Touring Around Seattle, ishington

The Mercer Island Loop

July & August 2007 (~30 miles/ 50km) - the first few times

For three times in the span of a month or so, I do what I term the Mercer Loop from my house and back. The first run, where I get the cobwebs off of my Bianchi Veloce racer after two months of basement shadows, is a test from this little pamphlet of rides I have in the Seattle area. Sure enough, this one looks promising - so I roll out from my front yard, then head at a clip over to Seattle's Ship Canal to use the Burke Gilman Trail. I head over to the Arboretum via the University Bridge, then mosey along Lake Washington shore until the crossover to Mercer Island via I-90. There I do a circumference loop, returning home via Dearborn, 4th, and Alaska through downtown. I head up Elliott Bay via Myrtle Edwards Park and then on through the industrial "portyards" of Interbay to reach the Ballard Bridge and "Freelard". This is why it's (loosely) called a loop and not a circle.

Altogether this route forms 30 miles or so, nothing doing. I've just spent two months in China and Viet Nam, now sporting a little belly to show for all of that great grub, but it won't get in the way of staying in some kinda reasonable shape. Cool. But... I know that the baby flab belly has to go. Them pounds all count in the wrong direction when riding uphill (a silver lining is that it might help in the right way in a collision). Slowly achieving a Buddha-esque stature is not in my vanity plan, so buh-bye belly. Puh-puh please, and the sooner the better. A quick zip on this run should help, so after completing it in short order I congratulate myself with a healthy serving of fatty food. To give me more motivation for the next time, of course!

That's only a week later, when I offer to go out on a ride with my bro-in-law M around the Seattle area. My sis's family have been visiting and the Buddha belly is shockingly again on the ascendant - indeed, there's nothing like hanging out with family and slouching about while eating too much to give such a beast a growth spurt. Which, being on the wrong side of puberty and all, has lost its acceptability. Off we go, me yapping on about Seattle items of interest since I can't help myself in such regard. I always appoint myself tour director when visitors are in town.

For a change it isn't the gut that proves the focus this time around. With M.'s stomach not thrilled with the past few days of unusual meals, my thrilling commentary is apparently turning just that much into hot air spewed into the wind: The ride doesn't go terribly quick with the number of loo stops. Regardless, another respectable 30 miles or so get under the legs. And it is a beautiful day to ride! They all are - especially after you get back home and find beer in hand.

For a 3rd-time's-the-charm special, friend K next accompanies me under a great weather system - which lasts only as long as the ride does. K is perhaps the person I've ridden with the most over my Seattle years, but for many of those it's been for mountain biking only. But these days, with K sporting three kids near of young age (including twins), road riding has become more his speed. As in, it is easier to connive a way out of the house to get a respectable ride in when you at least can start directly from your door. That K snapped his wrist on a genius stunt in slow motion up in Canada not long before might also be clouding his view of mountain biking somewhat. These things have a way of happening - although I'll swear to my deathbed that I've given up on snowboarding for reasons other than those having to do with getting conked out for 45 minutes on Whistler. I SWAR!

Injury history aside, I show him this new route that I've come to rely on as a quickie backup. It has a highlight, too, in what I've come to term the Shangri-La section on the backside of the island. This is a stretch of a few stupendous miles, wending and winding around some cliffs on the main island loop drag. You can beautifully keep your momentum between this section's drops and shorter climbs if you are riding the island counterclockwise.

DIRECTIONS: From the University Bridge, head toward downtown on Eastlake until I-5 looms above. Take the left before the freeway to ride alongside of it while climbing the hill. At the top, take a left on Roanoke. Pass 10th and its light a few minutes later before taking a right onto Interlocken. Follow this all the way through until you hit Arboretum Way. Take a right, pass through Madison, then continue all the way until you hit a park. Take a right to come down through the park, then take a right when you emerge from it. This will take you along Lake Washington. Take Lake Washington drive all the way until you come to the signs to get on I-90, then take the bridge across the lake using the bike lane. On the other side follow the bike path until it intersects with Mercer Way. Take a right and stay on this main road to circle the island. When you come back to I-90 on the other side of the island, cross over it and then take a left to ride parallel to the interstate above it. When you reach the park where you originally turned after getting onto the island, continue straight to re-access I-90's bike land over Lake Washington to head back into Seattle. On the other side, take a right to head up Lake Washington and reverse the previous directions to get back to the University Bridge.

