Fall has descended upon the Pacific Northwest, and with the changing of the season comes rain, wind and chilly temperatures. By the time of the harvest moon I’d normally be knee deep in cyclocross, but this year “ain’t no normal;” it was time to refocus. In late August the owners of MFG Cyclocross (Seattle race organizers) had issued a challenge they dubbed the TheBigIdea – do something epic, tell us about it and donate either all or part of what you would have spent on cyclocross entry fees to charity. Simple.
I ride for Taco Time Northwest racing and our Big Idea was to challenge team members to ride to as many Taco Time restaurants as possible during the weekend of October 10 -11th. The concept was straightforward and not too crazy, until Mykenna’s suggestion: ride 170 miles to 32 Taco Time restaurants with a departure time of 2:00 AM (due to the fact that Mykenna had to be home by 6:00 PM).
My riding had been suffering through the month of September, but the challenge was too big to pass up. Our teammate, Justin, also couldn’t pass up the challenge and thus we became a team of three.
It’s no secret that it rains here in the Pacific Northwest, but rarely do we get a forecast that calls for a 100% chance of rain. Starting on Monday and continuing through the week the meteorologists were dead certain – rain was coming Friday night and there was no chance of it stopping until Saturday mid-morning, and that was only a slight chance. I feel asleep Friday night to the beat of a steady rain.
I was up before the alarm and was dressed by 1:00 AM. Thermal knickers, wool underlayer, team jersey, arm warmers, rain jacket, wool socks no shoe covers. The temperature was in the low fifties and I didn’t want to overdress underneath the rain shell. When you ride in the rain around here prepare to get wet – either from the outside or from the inside – the best that you can hope for is to somewhat balance the damage.
I arrived at Mykenna’s White Center house at 2:04 to find Justin sitting under the open tailgate of his VW SUV and Mykenna straddling his bike. I don’t like to be the guy who delays the game, so I hustled to get into my bike shoes and rig my lights. By 2:15 we were rolling down the hill towards our first Taco Time. The first thing that I had forgotten in my haste was to lock the car (I think I’d closed the driver side door – I think) and second thing I’d forgotten was my repair kit. I take pride in being self-sufficient; admitting to Mykenna and Justin that I didn’t have any tubes or tools was painful.
We discovered that the urban streets of south King County are ghost town deserted at half past two on a rainy Saturday morning. All three of us had successfully mounted fenders onto our wide tire gravel bikes and though it was extremely wet the riding was relaxing and comfortable. Normally I have a difficult time keeping up with both Mykenna and Justin, but on this ride we all seemed to be on the same pace page. We weren’t riding slow, we weren’t riding fast, we were simply spinning the pedals and putting down the miles.
We made Burien sooner than expected and as we rolled through the deserted main drag I noted, mostly to myself, that I’d ridden this stretch of road probably over two hundred times over the years – this is the location of the Burien (formerly Joe Matava Memorial) Criterium Race. From Burien we headed south to SeaTac and then followed the Interurban/Green River Trails to Des Moines and then over the hill to Kent.
The rain showed no sign of letting up as we rode east to Maple Valley and then north along the Cedar River trail towards Renton. By this time Justin had borrowed Mykenna’s spare head light and my backup light was flashing red. We switched off our front lights whenever possible. Instead of riding straight along the trail into Renton we had to make the mile and a half long climb up to the Fairwood Taco Time. This turned out to be up and down out and back – this was probably the most energy expensive stop of the trip.
From Renton we went over the Highlands and then took a sneaky route down into May Valley; finally I was on home roads. By the time we hit the second Taco Time restaurant in Issaquah I was feeling chilled and depleted, our plan was to fuel in Factoria, so I called my daughter, Sophia, and asked her to bring me a warmer layer, Mykenna called his wife, Hatsune, with the same request.
Sophia brought me a warm jersey/jacket, so I peeled off the saturated team jersey and pulled on the dry layer. My wool underlayer was a bit wet, but wool retains insulating value even when wet so once I had that dry layer on finally felt something that approximated warmth. I ate two thousand calories and drained a grande Starbucks outside of the Factoria QFC. I felt re-energized – like the Randonneurs say: don’t give up until you’ve had an apple fritter.
As we rode north into Bellevue the rain began to abate. From there it was off to Redmond, then over Rose Hill on the Old Redmond Road to Kirkland where we intercepted the Cross Kirkland Corridor. At mile 100 we encountered a friendly face – our friend and teammate Ryan who had been patiently waiting for us with a bag of cookies, bananas, and energy bars. The fact that Ryan came out on a cold and wet morning to support us really felt special. We said goodbye to Ryan and headed towards the Sammamish River Trail and on to Woodinville. We then continued on the trail to Kenmore from where we climbed up to Canyon Park. As we left the Canyon Park Taco Time the skies opened up and out came the thunder and lightning. Shortly after leaving the parking lot I picked up a large triangle of glass lacerating my front tire. We sought shelter under a small tree – to no avail – as we attempted to plug the hole. No use – it was now boot and tube time.
We rode north in order to safely cross under the Interstate near Alderwood Mall. We were now on the West side of I-5, heading south – the home stretch. The Taco Time in Lynnwood was open for seating, so we took a few minutes to sit down, warm up and ingest much needed calories. We exited the restaurant to see some blue in the sky – the remainder of the ride would be dry.
The Interurban Trail got us to the next couple of Taco Times and then it was onto Lake City and then south to the flagship restaurant on 45th. When we were first married and living in the U-District my wife, Melony, and I used to frequent this Taco Time on a weekly basis. Next it was on to Ballard and then down the Elliot Bay Trail to the Restaurant on Elliot Ave.
At this point Mykenna was getting pressed for time so we opted to skip the Rainier Ave location as that out and back would have added at least 30, but more like 45, minutes to our ride. We were now on a time crunch as we tore through downtown Seattle, over the West Seattle bridge and up to Taco Time number 31 on Avalon. From there it was a series of unwelcome grinding hills south to Mykenna’s house where we arrived, 165 miles later, with minutes to spare.
This is the type of riding – steady, long distance, with good company – towards which I am turning my attention. I’m finding a lot of satisfaction is rolling with solid company, seeing new ground, lacing together new routes. Winter approaches but I’m far from hanging up my bike for the season – bring on the next challenge.
If you are curious as to why I would ride my bike 165 miles through rain and darkness check out Why.