Friday, June 19, 2015

Canyon Lake Trip

Dates: June 6th & 7th, 2015
Distance: 76.5 miles & 74.5 miles
Song of the Day: I Don't Want to Live There - The Lonely Forest

My friend Torrey invited me to go out bike camping over the weekend. The destination was to an abandoned camp site out on forest service land. Or maybe it was just an abandoned picnic table. The reports weren't very clear. But we did know there was a lake out there somewhere. Seemed as good a destination as any.

I met Torrey up in the U-district. From there we took the Burke out of town. I have sort of a love/hate relationship with the BGT. It is a flat train with few crossings. It also goes for a long way and connects Ballard with the trails on the north end of Lake Washington. This also makes it very popular. So on a Saturday morning you spend a lot of time avoiding runners, joggers, dog walkers, and all sorts of people. It isn't that I mind other people getting out to enjoy the day, just that it is a bit more stressful.

In Woodinville we left the the comfort of the trail and headed north on the highway. In many ways I liked this better. Sure there were fast moving noisy cars, but there was also a wide shoulder. Torrey and I could just cruise down the road. And we did. The two of us made great time into Snohomish. From there we took the Centennial trail up to Granite Falls. Stopped to supply for the night.

Out of Granite Falls we took the Mountain Loop Highway. That wasn't as good. Often there was no shoulder. Or it would come and go. But we were starting to get really out there so traffic was usually pretty light. Still, it was nice to get off the highway and turn onto Green Mountain road.

I will also caution my dear readers out there to avoid any road with the word "mountain" in the name. This road was steep and steeper. At least it was paved. When we crossed into National Forest land the asphalt disappeared, but the road wasn't quite as steep. It wasn't very well marked either. Usually the forest roads have something to tell you which one you are on. Not these. We took a couple of guess and got a couple of guesses wrong.

Eventually we did find the right road. It had been closed to car traffic, and it was apparent why. There were a couple of really nasty washouts on it. When the road wasn't getting washed out it was often unridable, either due to trees down on the road or to being so steep.

Torrey and I got to the top of the ridge and one section of the road ended in what at one time must have been a parking lot. Everything from there on out had not been a road for a very long time. Clearly it had been at one point but it was not an ex-road. In areas where the path slumped down the ravine I could see in the cracks a well laid road bed. There were sections that were even ridable. Mostly it was overgrown though. Lots of tree falls. Lots of culverts that had failed and been washed away. There was one point where the footbridge across a small stream had collapsed. That was disconcerting.

Still the views from the ridge were gorgeous. It was wild to think about how far out of the city we had come without going that far. We were out of cellphone range. The only evidence of human effort out here was the former road we were using. This is one of the big reasons I live in Seattle. You don't have to go very far to find something wild.

After two miles we got to the fork. I had left the navigation up to Torrey. He said we should go right, and we did. The path at this point was almost non-existent. We were bushwhacking through trees and bushes. It was like the Clam Slam adventure I did a few years back. Just shouldering the bike and diving through a bush.

After a few hundred yards we decided we must have taken the wrong turn at the fork. So we went back and took the left fork. It wasn't any better. We went down about as far and didn't see the lake. By that point the sun had set and we really needed to set up camp. We found a nice mossy patch of old road bed and pitched our tents there. Torrey and I ate a bit of food and chatted as the stars bloomed overhead.

The next morning we got up and packed our stuff. The bushwhack out to the real road wasn't any better this time around. At least we knew what we were doing. Things got faster back on the Forest Service road. Although Torrey had a flat. I had some food while he fixed that. Then right as we were ready to leave, I noticed my tire was flat. Crap. So he had some stuff to eat while I fixed my flat.

It was a fairly easy cruise back into Seattle. I left Torrey in Woodinville. On the way home I heard some other friends were swimming at T-docks. So even though I never did see Canyon Lake I did at least get some swimming in.


Thursday, May 28, 2015

West Side Invite 2015

Date: May 24th, 2015
Distance: 41 miles
Song of the Day: Gojira - Bottlenose Koffins

It has been in the works for a while, but the West Side Invite was in Seattle for 2015. This is like NACCC or CMWC, but for people from the west coast. Then again, it isn't like people were going to be turned away. I was really excited to see Smokin' Joe from Australia there. Allan from Glasgow was also down. (But he is living in Vancouver B.C. now, so that is a bit easier trip.)

I only just got back into town the day before the main race. I went and helped out with the Out-of-Towner's race. Then rode around with those guys most of the evening. Saw Joe again. He was joking with me on about how he was going to come in first in the main race and I could follow him to second place. Fun times, but we would see how everything went the next day.

