Monday, March 30, 2009

WTB Saddles

When I was visiting Portland my pal Scott reminded me that I haven't really written much about WTB saddles. I guess it's time to correct that.

But before I write about WTB saddles, I'm going to write a bit about Brooks saddles. A lot of people love Brooks saddles. Heck, I love Brooks saddles. About a decade ago my pal Andy and I were unpacking our crates of excess bike stuff while setting up for the annual Seattle Bike Swap. Andy pulls a well-worn Brooks Pro out of his crate. "How much you want for that?" I ask him. "Ten bucks," he says, "but it's pretty well shot." I check my wallet, "I've got eight bucks," I say. "Deal," says Andy.

That saddle had a few more miles in it. I rode a full brevet series on it in 1999. And I rode Paris-Brest-Paris on it. And the next year's brevet series. And Boston-Montreal-Boston. And the Rocky Mountain 1200 a couple of times. And a quick tour back to Minnesota. And a few more brevet series. And the Raid Californie-Oregon.

And, eventually, after I'd put about 50,000 miles on it, Andy was right. It was pretty well shot. The leather started to tear out at the rivets and the saddle developed a terminal sag that caused numbness in what my friend Alan Tilling refers to as "the gentleman's department." Time for a new saddle.

I tried various other Brooks saddles. I tried another Pro and a B17. I had some old Ideales (a leather French saddle similar to a Brooks). I gave them good trials (thousands of miles) but nothing quite fit like Andy's old Pro. Either the saddle would refuse to break in or it would break in and keep going. And the Brooks saddles, for all their fine qualities are expensive. And heavy. And the rail design is from an older era a more slack seat tubes. On some bikes, it's hard to get a Brooks back far enough.

I was working at Sammamish Valley Cycles when my Brooks Pro finally perished. Sammamish had (and probably still has) a bin of "take-off" saddles. Take-off saddles are saddles that customers have discarded. In some cases, these are brand new saddles. The customer may buy a new Bianchi or Colnago or whatever and they may have a saddle they prefer. Maybe it's a well-loved Brooks Pro or a Flite Trans-Am or something. In any case, they want their saddle mounted on their new bike and the old saddle goes in the take-off bin. Back when I was working there, Sammamish sold many of the take-off saddles for ten bucks.

Now here's the thing. These take-off saddles may be fine. Heck, they may be great. And at ten bucks a pop, it's pretty cheap to experiment. Lon Haldeman told me a story once that illustrates something interesting about the world of bike saddles. Lon is an ultra-distance legend and he runs these hundred-plus miles-per-day events called PAC Tours. At those kind of miles, PAC Tour riders have every kind of saddle issue and Lon's support van has a bin of saddles for folks to swap out. "Every trip," Lon told me, "somebody is cursing out their saddle and we swap it out with one from the bin. And on every trip, we end with someone praising the saddle we gave them out of that bin. And, you know, every saddle in that bin, every saddle that literally saved somebody's butt, is one that we took off of somebody else's bike when they were cursing it!"

I was thinking of Lon's story when I pulled my first WTB saddle out of the Sammamish Valley Cycle's take-off bin. It was a Rocket V. Sky Yaeger was making sure the Bianchi bikes came with WTB saddles back then, but some folks know exactly what saddle they want and it wasn't a WTB so we'd get a few in the take-off bin. I was looking for a saddle that I'd like well enough to commit to it for the 2500-mile Great Divide Mountain Bike Race. I'd noticed a lot of 24-hour racers favored the Rocket V, so I gave it a try.

Now I don't think there is anything magical about WTB saddles, but I find they fit well. I rode the Rocket V on the GDR and I've been riding it since. All WTB saddles with the "V" designation have what WTB calls the "Love Channel" to keep the saddle from pressing on places that you don't want to go numb. Since this is a family-friendly blog, I'll just say that it works fine.

All my bikes wind up with WTB saddles. The Rocket V is a bit narrower than the Speed V and the Laser V. The wider saddles work well on bikes like my Dahon, where I ride a bit more upright. The Laser and Speed saddles have a bit more padding than the Rocket but for me at least they don't pass over into the "too cushy" range. In my experience, too much padding can lead to chafing or numbness.

Another thing I like about WTB saddles is that if you find a shape you like, say a Rocket V, you can get a cheaper one with steel rails or spend some more money and get a lighter version of the saddle. Also, because they do OEM saddles for a variety of bike makers, you can sometimes find different color schemes in shop take-off bins. Some Bianchi WTB saddles would have exotic looks, like fake leopard skin or chrome, if that's your thing.

