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Part 2 - Sultan and the Skykomish
We didn’t plan the ride to be like this. In fact, the day unraveled right from the start into something far from what we intended. Crafted by Aaron and Hahn, our co-hosts and Seattle locals, the idea was to ride out of the city to the top of Stevens Pass via the harder and less paved Jack Pass, and back again. It was, or so we thought, a little over 100-miles long. We thought wrong.
That morning Hahn, Cole and Tony walked through Aaron’s door at 7:15am. Fifteen minutes late was as good as on time by Continental standards. Those of us who stayed at Aaron’s the night before finished the breakfast dishes, while Aaron and Hahn met in the ‘computer nook’ to discuss the final route and print the cue sheet. This took an hour too long and yielded several unforeseen complications and conclusions. And so it began.
Hahn wanted us to drive 20-minutes to Woodinville. “It will knock off a bunch of unnecessary city riding,” he said, “a round trip of 50-miles, and save time. That brings the total mileage down from 185 to 135. That’s a good thing because it’s now 9:00am.” Too many voices, louder and higher pitched than usual, filled the room at once – the themes are disbelief, relief and how did a double century with thousands of feet of climbing ‘sneak-up’ on him and by association, us.
The drive to Woodinville is not uneventful. We go the wrong way on a freeway and once in town, overshoot our exit several times and by several miles on each occasion. We drive around the Start/Finish parking lot five times before we find the entrance.
The ride itself starts with a steep climb on a residential street. It’s long and for half a mile does the every-turn-leads-to-another-steep-turn thing. We’re trying to find the right way through this hilly neighborhood to avoid riding on Highway 2. Things are good for five or six miles – until we miss a crucial turn. We embark thereafter, on the first of many circles and a case of chronic déjà vu. For the next two hours we plumb a vast network of dead-end, unimproved and circuitous streets. We move through four of the five stages of grief; anger, denial, bargaining and depression. Depression finds us in a gravel driveway, standing around in wet, cold kit, kicking rocks and considering whether or not we should bag the day for the new Batman matinee. Meanwhile, Hahn charms the big green pants off an old redneck woman saddled on a still-running, riding mower. He returns, with the first accurate directions of the day and we’re finally able to leave this suburban maze behind.
The next 25-miles brings hills, green and thick with trees. Next, we roll through a valley, one lush with neat rows of fruit, yellow, red and orange, ripe and earthy. It‘s almost enough to make up for the morning.
The last real place to eat for the day is in Sultan, a town less than a mile long and no wider than an average-sized freeway, at The Sultan Bakery. Formerly The World Famous Bakery. Formerly The World Famous Swedish Bakery. We decides to honor this ever-evolving nomenclature with a full, sit-down lunch. Probably not a good thing to do just 40-miles into a 135-mile day.
The first Skykomish River crossing is rideable. Actually it’s not, but some of us try anyway. On the far side of a recently built gate is what looks like an infinity pool, covering some 40-yards of the paved road with just over a foot of crystal clear river water. Tony, with a grin, rides into it first and cleans the whole thing but almost goes down trying to ride up the rocky embankment on the far side. Ryan, pointlessly attempting to keep his shoes dry, ratchets his pedals the whole way across. He is nearly successful. Nearly.
The next crossing, here the road is buckled and broken, forces us to ‘hike-and-bike’ around a scene of total destruction. We shoulder our bikes and walk along the sandy, rocky edge of the river until we’re forced onto a recently built trail cutting through a narrow stand of trees. It’s hard now to know where the road is, or was, and where the river was or is supposed to be. Brambles, stumps and roots go from merely inconvenient to seriously annoying.
The next river crossing is worse. Any evidence of a highway has been thoroughly washed away - vanished. At this point, the woods do come to an end and now the river flanks us on both sides. To our right, it’s narrow and deep and mostly foamy white. Cole, fearless as ever, wades in first and is almost swept downriver before a half-drowned pine sapling saves him. “Does this void my Specialized shoe warranty?,” asks Ryan. “Did you get them wet?,” replies Aaron, at roughly the same moment Ryan is wading through water rising past the tan line on his thighs.
I choose the left side, where the river is much slower and calmer. And deeper. Hahn and Aaron, meanwhile, form an unbroken chain, rider-bike-rider-bike and cross one tentative and slippery current-challenging step a time. At it’s deepest the water rises above their thighs and dangerously close to the chamois zone. Greg and Tony follow across in various spots.
The next crossing is a challenging, quarter-mile hike-and-bike past several aircraft carrier sized sections of road strewn haphazardly about the river valley. When we reach the far side, we are back on solid ground for the rest of the day. We empty our shoes of sand and rocks, eat bars and take in the snowy mountains standing tall behind the forest on the other side of the river. Back in the saddle and up the road a bit, Greg, with total conviction, breaks our serene semi-contemplative mood with a shout: “Car back!” We almost fall off our bikes laughing.
On the first big climb out of Sultan we come around a corner and almost run into a construction site blocking the road. Five guys stand off to the side and smoke cigarettes while one guy drives some digging rig back and forth across a hole. Cole puts his head down and rolls past along the edge like nothing is happening. His Jedi Mind Trick works so we follow him without a problem. On the other side, we roll into this narrow river valley and into the town of Index. Steep mountains surround us as we ride down this little one-lane road. The river on our immediate right is huge and full of rapids, mist hangs in the hills and mountains on the other side of it. It’s like we’re in postcard. Cole stops to ride an old abandoned exercise bike left in the grassy bank of the side of the river. That broken old piece of 80’s gym equipment has the best view of any broken old piece of 80’s gym equipment ever. – Greg Johnson