I arrived right at noon on Sunday for the race briefing. Allan lent me a copy of the race rules. I am glad that I had a chance to read them. This was one of the most complicated races I had ever seen. There was a required manifest with four sections. Each section had to be completed before the next one could be started. A second manifest with rush jobs and long haul jobs. Then after 90 minutes racers could pick up a third manifest for short jobs. This was also the longest race I had ever seen. It was three hours and thirty three minutes long. Unlike NACCC or CMWC, this wouldn't be on a closed course. It would be a race through traffic, pedestrians, and lights. And for once, it started right on time at 1:00 PM.

I thought I was doing pretty good at the beginning. I was racing right and generally making good choices. Well, except I went to Kerry park one more time than I needed to. Oh well. But I did a decent job of conserving elevation. I rode both the Aurora bridge to Wallingford, and the I-5 bridge back to capitol hill. (It may sound weird, but Aurora is actually worse.) From then on I was just hitting stops and trying to race through the required manifest. Most of the stops were in the downtown area. That didn't make them easy though. Downtown has lots of hills in it. I did Back Alley Bikes in Pioneer Square to 6th and Seneca a half dozen times. Even getting the required manifest was tough. I only completed that stuff with 3 minutes to spare.

By the end of the race, I was worked. I had a little food and took a nap on the ground for about half an hour. That evening everyone re-grouped at Mobius in SoDo. The part started off pretty chill. People mostly relaxing and recovering. We had an open forum to discuss the location of the next West Side invite, and also anything else messengers might have to discuss. (There is a race in Vancouver at the end of June...)

Then the part kicked off with Fred's band playing. They were really cool. Very fun to watch. Then really got jumping with Bottlenose Koffins. Like literally jumping. With all the shirtless dudes slamming around I thought the band was going to get wrecked. The BNK guys seemed to take it in stride and played on. As long as their stuff wasn't smashed I think they enjoyed the energy of the crowd.

After that it was award ceremony time. Allan won the Out-of-Towner's race on Saturday. So that was rad. Smokin' Joe came in third for the main race, that was also cool. I was shocked to come in 2nd place. Frankly I didn't believe I had done that well and almost didn't believe they were calling my name. I was really happy about it. I even won a brand new Dank bag. How cool is that?

Smokin' Joe and I
Remember how Joe was talking about winning the race the night before? Well after the awards he was giving me crap about how I was supposed to have let him win. I shot back with the fact that I had come in second like he said. It wasn't my fault he didn't win. We both had a good laugh about that. Joe, good to hang out with you again man.

I would also like to thank Fred, Face, and everyone else for putting this on. It was such a great time. The race was fantastic. The toughest race I have yet done, but I enjoyed every minute of it. Then a great party and good times were had. Well done.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Ben Country X

Date: May 9th & 10th, 2015
Distance: 160 miles (over two days)
Song of the Day: The Boys are Back in Town - Thin Lizzy

Well, it is time once again for Ben's annual birthday ride. Full of the same kind of joy and shenanigans as always. This year we had 63 riders and a few more in support cars. It is so fun to be ridding around in such a big group and having fun on bikes.

Like last year the route headed west onto the Olympic Peninsula. That meant a ferry ride to Bainbridge island. I have crossed the island a few times on a bike. We must have had a good tail wind because that was the easiest/fastest I think I have ever done it. What fun.

From there the group headed north and crossed the Hood Canal bridge. Then a few back roads, finally onto some gravel forest roads. I stopped to wait for one of the guys to fix a flat. So there were four of us who were left behind. I had to use my tracking skills to figure out where the group went. Fortunately the gravel roads showed the bike tracks pretty well. We met up with everyone at the Quilcene.

After that it was a big climb and a decent south along the 101. We took a right onto the Doeswallups road, and stayed on that until it turned into gravel and then vanished into the river. Ben is good at finding washed out roads where bikes can pass, but cars can't. This time though, the bike path involved a bunch of steep switchbacks. I can't say that I minded too much, but I know there were a number of other people who at the end of a long day weren't feeling it. But everyone made it, and there weren't really any complaints.

Plus the camp site was great. Big enough for us to spread out, which is important when you have 70 people. It was also right along the river. As soon as I was done hauling gear around, I went for a dip. Cold but refreshing. The evening had the usual camp craziness. Three different fires and a bunch of goofing off.

