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

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Enjoy the Silence

Some days it's nice to just get out and enjoy the silence and solitude.

Today was one of those days, getting out on my mountain bike on a beautiful but cold day on some new terrain.

This past summer I took a long lunchtime ride that had be skirting the roads just east of Joint Base Lewis McChord, looking at a lot of empty land with occasional dirt roads leading in, and thinking it would be great for a gravel ride. I looked at maps and satellite imagery, and started planning a large loop. I asked people who I ran into that might know about how accessible that land was (and how likely it would be that I'd be shot at or end up in a military prison). 

All indications were that it would be okay, but that given military exercises were often done on this land, I'd have to pay attention to any signs warning of unexploded ordnance.

So when the weather forecast said that today would be clear, no chance or rain, and I just happened to have this week off for holiday, it provided the perfect opportunity.

I loaded up the car in 26 degree temps, and headed out.

At 9:00 I hit the trail, or gravel road actually, the first several miles siding along the paved road and then turning into the woods. As the miles ticked by, I found myself breaking out into clearings, meadows hundreds of acres vast.

With the cold, my water bottles quickly got slushy. Having to stop often to check navigation (and having to restart Cuesheet each time) added a significant amount of time to the ride. And even though there was little in the way of elevation change, I was wishing I'd gone slightly lower with my gearing on the single speed. But none of that dampened the enjoyment of the ride. Sun, nice gravel, seeing only 3 other people the entire ride (and they were training their hunting dogs). 

There were only two points where I needed to portage around large pools of icy water. And only one point where I had to re-route when the road I'd mapped crossed a stream. Had this been summer with temperatures in the 80's instead of freezing, I might have ridden through it. I back-tracked to a bridge, and re-joined my route, not missing much mileage.

Sometimes you run into unexpected things out in these areas. The sad part is that I could always tell when I was getting close to the paved roads - dumped trash.

My choice of going with a monster-cross bike might have been overkill, but I had no idea what I was going to run into on this route. Next time I'll ride the 'cross bike.

And there WILL be a next time. I don't think I touched 10% of the gravel roads that lace this area.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

CL100CXTTWC -- a bike race parody for charity

As the end of the year approaches, and things surrounding Christmas ramp up, it's easy to get busy and set some things aside. You may have noticed a dearth of posts to this journal over the last month or two. Well, that's exactly what happened.

But this past weekend I participated in an event that will now be on my annual calendar for as long as it's run.

CL100CXTTWC -- the Craigs List $100 Cyclocross Time Trial World Championships.

Put together by Russell Clark, a local rider who I became acquainted with through Strava KOMs, it was an outgrowth of his desire to put on a fun event, and to make a difference.

The idea is this: Get a bike on Craigs List, and make it rideable, all for less than $100, race it time-trial style on a cyclocross course (in this case it was about 5.6 miles), then donate the bike to Bike Works of Seattle. Yes, you could ride your own bike instead of donating, but that would require a cash donation entry fee and also disqualify you from the actual "championships". The emphasis was, by far, more on HAVING a good time than POSTING a good time.

I gave Russell a little help with some logistics, course marking, and start/finish line adornments, but all the real footwork, planning, and contacting were all his.

I perused Craigs List several times, at one point contacting a seller of a MTB single speed conversion (who then informed me that he was only available for a couple hours A WEEK to come take a look). Well, when my wife decided that she wouldn't be able to ride the event (due to work schedules and kiddie care issues), her steed became my ride for the day. A 38lb Huffy Storm, with platform pedals, steel rims, stamped steel "slowers" (it would be a disservice to call them brakes)...

Race day dawned clear and cool, though for December it was a perfect day, as we gathered at Ft. Steilacoom Park in Lakewood, WA.

It was entertaining seeing the variety of bikes ridden on the day. Everything from basket-festooned cruisers to banana-seat stingrays, old road bikes, bmx b
ikes, and of course mountain bikes. Mostly ill-fitting.

