Saturday, October 31, 2009

Cycling in the Rain & Steelhead Fishing: You gotta be out there in it

It occurred to me while cyclo-commuting to work in the rain the other morning how I'm coming to view cycling in the rain as the same as Steelhead fishing. The photo above shows DartreDame and me on her first ever Steelhead fishing trip (actually, her first ever real fishing of any kind). We began in the early morning snow, and our new relationship was on the line. Turned out she loved it and landed three Steelies and a Bull Trout on her first day, all on the fly! And guess what I caught? I caught Dartre: the catch of my life!

OK, back to cycling and fishing. So what's the similarity between winter Steelheading and cycling in the rain? In winter Steelheading you stand in a freezing cold river, typically with a strong wind, and driving rain or sleet or snow, and you endure. You pay your dues.

And...if you're smart you develop some strategies to keep warm and dry. I tried it all:

  • Neoprene gloves (too tight, therefore too cold; also clammy)
  • Nylon jacket (sweaty, therefore cold)
  • Hand warmers (too gimmicky and clumsy)
  • Toe warmers (ditto, only more so)
  • Cheap waders & boots (leaky and cccccold)
  • Cotton undies (cute and authentic-looking, but little thermal effect)
  • Jaunty "fishing" caps (photo-worthy, but inept at weatherproofing)
Eventually, I graduated to:
  • Layers
  • Wool
  • Base layers
  • Breathability
  • Fleece
  • Layers
  • Neck Gaitor
  • Glove liners, Wool mittens
  • Lots of food, ingested at a rapid tempo
  • Lots of Water, same
  • Quality Waders
  • Wool or Fleece Cap
  • Layers
But more than clothing, both activities are about a certain state of mind. Friends would wonder what I liked about wading a cold river in pretty horrible conditions. For me, it was just that. If I had the right gear, I loved snuggling into myself and wrapping myself in the smug satisfaction (smuggling?) that I could match the conditions. Once you accept the challenge--and are prepared--being immersed in dramatically wild weather is itself very fun!

I love the snowflakes, the subtle colors, the changes in the sky. The smells. On our last 200k--the Three Rivers Cruise--it was that pungent odor of decaying Salmon carcasses that when mixed with cold sharp air was intoxicating. Not the same sharpness in the warmer fall days. You just gotta be out there in it.

And then there is the act of wading a river. You don't so much plod forward as you'd walk on land. More like skating across the bottom rocks. You kind of glide with the current. Your weight must be secure on one foot before lifting the other, but sometimes you can float-shuffle. The main point is that you loosen up, relax, and "go with the flow". That's right, you immerse your self--your whole self--into the water, hokey pokey style. If you fight the water, or are tight, you'll go down. Believe me, I know because I've done it.

Same with riding your bicycle in the rain or driving a car on icey roads. It's a soft approach. No fast turns, and hopefully no fast stops. Easy does it.

I believe that the chief thing I'm getting at is that you have to just BE in the elements rather than fight them. To Steelhead in nasty weather you don't steel yourself so much as you let yourself ease into it. To cycle in nasty weather it's best to relax. My tendency while cycling in the rain is to hunch my shoulders and tense up. Not the best. I'm still working on that easing on down the road.

Of course, this is all well and good if you're well-prepared. Once you get chilled, it's a different matter. Everything is harder and less fun. There were days Steelhead fishing that it would take a long darn time to warm my toes back up. I mean they were just numb, and I was pretty toasted.

My goal as a newbie randonneur is to take my Steelheading lessons and get myself outfitted so that I don't reach that familiar popsicle state too often. The satisfaction then of riding in really bad conditions--but remaining relatively comfortable--is its own reward.

I probably better watch what I wish for. Am I dooming myself to some nasty brevets this coming year? Just in case, I've prepared since the March 2009 Berkie 200k where we rode twelve hours in the rain.

John Vincent, whom I met on that brevet, and I (note the hunching shoulders) have just finished in this photo, and it's funny how many improvements to your preparedness you can conjure up in hour after hour of rainy cycling.

Here are a few of my newer preparations:

My illumiNITE helmet cover, supposedly waterproof in addition to its nightime reflecting effects.

When I test rode the helmet cover during my work commute last week it caused coworkers to comment along the lines of: "Wow, you're really ready!" and "You look so Continental!" It has gotten me noticed...for better and worse.

At the end of last winter I got these mitts at the Outdoor Research store (and factory) in Seattle.

Jury is still out. I like the handy (really, not intended) cords (not shown) for tightening cuff, but they could get caught in spokes! YIKES. Need to modify.

Lastly, booties. I bought these last summer despite the smarta** local bicycle shop employee who mocked me for buying booties when it was 70 degrees outside. HA! It ain't 70 now buddy, and I knew a good find when I spied it.

What I like most about these is that they are SO easy to get on and off. And let me tell you, when I'm already cold it's amazing how such a thing as the difficulty of donning has an effect on whether I'll don them or not. Plus, they are large enough to fit well and hopefully not get shredded, because they don't interfere with my shoe soles. Again, we'll see, but first testing was positive. Below is the ingenious closure system.

Oops, not so obvious, but it is a wide swath of Velcro.

Then there is the wind. In a recent randon group listserve discussion it was revealed that the wind for cyclists is a headwind across 200 degrees of the total 360 degree circle from whence wind can come. You read that right. If it feels like the wind is more often a headwind than a tailwind, it is because that is so.

In flyfishing for Steelhead, the same phenomenon holds. On top of the cold weather you can just about guarantee you'll be casting into the wind, so you better learn how to do it. Cursing sometimes helps, but usually it's a tight loop that is the ticket. In cycling, same thing. Make yourself into a tight package and slice through.

Winter Steelheading isn't for everyone, but it has its special rewards. Same for cycling in the rain.

Keep it layered,


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Count Us All In!

Last month I committed to the notion of commuting to work (cyclo-commuting instead of polluto-commuting). Then I committed to commuting at least two days/week averaged out over each month. Serendipitously, I got a mailing that very day from our County program promoting commuting by any method other than car. And their threshold was two days per week, same as me!

Today? I got a yard sign (pictured above) from a friendly volunteer who thanked me for my commitment.

Ha! I figured out her ploy just as soon as she stepped off our front porch. She assumes that it will be harder for me to walk past that yard sign in the morning and traipse over to my SUV and turn the key.

And you know what. She is a genius! Of course it makes it tougher to cheat.

But I got news for her. I showed her this month, this October: I already DID commute twice per week by bicycle!

And I did that without the sign. The best part of course is that I loved it. On the bicycle is always good. Tested rain gear one day. Road home at 9:30 one evening, so I tested lighting notions. And I felt more energized at work as I always do when I ride. More energized when I get home too. Funny how that works.

The sign she gave me depicts logos of three sponsoring non-profits from my neighborhood:

Apparently, they are among the sponsors of the program. I love the program, and I love the diversity of our neighborhood. It may be among the poorest in some regards, but as to diversity of people--great people with such vastly varying and uniting experiences--Columbia City and our neighboring communities are the richest in Washington and right up there with many in the entire country. I love our neighborhood.

ReWA logo

And I love that these organizations are on the sign in my front yard encouraging me to be the best I can be: a cyclo-commuter instead of a polluto-commuter.

From the Somali Community Services webpage.

Thanks, Refugee Women's Alliance, Somali Community Services, and Chinese Information and Service Center for your leadership!

I was already familiar with two of the organizations, but not the third. Check them out yourself, or their counterparts in your neighborhood!

DartreDame, of course, knows these organizations well. She happened not to be here today when they delivered the sign, because she's traveling alot these days. Mostly she's working on Comprehensive Immigration Reform. It's time to Count Us All In!

Especially, since we count on immigrants every day.

Keep Counting Us All In,


Monday, October 26, 2009

Green Frankensteen Crashes the Pumpkin Push!

It must be the season, but yet another colorful horror figure attacked a Fall celebration. This time it was Green Frankensteen and the Pumpkin Push in Seward Park. Right after I paused briefly to snap this photo (and the other dozen or so I deleted that weren't up to my high quality standards) I rushed over and tackled Green Frankensteen. I spun his dorky, little, orange bowtie; wiped that crooked smirk of his envious face; and rescued poor DartreDame from his chartreuse clutches.

Fortunately for DartreDame, I've been diligently engaged in weight training ever since I got Cycling Anatomy, and I was able to muscle Green Frankensteen to the ground in time for Dartre to wriggle out.

Later, as Dartre recovered on a park bench--you can see she's not quite regained consciousness here--I  was able finally to assess the extent of my injuries. Looks like I'll still be able to do my R-12 200k for November if I wait till mid-month or so. Pheew!

After Dartre was able to walk we stumbled onto the Pumpkin Push 5k Run finish line, and we spotted Underdog and an escaped prisoner. Lots of characters.

