Archive | July, 2011

Skagit Century

31 Jul

Yesterday, JamisLad and I went for a ride up north — it was to become his longest ride ever, by a couple of miles! We landed in Arlington, parked near the grocery store then made our way east toward Darrington, under a dark and foggy sky. I had some initial doubts — it was forecast to be nice — and wondered if there would be a replay of my last outing to the area, i.e. a soaker. But no, soon enough the fog burned off and we had a beautiful, blue-sky view of the snow-capped mountains on one side, and rivers and green-capped mountains on the other.

Counter Culture... I mean, Counter Clockwise

  • Ride: Skagit Century Loop (counter clockwise)
  • Route: Arlington – Darrington – Clear Lake
  • Length: 103 miles (for the day we did add some bonus mileage)
  • Elevation: 2051 feet
  • Ride time: 6.75 hours

JamisLad led off at a good pace as we averaged 17mph until Darrington. Traffic was light, the sun was bright, and conditions couldn’t have been better. We soon rounded north on 530 past Darrington and came to Giles Road which, per Lord Google, showed a possible route north, parallel to 530. It turned out to be the powerline road, dirt and gravel — and therefore grist for future gravel ride mills. We returned to 530 and continued the fine pace north until we turned off, crossed a grated bridge over the Sauk River and onto the Concrete Sauk River Road, a lovely low-traffic rambler through the woods and along the river. I think in the entire stretch of the next 20 miles we were passed by two cars. The road itself was in rough chipseal condition, but the splendid views and isolation were worth it — easy for me to say on my Grand Bois Cypres 32 tires, I should point out, while the JamisLad was on 25’s.

If you’re considering following this route, and it’s a warm day, you may consider crossing the bridge to Concrete to get water — unfortunately there are no services along the backroads between Darrington and Clear Lake (or Sedro Wooley). Soon the Concrete Sauk River Road curved toward the Concrete bridge while we turned left, striking out on the South Skagit Highway — another fine example of a previous main thoroughfare taken over by a younger, faster sibling on the other side of the river. This section wasn’t quite as rough but the chipseal was starting to get to us. I couldn’t get over the unparalleled parallel views of winding along not one but two rivers, the Sauk and the Skagit, for fully half of the century miles.

Soon enough we turned on to Old Day Creek Road, a shortcut down to the tiny town of Clear Lake, and we encountered our first real hills of the day (only just over 2000 feet of elevation gain total). The JamisLad was not feeling it, and you could tell because normally he goes after hills in a ‘hill in a handbasket’ style but he had run out of water and I think was hitting some bad dehydration. I split my remaining bottle with him and we trudged on. It was that part of the ride when you start to greedily check the odometer for motivation; just 10 miles to go… just five… almost there…

We pulled into Clear Lake and at first it wasn’t clear there were any stores, grocery, gas or otherwise, and for a moment I thought we may have to haul up next to the Harley’s in front of Evelyn’s Tavern when we spotted the small convenience store right next to it. Whew! That was a good sight. I got some ice cream and Vitamin Water and enjoyed standing in the shade for a bit.

Next up we continued south on Highway 9 for 20 miles — which was not fun as we were buzzed plenty by yokels — though in fairness the far majority did give us room. I think the next time I would route us around Big Lake, then across to the Lake Cavanaugh Road in order to hook on to Granstrom Road (the one SurlyLady and I took in the downpour). That’s a nice, shaded, and relatively car-free alternate to Hwy 9 with some nice rollers, and let’s you out back on Hwy 9 not too far from Bryant, where the very northern section of the paved Centennial begins.

We made it through the annoyance of Highway 9 then and much appreciated the smooth asphalt of the trail (have I mentioned before how smooth it is?) and then the JamisLad had recovered enough to sprint into Arlington.

All in all this was a fun, scenic ride. I’d make a few small changes the next time, but I was very pleased! Good training too, as High Pass Challenge is fast approaching and I need to get in more training miles like this.

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Commuting Ups and Downs, Banner Day at Banner Forest, Plus a Few Gear Reviews

27 Jul

Stinky Seat! Banner Forest!

Commuting lameness this year? Oh yeah, I’ve got all kinds of excuses. There’s yoga class night. Kickboxing class night. The I-just-want-to-stay-home-and-make-cheese-melt-sammiches night. Don’t forget the whole Burke Gilman closure. On top of that, I work in a new building, just near the Pike Place Market, and while getting there in the morning is fine as most of the road directions are water-ward, getting out, in the late afternoon, with flocks of tourists, the Duck amphibious cruiser, hundreds of nearly inert buses and most streets that are the wrong way, adds up to poopie.