The shop I manage, Bike Works, is physically tiny. Our sales floor is about the size of my living room and at any given time it'll have at least a dozen bikes in it (the shop, I mean, not my living room. Christine, Peter and Eric, before you chime in here, I've never had a dozen bikes in the living room. Four max. So don't give me a hard time about that!) Where was I? Oh yeah. I've got a tiny bike shop, space is at a premium. We've got a bin of used saddles, but there are only two models of new saddles we sell. They are both WTBs, the Speed V and the Speed She.

The bottom line, for me, is that WTB saddles work. They work well for me and they seem to work well for my customers. I always tell people that everybody has to find out for themselves what works for them and I tell them the Lon story. I tell them if they don't like the WTB, they can bring it back for a refund. As of this writing, nobody has come back for a refund.

Keep 'em rolling,


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Which Pedals Should I Buy?

On the right hand of this blog I have a note inviting readers to "send your thoughts to my over-flowing inbox by emailing me at:

kentsbike (at) gmail (dot) com"

and adding "If you are not a robot I figure you are smart enough to replace the (at) and the (dot) with the appropriate symbols." My wife will tell you I'm not kidding about the "over-flowing inbox" part of that statement and that I feel bad that I don't always manage to respond to everybody who writes me. I don't feel too bad if you want me to link to your spamariffic blog of cycling ads, yes I know you've "read my blog and find it so interesting," but no, I don't think my readers will find your site valuable, but I digress...

Anyhow, I get a lot of email out of vastness of cyberspace and every once in a while, one of these missives stirs me to action. Yesterday, for example, I got this note from a fellow named Mark Marowitz.

Subject: platform pedals HELP & wisdom

Dear Sir,

My name is Mark. I am 57 years old. I am riding a bike for the first time in 25 years. I live in and ride in the confines of NYC, the only home I've ever known. I met a young enthusiastic bike builder who built me this very sweet Townie (the blue Civilian with the Velo Orange saddle bag and the SRAM imotion 9-sp internal gear hub with mechanical disc brakes). I'm afraid on his first time out he built a bike with an aggressive seasoned bike rider's approach. Notice the Nitto North Road Bars are laid upside down to bring the rider into a low cyclcross-like position.

When I got the bike I flipped the handlebars over to put me in a sitting upright position like the purple Boston Roadster by ANTbike Mike Flanigan.

I, also, ordered MKS Touring pedals but the bike builder, Tyson Hart, decided on MKS Stream pedals which are a narrower version both horizontally and vertically than the MKS Touring and made for a more aggressive ride. These pedals give the rider more cornering clearance and the only cornering clearance I need is to turn the corner onto 85 St. where I live. I wear sneakers or Keen walking or hiking shoes when I ride. In other words I just get on it (the bike) and ride. I find the MKS Stream pedals uncomfortable. My heel strikes the crank arm and I'm only attached to the bike by the ball of my foot. I want to change to a bigger more comfortable platform pedal. I have provided some examples of these.

MKS Grip King ($54)

MKS Touring ($40)

Wellgo Platform ($15)

MKS RMX sneaker pedal ($27)

MKS Stream (narrower version of the MKS Touring)

GK vs Touring


Perhaps you have had more experience riding a bicycle than me and I'm hoping that you will share some of your experiences with me, thereby saving me a lot of trial and mostly error. I'm hoping even though you might be reticent to actually recommend a pedal for my bike that you will actually do just that. That is help me to decide on one. 90% of the bikes life will be on the streets of NYC. I might do some CC touring with it in the not to distant future. Speed is not for me but fun and fitness are. Grant Petersen recommended The MKS Grip King pedal for it has lot's of surface and lot's of support (by far the most support). Mark Abele, Rivendell's head mechanic recommended MKS RMX sneaker pedal. ANT bike Mike recommended the MKS Touring pedal. My local bike shop recommended the Wellgo Platform pedals which have a very wide platform, indeed. Now perhaps you're thinking that I can't go wrong with any of these selections. And you'd be right. But as you can see the GK's are kind of narrow with a wide toe-box shoe. The Touring pedals are wide enough but don't give the same support as the GK's. The Wellgo Platform and the MKS RMX sneaker pedals are approximately the same size. The prices are from Rivendell and can be found cheaper with a google search. Perhaps you can recommend some other pedals for me to consider. Anyways, which pedals should I buy?

