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The harrowing tandem return

In the grand scheme of things, riding the tandem from Seattle to Portland took some work, but was fairly pleasant, especially on the first day. The segment of the ride that passed through the Joint Lewis-McChord Base was on empty, quiet roads, and was followed by another 13-mile segment on a bike trail. Low-key riding through forested areas is the best thing ever!

In contrast, Monday's expedition to return the tandem to Angle Lake Cyclery was one of the most harrowing bike rides I've ever gone on. After that experience, I agree that my father was correct in being concerned about riding the tandem home from the shop. I'm grateful to his friend A for offering to drive us there and back in her pickup truck.

Here's the route we took:

With an elevation profile that looks like this:

The early portions of the route covered familiar hills and territory - the first large lump goes through Interlaken Park and up and over Capitol Hill. It took some work to get our tired legs to carry us up and over that hill, but we knew how long it was and what was involved. From there, we coasted back down the hill on Jackson Street and over onto Airport Way, which is part of the usual route out to Enumclaw.

I vastly prefer riding on Airport Way in the morning, when there's less traffic, but in the very least the visibility is good and there are two lanes in either direction, so most motorists see us and at least engage in some lane splitting to give us room as they go around*.

Crossing the train tracks wasn't even that bad, although we hopped up on the sidewalk for that crossing because cars go too fast up and over the train bridge even though there's poor visibility.

The new South Park bridge was also all right, although the gutter bike lane was full of gravelly debris and we had to pull off and map check right after that. No, it was the crossing over the Highway 99 that had me really fearing for my life. There was no shoulder, motorists were already starting to go fast in anticipation of slinging their vehicles around the clover leaf onto the highway, and we had to go left across the stream of traffic to make it onto Des Moines Memorial Drive.

Even with me looking over my shoulder while starting to merge, and my dad sticking his arm way out to signal left, the motorist in the sedan decided to plow around us, leaving us to cross right in front of a large semi. Wherever you are, thank you, semi driver, for being a good driver with good reflexes. I wish I hadn't had to do that, but the tandem is slow and heavy and cumbersome to steer, and we didn't have any other way to exit the situation.

In retrospect, scrutinizing the map, I would opt to take S Cloverdale St instead, even though it involves something of a ludicrous detour to get around that highway overpass.

After surviving that crossing, we started to chug up the hill on Des Moines Memorial Drive, which mercifully had a bike lane. If you examine the elevation map above, you'll observe that the grade wasn't too terrible, either, but the hill sure felt like it just kept going on and on. Up at the top, right by the airport, the bike lane disappeared, and my dad was skeptical about the lovely-looking strip of asphalt bike trail on the far side of the road, so we grimly stuck to the disappearing/reappearing shoulder as more fast-moving suburban traffic swerved around us at the last minute.

Eventually we reached the south end of the airport, where my instincts informed me that it seemed like a REALLY good time to get up on the sidewalk so we weren't on the road while passing through a long, dark tunnel in heavy, fast-moving traffic. Shortly after we hopped up, I saw a sign that said something to the effect of "Bicycles must use walkway."

The "walkway" in this case was so narrow that I didn't think I had enough room to properly steer the tandem, so my dad got off and we walked through the hot, dark space blasted with the ferocious roar of traffic. There were a lot of bent sections of guardrail in that black box of a tunnel.

And so it was with a great sense of relief that we turned off of S 188th St and onto 28th Ave S. We even had a nice clear downhill shot, which allowed us to get a good run up to that short, steep uphill bit at mile ~18. It felt to me like Sea-Tac was made entirely out of uphill sections, which I guess makes sense for situating an airport. Unfortunately, the traffic light that was just before the steepest part of that hill turned red. We walked the rest; it would have been extremely difficult to get the tandem started going uphill.

Even more annoyingly, at the end of 28th Ave, we encountered a downhill segment ending with a left turn up another really steep hill at a traffic light. We got off and walked up that hill, too.

Sea-Tac slog

In about a year's time, the light rail station that's under construction in this photo will be open. Hopefully we won't need this sort of tandem, ever again. But if we do, I think I'll opt to bring it home on the light rail instead.

*I am convinced that when people are driving, they do not or cannot use their full mental faculties in decision-making. If you have to swerve over at least halfway into the other lane to pass a person on a bicycle, why not go all the way and just change lanes to pass? That would make it easier for other motorists behind you to see the bicycle occupying the right lane (and that's why I try to ride a ways out to the left when I'm in the right lane and it's too narrow to share - to discourage lane splitting). It isn't as though the other lane can be used by another vehicle when a motorist is doing that sort of lane splitting. But I guess it's too hard for a lot of motorists to engage in this kind of thinking. That turn signal lever is just so heavy! ;-)



( 15 remarks — Remark )
Jul. 16th, 2015 04:29 pm (UTC)
I am convinced that when people are driving, they do not or cannot use their full mental faculties in decision-making.
Can't, yes. Workload and workload management is well-studied in aviation, and but not in ground transportation. It's only very recently, with the advent of cellphones, that experts are thinking about it.

IME, I'm much smarter with the cruise control on than with it off. Not worrying about how fast I'm going gives me that vital extra spoon that makes me a better driver.
Jul. 17th, 2015 03:17 am (UTC)
Interesting! I haaaaate cruise control because I feel like it takes me away from the required attention-immersion of driving, I lose feedback, but I don't have any data on my own performance to back that up. I'd totally read studies on how this works for drivers and motorcycle riders (I just recently bought a motorcycle) and bicyclists.

