Friday, November 27, 2009

2009 Mean Season...Black Friday a No-Show?

Today was a wonderful day to get out for a solidly paced 52 mile ride.

Today is also the unofficial start of the Mean Season. Officially, it’s the start of the big shopping build up to the Holiday Season, but for a cyclist, today holds an entirely different prognosis. Every year up until 2008, I have noticed that the hazards of the road seem to get a little worse during this period between the day after Thanksgiving and the New Year. Drivers get a little more impatient and irritated at being held up on the roads, and riding just feels a little more…dangerous.

Based on what I experienced today, the 2009 Mean Season should be another mild one, possibly even more benign than last year. Traffic this morning was more like Christmas or Thanksgiving Day than the typically frenzied first day of the big shopping season. This afternoon Downtown Seattle was noticeably quieter than normal as well. Unless everyone is shopping online, the light volume of cars as well as the decidedly less crowded downtown indicate to me that it is likely that the current economic malaise will continue for a while. I guess there is always an upside to a downside.

There will be fewer drivers rushing to the malls, but the ones who do make the trip will likely be even more frazzled than usual. In any case, I’m always a little extra cautious this time of the year and I go out of my way to try and give myself a wide margin for error to avoid potential bad situations. I hope you all keep your eyes open as well, and I hope you have a great Holiday Season.

I hope to see you on the road.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The 500 Club and the 700 Pound Gorilla

Last Wednesday I went over 500,000’ of total climbing for the year for the third year in a row, and a few days earlier I crossed the 9000 mile barrier for 2009. Quantity based goals are not normally my thing, but if the weather is not absolutely abysmal, I imagine I’ll hit 10,000 miles by the end of the year.

That same afternoon, I was passed on a solo ride for the first time since June 17, 2008. That’s a lot of miles “looking over my shoulder.” That last pass occurred on the Stelvio in a downpour, early on during a nearly three week trip cycling in the Dolomites, Italian Alps, and the French Haute and Maritime Alps. Technically, I wasn't on a solo ride, but I don't remember the last pass before the Stelvio, so I'm going with it.

On Wednesday, I was in a curvy section of Mercer Island, and I didn’t even notice this dressed-in-black rider until he was about 75 feet behind me. Instinctively, I prepared to drop hammer and mount a defense, but I didn’t. I just let him go without a fight.

Back in the winter of early 2008, I noticed something odd. I’d be out cruising around, and the occasional rider would go by me, pull in front, and then start riding at an easier pace than I had been riding. I’d pass them, and then a lot of the time, the anonymous rider seemed to act like I had thrown some kind of gauntlet down! The next thing I knew, I’d have a bike stuck to my rear wheel that was difficult to get rid of, and many times it turned into a real pain in the ass. I would be just out for an easy ride, minding my own business, and intending on sticking with my riding plan for the day. After scratching my head a number of times over these episodes, I came up with a hypothesis: my recently purchased “Daytime Visibility” package from Dinotte Lighting.

I don’t ride at night, so an amber headlight combined with the most incredibly bright rear light available seemed like an appealing way to up the visibility quotient during those dark days. I use a rear view mirror, and I tend to notice the body language of riders behind me, whether I am riding with them or not. I saw a lot of heads down from people that appeared to be making a big effort to catch up to me. No wonder they slowed when they passed—they were tired!

Of course, I realize that sometimes riders like to use a “rabbit” for motivation to ride hard when they might not be into it that day; I sometimes do it myself. The behavior I was experiencing seemed different. It was as if I was a “beacon” that was calling to them. Perhaps they were curious as to just what the hell I had mounted on the rear of my bicycle, or maybe we all have a subconscious tendency to “follow the guiding light”? In any case, I took action, and I think it started without me even realizing what I was doing. Whenever I saw someone in my mirror, I would start pedaling harder, whether I really wanted to or not. I had experienced some very odd and awkward minor confrontations with people who I re-passed, and I wanted to avoid this happening again.

Of course, to make not getting passed happen, several things are necessary. First and foremost, one needs a mirror. After all, how do you mount a defense if you can’t see the charge coming? Second, one must be willing to alter their plan for the day’s ride. There were many times I forced myself to ride hard the day after a really hard ride, when all I actually wanted to do was tool around and enjoy myself. Last, but not least, there is an element of luck involved, especially when you ride as many miles as I do. There was that day on Mercer Island several months back when I saw a guy riding a full out time trial machine who looked like Ivan Basso, and going like Basso goes on EPO. I don’t know which was skinnier, the rider or the bike. Lucky for me, he was going the opposite direction…

I went out riding solo again on Friday, and then again today instead of joining the HOWC. Honestly, I felt like somebody had removed a 700 Pound Gorilla from my back. I had no idea how seriously I had been taking this no passing thing! Yesterday and today I was more relaxed riding than I have been for a long time. Sometimes you just don’t realize how your subconscious is working on you. Now that I am fully aware of what I have been doing, I kind of feel like a different variation of the same kind of jerks I’ve been complaining about. Good to get this behind me.

I figured I’d be writing a blog at year end discussing not being passed in 2009. Between XMAS and New Year’s, I’ll be riding 200+ miles with a lot of climbing in the Tucson area, and I wasn’t looking forward to defending my no passing rule against a bunch of people in the middle of their prime cycling season. I also have been secretly hoping that somebody on a time trial bike would come smoking up my tailpipe early in January 2010. Let’s get it out of the way early; I’m sick of this little game.

Back to the subject of lights, appreciative car drivers have told me that they can see my tail light from a mile away…in broad daylight. That’s great, and my feeling is that you just can’t be too visible when you are on a bicycle. Must go back to my days riding sport bike motorcycles. I just plunked down the cash and ordered the newest visibility package from Dinotte, featuring both head and taillights twice as powerful as the ones I have now. I guess I am going for the W-T-F-I-T? effect. I normally set my lights on a very unique flash mode that I like to call “Highway Patrol”. If approaching cars can see me well in advance, I’d like them to be thinking, “That must be a police motorcycle, I’d better slow down,” or better yet “I better give this thing a wide berth because it looks like a UFO.”

Given this, I guess I really can’t blame riders for wanting to roll up and take a closer look. I hope they just keep rolling on by, because I still don’t plan on slowing down to stay behind them.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

11-14-09 Hills of the West Coast Sacrificial Lamb

Miles: 56 Climbing: 2500’ Route: Downtown—Mercer Island—89th—Coal Creek—Jones Rd.—196th climb—224th—Soos Creek Trail—Downtown Renton—Seward Park—Downtown Attrition Rate: 20% (1)

Of our group of five today, four were members of Team High Performance Cycling, and three of us were wearing our team kit winter jackets. Not only was it nice to see the jackets, it was a great day for a cold weather test, and the jackets worked great. Our non-member was Lee, who recently moved to Seattle from Oklahoma, so we’ll work on him. Yesterday I posted an invite for team members to join the ride on the team message board, promising that riders would adhere to the “lower winter pace.” Who wants to ride hard on a cold mid-November day anyway? All five of us!

Had we had some new faces on the ride, we would have complied with the promise, but given our small group, we only had responsibility to ourselves, and we rode pretty hard most of the time. That didn’t stop us from conversing just about the entire ride. Traffic was light, and we covered topics ranging from the best running shoes to the state of the economy.

Jeff led the ride today, but the true protagonist was Steve H., who went to the front and picked up the pace anytime we got a little too chatty. Warren was game as always to ride hard, but it was Steve who drove the ride. Rolling home up Lake Washington north of Seward Park, Steve was at it again. Since he had done so much work on the front already, we encouraged him to finish it out and pull all the way to the hill leading to the I-90 tunnel overlook.

Steve’s almost always willing to sacrifice himself for the good of the group, and he said, “Sure, but you guys will just drop me on the hill.” To which I replied, “Don’t worry about that. We’ll make a deal with you—you do the pulling and we will ride up the hill with you.” A quick consensus formed that this was indeed a great strategy late in the ride. When we got to the hill, Steve just kept the hammer down, and no concession needed to be made. We did ride up the hill with Steve, but not at an “I’m cooked” pace.

One of my pet peeves is what I call the “Sacrificial Lamb” syndrome. An example: Some brave soul on a HOWC goes to the front as we drop down onto the I-90 Bridge for our return trip. The bridge has a lot of traffic, and this person winds up doing all of the pulling across the bridge, by choice or not. We all hit the grade on the west side, and bang, there goes the whole bunch rocketing by our now tired little lamb. Give me a break! It’s a “group” ride, and is that any way to thank someone for keeping you out of the wind? It’s not like a big climb with a re-group where we all hammer up and the group splits.

I like the concept of fair play. I’ll be throwing out proposals like today’s on the ride next year. If people still go around, at least we’ll have an idea of who has class.

I hope to see you on the (dry) road.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

11-1-09 Hills of the West Coast Halloween Comes a Day Late

Miles: 45 Climbing: 3000' Route: Downtown--Mercer Island--Honda Hill--Newport Way--164th climb--Newcastle Golf Club climb--Coal Creek Parkway--89th--Lake Washington Blvd.--Downtown Bellevue--Lake Hills Connector climb--Kamber Rd--Mercer Island--Downtown Attrition rate: 0%

Yesterday (Halloween) was my birthday. Without going into the morbid details, it was kind of a big one, at least to me, and an occasion like that is always a good excuse for introspection. As far as bicycling gifts, Tracy gave me the new book by David Byrne called Bicycling Diaries, but the real gift comes on the road. I'm getting older, but I am still getting faster, and that is really my motivation. My goal is to try and keep improving my times on certain "benchmark" climbs as long as I can.

I've posted recently about Personal Records, and the various ways we all have of keeping track of how we are doing. I'm hoping that a combination of a healthy diet and smart riding can keep me improving for a while yet. I have several older friends I ride with that have me convinced, through their own example, that I can continue getting better. These guys are riding hard, going really well, and often times going faster than people a lot younger. I think the 2010 version of me can go better than the 2009 version, and that is really the only "performance" goal I have.

