A Day on the Bike
by Kent Peterson
Saturday June 17th, 2006 was a completely free day in my life. I had no
urgent meeting, no task that needed immediate attention. I could do
whatever I wanted. I rode my bike.
I wake at 3:00 AM and I wake without an alarm. I always wake without an
alarm. It's a skill I cultivated years ago. It's one of those things I
people tell me is odd. What I find odd is the notion that most
people wake up by being clanged into consciousness by some external
contraption. That just seems hideous to me.
So I'm up at three. I make coffee. I answer some email. I feed the cat.
I eat some breakfast. At 4:00 AM I'm out the door with my bike.
It's dark and raining lightly. I know many people, many randonneurs
even, who avoid riding at night and who actively dislike riding in the
rain.I admit that there are times when riding through a dark wet night
can be a cold and miserable experience, but over the years I have
learned much about clothes and lights and techniques for riding in
darkness.One of my fondest memories is of riding with the legendary
Eason on some dark Canadian roads. Jack taught me to
keep my eyes moving and to look past my lights and into the darkness.
Jack said he learned a lot about navigating at night when he was a
younger man in London during the war.
I am not the only cyclist riding this morning. An hour ago riders left
Seattle on the 275 mile Cannonball
I've ridden Cannonball a few times in the past and I thought about
riding it again this year. But I'm really not much into competition and
the race ends more than 250 miles from my doorstep. So rather than
racing hundreds of miles along Interstate 90, today I'm planning on
riding some miles along the interstate and some other miles on smaller
roads. Instead of a line, my route will be a loop.
Rolling out of Issaquah, I follow the blinking tail light of a
Cannonball racer. We ride along the freeway shoulder in the rain. Large
trucks and cars thunder eastward but the road shoulder is wide. The
road climbs and dips over the Cascade foothills. One fast racer passes
me, I wind up passing another. Most of the racers have support cars
with friends or loved-ones to help them out with food, water or
whatever repair needs that may arise. The first year I raced Cannonball
I had my friend Steve driving a van containing food and tools, a spare
bike and my loving wife. In subsequent years I raced without a support
vehicle and I learned about randonneuring. My food and tools travel
with me now and I know that my wife loves me even when she is at home
and asleep. One of Christine's friends once asked her "Don't you ride
with Kent on his bike trips?" and Christine dryly answered "Nobody
rides with Kent on his trips." That's not strictly true. I have many
randonneuring pals but we do ride our own paces and I ride in a
different style than most. Most of my friends train for specific events
and have specific goals for their training. I really don't think I
train. I ride a lot because I like to ride. I prepare for various
possibilities because I like being able to solve my own problems. Over
the years I've learned that any distance is
As the road climbs east of North Bend, the air turns colder and I stop
to pull on my windshirt. It's getting light now and mist shrouds the
low mountains. As I near the pass, I turn onto the quieter Denny Creek
Road. I pause on the overpass to snap a few pictures of some of the
Cannonball racers and then climb the quiet, switchbacked road to the
I stop for coffee and refill my water bottles at the summit and bundle
on my warm gloves and earband for the cold descent. I follow the
frontage road down to Hyak and then rejoin the freeway for the rest of
the trip down. Alongside the lake I see one of the Cannonball racers
pulled over with his support vehicle repairing a flat tire. I call out
the standard rando greeting of "You got what you need?" and when
the racer replies not with the expected "yeah, I'm fine" but rather
"You don't have a long-valved tube do you?" I stop. I don't think I
have a tube and we consult as to the location of the nearest bikeshop.
"I think Cle Elum is your best bet and that's quite a ways, " I advise
and quickly describe what I remember about the location of the shop. I
start to pull away, but then I stop and double check my repair kit. I
always travel with at least two spare tubes and a folding tire and I'm
something of a scrounger. And even though my wheels don't need
long-valved tubes, it happens that I have one with me. The racer is
thrilled and trades me his new, standard-valved tube. I roll down the
road feeling like a bodhisattva on a
As is usual the weather on the eastern side of the pass is warmer and
drier. I turn off the freeway at Cle Elum where I stop at Safeway. I
buy an iced coffee drink and some on-sale Powerbars. I stow my warm
jacket and then ride northeast out of town.
There is a strong tailwind on this section and I ride a lot of this in
my highest gear. I pass a couple of riders including a fit-looking
fellow wearing a Cascade Cycle Tuesdays windvest. A bit later the fit
fellow flies past me but we both stop at Mineral Springs where I stop
to put on sunblock and the Cascade rider waits for his companion.
Dave and his girlfriend are riding out from Cle Elum and like me
they'll be climbing old Blewett Pass. I don't linger too long at
Mineral Springs and I continue on up the road.
The main road is Hwy 97 but off to the left is the old road, a
wonderful narrow old hunk of asphalt that winds and switchbacks
its way through the back country. The sky is mostly blue now and the
scenery is stunning. A couple of turkey vultures
drift in the warm air and I keep my eyes open for the tiny lizards that
I know live in this high, dry country. Eventually I see a tiny lizard
scoot across the road a few inches from my front tire and I think both
the lizard and I are glad to see my vigilance rewarded.