Kind Regards,


When I got Mark's note, I stared at it for a bit. My first thought was "Wow, this guy has done his homework!" my further thoughts, on expertise and advice, brought to mind a story I've often told friends but that I haven't told on the blog until now. While the story doesn't directly involve bikes, it does explain something of the course that lead me to being a guy who gets emails from guys like Mark. And I think it does something to explain why I gave him the advice you'll read at the end of this post.

But for now, fans of diversion (and if you stick through my long and winding blog posts, I'm betting you're fans of diversion), let me tell you a story.

Thirty years ago I was an undergrad student at the Duluth campus of the University of Minnesota, theoretically majoring in Physics or Mathematics while actually spending way too much time in Doc Olsen's lab rooms fixing oscilloscopes and hacking field mills, taking far too many philosophy courses and reading way too many books and back issues of The Mother Earth News to be any kind of serious Science Major. To show that even then I was a curmudgeon in training, even in 1979 I knew that the early 70s copies of Mother Earth were better than the watered-down commercial crap they were printing in 1979, but I'm digressing from my digression...

Anyhow, I was also into computers. Really into them. I learned Fortran 77, I knew CDC assembly language. I lived on Snickers bars and could camp out for 36 hours at a stretch so I wouldn't loose my spot on a DECwriter or a "glass TTY". I burned through my timeshare allotment on the mainframe, so I built my own Ohio Scientific Superboard Computer from a kit. I taught myself 6502 machine code, wrote bootloaders, sector readers and games. I got a job being the computer geek for a local engineering firm. I was a nerd before most of the world knew what nerds were. I'd started reading Byte magazine at issue one.

It was via HP calculators and Byte that I started learning about a computer language called Forth. Forth was (and is) something amazing, a tiny set of low level tools that comprise a language, an operating system and an interactive development environment in one tiny package. You pretty much don't write programs in Forth, you extend the language to encompass the problem space you are trying to navigate. I began to devour every bit of information I could find about Forth.

It was my math advisor, Dr. Dunham, that asked me one day what I'd been working on. I told him about Forth, my Superboard, building interactive debuggers in a few hundred bytes and then I asked him if he knew where I could find out anything more about Forth. He said he didn't know anything about it, but he suggested I talk to a colleague of his, Dr. Mark Luker. Dr. Luker was the guy basically heading up the Computer Science department, which was just coming into it's own after having branched off from the Math department. "Dr. Luker was telling me that there is somebody on campus who is something of a Forth guru," Dr. Dunham said.

"Forth guru? Hot Damn!" I'd been piecing stuff together from books and experiments and newsletters sent from California and now it turns out that here, on my tiny little freshwater campus, there's a guru of this stuff. Awesome!

I sprinted over to Dr. Luker's office. I'd never met Dr. Luker before but Dr. Dunham had told me where his office was and what his open hours were. I poked my head in and saw a bearded, thoughtful, scruffy looking guy not really that much older than me. I stammered my introduction "Dr. Luker, I'm one of Doug Dunham's advisees and he said I should talk to you. I'm really interested in Forth and Dr. Dunham says you know a guy here on campus, a professor perhaps, whose something of a Forth guru?"

Dr. Luker looks up from his cluttered desk, and says, "No, I don't know the guy, I've just heard about him. And he's not a professor, he's a student here. I've been meaning to look him up. I've got his name jotted down around here somewhere..." Dr. Luker digs around for a bit and unearths a scrap of the green and white tractor feed paper. "Ah," he says, "here we are. This is the guy you need to talk too."

And with that, Dr. Luker hands me a scrap of paper with the name "Kent Peterson" written on it.

A few years later I got another piece of paper from the University of Minnesota. I think doctors Luker and Dunham were kind of disappointed it was a degree in Philosophy instead of Math or Computer Science. But those two guys had already given me something far more valuable than a bit of parchment when they gave me that scrap of paper with my own name on it.

Now, thirty years later, this is what I wrote back to Mark Marowitz when he asked me for pedal advice:

Gee Mark,

You've already put a ton of thought into this. If I was in your shoes (so to speak! and I kind of am, I ride in Keens all the time these days) I'd spend $15 at my LBS on the Welgo Platform pedals.

And what's the worst case? You guess wrong and you try again. It's not like you'll suddenly be thrust into a world without these other pedals.

There are other choices as well, but I get the sense your problem isn't a LACK of choices. If you've got some time, check out this video:

There is one expert who can tell you what pedal is right for you. His name is Mark Marowitz.

Would you mind if I use some of your note as material for a blog post? I can fully credit you or anonomize you if you wish. Or I could not use anything from your note at all, it's completely up to you. I just think that what you're going through with pedal selection is something others are going through.

