Family biking *not* so trendy

Remember a couple weeks ago when family biking was trending big time? Well, I felt decidedly untrendy for our latest trip to the orthodontist. We bike-bus-bus-bike to Issaquah fairly often and the bus always provides new and interesting experiences, but today was just bizarre.

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While exiting our first of four buses (four round trip, that is) the bus driver said to me, “So I take it you’re the nanny?” He caught me off guard, reminiscent of when I was mistaken for homeless and I responded with a quick, “Uh, no, those are my kids.” I wish I’d asked him why he’d made that assumption, but we were in the middle of hopping off a crowded bus, you know. I can only guess it was because we were traveling by bike rather than in my mom-mobile minivan. Right??

Simply flabbergasted.

Even though family biking didn’t feel like an “in” thing today, infrastructure that supports family biking sure did. I saw the installation of a protected bike lane on Roosevelt Way. We ride a different part of Roosevelt Way quite a bit, but never down here–it’s just too dangerous. I have a friend who works in a building right here–with a view of the street from her desk–and I’ve promised her I’ll never bike down here; she sees crashes all the time.

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And new cargo toting fun today, too! While I’ve carried the 16″ bike (and kid!) on the old mamabike, this was my first time carrying the 20″ kid bike (though no kid). Granted it was born of laziness–I certainly didn’t want to walk the two bikes three and a half blocks to school pickup! The bike was very steady back there and could have easily traveled any distance like this. Good to know!

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OK, so here’s what I should have said to the bus driver:
“Do you think that because we’re on bikes and not in a minivan? We love biking! And we love taking our bikes on the bus. Thanks for being a Metro bus driver! I hope you’ll meet more family bikers, this is a great way to travel.” OK, maybe too saccharine. I need your help–please share in the comments what I should have said!

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Ride recap: Kidical Mass to Chuck’s Hop Shop Central District

Last Kidical Mass was a big one! 4.5 miles doesn’t look big in pixels, but U-District to Central District is hilly. Even when you take extreme care to use the flattest route possible…which we always do! Here’s a link to our route in Google maps and my smartphone lock screen map image with BIG easy-to-read streets in case you’d like to recreate our ride.

After picking up a dad and baby shortly after heading out and picking up another dad and kid at Miller Playfield, we numbered 29 by the time we arrived to Chuck’s Central District Hop Shop. That’s a lot! Especially for this time of year, with such an early start time (9:30 a.m.), and such a long ride. The forecast looked OK, but it started drizzling during the ride and didn’t let up the rest of the day.

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See all the pictures from the ride here: Flickr album: Kidical Mass to Chuck’s Hop Shop CD – January 10, 2015

Here’s one of the rare steep downhills (most everything else was moderate or steep uphill) on our ride over, through the parking lot of the St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Montlake. Don’t worry, it was followed by a steep uphill to climb out the other side of the parking lot. I hear there are plans to complete the alley adjacent to the church, connecting 19th Ave East which will hopefully be less up-and-down.

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My seven-year old biked the entire ride, there and back, and my five-year old only wanted to hitch a ride twice–first for a few blocks and the second time he changed his mind and hopped off before the others had finished stripping extra layers and watering their passengers. This worked out well because he’s a beast up through Interlaken Park and just like during last April’s Silly Hilly ride, he charged ahead while I hung back with his big brother. I think once my seven-year old gets proficient at using the gears on his Islabikes Beinn 20 Large, he’ll be much faster, but right now, the single-speed CNOC 16 is impossible to ride slow uphill. Fortunately, a couple other Cascade Bicycle Club ride leaders had come along for fun, so I swapped spots and brought up the rear for the hard part.

Another bonus was that my empty deck meant I could scoop up two sisters so their mom could have an easier trip up on her new Xtracycle. And since my five-year old was far out of sight by this point, he couldn’t see the interloper in his seat and insist on taking it back.