Insulting the injury, my building recently shut down the men’s shower room — mind you, two showers for 42 floors of people is crazy small to begin with — and provided an alternate single shower facility in the sub basement. Nothing’s more awkward than standing around waiting for your boss, your boss’s boss, or your future and potential boss, to finish his shower. Yes that pronoun is deliberate, check the context. I will say, at least they’re working on creating a new shower that’s got 6 stalls… so just need to be patient for a few months.

Howsomever, last week when I commuted (have been averaging only once per week, yikes) I did so solo and as such, thought I would ride the whole way. The thing is, with the Burke closure, the SurlyLady and I have been driving about midway, parking a couple of miles from the Burke. So rather than drive, last Thursday I took off from the house, pushing up the street toward the alternate-to-the-alternate BG route: rather than tracing down to Lake Forest Park, I would aim for the Shoreline spine and then angle on down to meet the Burke not too far from Matthews Beach. Lots of urban commuting car roads, and lots of hills. Horrible seeming hills. However, here’s the gift-horse moment: I kind of like this new route. It’s like a long series of rollers, some more steep than others. Whereas our usual route resembles a clawfoot bathtub, steep at the start and finish and fairly level in the middle, this new route has some awesome hills and zigzags. I got to racing with some racer chaps (how irate they seem when a guy in a cotton shirt and a big pannier cruises past!) and had a fun time huffing along. Then I left the ‘official’ BG rerouting and found myself alone, again on the Shoreline spine, threading through those neighborhoods and wending over toward Mountlake Terrace. I like that route. It’s not a ton longer than the standard way, and is way better for interval-like training.

Last Saturday I went riding with my Poppa, my brother, his wife and my nephew aka his son. It was quite a procession through the woods. I love that place. Very mellow single track, with a variegated landscape. My brother broke a chain link at one point and, ta da, I had a tool! We fixed it but then the fix started messing up. I fixed it a couple of times, but then eventually it broke beyond all repair. At this point I suggested, rather than taking out yet another link, that he just take off the chain and coast/Fred Flinstone back to the car (we were already on our way back). And I have to admit, I was jealous watching him cruise along. He was going faster than us. What does that say about the typical mountain bike rider, or at least me and the rest of the crew, when a guy without a chain can skooch along faster than you? When we arrived at the parking lot he started to talk about how that was one of the most fun things he’d ever done on a bike, how he’d really had to use his upper body etc. Sort of like being on a BMX bike on a pump track, I imagine. Yes, this is giving me some ideas: custom chainless softtail 650b mountain bike, here I come!

Here are some reviews I have been meaning to catch up on:

Carradice Junior bag — Speaking of Goldilocks engineering, this bag is just right. Just as much capacity in the main compartment as my other Pendle, but without the side pockets, which must add at least a hundred grams of weight. 100 grams! Can you imagine the injustice of that? The Junior gets a thumbs up for sure. Everything you need for a cyclotourist out on the country town, and nothing you don’t need.

Tektro Oryx brakes and stock black pads — That ride we took up in Skagit county, when it rained most of the day? Well the oddest thing happened. The SurlyLady’s pretty new bike got all kinds of weird black dye stains on the Pasela tourguard gumwalls and Salsa polished rims, all from the stock black pads. At one point I saw the black streaks, like the kitchen table at Easter when your nephew is decorating eggs, and couldn’t figure out what the heck was causing it. We stopped and I traced the streaks/stains to the brake pads. Lame, and definitely disconcerting. So the other day I took off the brakeset, put on the IRD Cafam’s from her Cross Check along with the Kool Stop pads (no need to replace them, which surprised me, just sandpapered them a bit). I took her Casseroll up the street and back and those brakes are sweet! I’ve gotten sooo much better at dialing in cantilever brakes. My first attempts at such on the Long Haul Trucker were… well they never amounted to much more than attempts.

the world needs you.

26 Jul

I went to a class with a new yoga instructor on Sunday and it was super inspiring. Lately I’ve been lulled into an easy, relaxing routine with an instructor who is very sweet and earnest but entirely too careful, which is not what I need. The new one was loud and high-energy and encouraged us to get off our mats and move around, way outside our comfort zones. THIS is what I need. “Go out into the world,” she kept saying as she made us partner up and touch!! strangers!! “The world needs you!” At the beginning of class everyone looked shy and vaguely horrified, but by the end we were all smiling, and I was relaxed on a level that way surpassed the physical. That’s what I need. I also need a lot of money, so I can go on a yoga adventure to India! The person who put together the amazing trip to Mexico earlier this year is leading a three-week retreat to India next February and it sounds all kinds of awesome. I had pretty much figured it was out of my league, but it looks like the lad might’ve found me some freelance work that could earn some travelin’ dough, so maybe it’s meant to be?? We’ll see…

Skagit Rain Ride. In the Rain.

