Archive | June, 2011

Methow Valley Weekend – and ordering a couple of Curtlo frames

27 Jun


Friday we set off for a cabin weekend in Mazama, with a car full of pups and a Surly Cross-Check on the back rack. This time we were able to take Highway 20, our favorite route, and marvel at the lack of snow compared to the May trip (but also at the continuing presence of it in spots, such as the Blue Lake trailhead cutoff).

We listened to the White Album, a couple of times, and generally had a great road trip kind of afternoon… made even more exciting at the thought we’d soon be meeting Doug Curtiss, of Curtlo cycles fame, to get set for a new frame for the SurlyLady! It was so much fun to see his workshop and meet him. The ‘Lady described what she was looking for (a sort of sporty road frame with cross sensibilities, i.e. wider tires) and he watched her ride around on the Cross-Check. The longest part of the appointment was spent trying to choose from among the paint samples (she still hasn’t decided on a color, but is narrowing it down).

By the end we put down a deposit in order to get things rolling. And then, uh, I sort of put down a deposit for a frame too! Same story, a sportif/cross frame.

Afterward we went for a hike up the West Fork trail, then the next day we put in several mini hikes (early quit hikes due to a washed out man-made bridge at Copper Glance, too much snow falling near Tiffany Mountain, and then, separately, a washed out log bridge on the Bernhardt trail). In the course of this however we had a grand time scooting around the valley. We scouted some amazing new loops (such as the one up to Black Pine Lake, off of the Twisp River Rd) to try in the future, when we go back with our bikes… and ideally, sometime later this year, our new Curtlo bikes.

Leaving the Methow Valley was tough as usual. We spent hours trying to figure out a way we could move there permanently… and as usual couldn’t think of anything practical, darn it. But today, even thrust back into the crazy stream of work stuff, life stuff, dirty house stuff and so on, I think back to the place we just left and imagine our next trip there, maybe in August. We’re excited about our new frames, of course, and the idea of having custom-fit bikes to go exploring on. Even better is the notion that we’re able to meet the fellow who will be making them. There’s something so cool about that, about knowing the environment these are getting made in, knowing that he’ll be brazing on say a warm summer afternoon with breezes perhaps blowing through from up the valley, from the Lost River area even. How cool to get some Methow-born bikes for future Methow-based adventures!



Sammamish Squeamish

19 Jun

Following up on the previous post: after the rain up here in the convergence zone (we call it the submergence zone) let up a little we hopped in the Suby and took off for Marymoor Park, intending to do the 100-mile route. Our two pups, sensing somehow that we were going to Marymoor without them, were dis-gusted.

Once at Marymoor we saw a ton of Canadians, there for the finish line of a cancer-benefit ride from Vancouver (I think?). It was a riot of Vancouverians, and as such SurlyLady and I immediately laid down on the pavement in the parking lot and started smooching, hoping to get on Good Morning America (or Good Morning Canadia).

We laced up, saddled up, meaning we put on the saddle bags (the ‘Lady got a new Carradice Junior bag, which is just like my Pendle ‘cept without the side pockets… I’m super jealous, it’s the perfect size) and took off!

Carradice Junior

We were feeling saucy going up all those hills, Ingersoll, Ames Lake, and that sharp one off the road to Duvall… but then I started feeling just downright weird around Duvall. Maybe it was the 55 degrees and overcastness and seeing my breath on Duthie Hill at 3pm in mid June? Maybe it was just ‘one of those days’? I have them now and then. Anyway, since we’d gotten such a late start, around lunch time, we’d been hoping to be hopping it but the pace wasn’t quite enough. Plus… I was feeling weird. So I talked us into ratcheting down our expectations and only doing the 65-mile route. We rolled through Duvall, turned left and went down the West Snoqualmie road… and then cloverleafed back up toward Carnation. We stopped at that Camp Korey place for some energy bars. I was feeling bonktastic at this point, and felt like without lunch (so far) I needed some warm calories. In Carnation we made the mistake of trying the pizza place next to the IGA. Whew. It was almost inedible, and frankly I was ready to eat shoe leather at that point. This poor pizza combined with my already weird feeling to give me a nice case of the pukeys! We pulled out of Carnation, headed for that peaceful golf course road; I felt a little better, having had some Co-cola at the pizza joint, but still things were off. I was privately dreading hitting Duthie Hill. Just ahead of said hill we hit a couple of rollers and my stomach started rolling big time.

