With Amtrak’s help, I took my bicycle to Seattle for a family visit to be followed with my first road trip of the summer: 180 miles back to Vancouver, following the route taken every year by thousands of cyclists doing the STP (Seattle to Portland) ride.
Years ago I rode STP in its one-day version, but my plan this year was to do it in three 60-mile segments with overnights in Yelm and Castle Rock. My mileage for the summer is down and at age 83 my daily mileage capability is lower than it used to be.
If I am to believe an Associated Press article that I read in The Seattle Times, however, age may be an even larger factor than I had realized. Both the article and my own sense of things make we ask how much longer octogenarians can keep riding the open road.
The article reports that older Americans continue to buy and drive cars and motorcycles. It refers to “the very old,” implying that 84 (which I’ll soon be) is the significant birthday.
Talking with my daughter, I acknowledged an unexpected level of anxiety, which she shared as we discussed the route the bike map recommended for cycling through South Seattle. After we drove the route, however, our anxieties eased.
The adequacy of the route was confirmed the next morning when I headed south from her home on Beacon Hill. From a cyclist’s point of view, road conditions and traffic on East Marginal Way past Boeing Field were OK.
In past years I have followed Interurban Avenue and West Valley Highway, the arterials through Tukwilla, Kent, Auburn, Algona, and Pacific, continuing on to Puyallup. This year, however, I planned to try the Interurban Trail that parallels most of this route. On the bike map, it looked straight as a string and therefore seemed worth a try even though STP stays on the arterial.
Misreading the map, I left the highway a few miles before I should have and meandered along the Green River Trail. At Fort Dent Park, I came to the trail I wanted, and for the next 14.8 miles I sailed along an absolutely flat, broad, blacktopped trail with BNSF freight tracks on both sides and Puget Sound Energy power lines overhead on steel utility poles that marched south for miles.
After coffee with a friend in Kent, I continued on the trail completely satisfied with this alternative way of traveling south from Seattle. Occasional gaps offered views of Mt. Rainier, and drainage ditches provided greenery and habitat for birds despite the extreme drought the Northwest is experiencing.
Researching this route since coming home, I discovered that the right of way follows a trolley line between Tacoma and Seattle that ran from 1902 until 1928. A major reason why the trail is so satisfactory for cyclists is that it bypasses sprawling commercial and light industrial areas in Tukwila and Kent while providing access to employers and shopping malls.
Because I was trusting my memory after leaving the trail, I had to follow hunches as I worked my way through Puyallup and Spanaway. Although my instincts kept me on course, I realized that I need a compass and a better electronic guide than my smart phone to research maps while on the road. Maybe it’s time to buy an iPad Mini.
The final segment of the day’s ride was along SR 507 from Spanaway to Yelm. It’s a straight, flat, well-surfaced highway that travels along the backside of Joint-Base Lewis-McChord. Because the road is a commuter route for people working at the joint base or Olympia, the 4:00 o’clock traffic was constant. Although I was getting tired, my legs still felt strong and I continued forward to my night’s lodging in Yelm.
According to the website of this 7,000 town, its name is derived from the Coast Salish Native American language word “shelm,” which means “land of the dancing spirits,” from the shimmering mirage from heat rising from the summer prairie floor.
My room at the Hotel Prairie was one of the nicest I’ve ever enjoyed. My 65 miles for the day was my longest ride since early March. My average speed for the day was within my current range, and the day’s ride encouraged me to believe that even the “very old,” can keep on riding the open road.