Vashon Island, Washington

9-10 July 2007 (70 miles/115 km, w/ camping)

It is finally time for my first "panniers run"! I've bought them for a while now but haven't used them yet as slowly but surely I'm putting together the necessary items for cycle touring. The time has come for a test: I load up the two pannier compartments and the one on my handlebars for my first overnight bike trip. Vashon Island is my target.

Coincidentally, this times out with what goes for a heat wave here in Seattle. We've had days with high temperatures around 90F (~30C), all under a blazing sun (for Seattle, anyway, which means blue or white-ish blue). This is to be my first trip with tent and such on board my bike for camping; I decide to task this to my trusty old (literally - 20 years perhaps) Cannondale mountain bike. I've previously hybrid-ified it as my commuter bike back when I was working downtown; I feel confident that it's already accepted its pack mule status and that I shouldn't get any back talk from it. Plus, outside of wanting to do some welding and the like to make it possible, my Bianchi really isn't modifiable for touring. The Kona mountain bike is out of the question for (I hope!) obvious reasons. Reduce reuse recycle, etc.

As to ultimately buying a touring bike - I have some grand tours ahead in mind - I'm still weighing my options. In the first, second, and third places each, I'm not really excited about the prospect of owning four bikes - commuter, racer, mountain, and touring. That'd be just sick, sick, sick to an environmentalist (whereas owning three bikes is unquestionably wise - right? At least all three ARE getting a great deal of use, justification for my addled mind. For a practicing minimalist the irony can't be ignored - but irony sounds better than hypocrisy, doesn't it? - YES!!)

Regarding Vashon Island: this will be another run that begins right from my door. I LOVE that concept! I've actually previously been to Vashon by bike from my house a few times, so in that respect it's nothing new. It'll just be under a full load this time.

As it works out, I only do the first and last 25 miles each (to get and return from my campsite) under full load. The other 10 miles ridden each day (around Vashon) see the panniers empty. Fortunately a lot of the riding to get to Vashon is flat, but the first (and last) several miles on the north end of the lsland are much more up and down. This includes the mile which goes straight uphill from the ferry dock. As for how to get there, that's easy: Vashon Island is reached from West Seattle, a mere nineteen miles from my door if following the West Seattle coast around Alki to Lincoln Park. That's where one catches a ferry.

There is no grand game plan, either: It's just go and get gone. Get the lay of the land; don't die. Simple stuff. I take the bike paths through Interbay, then Myrtle Edwards Park, head along the Seattle Waterfront, cross to West Seattle using the lower bridges and Spokane Road, then curl around the West Seattle coast all the way until Lincoln Park where I catch the ferry. From the ferry I head inland until I take my right turn onto Cove Road. A couple miles down that, I enter into the campground (which I found on the internet, the only one on the island) in the early afternoon. I quickly set up my tent only to immediately depart so that I can bum around the island into areas I haven't previously explored. For Day Two, I do more exploring in the morning... before loading up at noon and rolling back to Seattle (with a head wind the entire freaking way!). That's the entire big trip. Ta DAH!

What'd you expect? It's only one overnight! Still, it's worth it: Vashon's been steadily turning into one of my favorite Seattle-area places. It's as bucolic as the ferry-serviced San Juan Islands (San Juan/Orcas/Lopez/Shaw) are, but just right across from the city! It's about the shortest ferry ride around, too!

