Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Ever since my Seattle Times story of a month ago when I featured five killer climbs of Washington State, I've been itching to head down Ellensburg way to try out something called Lion Rock, also referred to as Table Mountain. A couple readers (Justin Yeager and Christopher Fast) had alerted me to it. Well, my itch has been scratched as yesterday I climbed the beastie. It's an amazing climb, the toughest section: a 6-mile stretch that climbs 2,600 feet. Closest thing I've ridden is McNeil Canyon near Chelan, which climbs 2,200 feet in 5 miles.
Several things make this a unique and worthwhile climb. First, it's in the middle of nowhere, about 12 miles north of Ellensburg in Wenatchee National Forest and though it's a mostly paved road (more on that in a sec), it doesn't really lead anywhere so during my ride, I came across one bicyclist, two motorcycles and two cars. Interestingly, though paved, it's only one lane. So you feel like you're riding some of those crazy skinny mountain roads featured in the Giro. And given the forested mountain setting, it has somewhat of a mountain biking feel to it too.

Second, the wind. Not sure if I was riding on a particularly breezy day--the dozens of wind farm turbine towers on the exposed hills and fields all around Ellensburg would suggest it's typical (none of which, by the way, were turning)--but I was treated to a constant 20- to 30-mile-per-hour northwest wind. Once I started climbing up the mountain and was somewhat protected by the folds of the forested hillside, it wasn't so bad. In fact, on some of the short little east-west switchbacks, I definitely felt the wind was aiding me when it was at my back. Heading west, I was in my tiniest 34-27; head east, I could shift down one, two, sometimes even three gears.
Third, the views are truly amazing. You don't top out at a viewpoint per se, but the views back south toward Kittitas Valley are pretty breathtaking.

After the aforementioned 6-mile stretch--it's just under a 9-mile climb altogether--the road sort of flattens out for about 1.5 miles before becoming a gravel road, as depicted in the two photos just above. (Really it doesn't flatten out, but the 2- and 3-percent grade feels flat by that point.) I wasn't going to chance the sleek, elegant Tarmac Pro on that surface especially since there seemed to be a chance of some rain coming in.  
View back down toward Kittitas Valley from the road to Lion Rock.
So, a shout-out of thanks to Justin and Christopher for turning me on to this killer climb.   

And, speaking of Seattle Times' stories, here's one I have in today's paper on the really cool hike to the Old Monte Cristo Townsite. Please enjoy!

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Hopped on the ferry yesterday for some painfully beautiful riding on this jewel of the San Juans. Above, is the well-known shot from the top of Mount Constitution; Bellingham there in the far corner. At 2,409 feet, Constitution is the highest point in the San Juans. She's a bear of a climb to get to the top, that's for sure. The toughest part of the 5.5-mile climb from Cascade Lake to the top being a two-and-a-quarter mile stretch that climbs 1,174 feet. That's 10 percent to you and me, folks. (Click here for my post about the Mount Constitution Hill Climb bike race from a couple years ago. Here's the race website; sometimes it's an annual event, sometimes not.)

Thing is, I'm not sure Mount Constitution is the most challenging thing about riding on Orcas.
Orcas Island and Mt. Constitution as seen from the ferry.
Orcas is a lumpy island so you're either always climbing some short crazy-steep pitch or descending the same. Not a flat spot on the island, he wrote a tad hyperbolically. I rode exactly 50 miles--ferry landing to Eastsound (via about four miles of gravel road on Dolphin Bay Road; felt like I was in the Giro D'Italia), up and down Mount Constitution, to Olga and Doe Bay, then turned around back to Eastsound and eventually the ferry landing--and climbed 5,800 feet. Take away Mount Constitution and it still would've been 4,000 feet of ups.
All that said, Orcas is a beautiful island to ride. Not a lot of cars, certainly a lot of variety, and of course just that cool island-hippy-organic-affluent-artistic-nice stuff vibe. Beautiful farms, llama lands, cool weird sculptures, Doe Bay funkiness, and all those spectacular island vistas. It's an incredible one-stop biking spot because it's also one of my favorite places to mountain bike. See here for a Seattle Times story I wrote that includes a bit about Orcas' fat-tire side.
Coming up: most likely, this Saturday's Tour de Whidbey century ride. Weather looks promising. Hope to see ya' there! 

