Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Alternative spring break: Blood, sweat and tears

This week is spring break for Seattle Public Schools. It's also the week after REI's month-long Member Rewards Sale and the Seattle store's annual Running Shoe Expo. This all means I get a week off from coaching, and a little "calm after the storm" from the hectic past few weeks at work. Although I don't have the means to go anywhere special this spring, I am taking what advantage I can of the virtually endless menu of adventures within (the magic number, apparently!) 35 minutes of Seattle.

Mountain running with George

Yesterday, George and I spent the better part of the day exploring unmarked trails on Rattlesnake and Tiger Mountain (35-minute drive from Seattle). We were scoping out a way to connect the two mountains, in anticipation of an unofficial 100K that my running buddies are organizing next month. I won't be able to run the "race" itself day of, but I'm happy to tag along in the meantime for planning it. And what a great way to start a Monday morning - driving against rush hour to get to the mountains instead of the office.

On our way!

It was quite the adventure run. We had maps, fancy phone GPS and a rough idea of where we wanted to go - but wound up exploring hidden trails and bushwhacking a good deal more than planned. We climbed up to panoramic views of the valley, we pounded the descents, we marveled over hidden gems of trails, we splashed through mud and puddles, we told stories, we laughed. At some point, we found ourselves caught up in a horrible mess of nasty thorns and brambles, which lacerated the hell out of my bare legs. Ouchies! But we laughed about that, too.

We also pulled off a waist-deep river crossing in icy cold water - twice!

George's video of our Raging River crossing

A wonderful weekday adventure indeed. 4+ hours in the mountains, and we're already plotting out our recon mission to check out all the trail offshoots that we didn't get to fully explore, since evening work shifts beckoned us both back to Seattle.

Island biking with Mac

Today, I hopped on my bike in the morning for an epic day of human-powered exploration on Bainbridge Island (a 35-minute ferry ride from Seattle) with my friend Mac, who's born and raised on Bainbridge. He gave me the grandest of island tours, meeting me on bike at the ferry landing and taking me through town, from park to park, coastal roads to forested singletrack, hidden lakes to hidden beaches, killer climbs to heart-pounding downhills. What a BLAST. We skipped rocks on the water, ducked in to the public library, visited the community horticultural haven Bay Hay & Feed, rode by Mac's childhood home, and shared a delicious pizza at the Treehouse Cafe on the south of the island. Along the way, Mac regaled me with stories and a wealth of information about local history, traditions, animal and plant life, and prominent people who have lived on the island.

My wonderful tour guide leading the way through beautiful island forest.

Aside from one minor crash on my bike (marking the second time in two days that the outdoor world has gashed open some of my skin and drawn blood!), it was a lovely day. I rode the ferry back in peace, with jello legs and a contentedly full belly. Once the ferry docked, I geared up for my least favorite part of using my bike for transportation - riding it through downtown around rush hour.

Seattle: Drivers vs. Cyclists, Again

Most of the 15ish minute ride from the ferry landing back to my apartment went just fine, despite increasingly intense rain. Until. Until, until, until. The street I was riding on downtown had "sharrows" - meaning it's designated by the city of Seattle as a bike route, and is marked by a bike logo on the pavement to remind cars to be mindful of cyclists - but no designated bike lane. As I approached an intersection, the right lane in which the sharrows and I were turned into a right-turn only lane. I glanced over my shoulder to make sure I could merge over to the going-straight lane, merged over, just as the light at the intersection turned yellow. I still had plenty of time and space to brake for the light, and came to a complete stop with no issue.

Several moments later, I heard screeching brakes behind me. I couldn't tell if they were bike or car brakes, but looked back just as a cyclist came to a screeching halt within an inch of me on my bike, and began screaming obscenities. For one second, I was terrified I'd somehow cut him off - but I quickly realized his wrath was not directed at me, and had everything to do with a van that had apparently nearly collided with him. I didn't see what happened, since it all unfolded behind me, but I imagine it had something to do with the weird lane merge (and poor visibility in general, due to the rain).

Anyway, the driver of the van immediately rolled down his window and said, "Man, I am SO sorry, I didn't see you." The cyclist didn't take this well, and went berserk. He started pounding on the side of the van, hitting it, kicking it, dropping F-bombs right and left, and screaming at the top of his lungs at the driver. The driver handled this remarkably well for a few more seconds, apologizing again and trying to make peace with the cyclist. The cyclist's anger only escalated at this point, as he screamed obscenities and yelled at the driver to get out of the van so he could "beat the shit" out of him. The driver asked, "Are you serious? Man, I SAID I'm sorry", to which the cyclist continued to scream and scream and scream. This is where the driver started to lose his cool, too. He got out of his van and started screaming back. The two of them continued in a screaming match - escalating rapidly from yelling about whether the cyclist was wearing enough flashers to be visible to screaming threats at each other - and I found myself praying silently that neither of them would pull a knife or gun on the other...they were both so, so angry. (Keep in mind, I was within three feet of these guys, with nowhere really to go until the light changed.) Words here can't begin to do justice to the level of rage these two had for each other.

It was not pleasant. Eventually, the light did change, and I pedaled so damn hard away from the whole scene. My heart was pounding. Something about the adrenaline of it all must have triggered something in my system, because as I arrived home safe and sound a few minutes later, I more or less had a panic attack and started bawling. I really can't handle rage; it terrifies me. Although I've had a number of good adventures over the past month (and that's most of what I prefer to share in the online realm), it's also been a difficult month for me, with a lot of emotional upheaval, loss, transition and overall uncertainty. (AND, the stress of more things going wrong with my car; it seems like these problems will never end. Sigh. Sidenote.) So, in some ways, the emotional release of adrenaline-charged crying felt good today.

In other ways, it all just makes me so sad for Seattle. That moment was such a sharp contrast with the quiet, rural roads and forested trails that Mac and I spent all day riding. There is a tremendous amount of animosity between drivers and cyclists in this city. I am both a driver and a cyclist, at different times, so I'm not on one "side" over the other. There are reckless drivers, and there are reckless cyclists; neither are acceptable, not when lives are at stake. Unfortunately, for the most part, the streets of Seattle are not designed to safely accommodate both; it bums me out that I live somewhere where safety is a reason not to ride my bike. But it is. I love my life. I love biking, too, but moments like this evening make me ask how much, and is it worth it?


  1. Yitka, fab write up, as always. I can say that as much as Seattle doesn't seem to have to safest commutes for non-motorized vehicles it's much worse in other parts of the country. People will always be persons. (Grammatically awkward, I agree) But rage, anger, distrust, and fear all play a part in ascending to better situations. To stop commuting "by the pedal" is to give up. If there are no cyclist, there are no reasons to accommodate cyclist. Car commuters will never fully understand cyclist/bipedal commuters; and vice versa. But just as there are risks of car accidents there will always be risks of cyclist-to-car accidents. Scary. But keep on the observant side of things to stay safe.

    1. Thanks for the reply, Trey, and well said. You're absolutely right that one of the most valuable things we can do is to live our lives in a way that advocates for ascension to better situations! I have a long history of cycling advocates in Seattle to thank for even having sharrows at all - or, better yet, bike lanes - and I do want to help pay it forward for future generations!

  2. Ugh! But yay for therapeutic meltdowns! I love those. Thinking of you...

    1. Thanks, Lauren! I think I was long overdue for one. When I think about all the angry testosterone flying around at that intersection yesterday, I'll just think about that silver lining: my need for a cry fest. So, thanks to the road ragers for opening the floodgates :)