Description

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


Monday, May 16, 2016

Elbe Multi-Strada Loop Ride, v. 3 - The 2016 edition.

I'd been watching the weather forecast all week, hoping that the ever-increasing chance of rain on ride day would somehow diminish as the day approached. It vacillated a couple times, but then settled in at about 60% -- a sure thing in these parts.

Sure enough, Sunday morning arrived to the sound of drips off my roof. It was going to be a wet one.

The first edition of this ride, two years ago, was in similarly rainy conditions. I'd put that ride on the first weekend in May, after realizing that February wasn't the best idea -- a pre-drive had me barely able to turn my car around a good mile and near 700 ft in elevation short of the summit due to snow. I thought that going later into May would increase the chances of better weather after that very wet ride. And so the mid-May date for last year and this.

The odds have NOT been in our favor.

But cyclists can be hardy souls. Maybe foolhardy is a better term. Or prone to self-abuse.

I arrived at the start a little later than I would have liked, but with just enough time to make a couple pre-ride announcements and get everyone signed on the waiver and with a cue sheets in hand. We rolled out just a few minutes after the designated 9:00am start.

We were nine-strong going north on the Mountain Highway along Alder Lake, including five returnees from last year. This was the warm-up where road spray got us to the point of "it just doesn't matter any more" (you can only get so wet, you know). A short climb on the south side of Pack Forest on Hwy 7 led to the drop-in through La Grande and to the forest entrance. We picked up a road rider along the highway who stayed with the lead group through to the last climb. I stayed back to make sure everyone made the turn into Pack Forest, then proceeded in at my pace.

Pack Forest is owned by the University of Washington, and is used by a few of the departments for classes, including some that require residence for a quarter at a time. Marking the course has always been a struggle, as I couldn't use any kind of directions that couldn't be packed out. Not even temporary marking paint or chalk was allowed. So in the past I'd used paper plates stapled to stakes with painted-on arrows. Having to go in the day before to place them, then hope that the resident students left them alone long enough for the ride to go through, then going in to ride those hills again after the event to take the signs out (the result of which has been signs that had been moved, kicked over, or thrown into the woods), as well as questions about use permits and insurance, led me to just forgo marking the course this year. We really are just a group of cyclists touring around Pack Forest, and this isn't a paid event. In any case, the road up to Kirkland Pass was uneventful, and again I stayed back to make sure everyone got the correct turn there. But some newly laid gravel led me to embarrassingly take two wrong turns on the way to the actual summit.

Fortunately my Garmin was quick to point out my error, and I and a ride-mate were back on track with minimal added mileage. After hitting the top, the road tilts quickly downward, with varying degrees of mud and rock. This is where the flat tires started last year. Once back on the main track, though, the road smooths considerably, and speeds can safely increase.

I'd given the option to take the new Bud Blancher Trail into Eatonville rather than exiting Pack Forest at the northwest corner and taking the 3-mile stretch of no-shoulder road into town. I opted for the road, while the lead five took the trail.

Into Eatonville, I arrived at the Mill Valley Shell for snacks, and a water cooler that I'd placed there on my drive to the start. After some waiting, I realized that the lead folks must have continued on with the rest of the course and not made the food stop. The riders behind me came in, and soon I was starting to get chilled and needed to get riding again to warm up. One other rider was in the same situation, and so we stayed together getting the shivers calmed, having a nice conversation along the Alder Cutoff Road and Scott Turner Road before we hit the gravel again and we parted.

This enters into a 16 mile stretch of gravel road that includes some ridiculously steep sections both up and down. With a 34/32 low gear, it's barely enough on the worst section, and just like the last two years, the uphills leading to that leg-and-lung test deceived me into thinking I was already on it before I had actually arrived. But one can only go so slow before the snail-like cadence forces a get-off, and I was determined to make it without dabbing (which pretty well means walking, as getting re-started on this pitch is near impossible). I passed the two riders who had opted for mountain bikes (and were fairly comfortably spinning along) on this steepest uphill, and continued on in my lowest gear. It was long after that grind before I could drop out of that easiest gear -- my legs just said no.

But that isn't the top. Though the continued climb is mercifully less vertical, there's still a good mile to go before the highest point of the ride at 2900 ft, but once over that point there is a long downhill that changes the ride from a test of legs to a test of brakes and nerve. And some luck with the washboard.

