A random ‘cross ride report

This one in from Mike L. It’s been in my inbox for a few weeks. Seems this back-to-school thing has kept me busy.

Clickey makes biggy
Clickey makes biggy

Ski Condo to Bellevue, WA, Ride Report, August 1, 2010.

Clare and I had a big breakfast in the flatlands and drove up the hill in her Jeep. Temperatures were in the fifties, the sky gray with a chilly westerly. I was quickly ready to roll out on the LeMond Poprad cyclocross rig. It is unsprung, with skinny tires (35C front, 30C rear). The Poprad had just been through the LBS for a new chain, adjusted head set, new brake cables and the bottom bracket torqued. I wore shorts, on the theory it would warm up, and a wind shirt. This was my second ride down the hill this summer, so I was confident in my route knowledge and equipment choice.

The Central Lower Lot at Ski Acres (Summit Central) may be the roughest 200 yards of the whole ride. They graded it this summer with recycled asphalt or similar low-grade fill, and it’s rough. It was chilly at the Pass with the headwind, but I warmed up by the time I’d climbed up to Snoqualmie Pass, elevation 3000′, mile 2. Traffic on the Pass was light.

I dropped onto Road 58 at the bottom of Alpental Road with the expectation of riding it quicker than last time. I was in a better mindset I suppose, with the recent experience and knowing which hairpins are the tight ones. I touched 40 mph in the tuck near the top. I high-apexed the hairpins, braking on turn-in, listening and feeling for the knobby tires’ tread squirm. You can’t lean it over and rail the corner like you can on a road bike. I caught some slow dude in a rental car and he waved me through, yelling, “escape!” as I flashed past his driver’s window.

Clare and I had planned to meet down at I-90 exit 47 to drop off the wind shirt, so coming down Road 58, I was watching my mirror for her to come up behind me. By the bottom of the hill, I was wondering if she’d gone down the freeway instead. To my surprise, I arrived at the freeway interchange, mile 8, to find no Jeep. I took a short break and Clare showed up a couple of minutes later. I gave her my wind shirt despite the gray and chill, knowing I had a mile of hike-a-bike next.

I rattled half a mile up the dirt road to the Lake Annette trailhead. There were dozens of cars there, but no people. Everyone was apparently already up at the lake. Learning from last time, I took off my helmet and gloves and unzipped for the hike. It’s almost a mile of steep rocks and roots, and there are a few sections where I have to carry the bike. I took photos at the creek crossing and only met a couple of parties coming down. At the railroad grade, mile 9, I stopped to cool off and drink.

This is where the ride joins the Iron Horse State Park rail trail. Normally, this route comes down from Hyak through the Snoqualmie Tunnel. With the tunnel “closed,” the detour on Road 58/Lake Annette Trail as described above is advised. The detour only adds about two miles to the total ride length.

The Iron Horse drops straight and steady at a one to 1.5 percent grade down from the Pass. Traffic was light to nonexistent, gradually increasing the lower I got. The trail is pretty rough in spots for an unsprung, skinny-tire bike. Oddly, there are long stretches where the best groove is at the extreme right-hand edge of the right track. It is literally about two inches between the rocky rut of the track and riding in the rough off to the side. It requires a fair amount of attention to steer such a narrow line. Where it was smooth, I could maintain 18-20 mph in the drops. There are half a dozen high trestles to cross, decked with either cinders or concrete, offering spectacular views.

I stopped to eat and drink near McClellan Butte. The marine layer was gradually burning off, but the sunlight had a really odd orange tint to it. (I later learned it was smoke from wildfires in Canada causing the tint, while the hazy marine layer made the sky look normal.) The orangey light made the shadows look blue.

I soon got down to the Cedar River Watershed/Rattlesnake Lake area, around mile 24. About two miles up from the park, I came around a bend at good speed and nearly ran over a large bobcat in the trail. It startled the hell out of both of us. He was enormous, and my first thought was, “Oh shit, a cougar!” (Cougars are extremely dangerous— it wasn’t so long ago that a mounted mountain biker was attacked and killed in this very area.) Fortunately, he lit off down the trail and cut a hard left onto a game trail into the brush. As he did, I saw that his tail wasn’t as long as a cougar’s.

