Bibliothèques By Bike

2014/12/8 // Beach Day!

  • Weather: dry and mild
  • Topography: Mostly flat
  • Actual beaches visited: 0

The beginning and end points of today’s ride are far apart. About 13 miles one way, in fact, but I’m not referring to the Cartesian distance. I start my journey on a well-paved multi-use trail adjacent to the ship canal. I cycle past joggers and other cyclists. (Okay, I get passed by some bikers too.) I can see the water. Then I ride south for a while, and the last thing I do before arriving at the library is cross Rainier Avenue S., one of the most dangerous streets in the city. A Halloween accident injured ten pedestrians; an SUV crashed into a salon in August, injuring seven. This is in the last six months.

The Cascades are out today. I first see them as I cross the Montlake bridge. Against the backdrop of clouds they look like they belong in a diorama cut by some child from a sheet of white cardboard.

I enjoy riding through the Montlake neighborhood as much as always, but today I turn left early so I can pedal among the trees on Lake Washington Blvd. I miss my street and am forced to quite literally pedal among the trees — see the title picture — before I find my way down to the boulevard snaking through the arboretum. I recognize the Ilex collection as I roll past. I’d like to thank my wife’s Botany class and her incessant repetition of Ilex Crenata and Acer Palmatum (et cetera).

The Bush School’s sculpture

Soon I cross Madison. On my right is the concrete sculpture in front of the Bush School; probably Seattle’s only curved square. I descend to Lake Washington. I cruise south on the boulevard.

Everything about this part of the ride blurs together. Sure, it’s long, but it’s smooth sailing on perfectly graded asphalt. To my left, the bottom quarter of Mount Rainier is visible. I can see the base, but picturing the rest of its immensity is left as an exercise to the rider.


Not my photo of the “right of way” sign. I saw it and later on regretted not stopping.

Further south, through Leschi. I pass the Polkadot Jersey. An oasis on hot days, they keep twin coolers of water and electrolyte drink on the sidewalk in front of the shop. Back on to concrete and under I-90, one of the few places where one bike lane passes directly under another.

The concrete gives way to more perfect asphalt. I pass the Mount Baker neighborhood and am reminded of its namesake. I glance over my left shoulder. Mount Baker is arresting in the morning sunlight; covered in snow and towering golden over the northern Cascades. Just after Genessee Park I take a right on 50th and climb towards central Seward Park. The bike lanes are wide and traffic’s quiet. It’s a stiff climb up to the top of the hill where I find a micro-village center. Coffee shop, PCC, laundry, burger joint, pet store. I blink and I’m through it.

Riding the downhill stretch into Rainier Beach is uneventful. I swing right past the high school. Out front, students toss a football; in back the asphalt playground is lively. Some kids are crossing the street on their way back from picking up lunch. It’s a shame that they must cross Rainier Avenue South to get to school.

Speaking of Rainier Ave., Google Maps has told me that I should ride south on the major arterial for the last block of my journey. I take neighborhood streets instead. The library is spacious with high ceilings and large windows overlooking the neighborhood. Shortly after I sit down, there’s a bit of a kerfuffle between a librarian and a guy sitting at my table. His earbuds are broadcasting music to half the building. I brace myself for a conflict, but the music enthusiast mutters, “I don’t mean no disrespect!” and lowers the volume. Diplomacy in action.

By the time I get around to interviewing the librarian, it’s not the guy who defused the delicate situation, which would have served as a good lead-in. Instead, this librarian doesn’t feel comfortable answering questions on paid time. He suggests I write up and print a survey, then distribute it (along with self-addressed, postage-paid envelopes) to the librarians at each branch. That way the librarians will be able to respond to the questions in their own time and send me their thoughts. I can’t fault his reasoning; it’s solid. But I’m not going to follow through. I’ll have to leave it at “the librarian at the Rainier Beach branch was unavailable for comment.”

The return trip along Lake Washington Blvd. is in near-complete darkness; trees take the place of streetlights. I pedal into the glare of headlights returning from downtown. We’re all returning home after a day of work while the Cascades watch over our comings and goings, silent in the gloaming.

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