Wednesday, September 30, 2009

In Motion

 
Just a few days ago I commited to commute to work by bicycle a minimum of two days per week averaged over a month's time. I had earlier commited to start commuting by bicycle, but I had to really think about what constituted a solid numeric commitment I could keep.

Two days seemed like a good number. I figured it would get me started and take away the "I'll do it when I can" non-plan that I'd been on. The result of the non-plan was uneven patches of commuting by bicycle followed by long periods of driving only.

Well, look what appeared in our mailbox today! A big, colorful set of cards encouraging me to pledge to reduce my drive-alone trips by at least twice per week. And if I commit online or by sending back the card they'll reward me with passes, gift certificates, all manner of goodies.

In Motion, a program of our King County Government, is the driving force. By signing up today they're going to send me other cool things like an In Motion Yard Sign.

I guess other neighborhoods have been doing this already, but my neighborhood, Columbia City, is up to bat now.




So, how is all this for timing? I said I wanted to do two days a week by bicycle, and they send me this whole packet. Makes me wonder whether King County Government employees have been reading my blog?!

And just yesterday I posted about planning and what the lack of planning leads to. Hmmm. It's all a little too eerie.

Just for perspective, there are many, many who commute every day or even more...have given up their oil burning beasts. They should know: they are inspirations to the rest of us. Thanks!

Thanks also to those who passed along commuting tips and resources!


Keep it In Motion,

CurioRando

Update: Look what came to my door today.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

R-12 and Planning for 2010

A medal I'll plan to win in 2010.

I had convinced myself that since I completed one each of the 200k, 300k and 400k brevets this season that I might as well go for the 600k. That is, until I saw that the only 600k I could really attempt was a brutal one.

At first, I was bummed. The SIR Mountain Pass 600k looked tough, and by all accounts it was, with lots of climbing over multiple mountain passes. When I consulted the intermediates/veterans, they advised against this being my first 600k. Particularly because of the remoteness.

Good logic, but still a little bummed, I pondered and cast about. California? Maybe, but is this really how I want to spend my and my family's time and resources? Dartre said that if I really thought California was a shot, I should look at it. If I completed a 600k, I'd win the Super Randonneur award. The lure of the Super Randonneur called me like Die Lorelei, the famous German siren who wooed sailors to their death on the rocks of the Rhine River (At least something stuck from High School German Classes. Thank you, Herr Nelson!).

For the uninitiated, the Super Randonneur Award is given to randonneurs who complete a 200k, 300k, 400k, and 600k in one season. The medal is pictured below.


The more I pondered and visualized crashing on the rocks, the more I harkened back to my ultimate goal: PBP in 2011.

That gave me the clue that continual long distance training is what I really need, and so that naturally turned me toward the R-12. The R-12 is an award for randonneurs completing a 200k or longer brevet every month for twelve consecutive months.

Now that is doable, excellent training toward my ultimate goal, and something I can start on immediately. Therefore, on the same weekend that the intrepid were tackling the SIR Mountain Pass 600k, I did my first permanent to move my R-12 objective forward to two months in a row. A modest beginning, but then a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single crank revolution, according to Confucius, I think.

And of course, the 600k and Super Randonneur Award still beckon for 2010.

I got to this eventual peaceful place albeit with objectives unmet in part by reading David Rowe's eBook, The Ride of Your Life, Aligning heart and mind for success in long distance cycling. The book has been reviewed a good bit elsewhere so I won't review it here. What I got from it was a reinforcement to stay focused on what really matters--family, for me--and that planning is central to meeting objectives. So balance, naturally, is the watchword

Truth is I didn't begin the year with a plan, so I feel pretty good about what I did accomplish. The planning for next year begins now. And October 11, my next 200k Permanent and part of my longer term training plan, is coming soon.

Keep it in your dreams, then plan for it,

CurioRando

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sunday, September 27, 2009

You Never Know Who You'll Meet!



DartreDame had a work retreat in Bremerton, WA beginning Sunday morning, so we hopped on the ferry boat Saturday afternoon to see whether we could wedge in a quick ride. Above, Dartre poses in front of the General Store in Seabeck. Last time I visited I was on my first brevet ever, the Tahuya Hills 200k put on by the Seattle International Randonneurs in July of 2008. I had no idea what to expect. My ride report is here.