Kent Peterson,
Issaquah WA USA

Mark replied:

Dear Kent,

Of course you can use my note. I'd be proud to. I was hoping that you had used some of these pedals yourself. Other choices would be welcome as well:):)

Thanks for the video. I think it's terrific. If you knew me this video would be even more ironic. I am 57 years old. I live in a tiny studio apartment. I have an inexpensive tv, an inexpensive computer, but I have treated myself to a rather expensive bike. I haven't a car, or expensive clothes or much in the way of savings. In other words I have always eschewed ownership and material. I wear overalls.

Not owning much has caused me to obsess about the only thing I do.

There are three contact points between a rider and the bike. The saddle, handlebars and pedals.

I've just finished the video you so thoughtfully provided and I'm about ready to click the send button and shoot this email off to you. 1000 thanks for so aptly solving my dilemma of choices. As usual the answer is right underfoot.

Kind Regards,


Monday, March 16, 2009

The 2009 Seattle Bike Expo

The sign on Pert's Deli says they'll be open at 8:00 AM but the sign also says something about "Summer Hours" and the deli is still dark at 8:20 AM. Perhaps the big flakes of snow coming down were giving folks excuses to linger somewhere warm and dry but on the ride over from Issaquah I'd determined that, once again, things looked worse from the inside looking out than what I actually found when I was out and riding. I retreat to the Starbucks across the street for a coffee and a bowl of oatmeal to wait for my intrepid companions.

It takes a bit of electronic cajoling to lure my companions out. Text messages from Mark mention snow and slick roads. I text back the single word "wuss!" and call him back. "Yeah, it's not sticking," I explain. Mark seems dubious, but I convince him. It'll take some time for him to get to the coffee shop, but he commits to the trip. Brad is just double checking "oh we're still doing this, eh?" He decides to meet up with us by the UW. "I'm packing the cello, don't give me any crap!" Brad is a musician and has a gig in the afternoon.

Thermal regulation can be tricky. While Brad and I manage to get too cold waiting around, Mark is bundled a bit too warm for climbing and has too peal off one layer en route. But we get to the Expo and leave our bikes under the watchful eyes of Melanie and some helpful Bike Works volunteers. The weather is changing, a bit of snow becomes rain becomes clear and always with a some increasing wind.

The Expo is a mix of bike vendors, shops, magazine crews, bike clubs, tour organizers, snack bar makers and other randomly bike related folks. Put on each year by the Cascade Bicycle Club, the event fills a damp and drafty old airplane hanger at Magnuson Park and spills over into several huge equally damp and drafty tents. Despite the less than cozy conditions, the event is always a lot of fun.

For me the event is always at least as much about bike people as it is about the bikes. Willie and Joe are telling the kinds of stories that inspire people to get out the door and the place is packed with everything you need to get out and roll. While there is certainly the usual high dollar eye-candy, this year's Expo also features lots of transport bikes. At the Sammamish Valley Cycles booth, multi-thousand dollar carbon and titanium wonder bikes are on display right next to one of the bike world's great simple bikes, the Bianchi San Jose. It's probably a good thing I don't work at Sammamish anymore, I was always much better at selling San Jose's than Serottas.

I meet many more friends at the Expo and fill up on junk-food flavored healthy snack bars. The Clif folks have an awesome White Chocolate Macadamia Nut bar, while the Larabar people have bars flavored like Cashew Cookies, Pecan Pie and Coconut Creme Pie. I'm nuts about nuts and these things could almost lure me away from Payday Bars and Peanut M&Ms.

I thought I'd been smart by not bringing much money to the Expo but my pal Matt has a wad of cash and he guides me to a booth that has a big selection of Vincita bike luggage. These guys have things like really cheap panniers for five bucks and packs that can morph from being a pannier to a backpack to a rolling bag. I'm a sucker for things that become other things and wind up spending fifteen of Matt's dollars on a seatbag that folds out to become a backpack. It'll be just the thing to go on my Dahon.

REI is showing off this year's FlyBy, which is a Novara branded Dahon folding bike. Last year REI sold through their batch of FlyBys in the first couple months of the year so I think they upped their order for 2009. If I didn't already have my Curve D3, I'd be pretty tempted by the FlyBy.

By 2:30 the wind is really picking up, threatening to blow down some of the big tents. My Bike Works buddies have already folded up their tent and with the strong wind out of the south, I opt to ride home via the north end of Lake Washington. Even though it's a bit longer, I'd rather be on land in high winds than deal with the crosswinds on the bridges. It's a bit of a slog southward from Woodinville to Redmond because the Sammamish River Valley works like a wind tunnel but at Marymoor I stick to the west side of Lake Sammamish and am mostly sheltered from the wind.

