Thursday, July 28, 2011


Headed up to Mount Baker today to do four repeats from the D.O.T. shed. Each one was about 8 miles with 2,300 feet of climbing. Here I am right after number 4; I was seeing spots before my eyes.
The road is clear to the visitor center, about 3/4-mile past the upper ski lodge which is as far as they're going to clear it this year. As you can see, there's still a ton of snow. This is where the final switchbacks start and where, during the Mount Baker Hill Climb, things start getting really, really painful.
Bit the bullet yesterday and signed up for the Shasta Summit Century. I think I'll spend my taper week taking a hatchet to the hair on my legs; I need every advantage I can get.
Kinda cool. Nice idea, anyway.
Elevation profile from today's ride.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


McNeil Canyon descent in last month's Chelan Century Challenge; I'm scared and this isn't even the steep part.
With just a couple weeks to go 'til the Shasta ride that I may or may not do, I spent the last few days getting in a rather eclectic collection of climbs. Mountain biked up the Pine and Cedar Lakes Trail which is probably the steepest ridable trail around B'ham. (That I can think of anyway.) Climbs 1,360 feet in 1.7 miles; my Garmin doohickey registered grades of 36-percent in spots. (Though I don't know how accurate that is.)

Also a climbing workout of Cleator Road followed immediately by a schlep to the top of the Galby Towers (MTB); the next day was some Squalicum Mountain repeats with a foray down to Lake Samish (road bike). Between the two days, I got in eight hours of riding with about 8,000 feet of climbing. So we'll see ...

Speaking of the Tour de France, methought this one was amazing, and I'm super glad Cadel got it done. I'll make a prediction too, that Andy Schleck will never win the Tour de France. Great climber, but that's all he can do. Along with not being a good time trialists, we learned during this tour that he's not a great descender either (he's like me in the top photo) and since Alberto Contador excels at both and is highly motivated to win the next few (he's already said he'll never again do the Giro), I think Andy's climbed as high on the podium as he's ever going to get. (I'm a big Cadel fan but at 34, he's already the oldest Tour winner in the post-war era so I don't expect him to repeat.) The only way Andy wins the Tour de France is if there are no time trials, just 21 mountain stages, and Alberto Contador crashes out. (Or is serving a drug suspension.)

So ends my catechism ...

Switching gears (pun sorta intended), watching so much Tour got me thinking about our Paris trip last year and the incredible day we spent watching Fabian Cancellara destroy the field at Paris-Roubaix. So I thought I'd share a story I wrote about that experience and how it ultimately led to a broken collarbone; the story originally ran in last fall's Adventures NW. Please enjoy ...
The cobbled streets of Compiegne.

by Mike McQuaide
For as long as you can remember, you’ve been this way. You watch someone do something really cool and you get inspired. You think, I can do that! I can be just like them! Even when you probably can’t. Even when you’re probably a little too old to still be thinking this way. Even when it might not be smart or even safe to attempt what it was that so inspired you.

So there you are in the north of France at Paris-Roubaix, the most prestigious one-day bike race in the world. Held each April since 1896, it’s a 165-mile megamarathon known as the Queen of the Classics. Known also as the Hell of the North because of the 28 sectors of rough cobblestones—called pavé—that the riders have to negotiate. Big, blocky hunks of granite lain in the earth a tad sloppily to be honest; some sectors are so rough the riders say it’s as if the cobbles fell off the back of a truck and were left to lie where they landed.

And there you stand at the most famous pavé sector there is, the Arenberg Forest. (Or Trouée d'Arenberg to true aficionados, as you now consider yourself.) You and thousands of screaming, beer-filled Belgians and Flemish and French and Brits and Australians and Americans and Netherlanders and Colombians and cycling fanatics from everywhere.
Tom Boonen pulls the peloton through the Arenburg Forest.

I want me some of that! you think to yourself. I want to be just like them!

