The Rectangle Ride: Bloated Fish & Butt Raisins

It was a perfect autumnal weekend for a rectangular ride with spectacular company.

The company, enjoying the autumnal spectacularness. From left to right: Whitney, Phil, Me, Rich, Jason, and Claudia.

"The Rectangle Ride" is a 110-mile route that starts in Arlington, Washington, heads east to Darrington, north to Rockport, west to Sedro-Woolley, and then loops back south to Arlington.

This is the fourth time I've done this route, but only now has it earned the name The Rectangle Ride. It's safe to say that this is my favorite local overnight route, and so I was super-duper happy to share it with five friends.

I've done a number of bike tours with just one other friend. But earlier this year, I decided it'd be fun to extend my overnight trips to a larger group of friends. This spring was the first time I organized a larger group tour; eight of us went on an overnight trip to Scenic Beach State Park in Seabeck, Washington. For two of the riders, the Seabeck trip was their first foray into bike touring.

I'd like for this to become a regular thing.
A spring fling.
And then a later ride;
a fling with autumnal bling.

Autumnal. Autumnal. Autumnal. Isn't that a lovely word?

We had attempted The Rectangle Ride two weekends prior. But, due to massive storms, we postponed the trip. There were ten riders committed to the original weekend. Although we lost five riders due to the rescheduling, we picked up an extra one for the new weekend. In my mind, all was well. Especially since the coolness of our additional rider (Whitney) made up for more than five cyclists combined!

Let's introduce The Rectangle Riders.

First, there was me, Silly Sarah, the fearless trip leader.

Then there was Pensive Phil, my adventure buddy who helps me memorialize great weekends with banged up knees. (Surprisingly, my knees were pristine after this weekend.)

There was Cordial Claudia, who enjoys tiny houses and slug sex.

There was Jocular Jason (aka "Peacock"), who is notorious for sprouting a kale tail and who served as the designated tour guide/photographer.

There was Rhapsodic Rich, Claudia's friend, a stranger to me at the beginning of the trip, and one helluva strong cyclist.

And last, but not least, there was Whimsically Woolly Whitney, another friend of Claudia's, also a stranger to me as of the beginning of the trip. She's the one who deserves credit for this story's title ... and for her brilliant use of the word "autumnal." Autumnal. Oh, I just love that word!

The plan was to meet in Arlington at 9:30 a.m. Saturday morning. Rich and Claudia pooled in one car, and the rest of us carpooled with Phil. The morning rainfall in Seattle seemed to have us all operating in slo-mo. Both cars arrived fashionably late in Arlington, within just a few minutes of each other.

We took the bikes off the racks, packed them up with our panniers, took one final pee, and then we were on our way!

As we biked the few blocks through downtown Arlington to reach Highway 530, an older gentleman yelled out, "You all need to be riding single file!" Bah humbug! Let's just say that we mentioned this gentleman numerous times throughout the weekend.

It was foggy as we biked east toward Darrington. Typically, Whitehorse Mountain is visible off to the south as one rides along this stretch. I was excited to show the others the beautiful mountain, which stands at 6,840 feet above sea level. But it didn't seem as though this was the weekend to do so.

Fortunately, as we neared Darrington, the sun broke through, and bits of Whitehorse became visible in the distance.

Snow atop Whitehorse Mountain.

As Jason and I pulled off to the side of the road to photograph Whitehorse, a familiar red vehicle also pulled off to the side of the road just in front of us. Out walked Master Birder Eric, with whom I searched for the green-tailed towhee on my Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine, ride earlier this summer.

Eric had been invited on The Rectangle Ride but declined; instead, he was on his way up to the pass on Highway 20 to photograph the larch trees in all of their golden glory.

As we were within a mile or two of our lunch stop at Squire Creek Park, Eric decided to join us. The sun had broken through the clouds, and we basked in the rays as we munched on our lunch.

Jason certainly deserved his rest. After all, he did the ride on a single-speed bike. Yup, he had only one gear with which to climb the inclines! He had a most interesting setup. I've never seen aerobars on a touring bike!

On the downhills, Jason used his aerobars. He referred to his relaxed riding position as "sitting in the couch."

Before we left our lunch spot, we discussed our campground options for the evening. Originally, we were going to stay at Rasar State Park. And we held to this choice after our lunch meeting. But, later in the afternoon, we made a democratic decision to stay at Howard Miller Steelhead Park instead. Steelhead was a bit closer and would allow us more of the afternoon to soak up the sunshine and enjoy one another's company.

After we caloried up, we continued on, heading north along the mostly flat, but windy and picturesque road into Rockport. As we dodged the big, fuzzy, brown-striped caterpillars as they crossed the road, we were showered by golden leaves as they slowly floated down from the trees above. Ah, fall!

About a mile before we arrived at the campground in Rockport, the sun disappeared behind some clouds and stayed there for the remainder of the day. Go figure! Sun or no sun, we were determined to enjoy the afternoon.

We chose two tent sites just feet away from the Skagit River.

Having recently spawned, there were many salmon carcasses along the side of the river. We could smell 'em before we could see 'em. We took turns taking a good look at the bloated fish along the riverside. It was quite interesting, not in a morose way, though. Some of the fish had been dead for awhile, their eyeballs gone and their bodies covered in sand and growing fuzzy with time. Other fish were fighting for their last breaths as their bodies turned upside-down, fins strangely floating above the water.