Ghost town a week after Flying Wheels... lingering smells of Cervelos and embrocations...

Once on the hill I led off at an okay pace but soon found myself about to get sick. At one point I said, “Stop being such a whiny baby!” and I geared up a little and hit it hard but then a few hundred yards later I had to stop, feeling dizzy and half pukey. Blah. Not good stuff. Oddly enough, by the end of the Duthie climb I was feeling much better… I like hills even more now, as they’re a curative for spiritual and physical ailments, yo!

From this point on the SurlyLady demonstrated some amazing leg strength and we hauled ass back down to Lake Sammamish. She kept up an amazing pace and it inspired me so much that I took off on a flyer for the last five miles or so, feeling much better.

All in all, I think we could have handled the 100 miles, but we were just running out of time, and possibly day light. The scary thing for me is that today’s 65 miles, matching last weekend’s effort, are our longest rides of the year! This time a year ago I did the 100-mile route, riding from home, for a total of 140 miles! Yikes. I feel out of saddle shape, yet take some small consolation in knowing our major rides are at the end of August (RAPsody) and then two weeks later in Packwood for the High Pass Challenge — we should have enough time to get some practice rides in and ramp up for the 170 miles and 9600 feet of der RAPsody. (Internally) I’m dialing back my aspirations, again aiming for survival rather than surpassing old records. We shall see.

Flying Wheels Recap and Mechanical Madness

19 Jun

With Father’s Day here, and while sitting at the compoo waiting for the downpour to pass before we attempt our own personal Flying Wheels century route today, thoughts turned to last weekend and the shorter version SurlyLady and I rode with my poppa.

Finish Line

It had been a late start – we had several mechanical issues on SurlyLady’s Crosscheck, which explains this mechanical interlude. That previous week I’d taken her bike into the shop to have some changes made, putting on my Tiagra 9spd triple brifters from the Vaya and installing a new Sugino triple crankset and Tiagra front derailleur. The story of her ‘stock’ Crosscheck is a checkered one, with lots of cross-outs. When she bought it from Counterbalance, rather than sticking with the stock bar ends (I think those were stock then?) she got some Ultegra STI shifters, to match up to the compact crankset. Within the first year the gearing just wasn’t forgiving enough for a two-pannier commute up the Mountlake Terrace grinder hills, so we had Larry at Perfect Wheels put on a larger mountain-style 9-spd cluster and XT RD in back. Ever since then her gearing has been screwy. She’s pretty much never been able to use the next-to-largest cog; when tuned nicely it just skips over it, otherwise when sloppy there’s all kinds of stutter and hesitation, made worse under stress on the hills when she tends to want to go to that gear. I’ve worn out the barrel adjuster at the downtube stopper adjusting that thing over the years, to the point where it almost feels stripped out (I’ll replace it soon). I’ve taken it to two different shops and while they tune it in their minds, as soon as she gets back on the road it’s skipping and hopping cogs again. Looking at it system wise, I started to wonder if there was a mismatch somewhere in the, uh, chain of connections: Ultegra 10spd shifters, FSA compact crank, double front derailleur, XT long cage rear der, wide range 9spd cassette. It worked for the most part except in certain combinations. The wondering lasted a couple of years until recently I recommended, after watching her gamely struggle up the commute hills under her commute burden, that she get a triple set up. I’d put bar-ends on the Vaya, give her my brifters (the most expensive part of the equation) and we’d get her a new crankset with 170mm arms. And basically that’s what the bike shop did for us. Unfortunately, I also provided the shop a new Shimano bottom bracket in a 110mm spindle length, per Sugino’s instructions, completely forgetting the wealth of online advice about Sugino cranks, especially on Long Haul Truckers, Crosschecks and other similar ‘touring’ bikes, and how you generally needed longer spindles than what Sugino recommended in their crankset specs. The shop called to say everything was set, but that they thought we needed an even smaller bottom bracket. I went to pick up the bike and the guy showed me how, in the middle ring and at the extreme cogs there was a little ‘catch’ in the chain; the chainline wasn’t quite as perfect as he wanted. He thought maybe either things would wear in or we should get a smaller bottom bracket. This puzzled me, but I let it rest. It seemed very, very minor, at least on the bike rack. The next day, during our own 65 mile version of the Flying Wheels, the ‘Lady had all kinds of shifting problems, seemingly unrelated to the bottom bracket, just the same old shift-skipping issues. In sum, with the new parts and with new cabling, it appeared nothing had changed at all, the same old bad shifting habits were there, i.e. a skipping over rear cogs, loss of momentum up a hill while trying to settle into a gear. Frustrating!