18 Jul

What is with this weather? Seattle folks, nod your head in agreement. Others, keep scratchin’ yours.

Friday I went for a short training ride. No plan, other than to head to the Log Boom park in Kenmore, hop on the Poprad, and head East. My only dictum for the day was to find as many hills as possible, and to never drop into the granny gear. On both counts a success!

I headed through Woodinville, up that long hill next to Ooba Tooba, over the ridge, along to the Paradise Lake Road, up to Maltby, over to sub-Snohomish, then down High Bridge back to Snoqualmie Valley. The weather comes in when I was climbing up the Woodinville-Duvall Road and saw my breath streaming out in front of me (that’s how slow a climber I am, my breath actually goes faster than I do). At 11 am. In the middle of July. Brrr.

Then yesterday the SurlyLady and I decide we’d head to the Skagit county area for some country road rambling. I had a nice little century route all picked out. We decided to truckouac near Darrington, and then do the big century circle clockwise. We toodled along until we got to Oso then threaded that nice road up to Lake Cavanaugh.

The 'Lad, on the Poprad, heading toward Lake Cavanaugh.

I had thought perhaps the whole thing was paved. Or maybe I’d had secret plans for some gravel riding. Either way, I’m still smarting from where the ‘Lady kicked me. Those were some seriously steep and fun gravel dirt riding action sections!

Corkscrew!

There was one stretch leading up to a hairpin curve that was seriously steep. Some of the steepest pitch I’ve ever tried riding. And I was doing well until I got to the point where the new Grand Bois Cypres tires just weren’t tracking like I needed, since I was out of the saddle. I think maybe on the Vaya with the Marathons and the higher gearing I might make it, if seated. Otherwise, I almost wonder if I’d even make it on the mountain bike! But oh, it was fun. Manicured gravel, mostly dirt, and utter tranquility – just a few cars passed us the entire time we were on that stretch.

Sign sez it all. If somewhat contradictorily.

We finally made it to Lake Cavanaugh where the pavement started up again, looped to the north of the lake on a lovely stretch of backwoods road, peekaboo glances of the big blue lake in between vacation homes and trees.

Lake Cavanaugh

I have to admit, the crazy gravel adventure, while fun, had caught us by surprise. We had to do a lot of hike-a-biking. This, coupled with our late start to the day, was making us somewhat anxious about the schedule. And then, just as we were discussing options, it started raining. Hard. Like, biblically hard. Not many more pictures for the day. We left Lake Cavanaugh (BTW, there are ‘Bike Loop’ signs, so I think this is a popular route, but coming in from the Northwest or Hwy 9, and not the back/gravel way) and bravely fought the onslaught. It was really coming down.

At a certain point, when you’re just out doing your cyclotourist thing, and you don’t have like a big stated goal such as an organized ride/race and it’s left to you to decide what and where and when, at a certain point you cross the line and decide it sounds like more fun to be home and snuggled on the couch. It didn’t help that the rain was coming down even harder, so much so it actually stung the face. Or that our socks were soaked. Or that it was so cold I was teeth chattering and wishing I had arm warmers. In the middle of July. At 2:00 pm. It really wasn’t much fun riding on narrow country roads in a downpour with cars whizzing past splashing us with spray.

All it needs is a Terry Gilliam cut-out cartoon...

So, rather than heading north toward Clear Lake and further along the century route, we took a left on Granstrom Road which took us on a more direct line to Arlington. There we stopped at the grocery store to get out of the rain for a bit.

Pearl

Karl Popper

Then it was on to 530 and along to Darrington for another 25 or so miles. All told we did 63 miles. I was inspired by what we were able to explore and see. There are some great roads in Skagit County. In fact, I’ve been inspired to take that original century route and come up with a killer dirt-and-pavement combo. More details to come!

Goldilocks Engineering

18 Jul

At work there’s been a lot of talk about a new wind of change blowing through the building. The hermetically sealed, white noised, climate controlled building that expressly keeps out any breezes. All about how we’re not going to gold plate things any more (I have to admit to not being party to very many projects where we had the luxury of gold plating… usually it’s a mad scramble to put in the plastic prototype). About how we’re going to be more Agile and Lean. A bunch of Scrum Bums. Which is fine with me. Rather than fail spectacularly, you can fail much faster, on a smaller scale, and correct for it. This is however difficult in an organization that abhors anything smacking of ‘failure’ the same way nature abhors a vacuum (cleaner after going to work on a dog house carpet).