Today's ride started off on a rather subdued and mellow tone. Things didn't really get wound up until we got out to Cougar Mountain. Emil led our group of eight, and I believe we did the Lake Hills Connector climb east from Downtown Bellevue for the first time ever on the HOWC. All in all, it was a great and varied route. The photo below was taken by Tim near the Newcastle Golf Course clubhouse. I'm the one wearing the white shoes (in November-faux pas?) and Downtown Seattle is to the left of Jeff's (in yellow) head.

Considering it is now November, we climbed at a pretty high standard. We didn't have that many climbs, but they were great climbs, and a lot of fun to ride hard. Besides the shorter miles this time of year, about the only difference is that I didn't get the sense that people were "keeping score” on the climbs as much as happens in the summer; at least I wasn't.

Emil is leading the ride through November and into December. We are trying something a little different this year, in that we are going to ride on Saturday in the winter. We figure if it's crappy on Saturday, we'll reload and give it a go on Sunday. I hope to see you out there.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Chris Ragsdale...and you think you are tough

Chris Ragsdale is a Seattle-based cyclist who competes in ultra-endurance cycling events. A few weeks back, Chris beat a strong field to win the 2009 Furnace Creek 508 in California. For those of you who missed David Longdon’s excellent post-race four part interview with Chris, here it is (scroll down to 10-18-09 through 10-21-09 for the posts):

A year ago I posted Chris’s own personal account of the 2008 race:

I like to do long rides with as few stops as possible, and the other day I went out and did 60 miles non-stop on a chilly day. That got me thinking about Chris and what it is that he does, and I am just in total awe of what he is capable of on a bicycle.

Chris didn’t get involved with cycling until 2002, when he rode a mountain bike across the United States. Yes, a mountain bike, and yes, cross-country. Chris must have had a lot of time to think on that voyage, and when he got back to Seattle, he thought about jumping into the Race Across America (RAAM). Impetuous? Looking at his list of accomplishments since then, I think not.

In high school, Chris played football, and did some shorter track events. In his early 20’s, Chris did a lot of backpacking, and climbed Rainier, Glacier, and Adams in 2003. For those of us who have had the pleasure of riding with Chris, it doesn’t take long to see just how much natural talent he possesses for cycling. Perhaps if Chris had discovered cycling at a younger age, we would be watching him on television in July.

I respect Chris and his style of riding more than just about any other type of cyclist, including the Tour de France riders. Chris is truly one of those people who let their legs do the talking. He’s not only a great guy; he seems to have that aura about him that enables him to possess extreme levels of both confidence and humility. It’s that same type of confidence that one senses in many other elite level athletes, but many of those athletes (not just cyclists) would do well to emulate Chris for the humility and class he displays.

Chris mentions that RAAM is definitely in his future. I certainly can envision multiple future participations in that race for him, as well as a possible victory. Chris is only 32, and he has lots of years to figure out how to win that event. He already has the talent.

Monday, October 26, 2009

10-25-09 Hills of the West Coast--The Urban Guerillas

Mileage: 50 Climbing: 2500' Route: Downtown Seattle--Alki--Rose St. Hill to top of West Seattle--Georgetown--1st Ave. Bridge--Beacon Hill via 15th Ave. and Cheasty Blvd.--Central District--Mt. Baker--Leschi--Arboretum--U District--Green Lake--Ballard Bridge--Magnolia loop and Mossy Hill Attrition Rate: 0%

Just when I was starting to think that I had ridden my bicycle on pretty much every road there is to ride in the metro area, with Jeff’s help I discovered some new roads never more than five or six miles from downtown as the crow flies. Reg made the comment that in thirty years of cycling in the area, we were on a few roads that he had never driven in a car, let alone ridden on his bike. Jeff led the ride and did almost all of the work on the front today, which was appropriate, since he was the only one who knew where the ride was headed a lot of the time.

Jeff took us through some "gritty" areas, the kind that one doesn't normally seek out on a bicycle. I thought it was a lot of fun, and a really great route for this time of the year. We've all put in a lot of seriously hard miles in 2009, especially Jeff and Warren, who both completed their first Ironman races. Sometimes it is nice to simply explore on the bike.

We did a lot of short and steep climbs, and the first climb of the day was on SW Rose St., just north of Fauntleroy in West Seattle. While I had seen this one before and knew what to expect, that didn't make it any easier. As a matter of fact, my legs felt bad on this climb; really, they hurt more than felt badly.

I wasn't sure if the legs hurt because of yesterday's pretty solidly paced ride, or simply because I wasn't warmed up yet on a quite chilly morning. Toward the top, it seemed like things were loosening up a little, and much to my relief (surprise?), for the rest of the day my legs felt great. Just as with a HOWC out to Squak and Cougar Mountains a while back, once I got over the initial hard effort of the day, I felt good for the rest of the ride. I thought everybody rode strong today, and it was fun to have a small group of five, all of whom knew each other well.

As with that recent HOWC to Issaquah, if I would have gone out by myself today, I would have thrown away an opportunity to get in a solid ride. If I had been solo, I am sure I would have figured I was tired, and just cruised the rest of the ride after that first climb, perhaps even cutting the ride short. Once again, I was reminded of the power of the group. When you ride with others, and you are forced (ok, compelled) to ride hard, you ride hard.

The lowlight of the day, if there was one, occurred when a helmetless goof that we caught decided to sit in with us. Despite never even saying a word, there he was in the middle of our group as we bombed down through the Arboretum at 30mph. After I noticed him riding with his hands nowhere near the brakes on the top of his handlebar, I was damn glad to see him leave. I guess he thought he wanted to show us his stuff, but the stuff I saw was a reckless fool riding without a helmet, barging into a very social group of five riders who happened to be riding hard.

The entire rest of the ride was a blast, and felt about as safe as a ride can be. I always look forward to the change of seasons via my bicycle, and today was a great "shoulder season" ride.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

10-18-09 Hills of the West Coast Amigos

Mileage: 52.3 Climbing: 3111’ Route: Downtown—Mercer Island—Medina—Kirkland—Market Hill—Juanita Hill—Perkins climb to Shoreline—185th—Dayton—8th—Ballard Bridge—Magnolia bluff loop—Myrtle Edwards Park—Downtown Attrition Rate: 0%

Emil led today’s ride and with only the four of us, today’s journey didn’t really have the feel of a “group” ride, even less so because we all are friends and know each other well. I enjoyed getting to ride side by side with each one of the other three riders at different parts of the ride. All in all, it was a very social ride. We rode pretty hard at times, and mellow at other times. The way the ride just flowed along seemed very appropriate for a cloudy day in mid-October.

All four of us showed up with some iteration of “winter bike”, although Warren was the only rider to have fenders with flaps. Emil had his steel Marioni, Reg was using clip-on fenders, and I rode my Rodriguez steel bike, which I think of as my “wet road” bike. My singlespeed Bullet Bike is what I grab when I expect real nastiness. We never saw any rain, but about half of the ride took place on damp roads.

Over the past six years, I have made a lot of friends on the HOWC, and on days like this I am reminded about just how important a part of cycling making friends on the ride is for me.

Friday, October 16, 2009


Everybody around these parts is probably familiar with the term SAD—seasonal affective disorder. New research that shows a strong link with deficient Vitamin D, and it’s not easy getting adequate sunlight in Seattle in the wintertime. What about a possible link between SAD and cycling? Well, maybe it’s SAD that is causing what I’m calling SAC—seasonally affected cyclists. Or is SAC triggering SAD?

Every year at about this time in the fall, cyclists seem to go into their own little caves. People stop waving, nodding, or calling out a greeting; in fact, many seem to be hanging their heads a few inches above the handlebar. Many approaching riders don’t even lift their heads.

In the summer, it’s all giggles and friendliness, and almost every cyclist you see gives you a friendly acknowledgment. From now until spring or summer, the same cyclists appear to have tunnel vision, and the tunnel doesn’t extend to the opposite side of the road where I am. Shouldn’t our fewer numbers in the winter provoke a more kindred spirit?

I haven’t decided on my strategy for this year’s winter season. Should I wave and/or call out to every cyclist regardless of whether they might totally ignore me, or should I just focus straight ahead? I could use my peripheral vision to see if one of them might make the first move, and then I could quickly acknowledge with a wave.

I’m lucky that I have so much flexibility. I ride my bike a lot, and I get outside to ride year round and soak up whatever Vitamin D is available, so I don’t think I turn into a SAD-SAC. I better keep waving so everybody recognizes that.

At least most pedestrians still say, “Hi,” this time of the year.

I hope to see you (waving) on the road.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

10-11-09 HOWC Ride Report—Synchronicity?

Mileage: 62 Climbing: 3700’ Route: Downtown--Mercer Island--Lake WA Blvd.—89th—Coal Creek—Jones Rd.—Cedar Grove—Tiger Mountain Store—May Valley—Newcastle Golf Club--Mercer Island—Downtown Attrition Rate: 40% (one for a time commitment)

Just as with Saturday’s Meet the Team Ride, today’s HOWC felt a little discombobulated. We never seemed to get into a groove, and the pace was inconsistent. After six years, we have the HOWC at a pretty refined state, and the ride usually rolls along smoothly. Most of the riders who show up either know the protocol, or they catch on quickly once the ride starts. When the ride flows on auto-pilot like it often does, the HOWC is a hard, safe, and fun group ride.

We have had several off kilter rides since we turned down the pace in September. We always have new riders show up at this time of the year, and “fresh blood” is a good thing. It seems like we have issues when we have a high percentage of riders who are first timers. If there are three or four new riders as part of a 15-20 person ride, there are plenty of HOWC experienced riders to emulate. If we have three or four newbies as part of an 8-10 person ride, that’s another story.

Not only did we have a few riders new to the HOWC today, we had a few riders who were fairly new to riding in general. No matter how strong a rider is; the HOWC is really not a great forum for learning the basics of group riding. So I must keep that in mind when I say that we had some very sketchy pacelines within our group of ten.

It started with a touch of wheels with no damage…while we were going uphill. We had another uphill close call or two, but the real potential for disaster occurred on both Jones and May Valley roads. I got so creeped out that I went to the back on May Valley and stayed there, asking rotating riders to pull in ahead of me. In six years of HOWC rides I have never done that before.

Here is part of Jeff S’s take on the situation:

“It was strange that we started out with a paceline on Jones that pulled apart at the seams, and then went to the other extreme where it seemed too ‘compressed’ and riders were running over each other. I didn't see any reason behind the first slowdown / bump on May Valley. The one that happened climbing up to Newcastle was due to someone behind yelling "Split" and the lead rider in front of me instinctively slowing down with no warning—glad you were able to avoid my wheel.

I think part of the situation is due to moving the ride back down to ‘strenuous.’ A couple of riders were in over their head –one of them has been riding less than a year. Sound similar to the start of Luke's ride last week?

In general, it seemed like there were more inexperienced cyclists than usual out on the roads today—ironic that it's near the end of the season.”

Honestly, what Jeff and I should have done was to call a “meeting” and stop and discuss the situation. Rather than single anybody out, we should have just reviewed paceline strategy, pace, and technique. Ideally, we would get input from all of the experienced riders. If a rider simply didn’t get it, we would then ask that rider to remain at the back, and let rotating riders back in line in front of them. If someone really didn’t get it, we would ask them to leave the ride. Perhaps we should automatically review basic paceline/group riding protocol before the start of every HOWC? Never assume anything, especially when safety is concerned.

Think about this; when we have a rider not up to the pace, we don’t have a problem talking to them, mentioning that we can’t slow the ride for them, and making sure they know their way home. Normally these riders have already figured things out for themselves. When you have an unsafe rider, it puts everyone at risk. Who is more dangerous: a “slow” rider a mile off the back, or an unskilled rider in the middle of a paceline?

One thing the ride leaders have never really done on the HOWC (myself included) is encourage communication amongst the riders. A ride leader can’t be everywhere. Sure, the ride leader does the pre-ride safety talk, and part of that involves reviewing a few procedures that have really helped the ride develop into what it is. I think we also need to encourage everyone to point things out to each other during the ride, and I am not just talking about road hazards. When someone fresh is on the front and is pulling well above the winter pace, someone needs to say, “Whoa, Nellie, save it for the next climb.” Conversely, when a rider hogs the front of a paceline so long that they tire and slow, whoever is near could suggest, “Great pull. How about taking a break?” The safest and smoothest pacelines always have a consistent pace. When big gaps open from a herky-jerky pace, riders scramble to close the gap, and mistakes are more easily made.

Yes, the cycling season is winding down, but it looks like we are going to have people who want to lead the HOWC through the winter months. Our rider count may be down, but it never hurts to take a look at what we are doing out on the ride. I did on Sunday and I didn’t like what I saw, and I left late in the ride and rode home alone.

On Sunday, I was part of the “attrition rate.” I’m hopeful that in the future, that won’t be the case.

10-10-09 Meet the Team HPC Ride

Considering it was a chilly and cloudy early morning in mid-October, a turnout of 16 for our last Meet the Team Ride of 2009 might have been a surprise, except for the fact that we have had more riders at every other ride this year. At times, we have had over 30 people show up to check us out, and team membership has grown commensurately.

We are not the only team doing MTTR’s this time of the year, and David wisely chose not to use our regular route around the end of the lake. We knew it would be crowded with large groups of cyclists, and we didn’t want to contribute to the congestion. David took the ride through Medina and Bellevue, on a course very similar to what we often use for our member-only monthly team rides.

While none of the climbs are particularly long or hard along this route, there are enough of them that group socializing was a little more difficult than it normally is on the flattish south lake route. While traffic was almost non-existent, it’s tough to talk when you always seem to be going up or downhill. Because of this, we took a little longer than normal rest stop to answer questions and talk about the team for 2010.

We also had trouble establishing a rhythmic pace on the ride. On pretty much every short hill, riders at the front would go hard, forcing people towards the back to close gap after gap. When those at the front noticed the gaps, they would slow down and wait for the rest of the group. Those not among the first few riders were either pedaling hard (not wanting to be dropped) or coasting once they reached the riders ahead.

Ideally, on a social Meet the Team Ride the group stays together, and to facilitate that, we try to have the MTTR’s go at a “moderate” pace. Moderate in that riders can talk with each other, and freely move within the group to talk with other people. On previous Meet the Team Rides, guests have been able to talk with various team members, easily identified by our jerseys. I didn’t see much of that happening on Saturday.

Whether it is a regular team ride or a MTTR, we always have the Mercer Island loop as an optional open class no re-group circuit towards the end of the ride. This is a great forum to push the pace as high as you like, as well as to show potential team members who try to hang on what HPC is really all about. In any case, Team HPC is only in its second year, and I am sure the ride protocols will become second nature as we all get more miles in together.

In spite of our best efforts to minimize delays caused by cyclist traffic jams, we did have one encounter. When we hit Mercer Island, the hammer was slammed down, and the group splintered into smaller pacelines. I was with the first group, and it was a lot of fun going hard through the eastside curves in tight formation. Shortly after we exited the curves, Steve H took a strong pull, and we overtook and passed the blue-and-white kitted "HB" Team. It’s certainly not the first time that we have overtaken one of the local racing clubs, but HB didn’t seem to think it was a good idea, possibly because there were a lot more of them than us! (Actually, none of the other clubs ever seem to think it’s a good idea either.) A harmless little game of cat and mouse ensued and it was all good fun.

I’m sure we will have plenty of informal team activity over the winter, but our organized group rides are over for the year. Keep your eye out for 2010 team info on the team message board, as well as in the Cascade Courier.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Vote Your Pedals?

This is a cycling blog, and this post is about cycling.

At the suggestion of David Hiller (Cascade Bicycle Club Advocacy Director), Michael McGinn called me yesterday. Yes, that Michael McGinn, the candidate for Mayor of Seattle.

I'm not very politically inclined, and this is not intended as an endorsement of any candidate. Michael didn't call me because I am a political bigwig. He called because he wants my help in getting the word out that he supports cycling. He pointed out that he has been a cycling advocate for years, and is a regular bicycle commuter.

Michael also wanted to make sure that I understood that while he opposes “The Tunnel”, his opponent for mayor opposes completion of the Burke Gillman Trail.

Many Americans appear to “Vote their Pocketbook,” and in some cases that may be as good a strategy as any. The message Michael is trying to get across is that if you “Vote your Pedals,” he is your candidate for Mayor of Seattle.

Once again, I'm not endorsing anybody. I just think it's impressive that a candidate would take the time to talk with constituents about his position on cycling.

Reminding myself that this is a cycling blog, how about a thought or two on the tunnel? This is off the cuff, and I have not done any research pro or con regarding the tunnel proposal. I guess that is what the comments section of a blog is for.

It seems to me that the time to build a tunnel, along with a new highway, was about 40 years ago when the Federal Government was throwing money around to build out the Interstate Highway system. Back then, there was a need, real and/or perceived, to put a lot more automobiles on the road. In 2009, I hear talk of making it easier for cars to move along on the roads, but it doesn’t appear that anyone is seriously talking about the merits of putting more cars out there. Is the whole concept of a tunnel a backward focused idea, even if it would indeed ease the flow of cars on the road?

History has shown that if you make it easier for Americans to drive, driving more is what they will do. Again, no one seems to be talking about higher automobile usage as a long term solution to our transportation, economic, or environmental issues. If Mr. McGinn is elected, and the tunnel squashed, there will be some tough medicine to swallow. There will be less capacity for automobiles, and more congestion for the reduced number of cars using the roads. When gasoline prices spiked in the summer of 2008, SUV sales plummeted, bicycle commuting and bus ridership increased, and people drove less for the first time in modern times. Would increased congestion lead to people choosing not to drive?

See, I told you that this blog is about cycling…and walking…and riding the bus or taking light rail.

Seattle takes pride in being recognized as a progressive, forward looking city. A large part of the rest of the world has already adopted a mass transportation model. No city in the United States is remotely close to London or Paris, let alone an Amsterdam or Copenhagen. I have visited both of those cities, and they are wonderful places.

Even the most hardened fossil fuel burner would have to admit that Amsterdam and Copenhagen are not wonderful in spite of the lack of automobiles; rather it is because of the lack of automobiles.

I don’t know if I will be selfish and “Vote my Pedals,” but in this case a pedal vote is a lot more than a vote for better cycling access. It could be a vote for a change that only future generations could fully appreciate and enjoy. Regardless of how I vote, I think building more highways is looking backward, and at best, a band-aid for much deeper issues. I also think that tearing down the Viaduct and using surface streets will create a huge mess.

Maybe that is the medicine that the doctor needs to order?

Please feel free to pass this message on to your cycling friends.

10-3-09 Hills of the West Coast Saturday Edition

I showed up for the start of the ride today with no plan. With Luke leading the ride, I had the luxury to go/no go, or peel off if I did start. Well, start I did, and peel off I did as well. I split at Enatai, and headed out to Cougar Mountain. Early on, I realized that I felt great, and when I feel that good, I like to go climbing. The rest of the group went north to Edmonds, and here is a brief report from Luke:

"The ride had a rough start today. I respect people who take on the challenge to try a tough ride like HOWC. But sometimes they are in over their head - and the process of determining that and getting them pointed back - sucks time. We had one of those situations getting around the island and onwards. Shortly thereafter, Mike suffered a broken spoke and was done for the day. Too bad - Mike has been a welcome addition to the HOWC arsenal.

