Sunday, August 31, 2008

8/31/08 Hills of the West Coast Ride Report

We had better have a nice Indian Summer this fall, because we certainly have not had much of a real summer. This last day of August felt more like the last day of September…or October. It was about 50 degrees at the ride start, and 53-55 for most of the ride. We rode on wet roads on the east side, and got drizzled on at Bitter Lake. The thermometer topped out at 59 degrees at the end of the ride, and this with a normal high for the date of 75 degrees.

Considering the gloomy early morning skies, I was a little surprised to greet nine regulars and one new rider to the group. Paul, a criterium racer, had recently moved to Seattle from NYC, and he seemed happy to have a few more climbing options than in the Big Apple.

The ride went off at a hard, but not super hard pace, certainly nowhere near the pace of the last few HOWC Sundays. Luke, who has been like a locomotive lately, must have tired himself out on his recent three day mini-tour in the Rainier-St. Helens area.

We went to the north in a counter clockwise direction. Given the typical fair weather north wind, and the fact that I like to return with the wind, we usually do this route quite a bit during the summer months. Another testimony to the goofiness of the 2008 summer weather is that this was the first time we have used this route all summer.

We wound up with around 61-65 miles, and 4300-4750’ of climbing depending on whether you threw in the optional Holmes Point and Innis Arden climbs.

As an aside, I now have about 50 miles on the Hipster, my new singlespeed/fixed gear bike. I absolutely love riding this bike. So far, I have only ventured into the fixed mode for one short ride. Obviously it wasn't long enough for me to grasp the "Zen" experience of being one with your fixie, as I intend on using SS freewheel for the near future. For me at least, it seems counterintuitive to keep pedaling when I am trying to slow down! Having to worry about pedaling at 165rpm down a hill or dragging my inside pedal in a fast turn...and then going back and forth between fixed and two bikes with a 10 speed freewheel cassette...hmmm, not my idea of fun.

My biggest fear is jumping on the fixed gear after not riding it for a while, and then being forced to make a panic stop. I visualize executing the perfect hard stop, first throwing my weight to the rear as I straighten my arms and nail both brakes, and then launching myself into orbit as I forget where I am and stop pedaling!

If fixed was all I was going to do, maybe I'd give it a shot, but it still limits your cornering and descending speed, and I'm not willing to give that up.

Next week is the High Pass Challenge down at St. Helens, and keep your fingers crossed that the long range forecast for good weather holds up. The following week is the Cascade Spawning Cycle family event ride, so there is no HOWC scheduled until 9/21 at 8:30am.

I hope to see you on the road.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

8/24/08 Hiils of the West Coast Ride Report

The Cervelo Curse has been lifted. What follows is not meant to denigrate a great marque, and certainly I don’t intend to pick on any particular rider. Amongst the HOWC regulars, it’s become somewhat of a paradox, as well as a little source of humor, that anytime a new rider to the group shows up on a Cervelo, we pretty much can plan on that rider cracking like an egg. It could be a coincidence, but over the last five years I don’t recall a single new rider joining us on a Cervelo ever actually finishing the ride.

Chris on his new R2.5 doesn’t count, because he got that bike (hint-for free) after he started coming on the ride…and pulling the group at 30mph.

The Cervelo is just one particular brand of the very nice bicycles that frequent the HOWC, and it certainly has nothing to do with the bike, because they are great bikes.

So my hat is off to Steve, who rolled up on a shiny new white R3, and not only did he finish the ride, he rode well, and hung tough on a hard 68 mile ride.

Now on to the important stuff--today’s ride. Despite the fact that it is dumping rain as I write this, and that we got rained on during the last .25 miles of our ride, we actually had great weather this morning. Today was a day it was good to get out early. Given the forecast of a 60% chance of showers at the ride start, I wasn’t surprised that there were only five of us.

Over the last three years since we moved the ride to the super strenuous pace listing, almost inevitably a small group of three or four riders will take responsibility for seriously hard pace making. On a good day, I may be one of them. Given that the ride is listed as featuring a “22+mph” pace, I view the HOWC as kind of an open ended, open class ride. We usually focus on climbing at a hard pace, but if riders want to jump on the front and pull at 28 or 30mph on the flat, I’m not going to try and slow them down. That’s what the “+” means to me; the riders who want to ride the hardest and do the work dictate the pace. Either you can hold the wheel, or you can’t, but riders will really dig to stay in touch.

When we have a small group such as today, it would be easy for everybody to shrug their shoulders, and say “piano”, let’s take it easy. As in the recent past, once again Luke consistently drove the pace, and it was a high pace. He did a majority of the work on the front, and if someone was slacking when Luke pulled off to take a break, he’d jump right back up there. Clearly, he intended to get a solid effort in today.

Every year I ride a lot of hard miles, and every year at some point I go through a low point. I never actually get sick of riding, but I seem to lose the motivation to ride really hard. Up until 2007, this normally occurred at the end of September after I completed my annual early September cycling trip.

The past two summers I have participated in two incredible cycling adventures in June. Both years I worked hard to prepare for the trip, and it now seems that my low point has moved up to August.

A month ago it seemed so easy to go hard, and I was riding stronger than I ever have. Now I have lost the impetus to hammer, and I’m sure I would have just puttered around if I went out by myself today. It seems to be more mental than physical, as I think I still have pretty good form.

There would be no puttering today, and that’s the beauty of a hard group ride like the HOWC. Many riders tell me that they base their fitness plan around the ride, and unless you race, this makes a lot of sense. The HOWC is not a race (even though it may resemble one at times), but there is never any doubt that the opportunity to push yourself will arise. The group format provides a subtle form of competition, and therefore a rider is incentivized to work harder than they ever would if they just went out to do climbing repeats on their own.

Thanks to Luke, none of us had a second to even ponder lollygagging, and for this I am very grateful. He wasn’t the only one who got some good training effect out of today’s ride. I would like to ride well on the High Pass Challenge, and taking it easy today wouldn’t have helped me accomplish that. We’ll all have plenty of time for mellow riding once the rains hit. For now, it is ride hard, climb high, and ride fast!

After navigating the minefield that is Marginal Way past the cruise ship terminals, we worked our way south, through White Center, Burien, and then down to Three Tree Point, one of the true lovely spots of the Seattle area. Marine View Drive was a great way to get to the Des Moines Waterfront for our first break, and then we hit Green River Dr. down to Auburn. Luke must have pulled for at least 3 miles at 25-27mph on that last stretch. We turned north, took the Soos Creek Trail towards Renton, and then rode back to downtown via the west side of Lake Washington.

It was yet another fantastic ride with another great group.

On another note (it’s my blog, so why not), last Friday I purchased a 2009 Specialized Langster in polished alloy. Nicknamed The Hipster, my new bike is a singlespeed/fixed gear. The rear hub has a fixed cog on one side and a single freewheel cog on the other, and you just turn the rear wheel around to switch modes.

Ever since we moved downtown seven years ago, I’ve watched the bike courier crowd navigate through the downtown corridors. I must admit to sharing both a little admiration, as well as some trepidation, about the whole “ride without brakes, and be one with your machine, man” cult. So while it has never been a priority, giving this kind of riding a shot has always been in the back of my mind. Talking with Luke a week ago about the Langster he uses as his commuter bike moved it to the forefront of my thoughts.

Let me assure you that I have no intention of removing two perfectly good brakes from this bike, and I’m going to leave it in the freewheel mode for now. I’ll report back later, but my first ride was something of a revelation.

I have a nice winter bike that I hardly ever ride. It’s a racing bike with much the same gruppo as my #1 bike, but the winter bike is not as nice, so I don’t want to ride it. After riding about 50’ on the Hipster, I realized why. My winter bike is the same type of bike as my #1. Pretty much everything about the Hipster is totally different, and I think that will motivate me to get on it. The ability to simply take a hose to it after a wet ride will be nice as well, as there are no derailleurs to get mucked up.

Bring on the rain.

I hope to see you on the road.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

8/17/08 Hills of the West Coast Ride Report

After brushing off a few cigarette butts, I was able to carve out our usual spot where we gather for the Hills of the West Coast sign in. I was at an outside table at the Uptown Café located at Pier 66, and I was surrounded by a few early arrivals for the Hempfest, that ubiquitous Seattle festival that celebrates all things hemp, including marijuana. Actually, I suspected that it was more likely that these Hempsters were leftovers from Saturday’s celebration!

We had a solid, strong group of regulars, and the 10 of us rolled out on time and headed out through the tunnel and across Mercer Island. Today we went into the hinterlands to the south, via Jones Road, the 196th climb, and Sweeney Road, which took us to just south of Maple Valley.