Dropping through the park area on a convenient gravel trail, I came to the beginning of the Snoqualmie Valley Trail (SVT). The first six miles of the trail are extremely fast, descending long, sweeping turns over firm, butter-smooth gravel. There is rarely anyone on this section. I rode in the drops at 23 mph, which is hauling ass on a drop-bar bike on gravel.

On down to North Bend, crossing under the I-90 freeway at around mile 30. From that point, it’s level for a while. This is half way. The North Bend Senior Center, a favorite trail-tail, rolls by at mile 34. I rode along a gorgeous stretch of the Snoqualmie River and past the golf course. The trail abruptly ends at a metal stairway descending to Mill Pond Road, then it’s asphalt for a bit. Here, I muffed the bike mount and managed to cut my LEFT calf with the big chain ring, leaking some blood. I’m smoove like dat. Mill Pond Road dumps onto WA highway 202 for a short, tourist-trafficky climb to Snoqualmie Falls. I didn’t take the time to stop and view the Falls, instead turning directly onto the climb up Tokul Road.

After one mile, Tokul Road crosses the SVT at the other end of the “missing link.” I hooked around and descended a short section of single track through heavy blackberry vines to pass through a culvert under the road and back onto the SVT. (Alternatively, you can climb to the top of the upper parking lot at the Falls and access about a mile of single/double track that drops onto the SVT a few hundred yards down from Tokul Road.)

From here, it’s a fast but rough, one-mile shot down to the high trestle over Tokul Creek. Another fast two miles reaches the asphalt road of 356th Drive SE, which offers a screaming, undulating descent back to WA highway 202. I touched 45 mph here, scary fast on knobby tires, at least for me. Once on the highway, it’s about two miles, mostly downhill, to the roundabout and into Fall City, mile 44.

Clare was waiting at the Fall City Roadhouse, where we had a nice lunch and a pint of beer. I felt pretty good for being 44 miles down the trail. I was essentially in the flatlands at that point, having lost virtually all the elevation I would lose. (My house (450′) is 2400′ lower than the condo at 2850′.)

The next few miles is the toughest section of the ride. First up is 2.5 miles on the Preston-Fall City Road, which has heavy, high-speed traffic and narrow shoulders. Some of it climbs. I always just hammer it and get it over with in about ten minutes. I picked up the Preston-Snoqualmie rail trail, which is paved, mile 46.5. The trail starts out wicked steep, a standing climb on the 36×27, until reaching the railroad grade. (There is a missing trestle here— the rail line used to go all the way up to Snoqualmie Falls, which if it’s ever rebuilt, will be awesome.) Here, I passed a family walking their bikes up; their little kid professed amazement that I was riding it up instead of walking, and his mom said it looked effortless. Sure lady, ‘effortlessly’ climbing out of the saddle on my lowest ratio at a cadence of about fifty. Gasp. Once on the railroad grade, the trail climbs steadily but not steeply all the way to Preston. It’s a really beautiful section of the ride, through thick forest with no road crossings at all.

Up at Preston, things level out and I cruised through town, such as it is. The bike trail abruptly ends in an office park at the west end of town and the route goes on the road for a few miles. It’s very low-traffic, but there are a few good-sized rollers on the way down to High Point Way, I-90 exit 18, mile 51.

At High Point, the route goes back onto gravel on what I believe is technically the Issaquah-Preston Trail. The next two miles are pretty much unimproved and very rough and rocky. I rode the brakes to keep my speed down, constantly searching among the rocks for a smooth line. It’s a relief to arrive down at the recently-completed Highlands Connector trail, which is a paved, butter-smooth, 30 mph descent into Issaquah. Across Front Street, I picked up the Pickering Farm Trail over to the Pickering Place shopping mall. The Red Robin there is a convenient meal/beverage stop, mile 55, but I rolled on through.

