Monday, April 28, 2014

Driving in the Rain

I am still shocked by the inability of people in this city to drive in the rain. Seattle is known for being the rainiest city in the country. (It isn't actually. For most inches of rain in the country try along the Gulf of Mexico. Mobile Alabama seems to have the top prize. For the most days of rain in a year try the rust belt or Portland Oregon. But I digress...) You would think that people who live here would have learned how to drive in it. But that isn't true.

I was reminded of this last Tuesday while doing my usual Postmates shift. I rode my bike by the aftermath of two different car accidents. I saw four different people going the wrong way down a one-way street. Two at the same time. Cars running red lights and stop signs. Plus I saw more people than I could count acting in some way aggressive or stupid.

I think when it rains about 65% of people tend to slow down. I would normally think this isn't a bad idea. Relax, enjoy your drive. The problem is these people also tend to miss things like red lights and stop signs. It is as if they are so worried about not being able to see in the rain, they forget to actually think about what they are doing.

Then another 30% of drivers spend all their time trying to pass someone who is going just a bit too slow. These drivers aren't any better. They aren't thinking about what they are doing, but just on passing that guy. So you get a lot of people who roar past another car only to slam on their brakes for the red light they forgot about. 

Then there is the 5% of drivers who are just crazy. Like the rain starts falling and turns them into some sort of weird car driving maniac. I would like to explain a little story about one of these guys...

I had finished my shift and was heading home. It was late, and the rain was coming down harder than ever. I was traveling south on 5th Ave. under the monorail, in the right lane. A car pulled in behind me and shortly after began to honk. I was a bit confused about this. I get that someone might think that bikes don't have a place on the road. They are wrong, but I get it. But there were two other lanes on that street. Plus I was hitting every green light. The light goes green and I went through. I figured there was no way the guy was  honking at me, so I ignored him. But he kept honking. So I did my usual thing. I turned around, smiled real big and waved. Usually that is enough to get people to shut up. It did, sort of. Instead of honking the driver then pulled into the right turn lane, passed me, and slowed down. That happens sometimes. A driver thinks that you made them wait, so they slow down in front of you. I laughed. It was late. I was tired and wet. If the driver wanted to go slow, fine by me. Then he did something I didn't expect. He took a left turn onto Stewart. In other words, he took a left turn from the far right lane, the wrong way down a one way street. The driver almost hit the two cars going the right way on the street. All three started honking at each other, and I continued on my way.

I did make it home safe. No crashes. No flat tires even. But be safe out there. Watch out for the crazies.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Light rain & Heavy crashes

I don't think I have mentioned it yet on the blog but I have been riding as a bike courier for a company called Postmates. They are a delivery company, mostly for food. It is an interesting service. If you live in New York, San Francisco, or Seattle, check them out. Usually my job is to stop at a restaurant and pick up and order and deliver it.

So far it has generally been pretty fun. It isn't all crazy riding a bike like a madman through traffic. It pays to be fast, but it is more important to be smart. Navigation and planning are absolutely crucial to getting stuff where it need to go on time. Basically, if you are blowing through red lights to make a run, you messed up your planning. For the most part this makes it pretty safe.

Until Tuesday that is. I picked up an evening shift starting at 6:00 PM and it was dead slow. Took almost an hour before I got my first job. After that things started to pick up. Then it started to rain. I don't really mind, but it had been a couple of weeks since the last good rain. All of the oil came to the surface and make the roads slippery like ice.

And I chose to go down Denny. Remember what I said about choosing the right roads? Don't chose the steepest streets when it rains like that. I was trying to be careful though. I was trying to go slow, but it was hard on that grade. I was also trying to be cautious of objects in the road. There was a metal expansion joint for the bridge over I-5 that I didn't wan to slide out out. I did that fine, only to look up to see the car in front of me at a dead stop. I grabbed the brakes and started skidding out. I landed on my butt and slid another ten feet on the pavement. It is an odd feeling to know that you are just sliding along the road and can't do anything until you have stopped. I got up calmly, walked my bike over to the sidewalk. A girl came over and asked if I was okay. Other than some scrapes I was fine. My bike was fine too. I am glad I wasn't carrying an order at the time though.