It really IS amazing that Vashon has maintained this level of sanity for so long. Speaking with some locals as I meander about the island and its cafes (of course), they note that the houses keep getting built, and the price of property rises along with it, but somehow the pace of island life remains the same by popular demand. One assumes that this is likely upheld by shunning, ostracizing, or maybe even a random stoning. So I surmise, anyway, when otherwise not ruling out gentle pushes from ferry docks and decks to keep the uppity types numbers down. Everyone has to get on the ferry sooner or later...

The island has a bit of a hippie sheen, too - if patchouli can have a sheen. They're here and there, men in skirts and women in... longer skirts. But in other ways it's stubbornly still a working farm community, with lavender the main crop. Thais makes for not such a bad smelling place. I regard it as a step up from a focus in, say, manure futures. There aren't too many places to make your dollar disappear, either, the island providing only competition-free basic services and perhaps a dozen places to eat and drink. Tourism from Seattle nevertheless figures reasonably large into what goes for an economy on Vashon. Bed-n-Breakfasts abound.

As for the campground/hostel I use, my home sweet home, I find it to be a bit hokey if otherwise fine. There are tepees and covered wagons on the site to rent beyond the aforementioned dormitories and camping. It's like a full service hostel on steroids, yet it's very well run and clean for all of $12. With its close proximity to Vashon Town, it's also reasonably convenient while still out in the country.

In town, I have a grubbily nice time eating at a bison-vegetarian place (go figure). A liquidly-refreshing downing of beers or two at Bishop's (more or less the only bar on the island) follows, then I catch some great Greek music both by surprise and good luck on the village green: Seattle's Balkan band Pangeo coincidentally have a show that times with my island foray. Talk about a bonus! It seems that the summer weekends bring such shows regularly.

Riding about all the while between feed stops, I choose various roads previously untravelled. I try to take many of them to their "conclusions", often ending by the sea or someone's farmhouse. A couple of times I stop at the same large country store cafe, too, the perfect place to bask in the local's scene. This comes complete with the table of old-timers chewing on the day's news at a large table. Yep, country livin'. Pa-CHING! (That's the sound of a cherry pit hitting a spittoon - not that I actually saw such a thing, but...)

Beyond the obvious accoutrements of small town life, Vashon is also the original home of K2 and Burton snowboards. (I'm reaching to find SOME kind of claim to fame in the place, I realize.) This is mostly a notable feat when considering it almost never snows on the island. The hippie street cred of the place, meanwhile, is fortified by there being the first biodiesel facilities in the Seattle area (or perhaps the entire Pacific Northwest). That comes courtesy of Dr. Dan and his scrap restaurant fry oil conversions.

With environmentalism/sustainability and nature playing so very well on Vashon, I feel in my element. Moreover, with no shortage of water and mountain views, plus numerous beaches and cliffs, what more could one ask for? Nope, nothing. (In case you wanted to know.) Best of all, the place is quiet: Not once do I hear screeching truck brakes like those regularly experienced beyond my bedroom window back home in my PhinFreelard neighborhood. Yay Vashon!

DIRECTIONS: To get to Vashon Island, take the Vashon Island Ferry from Lincoln Park in West Seattle. This is reached by accessing the West Seattle Bridge from either US-99 or I-5 from the south side of downtown Seattle.

Bainbridge Island, Washington

24-26 July (90+ miles/145+ km)

The time has quickly come to do a double overnight ride on my newly-forming cycle touring rig. I feel like I'm now getting closer to trying a real cycling tour of some length. But these small steps still come first. So I decide again on the scenery and safety of the Puget Sound islands. Poking around the internet for nearby camping parks, I finally choose to make a gravy run over to nearby Bainbridge Island, just across from Seattle. Since the Seattle-Bainbridge ferry route is the most trafficked Washington State Ferry by good measure - and since ferries are such an iconic Seattle Thang - this seems a wise choice.

