Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Annual Cle Elum Bike Ride

We'd only been planning this ride since about March, but when the phone rang at 6:15 am Sunday morning, I knew who it was and I knew what he was going to say.

"Hey Frank," said my brother Tim, somewhat too cheerily, "looks like we're going to have to cancel the ride. Rain."

Well, I had noticed a few sprinkles when I got the paper from the front porch, but until the phone rang, it hadn't occurred to me that it was enough to possibly scare someone off from what I was sure still was going to be a very pleasant ride.

"Cathy (his wife) is already back in bed, so we're going to bag it." That was about it for the conversation--his mind was made up. Little did I know then that he had made the right decision, though possibly for the wrong reasons. While maybe not mind-boggling, the rain that was to fall over the region during the next 6-7 hours, especially up in the mountains, was the most during a 24-period since early May.

Nonetheless, blithely ignorant of impending doom, I called my sister Sue and feigned indifference to the weather, which was now squally, but with encouraging periods of dry, and confirmed that breakfast was still a go at her apartment and more importantly, that brother-in-law Greg was still a go as my stalwart riding partner. He was.

I left the house at around 6:45, armed with every layer of fleece and nylon that I owned. I counted 8 little rain drops on the windshield during the short ride to Sue and Greg's place. Breakfast was at 7 and by 7:30 we had loaded up the bikes and were on our way, as the eastern sky was slowly brightening. It was now sprinkling, but relatively warm. We were hopeful.

By the time we got to Bellevue, we were hedging our bets a little, looking for wood to knock on and hoping the bright spots near toward Snoqualmie Pass were not illusions. As we approached North Bend, the rain had stopped and the roadway was almost dry and things seemed to be in a clearing mode. The old Subaru faithfully chugged up the steep hill to the Rattlesnake Lake trailhead and by 8:30 or so, we were on the John Wayne Trail.

Ten minutes later it was raining and it didn't stop raining until about ten minutes after we arrived in Cle Elum, almost exactly six soggy, sad hours later.

In the beginning, the moderate sprinkles were light and refreshing, sort of like the soft drink, with the perspiration from the inside meeting the rain from the outside, comfortably somewhere in the middle of my several layers of clothing. I had a digital thermometer on the bike and the temperature was a brisk 41 degrees, but despite it now raining harder and heavier, we were still plenty warm as we were pushing the pace pretty good, and going up a little grade, to boot.

It's about 18 miles from the North Bend trailhead to the entrance of the Snoqualmie tunnel, and by mile 15 I had started to bonk a little bit, trying to keep up with Greg's tough 11 mph pace. I suddenly remembered some PowerAde I had brought along and after just a few sips, I couldn't believe what a difference it made. I had never before been so energized by a drink and it helped me make it to our first serious rest stop, at a little snowshed just a couple miles before the tunnel.

The break, which I had been hugely looking forward to, was a major disappointment. Cracks in the roof allowed the rain to pour through. There was not a single inch that was dry, nor place to sit, so we had a miserably short break. To make matters worse, my much anticipated granola bars were like lead from the cold and were almost impossible to chew.

Somewhat fearing that we might get overly chilled if we didn't soon get moving, we jumped back on the bikes and headed for the tunnel. It was possibly in this short stretch that the rain seemed to intensify, coming down in focused freshets, soaking us to the bone. Ironically, it was here that we saw some bikers going in the opposite direction. Somehow they didn't look, at least, as miserably as we felt.

We made it uneventfully through the 3-mile long tunnel and emerged into Eastern Washington at about 11 am, where it was, not surprisingly, still raining hard. We passed the Hyak parking lot where another group of would-be bikers were milling about, trying to decide what to do. I was hopeful that our beleaguered appearance as we rode forlornly past might have convinced them that they should try again in spring.

We passed Lake Keechelus and were cruising along nicely at a solid 15+ mph. We were taking a beating on the rough trail (which worsens considerably at this point), but because we were going a little downhill, it wasn't too bad and I was sure I could make it to our next rest stop, at a short, dry tunnel about ten miles away. It was here, about halfway between Hyak and Easton, that we met another big group of riders, heading west. They asked how far it was to the tunnel, we told them and they reluctantly continued up the trail. I still don't know where they had started from.

We made it to the rest tunnel and thought that the rain was starting to lighten slightly, but it was still just 42 degrees and we were starting to get a little cold, especially in the feet, which is almost always the first thing to go when riding bikes in inclement weather. I changed my shirts and put on a dry jacket and felt a little better.

This particular tunnel has nice memories for me. I remember taking a long, long break here the first time I rode the trail six or seven years ago, when I had an old Walkman cassette player taped to the handlebars of my trusty old Motiv comfort bike. I did this same ride once again by myself and then a much-shortened version with my daughter Tiana when she was about 10 or 11 years old. It was then that Greg started riding the full route with me and in the four or five years since, we've had various combinations of brothers, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law and kids riding along for at least part of the trail. But we always stopped at this scenic little 200-yard long tunnel 5 miles west of Easton.

It was an easy ride down to Lake Easton, through the back streets of Easton proper and back onto the trail, which now parallels the freeway and becomes very monotonous and very rough. We were making good time again, but eventually the pace wasted me and I had to slow down. But we were within 15 miles of Cle Elum now, and the rain, though still heavy, wasn't so heavy and we could sense that we were at the beginning of the end, which along with a slower pace, made things much more palatable.

But then the effort suddenly increased and it took me a couple minutes to realize that my back tire had blown. What a miserable experience that repair was! Cold fingers, raining, dirt, sand and grit everywhere and just very, very tired. Finally got the spare tube on the wheel, the wheel on the bike and the tire pumped up. We were on the final leg, with just 5 or 6 miles to go.

We passed over the Yakima River a couple times, came to the South Cle Elum trailhead with it's cozy trailside restaurant still open and headed on blessed smooth pavement to our cabin, two or three miles away.

Arriving precisely at our predicted time of around 2:20, we got no heroes welcome, as everyone had gone out for nachos and beer. But the rest of the family arrived about half an hour later and the traditional Cle Elum reunion (ostensibly for Tiana's birthday) was once again underway, for the sixth or seventh consecutive year, always in the first part of October.

Food, beer and birthday cake followed and after a short respite, the rain started up again. The leaves outside had fallen, NFL football was on the TV and for a brief moment all was at peace.


sb said...

Great report! I was just printing up the self timed shot, no one looks wet at all in the picture. Took us a good while to clean up Greg's gear, and we still might toss the shoes.

gpb said...

Now that it's done, I can say I wouldn't have missed it for the world. Next year, on the threat of rain, I'm going to consider swapping out the pedals--the bike shoes are a lot more water resistant. I agree with Sue: great report.

TM said...


Anonymous said...

I realize this is your "memoir" but more precisely we were out having margaritas and nachos.