Saturday, September 18, 2010


What a difference four months makes! Above shot was taken today after my 6-mile mountain-bike leg which followed teammate John Clark's 5.5-mile run in the Bellingham Traverse. (We were on one of the Action for Africa teams.) Below shot was taken just over four months ago shortly after Johnny Boy and I had broken our collar bones in separate incidents. (That, of course, was about six months after we had a tree fall on us when we were mountain biking but that's a whole other story.) Anyway, sure feels good to be racing together again. The Hendrix shirt, by the way, is my tribute to one of my all-time faves, who died 40 years ago today.
As for our team--which also included Pat Skaggs on road bike, Nick Carlson on trail run, and the buff and burly Rick Lingbloom on kayak (surf ski, really)--we did pretty good. We won the Masters division and finished 4th overall in just a few seconds under three hours. We were quite proud to finish 40 seconds ahead of Steve George who soloed the whole thing; in other words, it took five of us to beat him by less than a minute. (I'm quite proud to say that I did pass him on my mountain bike only to have him pass me right back and fade far into the distance ahead of me.)

The Traverse is a pretty low-key affair (not at all like the corporate machine that is Ski to Sea), and the hope seems to be that it will all just run itself. We heard many tales of runners getting lost and mountain bikers missing turns and doing only one loop when they should've done two, etc. Parts of the course were apparently sabatoged the night before. But the race doesn't start 'til 12:30 p.m. so wouldn't that give course marshalls plenty of time to ensure that things are in order? Or is that just my New Jersey-bred contrariness coming out?

(See comment below from race director Todd Elsworth; I guess it was my Jersey contrariness.)

No matter. I had fun and got to spend a great afternoon with a super group of guys. And Rick Lingbloom too.
Me, Pat, Rick (buff and burly), Nick, John.
Below photo from Jon Brunk Photo.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Titanium Cancellara shares his story with race director Roger Michel. Check out his smaller back wheel.
First up, let me state that there is epic--as in say, the 165-odd miles incredible flowy, fun and (at times) fast singletrack trails at Capitol State Forest near Olympia. And then there is EPIC--as in Scott "Titanium Cancellara" Young's performance at the first-ever Capitol Forest 50-mile mtb race that took place at said forest. Let's cut to the chase.

About five miles into the race--a terrific event that featured a LeMans start--I see Scott pulled up by the side of the trail, a forlorn look on his face. His bottom bracket is toast, he says. Damn, I say and think, but there's really nothing I can do. So on I go, shaking my head at his bad luck and all that money he spent ($130 for the race, motel, food, etc.) only to get to race for about a half-hour.

Vast 90,000-acre Capitol State Forest
As for myself, I spend the next 5-and-a-half hours having a challenging-as-hell, but crazy-fun time, keeping the leg cramps, the bonks, the start-out-too-fast monsters at bay, all the while climbing some 5,500 feet. (My GPS registered some pitches at 24 percent.) After my finish in just under 6 hours, I look for Scott figuring the poor guy's been hanging around the Mima Falls Campground, where the race started and finished, bored out of his mind. No sign of him. The race director has no record of him as a DNF so I grab a burger, find a tree to sit under (not easy, as my lower back was not being cooperative) and call the wife to tell her that everything--including my collarbone, surgically repaired four months ago--is fine. I'm in mid sentence when who do I see cross the finish line but Scott, oddly--very oddly, I might add--with a third wheel affixed to his back. It looked like it was his halo, like he was the subject from some Byzantine religious painting.
Here's what happened: At mile 5 (actually 4.87, according to my GPS), his free hub on his back wheel turned to toast, not his bottom bracket. No matter, the result was the same; he couldn't ride his bike. So he runs with it (yes, runs with it) for 7 miles to the first aid station where there's a bike mechanic. At times, he's able to jump on his bike and coast downhill, at others kinda scooter it along and was even able to keep with packs of riders if the terrain allowed, but mostly he just ran. And ran. (It should be pointed out that Scott is an extremely strong runner; he's finished top 15 in the Chuckanut 50K so if this had to happen to someone, it happened to the right guy.) 

At the aid station, they determined that his back wheel couldn't be fixed but volunteer Glen Campbell had a rear wheel he could borrow. Thing is, it was a 26-inch wheel and Scott rides a 29er. No matter, a few adjustments here and there and he's off. Turns out he likes the way the bike handles better than his straight 29er. Scott's a big dude 6-3, I believe, and he rides an extra-large 29er and sometimes has trouble powering through tight, technical turns; the 26 in the back, 29 in the front made his bike just a little more maneuverable.    
Riders awaiting the pre-race meeting
OK, so he rides the next 25 miles or so, passing people left and right, and gets to the last aid station which, it turns out on the sorta loopish out-and-back course, was also the first aid station. This time they ziptie Scott's broken wheel to his backpack (his halo) so he'll be able to take it home with him at the end of the race; he'll just leave the borrowed back wheel with the race director. Scott said that on the climbs it was fine, but on the bumpy flats and downhills, it kept knocking him on the back of his head. But he finished. And pretty well too. (Results aren't up yet.) An incredible performance and a true testament to not quitting, and of making the best of a tough situation.
Scott and I after the race.
I'm fairly new to mountain bike racing but as I found at the Indie Series races I did last year, as well as Boggs 8-Hour in Sonoma County, there's a really cool vibe among the fat-tire crowd. Certainly everyone wants to do their best, but there seems to be less of a cutthroat, judgemental, I'm-better-than-you-'cause-you-don't-know-what-the-hell-you're-doing feel than I've experienced in other sports. It seems more like just a bunch of folks who like to have fun getting dirty in the woods. (Trail running seems to be the same way.)  

