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R-12 ride #2: The Mountain Loop

Home to Snohomish
Things started out well enough. Amy arrived at my place with plenty of time and I loaded my bike into the back of her car. I had all my stuff ready to go the night before, and there was no last minute scrambling and forgetting of essential items like water bottles, shoes or helmet as I've had problems with in the past. I folded myself into the front seat, and off we went.
Aside from missing the turn onto Crescent Lake/Tualco because we were busy yapping, and a minor issue with my pre-coffee navigational skills from Monroe to Snohomish, we arrived at the 7-11 on 2nd and D with a few minutes to spare.

Snohomish to Arlington
We stopped in the 7-11 for candy bars, receipts, and our morning fill of bhangra pop music (the clerk was rockin' out to some Jazzy B). After a quick sugar boost and a picture, we were on our (slightly delayed) way.

The ride to Arlington was... well... the ride to Arlington. We thought it best to take the reversible route in the direction we did for a couple reasons: 1) the gravel service road would be the ascending side of the pass, and 2) we'd hit the Centennial Trail early in the morning before it was choked with people out enjoying the afternoon sunshine. This was a wise decision, as the day just kept getting nicer.
I barely glanced at the cue having realized earlier that it was pretty much the standard route. Maple to the Trail and head north, so off we went at a reasonable clip to begin with. I was a little worried that maybe I wasn't going to be up to par for Amy's pace, but looking back at it I realize what the two of us do when we ride together. We're speed creepers, and it's because we both assume that the other one is going to be disappointed with only riding (insert any speed we're travelling). Amy stopped along the trail after a couple miles to check her brake alignment, thinking that it might be rubbing, then we decided that it was just the difference between her 25mm usual tires and the cushy 35mm tires she had on in anticipation of the off-road segment.

In Arlington we hopped off the trail and hit up the kwickie-mart for water, snacks and a bio-break. It was here that I noticed my helmet light was hanging on by 1 zip tie, so I removed it and tossed it into my bag. I didn't have my Leatherman tool so I was lacking any snips/scissors to remove the remaining heavy-duty zip tie so I did the next best thing, which was secure it in place; leaving myself with a rather fashionable antenna-horn-ish protrusion and I dubbed myself Rhinocesquatch. I believe it was here that I discovered why Amy's bike was feeling a bit sluggish. Her rear tire was mounted with the tread facing backwards, and as we're all aware, those little chevrons will drag your average speed way down if they're facing the wrong way.
With that mystery solved, we were on our way to Darrington.

Arlington to Darrington
A mile on SR-9, 27 miles on SR-530. With the exception of it being such a beautiful day, this is a fairly boring section of road after the 9th or 10th time you've ridden it. I've seen it in all stages: Dark of night, brightest sun, rain, snow, hail... It's a fairly constant climb all the way out to Darrington, but it's never steep. The open stretches make for some great photo opportunities, though.

Darrington to Barlow Pass
We rolled into the Shell gas station in Darrington, and the clerks there imediately recognized me. I gained a bit of notoriety with them over the winter during my R-12 attempt and I showed up there by myself 2 months in a row while it was snowing. There was no need to buy chemical toe-warmers and glove-warmers this weekend, for certain. It was full sun and really starting to warm up by the time we rolled in and decided to have lunch at the picnic table outside. I ate half a sandwich, drank a ton of water, and finished off another Snickers bar.

One of the issues I've been having when soloing is remembering to eat and drink enough. I think that's been a major contributor to my prior DNFs, and I wasn't going to let that happen on this ride. So I was packing down the calories. A Snickers at the start after eggs and toast for breakfast. A king size candy bar at Arlington, and a refill on my bottles (including NUUN tabs in both). I even knocked back a couple of Shot Blox in between stops, keeping the calorie flow going. Considering we were heading up a low pass and didn't know how rough the gravel road was, it was a wise idea to fuel up well. We also packed along plenty of extra water, because when the pavement ends, so go the services: Nothing more until we got to Granite Falls.
The climb up the pass afforded us some magnificent photo backdrops and the road surface itself was never as bad as we had anticipated.

It was mostly hardpacked gravel and dirt, smooth with some potholes scattered about to keep us vigilant. A few sections were still a bit on the muddy side from our previous weeks of rain. The mud wasn't deep, just enough so to feel it grab at your tires a bit and slow you down. On the uphill stretches this wasn't too bad, but on the downhill curves we had to be careful that we didn't hit a patch of that at speed and slide out, or get bucked forward by the speed change. Scattered sections of loose gravel made a few of the descending segments a little hairy, but these never lasted more than a few dozen yards, and there was usually a tire track you could follow to stay out of the scree.

Overall the road was fantastic, if a bit steep in parts. I ended up doing some standing in the low gears and Amy was dropping into the little ring with a bit of difficulty; something was off on her derailleur adjustment and it was reluctant to drop from the middle to the small ring once the road started climbing.

Barlow Pass to Granite Falls
Something about this section made it seem easy to keep high speeds. On the first section from the pass summit to our second lunch stop at the Big Four viewpoint it's obvious: It's all downhill!

We took a break and admired the Big Four, traded half our remaining sandwiches, and fueled up on an ego boost. A woman walked up to our table and said "You must be very good cyclists" and talked about how they had driven past us as we were climbing up the gravel side of the road. Maybe that's the second half of the speed equation. Whatever it was, once we were through dealing with the headwinds back down the pass (Ugh! It was like coming down from Greenwater on the Chili Feed, except warm!) we got into the wind-shielded wooded roads to Verlot and the pace picked up to 18 - 19mph. We kept this pace for the remainder of the way into Granite Falls.

Granite Falls to Snohomish
"Enough of this Sunday stroll. Let's hurt a little!" If you've ridden the route in this direction, done the Woodinville-Granite Falls 200k, or are just a fan of bad movies then you know what I'm talking about.
From Granite Falls the route picks some of the best hills you can throw at the end of a 200k. The old standard, Robe-Menzel Rd. starts the climbing to S. Carpenter (which has quite a bit of smooth new asphalt!). S. Carpenter climbs to Creswell, which connects to Dubuque, where the fun begins...
Dubuque has a sharp climb, and oddly enough I think this is where we saw the dude on a 60" Ordinary, asking us about where the nearest Dairy Queen was. Then 171st climbs to Three Lakes. Three Lakes rolls to 131st, and 131st kicks you square in the face. Holy crap, that is one steep hill. I was in my lowest gear, standing, and struggling to keep 3.7mph; I might have been faster if I took Amy's tactic and walked the top third of the hill.
Once up 131st, we were home free. It was a short climb on 88th and then an effortless glide back into Snohomish to the 7-11 where orange juice and the approving compliments of the register clerks awaited us.