I was fourth from last to go off, as I'd registered fairly early. Which meant there were a lot of people to pass, and only a few that could pass me.


I did pass one rider, on a road cruiser with basket. Two of the riders behind me (including
Russell, who started last) did pass me. It didn't matter one whit. I was having a blast fighting the heavy bike up the hills, remounting after a particularly steep section and completely missing the saddle, and riding off the course when the "slowers" failed to slow the bike enough for me to negotiate a narrow chicane.

I have no idea where I finished, time wise. Because it doesn't even matter.

The event brought in 38 bikes (plus some parts, and no, they didn't fall off the bikes) and $350 cash donations. Russel stated many times that he was proud and humbled that so many people responded so enthusiastically to his zany idea, and that so much good came out of it.

And it's already set for next year -- December 15, first rider off at 9:30 AM. I'll be there. Let the Craigs List cruising begin!

Friday, November 21, 2014


The month of November begins in earnest the winter struggle of busy-ness, getting things accomplished, holidays, demands on time, and trying to stay sane and in some kind of physical shape (other than round).

October this year was pretty decent weather-wise. There were really only a few days that I consider not rideable. November, though, has been challenging, with very cold temperatures, and now the usual wet. Add in that my wife has been in training for a new part-time job, and my available time for riding these past two work weeks has been my lunchtime. I try to get in the hour (or a little more if meeting schedules permit) of saddle time, but some days it just doesn't happen.

In all that, though, I've gotten two more bike frames near the end of their process -- on in paint, and one nearly so. I'm making a second fork for my gravel/'cross bike, so that will be this weekend's project. Colors? I'm debating with the primer grey/clearcoat on the frame with a red fork and graphics, or going with yellow on the frame instead. I know the yellow/red combination is striking, but the grey/red is more staid and utilitarian. It might depend more on what yellow I can find that will accept epoxy clear topcoat.

A funny thing happened on the way...

The gravel bike I am finishing up is actually the second main frame. It was too long to fit in the jig, and I was having a terrible time getting it set up, so I decided to set it up on the flat table with V-blocks. The seat tube/bottom bracket junction was done in the jig so that it was at 90 degrees, but then I took that assembly to the table with the rest of the tubes in the blocks. Well, somewhere in the process the seat tube got knocked or something, and the whole main frame ended up at a slight angle. The head tube and seat tube were PERFECTLY parallel, but putting the frame on the "whipping post" showed that the head tube was out-of-plane with the bottom bracket by a good 1/2". Ugh. And it was fully brazed, not just tacked.

I tried to "show it who's boss" as Richard Sachs likes to say. That ended badly -- the corner of my flat surface broke off, and I nearly broke my knuckles.

I sighed.

I cried a little.

And I set it aside to start over. I figured I could finish it up at some point as a display-only model.

That was a few months ago. Fast forward to a couple weeks ago, with a new flat surface reinforced by planks. For grins I put that main triangle back on the whipping post to see what I could do. 

Some grunting, a lot of flipping it over on the post, lots of checks... And it came into alignment!

Now, if this were for a paying customer, I wouldn't be passing along something I had to do that much cold-setting with, and it'll still end up mostly as a display model. But I've got this extra main triangle that I'm figuring out just how to finish.

Fixed gear? Another 'cross/gravel rig? Maybe play around with the idea of a 29+?

Monday, November 3, 2014

I've been down, but I'm not out.

I don't get sick very often.

Maybe it's that I lead a reclusive lifestyle. I don't really care for crowds.

And shunning showers and personal care products  makes this easy -- crowds avoid me.

Okay, not really. I shower and use decent-enough hygiene that I'm only rarely not socially acceptable. But I still don't care for pressing flesh with 10,000 of my best-friends-I-just-met.

But we returned from Illinois last month with a nice little gift for all of us -- a cold that is just hanging on. Sinuses draining green goo, and a dry throat and cough that is just irritating. It's been two weeks now. Longest cold I can remember.