Fifty-eight miles of riding and a whole lot of bike geeking isn't a bad way to spend a Sunday.

Keep 'em rolling,


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Issaquah - Portland - Issaquah

It's not until sunrise that I notice that I can see my breath. Since I long ago got my basic clothing dialed in for pretty wide range of conditions, temperature is mostly just something I check on bank signs and not a thing I worry about. Sure, I'd checked the forecast and added an army surplus wool sweater to my torso and a Duofold layer under my nylon pants, but it's not until I see my breath forming little clouds as I huff up the hills that it occurs to me that the cold might be problematic. I'd left my snug place in Issaquah at 5:00 AM for a four day ride down to Portland and back. Since I was planning on spending much of Saturday and Sunday visiting friends in Portland, my thought was to pack the bulk of the riding into Friday and Monday. Hence, my early start this Friday morning.

My basic route, picked by Google using the ever so handy "avoid highways" option and tweaked by me, merged parts of a Seattle International Randonneurs 200K and a bit of RAMROD with a good chunk of the STP route. It was the bits in some of the higher country near Mount Rainier that had me worried. Snow could slow things down.

I reach down to take a sip from my bottle and realize it's an ice baby. The second bottle is similarly solid. "Holy Jill Homer!" I mutter, "it's cold."

What I'd thought was decadence turns out to be providence. I'd also brought along my Thermos Mug full of hot coffee and that turns out to be my main source of hydration for the next few hours.

There are patches of frost along the roadside and the frost in my mustache turns out to be more than just some metaphor lifted from a haiku. My Tringle-speed is shod with rugged Specialized Hardpack II tires and even though I can hear Jan's Germanic voice in my head chiding me "I cannot believe you choose to ride such slow tires," I value versatility over velocity. This morning, it certainly seems like a wise choice.

By 9:30 AM the bright sunshine has warmed the air and my bottles have thawed. I stop at the Kapowsin Texaco for a Cookies and Creme bar washed down with a pint of whole milk before rolling on through Eatonville. There's a good bit of snow along the Eatonville Cutoff Road and the roadside bison watch as I roll by.

I often describe my bike trips as a chance to connect with my "inner hobo" and in the town of Elbe, I see that perhaps I'm not alone in my desire for rusticity. While sleeping in converted cabooses would probably be fun, I think it has only the slightest connection to the true hobo life. Now maybe if they let you sleep under the caboose while the train rolls along at 120 miles per hour and every few hours some yard bull would whack you with a stick and toss you off the train...

There is more roadside snow on the road down to Morton and I decide for my trip back, I'll pick a route that sticks closer to the lower country to the west. After feasting on a turkey sandwich and a pint of milk in Morton I turn west along noisy Highway 12 and eventually turn south again, following the small roads that roughly parallel I-5.

It's dark by the time I cross the bridge at Longview and enter Oregon. A lot of the bridge traffic is logging trucks and the narrow shoulder is layered with bark and wood chips. I'm usually very relaxed on the bike, but navigating this span in the dark, even with wide tires, is the most tense part of the trip.

At 8:40 PM I stop for late supper consisting of a hot dog and a pint of milk and fill my now empty second water bottle with some orange-guava juice. In addition to my various food stops, I've been munching enroute on peanut M&Ms, PayDay bars and Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies. Have I mentioned that I am not a nutritional role model?

My goal today was to get close to Portland without actually being in Portland. At 10:00 PM I see a handy bit of woods on the edge of the town of Scappoose, so I roll out my bivy sack and settle in for the night. Since I've ridden 191 miles since leaving home this morning, I sleep soundly.

I'm up and rolling at 5:00 AM. Highway 30 turns freewayish as it runs into Portland but as I exit onto local roads, Portland's famous bicycle infrastructure guides me in.

At 7:00 AM I'm settled in at Peet's Coffee in downtown Portland, sipping a caramel latte and checking my email. Around 9:00 AM I roll over to Powell's where I park in one of Portland's fancy on-street bike racks and meet up with fellow blogging cycler, Joe Broach.

This is the first time Joe and I have had a chance to meet up in the non-cyber world, but it's just like having coffee with an old friend. Actually, I'm still working on my latte from Peet's but I let Joe buy me a croissant and he has tea while we chat about a wide range of bikish and bloggish things. Joe is a great writer and I urge him to write more about his life in Portland. I'd first started reading his stuff when he lived in Montana and when he'd moved to Portland, I'd hoped he'd write more about the transition and compare and contrast the two places. Alas, life has a way of filling the days and Joe's written fewer words than I'd like to see, so I give him a hard time about that. In the nicest, possible way, of course. The man did buy me breakfast, after all!