Above is a local fisher describing the size of the Silver Salmon he'd been catching. Honor system here so you can subtract the usual fisher brag factor. But then again, he was such a sweet soul I'll bet you could add a little back in and get pretty close to the size he demonstrates. His smile's a keeper, for sure.

When he inquired with some indication of awe whether we had just ridden up the hills then down again to get to the beach, we used a little inverse fisher factor to slough them off as nothin'. They probably weren't nothin', but then we didn't get to actually see his Silver Salmon either.



We liked this gate.




Sweet views.




Dartre absorbs the mountain/cloud drama at Scenic Beach State Park.











Dartre's ride.





The biggest hill, Anderson Hill, is steep and long. Here's Dartre's first attempt of the famed Anderson Hill Road. When I road the brevet last year one experienced randonneur told me of his walking up old Anderson Hill Road the year before. He was quite pleased to have made it when we rode it.




Darte feeling like she'll make it.




Happy Dartre at the top of Anderson Hill Road!




This is looking back down to the "belly", if you will. The cruelty of Anderson Hill Road is that you climb steeply for a while only to go back down losing all you've gained so you can start back up again. Dartre claims she reached 47mph at the belly, but that's only a claim because if she were going 47mph she was probably violating the speed laws. She wouldn't do that.


We rolled back into the Comfort Inn, showered and hit the Boat Shed for a nice meal of steamers, pasta, and pan-fried oysters. Another post-ride yummerific meal!

Next day, Dartre went retreating as per her plan and I lazed around and worked my way back to the Bremerton ferry terminal for the boat trip back to Seattle. The sun is warm, the day is fine and I get hailed from the pedestrian walkway overhead: "Hey randonneur, who are you?"

I was wearing my SIR wool jersey (so comfy) that announces my rando-ness. Turns out it's none other than Eric Vigoren, Treasurer of BOTH Randonneurs USA and SIR and Maggie Williams, SIR Newsletter editor (and funny writer).



They had spied me en route to the ferry and wondered who I was. Last time I saw them I was in the middle of the March 8, 2009 100k Populaire to which I had dragged DartreDame, much to her and my chagrin. It was snowing the hugest snowflakes ever seen at the start. I was fixing my second flat when they pulled alongside in their warm car, and Eric told me I could still make the controls in time if I hustled.

As it turned out, Poor Dartre had to abandon, and I was Hors délai. I think that technically means that I finished, but not within the time limit. I don't quite understand that distinction since the whole idea is to finish within the time limit. Seems you either do or don't. In any event, I didn't. After that miserable experience, it is truly amazing that Dartre even rides with me anymore.



I just have one thing to say to Eric and Maggie: Thank you for all your volunteer work that makes our sport possible!

Today, however, the skies were end-of-September-in-Seattle blue.



Looking back toward the inlet to Bremerton and the Olympics from the ferry.



The good old Walla Walla carried me back to Seattle where I wove my way among the Seattle Seahawks fans.

I finished my part of Dartre's and my adventure with a final post ride delight: grapes from our backyard arbor.



It was under this arbor that Datre and I wed two years ago. I've never seen the vine so full.



I like them best when they are blush, less purple than these. Yum!

And so these fabulous Fall grapes mark the end of riding days like this weekend. Not many more crisp, cobalt blue-skied days, but that's OK.

More adventures to come around this turn of seasons.


Keep it bittersweet,

CurioRando

Friday, September 25, 2009

Commitment to Cyclo-Commuting



Several posts ago, I said I'd come back and commit to some level of cyclo-commuting rather than just leave it to chance to see how much I cycle to and from work.

I have given it some thought and my commitment--really this is me talking to myself--is to cycle to work a minimum of twice per week on average. The average will be calculated on a monthly basis.

So there it is. I begin with the week of Monday, October 5.

Wish me luck. If you've got suggestions, I'll take 'em. Some have made them already.

Anyone else out there ready to make a pledge themselves?

Anyone who already has and wants to report on it?

As Tom Russell told me on our 400k brevet organized by the Oregon Randonneurs, regular cyclo-commuting is a good tactic for randonneurs to build a mileage base, keep the wheels turning regularly, etc.

So how can I go wrong?


