Thursday, June 28, 2007

MTBCast and More GDR Coverage

I have been totally hooked on the online coverage of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Race this year. Tom Purvis has been doing an amazing job of transcribing the racer's call-in's at:

and thanks to Joe Polk at MTBCast, you can also hear the voices of the racers. Joe also adds some comentary. For yesterday's episode, Joe and I had a pretty extensive conversation about the race and what the riders are going through. You can hear that podcast here:

If, like me, you just can't get enough GDR coverage, here are a few more handy links:

MTBR's GDR Update thread at:

Scott's handy GDR time table:

Aaron's 2007 GDR picture gallery:

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Nokia N800 -- a computer for nomads

I always loved the Jetsons cartoon. George Jetson had the floating house, the robot maid, the treadmill for walking his dog Astro. And while all these techno time-savers might not have made his cartoon life any easier, they did make things interesting and funny. As a little kid in 1960s America, I wanted to live in the future floating world. At that time I'd never heard of J.B. Preistley and even if I had I wouldn't have believed his judgement that "we cannot get grace from gadgets." I didn't care about such things. I wanted a flying car that would fold up into a briefcase.

I never got my flying car and real cars, the ones that are spend much of their time stuck in the traffic of the non-cartoon world, hold little interest for me. But my fascination with things that fold and minimize themselves in clever ways continues to this day. Over the years I've owned several Bike Fridays, a Dahon and a very nifty little Bridgestone Picnica. And if I ever find a deal on one, I'll probably get one of those super elegant little Bromptons someday. But for now my current crop of bicycles are full-sized non-folding machines.

My preference for human powered mobility and my semi-nomadic tendencies leads me to favor things that are light over those that are heavy and small items over bulky ones. The latest example of this is my new computer. I'm not talking about a cycle computer here, as in a device to record my speed and distance, I'm talking about my general purpose computer, the thing I use to browse the web, send email,read electronic books, listen to podcasts and internet radio, write stories and post entries to my blog. I'm talking about the computer I'm using right now to write this blog entry.

It weighs 7.26 ounces and it fits in my pocket. It's a Nokia N800 and even though it looks a lot like Apple's new iPhone, it's not a phone. It's a computer. It's got Linux running under the hood. The iPhone will only run apps blessed by Apple and that machine is tied by a two year contract to AT&T. My Nokia connect to the internet anyplace I can grab an open wifi signal and a small army of geeks are busy porting pretty much any application I can think of to the device. So far I haven't found a good photo editor for the Nokia, but that's about the only thing I'm missing. (In the interest of full disclosure I should note that I cropped these photos using the Gimp on my old Toshiba laptop running Ubuntu Linux.)

The Nokia N800's tiny screen is amazingly clear and the software handles zooming and scrolling in a really clever manner. I haven't messed with the handwriting recognition but the machine has pops up a smart virtual keyboard that can tell the difference between my fingers and a stylus. The virtual keyboard works surprisingly well for tapping out small notes, Google searches and things like that but for real writing I prefer a real keyboard. And the keyboard is real piece of Jetson hardware.

A company called Think Outside makes the Stowaway Universal Bluetooth Keyboard. This 5.6 ounce keyboard folds into a package that's slightly larger than the N800. Unfolded, the keyboard basically feels like any laptop keyboard and it communicates flawlessly with the N800 via a wireless Bluetooth connection.

Even including the weight of the very compact N800 battery charger, my entire mobile computer kit weighs less than a pound. I've had the machine for more than a week now and I've been using it to keep up to date with the podcasts and blog entries being posted about the Great Divide Mountain Bike Race. Next month the machine will get it's real field test on my tour of Washington state.

William Gibson noted that "the future is already here -- it's just unevenly distributed." Now I feel like a bit of that future has distributed itself right into my pocket.

If you want to read more about the Nokia N800, there is a very extensive review of the device here:

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Biking Boy Scouts

Last week I traded some email with Gail Petranek of Poulsbo Washington. Gail's husband Mark is the Assistant Scoutmaster of the Poulsbo Boy Scout troop and they were planning a bike camping trip to the Iron Horse Trail. Gail asked if I could come out and chat with the scouts about bike safety, maintenance and repair and bike adventures in general. Naturally I said yes.

Monday afternoon my friend Matt Newlin and I rode the few blocks from the Seattle Bikestation to the downtown ferry terminal. We took the ferry over to Bainbridge Island and then rode up the island, across the Agate Pass bridge and into Poulsbo. The early evening sun was shining warmly and we stopped for a great supper of fish and chips on the patio of J J's Fish House. After supper we rode over to the Liberty Bay Presbyterian Church and met up with the scouts.

