A hidden world

Posted by Daimon on May 13, 2014
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Ravenna Ravine

Above the Ravine

One of my favorite things about riding around Seattle is the multitudes of little side spots where you can transport yourself, if only for a moment, out of the urban landscape and into a different place altogether. Sometimes these are simply tiny inspirations for daydreams, like stumbling across a set of stairs which wind up into the overgrowth and out of sight. Sometimes it’s walking into a stand of trees and suddenly leaving the cement behind. And sometimes it’s heading to a park and finding the green blotch on the map hides the area’s true nature.

A sunny spring day is the perfect time to head out and look for these moments of inspiration. After more than a year in Seattle I hadn’t set foot in Ravenna Park, despite it being only a few miles away. All I knew of the park was the green salamander it draws on the city map just above the University District, so it seemed like a perfect destination for a quick jaunt.

The park isn’t particularly large, just a few blocks wide and sweeping a slow curving diagonal through the streets, forcing the traffic to move around it. Once you come across the park, the reason for the odd shape becomes clear – the park can’t be properly represented on a street map, since its defining characteristic is depth.

The park is largely a ravine that drops impressively below street level, pulling you away from the surface of Seattle quite literally, even without the ragged woods providing a curtain along the boundary of the park. It didn’t seem like the paths dropping down to the valley floor would play nicely with my road tires, but a wide graveled path along the edge worked well enough and provided a stark enough teaser of what might be found below, as the right side of the path edged behind well-made yards, while the left side dropped off into a small wilderness.

Midway through the park, a bridge spanning the ravine gives a glimpse of just how far away the center of the park recedes from the edges. It’s hardly a blip on the map from the edge to the center, but in order to move from one to the other you need to enter at the end and wind down. In the middle at the bridge, there’s no way to get from one level to the other, leaving the joggers running by in an entirely different world. One day I’ll be back to move along the floor, but this time I was left observing from above before moving across the bridge and wandering back to Seattle through the winding streets cut off from most by the contours of the park. And there, not in the park and yet still outside of the city, spring’s wildflowers were waiting in the tall grass, enjoying the sun as much as the people moving and flitting about the park’s paths.



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Better Intersections

Posted by Daimon on April 20, 2014
General / No Comments

From 99% Invisible, a video on why Dutch-style intersections provide better safety and comfort levels for bikers and pedestrians, as well as better visibility and easier reaction times for turning cars dealing with bikes and pedestrians.

Maybe it’s a bikeshare spy

Posted by Daimon on August 30, 2013
Bikeshare / No Comments

A bike well away from its natural habitat has turned up in Seattle. According to DCist:

Capital Bikeshare bikes are pretty unmistakable—they’re big, bulky, bright red, and have the distinctive “Capital Bikeshare” logo scribbled right down the middle of it— They’re so unmistakable that, if you were to spot one in, say, Seattle, you’d know it was the real deal.

And so it was that a fellow former-D.C.-resident-turned-Seattleite found a Capital Bikeshare bike from D.C. lonely on the mean streets of Seattle. Lost and wandering, unable to find home.

I’m guessing the bike was used as part of the promotions for the upcoming Puget Sound Bike Share – I’d seen them use the D.C. bikes in some of the staged photos, since there isn’t a Seattle version yet. It’s unclear how the bike got released into the wild, since if it was being used as an example, you’d think they’d want to keep it somewhere that didn’t require a U-lock.


from DCist: What The Hell Is This Capital Bikeshare Bike Doing In Seattle?

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Summer in the Sculpture Park

Posted by Daimon on August 19, 2013
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sculpture garden

Sculpture Garden

As I’ve settled into Seattle, I’ve continued to use my bike as a primary mode of transportation to commute and go from one point to another, but as I’ve also settled into a daily routine I haven’t done nearly as much exploring of the city as I should this summer. A few weeks ago I decided to slightly rectify that, getting out on a trail I hadn’t used to get to a destination I hadn’t yet seen.

My wife and I decided to set out for the Olympic Sculpture Park, which not only was a Seattle sight to cross off the list, but has the added benefit of being free. To get there we combined the Ship Canal Trail – one of my favorite short segments of trail I found in my early forays near our apartment – with the Terminal 91 Bike Path and Elliot Bay Trail along the Interbay and waterfront.

Myrtle Edwards Park

Myrtle Edwards Park

The two trails work well, as both fit a mix of water-side and industrial scenery in relatively short (and flat) stretches. The transition between the two requires a bit of on-road navigation, but even the short stretch of uphill marked as steep on the Seattle bike map is quickly over without too much exertion.

