I told them about our website, and hopefully they remembered the spelling of "rando". After an enjoyable tete-a-tete, I bid adieu and continued after dressing up for the night.
Snohomish isn't far away from the trail, and the 76 gas station was a welcome sight indeed.
Snohomish to the Finish
The ride had been very enjoyable thus far. The hills were manageable, the weather was awesome, the wind wasn't too strong, and my spirits were high despite a nagging pain in my left knee that I had been feeling since Arlington. I have been focussing on improving my pedal stroke, and putting extra effort seems to mess it up sometimes. This was the kind of pain I experienced on my 600 DNF, and that went away after about 4 days.
I left this contrôles pretty quickly, in under 5 minutes, a commendable achievement for me these days. The next 5 or so miles was very straightforward as we hugged the Snohomish river. The lights of Everett gleamed in the distance, and traffic was fairly heavy through here, but courteous.
I have read a few reports of this route, and almost everyone mentions the hill at the end. I scanned the route sheet futilely for where the hill would hit. Nothing could be gleaned from the names of the roads, but I needn't have worried. A left turn and I was face to face with the WALL of Everett. I slowly chugged up, and about halfway my left knee told me that it wasn't very happy to be around me anymore, and promptly quit. Not being able to apply much force on one left quickly left me sore in the other, but I made my way to the right turn on S 3rd st, but stopped there to rest for about a minute. I saw 3kmph on my computer once. Terrible! My memory fails me on the nature of 52nd st, but I am guessing that was a climb too. I stopped again to rest after the right turn onto Colby Avenue, which thankfully had a nice downhill stretch to boost my spirits.
One does not lose elevation for nothing on these hills; one loses it to be subjected to further torture. 41st was a windy road, which also featured some climbs, but thankfully none were as obscenely steep as Lowell Road. The next 5 miles were all up and down, and I was left wondering if this were how the PBP course would be. That thought shut my whining up pretty quick, as I slogged through the last 3 miles to be rewarded with a nice gentle downhill to the finish.
I got my receipt at the seafood restaurant, and beat a hasty retreat home with my wife. My left knee still hurts. I really missed my camera today.
Correction: Original post quoted the trail as Cedar River Trail. It was actually Centennial Trail. [Mark Thomas provided correction].