They were a good batch of kids. They at least pretended to pay attention when I talked about safety and a I got to teach a couple of them the basics of things like brake adjustments, cable tension, and derailleur limit screws.

I also managed to get one of my main messages across to them, that any distance is biking distance. I told them about my friends who right now are racing the GDR, how they are covering more than 100 miles per day for days at a time. I also mentioned that Matt and I were making today a bit of an adventure and that we'd be camping on Bainbridge island.

Matt and I were back on Bainbridge well before sunset, made tea with the Kelley Kettle and rolled out the bivy sacks at the luxurious "primitive" camp site in Faye Bainbridge State Park.

The birds of Bainbridge Island don't come equipped with snooze alarms and they wake at dawn so Matt and I followed suit. After brewing up some coffee and packing up camp, we followed the small, hilly island roads south to Winslow. It would probably have been quicker to take Hwy 305 straight down the island but on these roads less travelled by we saw an otter strolling across the road and several deer. I was back at the Bikestation at the usual time Tuesday morning.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

My Dad

Since this is Father's Day I'm going to write a little bit about my dad. While I hold the fond memory of my mom being the one who pushed me along on a little blue bike and taught me to balance and ultimately ride a bike, my dad taught me so many of the important things about balance in life, about deciding to go and preparing and going. He taught me what's important but more importantly, he taught me to understand what's not important.

I remember in the early 1970s when digital watches first came on the market. I thought they were so cool but my dad viewed them with a bit of skepticism. "Sure they tell you what time it is, but most of the time you're looking at a watch to see what time it's not." I didn't quite understand, so my dad elaborated, "Say I have to be at school at eight, I look at my watch to see how close it is to eight. With hands I see at a glance how much time I have, with numbers I wind up subtracting. I do enough damn math every day, I don't want a watch that makes me do more." My dad was a science teacher for years and years and yes, he did math every damn day. But no more than he had to. I also remember seeing his checkbook one time and noting that he rounded up and only tracked dollars. "I just need to know if I have enough money," he explained. "If I wanted to track every penny I would've become an accountant."

My dad taught me to tinker, to wonder, to use tools and open things up and sometimes fix them. He taught me that you can build some things, fix some things and other things you just live with or realize that you can live fine without 'em. I think it kind of surprised my dad that when it came to motor vehicles I wound up lumping them into the pile of things I can live fine without.

Dad taught me that often times you can figure out machines but people will almost always surprise you. My dad still manages to surprise me. I remember years ago when my dad was giving me a ride back to college. He was flipping through stations on the radio dial and he stopped at a particular station playing a particular song. Now you have to understand that my dad tends to favor Patsy Cline over Patti Smith and George Jones over George Thorogood, but the station he stopped on was the rock and roll station out of Duluth and the song was "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen. My dad didn't turn the dial away but he did turn the volume up. I was stunned. And when the song ended, my dad said to me, "I don't know what that was, but that was a damn good song!" I knew right then that you can spend your entire life with someone and you still will never know everything about them. Machines might be interesting, but people are fascinating.

A few years later my dad, my brother-in-law and I were fishing up on Crane Lake in northern Minnesota. One of us hooked a large Northern Pike which we then hooked to a stringer that hung over the side of the boat. After some more hours of fishing without catching we decided to head for camp. To this day we debate over whose duty it was to pull in the stringer, but the important fact is that the stringer was not pulled in. A fact that we all became aware of when there was a loud thunk from the back of the boat as the Northern Pike hit the spinning blade of the propeller. All that was left of what was supposed to be our dinner was the head of the fish. One of my dad's more printable comments was "you know, we don't have to tell anyone about this."

But of course we told everyone. Because, as my dad later explained, "a good story is worth a lot more than a little embarrassment." Dad taught me a lot about story-telling but he also taught me the most important thing, the thing I echoed years later. I was riding a brevet somewhere and one of my fellow randonneurs said "you just do these things for the stories, don't you?" "Nope," I replied, "I do these rides because they interest me. If you do interesting things, you get interesting stories for free."