(According to the burg's ubiquitous souvenir T-shirts, Seattle is also known for salmon, the stoooopid Space Needle (okay, I like it, but it's still stoooopid), Pike's Public Market, plus nature's gifts of Mt. Rainier, Puget Sound, and all of the other mountains, islands and waterways nearby. And, oh yeah, rain. For those who don't like to bother with pesky nature and its ilk, it is also true that Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon, Costco, UPS, REI and Starbucks are all Seattle-based/started companies, too. However! The ferry and the Sound are the consensus-depicted imagery on postcards and brochures. Okay, enough of the tourism pitch!)

Bainbridge Island is known for, outside of being the island right across from Seattle with its ever-growing bedroom community, the Chilly Hilly (CH) cycling event. The CH is an event ride that takes place every February (thus the Chilly) on hill-laden Bainbridge (thus the Hilly.) It mentally "opens" the cycling season to many in the area, although a number of cyclists do bike year-round, wet roads be damned. A pleasant consequence of the Chilly Hilly is that it provides a handy map of Bainbridge Island, complete with the route, on the Cascade Bicycle Club's website. Seeing as the other map I've found of Bainbridge frankly sucks, I figure this one HAS to be a bit better (only marginally true, it turns out.)

First things first, though, which apparently is to set fire to my house - I mean check out my camping stove, as such is the intent. For I 'm indeed the proud owner of a super snazzy stove - lightweight, indestructible, FOOLproof - which I bought several years prior, but have never used. I've been on plenty of camping trips, but my dirty little secret (perhaps only to me) has always been that I always let someone else handle the stove part. I offer to help cook, clean up, etc., no prob - but keep me away from the container of fuel waiting for me to accidentally blow up! (This paranoia extends to power saws, which house projects force me to contend with occasionally with similar dread.)

Confirming my worse fears, my test run of the stove quickly produces an inferno which I eventually figured how to shut off only by cutting off the gas. Figuring it at least works - I have FIRE, after all - I also figure that I'll figure it out more properly at the open campsite, at least literally not figuratively. This is somehow a much safer bet than my wood-laden basement, which was probably not the best place to test out a stove in retrospect. I regardless determine that I'm ready to roll.

Now, whereas 19 miles are required to reach Vashon Island's ferry from my house (via the scenic route, granted), the Bainbridge ferry is only 7 miles away - since it's downtown right on Elliott Bay. Basically it's just my old work commute minus the last tourist-clogged blocks of Pioneer Square. It's also flat as a pancake, nothing doing even with my newer and larger load on the bike. So I zip down there without regard to any ferry schedules.

This is an idealist habit of mine with ferries: I hate to put myself into a rush to catch the damn things! It's my MO and I stick to it. However, it's NOT the best modus operandi with a limited service of runs and schedules. So, as it turns out, I have to wait about half an hour over by the loading area. But no worries - 'tis a beautiful day. I thus alternately buzz on my trumpet mouthpiece and do "yogic" stretches while taking in the view. Sure I look like a freak, but then again I probably AM one by many conventional standards.

The ferry's arrival removes me from this zen-guru reverie before long: It's time to be off. Bikes (and foot traffic) load first, a nice thing, one that allows us first crack at the seats. A more universal benefit is that you only pay when westbound for the ferries. This makes the return a hassle-free snap. (Certainly you've somehow paid for it all, regardless, but trust me on the good feeling that FREE instills however you cut it.) I thus roll my mini behemoth onboard, lash it to a rail with the provided rope, then sit in the upper lounge area to enjoy the sail. Ah, bliss! It's only about 30 minutes or so to Bainbridge under sunny skies, so this leaves time enough to take in the waterborne views of both the islands on one side and the Seattle skyline on the other. One can say unbiasedly that this is pretty damn spectacular.

