Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I don't know what's wrong with me

One of my memories from close to thirty years ago still lingers, fresh in my mind. It's a warm midwestern summer night and the windows are open at my grandparent's place in town, the place they'd retired to after selling off the farm a few years before. My parents, sisters and I are visiting for the weekend and I've spent most of the day out riding, for I brought my bike with me. This was one of the summers I was racing, but a skinny-tired bike was something inexplicably foreign to the farm roads around Pelican Rapids, Minnesota and the idea that I'd train for races no one had ever heard of was something that maybe didn't even make sense to me and certainly was baffling to my family.

I remember rolling past farm fields and through small towns where the grain elevator was the tallest thing for miles around, seeing gophers squeal and run for cover. I remember sprinting against my lengthening shadow and coming back to my grandparent's place tired and tanned just as the sun was setting and the mosquitoes were starting to swarm.

The house in town was smaller than the farm house had been, so I was trying to sleep on the livingroom couch but I could hear my grandparents pillowtalk from their room. They talked loudly, the way old people who can't hear very well do to each other.

"That boy rode his bike all the way to Perham and back. I said we could take the truck but he said he needed to get out and ride. I don't know what's wrong with him..."

I still don't know what's wrong with me. Back then I'd go out and camp, by myself, in the woods. I knew then it was something not everybody did, but I read books by Bradford Angier, Jack London, Robert Service and Henry Thoreau and those words made sense to me. Robert Service wrote:
There's a race of men that don't fit in,
A race that can't stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain's crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don't know how to rest.

I knew that there was (and still is) something inside of me that is uncomfortable with comfort, something that makes me leave, at least for awhile, people and places that I truly love.

Later, when Christine and I would meet and fall in love and eventually marry, those who knew us were amazed for we'd both been pegged as hermits both in training and temperament. And yet we are, and always shall be, a couple. Co-hermits we call ourselves.

And now I have this wonderful wife and two fine sons and I live in a wonderful place and I have a job that is both challenging and rewarding. And yet, I don't know what's wrong with me.

I'm taking off for a month next year, a month that will be hard -- hard on me and probably just as hard on my wife. I'm blessed with the best wife in the world. I can try to explain, perhaps borrowing words from Lucinda Williams,

If I stray away too far from you, don't go and try to find me.
It doesn't mean I don't love you, it doesn't mean I won't come back and
stay beside you.
It only means I need a little time
To follow that unbroken line
To a place where the wild things grow
To a place where I used to always go.

Next year, I'm racing the Tour Divide. Again. Well, not exactly again, in 2005 I rode the Great Divide Mountain Bike Race on a single speed bike. The Tour Divide route adds a few hundred Canadian kilometers on top of the GDR. This year's race has just been won by Matthew Lee by the time I finish posting this note Chris Plesko will have probably set a new single speed record. Sounds like a great excuse for me to get a new bike. I'm already talking to the folks at Redline about a Monocog Flight 29er. And Dirt Rag is on board with me filling up a few more pages of their fine magazine as well.

Next year, I'll be 51 years old. AARP is telling me to slow down and send them some dues. I've always been slow, but I've also always been persistent. I see no reason to change now. I'm sending my dues to the Adventure Cycling Association and I'm entering the 2010 Tour Divide.

I don't know what's wrong with me.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Tour Divide 2009

(This image is just one of the many amazing photos taken by Chris Plesko)

Wow, this year's Tour Divide is sure exciting. The weather has been horrible, the racing has been fantastic and it looks like we're gonna see some records go down. Chris Plesko is on track to blow the single speed record out of the water, Jill Homer is on track to set a new woman's record, Matthew Lee is going like heck and it looks the Petervays are going to establish a tandem record. And finally it looks like somebody is going to finish this thing up on a fixed gear! Some good spots to follow the action are at:





Hundreds of photos from Chris Plesko's camera can be viewed here:


Keep 'em rolling,


Monday, June 22, 2009

How Mark Bumbled Through the Livestrong Event

This is my pal Mark Vande Kamp's report from yesterday's Livestrong ride. It's good to know I wasn't the only one confused at the finishing chute! -- Kent

First, I started off the weekend by riding my bike downtown to pick up my event packet. I, of course, forgot that it was the weekend of the Fremont Solstice Parade (think Brazilian Carnivale with granola) but figured it out as I neared the bridge and Leary Way became filled with people walking along. I was walk/riding my bike along with them, working my way to Fremont Avenue and somehow found myself on Fremont Avenue literally IN the parade. It was like one of those surreal Italian movies. I'm looking for a way to escape but people are lining the road 10 or 15 deep and I'm rolling along right next to a float filled with gyrating scantily-clad young women. There's no way to get off the parade route to the bridge and I end up having to ride along for another two blocks before I see a break in the crowd on the opposite side of street, cut in front of a group of kids in shiny uniforms playing recorders and escape to a side alley. When I tell my wife, Jane about this misadventure, she dryly suggests that I should have just stripped and joined the parade (there's a long-standing tradition of naked cycling at this event).

