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High Pass Challenge, here we come!

10 Sep
Hood Canal

Getting to the root of the Hood Canal

It’s finally here! I’m so excited to get down to Packwood and do this again. Memories of last year have come flooding back this morning… the fear of the unknown, the 3 hours of sleep due to said anxiety, the rush to get to the 3pm cutoff (a chap I was riding with was mistakenly convinced the silver cutoff was at 3pm; turns out it was 4) and then the delicious surprise of a silver medal at the end. Now that I’m on the verge of the ‘big ride on the calendar’ for the year I also can’t help but review how things have gone over the recent calendar. Overall I couldn’t be happier with life. This past week I had two huge presentations at work — one with the biggest of wigs in my building, pitching a new job for myself, and another with biggish wigs in a different building, pitching the idea of growing an entirely new platform to position our company for the next 10 years. In other words this past week has been a ‘mental’ high climb challenge and I did well – possibly gold in one, probably bronze in the other, which equals silver I should think!

Beyond the mental and overall life happiness, I do feel this year that I’m leaner and tougher — I met my target of losing 17 pounds, and all that yoga and kickboxing I hope has helped as well. But I don’t think I have the same kind of engine I had last year. We’ll see. I suspect I’ll be faster going up the hills, but maybe slower on the flats as the endurance runs out. I have until 4:00 for silver so it’s all good. ‘Silver’ trim is good for a dude who just a few years ago was nearing 300 pounds! I intend to really enjoy the ride this year, take a few more pictures, and not totally concentrate on the odometer… which, BTW, I replaced with a new one after I couldn’t appear to revive the old faithful.

One thing that’ll help is the ‘C-Line’ road is apparently closed, and so we have to head back to Randle and take Hwy 12 back to Packwood. I think this alt was a semi-sanctioned option in the past but this year it’s a requirement. I say it might help in that I remember C-Line road being demoralizing last year, the rollers and bad chipseal — I could feel it soaking up my energy. One other small item of note that probably won’t help are the predicted mid-90s temps. Oy.

Salsa Casseroll Salsa La Cruz

Ferry-tale ride...

We’ll soon get the pups in the car and head down south. But first a quick mention of our training ride last weekend – we rode down to the ferry at Edmonds, boated over to Kingston, then roamed out to Port Ludlow and back. I took the La Cruz for its shake down ‘cruz’… probably not a good idea a week before the High Pass Challenge. I kept fiddling with the fit, moving the saddle up and down etc. My knee started hurting with the odd fit/feel. The Woodchipper bars… naw, they’re not going to work on the La Cruz. Not enough steer tube to get them high enough, and I really just prefer having more ramp. I far prefer the Bell Lap or Short and Shallow over the Woodchippers for on-roading; I can see however why they’re so popular offroading.

As for the La Cruz itself, it’s a very nice frame, has a nice solid-yet-lively-enough feel. I put it exactly between the Long Haul Trucker and the Poprad. It’s not has heavy as the former, nor nearly as light as the latter, even though the front triangle is OX Platinum tubing. In fact, in that respect, it is very similar to the Vaya. The effective top tube winds up being just about that of the 57cm Vaya and so I have no complaints about the sizing, it’s spot on. The steel fork, like that on the Vaya, is more confidence inspiring than the Satellite one on the Poprad, but then it’s also heavier. The bad news about trying the Woodchippers is that, if I don’t turn this into a purpose-built off-roader, then really it doesn’t fit any niches beyond what I have with the Vaya or Poprad. A small surprise to the peanut gallery I’m sure. However, I really, really liked the ride of the frame! The parts components worked great too, Sugino triple, mix of XT and Tiagra and bar ends. I was even able to keep up nicely with the SurlyLady even on knobby tires.

Okay, we’re off. Good luck to all the other HPC riders! I can’t wait to be there and see all the colors and bikes and people!

Salsa La Cruz

Seriously fun bike!

Spada Lake, then Lake Roesiger

29 Aug

Last Friday I decided to go on a wee adventure ride… not too long, maybe 40 miles or so, as I was planning on a ride with JamisLad on Saturday, around the Snohomish area, and then Sunday the Discovery Trail over on the Peninsula with KonaLad (which I wound up bailing on).

I drove (guiltily) up to Sultan, WA with the idea in mind of parking in the little downtown area and riding up to Spada Lake, with some rambles around the forest service roads in the environ. I wrote guiltily because really I could have ridden out to Sultan from home, it just would have taken a lot longer time, and left me more tired than I needed to be. However, it would make an awesome out-and-back ride some day: Mountlake Terrace, Kenmore, Woodinville, Paradise Lake Road/Maltby, Monroe (pronounced Maaawn-Row) and over to Sultan on the Mann Road; from there up to Spada Lake and then, lickity split, back home.

Boy was Friday hot. Oy! Even at a relatively early hour, when I got started, I was feeling the heat. In town I’d noticed on Google Maps a green line indicating a bike trail, looping off from a school or similar, up at the terminus of Eighth Street. I cruised along said street, spotted the gravel and dirt path and then, whoa! was off to the climbing races. That was a very steep start to the day. It definitely got me huffing. My quads were feeling it from the Iron Horse ride the day before. But damn it felt good to be alive… riding in dirt, on a road bike, on a sunny day in August, when most other folks was off at work, me getting to play at being a kid again.

Sultan Basin Road

Soon enough I was on Sultan Basin Road, a lovely shelving climb up into the hills, surrounded by placid farms populated by even more placid horses, munching underneath crackling powerlines. I wish I’d gotten a picture of how it looks coming out of Sultan… a definite “whoa are we really going to ride up all that elevation” as this road goes off straight up into the distance. But don’t get me wrong, it was so lovely, hardly any traffic, nice surface condition, lots of shady trees and again, pastoral views everywhere. This stretch strongly reminded me of Tennessee, just without the August heat index of 114.