Which has kept me off the bike for almost 2 weeks now. My last ride was on October 23rd, a little one-hour off-road excursion on my lunch break. Not even something strenuous. But I think that drove the cold well into the depths of my body, and there's is taken up residence like Fort Knox, apparently.

Where did we pick it up? Well, I thought about that... My niece had been sick the night before we left, but by the time we saw them, she was doing fine and I would think not contagious. 

We were in a crowd at the wedding on Saturday. There's a possibility there.

But there was that lady that sat next to me on the flight to Chicago... Fours hours of her blowing her nose, sneezing, and laying her head down on the fold-out tray. Uh, yeah, that's probably it.

Thanks. I got to pay for that privilege.

I expect I'll be back to riding by the end of the week, and maybe by the end of the month it'll be like it never happened. 

Wonderful thing, these healing bodies.

Now I just have to figure out where to get my flu shot.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Riding on the road

This is NOT a post about road riding, though the title may imply that. Instead, it's about riding while on vacation, on the road, so to speak.

I had the foresight to ship a bike out to my in-laws this past spring, knowing that we make about two or more multi-day trips to north-central Illinois (yeah, fine, for all you locals who take exception to me calling it "central" Illinois -- southwest Chicago). My mother-in-law is graciously storing it for me. In a shipping box.

The roads out there are laid out in a very geometric pattern, easy to navigate and not get lost, as long as you keep track of wind direction. Bonus is that you can see your landmarks for quite a distance. Meaning there aren't any real hills (by a Pacific northwest standard).

Anyway... I was wanting to find some folks on Velocipede Salon to ride with while I was there this past weekend. While that didn't pan out (and is kind of a relief, as my schedule degraded quickly leaving me only one opportunity to save my sanity with a ride), there was a suggestion to hop onto the I & R Canal Trail and cruise away the miles.

Good call.

I have a few rail-trail conversions not too far from me, and they're a nice, mindless ride when it's not a busy time (like most any weekday -- on nice weekends, look out). They're all paved, however.

On one of our trips out a couple years ago, we had crossed the I & M Canal Trail on the way to a community pool, and I'd noticed that it wasn't paved, though I didn't know just how rocky it could be.

Turns out it's very smooth -- better than a lot of the roads I ride on near home. The surface is crushed lava rock and cinder, and very well maintained. A glorious ride.

The fall colors were nearly in full bloom, something that we don't get a lot of in the land of evergreens.

I look forward to going back and riding more of this trail. Maybe I'll be able to round up a couple cohorts to ride along.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What is the most important part of the bike?

After spending the weekend in Portland at least partially immersing myself in bike culture (the Hopworks Oregon Handmade Bike and Beer Festival), and talking with several custom builders from the area, and then a long drive home listening to The Guardians of Ga'Hoole (yep, the one about the owls... book on CD), I lay in bed unable to get to sleep, and thinking...

Every once in a while, a philosophical question will drill its way into my brain and fester there.

So this particular night, it was the question of the importance of the parts on the bike, or, more properly, what is THE most important part on the bike?

Could it be the wheels? I mean, really, the entire meaning behind the moniker "bicycle" means "two wheels". That kind of defines what a bike is, right?

Or maybe it's the frame. The supporting structure of the thing, which defines its manners, handling, weight balance, and comfort.

Possibly the saddle. The weight-bearing interface between the rider and the machine, where a most-intimate contact can become something that you never think about, or a misery that you can't NOT think about.

Or the pedals and cranks, where the efforts of the rider are transferred into the machine to provide forward progress, the most efficient form of transportation yet conceived-of by man.

Maybe it would be the handlebar, the interface to the wishes of the rider as to where that machine goes.

Well, all those things are important and make the collection of "things" into a bike. Much is made of how that collection of things should look, what are proper proportions, and largely that is what we were celebrating, discussing, and drooling over through the entire show.

But without the most important part of the bike, all that could be nothing more than "art", a lawn sculpture or showpiece. Without the most important part of the bike, the bike is just "a bike". It doesn't do anything. It doesn't go anywhere.