So I ordered some parts online:

Gear goodies!

I knew, from the Vaya, that the Tiagra shifters, Tiagra triple FD, and Deore LX (the ‘Euro trekking’ one) rear derailleur worked well, so I resolved to recreate this combo on her Crosscheck. I also love the Deore LX as it has a barrel adjuster right at the derailleur housing, which I find much better than just at the downtube stopper. I also got her a trick new Deore XT cassette — I figured, I might as well get a new cassette and chain to match her new crankset and derailleur. First up, I swapped out her new Shimano UN54 bottom bracket with the former IRD one (at 113mm) to see if that helped at all; on the bike rack, nope it didn’t help the ghost shifting, but the ‘extreme’ chain line problems seemed gone. I hope that going to a longer spindle at 113 rather than going with the shop’s recommendation of a shorter (107?) does the trick.

[Edit 1] Well I feel pretty stupid… the 113mm spindle bottom bracket didn’t work, as it was so wide it prevented the front der from shifting to the big ring! Ooops. Well, in hindsight it’s kind of hilarious, right sweetie? Whap!! Interestingly, I put on the 110mm bottom bracket, snugged down the cranks, and now that sort of almost-wanting-to-skip-off-the-crank sound in the extreme cogs seems gone… not sure if I did anything different from what the shop would have done. The bad shifting in back still remains. [end Edit]

Other than that, I’m learning a lot, and yet can’t help shaking the thought that I’m missing something — and yet if so, then three bike shops (with some really good mechs) are also missing it.

I didn’t want to try too much troubleshooting at once and instead we’ll go through this in stages. Today, once this rain lets up a little, when we go for 100 miles we’ll definitely see how things shake out!

[Edit 2] Hmm, I didn’t really say much about our Flying Wheels last week, did I? Well it was fun! My dad did so great. The funny thing is SurlyLady was on fire, and was way out in front of us most of the way and my dad was taking off after her like a hound for the mechanical rabbit. We were just cruising around Lake Sammamish. At the rest stop (the one and only…) he looked pretty tired, but like he was doing better than expected. He asked, “is it really halfway done?” Later in the ride I mentioned something about maybe doing a longer ride next year, and he didn’t immediately balk. That’s the visceral thing about signing up for organized rides, and the ride itself: you place a marker on a calendar, you buy a ticket (obligation not to back out), then you train leading up to the ride… then on the ride you go from geo-spatial point A to point B, and at the end of the day you can look back and easily understand the accomplishment. Best of all, you almost always wind up wanting more. I’m thinking my pop might be hooked a little on the bike riding! [end Edit]

Snohomish to Sultan to Monroe Loop

5 Jun

I sit now at the computer with the lovely smell of lilacs drifting through the window, the hushed roar of evening winding down. SurlyLady is on the couch, reading a magazine. The Cooper pup is splayed out, lazy from the work of the day. I too am feeling droopy… so… drowsy… but. Got to write about yesterday’s ride!

The view from the top of Reiner Road

KonaLad, JamisLad and the ‘Lady and meself all met in Snohomish at the foot of the Centennial Trail. We followed that until the turnoff for Dubuque Road which, whew, had some nice hill climbing to start the day! I felt awesome, so energized by the nice blue sky… could it be spring is here? If only for a week or two this year?