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South of Interlaken, we ducked into the alley between 19th and 20th…where we encountered a ROAD CLOSED blockade. I patted the new cement and determined it dry so we picked our way through. Can’t stop Kidical Mass!

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That’s the family that runs Spoke & Food heading through first. It’s one of our favorite events and we’ll bike to a participating restaurant on July 29th–save that date!

Chuck’s was packed! I had hoped arriving near the beginning of the all-day/all-night celebration would mean we’d have the place to ourselves, but that wasn’t the case at all. I think we should repeat this ride in the summer where there’s nothing special going on. With a playground pitstop included.

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I leave you with a blurry photo of my five-year old and a heart-shaped puddle–just before he took over ride leader duties and led the fast crew through Interlaken.

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Xmas tree and BIG Xmas tree by bike

In just had an awesome Christmas-tree-carrying experience two nights ago, participating in my second Point83 Christmas Tree Ride. (And here’s my recap of last year’s ride.)

But first! I carried our tree and the kids on December 5th so that was new (and fun!).

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Our tree was a little on the small side, but our neighbor let me take his much bigger tree so I felt sufficiently laden…except the difference in weight meant it didn’t work with one tree in each FreeLoader pocket–the bigger tree pulled the bike over to its side. I figured it’d be too hard to ride, but I admit I didn’t even try.

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My next try was to put the big tree along the top of the deck, but then the little tree in the pocket pulled the bike over to that side!

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I tried to stack the little tree atop the big tree along the deck, but they wouldn’t stay straight. Which probably means I didn’t lash them down tightly enough. So I settled on crosswise over the deck:

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I tried to get the little tree vertical behind the big tree, because how cute would that have been?? But the trunk was a teeny bit too big to fit into the Yepp seat bracket so it didn’t seem stable.

So I’m a little disappointed in myself for this next part because I’m more of a “hastily throw on the cargo at the last minute and hope for the best” sort, but I took a test run to check the trees’ stability. It went well!

I was a bit wider than a car so I stretched rubber bands around the two trunks and attached front and rear lights to each, to mark my “wings” and I shaped my twinkle lights into a big heart, hoping that would endear me to the people stuck driving behind me.

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I also carefully chose my route to Westlake Park–I opted to avoid bike lanes, like the one up 34th from Stone to the Fremont Bridge since I’d stick out so much. Instead, I kept to the Burke-Gilman Trail under the bridge and circled back up and around. This was also nice since I could use the contraflow bike lane by PCC and have my own light to cross the bridge–I’d have to take the lane over the bridge so I liked that I’d have 10 seconds or so before the cars coming down Fremont Ave caught up to me.

Unfortunately, I was a bit late and the ride left right on time. I thought 7:15 meant the crowd would start gathering at 7:15 and leave quite a bit later, but at 7:35, when I was a few blocks away, a women riding the other direction called to me that they’d left and I should turn around. Since I was so close I hit the park anyway and see if there were other latecomers to ride with. I hadn’t considered missing the ride and therefore hadn’t put any thought into wide-bike routing.

Thankfully I found a few people bound for the ride and headed north with a dude named Doug. He had plans to bring a tree and even practiced (I’m not the only one!) with it in his messenger bag, but his neighbors sent it out with their curbside recycling while he was at work. Taking the lane over the Ballard Bridge wasn’t too bad, but would have been much more fun (and not at all scary) in a huge group. We caught up to the pack at Peddler Brewing, where they had stopped to load extra trees. So I got a bit of a group ride after all. Doug’s the treeless guy in front of me in my first video. Doug wasn’t the only treeless rider, but the majority of us were packing pine.

I worked my way up through the crowd enough to get my first look at the music bike. My video doesn’t adequately capture how loud it is.

The tree burning went quickly. Joby in his fire suit and Fred in a tree costume did most the flame feeding.

