When you ride your bicycle across Lake Washington’s Interstate 90 bridge, you get a distinct buzzing in your ears, but don’t worry about your health. It’s the sound of traffic speeding across the bridge’s expansion joints, and combined with the Doppler effect it can be aurally thrilling.
A different thrill comes from traversing the Deception Pass Bridge, high above the crashing surf, with tourist traffic lumbering around you.
Yet another feeling comes on the floating Hood Canal Bridge, eight miles from the Kingston ferry dock, as the broad waters of the canal stretch on either side while you spin across the span toward the woods beyond.
Seattle’s highest bridge challenge is the towering Aurora, where your wheels are 167 feet above the west edge of Lake Union.
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The generous bike-pedestrian path along the newer of the two windswept Tacoma Narrows bridges is not nearly as thump-inducing as the stingy old one.
Whether fun or slightly frightening, all five spans have one thing in common: They signal an adventure.
“You never know what’s on the other side of the bridge,” says Corey Krantz, of Burien, who plans to tackle the I-90 floating bridge for the first time this spring. “That’s the next horizon,” he says. “I’m thinking if I can make it to Snoqualmie Falls, going to Portland wouldn’t be that much different.”
In the center of a span, unobstructed views deliver our best sights: Mount Rainier looming over the trees, the Olympics beyond Ballard, sailboats and sea life plying glittering waters.
And the ends of the bridges hold more discoveries. Slip down the trail under the Deception Pass bridge to gape at its massive steel trusses. A similar sense of awe can be had under the south end of the Aurora Bridge, whose arches soar impossibly over a tiny clutch of floating homes.
Contemplate the Hood Canal Bridge, which opens by lifting one section of decking and sliding another under it, from a picnic table at the Salsbury Point County Park on its Kitsap County edge, or from the log-strewn beach at Shine Tidelands State Park on the Jefferson County side.
In Tacoma, take a break at the renovated War Memorial State Park, which had been waterside where the new suspension bridge’s concrete girders would land and was moved uphill.
At Deception Pass, you’ll learn that its swirling waters are actually spanned by two bridges, Deception Pass Bridge and Canoe Pass Bridge.
Portals to somewhere
The combined quarter-mile ride across that pass links two islands. Do not be deceived, as was Capt. George Vancouver, into thinking you’re traveling to a peninsula — you are going from Whidbey Island to Fidalgo Island, or vice versa. South is the adjacent park, and north is the Tommy Thompson Trail, a converted railroad trestle that cuts through Fidalgo Bay into Anacortes.
If you’re on I-90, hop over Mercer Island to Bellevue. Take a rest break trailside at Mercer Slough and watch the birds as traffic roars alongside. Or if you’re on a city ride, take the high route from Fremont to Queen Anne on Aurora and save yourself a big climb.
In Tacoma, escape the city into the Key Peninsula, where the lower-traffic roads lead five miles to Gig Harbor, or to tiny Fox Island. Or cycle Tacoma’s bike lanes up to Point Defiance Park and cap the ride with a soda fountain treat at Don’s Ruston Market. (Tip: try a “phosphate.”)
Whichever bridge you tackle, do it safely, urges Robin Randels, classes coordinator for the Cascade Bicycle Club.
Watch for slippery debris or a soggy drift of sand, she says, and always approach those expansion joints cautiously. “They can be grabby, so keep weight off the front wheel so you can glide over them.”
Wind is an issue on many bridges, including high crosswinds that have even sent two of our bridges — the Narrows (1940) and the Hood Canal (1979) — to the briny deep in major storms. “If it’s blowing you, I would get off and walk,” Randels advises, and “brace yourself for a change in wind pressure” if being passed by a truck.
Finally, she says, give pedestrians right of way, and “be aware that traffic will drown out your voice” or bell, so other bridge users won’t hear you coming.
Crossing a big bridge, a cyclist might feel small, even insignificant. But when you wheel off the other side, ears buzzing, head spinning, you know you’re on a journey. A connection has been made. You’ve just bridged it.
Bill Thorness is the author of “Biking Puget Sound: 50 Rides from Olympia to the San Juans” (The Mountaineers Books). For more bridge information and photos, see Bill’s website.