Wednesday, August 29, 2012


The recent 82-mile Winthrop-Conconully epic whetted my appetite for some more Methow riding and well, if you're gonna go big, might as well go as big as you can get: Hart's Pass Road and Slate Peak. Topping out at 7,440 feet, the gravel road is the highest road in Washington State. (The road to Sunrise in Mount Rainier National Park is the highest paved one.)
It's a much shorter excursion than the Winthrop-Conconully loop. On Sunday a.m., Brian Ecker and I (along with hopefully one or two others) will head out from Mazama and just pedal uphill for about 21 miles 'til we hit Slate Peak, climbing close to 6,000 feet along the way. Admittedly, this has the potential for hair-raising scariness.
I've driven this road once and near had a heart attack given its skinny narrowness, pothole-riddled bumpiness and cliff-edge exposure. To cap it off, I got a flat tire right when I hit Slate Peak and had no idea whether I had a spare. (I did.) On a bike, I'm hoping that the road seems wide, comforting and relatively dreamy. I guess I'll find out. I plan to stop often and hug the mountainside if that's what I need to do.
NOTE: I want to thank the just another day in paradise blog for the above Hart's Pass Road pic. Beautiful!

Sunday, August 26, 2012


Saw this dude, Mark Miller, up on Unemployment Line. Kwazy!
And of course as one often does, we ran across Miss Whatcom County, Kimball Gainor, at Lake Padden. (Makes perfect sense, right?)
Titanium Cowboyz in the Galby House!
Carol Frazey and Christy Fazio, some running compatriots of ours.
Me, gettin' all hard-core on the unicyle. It only looks like I'm holding onto the tree for support.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


It was hot. And it was hilly. Our first 30 miles we climbed like 6,000 feet as temps climbed higher and higher into the mid-90s.
It might have been last year (or the year before?) when I first saw Conconully on a map and became obsessed with riding my bike there. 
About 23 miles in, Scott Young pedals up Forest Road 39 toward Freezeout Pass.
I'd heard that Brian Ecker had ridden it and well, anxiety-prone as I tend to be, I screwed up my courage and sent him an e-mail inquiring about the route. Ecker, btw, is an absolute machine on a bike with wins and podium finishes in races such as Furnace Creek 508, Tour of the Unknown Coast and many others. I'm sometimes intimidated by absolute machines on bikes but I have to say Brian couldn't have been more friendly and helpful. He sent me maps; shared tips, advice and route options, and the capper: he said it was one of his favorite routes of all-time. That sealed it: I had to do this ride.   
The last few scorched-earth-looking meters to Lone Frank Pass at about mile 33. Views north to Skull and Crossbones Ridge and far beyond into North Central Washington are stunners.
But how to bring it together? I wasn't going to ride it by myself and figuring out a time when John Clark, Scott Young (the Titanium Cowboys) and I could all get away together just wasn't happenin'; various fun (yet pesky) summer vacation thangs like trips to Costa Rica and Southern California kept getting in the way. Then, Brian sent out an e-mail inviting any and all on a Winthrop-Conconully "mini-epic" that he and Paul Clement were planning for last Saturday. I decided (gulp) to jump on it. (Unfortunately, John was doing that Costa Rica thing and Paul ended up crashing his bike just days before and couldn't join us.)    
Downtown Conconully. The chamber of commerce website boasts of its four restaurants, "3 of which are taverns".
Re: the particulars of our ride, at 8 a.m. we headed north from Winthrop (Scott and I on 29er mountain bikes, Brian on a beefed-up 'cross bike) on paved East Chewuch Road for 9 miles before turning right on Forest Road 37, which immediately begins climbing. After 6 miles, pavement ends and the next 25 miles--which includes 5,000 feet of elevation gain--are dirt road in various states of washboardy-ness and sandy slippery-ness. Along the way at mile 22, we hopped on FR 39. (FR 37 continues to Conconully as well--it's 5 or 10 miles shorter--and I'd be interested to try that route some time as well.)

Weatherwise, we knew it'd be hot but sorta tried not to dwell too much on that fact. Temps were about 80 when we started and just got hotter and hotter 'til it reached 102 by the time we hit Conconully. It was furnace-like and I couldn't help but be reminded of last year's Shasta Summit Century experience.
Brian and Scott pedal past Conconully Reservoir before beginning the FR 42 climb to Loup Loup.
Back to the route, at Salmon Meadows, we picked up FR 38 which offered a paved, fun fast 9-mile descent into Conconully. Truthfully, there's not much to the town beyond its intriguing location. Obviously its setting is beautiful--nestled in the forested mountains next to a lake and reservoir (there's a state park too)--but I feel sort of silly for getting so excited over this tiny town that kicks off its annual community events each MLK weekend with Outhouse Races down Main Street.