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Josh Trujillo’s Christmas trees set ablaze in annual tradition slideshow for Seattlepi.com has the best photos, including the extinguishing by the fire department at the end–boo!

After the early end to the evening, most everyone migrated to another park. On the way there, I happened upon a woman on her way to the beach with a tree tied to her back with her clothesline. She didn’t want to continue along with us, but happily gave me her tree. New tree! And thank goodness I had a set of kid scissors with me–which I had brought along in case I had trouble freeing my trees from my bike (which I did, I used them to chop off an old innertube holding the big tree to the deck). I felt bad destroying her clothesline, but it took five snips and she was very relieved to have it off.

And then I got to throw it in the second fire myself–woo hoo!

Family biking trending into 2015

Happy New Year!

‘Tis the season for “trend” articles and a couple just came out, each with family biking at the top of the list:

It’s an honor to be personally mentioned in both of ‘em.

The kids and I trended our way into the new year with colds…since ’tis the season for that, too. But the sun was shining and we needed groceries so we hopped on the Big Dummy. We paused briefly on the way to test out a possible Team Family Ride motto for 2015:
You can pick your nose, you can’t pick your public art, but you *can* pick your public art’s nose.
Not sure it’ll stick, but we’ll find some other public art to poke our fingers in and see how it smells.

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I love how easy it is to stop en route for quick, fun stops like this while traveling by bike. We also dinged our bells and hollered “Happy New Year!” to everyone we saw, which included two family biking families (trend!). And we made a pit stop at the lake to toss in a few rocks while shouting “Polar bear plunge!” but since Green Lake is currently overrun with toxic algae, rocks and sticks were the only things taking the plunge this New Year’s Day.

Shopping was great: bought a lot, but it all fit on the bike and I got to shrug off the offer of help out to my car by letting the checker and bagger know we came by bike and were therefore able to park right outside the door. Heading home was great, too, but I lost the draw and had to hop off the bike to push the “beg button” to cross busy North 50th Street. I can usually count on my seven-year old to take care of button pushing. Ha, in both senses of the phrase.

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This naturally got me a bit grumpy about push-to-walk buttons in general. Here’s a nice article on Gizmodo, “Why Do Pedestrians Have to Press ““Beg Buttons” to Cross the Street?”, which will hopefully make you grumpy, too, because while trendy family bikers love company out on the streets, grumpy beg-button pushers love company in their grumpiness.

And then 10 blocks later we found money! Someone had tossed a dozen coins into the street so we stopped to retreive them. A buck twenty! This was a block after we left the Neighborhood Greenway and a block still from home, so a nice, quiet street. You can see a car coming down the street towards us; I was able to easily wave them around, but I’m not sure my “Woo hoo! Money in the street!” pantomiming came through. Easier to communicate things like that to people on bikes…or at least to people in cars who drive around with their windows rolled down.

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So that was our little trend-setting day. Heh, I did worry that many of the people we shouted New Year’s greetings to assumed we were out for a special first-day-of-the-year ride and not doing our usual thing. Family biking certainly is a terrific way to start the year. Followed up by family biking every day thereafter. Though having said that, no New Year’s Resolutions for me this year (or any year lately because I pretty much killed it 15 years ago when I resolved to eat every item on the Taco Bell menu over the course of the year. Shudder, still.) But lemme know if you’ve got one that’s bike related! I know of several people determined to bike every day of 2015, which I wholeheartedly support and will maybe try some year myself.

HNY!

And if you want to join the trend, come on my next Kidical Mass ride! Saturday, January 10th Kidical Mass to Chuck’s Hop Shop Central District Anniversary Party. Or just come hang out at Chuck’s if that’s easier. No family bike required! We’re an inviting bunch and love to share our bikes for test rides.