We headed back north and east on Lake Francis and Cedar Grove. After a quick stop and photo op (thanks to Ray and his new Blackberry) at the Tiger Mountain store, we headed north on the Issaquah-Hobart road, and in Issaquah we took Newport Way back through Eastgate, and then retraced our path across Mercer Island, and back downtown. We finished with 70 miles and between 3450’ and 3800’ of climbing, depending on whether you elected to do the optional Somerset climb toward the end of the ride.

We lost Emile early in the ride, and we didn’t know where to look, so we never found him. His disappearance remains a mystery. Reg cut out early, and Ed looked like he was in the hurt locker during the first half of the ride. Ed dug deep, rallied, and finished the ride strong.

By design, this week we climbed fewer steep hills than on a normal Sunday, and today was a great prep ride for the upcoming High Pass Challenge. We were looking for good mileage with a high pace. Expect a similar ride on next Sunday’s HOWC.

A lot of credit for that high pace goes to the riders who unselfishly “sacrificed” themselves at the front of the ride, pulling the whole group along. Special recognition goes to Luke, Steve, Ray, and Bob, and I apologize if I left out the names of other contributors. It was truly a one for all, all for one type of ride, and we had a great time. I was extra appreciative, as my legs didn’t feel as sharp as I like them to on a Sunday ride. Perhaps it had something to do with a long ride at Rainier on Thursday, but more likely it’s simply that I have ridden a lot of miles recently, and I need to take a few days off. It’s that time of the year! Gotta take advantage of it.

It’s been five years since I started the ride, and it’s really great to have a group of riders who will take up the pace-making. I normally like to lay low during the first half of the ride, just staying in the bunch, and then if I feel good, do some work on the front to bring us home. Perhaps because it has been five years, I really enjoy just being the rider in the group who keeps thing organized and prevents us from getting lost. Getting everybody involved by taking turns setting the pace and sharing the work is a big reason why the riders have developed a lot of camaraderie.

As always, please feel free to comment on my comments, contribute more details, or dispute the ones I have provided!

I hope to see you on the road.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

European Cycling 2008--Thursday June 19th

From Courmayuer, Italy, you can see a small sliver of Mt. Blanc in France, the highest peak on Continental Europe at almost 16,000 of elevation. There is an incredible tower of rock visible behind a rock wall in the foreground, and the swirling clouds and mist collecting around this protuberance makes it stand apart from the rest of the view. Even though it is not the summit, it is much higher than the other pieces of mountains that you are looking at, but its distance from town makes it look similar in height. The view of the actual summit of Mt. Blanc is hidden from view, but to the north of Courmayuer is an incredible cirque of ice encrusted alpine peaks.

When Tracy and I visited Chamonix, France 10 years ago, we rode an aerial tram almost two vertical miles up from town to the Aiguille du Midi station on Mt. Blanc which serves as a launch point for alpinists and extreme skiers. We then rode a four passenger gondola car for almost an hour, across and above the Mer du Glasse, a huge glacier that contains the longest lift-served ski run in the world. Given that this car is suspended over one mile above the ground, and is supported by only three towers during its long horizontal run, the wind and the nervous ten year old in the car with us made for a rocking and swaying trip. Considering that Tracy claims to be afraid of heights, it was nothing short of a miracle that she seemed relatively unfazed as we slowly traversed the incredible valley below.

After stepping back onto terra firma at a ski area restaurant called Helbroner at 10,000’ elevation, we were now in Italy. We enjoyed an outdoor pasta lunch overlooking some of the most stupendous scenery on the planet, as several topless women sun worshippers relaxed on the adjoining patio. Now that was truly the good life! I can honestly say that I have never taken a voyage (at least one not involving exercise) that was as spectacular as the ride from Chamonix to Courmayeur.

After lunch, we downloaded on a normal ski lift, and caught a bus from Courmayuer back to Chamonix. This trip took us through the Mt. Blanc tunnel that bored through the mountain. Nine months later, 41 people would die in this tunnel in a fire triggered by a burning Volvo truck:

After I described the Chamonix to Courmayeur excursion to my friends Tim, Laura, and Katie (Laura's friend who joined us in Como), we were keen to take the lift up to Helbronner, hopefully for dinner. Alas, we learned Helbroner was torn down the year following my trip with Tracy, and a much larger ski area closer to town has replaced the one that existed back then.