In the end, it turned out okay. I was actually able to finish out my shift. Got another couple of orders in. But the title of this post was about crashes, plural. I crashed again going home. Who puts trolley tracks a the bottom of a steep grade? Thanks SDOT. That time my tire slid out the opposite way though and I landed on my elbow. I think I even cracked a rib or two.

Needless to say I crawled to bed that night very sore. I am hoping for less rain in the next couple of days. I am also going to avoid tracks and steep hills.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

327 Words 57 Varieties Time Trial

Well, it is another week and I have been doing more crazy stuff on bikes. This time it was a race! In the rain...

The race in question was Professor Dave's 327 Words 57 Varieties Time Trial. I went to Dave's race last year and had a great time. This year was no different. It even started at the same place, 20/20 cycles.

It was a group start. Dave was letting groups of about 8 or 10 go every five minutes. I was in the last group, which was fine by me. I even took the lead in my group pretty much right away. From there it was up to water tower at Volunteer Park. Then it was up to the top of the water tower. I am glad the steep metal stairs came at the beginning of the race. One of the rules Dave has is "don't die". If anyone dies, there won't be any prizes.

The next a stop at Dick's on Broadway for fries. But since I was in the last group, they were out of fries. I guess they didn't expect such a rush. So I lost a couple of minute waiting for a new batch of fries. When the fries arrived, I crammed half the bag of fries into my face and took off. I was racing down Broadway trailing fries as I went.

Raced up to Beacon hill. Stopped at Jefferson park. Down to Graham. Then up Graham. Several racers were pushing their bikes up the hill there. Then down Graham again. Even though the ground was wet, I felt very in control going down the steep street. Until the last ten feet that is. Coming to a stop at the bottom my back tire started going sideways. I was able to ride it out though and didn't fall. Behind me one of the other guys did just about the same thing and came sliding through the intersection.

Then it was north to Leshi. Up the hill to Dave's house. Back down to Madrona Park. Then back up to Madrona town center. It isn't a Seattle race unless you do hills, right?

All in all I was pretty happy with my time. I got checked in and hung out with everyone. The after-party is half the fun of these races.

After everyone checked in and Dave checked the times, it turns out that I came in second place! Torrey was in first place again. So that is the second race this year I have come in second to Torrey. Still, a second place finish is really good. I am quite proud of that. Plus I won a hat!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Clam Slam Adventure Ride

The last couple of years Jake and some of the .83 crew has gone out to the Washington coast for some razor clamming. It is a great excuse to get together and fool around outside for a weekend. Yet for some reason I have missed it the last two years. This year I decided to change that. Well, sort of.

One of the other .83 guys, Ben, wanted to ride out there. It is 126 miles, which sounded like something I would love. At first I thought it was going to be a one day, on paved roads. Instead it was going to be two days over forest roads. In the rain..

I met up with Ben and Fred at the ferry docks in Seattle. We sailed to Bremerton and rode out from there. It was a bit wet and riding along. The section of Highway 3 was noisy, but not too bad. But it was just a short section. After that it was a quiet highway off to Belfair. We stopped at a store for supplies and food.

From there on the trip was beautiful. The night was cool, but not cold. Most of the roads we were on were back country highways. Quiet and peaceful. Not many cars to disturb the silence. Instead we could hear the frogs, or watch the stars merge into the lights along Hood Canal.

We stopped again next to Highway 101 at an abandoned roof. I guess it used to be a shack, but there was no sign of the walls that I could see. Instead it was just a roof sitting in the gravel on the side of a highway. We ate some food and grabbed something to drink. The three of us were having a great time. Joking and laughing. Talking of past adventures. I couldn't help but think about how few other people would ever get to have an experience like this. There is no way to take a picture of a moment like that. Enjoy them when they come.

From there it was up into the mountains. A couple of miles of good paved road before everything became a steep gravel road. We stopped just before midnight to eat again. (Touring like this burns lots of calories.) Ben and Fred discussed where to camp. I wasn't familiar with the area, so I let them decide.

