Monday, March 30, 2009


Here're a bunch of random photos from this past weekend's amazing 8-Hour mountain bike race in the NorCal:

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Real quick before I go to bed ... John Clark and I had a great time at the Boggs Forest 8-Hour mountain bike race this past weekend. Killer riding, killer mountain bike scene, killer weather--75 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. Our stats: John rode rode 81 miles with 11,250 feet climbing in 8 hours 19 minutes; I rode 63 miles with 8,800 feet of ups in 7 hours and 17. John took third in our age category (out of 22), I took 8th. A super great time!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


It's here, baby. Or will be Saturday. The 8-hour race in NorCal that John Clark and I have been training for all winter. Above is a shot from last year's Boggs race (; it looks dry and Eastern Washington-ish, which will be a welcome change from what we've been riding in since early December. See below with the mucho deep snow.
We're leaving B'ham around 5 p.m. on Thursday by Nissan Versa and hope to make it down below Portland before we call it a night. Friday should be about nine hours of driving, maybe a quick stop to check out the course (it's a nine-mile loop we ride over and over again for eight hours), then to our motel for some shut-eye. Saturday, we race. Can't wait!
Oh yeah, on Thursday, check out my story on getting your bike ready for spring in the Seattle Times Northwest Weekend section.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


(Here's an oldie but goodie: here's a story I wrote that first appeared in the Seattle Times about two-and-a-half years ago.)IN IDAHO'S NORTH WOODS — Usually, dark is kinda nice.
There's the comforting dark you sleep in, for instance. The kind your eyes eventually adjust to, so that even if you get up in the middle of the night with a hankering for one more fistful of Nutter Butters, you may stumble a tad, but you should be able to find your way to the cookie jar.
And then there's the not-so-comforting dark. The 1.7-mile-long-railroad-tunnel-bored-through-a-mountain-on-the-Montana-Idaho-border kind of dark. A dark that's so complete and encompassing, you feel as if you're wearing it.
A dark so black you swear you can smell it. And hear it. (Though, actually, that's the sound of water dripping down the tunnel's walls and from stalactitelike fingers along the ceiling.)
On a recent family vacation, my wife, Jen; sister, Kath; son, Baker; and I experienced a taste of the latter in the Taft Tunnel at the start of the 15-mile Route of the Hiawatha trail. It's generally regarded as one of the country's premier, middle-of-the-mountains rail trails. Whereas the John Wayne Pioneer Trail, which stretches from Rattlesnake Lake near North Bend to Vantage is certainly a wonder in its own right — and has its own 2.3-mile-long Snoqualmie Tunnel — much of that route parallels Interstate 90 with its attendant tractor trailers, SUVs and other motorized vehicles in sight much of the way. Once out of the Taft Tunnel, the Hiawatha weaves its way through the folds and ridges, mountains and creek valleys of Idaho's Bitterroot Mountains. It's nothing but trees, wildflowers, trees, rock outcrops, and trees, as far as the eye can see. Lots of trees, too.
"Look at that tapestry of grandeur," Kath said to me at one point, as we stopped and took it all in from one of the trail's seven high-trestle bridges. Often given to humorous hyperbolic irony, Kath, who lives in New Jersey, was being neither hyperbolic nor ironic now. It was a tapestry of grandeur.
"I've never seen anything like this," she said.

A grand plan
The Route of the Hiawatha, named for a famed train, the Olympian Hiawatha, follows the Milwaukee Road (the informal name for the old Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad line), which is the same line that the John Wayne Pioneer Trail follows. The Milwaukee Road, which connected Seattle with Chicago, was the last built of the transcontinental railroads, having been completed in 1909, but was the first to be electrified. This section of the route remained in use until 1980 when competing transportation options — interstate highways, air travel, etc. — led to its abandonment. The Hiawatha is one of several amazing bike trails that crisscross Northern Idaho's panhandle. The Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes, from Plummer, near the south end of Lake Coeur d'Alene, to Mullan, at the edge of the Bitterroots — not far from the Trail of the Hiawatha — is a paved 72-mile-long slice of heaven for road bikers, in-line skaters, and other nonmotorized users.

Opened a little more than two years ago, the route follows the old Union Pacific Railroad line along beautiful Lake Coeur d'Alene's shoreline, as well as the chain of lakes strung along the Coeur d'Alene River to the mountains at the state's eastern border. Interpretive signs tell the story of the area's rich silver mining history. In fact, much of the trail's asphalt lays atop the old rail bed, which was built on mine-waste rock and tailings. The 12-mile Northern Pacific Trail, which is gravel and involves some rugged climbs, connects the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes over Lookout Pass to the Route of the Hiawatha.
"Our long-term goal is to create a large loop, all on rails-to-trails, which would be Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes, to the Northern Pacific, then down to the Hiawatha, on the Milwaukee and back to the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes," says Jon Ruggles, who's president of Friends of the Coeur d'Alene Trails. "This will be over 200 miles, most of it along very scenic, river-laced routes."
Farther west, the North Idaho Centennial Trail runs for 24 miles from the Washington-Idaho border — where it connects with Washington's Spokane Centennial Trail — east to the shores of Lake Coeur d'Alene, eventually ending about six miles east of town. Following the Spokane River for much of the way, the Centennial, like the trail of the Coeur d'Alenes, is paved and offers rest areas and restrooms, as well as interpretive signage detailing the area's history.

