The first day of cycling summer in Clark County, Washington
Where I live the summer cycling season begins with RACC—Ride Around Clark County—sponsored by the Vancouver (USA) Bicycle Club. It takes place on the first Saturday in May, which is well ahead of the official start of summer and explains why cyclists often ride through rain. Confirmation that summer has started in this part of the world was in full display at the Vancouver Farmers’ Market when I finished my ride: strawberries—real strawberries— were for sale in large quantity by several vendors.
This year cyclists rode through a perfect Pacific Northwest summer day: cloudless sky, full sunshine, and temperature near 60 degrees when we started and the low 80s when we finished. A light breeze refreshed the spirit without impeding the body.
The route is one of the most interesting century rides I know. It takes cyclists on a kinky, easily followed course through a semi-rural countryside in which country estates and hardscrabble cottages coexist in visual harmony. Unexpectedly churches appear in secluded rural locations and on the edges of residential developments. They represent a wide range of denominations, including Adventist, Catholic, Episcopal, unaffiliated, and Apostolic Lutheran (historically connected with Finnish immigrants).
Working farms and vineyards are interspersed with show places resplendent with flowering trees and magnificent shrubs, such as rhododendron, in full bloom. One large field had become a parking lot for people who were spending the day at a horse show. Only in three or four short stretches have suburban residential developments turned rural roads into angry thoroughfares.
Most of the route passes through countryside with second growth timber providing shade for cyclists. We rode through dappled sunshine with green fields and wild flowers everywhere.
The full 100-mile version of Ride Around Clark County travels across the northern part of the county, close to the Lewis River, and passes through the small communities of Yacolt, Amboy, and LaCenter. Knowing the challenging character of the Clark County hills in the region where I regularly ride, I was apprehensive when I first cycled in the county’s northern reaches, but was greatly relieved to discover that there are long stretches of gentle terrain.
In recent times, I am finding that the metric century (rather than the statute mile century) suits me, especially this early in the season. This was the route I chose again this year, although with two minor adjustments near the end in order to bypass late-in-the-ride hill-climbing challenges. When RACC veterans speak of the Felida Hill, it usually is with tremolo in their voices. Even my doctor knows this climb and suggests that it is one I should consider walking—which I hate to do on sponsored rides with the “whole world” watching.
My alternative route starts at the bottom of the Felida Hill and wanders along Salmon Creek. A friend whose family farm backed up to the creek once told me that in the early 1930s his dad would fish for salmon with a pitch fork. All year round everything in the creek bottom is intensely green, and this is especially true at the beginning of summer.
Despite the fact that registered riders number in the thousands, I cycled by myself the entire distance, but I was never alone. Always there was someone up ahead a quarter of mile or so and others coming up from behind. On these rides, there is a strong sense of comradery and riders are energized by being with others, even though most of the people around them are complete strangers. We find ourselves traveling with some of the same people all day and see them and talk as we ride along and stop at the rest stops or stand at quiet places to take photos or stretch a little.
At the rest stops, food, water, toilets, and bike repair stations provide support services for everyone, and we know that the volunteer support staff are ready to drive out into the country if we need help.
This perfect ride came close to disaster in Hazel Dell, about five miles from home, when I realized that my rear tire was half flat (the third time this tire has let me down in the last two weeks). Hoping for the best, I pumped it up again, and made it home in good shape. By evening the tire was flat, but I—showered, rested, fed, and weary—reveled in the peace of a wonderful ride on the the first day of this year’s cycling summer.