Snoqualmie Pass

I woke up too late to join the paceline practice with Cascade Bicycle Club. Instead, I went on a more local ride from North Bend to Snoqualmie Pass,
the lowest way to cross from west to east over the Cascades. I parked at the “Factory Outlet” mall in North Bend, noting the “Bicyclists, Skateboards and Roller Skates prohibited” sign on entry. (This is ironic given there is a skateboard shop in the mall.) I drove around the parking lot trying to find the most inconvenient place to park, under the theory that I’m less likely to be towed if I’m nowhere anyone wants to be.

The route is straightforward:

  1. Ride the shoulder of Interstate 90 east to the summit.
  2. Go under the freeway at West or East Summit exit.
  3. Ride the shoulder of Interstate 90 west where I started.

Riding a bicycle adjacent to the freeway is surreal, especially since this is the busiest of the passes. Only ten feet of pavement and an intermittent rumble strip separated me from speeding metal carnage.
General observation: truckers know what they’re doing and will leave adequate clearance, people in RVs do not.

At each on- and off-ramp, you have to look over the appropriate shoulder to check if anyone’s entering or exiting. For offramps, I’d follow the offramp until I could see a gap in traffic behind me (as viewed by my rear view mirror), then would cut over as quickly as I could, minimizing actual time in the path of exiting traffic. Onramps were trickier because there was a definite blind spot.

Adding to the challenge was the debris on the shoulder, which seemed split
beteween stuff jettisoned from drivers and things that just fell off their vehicles. Most of the usual beer bottles, soda cans, and fast food wrappers had blown off the road onto the the grass/snow area adjacent. (America the franchise?) Left remaining were a lot of random car parts —
one mangled license plate, three lug nuts (not in the same spot), a radiator hose, two hub caps, a spark plug — and dozens of screws and nails. On a few occasions I thought for sure I had popped a tire. The high pressure of my tire merely launched them to in a random direction. For this reason, I always wear sunglasses when biking.

The ride up the hill was fine for the first 15 miles. After that, the demarcation of the shoulder disappeared and there remained a eight mile stretch that climbed 1,500′ with no obvious place to pull over and rest, thus I was committted. Every 1/4 mile or so were grates used to help drainage of the winter snow. Fortunately someone made these a lattice pattern. Just before the top was the first,
West Summit” exit replete with “facilities” supporting the ski area. Since I hadn’t quite reached the official sign, I continued. Shortly after that exit was the sign telling me I had reached 3,022′. Another half mile, and I exited the “East Summit” road to turn around. This is the small dip in the altitude chart below. Average speed up the hill was 9.6mph (2 1/2 hours) with the slowest portion being the last climb to the summit.

The downhill portion went very quickly. Even stopping once for a potty break on an unsuspecting tree, I still averaged 22.7mph on that half. On one section I passed a Washington State Patrol officer running his radar gun. I waved, he waved back, and I noted I was doing 37mph downhill, well under the 70mph speed limit.

Barreling down at speeds in the low 40s is something I don’t experience that often, and is a bit scary since every minor twich seems magnified. For comparison, on my (nearly successful) trip to Stevens Pass, I had a top speed of 35mph. On
Tour de Blast, my top speed was 38.6mph.

Weather was about as good as it gets here: 71°F and sunny. I had some mild sunburn on my wrist — I had my watch on when I was slathering sunscreen on — and the tops of my thighs. I am well on the way to having the classic biker tan like this gentleman.

Geeky data chart

5 thoughts on “Snoqualmie Pass”

  1. Nice chart! How do you get the elevations? must be a GPS that tracks and stores it as you go?

  2. > How do you get th elevations?

    I have a Polar S710 heart rate monitor that has built in altitude recording. It’s quirky, but is a nifty tool.

    Endless Pursuit has a service that leverages the sport GPS models such as the Garmin eTrex. The cool “geek” factor is positional awareness and additional random data bits to record. The GPSs have a fairly short battery lifetime, though Gardner found some interesting solutions from a local motorcycle shop.

  3. The next time you feel like biking up I-90, I suggest that you don’t simply descend the way you came. Instead, there’s a frontage road (the old I-90) that runs from Alpental down past Bandera. It’s a total blast – a big downhill with some big switchbacks. Eventually you’ll be dumped back on to the freeway.

    When I take the Iron Horse trail from Rattlesnake Ridge through the Snoqualmie Pass tunnel (you think the one at Eastgate is scary!) to Hyak, I use this route as a return. After the road ends at the freeway, there’s a few more miles you have to ride alongside the freeway before you can pick up the trail again and return the way you came.

  4. I’ve gone cycling over the pass on I-90 is something I’ve done on multiple occasions…it really isn’t so bad if you’re cycling in groups of 2 or 3 or even solo. The shoulder is quite wide. Debris can sometimes be problematic but it’s really not as bad as people make it out to be. I was wondering if anyone has data for the climb from NB to the summit of the pass…..

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