Archive | February, 2009

El Camano

28 Feb

Today, again, was no Sunday in Hell, but it sort of felt like it, localized and selfishized at least. We decided to go up to Stanwood and do the Camano Island loop, following the cue sheets and maps proffered by the Seattle International Randonneurs.

This isn't an island!

This isn't an island!

First let me gloat on a personal note: for the month o’ February I managed to log 560 miles. A little over my goal. I’m very happy with that.

When we parked in Stanwood and got ready it was cold. Cold enough to prompt me to ask, “Should we even do this?” Partly that was ‘cuz in an ill-advised fit of chivalry I’d forced Surlylady to take my ‘warm’ gloves. Once we started spinning and hit the first hill, however, I took off the balaclava and felt much better. But it was a bitter, ill wind which bore much bad omen for yours truly. No, not Surlylady, me.

Today’s ride, in a karma-balancing kind of way, paralleled last Saturday’s ride: on an island; cold wind; cloudy, leaden skies that once in a while threatened sun breaks; and one of us with the blahs. Today it was my turn to be grumpy. To give myself some slack, I had some things going against me. I had a personal trainer session yesterday which included chest presses, for the first time, 100 pounds. That sounds wimpy to most of you but for me, someone who’s never done a chest press intentionally in my life, it made my arms and chest areas sore. On top of that, or below rather, my right hamstring was super tight. I think it may have been related to the gym stuff, where I had to do some balance toe touching with a 27.5 barbell, much more weight than I’d done before. Anyway the first half of the ride my right hamstring was threatening to cramp up. It’s an awful feeling, I’m sure you’ll agree, being on the verge of a cramp. No amount of stretching or Midol seemed to help.

Parlous Panda

This was about as lucid as I was all day long...

Then, further below, my old friend the hematoma was back. In fact, let’s name him. How about Hemi? Full name Hemi Moore. And he’ll talk in the voice of… that tumor/baby thing from Hellboy II. So how’s it going today Hemi Moore? Oh dear, I can’t print that. Sounds like you’re under lots of pressure. Really, it’s not cool to make fun of fat people… oh you don’t say? That’s it, I’m taking a hot bath. We’ll see how you like being submerged in boiling water.

Anyway, while he’s quiet, let’s return to the ride. So, triangulating between all these aches and pains was one thing, but my heavy-as-lead legs were even worse. I could barely keep up with the Surlylady. It was her turn to slog me around an island. And BTW, as I was riding and suffering, I thought that when the SIR propaganda says some ‘rolling hills’ will be involved, you should beware that’s euphemism for ‘horrendous hills at a ferocious frequency’ but of course now that I’m all bathed and warm and recovered (thank you Darigold chocolate milk!) it probably wasn’t all that bad.

English boom, Welsh bust

Our first diversion was a placed called English boom. Nice little spot, but watch the hill down to the water. Surlylady had to walk part of it back up ‘cuz it was so steep. After a nice frozen interlude, we remounted and returned to the official route, which led us mostly along the water, as along the water as you’ll get in a crowded seashore location mere hours from a mega huge city that is. At one point I was about to tell the Surlylady that this was my new favorite place (as opposed to San Juan Island; sorry SJI I’m fickle) when we were viciously set upon by a small dog that didn’t seem to have an algebraic appreciation for speed and trajectory. It was almost funny: owner shouting fruitlessly comes running out into the street; dog nearly catching Surlylady who’s taken off like a… frightened antelope, that’s right… owner sidesteps just behind the SL and neatly cuts off the dog, who’s prey instinct had by this time abated and hardly paid any attention to me. Then it was another long hill. Then another. Then another. Then another. And so on.

Finally we came to what we thought was the correct state park, according to the Cue Sheet, but it was in fact Cama Park, and not Camano Island State Park. They’re right next to each other. I’m sure they feature many of the same features. But because of this, I’m sure we didn’t miss much as we sat in a sheltered area and munched on PB&Js. Oh, the facilities were very modern and even had heating, so that was kind of nice. Oh, and the facility count so far, going west along the top of the island, just before you bear south there’s a Gull station. Then nothing more until the state park(s).