You are inspired.
And that evening, on the high-speed train back to Paris, you come across Yoann Offredo, a pro racer who’d just finished Paris-Roubaix for Française des Jeux, a French team. And your mind is boggled because here’s a professional cyclist not only riding the same train as you, but apparently—like you and your family—he doesn’t have a proper seat. Like you he’s forced to squeeze in near the luggage racks. And you talk, you and Yoann Offredo who just finished Paris-Roubaix (64th out of 71 finishers, but he finished!) like you’re two normal cyclists chatting it up at the Farmer’s Market after the Donut Ride. And outside the windows of the high-speed train, the French countryside scrolls by and eventually you see the unmistakable spire of the Eiffel Tower and you think, This is the coolest thing in the world.

Again, you are inspired.

So what you do when you get back to Bellingham is you take that second road bike of yours, the one that hasn’t been ridden much since you upgraded a couple years ago, and you turn it into your Bellingham-Roubaix bike. A bike on which, Tom Boonen-esque, you’ll power over the pavé of Bellingham. OK, if not exactly pavé, you’ll power over the hard-packed dirt and gravel trails of Bellingham’s Greenways. Heck, you figure, if the pros can survive Paris-Roubaix on those delicate bike of theirs, your beefy aluminum bike will be fine.
Fabian Cancellara on the homestretch through Roubaix.

And it is. (For a couple days.) You have a great time pedaling the flats of the Interurban, hitting 22, 24 miles-per-hour, hands on the tops of the bars just like you saw Tom Boonen do in the Trouée d'Arenberg. And you think, This is so much fun! Why doesn’t everybody do this?

Then rudely your question is answered.
You’re Bellingham-Roubaix-ing it on the trail from Boulevard Park to downtown. It’s deserted this early afternoon two-and-a-half weeks after Paris-Roubaix, and so you let it rip. You’re Fabian Cancellara making the winning move in this year’s race, a move so sudden, powerful and fast, that he was accused of riding a motorized bike. Today, Mike, that’s you. You’re hammering it, riding so hard you convince yourself that aging is a myth. That getting slower as you get older is something other people suffer from. Not you. No, Mike, not you.

But then …

… your skinny tires, the ones made for smooth paved roads not rough and tumble riding like this, hit a bump—a thimble-sized bump a hundredth the size of the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix—and your hands slip off the handlebars. You’re launched airborne like Superman, which is a problem because as far as you know, you can’t fly. So while your return to earth isn’t surprising, it’s still jarring, what with the hard crash, the sliding and tumbling over on your right shoulder, and your helmet grinding against the ground before you finally come to a halt.


Your shoulder hurts and when you trace your right collarbone with your finger you reach a point where it just disappears. Like a road that comes to an abrupt end at the edge of a cliff. Broken. You have surgery to pin the pieces back together again and two days later you get a phone call from your buddy John Clark, whom you’ve been riding and running with for the past 10 years and whom you’ve never known to suffer even the slightest injury. He’s calling to tell you that he’s sitting in a ditch waiting for his wife to come pick him up because he just flipped over his handlebars and broke his collarbone. W, T, you-know-what?!

Neither of you are allowed to run or ride for far too many weeks than seems fair and so you go on long walks together. You feel like patients from a mental institution out for your daily exercise. Life, as you know it, has been flipped upside down. How, you wonder, did you go from being Fabulous Fabian Cancellara to someone whose main exertion is a pleasant bayside walk?
 You’re one of those annoying types who search for some reason or meaning to attach to things like this, as if your inconvenient little collarbone break has some major role in the order of the universe. Nah. Prolly not. You got carried away and fell off your bike. The law of averages caught up to you. Forty-plus years of riding, probably 40-plus years of getting inspired and carried away, yet this is the first time you’ve broken a bone. Actually, that’s pretty good. You hope you learned something. Maybe, that it’s good to be inspired—fired up, even—by the actions of others. But if your inspiration happens to be a professional athlete two decades younger than you, it’s probably not best to go out and pretend that you’re him.

Or at least wear shoulder pads next time.

John Clark and I.