One thing I’ve personally learned over the years of shifting methodologies, seeing the sea changes of “we need checks and balances ergo decentralization” back to “we need integration for optimized throughput and synergistic cohesion”, is there exist some basic, ineluctable truths behind successful software project management. These stay the same no matter what methodology you’re using.

One of them is to properly scale your engineering solutions to fit the problem. You don’t, in the words of one of my Infosys developers, want to use a cannon ball to kill a mosquito. (Oh the idioms in project management kill me!).

This is related to bikes in the following way. I picked up some spare spokes in various sizes to take with me on rides in case I have another spokesplosion as happened to me on 7 Hills. I started noodling on how to carry the spokes. I’d once heard or read on an online forum that some bikers keep spares inside the seat tube. Ah! What a lovely idea. But how to prevent them from knocking around in the seat tube, making rattling noises? I had a stroke of genius. I’d take two corks, drill out a smallish hole in each, pass the spokes through, carve out a dimple for the hook side of the spokes, and then zip tie the lot in the middle for that ‘cohesion’ we were talking about. I was too drunk from polishing off the bottles of vino to make much progress the first night but, eventually, voila:

Over engineering.

The only problem was, in itself it made sense. When I held it up to the bike, and considered dropping it down the seat tube, suddenly the context seemed all wrong. It was stupidly over-engineered. Maybe putting the spokes in the seat tube works for the skinny roadie type who carries a cartridge, credit card and banana in their pocket and not a speck of storage anywhere else. But in my case, even the smallest Carradice bag in the stable fits spokes just fine. To make sure, I engaged a team of architects to do a scoping study. After ~300 hours they returned an answer, in the affirmative:

Just right engineering.

I did, as you’ll notice, keep the zip tie.

Salsa Casseroll, with Cheesy Bits and Pieces Thrown In

11 Jul

Flaunting it...

What a whirlwind week of bike madness! Last weekend, after the Mountain Loop Century Loop–and the long blog post about how the SurlyLady basically needs a different/new bike, that night I got into a feverish, inspired state of problem solving. I couldn’t sleep. I got out the protractor, slide rule, abacus, worry beads, a 3/4 cup measuring scoop, put on a pot of faux coffee, kicked the cat out of the computer chair and got to surfing and number crunching. I arrived at the following result, seen in the picture above, namely: the 2011 Salsa Casseroll.

What about a bike to replace the CrossCheck, something versatile enough to fill the needs of a day commuter, credit card tourer and weekend go-fast ride? Something that took 32c tires, fit full-time fenders, and offered a nice blend of comfort and that sort of zesty, spirited ride that makes you look forward to riding, not semi dreading it. Where to find such a wonder bike? Well, how about at my favorite production bike maker, Salsa?

Turns out, the Casseroll is now their principal ‘road’ bike, so that part of the research was easy. I briefly toyed with the idea of a Vaya, but I know from personal experience that, for as much fun as the Vaya is, it’s really not a whole lot lighter than the CrossCheck. When the 2011 Casserolls came out last Fall I almost started crying. I’ll admit it. A production-class rando bike, complete with a matching front rack, wide tires, and a gorgeous blue. Hmph. Well it was time to put my possible jealousy behind me. Okay, at least off to the side. What about this as an option for the ‘Lady?

I started ticking off the virtues: it came with Pasela 700×32 tires (I can’t think of many non-cyclocross production bikes that come with wider tires like these…), lots of room for fenders, a relaxed geometry with a roadish, lower BB design. Handlebars up high enough for comfort. Nice Sugino triple crankset, Tiagra derailleurs throughout, Tiagra 9-spd brifters, and some really nice looking shiny hubs, old school looking, perfectly matching the Delgado rims; in the bright sun these things are going to blind! Oh, and before I forget, I love the feel of the QR skewers, sort of a chromed soft look, with a very smooth mechanism. High class.

Best of all, the wonderful fit chart on the Salsa site showed that their size 54 (or, 54.5, and in their sizing they measure the effective top tube) might be a good fit for her. I cross referenced the Surly site for the old CrossCheck, found the 49 cm geometry (actually had to extrapolate it a bit) and realized that, like Mr. Curtlo had recommended, it’s always better to work down than to work up, regarding sizing: this bike might be exactly right, or it might be a pinch too big, which could easily be accommodated with a shorter stem or other.

Next up, the convincing. I talked up the likely feel of the Casseroll, in part based on my test ride of one of the old champagne colored ones. All of the virtues outlined above. Including the fact it’s blue. That Monday she went for a test ride at the only shop we could find that had one (turns out they sold it by the time we got there, but they let her ride it shortly anyway). Then we called around and learned Montlake Bikes had a 54cm in stock. Sweet!