46.01 MPH!

46.01 MPH!

Then there were more hills out of the state park(s). In what seemed, at the time at least, like the only substantial payoff in terms of elevation remuneration, coming down this hill I managed to hit just over 46 miles per hour! Surlylady let me get in front (remember the “I have more mass song”?) and I took full aero advantage, getting down into a tuck, pedals at the 3 & 9 o’clock positions, butt off the back of the saddle a little like when downhilling on a MTB. As I wound it up my legs were acting as (weakened) suspension springs as I hit dips in the road, and I could tell I was getting very close to maybe bouncing in a very bad, directional change kind of way, but then things smoothed out. That’s by far the fastest I’ve ever gone… not sure if I want to do that again, at least on purpose. If something had jumped out in front of me, or if I’d hit a bad hole or something, it wouldn’t have gone well. Wellington, the Long Haul Trucker, due to its relatively long wheelbase (I think) was sufficiently stable; not so sure I would have wanted to do the same on my Lemond Sarthe. Or maybe on that one I could have gone over 50MPH! Sorry Wellington. Oh, don’t rattle your new chain at me! There, now you’ve gone and woke up Hemi Moore. Great.

This fun downhill was followed by… another hill… and then more… and more… all around and down to the southern tip of the island. Sorry. It wasn’t that bad I reckon, honest. This area was lovely, marred only by all the signs of new construction. Why so much new construction when it seemed that a full third of all the properties on Camano were currently for sale? Anyway, here’s a nice scene from this area:

Is that a hill?

Is that a hill?

By this point, the southern point, I was actually feeling much better. The huge downhill run had rejuvenated me somewhat, and my right hamstring had worked out the kinks and kicked out the cramps jams (RIP Lux Interior). So, all that remained was Hemi Moore and my dead lead legs. Every time I looked up it seemed Surlylady was 100 yards away. There were some long sharp hills where I could only manage 5MPH… but I managed it. Thanks in part to a constant recital of one of my favorite passages from The Biker’s Prayer:

And verily, though lactic acidity
Should cause elastic flaccidity,
I shall remain constant in truth and motion;
Each turn of the pedal deserving of medal,
Each pedal stroke an aero spoke
In the hand-laced Wheel of Devotion.

The Eastern side of the island was maybe even lovelier than what we had already seen. My spirits revived, etc. We stopped and had a Snickers bar:



From this scene on, unfortunately, we rejoined the heavy traffic zone that must be locally & colloquially known as the Stanwood Speedway. There was a nice turnout, per the SIR instructiones, on Russel Road etc, that got us away from the heavy traffic. But, if taking this cutout and heading east, there’s an equally heavy price to pay: the heartbrake hill. First there’s a long and steep section followed by a long and not as steep section. Not much chance for recovery. That was the hill that did me in. Once we rejoined the 532 speedway I was able to get out of the saddle and sprint a few of the hills but I was done. Spiritually, psychically, bicycally. Surlylady would pull away and I’d have to curse myself to goad my wide load into catching up… but I did, time after time. Then came the Stillaguamish squeamish bridge crossings (wow there are a lot of big diesel trucks in that area) and then there was the car.

And then a few minutes later, there were the blessed, blessed tots:

Oblige Totenshot

Oblige Totenshot


The Burke was alive, with the sound of freewheels…

27 Feb

A sunny day in Febuary. Not exactly A Sunday Day in Hell, which I watched this evening, but there was a lot of contagious excitement on the commute home today. Lots of roadies in full kit (albeit with leg- and arm-warmers), recreational riders, hirsute hibernators on squeaky Peugeots; in short, a wide-smile kind of ride. High 40s, a few puffy clouds here and there, beautiful scenery riding along Lake Washington. Life is good.

Today I decided that if I were to visit a Shaman (I wonder if Aetna would cover that?) my totem would be a greyhound. Lithe, proportionally barrel chested, but able to muscle onward for miles and miles. Then later I decided my totem would more accurately be a Greyhound bus. And in that case I would have demanded a refund from the Shaman.

As in, the ride in to work was another barn burner as I averaged almost 17mph; the ride home on the other hand was a little slower. If the former demanded a wrestling nickname of El Conquistador, the latter claimed the ignominiously appropriate El Poopiedo. But oh well. I need to save a little juice in the battery for a longish ride on the morn.

Quickly: the Kool Stop Tectonic brakes worked remarkably, and I do mean remarkably, well. I’m remarking on them now. I remarked on them to Surlylady earlier. My dog Adelaide has also heard about them at length. I don’t know if it’s all psychological or at least partly metaphysical, but they seemed to provide more stopping power and are much quieter than other brands I’ve tried, even properly toed-in Kool Stop Eagle Claws. Every time you say Kool Stop Eagle Claw you have to hold your hands in the air with pinkie-and-index horns and tongue sticking out, in the accent of a bad guy on an imported Japanese anime cartoon, by the way.