Keep it pledged,

CurioRando

Update: After committing, I got something in the mail and something at our door.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Fishing Flys in the Face of Finishing a Fine French Foray

Fish swimming up our mighty Northwest rivers tempted me mightily. I love to fish so I had to pause and watch and talk to the fishers, but in the end I did finish my brevet. I finished my first ever Permanent, the Seattle International Randonneurs Permanent #0562: Renton-Dash Point-Orting-Renton. Yippee!

A Permanent, for those who aren't acquainted, is a pre-approved brevet route that a randonneur can ride any time (with pre-approval) and for which he/she can get essentially the same credit. For me that means that because I rode a 400k in August and I just rode the 200k Permanent on September 12, I now have two months in a row of 200k or better. That puts me two months into the R-12 Award which is for successfully completing a 200k brevet every month for 12 consecutive months.

Chinook Salmon, for those not from around these parts, are big fish. The record is over 100 pounds, but this one here is nothing to sneeze at.


I wasn't the only cyclist/fisher. Here is the bike rack, and the cyclists are on the river. Talk about a good day!



One of the things I most love about fishing is the solitude. Some of course can't get out into the wilder parts, and must fish close to home. They miss the solitude, but they exchange it for comraderie. I watched one father help his about-eight-year-old son hang on to a heavy rod as the initiation to fishing the Northwest's famed rivers began. Sweet.



The rivers are "milky" due to high temperatures that melt the glaciers. The glacial till colors the water.




Cows don't fish or cycle. Poor cows.



Here, in Orting, the bicycle and pedestrian path had lots of very smiley folks enjoying the sun and the views of Mt. Rainier. Can you spot Mt. Rainier in the photo?


Here, the water was clear and you could spy fish. I saw many fishers hook and lose fish several times in the space of just a few minutes.



Here's a small glacial-fed stream.



This stream fed into one of the larger rivers, and it was low and crystal clear indicating a lower elevation (non-glacial) source.


This sledge, I think it's called, was on display in a park. Probably used as a steam-powered "donkey" for pulling fallen logs out of the forest. Correct me someone if I've got it wrong. Here's a cool site that describes steam donkeys.




The Permanent #0562 route map.



Elevation profile. Cumulative elevation is reported to be 3400 feet.

I enjoyed this route very much. Diverse. Took me places I haven't and wouldn't otherwise see (the town of Selleck, for instance that is on a dead end road, but is only 7 miles as the crow flies to North Bend, this according to local residents at an outdoor birthday party who kindly filled my water bottles). I believe the route was created by Amy Pieper. Thanks, Amy! Narayan Krishnamoorthy made all the administrative preparations for me. Thanks, Narayan! He and Geoff Swarts are the Seattle International Randonneurs Permanents Czars.


This cyclist answered my perfuntory "Have you got the tools you need" call as I sped by with a non-perfunctory, perhaps plaintive, "Actually, I could use some help," response. I stopped and helped her change her flat. She thanked me--offered to ride ahead together--and pre-apologized for the fact that she wouldn't be able to keep up with me. She urged me to feel free to pass her when I needed to. She added that she was only a "Cat 4 Women's Racer."

I believe she was conflating the fact that I could change a tire with the notion that I was necessarily a fast cyclist.




Shortly after this picture she became a very small red dot. Then a teenwy weeney red dot. Then...was there a red dot there?

She left me in the dust.

I enjoyed my first Permanent, though it kicked my butt. Having just ridden a 400k I had it in my head that a "little" 200k would be nothing. Hmmm. I also think an accumulation of more miles than I've been accustomed to was adding up and I found myself grumpy and low afterward. Just ask DartreDame. Overtraining?

In the end, I finished this brevet thinking the French had the right idea. A foray into the countryside is good for the soul. Despite being tempted to stop and wet a fishing line, I finished in time.

But I think you'll find me fishing sometime soon.


Keep those lines tight,

CurioRando

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Recumbent Bicycles for Randonneuring, Interviewing John Vincent, Part 2: Builders, Relative Merits, Peering into the Future



Here is Part 2 of my interview with John Vincent, newbie recumbent rider and intermediate randonneur (he cringes when I call him a veteran randonneur). Part 1: Eliminating Pain can be found here. Though I do explore John's recent episode of being nearly run over by a car, I want to be clear that neither John or I are suggesting his accident was in any way related to the kind of bicycle he was riding. The accident had occurred just before the interview so it was topical.