After talking with Joe for over an hour, I manage to check out some of the books at Powell's. I'm traveling light so I manage not to buy anything heavier than a Washington-Oregon map. I also skim through Jeff Mapes' book Pedaling Revolution. This one is on my "gotta get this" list and not just because I'm in it. I do the vanity read to make sure Jeff quoted me accurately (he did, the man is a pro!) and it was interesting to see Jeff's take on a commute we shared a couple of years ago and especially see his appreciative comments on the virtues of coroplast fenders.

From Powell's I head over to Clever Cycles. My buddy Colin works as a mechanic at Clever, a job he seems ideally suited for. Colin used to be the shop manager at Bike Works, and he decided to leave Seattle, I took over his old role. So we talk about Bike Works, the bike business and riding in the Portland area. Colin shows me around the place and even lets me test ride a Stokemonkey equipped Xtracycle. My own life is too minimalist to require either an Xtracycle or a Stokemonkey, but I can sure see the value of these things. The Stokemonkey is amazing, a true electric assist. You pretty much use it to get big loads rolling or push the big load up big grades. The sensation is like riding a tandem with the world's strongest stoker.

Also at Clever, I re-meet a kindred soul, Mike Cobb, the fellow who created the ever-so-handy Cobbworks bucket pannier.

Mike sold the Cobbworks business a while back and these days is crafting large-capacity cargo solutions for longtail bikes. But tonight, after attending the Alice Awards, he's hopping the last MAX train east with his bike and then riding up Mount Hood so he can compete in the US Snowshoe Nationals tomorrow morning. Since the roads are icy up there, he's making his own studded tire as we talk. And naturally, he'll be sleeping in a bivy sack tonight, Like I said, my kind of guy!

While I'm at Clever, Jayanthi, another of my pals from Bike Works, calls up. She's in town for the US Barista Championships (she's related to one of the judges) and she also stops in at Clever to see Colin. And next week it turns out that we'll probably all cross paths again at the Seattle Bike Expo.

I'd arranged to meet Scott "Large Fella" Cutshall at 3:00 PM at Clever, but since I have some time to kill and a phone call to make (more trip logistics), I wander around the neighborhood. I'm just rolling back toward Clever when a not very large fella on a lovely Bob Brown bicycle rolls up along side me and says, "you must be Kent Peterson." I admit that I must and that he in turn must be Scott Cutshall.

Despite the dire things I'd read on Scott's blog, at least at this moment he is not being pursued by angry villagers bearing Proofide-fueled torches. "Where to?" Scott asks and I point out that it's his city. "Show me around," I say.

So we roll down one side of the river, across a bridge and through downtown. We discuss bikes and bloggers and the reach and limits of the internet as a communication medium. When Scott talks there tends to be a chuckle in his voice, a twinkle in his eye and a self-deprecating tone that doesn't always come through in print. When Scott or I say something like "being a famous blogger..." we each have a hard time not cracking up. On a good day being a "famous blogger" might get you a free tour around town, a chance to have some interesting chats and maybe a meal or two. On super rare occasions, a virtually random stranger might figure out that you could use a plane ticket home and that'll give you some clue that maybe your words do matter, at least to somebody. And the flip side of this, the darker side, is that when you make some flip remark or are genuinely dark or struggling, those words matter as well and the actions that come from those words aren't always kind. "People sure get worked up over words!" Scott observes. I agree that indeed they do and describe to him my favorite comic strip, whose punchline is "Someone is wrong on the internet."

Scott's wife Amy is a nurse who works nights, so after some over an hour of rolling and gabbing we head over to Scott's place. Scott explains that in the Cutshall world, this is breakfast time and quizzes me about my "normal" schedule. I quote Willie Nelson and point out that "there is no normal, there's only you and me." My wife works early mornings and I tend to be more a morning person myself, so many nights I'm sound asleep while Scott is teaching Chloe, making lunch or riding.

Chloe and Amy are delightful and Chloe presents me with a project she'd just finished, a "Whimsical Charm of Safety", which I immediately strap to the rear basket of my bike.

Chloe is into Animorph books these days and she also knows lots about animals, digging through a field guide when the discussion turns to the red-legged frogs we'd heard singing in the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge that Scott and I had ridden past on our ride.