Eventually the plan was set to go to the Brown Creek Campground. This may not have been the best idea as it began to pour. The brief respite from the rain was over and making up for lost time. By the time we reached Brown Creek all of us were soaking wet. We set up tents under the awning of the Brown Creek signboard. It took a bit, but I was able to keep the wet off of most of my dry things. I crawled into my sleeping bag and slept fairly well inspite of the downpour.

Ben was not as lucky. He spent the night shivering in a wet sleeping bag. So he bailed out early. It was down to Fred and myself.

We took a bit more time getting ready, but eventually got on the road. Conditions hadn't improved much. The roads were still dirt. It was still raining. The first big challenge of the day was a thousand foot climb up and over a ridge. I thought the decent was worse. It was cold and I was soaked to the bone in spite of several layers of wool and a rain shell. The rain on the downhill slope had turned to sleet. It was a chilly ride to the bottom. When Fred and I got there, it was only to do it again. We had to climb up and over another ridge about the same height. It hailed on us going down the back side. That part was an exquisite misery and I had only myself to blame.

We stopped for lunch at the Wynoochee dam. There is a little gazebo overlooking the dam that would get us out of the rain. Fred and I stood around shivering and cramming food into our faces. I wasn't sure if we were using up calories more for cycling or took keep from freezing to death. Just before we left I stepped in to the bathroom next to the gazebo. I was only inside for a couple of seconds before turning around. I asked Fred "Why are we being idiots and not standing inside the heated bathroom?" Fred rushed over and also noticed a hand dryer on the wall. We had that thing running for the next five minutes straight.

The next 20 miles or so were pretty good. The rain was petering out. For the first half the roads were still dirt, but mostly flat. The second half was paved and we could cruise along the rolling landscape pretty well.

We crossed over 101 again and headed off into some forestry land. Half a mile in we met the first obstacle. It looked like the road just ended at a river. Almost. On closer inspection we found a raft of logs had been tied up there with steel cable. It was now grown over with grass and trees. You couldn't get a car over it, but a couple of bikes weren't a big deal. Onward from that point it was a maze of logging roads. They were usually well marked, but not always. There was one other problem. The roads listed on the map were exactly the same as the ones that actually existed.

The road we were supposed to be on kept getting worse and worse. Eventually, it was became overgrown with trees and then stopped all togehter. A look at the map suggested we weren't on the right road, and headed back down to find it. It turns out that one didn't fair much better. Two miles short of what the map said the road just ended. Actually, the road became a creek that continues in the open for a bit before being swallowed by the forest. We could have continued looking for another route, but there was no guarantee that the map would be any more accurate with those road. We knew we weren't far and on occasion could hear cars driving along the road.

So Fred and I ended up bushwhacking through the forest and swamp for about a mile. I was generally leading the way with Fred looking on GPS to make sure we were heading the right way. Dragging my expedition bike through deer trails wasn't easy. On a few occasions I came to a clearing that I thought would be the main road. Instead, these were just large puddles. At least trudging through six inches of water was easier. My legs were wrecked with scraps from bushes and twigs. Twice I found an old gravel road bed. Sure, overgrown with trees, but clear enough I could even ride for a bit. Each time I would think it had to lead to the main road. But both times, I was disappointed. The road would just die out in the forest without connecting to anything. Around 7:00 PM I finally found the road. I can't tell you how relieved I was to see it.

Once we had found the paved road, it was a pretty easy ride to Pacific Beach. Fred let me draft off of him most of the way in, so the miles flew by. We ended up at the campsite just after sunset. Some of the folks there were just starting to get worried. But we made it, and shortly started to eat all of the food. Fred and I spent about half an hour eating everything left out on the table. The rest of the evening was spent getting warm around a fire on the beach.

In spite of the hardships I had a great time. Or, maybe it is because of them. Food tastes better when you are starving. The fire is warmer. Good friends more important. There is also something to be said about being outside and enjoying the wild places. I was traveling areas I had never been to and never knew existed. It is an experience I don't have too often these days.  I look forward to the next trip.