Mercer Island to Granite Falls

#diygravel Number 2

The second installment of the Ted King #diygravel series is a simulation of the Belgian Waffle Ride.  The BWR is 138 miles with 12,000 feet of climbing with what, I think, is a lot of gravel.  I say “I think” because the folks who put on these gravel rides/races seem to be very protective of information.  Oftentimes it takes some digging simply to find out the distance of the event.  I any event twelve thousand feet is out of the question.  Even if I were able to plow the roads and ride the RAMROD course that’s only ten thousand, so I focused on the distance.  With most of the gravel around here closed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic I figured that I’d stick to pavement.

It has been over ten years since I last made the voyage up to Granite Falls, but that seemed like the correct distance.  A quick map with ridewithgps showed that the trip from my house to Granite Falls and back would be exactly 138 miles.  Easy enough.

View from the Ben Howard Road

I decided to take the gravel rig with the big 38mm tires.  I’m really starting to like the comfort of the big tires and the ease of the one by gearing.  I also have a bikepacking bag located under the saddle – longer rides like this require some extra room for food and clothing and I don’t like how all of the numerous handlebar bags negatively impact the handling of the bike (caveat – I think rando bikes that are designed to accommodate a handlebar bag handle great but none of my bikes have a suitable geometry).  Riding from seven AM to five PM will need some clothing changes and I’ll need a place to stash extra clothes.

For food I packed three big chocolate chip cookies that I had baked the night before, four turkey and swiss mini sandwiches on King’s Hawaiian rolls and a cliff bar just in case.  My two water bottles held only water, as energy drinks all seem to bloat my stomach.

The weather forecast, which proved extremely accurate, called for morning sun and afternoon clouds – no precipitation.  I rolled out of the house at a few minutes before 7:00 AM under blue sky, the sun was still low and the temperatures cool.  My light gloves weren’t quite up for the task, but I figured that the sun would warm my up sooner rather than later.  In the end I never did get all that warm and I finished the ride still wearing my trusty Rapha jacket – the only clothing that I removed over the course of the day was my arm warmers.

For me the key to riding long distances is to keep myself fed and hydrated and to keep my pace in check.  Controlling the pace on hills is especially critical.  During training rides with my race team it’s common practice to “attack” this hills, this isn’t going to work for me during an all day ride.  This one aspect gives these longer rides and entirely different feel.  No longer do I feel like I’m in the throws of cardiac arrest, instead I simply gear down and climb, smooth and steady.  Another aspect of this ride that I enjoyed was the solitude. 

I consider myself a social guy and I really enjoy rolling along down a deserted country road two abreast jabbering away with a buddy, but my current fitness level seems to put me in a gray area: I’m too slow for the racers but too fast for the weekend warriors.  I’m either continually falling off the back or riding off the front.  Going solo erases that problem: I ride the speed I’m comfortable with and I stop to eat or take photos whenever I feel like it.  No stress.

Tristan the Bull

I felt great on the ride, rolling along ticking off the miles.  The Mercer Island to Sultan portion was particularly easy and quick.  Sultan to Granite Falls via Lake Rosenger is predominately uphill, but there are a couple of stunning mountain views along the way.  Granite Falls was, as always, weird and slightly scary.  Granite Falls is a quite attractive town located beneath a stunning mountain backdrop, but for some reason the visual residents resemble the walking dead.  I made a quick stop at the local gas station for a Pop Tart and a Coke and then got on my way.

Now came the only threatening portion of the route.  Highway 92 between Granite Falls and Machias Road is no place for a bicycle.  The road was a steady stream of 70mph vehicles, most of which were double-bottomed gravel trucks.  The scant shoulder was covered in either golf ball-sized rocks or deep gravel.  My bike computer consistently read 22mph as I ran the gauntlet.

Once I made the left onto Machias Road I was once again able to breath and enjoy the ride.  The Centennial trail follows Machias all the way to Snohomish and since it’s closed I decided that it was a good time to ride it.  This sounds a bit odd but if the trail had been open it would have been to crowded for me to safely ride at 18-20 mph, but since the trail was somewhat deserted I decided to ride there.  This may sound weird to many, but the fact of the matter is when you’re vulnerable on a bicycle you need to carefully weigh options and hazards.  Continuing on Machias Road being buzzed by cars whose occupants are yelling at me to “get on the trail” seemed hazardous whereas the danger that I posed to others while riding on the trail seemed nearly non-existent.  So trail it was. 

Entering the Haunted Forest

I stopped in Snohomish long enough to eat a sandwich and then got on my way towards the long climb up Broadway.  The odometer turned over 100 as I crossed highway 202, and I started to worry about my mileage.  Experience told me that I was approximately 30 miles from home, not the required 38.  As I rolled down the surprisingly crowded main drag of Woodinville I became certain that I’d have to tack on a few miles in order to reach the magical number of 138.  At mile 120 I was mentally ready to get off the bike but physically I felt fine.  The climb up Newport went easy and when I hit Mercer Island I took the west side road instead of the much shorter ride down East Mercer Way.  I hit the turn to my house at mile 137 and continued on past until the computer read 138.

It was a great day, good weather, no mechanicals and only a few miles of being scared for my life.  In hindsight a good looking route (albeit shorter) looks like cutting from Lake Rosinger to Machias on the Dubuque road.  Go maybe half a mile past Dubuque and stock up at the Lake Rosinger store then head west to avoid the near death experience of Highway 92.

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