No, the most important part of the bike, to me, is the rider.

I believe that "the bike" is a dynamic thing, and that in order for it to truly be what it was meant to be, it needs to move. And that requires the rider.

Riders come in all shapes, sizes, ages, genders, and races. Speed does not make the rider. Being on a bike makes the rider. And likewise, the rider makes the bike. It's a synergy of human and machine -- a cybernetic melding that creates efficient movement.

And if you really get infected with the notion of two-wheeled transport, you become like me -- a rider even when you're not on a bike.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Hopworks Oregon Handmade Bike and Beer Festival, Portland, OR

This past Saturday I spent the larger part of the afternoon at the Hopworks Oregon Handmade Bike and Beer Festival, a celebration/expo of local custom framebuilders and craft brewers.

I'm not much of a beer drinker, so after a couple tastes, my wife got the rest of the drink tickets, and I headed off to lose myself in fillets and lugs.

The expo was a little different this time around, not just in how it was configured, but also in my mindset going in. After a year putting torch to metal in my spare time, I was looking at more fine details, processes and configurations, and less pie-eyed about being around some of the builders who've made it in the business.

I was also drumming up some interest in a 2-day ride I'm planning for next summer, kind of a builder's secret ball, if you will, of riding around Capital Forest and surrounds. More to follow about that one in the coming months. Routes are set, location, mostly I just haven't set a date yet.

Anyway, I cruised mostly, letting things catch my eye.

Like the paint on the Machine mountain bike that was a repetition of their logo and had the effect of looking like tire tread. And the TIGHT welds on their stainless steel frame.

The narrow seat tube slot on the Breadwinner road bike.

The segmented fork crown on the Igleheart road bike. Chris had been in a bad crash not long after last year's show, so it was good to see him back in full swing again.

Likewise the segmented fork on the Ahearne rigid MTB.

And the Best-in-Show Winter Cycles.

There were also things like a Huffy Huck, which my wife participated in (and being the bad husband I am, I totally missed getting any of that on film), and adult-sized tricycle slalom races. A break dancing demo provided a break (haha) from staring at tubes as well.

And Ruby Jewel ice cream sandwiches. Good call!

While I was there, I saw a lady getting really up-close-and-personal to the bikes with her camera. I figured she was with a cycling magazine or something. Well, turns out it was Amy Sakurai, who goes by the handle LovelyAngel on Velocipede Salon, and she posted the link to her album from the day's photography and blog post. Great shots!

I'd been invited by Dave Levy of TiCycles Fabrication to bring my bikes down to the show. Being as I really only had one ready, and several more in-process, I decided that I'd pass on it this year. But I'll make my public announcement now -- I'll be there next year, even though I'm not an Oregon builder, and join in the fun from the other side of the booth.

Makes me excited and nervous at the same time.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Summer's Last Gasp Ride

Last year in July, Steve Hampsten, NW Framebuilder extraordinaire, organized a ride from North Bend, WA, to the top of Snoqualmie Pass and back mostly on gravel roads and a rail-trail conversion (also gravel). Called the Trofeo Strada Bianca, it was a great ride, with about 30-35 people showing up for a gentlemanly assault of the pass.

Inquiries into a repeat performance this year made it clear that Steve was too busy to make it happen. I enjoyed it so much last year that I decided to just throw it together and see where it went.

Using the same route, I created the Summer’s Last Gasp Ride on Facebook, to be run on September 20th, sent out invites to Steve and every other rider I knew, posted updates on a couple of the cycling boards I frequent, and then anticipated the approaching day.

Picking a date in late-ish September is a complete crap-shoot -- we might get summer-like sun and warm temperatures, or we might be calling in the Coast Guard for a flood rescue. Pretty much even money either way.

Well, with a few days to go before the event, the forecast showed some rain mid-week and then sunny and warm for the weekend. Perfect! And indeed it was a perfect weather day for this ride. Fog in the low lands, but we rose above it by the time we drove into North Bend, and it was sunny throughout. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Response on Facebook for the ride was meager, and Steve had to cancel the day before because of a project that came up last  minute. I knew I'd be getting into the local cyclocross season, so that ate into the potential attendees as well.