We worked our way over past the Lake Roesiger turn off and then down Woods Creek Road, off onto Bollenbaugh. I love Woods Creek! Lots of fast downhills and curves and big ring circus fun. Soon enough we were all toodling down the Old Pipeline Road, which is a fabulously quiet farm/forest road with some residential stretches here and there, along with a couple of crackling powerline concentrations due to the nearby hydroelectric stuff. At the end of Old Pipeline we lefted and followed the road to Lake Chaplain for about 3-ish or so miles. That section is just divine. Smooth asphalt, no cars, just a green gauntlet of trees, the sound of the Sultan River nearby.

So smooth... like a baby's butt if wearing asphalt diapers.

This road doesn’t get much traffic, which is great from a “no interruption, lots of safety, get to ride next to your pals and, again, smooth surface” point of view. Eventually there’s a dead end at the gate to the hydro area:

Lake Chaplain gate

There are many gravel turnoffs that I would like to explore someday (the SurlyLady and I took the pups there the previous weekend and did some hiking), and even a swimming hole in the Sultan. Too soon we had to turn around and head back for Old Pipeline/Reiner Road. This just meant we got to re-experience this stretch of fun seclusion:

Lake Chaplain road... too good to be true.

At the end of the Lake Chaplain road, we turned left onto Reiner and enjoyed the corkscrewing elevation loss, again on a very low traffic stretch. There’s not much of a shoulder, in case you’re wondering, but we were lucky and didn’t seem to run into many cars. There are a couple of fun hills toward the end of Reiner and then we took a left on Old Owen Road, headed for Sultan. That stretch of Highway 2 was a little unnerving because of the bridge just before Sultan; we had to take the lane as there just wasn’t any shoulder to work with. Just into town we turned on Mann Road, crossed yet another bridge with a lovely view…

Skykomish River

Watched in concern as SurlyLady shuddered at a childhood memory, and soon turned onto the Ben Howard Road. This was awesome! Lots of bicyclists and bikers (of the motoring variety) seem to like that route as it wends along the river. I enjoyed some of the sharp hills and spectacular water views. Soon enough we were near Monroe, and noticing that the traffic volume was decidedly picking up. All the drivers in Snohomish seem so considerate with bicyclists it’s hard to complain, but I think with the 70+ degree weather on a Saturday there was lots of folks oot and aboot. We cruised through Monroe, stopped at a gas station to fuel up (SurlyLady and I shared a big Pepsi… I knew we were gonna be in trouble because that stuff is like jet fuel to her) then railed along the Old Monroe highway back to Snohomish. The gang met up at the Pilchuck drive in for milk shakes and grub. All in all, a perfect day! I really enjoyed this route, there were certain highlight sections that would be worth revisiting again.

Today I went riding with my Pop. We met at Marymoor and, surprisingly, he wanted to ride on the East Lake Sammamish gravel trail. “Why yes,” I said, “I would love to ride on some gravel.” We cruised along side by side, making small talk. I think he far prefers that trail to riding in traffic, but as I was thinking about this I wondered if it might not be more dangerous with an inattentive richie rich chap in an Infiniti sedan barreling down his driveway and hitting us and, yup, such a thing nearly happened. It’s kind of like the Burke Gilman through Shoreline/Sheridan/Sand Point — eminent domain pain. Yet very pretty too.

On our return to Marymoor we had to get onto the E Lake Samm road as the trail was closed. We were soon passed by a roadie in head-to-toe lime green kit. Imagine my shock when I watched my Pop ratchet up the gears and go after Mr. Greenie! Holy smokes, my old man is a Hammer Head! We were averaging 18 mph going up those roller hills. I was astounded. Then as we hit the flats leading up to the turn back to Marymoor, he changed his gears again — with a very deliberate glance at his shifters — and got up to 22 mph! That made my weekend!

I think he’s going to be just fine for Flying Wheels next week. As I think will Kona and JamisLad as they do the FW century option — they seemed very strong on Saturday’s ride.