The morning of the Livestrong ride I line up with the rest of team fatty and leave the line at the official starting horn. The first topic of conversation is that none of us know where we are going, so we are following the yellow Nissan vehicle that we thought was supposed to be the pace car. Well, the yellow Nissan abandons us by zooming up a side street in downtown Seattle and it's up to each of us to haphazardly join the official route somewhere in the southern part of downtown. I subsequently put in a huge effort to catch up with a group ahead that seems to be holding the approximate speed I'd like to ride. Oh well, I wanted to get in some good work today.

Later in the ride I'm part of a group of about nine riders rotating in a paceline and going (for me) pretty fast. I end up at the front as we go down a hill in a construction zone. I get in an aero-tuck position and just as we go through the green light at the bottom of the hill I see the arrow on a yellow sign showing a left turn. Crap! I look back and luckily only one rider has followed me. He and I do about three illegal things right in plain sight of the police car managing the intersection and work our way back onto the correct road. Our group is up ahead and both I and the poor guy who was following me work hard for awhile trying to catch up. Just when we are ready to give up, the two strongest guys in the group drift back on a rescue mission for us. Of course, even drafting them, their pace just about kills me. I almost lost contact on the final push to bridge the gap. When we were finally back in the group, I was just glad they didn't have to come back to rescue me again since the whole episode was my fault.

Finally, I'm a few blocks from the finish line, hitting red light after red light as we wind through downtown. I've been riding alone but the lights end up grouping me with two riders wearing "I am a survivor" tags who were finishing one of the shorter routes. As we enter Seattle Center I tell them to go ahead so their finishing photos won't have me stuck in them, and I soft pedal along to the finish, following them. They cross the line and are each handed a beautiful long stemmed yellow-and-red rose. I cross the line and am handed a rose too. Wow! I think, that's a nice thing for me to bring home to Jane.

I end up talking with a nice fellow (Jeff, I think) who I rode with for part of the day and meet his wife. She says to me, "So you're a cancer survivor?"

"Um, no."

"But you have a rose. Did you know there were two finishing chutes?"

So now I've bumbled my way into the wrong finishing chute and filched a rose intended for some noble cancer survivor. Great. There's no readily apparent way to return the flower, so I just flee the scene. As I say goodbye, Jeff's wife says, "And I was all set to be impressed that you were a survivor who had done the 100 mile route."

When I get home, I tell Jane and my six-year-old daughter about my misadventures. Jane can't resist needling me. "So, you know that now they are going to end up publishing your name and finishing picture in the paper as the first of the cancer survivors to finish." And also, "Gee Mark, think of that poor last cancer survivor who comes through the line and puts out their hand -- Sorry, we've run out of roses."

My daughter makes Father's day complete by asking me to tell the story of the rose about thirteen times over the rest of the day. "Daddy, why did the people think you had cancer but felt better now?" This morning, she woke up and the first thing she says to me is, "Daddy why did you go in the wrong line and get the rose?" I tell her that sometimes you make mistakes when you aren't paying close enough attention.

P.S. Thanks to all of you who donated to my effort or to others participating in the Livestrong event. I ended up raising $770, team Fatty raised over $140,000 and the Seattle event raised over $1,000,000. I'd call that a strong showing.

Mark Vande Kamp
Seattle Washington USA

That Which Doesn't Kill Me Makes Me Livestrong

The Seattle Livestrong ride starts at 7:00 AM, so rather than get up insanely early and ride the twenty miles in from Issaquah, I spend the night at Bike Works and just get up stupidly early to ride the six miles to Seattle Center. I'm not feeling perky on the ride over, something I attribute to a lack of morning coffee. Fortunately, the Livestrong ride is astoundingly well supported and the folks at Starbucks and Bear Naked Granola are at hand to raise caffeine and blood sugar levels into the functional range.