Having already ridden through a number of ski towns, Tim and I were pretty sure that Courmayeur would be as quiet as Val Gardena, Val d’Isere, and the others. There were actually only two restaurants open in mid-June and we were told the better one would open at 7pm. When we arrived at precisely 7, the owner said for us to come back at 7:30. We actually were seated around 7:45. Ahhh…Italy, where the only thing precise is the preparation of the food, which as usual was excellent.

European Cycling 2008--Wednesday June 18th-Thursday June 19th

While in Europe I didn't turn the television on for over a week, and when I finally did, I quickly decided that nothing going on in the world could be worth disturbing my European adventure. From my room in the Silvio Hotel in Bellagio, I had a stunning view of Lake Como, as well as a church steeple up the street.

On Tuesday night, I smelled my first cigarette smoke since arriving in Europe. My room was above the front door, and people were hanging around and puffing after leaving the restaurant patio. I could smell it from my balcony, but not from my room, and I never smelled it in any restaurant. The showers weren’t the only thing to improve in Europe over the last ten years! It’s now illegal to smoke in most public places, and they enforce it.

On Wednesday I awoke to crystal clear blue skies, and the extended forecast of good weather for the next week would prove to hold true. We deserved it after the Dolomites and the Stelvio escapades in the cold rain and snow. We were going to have a few rest days, and rest we did.

After a buffet breakfast, we bought an all day pass on the “slow boat”, and traveled from town to town on the lake. Our first stop was in Varenna, where we stopped by a fruit stand, explored the hilly narrow streets, and enjoyed delicious pasta in the sun at a café.

Back on the boat, we sat on the top deck and enjoyed the sun as well as tremendous views of the very steep mountains that tower above Lake Como. I can see why wealthy people from around the world gravitate to this area. Not only is it one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, the climate is near perfect, and then there is that great Italian culture, food and lifestyle. Being close to the high Alps doesn’t hurt either.

When we arrived back in Bellagio in the afternoon, we walked the long way back to the hotel, circumnavigating our way around the tip of land where Bellagio is located. By now it was in the mid 80’s, and the warmth felt really good.

I didn’t appreciate the heat at night when my small hotel room was too hot for me to fall asleep. Hot rooms would prove to be the norm for the rest of the trip, as the cool rainy pattern was to be replaced by a near heat wave. The upside was that I was getting a lot of reading done when I couldn’t get to sleep.

On Thursday morning, Tim and I used his stand to give our bikes a thorough cleaning and once over. While we worked, Silvio, the namesake of our hotel, and his sons labored over the fishing nets they had just hauled back in from the lake. When you eat fresh fish at Silvio’s, it’s not only really fresh, your fish is personally caught by…Silvio! We were to see this type of family operation over and over, and it’s no wonder pride in ownership is evident. One of the sons working on the nets had been our waiter the night before, and Silvio’s daughter had checked us in.

Kind of makes you want to go back.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Team HPC Powered by Cycle U Ride Report

We had the smallest group of any Team HPC Powered by Cycle U ride of the year, and I hope my description of the Squak Mountain climb didn’t scare people off! Hopefully it was (once again) the sketchy summer weather.

At times today’s ride resembled a regular Sunday Hills of the West Coast ride more than the previous three Team HPC rides. We had a group of 12 pretty strong climbers, and rather than break into two groups, we rode the whole ride together.

Ed rode out with us to Squak Mountain, and then told us all he had to ride back to Seattle due to a family commitment. He seemed to think his timing was pretty good, leaving us before the start of the 1020’ of climbing up Olympus Drive, up past the Squak Mountain trailhead, and ultimately to the “summit” loop. While every bit as hard as the Zoo climb on Cougar Mountain, the riders as a group seemed to feel that the Squak climb was a more aesthetically pleasing line. After the climb, Dan headed back to Seattle as well.

Next up on the menu was a choice of the Zoo climb, or the very comparably difficult climb up Village Parkway through the Montreaux development. The group split pretty much 50/50 on the choice. After a pretty hard effort on Squak, the overall climbing pace might have been a little softer, but the effort level did not diminish.

After re-grouping, we rolled up to the Gazebo at the Newcastle Golf Club for yet another panoramic view of Bellevue, the lakes, and the Seattle skyline.

A trip back up Lakemont Boulevard took us to the fantastic descent down 164th. Our next goal was the Horizon View/Summit climb. Steep and long, but not as steep or long as Squak and Zoo, the top of the climb at “The Summit” offers those tremendous “million dollar views,” likely available starting at around three million for the smallest McMansion, despite the more numerous for sale signs than in the past few years.

