Island Elements

One resident discovers the best way to really discover the Island is on foot… and on two wheels, and in the water.

Just recently I realized there was a whole realm of Mercer Island I knew little about. What led to me to this discovery was a bit unorthodox: triathlon training.

My sister, a veteran of these races, is the one who roped me into it. The race sounded supremely Seattle-ish and I was lured by the excitement and adventure factor. Soon after I signed up came a troubling realization: in order to actually experience this excitement and adventure, I’d have to probably… train. Outside, I supposed.

A lapsed runner, I confess I’m happiest in the gym or in a nice class where there’s no rain or wind and plenty of soft towels. For the triathlon, though, I started running around the little loop at Mercerdale while my kids played at the skate park. Soon tiring of that, I ventured out to the 1-90 trail and crossed over the bridge toward Bellevue – a first for me on foot. The stunning views almost made it worth battling those hills. (Darn, we have a lot of hills.) Being out of the car made it an experience, rather than a commute. For the first time, I could take in Rainier (spectacular) and the virtual yacht show along the Island docks (ditto) without fear of driving off the road.

Then there was the biking. Since the race was 12 miles, doing the Island loop seemed ideal. Once again, it was me versus the hills. They really never seemed quite so big from inside an SUV. To make matters worse, I was on my cheap hybrid bike from Target which kind of killed my street cred with the Lance Armstrong-types whipping by me.

“That’s a heavy bike,” one rider chuckled as I huffed and puffed my way up an incline.

“It’s from Target!” I answered. Or at least I would’ve if I could have formed words. Thirteen miles never felt this long, or hard, or steep.

On my first ride, I discovered all sorts of new things like a nice little playground in East Seattle and the old Boys and Girls Club, finally. (I'd always wondered where it was.) And then there was the alarming number of houses for sale. Biking every inch of Mercer Way gave me an intimate knowledge of it. I could sense an upcoming neighborhood just by differences in the trees and ivy. Moss? That must be the east side.

Finally, my personal worst: swimming. I can handle a pool, but open water? I didn’t even know where to stick a toe in until a mom at the playground told me about Groveland park. How was it that I’d never even heard of this little gem? My kids and I hightailed it down there with beach towels, rafts and goggles and pretended we were on a lakeside vacation.

Still, I had a bit of a mental block about swimming a half-mile out in the cold, dark lake for the race. Who knew what might lurk underneath? Then my sister told me about the milfoil that brushes against your stomach and tangles itself around your feet as you swim.


There are many inches of the Island I still haven’t covered, like the miles and miles of paths in the parks. But I’m grateful for the triathlon, and the fact that it forced me out of the gym, and out of the car. Not until I felt the pavement under my shoes and bike tires and saw it from the water did I truly experience the real Island for the first time. 

(And incidentally, I also finished the race.)


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