Psychological in the same way perhaps that I feel the old Subaru seems to run better and faster after an oil change. Metaphysically, if for no other reason than an impressionable cause-and-effect conclusion.

Speaking of improvements, but one I’m fairly certain the truth of, my new chain is great. I think it’s a tad shorter than the original one. There’s more noise if cross-chaining in the big ring and bigger cogs; but this only serves to remind me not to do that; overall I feel like there’s maybe .00435 % more power transfer with the new chain. This translated to a ride time of 1:05 this morning, which is pretty darn good, not to mention the glorious feeling of receiving a startled head turn when passing a roadie at 18mph up the hill next to where Daly’s used to be in Eastlake. Oh Daly’s. That place was friggin’ gross, but so oddly compelling (I used to live in Eastlake). Greasy floors. Greasier fish and chips. Greasy old school video games.

French Kicks

26 Feb

Yes, there was snow today! So (grits teeth) frickin’ pretty! I hadn’t planned on riding today, and was glad as I walked through the hail with Surlylady to catch a commuter bus. Around noon there was a fantastic amount of blue sky and bright Nordic sun, leading to forlorn wishes that I’d ridden, and then the clouds closed over us all and the temps got back in the 30s.

Although I didn’t ride today, I’m posting due to a purchase I just made. I’ll get to that in a moment. First I must admit I’ve been on a French kick lately. A French kick has nothing to do with soccer. Good guess. Instead, it’s a jag, or an extended whim, or a pseudo-obsessive hobby, except to do with things Francophilic. The relation here is that I’ve been dreaming of someday getting a bike from local design shop Cycles Tournesol, very much in the French tradition, of course. I recently purchased a 70s Mafac tool kit off of Craigslist. And there’s the fixation with reading, cover to cover several times over, old issues of Bicycle Quarterly.

Some of this Gaul enthrall might explain a similar devotion to some French books. Most recently, I finished an amazing little book by Raymond Radiguet–one I’d had for a while but had never picked up. Now I wish I’d discovered this a long time ago: Count d’Orgel’s Ball ($7.77 at NYBooks!). Now I’m reading Paris Peasant by Louis Aragon. Then, inspired by what I’ve recently learned about Radiguet’s early death and friendships, I’ve got to find my copy of Cocteau’s Thomas the Imposter (the Peter Owen edition features a memorable cover!).

As promised, I bring all this up not so much to turn this blog into a literary endeavor (although it’s my blo-og and I’ll talk books if I want too… repeat…) but to work my way around to talking about how excited I am for a book I just ordered: Need for the Bike, by Paul Fournel. I’ve read an excerpt (thankee Google) and the short review in an old Bicycle Quarterly. What caught my eye, beyond the bicycle-related content, was the mention that Fournel is a member of Oulipo… and joined in time (1972) where he must obviously have met and worked with my all-time favorite author, Raymond Queneau. Then, I find that Fournel wrote his Master’s thesis on Queneau (according to LazyPedia). Any of these three, French bike enthusiast, colleague of Queneau’s, or a member (Provisionally Definitive Secretary) of Oulipo, would have been enough; all three are enough to make me pee my pants! Oh Amazon, B&N and Alibris algorhithms, how could you fail me so! You seem to remember that I bought a computer book for my brother back in 2003! Why didn’t you point me in the direction of this marvelous confluence of my sport and influences!

Okay, back to bikes. I put on new brakes on the Trucker (had some KoolStop Tectonics) and realized something even more serious regarding the front brake, beyond the squealing: the little cotter pin holding the pad in the left shoe was all bent weird and scraping the rim. Probably not good. All those with disc brakes, feel free to feel superior. There, go on, get it out of your hydraulic system

Caterwaulin’ Cantilevers

25 Feb

Both my Long Haul Trucker and Surlylady’s Crosscheck have IRD Cafam brakes. I wasn’t as happy with the stock Tektro brakes, and yet didn’t want to spend too much dough on the (really really nice looking) Paul brakes. These have worked well so far. One feature I’ve liked are the MTB-style cartridge shoes, with Yokozuna pads. Apparently descendants of the ScottMathauser pads. On my ride Sunday I noticed the rear pads were almost worn down to the metal, so last night I threw on some Kool Stop ‘Eagle Claw’ brakes (integrated, not cartridge style). I’ve tried these before and had the worst luck toeing them or otherwise adjusting so they don’t squeal like baby banshees.