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Kidical Mass to Olympic Manor Holiday Lights 2014

This was our third group ride (Critical Lass in 2012 and Kidical Mass in 2013) through the Olympic Manor holiday lights. Last year proved a little early in the season and not all the houses were decorated, so waiting until the 21st this year worked out well. Plus, the kids got to shout “Happy Solstice!” to everyone in addition to “Merry Christmas!” and “Happy Chanukah!” The weather was perfect and we had 20 participants.

My original plan was to leave home early in the day, like last year, because it’s difficult to rally to get out the door once it’s late in the day and dark. However, a sick five-year old kept us home all day (he slept from 5:00 p.m. Saturday to 2:00 p.m. Sunday!) so rather than cancel the ride, I opted to take the old mamabike and stick him in the trailer with a blankie and stuffed animal. He was eager to hang out and stay awake for a while so it worked out well. Thank goodness my seven-year old is still light enough that he fits in the Bobike maxi rear seat. But I have to admit this setup was pretty heavy for the eight-speed Bianchi Milano and gave me a reminder how much I respect those with insufficient gear range for our hilly city and/or those saving up for electric assist bikes who are struggling for the time being.

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Part of the fun of a holiday lights ride is stringing extra lights on one’s bike, but due to the last-minute vehicle change, I tossed on what leftover battery-operated lights I could find before rushing out the door. I attached my seven-year old’s shark handlebar bag to hold the battery packs and wrapped red and white strands around my top tube, candy cane style. These lights aren’t waterproof, by the way, but they’ve lasted a few seasons, which is apparently not bad per Car Free Days: Light Up Your Bike with Battery-Powered-Holiday-Lights one- or two-season light estimate. The little white and red lights are from Ikea and the blue lights on my rear baskets are from Bartell Drugs.

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The timing worked well this year, we gathered at the playgroud at Loyal Heights Community Center at 4:00 p.m. while it was still a bit light out so we could see one another and I could get some pictures of the bikes.

All my pictures are here in the Flickr gallery.

I was fifteen minutes late to the park–oops–so we probably ended setting out around 4:45 which proved perfect.

My bike-by photos were all blurry so I might have us do a start/stop tour next year if the weather is as good and all the kids are cool with that–sometimes it’s not so fun for passengers when the momentum stops repeatedly. Thank goodness holiday Yoda and Darth Vader (with lightsabers!) came out OK:

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And my favorite, the Flying Spaghetti Monster in Santa hat.

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Behold the FSM! The kids were all impressed, too.

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I wish I’d thought to do a group shot at the start when it was still a bit light, but our group shot in the dark is good one:

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We arrived to Grumpy D’s Coffeehouse at 5:30 p.m. There’s a warm fireplace near a group of comfy chairs, plenty of table seating, and toys! I didn’t stay for the afterparty this year due to sick kid, and three other families peeled off during the course of the ride as they got close to home, but several families stayed for peppermint hot chocolate and other treats.

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After getting the ride a bit lost last year which resulted in us doing the loop in the opposite direction and climbing a huge hill, I decided to up my route map game a bit. My regular system is a bit convoluted: I take a screen shot of my Google map directions and paste it into Photoshop where I type in each street name REALLY BIG so I can see it on my small phone screen easily. Then I email the image to myself so I can download it on my phone. My old system was to just save the image to my camera roll, but then as I take pictures during the ride I have to scroll farther and farther back to see the map. So this time I set it as my lock screen and could see it with just a quick push of a button!

And with this and checking our position on the real map, we stayed on course.

However–and this is mainly a note to myself for next year–we’ll turn off at NW 95th Street next year. Riding down 96th afforded us a beautiful view of the Sound, but it’s a busy street without any spectacular lights we would have missed. Plus we’d cut out one uphill block of 23rd by turning earlier. Everyone seemed fine with the amount of hills–it wasn’t too hilly of a ride, but it’s nearly impossible to avoid some climbing in Seattle. The three Xtracycle EdgeRunner longtails had BionX electric assists and the Larry vs Harry Bullitt longjohn had an Ezee front hub assist, but the two regular bikes, the Yuba Boda Boda midtail, the tandem, and my rig were regular ol’ pedal-and-sugary-candy-cane powered.