Scott and I both are guys who, in the spirit of the character of Kasper Gutman in The Maltese Falcon, "like talking to a man who likes to talk." I think Amy and Chloe are wondering if we'll ever shut up.

I do manage to shut my mouth long enough to sample one of the famous humus wraps that the Cutshalls thrive on. I think if I ate those daily I'd loose weight as well, not because they're not good (they are!) but because they are filling while seeming to lack the caloric density of my normal heavy fuel. Scott is curious about said fuel and Amy and I describe for him the construction of a Payday bar.

After more chat on a wide range of topics, I get ready to head out into the evening. Scott, like Joe had earlier, offers me a place to stay but I explain that I really do value these trips as chances to dial in my gear, be out in the night and "get in touch with my inner hobo." Scott looks dubious, but I think he understands. Scott explains to me that for years he was so heavy that he never went out, spending all his time locked inside, reaching out only to read some words on a computer screen. And some of the words he found were mine, describing a life outside. I think he understands and I go.

I'm ten minutes down the road when my phone rings. The cell phone is something I'm still getting used to, but it helps set Christine's mind at ease and it is handy on adventures such as this one where I'm trying to connect up with a range of folks. When I see this call is from Scott, I think perhaps I've forgotten something at his place. Nope, he's just double checking. "You're sure you're OK camping out? This just seems weird, I mean we have plenty of room here and I feel like I just sent my buddy out to go sleep in a park." "This is weird," I assure him but "weird is how I roll." There is no normal, there's only you and me. "You know this call isn't for you," Scott says, "it's for me. I have to be sure." "Yeah, I know that buddy. It's fine, really. Have a good night and thanks again for everything."

Because I have an uneasy truce with "the Man" (I mostly don't mess with him and he mostly doesn't mess with me but I figure he may read this blog now and then), I'll choose to be vague about exactly where I roll out my bivy sack. There are usually trees involved, and shadows and I always sleep soundly.

In the morning, I head over to my buddy Michael Rasmussen's place. Michael keeps a few chickens in his backyard and he makes great hashbrowns and coffee to go with the eggs. In an earlier email Michael admitted he hadn't ridden his bike at all this year. I figure I can apply a bit of positive peer pressure and maybe get him rolling. At the very least, I'll get a great breakfast out of the deal.

My basically transparent plan works quite well. We have a wide ranging discussion while Michael cooks. Michael needs to head over to Beth Hamon's place to pick up a bike jersey and I'd been planning on seeing Beth before I rolled out of town. Still Michael almost convinces himself that he's cut the timing too close to bike there. His wife Jennifer talks him into leaving the dishes and I volunteer to change the flat front tube on his bike while he dresses. "I need you to navigate me to Beth's house," I lie but it's a lie we both take on as a catalyst for action.

Michael layers on his riding clothes and once he's on the bike and rolling we're fine. Sure he wheezes on the climbs but he's got a grin on his face. The wheezing isn't a result of this morning's ride, it's the result of all those mornings of not riding. Once he's on the bike, he remembers that.

We're at Beth's at 11:30. Beth wasn't expecting to see me this early in the day, but she rises to the challenge. I think she'd been envisioning a more relaxed visit in the afternoon but she offers me a cup of coffee while she tries to fit my early presence into her plans for the day. I tell her that I really just popped in to see her and that I'm planning on heading north a bit earlier than originally planned. The forecast is for snow and I want to get over the Longview bridge in daylight. Michael has to dash off, but Beth, her friend Lynne and I chat for a while before heading out to Beth's work shed where she is prepping her bike for cyclocross.

Hanging out chatting about bike stuff is exactly what I'd wanted to do on this trip, so this is the perfect ending to my stay in Portland.

The skies are clouding up and after saying goodbye to Beth and Lynne, I roll north at 12:30. I roll through north Portland, cross the St. John's bridge and connect up again with Hwy 30.

The spring time change happened last night, so it's still light when I cross the Longview bridge at 5:30 PM. I continue riding north, keeping an eye on the weather and settle in to camp in a patch of woods between Castle Rock and Vader at 7:15 PM. I've just got my bivy stretched out and my tarp strung up when my phone rings. It's Christine, "is it snowing where you are?" "Not yet," I explain, "I'm swinging wider around Rainier for the trip home," I explain, "sticking to the lower country." "Sleep warm," Christine says, and I assure her I will. There's a line from a Kathy Mattea song that says "On the chilliest night though I travel light, it is always enough, for I wear your love." In my case, this is certainly true. My down bag, bivy sack and Thermarest all do their bit, but my wool socks, warm hat and wool gloves are all gifts from Christine. On the chilly nights and days I really do wear her love.