Last night, then, the rationalizing part of my brain said “Aw it’s cold out side and the bike’s on the workstand and it doesn’t appear to be squealing, so you don’t need to ride it around on the street or anything.” The rationalist side of my brain sputtered so much the rest of us ignored him. Therefore on the ride in this morning I was the guy with the decibel-from-hell brake noise. Interestingly, while I hadn’t touched the front brakes (Yokozuna pads still) they started to howl in mutual sympathy, albeit in a different pitch that, when combined with the rear caterwaul, caused me lots of off-key cringing.

The ride itself was crazy. A very, very strong headwind facing due north sucked for my due south commute. However, taking off Tuesday (Monday was the Iron Horse ride, not super strenuous but a good grind) seemingly gave me some crazy legs. Even with the headwind I tied a record time. The second half of the ride I was redlining like a madmen.

Something I said in a post the other day caught Surlylady’s attention. I think she’s spotting some racing tendencies, i.e. the focus on average speed. While I have no idea what I’ll think in the long term, for now I’m being honest when I say that going faster (both in average, in sustained effort, out of saddles on hills, etc) is fun for me for many reasons. One, for its own sake. Going as fast as possible, and holding it there, has a visceral, childhood kind of rush. Two, I am after all trying to lose weight. I’m floating around having lost 70 pounds, and I want to keep the trend going. Thirdly, it’s an algebra bonus: the faster you go, the more landscape you can see, and the more routes you can add to your wishlist.

This aside aside, I don’t know how or why I hammered like a fool this morning. I think I just decided to give it my best shot. I passed lots of other bikers today, one semi-chase leading to another, and this causes me to wonder if there isn’t maybe some macho or competitive aspect to this need for speed (I suspect that’s what Surlylady suspects). Perhaps there’s a ‘gram’ of truth to this. Maybe after being the big guy on the slow bike last summer I’m simply excited to pass a lot of skinny roadie types (I do still get passed, but it doesn’t bother me… unless they do so dangerously, dang it). On the commute home–against a headwind again, but not nearly as bad as this morning–I told myself to start with that I should ease off, partly because of this morning’s leg-burning leg, but also because I’d gotten a terrible headache at work and had been feeling nauseated all afternoon. Aside to an aside–back before my fitness and health changes, I used to get work headaches every time I was at, well, work… what a nice change to get one only every few months rather than almost every day. However, the rationalizer and rationalist parts of me were told to hold onto their hats and umbrellas and I went hellbent for Brooks leather. On the Burke G, I averaged 19mph, and often topped over 20mph. Incredible! I felt like I was in the best form I’ve ever been in.

Example scene: at the intersection on the Burke near the U-Village, on 25th, where bikers tend to collect at the light, I was behind a tall fellow on a flat-bar. I stayed behind until the intersection next to Counterbalance. He was going fast enough, plus I figured someone that tall, in neon green, has got to be great for busy intersections. A roadie was behind me this whole time. Not sure if he had the same ideas as me. We proceeded through that intersection and continued on in precedence until I saw that if I didn’t make a move I’d be stuck all the way to the wooden foot bridge and likely a good deal beyond it, so I spun up and passed the giant on the Giant (OK, guessing at that last part). Roadie stayed with me. That stretch is somewhat upgrade, but I kept up a very good pace, even if huffing and puffing. I fully expected roadie to blow past at any moment. He stayed back, all the way past the Metro groc and through the single-path separator section. By this time I had recovered pretty well from the uphill grade, all while still averaging maybe 18 mph. Then, as we curved into the Sandpoint stretch, I dropped into the big ring, keeping the cadence up, and took off. Again, fulling expecting roadie to pass me with that contemptuous “I don’t even acknowledge you” speed… so imagine my surprise when after a while I looked ’round and realized I had long outpaced the chap. Unless he turned off somewhere in the interim, heh. This example scene is meant to show how, while maxing out, I’m finding I have an extra gear (turning it up to 11), and this surprises and pleases me.

I can only suppose that it’s a combination of some stuff I done been tryin’ (yadda yadda) like core yoga bike fit protein breakfast chocolate milk heroin.

But the best part of today’s commute: realizing, as I rode home entirely in sunlight (if waning in the end) that I can take off the helmet lamp for the year. Sweet sweet spring is here! Although, it’s apparently going to snow tonight.

Goals, Strategies, Tactics

23 Feb

Having returned from San Juan Island Sunday, and sort of psychically knowing there were thousands of bikers over on Bainbridge doing the Chilly Hilly, and having walked the pups to the park and feeling the 62 degree sunshine on my shoulders, my body started shaking with the bike withdrawal: I knew I had to go for a ride.