Finding Thrills on Blackberry Hill

5 Jun

After the ride yesterday (see next post) we enjoyed a very pleasant Saturday — me running errands, including taking the Stan’s 340 Alpha wheelset to Perfect Wheels for repair and then SurlyLady’s CrossCheck to Bicycles West for a new triple treatment, then on to a Craigslist find of an old steel barrel. The ‘Lady redecorated the bedroom with a spring makeover, i.e. down with the heavy curtains, up with the brightness.

Then I spent some time in the lower 40 backyard clearing out the blackberries. Again.

Blackberries, iPhones, Androids...

I say again, because I’ve done this twice before. The second time I was proud of the barren, battle-scarred expanse; I had sheared and shorn the entire lower yard. No ivy, no blackberries, no tree/shrub/scrub things. The only problem was, regarding the blackberries in particular, I hadn’t done the full job. It wasn’t until a year or so ago when the SurlyLady and I volunteered for an REI work party that I finally figured out how to truly eradicate (or come very close to doing so) blackberries: you gotta pull the root balls out. At the time, and inspired, I purchased a claw hammer style mini tiller dealio like the ones we’d used at the REI party, and then infrequently would dig out a few bits here and there. Unfortunately, it wasn’t comprehensive or soon enough as it seems over the last several weeks the lower yard has exploded with blackberries and a new scree of tree-like brushy plants. Oh man, starting all over again sucks! But you sighs, you wishes you had goats, and then you gets started.

I started in the corner near the potting shed. Soon the rhythm took over and this, along with the snazzily dappled (snappled) afternoon sun on the dancing blackberry stalks got my mind into all kinds of philosophizin’. Quite like mowing the yard, that sense-to-sensibility arc. I began by ruefully ruminating ruminant-like on the errors of my previous gardening ways. This led to an easy leap, connecting the blackberry dot to my job, i.e. in software support and management, the predominant aim of which at times is getting to the root causes of problems. If Sherlock Holmes has a thing for deductive reasoning, software teams are similarly rooted to focusing on the ‘root cause’ of errors and then, in the vast majority of instances, completely ignoring those root causes. Just like this blackberry patch, and my former attempts to clear it.

But what about problems (and their roots) that aren’t system specific? For years I worked in a department that had some definite process- and people-related challenges. Since I was a bootstrap manager, having previously been a developer, sys admin and sys analyst, I therefore had a very naive sense that everything in the department, whether managing projects or teams or servers, was just a matter of getting the configuration and the parts right. One plus two equals three, is kind of how I approached things… the innocence of relying on the obvious. Blackberries need clearing? There’s only one right way to do such? Then do it the first time, in the right way. Black and white. Or, black and green.

I developed a whole new set of muscles adapting to different managers over the years. Like a big dummy I kept running my mouth off about what I thought needed fixing. Eventually I was told to shut up about the damn root balls… and so I did. The final year in that department however I did find a measure of success. I roped off a small corner of the department yard and did things my way. No, I still didn’t have the leverage to tiller out old root balls, but at least I was able to arrange the gardening teams so they got along very well and chopped down the stems on time and under budget and preemptively prevented new root balls from forming. I went out on a high note.

Today things are radically different. I’ve been transferred to a different department. There are no blackberries here. Period. There are occasional weeds, but everyone laughs as they pull them out almost absent mindedly. I don’t have a pager, there hasn’t been a single emergency, no black eyes that can be seen by the whole company, nada, zilch. In fact the team is so high performing there’s almost nothing for me to do. It’s been disconcerting. I went from doing the work of multiple roles and having a crucial part to play to being a periphery flag lieutenant doing mostly ceremonial and clerical work.