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Happy holidays!

Happy third birthday, Big Dummy!

The best bike in the world has turned three! Happy birthday, big girl! Three cheers for the Surly Big Dummy!

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A couple big changes with bike-related life over the last year, but just little changes with the actual birthday bike. The kid seat isn’t in the photo above, but we’re still rolling Yepp seat for the five-year old at the back of the FlightDeck and stoker bars for the seven-year old at the front. I’m still thinking about switching to an Xtracycle Hooptie soonish. Maybe after winter. Which is what I said last winter. Minor additions are: an Xtracycle Mini MagicCarpet seat pad for the front kid and mudflaps from T Leatherworks with cool silver cogs on them. The front mudflap is completely new, the rear one a replacement.

And some choice highlights since her last birthday:

You probably noticed the recap list is a lot shorter than last year’s. We’ve been doing just as much family biking, most of it on the Big Dummy, but I haven’t been blogging as much of it–and it all started exactly a year ago, on her second birthday. The appointment to which she and I biked was a meeting with Mountaineers Books about writing a guide to urban bicycling. So blogging has taken a back seat to working on that. Look for it next fall!

And the other big news is: I’M CAR FREE. So exciting. And about time, right? The car’s title is still in my name so I haven’t really felt official yet and will make a more proper announcement with details at some point soonish, but it’s so nice to be rid of my car. Yippee! And with the departure of the car, came the arrival of a new bike, a Surly Straggler that the poor Big Dummy had to spend her birthday babysitting. I can totally relate–so hard to become a big sibling and suddenly share time with one’s baby sister (or in my case, colicky baby brother)–but I know they’ll be best buds in time.

Which relates to more change in the form of growing children: both kids are in school five days a week. Last year, my younger son was in preschool three half days a week, with me volunteering there once every couple weeks, but now both kids are at the same school 9:30-3:30 Monday through Friday, a mere two blocks from home. So we walk (Walk! It’s quicker than biking!) to school and before the Straggler I’d been heading out with my road bike and laptop in my backpack (granted, an awesome All-City Low Profile backpack I won at Menstrual Monday Girls of Summer two years back). This worked OK, but I’d been dreaming about a true commuter bike with eyelets for a rack so I could get Swift Industries panniers to carry my laptop more comfortably and sturdy fenders instead of my road bike’s clip-on fenders, which are certainly better than nothing, but often rub against my tires.

So my poor birthday girl had to deal with towing her pesky baby sister around on her birthday because I’d dumped the Little Struggler at Back Alley Bike Repair for a front-rack install the day before. Oh yeah, the baby bike gets a name, yet the Big Dummy is still nameless outside of the very generic “the Mamabike”. And to add insult to injury, the Dummy had a broken front gear cable fixed; no one likes seeing the doctor on her birthday. But look, fun stuff, too! The bikes went to the movies:

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And had a GIANT POPSICLE:

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And checked out the ducks at the Lake Union Park model boat test pond:

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The small bike (just 32.4 pounds to the Big Dummy’s 74.6 pounds!) is really a joy. The kids are riding more and more on their own, though at 7 and 5, they’re certainly not safe riding on all Seattle streets, but we’re doing more and more riding separately, which is another thing to appreciate in the “new” column. I still primarily take the Big Dummy if we’re on separate bikes because odds are I’ll carry one of them at some point on a trip. But some day we’ll do more riding all on one-person bikes.

As a good example of the kids getting bigger, the night before the Big Dummy’s birthday, I dragged the kids to a school meeting at a house a half mile away, all uphill. All our biking means we don’t walk as much as many families, but they can handle this kind of walk now! So we left the bike at home and walked, and it was great. And to be completely honest, walking uphill is easier for me than biking us all uphill. I’ve slightly changed my route up to our house from the Burke-Gilman Trail to make the climb a little more gradual and compensate for the heavier kids, but it’s still working just fine to carry the both of them.