And so, I suited up from the suitcase, scrambled to find everything (got to learn to unpack coordinatedly!), after several false starts (forgot glasses, forgot gloves) I finally broke out onto the street, ready to charge into this miraculous February sunshine and… it started raining. Big, silvery, cold drops of rain. Sighing, I rolled down the hill to get warmed up and see if I could avoid putting on the raincover and at the bottom of the big MLT hills I couldn’t wait any longer. Then, well into the Sammamish trail, down near those serpentine curves at Bothell, stopped to take off the rain cover, exulted in the feel of nothing but skin, jersey, and oxygen and… it started raining again. Big, silvery, cold drops of rain! Oh well, I decided to keep going and it eventually dried out. It wound up being a very lovely training ride down to Marymoor and back, with the rain actually keeping the din and tumult to a minimum on the SammTrail.

In reference to the title of this post, I was thinking: Here’s a 36 mile ride, a route that used to be the highlight of our biking week, and now I’m thinking of it as a ‘training ride’ that I can squeeze in an afternoon between other chores and items. I’ve really changed over the last year! Also, another thought: I’m addicted. Seriously. I’m either happiest on a bike, or, secondarily, thinking about the next bike trip if I’m not actually on a bike. When I am biking, and pullover to fiddle with something or take a drink, a full 20% of my CPU spins up and starts thinking about the next ride. Even this past weekend when I suggested we go hiking down at a state park after our ride I said it would be great cross training and the Surlylady gave me a look… it’s called hiking, she said. In other words, most of what I think or do lately seems to be referential to my bike reverential. I think I have a problem.

As an addict (first step) I have this nagging doubt that I’m going about some of this in a scattershot way, as in, what can I fit in this week, or weekend? I don’t want to be the prototypical bike junkie, slobbering on myself on a flea-ridden couch in the middle of the day in some flophouse, waiting for the next ride. There should be some method behind all this. And if not a method, at least a clarification of goals and a corresponding alignment of actions to suit the case of those goals.

Goals, then. While my primo personal goal is to meet my weight loss and fitness targets (nominally I’ve been aiming to get down to 200 pounds, but lately I’ve been telling myself getting to 185 would be sweeter as that’s right around my ideal weight, and it would be an even 100 off where I was just a short while ago). One of my challenges (and as far as challenges, relative to world events and other people’s lives, I’ve got it made and feel weird about even calling any of this a challenge; part of the change in me this last 15 months has been a weird increase in self absorption whereas before I tried to avoid myself at all costs, i.e. not look in mirrors… and really, I’m also incredibly lucky to be in relatively good health after the 15+ years of complete inactivity I wallowed in, I know some folks who are way overweight like I used to be but their joints just can’t handle biking or other exercises and, while I was there with them–oh the pain of those first few long walks and rides–I’m lucky to be where I am). Where was I? Oh yeah, challenges, biking challenges. What I was going to say is that I have purchased a LOT of biking magazines over the last oh nine months and there’s a lot of good information out there for fitness and training, but most of it seems aimed at those already at or near an ideal level. So, in other words, when you’re trying to lose 85 pounds, it doesn’t really make sense to worry about intervals and training regimes… it simply matters to go out there and sweat as much as you can, as long as you can, as hard and as fast as you can. But now I’m sort of bridging over from this all-out mentality and wanting a more strategic or thoughtful approach.

Having said that, as put in a previous post, my number 1 road biking goal this year is to complete the Seattle-to-Portland ride in fine form, i.e. not walk around Portland when it’s over, sobbing and unable to sit down.

Secondary goals are therefore part of my strategy to enable the primary STP goal: First I want to complete my first century in March; secondly I want to get to a fitness level where my ‘cruising’ average speed is 18 – 19 mph, and my ‘recovery’ average speed is 15 – 16 mph. Importantly, I also want to continue having a ball riding my bikes, soaking up all of the fresh air, new moves, technical tips and that endorphin-fueled high that keeps drawing me back. I don’t want to deny myself the fun as part of some mutually exclusive or unforgiving regimen. I’ve got to make the two work harmoniously.

So far this year my erstwhile strategy has been riding to work around three days a week (so that would be around 118 miles per week) with long road and mountain bike forays on the weekends, hopefully getting longer as I ramp up for STP. I’ve also been doing lots of ‘cross training’ with weight lifting at the gym (emphasis on core muscle groups) and hiking/walking. It may be time to re-examine this strategy and maybe apply more focus or planning. I’ll try to do that in the coming weeks.