A few hairpins down the steeper parts, past a roadside shooting gallery, and the road flattens out for a comfortable cruise on smoother surfaces for a few miles. This leads into one last slightly uphill section before the turn-off at the ORV area, and a fast downhill towards the exit off gravel and the final drop-in to Ashford. By that time we're ready for smooth pavement, and the final seven mile stretch along the Mountain Highway back to Elbe. My legs felt like concrete at this point, but I maintained the speed all the way to the end. That last half mile to the car was all about thinking of dry socks and the burgers at the Elbe Bar and Grill.

The trash talking started in earnest then, fueled by burgers a brews. Have I mentioned that the burgers are the Elbe Bar and Grill are legendary? Not your everyday one-napkin affair. No, these are full-on two- or three-wipers, with awesome fries on the side. Don't think about it, just do it.

Michael Pruitt of Machete Squad was quick to point out that his team had now taken the top two spots both last year and this year, even though it's not a race. His put was that I had no control what happened once we started out, and if people wanted to "race", then it was a race! All in good fun.

With only one flat this year, I wondered what it is about bad weather that produces fewer flat tires.

But apparently I need to provide some form of a podium for next year.

And maybe we'll have some sunshine.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The walls are closing in on me

And it only took a week.

'Tis growing season, after all.

So for those that have been following along, I've been surreptitiously cutting some single track trails on the company property around my work site over the last 6 months. The site services folks have been kind enough to lay fresh crushed rock on all the service roads, rendering them both more difficult to ride and dumbing them down almost to the point of "what's the point". By laying this fresh crushed rock at the beginning of the rainiest part of the year, everything in the mix that would normally pack down and bind it all together was washed away, so now it's just a 3" deep moving surface of dig-in. Don't turn too sharply!

ANYwho... The new trails are the new, better playground, lacing their way through the woods that are only sparsely cut by the service roads. I figured that once spring rolled around I'd need to do a little maintenance.

Following the wettest months on record with a nice sunny week, during which I did road rides or was otherwise disposed during my workday and couldn't ride, nature did a little push-back.

It's amazing just how much happened in one week. Scotch Broom not only in full bloom, but in many cases a good foot plus closed into what was open space. MY TRAIL! I swear I could actually SEE them growing as I rode past, each lap getting narrower and narrower...

So instead of cutting new trail, I'm going to need to spend a couple days widening the existing trails. Again.

But I will win.

And considering that all these trails were cut in the last 6 months, giving a few extra days to keep them open is a small price to pay.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Can summer be far behind?

It seems like it's already here. At least for a few days.

The mercury is inching up past that eight-oh mark.

I dig this. Entirely. I know, it's only April. Global warming? Bring it.

I love warm, nay, HOT weather. At least what passes for "hot" in these parts. Upper 70's to mid 80's is my happy place. Riding in it is joy.

Don't get me wrong, I sweat. A lot. Follow me on a ride and you'd swear we found a rain squall. You look up searching for that errant grey mass, only to realize the source is much more terrestrial (and... ew!).

I did a long ride yesterday, starting in the still-a-bit-chilly hours and ending in the it's-kinda-warm early afternoon. Just over 4 hours in the saddle, most of which was a local charity ride that winds south into the Cascade foothills and back.

Oddly, the Daffodil Classic ride, at least the longer loop, doesn't pass by any of the daffodil fields.

On today's ride I got to bypass the morning chill and go straight to sleeveless jersey. By necessity I had to take it a little easier. But I didn't mind one bit.

And it seems like the wimps are already complaining. "It's too hot." "It's so muggy." Never happy...

Anyway, there's a couple more days in the forecast in that oh-so-perfect weather to enjoy before we get back to what makes this the Pacific North-Wet.

I'll do my best to enjoy it.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Kids are amazing

Much has been written about how it is far easier for a child to adapt to riding a bicycle if they never have training wheels. I'm glad to say that my daughter is well into that curve on her first venture outdoors on her kick bike. Check the video below for just a short example of how daring she got within just a few minutes.

video


And for the record, "One more time," was actually about another 100 times.

