I felt like I was on the cycling equivalent of a blind date since I had not met any of the other two beforehand. Here's a quick ride report:
You can sortof follow along on the map
if you care. Bruce came up with this route and did a great job of it.
I met up with ngateguy at around 8:30AM in Marysville near the water tower. He rode there from his place which was about 4 miles south. I unfortunately had to drive since I live about 45 miles south. A couple of minutes later while chatting with ngateguy and unloading my bike from my Jeep, Bruce showed up. ngateguy and I matched... having worn last year's STP jersey. Bruce remarked that had he known, he would have worn his too. We did quick equipment checks and got under way just a little before 9:00AM.
The ride out of town was uneventful. traffic was very light. We all had agreed earlier that this was the best time to ride since everyone was either at church or asleep on a Sunday morning. We passed over I-5 and started heading west towards the upper lip of the valley. We were riding a slight ascent... nothing noticable. ngateguy and Bruce had said something about how traffic could get bad along these roads since there were no shoulders. I kept an eye out for signs of it but it seemed very quiet and enjoyable. We snaked our way northwestward for about 15 miles before dropping down into the valley. We actually couldn't figure out which valley it was. We think it was the south end of the Skagit Valley. The descent went through some twisty roads and was a lot of fun. Bruce was up front setting pace, I was in the middle and ngateguy was bringing up the rear.
Five miles after entering the bottom of the valley, we had to pull into a bus-stop just outside of Stanwood. ngateguy's rear tyre had lost air. It was a good point for a rest break anyhow and there was a port-a-potty in the parking lot. ngateguy went about replacing his rear tyre's tubes and the rest of us broke out some snacks to munch on. It was then I remembered that I brought along my camera and snapped a few shots.
ngateguy managed to get his rear tyre pumped up to ridable pressures with his mini-pump but it was still fairly soft. After gathering all our stuff we headed off again... this time with me in the lead which was probably a bad thing since the route through Stanwood was a bit confusing from the map and I almost got us headed the wrong way after navigating the railroad crossings. We had a slight climb out of Stanwood and skirted the eastern edge of the valley for about ten miles before getting to Conway where we started looking for a gas station so that ngateguy could air up. It was a good thing he had a presta-schrader valve adapter with him. There was a gas station/convienence store right off our route.
Leaving Conway we headed over a small bridge that crossed the (I believe) South Fork of the Skagit River and headed west across the valley. By this time, the weather which was mostly cloudy all day was starting to really move through and we were encountering direct 10-12MPH headwinds with 15-20MPH gusts coming straight out of the west. After five miles we swung north and crossed over another bridge covering the North Fork of of the Skagit River. It was then that aliens had swooped down upon ngateguy again and punctured his rear tyre once more. We stopped to affect repairs. This time, ngateguy decided to patch the tube after finding the hole and doing a more thorough inspection of the tyre.
I also managed to grab some nice shots of the countryside looking towards the town of Mount Vernon with Mt. Baker in the background.
I called my wife who told me the weather had totally cleared up back at home. Looking at the sky overhead, one would have concluded the complete opposite. That just goes to show you how different the weather can become around the Seattle area. At this point, the rain was starting to come down a little heavier. Bruce and I pulled out our rain jackets. They were made of Tyvek and were actually the STP jackets that came with our rider packets last year. Now we all matched.
After about 15 minutes, we headed off again still skirting the western edge of the valley until we came to the best road. Okay, it was just simply named Best Rd. We made a slight climb up towards the road and followed it northward overlooking the valley for about five miles.
I had mentioned before the trip that I knew of a llama farm not too far from where Best Rd. intersected Hwy 20 and managed to persuade my fellow riders to let me indulge in my llama fetish by visiting the farm and snapping a few shots. We detoured east for about a mile to New Horizons Llamas. When we got there, only the gardener was present who told us that the owners were not around. We asked if we could just look at the llamas and he shrugged. There were a lot of them and they even seemed interested in us as a few of them walked up to the fence as we approached.
As we were leaving the llama farm, Bruce mentioned something about how llamas were fascinating creatures and were like rice. This incited an odd look from both ngateguy and I. Bruce admitted that it was a weird statement to make but what he meant was that, like rice, llamas were so versatile and could be found in such variety. I could only nod in agreement. Bruce and I took off and refolded our jackets (I have become very good at refolding mine into itself so I could stuff it in my jersey) since the rain was letting up. We then set off west to rejoin our route.
ngateguy suggested that we take a country road that paralleled Hwy 20 about a quarter-mile to the south. We agreed and he took the lead but the road only went for about a mile before we were forced to join Hwy 20. It was then that I realised I could reliably shoot pictures one-handed with my digital camera. Unfortunately that still didn't solve the two biggest failings of shooting on the move:  you only get pictures of other people... never of yourself and  you usually only get their behinds.