Iron Horse Trail

Iron Horse Trail

But speaking of training… the Surlylady and I drove out to the Iron Horse trail today (gotta love the PTO Mondays!) with our mountain bikes. We like to start on the trail at the Rattlesnake Lake parking lot and hoof it up about 17 miles to the tunnel (now closed apparently) and back. It’s a bumpy, beautiful ride that’s a 100% cardio grind.

Snow joke, seriously.

Snow joke, seriously.

Today we were spinning the cobwebs out of our systems and making great time. The sky was overcast, with the sun occasionally acting like it might penetrate the cover. Temperature wise, it wasn’t bad at all; I could have stuck with shorts only no problem. About seven miles into the ride, however, we started running into many patches of snow. Those that were hardened ice or slush were negotiable, mostly, but the stuff that was sort of a crusted-over snow was not working. You’d make some progress and then hit an unseen pothole or something. Finally, after gamely slogging along (oh the fresh air! even if coming in gale-force headwind-ish angles) we came across a long, long stretch of deep snow. It was time to call the game. We turned around and flew back down the mountain, the promise of Taco Time tater tots spurring us on. Also, I wear spurs while mountain biking, but that’s a personal preference.

We didn’t get as far as we’d like to have, but it was still a healthy grind. Good night.

San Juan Island – Suffer those who Suffer Against Us

22 Feb

Only commuted once last week; Wednesday; morning was just absolutely glorious and I flew in to work with muscles and tendons that were primed and primo; purple-pink Lake Washington sky and everything; dropped some nagging fellow who insisted on following way too close through the UW campus curve (I like to slow down in that zone, even in the morning), and dropped him on the slight uphill to the U Bridge, so awesome. The ride home was crummy, however. Almost my first mash of the pedal produced an odd ‘kuh-clunk’ sound. I immediately thought it was the rear derailleur acting up again (see previous posts). So I fiddled and fiddled with the barrel adjuster, usually on the fly but I did stop at Counterbalance as well as several other pullovers; all to no avail. For some reason it didn’t register in my head that the ‘kuh-clunk’ was rhythmic, regular, predictable. Meaning, of course, that I had a bad link in the chain, as I discovered at home that night. I limped home–well, actually made really good time considering–all disgusted and such. Scheming ways to replace the rear derailleur cable. But when I later threw it on the work stand I found one link in the chain that I couldn’t wriggle loose: it produced that kuh-clunk sound everytime it went through the derailleur path. Hm. So the next day I asked some biker buddies and did some research and then chickened out and took it to a local bike shop to look at. They’re so nice there (Bicycles West in Lynnwood) and said they’d take a look right away. He brought over a chain measuring chain and said Whoa, you definitely need a new chain. How many miles have you put on it?

Hm. Hadn’t thought about that before. I told him, with the exception of December, I probably average close to 500 miles per month, and had been riding that chain since August. Apparently the chain was really, really worn. This probably explains the constant derailleur skipping or phantom shifting problems I’d been experiencing increasingly. I guess in my head I figured if I cleaned and oiled the chain about every other ride it would last a lot longer, but I guess I have been putting a lot of miles on the Trucker. Another lesson learned. I also maybe averted one, in asking if they had a spare chunk of chain I could carry for a hot spare. Now I just need to practice using my chain tool! And learn basic maintenance! Too much riding to do for maintenance! Hulk impatient!

The Cliff-Hugging Road Mystery

The Cliff-Hugging Road Mystery

So, crisis averted as well, as Surlylady and I had planned a big birthday bash (her’s) on San Juan Island. I’d booked a room in a bed and breakfast (oh, such fantastic food! poached pears with cinnamon and cloves, asparagus and fontina cheese omelletes, local sausage links, heavenly french toast, artichoke souffle, incredible hazelnut and chocolate chip scones, with a hint of orange, and the most fabulous apple tart ever… basically, I gained back about half of the five pounds I’d lost in the last seven days!). Our plan was to spend Saturday riding around the island. Another great thing about this bed & breakfast (States Inn) was that they had a bike room in their huge barn, next to the cottage where we stayed. So, in the cold frosty Saturday morning air I wheeled our two Surly steeds out of the barn and spent some time currying their saddlebags. I even gave the Trucker some extra oats because he was going to need ’em.

