I contemplated various titles for this post.
Freak Out at 2600 Feet
Panic in the Tunnel
Panic at 2.6K (This one makes me laugh.)
Finally, I just decided to keep it simple and to the point.
It's not too often you have an experience where you feel out of control. I can now guarantee a place which will give me that feeling every single time. It's not really a feeling of dread or so bad that it is unbearable. But I know it'll be there. I also know I can usually figure out some way of overcoming it.
Since both RPD and I have not been running lately, we thought to go do some easy mountain biking from Rattlesnake Lake to Hyak via the Iron Horse Trail. Technically, I believe the old railroad trail is called the John Wayne Pioneer Trail but Iron Horse is what I hear everybody call it.
Both of us have done portions of this trail as a run and to tell you the truth, old railroad grades are not my favorite. The Iron Horse to Hyak is a very steady uphill and can get rather grueling when running. The scenery is pretty but not necessarily spectacular. I always enjoy being out of the city however.
Biking this is much better. Rattlesnake Lake is a gorgeous starting point. There is no traffic on the trail except for friendly folks out riding, walking or running. Even going uphill doesn't feel all that hard on a bike and riding the downhill portion is fun. It is infinitely better than my least favorite former railroad trail, the Burke-Gilman.
The one challenge? The Snoqualmie Tunnel right before Hyak is 2.4 miles long and pitch black and cold inside. I have run this tunnel a couple of times and struggled with it. It's a very spooky experience being inside a cold and completely dark tunnel. For some reason, I thought being on a bike would be a bit easier.
I was wrong.
We stopped at the picnic tables right before the tunnel to get lights out and have a bit of a snack. I had my usual lights I use on my bike and ones I have used to run through the tunnel before. The light I have attached to my bike is really only to let cars see me. It is not bright enough to illuminate the ground very much. I have a headlamp which is brighter but neither was enough to see with.
We start to ride with me leading and as soon as we got into where the light disappeared, I immediately knew I'd not be able to ride any farther. I felt like I was going to fall off my bike and hit the wall. I was feeling disoriented and not in control. In a probably panicky voice, I called to RPD that I was stopping and turning around and back out we went.
Yikes. I really wasn't expecting that.
RPD seemed rather surprised but calm like he usually is and was all prepared just to turn around and ride back to Rattlesnake. Considering we'd already ridden over 18 miles, this was a decent ride. But, I really wanted to make it through the tunnel. I hate being limited by my own fears. So after a bit of a think, I suggested that I could follow him on the bike if he had a rear light I could see and if he felt comfortable with fewer lights in front. He also suggested placing my headlamp at an angle so it would reflect light onto the tunnel wall.
And we set off again. I can't say it was easy but it was doable. After making it through, we went a ways out just to warm up from the chilly tunnel and then headed back through. Even expecting the moment of panic, it was still hard to continue the second time. But, the realization that you have no choice because that is where the car is works very well! It got colder this way because of a headwind and towards the end I was starting to shiver both from cold and I think effort of holding my handlebars so tightly! I also felt worn with the effort of holding my concentration so hard to a little red light ahead of me.
I'm not sure I could ride through this tunnel by myself. I'd certainly need much brighter lights and many more of them! Once it got so dark, the tendency to slow down is great. But my balance on my mountain bike isn't good since I've been riding my road bike much more lately. I really noticed following RPD that he was rock steady straight while I was continually checking and twitching my handlebars.
I am very glad we did it.