Monday, December 20, 2010

Solstice - Waiting for the Eastern Glow

This past Saturday night I rode the Seattle Randonneur's Second Annual Winter Solstice Ride. Yes, I know we missed the actual solstice by three days, but for working stiffs like me doing the ride on Tuesday night would make for a rough day at work on Wednesday. Besides, from the saddle of a bike one long, cold, wet night looks much like any other.

The idea of the solstice ride is to take advantage of the longest night of the year by spending as much of it as possible on a bike. It's a 200k ride that starts at 8:30pm, so if you ride slow enough you can roll into the finish just as the sun is peaking over the eastern hills. That of course assumes the sun does any peaking at all which it rarely does around the Winter solstice in western Washington. The ride was also billed as a Festivus celebration so it included the traditional Festivus pole, airing of grievances, and feats of strength.

About 25 of my hardy randonneuring buddies showed up at the start at Peet's Coffee in Redmond. Also at the start was a documentary film maker named Dan McComb. Dan is working on a feature length documentary called Beyond Naked that follows some "ordinary" folks as they prepare to ride in the Fremont Solstice Parade naked bike ride. Somehow Dan heard about our ride and decided to incorporate it into his film. I suppose our solstice ride makes a nice compliment to the annual naked ride in Fremont because of the obvious similarities. For instance, riders in both events probably wish they had more clothes on at times, and in both events many of the people who see the riders probably think they're totally crazy or maybe just dumb. It's also possible Dan, desperate for material, just Googled "bikes and solstice" and we were the only thing that came up.

I decided to decorate my bike for the event, so I zip-tied and duct taped some battery powered christmas lights to the frame and the wheels. Though it's hard to make out the lights, here she is anxious to roll outside Peet's at the start.

The lights were a big hit, especially once we got away from street lights of the city though the high-speed wobble that comes from duct-taping battery packs to the rims is a little spooky on the high-speed descents. A weight weenie I am not.

The route was a big loop that went from Redmond up to North Bend, then through Issaquah, Maple Valley, Renton and up around the north end of Lake Washington back to Redmond. It was about 38 degrees at the start and the moon and stars were out which was a bad sign. Clear skys mean cold and ice.

Sure enough as soon as we came over Novelty Hill into the Snoqualmie Valley, the temperature dropped and the roads turned very icy. I had ridden the first part of the ride with some of the "fast boys", but at that point they all decided that while the idea of an all night ride sounded neat in theory, it wasn't worth risking a broken hip or dislocted shoulder for. So the fast boys all turned around and rode home. I decided to press on, so I slowed down and waited for some other riders to catch up. At least if I crashed and broke my hip there would be someone there to call 911. Not long after I was joined by a group of familiar faces including Greg Cox, Mark Van de Camp, Warb Beebe, Bill Dussler and Michael (whose last name I've forgotten).

As we started to climb up out of the valley toward Snoqualmie Falls the wind picked up and the temperature with it. We traded icy roads for vicious head winds which, all things considered, seemed like a reasonable trade. With tempertures back into the upper 30s the riding was almost comfortable for the next few hours.

By far the nicest part of the ride for me was from Fall City to Issaquah on the Issaquah Fall City Rd. The wind had died down and it was warm enough to keep the roads wet instead of icy. Dan and his film crew (of one) drove along and filmed our little group as we rode the winding ups and downs. It sort of made us feel like we were something special.

Halfway through the ride we stopped at a minimart for a bite to eat. It was 1:30am and the ride was going pretty well, considering. But as we pulled out the rain started to fall and within a few minutes it turned to snow. As we rode up May Valley road we were soaked by big fat snowflakes mixed with sleet and rain. Lovely stuff.

The snow and sleet continued for about an hour and a half as we continued on down to Maple Valley where Joe Platzner had kindly parked his RV and was serving up hot cup of noodles, coffee and other snacks. Dan and his film crew were there too and they filmed us gobbling down noodles. Dan asked me some questions about why we do what we do and I gave completely incoherent answers which I'm going to blame on the time (about 3:30am), the cold (about 35 degrees) and on my IQ (low 70s). Hopefully none of that interview makes it past the editing process.

Another shot of my bike in the dark:

From Maple Valley on, the ride was uneventful and pleasant. There wasn't a lot of talking as we were all ready to get to the end and get out of the cold. Led Zeppelin's Battle of Evermore was playing in my head ("Oh well, the night is long, the beads of time pass slow/Tired eyes on the sunrise, waiting for the eastern glow"). We timed it right as the sun was indeed starting to show itself as we rolled into the parking lot at Peet's Coffee. I think it was around 7:00am when we finished.

As with all good randonneuring events, the painful memories of cold, rain, snow, wrong turns and endless hills had almost completely evaporated as I loaded my bike into the car for the drive home. Thanks to Joe P for throwing a heck of a Festivus party!


  1. Hi Steve,
    Kudos on the ride and lights, sounds like it was quite a night!

    A hint to reduce vibration at speed: Try taping the battery packs close to the axles. I've had luck doing this.


  2. Thanks for the suggestion. I thought about doing that but couldn't figure out a good way to make it work. But I'll definitely figure it out before I do another long ride with the lights.