Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Mountain Mice

I started writing this report back in October. This post is long on personal stuff and short on cycling. Just an FYI.

There is an Aesop’s Fable titled “The City Mouse and the Country Mouse.” The gist of the story is that City Mouse goes to the country and Country Mouse goes to the city. After a short time, they both miss home. It’s kind of a “the grass is always greener” story.

I have been a City Mouse for most of my adult life, and Tracy and I have really enjoyed living in Downtown Seattle for the last nine years. We are about to find out if we enjoy living as Country Mice; well, maybe more appropriately as Mountain Mice.

There are so many different lifestyle choices in the Seattle area. One can live in a vibrant downtown, beautiful suburb, on the water or literally on the water in a houseboat. We have so many unique neighborhoods like Ballard and Fremont. It’s possible to live on any number of hills with incredible views. It’s also possible to live near Seattle in a setting with a very much small town feel, surrounded by mountains and creeks, and be 15 miles from one of the great downtowns in the country.

The impetus for a potential whole new way of thinking occurred when David Longdon and I stopped for gas and lunch in Eugene, Oregon on the way home from our September cycling trip to the Sierra Mountains:


As we dropped into town from Willamette Pass, I was blown away by Eugene’s setting in a lush green valley surrounded by hills. David was kind enough to give me a quick tour. Two weeks later, Tracy and I spent four days in Eugene checking out the hypothetical small town lifestyle we have talked about in the past. Yes, we have visited many other small cities and towns, but this time we were on an exploratory mission.

Shorty after our return to Seattle, I was riding my bike through Issaquah as I do frequently. While I was descending Squak Mountain and dropping into little Downtown Issaquah a light bulb went off. My first thought was, “This is like Eugene without the 9.9% state income tax!” Issaquah actually has some other major advantages over Eugene. Not only will we be close to a major city and airport, but should we decide to “live up on the hill” in Issaquah, we could buy a home between .5 and 2.0 miles (and up to 1000’ above) from the town center. The equivalent scenario in Eugene is to live up on Fox Hollow Drive, a minimum 4+ miles from downtown.

We thought about moving to Issaquah two years ago but the timing didn’t feel right. Following our trip to Eugene, the seed that had been slow to germinate back then bloomed rapidly. After quite a few trips out to Issaquah, we decided to live in the area of Issaquah known as Olde Town, about four blocks from the center of downtown. Olde Town is a little over a mile south of Gilman and I-90, the commercial area that reeks of suburbia (but does provide a lot of conveniences). The atmosphere of Old Towne is almost diametrically opposed to the Gilman Village area.

We’ve rented a really nice townhouse for a year, and we’ll live the lifestyle and evaluate things. Our townhouse is one of four on a quiet street where all of the other dwellings are single family homes. If Issaquah is indeed a place where we might want to live for a long time, I imagine we’ll consider buying a house either in town or on the hill.

Front Street in Downtown Issaquah is a little bit of a throwback, what with barber shops with poles, all locally owned restaurants , and proprietorships such as the butcher shop, Sunset Tavern, Jak’s, the Village Theatre, and the Issaquah Brewpub. There are two bike shops right in town a few blocks from each other, one of them a Campagnolo Pro Shop. That’s a good sign, isn’t it? :)

In Issaquah we will be living at the epicenter of my “sweet spot” 40-80 mile ride zone. For seven years I have led the Hills of the West Coast group ride from Downtown Seattle, and I’ll be relocating the ride start to Tibbet’s Park at the foot of Squak Mountain. From there I’ll be able to take the ride all the way south to Enumclaw, east to North Bend, and north to Snohomish, Monroe, and even Sultan. For focused climbing, it’s hard to beat Tiger, Cougar, and Squak Mountains.

I love riding in all types of environments, and I very much enjoy riding my bike in dense urban areas like Downtown Seattle and Capitol Hill. I’ll miss that, but I will be living smack in the middle of all of my favorite rural riding, and Tracy will like the riding more. She likely will even get one of those funny bikes with a basket on the front. We’ll use our bikes to run errands around Issaquah, giving our weekends kind of a Euro village feel.

While we have loved living in a large city’s downtown environment, we have missed the sounds of the rain on the roof and the wind in the trees. We miss the trees period! We miss the green of the Pacific Northwest. From our new place, we can walk to four different trailheads on Tiger and Squak Mountains. Sweet! In fact, last Saturday Tracy and I went on a hike. We walked out our front door and were at a Tiger Mountain trailhead in about 3 minutes.

Besides trailheads, Tracy and I will walk to the grocery store, to the movies and restaurants, and to REI, just like we did in Downtown Seattle. We can walk or ride on paved bike paths to get to any of the above, as well as to Trader Joes, the PCC, Lake Sammamish Park, or even Costco. Of course, there is always the 554 Express that stops four blocks from our new home should we want to make a non-parking and hassle free trip to Downtown Seattle.

Tracy and I have often discussed what it would be like to live in a small town. I think living in Issaquah will give us a good sense as to what that might feel like. If it’s not for us we can always bail out and head back to Seattle as re-born City Mice!

We moved in on 12-29-10, right at the start of the year-end cold snap. I went for a walk through town on our second night, after Issaquah received about .5” of snow—just enough to make everything glisten in the cold. This is a little stretch, but with the silhouettes of Squak and Tiger 2000’ and 3000’, respectfully, above my head I felt like I could be walking around in Steamboat Springs. That’s about how big Issaquah feels when you are strolling around downtown.

Maybe the analogy is indeed appropriate, because the way I see it Issaquah is kind of like a ski town without the skiing. Most ski towns have small town centers surrounded by mountains (obviously). Typically there is good road cycling, mountain biking, and hiking. Issaquah doesn’t have kayaking right in town but it does have pretty creeks where the salmon come back annually to spawn. Just up the road is good whitewater for kayaking. Thirty minutes from Issaquah up at the pass you’ll find great hiking along with snowshoeing and both alpine and cross country skiing.

Our gut feel is that we are really, really going to like this place. I have never lived anywhere that is as quiet as our new neighborhood. So quiet that at night it reminds me of the quiet of a solo backpacking trip deep in the wilderness. Windless nights in a tent can get creepy when all you can hear is yourself thinking. Far from creepy, our new found quiet is helping me to sleep more soundly than ever before.

We never really noticed the city noise. We lived on the 32nd floor and had AC, so we were largely insulated from the city sounds. While we had panoramic views of the Sound and Olympics, we were also insulated from our surroundings. It was starting to feel like we lived in a glass castle in the sky. Rather than have a great view of the mountains, we are now living in the mountains. (Funny how the sirens started to bug us after we made the decision to move…)

For those who know me and have my phone number, don’t hesitate to call if you are on an epic ride and passing through Issaquah on your bike. Maybe I’ll leave some milk and cookies out for you.


SuperLukerBee said...

I guess folks have a new place to pee before climbing Squawk.

DanLewis said...

Welcome to town Tom! I've lived in and around Issaquah for the past 20 years and also enjoy all that is has to offer while still retaining that small-town feel.

It IS getting more crowded here all the time though so we've got to appreciate it while we can...

Tom Meloy said...


Cookies maybe. Pee? NIMBY:)

Tank Man said...

Hey Tom, Welcome to the 'hood'. I live in Olde Town as well - I am surprised that I have not seen you around town yet! I am sure that we will be hooking up for rides soon. Did Santa bring you some knobbies for xmas? - the mtb'ing is even better than the road riding around here - and right out the back door!

Tom Meloy said...

Would the Tankman be Jeff T?