Arriving at Bainbridge, bikes also are first OFF of the ferry. I scoot as fast as I can up the main ("highway") road to escape onto a quiet side road immediately. This is wise, as it allows me to evade being flattened by about a thousand cooped-up cars offloading. From the dock it's only some 5-6 miles to arrive at the campground I'm going to stay at, meanwhile, so I take a decidedly roundabout coastal route that has me going up and down... and then up and down some more. The rewards for my efforts are numerous great views of the Sound, a more than fair tradeoff in my book. These quiet roads have little or no traffic, only the random person walking around with their mutt. I only bypass the unending residential landscape for one junction with businesses - at Rolling Bay, where one can get a coffee at the questionably alluring (by name, anyway) Hay and Feed Store. I, however, for some reason pass on this opportunity and roll on down the road to Fay Bainbridge Park.

The Park turns out to be a much smaller place than I have thought. It's certainly nice enough, though. The main campground and recreational area is down by the beach, where many driftwood logs are strewn about. Some RVs and cars qre in attendance, naturally - although not many with it being midweek - and families are enjoying the beach and sun, mostly at the shore's edge. As one quickly learns to do when camping, I immediately check out the facilities (clean, with one shower - the island natives should not be deterred by my odor, apparently). I then bike around the rest of the park to get the full - small as it is - lay of the place. Finally I return up to the wooded area for hiker/bikers to pitch my tent. It looks like I'll be sharing my area with a talkative couple from Portland traveling with a barking menagerie of pooches. Fortunately - for ME - they all are currently tied up or in boxes. Great.

TripTrumpet digs out a soapbox...

Allow me to admit up front that I'm one of those rare Americans who never quite understands the pet thing that pervades in the ol' U.S. of A. Yes, the 'naminals DO give undying affection for free food and one's meager attention. But, if someone likewise offered ME lifetime room and board for some smiles and slobber, I'D likely entertain such an exchange, too. But let me further digress to my more pertinent pet peeve (punny me!): Unless they let to roam at will in a mongo-sized farmyard, they are NOT on their own schedule to take care of necessities (you know what I mean) and trot about as they please. So... are they PETS or a CAPTIVE (literally) AUDIENCE? It's the free will part of my nature that gets irked. So when (as in the Portlanders' case) I see these pets restricted by zip lines and puny travel cages, I'm appalled. Granted, I don't want them underfoot, either, but this is a little too master-servant and selfish for my liking.

Doesn't this need to own animals, or to commune with them, deserve better? More broadly,, wouldn't (wild) animals in general be more fairly served by not just continually encroaching on their habitat? What about returning to them more space under their own "rules and regulations" of nature, where THEY decide to commune with us humans (or not)? Or, on a different tack, surely I'm not alone in thinking that people could work more on their relationships with each other more and stop reading so much into their interaction with animals who frankly just wanna get a bone? Isn't that what the desire for animal companionship is really masking? (I won't even get started on zoos...)

...and the soapbox gets pitched again. All apologies, etc.

ANYway, I unload my stuff and decide to head out for a nice afternoon ride around the north end of the island. In the roughly 15 miles I tool about, I enjoy equal chunks of shade and sun, plus no shortage of hills to roller-coaster on. My map proves to be incomplete when it comes to the various lanes found along the coves tucked away here and there, but I suppose that's a burden to bear when it comes to something that's free. These coves gave me pause to wonder each time. In a number of cases, they formed nice offshoot loops that I expect to have to back out of yet pleasantly don't. I seriously muse if some of the rich folk living in these areas make sure that the coves are reflected rather poorly on the maps with the intent to keep out riffraff such as I. It seems to be the case on both Bainbridge maps I have. (Conspiracy...? But of course!!!)

Such burning questions aside, about the most notable thing I do is manage to take a detour spur out to Agate Passage, crossing the bridge using its narrow sidewalk. This "safe" walkway is considerably higher than the road, but with the road having no shoulder on the bridge, the decision is straightforward. As a consequence, the crossing induces a slightly eerie feeling as my seat - with the bulk of me above! - is approximately at the height of the railing's top edge. If I get spooked - hey, I AM a cyclist on a bridge! - it's either onto the road or into the drink (way down there!) with me. Spotting a seal down below, treading in the current, I surmise that he probably wouldn't be thrilled to see a sillily red-and-black clad biker dropping all the way down to him, either. And, just for the record, seals don't eat humans, do they?