I'm actually kind of nervous about this ride. Hundred plus mile days are practically routine for me, but to make things challenging, I decided to do this on my single-speed Shogun. Actually, that doesn't make things too challenging except for the fact that this ride has a time limit, all riders have to be done by 3:30 PM. My natural pace is slower (I am called the Mountain Turtle, after all) and with the single-speed, I won't be hanging with the fast packs on the flats or descents. And the ride has at least one wicked climb, the monstrous suburban ascent up Cougar Mountain through the Montreux neighborhood. Still, it's good to stretch outside one's comfort zone and I'd promised Elden and all the folks who pledged that I'd do this ride.

I can't stress enough what a great cause this is. The Livestrong folks focus on folks with cancer and families touched by cancer. I remember the old days when cancer was viewed as a death sentence, you get cancer, you die. That's not the story any more. You get cancer, you fight. A lot of folks have had this fight forced upon them, some of us are lucky enough to get to pick this fight. A lot of the riders and volunteers here today are survivors, many are still fighting. Some astoundingly fit folks have survivor bibs on their backs, others have "In Honor" or "In Memory" bibs. Everyone here has a story and everyone is fighting for this cause.

I'm here as part of Team Fatty, Fighting For Susan. Since we raised the most money of any team (over $140,000!) we get the lead spot out of the chute. We all sign the Team Fatty poster for Susan and Elden and give. Elden is back in Utah taking care of Susan now, but they are both here in spirit. The words "Win Susan" and Fat Cyclist jerseys are everywhere. Even though I'm part of Team Fatty, I've never been much for lycra, so I'm riding incognito in an old wool Molteni jersey.

After inspirational speeches and the national anthem, we take off at 7:00 AM. we have a police escort and a lead car and still manage to get lost! In our defense, I think it was the lead car that got confused, but we quickly got back on track.

It's very neat having the police wave us through red lights and route us onto the closed express lanes of Interstate 90. We blast through the tunnel and onto the bridge. I'm snapping pictures and having a great time. The weather forecast is completely mixed, calling for sun, clouds and a chance of rain. As I'd told one of the out-of-town Fattys in the starting gate, "yeah, but Seattle rain is usually so light you barely notice it." In the story-telling biz, this is called "ironic foreshadowing" and this is also why I should never think of working as a weather forecaster. But I'm getting ahead of my story.

We roll off the freeway and do the scenic loop around Mercer Island. Families have set up little cheering sections along the route and the positive energy on this ride is amazing. Not a single angry car honk, just lots of thumbs up and "way to go!" expressions. At the stop on Mercer Island, I grab some food, stow my jacket and long pant legs, Tweet from my Peek (there's a 21st Century phrase for you!) and take a bunch more pictures.

We roll off Mercer Island via the East Channel Bridge Trail, through a bit of south Bellevue, up though New Castle and out into the May Valley. More cheering fans along the route and up at the top of one of the climbs, the Devil himself is there urging us onward.

We're practically in my back yard now. We navigate a bit of construction gravel in the May Valley and then head south on the Issaquah Hobart Road. After another quick stop to fuel up, we climb Tiger Mountain. I'd told various folks that the Tiger Climb would be easy because it's fairly gentle, but on the descent I'm sorry to see flares, an ambulance and several crashed bikes. There had been some rain on Tiger and the several riders crashed out on the slick descent. (As of this writing, 24 hours later, I believe that two riders were sagged to the finish and one rider taken away in the ambulance. I don't have any further details.)

The various loops of the Livestrong Ride overlap and if hundred mile riders aren't through the Issaquah stop by 11:30, they are routed onto the 70 mile course, skipping the loop around Lake Sammamish. I'm more than an hour ahead of the cut-off when I send my 10:23 AM Tweet from Issaquah. The route passes within about 100 feet of my home, but I turn right and head up the Plateau.

We have some of that light Seattle-style rain on the climb, which I find totally welcome. Some riders stop at the top to put on rain-jackets, but I bet rightly that the rain is just about done. It stops by the time we're back down to the Parkway along the lake.

I'm much better at remembering bikes than names, so I mentally tag other riders with monikers like "Green Davidson Gal" and "Recumbent Guy." I've been leap-frogging with Recumbent Guy all day, since we have almost perfectly opposite performance profiles: he can go like hell on the flats and the descents while I tend to scoot ahead on the climbs. He's used the fairing of his 'bent to good advantage, showing memorial pictures and a WIN SUSAN sticker.

