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Goin’ riding on my new free-way

August 20, 2010

The GTS at Bellis Fair Mall (Orin O'Neill photo)

I really needed to get out of the house. And I was bored enough to go hang out at the mall. But I didn’t feel like taking the surface route. It’s time for my first freeway ride in Bellingham, I’m thinking.

I’d made the trip from my place to Bellis Fair Mall enough times in the Fourth Estate to conclude the pavement on this stretch of I-5 is in decent shape. I’m at Exit 252; I’d be getting off at Exit 256. Four miles should be easy, and if for some reason it isn’t there’s an exit every mile.

All geared up, I have to remind myself to be in the leftmost lane on Samish Way. Bellingham’s streets require lots of needle-threading, and while the result is smooth movement of traffic, until you get the hang of them you can find yourself going somewhere you didn’t intend to.

The northbound entrance ramp at milepost 252 joins the roadway at the exit of the corner. This means even a head check is no guarantee you won’t be surprised as you try to merge. On a scooter, I go as far left as humanly possible in such situations, not only in hopes of having something to see in the mirrors, but in hopes people on the freeway see me.

I look over my shoulder, there’s a silver Taurus matching my pace. I breathe the throttle, but he slows, too. Oh, geez, I think, it’s “after you, no, after YOU!”

There’s not a lot of room to play with at the end of the ramp, so I get on the brakes for an instant, long enough for the Taurus to move ahead, then slip in behind. Disaster averted, racing experience once again saving my bacon.

The pavement has little grooves indicating it had been ground (instead of being resurfaced), but the ones at car-tire width have been worn down to nothing.

Traffic is light, trucks are noteworthy by their absence. Big rigs with B.C. and Alberta plates are often driven erratically. The State Patrol seems more interested in setting up radar traps to catch hapless motorists going 4 mph over the limit than dealing with this situation, however. Well, I avoid riding on the freeway for this reason.

A glance at the speedo shows the needle in the vicinity of 70 mph (65 actual mph), a speed at which the GTS just purrs along. When I washed it a while ago, the high-pressure water had knocked a balance weight off the front wheel; since then, a slight but noticeable vibration has disappeared. Somebody didn’t know how to use the balancing machine, I guess.

In no time, I’m at Exit 256. Nobody has tailgated, or passed within six inches of my legshield. A nice, uneventful ride.

Bellis Fair Mall is much bigger than you’d expect for a city of Bellingham’s size, but that’s true of retail generally. The assumption is hordes of Canadians will come streaming across the border to grab the bargains in the U.S. Right now, the Canadian dollar is at close to par, though people in B.C. now have something called a Harmonized Sales Tax that adds about 12% to the total of purchases there. In Whatcom County, it’s only 8.7%. Still worth the trip, I suppose. Especially since gas is about a dollar a gallon cheaper than in B.C.

Okay, I’ve had my fill of the Bizarro World that is an American shopping mall. Time to go home. On the freeway.

While there’s an exit from northbound I-5 that goes almost straight into the parking lot, to go south you take Bellis Fair Parkway to Meridian, the entrance ramp being just past the freeway bridge.

The ramp seems to be a surface street that was cobbled into its present configuration. You make a really sharp u-turn onto a very short section of pavement. Your vehicle had better be quick, and you need to plan ahead. And not be afraid to merge.

Luckily, there’s 10 times more room to maneuver on a scooter. As if ordained by the freeway gods, a gigantic gap between two swarms of vehicles opened up just as I encountered a lumbering RV trying vainly to get up to speed.

I thought about a pass, but the second swarm arrived too quickly. This section of freeway being downhill, the RV actually got up to the limit rather quickly. I’m in no real hurry.

The pavement southbound is a bit less decent, with sections topped by thin layers of broken asphalt. Not dangerous if you know its coming; the racing experience once again comes in handy, especially the part about reading the road surface.

In no time, Exit 252 beckons. It’s an easy sweep to the intersection. I’m usually looking at vehicles on the ramp. Now I are one. Favicon

  1. Jack Riepe permalink
    August 21, 2010 8:13 pm

    Dear Orin:

    I love stories that have a happy ending, with merges at 70mph.

    Fondest regards,
    Jack • reep • Toad
    Twosted Roads

  2. RoyK. permalink
    August 29, 2010 1:14 pm

    I love reading your blog, it makes me feel as I am part of your life, sharing mishaps, crisis and good fortune. I travel through your eyes and the rhetoric from afar. I thank you for that.

    Been trying to follow your routes at GoogleMaps, Couldn’t locate this one though…

    Best wishes,

  3. August 29, 2010 5:40 pm

    RoyK, thanks so much for reading. I didn’t include this particular ride on the Road Trip Maps page because I-5 is part of the U.S. Interstate Highway system, and readily visible on any road map of western Washington State; given the difficulty of drawing Google maps, I usually only do them for the more obscure routes. Look up “Bellingham, WA” on your favorite online map application, and you can see where I rode.

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