In quick order, we sold the Jamis Thursday. Then, I had ordered a set of Salsa Short and Shallow bars in 38cm width for the ‘Lady, and so we took those in Friday night. They called Saturday morning to say it was ready, I did the needfuls (took off the reflectors, put on an odometer and bottle cages) and that night we took her for a shake down ride on the Centennial Trail. And oh man what a nice looking bike! I just have to keep saying that. Such a nice, thoughtful mix of components, all perfectly matched and chosen. Even better? At $1200 it cost less than the Cross Check did, in 2008, but that’s partly due to the ‘Lady wanting to update the Cross Check to STI shifters. Even with that, strictly on a parity basis, the Casseroll seems on a different level, in a different class. As for the ride, it took the SurlyLady a bit to get used to the fit. It’s one of those counter-intuitive things that I think will get better with time; she’s so used to the slightly off fit of the Cross Check that the new one throws her off. At one point, as she was powering along in the drops–and I mean powering along–and I was finally able to catch up, she looked over and said, “Do you know how long it’s been since I cruised at 20mph, when it wasn’t on a downhill?” Music to my ears!

Today, on her first commute with the Casseroll, she kept repeating over and over how much she liked the ride. I think we have a winner. I ran into KonaLad this weekend, and, referring to the new bike in the household, he said it was like Bikesnob’s ‘gap’ bike (dentists buying Madone’s to hold them over until their Serrotas arrived) and it’s totally like that! Although, a lot cheaper I guess. Which is my way of saying, she’s still set for the Curtlo. We’ll sell the Cross Check ASAP, as soon as I get it readied. For the Curtlo project, I’m not sure what’s going to happen for the SurlyLady’s plans. Maybe she’ll stick with a fast road bike that’ll take fenders, or maybe she’ll get a true road bike (maybe with 28’s?). The Casseroll may shade over with the new Curtlo somewhat; they can both do double duty as needed, but each will be primarily aimed at a different purpose. I think! I guess we’ll see.

Speaking of seeing KonaLad Sunday, it was for a big to-do at St. Ed’s park. A coworker of ours had a 50th birthday party and was intending to ride 50 miles of singletrack. It was a ton of fun. I only did one lap, had some house chores to do, including getting the new Casseroll ready for commuter duties, plus at one point I kind of popped my right knee during a hard stop, or did something to tweak it, and so I wasn’t up to snuff. Seeing the group dynamic on a MTB ride was very interesting, and amusing, especially from my tail-end Charlie vantage point.

That sense, combined with the news that JamisLad forwarded to me regarding the RAPSody ride discontinuing their one-day ride option, had me all a fire last night with insomnia (again). I kept going over and over in my mind my biking plans for this year, how they seemed to be in tatters with RAPSody a no go and the bad weather and the general not making my marks as planned. And all of that against the sunny/shady blur of the mountain bike riding playing on a video loop in my head. I finally was able to crash on the couch at the point when I realized what the answer was.

Self sufficiency.

Just like those long days in the saddle when I bring basically everything including the boy scout manuals in the Carradice bag, so too my summer plans. Forge forth with the Primitive Road planning, in that spirit of trying to find fun, novel and spirited training rides that aren’t the same-old-same-old Snoqualmie training rides, but rather than just a training means to the RAPSody end, come up with the most awesomenest road ride of my own! Maybe something in the 150 – 180 mile range; a loop; somewhere north or perhaps south and west; talk my poppa into driving along the route as a sag wagon and to meet us at pre-arranged stops; and invite my pals along.

Okay. Now to crack open the Google maps.

my new true love

9 Jul

I’m sorry to report that the Jamis and I have drifted apart. Irreconcilable differences, I’m afraid. I figured there would be a long, awkward breakup period where I’d have to avoid its morose gaze whenever I walked by it in the garage, but luckily it sold pretty much as soon as we put it on Craigslist, so yay! Next up, and this one will be a little harder for me—I’m dumping the Surly. I’ve been trying to ignore the fit issues with that bike for quite awhile, but last weekend’s brutal century made it pretty clear we don’t have a future together. Don’t feel bad, though—the lad is a really good matchmaker, and he already introduced me to this beauty:

Her name is Pearl, she’s a Salsa Casseroll, and I’m pretty sure we’re going to grow old together. And yes, the lad is really, really jealous, though happy that I’m able to keep up with him again—this bike is nice and speedy, and quite a bit lighter than the Surly.

We’re trying to figure out what to call ourselves now that we’re almost Surly-less. We’re going to have to re-brand this whole blog! Maybe this should be the new slogan: