23 October 2008

Happy Trails

Just one of the many tunes that rattles around in my brain when I'm pedaling along out there.

19 October 2008

Riding the Stillaguamish, Sauk and Skagit Rivers

October can be one of the most beautiful months of the year in the Northwest. This proved to be an outstanding weekend for cycling, as seven of us found out, taking on the nearly flat “Three Rivers Cruise” 200K RUSA permanent on the 18th. This was Chris Heg’s opportunity to get his 2nd 200K in towards his R-12 pursuit and Pam Creighton reluctantly let me twist her arm into coming out and stoking for me on tandem. The three of us were joined by Geoff Swarts, one of our local Permanents coordinators, Shan Perera, Mike Richeson and Thai Nguyen, all fantastic randonneurs and great guys to ride with.

We chose a little bit later start time, as it tends to be quite foggy and cool riding from Arlington to Darrington at this time of year, and we hoped for both a burning off of the fog early and an ability to finish by sunset. As we rode out of Arlington, it looked for a while like the 2nd hope might be more realistic than the 1st.


It burned off pretty early, though, giving the valley a really nice crisp autumn feel.


This is one of my favorite views. While the photo doesn't show it in all of its grandeur, I've always been amazed at the uplifted granite 'slabs' that make up the northeastern portion, wondering what it must have felt like on planet earth when that happened


And no trip through this area is quite complete without a little view of Whitehorse Mountain:


We stopped for some snacks in Darrington (gotta have them receipts, right?) and Mike, Geoff and Thai managed to stop moving long enuf for me to catch a quick shot:


And in a rare moment, the team actually let Pam and I sit on for a few minutes at the BACK instead of pulling the whole freight train. Danged tandems, anyway:


All of the fall foliage was simply spectacular, even if we didn't see as many eagles as I'd hoped:


And then it was time to cross the Sauk River:


By the time we made it to Marblemount, Pam was definitely ready to stop at The Eatery for a bit of soup and hot cup of tea.


I had pie, too.

I thought Chris wanted to take my picture:


How was I supposed to know he was trying to take a photograph of a TREE?????


After a nice lunch, it was off to follow the Skagit River for a while:


Over a couple of hills and through another little valley, we arrived in Concrete:


where Shan had caught up to us and most of us stopped to either load up on water or get rid of some:


And of course, once we were back on the road, where was the tandem? Yep, you guessed it, pulling all those singles AGAIN!!!


But where was Chris? Pam and I "decided" to "slow down and wait for him". Yep, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.


Due to some kind of misforune - or perhaps because the sun felt so good reflecting off the firestation, Thai and Shan were still at Day Creek when Pam and I arrived:



Of course, by the time we got to the Day Creek Fire Station for our informational control where we had to count doors and find a well hidden church, Pam was ready for a little bit of a nap:


And Chris arrived a few minutes later, having had his own little tire difficulties:


And with another 35 miles to go, we all struck off for the finish line. Geoff and Mike were far off the front by then, Shan and Thai had taken off just before Chris arrived and we saw them parked at Clear Lake Store as we rolled through. After a quick 5-minute "butt break" at 5-Corners, Chris, Pam and I scooted out for the final 20, only to be turned around by the WSP due to a road closure, leading to a 3-mile backtrack and traversing of the west side of Clear Lake. We managed to pick Shan and Thai up again, and now it was starting to look like we were going to be really pushing it to finish before sunset, but with just a real quick, 3-minute "Mountain Dew Moment for Raleighdon" at the little mimi-mart at Lake McMurray, we were off for the final 10-mile push.

And as we dropped into the valley in Arlington, the shadows were long


but we were within a couple miles, with just one little hill to go over to the finiah line. And as we crossed back over the Skagit River, with 1 mile to the finish line, the sun was just beginning to drop over the horizon


We rolled to the finish line just as the last of the sun was setting on the day and I rolled the tandem to the front door of Haggen's


When we got off, Pam said to me, "I'll walk back to the car". Her butt hurt. She wanted nothing more to do with that tandem (or probably me, for that matter).

