Gabriel's mom has the plum location of living across the street from the ride's starting line, so it was only natural for us to sleep at her house the night before. Gabriel was up at four a.m.; since we were in the same bed his alarm unavoidably woke me up as well. I had already decided to split the temporal difference between my husband's ride with the bats and the unofficial (broad daylight) start of 8 a.m. preferred by most riders. I leisurely performed my morning ablutions, then puttered around my mother-in-law's house a while playing with her cat, then left at the very civilized hour of 6 a.m.
Bringing my gaze closer than the Emerald City, I saw a gentle ripple in the water which at first I took to be kelp. When it arched its back and dove I recognized a river otter, gone to salt water for the day. Turning my eyes back to shore and the delicate cherry blossoms which lined the road, I continued on my way.
At 7:05, after a very leisurely hour on the road, I was passed by the first other rider I had seen on the course—a man a bit older than myself wearing a bright blue jacket. We wished each other good morning as he zoomed past on his carbon-fiber road bike. A few minutes later he was followed by the first pack of cyclists: Evidentally they'd come off the ferry together. A man in a bright yellow jacket with a reflective triangle on his back gave me a thumbs-up. "Right on!" he called.
A pedestrian moving in the opposite direction looked a bit bewildered by the sudden flood of cyclists, but she picked me out from the throng, possibly because I was the only one in plaid silk instead of Lycra, possibly because I was the only one on a heavy steel bike instead of a carbon fiber machine. Our eyes met and she smiled broadly at me. "I love it!" She called. "The old-fashioned way!" I smiled at her and continued on.
As the pack passed me and mounted a hill ahead, I could see sweat rising as steam from their hunched backs. I followed them at a more sedate pace, stopping occasionally to take notes on things like squirrels and daffodils.
Gabriel and I lived on Bainbridge when we were first married, but I had forgotten about the island's daffodils in the intervening years. As I cycled past bunches of the cheerful yellow blooms lifting their faces to the road, the story came back to me. Volunteers plant them all over the island and local legend holds that they are an homage to Chielf Seattle's granddaughter Mary Sam. The story goes that in the early days of settlement Mary, who was well-versed in native remedies and loved beautiful things, would trade medicinal plants to the white women in exchange for flower bulbs—and she was particularly fond of daffodils. Such tales are difficult or impossible to substantiate, but this is a case where the tale took on a life of its own. True or not, it inspired the volunteers who continue to plant these hardy, naturalizing flowers all over the island. It would be hard to prove that Chief Seattle's granddaughter really traded native plants for daffodils, but those cheerful blooms have nonetheless become the legacy of her story. When I saw them I thought about a more sinister and complicated case of native plants being traded for daffodil blooms—but that story is tangled in a moral dilemma the way a stone becomes entwined in a flower bulb's roots. I pushed it aside for another day, another ride. I knew Gabriel and I would unavoidably confront it when we cycled through the Skagit Valley in one month's time. However, this sunny, spring-like day was not one for dark thoughts.
Just weighty ones. As I pedalled over Chilly Hilly's 2600 feet of elevation changes, I thought of how glad I was to be riding my 49.8 pound Gazelle on the downhills and how much I missed my more than 60 pound tricycle on the uphills. This might seem contradictory, but the difference lies in how the machines are powered. The Gazelle's free wheel makes it a dream for smooth downhill coasting. The fixed gear on the trike carries through each pedal stroke into the next and makes the machine work just as hard as its rider—a wonderful boon in hill climbing. After the ride was over I would comment to Gabriel that it was a pity it seemed virtually impossible to design a bike which could shift between fixed gear and free wheel. He replied that it's been done, albeit inadvertantly. A free wheel acting as a fixed gear or vice-versa can happen on some hubs when they malfunction. It is within the realm of theoretical possibility to design the capability into a bike as a controllable feature like a shifter or a brake, but the cycling world hasn't reached that stage of evolution yet. Perhaps someday it will.
My fifty pound Gazelle is a heavy bike, even by nineteenth-century standards. Gabriel's high wheel bikes only weigh about 32 pounds. Early pneumatic safeties weighed more than Ordinaries and it took them a few years to lighten up. In 1890 the average pneumatic safety weighed 42 pounds; by 1895 this average dropped to 22 pounds. By 1897 it was already possible to manufacture a Safety bicycle weighing less than nine pounds that could support a rider who weighed over two hundred.
I was passed by other small packs of cyclists on high-tech bikes but I had given myself such a massive headstart that I was nearly done with the 33-mile route by the time the main peleton started catching up. When the throng of cyclists grew really thick an interesting thought occurred to me and I started paying closer attention to the habillements of my fellow riders. I smiled wryly to myself when I confirmed my suspicions: Not only was I the only one on the course in a corset (which I had definitely expected), I was also the only one in a skirt (which slightly surprised me.) Most entertaining of all though, I was the only rider not in Lycra! It wasn't until I had finished the ride and had been loitering in the concessions pen several hours waiting for Gabriel to get off work that I finally saw one single rider in stretch denim and heard rumors of a handful of other cyclists (out of the day's 4,500 participants) who had ridden in something other than Spandex or Lycra. It's funny how quick modern Americans are to label the clothing customs of other cultures as society-enforced restrictions, yet they refuse to recognize that they enforce regulations just as strict upon themselves.
I had been just as comfortable in my silk during this ride as I had been on far shorter rides wearing full Lycra years before when I'd lived on Bainbridge. I was actually quite a bit more comfortable due to all the extra cycling I had been doing lately. I was a bit surprised to realize the island's hills were easier to climb and the roads seemed shorter than they had when I was ten years younger. Comfort on a bike owes far more to fitness and confidence than to magic talismans in the form of trendy clothing.
 Reid, Carlton. Roads Were Not Built For Cars. Belfast: Appletree Press Ltd, 2014. p. 194.
 Hubert, Philip. G. Jr. "The Wheel of Today." Athletic Sports. Dudley Allen Sargent, et al. The Out of Door Library. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1897, p. 188.