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Great Divide Mountain Bike Race

The Great Divide Mountain Bike Race started yesterday, June 15th 2007, at high noon. A record-setting 25 racers took off from Port Roosville, MT. Thanks to this Web 2.0 age we live in and the efforts of some amazingly hard-working folks, you can follow along here:

and here:

I'm pretty much glued to the coverage and I wish the best of luck to all the racers, but I have to confess that I'm probably rooting the hardest for Dave Nice. I'd love to see Dave set the fixed gear record for the GDR.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Average Speed Is Depressing

One of the things features I've been enjoying about my green bike is it's lack of a cycle computer. At first I was saying that I hadn't gotten around to adding a cycle computer to the bike but soon I realized that I was really enjoying not worrying about how fast I was going. I still wear a watch and I know the distances of most of my local rides. And thanks to things like Google Maps and Bikely, I can found out exactly how far I've gone if I care about such things.

A while back I read this great post by Mark Stosberg where he notes that most cars, with all their gadgetry, tend not to have the average speed function. You can read his post and download his True MPH calculator here:

Mark's conclusion, which I agree with, is that cars don't have the average speed calculation because it's depressing. If people knew how slowly they are really getting from point A to point B, it'd bum them out.

But here's the thing, if cars aren't that fast, it also means that bikes aren't that slow. I'm pretty happy at 12 miles per hour, but I'm happiest that I've mostly managed to build a life where I don't have to rush. Hasten Slowly has been my motto for awhile and ironically it seems the slower I go, the more time I have and the more stuff I manage to get done.

One other thing I noticed back when I was paying attention to the average speed reading on my cycle computer was that it really encouraged me to ride like a nut. I'd get a higher reading if I'd go really fast from light to light. When stopped, really stopped, the computer wouldn't update. But it encouraged racing around. And some computers have that annoying little pace arrow that constantly tells you if you're going slower than you're current average.

If you're racing around and you love pegging numbers and going fast or are training for some big event, I'm not saying you should toss your computer. But don't let a little hunk of plastic and some electronics boss you around either. If I was a more advanced person maybe I'd be able to ignore the numbers on my handlebars. But I'm not that advanced and I find it much easier to ignore a cycle computer when it's stashed in my pile of bike parts and not on my bike!

Tony's Trailers

As my friend Mark Canizaro has pointed out, I'm not really "into" bike trailers. In general, I like to travel light. But Tony Hoar makes a bike trailer you can get into. Literally. It's a camp trailer with a really nifty design. One thing that I really love about this tent is that Tony started this project thinking about homeless folks. Tony has been helping people who need help and having those same people help work out details of the design.

To learn more about Tony's Nomad (and other) trailers check out his website at:

Monday, June 11, 2007

Peter McKay: It's a beautiful day!!!

Peter McKay is one of the most relentlessly optimistic people I know. This evening I got this note from him:

Hi friends & family,

I had another wonderful commute today! On the return home after passing Alki, I was riding along the rough road that is Beach Drive. My bicycle was not feeling and sounding well. I stopped and noticed that she had a compound fracture of the seat tube at the bottom bracket. I was happy to have had this last ride with her on such a beautiful day!!! She was a great commute bicycle -- always willing to get me where I wanted to go when I wanted to go, for more than 11,000 kms. I had the pleasure of riding her on several SIR events: a 200km, a couple permanents and this year’s populaire.



Thursday, June 07, 2007

Lazarus: A One Man Bicycle Band

He is playing music above the din of the cars rolling off the freeway exit ramp in Factoria. It is the music that catches my ears, but the bicycle draws my eyes. Here is a creative man with a message. His sign tells all who would see that Jesus Loves Them. It's Thursday evening and I'm rolling home on my own bicycle. I'd already told Christine I'd be late this evening. I decide to be a little later.

I park my bike, push the walk button and wait for a sign. Eventually the red hand turns into a walking man and the tide of cars pauses and I walk through the gap in traffic.

I say I don't mean to disturb him, but he stops playing his harmonica to talk to me. He still keeps a beat going with the foot pedal on the drum set and he keeps his hands on the accordion as we talk. He says his name is Lazarus and I can't help but think this is so much better than if he'd said his name was something much more common like Bob or Fred.

I complement him on his rig and ask if it's OK if I take his picture. He's camera shy, but as we talk some more he reluctantly agrees. He talks more about Jesus than himself but he does ask me about my bike. "I see you have a bicycle," he says, "do you have a car as well?"

"No," I answer, "I got rid of my car over twenty years ago."

"Why?" he asks.

"A simple reason," I say, "I never liked driving, I like to ride my bike."

Lazarus nods. "Do you do it for any eco-reasons?"

"Maybe a bit," I reply, "I just think it makes sense to only use what I need. I don't need much."

"Yes," he smiles, "we don't need much." He goes on to tell me of someone he knows, "he's got a bike shop and he's got this shirt with a coffin on it and the coffin has wheels..."

