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

Monday, December 14, 2015

Soooo close I can taste it

Unless something drastic happens, I'll hit my "mileage" goal for the year today.

In reality is wasn't a mileage goal, but a riding time goal -- 500 hours in the saddle. That works out to an average of 1:22:12 on the bike each day, 365 days. Of course, I haven't actually done that. So far, I've missed 49 days, and will likely miss at least one more by the time Auld Lang Syne is sung. But that works out to an average of 1:40 and small change for every day I actually rode. So far. There's still more than two weeks to go!

The last time I made a year goal was 2011, when I targeted 1000 running miles. I ended up just 2.5 miles short and injured.

As of today I'm just 30 minutes shy of the mark. And the weather looks to be decent enough that the lunchtime ride will be at least not as wet.

I'll update with the breakdown once it's all done and dusted.

Monday, November 30, 2015

I'm a poacher

For the past two months, approximately, I've been a renegade, a scofflaw, one of those in-the-shadows ne'er-do-wells secretly destroying... Scotch broom.

My day job has me plunked smack-dab in the middle of the hundred acre wood, replete with gravel access roads sprinkled about. I've worked at this site for a little over eight years now, and I've run and biked these gravel paths so many times I could likely do it in my sleep. Who knows, maybe I have.

A trip around the perimeter, door-to-door, is about 5.7 miles total, by the longest route. That gives you an idea of just how much land we're talking about here.

There are several vast areas that are also left to nature, and the deer and coyotes have had their run of the place. But no more...

I'm a poacher.

I've been spending some time cutting new trails into these pristine (haha... more on that in a bit) forests, to the tune of up to 30 minutes a day on days I ride out there. It adds up. Leaving a set of long-handled brush cutters at the end of the current under-construction trail helps in not having to carry them out each day. That might be considered bad form, and could attract some unwanted attention from those who would have this shut down in the name of the current bubble-wrap-think (safety, they call it).

So far I've been mostly cutting down Scotch broom, that insidious weed which was imported to help stabilize disturbed soils around highway construction sites. It will grow in anything, including the glacial till which comprises the majority of the site. All it took was the construction of two very large warehouse-like manufacturing buildings, and moving the "soil" across these hundred acres (okay, I don't really know just how many acres this site owns, but it's big), and there you go -- forests of alder, cottonwood, and Scotch broom. So these areas have had maybe 20 years to overcome the stripping, while others have what looks to be an older, truly untouched forest growing.

I've put in much of this work basically widening deer trails. One trail is a fairly straight and flat traverse that I'd been looking at for a good four years, thinking it would connect through easily. And there are some great spurs I have planned to increase the trail network there. Another one tops a HUGE rock pile (also covered with cottonwoods and Scotch broom) and meanders through the flats. In all I've cut in over a half mile of new single-track. It's like installing a new swing-set at the playground.

The plan is for much, much more, just adding a little bit at a time, on the sly. Poaching the land to add trails.

And riding them.

Friday, October 30, 2015

They're getting kind of stupid out there.

While that title could relate to a lot of things going on in the world right now, I'm referring to an annual event... Okay, not really an "event" so much as a season. 

It's that time of year when young cervidae's fancy turns to lust.

Yep, the deer are entering the rut season, and with it, their intellect sinks to new lows. The bucks, anyway. It's like, between their brains and their loins, they only have enough blood to operate one at a time.

It's not unusual for me to see a few deer on my lunchtime mountain bike rides around the facility where I have my day job. Hundreds of fenced-in and wooded acres provides a nice home, and it's a rare day when I don't see at least one. Sometimes I'll see them more than once as I make multiple loops -- they don't venture far, and tend to return when they think I'm gone. But they also usually high-tail it into the woods as soon as they see me...

But not today.

Twice I had to hit the brakes to avoid hitting bucks that were staring straight at me before they would yield the double-track. Vocal warnings, which usually help them determine that I am human, were of no avail.

The first was a young buck with spike antlers no more than four inches long that stood just inside the fenceline, not 50 yards from where a school bus was letting the morning kindergarteners off. I was on a slight decline, so my speed was decent, but being on gravel, I was making a fair bit of crunchy tire noises. That did nothing more than get its attention, but it still just stood there, staring at me.

"Are you going to move or something?" I asked out loud.

Apparently not. It wasn't until I was within 20 feet and on the brakes that this fine specimen decided it would trot off into the trees. I laughed it off and kept on my way.

But the other one I wasn't so sure about.

