Description

An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
Comments welcome!


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Lucky Deuce Gravel Crusher



It’s been four days since the end of the Lucky Deuce Gravel Crusher, and I’m still shaking off the effects of the ride(s). In fact, just yesterday a little in-home project had me sitting on the floor for a bit, which led to my back seizing up for the rest of the day. It’s still sore today.

So how was the ride? Let’s start with day 1…

In a word, brutal. And I was the one that mapped it all out. Okay, I’ll admit that event day was the first time I had strung it all together into a single ride. And in fact the first time I’d actually ridden some of the course (I had driven it, but that’s not the same thing). Not only does time dull the pain, but not doing the whole course at once gives one a skewed idea of just how hard it is… So I was going into it maybe just a little less blind than my ride mates.

In any case, after a dozen miles lulling us into a false sense of security, the climbing start in earnest. And that in steep grades. I had a 34/32 low gear, and was unceremoniously dumped into it early. Let the grinding begin. And then, once you think you’ve hit the top (at 15 miles, with a short downhill to seal the illusion), we take a sharp right and hit the REAL climb. A cruel pitch even longer than the one on the Elbe ride, and just as steep. I ended up walking a portion of it, and have no shame in saying so.

But the views from the top (at 22 miles) and along the long descent were fantastic. It’s funny how dropping altitude, and the attention it requires, makes one wish for flat ground, or even a little uphill. Relief comes at 32 miles, and more when we hit pavement again at 34.

The stop in the raging metropolis of Malone, at the “post office” (an outdoor drop box and PO Boxes against the side of a mom-and-pop shop) allowed for restocking the water and fuel stores, then we were off again along Highway 12, being buzzed by every truck in the county. Yes, Russ, there IS a law that every truck must haul a trailer, apparently.

And then the precip started. A drizzle that quickly became a vision-sapping heavy rain, and almost obscured the left turn back into Capitol Forest (39 miles). Let the climbing re-commence.

Insult on top of injury. This climb was long. And steep. And long and steep. With occasional respites of less steep. One seeming top-out at 44 miles, and then another onslaught at 45, with the actual summit at 48. That’s right, 9 miles (give or take, mostly take) of ascent. But what goes up must come down, and the next 8 miles was a series of drops and declines that had me on the brakes or letting it fly. Once again, by the time I hit the base of the gravel and onto pavement, it was a massive relief. Funny how we come to a ride like this for the gravel, and then feel so relieved to be off it. Two more miles of paved descent and back to the highway.

Turning off the highway at mile 60 and onto the backroads seriously decreased the baud rate of input, and a sigh of relief was audible. Little to no traffic, no terrain to deal with, an easy cruise to the end. Beer and snacks followed. Glorious.

After chillin’ away the evening and as good a night’s sleep as I could muster in unfamiliar surroundings, I arose for day two.

Though I was a little more familiar with the route and terrain for this ride, I had never done any of the spur out to the Brooklyn Tavern. I told myself that if I were the only one riding, or if every one else who showed up was tired or not up to it, I’d skip the spur and do the shorter route. Turns out I was the only one to show. But I was prepared for the full meal deal anyway.

Similar to day one, there’s a good 10 miles of pavement to warm up on before the first gravel sector. But this time there was more paved climbing, hitting at just over 8 miles in.  A nice, freshly graveled road awaited, with a closed gate (so no danger of motor vehicles). But up it went right away. Not as long, but every bit as steep, followed by some gentle rolling, and then a long descent to 12.5 miles. I hit rain (or it hit me) just as I approached the final uphill, put on my arm warmers and vest for the descent, and eventually sought shelter under a tree to wait out the worst of the rain.

Actually, the worst of it was all the tall grass that was bent over the sides of the gravel road soaking me as I rode through it. Close to the pavement, I came up behind two riders on horseback, and they showed signs of skittishness as I approached. I stopped, said a hello, waited for the horses to calm down, then walked my bike past. They, too, had gotten caught in the rain. We wished each other well and went on our own paths. By the time I reached the pavement, the rain had quit, and warm temperatures returned rapidly.

A short paved section brought me to the second gravel sector, with much more climbing in three stages, but also more pleasant gentle rises and falls over the six miles. This road was also gated, as the winter past had required ditching across the lane to prevent washouts – peaceful, nice surfaces. Four short get-offs for the ditching and the final short rise back to pavement had me back in civilization. Though this was an eight mile stretch of off-tarmac, it went by quickly.

While I didn’t go out to the Brooklyn Tavern, I did go out the spur part way, a couple miles to where the route departed the main roads, about 13 miles short of the Brooklyn. I felt guilty for not making the full trek out to the destination, but also knew that to do so would have meant at least another 2 hours of riding, and likely 3 hours or more total. I made the decision to turn back there and get to the end of the ride, paved the whole way.

The finish of day two follows much the same path as the final miles of day one, so familiar landmarks goaded me to push it in to the end.

Thinking ahead to next year, I see no reason to change the routes at all. Yes, they were hard (more so on day one), harder than even I expected, and harder than I had characterized in my info to other riders. But with some more accurate advertising, I think that more crazies would be attracted to make the event next year.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Roscoe

Okay, I've been riding with some regularity for a good 35 years now, and it seems that this particular thing has been happening much more frequently this year than any other time. So far -- knock on wood -- I've never hit pavement because of a motor vehicle (I have due to other cyclists, however).

Here's how it plays out... I'm riding along a straight road, maybe going past a strip mall, nearing a driveway, intersection with no stop sign, something like that. A motor vehicle will pass me with its right turn signal flashing.

And then it just stops.

Now I don't know if it's just waiting to get a good shot at me as I pass, or being nice and letting me by -- I choose to believe the latter. And I appreciate the gesture of being attentive to others safety.

But it makes me wonder just what reasoning is going on here.

My thoughts are two:
(1) What makes this driver think it's a good thing to stop dead in the road with traffic coming up behind?
(2) If that turn was so close, why even attempt to make the pass?

Sure, I've had people burn past and almost flip the car trying to make the turn without causing me to T-bone their side panels, and it's almost always a large pick-up slurping a good $1.00 worth in fuel in the process. I just laugh.

But the ones that stop? I mean, in the first thought above, all it's doing is increasing the chances that one of us will get rear-ended.

And in that second thought, I have to wonder what was so important that the potential 3 second delay of waiting behind was unbearable, which then turned into even LONGER because... I don't know, maybe they think everyone on a bike is tootling along at the standard DUI case of 5 mph and thinks traffic law is for someone else. Then they realize too late that I'm going a bit faster than that and OH CRAP! I'm not gonna make it!

I've talked with a few of them at times, and the usual answer is "I couldn't tell how fast you were going." Really? Then, again, why would you attempt the pass? Are you in the habit of venturing into a situation like that where you couldn't tell how fast traffic was going?

What I end up doing in every case is staying behind the car and waving them through the turn. I refuse to put myself where they can't see me and risk them taking the turn as I'm passing. Sometimes it turns into a bit of a standoff, but I'll pull into the lane behind them if needed. That usually gets the message across.

It's just something I don't get. But then it seems common sense has left the building. Along with common courtesy.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

On being an ex bike racer

It's been a lot of years since I lined up for a bike race. Sure, I've done some fast group rides that turned competitive, and ridden some fondos and a triathlon or two since then, but it's not the same at all.

I love to push the pace on the bike, and I'll even give a spirited sprint now and then. I've still got some decent cruising speed, and can find my way around a moving peleton and stay in it long enough to see the final line-up, but frankly I've lost that pointy end. The mind still knows how to get in there, but the legs just aren't gonna cash that check. I can still be the big fish in a small pond on most shop group rides. Most of the folks who show up have never done a true bike race. But when any regular racers show up, they can hand me my hiney on a platter pretty much at will.

And I'm okay with that.
 
There is a certain respect among racers that never goes away, even long after the race wheels have been sold off. And a mystique from non-racers.

I realized in spades just how okay I am with not racing after I had lined up for my last race, the local Tuesday Night World Championships at Pacific Raceways back in... 2006?

Some people joke that PR (Pacific Raceways) actually stands for Pretend Racing, and likely many people hold back on those nights. I never did -- when it came to racing, I was always drilling it, no matter what the event. It was racing, after all, and as a racer, if there are accolades at the finish, by thunder I was gonna race.

Okay, so mainly my team role was first lead-out man. Meaning that unless there were a lot of hills, especially with a hilltop finish, or this was a stage race that included a time trial, it wasn't my turn for personal glory. But I was good at my job, and did it with joy, ushering my second lead-out and sprinter to the fore more often than I can count, and watching the pack stream by as I gasped my way across the line, long-since spent.

ANYway... So back to that night in 2006 (I think). My last racing year prior to that was probably 1996, the culmination of years of racing an average of 4 days a week from May through August (with it starting around 2 days a week as early as February). Track racing on Wednesdays, full calendar of weekend events, Tuesday nights every week, Thursday crits... I took about 5 years off everything but weight training, and bulked up to... a lot. Got back into triathlon for a couple years, and stupidly thought it'd be cool to drop by the Tuesday Worlds for a taste of the peleton again.

Since my racing license had long-since lapsed, I decided to race the 4/5's instead of the Masters (which included many local cat 1's and 2's, and a few National champions). Lining up, I noticed all the deep section carbon wheels, high-end rides... I just wanted to make it through the end on my semi-aero rims and old Softride. I got more than a bit of ribbing over that. Plain red jersey, as I wasn't on any team. With a blow of the whistle from my good friends who run the event, we headed out.

