The answer is: 4:30am, Seattle Center. As far as we're concerned, that is an ungodly time of the morning for just about everyone to have to be anywhere. But we were good, and slept in short bursts all night, and managed to get there by just before 5am. We weren't late or anything; they just wanted to make sure we had time to get our gear in our gear trucks, eat, and stretch, all before the opening ceremonies started at 6am. Well, we got to get our gear packed, and eat a bit, but most of the food was already disappearing. Note for the future: Serve Coffee on Day 1!! *sigh*.
The opening ceremonies were held on Memorial Stadium's astroturf field. After Dan Pallotta called the riders to the field, a couple of people gave speeches for our sendoff. As usual, Dan's was very emotional, and very inspiring. Similar to the AIDS Rides, a riderless bike was led up the aisle, supported by four people representing groups which suffer most from lung disease: childhood asthma, teenage smokers, senior citizens, and women. More eyes than just mine were wet.
Well, it was time to go pick up our bikes and ride out -- we were near the back so we didn't see the ribbon cutting (but it happened). We rode out -- that is to say, we *balanced* out of Seattle (with 730 riders, it's rather difficult to ride quickly in city streets! We took a couple of pictures at some of the stop lights:
We noticed something about western Washington quickly -- espresso is a way of life. Those little shacks set up to serve commuters were well appreciated by the non-caffeinated riders. Seattle was quite nice, for a city, but the best moment of the day was when we crested the last hill out of the city proper, and suddenly found ourselves surrounded by fields -- gorgeous fields which smelled like honey and freshness. Soon thereafter, we passed this espresso and bike shop, and wondered why L.A. doesn't have that. Oh yeah. There's no fields in L.A.
Our path this day started crossed Mercer Island, through Issaquah and Fall City, and over Snoqualmie Pass. We climbed one hill to get to the Snoqualmie Falls, the second-largest falls in the United States after Niagara. No, I haven't confirmed that, but we picked up a brochure *smile*. We continued on to North Bend, passing a rather large number of rusted-out train cars on some sidings just off the road. At this point the weather started to catch up to us -- scattered raindrops and gathering clouds should have warned us that bad things were ahead. However, we stopped and had lunch just before Pit 2 (the lunch stop for people willing to spend $11/lunch/day every day) at a place called Grandma's, which truly did have an excellent breakfast menu.
Well, the weather kept getting wetter, and the temperature was dropping as we climbed up I-90. And we had been rather stupid and *not* brought/worn absolutely all of our cold-weather gear (it was in the gear trucks, but then, who can pack at 4:30am??). The last 7 miles of I-90 before the summit were at a 6% grade, which warmed us as we worked to get up it, and kept our rests to a minimum. At this point we were getting SOAKED!
Well, we got to the top of the hill, exited at West Summit road, and stopped at the first restaurant we saw, Webbs, which was obviously a popular choice by the number of bicycles around it! The staff was totally overwhelmed, but dealt fantasticaly, and we all had hot chocolate and some had food. As we left, 2 things warned us from going further: the guy taking a picture of himself and the thermometer in the lobby (which read 41 degrees F), and the ambulance outside (the paramedics were treating someone for hypothermia). Well, it was 10 minutes until the last pit stop closed, so we headed on Down...and Down it was, and hard to see, and *COLD* -- halfway there I was only holding onto the handlebars with one hand and flapping the other to get feeling back into the fingers, alternating hands every 5 seconds or so. We got into Pit 3, and pretty much *stopped*. We got our hands wrapped in the SpaceBlankets -- we were better off than some; more than one person had varying degrees of hypothermia -- and joined some others in the back of the Pit truck to huddle together. Obviously, the crew sagged us back to camp. The sun came out about 5 miles down the hill (it was still 17 miles or so to camp from Pit 3), and by the time we got into camp there were actually moments of brightness through the clouds. We set up the tent first, showered, ate, and went to sleep -- but not before trying the "blue tent" filter on pictures inside the tent. I needed to hug that bear. And Ro. *smile*.
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