Wouldn't have mattered what John was riding. The driver didn't look. A good reminder: stay vigilant!

Thanks, John for taking the time and being thoughtful about the answers and tuned into the audience's needs! By relating your own particular circumstances very openly you have graced the interview with greater depth and truth than if you'd kept it generic.


Keep it upright-even if it's not an upright,

CurioRando



Builders, Relative Merits,
Peering into the Future

CurioRando: Who are the best recumbent bicycle builders?

John Vincent: First of all I am no expert when it comes to bents. But there seems to be two styles of bikes: short wheelbase or long wheelbase. Long wheelbase, the most popular, is the one that won the four-person team at Race Across America (RAAM). All four were Rans X-Stream. It is about 23 – 25 pound bike and it is a long wheelbase bike. It won the four-person RAAM. It beat all the upright bikes.

So there is a lot of excitement about that being a good brevet bike. It is a little more upright, not as reclined. It’s got a big back wheel and a smaller front wheel, and it is a longer wheelbase so it’s more comfortable. Easy Racer makes the Gold Rush Racer which David Cambon up in British Columbia rides. He’ll give the advice to buy these ultralight recumbents, but for himself he rides a heavier bike and he does it successfully. Many people love their Gold Rush bikes.

On the other side--the short wheelbase bikes--there is Bacchetta Carbon 2.0 (as well as a whole lineup of other bents), and they make a bike similar to the Carbent. The Carbent makes theirs with 700c or 650c wheels. The Carbents are under 18 pounds. You can get a 17 and a half pound recumbent. The Bacchetta Carbon 2.0 is very light. Those are the two high racers that people are talking about. Both have good speed, and both are ultra light.

There are numerous recumbent companies besides Carbent, Rans, Bacchetta, and Easy Racer. Everyone has an opinion and individuals need to test ride and read about them first. There are numerous reviews of various bents.

My bent is very fast on rolling terrain and is doable going up hills. A lot of people on the heavier recumbents avoid hills because they are just too difficult. So they just ride flat rides.

The short wheelbase bike does not have a fairing attached, while the long wheel base often has a fairing and a body sock. There are some people out there doing some pretty amazing things on recumbents. They aren’t the slow heavy bikes you’ve seen in the past.




CR: Anything you miss about the uprights?

JV: You know, I had set my heart (laughing) on a Tony Pereira bike or a Steve Rex or a Stevenson or a Thompson bike (see previous post on Pereira bicycles here). There are so many different builders out there. I had set my heart on a lightweight steel, randonneuring bike, and I wanted to be into that mode. All of my friends are. I like to join the flock; I don’t like to fly alone. I miss just being one of that group. When you are riding a recumbent you are riding alone, or you kind of separating yourself from the group a little bit. I love the way upright bikes look.

I also have to carry my own tires because I ride 650c. Some of the things about recumbents are rather unique, and so you relearn everything. I miss what I know. While uprights were physically uncomfortable for me, I miss the comfort of knowing bikes. The recumbent world is its own little group. I didn’t choose to be in that group. My body told me I needed to be there.




CR: I think for people that are thinking of going ‘bent this is very useful information. I know you had this car essentially run you over the other day. Can you tell me what happened, and can you tell me the degree to which, if any, being on a recumbent had to do with it?

JV: Yeah, I’m coming up a one percent grade road, and I’m probably going 8 miles/hour…




CR: Where was this?

JV: First Avenue South and 160th (in Burien, WA). Someone drove past me and drove up to this light, and the light turned green. Now I’m probably 50 feet back. Typically, a driver will look in their rear view mirror, signal, and turn right. There was plenty of time to turn. They didn’t have their turn signal on, and they were stopped at the crosswalk, not moving. I’m watching them. I’m watching them, and I’m progressing up this road. I watched the SUV because I’m very aware of what they were doing. We’re both going North and it is a green light and I’m in the bike lane. The green light is both for going straight (North) and for a right turn (East), and as I get to the passenger side door the SUV begins to turn right. It was probably seven feet away from me. I’m looking in their window. My head is about to the bottom of her window, looking into her front window of her SUV.

