Saturday, September 30, 2017

Seattle in September: My Trip to Mecca

Immediately after learning that I would be traveling to Seattle in September for a conference, I jumped onto the Seattle International Randonneurs (SIR) listserv to inquire about permanent routes and bike rentals. In no time, I received myriad route suggestions, several invitations to ride and even the offer of a bike loan. This would be my first trip to Seattle, the randonneur's Mecca, and it looked like I would not be squandering the opportunity.

With clear skies in the forecast and a bike waiting for me, I was able to pack light for my trip out west. After discussing the route options with several acquaintances from PBP, we decided that the Hood Canal Loop 2.0 would provide a first-time visitor from the East Coast with a wide range of classic Seattle experiences wrapped up into a neat 200K package.

SIR has a miraculous system of permanent route organizing that's unlike anything I've ever encountered. All one has to do is sign up with the online "Perminator," which involves submitting a signed waiver in order to register for solo or group permanent rides with all of the necessary paperwork downloadable for your immediate use.

I cannot overstate the generosity and collegiality of the SIR crew I encountered on this trip. Nine of us clipped in on Saturday morning following a beautiful 45-minute ferry ride across Puget Sound and a delicious meal (I had a breakfast bran muffin and a great cup of coffee) from the Blackbird Bakery in Bainbridge. That spiffy black carbon fiber bike with the Di2 shifting (above right) would be my conveyance for the day and I could not have been happier (although returning home to my steel frame with Ultegra shifting was a bit disappointing). SIR stalwarts Shan, Jeff, Bill, Ken, Doug, Andy and a few others made the day a merry adventure that felt more like a brevet than a typical permanent.

The pungent smells of the forests that lined much of the route were noticeable from the very start. While the roads we would cover from Bainbridge to Bremerton were busier than I might have hoped, the views were spectacular and provided the first-timer with an outstanding cross-section of the local terrain. We were treated to mountains, wooded glens, fields, a "canal" and, of course, Puget Sound itself at the start and finish.

The route we followed has only two intermediate controls to slow riders down. By mid-day we had developed healthy appetites and so began to keep our eyes open for food shortly after mile 65. When someone noticed a "Homemade Pies" sign hanging in the window of a roadside luncheonette, we immediately stopped to investigate. It turns out that not only did this place specialize in homemade pies, but also a wide range of lunch offerings. I opted for a delicious bowl of chili before savoring a large slice of blackberry pie a la mode washed down with a cup of fresh back coffee.

The second half of the route brought us to the coastline of the Hood Canal, which seems not much of a canal at all, but which is scenic and unambiguously lovely. Once we arrived at the second intermediate control at about mile 80, Geoff asked which ferry we were aiming to catch back to Seattle. Which ferry, I asked?!? What a sensible question! It hadn't occurred to me to look. Apparently, there are only several ferries scheduled to return to Seattle from Bremerton on a Sunday afternoon and only three of them would get me back in time for my flight. The first was unlikely, the third would have me scrambling and so we set our sights on a boat that would depart from Bremerton, 42 miles away, in 3-1/2 hours. This plan would require a more deliberate pace than the one we had maintained during the first two thirds of the journey, but there is nothing like a concrete goal to keep one focused.

I did not want to fracture the group, but it was pretty important that I make it to my evening flight and taking a shower at the hotel before boarding was pretty appealing as well. As a result, I set the pace for much of the return trip with a careful eye towards keeping the group together. If things got really close, Shan and I might need to shoot off the front since it was his bike I would need to return before grabbing my things and heading to the airport.

Well, as the result of some determined hammering, the majority of our group made it back in plenty of time for the target ferry and even a beer and some "frites" at The Fritz. This meal was followed by a lovely hour-long crossing of Puget Sound from Bremerton to Seattle at dusk.

Thank-you to everyone who made my trip to Seattle so special. The generosity and good cheer I encounter in the randonneuring community never ceases to amaze me. Having completed my first SIR ride, I now feel entitled to wear my new signature blue wool jersey with pride.

So, the next time you find yourself in a far-flung part of the country on business or family travel, see if you can stretch out your trip to savor the local cycling experience. Research the permanent routes that may start near your hotel and see if any local randos want to show you around. I guarantee you won't be disappointed.