It ended up with three of us showing up, one of which flew in from New York just to make this ride and do a ride up to Paradise (on Mt Rainier) the next day. I asked him if this was a work trip. "Nope, just wanted to fly out and ride somewhere I've never ridden before." Something about turning 40...

We shoved off just after 9:30, and headed out at a sedate pace towards the first section of gravel. Several miles in, the first uphill brought us to the Iron Horse Trail, a converted railroad grade that travels over Snoqualmie Pass and all the way to Idaho (so I hear) and beyond. We wouldn't take this all the way to the summit, but it provided a nice easy gain in elevation.

Dropping back down to the highway level (Interstate 90, for those keeping score), some more pavement and a couple miles on the shoulder of the highway brought us to Tinkham Road, the next section of gravel.

A surprise left at the Denny Creek exit took us over the highway and up the final few miles UP to the summit (on pavement). Another downhill on the other side, and we were at the half-way point and our rest/food stop.

I recruited my wife (well, she volunteered really, but I think she was doing it as a birthday gift for me) to bring food and water up for us, and she, along with my thirteen-month-old daughter greeted us with smiles and nutrition. Perfect.

After loading up the carbs and a little more for the pockets, we got going again. The stop backed right up to the Iron Horse Trail again, and within a half-mile we were at the entrance to the tunnel...

Two miles of total darkness. Yes, we had lights. The provide what I consider to be barely enough illumination to make it navigable. I've ridden during some very dark parts of the night with no street lights, and even some night off-road riding, and none of that is anywhere near as disorienting as going through this tunnel. I was glad to be following. Not even a quarter of the way through, our New Yorker stated, "I've ridden in some unique places, but this takes the cake."

Finally through the chill air and back into (very bright) daylight, we doffed the arm warmers and vests, made sure the lights were extinguished, and hit the trail again. The Iron Horse Trail is deceptive in that it doesn't really feel like you're going uphill until you turn around and head back down. Twenty miles per hour was easy all the way back, and we only had to slow down for hikers, other slower riders, and a gaggle of rock climbers. And a photo op here and there. It probably took us barely more than half the time to get back as it did to make the ascent.

Cruising in the last few paved miles back to our destination, my thoughts turned to... FOOD!

Beers and burgers at The Pour House were the order of the day, while we regaled with tales of rides, trips, and other life

Yes, the day turned out to be perfect. The ride was not so long as to garner wishes that it were over, and not so short as to leave one wishing for more. Hard to top a riding day like this.

Will I do the ride again? Sure. Probably not in September, though. The odds just aren't there for another perfect weather day.

Hopefully we can have a few more riders along next time.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Getting old-ER

As I close in on the last days of my 51st trip around the burning ball we call The Sun, I'm often reminded that "I'm getting old."

No, it's not just my 13-year-old daughter who constantly tells me (in so many ways, from my preferred music to my usage of certain phrases).

And it's not just how I reach for the reading glasses more often.

In fact, more mornings that not I feel creaky and slow when I get out of bed. Fortunately that feeling subsides fairly quickly and I'm back to "normal".

My younger daughter (just turned one early last month) keeps my energy up, mostly out of necessity.

I don't have any epic day-long endurance journeys planned for this birthday (like last year's half-Ironman-ish plus triathlon), but the day after I'll be hosting a ride going up Snoqualmie Pass and back to North Bend. There was a good crowd for this ride last year (in July), so I'm hoping at least a few people will show up. It should be a good time.

On the frame building front, I've got one bike complete and on the road, another about 85% of the way there (and I was almost thinking it was ready for paint, then remembered the braze-ons...), and I "finished" the fork for the 'cross bike. Of course, now that it's painted, I remember the cable guides... At least that was just a rattle-can paint job, easily replicated. Another sign I'm getting old? I'm going to just say that's a sign of being new at the game and not necessarily having the processes down 100%.

Yeah, that's it.

The weather is changing. I can feel it. We're likely done with days over 80 degrees until next July. Leaves are falling. Signs that another "riding season" * is coming to a close. And with it comes, for me and other Virgos, that tick-over of the age digit.

That's okay though. I'm glad to be around to see it. Plenty of adventures ahead.

I recently mentioned to my wife that I was "getting old." She replied with, "Honey, you ARE old." (With an 18 year difference between us, I guess I can see her point.)

"Then I guess I'm getting old-ER," I said.

Older than old...

* What is this "riding season" of which you speak? Yes, I ride year-round. I just don't do events in the winter.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Triathlon season closer

This was the 2014 edition of the Bonney Lake Labor of Love Triathlon, promoted by BuDu Racing, LLC. It wasn't the wettest triathlon I've ever done, but it was close. Animals were queuing up by 2's...

I've done this event 6 times now -- every year it's been put on -- and this was the first time I've done it in the rain. Add to that the fact that I haven't trained my swim at all, and barely more than that for the run, and it was looking to be another fine hour of suffering. I've done the long course (close to Olympic/International distance) once, but find the sprint distance (800m/12mi/5K) to be more to my liking. That was my (wise) choice this year as well.

The forecast said the chance of rain was increasing, but it didn't get into the "pretty much assured" range until late in the morning. Well, it started about the time I left my house at 5:30am, and kept on in fits and starts until my race was starting (held up a few minutes to allow the rescue boat to deliver one of the Oly swimmers who was having difficulty). After that point, we were already wet, do it didn't matter too much.

Did I mention I hadn't been doing any swim training? That came back to bite me about 200m into the swim. My arms loaded up in a big way, and I had to just ease up the pressure and glide through it. I emerged from the water with the 35th fastest swim time (out of 177 finishers), and feeling only a little dizzy.

Now I was in my element. I managed to not count the aisles after I got my gear on and bike in hand and started heading back towards the entrance. Okay, another 15 seconds added to my transition time... I found the exit, then got going, passing several people who were trying the flying mount or shoes-on-the-pedals, apparently for the first time. I spent the first mile threading through people before it finally thinned out enough to fly. It was funny seeing the bubbled wake on the road from riders in front of me...

I kept the pressure on throughout the bike, and avoided the dead zone that I've experienced the last couple years on that course. Maybe because I had given myself a little break by taking it really easy in the corners (didn't want to slide out).

I had decided to leave the glasses behind at transition, and there were times that the rain felt like hail on my face. I was flying "blind", not just because of not having glasses. I went with no cyclocomputer -- I had no idea how fast I was going, like Greg Lemond in the '89 Tour, "I just rode". One thing I did differently was to add toe covers to my shoes. It really made a big difference in foot warmth, especially with the constant spray not just from the sky but from my front wheel. Coming in at 22.5mph average, I was just slightly slower than last year.

And now the real suffering begins. This run course is brutal. The hills come steep and often, testing your ability to get your rhythm going time after time. My shoes were sloshing well before I hit the first mile. I managed to only walk one short stretch near the top of a hill just past the half-way mark. There was a water station at the point where the short and long course split, but I passed it by. If I wanted a drink, all I had to do was open my mouth...

Finishing the 5K in an average of 7:30/mile (last year was 6:41), my final time was 1:09:39, 13th overall (2nd in my age group), over seven minutes slower than last year (in beautiful weather), but only 2 places farther back.

And the best part? Two of the girls on the youth triathlon team that I help coach beat me! Kudos to them!

The team had their end-of-the-season party after the race at the home of one of the athletes who lives on the same lake. It was a little sad to think of the season being over, that these kids are all headed off to school, and that fall really is just around the corner.

Anyway, the race is in the books for another year. I hobbled around for a couple days after, soreness being the theme of the day. My ankles recovered from the run fairly quickly, though. 

It's a fun race that I would recommend to anyone. Just be ready for those hills on the run.