Monday, March 21, 2011

Biking into Spring along the Sammamish River Trail

The eve-of-spring-equinox weekend augured good things to come, what with the supersized perigee moon rising in the East on Saturday night and balmy weather curling up outside like a cat on the porch.

It seemed like a good time to haul out the bicycles and head for the countryside. My husband and daughter had already kick-started the biking season back in January, tooling along the local Burke-Gilman trail on some of the less frigid rainy days of January and February.

For me, however, it'd been at least three years since I'd hopped on a bike, what with One Thing or Another. I had the handlebars jacked up higher in anticipation of this debut in order to alleviate pain and pressure on a newly diagnosed arthritic neck (oh, the joys of ageing), so I was hopeful that I'd be able to stagger along with the two athletes in the family.

Fortunately, other than discovering that a new, broader, more cushioned bicycle seat would be highly desirable, and reconnecting with a pain in my left knee that last manifested itself while riding stationary bikes at a gym in the distant past, I survived and managed to bike 15 miles round trip--and wake up feeling quite good the next day.

Sammamish River
It was thrilling to cover so many miles so quickly (relatively speaking--there are loads of biking enthusiasts here, and I was a slowcoach to them; my ride was pinged with plenty of cries of "on your left" followed by neon-colored Lycra blurs whipping by) and to take in the sounds and sights of spring creeping in.

We drove up to a small park northeast of Lake Washington and set off from there. The Sammamish River drains into Lake Washington, though a friend with a background in hydrology rolled her eyes once when I called it a "river"; during the past 150 years or so, the river's been dredged, straightened, and otherwise rearranged to alter it for navigation, flood control, and the like, its banks hardened and flow increased. Now there's a lot of habitat restoration going on along its shores to make the river suitable for salmon and other species again.

Most plants along the way still wore winter drab: apart from the scarlet twigs of dogwood bushes, the trees and shrubs were gray and brown, the tall grass tan and dry. The edge of one large patch of grass appeared to be woven into a 20-foot rope; I thought perhaps a strong winter wind had knotted them together, but now I'm sorry I didn't stop to examine the braiding because it was, as I later learned, part of a local artist's site-specific installation.

The bare trees and thickets did allow for good nesting viewing, though--a different sort of site-specific braiding installation.

A smudge of green in the willows and a fuzz of pink in the cherry trees were the only spring colors evident.

But a marsh wren sang lustily from a perch in a thicket, and a winter wren, no bigger than a mouse, poured out a river of song from a patch of woodland. (The winter wren is now called the Pacific wren, apparently, not that it cares a whit.) A belted kingfisher rattled in between dives, mallards rab-rabbed, and skeins of Canada geese honked overhead.

No nature-photography awards in store for this snap but I was still pretty
pleased to catch this kingfisher at all from across the river with a small digital camera.

Bikers, strollers, joggers, kids, and dogs were out in abundance, and we even saw some equestrians: two strapping hunter-clipped horses thudded past, carrying two women with the taut, intense faces often worn by Hard Women to Hounds.

Riding back to the parking lot, we fought head winds all the way (which is a totally overly dramatic way to describe our weary pedaling on a minor uphill grade for several miles with a blustery breeze against us, but it's more fun to say). Coming home to a warm house, a huge meal of honey-teriyaki chicken with roast potatoes and broccoli, and leftover banana chiffon cake was a fine way to end the eve-of-spring weekend.

A bend in the river
A row of poplars lines much of the trail on the east
side as it's quite a blustery area and they provide
good windbreaks
Exceedingly large dragonfly perched on a bridge support

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