Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Road Home

It was so hot on my ride home Thursday, even the road kill looked cooked.
Actually, it was warm, high 80’s but no complaints from me, it couldn’t be much nicer for riding. It’s been the perfect alignment of elements that has made my commute sweet almost beyond description the last couple weeks.

The formula includes sunny and clear skies with temps in the 70’s or 80’s, a N/NW wind and a steady or falling glass. That little invitation has come across the dope scope more than a few times recently. The nice part about that combination is that it usually means a gentle push most of the way as opposed to the more common moderate to downright cranky head winds. I don’t mean to say that I won’t ride into the wind; living in the Chehalis gap I get that head wind plenty (Thursday was a perfect example of a tough second half of the ride). No matter who or where you are, it is always nice to catch a little tailwind when you are on a bike, and in my case I find it especially enjoyable given that my ride home is so often an upwind grind.

Soon the wind won’t matter much. It will be dark, wet, possibly rainy, and that combination definitely vies for attention. Oh sure, when the wind is driving that cold rain into your ear it is particularly annoying but really, for many the rain is the big issue. With a hill or a chuck-hole filled chip seal country road, you can see it, you can feel it, and you can often tell just how much more of that you have to face. You never (well, rarely) see the wind, you never know if it will let up, get worse, or change directions, or how long it will last. There’s no sign to tell you you’ve reached the ‘summit’. For me it is the demoralizing adversary. I climb like a rhino but give me hills, shoot give me mountains, but please, give me a tailwind.

Gee, how’d I get off on that little side road? This was going to be about my ride home. Something to refer to in January that will help me remember those perfect late summer days. It’s about 43 kilometers one way which is a couple hours give or take 15 minutes for me. Even in my currently poor condition I am still riding inside that window. Don’t ask me to go much farther or take on the mountains just yet.

So, right out the door on Black Lake Blvd I’ve got that silly grin going on. It is a beautiful day and the city of Olympia sees fit to tell the world that those of us on bikes belong; We get a lane, and a sign, just like the car people.

Ride down Black lake Blvd far enough and you come to ... Black Lake of course. I have some winter pics of this part of the commute. It’s pretty most any time of year.

Local riders who have ridden this road much have all encountered this terrifying wheel killer sticking up out of the asphalt; it is tall enough to go all the way through your tire, your tube, and even your rim!

Last year I decided to stop and investigate this menace, and what I found made me laugh at myself. This is not some steel impaler jutting up through the pavement … it is actually a little rubber nippley thing. I steer clear of it even so, old habits and all that.

Up the hill toward Delphi, this in one of the places that is steeper than it looks, trust me, you’ll be standing up on this somewhere before to get to the top.

But once you make it to Delphi, you are into one of the really nice parts of this ride. I tried to get a pic or two without cars, usually not so hard but when you are trying no one cooperates.

This is one of my fave parts of the ride. It’s still superb pavement, not a lot of traffic, and fairly ‘urbal’. That’s what you find between suburban and rural. You know; gentrified pastures with Vovlo’s in the driveway, maybe a lama here or there, and then every once in awhile a place with a real wood shed out front and a couple junk cars in the yard, maybe a chicken on top of the old Pontiac. Kip Yupperson meets Red Neckerson.

Then it’s up and over Waddell creek. This has always made me chuckle. There‘s no creek to be seen in these parts, about the biggest climb on the whole route. This is one of the places that is not quite as steep as it looks, but it is that pleasant, and as I said it’s the most climbing you’ll find on the road home.

Over the top we drop down into the Capital State Forest.

So named because it is state land and the proceeds from logging here are dedicated to support the cost of the state Capitol campus. You’d think every tree in sight would be cut, but I think it is fairly reasonably managed.

Here too we find the worst travesty along the route. A few years ago this was butter smooth asphalt. Well I guess the legislators determined that those log tucks did not need nice pavement as much as the legislators needed Carrera marble in the bathrooms, so the slick road was replaced last go round with chip seal. Note the difference between the shoulder (which they did not coat) and the lane?