This is actually her second kick bike (both Mjolnir Cycles creations). I made the first one with the saddle much lower, as she was only 15 months old at the time, and on the 35th percentile of height. That forced the rear wheel back, making the wheelbase long and the bike difficult to turn around. This one has a shortened wheelbase, much better for riding in the house and maneuvering around furniture and toys, and she's had it for about a month. She's just 2-1/2 now.

When I came home from work yesterday, my wife and daughter were out behind the house enjoying the sun. It didn't take long for her to find the slope to the asphalt slab and use it to gain speed, gliding with her feet in the air and steering to maintain balance. And most importantly, even when she fell a couple times, she just dusted her hands off and got right back on the bike to try again.

She favors "pretty" shoes and loves to wear tutus. But she is also very physical. 

We're betting she'll be looking to get into BMX racing soon -- in patent-leather bike shoes, pink helmet, and a racing tutu.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Joint Base Lewis McChord ride

February has been another wet month, but it did allow a few days of respite, and some unseasonably warm temperatures.

My wife and young daughter took a week to visit her family out of town, and I took advantage of the weekend with outdoor extended riding each day. This culminated in a day on the exercise areas of Joint Base Lewis/McChord (JBLM), hundreds of acres of wooded and meadowed lands laced with service roads and no big hills. Perfect for a nice long cruise.

I'd been out in these areas twice before, both times relying on the "easier to ask forgiveness than permission" factor. I figured the worst that could happen was that I'd be escorted off the range and sent on my way. With some recent happenings in Texas, where riders were being fined and having their bikes confiscated, I'd take the higher road and actually get permission to ride.

I was clued in by another local rider that the process was simple, and free, though a little time consuming. Contacting the Range Command office at JBLM, I found where to go and made the trip in to get my permit. Aside from that, it was just a matter of seeing which zones were open on the day I had to ride, and mapping out a route that avoided the areas closed for exercises and endangered insect breeding (yes, seriously, there are areas that are closed indefinitely due to being breeding grounds for certain endangered insects).

The weather on the day looked to be perfect, climbing to near 60 at the warmest, and mostly cloudless. A welcome change from the last few months of near constant rains. I embarked on my 50 mile route at about 9:30, with temperatures hovering in the low 40's.

After a few miles of pavement, I turned north into the woods and gravel roads. Quietness and solitude. 

As I rode, certain things caught my eye, and I found the theme of the day -- trees and water. The gravel roads were mostly dry and in good shape, but several have fairly fresh gravel laid down, so the going was slow at times.

Second water crossing,
not conducive to riding.
Right at the half-way point I hit my first water crossing. A concrete ramp on both sides made it easy, and it was only about a foot deep, allowing me to ratchet the pedals one-footed and stay completely dry. But just a short distance later, I met up with a more challenging stream. Paved with concrete blocks spaced about six inches apart, and an undetermined depth, I decided to doff my shoes and socks and carry the bike across. Riding through this would have been disastrous. So I strapped my shoes onto the bike, hoisted it onto my shoulder, and carefully picked my way across.

Fortunately this one ended up only to be about knee deep. But this is February, remember, and temperatures had only elevated in the couple days previous to this, and the water was running at a fair clip. My feet were numb by the time I was half-way across. Thank goodness for wool socks! I got feeling back within a couple miles, and continued on my way.

Third and last water
crossing -- deep
and cold
This view never gets old.
About ten miles later, I saw a sign up ahead that read "Approved for..." For what, I wondered. As I neared, though, it became apparent. "APPROVED FORD." Meaning another water crossing. This one running faster and deeper. Like the first, though, it was paved with concrete ramps on both sides. Again, I doffed my shoes and socks, strapped them to the bike, and started across.

Slowly the water got deeper. Past the knees... Still downward. Feet numb all over again, I hoped that I didn't step on a sharp rock. Finally the water level stopped at just below crotch height (whew!), then began ebbing again. I dropped the bike on the other side and let the water run off before putting my socks and shoes back on and continuing on my way.

Fortunately that was the last water crossing. I was able to keep my shoes on the rest of the ride, winding my way north and east, finishing back where I started in the Walmart parking lot.

Two McD's cheeseburgers for the road got me back home.

My permit is good for two years... I'll definitely be back.