Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Seafair By Bike

I took the family to Seafair last weekend. After 18 years in Seattle I'd never been, but I thought our kids needed some exposure to a little of Seattle's older, more unique traditions. We got a good deal on tickets at a school auction, so we went. I figured traffic would be horrible, so I looked for an alternative to driving there.

Shuttle buses cost $5 for every rider, including kids, which would have added up to more than the admission. A regular bus running right through our neighborhood could have taken us to within a mile of the park entrance, and it looked like it would be no problem catching a ride on that bus since we would get on early on its route, but coming back looked like it could be ugly: everyone getting onto the bus at the same time, and buses only running twice per hour.

So we biked. It would have been a little far for the younger kids, so for the only time all weekend, I used a car, though only for part of the route. We had a good weekend all around, running what errands we need to on foot or by bike. One errand had me wheeling my bike into an auto parts store for a quart of oil. The clerk asked if it was for the bike.

(I don't think he sees a lot of bicyclists there, but some of us bike or use transit when we can, and drive when we have no other choice.)

Five bikes hung or stood on various bits of our minivan to Denny Blaine Park, which I figure was about four miles north of Genesee Park, the main entrance to Seafair. It was far enough away that I guessed hardly anyone else would be doing what we were and I guessed right; there was plenty of parking there even though parking lot was small. Most of the route from there to Genesee Park was on Lake Washington Blvd, which is pretty highly frequented by bicyclists during the summertime, so I figured drivers there would be more careful of us, and especially our kids who don't always move in a predictable line. The plan worked beautifully. There was a little bit of hill climbing to get from Lake Washington Blvd to the main park entrance, but we were in for a big surprise when we arrived: REI was sponsoring a valet bike parking tent. Maybe 40 other people used it, which seemed like a disappointing turnout, but for us it was unbelievably convenient. Sure, other people might have had VIP entrances, and tickets to lakeside tents that required special passes, but we got in and out a lot more easily than almost any of them did. The REI tent even had a free-spin wheel where they gave away yet more swag, and from which we were lucky enough to come away with a pair of bike water bottles plus a few things the kids thought more highly of.

I love REI!

The rest of the way down to the lake was a sea of military recruiters with 18-wheel simulators. I have no idea what went on inside those, and fortunately my kids are all too young to be either interested in them, or of interest to the recruiters staffing them. 

Seafair itself was about what we expected. The Blue Angels drew the most interest, but people grooved on the hydros, too. My kids have seen the hydro challenge on the SAFECO Field scoreboard enough times, plus a few races on TV, but this was the first time they got to see them in person. It was a nice way to see part of an old Seattle tradition, before Seattle became just another dot on the increasingly homogenous U.S. map.

Coming back, my wife flatted and I didn't have all the tools I needed to fix it, which was a good reminder to get my supplies together before our big weekend trip, so my sons and I went on while my wife and daughter got a treat at Starbucks. Then we drove back and picked everyone up. She got her tire fixed the next day, and I should now have everything I need to fix a bike this weekend.

If we ever go back to Seafair again, which may depend a lot on what our kids think of that idea next summer, we'll probably do the same thing we did this year: park at Denny Blaine and bike the rest of the way; no traffic to speak of with free valet bike parking. Nice!

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