After turning onto Hwy 20, we rode for a couple of miles before hitting the big bridge that seperated Fidalgo Island where Anacortes was located and the rest of the mainland. The climb to the top of the bridge was not very steep but it was fairly long. Luckily there was a nice seperated bike path for us to use so we didn't have to ride the shoulder which was itself fairly wide.
After the bridge, we were officially in Anacortes and negotiating rolling hills.
But we didn't see the prettier sign until a mile or so later.
We rode on until we got to the center of town and decided to have a late lunch at a sandwich shop/restaurant. When I went in to ask about seating, the hostess suggested that we might enjoy eating outside. I'm not sure if we were offensively smelling or what.
It was looking to be a nice day so we agreed plus it would be easier for us to keep an eye on our bikes that way.
Here you can see our bikes propped against the wall of the restaurant.
After an enjoyable lunch, we decided to turn around and head back. Just as our waitress was handing us the check, the broken clouds became mostly cloudy and it started to rain. Clearly we brought the weather with us. We quickly settled up and started on our way. We had hoped to find a bike shop so that ngateguy could fully inflate his tyre again. I had seen a sign for one on the way in as well as passing by one just before town. However, when we got to where the sign indicated the shop would be, there was none to be found. We ducked into a gas station where I inquired with the attendant about the closest bike shop. He only knew of the one off Hwy 20. ngateguy elected to refill his tyre from the gas station's air pump and was able to get it up to sufficient pressure. We all elected to refill our water bottles. It was then that I realised I forgot to ask the waitress at the restaurant to snap a picture of all of us with my camera.
Oh well... there'll be a next time.
Leaving town was uneventful although the traffic was getting heavier and this time as we crossed over the bridge, there was no bike path on our side so we were relegated to using the shoulder. It wasn't so bad since it was wide but there was a bit of debris to deal with and some of the traffic included trucks pulling boats that overhung a bit out of their lane.
Despite the nice wide shoulders, we were happy to leave the busy Hwy 20 and turned down the parallel road we had taken earlier... reversing our course. The rain was getting heavier.
Pedalling our way south down the west edge of the valley was uneventful until I started seeing lightning. We hurried across the valley happy for the tailwind and decided to duck into a convenience store in Conway where ngateguy had first aired up his tyre. Bruce suggested we sit out the rain and no one dessented. nagateguy and Bruce went into the store and got something to eat while I decided it would be easier to see if I swapped out the smoke grey lenses in my sunglasses for transparent ones. The rain died to a drizzle 15 minutes later and even a small bit of sunshine started poking out. Just my luck for having switched out my lenses. Bruce suggested I keep the clear lenses in to thwart the rainshowers.
We continued across the eastern edge of the valley and I was still feeling pretty good. I took the lead as we started the climb back to the top of the east ridge, I suddenly understood what Bruce and ngateguy were talking about at the start of the ride. There was no shoulder on the two-lane road and by this time traffic had picked up remarkably. People towing boats, transit busses and cars passing just a little too close made for a bit of a scary ascent. One truck even had lumber hanging way out the side. To make things worse, my pace had started to slow considerably and my legs were starting mushy as if they turning into Jell-O. I realised I also should have eaten something way back in Conway. I was on the verge of bonking. I barely made it to the top and immediately signalled to pull off. We took a break just 10 miles from the end so I could down my last energy bar.
Luckily the rest of the trip were either descents or flat and I was starting to feel much better. We wove our way back to Marysville and Bruce exchanged goodbyes with us four miles from the endpoint since he was close to home at that point. We agreed that it was a great ride to do a 50-miler next week. I was happy to have finally found people to ride with on the STP this year.
The ride through Marysville was much less peaceful than it was in the morning but still relatively uneventful. ngateguy unfortunately managed to hit every single light on the way back but still was only a couple of minutes behind me.
ngateguy and I had agreed earlier to hit a brewpub after the ride. We had invited Bruce too but he declined. ngateguy's place was on my way home as was the brewpub so we decided to just load his bike along with mine onto the Jeep and drive there. All throughout the last 25 miles of the ride, I had been looking forward to a good pint of beer. We stopped at the Flying Pig for about a half hour and discussed a bit of life in the area, cycling (including BikeForums) and of course beer. Afterwards, I dropped him off at his place and continued on my way home. It was one of the best Sundays I've had in a long time. I unfortunately didn't take any pictures on the route back. I'll remember to snap more next time.