The weather was Northwest variable, meaning a mix of blinding sun, freezing side winds, dull brutish british blah, and then soft and lovely sun again. Unfortunately Surlylady wasn’t feeling it that day. Even as the ride started, her legs were bonking. It seemed to me she was maybe coming down with the flu, but she said it was just her legs were very tired and slow. Said she’d never felt that way before, like she was trying to ride through water or something. So the ride, while we wound through some breathtaking scenery, was a bit tinged with some of the misery she was feeling. Every mile or so I’d ask if we should turn around, and she gamely insisted we keep going, even as her legs were feeling and probably smelling gamey.

Pretty San Juan'd Pond

Pretty San Juan'd Pond

We had been reading the latest Bike Magazine on the ferry ride over, and in an article on pain (one of those quasi-confessional-pretentious scree ones) that mentions something about pain being the evidence of weakness leaving the host, or something. In Surlylady’s case, it was a matter of the pain not leaving but staying in the face to turn it grayish. There’s a certain point, in other words, where pain can overcome pride, and this happened down in the Southeast corner of the island, near the American Camp park. We were working our way out to the Peninsula point and I suddenly could tell from her face that we needed to start heading back. I gave her an ultimatum: a long slow slog (we were averaging something like 6mph all day) back to the B&B over on the other side of the island, or I could install her in a coffee shop in Friday Harbor; the thought of the latter, and the indignity of knowing she’d burst into tears if left there (so she told me) put some juice back in the old bean stalks and I’ll be darned if we didn’t get a damn good paceline going back across the island. It was one of those felicitous geographical merges where we hit a long pretty stretch sheltered from the bitterly cold side wind and this rejuvenated us, as did the crazy long downhill we encountered near the B&B (we’d come down the coast road earlier). All in all, we put in 36.5 miles, not bad for a sickie! Then, as prev ment, I bought us a couple of fresh-from-the-oven apple tarts from the store at the B&B (they sell meat pies, amazing french bread, ravioli, etc) and those tarts were just about the best post-ride recovery food ever! We hadn’t had lunch really, and yet these tarts tarted us up until we were as giddy as schoolgirls in tartan. Got cleaned up and drove down to Lime Kiln State Park to do some cliff hiking and lime kiln spelunking. No, those aren’t euphemisms, although I like the way you think.

False Bay Road - it was 'truly' awesome.

False Bay Road - it was 'truly' awesome.

As for the ride itself, if you’re willing to brave the weather on the San Juans in February, and I’m guessing you might be, if you’re reading this far, unless you’re a damn dirty lurker, then you’ll be interested to hear about my favorite part of the ride: False Bay Road. We came upon three other bikers exiting from this loop, and promptly flew by, not recognizing they were on the very road I had intended us to turn on. Let’s see. Small island. Roadie bikers tend to follow the well-worn paths set out by the guides etc. There’s three of them. I know we need to turn right here somewhere soon. Oh no, I guess that was it back there. Brilliant navigation. As a tech aside, all navigational errors are intentional, as part of building a case with the Surlylady to purchase iPhones to help our GPS-lack.

Anyway, this road was a nice break from the somewhat bumpy chipseal predominant on the island. It was, instead, a sort of gravelly dirt road and oddly way less bumpy. Maybe what you would have called ‘macadam’ in post-war Italy, in other words. Those who rode on such at such a time may be reminded of such. It was a very lovely little loop, and I highly recommend, as it cuts out some of the busier highway section and takes you along a nice backway. And with that, I leave you with the obligatory bike panda shot:

False Bay loop

False Bay loop

Tolt You So ‘Bout Tolt McDonald

17 Feb

As promised, a little blog entry (blentry?) about our mountain bike extravaganza to Tolt McDonald on Monday. In the moment, a three-day holiday weekend is great. You just about forget all the stress of work. Tuesday’s a different story, as you realize how much crap you have to finish in a shortened week. But enough about reality. Let’s take you to the Tolt McDonald plateau.

A cold and misty start on the Tolt McDonald

A cold and misty start on the Tolt McDonald

Tolt McDonald is located next to Carnation, WA. There are several parking lots to accomodate those of us traveling from Seattle or the suburbs. There’s a swaying suspension bridge to cross the Snohomish river (dismount to cross, bikers!) and several rental yurts dot the hillside like large canvas toadstools. The famous IAB portion (It’s A Bitch, aptly named) is a very steep entree onto the plateau. Faint of heart or feeble of heart should probably not try this. One day I’ll ride the entire thing, but there are a couple of switchback spots that break me.