After these setbacks, the remaining six riders continued at a more even flow. We all did the up and back of ‘Goat Hill’ from Holmes Point. That is a steep pitch and sets you up nicely for the climb back to Juanita. We cut through on Locust Way up Vine to drop down into Edmonds. Still fighting off the end of a cold, I took the opportunity to peel off the ride a few miles from my home.

Warren tells me the rest continued on to climb Innis Arden. Special thanks to Ed for leading the final four back south to Seattle"

Friday, October 2, 2009

Personal Records Part II

In a recent post (Personal Records), I discussed the various ways that cyclists use to chart their fitness progress. I discussed heart rate, power, and using elapsed time from organized events. What if you don’t have a fancy gadget and would actually like to compare yourself not to yourself at an earlier time, but to the very best cyclists in the world?

All you need is an altimeter with a stopwatch and you will have an idea of where you stack up vs. the most gifted climbers in the Tour de France.

When the Spanish or Italian Doctors are evaluating the latest cycling wonder kid, they measure Vo2 max, power at threshold, and watts/kg. Having the ability to generate 6.5-7 watts per kilogram in particular has been a good predictor of TDF success, for it is watts/kg that determines how fast one can climb. For what it’s worth, that number was 5.6-5.8 w/kg in the pre-doping era (see the graph and chart):

Related to this is the concept introduced by Professor Francesco Conconi and used extensively by colleague Dr. Michele Ferrari (yes, the one that worked with Armstrong). Conconi, who is likely best known for allegedly introducing EPO to the sport of cycling, developed the concept of VAM, or vertical ascent in meters. Instead of a laboratory test, a rider is asked to climb for 30-60 minutes as hard as they can. For Pro Tour team leaders, this requires a very big climb indeed.

Converted into feet, in order to win the Tour de France, a cyclist should be able to ascend 6000’ in an hour. To put it into perspective, Mt. Ventoux gains 6000’, as does the Stelvio in the Italian Alps over 16 miles at an average grade of 7.1%. Six thousand feet per hour equates to the mind boggling number of 100’ per minute. I say mind boggling, but it will only mean something to a cyclist who has used an altimeter with a stopwatch to measure his own VAM. Head on out to Cougar or Squak Mountain, climb as hard as you can for say, 10 minutes, and then use your altimeter to see how many vertical feet you have ascended per minute. Whatever the number turns out to be, now fantasize about being able to climb at 100’/minute…and sustain the effort for an hour. What it translates to is the ability to climb Zoo on Cougar or Olympus on Squak (both gain 1000’) in 10 minutes, six times in a row. Maybe that is a better way to put 100'/minute into perspective for you. Just as Tiger Woods is on a whole different level than the average touring pro, Pro Tour team leaders climb at an incredible rate, even compared to Tour domestiques.

At what kind of level is this year’s TDF winner Alberto Contador? A record new and higher one according to his performance on the Verbier climb in the French Alps (see chart):

For us mere mortals, VAM is a very accurate way to see if you are making progress and getting stronger. Yes, there are still environmental factors that can vary, but they have less effect on a very steep climb, the type that is perfect for measuring your VAM. There are even formulas that can use your VAM to estimate average wattage and an approximated Vo2 max, if you use a longer climb. Jonathan Vaughters, currently the Garmin Director Sportiff, popularized such a formula back in the late 90’s:

Average climbing watts=vertical meters of climbing x total weight of bike and rider in kg/divide by time in sec/multiply by 10/add 60. Vo2 max= average watts divided by 72=oxygen consumption in liters/minute x 1000=ml of oxygen consumed. Divide that by body weight in kg to get Vo2 in ml/kg/min. For what it’s worth, this formula produces power numbers 5-8% higher than my power meter.

I always think that my own PR’s are likely to occur on the Sunday Hills of the West Coast ride, but they rarely do. While there are a lot of strong riders to motivate you to go hard on the climbs, the context of a 75 mile, very hard paced ride with multiple climbs is not conducive to making a huge all out effort on a single climb. Not only is it bad form for the leader of the ride to crack like an egg, but we are usually out in the middle of nowhere. More often than not, I am the only person who knows how to get us back safely, since I am the one that took us out there in the first place. Obviously, it’s different for elite cyclists, because they go hard on every climb day after day, but then there are other factors involved as well…

I normally don’t just ride somewhere and do one climb with friends or on a group ride, with the option of bailing if I cook my legs by going super hard on the climb. Always key for me is finding a way to motivate myself to go pound up a climb by myself, which is never easy.

Long before I got a power meter, I had stopped using heart rate on hard rides, as I found that all looking at the number did was slow me down. While pacing yourself with wattage is great on long moderate or hard efforts, I’m starting to realize that watching wattage (or elapsed time) has the same effect as watching heart rate when I am trying to go really hard (see my 9-27-09 HOWC Ride Report post). The mind has an amazing ability to intuitively grasp just how hard you can go for a given time period, and I think riding by feel is best for that really all out effort.

I do know one thing; instead of staring at numbers, I am going to turn that screen off and focus in on the music from my Ipod (uphill only when riding solo!). I read recently that the best climbers mentally disassociate from their mental anguish, and it’s almost as if they are observing themselves on the climb. I don’t know if I can get to that point, but I’ll try selecting my music carefully.

9-27-09 Hills of the West Coast Report Ride Harder

Miles: 53.2 Climbing: 4128’Route: Downtown—Mercer Island—Factoria—Honda Hill—Newport Way to Issaquah—Mountain Parkway climb on Squak Mountain—Zoo climb or 164th on Cougar Mountain—Newcastle Golf Club climb—Coal Creek Parkway—89th—116th—Mercer Island—Downtown Attrition Rate: 0% (Carl E. admitted after the ride that he was in a little over his head and he wisely stayed off of the front, but he never once complained and toughed it out)

Despite the near perfect fall weather, we had a very small crew of five riders on the ride today. I thought we might have a large group now that we are riding at an easier pace than we do in the summer. One never knows. At times the ride was mellow, and at times it was pretty hard, and I guess that blend is what we think of as “winter pace”.

As we started up the 2.1 mile/1000’ of climbing on Mountain Parkway at Squak Mountain, I spontaneously made the decision that if I felt good I would go for it, and try and break my own PR for the climb. I felt strong on the initial steep pitch, and so I tried to set a solid pace. About halfway up, no one was around me, and I glanced at the interval timer I had set at the start of the climb. My legs hurt from the effort (and the steep climb) and I instantly eased up when I deduced that I must be off of “record pace”. With no one to chase or stay in front of, I didn’t have that to motivate me to keep cranking hard. When I was about 75% done with the climb, I looked at my timer again and thought “Holy ____, I can still do it”, so I stepped on the gas. I wound up 17 seconds over my PR, which I set in July of 08, right after a three week trip climbing in the mountains of Italy and France. Needless to say, I was a little disappointed in myself, and I guess some lessons have to be learned over and over (see my Personal Records Part II post).

As our small group cruised up Newport Way, my legs felt bad, and I wasn’t even on the front. I thought that I might have burned too many matches back on Mountain Parkway, and that I would pay the price for the rest of the ride. Instead of Montreaux, three of us went up 164th while Tom N. and Jim W. hit the Zoo climb, and I took it easy. The plan was for a group rendezvous at the top of the Newcastle Golf Club climb.

Once we got to NGC, I was again trying to take the pressure off of the legs, but Dan K. would have none of that. He went around me just as we saw Tom N. and Jim W. up ahead of us. Dan dropped the hammer pretty hard, and I jumped on his wheel. Even when the draft doesn’t help much on a 9% climb, it always seems easier to push yourself if somebody else sets the pace. Why is that? By the time we reached the top, not only had we closed the gap on our friends; I noticed that my legs were feeling better. For the rest of the day, I had good energy, and my legs actually felt pretty darn good.

Normally when my legs feel bad, they stay bad. Perhaps the pain in my legs after Mountain Parkway may have been due to the fact that it was the first really hard climb of the day. Even though we were well warmed up from riding 20 miles out to Issaquah, sometimes it helps to precede a very hard effort with a hard effort.

My Mantra has always been that whenever you have a problem on the bike, it can be solved by riding harder. Let’s start with the obvious. Late? Ride harder. Cold? Ride harder. Not motivated? Ride harder. Sad? Ride harder. Someone catching up to you that you don’t want to? Ride harder. Drenched? Ride harder. Mad? Ride harder. Something off the bike troubling you? Ride harder.

Now I can add a new one. Legs hurting? Ride harder. Go figure.

I hope to see you on the Tarmac (that will mean it’s not raining).

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Personal Records

During a recent solo three day cycling trip to the Rainier/St. Helens area (See Volcano Tour blog below), I had plenty of solitude while climbing to ponder many subjects. I was riding at what I refer to as “Survival Pace”, an effort level that hopefully enables me to finish multi-day trips involving a lot of miles and climbing. This is a type of riding that I truly enjoy, and I am always baffled when I return from such a trip. After a few days of rest, I usually enjoy a higher fitness level than before I left. No surprise there; the surprise for me is that I seem to gain the type of fitness that is so hard to obtain. I’m talking about that “high end” stuff, what you need when you are trying to ride really hard, maybe harder than you ever have before, going for a Personal Record up a certain favorite climb. Don’t you have to suffer through endless high intensity intervals to make any progress on intense efforts? It seems that simply a lot of time at an endurance pace enables gains at a higher pace.

Following my Volcano Tour, Tracy and I volunteered at the 2009 High Pass Challenge (once again, see blog below), an event I helped develop with the Cascade Bicycle Club. As in 2008, I had chosen to volunteer as a team with Tracy, rather than ride, and I had plenty of time to observe cyclists testing themselves by going for the Gold.