My eyes are peeking over her window sill. I’m looking at black—their SUV is black—coming at me and their front right wheel turned into my front wheel and crushed it. It tore my wheel out of the dropouts and broke the drop outs. Crushed them. I didn’t slide at all; I just got jack hammered to the ground. I just went Wham! My wheel went spinning off someplace and I’m on my side. There were three 911 calls, two cop cars, and a fire truck.

Someone is screaming at me: “Are you OK? Don’t’ get up!”

And finally two guys come along and I do get up (nothing broken), and I’m hearing a voice: “Did I do that? I’m so sorry.”

And I’m saying “Lady, do you not look into your rear view mirror? Do you not see cement?”

If you’ve only got your mirror pointed at the sky, you’re goanna miss cars and bikes. Honestly, when I look in my rearview mirror I see cars, and I see some road and I see a wide range top to bottom. She didn’t look in her rear view mirror. She was probably talking to someone, conversing with her mother who was in the passenger seat, or was lost, or didn’t know where to turn. All of a sudden, she turned. I was, by that time, in her blind spot.

She admitted to the police that she remembered seeing me as she came up to the light but she must have forgotten that I was still there. She didn’t have her turn signal on. It was over $1000 damage to the bike and I was lucky.



CR: So the cops determined it was her fault?

JV: She tried to say it was mutual, it was joint responsibility. The policeman said, “No ma’am, whoever is in that bike lane is your responsibility. If there is somebody in that bike lane and you hit them it is your fault. They have a right to that lane.”

That was clearly stated. Now I’m waiting for the investigator from the insurance company to give final whatever. I sent him pictures, and he didn’t even know what a fork was, or what it looked like. (John has since received full payment for bike repair and a payment for pain and suffering).




CR: I saw a film called Veer that I posted about previously. One of the stories they told in the film is how bike advocates won a new law in the Oregon legislature this last session that I think is called a Vulnerable Operators law. If someone hits a cyclist, who as a class are considered a vulnerable operators, the person who hits the cyclist gets an extra fine and/or points because of the disparity of vulnerability. They showed hearing testimony in the film in which husbands or kids were killed or severely injured. Typically what happens in the current law is that you get a citation for going thru a stoplight or…

JV: Basic criminal law, basic traffic infraction.




CR: Yep, could be $1000 or $700. Whatever it is, if you kill somebody there is no other penalty. So the advocates are layering on a much stiffer additional penalty because you could kill somebody who is in a much more vulnerable position. The movie is worth seeing just for that story alone (it covers a wide range of Portland bicycle subculture activities besides the Vulnerable Operator law). The film portrays the statements of a legislator who is a retired State Patrol officer. He is strongly opposed to the law, talking about cyclists insisting on riding on the road instead of the shoulder due to punctures. He was just absolutely—he’s a legislator so he has power—righteously opposed, but the advocates won due to the compelling testimony of the families who survived their loved ones’ deaths at the hands of automobile operators.

JV: I understand that, first hand.




CR: Back to recumbents more generally, I assume from riding with you on a couple brevets this year and from my riding with Tom Russell on his recumbent on this last 400k brevet that you’ll probably zoom ahead next time we ride together. I might catch you again on the hills?

JV: Exactly, if I’m riding as the bike is designed for riding: at 18 – 20 mph. Obviously, given wind, slope, terrain I could be going a lot slower. But generally speaking, I ride much faster on the level to rolling ground than I did on my upright. Nothing remarkable up hills. I would envision a yo-yoing effect.




CR: The future of recumbents? Do you think that they are going to grow for a certain group? Do you think they will overtake uprights? Do you have a sense?

JV: Here’s the thing. In terms of marketing when you look at the advantages and disadvantages, the recumbent is built for comfort and long distance. Most people I know do lots of 30 mile rides in the Spring and Summer. There is a lot of out-of-saddle riding going. Uprights are probably better for that kind of riding but that doesn’t mean a bent can’t stay with the pack.
There are some I know who are really athletic who ride lightweight recumbents who are able to stay with uprights and pass them. This is even odder: there are recumbent riders doing crits in California racing 30mph (laughs) and placing in their community crits. They are very fast and accomplished riders.
The world is changing. There are some upright groups that don’t want any recumbents with them. A little discrimination going on there. Some people think recumbents don’t belong. That’s going to change. When a recumbent group wins RAAM, you see them beating uprights over the Rockies and over the Appalachians. They simply beat upright teams by averaging 20+ mph 24/7. There is something to be said for that, and that is going to draw some people. When a good bent and a good athlete are coupled together amazing things happen. They can be faster than upright riders. On the other hand you take old, fat guys and put them on recumbents and they don’t do much for the industry.