"Oh yeah," I say, "the Cars-R-Coffins shirt."

"Yeah, that's it. Now I didn't say anything, 'cause Jesus taught that we shouldn't judge and you know, in a way cars are coffins, but that shirt seems to me like it's judging and I'd rather just be showing a way other than a car, you know what I mean?"

"And that's why you're here?"

"It's not just what you say, it's what you do."

We talk some more about his bike, it's very clever. I ask about the roof and he says he has another design that keeps more water off. We compare notes on coroplast, he uses it to keep his accordion case dry and I point to my recycled campaign sign fenders on my green bike across the street. He has a set of wheels that bolt to the drum set that converts it into a trailer. It also looks to me like the rest of his gear is in the big plastic wrapped pack up front.

"Do you take donations?" I ask and he admits that he does. As if to illustrate the point at that moment a car honks and the driver extends her hand with a couple of dollars out the window. "Excuse me," says Lazarus as he goes to take the money and thank the woman for her donation. While he's getting the money, I check my wallet. All I have is a twenty.

I have to confess I was hoping I'd see some smaller bills there but twenty bucks really isn't that much to me and I know that twenty bucks will go further for Lazarus than it ever would for me.

We chat a little more. I say that if he gets to Seattle and he ever needs a place to stash his rig, we have room at the Bikestation. "Oh yes," he said, "I know that place, I have a map."

"I work there," I explain, "I help people ride bikes instead of drive cars."

"That's good work," Lazarus says.

"It is," I say. "What you are doing is good work. You're out here getting your message out." I tell him about my blog and ask if it would be OK if I post his picture and a bit about him on the internet.

Again he is shy, but then he says, "I don't think things are evil, like some folks say. It's how you use stuff. I don't think the internet is evil but I don't use it. I don't need it. The problem with cars is folks use 'em too much."

I say that I don't think he can be too shy if he's out playing music on a freeway exit ramp. He agrees and lets me take some more pictures. But he always manages to be looking away from the camera. "Put this on the internet if you want." I assure him that I'll just try to get his message out to a few more people, people who might not be driving by this particular off ramp.

I explain that my wife is waiting for me at home and that I should get going. I hand him my business card and the twenty. "Stop by and see me at the Bikestation."

He seems a little surprised at the cash and thanks me repeatedly. He promises to stop by when he's in Seattle. I hope he does, I think I can learn a lot from him.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Calligan Lake S24O

Recently I wrote the following words to a few friends of mine: "I'm actually leaning towards doing more touring and fewer brevets. The certificate/medal thing never had much appeal, I'm not really interested in going faster and I already know I can do the events within the time limit. Which leaves the "social" aspect and I can do more rando-socializing by working a control instead of riding and if I want to ride with somebody, I'd rather go out on a tour or an S24O or a day ride with them. So, I think I'm going to be doing fewer brevets." An S24O is Grant Petersen's term for a Sub-24 hour Overnight trip. He describes the basic idea here: This weekend was the SIR 600K. I didn't go, I went "not-camping" instead. I sent out an email to various folks I know, folks who might be interested and who might not be riding the 600K. I got three pals to go with me. Matt Newlin had actually signed up for the 600K but when he stopped by the Bikestation on Thursday I was sufficiently enthusiastic about my planned trip to Lake Calligan that he decided to join me on the trip. My friend and colleague Mark Canizaro didn't take much convincing and John Lynker, a fellow I first met when he was a customer at Sammamish Valley Cycle, completed our party. The forecast was for warm clear weather and the plan was to leave my place around noon on Saturday and we'd be back in Issaquah before noon on Sunday. Calligan Lake located up in the mountains on land owned by Weyerhaeuser. The company doesn't log on the weekends and the land is open to the public on Saturday and Sunday. While access gates and rugged roads keep most vehicular traffic away from the high country and signs prohibit motorcycles and ATVs, bicycles are the ideal tool to reach interesting places like Calligan Lake. A bit before noon on Saturday, Mark arrives by bus in Issaquah. Matt pulls up a couple of minutes later and we head east out of town. I made a Bikely map of our route is here: Actually our route turns out to be slightly different than this because we added a little bit to swing by Snoqualmie Falls where we'll meet up with John. It's a warm day, but our route takes us on the shaded trail that runs just to the north of I-90 between Issaquah and Highpoint. Mark is riding his Bianchi Volpe, Matt is on his Kogswell P/R and I've got my green bike. At Highpoint we rejoin pavement for the ride up to Preston where we connect up with the paved Preston-Snoqualmie trail. Near Fall City, we ride on SR-203 for a bit and then turn onto a small road that becomes a smaller, gated gravel road that climbs up to the gravel Snoqualmie Valley Trail. A recurring theme of this trips is gates and gravel. John and his Bianchi Axis are waiting for us by the Falls. Mark is in desperate need of an ice-cream bar and a sandwich by this point and we all take a snack break. I have an iced coffee. We've got all day and we aren't in any rush. That's the main difference between this trip and a brevet. On a brevet, you really can never forget about the time. I'm glad for all the randonneuring I've done, it's taught me how to budget my time, how to find my way around by bicycle and it's taught me a lot about endurance. But sometimes, like today, it's nice to just ride around with your pals. We get riding again and we resume climbing. Matt and I have more miles in our legs and more practice on the hills so we tend to climb faster than John and Mark, but that works out fine. We regroup pretty much at every turn and every gate. I have my little pencam, so I take lots of pictures and at various times we trade off the camera to get some other shots. Much of the land has been clear-cut, but Mark explains that the loggers have an alternate term for a clear-cut, they call it a "temporary meadow." The temporary meadows do open up some great vistas (along with some wide views of some really large temporary meadows). At the top of one long, hot, exposed steep climb, Matt and I find a patch of shade and flop down with the bikes. I unfold my Z-rest and take a rest while we wait for Mark and John to catch up. Matt takes in the view and when Mark and John catch up with us Mark takes me up on my suggestion of a five-minute siesta. There is no camping at Calligan Lake, so we've decided we aren't camping. We don't have tents, we won't have a campfire. We may roll out our bivy sacks and take a nap that spans the hours of darkness. We may brew some tea in the Kelly Kettle and have a nice snack. But we aren't camping. We are all very clear on that point. There really are no camping spots at Calligan Lake. There is a spot where a few vehicles are parked (they must have keys to the gates) and a couple of canoes and a boat are out on the water. We don't want to disturb the fisher folks, so we follow the road until it diverges from the lake, looking for a good spot for our extended picnic. We don't find much of anything, so we back-track and eventually find a bit of an opening in the trees where we can walk our bikes down to a small clearing on the lake shore. It's some after 6:00 PM now and we are about 35 miles from Issaquah. We continue the leisurely theme of the day, unpacking the bags from our bikes, comparing our supplies. John has his luxuries, salami and cheese and beer and Jack Daniels and chocolate mini-donuts. Matt has cashews and chocolate covered espresso beans and other dry light food-stuffs. Mark has freeze-dried Chicken & Rice and oatmeal. I've got green tea, and coffee and Nutella and graham crackers and lots of various food bars. I've also got the Kelly Kettle and a 16 ounce thermos. The kettle and thermos are my luxury, I'm looking forward to hot tea in the middle of the night and when I get up in the morning. I heat the water for the chicken and rice and while that is steeping, I brew up a second batch of hot water for tea. My companions are all impressed with the kettle's efficiency and classic design. In addition to my pencam, I'd brought along my somewhat more expensive ($100) Kodak digital camera. I guess the cameras are another of my luxuries. The Kodak is more fiddling than I like to do from the saddle of a bike, but it takes some good shots in camp. I still really prefer the pencam, however. It doesn't have a display screen, but it's dead simple so I just shoot lots of pics and throw away the duds later when I see them on my computer screen at home. In the field, too much technology can sometimes get in the way. We chat about many things and share the food. As the sun gets lower the bugs get more active but we all have various forms of bug netting. Just before we nod off for our extended naps, Matt says to me "You know, if we were on the 600K, we'd probably be riding toward Elma for a few hours of sleep right about now." He doesn't sound like he's missing the 600K even a little bit. Matt and I are awake by 5:00 AM. The moon is just setting behind the mountains. We share the last of the warm tea from the thermos (my plan with the overnight hot tea worked perfectly) and then we go off to retrieve the food pannier that John and I hung up away from our "not camp" last night. I brew up another batch of hot water which Mark uses to make oatmeal and I use to make coffee. It's another perfect day. After breakfast we pack up pretty quickly. Calligan Lake is a couple of thousand feet higher than Issaquah and what was yesterday's slow climb is today's speedy descent. Near the Falls, John splits off to head for his home while Mark, Matt and I follow the trail down to Fall City and then head back to Issaquah. I'm home at 10:35 AM, making this a true sub-24 for me but this trip wasn't about any kind of a time line. Mark and Matt ride back to Seattle and I know it is very safe to say that a good time was had by all. Photos from the trip can be seen at: