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Saturday, January 08, 2005

Cyclist's Diary

Looking at Queen Anne hill from the bottom while riding a bike you realize you are about to get a review of the harsh laws of gravity. After you reach the summit—and I chose that word very carefully—you get some idea of what it may feel like to have a heart attack. I ride up this hill all the time. It is included in every one of my training rides, so I am very familiar with every inch of this hill. When I make it to the top and ride along the mercifully flat Highland Avenue I am gasping for air—every time. Not once have I made it to the top and said to myself, “That wasn’t so bad today.” It’s always bad.

I coast two blocks down Highland Avenue until I come upon Kerry Park. It isn’t much of a park; it is more like a little shelf built into the hillside. If you have ever seen a photograph of the Seattle skyline, it was probably taken from Kerry Park. As a matter of fact, if you have ever been to Kerry Park I’m sure that you have seen at least three photographers taking more pictures of the city.

I hit the drinking fountain in the park, as I don’t carry nearly enough water on my bike. I look over my shoulder at the skyscrapers and Mount Rainier and continue along Highland. A few blocks west of Kerry Park is another small park, this one looks out across the marina at Elliot Bay to the Olympic Mountains. My bike rides are an embarrassment of riches as far as scenic views go. Automobiles drive slowly along this street and are outnumbered by dogs and their walkers by a ratio of about five to one.

I fly down the back side of Queen Anne hill practically burning my brakes before racing across to the next big hill on my ride. There are two ways to climb Magnolia hill: the direct approach is to ride up the ridiculously steep Dravus Avenue. Just when you think you have reached the top there is a cruel dog-leg in the road hiding an even steeper section. Instead of Dravus I choose the scenic route along Magnolia Boulevard. It is sort of a rollercoaster ride but none of the sections are nearly as steep as pedaling straight up Dravus.

There is a small park along Magnolia Boulevard which almost always contains a tour bus or two. I wonder how many tourists have taken pictures of me riding up the final the hill in front of the park. They probably look at their photos and wonder why I look so miserable. I know why. It's gravity. Gravity can really suck some times.

From here I corkscrew up through a residential neighborhood that leads me to the gate of Discovery Park. The bucolic setting of historic military housing and an abandoned chapel give Discovery Park the look of a rural village in the middle of the city. Discovery Park also seems to be the biggest secret in Seattle because there are never more than a handful of people wandering around the miles of trails and abandoned roads inside the park.

From here my route will change depending on how much time I have or the mood I’m in (my mood is often dictated by how much time I have). Sometimes I will cross the boat locks over to Ballard. Bike riding isn’t permitted on the locks which means I have to take off my cleated shoes and walk barefoot for a few hundred yards, dodging the scores of tourists lined up to watch as small boats and tall ships are raised and lowered to move them from Lake Union into the Puget Sound, or vice versa.

I end my rides around Seattle by toiling up the back of Queen Anne hill next to Seattle Pacific University. 3rd Avenue West isn’t the steepest hill in town but it always seems extremely long. Although only a mile long, I guess that it seems longer to me because it comes at the end of my ride. I eventually make it to the top and accelerate through the little village at the top of Queen Anne and race across to the other side where I find myself again at Kerry Park.

I love to sit in the park at dusk on a summer evening at the end of my ride when all I have to do is coast down the hill to my apartment. The light is best at this time of day and the park fills up like a movie theater before a grand opening. My heart rate begins to lower to a non life-threatening level as the sun falls between the peaks of the Olympics covered in snow. No matter how many times I have ridden this exact route I feel lucky, like someone seeing it all for the first time. If I’m lucky I’ll get to ride it again tomorrow.

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