Soon enough you’re out of the farm-urbs and into more of a managed forest, state parks feel. The road becomes swoopy with rollers and fun curvy berms. There are lots of creek crossings:

Creekside

And then you’re more and more under the trees. Soon enough, after maybe 10 more lovely miles of winding, deserted road, you come to the end of the pavement and are faced with several miles of seriously steep gravel:

Made in the shade to make the grade...

This was a definite leg burner hill. The few cars that passed, likely weekend campers, gave me astonished looks as I spun along. I almost turned around, feeling a little tired, but I hate giving up on things so I plugged away and soon enough, after ignoring all the intriguing-looking side roads I finally came to Spada Lake:

I tried to capture the cool little whispy clouds gathered on those peaks...

The main south shore access road was closed for construction which meant I wouldn’t be able to follow along the lake east- and northward as I had planned. Oh well. At least there was a nice bathroom facility nearby:

Much better than a Honey Bucket.

From there it was mostly downhill back to Sultan. My hands got tired from gripping the brakes coming down those gravel hills but oh man it was so much fun overall! Loved it. I think there may be a loop you could put together with Kellogg Lake Road, with only a dip or two onto Hwy 2. Add that to a close-to-circumnavigation of Spada Lake and you’d have maybe a 50-60 mile ride along some very quiet backroads with nice scenery. I particularly enjoyed the way the road up to Spada Lake followed a creekside path. And then of course Spada Lake itself is amazing, with a very nice blue shade to it. Best of all, once you hit pavement again all that uphill you put sweat equity into earlier pays off; there are several sections where you can cruise at 17mph while barely turning a pedal. Overall a very pleasant day.

The next morning JamisLad picked me up at 6:30 am (whose idea was that anyway!!!). I hadn’t slept very well. I’d had all kinds of good work ideas the evening prior, fueled in part by the meditative qualities of the Spada Lake ride. So I started off a little rough, with legs that felt out of it and a groggy brain that definitely was. We parked in Snohomish and took off north on the Centennial Trail. Perfect! It allowed me to warm up and wake up a little. By the time we got to Granite Falls I was feeling bonky so we stopped at the grocery store and I got a chocolate donut. Which, as JamisLad pointed out, probably wasn’t the best idea, it sure put some carbs in my tank because we lit out of Granite Falls at a good clip. In fact as we rolled up to Lake Roesiger JamisLad was chugging along so hard that at one point I pulled up next to him and asked, “Was this *the* hill already?” Turns out he was just as surprised. He’d been saving his energy to go all-out on the hill, but we’d already done it! I think that’s a good sign. I honestly had been wondering when the climbing was going to start. Maybe I won’t totally suck at High Pass Challenge after all, ha.

We chewed up the miles, anticipating the massively steep hill leading to Oil Well Road. It’s the one we’d encountered earlier in the year that had dispirited most of us, and had excited JamisLad. That was some serious steepage but we made it, deciding at the top we didn’t need to go back down and re do it. Soon enough we were back in Snohomish, procuring choco milk on our way out of town. It was a great training ride, and the weather just couldn’t have been nicer.

As we rode Saturday I was reflecting a little bit on work, and on this year’s biking mission. For the work stuff I realized that, for years, I’d concentrated on finding the ‘ideal’ job. This had been a fallacy. Even if my company had an ideal job title I’m pretty sure I’d be frustrated within a matter of weeks because of the environment. With that line of thinking it dawned on me — rather than simply changing jobs, I needed to change the environment. It’s a precondition for all the other things I want. For instance, I don’t want to be a Project Manager in an environment where I’d be working on a project that has (literally) two other Project Managers each representing different bureaucracies. I don’t want to be in Requirements meetings where there are 10 manager-level participants and only three knowledge workers. As far as Golden Ratios go, we’ve got that one backwards. If anything it should be reversed; more ideally, it wouldn’t just be 10 knowledge workers to three managers, it would be the three-to-five knowledge workers self organizing the hell out of the directive handed down by the one manager. There’s a lunacy at work at my work and I don’t want to join in as things are currently structured. Instead I want to change the system, for the better, possibly from a different vantage point of leverage. Then I might consider jumping back in the PM circus or, perhaps, looking at other companies.

As for bike training, I haven’t been a very good PM at all. I’d blown off STP thinking I’d focus on RAPSody. Then RAPSody decided not too long ago to forgo their one-day option. My Flying Wheels ticket was spent on the 25-mile option riding with my pops. These were all choices I’d made. Clearly my priorities are different than they were last year. To rationalize it, I’ve been taking this viewpoint: last year I met and exceeded all my goals. I coasted through the 200 miles of STP; I struggled but survived RAPSody; and then I came in for a silver finish at HPC; each successive month I was expanding my horizons, surprising myself with what I was capable of. It was a grand summer, one I’ll never forget. This year, I met my weight goal (under 170 pounds, wearing size 32 Levis) and am proud of that, but in a way the horizons I’m expanding are at work. I’m having a ball, creating brainstorming sessions with diverse groups, coming up with crazy huge ideas that are going to benefit the company in substantial ways, coaching and mentoring lots of folks and seeing some of them attain successes and moving to dream jobs… hearing from someone I’m mentoring via IM “Guess what! I got the job!!” is as exciting to me as hitting some long bike ride.

Here’s the perfect sign: my bike computer on the Poprad hasn’t worked in a while. I’m not even sure I’ll do anything about it for High Pass Challenge. Now, that’s detachment!

Sleepy time...

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.

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 thingsā€¦ 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!