Successfully crossing over - and thus temporarily calming my anxieties - I find that on the other side of the bridge is a Native American Reservation, that of the Suquamish. These indigenous folks are not to be confused with the Snohomish, Stillquamish, Snohomie, Swinomish, Snoqualmie, Squamish or a zillion other likewise named peoples and places in the Northwest. What this realization also presents, and is as always seemingly true these days, is that there is a casino likely nearby. And... there it is. Next come the fireworks stands, too. Then again, after stealing their land and murdering their ancestors years ago, I guess it's the very smallest of consolations to allow these historically abused nations a couple of monopolies in trade. I bet they might say a bit more than that.

At which point TripTrumpet reassembles the soapbox...

What a shitty legacy has the U.S. Government in this regard, frankly. Many more people could stand to read Dee's heartrending work Bury My Heart At Broken Knee, which should be required reading schools (it is in some). Snort. This brings up ANOTHER pet peeve of mine - Americans almost proudly don't know their history, let alone the world's. 'Twould take a lot of smugness out of being American, so often on display here and abroad, if one knew from whence such prosperity came. It's a bloody, selfish tale just like all the other colonial stories the world over. In the Twentieth Century alone, the U.S. has been in practically as many wars as there are years - and wars are not the acme of diplomacy. Since I'm lecturing away and making recommendations, here's another book: A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn. It's U.S. history told from the commoner's viewpoint - not the lofty general or president's victory chair.

...only to set it the soapbox back down in easy reach for future digressions.

Historical haranguing aside, I zoop on back to Bainbridge Island after the smallest of reservation tours and continue my ride. I take in ever more hills and a bit more traffic before making my way back to camp. A shower is in order and, for all of 50c with good hot water (25c/1.5 minutes) in a clean stall, I'm shortly beyond content. Sure I have to share it with some bugs that look like daddy-longlegs with wings, but they seem okay with my smelly presence. More importantly for them, they SURVIVE it.

Next on the agenda is the challenge of heating up dinner, a gourmet feast from a can, Amy's Organic Spicy Chili. Mmm, mmm. (Actually, it is pretty good.) MMM! I pull out the stove and set to my task, the basement experience still fresh and scorched onto my brain. Once again, however, the first thing I do is produce an inferno that briefly sets the picnic table on fire. Oops.

This transpires when I pump the gas into the stove and some of the liquid manages to spill out onto the table. Since the table in turn is resting on a somewhat inclined plane, this causes the rest to be... history, coincidentally. Curing the bonfire quickly, I watch the stove's flames nonetheless still roar to the heavens while now swirling around the fuel cannister as well. My paranoia is substantiated! Not gleeful in this vindication, I make a spastic dance of grabbing the apparatus as flames licks my eyebrows, finally plunking it over onto my firepit's steel plate. This is a more level spot, and I turn down the heat once my breathing returns. It's nine lives for us humans... right? Following the mayhem, the actual task of heating up the can of chili is uneventful. As it is supposed to be, I believe.

By now the sun is going down, so I head away from my nemesis the stove and go down to the beach to play a few tunes. This is relaxing for a half hour or so, but before long the sun has passed from memory - and the heat index has dropped like a rock, too. I head right back to my tent, pull out a headlamp and read, trying out that traditionally more reposed angle of campside life. I'm tag-teaming two books, Cervantes's Don Quixote and Bryson's Australia travelogue In A Sunburned Country. Both are good, but the latter is like a crack-induced page-turner. I TRY being disciplined - I know that ONE day I'll finish Quixote's 1000+ densely typed pages - but crack is an addiction, you know. Eventually I have enough of this activity as well, so I wisely decide to succumb to the other campside tradition of passing out shortly after dark. If you discount numerous pee breaks, tossing and turning to the drone of boat engines and generators, plus add a welcome contemplation to the sounds of animal and insectlife, I manage to do just that.