There's a little bit of snow on the tarp in the morning and a bit more snow is coming down at 8:00 AM when I stop at the Little Crane Cafe in Vader.

Over a big breakfast of hamburger steak and eggs and hashbrowns I joke with the locals about the weather. "Yeah," one trucker comments, "a hell of a day to be driving, but at least I ain't riding a bike!"

One picturesque farm features Emus and goats so I stop for a few pictures, but mostly it's time to be riding for home. The day fluctuates between periods of clear blue skies mixed with times when the sky goes so dark I'm running with all my lights on and the air is white with whirling snow. Chloe's charm seems to do it's job because I make through every whiteout without becoming a hood ornament on some four by four. I get home at 9:30 PM.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Half Century

Since this is a cycling blog, you might guess from the title of this post that I'm going to talk about some fifty mile bicycle ride, but today I'm going to talk about another journey. My wonderful colleagues at Bike Works knew I'd be taking today and the next few days off, so they jumped the gun a bit and started the celebration a day early in the way I prefer, with donuts and cookies.

Today is my fiftieth birthday. If right now you are slapping your head and going "dang, I didn't get Kent anything!", don't worry. I really can't think of anything I need. If you absolutely feel you have to do something to commemorate the anniversary of my making fifty trips around the sun, you can always go here and pledge some money to help fight cancer.

Various people have been telling me that these birthdays ending in "oh!" are a big deal and I guess if I was going to follow some mid-life crisis pattern, I should be buying a sports car right now and running off with some sweet young thing. Actually, unless I'm planning on living a hundred years (hey it could happen!), I'm a bit behind schedule for a mid-life crisis, but I ran off with a sweet young thing about twenty-five years ago and she'll always be my sweet young thing. In fact, last fall when I blogged about our anniversary trip, one commenter asked if I'd married Christine when she was thirteen and said that now she "barely looks 24." In fact, Christine and I are of a similar vintage and the single smartest thing I did in the past fifty years was to marry that wonderful woman. I think fifty year old guys get to dispense a bit of wisdom now and then and one bit of advice that my Dad gave me and that I'm sure is true is this: "if you're going to partner up with someone, choose wisely." I've definitely succeeded on that score.

One other thing I've learned in the past fifty years is that we each get given twenty-four hours each day. Many people talk about time in monetary terms, how it is "invested" or "spent" or "saved", but it's most important to remember that it's lived. Lived at the rate of twenty-four hours each day. I try to live as much of that time as I can doing interesting things. Not necessarily always easy things or fun things and sometimes dull things must be done, but I think it's important to have a life that at least interests the person living it. I wrote about this a while back in an essay called "The Fun-Time Continuum". For me, interesting equals fun, but I realize that other people's definitions may vary. And I guess that's another thing I've learned, different people see things differently but learning about how other people see things is interesting, and thus fun, to me.

Years ago my Dad told me a joke, a story really, and over the years I've told that story to various friends. The story goes like this:
One day a fellow is going down the road and he sees a farmer carrying a pig. The farmer lifts the pig up to the branch of an apple tree and the pig proceeds to eat an apple. The farmer then lifts the pig to another branch, where the pig eats another apple. The fellow watches the farmer and the pig do this for a while and then asks the farmer "what are you doing?"

"Feeding my pig," the farmer replies.

"Isn't that kinda time consuming?" asks the fellow.

"Well, I reckon it is," the farmer replies, "but what's time to a pig?"

Over the years the punchline of that story, "what's time to a pig?", has become a shorthand for my friends and I on our adventures. We'll be off on some trail or dirt road and the path will diverge. "If we take this fork, I know it loops back to where we came in, but this other one could be really time consuming," I'll say. Matt or Mark or whomever I'm with will nod and then say, "true, but what's time to a pig?" And we'll take the unknown road. We're not here to take the fastest route through life. A friend of mine once commented on some brevet we were both riding, "hey, you do these things just to get the stories!" "No," I corrected him after I thought about it for a bit, "I do these things because I find them interesting and the interesting experiences make good stories." If the farmer just dumped a bushel of apples in front of the pig, that's not very interesting and there's really no story worth telling.

Today I'll have fun with my family and celebrate my birthday. This weekend, Christine is off on a retreat and I have a few days off from work. Tomorrow, I'm riding down to Portland and I'll spend the bulk of the weekend hanging out with various pals down there. Monday I'll ride back. I know taking the train would be faster, but I like to ride my bike. And besides, what's time to a pig? Or a Mountain Turtle?

Keep 'em rolling,