Inspired by the 5k'ers, we took a stroll around the park.


On returning, the Pumpkin Pushers had gathered around a bunch of what looked like dead humans on the ground. Huh?

The music cued, and Michael Jackson's Thriller came alive--or came dead--or came zombied, and the show began. About 30 or so Zombies did their thing to the Thriller soundtrack.

Very spooky! Later that night with their many Zombie friends they attempted to break the world record for folks dancing to Thriller. This all took place at Seattle's Occidental Park and in cities worldwide, but I don't know who won. Do you?

What's this got to do with cycling? Very little, except there were cyclists all around. The picture below shows how we cyclists often get the short end of the stick. Here, this young cyclist's father isn't just drafting behind his son on the three-wheeler. He's on his in-line skates forcing his young son to pull him around Seward Park! I called Child Cyclist Protective Services on him. Harrumph.

A fully recovered Dartre poses next to the Pumpkin Push placard.

All those Punkins got us in the mood...for our very own punkin. No, despite appearances, he ain't heavy, he's my brother. Leastwise, he feels like it 'cause I LOVE Halloween and the Autumn season!

Keep 'em away from Green Frankensteen,


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Two Wheels North at the Book-It Theater in Seattle

I don't know a thing about this production, nor have I read the book Two Wheels North.

Here are the basics from the Book-It Theater website:

Vic McDaniel and Ray Francisco, fresh high school graduates, set out on their second-hand bicycles from Santa Rosa, California in August of 1909 to take on the challenge of cycling from their home to Seattle for the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition. They pedal, push, and walk a thousand miles of primitive roads for 54 days, and encounter nearly every imaginable natural, mechanical, and human challenge on their one-speed bikes. While adventure is their primary lure, there is a promised purse of $25 from the Post-Intelligencer waiting for them if they can only make it to Seattle before the final day of the AYP.

Here's a picture of the Exposition from Wiki:

But get this: the shows are free!

Here's a little video from their website.

Two Wheels North - Book-It Repertory Theatre from 4Culture on Vimeo.

Keep it Northbound,


Friday, October 23, 2009

Take Me Home, Bicycle Trails, to the Place I Belong!

Hot Diggity Dog Diggity!

A New York Times story today about my old pedal-stompin' grounds, and possiblities, possibilities, possiblities. The story, Biking Coal Country's Tracks and Tunnels, is the tale of one writer's bicycle travels on a 132-mile trail from McKeesport, Pennsylvania to Cumberland, Maryland. The photo above and the graph below are from the NYTimes.

How do I connect up? First, I was born and raised an easy spin from McKeesport, and my mother (Hi Mum!) still lives in the area.

Second, I spent a few weeks in McKeesport in 2008 during the Primary Election season knocking doors for Barack Obama, sent there by my union (the first union to endorse President Obama, thank you very much). We didn't exactly win that Primary, but we won when it counted in PA!

Third, my sister and her husband (Hi sister Nancy and Wayne!) took my friend and I to Cumberland, Maryland in 1972(?) from whence we began a round trip on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath to Washington, D.C. and back at the ripe old age of 15 or 16.  This was the trip that changed my bicycling life.

We stayed in Youth Hostels, toured D.C. for our first time, rode through the Paw Paw Tunnel, skinny-dipped, caught a snapping turtle (Whoa! To be clear, the skinny-dipping and snap-turtling were two SEPARATE events. DartreDame can confirm I've still got all my parts, right lover?), and cycled with about 80 pounds worth of Dinty Moore Beef Stew, canvas tent, and wet cotton sleeping bag on our Schwinn Continentals. Oh, and we nearly got hit by lightning (Hi Mum!).

Paw Paw Tunnel

More on that trip of a lifetime some other day. For now, check out the NYTimes article about cycling through old train tunnels and such. You just might want to make the trip, but as every randonneur knows: take reliable lighting!

Oh, another connection to the story. In my college days at Penn State, my pals and I had a strange fascination with aboandoned tunnels. I think this was usually when we had had some of the libations that give Penn State's college town, State College, its nickname: Happy Valley (with a name like State College the town deserves a good nickname, right?). Let's just say we liked to visit abandoned tunnels when we were "Happy" (Hi Mum!).

Here's the route for the coal train trail.