Tough problem to have, I know. I’ve hinted to my new boss that I’m a little out of sorts, that this wasn’t what I expected. My new boss has been super patient, promising to find new challenges for met etc. But I’ve received these assurances with an increasingly critical ear. Then, yesterday, in the middle of digging out a particularly stubborn blackberry root ball, it hit me. WTF is wrong with me? I’m complaining because things are too good. That I don’t have enough to do. That I’m not getting pinged all day long. It’s time, I thought, to analyze my situation from a certain remove. Every success I’ve had personally and professionally over the last three years has been through an active sense of adaptation. This time, rather than constantly looking for the systemic problems what if I were to instead focus on what works so well, systemically, in my new group? What if I could figure that out, and then pinpoint the good behaviors, whether deliberate or accidental, whether a mix of topic/domain or people/culture and ask “What are these characteristics so we can study, copy and then perhaps scale them?” It’s a far different proposition than what I faced a year ago, and a much better position to be in!

death defying

4 Jun

Today it was hot! hot! hot! To celebrate not having to wear sweaters we went on a long, beautiful ride through Snohomish, Sultan and Monroe. After skirting a murderous pothole by millimeters and braving a shoulderless bridge in HWY 2 traffic I was feeling pretty cocky, but then we turned onto Mann Road and there it was — the Skykomish River. I don’t know what I ever did to the Skykomish River, but it has a history of trying to kill me. I spent a lot of time on its banks as a kid and we used to be friends:

Me & my sister & ponchos, down by the river.

But then one day it turned homicidal and tried to carry my tiny toddler self away. Luckily my dad caught me by the toe and I lived to tell the tale. When I’m around rivers I never forget who’s boss, and that goes double for the Skykomish. Even as I’m marveling at its gorgeous green expanse and peaceful, bird-chirping beauty, I’m imagining that breathless feeling of being pulled under and not even having the option of putting your foot down to ground yourself. When you’re inside your house and your car and your office it’s so easy to forget what a frail, breakable species we are, but when you remember it’s a magical thing. I think that’s what I love the most about biking and hiking, and the Skykomish River.

Burke-Gilman Trail Closure

1 Jun

The day is nearly upon us, June 15, when our treasured bike commute path along the Burke-Gilman changes, due to the potentially 6-month long closure for repairs and expansion. Each time I ride on the section of the Burke between 145th and Lake Forest Park (and further north on weekend rides) I say my little goodbyes: I say goodbye to you, Mr. Bump, fare-thee-well Mrs. Root Explosion, hang tight Uncle Pothole! Such loud and tender utterances have tended to alienate the other bikers riding nearby. This does provide a little more elbow room than usual. Maybe I should also go back to ranting about Nixon and the gold standard, and also how orange-flavored Tang was part of a communiss plot.

I’m of two minds about the Burke closure. For the left brain, I mean, right brain… I mean, whichever is the bummer brain, it’s a definite inconvenience. Sure, the closure comes during summer — it doesn’t help that we’ve had such a wet winter, making the prospect of losing that section during what might hopefully be a warmer/drier period even tougher. Added to this is the suggested alternate route (not yet officialized) that will add 6 – 7 miles on to our usual specialized trek… yikes! In our case, coming from Mountlake Terrace, that’s a tough deal. We’re already pegging 37 miles round trip per workday, and the logistics involved are plenty tough enough (i.e. getting to work on time, rolling out of bed bleary-eyed and un-bushy tailed on time etc). Adding another 6 miles of crazy uphills is, well, gonna be crazy.

A few weeks ago the ‘Lady and I scouted out the alternate route and, when we got to the section of 156th I think it was, she absolutely refused to climb that steep hill. I barely made it up but that was without panniers etc. That hill might have to be a walker for some, especially if you’re loaded down with clothes and such.

For the other mind — the more glass-half-full ‘sphere — I like to picture the future, better state. A smooth, buttery Burke, free of bumps. Little rest stops built in with European honey buckets (made of ceramic and pewter and lots of plate glass), with lemonade/bike mechanic stands, bakeries, froot smoothie vendors, hot dog vendors, traveling lending library and co-op bike parts shop. It’s going to be a thing of beauty. What, you think I’m crazy? What else are they going to do for 6 months?

Ultimately I think we’re all of the same mind on this one point: the Burke-Gilman serves a very brave and beautiful mission. It’s literally the only conduit for bikers through that area (witness how hard a time they’re having coming up with an alternate route). It serves a great purpose, and the general public. We’ll miss it while it’s gone, grumble a little about the inconvenience, and then be so happy when we have it back. Sort of like prostate surgery!

Let’s just hope the county/city built in a nice ‘finish early get big bonus’ clause to the contract, for the contractor.