And so came to close another beautiful and marvelous day, spent with good friends on a great ride route and I went home to yet another wonderful bowl of hot soup and cornbread, of course this time cooked by my loving and supportive MimiTabby:

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Photo Credits: Pam took all the lovely scenery shots, I took the people shots. The photo of Mimi was taken in Sorrento on one of our honeymoons.

05 October 2008


OK, I’ll admit it. I like to climb. I also like to play in the rain. I also like to ride my bike to Sunrise. I’ve done it every year for the last 4 years and have been a little disappointed that I wasn’t going to get to do it this year. Then Chris Heg said he really wanted to do RUSA’s Sunrise Climb 200K before it got too late because he’d done the ride with Redmond Cycling Club earlier in the year, but they weren’t able to ride above the White River Campground as the road was closed for construction. Then this week, Mark Thomas and his band of rowdies called in sick on Wednesday, the only day of the week that was probably well suited for this ride, and had a fabulous time.

So in reality, it is all Mark Thomas’ fault. Well, pretty much everything I do in randoneurring is his fault. At least, I find it in my heart to blame him for all of it. Every unnecessary hill I have to climb, every “extra” mile I have to ride. All his fault. After riding the South Hood Canal 200 with him a week and a half ago, I discovered that Mark is probably the only guy I know that loves coffee almost as much as me, in fact, he may even drink MORE of this lovely beverage than I do. The jury is still out on that one.

After reading the ride reports from Wednesday, I started to wish I’d been able to play hooky for the second week in a row and climb to Sunrise with (or far behind) them. But, alas, that was not to be, so I sent a note to Narayan and begged him to let me pull together a permanent on really short notice. His response was something like, “Hey, if you’re nuts enough to want to do it in that kind of weather, be my guest. Here’s your brevet card, and HELL NO I don’t want to go with you.” I think it was actually nicer than that, more like, “I’d love to ride with you, but I have to work.” Whatever!

Well, I did managed to sucker, I mean interest one victim, I mean partner for the ride. Ward Beebe and I met at a quarter to 6 this morning in front of the Black Diamond Bakery and as soon as we’d downed a little sugar laden carbohydrates and my second triple shot mocha for the morning, we were out of there at 7:15. The sky was partly cloudy, but seemed to be lightening up, and it looked like we might be in for a great day. As memory serves me, it was just about the same way a week or so ago when I repetitively told President Thomas sorta the same thing, “Hey! We’re riding right into it.” And we were.

Since we’d never really ridden together, a lot of our first few miles was spent getting to know each other, with conversation turning, of course to family and common interest in old-time music was discovered, with us knowing many of the same folks in yet anoter community. Not many randonneurs I know even know what “old-time fiddling” is, much less know any of the people who really play it. It was quite refreshing. After a quick stop to fill out some arcane question and answer quiz for the powers that be after a whopping 7 miles in Cumberland, we lit out for Enumclaw where we started the climbing.

The temperature had started out at 40 degrees, but now it was up to a balmy 43, but I knew the forecast was for 34 at Longmire (elevation approximately 2,800’) with a threat of snow. OK, we’re riding to Sunrise, elevation 6,400’ so I figured it might be a bit dicey and I’d packed my MSR Pocket Rocket camp stove

along with 2 of my porcelain demitasse cups and a silver spoon, coffee, sugar and a single “MOKA” espresso maker. I thought I might pick up a cup-o-noodles to cook at the top, but decided against it.

For wardrobe, I wore my Ibex knickers and knee socks, Patagonia medium weight base layer with one of my wool sweater-jerseys over it and a vest. In the bag I’d packed my Shower Pass rain jacket, leg warmers, an extra pair of gloves (they should have been the extra large over-gloves, but I erred in judgment there and of course, a pair of booties.