The other thing is when you see the performances at PBP. There is this Frenchman who has finished in the top five every time he rides, sometimes he is winning. In 2007 he didn’t set a record but he finished first, again. And the past two years he has been doing nothing but riding a recumbent. He did a 600k this year in France and he did it in 19 hours and some minutes. Tell me that that isn’t going to say something. There are some riders out there that are going to make themselves known. You get a feeling that recumbents have been slowly proving themselves as speed machines.
Talk to recumbent manufacturers and competitors. The guy who built my bike did the Furnace Creek 508 and he’s done some other rides, and he thinks that they are the best option for ultra distance. For me it’s just (laughing): “Please let me finish the ride”. (Laughing) I just want to be in under 90 hours. If I can complete a 1200 that includes a significant amount of climbing, man I’d be so thrilled. That’s where I’m at. I think that’s where it’s going. As you see more people being successful, it changes people’s perspectives.


CR: Yep, makes sense. What would you like folks to know?

JV: You got my email about your calling me an experienced randonneur (in an earlier post), and I just have to giggle at that. There are a lot of guys in the Seattle club (Seattle International Randonneurs) who have done so many 1200’s. In comparison to them, I’m pretty much a rookie.



CR: So you want to set the record straight?

JV: I’m one or two seasons ahead of you.



CR: So, if I call you more seasoned than I am you’re OK with that, but…

JV: I’m OK with that. I’m still trying to figure out how to finish out the longer rides. I have been around the block a few times though. Next year my goal is to do a 1200k.



CR: Do you know which 1200k ride you want to ride next year?

JV: I know the Cascade 1200k (in Washington State) is next year. That is pretty much long climbs. Most of the hills on that are looong mountain pass climbs. You’ve got White Pass, Chinook Pass up and back down, across the desert which has its own mortality, I guess. Then up through Mattawa and Quincy, And then Loup Loup Pass, and over the North Cascades Highway from Mazama. So there are some significant distances and some are long steady climbs in open spaces with different but doable terrain, but it is not easy. Who knows what is going to be next year? (CR: Since the interview, both SIR and ORR have released tentative Brevet Schedules for 2010.)

I’d love to do the Colorado Last Chance 1200k. It is probably the easiest with the fact that you’re still going to face winds, thunderstorms, and rattlesnakes on the road. I don’t know what’s being offered next year. Sometimes the Van Isle 1200k. The Van Isle up on Vancouver Island might come back. That one heads up from Victoria to Port Hardy and back. You’re kind of out in the wilderness. There is a marvelous story by Kent Peterson who did a 1200k up there.



CR: Well I might have to try and make that my goal for next year: one of those 1200k’s.

JV: This is the time to do it. What I’m doing right now is I’m focusing on weight loss. I don’t eat as much. I stop eating in between meals. I let myself get hungry and about the time I get hungry I go out for a 15 – 20 mile bike ride. I ride empty, and that is my goal to lose some significant weight. If you carry an extra 30 pounds mile after mile, at 300 miles it has a way of affecting your body and your brain. You’re not thinking 30 pounds, you’re thinking: Oh my God, am I ever going to make it? The two long rides I’ve done have had moments of crisis for me: partly because I got sick, not feeling well, and all of a sudden I’m short on time. I hit a crisis moment. I want to hit controls a little quicker, with less weight. I can and I want to take full advantage of a recumbent which is a comfortable ride. I want to get up hills a little faster. We’ll see, that’s my challenge: lose some weight and ride more hills.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bicycle Film Festival: Scraper Bikes and Trini's with BIG SOUND Bikes



The Bicycle Film Festival came to Seattle and it was a fun event with a stoked crowd full of messengers and other young-to-my-fifty-plus-self folks. Crowd reactions to the dozen or so short films was an integral part of the show.

Call me a curmudgeon, but I had very mixed feelings to one theme. There were ALOT of shots (in several of the films) of cyclists on fixies blasting through traffic--day and night--and barely running over pedestrians as they snuck through seams in the traffic. Don't get me wrong: it was beautiful, almost like watching a corpuscle squeeze through a narrow vein under a microscope. But it was dangerous to the public too. I admire the skill even as I cringed with concern and delighted in the drama. Very mixed. Also, just too much of the same thing.