Anyway, we reached Conconully at the 50-mile mark and loaded up on Coke, Powerade, water by the gallon, candy bars, sandwiches and the like. In terms of climbing, all we really had left was the 3,000-foot climb toward Loup Loup Pass on FR 42. Given that we'd already climbed about 7,000 feet, and that I've ridden the 3,000 foot climb to Artist Point several times in recent weeks, I thought I'd be in good shape. How wrong I was.
Brian and Scott at the top of the FR 42 Loup Loup climb.
The 10-mile, mostly unpaved climb was brutal. The heat, the mileage, the climbing, the slippery traction, the heavy packs we carried (?) caught up to Scott and I and we were like two punch-drunk boxers at the end of round 15. We'd cramp like crazy, get off and walk for 50 feet, pedal a bit, cramp a bit, walk a bit. Etc. Scott had a killer headache and I had that Ironman-slash-long-day-in-the-sun nauseousness; neither one of us were exactly lovin' life at that point. Eventually, we made it to the top where we found Brian, shoes and helmet off, just lying in the shade; according to Strava, he'd gotten there about 40 minutes earlier. (Strava also revealed that it took me 30 minutes to do the toughest 1.1-mile stretch of that climb; Brian rode it in 12!) 
At the top, we had just 20 miles to go and thankfully all but two miles of it was downhill. After descending dirt FR 42, we turned right onto FR 4225, which led to FR 1624 and the last 600-foot stinger of a hill. But at this point--despite having 71 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing in my legs and absolutely no power to speak of, I didn't really mind it. Scenically, it was stunning; the dirt road cut through the Methow Wildlife Area as the late afternoon sun bathed the sagebrushy and cottonwood hills in a comforting gold. Cresting the last hill, the whole Methow Valley opened up before us and it was a great feeling to know we had it in the bag.
Back on pavement, we followed Bear Creek and Twisp-Winthrop roads back into town, Brian telling us that the last time he did this route he was greeted here by 40-mph headwinds. 

Not today. Thankfully, not today.   
I loved this route, this day, this ride and would highly, highly recommend it. It's tough, no getting around it, but the views are amazing and its high odd/unusual quotient make it real appealing.

(Facts 'n' figgers: The route is 82 miles with 10,471 feet of elevation gain; 51 of those miles are gravel road. My ride time was 8:01:03; total time: almost exactly 10 hours. In post below, Strava has it at 11-plus hours but that's because I hit my Garmin start button before we rode to the Rocking Horse Cafe where we sat by the Methow River sipping foofy espresso drinks and watched some early-morning hot-air balloon riders. We started the route in earnest at 8 a.m. and got back to town almost exactly at 6 p.m. We were splashing about in the Winthrop Inn pool maybe 15 minutes after that.)  

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Put simply: this was my most epicest mountain bike epic ever--82 miles with 10,472 feet of elevation gain. And oh yeah, temps hit 102! With the indomitable duo of Brian Ecker and Scott Young. (Nice to have Stewart Bowmer along for the first 15 miles as well; he peeled off when pavement turned to dirt.) Please enjoy some pics ...
Brian and Scott before the descent from Parachute (or Tiffany?) Meadow on FS 39. At 6,800 feet, this was the literal high point of the ride. As you can see, there's much evidence of past forest fires.

Scott approaches Freezeout Ridge, the first of three summits above 6,300 feet.

On his beefed-up 'cross bike, Brian climbs FR 39 somewhere on the shoulder of Tiffany Mountain.

Stewart Bowmer joined us for the approach climb on the paved section of FR 37. Nice to have him along.

Fairly early on the 16-mile, 4,000-foot descent into Conconully. Sun, lots of sun. Sun and heat were the themes of the day. And climbing too--10,000-plus feet of it.

Scott and my steeds: 29er mountain bikes.

Brian rode a 'cross bike with mountain bike gearing and cranks, 29er rims (I believe) and a Softride suspension stem. On this ride I learned a couple things about Brian. 1) he climbs really fast and 2) he descends really, really, really fast.

I provide vital support while Brian fixes a flat.

Using his magical SteriPen, Brian makes the waters of Boulder Creek potable.