We took the long way home, climbing up behind Newcastle Golf Club, and then heading west on 89th. We eventually crossed I-405 and wound up northbound on Lake Washington Boulevard on the east side of Lake Washington.

Somewhere out on Cougar Mountain we lost Rance, and we figured he was gone for good, but he re-appeared at the top of the Mercer Island side of the I-90 Bridge. Reg made a comment that he pulled a “Rosie Ruiz” on us, demonstrating his excellent memory and dating himself at the same time. (Who is Rosie Ruiz, you may ask? That’s what Wikipedia is for!)

Of note, we were “mooned” just before we reached the Dearborn/Rainier intersection. This is not the first time this has happened to us, and I have to wonder about the “mooners” choice of subjects. What is it about cyclists in their flashy HPC jerseys?

All in all, it was a great day. Everyone rode safely, rode hard, and it seems like people are getting to know each other better on each outing. After 61 miles and 5648’ of climbing, we were back at the Olympic Sculpture Garden Park in Downtown Seattle.

Next up—a mass Team HPC start at the High Pass Challenge!

I hope to see you on the road.


Sunday, August 3, 2008

8/3/08 Hills of the West Coast Ride Report

Another day of marginal weather (at least in the morning) produced another small group for the Sunday ride. Ramrod occurring just three days ago likely also had something to do with our small group number of five.

We rolled across the I-90 Bridge before 8am, fully intending to be nowhere near the bridge late in the morning when the crowds were massing for the Blue Angels show. After doing some nice short climbs on deserted roads through Bellevue and Medina, Scott put down a strong pace for us up Juanita Hill.

The real story of today’s Hills ride, thankfully with a happy ending, occurred as Bill stood up on the pedals on the initial part of the Juanita descent. Scott was in front of me, and Bill and the others were behind me. I heard a loud metallic crunching sound, and instinctively suspected the worst. Imagine my surprise when I looked back to find everyone upright. According to Bob, who witnessed the incident from close range, Bill pulled off an incredible recovery to get back on to the bike after his fight foot banged hard into the pavement, and he pushed down to use his leg as a lever to right himself. While Bill gave most of the credit to good luck, I suspect that there was a fair amount of skill involved as well. He did mention that he’d been doing a lot of mountain biking lately…hmmm…enough reason for me to give it another shot? No, I think not!

If there is a lesson to be learned from this near tragedy, I suppose it is that one should never take for granted that very lightweight cycling equipment has an unlimited lifespan. Bill’s crank set was around 10 years old, but it looked like new, and he had never crashed on it. For peace of mind, I have always changed out handlebars and stems whenever I feel they have produced a long service life for me, regardless of cosmetic appearance. One would think that a crank arm would have a healthy dose of over-engineering built into the design, but obviously the service life of this particular arm had been exceeded. Bill intends to ship the arm to the manufacturer for inspection. For peace of mind, I intend to even more closely and frequently inspect my bicycle frames and forks, as well as all components.

While we were all tremendously relieved that Bill had managed a miraculous recovery to stay upright, the fact of the matter was that he now had a one pedal bike. We wished him well as he headed back up the road to look for his half sheared off drive side arm with Speedplay pedal still attached. Luckily for him, he had ridden to the start of the ride, and he wasn’t too far from home.

So we were down to four. We made our first stop at Tracy Owen, and two others decided to take a short-cut back to the ride start. Bob had just come off of a hard tour in the Colorado Mountains, and Scott had to make sure he was home early to entertain a guest from out of town.

So it was just Reg and me, and Reg had just done Ramrod for the umpteenth time three days ago. Reg is well known as someone who rides like a lot younger man, and once again he was to prove how tough he was. Recovery…who needs recovery?

Reg and I completed one of the classic counter clockwise routes we use a lot on summertime Hills rides. We climbed up through Brier, and then headed west to near downtown Edmonds. After climbing up Woodway Parkway, we descended to Richmond Beach, and then took 175th through Shoreline. Both Reg and I agreed that we would have done the Innis Arden climb if the whole group were here, but we figured why spoil the good time we were enjoying with a really steep climb? We totaled 61 miles with 4394' of climbing for the day.

We finished by looping around Magnolia in brilliant sunshine, after spending most of the day in clouds with temperatures between 54 and 58 degrees.

Perhaps next week summer will arrive for the Team HPC Powered by Cycle U group ride!