Out of the forest you roll into prairie grass lands of the Mima Mounds. This odd formation goes on for miles and miles, composed of little hills 8 to 12 feet high. No good explanation exists for this strange landform.

Also, when things go south wind wise, this is where it happens. It’s open, unprotected, and the onshore flow at Grays Harbor and through the Chehalis gap has usually got a full head of steam hereabouts.

This is the Weyerhaeuser Tree Farm.

I have no idea how many trees they produce here but it’s a big number. The next little stretch is a bit rolly but very pleasant along The Nature Conservancy’s Black River Preserve. And then you come to the bridge over the Black River. It’s a wide, slow, lazy river (but clear water) at this point. Lots of river vegetation, not what you usually find in free flowing rivers in Western Washington State.

On the other bank is the farm where we picked our berries last weekend (we netted 7 gallons of frozen berries).

Just a half mile on is the Alpaca farm.

Here I turn pretty much due west, and run the gauntlet of the Three Bad Farm dogs. BFD # 3 is the first you encounter on the way home. He’s short, stocky, short haired, and quick. He’s not all that fast (short legs and all) but he can get off the porch and out to the road quicker than you think. This may be the dog days of summer: The last three times I’ve been by here, he’s either continued to lie beneath the shade tree next to the house and just eye me over his shoulder, or once he made a half hearted run, didn’t even get all the way across the yard to the road. He used to go like hell to try to at least get out where he could get a good snarl going. He responds appropriately to a well aimed squirt from the water bottle. He’s never bitten me but he puts up a pretty good front.
Down the road we come to Osprey Nest number 2, there are still birds at the nest.

I missed a great shot on Thursday; I couldn’t see any birds on my approach so I didn’t get my Camera at the ready and then, just as I came under the nest a mature bird got up off the nest with a pretty dang big fish in her clutches. You can drive a car back and forth all day under these nests and nary a peep. But come huffing and chuffing on a bike and they just cannot stand it. They always lift off the nest. If there are chicks or eggs they take a wide sweeping arc and end up back at the nest after the troublesome 2 wheeler has gone his way. On this day the bird flew a half mile or so to the next big old growth fir to finish dinner.

A quarter mile down the road we come to BFD #2. He’s an old Lab mutt, big head, white blaze in his chest and a muzzle full of grey. I can usually outrun him pretty easily and I think he mostly likes just coming out for a bark. The water bottle always stops him dead in his tracks. He’s gotten that enough times that you’d think it would not be such a stunner. Just past him is BFD #1. This dog is almost always behind a fence, and it is a good thing, because he’s young and fast and gives the impression he’d really enjoy a big bite of calf tenderloin. Lately he’s got a yard mate who has all the characteristics of a pit bull. Together I think these two could cause some trouble, hope I never find out.

Sickman Ford road ends in a junction with Hwy 12.

It’s a short run on Hwy 12 to Elma - Gate road but even so, it is one of my least fave parts of the ride. This is a road designed in the 30’s or 40’s with traffic from the new millennium. Lots of commercial truck haul: Every load between I-5 south and Aberdeen and Hoquiam that wants to avoid the unban lash up in Olympia. Too much traffic, too fast, and not enough shoulder for a comfortable bike ride. Once again I cross a bridge over the Black river and it is so narrow I will wait till the traffic is clear; there‘s just not room on the bridge for two motor vehicles and bicycle three abreast.

Just across the bridge is a left onto Elma - Gate road, if there is any wind you will know it for sure once you get here. A mile or so down the road and we pass ON#1. So windy here that the birds seem to have a devil of a time juat keeping limbs and branches on the nest platform.

Just a mile or so more and a left onto Arla Court and there at the end of the Cul de Sac is Rocky Acres.

I’m sure there are better commutes, but in the last days of summer, this ride home is a gift.


  1. That is a pretty fantastic ride home.

  2. Nice ride. I wish I could call 80s "hot". That's the temperature at like 5am here.