Recumbent Guy and I leap-frog on the Sammamish Parkway and in one of our overlapping times he mentions that he's been having some cramping problems. I think but don't say "I never cramp" (if I had it would be yet another example of ironic foreshadowing!) and instead recommend that he be sure to load up on electrolytes and liquids at the next stop.

There are Pom-Pom girls and Nuun electrolyte solution at the Marymoor stop. The Nuun folks are giving away water bottles and while I have a hard time passing up freebies, I don't want to carry any extra weight up the Montreux climb. I swig some Nuun and grab a Powerbar which I'll chow down before I hit the big climb.

I ride with a couple of Fattys on the ride south along Lake Sammamish and one of them helps pass the time by recounting a particularly harrowing bike crash story ("the driver of the second car looked at me through the windshield and the bloody airbag as I rolled over his hood...") Again, the single-speed rhythm keeps me from riding with these guys for too long and we drift apart on the low rolling hills.

The Montreux climb is just about as bad as I thought it would be. It's about noon, the sun is out and there seem to be just about as many walkers as riders climbing this beast. Several folks managed to have flat tires partway up, a great strategy for getting a bit of a rest. I'm grinding up, passing several folks when I hit what I know is the steepest pitch. A lovely woman on a bike (I think she's one of the volunteers) is encouraging riders up and the Devil is there saying "only 150 feet to the summit!") Just when I think I've got it made, my right leg cramps.

I never cramp so my immediate reaction is "what the hell?" My right calf muscle has gone tight and will not unclench. I hop off my bike and walk ten steps, working the kink out. My mind is racing...why the heck would I cramp? Then it hits me, what is different about today isn't the pace, although it's somewhat faster than what I'm used to.

It's the food. Specifically, the drink. On long rides, I drink milk. Gallons of milk. Cows full of milk. And/or lattes. Today I've had black coffee, water, Gatorade and Nuun. No milk. No calcium.

I get back on my bike and get the pedals turning again. I'm past the steepest part of the climb now and I pass a woman who is pushing her bike up the grade. "It's a nice day for a walk," I say, "I know 'cause I was walking back there."

"It is a nice day for a walk," the woman says, "It's also a nice day for a punch in the face and if I meet the guy who designed this course that's what he's getting!"

I pedal onward.

The terrain tips down to join Lakemont Boulevard and then goes up again. I see a gas station, swing in and get the elixir of life, a pint of Chocolate Milk. I swig down half of it and stuff the bottle in my jersey pocket.

The ride is pretty much in the bag now, I've got plenty of time to get to the finish and it's mostly downhill or flat from here. I skip the New Castle snack stop but fuel up again in Renton.

The sky looks pretty dark now and it seems to be getting darker by the minute. Just south of Seattle, the air is split by a big clap of thunder and the sky just opens up. This is not gentle Seattle rain, this is the garden hose of the gods being directed straight at us. The giant raindrops turn to pea-sized hail and riders cower under any available shrub, tree or porch while hastily pulling on rain jackets. I manage to take a few photographs. "Look miserable," I say. "Not a problem," my fellow rider replies.

The storm passes as quickly as it came and as we roll north to Lake Washington Boulevard we see dry pavement and people in dry shorts and t-shirts. The heavy weather never hit north of Seward Park.

While I could forgive the course designer for the Montreux climb, when we turn up Yesler with it's 17% I'm ready to get in line behind the face-punching lady. There are at least a dozen better ways over the big Seattle ridge (and even a tunnel just for bikes that goes through the ridge) but nothing says welcome home quite like going up a cliff at mile 95 of a century. And the descent down Yesler is probably sponsored by Koolstop.

At 2:42 PM, I roll into Livestrong Village. Like some other riders, I get confused and go through the "Survivors" chute. While I survived the ride and am bald today, I'm not a cancer survivor, just a big fan. I realize my error and wave away the rose they try to hand me. The most amazing thing about this day was seeing those strong riders, the true survivors, who have fought back and live strong.

I feel blessed to witness all the amazing support in all its forms -- people who have given their time, talent, money, enthusiasm, and effort into making this an event that not only raises money, it shows people that even something as evil and mean as cancer can be beaten back by people who care and fight. Team Fatty raised over $140,000 and the Seattle event raised over one million dollars. I've never been more inspired to ride my bike. Thanks to everyone who carries on the fight.

Keep 'em rolling and keep fighting,


Friday, June 19, 2009

Lower Gear & Less Hair

The Livestrong Ride is on Sunday and I'm doing my final prep. I swapped out my 42 tooth chainring for a 38 tooth one. Four less teeth, two less chain links and a gear a bit lower for the climbs. But mostly, I'm counting on my "reverse-Samson" strategy -- I get stronger with less hair. So this is how I spent the first bit of this morning.

After getting most of the hair off with the trimmer, I finished things off with a couple of passes with a razor. Here is the result.

Of course, folks who know me know that I wear a cycling cap almost all the time, so I mostly look like this.

Sunday I ride. Look for photos and a report from the Seattle Livestrong Ride here sometime Monday. I've started doing that Twitter thing (still not sure how I feel about that) but I'll probably tweet live from the ride on Sunday via my Peek. I'm kentsbike on Twitter.

Keep 'em rolling,


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cancer, Livestrong and My Cousin Vernes

This Sunday, June 21, 2009, I'll be riding the 100 mile loop of the Seattle Livestrong Ride as part of Team Fat Cyclist. Thanks to many great friends and readers of this blog, I've already raised over $1,100 and the team has raised over $126,000. Right now I'd like to say thanks to all of you have pledged either your dollars or your time. You are helping good people fight a bad disease.

If you have not pledged yet and want to, we can still use your money. You can go here and pledge money toward my effort. This really is the last post I'll do on the subject, except for a ride report detailing how I faired riding the hilly, hundred mile course bald on my single speed.

Cancer is such a widespread disease that I'm sure virtually everyone has some cancer story to tell. Elden's wife is bravely battling the disease now and my wife's father lost his battle to cancer years ago when Christine was just a teenager. Just in my own small circle of family and friends, there are dozens of cancer stories I could tell. The one I'm going to tell you about today is the one about my cousin Vernes.

Cousin Vernes was one of my oldest cousins. My mom was the youngest child in a large, midwestern farm family. Vernes was the daughter of my uncle Carl, my mom's oldest brother so my Mom and Vernes were closer in age than many cousins. Vernes was more like a cousin or a sister to my mom and more like an aunt to me than a cousin.

Women from my mom's side of the family tend to be somewhat pear-shaped, a trait that makes them more stable when negotiating the icy streets of northern Minnesota. Some tend to become even more pear-shaped as they age, a trait my Dad noted a few years ago when cousin Vernes was visiting.

My dad, my sister Sheila, and Sheila's young daughter Katherine were in the living room chatting while Vernes was in the kitchen making a call. Vernes was perched on a small chair that was groaning a bit under the load. My dad, a man not entirely without tact, kept his voice low as he commented to my sister, "Wow, your cousin really has a big butt. You should never let your butt get that big." Katherine, with those perfect ears that kids have that lets them record and remember all those things that perhaps shouldn't be repeated, filed this information away.

A year or so later, we got the word that cousin Vernes had cancer and was dying. The doctors were out of options. My sisters, Candy and Sheila, headed off to visit Vernes for what would be the last time. In explaining the trip to Katherine, Sheila explained that she was going to visit Vernes, who had cancer. There are a lot of cousins in my family, so Katherine had to be sure she knew which one was Vernes. "Is she the one with the big butt?" Katherine asked sweetly. "Yes," my sister assured her, cousin Vernes is the one with the big butt. "And she's got cancer in her butt?" Katherine further queried. "No," Sheila explained Vernes has a big butt and she has cancer but the cancer really isn't in her butt and wasn't it time for Katherine to go to bed?

So my sisters went and visited Vernes, helping out as much as they could in her final days. It was only fitting, for Vernes had always been one of the people in the family who would come and help out when somebody was sick. Vernes was the one who would welcome people to the neighborhood. Like all of us, she had her faults, but she was someone who would pitch in when folks needed help and she would listen and she could laugh at herself.

It's a shame my sisters never told her how they almost lost control on one of those last days. It wasn't the sorrow that made them almost leave the room, they'd learned to deal with sorrow. Vernes herself always had a faith that stood with her to the end and she knew she'd had a good run and was headed to her reward. But when my sister asked the specific question about the cancer and Vernes explained that she had one very big, inoperable tumor, "behind my hip, kind of at the base of my spine. To tell you the truth, it's in my butt." my sisters nearly lost it.

And so I'm riding on Sunday for a lot of people, including my cousin, whose heart was always bigger than her butt. The Lance Armstrong Foundation is a lot like my cousin Vernes, they pitch in where they can. My friend Fatty tells me they have been a great help to his family and I know they've been a great help to many other families dealing with cancer.

Cancer is a pain in the butt. Sunday I'm going to go kick some of that butt, for cousin Vernes.

Keep 'em rolling,


You're so vain, you probably think this post is about you

A funny thing happened when I built up my latest bike, a Shogun 600 from the 1980s. I usually build my bikes entirely around function and as for looks I often say "the grungier, the better. Less likely to get stolen." While I appreciate the function of lugs on a frame, I don't really have any fondness for a lugged frame over a tig-welded one. But there's something about this Shogun.

The bike was pretty rough looking when it came in and it came stock with 27" wheels. I'd been thinking about making a simple, single speed roadster for a while and knew that going to 700c wheels would give me a better selection of tires. 700c wheels also give four more millimeters at the rim to allow both fenders and wider tire to coexist. The wheels I happened to have for this project were, well nice, a Bullseye hub rear, and Campy hub front and the brakes I found to fit the wheels, well they were nice as well, some old Shimano Tourney centerpulls. Then the Origin8 bars turned out to not only look good, they're actually really comfy.

I guess I should have known on the day that I masked off the lugs and painted the frame, that I was building myself a nice bike. Later, I knew I might have gone too far when Suzanne Carlson, Bike Works original Executive Director, who was back in Seattle for a visit said "wait, that's an old, spray-painted frame? I thought it was something really expensive."

Sure, I could've made the bike grungier with some coroplast fenders, but when I found this set of perfectly good, used Planet Bike fenders in the Bike Works attic, well I can't pass up a bargain. And those Dimension Cork Grips well they were a really good deal as well and they're very comfy.

Riding the Shogun is wonderful. It's efficient on the climbs, stable on the descents and comfy all day. The bike is quick enough to get this 50 year old man every paved (or mostly-paved) place he needs to go, but not racy enough to make me want to chase down every lycra-clad team in town.

In short, the Shogun is a great bike. If it's got a shortcoming, it's that it's too nice. It's a good thing bikes can't read or have egos, because if they did, the Shogun would probably become so vain and think this post is about it.

Keep 'em rolling,


Monday, June 08, 2009

The Montreux Climb is a Piece of Cake

Eric "Lo-Phat" Gunnerson recently published an excellent preview of the upcoming Livestrong course where he wrote the following words of caution:

Montreux is, to put it simply, a beast. If you have a climbing cassette for your bike, bring it. If you have a small electric assist-motor, bring it. If you have a supply of EPO, use it. If you are like me, you will be spending about 20 minutes of time on this hill. On the upside, the pavement is excellent, and there's also a view, if you have the oxygen to turn around and see it.
Right from the start, it's at about 10% for the first little bit, then it will turn a bit to the left and ease down to around 7%. Then it will kick up to about 14% for a bit, taper down to 10%, up to 14%, and then there's a nice section that's even steeper. I was climbing at about 3.9 MPH on that section.
I really recommend finding time to pre-ride this hill, so that you know what you're in for.
Now despite living in the Issaquah Alps area for years and having ridden up and down various roads and trails on Tiger, Cougar, Squak, and Taylor Mountains, I couldn't actually recall riding Montreux. Probably because I've opted to ride the even more beastly Zoo Hill or maybe I was having one of those episodes where I'm blocking out a particularly painful memory.

This morning, I decided to check out Montreux.

Now I go by the turns for Zoo Hill

and Montreux every day on my commute but somehow when I'm either going to work or going home, the tendency is to continue straight to my destination and not indulge in a bit of extra alpine adventure. But Mondays and Tuesdays are my virtual weekend and this looked like just the day to check out the climb.

The Montreux climb is a piece of cake on a bike with a single 42*17 gear ratio. A piece of stale cake that lodges in your throat and threatens to cut off all oxygen. And if, I'm just saying if, mind you, a fellow were to happen to stop at the part of the hill that Eric describes as "a nice part that's even steeper" (than 14%) to peal off his jacket and take a picture of the nice roadside flowers, he might find he has one hell of a time turning the pedal over from a dead stop.

The view from the crest is pretty good.

