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Concrete Hills, Flexible (Mind) Frames and a 5 lb Zucchini

14 Aug

Vaya con Cascade Trail

The plan today was to park in Clear Lake, ride the S Skagit Valley Highway to Concrete and then from there head into the hills to cross over the dam at Lake Shannon/Baker Lake. And within a few hundred yards I knew we were not gonna stick to the script! The SurlyLady wasn’t feeling the narrow/no shoulder. It didn’t help the skies were threatening to dump a ton of water on us and we were shivering. In the middle of August. At 10:30 am.

Then the relentless chipseal got to us. We scooted along Old Day Creek Road (I love that stretch, some good climbing!) then about midway to Concrete the ‘Lady asked if there was any way we could get off the chipseal. That road is pretty darn rough. I realized it in full today, as I was on the Vaya with the Marathon tires. On the century ride with JamisLad I’d been on the Poprad and Grand Bois Cypres tires, and whoa big difference. Running 32s (and running some of the air out) helps, but still it was pretty choppy today. My answer to the SurlyLady was that we could take some side roads along Hwy 20 back to Sedro Woolley and avoid having to come back on the S Skagit Valley Hwy. So, plans were made.

As were we, in the shade of a gas station in Concrete a little while later, scarfing down cashews and jerky and a big fountain Pepsi. The sun had come out! Happy day. We enjoyed watching all the Harley riders going by, pulling up, leaving, coming back to get their cigarette packs they’d left behind, nodding to each other with their secret Harley head nods. Truly we are screwed as a nation. All the boomers are driving RVs, and the kids of the Boomers are riding Harleys and all the freeways is jacked up as a result. From ‘downtown’ Concrete we headed for Burpee Hill Road, which would lead us to the Baker Lake Road. OMG what a hill! Anything named after a grueling Army-bootcamp style pushup/jumping jack should come as a warning. Do you know the Holmes Point Drive hill in Juanita, that’s part of the 7 Hills of Kirkland? Imagine that, but steeper, and three times as long and even more winding. I loved it! At one point I looked around and then stopped and waited for the SL. I waited some more. Then about 5 minutes went by and I finally called her. She had basically said no way to the hill, and was going to meet me at the bottom. So this meant we weren’t going to circumnavigate the lakes… oh well. She did text me (how electronic we are on our rides!) saying take your time, climb to the top if you like… so I did just that. It was a blast. I won’t soon forget that hill. I went all the way up to the T-intersection with the Baker Lake Road, near that charming looking Camp Tyee area and then turned around, with a quick pit stop at Vogler Lake (there’s a porta-pottie there). Very soon I was flying back down Burpee Hill. That was some good training for the High Pass. Which, BTW, I think I’m completely going to stink at, given how slow I was today.

On the way up Burpee Hill Road...

Then the ‘Lady and I took off on the Cascade Trail, the gravelly dirt rails-to-trail that runs between Concrete and Sedro Woolley. Her Casseroll was doing just fine, and of course on the Vaya I was having a ball. Then we jumped off onto Challenger Road for some swoopy hill work, then back onto the Trail for some more shady dirt roading, then back to Challenger. As you can probably tell, it was so much fun! Farmland, alpacas, horsies, fields of flowers, plain ordinary but gorgeous fields, a ring of green mountains, puffy clouds, blue sky… ah, just about perfect. I couldn’t have imagined a better day. That is, until we got some killer chocolate milkshakes at Birdsview Burgers on Hwy 20!

From there we left the Cascade Trail and stayed on the South side of Hwy 20, lingering along river roads, barely traveled country lanes, through the sleepy wide spots of Hamilton and Lyman. At one point, right next to that cerulean blue Skagit River we spotted a table with homegrown zucchini – nice! We made a donation, and I put the honking zucchini in my Carradice. How’s that for a versatile bike rig?

Zuke of Earl

That sucker must have weighed 5 pounds! SurlyLady’s gonna make some zucchini bread. She also makes a killer black bean, fresh corn (shaved off the cob) and zucchini stir fry… oh so nummy!

Country roads, take me home...

We continued West, working toward Sedro Woolley and playing tag with the Cascade Trail. We had to jump onto Hwy 20 for a short bit until we lefted onto Minker Road. Soon enough we were back in Clear Lake, tired, happy, sated, and, within minutes of getting everything packed up, eating ice cream. Yes sir, life is good up in Skagit county!

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.