Morning proves pleasantly balmy, and I do a bit of the ol' campside cooking with the stove fully under my control. I finely dine on oatmeal and some artichoke tea I imported in my return from Viet Nam. Indeed this is perfect: I have a day to roam by bike on the island, seeing all of those things passed by on previous trips to the island (where I've usually been focused on getting to a fixed destination beyond). This is not bad after thirteen years in Seattle, right? Okay, it's pathetic. I nevertheless clean up shop, load the bike with my trusty horn and my two novels for some self-entertainment, and off I go.

Concerning Bainbridge attractions, it doesn't take long to realize that there isn't much of interest to specifically crow about. I don't take this to its discredit at all, however. Town-wise it seems that about the only instance thereof is Winslow, where the ferry comes in. A few other outposts exist, where a few buildings cluster together for a wee bit of commerce, but so ends commercial Bainbridge. One such business cluster spot actually has a Thai restaurant, surprisingly (if discounting the proximity to Seattle which should negate any wonderment, really) while another has the cozy Treehouse Cafe (which is recommended to me by my islander friend Jen). There is even a music store (which is my own personal vial of crack, thus "unskippable").

Otherwise, outside of aimlessly roaming about the island (thus making it my personal Sunny Silly Hilly), playing a little horn at a park (BattleGround) and relaxing at a beach (near Ft. Ward, possibly to the dismay of the neighbors!), the day ticks by uneventfully. I can pat myself on the back: I've certainly cycled a good bit more than the 33mi that makes up the CH. I HAVE been using sections of its route, while adding in vertigo-inducing climbs like Ft. Ward and Toe Jam Hills. These certainly more than make up for skipping the CH's daunting ogre ascent, Baker Hill. I also briefly try to find my friend Jen's house near Ft. Ward, but with my crappy map and no discernable landmarks... fergit it.

Still making my way about the island, it seems that the real estate bubble bursting around the remainder of the U.S. is far away. My guess is that, being a rich suburb of Seattle, Bainbridge beneficially shares in it's housing exceptionalism when compared to the rest of the country. The area is booming, prices are still going up, and with half of Bainbridge's houses on the shoreline costing about one zillion dollars, all of the above makes for a "Who, me, worry?" kind of atmosphere. The other properties, generally rural interior lots, are so large that they cost a bjillion dollars or two, too. Wherever I find housing, they're invariably of that depressingly huge size that generally looks pretty new and indicates a shitpile of resources used in its construction. Just BECAUSE there is more space on larger lots doesn't MEAN that a mansion need be built.

I've come to consider this kind of habitation as trophy home construction, ridiculously wasteful dwellings somehow meant for perhaps only 1-4 people each. It appears that the logging that used to go on at such a large scale all over the island has now been mostly reduced to logging for home construction JUST on the island. Yeesh. It'll be a long time before the forest (if ever) comes back. The funny-sad thing is that the very folks inside these manses who probably marvel at their country living don't accept any country inconvenience whatsoever. They often typify the grotesque American Dream of consumption and amassing of objects without end, every outbuilding and spare garage stuffed with ever more toys. Moreover, this me-firstism has side effects the rest of the world gets to unfortunately witness and enjoy to their smug displeasure. Uh, on the bright side, I do see (still!) a deer cross my path, and also that of a mother and child raccoon... but I'm guessing that the future of the island is pigeons, squirrels, and...rats. Apparently such wooden gluttony assembles soapboxes without me having to break away from my text.

Jabbering on, about gluttony I mean, I eventually make my way back to Winslow town. There I manage to eat far too much in a short period of time. The Blackbird Bakery has been recommended to me by Jen as a place that does everything from scratch, and well at that. Sounds great to me! And indeed that's the case. I plop down inside and have an amazing monster slice of quiche and a croissant, plus - duh - a coffee. I don't know how much caffeine it'll take to offset the drool-inspiring, sleep-inducing qualities of all that butter, but I decide it's well worth the damage to my arteries to find out.

