The sun was shining. In the weeks before moving from Atlanta to Seattle, virtually everyone I talked to managed to get in at least one comment about the weather: “I hope you like the rain.”
“Wow, I heard that it rains a lot out there.”
“Aren’t you going to miss the sunshine?”
But when I started making a point to ask if they had ever actually lived in or even visited Seattle, most responded “Uh, no, but….”
I have to admit that the prospect of months of foul weather and a shortened riding season had not put the best face on the move. Living in the Atlanta area, I have become accustomed to being able to ride virtually all year ’round. But in one of those circumstances becoming increasingly common in the last decade, it was my wife who had gotten the good job offer in the Pacific Northwest, some 2,700 miles away from what had been home for me for almost 30 years, and close to 40 years for her. To do my part, I resolved to put on a happy face and make the transition to the West Coast. In the third week of October 2010, I became a new resident of Washington state and the town of Renton, a suburb about 25 miles southeast of Seattle.
So it was a pleasant surprise that I found that—while the majority of days in Seattle in late fall are indeed overcast—the temperatures are surprisingly moderate, rain is not a daily prospect, and you even get some…sunny days.
I am not naïve, however, and I knew that winter would be coming soon. In my first few days after moving to Seattle, I resolved to make the best of any opportunity that would allow me get on the bike. So on a sunny Sunday a week after arriving in town, I took my first day-long ride, choosing a road based simply on its close proximity to where I lived (not wanting to venture too far my first time out), and its designation as a scenic highway, indicated by red dots that lined its route on the map. The road was State Route 410, also called Mather Memorial Parkway and the Chinook Scenic Byway, which began at the cozy small town of Enumclaw, about 45 miles southeast of Seattle. The map showed only a few miles of 410 before the road ran off the paper, and I had no idea that it led into Mount Rainier National Park. It was simply a matter of luck, or maybe providence. Since I got to the road in the afternoon on an ever-shortening late fall day, I did not have time to ride it all the way to the mountain, so I returned at noon on the following Thursday (another sunny day) to ride scenic 410. This time I brought my camera.
Two-lane scenic 410 winds through Snoqualmie National Forest and into the park, and could not be a better road for two-wheeled touring if it had been planned that way. The road has its share of curves, but on this side of the mountain none of them are extreme. The combination of easy bends and long straightaways allow a good clip through miles and miles of unspoiled Pacific Northwest, on the way up to some paradigm-changing views of the mountain terrain, and make this a truly one-of-a-kind riding experience. Like so many areas in the vast western and northwestern United States, words cannot really describe, and photographs cannot capture what seems like an infinite amount of three-dimensional space. You might be able to elicit a “wow” from a photograph, but when you take in all three dimensions with your own retinas, it becomes…wow.
I have visited the western United States many times over the years, but every time I see the vastness, the sheer beauty and the majesty of a place like this, it changes me, and always for the better.
OK, so back down to earth. East of the Mississippi, gas stations, food and lodging are pretty easy to come by, and I tend to take for granted that a traveler-friendly business will be around the next bend. That is often not the case out here, something to keep in mind if you are not accustomed to touring in the western United States. Do not miss a chance to fill the bike, especially if gasoline capacity in your ride is five gallons or less, and do not assume that restaurants or lodging are readily available, either. Underestimating the time it takes to cover a distance can also lead to some very cold and uncomfortable riding in the dark.
The round trip from Enumclaw up to the mountain and back is about 100 miles, and after taking advantage of the photo ops on several pullouts with spectacular views of a snow-covered Mount Rainier, I passed a sign that read, “Rough Road.” It was getting later in the day, and being that it was a mountain road in the early winter months, with shorter days and the possibility of ice on the road, I thought it best to save the rough road for a springtime ride.
This was the first of several rides I had taken since moving here, and I can certainly say it was a real eye-opener for me. Having lived in the Atlanta area for my entire adult life—where the highest peak of North Georgia’s rolling hills and the gently sloping Appalachian Mountains is somewhere around 6,700 feet—looking at the stark granite-gray snow-covered giants that jut vertically out of a 4,000-foot plateau some 9,000 feet farther into the air is a real game-changer. I still need to become acclimated to the short days here, but a lack of beautiful rides with incredible roads lined by majestic mountains and pristine forest is certainly not an issue!
Having the opportunity to see Mount Rainier a few weeks before the park roads closed for the season was a real treat since several snows fell prior to the full onset of winter, allowing me to see the mountain in all its snow-covered majesty. Scenic State Route 410 alone is worth the ride, but the travel to and from the park at this time of the year (especially on a weekday afternoon) was simply exceptional.
The long, easy straightaways on State Route 410 allow opportunities for 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains and foothills, as well as other natural features such as rivers and streams that run alongside the road or under it as you go over a bridge. The occasional gentle curves are interesting enough to make the ride fun without requiring much in the way of braking and downshifting, and the lack of traffic allows speed limit transit times, getting you up to the mountain and back home in time for dinner. In short, it is an excellent ride that requires only half a day to see some of the most startlingly beautiful scenery that the area has to offer, and a perfect first ride of what I hope will be many to remember in my new home in the Pacific Northwest.