The square root of pie, part 2
Heading south on Chuckanut Drive, I’m allowing myself to think things will be just fine.
The rain had stopped, the GTS’ new rear tire seemed to grip well, and there was no traffic. I could descend the hill at a sedate pace, i.e., the 35-mph speed limit. Gray skies mean the views aren’t so great, but that’s fine. I enjoyed the views on the way up; the mission is to get home before the weather gets worse.
No such luck.
Emerging from the protection of the hill and the trees, the GTS and I are slapped hard by a westerly crosswind. I recall Irondad’s teachings about crosswinds—don’t tense up, relax your grip, let the bike do what it wants to do. There’s still no traffic to speak of, a good thing when 40 mph is all I can manage on a road with a 50-mph speed limit.
It’s not far to the right turn to Edison. I’m heading into the wind, so maintaining a straight course is no problem. But once through the town, you head due south on Farm to Market Road. The winds have not abated.
It’s a straight shot, traffic is still nearly nonexistent and the few vehicles that do show up in my mirrors have ample opportunity to pass. I ponder the irony of doing PX speed on my much faster GTS.
Look, it’s the junction with SR 20! There was a detour on Best Road coming up; is the road open today, Saturday?
I came from my left yesterday. The detour roads are awful, rough and full of crude patches. This time, I go right. This detour couldn’t possibly be worse. In fact, the pavement was much better.
But it was a highway with a 50-mph speed limit. And a lot more traffic.
If anything, the wind was stronger. Luckily, there was a fairly wide hard shoulder, so I could pull over and let traffic pass. But this road seemed to go on forever, and there were no orange detour signs. Where the heck am I going?
There’s a sign up ahead: Welcome to La Conner. Oh.
I need to stop and get my bearings. A lady in a Ford pickup says Conway is not far, just get on the main drag in town and follow the road. You can follow us, she offers.
I try, but the wind has gotten worse. Signs point to Conway and I-5, and knowing Conway is close helps. But a gust blows me into the oncoming lane. I can’t do the 50-mph speed limit. I really want to just stop somewhere and wait this thing out, but I remember the weather reports saying the wind will be worse in the evening. I have to keep going.
The sky has transformed from a light gray wall to a menacing mountain range of dark cumulus clouds. I could swear a scene from ancient mariners’ maps was playing out in front of me, the bearded head of God with lips pursed and cheeks inflated, blowing the hapless scooter rider into the opposing lane again and again, me leaned into the wind as Irondad instructs, fighting to get the GTS back on the safe side of the double yellow lines.
Approaching the 90-degree kink at Fir Island Road, I spot a Toyota Tundra approaching from the opposite direction. There’s no telling what the wind will do at the apex of the corner, and as the Tundra gets closer I suddenly realize just how menacing the front of the truck seems, its tall countenance, with headlights that now present a malevolent glare, a giant wall into which an errant gust would splatter the GTS and me like an insect.
There was no gust. We’re headed east, but the wind has shifted, blowing from my left, the north. It’s the ditch on my right, not oncoming traffic, that could mean our demise. In the distance is the little white church, in this case not just a landmark but a sign that sanctuary is close at hand.
That sanctuary would be the 76 station at Conway. I need to stop and rest. If there’s a guy with a pickup truck, I’m thinking, I’m going to ask him how much he’d want to haul me and the GTS back to Seattle.
There’s no pickup. There are usually a bunch.
It must be a sign to press on. Really, the only option, since there are no motels in the immediate area. I recall the psychology that got me through the stressful parts of the Oregon Road Trip—Stanwood is not far from Conway, Warm Beach is not far from Stanwood, and Marysville is not far from Warm Beach. We can do this.
Southbound on Pioneer Highway, I’m riding into the wind. Traffic is still light, but it’s about 7:00 pm, and daylight is waning. I see raindrops on my face shield.
Warm Beach is hilly and tree-covered, an excellent barrier to the wind. But it’s dark, and the rain has gotten worse. The new tire grips well, and I’m able to maintain a pace much closer to the speed limit on the wet pavement. Yeah, the Sava tires are noisy, but they offer excellent wet traction.
By Marysville, the trees have given way to big-box stores and strip malls. No protection from the wind here, and I have to cross three bridges to get to Everett. While there are multiple lanes, the concrete road decks are shiny bright, glistening wet and potentially slippery. Please, let me make it to Broadway.
“If you lived here, you’d be home by now,” say the signs on tacky apartment complexes. Well, I don’t, so I’m not. Every time I come back from Bellingham, I stop at some fast-food joint on Broadway for dinner. It’s a tradition. This time it’s KFC, for the $2.99 Mashed Potato Bowl Combo.
As forecast, the weather is rainier and windier. Between raindrops and fog, the face shield on my helmet is opaque, so I opt for being able to see where I’m going. My face is being pelted by cold rain. It feels like a steady stream of needles, and it’s cold enough to make me wonder about frostbite.
Parts of Highway 99 are pitch dark, and others have no lane markers, the lines and dots being sandblasted away during the Snowpocalypse.
I want to stop and find a hole to crawl into, but pressing on is the only option. It’s only a few more miles, I tell myself. But the wind is as bad as in the Skagit Valley.
Taking Greenwood didn’t offer any relief, but Westlake did. And so did the highrises of downtown Seattle, at least until Cherry Street, where a gust made the GTS do a little slalom.
There was a red light at City Hall. A Toyota Highlander Hybrid stopped in the lane to my left. I looked over, and the passenger was soon-to-be-former King County Executive Ron Sims. I thought he’d be in the Other Washington, getting ready for his new gig in the Obama Administration. He nodded hello. I nodded back.