After I finally venture to dare leave that slice of heaven, I male my way out of town and back to camp. I mostly speed smoothly along the main highway with its nice fat shoulder. I take some back roads for the latter part of it, then rumble into Fay Bainbridge Park a last time. I'm far from hungry after such an early and voluminous dinner, so I merely revisit my new favorite shower and head down to the beach.

With only an hour or so before sundown, the dying light offers soft-edged views to the horizon. Ships of unknown size and destination loom across the way in front of Seattle's distant location. Some have containers stacked sky high in an ungainly fashion, while others look like tankers of some sort. One that particularly baffles me has an unbelievably massive and arched bar stretched across its entire massive length. It looks like it's used as a crane somehow, but the scale is insane. Beyond these big boys, of course, there are the usual motorboats and sailboats littering the summer sea. All the while, too, a view of Mt. Rainier dominates the south. It looks down on the entire visible stretch of mainland coast, from Olympia to past Everett.

Meanwhile, unfortunately, what almost entirely hangs above this amazing skyline is a brownish-orangy-green haze of smog. Yecch. For as green as Seattle likes to think it is, that aspect begs to offer a different opinion. Sadly on account of this, the Cascade Range can only be barely made out behind the mainland coast. I DO happily manage to spy out a building I knew to be just above my house in the city, plus a water tower above that of a friend of mine's. The vaunted downtown Seattle skyline is not visible from this spot on Bainbridge, however (blocked by Magnolia's bluffs), while surprisingly most of the Seattle coastline that IS in view looks like a forest with few developments.

This creates an impressive illusion since Seattle is indeed densely populated. So one has to thank the founding fathers of the city after all - crooks though most of them were - for the big shoreline parks of Discovery, Lincoln, and Golden Gardens. On a minor down side, railroad companies still own the very coastal-most strip which forms a run beginning in North Seattle and runs somewhere out toward Vancouver, Canada. One has to wonder how long the rail companies will hold onto such a real estate gem.

Meanwhile, all around me, another night's group of families assemble for sundown. One family is fishing, another is bar-b-quing, others have kids at play. As I sit on a bench, letting my towel and washed-whilst-showering-jersey dry in the remaining sun, I take in this family haven. A little girl comes by and smilingly said Hi, and then a couple of her friends come and join her at the nearby playground. I overhear their innocent conversation: "Let's play family!" "Yeah!" "I wanna be the baby." "Can I be the older sister?" "Can I be the Mom?" And then, "How about if Mom and Dad were dead?" Ah, another tranquil night on Addams Family Island...

Dead parents aside, the sun finally dies out, a recommendation that I make my way back to my tent. Remembering how soft my brakes have been behaving during the day, I find myself thinking "Hey, maybe I should actually look at them!" before all the sunlight is gone - which is a curious thought after going on so many rides with them in that condition. Needless to say, I find good reasons why their performance is shoddy. In the front, the shoes are about worn away. In the rear, the 15 or so strands that made up the cable are down to 2. Oops. Wouldn't that have been fun at an intersection, or a sudden deer crossing? The possibilities for calamity are endless, however entertainingly various they might be. So it looks like I'll be taking it easy for the return trip.

The final Bainbridge evening takes its leave; The usual routines lead me to clear out in the morning. I'm not in a hurry, taking my time packing up, but the sky seemed to foretell rain regardless of the forecast sunny day. I opt to not press the matter TOO much, so in my still-wet jersey I beeline to Winslow at 10 a.m. I'm shortly back to the sanctity of the Blackbird. I couldn't pass up another stop there, but eventually that, too, has to pass, before a ferry ride and a reverse of the original seven miles brings me back to my abode in Seattle. Another successful run has been completed, but I now have more food for thought gearwise. I know that the bike deserves a proper going-over, too. Progress, in other words. Then the sun comes out in the afternoon after all - that teasing tart.

DIRECTIONS: To get to Bainbridge Island, take the Bainbridge Ferry from the southern end of the Seattle Waterfront.

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