While I enjoy going super hard for 70 or 75 miles like we do every summer Sunday in the Hills of the West Coast, my idea of fun is not to go out and try and ride 100 or more miles in an organized event “solo” at a really hard pace. I have tremendous respect for the athletes who can do so, but I have come to realize that I am not mentally and/or physiologically cut out for that type of punishment. It’s just not my kind of fun, and having fun is why I ride my bicycle so much. My idea of fun, perhaps the most fun thing for me to do on a bicycle, is to do a long ride in the mountains at endurance pace, preferably multiple days in a row. I stop to pee, I stop to pick up food, and occasionally I stop just because I want to stop to take a look at something.

Pretty much everybody I know over the age of 40 (30?) is curious as to how they are doing as the years go by. How does one best compare yourself to yourself? I suppose that there are several methods one can use to document and track your own PR’s. Of course, the most basic is time or speed over a defined distance. Another might be your average heart rate sustained for a given time period. Perhaps the most reliable or consistent method is to use average power in wattage.

Many riders seem to measure themselves and their fitness against other riders by comparing finishing times in organized events, and I’m not sure I fully understand this. Yes, I have done a sub five hour century, and yes, I have earned Gold at the High Pass Challenge. While I have done an STP at 10:20 ride time, it’s just not my thing, and I wonder how that ride compares to a “balls to the wall” 75 miles on a HOWC. For example, when I did that STP in 2003, we had a decent tailwind, and I was in fast big pacelines for the first 120 miles or so, and I did very little work. For the next 40 miles, my partner and I were in smaller pacelines, and sometimes we were on our own. During the last 40 miles, I did almost all of the work on the front, and in fact, I rode much of the time by myself. How could I have evaluated that effort compared to a friend who rode the entire 200+ miles solo, totally on his own, and did so in 11 hours? Who worked harder, and who was stronger? Very likely my friend would have made a much harder effort than I did. How would I compare that 10:20 to a hypothetical 2010 STP where I might finish in 9:30 while riding all 200+ miles as part of a large group of strong riders (like Team HPC, for example) where I did maybe 5% of the work on the front for the full ride? Or how would 2003 stack up against a hypothetical 11 hour time done on a rainy day with a 10mph headwind the whole way to Portland?

So when I say “I” have done a sub five hour century, what does the “I” really mean? First off, it wasn’t “solo”. It seems to me that how fast one can ride their bicycle in an organized century ride or the STP is determined a lot more by with whom they ride and the weather conditions, and a lot less on their own individual strength and fitness level.

For the athlete who loves to punish themselves in an Ironman or 100 mile Ultra running event, I am in awe of the dedication and tolerance for pain that those events certainly demand. From what I can tell, most of those athletes measure their event performance not by their elapsed time, but more by how they finish vs. their peers. During a given event, all competitors must deal with similar conditions, but even in a time trial like a 112 mile Ironman bicycle leg, elapsed time is influenced tremendously by wind, temperature, etc.

Over the last five years or so, I have used certain climbs around town for comparisons. They vary in length from about 5 minutes to 15 minutes. Certainly environmental conditions factor in, but to a lesser extent due to the shorter distance and time. Using a longer climb that has switchbacks is also pretty useful (Sunrise, for example), as the effects of the wind are somewhat negated by the changes in direction from the switchbacks.

For the last two years, I have used a power meter, and while I don’t make full use of its capabilities as a training device, it does provide a handy way to evaluate my performance. If, for example, I set a new personal best on a favorite climb, but at a lower average wattage than on a previous effort, I can assume that my new record was established with a helping wind. My power meter actually measures relative wind, so that is easy to verify. Using average or normalized power output over set time periods is quite an accurate way to tell if you are actually getting stronger. Power is a measurement of how hard you actually are pushing the pedals, regardless of environmental conditions.

I have to be honest, and I think the real reason I don’t like riding organized events at a really hard pace is that I don’t like trusting my fate to large groups of riders who I don’t know. The last 30 miles or so of Ramrod are possibly the scariest miles I have ever ridden, except for those unlighted tunnels in the Pyrenees, but that is another story. Motoring along busy Rt. 410 in the heat and headwind with cars blasting by at 70mph is nerve wracking. Throw in the huge anonymous pacelines one finds oneself in, and the potential for a really bad accident is exponentially compounded.

One way to solve this problem is to do what my friend Justin did in this year’s Ramrod. Justin simply rode away, dropped everybody, rode 410 solo, and finished Ramrod before anyone else. For those who know Justin, this really isn’t a surprise, because he is one of those athletes that do love to test himself in an Ironman or 100 mile Ultra Run.

For me to be excited about another Ramrod, HPC, or STP, I’ll need a different type of motivation. I’ll be there if I can partner up with a friend or a small group of riding friends, stick together, and commit to a strategy. Should Tracy want to tackle something like this, I’ll shelter her from the wind for the whole ride at any pace she desires. Now that would be really enjoyable, and still be a lot of work.

After all, these organized rides are called events, not races, and riding with Tracy or a good friend would be a special event.

2009 High Pass Challenge

The first part of this blog will appear in the October Cascade Courier Newsletter. I also share additional comments that will not be included in the Courier.

On September 13th, the third annual High Pass Challenge was once again blessed by spectacular late summer weather. The weather was dialed in so perfectly that the riders had benign winds on “Windy” Ridge, and a 20+mph tailwind assisting them on the last part of the ride.

The High Pass Challenge is yet another Cascade event superbly produced and organized by the highly efficient Cascade staff and volunteer team. The HPC is the signature event of Cascade’s High Performance Cycling Team, and it is designed to be a very challenging event for fit riders. The High Pass Challenge was created to give “high performance” cyclists a late season hard ride they could then fondly recall over the ensuing rainy months. To make the event unique, it’s a challenge, complete with finisher “precious” medals given to people who ride the route within certain cutoff times.

This year’s event was a sellout! We expect the ride to sell out every year, and I would encourage our loyal High Pass Challenge regulars to register early for the 2010 event, where we will likely again have a 600 rider limit.

Cyclists came from far and wide to this year’s HPC. We had riders from as far away as Boston. CBC staffer Kim Thompson’s brother in law, Steve, flew in from Anchorage just to ride the event! A rider who calls his home Wellington, New Zealand, was visiting Seattle and decided he just had to make the HPC. At the finish line, 110 riders met the Gold Challenge with a finish before 2 PM.

Riders started in Packwood, and then climbed 4600’ up to Mt. St. Helens’ Windy Ridge Viewpoint. From Windy Ridge, the riders returned to Packwood via quiet roads lined by lush forest. Total mileage was 113 miles with 7650’ of climbing. Judging by the feedback on event day, the event route was not only tough, it was also noteworthy for its scenic beauty, as well as the overall low volume of auto traffic.

Many riders enthused about the HPC. CBC Board member and Team HPC member Ed Zuckerman had this to say about the event: “The HPC was a masterfully organized ride. Of course, this is what I have come to expect from the professionalism of the CBC organized events, yet this one in particular had the feel of a perfectly timed Swiss watch!”

Team HPC member Tim Hennings said, “The event was very well run and organized. Thanks a ton to the whole crew! I thought the food stops were terrific. I noticed a younger crowd than at other CBC events - that is a very good trend. I really love the ride; in fact it is my favorite CBC event.”

Reg Norberg, another Team HPC rider commented, “It was a great ride...well supported! I had no traffic problems at all. The last part of the ride on Highway 12 was really fast with the tail wind. Too bad we can't count on that every year!”

From Team HPC member Brian Unger: “It was my first High Pass Challenge, so approaching the ride I was a bit nervous about just how challenging it would be. In the end, I think the Team HPC rides and clinics helped a lot, as well as the camaraderie of the team members during the ride and afterwards. I ended up stopping at the Wakepish stop. The route guide said water only, but I was pleasantly surprised to find bananas as well. My next stop was at Windy Ridge, which was very well stocked. I’d never been to Windy Ridge before. What a spot! The views on the way up were just amazing, and I had a blast descending back down the road. Overall, I have to say it was an incredible ride. The support and logistics by Cascade were great, and like they say in real estate; location, location, location or I suppose in this case route, route, route, and the HPC has it.”

Karl Huber, another Team HPC member reported, “I was all alone out on Cispus Road. No other rider could be seen ahead or behind me, really an eerie feeling for a supported ride. I slowed and relaxed and realized it was so beautiful to be out there on such a gorgeous fall day with no traffic, smooth asphalt and no noise! I feel that most riders who attempt HPC are more experienced than at the typical event, and that keeps the stress level down.”

Finally, a comment from Team HPC member Mark Klausen: “Support for the ride was consistently outstanding. The route was well marked and there were Cascade people at all critical points.”

For more on Team HPC Powered by Cycle U, visit the High Performance Cycling page at

Thanks to all of the volunteers who made this event possible, as well as to the entire Cascade staff for organizing and delivering such a polished event. Special thanks go out to Rod Ludvigsen of the Special Uses Group at Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. Without the support of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, it would not be possible to hold the HPC.

I know I’m looking forward to next year’s High Pass Challenge, and hope to see many of you out there on the route next year!

Now, here are my own personal thoughts that I didn’t think were appropriate for the Courier. I don’t know if anyone else noticed a few things that were different with this year’s High Pass Challenge, but I did. It appears to me that we have reached our target audience. Whereas during the first two HPC’s we had a large number of people not finish within the 10 hour limit, this year we seemed to have a collection of very serious and fit cyclists. While we certainly don’t want the HPC to become “elitist”, it is designed to be a very challenging event for strong riders. It’s not the STP; we have a 600 rider limit, not 10,000, and the route itself is very difficult.

We had a serious accident at this year’s HPC. The crash occurred at the one lane bridge above Iron Creek, and the rider somehow plummeted off of the bridge and fell 30’ or more into the gorge beneath the bridge. The rider is expected to make a full recovery, and that is wonderful news. Anybody who rode in the event likely believes that this rider was extremely fortunate, as the potential for very dire injuries or worse certainly was a possibility.

