John Wayne Training Ride

25 Aug

(By the title, what I mean is I rode with what seemed like a bad back masked by a certain saucy insouciance, a grave gravy even, eye patch, six shooter and sweat-rimmed hat.)

Dewy... Beats True... Grit

Oh I love the John Wayne Pioneer Trail in the Iron Horse Park starting from the Cedar Falls trailhead! Especially when I ride it on a PTO sunny day in August!

I dropped off the SurlyLady in downtown Seattle, mountain bike gloriously sticking up from the back of the pick-em-up truck to jealous-ize the worker bees, KEXP 90.3 blasting out the windows. Headed East (old man) past North Bend, scooted on along Rattlesnake Lake and got geared up. This 36-mile ride, to the tunnel and back, is such a fun cardio workout. I got into a nice rhythm in the middle ring, gradually ratcheting up the speed as I warmed up; I daresay I made my personal best time today. ‘Twas flying along. It’s a straight shot rail-to-trail gravel grade, half in the sun and half in the shade. I carried the iPhone in my shorts pocket not so much for pictures as for the voice memo app — I must have recorded about half an hour’s worth of ideas for work.

At the other end of this tunnel is a penitentiary. Awkward!

Like most riding, for me today was all about mechanical meditation. An eccentric bottoming out racket. Viscerally I was overjoyed, the smell in the air (is that a hint of Fall?), the smell of hot sun on gravel, grasshoppers flitting around, all of these in isolation drowning out for me the roar of the nearby I-90 traffic. I had sooo many good ideas today. Several ‘thunderbolt’ moments. Several clarifying moments (I’m my own worst editor). One of the things I like to do that’s both virtue and fault is I play out future scenes, like a scriptwriter with tracking on in a DTP program. I imagine what so-and-so will say. How they’ll react to a point. How they may not react. I play out these dialogs and try-alogs over and over. It’s almost like an alternate universe role playing predictive analysis exercise. The odds are usually not too bad, either; I bet 25% of the time I’m right on in my predictions. And even when I’m wrong, I’ve usually already anticipated this wrinkle or, if not exactly, I’m adept-ified and can handle the new wrinkles on the fly.

The thing is, at work, I’m on the verge of something HUGE. It’s like everyday my horizons are expanding. I’m filling up notebooks with ideas, compiling my own knowledge management engine to house my knowledge management engine proposals because so much of what I’m doing is recursive lately, and it’s in that recursive area — or a sort of vertical causality — that I have the most fun.

Mr. Blue Sky... (start dancing)

Speaking of vertical causality, I’m glad I got some climbing cardio in today, but I hope to get more tomorrow and then even more on Saturday. In fact my biking dance card is totally full this weekend — four fun days of biking! Times like these I’m glad I have arranged such a carefree, kids-free life. Heck even the dogs feed and clothe themselves. Hold on. What’s that Coop? Sure, that ascot looks fine… no, it doesn’t make you look too fat. (Whisper… he’s such a dapper little fellow, but damn sensitive!)

this is what it sounds like, when quads cry

22 Aug

A word of advice, so that you may not suffer as I have done. If you go on a really beautiful but steep hike and wake up the next day feeling sorta sore, and someone suggests going on a 60-mile “recovery ride” to stretch out the gams, DO NOT DO THIS. It’s a really bad idea, and you will be forced to curse out loud as you feebly pedal that last five miles home. You should probably just go to a matinee instead.

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!

Short and Shallow (and Sweet)

11 Aug

So busy… no time to ride or write about riding… but (brightly) there’s a good reason. My head has been exploding with ideas at work and I’m semi-obsessed. I’m dreaming up all kinds of ideas (new systems, vertical markets, new departments) and, more excitingly, brainstorming with interesting folks and seeing/guiding some of these ideas to fruition! Inspiring, yes, but also perspiring et tiring.

Last week I took a couple of days off from this hubbub and did the Grand Ridge Trail to Duthie, on a gorgeous sunny day. What did I do while flashing through the shady forest, with nobody around save the lone trail runner and the butterfly catching couple? I thought of work brainstorming. Eh, what can you do. The previous long ride with JamisLad found me similarly drifting off… to the point where he had to keep reminding me Hey you’re in the middle of the road what are you doing? Well, sir, I’m dreaming up patent-worthy ideas!

One such, of the bicycle persuasion application, applies to the old Salsa Vaya. I’ve had that bike now since last September, so coming up on a year. I’ve enjoyed it, gotten some good miles out of it (slightly more miles on it this year than on the Poprad so far). It’s been a very capable commuter–those disc brakes work wonderfully for that purpose–an even better off-road gravel bike and a decent roadie bike. I could probably do STP one day on it, no problem, whereas I always had this intuition that the old Long Haul Trucker may not have been as much fun to do similarly on. You hear a but coming, don’t you? In truth, I’ve always been hedging my judgment about the Vaya due to the fit. It’s always been slightly off. I’ve nudged things around, in tiny increments, but hadn’t really had time to truly tear into the topic. Then, on my other day off, I took off the Nitto Noodle bars and put on some old school Salsa Short and Shallow bars, a $5 find off Craigslist, in 42cm width. They’re the moto-ace version, so 26mm clamp, and somewhat older due to the graphic art and the fairly deep grooves for cable routing (which I love BTW; I have a similar era Bell Lap on the Poprad and just that little extra routing routering is nice).

In addition to putting on the different bars I also moved my Brooks Imperial B17 up. A lot. The reason I hadn’t moved it up too much earlier was that I had the leather lacing all tied up and didn’t want to undo it. Complete laziness I know. So I went ahead, moved the saddle up about 1 cm, basically eyeballing it so the saddle is ‘squarely’ over the seatpost. I figured if the 57cm ETT Vaya was my ideal fit, then I should have the saddle in the ideal-fit location.

And, WOW. What a difference! Those bars are so much better than the Noodles, or I should say I prefer them so much more. Some folks love the Noodles, but I gave them a good 10-month run and have decided they’re not for me. The Short and Shallow seem very similar to the Bell Laps but, well, a little shorter. I still can’t get into the drops very easily but that’s more a function of that B17 crunching up my manly bits when doing so.

Self indulgent post done. Guy complains about awesomely versatile bike not being 100% perfect in fit department, puts on new bars, moves his saddle, and bingo his world is now complete.

Except.

Lately I’ve been jonesing for a Salsa Fargo. Have been looking at pictures. Picturing myself with frame bags touring around the rough roads of the Peninsula, or on the Great Divide route next summer.

A Fargo, or maybe a custom frame version of such. But oh, there’s no room in the inn! No room in the stable!! No room in the house, the bedroom, the kitchen table!!!

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.

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…