The Stinky Spoke Poker Bicycle Ride through hills and trails in northeast King County is the brainchild of organizer Todd Cowles, who started it more than five years ago to benefit a nonprofit that helps people with disabilities — the Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center in Woodinville.
Cowles felt sure he could get hardcore riders out on one of the Seattle area’s worst weather days of the year, the second Saturday in January, and has been proven right. The first ride in 2008 drew only 110 riders, but the last three have drawn 900 or more, including last Saturday’s sixth-annual ride.
I learned a lot about this event last year in writing an article about Wimmer Solutions’ Community Challenge Awards, where Cowles was named a 2012 winner for his community service for organizing the event. I made it a point to ride in the event in 2013, making it my eighth organized ride since I started doing riding events in 2011.
What I didn’t learn was that this 22-mile course can be dangerous in spots, especially in icy conditions. There are narrow trails, icy bridges, huge mud puddles, and a couple of steep downhill sections that I had to walk my bike down. Fortunately, I got through it with no injuries and only one embarrassing spill that no one else saw.
Here’s a ride summary:
- No way could I climb that first hill: They call it Heartbreak Hill. Less than a mile into the ride, which starts and finishes at the Redhook Ale Brewery in Woodinville, you leave the Sammamish River Trail and head up a long, intimidating hill on the Tolt Pipeline Trail. Call me a wuss, but I haven’t trained on enough hills yet this year to even attempt to ride up this monster. About 75 percent of the riders walked their bikes the mile to the top. One show-off, however, ride to the top, went back down, and rode up again a second time. Those who rode all the way earned medallions. He got two.
- Narrow gate openings, but I can handle that: You remain on the Tolt Pipeline Trail for several miles, and it becomes a series of rolling hills. This east-west trail is gated on each side of the many roads and paths going north and south, and the gates are kept locked to keep cars off the trail. Bicyclists need to navigate one by one through narrow openings on the side of each gate, forcing everyone to slow down. Annoying, but I can deal with that.
- Abrupt change to narrow watershed trails: All right, so I wasn’t ready for this. Suddenly, we were riding through the Redmond Watershed Preserve, on the type of dirt trails I’d never ridden on before. This was an adventure. Amidst the trees and brush, I didn’t know where I was or where I was going; I seriously didn’t want to get a flat tire, because I couldn’t tell anyone where I was. Fortunately, my seven-speed Schwinn hybrid was a better bike for this ride than the Trek road bike I am seriously hoping to get soon (a belated Christmas present, actually).
- A few near-mishaps, and then, the big spill: I let quite a few riders go by me, and I rode this part very conservatively (read: slow). My bike was skidding on icy parts, forcing me to a stop several times trying to get to the top of a minor incline. Lots of narrow, sharp turns. On one, my bike simply gave out and I landed smack-dab on my left side. I had visions of a Tour de France-style crash and pileup about to ensue. But, no one was close behind me. I picked myself up, shook off the pain (minor bruise), and started riding again. This is our little secret, OK?
- Heading back up and then down. Boy, did it feel good to get out of the woods and hit pavement again. But because we had to climb a hill to get to this side, we had to climb another one to get back to the other side. It was a challenge, but much less of one than Heartbreak Hill and I actually enjoyed it. It was the steep downhill that followed that I could have done without. One spill was enough, I’d decided. Twice I looked down at narrow trails with elevator-style drops. Gulp. I walked my bike down sections of both. Finally, I got to the bottom of it all.
- The best part: The last, flat four miles. Once at the bottom, a few yards away, mercifully, was the Sammamish River Trail again. Flat. Pavement. Tired riders I could pass. I got on my horse and had a strong finishing kick back to Redhook. It took me just over three hours to do this entire ride, but finishing unhurt was the most important thing.
Oh yes, must say a word about the poker hand. There were three stops along the route where you picked up cards, and you got your final two at the finish line. The best hands were eligible for prizes. My first three cards were a king of diamonds, king of spades, and 2 of spades. I neglected to get the last two. I’m not much of a poker player. I hung around the Beer Garden for awhile to see if there was anyone I knew, then left.
All in all, this might have been a fun ride on a warm day. But it will always be cold and icy, or else a torrential downpour, this time of year in the Seattle area. So I probably won’t do this ride again. Sorry, Todd. I appreciate all you do here to benefit the Little Bit. Call me a wuss.
Thanks for reading. Till next time.