Similar to much of the John Wayne Trail, the Centennial pretty much parallels I-90 within a couple hundred yards and less. In Washington state, the trail continues west for 37 miles.
Tunnel vision
The Route of the Hiawatha opened to hikers, bikers and wheelchair users in 1998. But it wasn't until three years later that the Taft Tunnel, named for a former townsite here, was added. Future plans are for 31 more miles of rail trail to be added on the Montana side.
Once out of the Taft, the gravel ride is slightly downhill or flat all the way to Pearson. The Taft isn't the only tunnel — there are nine in all — but most are short, a couple hundred yards at the most. Then there are the seven 200-foot-high trestle bridges, which, viewed from a distance, appear daunting. But once you're on them, the chest-high guardrails offer assurance that one is safe from taking an Evil Knievel-esque plunge.

Most bikers on the Hiawatha ride it one way — downhill, from the Taft Tunnel to Pearson — then catch a shuttle bus back to where they started on the Montana side of the Taft. (Though because the grade is a mostly gentle 2 percent, a 30-mile out-and-back roundtrip isn't out of the question.)

That's what we did. We rented bikes, helmets with high-powered headlamps, and a bike rack from the Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation Area, which operates the trail. They also run the shuttle bus.
After loading up the car — the Lookout Pass folks installed the rack and secured the bikes — we headed for the East Portal trailhead, about five miles away. The trail starts with the Taft Tunnel, which, if you're at all sketchy about riding in a damp, dark tunnel, is a glass half-full or half-empty thing. Either it's great to get it out of the way first, or it's a scary way to begin a bike ride in unfamiliar territory. Unfortunately for 7-year-old Baker, it turned out to be the latter.
He didn't like the tunnel at all, and, in fact, wouldn't ride after the first couple hundred yards. So we walked it, despite Jen and I pointing out that this only prolonged our time in the tunnel. (And allowed the perpetual 50-degree temps inside the tunnel to chill us to the bone.) Once we exited out the Idaho side, he was done. Baker was riding no more that day. (And this is an active, roller coaster-riding, soccer-playing, mucho bike-riding kid.)
Wildlife along the way
My sister and I decided to continue on. But we decided that, regardless of what lay ahead, we'd tell Jen — who had to accompany Baker back through the tunnel — that the rest of the ride was a dud, and that they weren't missing out on anything.

So we told them nothing about the deer we came upon licking the minerals off the inside walls of one of the tunnels. Or the various railroad artifacts — e.g., an abandoned cabin, stacks of old railroad ties — from the trail's days of yore.

Or about how, when you're on one of the high trestle bridges, you feel like you're hovering over the forest in a hot-air balloon, and that the limbs of the pines far below look like wedges of green that spiral 'round and 'round. And we certainly didn't tell them about the moose we saw — the first-ever moose sighting for me and my sister — from the shuttle bus on the ride back.
On that shuttle, we met the Jordache family from Los Angeles.

"It was very relaxing today, and the views from the trestles are spectacular," said Leah. She and her husband, Costin, found the Hiawatha so spectacular, in fact, that they were back for their second day in a row, pulling 8-month-old Roman in a bike trailer.
"We had a little problem with the tunnel, though, so today we drove around so we wouldn't have to ride through it again," she told us.
Gulp. We could've avoided the tunnel? I was not aware.
That's something I really won't tell my family.
Mike McQuaide is a Bellingham freelance writer who recently visited Idaho to participate in an Ironman triathlon in Coeur d'Alene. (Despite 92-degree temperatures, he finished in 13 hours and 12 minutes.) He and his family recovered by putting in many hours at Silverwood Theme Park and every waterslide park in Northern Idaho. He is the author of five guides, including "Day Hike! Central Cascades" (Sasquatch Books). Contact:

Saturday, March 07, 2009


Big training weekend just three weeks out from the Boggs IV 8-hour race down in NorCal. Yesterday, was five and a half hours up on Galbraith, broken up at the two-thirty mark by a broken chain. Back in town for a new one then right back up again for another three hours. Bonked with about 15 minutes to go. It was a good reminder that I'm probably good for four hours with Power Bars, Gatorade, etc., but after than I need real food--a sandwich, hot dog, cinammon roll, anything.

Today was another two-forty five with John Clark and Steve Vanderstaay. Great fun. A little new snow, cool temps, but thankfully no wind. Just a fun ride.