Scott and I both met a bunch of great people. Among them, the below single-speeders whom we talked to before the race. (And neither of whose name I remember.) The one in the red was especially inspiring. This was his first mountain bike race ever and this course--which climbed 5,500 feet, most of that on snaking single-track not relatively wide-open fire road--was not an easy one for a single-speeder. But he finished pretty well and with a huge, I'm-on-Cloud-9 grin on his face. He told me that three years ago he weighed 390 pounds and this summer he had two goals: climb Mount Adams and finish this race. He accomplished them both. 
Lots of inspiring stories at Capitol Forest this weekend! 

Monday, September 06, 2010


Today Johnny Boy Clark, Scott "Titanium Cancellara" Young and I were able to do something we've not done together for about five months--get out for a mountain bike ride together! It was great. Even if it kinda rained. Even if it kinda hurt because I chose to ride my rigid fork single-speed up that dang steep Fragrance Lake Road. Even if they've covered much of the Interurban Trail with what seems five inches of gravel so that every pedal stroke feels like it's getting you nowhere. It was just damned good to be out widdem! (First I broke my collarbone in late April, then two weeks later John broke his and while he's been back running for a while, he's just now getting back to mountain biking.)

Above, I'm flexing my ginormous arm muscles with a sort of coy tilt to my head as John focuses on his jacket zipper and wisely ignores me. We'd just ridden up Fragrance Lake Road (which climbs 935 feet in 1.9 miles) and were about to head down around the lake and the ultra-fun Two-Dollar Trail. (Photo credit: TC.) Then it was back to B'ham via the way we came--the aforementioned heavily graveled Interurban Trail (see photo below, again thanks to TC), Arroyo and Boulevard Parks, with a stop at Woods Coffee and on home. Great ride.
I'm thinking that pretty much ever since we've been calling ourselves Team Unattacked, we've been attacked by one thing or another. (Trees, pavement, etc.) Also, we've each had titanium hardware implanted somewhere in our bodies. Scott was first when he broke his scaphoid bone and had a titanium screw stuck near his thumb; we started calling him the Titanium Cowboy because of it. But now John and I have titanium plates and screws in our shoulders so we're Titanium Cowboys too. So maybe that should be our name, the Titanium Cowboys. (Or perhaps, Titanium Idiots, which also has a nice ring to it.) 

Thursday, September 02, 2010


Hooked up with Tom MeloyDavid Longdon, Carol Noble-Potts and Mark Clausen, all from Cascade Bicycle Club's High Performance Cycling Team, for an epic Everson-to-Artist Point-with-a-detour-up-Reese Hill-and-back ride on Thursday. Why start in Everson instead of somewhere on the Mount Baker Highway? Well, the Mount Baker Highway, from B'ham to about Maple Falls, is actually pretty cruddy to ride--high-speed mega-trucks and the like, pickups with sideview mirrors that extend out on either side like airplane wings, etc. Plus, from Everson and back it's about 95 miles unless ... you add the short but nevertheless, painfully evil Reese Hill (350 feet in 0.8 miles) on the way out which makes it exactly a hunnert.

We skipped Reese Hill on the way back, basically following the Ski to Sea bike course from the D.O.T. sheds to Everson. My right leg cramped badly at mile 89 but after a few sips of Mark's mystery liquid (EPO, methamphetamine, cocaine and salt), I felt fine. Sixty-eight hundred feet of climbing in all. Super (hard) day!
Just above, that's me on the left (obsessed as I am with the Belgian national champion's jersey), Tom Meloy in the center and Mark Clausen on the right. In the top photo, Meloy leads Clausen through the first switchback on the descent from Artist Point.
On the way back to Everson, we stopped at Graham's in Glacier for Coke, maple bars (me), salty chips--anything to help power us through the last 25 miles. Above, Tom pours the nectar of the gods into Carol's water bottle. Below, Carol, Mark, Tom and David. A group of nice folks and truly great to ride with.

As for the MTB side of things, Scott "Titanium Cowboy" and I are watching the weather forcast before we pull the trigger on registering for next weekend's Capitol Forest 50-Mile mountain bike race. Looks pretty good so far, a little rain but not multi days of drenching downpours which would make it sehr unpleasant.