Before the ride, fidgety Scott Young appears keyed up and unable to relax.

The bustling metropolis of Conconully. Population: 211. Temperature during our visit: 102.

At the Freezeout Ridge trailhead, Brian waits for Titanium Cowboys. That would be another of the day's themes.

Scott Young gets down on some of the 10,000 feet of climbing.

Is this thing working?

Here's our route:

Thursday, August 16, 2012


Here're some photos that didn't make it into my Seattle Times story on the new Stevens Pass Bike Park because of space considerations.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


We's gettin' our Conconully on.
Gonna be hot.
Gonna be brutal.
Gonna be righteously groovy!
(Here's our route.)

Sunday, August 12, 2012


Author overcome by Usain-mania, high on Burnout Road.
Friday night, Brian Ecker's e-mail arrived announcing his open invitation for a "mini-epic" from Winthrop to Conconully and back via the remote forest service roads of the Okanogan. (Seems hilarious that to Brian, an 80-plus miler w/ 9,600 feet of elevation gain rates only a "mini-epic.") This is a route I've been lusting over for a while and thus, Titaniuma Cancellara and I are going to go for it. (That is, if I can come up w/ an appropriate bike to ride. My geared mountain bike is in a state of disrepair right now and I'm not sure if my CX bike is up to it.)

To get us in the right frame of mind, on Saturday TC and I rode what I guess might be considered a mini-mini epic through the Chuckanuts (though to me it was pretty epic): Burnout Road, a bushwack down into the Land of the Lost, followed by Sick Joke--a steep, nasty bastard of a climb that ascends to the Pine and Cedar Lakes end of the world.
Accessed from already steep Fragrance Lake Road, Burnout Road climbs 1,200 feet in less than three miles with four especially steep sections that I'll call the Four Hillingen of the Apocalypse. Above, Scott Young ascends the last one which pitches upwards at 20-plus percent. (The others are similar ranging from about 18 to 22 percent.) Plus it's gravel. I was pedaling my 'cross bike whose lowest gear is a 38-26; ideally, I need a couple lower for epics (or mini-mini epics) like this. 
At the top, the recent logging, while a bit of an eyesore from down below, offers up some amazing island and water views. (See top pic.)
With the Overlander Trail no more, we hike-a-biked about 20 minutes until we found the Rockyard--basically an overgrown, rocky gully--which eventually hooks up with the south terminus of the Lost Lake Trail. From there, it's those remote Land of the Lost roads which lead to, among other places, Mud Lake, Blanchard Mountain, Lake Samish and elsehwhere. We made for Sick Joke which is every bit as evil as Burnout, if not more so given its slippery rocky surface. Admittedly, I had to stop at one spot; something I've not had to do the two recent times I've ridden Burnout.

Once at the top, it was the fun, winding Hemlock Trail down to Arroyo Park, most of which I quite enjoyed on the 'cross bike. In all, it was about 30 miles of rugged riding with 3,600 feet of elevation gain. Not quite Winthrop to Conconully and back, but probably my most rugged day yet on my 'cross bike. 

Here's our route:

Thursday, August 09, 2012


Rode to Artist Point today for the third every-other-Thursday in a row. I love it so much up there I'd ride it again tomorrow if I could! We left from Kendall making for a 70-miler with just about 6,000 feet of climbing. Please enjoy some pics...
John Pottle and Tom Meloy make the final turn.

Almost there. In the distance, you can see the top of the Artist Point restrooms poking above the snow.
The players: Reg Norbert, Tom Meloy, some McQuaide dude, John Pottle.
Refilling water bottles at Silver Fir Campground.
 Waiting in line for pilot car to take us through repaving segment on Power House Hill. We lucked out and had to wait only about 5 minutes both ways.

Team car shouting encouragement.
At this point, John's got it in the bag.

Tom on the descent; Table Mountain in the background.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012


Celebrate all things bicycling and all things Bellingham on August 17th at the Bellingham Bike-In 2012. Sponsored by the Pickford Film Center, Mount Bakery and the SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention, this year's event (the fourth annual) features local bike clubs and shops, SPARK beer garden with Boundary Bay ales, Bike Show ‘n Shine (like a car show but for bikes), live music by Smokewagon, and of course a movie, "Stop Making Sense" with the Talking Heads. (That's the movie with the big suit.)

Festivities start at 7 p.m., on Bay Street in downtown B'ham, between Holly and Champion.