My beloved Kona

My beloved Kona

Once you’re on top, you’re on top of the mountain biking world here in this part of Western Washington at least. We started riding at 10:30 and didn’t get out of there until 3:30. Surlylady and I take lots of breaks, but still we managed to cover lots of territory, staying mainly to the perimeter trails and doing just that, the whole perimeter. About halfway into the day our buddy KonaLad showed up and we virtually did the same loop, with a couple of intentional and not-so-intentional variations. Overall this is my favorite place to mountain bike. For me, the allure of MTB is to get out in the trees, get fresh air, nail a few technical tasks (even if this is only climbing steep hills without walking, and getting over moderate logs without crashing), and this place delivers that, with lots and lots of miles. This was our second time to go. Our first visit was just after I finally talked the Surlylass into getting a mountain bike and trying it out (after months and months of You’re going to LOVE IT, trust me… I might add).

I’ve had my Kona since last May, about a month after I got into road biking. For some reason I just knew I was going to love the mountain as much as the road. I’m still a beginner, in both disciplines, but I enjoy both equally. As my goal this year for road biking is to do a century by March and complete the STP in July without dying, my goal for mountain biking is to learn how to bunny hop and not die in a crash during a week-long MTB vacation in Whistler, the very week before the STP, and appropriately enough during a kid’s bike camp I think! My ultimate goal, of course, is to lose another twenty or so pounds. Speaking of which, I’m now at the lowest point I’ve been since the early 90s: I’ve lost 67.5 pounds!

Kona Panda

Kona Panda

Interestingly, as we were gearing up on Monday morning, Wellington, my Long Haul Trucker, named so on account of the rain-ready fenders and the general British-ness look with the Carradice, asked: “Hey sport, looks like a nice day for a ride! Where are we going today?”

I tried to change the subject but he brought me back with a very pointed look at the Kona as I was checking its chain. I felt I had to offer some kind of explanation. “I’m just going out for a training ride. Hill work. Intervals. You know.”

“Right,” said Wellington.

“It’s nothing. I’ll be back before you know it.”

“… granny gear…”

I looked up. “What was that?”

The Trucker pretended innocence. “Me? I didn’t say anything.”

Then, as I was leaving the bike room I thought I heard Wellington darkly mutter about “breaking a derailleur hanger.” And thus describes my dilemma, my surfeit of spinning opportunities: road ride, or MTB? As a compromise, I’ve often done both the same day, sometimes going for a spin in the morning and then meeting my brother for some MTBing on the Kitsap Peninsula. I think the central problem is there’s not enough time in the day, especially in February. I’m practically salivating at the thought of 9:30 sunsets this summer… think of how much riding one could get in!

View of the Snohomish River from the LOOKOUT! point

View of the Snohomish River from the LOOKOUT! point

Back to the Tolt McDonald. While most of the plateau is self-contained, with varying landscapes of sparse alder sections, dense, mossy old-growth looping and scrub pine openness, there is this one fantastic lookout point– watch that edge, it’s a doozy. And back to the technical aspects. Again, I’ve had more MTB miles than Surlylady but even then, we’re both into the ‘touring’ aspect of mountain bike riding, in the same way we’re into touring on roads. As I have no interest in joining a club ride around Lake Washington, I’m similarly unattracted to the idea of a mountain bike paceline at breakneck speed, such as I’ve seen on occasion. I have to wonder, are they almost trying to draft each other… through the mud… on an oxbow-windy trail? Anyway, safe, sure and scenic is our speed. As mentioned, I would like to have the satisfaction of clearing more of the moderate obstructions in a typical single-track–I’m getting pretty good at the minor ones.

Overall, I think mountain biking is more of a ‘communal’ thing. Maybe not communal so much as incidental, emphasis on incident. I suppose I shouldn’t say this without having participated in one of those road pace lines but there’s a certain shared experience aspect that I find different with mountain biking. For instance, on our fun-filled road jaunt through Snohomish County, Surlylady and I didn’t pick over scenes or curves or events in the post-ride chat so much as a comprehensive, all-inclusive “that was kick ass today!” conversation. It was miles and scenery, rather than meters and scenery. When I go riding on forest trails with my brother and nephew, or even my dad, on the other hand, there’s that difference. We talk about particular places, where we crashed or almost crashed, jumps we tried, berms where we almost died, etc. MTBing is a different species, but of the same genus. To me… wait for it… they’re both genius.

Mossy foot

You know it's been a good ride when you get moss in your shoe

Parting shot: our exit over the swaying suspension bridge: no more cold misty cloudy muck! The sun had come out in full glory:


Like a suspension bridge over untroubled water