Mercer Island / I-90 Trail
Hills, Thrills & Many Bill$
by Reid Warner
This is one of the most incredible, and often overlooked skates in the Seattle area. The "Trail" consists of six miles of mostly perfect asphalt laid over hills, floating bridges, fixed bridges, tunnels, parks, and turns.
This six miles of Interstate 90 is the most expensive stretch of interstate, mile for mile, in North America. The trail runs from Bellevue Way in Bellevue, to Rainier Ave. S. in Seattle. In the middle is Mercer Island, which is the best place to park and explore the trail. There is a lot owned by Metro, which is the Seattle area bus service, called a "park & ride". Driving directions are provided below.
The trail starts in Bellevue and immediately crosses the East Channel Bridge over Lake Washington. The bridge is 70 feet high and the pavement is textured cement. While it is a decent surface it also requires attention, especially when crossing the expansion joints of the bridge.
After the bridge the trail continues on through a residential area and you get the first and fastest downhill. The hill has a clear view to a perfect run out, which is slightly uphill. Skaters who stride over the top or don't brake will reach speeds in excess of 35 mph. The asphalt is perfect and this is a fantastic place to test wheels and bearings. Beware of bikers - this trail has lot's of them and as is often the case, they seem annoyed by skaters and expect you to move for them. They also don't expect skaters to be matching their speeds either, so be on the defensive.
Next comes the first light. You can go straight here or left. Either way will take you through a light retail area and the surface is flat. That leads to another hill climb (steep) to the Freeway "Lid" park. This is a green grassy area with tennis courts and play fields. It has excellent views of Seattle and is a great place for a picnic or photo. You are reminded that there are 12 lanes of freeway underneath you at this point by the big "breather stacks" coming up out of the ground. They provide ventilation for the tunnels and look like giant mushrooms.
Another descent awaits you which takes you down several hundred feet and out onto the floating bridge, which actually sits, floating, on top of Lake Washington. This bridge is a little over a mile long and again, beware of the expansion joints, surface, and bicycles. At the end of the floating bridge you have a gut buster climb to the entrance of the Mt. Baker Tunnel. This tunnel goes through an entire hill and is roughly 500-600 feet long. It deposits you into another park, which has strange sculptures and writings on the ground. It's also here that the middle to upper class neighborhoods you've experienced so far, disappear. Welcome to the hood homey!
You're now in the Rainier Valley which is safe enough during the day, but it's not a bad idea to travel with several skaters anyway. Skating here at night would be a stupid thing to do.
From here the trail goes down one more hill and ends with a turn to the right. At this point you can turn around and head back to Mercer Island or continue north on Rainier Ave. S., and turn left on Dearborn. This will take you straight to the Kingdome, and while there are some debris, it is very skateable. From the Kingdome you can go many ways to the waterfront or downtown. There are many choices depending on how far you want to skate.
This is a great skate for training. Because of the constant uphill followed by a downhill it can be used in lieu of interval training. One more word of caution: If you are not competent with T-Stopping, or using a brake, I would suggest you skate elsewhere. While not necessarily an "advanced" skate, it does require strong intermediate skills. Some of the hills have street crossings at the bottoms and require you to come to a complete stop. Other than that the only requirement is a good head of steam!
Driving Directions to the N. Mercer Island Park & Ride:
From Westbound I-90 (Heading towards Seattle): Take the second Mercer Island Exit. At the light go straight. At the second light turn Right into the parking lot.
From Eastbound I-90 (Heading towards Bellevue): Take the second Mercer Island Exit. At the top of the off-ramp turn Left. At the "T" intersection turn Right. At the light turn Left into the parking lot.