The most popular permanent in the US by ridership in 2007 was the "Three Rivers Cruise" 200km permanent out of Arlington. I suspect that it's popularity stems from two features: the route is relatively scenic and it is relatively easy. That second feature sucked me in yesterday. After the deeply challenging 600km pre-ride last weekend, I was looking for a easier ride this weekend.
Last week Dan Turner posted that he and Matt Dalton would be heading down from Bellingham to Arlington for the Three Rivers Cruise. A few frequent ride companions led by Wayne Methner had already been discussing ride options for the weekend. Seeing Dan's post, which enticingly advertised a "leisurely pace," we latched onto that plan. I picked up Wayne Methner at his home around 5AM Sunday and we met Bob Brudvik along with Dan and Matt in the grocery store parking lot in Arlington for a 6AM start. (Note to caffeine addicted riders of this event: The nice coffee stand in the grocery store doesn't open until 6AM, so the start should NEVER be before 6:30!)
Grey skies and an occasional drizzle accompanied our trip up the north fork of the Stillaguamish River (river #1 of the three rivers of the ride's title). One of Wayne's oft repeated randonneur/geography/meteorology observations is that it always rains around Darrington on a brevet. Once again, he was correct.
I had not seen too much of Dan and Matt this year, so it was very nice to catch up as we rode. From the friendly convenience store in Darrington, we rode along the Sauk River (river #2) toward Rockport before turning east along the south bank of the Skagit River (river #3) to Marblemount. I can't deny that I enjoy cycling, but as gravity frequently reminds me, my first love is eating. On the way to Marblemount on the exceptionally quiet Rockport-Cascade Road, I started to obsess over the idea of a diner breakfast in Marblemount. To our dismay, the Buffalo Run was closed, but we found the Marblemount Diner around the corner to save my day. Dan and Matt decided on a quick convenience store stop instead and we wouldn't see them again until the finish. Wayne, Bob, and I, however, dug right in. As if to explain why they are both significantly faster and slimmer than I, Bob and Wayne had bowls of soup while I dug into the full all-you-can eat Sunday breakfast buffet.
From Marblemount, the route heads west on busier highway 20 to Concrete. Unlike most trips along this stretch, yesterday's ride provided no bald eagle sightings here. In Concrete, we cross the river to the South Skagit Highway - more quiet country road than "highway" really. This road is apparently on the Adventure Cycling maps for cross-country bike touring. We saw a group of loaded down riders heading east and then a short while later spotted a guy resting on the guardrail. Bob and I stopped to chat with the impressively mustachioed Portland native on his way to Maine. Fresh, clean, new bike touring gear hung all over his bike. We offered advice on places to overnight, wished him well, and headed off again.
The information control in the hamlet of Day Creek includes two questions, one of which is answered at a church in town. From previous rides, I knew that a garden hose on the side of the church would offer an opportunity to refill water bottles. For the first time, perhaps because we were riding on Sunday, there were some folks there at the church. Far from being concerned at our self-service, they let us know that not only were we welcome to the water anytime, we were also welcome to their bathrooms whenever anyone was there to let us inside. I guess they've read something somewhere about being kind to strangers. We made our appreciation of their kindness as clear as we could and set off.
Nine miles past the info control, we joined SR-9 for the 25 mile run to the finish. Four or five miles south of the intersection, Wayne pulled us off into the Big Rock Grocery (at the SR-538 intersection). Expecting only to refill my water bottles, I was delighted to find charming hospitality and delicious soup as well. Another lovely stop on our "leisurely" ride.
SR-9 is the three lakes portion of the three rivers ride - Clear Lake, Big Lake, and Lake McMurray are passed on the way back to Arlington. We met Matt and Dan in the parking lot around 3:40 and completed our post-ride paperwork over a nice cup of coffee. A great day!