The next day I was the last one up. Everyone else had already packed up. For a second I almost wondered if I had dreamed the whole thing. But Mike, Kara, Ross, and Sweeny were waiting for me. We rode back into town and got a bit of food. After bunch the group headed south along Hood Canal. Kara, Ross, and Sweeny went off to spend one more night at a cabin in that area. Mike and I headed for Seattle. I split off from him at Belfair to bust to Southworth. That road was longer and steeper than I expected. In total I did 88 miles on the day. Still it was a lot of fun. Great weekend all.


Thursday, April 30, 2015


Well, I finally got to ride my bike in Singapore. (You might remember my last trip down there. Okay, you probably don't remember that.) It was actually not as bad as I was expecting. Their bike infrastructure is still basically non-existent. It seems like when Singapore became independent 50 years ago, the government seems to have made a point of being modern. Looking to America for ideas, this meant clearing the roads for cars. So the few bike paths through the city are hidden away in parks and tucked away from the cars. That isn't for me.

The strange thing is that I felt quite comfortable riding on the roads. I am used to riding fast and tangling with traffic. While there really weren't bike lanes or cycle tracks, the main roads generally have two or three lanes. I could usually ride in the center of the right lane and not be bothered at all. Sure, I got honked at a few times, but again I am used to that.What I didn't expect was Singapore to be so big. I hadn't realized that it is about 30 miles across. I never did get the scale of it right. I kept thinking for things to be much closer than they were.

I also heard from several residents about something else. Something they called "night cycling". This would be a group of friends getting together to ride their bikes in the cooler weather after dark and when traffic congestion had died down. At dinner one evening I even saw a group of about a dozen people riding around. It reminded me of Point 83.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Satun to Penang

Date: April 19th, 2015
Distance: 152 miles
Song of the Day: Never Go Easy - Lost Lander

I got up early again, trying to get in as many miles as I could before the heat set in. I knew it was going to be a tough ride. This was the last day of my mini-tour of Thailand and Malaysia. I had arranged for a bus to take me from Penang to Singapore. (That is where my flight home is from.) I was hoping to get into Penang before dark and maybe get a chance to see the city.

The first goal was just getting out of Thailand. The morning was cool, by Thailand standards. Compared with the afternoon before it was quite pleasant. Gone were the sore muscles and bones of the day before. I was fresh and everything was going well. The road was even fairly flat with no wind. I was off in a crazy place doing something amazing.

Things started to get a bit more hilly as I crossed the border in to Malaysia. I love crossing borders on a bike. There really isn't anything like crossing into a new country under your own power. Knowing that you got yourself there. I guess it feels like really earning that stamp in your passport. The checkpoint itself was fairly routine. Maybe that is another thing I like. When you bicycle across a border they don't ask too many questions.

Changing countries didn't make the landscape less awesome. I tried to take pictures of it, but that can't truly express how gorgeous it all was. The little details that you pick out. The sounds. The smells. The heat. This world is so big and so amazing I wish there was a better way to share experiences like this. The only thing I have come up with so far is to be aware of being in that place and enjoy every moment of it.

After the border the road got really steep really fast. I had seen it on the map the
day before. It looked like someone had just drawn a squiggle on it. That is never a good sign. On a two dimensional map that is a way to express how a road changes elevation. And change it did. Even in the reasonably cool morning, I was overheating. I had to take a break three times on the way up. Then again, the view from the top was well worth it. The decent on the other side was even better. Steep, with tight corners. Even with my bag on the front it was awesome. I hit 42 miles an hour going down that thing. Maryhill Loops, eat your heart out.

That was the last of the really interesting terrain though. The rest of the day would be flat. And hot. Then hotter. Then even hotter. The afternoon became clear blue, with a few clouds hiding out by the horizon. It was over 100° in the shade, and there wasn't much of that. I know I have biked in hotter weather, but at least that was dry heat. This was a wet heat where sweating didn't do much. There were parts where I couldn't make more than five miles without stopping. I went through 11 liters of water. Most of that was with ice in it. It was apparently a Malaysian holiday, so that meant most of the stores were closed. Fortuneatly most of the little restaurants and other milkshake shops were open. Basically all of them had ice. I would stop and top off with more ice and water. Then I would go for about 20 minutes and have to stop because I was overheated. It really was miserable going. I can't say that I enjoyed it that much. Somehow I managed to keep pushing myself.

About an hour before sunset, the sky clouded up. It didn't cool things off that much, but at least I was out of the sun. A thunderstorm rolled over and it became so dark I though the sun had already set. The rain at least did finally cool things off. When the rain stopped I got a bit of a tailwind into Butterworth. I was cranking as hard as I could to get there before dark. I didn't quite make it, and by the time the sun set (for real) it was raining again.

