I ended up determined to bike from Vance Creek Park to the Satsop nuclear power plant today – the latter abandoned and now serving as some kind of odd industrial / half-assed business park, but infinitely more recognizable to those heading to the beaches as semi-iconic twin towers (my friend’s grandmother used to call them “ladies’ girdles”). My father had told me about this bike ride; Ralph and I had attempted it about a year or two ago (with kids in bike trailer) but after what seemed like a long slog we thought we’d gone off the track, so we cut it short.
I don’t know why I made this trip the point of our day. I know I wanted to find and finish the route my father had told me about. I wanted to get some fresh air and exercise. I wanted to be close enough to these giant towers – I’d never seen them in the flesh before – to touch them. I didn’t want to bike; I wanted a goal destination.
So here I set off with plenty of water, food, sunscreen, and my two children, the eldest installed on her own bike. I had no idea of my route or the distance required or if we’d turn around after only a couple miles. I remember my father saying something about “13 miles” – but I didn’t know if he meant round trip, or one-way. I’d also heard him mention an ascent for the last part of the journey – and this worried me. For my father to even mention a hill meant the hill was likely ass-kicking.
Sophie didn’t enjoy the first leg of the trip, an admittedly mildly-unpleasant run accompanied by the sounds of highway car travel. In just a mile however all signs of highway traffic had disappeared and we were in a lush farmland. The children exclaimed in joy – tree farms, cows, verdant meadows, the river, a huge group of pheasants gibbering and running about. Very few feral dogs, thank goodness. I kept saying, “See those towers? That’s where we’re going.” Sophie asked if we could turn around. I said, “No, I think we can do it.” After a while we both believed it.
The trip went on. And on and on. And then: up and up and up. I began to doubt my worth as a parent to drag my girl up this hill in the scorching heat. After a while I was saying, “We’re almost there,” because I could not imagine climbing more than we were climbing. Food trucks passed; Schwans, Fiesta. OK, so, wherever we ended up, there were other people there. The road was not busy but when people did speed past their faces were smiling or their mouths in an “o” shape – I swear my Xtracycle looks like a jalopy, loaded with tow-headed gap-toothed kids and a big grass basket and my body all muscle and fat rolls getting us up the hill.
At the last steep ascent, as we walked it in blistering sun, Sophie said, “When we get to that sign…” and I thought she’d say we were turning around, but instead she said, “I’m getting back on.” We rounded the corner and there it was – close enough to touch the tower, a monster, and a triumphant sail down and up the last dip, as fast as we could both do it. The kids loved how the tower burst out of the greenery; I had tears in my eyes. No photograph (and there are many online) can encompass the feeling of being dwarfed by these massive towers, or my elation that myself and my two wee children had made the trip on our own, the seven-year old on her own steam.
There wasn’t much else to look at, a few employees, a few forklifts. The view was incredible; we’d been biking steadily uphill for the last third of the ride and were surrounded by the mountains and the greenscape that make the area so lovely.
Just as we’re coasting triumphantly along the summit of the hill, about to settle at a picnic table for lunch, the unimaginable (or the shockingly predictable) occurs: Sophie’s back tire shreds. Which is funny, because my LBS practically gave me this bike and those tires were balder than a newborn baby’s ass, and I remember thinking, really? regarding the tires, but I trusted they’d be OK. Of course Sophie puts miles on her bike like no seven year old I’ve met.
As the kids ate (fresh fruit salad, black forest ham on french rolls, Doritos, water and more water, chocolate covered raisins) I pondered my options. I could find someone in the business park and phone Ralph, whom I could count on to find a way to rescue us; who would have bought us a new bike to return on had I asked. Better, though, to make it back on our own. Sophie obligingly got on the ruined bike tire to see if it could go – she said it “wasn’t much different”, but of course, it was not rideable. So it was down to me. Well, I could do it. Or have a really shitty time trying.
As the kids finished eating I put the front tire of her bike in my pannier and bungeed the stem to my V-rack. Sunscreen, extra clothes, water, basket – all loaded up – even more Joad-like than before, with a third wheel and extra kid clinging on. Then we were off. I painfully rememberd two large hills on the return trip; I couldn’t let them slow me down too much or I’d feel defeated. We went down the dips before the uphills fast; I put the bike into gear and cranked it, making a surprising amount of momentum for the uphill. Then when we’d be on the upswing my kids (unasked) would hop off and walk the few feet to the summit as I granny-geared it, then just when it was prudent for them to be on they would jump back on. I never had to stop. Sophie turned herself backwards to position herself for any oncoming cars (while on this trip the kids came up with a code – cars coming from behind us: “Incoming!”; cars travelling towards us: “We’ve got company!”). I may have done all the pedalling for the return trip but it was a team effort. It felt wonderful.
At about 4:45 we rolled back to the park to my mom’s old pickup. The best part of the trip is that the kids and I were still laughing as we finished. No trail of tears here; we’d made it.
All in all, we biked over 15 miles. My dad would have been proud.