I feel like being a bicyclist has made me a better driver, but I'm not sure if it's enough to make up for the performance loss that's come with age. Or if that's practice, or perception -- I drive far less now than I did when I was 20. When I was 20 I would have said I was a pretty good driver. Now I work harder at it and consider myself an okay driver but not a particularly good one. Is this an accurate self-assessment, or merely a better acquaintance with Dunning-Kreuger? Hard to say, heh.
Jul. 17th, 2015 03:05 pm (UTC)
A large part of the problem lies in vehicles just going too fast. There aren't any speed adjustments across the first bridge we crossed (on the sidewalk), despite the fact that speed adjustments are needed at that point because of the sudden decrease in visibility. In the long term, Seattle is pushing hard to lower city-wide speed limits, and I'm hoping this carries over to the suburbs as well. It gets to be hard to enforce, though, when roadways are designed and built for high-speed travel. Sigh.
Jul. 17th, 2015 02:50 am (UTC)
That sounds nightmarish, especially the tunnel. I'm glad you made it ok.
Jul. 17th, 2015 03:20 am (UTC)
zomg just looking at that route gives me the heebiejeebies. I'd pay good money to never go anywhere near 99. (I hate it even in a car.) GAAAAAH.
Jul. 17th, 2015 03:24 am (UTC)
Yeah, when they closed some of the bike trail downtown, I ended up on Alaskan Way in the construction tunnels there, in the dark, on a bicycle. I would gladly never do that again. (I was trying to get to West Seattle. NOPE.)
Jul. 17th, 2015 03:32 am (UTC)
That was my thought when I saw this: go up west seattle, over the low bridge, and then up alaskan way, but I didn't know what was up with construction there. Yarrrgh. That sounds like a totally lousy time.

I seem to recall there's at least somewhat of a path from I90/Mercer up along the lake to Montlake, isn't there?
Jul. 17th, 2015 03:46 am (UTC)
There is the Lake Washington trail, yeah, but according to Mayhem if you jump off it at the wrong point the hill up to 23rd/Montlake from the lakeside can be... considerable. (He has a very funny and terrible story about trying to bike up a hill I don't even like trying to walk up.)
Jul. 17th, 2015 04:56 am (UTC)
I think I've biked up that hill.

Man, you're making me appreciate Denver, where if I want to go on a flat-as-a-table ride, I can.
Jul. 17th, 2015 08:17 am (UTC)
Did it look roughly like your icon here? According to Mayhem's story, it should have!

I can go on a mostly flat ride... if I take the car down to the Burke-Gilman, ride around Lake Washington, and then drive back up. But that's cheating. Still entertained that 20 miles of flat is preferable to climbing Cap Hill for me, though. (Even if I know I'll just have to do it later anyway... even getting to delay it some is still mighty worth it!)
Jul. 18th, 2015 06:48 am (UTC)
My memory is that, yeah, I was wishing I had a mountain bike and glad I had a triple chainring.
Jul. 17th, 2015 03:07 pm (UTC)
The Lake Washington loop problem is absolutely true. We're pretty strategic about where we go whenever we head in that direction. My dad has gotten pretty good at most of the navigating across this whole region, and we've gone out to Enumclaw via West Seattle and South Park. I would need to poke around some more to come up with something actually feasible for getting out to the airport, but I'm just inclined to throw my hands up and take public transit instead.
Jul. 17th, 2015 03:22 am (UTC)
Glad you made it and did not get turned into road pizza along the way; eek. That sounds pretty sketchy in places! I recognized that route up Cap Hill -- it's the same one I took from Montlake Bicycle Shop home, heh. The rest of it isn't a route I've taken, though... I think the I-90 bridge is the farthest south route I've bicycled successfully around here. (I have made three failed attempts to get to West Seattle, but those don't count.)
Jul. 17th, 2015 03:11 pm (UTC)
We'll have to get my dad to chime in on West Seattle navigation. It's definitely tricky and I haven't done it often enough to have ninja-skills in that part of town.

Interlaken is heavily used, for good reason, and it's absolutely the way to go for you. My dad also has some good wiggles for getting up and over that side of Capitol Hill towards Broadway, but I can never remember them and always wind up taking one of the shorter, steeper options instead. I'll ask him for ideas at some point because you'd find them tremendously useful. I generally avoid the straight-shot up or down 10th Ave, but it's clearly the most direct option for you for lots of stuff.
Jul. 17th, 2015 07:14 pm (UTC)
Getting to West Seattle
It's not all that bad, but you have to know what you're doing due to all of the construction.

From Capitol Hill: Go South to Jackson Street. I prefer 19th Ave, but you have to jog over a block at Yesler St. to get to Jackson St. Follow Jackson Street to where it becomes a one-way street in the wrong direction (note the "do not enter" signs). Jog left one block to King Street, then continue towards the water. There's a way through the construction to a BIKE/PEDESTRIAN TRAIL! Follow it, and also note the signs directing you to the West Seattle Bridge. On the West Seattle side, there are four different ways to go: depends on where in West Seattle you want to get to.

And that is all.
( 15 remarks — Remark )

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