The Terminal 91 path at the north end takes you through the middle of a train yard. We checked out the graffiti and various railcars parked to the side as we headed south; the trail is well-maintained although there were a few narrow squeeze points where groups moving in opposite directions had to slow or stop to let each pass.

It continues past the nearby cruise ship terminal (and while I have no real interest in cruising, I can’t help but stop and marvel anytime I’m up close to one of those things – damn, they’re big) and along a fishing pier before turning into the Elliot Bay trail though a pair of waterfront parks (although in reality it seems like one long stretch of parkland).

In the middle of the sun-drenched summer it’s easy to forget the gloom of cloudy winter days, and you could almost take clear views of the mountain ranges on either side of the city for granted. The combination of city, water and mountains, though, is one of Seattle’s great strengths, and the trail provides. The rails are still there on one side of the grassy strip, but to the other side lies the blue waters of Elliott Bay with the Olympic peaks in the background.

The trail meets the city streets right at the base of the sculpture park, which rises above the park and over the artery of Elliott Avenue. It isn’t overly large – from the upper walkway it feels like you can see the entire grounds – but it takes advantage of its topography and a few stands of trees to create tiny pockets for discovery sprinkled throughout, along with the larger works sitting out in the open spaces. We roamed through, found a map and picked out the pieces we’d missed on first pass.

Lunch at nearby Pike Place fueled our return along Westlake back to Fremont, a satisfying day out in Seattle accomplished.

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Gasworks in the sun

Posted by Daimon on May 13, 2013
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Gasworks Park

The sun has been out in Seattle, and so last weekend I hopped on the bike and headed down the hill to Gasworks Park.

Gasworks is one of the more interesting public spaces in Seattle – a lush green lawnscape surrounding the rusting industrial hulk of a decommissioned gasworks plant.

Gasworks park

Sunny day in Gasworks

The relics and shadows of a city’s industrial past always give a silent siren call to me; for some reason the abandonment elevates the interest level.

There’s something about urban decay which allows you to feel an almost intimate connection with the spaces. The lifelessness of machinery sitting bereft of purpose provides a canvas for unconscious stories. A city is meant to be lived in, and items left behind, no longer contributing to the life of the city, can be all the more interesting for it.

Gasworks Park brings this decay, normally found in derelict warehouse districts or on the edge of industrial yards, into a vibrant center of public space. It’s this contrast which allows a rusting hunk of metal to add unexpected beauty to the greenery surrounding it.

The tangled metal piping of the gasworks stands in the middle of the park. The bulk of it is surrounded by a fence, discouraging the climbing and exploration (and trouble, certainly) the structure would otherwise bring. But there are some outlying parts of the plant which are accessible, standing right in the middle of the grass field.

On this day, most of the park’s inhabitants ignored the rust-covered metal to soak in the sun. A group of friends had set up shop behind a pavilion in an area with picnic tables I didn’t know existed before. There we ate, drank and played bocce, soaking in the sunlight and the humanity which had the same thought as us on how to spend the day.

Seattle skyline

Seattle skyline from Gasworks

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Bursting the bubble of self-delusion

Posted by Daimon on February 12, 2013
Rides / No Comments

There are only so many ways to write about not riding my bike, and far fewer ways to do it that people would actually want to read, but that’s the theme so far this winter.

Part of the problem is my inability to deal with a known bug in my brain’s calculation process. If I ride four times one week, then once the next week, then don’t ride at all, then go out two days, my brain doesn’t think, “I didn’t get out much this month – was lucky to get a ride in each week.” No, the part of my brain which makes these calculations instead feeds me this line: “I’m riding about four times a week. Good work.”

A corollary here is my inclination to weigh the benefits of riding regularly (better fitness, lower weight) and completely discount the effect not getting out might have. This was driven home on a short commuting run last week. After riding to and from campus a couple times a week and adding other rides once or twice a week, I wasn’t exactly sprinting up the hills, but the tamer rises and drops had become a forgotten fact of life. A month or so off the bike, though, left me panting at any incline, even one I’d have counted as “flat” a short time before.

Identifying these issues is far easier than combating the problems. Working from home with classes one day a week makes it easy to pass on riding in the cold and wet, and it doesn’t take long to get out of the habit entirely, staying in even when the sun is out. Facing this blog and seeing the lack of posts might be the best motivation I’ll have – I need to pick up the pace here as well as on my bike. It’s time to give myself something to write about again.

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Back in the saddle

Posted by Daimon on January 07, 2013
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It’s been a long time since I hopped on my bike and went anywhere. Nearly a month, in fact, a period of time which is far too long, but which is not without excuses – I left town over Christmas, a break in classes meant I had fewer reasons to venture out – but mostly the cold, wet and darkness of winter made it easier to drive, or stay close to home (or not go outside at all).