The purpose of this column is not to lay blame, or dwell on circumstances that may or may not have contributed to the accident. Since there were no eye witnesses and the rider himself has no recollection of the crash, it appears that we will never know what happened. I do think it is worth doing a little postulating about some potential factors in the hope of reducing the chances of another very serious crash.

When we were working on the concept for the HPC, we thought it would be nice to give the event a unique twist; we went with a finishing time medal system to give the riders a challenge. We couldn’t predict whether our medal system would be popular, or how riders would view it. One thing is for sure, we never had any intention in making the event into a “race”. The USFS would never condone such an event, and CBC has no desire in producing one.

In this year’s event, 110 riders managed to finish before 2 PM and earn gold. Based on what I saw, about half of these riders carefully calculated what it would take to get in before 2, and monitored their progress along the way. They stopped for food, chatted with the Cascade staff and volunteers, and seemed to really be enjoying themselves. This is exactly what we envisioned when I started working with Cascade on the event concept.

The other half of the 110 gold earners were clearly involved in a “race”. Of those 50-60 riders, I am going to guess that while all were strong riders; it’s probable that about half of them were highly skilled and experienced riders. Perhaps they had done some stage racing, or maybe they had done a lot of high-speed descending in Europe. Of the 50-60 riders who were really going for it, I am going to guess, and that’s all it is, that half of them were in way over their heads when it came time for the technical descents. We had reports of riders making sketchy passes of other cyclists, crossing the center line, and coming close to riders climbing on the other side of the road. Unlike a race, not only were the roads not closed to car traffic, there were riders (and cars) on the same section of road going in opposite directions. One of the great things about the HPC is that most of the route is in the shade. That said, many of these technical sections lie in the shade, and many of them occur in the only area of the entire route where there is broken pavement, holes, and cracks. At the start of the event, we warned riders about the bridge, about the shade, and about the rough sections.

Every rider who went down Rt. 25 and across the bridge first went up the same bridge. In both directions, there was signage well in advance of the bridge alerting riders of the one lane restriction. There were full sized stop signs at each end of the bridge, made necessary by the fact that it was difficult to see whether there was a car approaching from the other direction. While we will never know what happened on that bridge, it’s hard to imagine that it’s possible a crash could happen to a rider who came to a stop at the bridge.

I rode the HPC in 2007, the inaugural year, and I got the gold. Maybe because it was very cold on the ride, it seemed like all of the riders made stops for food, and to warm up. I never got the sense of taking part in a race; we rode hard just to stay warm! The weather has been perfect the last two years, and clearly a different attitude has prevailed.

Tracy and I volunteered as a team in 2008 and 2009, and it was a blast being around hundreds of riders who were enthused about what they were doing. Due to the accident, we were late getting back to Packwood, and therefore I didn’t see the first riders come in. What I can tell you is that there were no prizes, and outside of those 50 or 60 riders, I don’t think anyone cared who “got first”. After all, there was no first place to get. I suppose I could ride the HPC again, and I likely would try for the gold, but I guarantee you that I won’t be among those first 50 riders coming back down to Iron Creek, no matter what time I arrive at Windy Ridge.

1st Annual Volcano Tour

Day One (September 10th) Miles: 122 Climbing: 7367’ Triple Bypass Route Clockwise: Tracy drops me off in Greenwater at 6:30 AM—Cayuse Pass—Chinook Pass—Clifdell—Nachez—Rimrock Lake—White Pass—Packwood

Day Two Miles: 80 Climbing: 6000’ Skate Creek Loop Route Counter-Clockwise: Packwood—Steven’s Canyon—Backbone Ridge—Paradise—Longmire—Ashford—Skate Creek Rd.—Packwood

Day Three Miles: 76 Climbing: 6663’ HPC Route: Packwood—Randle—Iron Creek Campground—Windy Ridge—Iron Creek CG—Tracy meets me as planned and we drive to Packwood, where it is 100 degrees

Day Four Tracy and I volunteer at the third annual High Pass Challenge

I intend to make this an annual September trip, and perhaps doing it solo is really the way to go. I had a blast! The trip requires a perfect weather window, so one must be able to act on short notice. Also, it is so much more pleasurable to be riding after Labor Day, when the summer Rainier crowds have vanished. Ideally, every year I will tie this trip in with volunteering at the High Pass Challenge, unless I ride in the event.

I really enjoy the base camp concept. Not having to relocate to a new motel everyday is nice, and I seem to rest much better. Having my recovery food already in place enables me to relax and enjoy myself. Before I even checked in to the Cowlitz River Lodge, I rolled by the grocery store and stocked up.

It’s important to think out your timing and loop direction, as your choice can greatly influence traffic conditions and the weather you will experience. Going mid-week and off-peak in September makes the weather a little riskier, but guarantees extremely light traffic.

Having ridden a lot at Rainier, I kind of know the traffic patterns. On this trip, it wouldn’t have made much difference, as there was hardly any traffic anywhere, even over White Pass (Rt. 12) mid-day. As far as the weather, I was happy to be on Skate Creek Rd. at the end of my second day. At the “Packwood 4 miles” sign, it was 73 degrees, and I was in the shade. Four miles later, I was in the sun big time, and it was at least 90 degrees. While I didn’t enjoy the rough road conditions on Skate Creek, I definitely enjoyed the shade.

Going to Packwood to ride is not like going to a quaint village in the French Alps, but the people are friendly, and the location is ideal (well, not as ideal as Chamonix). The Cowlitz River Lodge offers a free continental breakfast, mini-fridges in the room, and a super cold air conditioner—all nice to have on those long cycling days. I guess the major issue is a lack of good restaurants, but I never have a problem finding something I like when I have a voracious appetite going day after day. Saving those three pieces of pizza from Thursday night’s dinner was the best choice I made on the whole trip. Upon returning from the Skate Creek Loop, I fired up the microwave and was eating right after I set foot in my motel room.

There are at least four really good (and really hard) days of riding available using Packwood as a base. In addition to what I did, it would be a great out and back ride to Sunrise via Cayuse Pass. I rode White Pass from the east, but riding from the west (Packwood) would give you an almost 3500’ climb. The next time I ride the Triple Bypass, I’d like to do it in a counter-clockwise direction, which would require doing White Pass first from the west. Finishing up the ride with a long descent from the top of Chinook Pass would be classic.

On Thursday, September 10th, Tracy dropped me off around 6:30am (I drove down and then she went to work!) in Greenwater, and I forgot to remove my trail running shoes that I had driven with! I wound up strapping them to the Camelback pack I used to get my stuff down to my Packwood base camp. This gave me the aerodynamics of a refrigerator, making descending a noticeably slower process. I had never worn a pack while riding a bicycle for an extended time, and it really wasn’t that bad, despite the heat and 122 miles I rode that day. I still prefer using my Moots Tailgater system for fast and light touring, but I only had to transport stuff for one day on this trip, and total weight was only about 4 pounds, even with the extra shoes.

As usual, a minimalist approach was required, and all I took with me were a pair of flip flops (plus the extra running shoes!), a Capilene t-shirt, and nylon running shorts. Yes, I had a toothbrush, but not much else, and I didn’t bring a book. This was a big mistake, as we have not watched cable television for over 7 years, and I was a little bored after the day’s ride was done. I tried the TV, but it was just so bad! I wound up taking my time at dinner, and going to bed early.

The plan was for Tracy to drive down from Seattle on Saturday and meet me somewhere on the return route from Windy Ridge. I started about an hour later than I planned, as I decided to linger and chat at breakfast, and then wait for the sun to warm Rt. 12 down to Packwood. After Tracy met me near Iron Creek, we headed back into the heat at Packwood, and later on enjoyed a great dinner hosted by Steve H. and other Team HPC friends. The next day’s weather was perfect for the third annual High Pass Challenge, making for a great conclusion to my Volcano Tour.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Chelan Redux and 8-30-09 Hills of the West Coast

As I was riding in Chelan last weekend, I was trying to think of a better town in Washington to serve as a cycling base camp. About all I could come up with is Seattle! The variety of terrain in the Chelan area is impressive, especially for climbing aficionados. You can do a traffic free 1500+’ climb to Echo Lake Ski Area literally out Tim’s front door, and that’s just for starters.

I really enjoyed riding the Chelan Century Challenge in June, and thanks to Tim’s invite, I was able to repeat much of the route. Tracy came along with me Thursday evening, and Tim even encouraged her to invite friends so that she would not be a cycling orphan. Mike and Jen arrived on Friday, and while Mike took a day to go hiking, Tracy and Jen hit the local wineries.

In addition to all of the available activities, the Chelan area also provides very well designed roads for cycling, and a local population that seemed quite comfortable with us.

Tim has had his house in Chelan for 16 years, and has cycled thousands of miles in the area. Much to my surprise, and his, in the last month he has managed to discover yet two more outstanding climbs. While I am sworn to secrecy, what I can say is that new development is not always all bad; there can be an upside for cyclists. When the necessary new road provides stunning views and dead ends high above Lake Chelan…I’ve said too much already! By the way, Tim’s house is on the far lakeshore about 1500’ below my left shoulder.

During Saturday’s ride, we were keeping track of our climbing to mileage ratio. After 21.5 miles, we already had 2895’ of climbing. We wound up with4800’ over 46.5 miles. Kind of like Cougar Mountain on steroids.