Going down the other side, (which is the easy way to go up Cougar Mountain!) I get to use that fancy freewheeling option I put on the Shogun. Handy for situations like this.

My single-speeding plan for the Livestrong seems doable. I'll work the Montreux climb into my commute a few times a week between now and the ride and of course when I do the ride for real, I won't be lugging around all this heavy hair on the top of my head.

Keep 'em rolling,


Sunday, June 07, 2009

More Geeky Peek Fun

OK, this is another one of those techno-geek posts. I found out the guys at Peek are beta-testing some geo-tracking applications. I love beta testing stuff so I had Mark Bowytz at Peek hook me up and now my Peek automatically tells the world approximately where I'm at. It's that little map on in the upper right corner of my blog. It updates about once an hour and uses a service called Xtify to plot the location of my Peek based on the nearest cell tower. So it gives broad data like if I'm around home or work, but it's not quite fine enough resolution for you hard-core stalkers.

This morning Mark just emailed me to clarify, he doesn't actually work for Peek, he's got a day job doing something else and the geo-tracking thing is just a fun project for him. Like the guy who goes by the identifier "crc" and makes all the cool retroforth.org stuff for the Peek, Mark is one of those talented nerds that the Peek just seems to attract. I've had a lot of great interactions with folks who really do work for Peek, like Gabe and Amol, and it's cool to see a little company working hard to do simple things. I'm hoping Peek makes enough money to actually put Mark and crc on the payroll someday.

In other geek news, the geo-tracking thing and the Peek was what finally got me on Twitter. Yeah, that trend is officially dead because now I'm kentsbike on Twitter. I could never really figure out the popularity of Twitter, figuring that only somebody like the 15th century haiku poet Basho would really have anything meaningful to say in 140 characters or less.

But now that I'm on Twitter, I think I've figured it out. You see, we've all suspected that other people lead dull lives, and Twitter lets us see that this is true in real time. OK, it is kind of fascinating seeing the tiny bits people choose to put up there. I did find out that Daniel Schorr tweeted a bit but basically doesn't update the world every fifteen minutes saying "this reminds me of the time I was on Nixon's enemies list..." (BTW, if I'd been on Nixon's enemies list, I'd probably work it into conversation every chance I get!). I'll take the 140 character limit as a challenge and try to tweet something interesting at some time, but I'll probably fail at that and either go silent or start babbling. But my Peek will continue to auto update my geo-location in my profile. The profile update works a little differently than the map on the blog, it picks nearby locations from a database. I can add named locations to the database, so I've plugged in the various bookstores, bakeries and coffee shops that I tend to frequent.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Zina Saunders' Portraits of New York Cyclists

Thanks to Boing Boing's guest blogger Bill Gurstelle, I discovered Zina Saunders great site called Overlooked New York where she collects "portraits and interviews with ardent New Yorkers about their joyous obsession." Her portraits of The Puerto Rican Schwinn Club and Bike Messengers are quite wonderful. On Zina's site, click on the small images along the top of the page to see the portraits and interviews.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Help Mark Help Fatty Help Lance Beat Cancer

Are you sick of me talking about the Livestrong Ride yet? Well, too bad, because I'm going to talk about it some more. It's less than three weeks away and my buddy Fatty has just tossed yet another incentive into the pile. You can read all about it on Fatty's blog.

Now here's the deal, I've already passed my fund-raising goal, thanks to the generosity of a whole bunch of you folks, so I just want to say thanks. No, you really don't need to pledge any more money to my ride. I will do the hilly hundred mile route bald, on a single speed, in honor of all the people who are doing much harder things every day fighting against cancer. But I am going to ask you folks out there in blog land for one more thing.

My friend Mark Vande Kamp is a great guy and last December he also signed up as part of Team Fatty to do the Seattle Livestrong Ride. But Mark has been slow out of the fund-raising gate. I think he's still trying to find his shoes or something. Mark actually has no idea I'm writing this right now, but I'm thinking a few well-placed pledges might be just the thing to get Mark to the starting line on June 21st. I won't even insist that he shave his head. His pledge page is here. Every $5 raised on Mark's page between now and June 7th gets Mark a chance at winning the Rev-30 wheels pictured at the top of this post. They are just the kind of thing Mark would never buy for himself but that I bet he'd really like if he got a chance to ride them. And, of course, all the pledges go to a great cause.

Thanks again folks and thanks to Fatty for spurring us into action.

