Memories of Summer: Lake Bessemer

Posted by: Jan Heine Category: Rides

Memories of Summer: Lake Bessemer

As last summer’s 1200 km Paris-Brest-Paris was approaching, my training went into high gear. That meant hill intervals and speedwork, but also occasional longer rides to maintain my endurance – and have fun!

When Mark and Steve suggested a weekend ride up the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River, we came up with an idea: They would take the bus to Mount Si, a popular hiking destination. I’d ride out there and meet them. I decided to add the climb to Lake Bessemer for some extra training.

Mark and Steve would take the old Forest Road 9010-1, which Ryan and I had explored a few months earlier when we tested the Calfee Bamboo bike. We’d meet where this road intersects the road to Lake Bessemer and then continue up the Middle Fork.

I started in Seattle on my Firefly just before sunrise. The ‘transport stage’ to North Bend passed quickly. I took the valley road to save time and then embarked on the long climb to Lake Bessemer. It’s not an actual lake – perhaps there used to be one, but now satellite images show a gravel pit at the top of the climb. The road climbs 700 m (2300 ft) in 8 km (5 miles). The grade on the upper section varies between 12 and 18% – it’s a challenge!  In addition, the road is rough: It’s used for hauling gravel with a 6-wheel-drive quarry truck, and big rocks are spread on the surface periodically to prevent erosion. My Firefly, with its low gears and wide tires, was perfect for this climb.

No photos from the climb itself – I knew that Mark and Steve already had got off the bus at Mount Si by now. I could estimate how long it would take them to get to our meeting point, and I knew I wouldn’t make it all the way to the very top. At the very least, I wanted to reach the false flat where the main climb ends. So I went all-out on this steep ascent.

I love climbing. My body and bike work in perfect sync as we soar up the slope. So much fun! As I turned around at the top, I took a minute for a take this selfie with my mini tripod. Having climbed this high, I wanted to preserve the memory of this moment.

The descent was almost as much fun as the climb. On the rough surface, the bike was airborne almost as much as the wheels touched the ground. I jumped across holes and large rocks. It was like a roller-coaster ride, except I was not a passenger, but in control! Braking hard for the hairpin turns on the rough gravel brought the front tire right to the lockup point time and again. Then I released the brake on the next straight. The rate at which the bike picked up speed on the steep slope was almost scary, but I know my bike well and have total confidence in it.

As I rolled up to our meeting point, my heart still pounding from the adrenaline, Mark and Steve appeared on the other side of the creek. Perfect timing to the second! They opted to ford the creek rather than use the narrow log bridge.

Together, we rode up the valley and then took the Middle Fork Road. It’s closed to most traffic, making for wonderful riding.

Mark was riding his Six Hands randonneur bike on 650B x 42 mm Babyshoe Pass tires. He was looking strong – as always.

Steve was on his Rawland, which runs 650B x 48 Switchback Hills. It’s a competent gravel bike, and Steve rides it well.

Together, we flew up the valley. The distance passed quickly under our wheels on this beautiful road. The surface varied from smooth gravel…

…to quite rough.

After a while, grass appeared in the middle, and then the road ended.

We followed a single track hiking trail into the woods for a while. Riding a road bike on single tracks is fun. Using ‘Body English’ to maneuver the bike in close quarters is a different experience from the fast gravel roads we usually ride.

It still amazes me that a good all-road bike can do so many things so well. On the transport stage this morning, the Firefly had felt like a good racing bike. Now it was tackling rocky single track.

The shadows lengthened as we turned back toward Seattle. The Middle Fork Road is a beautiful rollercoaster, and with its ultra-wide tires, the Firefly flew ahead. I love that road with its many ups and downs. I got so immersed in the experience that I forgot to take photos.

An hour later, we were re-entered civilization. In North Bend, Steve hopped on the bus again, since he had a dinner obligation. Mark and I continued back to Seattle, where we arrived just as the sun set. It was a grand day out, and it gave me confidence in my form for Paris-Brest-Paris.

Now I’m looking forward to riding there again this summer. Maybe I’ll finally make it to the top of Lake Bessemer Road this year!

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