Shortly before noon I add to my collection of "Kent's bike by some
summit sign" pictures. On the quick descent I see at least half a dozen
other cyclists climbing and it occurs to me that I've seen more
cyclists than autos since I turned off the main road.
Back on Hwy 97 I continue descending. At Hwy 2 I turn east and into a
fairly brisk wind. I roll past apple and pear orchards.Windmills rise
above the trees and rafters whoop as they splash though the rapids on
the river off to my right. At 1:30 PM I stop for lunch at
the fake-Bavarian McDonalds in the fake-Bavarian town of Leavenworth.
Nothing is more American than faux old world charm and Leavenworth has
always struck me as being almost perfectly bizarre. American flags flap
in the strong wind as if they are some necessary reminder that I'm not
really in Bavaria.
After lunch I climb up the canyon and into the wind. The river thunders
and foams off to my left and the sun is warm. The wind is not enough to
make anything seem epic but it is enough to keep me from speeding
through the day. At 3:30 PM I stop at the Nason Creek rest area to top
out my water bottles. As is usual on the weekends, a local volunteer
group is serving coffee, lemonade and cookies. I chat with the
volunteers while I munch and drink. They are kind of surprised when I
tell them where I've come from and where I'm going but I try to
reassure them that there really are people who do these kinds of rides
routinely. "There's a
whole club of us," I explain and go on to tell them about the
racers riding Cannonball and some of my club-mates who will be riding
the Cascade 1200 or the
We chat for a bit more and before I leave I stuff a couple of dollars
into the donation jar.
There wind is still against me as I climb up into the mountains. The
sky is cloudier now and things are cooling down again. I stop and layer
on my windshirt and warmers once again. There is snow on the peaks now
but the road is clear and the climbing is easy. I'm still new enough to
after years of riding fixed and single that having low, medium and high
gears makes everything seem rather relaxed and lazy. The old
Sturmey-Archer hub ticks away the miles and the years with a rugged
clockwork precision. There are newer, lighter fancier bits of gearing
and there are simpler, purer wheels as well, but on a day in June with
sun and cloud and climbs and twisty descents, three speeds and three
passes make for a lovely day on the bike.
At 5:40 PM I am at the top of Stevens summit and I don warm gloves and
my Buff earband. I know the descent will be fast and chilly and sure
enough I hit my day's max speed of 37.5 mph coming down off the pass.
Just past the summit, the old road snakes off to the right but I've
never explored that bit. I've heard that the pavement is choppy in
places and I'm not sure if it's all clear of snow, so I save that
exploration for another day and stick to Hwy 2 for much of the descent.
At the Iron Goat trail turn I connect with the old highway for a bit
and as usual it is small and smooth and much prettier and quieter than
the larger, modern road. A creek tumbles alongside me and now that I'm
back on the damp side of the mountains I'm avoiding slugs instead of
lizards. East of Snoqualmie, I rejoin Hwy 2.
On another day I might turn off for the quiet road connecting Index and
Gold Bar but the broad views from the big highway are stunning now and
the mist gives the hills the soft focus of a Chinese watercolor. It is
the time to be a small wanderer in the corner of a vast landscape. I
At 8:05 PM I stop at Goldbar for a coffee and a big Snickers bar. I
pull on all my reflective gear, turn on all my lights and roll into
At Sultan I turn off the highway and join the Ben Howard Road. Families
are gathered around evening fires at the campground, cows and horses
are quiet in the fields, and the road climbs and drops as it winds down
the river valley.
Darkness is complete when I turn south toward home but my course is
certain. I look beyond my lights, scanning the familiar edges of routes
I've ridden on sunlit days and darker times of rain and fog and
gloom. Tonight the air is still and the darkness is brightened with
light from distant stars and local farm houses. Dogs bark territorially
as I pass and in the edges of the fields I sometimes see the glow of
small night-roving eyes.
I cross the valley and cross the river, pass the big Nestle farm with
it's giant cow statue, cross the river once again and roll through the
quiet streets of what once was called Tolt and now is known as
Carnation. The town is quiet this Saturday night and it seems as if the
hum of bicycle tires on pavement might be the loudest thing in the
world right now. But then I cross the river yet again and again and
the frogs are singing to the stars.
I finally leave the valley behind and climb the Issaquah Plateau. I
follow the curves of the small road in darkness and then arc onto the
bright wide streets of south Sammamish. A final fast descent and I'm
home at midnight.
Christine is asleep and beautiful and dreaming. In the morning I will
tell her what I've seen.
Pictures from the day can be seen here:
Elapsed time: 4:00 AM -- 12:00 Midnight = 20 hours
Time on bike: 17:42:11
Distance: 237.18 miles
Average Speed: 13.4 mph
Max Speed: 37.5 mph