Cycling the Skagit Tulip Festival

Sunday was a perfect day. It was in the mid-60s, with a light breeze and bluebird skies, conditions that are almost unheard of in mid-April in the Pacific Northwest. And the perfect weather coincided with the height of blooms in the Skagit Valley tulip fields. For a few weeks in April or May, Skagit farmlands are abloom with hundreds of acres of tulips in every color. Skagit Valley Tulip FestivalConditions were so perfect, in fact, that the entire state of Washington and most of British Columbia decided that Sunday was the day to tour the tulip fields. Country roads that see little traffic for 11 months of the year were suddenly congested with cars lined up bumper-to-bumper, creeping along stop and go, for stretches up to 6 miles long. Maybe not the perfect way to spend the day, after all.

In lieu of the autocar, we opted for our trusty two-wheelers. We parked our vehicle just off the freeway, right before traffic came to a standstill, and cycled a nice 20+ mile loop through the fields. We zipped past nearly a thousand cars idling, waiting to turn at country road intersections. Traffic was so slow that we didn’t feel any danger about collisions; the greatest risk was riding into a car door that might suddenly be opened by a bored passenger who realized he could walk faster than he was moving in a car.

The thrill of passing so many people in cars was enough to make it fun for me, but even better was the fact that we didn’t have to worry about parking. Parked cars lined the shoulders of these backcountry roads for miles, requiring tulip enthusiasts to walk up to a mile from their car back to the fields in bloom. Our bikes gave us the freedom and compactness to park ourselves wherever we chose.

Cycling the tulips

We paid the $5 admission to tour the 3.5 acre Roozengaarde gardens, where dozens of varieties are planted every year to showcase the myriad of colors and forms. While we locked our bikes to some shrubs amidst a sea of people, one woman said, “Bikes! What a great idea. I used to own a bike…” Without missing a beat, Joshua whispered, “They still make them, you know.”

Roozengaarde

One of the many displays at Roozengaarde.

Touring by bike also gave us the opportunity to move at our own pace. We were riding on the shoulder of the road, moving slowly when we chose, which gave us time to notice beautiful surprises. These red tulips in a sea of yellow would have been missed by any cars passing by.

Surprise!

 

We lingered long enough to catch the evening light, which filtered through the petals, making them radiant.

Red tulips

 

Yellow tulips

For the thousandth time, I felt grateful that I live in northwest Washington and that I’m physically healthy.Mt. Shuksan

Cycling the Tulip FieldsWhether you’re a seasoned cyclist, or only occasional, I highly recommend cycling through the Skagit tulip fields. And the time is NOW. The fields probably have 1-2 weeks of bloom left. You can do routes as short as 13 miles, up to 30 or more, and the roads are entirely flat, so the cycling is easy. Plan for a weekday evening to enjoy the best light and avoid the worst traffic.

Photos by Charis Weathers, Gwen Weerts, and Josh Eastlund.

 

 

 

Winners be damned: a cyclist embraces mediocrity

Tour de Whatcom

Tour de Whatcom

I recently rode a half century (50 mi.) in the Tour de Whatcom, which wends through some spectacular countryside, with views of the imposing snow-cloaked Mt. Baker most of the way. I hadn’t really trained for it, but I bike commute to work most days in the summer, and I often ride 15-20 miles on weekends for fun, so I thought 50 miles would be pretty much like that, but more than twice as far. I’m pretty fit, so no problem, right? Thankfully I didn’t use that logic to try the 105 mi. route. But my bike comfort was aided immensely by the BodyfloatTM seat post I got to demo. I loved it so much, I wrote a whole post about it.

Most of my Bellingham friends consider me an athlete. It’s hard to reconcile with my own image of myself, which hasn’t really evolved since I was 16: clumsy, large, bookish, musical, but NOT athletic. I’ve never liked sweating.

Nonetheless, as an adult living in the Pacific Northwest, I found my way to sports. Since the hipster crowd and the moms are hard social groups to break into (since I’m neither a hipster nor a mom), sports are a way to meet people and stay fit. Road biking, soccer, running, hiking, climbing, kayaking: these are like passports to the Pacific Northwest. If Washington State was to require a visa to enter, it would be an REI membership.

I excel at none of these activities. In fact, back in high school I played soccer for 2 years, but I was terrible. I didn’t really understand the game. I knew the rules and everything, but I couldn’t anticipate plays or wrap my head around strategy. And it was hard. Physically, mentally…and there were so many other things that I was good at, like academics (class valedictorian *cough cough*), music, theatre…so I quit soccer. Because who doesn’t equate success and failure with self worth at some level? This is especially a challenge for teenagers, who are often  so concerned with  approval—from friends, teachers, parents, coaches, college admissions, and scholarship committees.

These many years later I’m learning to detach from outcomes and be at peace with mediocrity. It is a HUGE STEP in becoming a happy adult. And as a result, I’ve started to love sports. I play recreational soccer on a women’s team. If I’m feeling grumpy at the end of a game, it’s usually because I’ve let my ability to trap or pass a ball get caught up in assessments of self worth. (Occasionally it’s because I’ve been elbowed in the face.) If I can step back and remind myself: “Gwen, you are not a rock star at this, and absolutely nothing hinges on this success or failure. You are TOTALLY MEDIOCRE, ” it actually helps immensely. Pressure’s off.

That’s why I love organized rides like the Tour de Whatcom. It’s not a race and there’s nothing to prove, it’s just a thousand people riding bikes together. Like Sturgis, but much much quieter, and everyone is wearing a shirt.

Gear Review: is pain-free cycling possible?

The good folks at Cirrus Cycles let me demo their new BodyfloatTM seat post for my recent 50-mi. ride in the Tour de Whatcom (see last post). The seatpost is a parallelogram-shaped suspension system that completely absorbs road vibrations. Truth, it looks kinda clunky:

Bodyfloat seatpost

But it took 10 minutes on this thing to be won over.

Before I get my geek on about this piece of kit, let me tell you I am not associated with BodyfloatTM, and I don’t get any compensation for raving about this, but I wish I did because maybe then I could afford to buy the thing.

Here’s why I loved it: 90% of the Tour de Whatcom roads are surfaced with chip seal (groan), but only my shoulders knew about it, because zero vibration came through my saddle. Suspension isn’t just for mountain bikes, folks. Why should road cyclists just clench our jaws and accept that pain and vibration fatigue are part of the sport?

Let me put it like this. 150 years ago the west was won by caravans of people traveling in covered wagons. Those wagons were mounted on giant wooden wheels banded with iron. Put yourself there for a moment: feel the jostling, the potholes, every root and rock. Your back is killing you, right? The Oregon Trail was not paved, folks. Now imagine the revolution of RUBBER. Who would ever use an iron-banded wooden wheel when you could travel on the plush comfort of air-filled rubber?

Same story for this seatpost. At one point a fellow rider was drafting behind me and said “Holy crap! I can actually see your bike moving, and you’re…NOT.” YES, that is exactly what was happening.

Not only did it absorb road vibration, small potholes, roots, etc., it actually cornered better and improved my balance. It made me notice inefficient pedal strokes, because I would start to bounce on the springs when climbing a big hill and pumping too hard on the downstroke. Once I evened out the “cycle” with a strong upstroke, it was a smooth ride, and a much more efficient use of energy.

So was the ride pain-free? Not entirely. My shoulders and neck were pretty sore, but my lower back and butt felt great. I’m hoping to see a Bodyfloat stem for my handlebars next…