At a dead sprint.

Hey, this isn't a crit!

I charged ahead as the pack as it slinkied up the first mile, reforming into the less-strung-out version it had been before the whistle. I hung around the back of the pack, just getting the feel of the large group again. Down the chute to the chicane turns, a long shallow uphill to the top straights... I was there, but suffering. Another lap, and I was mentally just throwing in the towel. I hung out for one more time up the hill, and then just let the pack drift off. Kept pedaling, and when the masters pack came by I jumped in the back to finish my workout.

That is when the real assault started.

You see, the 4/5 pack is used to seeing new blood. The masters, not so much. I got derided handily for jumping in a pack that I didn't belong in. Maybe the rules for this event had changed over the ensuing years, but back when I was doing this regularly, it wasn't a problem to jump in but not contest the sprints or affect the breaks. But I think the real issue is that no one knew who I was, that I had done this a LOT (though several years prior), and that I wasn't going to pose a danger to anyone.

Maybe I should have worn my old kit anyway.

But I essentially got flicked off the back by one of the designated generals of the pack. Sure, well-meaning, but the kind of move that enforces the elitist reputation of the upper categories.

I called it a night. And I realized that, really, I was fine with not racing in the peleton any more. I'd made the transition from triathlete to good bike racer once, and it was quite painful, thankyouverymuch. It was a good run. But I wasn't interested in putting myself through that again, in my mid-40's.

I like the events I do -- gravel rides and fondos are keeping me focused enough on riding. And it's fun, even putting on a few low-key events.

And my wife said she'll disown me if I shaved my legs.

Though lately I've been hanging around some active racers. And when the group winds it up, I get that itch...

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Elbe Multi-Strada Loop Ride -- bigger and better in 2015

The humor wasn't lost on me -- last year's Elbe Multi-Strada Loop Ride was done on the first weekend of May, and we got rained on for almost the entire ride. So I decided to move the date out two weeks this time around, figuring it would at least increase the chances of good weather.

Two weeks ago I did a recon ride of the course, to make sure everything was okay with the route. And the day was beautiful, sunny and warm.

I kept watching the forecast as ride day approached,the day's rain chance bouncing between 80% and 20%. By Thursday, though, it was settling into the lower range, with occasional forays to 10%.

Fortunately, the day proved to be rainless, though cloudy, and with some wet and muddy roads.

The whole point of this being a "multi-strada" ride is that it's on mixed surfaces -- both paved and unpaved roads. For this ride, though the gravel sections represent less than half of the distance (18.9 of the 47 total miles), they truly BECOME the ride. Pavement is only the means to link up the sections of gravel road.

This year's edition lengthened the off-pavement by a couple miles, and extended the overall distance by some seven miles, with a nice run back into Elbe on the Mountain Highway.

Joe loving the view.
The course was marked, as well as having the Garmin and RidewithGPS files available to everyone, and cue sheets were handed out to the dozen riders who braved the morning. At 9:00, a few final cautions were imparted, and we headed out.

Nine plus miles in, we turned off the highway and into Pack Forest, a large parcel owned by the University of Washington and used by the Forestry department. It's laced with trails and gravel roads, making it a great initial foray off the tarmac. One long climb, followed by another shorter ascent, and the views are astounding. Assuming you have the oxygen and mental wherewithal to enjoy them.
Russ attacking in Pack Forest.

The descent in Pack Forest is one long downhill, which this year claimed several inner tubes.The surface starts as dirt/mulch, but later becomes a nice gravel surface. But there are many exposed larger rocks, so pinch-flats are possible. And as witnessed this past Sunday, likely. There were at least five flats in the group on the way out of Pack Forest. More were to follow.

Back out onto the road we made the short hop into Eatonville and our food stop for the day at 21 miles.

Mark's Santa Cruz,
before 3 flats.
The road out of Eatonville begins climbing almost immediately, and for our chosen route, doesn't stop until the 33 mile marker. The Alder Cutoff Road is a fairly high-trafficked byway linking Eatonville to the eastern route through Elbe and to Mount Rainier. Our route followed this road for a mercifully short distance before taking a shallow left onto Scott Turner Road, a quiet "dead end" road that meanders slowly up the foothills. But the dead end is in pavement only, as the road continues on, and on, and up, and up, all on a fairly nicely maintained gravel surface.

Some custom stickers to the KOM
winner -- bragging rights. Only
KOM winners will ever get these.
This year's ride featured a KOM (King of the Mountain) prize over an unknown segment (I had just created the segment the evening before the ride). And this included a leg-breaking half mile stretch of incline that tests one's ability to turn over even an almost 1:1 gear. My own 34/32 set-up was barely low enough, and I was fortunate to be able to keep going after (for the following mile to the summit). It took me a long time before I could shift out of that lowest gear.