And when that distinctive French siren heralds the riders’ arrival, and big Tom Boonen wearing the black, yellow, and red of Belgium’s champion, powers past—like a locomotive pulling a train of the best cyclists in the world— you, like the thousands of the beer-fueled fanatics around you, erupt in absolute cycle-craziness. An arm’s-length away, the riders’ bikes rattle and shake over the rough and tumble pavé, like they’re being pedaled down the middle of the railroad tracks on that last annoying section of the Ski to Sea mountain bike course. On their sleek, elegant, featherweight road bikes—bikes not at all built to take this kind of pounding—these pros pedal past with such speed, power and grace that the rush of wind makes your eyes blink.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


For someone who's only possibly maybe considering riding the Mount Shasta Summit Century, I've sure been putting in a lot of upward-tilting riding behavior lately. Monday was four times up Squalicum Mountain Road with two of the repeats starting at Northshore Drive and Academy Road (15-percent grade for the first few hundred yards). Academy to Toad Lake to Squalicum Mountain is a sustained 3-mile climb that gains just about a thousand feet.

Yesterday was fat-tire climbing Cleator Road and Burnout Road with a side exploration for what seems to be the sadly departed (and ironically named) So Easy trail. Depending on where you start, the roads are good for 40- and 30-some minutes of sustained climbing. Not exactly sure, for unfortunately my beloved Garmin 500 do-hickey kinda went haywire on me. I got caught in a foggy downpour (as the above pic sorta attests) but I hope-slash-can't imagine that that was the cause of my Garmin's current spot of bother. It's certainly not the first time it's gotten wet.
Looking across the Land of the Lost toward Lake Samish and Lookout Mountain (in clouds).
Re: So Easy, known as Ender and Rockyard on Darrell Sofield's terrific Chuckanut Mountains map, I did not --as Bono sings on one of the biggest hits on "The Joshua Tree"--find what I was looking for. Or rather, I didn't find a ridable trail, just sort of a messy (ish) path (ish) that kinda continued but nothing that beckoned, This is the way! Admittedly, I went only a hundred yards or so, but carrying a mountain bike through the above tangle isn't a good idea especially when you're by yourself. So I headed north down the new logging roads across the open clear-cut (incredible views) and met up with the Dictionary Trail (called Overlander on Solfield's map) and back down toward Fragrance Lake Road and the Interurban. Before I did I snapped off a few pics.
Past the clearcut one can see Bellingham Bay and the lowland part of Lummi Island; Chuckanut Mountain (Chinscraper side) is in the foreground. The curving dirt road leads to the Dictionary trail.

Moving a few degrees to the right (east), that's Lost Lake between Chuckanut Mountain and the big ridge one needs to climb to get to the Pine and Cedar Lakes side of the world. 

On the way out, I stopped at Clayton Beach at the south end of Larrabee State Park. (Must remember not to tilt my head when taking self-photos; it don't look butch. And the upside-down glasses behavior looks dodgy as well.)
In other biking news, last Sunday Bake and I headed up to Galby for the first time in perhaps a year. Had a great time. The top Pig and then Atomic Dog (which I kept mixing up with Unemployment Line and refrerring to as Unemployment Dog) which he found great fun!

 Oh, and check out my latest story about 5 Roads to Nowhere in today's Seattle Times.   

Friday, July 08, 2011


Samish Island, Mount Erie and Samish Bay from about the 1,000-foot level of Burnout Rd.
I wanted to get in more climbing so 24 hours after my Mount Baker repeats, I pulled out the 29er and headed up Cleator Road for a sustained 45-minute climb. Followed that up with Burnout Road, off the south side of Fragrance Lake Road. Along with probably the best unobstructed water views (see above and below) around, it's got four crazy-steep pitches that thankfully, aren't super long.

