August 27 - It's a Big Country: Silver Springs to Gig Harbor, WA

We took our time getting up, figuring we needed all the rest we could get to recover from yesterday's fright and climb. Besides, in some ways, we didn't want the trip to end. The whole way would be over familiar territory; up to now, all the roads had been new, and we didn't really know what was ahead, what the country looked like, what the traffic was, what our stop for the night would be like. All that changed today, as we are in terra very cognito.

We hopped on the tandem for the first stage into Enumclaw (for anyone not from Washington, here are some other place names to try and pronounce correctly: Sequim, Issaquah, Snoqualmie, Puyallup, and my favorite, Humptulips). The air was cool, the road still moist, and the traffic light. But once we hit the area near the Weyerhauser log lot, the should, though wide, got very dirty and gritty. Wet roads and gritty surface have always meant holes in tubes for us. The first time, at Mud Mountain Dam, we put in our fresh tube. The second time, we put our last patch on the old tube. The third time, we gave up, and were luckily all the way into town, and a bike shop, where we bought two tubes and a new patch kit. We finally got to Buckley, seven miles on, where we met the kids at a Burger King.

Cheryl elected to drive the next twenty miles - a good choice, as the road went first on a freeway for two miles, and then through the Puyallup valley, with its narrow, heavily traveled roads along the levee of the river, and finally over the I-5 freeway and into the industrial desert of the Tacoma Tideflats. There's nothing like urban gonzo riding to remind you of where most people live and work. I'd never actually biked this route before, but had driven it many times a decade or more ago, when I actually worked in Tacoma. I followed some Dan Henrys laid out for the "Tour de Pierce", held in mid-July, which kept me away from stoplights and got me into the deserted heart of the railroad yards leading to the 11th Street Bridge, which I crossed on the sidewalk. Then through downtown Tacoma and up the hill to Wright Park.

All of this was quite familiar to me; I'd walked and driven the streets thousands of times before. But the oddest experience was following my commute route home from there. After 3400 miles, the last ten seemed much shorter than they used to. But comforting, especially after the rain hit while we crossed the Narrows Bridge.

When I tell people I ride my bike from Gig Harbor to Tacoma, they all worry about the Narrows Bridge. A suspension model, set over 300 feet above the mile wide Puget Sound Narrows, it's exposed to variable and gusty winds, whatever rain is falling, and a constant stream of cars in both directions. After my initial queasiness, I took an analytical look at the ride, and figured it was quite safe. On the traffic side, there's an 18 inch high barrier between the roadway and the 3 foot wide sidewalk. On the outside, there's a four foot high railing with vertical struts every 6 inches. Even if I were blown sideways into the railing, I couldn't possible fit thru or under it. The cars all shy away from the barrier between them and me. And the winds are always predictable, if one just looks at the windsocks overhead.

Much more dangerous is the suburban traffic on the other side. From the bridge, very few buildings can be seen - the horizon is filled with evergreens, giving the illusion of forested country, when actually 10's of thousands of people live there, all with an assumption each is the only one on the road. Drivers in the country and in the city can accommodate to bikers very easily. In the city, the drivers are naturally on the lookout for hazards and pedestrians, and are going relatively slowly, so bicyclists are treated with some respect. In the country, traffic is light enough that problems are easy to identify, and vehicles coming from behind will almost always provide a cyclists with lots of room.

But in the suburbs, especially one like Gig Harbor, which only recently has been developed (last 10-15 years), an aura of "this road is mine alone" prevails. Teaching drivers there to give cyclists a little space is a full time effort.

By this time, though, I was interested in educating suburban drivers, I just wanted to get home. Half a mile from the house, Cody had stopped to let Annie out so she could ride her 20" bike in; Shaine and Cheryl were already on their bikes. While we stopped, a neighbor, who has followed the web page and written a few emails, happened by chance to drive by, giving us a last minute boost and pep talk (thanks, Patty!).

Rolling down our lane and up our drive way, I heard cheering. I didn't expect anyone, but some of Shaine and Annie's friends had stood out in the rain for half an hour, and greeted us with signs and a tape to ride through. I broke the tape, twisted my cleats out of the pedals, and got off the bike. I was wet, hungry, exhausted, and not much interested in doing anything other than resting for a week.

**Epilogue (Coming soon)*

Go To Vitrual Tour of America

Go to Bikrutz Home

-Al Bikrutz

Miles: Al 70; Cheryl 50.

Total Miles: 3464

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