My good friend Tim Willis recently traveled back home to Washington state and went on the Bicycle Quarterly ‘Un-Meeting’ ride. His photos and stories from the trip are beyond amazing and I’m so excited to share.
Check out his website and instagram and website!
In retrospect, last minute might be a bit of an understatement. After booking a ticket on miles and securing a bag for my bike to skirt checked baggage fees just three days before, I was headed back home to Seattle for the Bicycle Quarterly “Un-Meeting” and I still wasn’t really sure how to take apart the threaded headset on my bike. That uncertainty may have later contributed to my down tube’s catastrophic failure during a cyclocross race in Providence, but we won’t dwell on that.
For the uninitiated, Bicycle Quarterly is a publication from Seattle, WA started by Jan Heine in the summer of 2002. Its website states the magazine is “for discerning cyclists, who enjoy their bikes in many ways: on weekend rides, commuting, randonneuring, racing or touring the countryside.” The magazine has been instrumental in the resurgence of 650b bicycles and has no doubt inspired cyclists around the world to ride their bikes in ways they hadn’t before.
I was worried I would be an outsider from the BQ crowd. I knew exactly zero people that were also going. I didn’t have a 650b bicycle or much experience touring, but I had a cyclocross bike and a fair bit of fitness from racing in NYC all summer. I decided to give the 320+ mile weekend a go regardless. In keeping with my plan of not really planning, I threw all my gear into a backpack, plugged my destination of Packwood, WA into my phone and set off. My lunch stop with my grandparents at a halfway point in Orting was my only hard commitment and I had more than enough time to enjoy my route snaking through the various rail trails of the Pacific Northwest.
I half expected to run into other attendees of the “un-meeting” on the road, but saw no one the whole way. I did see a dead elk in a ditch that I connected with ever so slightly, especially being alone on the road for as long as I was. Most people I chatted with along the way seemed surprised at my undertaking, including a grocery store clerk in Elbe that warned the last leg of my route was a heavily trafficked route with lots of potholes. With the sunset fast approaching, his description of the road did anything but put me at ease.
Fortunately, Skate Creek Road ended up being the highlight of my route, with beautiful views of Mt. Rainier, favorable grades and not much traffic at all. Seven hours, 118 miles and one flat tire later, I was in Packwood eating pizza and drinking beer with a group of cyclists I had just met. Others arrived throughout the evening, including Jan and Hahn Rossman. Despite knowing each other for only a few minutes, conversation carried us into the night and I think all of us were a bit surprised at how many had actually shown up for the “un-meeting.”
The next morning, we met at the Packwood library and received our instructions about the route. The 80-mile loop wound us through the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, up to High Rock, back down to the river and then up again to Paradise for an amazing view of Mount Rainier. The climbing on dirt roads proved difficult for me. I wasn’t used to steep, unpaved grades where getting out of the saddle meant my rear tire losing traction. Looking around and seeing others struggle was comforting, but it sure didn’t make it any easier. Though after staring at the mountain from afar the day before, it was refreshing and empowering to have it right in front of me.
With all the bumpy, dirt roads, I half expected my bike to give out. The only mechanical our group did have — a rider broke his carbon seatpost about halfway through the ride — was quickly remedied with a stick. When it came time to choose a route back to Packwood from the summit, a few of us opted for a different descent that would take us east and into new terrain. Swooping down Stevens Canyon Road, we cut through the forest at speed, drafting and racing each other all the way back to Packwood.
The following day, we prepped for our route back to Seattle, with Jan promising to cut a bit of mileage out with a shortcut through some back roads. Little did we know that “shortcut” would actually add a significant amount of climbing and distance after we trudged the wrong way up the side of a mountain for about an hour. Once we got enough elevation to get cell reception we were able determine the correct route. Despite the large amount of suffering that was had by climbing up a mountain on a dirt road in the beating sun, I don’t recall a single complaint aside from a few snickers after Jan declared, “trust me” about his prescribed route.
After descending back to the correct road, we were back on our way towards Seattle. We stopped every 40 miles or so at gas stations, refueling with snacks from convenience stores and Hahn’s newfound favorite, cucumber Gatorade. Eventually the rail trails gave way to highways and the industrial parks of the suburbs. The suburbs then turned to Seattle’s south end and central district. One by one cyclists dropped off the group, returning to their homes until it was just Jan and I. When it was time for us to say our goodbyes in Fremont, Jan told me to let him know the next time I was in town and he’d get everyone out for a ride. At that moment I no longer felt like an outsider, but just another one of the group.