In Butterworth I caught the ferry for Penang. I was on with some cars and about 50 other locals on motorcycles. I wonder what they thought about the weird guy on the bicycle. I could see the city in front of me, sparkling in the darkness. I thought it was going to be some backwards place. Penang looked to me like any modern western city. I thought I had an hour to play around the island. Maybe get some food. Well, it turns out there is an hour time difference between Thailand and Malaysia. So instead of getting to enjoy the city I had to race off to the bus station. I got there just in time to get my bus. Wet, tired, smelly, and sore.

Bar none, this was the hardest day of my life. I can't think of any other time where I have pushed myself so hard for so long. One of my friends was asking me why I do this stuff. I usually say because I enjoy it. But I have to admit the middle of the day was just grueling and miserable. It isn't that I am into masochism. I don't enjoy making myself suffer. I have noticed that I am able to endure hardships that most others can't. That isn't meant as an egotistical brag. That is just a recognition of my character. Since I can, I try to push myself as far as I can go. George Mallory was quoted as saying he wanted to climb Everest "because it's there". I think there is something in us, some of us at least, that wants to see what our limits are. To take on the big challenges and see what happens when the rubber meets the road. At least this way, I get to see a few more back roads I never planned on going to.

I also want to thank all the people who helped me out along the way. I know they will never see this. Most don't even speak the same language. All the same, they were there with some ice or some water. Truly, that was saving my life. It is amazing to travel and see the world is filled with great people. People who look at some crazy fool and do their best to help. To all those people out there, thank you.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Sikao to Satun

Date: April 18th, 2015
Distance: 121 miles
Song of the Day: It's Real – Wild Ones

I actually did get up early for this ride. I knew it was going to be pretty long day so I was out the door by 7:30. I did take it pretty slow though. Stopping to take some pictures and get some food. I wasn't in much of a rush. Plus there were a head wind that I wasn't happy about.

After leaving the beach the scenery got pretty boring. Nice green forests, but flat and tedious. By mid-morning that had changed. I was riding through rubber plantations. I am not used to seeing trees so well organized. These were all evenly spaced in rows. Each one had a little cup hanging on it, though these were all turned over because I guess it isn't the right season to harvest. It was really neat to see.

The afternoon wore on me though. There were no clouds. No rain. I was making good time, but it was exhausting work. The heat was at least 95 degrees, and humid. Like biking in a sauna. Try it sometime and see how long you will last. I had to pull over a few times because I was getting overheated. I would get something to drink and maybe something to eat. I was happy to discover that they really do make a Thai iced tea in here. Chai yao, if you want to ask for it. I wish I had figured that out days ago.

The landscape had also changed again. I was riding through rolling hills. More jungle cliffs as well. I stopped a lot to take pictures. It was like there was something cool around every corner.

It finally did cloud up about just an hour before sunset. I could see a thunderstorm in the distance and I was worried it was going to drench me. When I made the turn to go to Satun I caught up with the tail wind again. I was cruising at above 20 miles an hour. Passing several of the motorbikes. Once again I was racing to get to my destination. This time I was watching the sun set on my right and the thunderstorm roll in on my left. Thanks to the wind I got to town just in time. By the time I booked into my hotel the storm was sending rain and lightning out over the city. Just in time.


Krabi to Sikao

Date: April 17th, 2015
Distance: 67 miles
Song of the Day: I Wish it Would Rain Down – Phil Collins

I had wanted to get up early and get riding before the day got too hot. That didn't work out so well. I was so tired from the previous day. Biking all day makes you super tired. So I slept in. Didn't really get on the road until about 10:00. I wasn't too worried, but the day was just going to be hot. My one goal was to get to the ocean in time to go swimming.

Sadly the road from Krabi was wasn't as neat as the day before. There were a couple of cool places, but mostly it was just a lot of riding in very hot weather. That kept up through most of the afternoon. Then it rained. I avoided that one by having (a second) lunch. But the next time it rained I got soaked. At least the rain cooled things off and made it bearable.

I did get to the beach town before dark. I found a place to stay and headed to the ocean. I have been swimming in the Indian ocean once before. It wasn't that great. The shore was all coral and shallow. I had to wade out for a long time to get deep enough to swim. I was hoping for something better in Thailand. It turns out, not much. The beach here was so shallow people were ferrying goods out to ships half a mile off shore. That was only waist deep. At least it wasn't rocky. It was populated by hermit crabs though. I did my best to avoid them. Eventually I did my best to swim in the knee deep water. It was almost cool and refreshing. Maybe that is why you go to one of the resort islands like Phuket or Phi Phi.