Here's the Seattle Times' take. When it comes to bicycling, Seattle has so much P-envy (Portland envy as the emcee told us), that it makes a Seattlite like me want to groan.

The show stealers for me were the kids. Not just any kids. Kids of color and immigrant kids in tough neighborhoods. Bicycles and their imaginations and their sticking together are probably saving their lives.


Check out these Scraper Bikes. These kids (10 - 15 years old?) modify old hand-me-downs and turn themselves into a colorful tribe with a wonderful spirit of adventure and kid-fun. One the one hand, they are as unselfconscious as kids playing anywhere. On the other, their fun is a political refutation of the kinds of things kids in their circumstances get lost in, and they know it. It is intentional and prophylactic fun. Bittersweet, but better than bitter only.



Like Bicycles? Love loud music? Wanna be outrageous? Cool. Let's add HIGHpowered speakers and island music right onto our bicycles--even if it then weighs 300 pounds--and go cruisin'.

And who better than the young immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago? Trinidad and Tobago (two islands as one nation just off the coast of Venezuela) is where steelpan, calypso, soca, and limbo were invented. Quite a musical pedigree.

Here are the stars of that film, Made in Queens. I loved their understated yet very loud love of music and bicycles.

Again, they found one another and formed a tribe. Very endearing.

I visited Trinidad and Tobago a while back, but unfortunately not during Carnival. It's a fascinating place. According to Wikipedia, the largest ethnic group are the Indo-Trinidadians who were Indians brought to the islands as indentured workers to replace the freed slaves who refused to work any longer on the sugar plantations.

Tourism is big now, and the Scarlet Ibises returning to roost every evening at sunset is one of the world's wonders. Go here for one take on that.

Queens is a long way from Trinidad and Tobago, but the young men and women in the film remind us about our tribes and tribal music.


Keep it close,

CurioRando

Thursday, September 17, 2009

BiRaftathon: Bicycling and Rafting as One Event. Could this be YOU next year?!


Here's DarteDame (my wife Pramila) and me (CurioRando) in kayaks letting the Snake River carry us down into Hell's Canyon and into time and into geology and into beauty.

Sometimes I just have to pinch myself. How did I get here?

Back in 2000, DarteDame (aka Pramila Jayapal) published her book Pilgramage, One Woman's Return to a Changing India, and the then-Director of Fishtrap, a writers' retreat just a few mountains West of the Snake River, asked her to come teach writing.

Long story short, she ended up teaching writing in the Wallowa Mountains of Oregon at several Fishtrap workshops over the years. When Dartre and I started dating she took me to the Wallowas, a place she had guarded as her special getaway. It was a sure sign my charms were having their intended effect.

We all fell in love: Dartre, me, mountains, rivers, Steelhead Trout, family, bicycles. Out of that first trip of mine to the Wallowas, Dartre wrote a piece for Gray's Sporting Journal (available only by purchasing the magazine) about her first flyfishing adventure, the mountains and the Nez Perce Indians who were forced from this amazing valley.


As if that wasn't grand enough, we've been exploring the high valley by bicycle for a few years, and this year we went up and over the mountains into the next high valley (see previous ride report here). Fabulous.

But I got onto the Snake River this August in that yellow kayak purely by virtue of my utility as an enticement, or bait if you will. Fishtrap was inaugurating a new writers' workshop as a five day rafting trip down Hell's Canyon on the Snake River, and they told Dartre that if she would participate as one of the teachers that she could bring me along as her sidekick. WOWSER!

But before we get too far along in describing this trip of a lifetime, you need to know something that ties this all into bicycling. The rafting company that guided, protected, feasted, pampered, and challenged us has plans for a BiRaftathon (the name is my invention, so if it's too corny don't blame them!). A couple of the partners of Winding Waters River Expeditions, Paul and Penny, are bicyclists, and Paul asked right away, before we'd even begun this adventure, what Dartre and I thought about a future trip that combined rafting and cycling (Paul and Penny are cycling down the entire Oregon coast as I write this!).


