Thursday, August 14, 2008

A bus to the Snoqualmie Valley. Three, actually.

I took a bus ride with my son to the Snoqualmie Valley last weekend. We brought bikes. He'd just turned 11 years old and I wanted to take him on a big summer adventure, far beyond the usual in-city activities. So I sold him on the idea of a two-day bike ride over the Cascades and through the fabled 2-mile-long Snoqualmie Tunnel.

This would be a long ride for an 11-year-old boy, with the worst hills on the route somewhat paradoxically close to Seattle, just beyond the Sammamish River Trail in Woodinville. So I decided to skip past them by busing to the flat Snoqualmie Valley.

It turns out that very few buses go that way in the morning, and the ones that do have relatively complex connections.

The bus that gets to the Snoqualmie Valley is the King County Metro #929, which is the size of a large van. Only three run per day, only one of them in the morning. They start in downtown Redmond.

Not too many buses go from Seattle to downtown Redmond, either, just the Sound Transit #545, which I rode quite often last year. The 545 crosses Lake Washington on the SR-520 floating bridge, and has the luxury of a three-bike rack, but this still isn't nearly enough for the demand, so if we wanted some assurance of getting a spot together, we would have to catch it earlier on its route, from downtown. This necessitated using a third bus to get downtown, the King County Metro #358, one of the most heavily used routes in Metro's entire system, though little-used by bicyclists.

We left early, to compensate for any missed connections we might experience due to wave-offs. I woke up to Christy McWilson and Dave Alvin's cover of Moby Grape's classic "8:05" playing in my head, I figure 'cause that's the time I wanted to get on the road. We didn't quite make that, meaning that we would miss our first bus, but we still had plenty of wiggle room left. We rode up the sidewalk on Aurora Avenue another quarter mile to catch the next bus earlier on its route, then caught it, no problem. There were no other bikes on its rack.

Downtown, we got off at 5th & Wall, then biked over to 8th & Olive, where we would catch the 545. We arrived at the same time as that bus, which had no bikes on its rack, but unfortunately its driver didn't see us waving at him from across the street and left without us. We caught up three blocks later at a stop light, a place where no stop existed, and he told us he would wait for us at his Bellevue Avenue stop a few blocks ahead, God bless him. I don't think English was his first language, as he neglected to tell us that his bus turned right onto Bellevue Avenue and so I churned up the hill, actually beating him to the intersection, and sailed on through. He turned right behind me, where I couldn't see him. By the time I turned around to look, he was gone. I imagine he saw me go through the intersection, waited a few seconds at the stop anyway, shook his head sadly, and went on.

So, we rode back down the Olive Way hill to our original stop to wait for the next bus. By that time, another bicyclist was already there, and when that next bus came along a few minutes later, there were already two bikes on its rack. He got the third one, and we got to wait for our third 545 of the morning. We were actually still in good shape, as I'd allowed plenty of extra time, but I was starting to get concerned.

The next bus came along maybe two minutes later; the two earlier buses must have been late. And huzzah, there were no bikes on its rack, so we mounted up and headed for deepest Redmond. As usual, the bus was pretty well full by the time we got to Overlake where all the Microsofties exited. It was virtually empty by the time we got to downtown Redmond. We were still 20 minutes early for the 929, thank goodness. My son rode around in the skate park next to the transit center while we waited.

The 929 is one of the few buses in the King County Metro system that doesn't require an official stop for people to get off; all you have to do is tell the driver where you'd like to go, and he'll get as close as he can to that spot on his route. I'd planned to get off at the intersection of Novelty Hill Road and the West Snoqualmie Valley Road, but when I told the driver our final destination, he suggested that we might want to get off 1/4 mile later, as that stretch of the West Snoqualmie Valley Road is curvy and narrow. Bus drivers rock! We took him up on it and held up traffic briefly at the light while we took our bikes off the rack, then headed over the 124th Street bridge across the river and picked up the Snoqualmie Valley Trail on the other side. The rest of that ride is another story entirely, and a lot more of an adventure than getting to it in the first place, but at least with a little extra time we were able to get there safely; it took us two hours to bus those 25 miles, of which almost 45 minutes was spent waiting for buses in one place or another, much of which would've been avoidable if the buses' capacity to carry bikes wasn't so limited, but we got there safe, sound, and ready for an adventure.

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