Keep 'em rolling,


How to Win Friends and Influence People

Pearls Before Swine

Bob in Michigan sent me the link to the above cartoon (Click on the cartoon to see the whole thing). It's a good thing that I use the same hand for holding my coffee cup and clicking the mouse and thus can't do both things simultaneously. If I had mastered that trick, the coffee would've shot out my nose and I'd still be cleaning my keyboard instead of posting this note. I found the comic very funny and, unfortunately, often very true.

Over many years as a cyclist and more years as a human being, I've noticed that people don't react well to being told that they are doing something wrong, you are doing something right and that you are better than they are. As a strategy, it just doesn't seem to work all that well.

In much the same way that cookies yield better intelligence than waterboarding, it seems that the key to persuasion is establishing a true empathetic connection, seeing the other person as a person. We all have to make our ways in the world, connect with the ones we love, earn our livings, and keep track of our stuff. And each of us, each day, tries to solve the days problems in the way that makes the most sense to us.

Yesterday, I had lunch with my friends Mike and Raif. Years ago, they were part of my team doing QA work for a "large, Redmond-based software developer". As I've often said, "unless you can get paid to find sand at the beach, you will not have an easier job." Mike, Raif and many other very bright people found boat-loads of bugs. Another set of people, also very bright, patched code and created more features and there were always new bugs and old bugs that worked in new ways and software, like all art, is a journey, not a destination. For many years I sent email and went to meetings and daily triage sessions and maybe helped make some things better and would be happy if, at the end of the day, things would maybe suck just a little less.

Here's one thing I found there, the thing that I think has bearing not only on software development but also bicycle advocacy and a lot of other things. Some of the people involved in the project were not only very bright, they had a strong investment in being right. And my job was basically telling them that they were wrong. They would want to ship product X and I'd tell them that they couldn't ship because this, this and that are broken in product X. You'd think that wouldn't make me and my test team very popular, yet we were. People genuinely valued our input. Hell, they paid us a lot of money for our input.

We represented the end-users of the software, so naturally we tried to think like software users. But the people who read the bug reports and acted on them were the developers, so we really tried to think like developers as well, giving them as much info as we could about a problem. We'd occasionally try to think like the marketing guys as well, but that would just make our heads hurt and order too many drinks at lunch, so we pretty much stopped doing that. We learned to describe problems not in the "you're wrong" way but in the "the software is doing this, is this right?" way. Developers love to solve problems and we uncovered interesting, sometimes bizarre, problems. We would get the developers engaged by thinking like developers ourselves and trying to supply every bit of information needed to recreate the problem. The best developers thought like testers and the best testers thought like developers. As testers, we developed test code to automate the boring things. I'd always tell my crew "if some part of your job troubles you, find a way to change it."

It's that empathy, putting yourself in the shoes of the other, that is the way we truly share the road. Raif now works at a smaller place, testing software. Years ago Mike merged into the mothership and is now managing the new releases of code we all had a hand in testing years ago. And I now work at a place where most of the day to day problems I encounter are hardware problems, but some of the issues still come down to "the loose nut attached to the handlebar." We talked about our jobs, our families, the world at large and life in general. We noted that I was the only one who hadn't had to orbit the parking lot looking for a place to leave my car. Watching Raif do the "parking lot vulture" circuit brought back memories of a younger me who used to drive, a fellow who had a bug list involving parking, gas, insurance, and more places I wanted to ride to than drive. I closed out those bugs by changing my operating system to one based on two wheels instead of four, a system fueled by peanut M&Ms instead of petroleum. I'm not claiming it's a better solution for everyone, but it's turned out to be a better solution for me.

I didn't waste my lunch time trying to convince my friends that I'm smart for riding and that they're stupid for driving. It's not true, it's not the point and it's not productive. But by riding to the lunch, basically by riding everywhere for the past 20 plus years, I provide one small counter-example in a car-centric culture. I've talked about my riding philosophy before, specifically in this post, and basically it comes down to trying to respect the other users of the road. A great part of that respect is seeing the other people, be they drivers, walkers or cyclists, as people.

Those of us who are cyclists, if we are fit and tan and happy in our lives, don't need to tell people that we are fit and tan and happy. Our friends can see that. And if we aren't constantly telling people that they'd be happier if they were fit and tan and happy like we are, we might have more friends.

But sometimes, of course, we get this urge to preach. Maybe that's what blogs are good for.

Keep 'em rolling,