Burnout Road tops out at about 1,800 feet or so and in the old days, before last fall's logging, you could find the So Easy Trail that dropped down beyond Lost Lake, pass behind Samish Lake and then climb up out of the basin to Pine and Cedar Lakes. And maybe you still can, I just need to take the time and make the effort to find it. Today, I wanted to see if I could connect the Burnout Road with the Dictionary Trail and thus Lost Lake. And as I found out you can. Yipee!
At the top of Burnout--which, like Cleator, tops out at about 1,800 feet--just head through the clearing, look north toward B'ham and Chuckanut Mountain and follow the above road to that point right there. Just before you reach the end, there's a semblance of a trail off to the right. Pop down there and in two or three overgrown trail-riding moments, you'll be at the Dictionary. Very cool. This should make for some epically fun, scenic-as-heck loops.

In all, I got in 31 miles with 3,700 feet of elevation gain. Not sure how mountain bike miles and climbing feet translate to road-riding units. I'd think it'd count for more since my mountain bike is much heavier than my road bike and mountain climbs sometimes reach pitches of 25 to 30 percent. Whatevuh--I've got close to 11,000 feet of climbing in two days. (Which is still 5,000 feet less than the Mount Shasta Summit Century.)

Thursday, July 07, 2011


Second time up.
I'm getting ever closer to maybe, possibly, I just might consider thinking about doing next month's Mount Shasta Summit Century , the idea of which sorta scares me half-to-death while also intriguing the heck out of me. It's 140 miles long, climbs 16,000 feet, most of that up four mega climbs. A 3,800-footer, a 3,300-footer, a (mere) 2,200-footer and a (gulp) 4,200-footer.
Bizarre, weird dirty sun cups. Like a snowfield of mini-pyramids.
For those of you who know what we've got here in B'ham and Whatcom County, the road to Artist Point (when it's open all the way) climbs just about 3,000 feet. According to my calculations and analysis that means that three of Shasta's four climbs are bigger than the Baker climb. One of them significantly bigger. So that means I gotta do VOLUME! VOLUME! VOLUME! (I mean, if I'm gonna consider possibly thinking about maybe signing up for it 'n all ...)

So that's what I did today. Three rides from the D.O.T. shed at the bottom of the hill to just past the upper Heather Meadows ski lodge and the Road Closed sign seen in the top pic. It's about an 8-mile climb that gains 2,200 feet. I rode it three times which means ... I was still about 10,000 feet shy of the Shasta ride. (Have I made it clear that I'm only thinking about signing up for it?)

I do love this ride. Even on days like this when the weather was getting progressively worse. Each time up I found myself pulling up the arm warmers and zipping my shirt all the way up lower and lower on the mountain. By the last time up, I climbed the last couple miles in a whiteout fog which soon became spritzing showers. In the past week or so, summer has finally come to Bellingham but it was definitely chilly up at 4,200 feet. An typical March day in the Whatcom lowlands, it was. I can't say that descending in rainy conditions was the funnest thing I'd ever done but soon enough I was lower down on the mountain where it hadn't yet begun to rain.  

Foggy rainish with hardly any visibility.
Climbwise, I felt pretty darn good. Probably because I knew I was in it for the long haul and never once turned the pedals in anger, as it were. The repeats were for climbing endurance, not speed. Heartrate was pretty darn pedestrian. Nearing the D.O.T. shed on my last trip down, I realized I'd end up with about 51 miles and 6,700 feet of climbing. So I turned around and climbed back up for another mile to get over 7,000 feet of climbing. That felt like something. An accomplishment with a nice round number. That's still 9,000 feet less than the Shasta ride ...
Area man holding up three fingers all Europe-style.

Friday, July 01, 2011


Story in the B'ham Herald yesterday says that there's so much snow at Artist Point (and on the last few miles of road leading up to it) that they're not even going to attempt to plow it this year. (Read it here.) This adds a whole new twist to September's Mount Baker Hill Climb (Ride 542). Perhaps turn it into a multi-sport event: road biking to Austin Pass, then snowshoeing for the last 2 miles and 600 feet of climbing to Artist Point. And as long as you've got the snowshoes on, might as well make it a race to the top of Table Mountain. 

Seriously, this has got to be a bummer for RD Charlie Heggem. Chances are though, he'll come up with something. Stay tuned ...