We set up camp. Claudia and Rich had their own tents, Whitney slept in her bivy, and Jason, Phil, and I shared Jason's four-person GoLite tent.

Me, discovering that Jason's tent would make a great bee suit.

Our tent set-up reminded me of how I love the colors of outdoor gear!

We changed into warmer, more comfortable clothes, and then we all took turns deriding Jason for his outfit. Over. And over. And over again.

Jason would make a great Hanna Andersson model.

Okay. I did just say that I love the colors of outdoor gear.

A little later, Claudia showed us some yoga moves to stretch our weary legs.

Rich illustrates perfect form (hehe).

We waited as long as we possibly could to start dinner. Just minutes before 5 p.m., we migrated over to the covered picnic area to chow down.

We marveled at Rich's porcelain bowl and mug; it is indeed unusual to see a cyclist tote porcelein along on his rides. I'm telling you, Rich is nothing but muscles.

And we marveled at Whimsically Woolly Whitney's ingeniousness, which was displayed in oh-so-many ways -- from her handmade punch stove to the pot she used to amplify the music from her phone.

Whitney's handmade punch stove.

After dinner, we settled in for the night. Our proverbial lights were out not too long after 7 p.m. No late night campfires or imbibing for this group of tired cyclists! No siree.

Jason warned us that he snored. He was even so polite as to bring along a bag of ear plugs. While I can't speak for the others, I can say that I spent many a minute lying awake listening to Jason snore as he peacefully enjoyed his dreams. I felt I needed to take one for the team, so I jabbed Jason; he rolled over and kept his trap shut for the remainder of the night. What a responsive snorer!

We woke up in the morning and packed up our tents. Peacock was moving quite efficiently, as he shared his motivation with the group: "I have to poo, and I don't want to have to come back after I go to the bathroom." Claudia verbalized what the rest of us were all thinking: "TMI."

It was dang cold in the morning. Although I understand that thick fog is helpful for trapping in "warm" air, the moisture in the air always makes it seem far colder than the true temperature.

We had breakfast in the picnic pavilion and then took off for our ride. I'm not sure about the rest of the gang, but the gentle uphill slog after the campground did very little to warm up my frozen toes and fingers. It was only when we crossed over the Skagit River, about 15 miles later, that I was able to finally shed a layer.

The fog begins to burn off as we cross the Skagit River.

We were in awe of the beauty of our surroundings. The river. The beautiful autumnal leaves. The mystical fog giving way to the blue skies.

Did I mention the gorgeous autumnal leaves?

We found a great spot for a group photo.

Gosh darn it, we are a dang good-looking group!

Around noon, we pulled off into a gravel clearing to have lunch, before joining up with Highway 9 to head south back into Arlington.

The three other times I've done this route, I've always missed the turnoff for the traffic-free and scenic partial-circumnavigation of Big Lake. With twelve eyeballs on the lookout for the turnoff this time, we did not miss it. What a gorgeous side route!

A fun little bus stop along West Big Lake Road.

The final miles of our ride were along the Centennial Trail, the far northern tip of which was completed and dedicated just last fall. So the northern portion of the trail was new for The Rectangle Ride.

Claudia, who was familiar with the next turn, told all of us to keep our eyes open for the big red barn on the side of the road. Sure enough, the big red barn we saw!

We took advantage of the sunshine and a few benches at the trailhead to rest for a bit. And to laugh.

We all had a good roar when Phil went to sit down on the bench next to Claudia. She yelled out, "No, don't sit there!" and then firmly grabbed Phil's ass, as he remained suspended in mid-sitting position for what seemed like eternity. He was about to sit on a raisin (God forbid!), and Claudia didn't want him to end up with a raisin smooshed to his butt.

Claudia and Phil, both seeming to enjoy the butt-raisin reenactment. Well, actually, we all enjoyed the reenactment.

A little later, Jason was telling us about his work on Amazon Cloud. He was sounding all prim 'n' proper and intelligible in his explanation, and then Claudia busted out into laughter, pointing at him: "You know how funny this is?" she asked. "You're talking all authoritatively and you look like this!"

It's true. It's kind of hard to take this buffoon seriously.

Yes, bikers can look funny. Particularly Jason-types, wearing bibs, helmet, and neon "turn signal" gloves.

Judging by the amount of laughter, it was obvious that we were enjoying each other's company. We rode the final miles back into Arlington, where a few of us celebrated ride's end by posing on the big steel bike sculpture.

Phil, posing.

We satisfied our hunger at the Blue Bird Cafe, and then parted ways.

Bloated fish and butt raisins were certainly highlights of the adventure. But I will fondly remember a great ride on a beautiful fall weekend with fabulous friends. Indeed, it was a perfect autumnal weekend for a rectangular ride with spectacular company.

Photos by Sarah, Jason, and Claudia. See more of Jason's Rectangle Ride photos at this link.

Get more information about bike overnights.

Tip for this adventure: You can either follow the route indicated on the map above, or you can turn left on Concrete-Sauk Valley Road (approximately 12 miles north of Darrington) and follow the south side of the Skagit River the entire way to Highway 9.

Favorite local bike shop: Wright Brothers Cycle Works in Seattle.

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