The profile for this ride is pretty simple. Climb for 65 miles, then descend for 61 miles. Very few turns, only 2 mid-ride controls and the roads are all in pretty good conditions, save for all the rumble strips they’ve installed along Hwy 410. These weren’t even too bad most of the time, with just a couple of sections that were problematic at all.

After climbing for about 37 miles, we turned off toward Sunrise and that was when I found out Ward had never climbed to Sunrise before. That was during a brief discussion as I was changing my one and only flat of the day. That was 10 minutes of down time and as we rode through the gate, I asked the ranger if there was any snow on the ground, he said that there wasn’t but it IS snowing at the top, so there might by the time we get there. Very comforting. He just looked at us like we were nuts and off we went into the wild gray yonder.

There is no food or water at this time of year at the Visitor’s Center, so we needed to make sure we were topped off. 3 bottles should be sufficient (2 for drinking, one for making coffee at the top). Then it was all about CLIMB, BABY, CLIMB. 6% and 7% grades met us most of the way from there to the top, and while the temperature had climbed to a very comfortable 46 degrees, it now started to drop, hitting 39 by the time we hit Frying Pan Creek. Then about 5 miles from the top, we got our first hint of snow and rain, as it had dropped to 37. By the time we got to the scenic overlook and were riding in the “fog” which is a polite word for frozen precipitation it was down to 34 degrees and as we rounded the corner, Ward wanted to know, “Is this it?” NOPE. Another mile to go – well, it’s actually almost 2.5, but what do I know? Finally, we hit the summit, grabbed a photo of Ward in front of the elevation sign and noted the information for the question and answer session to follow in our brevet cards.

Onward to the pit toilets (we used to call these outhouses) and there, Boothby set up for an espresso. I hadn’t carried a stove, a can of gas, 2 coffee cups, sugar, a pound of coffee (actually only 2.5 oz, but I like to exaggerate about this just like I do about nice weather) and a silver spoon all the way to the top of a mountain only to be screwed out of my hot beverage. At 34 degrees, we found the stove to have more than one use. I lit it first while I was preparing the espresso maker, and we spent a few minutes warming our hands over the burner. Ahhhhh. What a great feeling after such a long climb. Finally, the coffee was ready, we toasted our success, downed our java, packed up the goodies and set off down the mountain.

That was when the real fun began. Two different strategies, pretty much the same result. Ward decided to take it slow, I decided to get off the mountain as quickly as I could. By now, it was snowing harder and sticking on the side of the road, but not yet on the pavement. It stayed 34 degrees all the way to Frying Pan Creek, and the precipitation never let up, though the snow started to turn to rain from that point on. I would ride as fast as I could until my face and hands were totally numb, then slow down, “warm up” a bit, and then off I’d go again. Finally arriving at the ranger station after 15 miles, my teeth were chattering, I was shivering so hard my bike was shaking, and when I got off the bike, I spent a few minutes doing jumping jacks to warm up and a few minutes later, Ward showed up shivering and HIS bike shaking, too.

From there, it’s a nice pretty much constant downhill to Greenwater, where we stopped for a snack and hot coffee, and back on the bikes for the final 28 miles.

Now, something I’ve learned about SIR over the years is that their routes like to punish me early and often, and especially, they like to save a nice little hillclimb for the end of a ride. Today was no different. After leaving Enumclaw, we rode for about 4.5 miles, all the while wondering when’s the hill going to hit. Then we saw the downgrade sign and with a fast 4% descent for a mile, we crossed over the Green River Gorge and then we were treated to a nice little 7% for almost the last mile of the ride. With legs that felt like a two cement blocks, I struggled my way along, far behind Ward who seemed not to be phased by any of it, and then, with just one more little climb, there was the Cenex station, and the finish line. After a mere 10 hours and 28 minutes, we’d managed to climb to Sunrise, probably on the last available day of 2008 cycling season. Not bad work if you can get it.

01 October 2008

Safe To Ride At Night????

After a cyclist was struck by a car from behind recently and killed, I was asked if I thought it was safe to ride a bike at night or not. After some thought, here is what I came up with.