Speaking of steroids, and Cougar Mountain, perhaps some type of extra special juice could have helped 15 cyclists survive last Sunday’s HOWC. Here is Luke’s report on the final HOWC of the year at “summer pace”:

“We closed out the final month of furious summer pace HOWC riding with a climb packed day. The plan was to do two hard climbs on each of Cougar, Squawk and Tiger. Rather than thinking about any climb as ‘optional’, each was billed as having a ‘base’ and an ‘extension’. The idea is everyone does the base route and some choose to do the extensions. We had 15 riders today and I knew it would be tough to finish the entire menu:

Montreaux – Base to top of Village Park, extension up 173rd
Zoo – We all did it all! (Through the curves was Base)
Squawk - We all did it all! (Up 12th to Wildwood was Base)
North Tiger – Base to big cluster of mail boxes, extension up to end of road
South Tiger – Base to fire station, extension to top of 154th
Licorice on Cougar– Base to the start of SE 100th loop, extension through loop

We scratched South Tiger due to time limitations. The group hung tough through the first four climbs. SteveH had to bolt early and ditched the last climb. About 2/3rds of the remaining riders followed him back.

Jeff, Mike and I completed the entire route and several others did almost all of it. Credit goes to everyone for enduring some hard climbs today. It was nice to have three HOWC leaders there to keep everything smooth – thanks Emil and Jeff. Stand out climbing performances were delivered by Jeff and Mike. We had super strong, late-ride pulling after the climbs were finished from all the guys who remained.
- - -
Rider note: Typically, folks do not jump at the chance to lead the pack back over the bridge to the tunnel. The person who finally pulls gets the reward of being dropped - riders emerge from the draft and blaze past as the bridge deck turns upwards.

It was a little different today. Mike instinctively jumped up in front and led us all the way to the tunnel at a furious pace. His first target was the rider who had exercised a sketchy / annoying pass as the HOWC massed around that hairpin turn out of Enatai. That did not take him too long. He hammered on – climb included – up to the tunnel. Jeff and I were right behind him and neither thought to jump past as we approached the tunnel. We all just hung in the draft and appreciated his hard, late-ride effort.”

Sounds like everyone rode hard, and showed some class as well. I’ve always thought it very bad form to let someone do all of the work across the I-90 Bridge, and then blast by him on the bridge ramp. Better to ride up alongside and thank him for the effort, rather than make the rider in front a sacrificial lamb.

After all, camaraderie is really what group rides are all about, at least our group ride.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

8-23-09 HOWC Report Passing the Torch

Miles: 71.4 Climbing: 4039’ Route: Downtown Seattle--Mercer Island--Factoria—Honda Hill climb—Eastgate Elementary—Newport Way to Issaquah—Highland Trail climb to Sammamish Plateau—Issaquah Fall City Rd—SE 40th—W. Snoqualmie Rd.—Tolt Hill Rd.—Rt. 203 north—Carnation Farm Rd.—Ames Lake Rd. climb—202 north—244th climb—Inglewood Hill Rd.—216th climb—212th—E Lake Sammamish—Issaquah—Sammamish Parkway—I-90 north frontage trail—Eastgate P&R—Mercer Island—Downtown Seattle Attrition Rate: 0% of 12 riders

Emil led his first HOWC today, and he pretty much took care of things from start to finish. For the first time in the six years of the HOWC, I actually had the crazy thought that this ride could still be going on 100 years from now. Long after all of us are gone, will some future generation be reading this blog’s archives to see how the Oldtimers survived the ride? I don’t have any kids, so it will be up to others to insure that the legacy of the ride continues. Down the road will there be a little Jeff, or little Luke or Emil to spearhead things? While it’s kind of a silly thought, it’s also kind of a nice one for me.

Based on intuition derived from six year’s experience leading the ride, I would have wagered early in the ride that at least two of our riders would not be with us at the end. I would have bet poorly, as both Jim and Mario dug really deep and hung in there. All of us dig deep on the HOWC. Churning up a steep climb or pulling into a headwind hurts everybody, no matter how strong a rider might be. It must have been pretty rewarding for Jim and Mario at the end of the ride to realize that yes, indeed, they pulled it off. I hope they come out again, as they are both good guys, and you just know they won’t quit.

It’s also rewarding to see how things progressed during the ride in terms of skill level and safety. We had a few people freely admit that they were not very experienced with group rides, and the HOWC is not really a good place to learn the basics. Our first paceline was a little ragged, and at our first stop at Tibbet’s Park, Emil made a few suggestions as to how to tighten things up a little. By the time we got to the opportunity for a long uninterrupted line on West Snoqualmie, we were operating like a finely oiled machine. The machine averaged almost 24mph for about five miles of riding directly into a pretty stiff headwind (at least by Seattle standards), so it was a good effort, but it was more satisfying to see all of our riders going smoothly. Even as fatigue built in all of us, I thought the group rode more cohesively the longer the ride went on.

I had kind of a weird day, in that early on my legs didn’t feel great, and I thought it prudent to hang in the draft and see how things developed. I was pleased that I was with the front group up every climb, and that I made every move. There were gaps behind me, but never in front of me. The legs hurt, but they were working. Late in the ride, I felt good enough to do some decent work on the front, so my reward for perseverance was to be pleasantly surprised at having a pretty good day when I didn’t expect it. Overall, I would say the pace was hard, but not super maniacal hard.

Thanks go out to Sami, Steve, and Nick, the three of whom did a lot of work on the front throughout the ride. Mark C. did some nice pulling before he left the ride to head home for a family obligation. Very late in our 72+ mile ride, Nick pulled us strongly back home across the I-90 Bridge, and just stayed there when we hit the uphill ramp. Pretty impressive, considering we had already knocked off 68 solid miles.

My best guesstimate is that I have ridden somewhere close to 10,500 miles on the HOWC. I had a flat today, and I’m pretty sure it was only my third one, and one of those was due to a presta valve separating from the tube. I can’t blame it on the “fragile” Vittoria 320tpi open tubular, as the rather large imbedded glass shard would have cut through just about anything. On Thursday, my friend Justin and I both received a ticket for “Not obeying the rights and duties of a motor vehicle operator,” which is a kinder and gentler (non-moving violation) version of running a stop sign. The officer was correct; we did indeed roll through a downhill stop at about 5mph, although he did point out that we did much better at the next one at the entrance to Seward Park. It’s a little ironic that both Justin and I have really made the effort to do our part to clean up cycling’s image by following the rules, and I even do my best to keep things clean on the HOWC.

Emil would like to lead the HOWC through the winter, and it’s great to have him onboard. I’m out of town next weekend, but Luke promises a special ride next Sunday, our last ride of the season at summer pace. Forget about 100 years from now. I think it best to take it week by week, and we have had some great Sundays.

I hope to see you on the road.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

8-16-09 HOWC "E Ticket Ride" for a First Class Weekend

Miles: 57-62 Climbing: 4000’-5000’ Route: Downtown—Mercer Island—Coal Creek Parkway—May Valley—132nd climb on Tiger Mountain—Issaquah—Wildwood climb on Squak Mountain—Montreaux (Village Parkway) climb on Cougar—Montreaux directissima option to the school on top of Cougar (60th)—Pinnacle climb option—Forest—Coal Creek—Mercer Island—Downtown Attrition Rate: 15%, but we had a few riders deep in the Hurt Locker

Luke led the HOWC this past Sunday and here is his take on the day:

I had this ride’s route set before I rolled out the door in the morning. I really didn’t care who showed up or how many. HPC in the Park (Rainier) is Thursday and I needed to tune-up. It seemed back loading three tough climbs on the HOWC would get the job done.

We had a rare double flat and dealt with a route diversion due to some construction early on. When things did finally get rolling for that long stretch on May Valley, the paceline was whipping around a lot more than I like. Funny thing. The group agreed to short pulls, no more than a minute. I counted 11 pulls the entire stretch of May Valley!

Climb #1 was the “Far North Tiger” up 132nd. This climb gets really steep near the end. After climbing a very hard ramp the turn reveals a nice view coupled with an unexpected continuance of the punishing grade. A few guys almost blew up on that part.

Climb #2 was “Wildwood on Squawk”. This is the most even gradient way to climb Squawk. It still delivers over 1000’ of climbing and is pretty tough so close to the previous climb.

Speaking of hard climbs after hard climbs, Climb #3 was “Mountreaux+Pinnacle”. For the core of six or so riders who stuck out all three climbs, this is where the suffer-based camaraderie emerged. Lots of chippy comments as we did the “+” - extending Montreaux up those two steep ramps to the utility crossing strip. Lots of big smiles as we finished off Pinnacle and enjoyed the view. Credit to Warren and Death Ride Bob for pacing this phenomenal workout.

This was one of my favorite HOWCs thus far in the season. A great workout on a beautiful day with good people. Bring on Mount Rainier!

I did two group rides this past weekend, and I was a passenger on both. David did a great job on the Team High Performance Cycling ride on Saturday, and Luke ran a very smooth operation on Sunday. Leading the HOWC over the last six years has been a fantastic experience, and I must thank the Cascade Bicycle Club for giving me the opportunity. Every so often it is really nice to do the ride, but not have to be responsible for leading it. Thanks to Jeff, Luke, and soon to be HOWC ride leader Emil, we have a deep bench of strong riders who are eager to step in and safely lead the ride. Thank you, gentlemen!

Luke covered all of the bases today with a very hard and diverse route, “summiting” all three of the Issaquah Alps (Tiger/Squak/Cougar). Luke continued a theme I have been working with this summer: trying to offer a super hard route, but with options to cut out a few of the extreme sections. Some days, even super strong riders are not really into it, and it’s also great to have an alternative for someone who is just barely hanging on. As we all know, a cracked rider is a slow rider. The HOWC always gives even very strong riders plenty of opportunity to toast yourself, but we find the ride often goes more smoothly if we give an option to stay away from the toaster.

We had a really strong group overall today. The ride went smoothly even with a few riders in the Hurt Locker, mostly because they were able to take a “break” now and then. I felt good pretty much all day, and was climbing pretty strongly. I skipped a few of the 20+% grade sections, not so much to save the legs, but just because those type of climbs were not what I was looking for on Sunday…not that I really seek them out very often anyway. I got exactly what I needed and wanted from the ride, and I think the same can be said for most of the riders.

