ESCAPE TO MOUNT BAKER
2017 has been a blur. I haven't necessarily prioritized things that bring me joy this year, including writing on this site (my last post was 01 Jan). I'm conscious about the lack of balance, and that's why I took a much needed mental health day today.
Taking a mental health day can only mean thing for me - a long bike ride; after all, if you know me then you know I'm not good at doing nothing. My usual mental health day is to do my favorite ride in Seattle - Vashon Island. However, today I would not be doing the "usual" mental health day ride. Instead, I'd be heading north to do my absolute favorite ride - Mt. Baker. It's been three years since I last rode Baker (THAT was a special day), so another visit was overdue. And, to make this day even more special, six of my friends were also taking a mental health day.
0600. We converged on North Seattle from our various corners of the city. I stepped outside my house and immediately noticed how warm it was already and the warm glow the morning sun cast. I swung my leg over my bike and started pedaling. I fell in line with another cyclist at a stoplight. To passersby, we both probably looked like we were heading into work, each with a backpack on our backs but little did everyone else know that on this day I was going to play.
0610. We're all present and accounted for and I'm glad I wasn't the last to arrive. "But first coffee" references have already been traded as we load bikes and gear eager to get out on the road.
0755. Australian Siri is guiding us to a coffee shop in Bellingham. We pull into a parking lot that houses a nondescript building. We wander inside and discover a starkly modern coffee shop that wouldn't look out of place in Seattle, but seems a bit out of place for Bellingham. No matter, we fuel up on coffee and pastries and we're quickly on the road. The other car took the alternate route to our destination and they're wondering where we are.
0900. Mile 0. We found our friends in the other car, which is great because we lost cell phone reception on our way to Baker. As we were all getting ready, there was a steady stream of laughter and teasing; this crew is the best and always full of good vibes. But now it's time to ride. There's an equal level of excitement from those of us that have ridden Baker before, as well as from those that haven't. A quick poll reveals that more than half the group has not ridden Baker before. They're in for a real treat.
After final adjustments are made to bikes and kit, we're off. The pace starts nice and easy but soon the group is strung out as the we hit the rollers before the real climb of the day. We regroup occasionally but eventually we all settle into smaller groups as the rollers unceremoniously transition into the real climb. About an hour in, we all regroup. It's warm - upper 70s warm and it's only 10a. No one needs to acknowledge the warmth as open jerseys and sweat - a lot of sweat - tells the story for us. No one really says much except when I tell everyone we have about another hour of climbing. We don't linger too long as the horseflies are finding us to be attractive targets and so we're off again. I don't tell the group that the best is yet to come in terms of the views.
1119. Arrivée! After a solid two hours of climbing, we made it to Artist Point. As everyone arrived in ones and twos, we all high five and share similar a similar reaction: THAT. Was. Awesome. I'm amazed at how much snow is still at Artist Point. The last time I rode Baker was in 2014 (around the same time) and there was barely any snow. Today, there's plenty of snow at the top, and enough that I don't dare to try and ride the short distance to the look out viewpoint a few hundred yards away. After we collect ourselves, it's time to descend. The reason I love Baker so much is that both the climbing AND descending are magical. I'm not much of a descender (i love going up, but don't get the same thrill going down), but even I love Baker.
1143. The descent starts off fast and the first real turn reminds you to pay attention. It's a sharp hairpin turn that if you get wrong, it means you're flying off the side of the mountain. Without even trying, you can get up to 40mph and then you're at the hairpin. I remind everyone of the first turn before we start off. I'm not a big risk taker on descents, so I let a couple of guys go ahead of me and I take up position mid-pack.
We get up to speed quickly and negotiate the first hairpin safely. I let off the brakes and get back up to speed ready to...OUCH!! A sharp, shooting pain on my right temple causes me to brake and skid. As I try to come to a safe stop my hands seem to want to operate independently and are only concerned with getting my helmet off and this almost causes me to crash. A bee got stuck between my head and my helmet strap and stung me.
I stop and take off my helmet and brush my head hoping the bee is gone. My friends speed past. I hear a "are you okay," but they're gone before I can answer. The shooting pain is still there but I feel confident the bee is gone. Now panic sets in. In all my life, I've NEVER been stung by a bee and I've picked a horrible time to find out if I have a sensitivity to bee stings. I pull out my phone but I don't have any reception. Great. I don't waste much time thinking about options other than to try and catch up to my friends in order to tell them I've been stung so that way someone knows my situation and can keep an eye on me and so if someone needed to get help, they could at least try to get to the Ranger or down to the bottom to call for help.
Remember when I said I'm not a big risk taker on descents? Right, throw that out the window. I'm ALL about taking risks now. I throw caution to the wind and really lean into the bends trying to keep my speed up and catch my friends that are now all ahead of me. Luckily for me, one of my friends stopped not too far down the road and I tell him I've been stung. He investigates and makes sure the stinger isn't embedded. I tell him I have no idea if I'm allergic and before we can really talk about things, instinct kicks in and I'm off to try and get down as fast as possible. I drop my friend and soon I've caught up with the first group of friends that had set off. While the pain is still throbbing, I'm still breathing fine so I think I'm fine. I start to relax and we slow down to wait for the others. We regroup and the parade back to the car is broken up by those damn rollers again and a vicious headwind. I remember the headwind from when I rode Baker in 2014. It didn't make the last few miles easier though. We pushed on and as we neared the car i turned to my friend Austin and issued a challenge - sprint to the sign? It seemed the right thing to say. A simple okay was uttered and it was game on. We put our heads down and poured everything into those final few meters. The result? A photo finish. We rolled slowly back to the car, empty and satisfied.
1249. I'm standing in line at the convenience store where we parked the cars with not one, but two ice cream treats in hand. It's been that kind of day; it was so good, it warranted two ice cream treats. As we all get snacks, it's quiet as we all refuel and recover. The next time someone talks, it's to ask the group about where we should grab pizza. I love this group. We enjoy a beer as we get changed and store bikes on cars but there's a bit of an urgent undertone too. Because, pizza! Soon enough we're on the move and as we get cell phone reception we iron out pizza plans via texts and yelp reviews.
1645(ish). Back in Seattle! What a day. As we all grab our belongings, we all agree, today was a good day. A VERY good day. We don't linger long. It's been a long day and we have to get back to the real world. I grab my stuff and climb on the bike for the final couple of miles home. For once, I'm not in a hurry though. I'm not in a hurry for this day to end.
Sorry guys! This was too good not to publish.