And of course the Little Struggler will be a kid-carrying bike of some sort, too. I’ve put the rack for the Burley Piccolo trailer bike on it, but it might need some adjustments before it can handle the weight.

And it’s a cargo bike, too! The night before the Cascade Bicycle Club bike move I was at Peddler Brewing Company filling a growler and mentioned the bike move. The next thing I knew, I had borrowed their Haulin’ Colin heavy duty trailer. It felt very weird attending a bike move without my cargo bike, but look at how much I could carry! Naturally, I had to put a Bike Rodeo Kit on top since that’s what I usually carry away from CBC.

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Don’t feel too bad for the Big Dummy, she got to celebrate her birthday properly come evening. After school, the kids and I biked to the grocery store. Kids and groceries: what she does best! And then we headed to Peddler Brewing Company (yes, kid friendly!) for the graduation ceremony of the latest Cascade Bicycle Club Advocacy Leadership Institute class. I was in the first round of graduates two years ago and went to cheer the new bike advocates.

Demonstrating the sturdiness of the Big Dummy and the Rolling Jackass centerstand in the ALI grad party photobooth:

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Here’s to yet another wonderul year with the Big Dummy! Thanks so much for reading along.

Ride recap: Third Annual Thanksgiving Family Group Ride

Our Third Annual Thanksgiving Family Group Ride was a huge success! We started with 27 participants and grew to 33 by the end after picking up two families along the way. One family went the other way around the lake, which worked well for finding us, but I’ll be clear to announce CLOCKWISE LOOP next year.
See all 122 photos here.

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I kept with last year’s rough timeline:

10:00 – Start gathering at Gas Works (near the play barn)
10:30 – Depart
11:00-12:00 – Playground at Waterway 5 by Daniel’s Broiler
12:30 – Starbucks warm-up stop
1:30 – Back to Gas Works

…except the playground stop was more like 11:30 to 12 and we got back to Gas Works Park close to 2pm.

Everyone was able to stay with the ride the whole time this year! I think it helped to have the timeline so those with cooking and nap obligations stayed away, though on all Kidical Mass rides–and especially this one–families are welcome to drop off early if need be.

As with all rides in which my five-year old rides his own bike, I had to stop the ride several times. First for a water sip and a bit farther along, as you can see in the picture below, to load him onto my bike because he was too tired to go on. At least it makes for a nice group picture and I feel like it sets an accurate example of how one must sometimes be flexible when biking with kids.

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I thought we had fun dealing with steep Hamlin and Yale Terrace and mused about naming the hill something fun for next year. Hellacious Hamlin? Tantrum Terrace? But it turned out not to be so popular with everyone so I’ll take a vote about changing the route for next year. I dislike riding the sidewalk of Eastlake, especially with a big group, but I think we’d need to stay up on Eastlake for three sidewalk blocks were we to avoid the hills.

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We added a new element to the ride this year–a stop at a Pronto Cycle Share station for the kids to climb on the docked bike share bikes.

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And shortly after we were at the real playground at Waterway 5. The sun shone on us for a brief minute there–I snapped a picture with shadows!

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Then three circles around the model boat test pond in Lake Union Park (photo taken while standing on my FlightDeck):

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And snacks, restroom break at Starbucks.

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As we approached Gas Works Park at the end of our loop I decided I shouldn’t make everyone cross Northlake Way to enter the park since most of us would be heading one way or the other along the Burke-Gilman Trail. So we pulled into the little area at the Wallingford Steps. It was a bit awkward given the last-minute change of stopping point, but I think I like this for future rides…with advance notice so we can all pull off the trail to take one last group shot and say our goodbyes.

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Here’s the map:

And recaps from 2013 and 2012.

Hope to see you out there next year!