Usually when you lose someone, they are behind you. We managed to lose Reg when he was in front of us. He had gone ahead by zipping onto a bike path on Mercer Island while we waited at a light. I tried reaching him on his cell phone, and we waited for five or ten minutes. When we came upon him just past Mercer Slough, I was wondering if he caught a helicopter ride, but Reg said, "I figure if you guys are going to hammer, I’ll get a head start." Is this kosher?

About the only criticism I can level is one that Luke has already pointed out. Namely, the May Valley paceline went off at a very hard pace, but it wasn’t the smoothest train I have been on. I had a few ideas as to how to make it better, but I kept my mouth shut and just enjoyed the E Ticket Ride as a very content passenger.

Thanks, Luke and David.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

8-9-09 Hills of the West Coast Gorillas in the Mist

Miles: 77.5 (more if you did the “extra leg”) Climbing: 4000’ Route: Downtown Seattle—Mercer Island—Honda Hill Factoria—Newport Way—Issaquah—Issaquah-Hobart Rd.—May Valley Rd.—148th—Jones Rd.—196th hill—232nd—224th—search for phantom Soos Creek Trail—various roads using my nose as a compass—Petrovitsky to the east—Whoops, Petrovitsky to the west—140th—Cedar River Trail—Renton—Rainier—Seward—Downtown Attrition Rate: technically 17%, but we had some cracked riders

For six years I have been leading the HOWC, and if there is one thing I take pride in, it’s the GPS in my head. About the only time I have been lost on a bicycle was in the French Pyrenees, when I took a wrong turn near the top of a climb, and went about a mile before I turned around. Then, it was a Cycle Miles Tour GPS that led me astray; today, I just messed up.

We were planning on a nice ride out through Snoqualmie Valley, but when we got to Cougar Mountain, every hilltop was shrouded in mist. Not wanting to risk the climb up to and over the Sammamish Plateau only to find pea soup fog, we changed plans and headed south. Since we had already been well to the east, I decided to cut off the loop that I use that takes us to the very south end of the Soos Creek Trail. Without going into the morbid details, we couldn’t find the trail from 224th. But it had to be there!

Yes, we had more hairy legs in the bunch than clean shaven ones, but I was the true gorilla in the mist today. Looking at the King County Bicycle Map, I still cannot understand how the 12 of us could not find the trail—one I have been on a thousand times—that intersects 224th, at least on the map. I’m going to have to go down there by myself to sort that one out. Not finding the trail in itself would not have been a big deal, as we actually discovered some nice riding roads in the Lake Youngs area. Trying to orient myself by looking at my tiny hand drawn map sketch while riding? Well, that was my true FUBAR.

Somehow I got myself turned around (more likely I had the map turned around), and we headed the wrong direction on Petrovitsky. I have all of the many routes we use on the HOWC in my head, and I only brought a map because I had never been on 224th. A lot of good that did! Ultimately, I got myself oriented and the group back on track, and the reality was that it was actually a good route, one that I will use again on the ride.

The ride was also unusual in that for what seemed like 60+ miles of the 77.5 we did, the group was fragmented into little groups. While sometimes the HOWC in the summer flows with the rhythm of a fine symphony, today we experienced more like the staccato burst of a machine gun. The ride is advertised as Super Strenuous in the summer, and those who have been on a typical summer ride have a pretty good idea as to what that entails. We need two key ingredients to pull it off: first, we need a strong group of 4-6 (unless Chris Ragsdale shows up), to share the work and lay down the pace-making. Then we need the rest of the gang to be capable of hanging on to the wheels. On a good day, I am one of the pacemakers. On a bad day, I am one of the wheel suckers. Forget about the climbs, we can wait around a little bit and re-group at the top. What I am talking about are the roads in between the climbs.

Having to make a few U-turns to retrace our route didn’t help, but we really didn’t have a very cohesive group today. Despite not riding as hard as we usually do, after we left Issaquah, about 2/3 of the group was off the back right from the get go. Our front group was slowly rolling away from stops, etc., but in my little mirror I would see the group split almost immediately every single time. If it would have happened early in the ride, I could have easily addressed it, but by the time we were in the MON (middle of nowhere), I couldn’t just let people get lost (even more than we were). That’s just not what we do on the HOWC. If I had it to do over again, I would have called a stop on May Valley before we headed south, given anyone who wanted to an opportunity to cut loose, and directions back to the ride start if required. At that point, anyone who elected to continue with the group would be responsible for staying with the group.

Don’t get me wrong, we had people digging deep and doing their best. You certainly can’t discount that, and the way to get faster is to ride faster with stronger riders. But we also had a group (including myself) who came out to ride hard with as few interruptions as possible. We never really got into full hammer mode, as we were aware that the harder we rode, the longer we would wait.

It wasn’t one of the smoothest HOWC’s on record, but we still had a good ride. I apologize for being a gorilla in the mist and getting us lost, and I apologize for not keeping the ride focused and rolling along like it normally does.

It just goes to show that even after six years of trying to run a really consistent hard group ride, I still have things to improve upon. Some lessons were learned today, and I’ll do my best to keep them in mind as I try to make the HOWC show as fun and safe as possible.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Fukeneh, Tom and Tracy go to Canada

What do Australia and Canada have in common? Both countries have a large land mass with a relatively low population. Could this be the main reason why the inhabitants of Australia and Canada are so incredibly friendly and outgoing, especially with strangers? It seems that these countries are also amongst the very few in the world where people seem to like, or at least tolerate, Americans.

Back in June 2003, I started a cycling trip in Whistler, BC that ultimately took me across BC to Jasper and Banff, and then back to Washington via Kootenay Provincial Park and northwest Idaho. I’ve been to Whistler several times, but had never spent enough time there to really scope it out. Tracy and I spent seven nights at the Whistler Westin in July, hiking, cycling, and hanging out.

Whistler is an incredibly cosmopolitan place. We have never been around so many friendly Australians, except in Australia itself. Combine Australians and Canadians with a strong representation from Europe and what you get is a recipe for a great party. The town reminded us of Chamonix, France except for the fact that about 50% of the Whistler population was speaking some form of English.

Summertime Whistler has a very young median age. It was great to be in a community where the norm was closer to a thin athletic body than a morbidly obese one. Oddly enough, once we were in BC, we didn’t see one Washington license plate. It was still easy to spot the occasional American in the crowd, but they were not likely from Seattle. Tracy and I are pretty fit and thin, and we felt like we meshed better with the young Whistler crowd vs. the typical American crowd, at least size-wise.

Economists talk about supply side and demand side. The demand side for calorie consumption is pretty high in a town with all of the sports and recreation opportunities that Whistler provides. In Canada, as with most of the rest of the world, the supply side is addressed as well. Restaurant potion size is under control, and there doesn’t seem to be quantity size based competition for the consumer food dollar. Smaller portions=smaller people. Here we were, pretty close to our home in Seattle, and for us it was very easy to imagine that we were in Europe or perhaps New Zealand, given the similar terrain.

Whoa, let me get on topic before I digress even further; after all this is supposed to be a blog about bicycling.

Mountain bikes (especially “downhill” bikes) are literally everywhere in Whistler, and this might be a turnoff for some people. Supposedly there is a $2000 fine for riding a bike through the main village, but if so, there must be a lot of wealthy riders in Whistler, as they ignored the law. Other than resort skiing, I have never understood the fascination of going downhill, certainly not without the fun of earning the descent with a great climb. The up has always been more important than the down for me.

Just 19 miles north of Whistler is the small and laid back town of Pemberton. Pemberton would be an excellent base camp for road cycling and fantastic hiking, if the glitz (and higher cost) of Whistler is not that interesting to you. The most notable ride is up Cayoosh Pass, a solid HC climb, and harder than anything in Washington State. You could make the argument that Hurricane Ridge is harder since it is longer, but Cayoosh is much steeper. It feels like a big climb in Europe.

As a matter of fact, Cayoosh Pass from the south is quite comparable to Alpe d’Huez. Consider the stats:

Alpe d’Huez: 8.6 miles in length at 7.9% average grade for a vertical rise of 3700’—first two miles at 9.7%

Cayoosh Pass: 8.4 miles in length at 7.9% average grade for a vertical rise of 3500’—first two miles at 10.25%

I have climbed both, and the biggest difference is that an average of 1000 cyclists ascend Alpe d’Huez on a summer day. On Cayoosh, hardly a car went by, and I was the only bicycle.
With Pemberton lying at 650’ elevation, and the surrounding peaks reaching up to 9500’, there is a sense of a spectacular vertical relief difference. The mountains surrounding Pemberton (and Whistler) are huge, heavily glaciated, and stunningly beautiful. There are some flat valley rides, as well as an easy climb over Pemberton Pass to the tiny town of D’Arcy. Tracy drove up and met me at the top of Cayoosh, and we hiked up to the Upper Joffre Lake, which lies in a spectacular cirque ringed by massive glaciers.

Road cycling in Whistler itself is mostly about the excellent system of bike and pedestrian paths. We walked and rode these paths to get to the various lakes scattered around the Whistler valley. As long as you aren’t in a hurry, it’s not a problem to deal with the bikes, kids, and unleashed dogs, but serious cycling it is not.

Just as in Seattle, Whistler was experiencing a record heat wave. On the bike it wasn’t a problem, as I started early, and I like the heat anyway. Around town, the heat was made more tolerable with a few ice cream cones, and I must admit that we chose a restaurant one night simply based on the fact that it was air conditioned. There were a few nights when the heat was cut by intermittent showers...the precursor to the area's terrible slew of wildfires. What it all comes down to is that Whistler (or Pemberton) is a great place for a summer outdoors based holiday. Other than the horrendous traffic through Vancouver and the return border crossing, it’s pretty close to perfect.