Carkeek path

Carkeek path

So when I saw a bit of late afternoon sunshine last week, I made a resolution to venture forth – briefly – for a short afternoon ride, and to head out in a new direction.

Cities have their own gravitational pull, geographically and culturally. From my apartment, Seattle generally pulls south (towards downtown) or east (toward the University). There’s a natural inclination to start out in those directions, not only because it means beginning with a downhill, but because those are the directions where most destinations lay. Even when starting a ride without a destination in mind, or when deciding where, exactly, to go, the unconscious inclination is to start there, in the directions to which I’ve become accustomed.

There’s nothing wrong with letting this impulse guide me most of the time – even starting on a familiar path, there are still wide variations and paths I have not yet seen. But it also makes sense to recognize the routine, and actively decide to go elsewhere, to ride toward the neglected compass points.

So when I headed outside in the thin late-afternoon sunlight, I decided to head north, a way I’d rarely ventured even in a car. For a destination (it’s generally easier for me to choose a spot on the map to head toward, rather than attempting a random route) I settled for a block of green on the map I hadn’t yet seen, Carkeek Park.

The day was chilly, but dry, with clear views across the Sound to the Olympic Mountains, views so impressive I had to stop a number of times when the vista opened on a cross street. When I reached the park, I parked the bike and started down a walking trail to see what I would find with the fading light I had left.

Mossy treeVery quickly, the trail dropped into the trees, a sliver of nature secluded from the surrounding streets. Above, there were still glimpses of houses through the bare branches – I’m sure in summer the full greenery would block even that reminder of the city from the path.

Even though the pavement was dry on my ride, once in the park a fine coat of moisture sat on all surfaces, and in places the trail turned to mud and standing water. The trees seemed to funnel and capture moisture, giving it even more of a feeling of being a separate landscape from the city. The path descended steeply down until it reached the bottom of a ravine, where it joined a wider trail which ran alongside a creek. As I was running low on light, I left the rest of the park for another day.

I rode back, stealing a few more glances of the mountains before sunset, slightly reenergized and resolved to carve out more time for riding and exploration, even in the shortened days.

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Darkness falling on exploration

Posted by Daimon on December 12, 2012
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This was mostly expected, but as the daylight hours recede – shrinking down as the sun is deep into winter hibernation – and the clouds move in, lowering the sky and dropping the blanket of cool moisture on the city, my biking activity has also dropped.

I continue to use my bike as my primary mode of transportation, riding to and from campus regardless of the weather. But the weather (and the workload of the last weeks of my inaugural quarter of grad school) have worked on the back of my brain and kept me from the longer exploratory rides I reveled in when the sun was out.

It hasn’t been a conscious decision, really. It’s just that in the past, where I might have found a spare hour or two, looked out the window and made the decision to ride, now it simply seems more appealing to spend those hours working on something else, or just drinking hot cider and listening to the raindrops on the window.

But as I continue to commute on bike, I’ve found the weather doesn’t really create a barrier to biking. In addition to the rain pants, I made a thrift store find and now have a nice breathable, waterproof jacket (this is a more versatile option than my previous decision of a non-waterproof jacket or a non-breathing rain coat – I would usually go for the non-waterproof item, as even in a heavier rain the exterior would get wet but the water rarely soaked through the interior liner). I still would like to find a better glove option, but I’m OK on that front as well. So it’s no worse biking than walking in the rain, and biking has proven to be a faster option than the bus for any of my short-hop transportation needs.

What the dreariness has done is build a mental barrier which makes it less likely I’ll just hop on and go. But now that the quarter is over and I’ll have more free hours, I’m going to try to at least occasionally step out and pedal a bit. There’s still nearly an entire city to explore.

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The hills of Seattle – my arch-enemy

Posted by Daimon on November 30, 2012
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I started this blog to see if it was actually possible to get around Seattle by bike as a very casual cyclist. After two months of casually biking around Seattle, I can absolutely say the answer is … maybe.

The weather hasn’t been as much of an issue as I would have guessed. The hills, on the other hand, are both better and worse than I initially feared. Continue reading…

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On the streets of confusion

Posted by Daimon on November 23, 2012
General, Rides / 5 Comments

Where to go?

There was a discussion in one of my classes recently about web design, and one of the most basic principles went something like this: “Don’t make your users feel stupid.”

I feel like this piece of advice should be adhered to well beyond the confines of web design. Really, in pretty much any instance where you’re trying to impart information to people, you generally want to do so without making them try to figure out what’s being said, avoid confusion and basically not make them feel stupid. So on my ride home from that class, I had to finally stop and take a picture of the strangest “helpful” road marking for bikes I’ve seen in Seattle. Continue reading…

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