Personal safety, consideration for others, a sensible approach to cycling behaviors and a general desire to be an accepted part of traffic lead me to pretty much obey the traffic safety laws as ordained by our somewhat civilized society. That said, I have been known to run a stop sign or light occasionally, and have actually MISSED seeing a stop sign and one time went through a red light from a dead stop because I looked up at the green light for cross traffic and mistook it for mine. Total boneheaded mistake that almost cost me my life. I am far from perfect, and have no expectations that others should be. That is true whether they are on a bicycle or driving a car (or walking for that matter). We are all subject to making foolish errors in judgment and as humans, we make mistakes. I personally don't believe the incidence of cars striking bicycles is in any greater proportion than cars striking other cars or possibly striking pedestrians. Not sure of what the statistics are of cars hitting bikes in the dark versus light. I guess we could do a lot of research on this, but it just seems to me to be pretty even. One thing I know is that riding my bike to work and back almost every day (167 days this year in 9 months) and riding for recreation on weekends (a total of almost 8,000 miles so far), I am confronted daily with situations that require my attention to be focused well on the task at hand (i.e., paying attention to my cycling) and not letting my attentions wander off onto something else. This is also true when I'm operating a motor vehicle or walking down the street. I see fender benders between two cars quite frequently while riding to work. I have witnessed only one car/bike accident.

Now about riding at night. I have really really - i mean REALLY - good headlight and tail light systems. I wear reflective clothing, have reflective striping on my bike in strategic areas and try to choose my routes for night-time riding based on safety issues, though this is not always possible. I liked what Pansy said about the use of trails at night. There is one particular street that I decided I wouldn't ride up at night anymore because I had a fear that I might get mugged. But I feel more invisible a lot of times during the daylight hours than I do at night. On a bright sunny day, riding a road that has a lot of tree-lined areas where I am constantly from bright sunlight to shadows, I am frequently concerned that drivers may not see me when I am in the shaded areas and their eyes are adjusting. This is sorta like what happens when we drive into a tunnel and have to turn our lights on. For this reason, I frequently have a flashing tail light on during the daytime.

Similarly, when the sun is at bad angles, drivers have a difficult time seeing ANYTHING, even with sunglasses on, and it is easy to miss the fact that a bike is there. Not only that, I see cars earlier in the dark than I do in the daylight. Cars approaching a blind curve in the daylight are not blind to me at night. I can't count the number of times I've almost been hit head on by cars coming across the yellow line in a curve in broad daylight. At night, I know they're coming and can be even further to the right than I would normally be, and better prepared for their approach.

Where riding at night is more dicey for me than riding in the daytime is the debris, holes, cracks and other road hazards that are more difficult to see because my lights, while excellent, don't allow me to see things as far in advance as I'd like to, and as far out as I can in the daylight, so I've ended up running over things (like the piece of a tailpipe that was pretty much the same color as the pavement until I got real close) that I would have seen had it been light.

And for my money, riding at night up until about 10:00 pm is really pleasant most of the time. After that, as more and more people are leaving the bars and the percentage of alcohol affected drivers continues to increase until an hour or so after bar closing, I don't feel real safe. As I ride through the night, I consider every driver that either approaches from the rear or comes straight at me to be a drunk. I become hyper vigilant and am pretty much under constant alert and am prepared to run myself into a ditch if need be to avoid being hit by a drunk driver. Of course, we can all be hit by a drunk driver at noon, too, but the percentages go up.

Unlike some cyclists who have a great fear of night riding, I love riding after dark. Some of my favorite times on a bike have been riding under a big old full moon with a mist settled into the farm fields and the quiet peacefulness of the night singing softly to me as I pedal along in awe of my planet and surroundings. It's all a matter of preparedness, planning and proper execution.

I participate in a dangerous sport. I do it willingly, and most of all, I try to do it in a way that is as safe as possible. I trust that drivers will do the same, but also believe in the old adage of "trust but verify" and do what is necessary to protect my own life.