Saturday, May 11, 2013

Tolt Gravel Grinder

Saturday was supposed to be a mellow, recovery kind of ride day. Frankly I had no special reason to recover, last week activities included three days of bike commute to work (24 miles total) and two 6 mile hilly runs. But the Friday afternoon run in 85F heat left me quite dehydrated and I did not feel replenished despite couple of beers on the way home after work at Peddler Brewery, where you can  ride your bike right up to the taps.

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I picked the Tolt Pipeline trail as my Saturday ride, first reason being my (wrong) assumption that it would be quite flat, and secondly, I started to miss riding my 29er hardtail on dirt. Just before leaving, I glanced at one blog describing the ride and noticed that the author had some navigation challenges and had to walk one steep incline. I quickly dismissed such nonsense and drove to a P&R just south of Woodinville on 405. It is not the western most end of the trail, that would be located another mile or so west, but this was a convenient ride start location.

Looking west - seems hilly that way.
 I quickly found the trail, it is hard to miss, the clearing must be 100ft wide, you can see the scar on Google satellite maps. The surface is gravel of varying sizes and it is a hardpack at places, other sections are quite loose.

The initial section started almost flat, then dropped steeply to Sammamish river valley. Before the downhill, there was a nice view of the Cascades, looking over my shoulder, I could see the panorama of Olympic Mountains.

 Just after crossing the Sammamish river, I hit the first brutal climb. I managed to stay seated and made it to the top, but had to grind my teeth. From now on, the roller coaster trail would require getting speed on the downhill sections, timing the shifts right and trying to use as much momentum on the uphills.
 Yep, there is the pipe - it brings water from Lake Tolt in the Cascades to Seattle, where about 30% of us drink it (the other 70% Seattleites drink only beer and use water for occasional showering).

 Another super steep drop, this time to Snoqualmie River (much bigger than Sammamish). By now, I feel pretty fried, it is in mid eighties again and the sun has been sizzling my skin since the ride start, this being a wide clearing with little shade. It is a hazy day, but looking south, there is the mirage of Mt. Rainier, quite impossible to capture on digital film with apparently not enough levels of white. There was a veil of clouds at the top, couple of lenticularis "lenses" above the volcano and a big rotor cloud to the east - all signalling weather change, a big cool down is expected tomorrow.

 I crossed the Snoqualmie Valley trail, which goes another 30 miles south-east, over the Snoqualmie summit and eventually connects to the Iron Horse trail, on which one could go all the way to Idaho. I tell myself to turn around at mile 15 on my computer, but the scenery is pretty and I feel that I must be nearing the end of the trail. Surely, at mile 16.8, I can see the trail end below.

 I decide that the experience of seeing the trail dead end at a road is enough from this vantage point, without necessarily touching it with my tires another 250 vertical feet below. This is as close to the snow as I will get today.
A quick bar and I started the return leg thinking, well, I have been more or less climbing toward the mountains, so it should be net downhill coming back. Wrong! I really did not remember riding so many downhill sections, where did all the the climbs come from? At mile 22 I completely lost my legs, my speed drops from 14mph to 8, then 5. Sweat pours down the back of my neck and down my arms into the gloves. The liquid in my Camelbak is warm and disgusting. But somehow, on those few downhill sections, I recovered a bit, slurped one gel before the final brutal climb out of the Sammamish river valley and made it back.

The GPS track is here, 3,333 ft of climbing, I did hit 40mph on one of the whoopsies, and my wheels were not rolling for less than 5 minutes of the whole 3:12hr ride. I hope it rains tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. Aah, Tolt! If you do the "Thrilla in Woodinvilla" loop, you'll avoid backtracking (and you'll ride my neighborhood trails!) and you can add a stop at Redhook Brewery, mmmmm...