The descent back to the highway was wet and a little sticky at times, but the washboard sections had mostly been smoothed (though included some fairly-freshly-laid gravel). The riders had strung out over quite a distance by then, so I made the descent mostly alone. And it behooved us to keep our speed in check. Brakes in good working order is a must. There are some nicely level-ish sections for relief, though. A final right-hander, and the pavement arrives once more, with the highway just ahead. It was so fun to just open it up on that last downhill, speeds back above 30.

Within a mile of reaching the highway and the final seven mile slightly downhill stretch back into Elbe, I came across a cadre of our group gathered around one of the riders. He was just finishing up changing a flat which had occurred some three miles before. Having run out of spare tubes, and no one else around him at the time, he decided to run, in his mountain biking shoes, pushing his bike. After changing that flat and joining the group again, he helped us along nicely for the 25+ mph paceline back to Elbe. The Hard Man award definitely goes to Chris Wood for that feat.

After some clean up and clothes changing we headed over to the Elbe Bar and Grill for some fantastic burgers, fries and brews. Just what we needed to refuel from the day's efforts.

After riding the whole course
twice in 2 weeks, plus 2 trips
around Pack Forest for marking,
my own flat on the next morning.
The final tally -- 12 riders, 12 flats, and 100% good times.

The day's KOM award went to Russ Clark, for a free burger and some custom frame/helmet stickers by That Sticker Store in Puyallup.

Every one agreed that it was a great ride, and they're looking forward to doing it again next year.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A question of history

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
-- George Santayana

Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
-- WInston Churchill*

I'll add something to the above quotes in just a bit.

There's something that's really been bugging me. Okay, that's not quite right. "Bugging me" makes it seem far more trivial than reality, as I see an accelerating erosion. It's nothing new. Each generation has sought its share of social change, claiming that those who went before cannot possibly relate to the current times. But just in the last 30 years, it's seemed to become more pervasive, more urgent.

I believe our country is on the verge of something cataclysmic, socially. Social change? More like social collapse.

My addition: Those who don't see the parallels of historically destructive events in our current time are doomed to bring them about once more.

Let me take a look back at a couple of societies, and see what comes up.

Rome was the greatest empire of its time, and likely one of the greatest of all time. Yes, they, as all empires, sought to conquer the world, to ever expand their influence, to impose their world view upon those uncultured and opposing realms beyond the borders of their rule.

Roman Formation
from Wikimedia Commons
They had the most feared army.

They had the greatest prosperity.

They enjoyed more leisure time.

Their senate was the most well-balanced of governments.

Their culture was, by their admission, the most enlightened.

They were what other empires wanted to be, the culmination of human social evolution to that point.

And Rome burned from within while, as urban legend has it, its emperor (Nero) played fiddle.

One of the subjects on the fringe of the Roman empire was Britania. Merry Olde England.

King George III -- Alan Ramsay
from Wikipedia
England became arguably the second great empire. Its reach was far, touching all corners of the globe (yes, I know the "globe doesn't have "corners").

Its army was feared throughout the known world.

Its prosperity was among the top of any culture.

But it was ruled by a tyrannical monarchy.

A group of people packed up and left, risking everything to stand on their principles and start over in a new land.

A group of businessmen risked their very lives by signing a document that told the Mother Land of England to take their rule and shove it. Most of them died for these actions. But it spurred a revolution that resulted in what many call the greatest nation in history.

That new land is the good old U. S. of A. America, land of the free, home of the brave.

It is where the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free come by the boatload.

It is the country that sends its benevolence to every war-torn and disaster-ridden crevice of the world.

It is the country that sends its might to bear in the defense of democracy and opposition of terrorism.

It enjoys the highest levels of prosperity and leisure.

It is also a country that is tearing itself apart at the seams, while its leadership looks on with a mix of disinterest and pot-stirring.

It is a country whose CEOs live in a different world, where profit takes precedence over principle.

It is a country whose government members are more interested in self-preservation than preservation of its citizens.

It is a country that is becoming increasingly divided, following these noted leaders in caring not for their fellow man, as long as they get theirs.

So, look back at the above lists. See any parallels? Rome fell, burned. The principles of England left for a new land.

Oh, how far the mighty have fallen.

There are no new lands to which we can flee.

Will we become another chapter in the histories of fallen empires? Or will we come together to stand on principles again?
Winston Churchill
from museumsyndicate.com

“When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure. There is nothing new in the story. It is as old as the sibylline books. It falls into that long, dismal catalogue of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind. Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong–these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.”
—Winston Churchill, House of Commons, May 2, 1935
* The top quote, often attributed to Churchill, apparently never happened. It's the bottom quote that is most likely the source of the first. But the message is the same, regardless.