From here, the route goes on the road around the south end of Lake Sammamish, terrain I see several times a week on my road rides. Traffic sucks in the vicinity of Pickering Place, the usual angry, distracted SUV drivers, but once around the corner by Lake Sammamish State Park, it’s much better. The last eight or nine miles are almost all uphill. There’s a bottom-gear kicker I call Cell Tower Hill leading a fast roundabout that often features some really shaky driver behavior. Watch out. The I-90 Trail starts there, with a tough kicker up several switchbacks, more standing climbing. At the top of the hill is Eastgate; Bellevue at last. North through the Spiritridge neighborhood, around Phantom Lake and one last grinder up to Highland Hills.

I arrived at the bungalow here on the East Bellevue Savannah at mile 64, after four and a half hours on the bike. I felt pretty good. In all, the ride covers one mile of hike-a-bike, about forty miles of gravel and 25 miles of asphalt. The cyclocross rig handles it just fine; a mountain bike, especially a hardtail on hybrid or city tires, would also be ideal. I’m ready to do this ride any time. C’mon out!

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About big jonny

The man, the legend. The guy who started it all back in the Year of Our Lord Beer, 2000, with a couple of pages worth of idiotic ranting hardcoded on some random porn site that would host anything you uploaded, a book called HTML for Dummies (which was completely appropriate), a bad attitude (which hasn’t much changed), and a Dell desktop running Win95 with 64 mgs of ram and a six gig hard drive. Those were the days. Then he went to law school. Go figure. Flagstaff, Arizona, USA

9 thoughts on “A random ‘cross ride report

  1. Great report, inspirational.
    First, have you tried west to east? Yes, you have an elevation gain, but you are more likely to have a tailwind in the Cascades. May not be any harder depending on wind – Do it and report back.
    Second, is that gatorade you are drinking? Do yourself a favor and switch to something without high fructose corn syrup. I like the power bar mix. (here is a pro tip, anything that is a powdered mix cannot contain high fructose corn syrup as it is a liquid) – Do it and report back.

    Keep riding and stay off my lawn.

  2. …a ‘lemond poprad’

    …my first cross rig…handles well (ie: neutral) although the old style aluminum fork sucked on the version i had…

    …gave me the opportunity to appreciate how to handle a drop bar, ‘skinny tire’ bike out on the dirt…

    …a ‘cougar’ ???…

    …many years ago, my first older ‘experience’…lotta tail & good head…nothing neutral about that babe when it was time to ride…went down like a champion…

    …gave me the opportunity to appreciate how to handle the wildlife w/ real enthusiasm when it was time to get dirty…

    …ohhh…a bobcat, you say ???…sorry, never mind…

  3. @Lloyd— the 2400′ elevation drop generally outweighs the prevailing westerly wind on the west side of the Cascades. The Iron Horse rail trail goes east from Snoqualmie Pass to the Columbia River at Beverly WA. I’ve ridden it many times. That section is 90 miles of gravel, some of it is too rough or sandy for ‘cross, I’d ride a fat-tire bike. Definitely want to do the east slope in the eastbound direction, the prevailing wind in the Upper Kittitas Valley is a raging WNW.

    And yes, I was running Powerade that day— my Cytomax tub at the Pass was dry and it was better than nothing. Cytomax is the shit, I also like to use those Zym salt tablets for longer rides where plain water is all that’s available for refills.

  4. Oh and Barry is also correct about the hideous pie plate— but I’m so distrustful of the Shimano 105 that I decided to leave it on until it inevitable falls off by itself. Next time it’s Ultegra, D-A or nothing. Also, the 105 crank set isn’t up to the punishment of ‘cross— I’ve had the off-side crank arm work loose four times, and the crank side once, which sucked, as it left me stranded ten miles from home at dusk on a Seattle winter day.

  5. …nice, mikey…i didn’t realize that was you n’ yours…

    …i usually ride my cx rig all year long but it’s gathered cobwebs all summer so i’m thinking i need to wipe the dust off & see what needs to be lubed up & then prime the cross pump…

    …think you just started it…