“I went from Phoenix, Arizona All the way to Tacoma, Philadelphia, Atlanta, LA …. Steve Miller Band (1976)
The world is not all sunshine and waterfalls. Or is that rainbows? The point is, vertical hikes can be mean and nasty and as tough as we are it could beat us to our knees and keep us there permanently if we let it. So we get hit then keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done, at least according to Rocky – although he probably wasn’t talking about hiking in the movie Rocky Balboa. But, we do like that scene and it is challenging to reference in a travel blog.
If you want to get a feel for a place, you have to get off the mountain and go to where the people live. They don’t live on Mt. Rainier but they do live in Tacoma, Washington. One third in size and just 38 miles south of its trendy cousin, Seattle, Tacoma is the closest ‘big’ city to Mt. Rainier and our base camp on JBLM (Joint Base Lewis McChord). Past experience proved to us that the absolute best way to experience a city is on bike as cities are too big to walk and a drive through is too quick and impersonal. In the spirit of past Como explorations, we hung the bikes on the back of Boss and headed for a happening spot in Tacoma on a Sunday afternoon.
The Point Ruston section of Tacoma sits on high ground with gigantic views of the sound to the north. Neighborhoods lined with craftsman-styled homes thought they had the best kept secret in the Seattle-Tacoma area with peak-a-boo views of the sound and easy access to the large Point Defiance Park, that is until developers dropped trendy condo living in and around the adjacent old rail yard. Centered on the Point Ruston Public Market, the new development has a hip and pricey, young and urban vibe with the industrial feel of the rail yard adding to the ambience. It is an urban development model we see repeated all over the country.
The Public Market was in full-swing and full COVID compliance, and the locals were shopping in force. Tacoma is out to prove that proper pandemic precautions go hand-in-hand with economic activity, and it appeared to be working. Masks were the rule. Everyone gave each other their six feet of space. The decent sized crowd took advantage to the sunny Sunday to snap up fresh produce, seafood, and other market stuff. We passed on the claws but said Yes to Taylor’s Honey Farm mixed-berry honey.
Next to Ruston is Point Defiance, a 760 acre Puget Sound waterside destination for 3.1 million visitors who like to beach, bike and boat among gardens and old growth forest. Next to Point Defiance is the Tacoma Zoo and Aquarium. In fair full disclosure, we are not fans of zoos in general. We are fans, however, of free parking and parking at the public market was $36 per day. So, while we did not visit the zoo, we did visit the zoo parking lot to stow Boss for the day, launching the Comos to pedal adventure on the streets of Tacoma.
Nothing shouts urban adventure like a big bridge crossing. The Tacoma Narrows Bridge connects trendy Gig Harbor to working-class T-Town. The bridge sports a wide pedestrian-bike path that was lightly traveled by locals getting their steps in. We joined them for the architectural crossing before connecting to the bike-friendly Cushman Trail for the ride into Gig.
There is something about boats docked safely in a protected port that makes you feel cozy. Gig Harbor has that plus looming Mt. Rainier as a backdrop in its bid to win the most picturesque harbor town in America contest. We waved to the locals on their porches with the to-die-for views and tried out a couple of the local breweries to get the feel for the place. Too touristy? Maybe. Give us a few million for one of the modern all glass-fronted homes on the hill plus a couple of years of living here and we will get back to you on that.
We cut through city neighborhoods on the return in search of the little library book nooks hoping to change out our reading selection, striking gold in the University section. With commanding views of the working Port of Tacoma from the high bluff, we dropped down to the coast feeling very glad on the 10% grade that we had recently fixed the brakes and picked up the paved Ruston Way from Old Towne Tacoma for the final seven coastal miles back to the zoo.
Ruston Way was vibrant with Tacoma city life. Custom cars from low riders to muscle cruisers and tricked out VW Rabbits did a slow roll down the parkway adjacent to the path. This was Seen and Be Seen Sunday. Teens were swimming in the sound. Seniors were posted up in the folding chairs taking in the sea air while reading the newspaper. Pop-up picnics grabbed grass for a Sunday waterfront meal. We pedaled really slowly using the skater dudes in front of us to move the pedestrian crowds aside from the four-abreast walkers.
Thirty Como miles and five hours later we arrived back at Boss calling the e-bike city tour model a bonafide Rocky winner.