The idea of the BiRaftathon is that cyclo-rafters would ride--perhaps the very route Dartre and I rode in the above mentioned post--to a spot where they would be met by the river guides to begin rafting. The bicycles would either be put on a raft as cargo or transported by truck to the rafting takeout. After rafting for several days, the cyclo-rafters would peel their butts from the raft tubes and ease them back onto their saddles for the last leg of cycling to finish off the trip. All the scenery would be first rate: as in some of the best rafting and cycling territory in the country.

The folks at Winding Rivers are friendly, hospitable and really tuned in to what makes a trip perfect for the clients. Our food was outstanding. All the gear was shipshape. The staff were casual and fun-loving, but not intrusive. We felt we were in excellent hands. And the partners of Winding Waters really seem to be into this notion of combining.

For our trip they combined writing and rafting. They organized a trip earlier this summer where they practiced Yoga each day with a Yoga instructor as they floated down the river. And of course this novel idea: the BiRaftathon.

So mull over the BiRaftathon idea as you check out our photos from our five days on the Snake River. And if you're only into rafting and writing (without the cycling), Fishtrap already has the dates for next year's writing/rafting adventure: August 18 - 23, 2010.


One additonal notion about place. There are many fine places to have fun, write, cycle, raft or stand on your head. But the Wallowa Valley and environs were, until 1877, Nez Perce country. It is a special place that deserves protection, respect and appreciation. If you aren't familiar with the Nez Perce story, here's a link to get you started. But do know that this is a special and poignant place.

I find it achey. Achingly beautiful and achingly painful to imagine the loss thrust upon the Nez Perce. That doesn't at all diminish the experience; it enhances it, and it clearly calls us to a higher, human place. That is the power of special geographic places. I may not attain that higher human place, but I do like to be reminded that I ought to strive for it.

And when you ponder place, you're coming awfully close to writing about place. Fishtrap, the writer's retreat and the other sponsor of our writing/rafting escapade, is a wondrous place for writing. The setting is the American West, and whether you join them for any of their periodic several days-long workshops (Summer and Winter Fishtraps) or Children's Lit Workshops or other programs you'll be changed. Place and the act of writing are transformative.

With that more than adequate preamble, check out the fun we had!




On river, I expected only wilderness or artifacts from the Nez Perce. Not so. Settlers tried to homestead the canyon, most without much success, but signs of their struggles are present. This photo is of a gate at the Kirkwood Ranch which is a fascinating museum about what that hard scrabbling life was like. Many settlers were driven into the harsh valley by the harsher Great Depression when they couldn't eke out a living among the rest of those above the canyon. So down canyon they went to give it a try.

There are sizeable trout, but I only caught Smallmouth Bass. They are a hoot. Very agressive and great fighters.

Columnar Basalt formations.


A settler's cabin. Fascinating tales of fighting over a sack of rice and such. Conflict and hard times galore.




This foundation wall is all that's left to mark the spot where over 30 Chinese gold miners were massacred in 1887. Though local folks were indicted, the jury of their peers convicted no one as the Chinese were not valued fully as humans. Sad spot as there was nothing to commemorate it. As if it hadn't ever happened.




Jon, one of our two intrepid guides.



Pictograph from ancient peoples. Plant dyes remain; understanding eludes us.





Morgan, our other intrepid guide and Winding Rivers partner.



Hell's Canyon Dam. Damn those Dams!








Patrick and John, captain and first mate respectively, of our gear boat. Heavy and tough to row. Thanks, men.


On river, we spotted a Black Bear cub, very reddish in color. Also Eagles, Osprey, Canyon Wrens, Deer, a couple of Western Rattlesnakes.


I scoured, and I mean scoured, the mountains for Big Horn Sheep or Mountain Goats. None. None.


On the drive back to Seattle, Dartre and I saw over 80 Big Horns along the Yakima River Canyon Road! And I captured this doe and her fawn eating the succulent shoots along the Yakima River. The fawn is belly deep. I'll bet she dreams about that day this Winter!


If rafting or cycling or writing or standing on your head entices you, we can't recommend Winding Waters River Expeditions enough. Of course they also do just rafting: on the Snake, the Salmon and the Grande Ronde Rivers (Steelhead fishing here also).

There are many adventures out there from which to choose.

Personally, as much as I love Steelhead fishing on the fly and boy do I love that, I think I dig the BiRaftathon idea the most right now.

Keep it afloat,

CurioRando