Nearing the end of my ride time, I bypassed a new trail that a friend and I had cut just a few weeks earlier (being VERY wet) and took the service road around. It takes two small descents of just a feet, but fairly steep, before rejoining the main and more traveled dirt road back to the plant. As I crested the first drop, I could see a nice buck in the road. It saw me and quickly ran left. But then I saw the other one... Just as big, sporting a good 4-points-per-side rack, and standing proudly in the smack-dab-middle of the road. Then the doe ran into the road from the right. And the musky smell hit me.

Yep, I believe I had just interrupted the "macho brawl over a woman" of the deer world, and it's something to be very careful about. I slowed WAY down as the doe exited left, but the buck remained brazenly staring me down. I watched for any hint that he would lower his head and charge me. Those antlers are pretty darn sharp, and with a couple hundred pounds of angry deer flesh behind them, can do lethal damage. As I made it to within an easy stone's lob, however, it turned and trotted away from me, right down the very path I had intended.

I didn't quite consider myself "out of the woods" yet, so I remained in alert for the deer to turn on me. I disappeared around a corner, and as I made my way around the same corner, I heard him crash through the brush to my right.

The rest of the ride went without incident, fortunately.

It's kind of cool to see the deer on the company grounds so often. Thankfully, this season is fairly short. Within a couple weeks the hormone laden deer will be back to normal, running away from any human.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Oregon Handmade Bike and Beer Festival

I've had a few days to absorb the weekend, but I'm still flying high from it all. I'm sure the full impact of the two days won't be evident for quite some time. Most likely they're only a beginning launching point, a brick in the foundation on which greater things will be built.

While this wasn't the first time I had shown my handiwork to "the public", it was the first in an environment meant to showcase the specific genre of handmade bike frames. I was excited and nervous, and more than once referred to myself as the geeky freshman trying to hang out with the varsity football team. The nerd at the cool kids table.

I had attended the two previous editions of this event as a looky-loo (2013 and 2014), visually taking in some of the best builders in the Pacific Northwest (at least the Oregon chapter). I had started doing some framebuilding in 2013, and at last year's event made the goal (promise?) to attend this year as an exhibitor. It was in my thoughts all year, with each file stroke on a tube, each drop of brass added to a joint. What would I take with me? And more importantly, what would I bring back?

Two days prior my car decided to have issues with an ignition coil. A tense several hours ensued where I wasn't sure if I would be scrambling to rent a van to make the trip south. But a local repair shop had my car back on the road by noon Friday, and I had plenty of time to pack up for the early drive to Portland.

My car isn't a moving van by any means, and my original plan had to be altered due to lack of space in the vehicle. Packed in were: my road bike, fully built save pedals; the recently-finished triathlon bike in partial build (fork, wheels and handlebars); my all-road bike fully built and ready for the Sunday morning group ride (I hadn't planned to actually show this one, so I hadn't even cleaned it); and one bare frame/fork. My wife suggested late in the afternoon that maybe I should bring my daughter's kick bike, just as an interest-getter. Turns out that was a good idea.

I arrived at about 7:15, nearly the first person there. I unloaded my displays, set up, then helped others where I could. By 10:30 I was biding my time until the gates opened to the public at noon.

But when the clock struck 12, the people filtered in, and the rest of the day went by in a blur of conversations, photos and smiles. I don't think I even looked at the clock again until 4:30, half the expo time gone for the day.

I had put my all-road bike out front, with my daughter's kick bike, matching paint schemes. Best. Move. Ever. This combo caught so much attention. Many people taking photos, asking questions, a great ice-breaker. One gentleman asked me to pose with the kick bike, holding it like it were a baby. I obliged. Who knows where that picture will turn up. Late Saturday, one gentle soul came by, admitting he'd had enough beer to make him a little buzzed, and started poring over the two bikes... Tearing up, he told me, "I've got to tell you, this is just $%@&ing ART, man."

The triathlon bike also generated a lot of attention, with the seemingly long wheelbase. I explained many times that the smaller wheels made it look that way, but that it was actually fairly conventional. I explained the reasons for the design, and it was replied with nods of understanding. People realized that there's a thought process, not just a cookie cutter, behind each build.

Heading to my hotel at about 9:30, I showered and got to bed, drifting off quickly. In the morning, I realized I had not spent the night alone...

Getting to the Sunday morning group ride was an adventure in itself, as all the north/south roads were closed due to the Portland Marathon. I did finally get there, after nearly 30 minutes of wandering around, following bad directions given me by one of Portland's finest, and stumbling on a highway entrance ramp.

A beautiful tour of the Washington Park, Green Hills, and Marquam Nature Park ensued before dropping back to Goose Hollow. A very nice ride I hope to repeat. A quick load-up and dash back to Hopworks, and I was ready for the afternoon crowds.

Day two was very different -- fewer people, more mellow, music not as loud (thankfully), but just as interested. And the day rolled by fast.

By 6:30 I was loaded up and on the road headed home, having thanked those in charge for welcoming this newbie hack into their midst.

The next day I received an email from Hopworks with a link to the photo spread in the Oregonian. I had spent some time with the photographer, and it turned out that of the 80 photos in the spread, six of them were of my bikes!

Take-aways? Comments were all positive. Maybe that's just a case of "if you don't have anything nice to say...", but I think I would have heard something negative if people were finding my wares faulty. I think I should have some to show that aren't just rattle-can painted (though they looked pretty good, having a fully-dressed model catches more attention). I also got some great ideas for future displays.

I guess that means I'll be back.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Frederickson Fun Ride

After putting myself into the "event coordinator" role for a few mixed-surface rides, when my place of (daytime) employment was looking for people to help organize a cycling event, my friend threw me under the bus and suggested I would be a good resource.

It turned out to be a good thing. Not that it wasn't without some time commitment, but having myself and another racing cyclist helping out made the entire event come off smoothly. The folks who were initially putting on the event had big ambitions -- I told them that it would be a miracle if they got 25 riders on this first-time event.

My main duties (along with Russell Clark, who put on the CL100CXTTWC last December) were to scout out a route (that's poetry, by the way), suggest signage, and note where it would be good to have volunteers. Also, we secured a shop to come out for assistance on bike support.

Russ and I are both very familiar with the service road network on the company property, and we arranged a 7.5 mile route within the confines of the outer fences, minimizing the amount of two-way traffic. Sure, there are a couple challenging spots where some folks may have to get off and walk, but this isn't a race, and there are no ego points on the line. It is for the most part beginner-friendly as long as one is not trying to break any speed records.

Just a few weeks before event day we had a storm blow through, which dropped several trees across our chosen path. Where these trees fell across the fences, the maintenance crews were very quick to clear them. But there were a couple that fell on less-well-used dirt roads. I volunteered to come out on my own time and cut them out, but I think that violated several company policies and a few union rules, and my request for permission quickly elevated to high levels of management. Our contracted grounds crews must have been on it post-haste, because my recon ride two days before the event revealed a completely clear path.

One wrinkle came up the day before the ride, when the "leadership team" announced a barbeque for several work groups RIGHT on top of the time slot for the ride. This is the same "leadership team" that was supposedly pressed by the upper management to support this ride. Of course, since that very same upper management couldn't make it to the ride, it should come as no surprise that none of the other leadership would be there. As of 2 days prior, we were at a total of 15 for the daytime slot.

The morning of the ride came, and was spent marking the course and placing signs. Rain had fallen overnight, but not enough to make the wetter areas of the backwoods muddy yet. It looked like things would actually come together.There were a few challenges with some painted arrows being driven over, and thus disappearing, but some extra color kept things well marked.

We had a dozen riders show up, and I followed the last riders through the loop. Yes, it was slow going, and several times I tested my track standing. But no one got lost, no one got hurt, and the reports I've received so far say that everyone had fun.

That makes it all worth while.

Who knows, I might just do it again.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The passing of an icon

Photo by DBC Photography,
lifted from the Jerry Baker is Everywhere Facebook Page.

Some people are major forces in a community, and you never even know it.

Some people influence your life and you don't even realize it until they're gone, and you look back and see the fingerprints.

The Pacific Northwest cycling community lost one of those types of people today in the person of Jerry Baker.

I first met Jerry as the owner of the Baleno clothing company, a Seattle-based maker of cycling togs that also sponsored the Puget Sound Cycling Club, the racing club whose major sponsor was Gregg's Cycles. Our team meetings took place in the printing and cutting room of Baleno every month. That was in about 1990. He was kind of goofy, but always upbeat, always smiling, and always supportive. I had no idea at the time just the amount of effort he put into the racing and riding scene.

He is, as I've read, the only person to ride every Seattle-to-Portland Classic to date, even winning the first edition (back when it was actually considered a race) in 1979. He raised the initial funding for the Marymoor Park Velodrome in Redmond. He was a tireless supporter and advocate of racing, and was the man driving the development of the local cyclocross culture surrounding Seattle.
These are all things I came to know over the years of being around him occasionally, attending the annual New Year's Day ride from Bellevue, and seeing his face at so many races throughout the years.

But here's the funny thing -- for all his tireless support and energy, he was the man so few people even knew about. He was just that way. Sure, when talked to, he would be gregarious and always had a good story to share, but he was also very content to just do his thing behind the scenes and watch the community benefit. Or at least that's the way he always seemed to me. And quite frankly I had no idea he was 73 years old -- he always struck me as much younger, such was his constant energy and enthusiasm. 

There's a life lesson in that.

As a cyclist in the area, and past racer, you look back on all that and see his influence on your life, the opportunities he created for so many people, and realize that it shaped you in ways hadn't even noticed.

One man with energy. Not even caring who got the credit.

Rest well, Jerry. You will be missed.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Missing a traditional event...

This coming Saturday is the Bonney Lake Labor of Love Triathlon, the 7th year the race has been run.

And it's also the first year that I won't be doing the race. As one of only a few who have done each edition of this race, it's kind of sad to miss it this year. A streak broken. And in fact it's the first year since 2007 that I haven't done any triathlons at all.

The reason I'm not doing the race has nothing to do with the fact that I haven't done any running or swimming since... well, since the last time I did the race. I could still do the bike leg of a relay. Though it wouldn't be my best ride. 

And it has nothing to do with needing time in the shop to finish up things for the Oregon Handmade Bike and Beer Fest, where I'm exhibiting for the first time.

No, the reason I won't be doing the race is because I've been battling some lower-back issues since just a few days after the Capital Forest ride, now over a month past. I believe that ride set me up for the injury, one of those "how could that hurt me so badly" kind of things that just seems stupid, but nonetheless puts me on the sidelines. This one was just hanging on. I can still ride, but every time I get into a good race position and push it, everything starts tightening up.

So I sought the intervention of a chiropractor.

I've seen one locally a few times when I've been feeling it. Within a couple adjustments things cleared up. Maybe they would have done so on their own anyway. This time, though, I wasn't seeing any progress, and the chiropractor was hesitant to take x-rays to see what was going on. I could FEEL the vertebrae out of place.

I defected to another chiropractor, and now a week later I'm doing MUCH better. X-rays showed that I wasn't imagining things -- a sideways angle at L-4 to L-5, and a forward displacement below L-5 said a thousand words of "ouch" in two pictures. 

Aggressive treatment is what I was after, and that's just what I got. Without 15 minutes of talk about how the chiropractor wanted to expand the clinic.

Anyway, I may still show up at the event if I can get on the road early enough, just to say a quick pre-race "hi" to the RockSteady kids. Maybe passing along a lesson in making the wiser choice...

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Mixed-surface madness

Last night I dropped in on the local Kermesse Cup series for a flogging. This particular edition was the Buckley Slough Kermesse.

What is a kermesse, you ask? Well, a thorough description of the European standard would be found here, but for the purposes of this local series, it's a short loop bicycle road race that is partially on dirt/gravel roads. The format is a point-a-lap sprint at a designated location on each lap, with a neutral after to regroup.

The entrance into the gravel
section (and where the
real racing started) to the right
(photo by Alfredo Rmz)
Last night's edition was on a basically flat 5K loop course, just over 1 mile of which was on a canal trail service road, with the sprint near the end of the gravel double-track.

I transferred over my 28mm road tires to a new set of wheels I'd built up a while back, and they now measured out to 30mm (WTB I-19 Team rims), and I figured I was as ready as I ever would be.

My warm-up was interrupted by volunteering to retrieve another rider who had flatted at the farthest point on the course, so when we all started into the gravel section right from the opening whistle, I wasn't ready for the first-lap-of-the-criterium mad pace. I barely hung on, and was the last to catch onto the group during the neutral. But it got better. I had to remind myself that I was going up against guys that were still racing on a regular basis, and I hadn't done anything like this in close to 10 years. [yeah, yeah, I know... "excuses excuses"]

Promoter and winner
Michael Pruitt in background,
second place Alfredo Rmz in
foreground (photo by Alfredo Rmz)
On subsequent laps, I became more active in the mix-up, taking my share of dust and pulls, chasing down early flyers, and having a great time. My lines through the rougher stuff got better, getting my "land legs" in the gravel at speed. Something I'm not used to, even with all the gravel riding I've done.

On the fourth lap, just as the final sprint lead-out was winding up, I gave a good push to hang on, and my back tweaked on me. I've had some issues with my back since a few days after the Capitol Forest ride, and up to that point it felt best when I was riding. This was a definite and very abrupt giving out, and I backed off and just soft-pedaled to the regroup. I let them know I was done, and hung it up when we got back to the start area.

Sure, my fun was over for the night, and it made for a very restless and painful night of barely-any-sleep (and a visit to the chiropractor this afternoon), but I think I did okay, all things considered. Met some new friends, got a good, if short workout, and had fun.

Would I do it again? Maybe, but if I do I'll stick with my normal gravel road set-up of 38mm rubbers and leave the road tires at home. And go in with a healthy back.

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.