But the best connection is the one that's yet to be made. Adventure Cycling Association is planning the United States Bicycle Route System. It needs your donations and help to keep it on track. More on that later too, but just think of the cyclo-touring possiblities! One piece of the eventual national route is the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath. Go Adventure Cycling! The graphic below is from the Adventure Cycling Association.

Keep that (Bicycle Route) train a comin'!


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Simon Says...Change!

I've even tried Simon Says, but many traffic signals just won't change to green when I'm alone at an intersection on my bicycle.

While that won't change overnight, there is now a mechanism to address those signals thanks to the Bicycle Alliance of Washington. Last legislative session they succeeded with Senate Bill 5482 (Section 10) to create some accountability.

According to the Alliance: "The bill requires that vehicle traffic control systems be upgraded to reliably detect both bikes and motorcycles. Districts must prioritize upgrading on existing systems for which complaints were submitted. They must also establish and publicize a procedure for filing such complaints in writing or by e-mail, and must maintain a record of them."

The address for Seattle is:

For Washington State highways:

To get the proper address for other municipalitie and counties in Washington, go to for cities and for counties.

Also, the Alliance would appreciate your letting them know how your experience goes as you interact with this new system. You can reach them at:

I submitted such a complaint yesterday. I also asked how these signals register a vehicle anyway. Is it by weight? Do I have to stand in a certain place? Is there an "electric eye" as we used to call them at some signals?

Haven't heard back yet, but I'll let you know what I hear.

What I like about the Alliance's work is that not only might we get some progress on the signals, but it is yet another step toward bicycle parity.

Keep it turning green...gotcha! I didn't say Simon Says: Keep it turning green,


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cycling Anatomy: It's time for weight training!

Hello, shifting body clock. The aroma of rotting leaves, the sun's hanging low in the sky, and birds flying south all point to the big shift. Not that we don't keep riding. But how do we take stock, prepare and adjust our bodies to our changing environment?

One way is to work different muscles.

I've been seeing a physical therapist for a couple years now, and we talk about muscles. She encourages my body questions. Why does this get sore? What muscles are these, and what do they do? What I relearn is what I already knew:

each of us posesses a remarkable body.

What I like about this book by Shannon Sovndal, MD and forwarded by Christian Vande Velde are the graphics that make my remarkable body a little more comprehensible, and they do so in cyclese.

The muscle groups are identified so I can see exactly what I am feeling when I do the exercises or when I ride.

On the even pages are pictures of an excercise focuse on a specific muscle group like the graphic above. The odd pages depict a cyclist in one of a variety of riding positions with the same muscles highlighted again.

As you can see, you can think about what you'd like to improve, find the exercise and go for it.

There are chapters on;

  • The Cyclist in Motion
  • Arms

  • Shoulders and Neck

  • Chest

  • Back

  • Abdomen

  • Legs: Muscle Isolation

  • Legs: Complete Power

  • Whole-body Training for Cycling

Some of the exercises require free weights as illustrated above, but others utilize stability balls, weight machines, cables and even just you and your body (isn't my on a mat. There are other photo series showing the layered muscles of the abdomen, for example: surface, deeper, and deepest. We are complex beings.

I enjoy weight training, though thruth be told I've been off of it a while. It feels good, it helps on the bike, and importantly, it encourages bone density (one of cyclists' achilles heels, if you will). It's also a good strategy for keeping the best body composition possible.
If you are looking for a book that has a sensible, visual approach and is dedicated to cyclists, give Cycling Anatomy a try. It's 192 pages for $21.95, and lots and lots of clear graphics.

If you're looking for a book with lots of info on strength training theories and making a schedule and such, go elsewhere. While there is a fair bit about each muscle group at the beginning of each chapter and an introductory chapter about how we as bodies work while cycling, this isn't a foundational book. The authors know their focus--cyclists--and stick to it. I like that.

Whatever you do, stay active, keep moving, and do stress your body in a variety of ways. The off-season isn't a time for staleness, but rather a time for variety.

Keep it uplifting,


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dartre's First 200k: The Three Rivers Cruise!

We didn't hunt and we didn't trespass. And sadly we didn't fish, even though the sign didn't exactly say we'd get shot if we fished. Problem is there isn't much of a remedy for being shot unfairly. But we did pass through some of Western Washington's most beautiful river valleys: the Stilligaumish, the Sauk and the Skagit. As steelhead fishers, Dartre and I certainly checked out some prime fishin' spots.

The Three Rivers Cruise is Seattle International Randonneurs Permanent #4089, and it was 200k via Arlington, Darrington, Rockport, Marblemount, back through Rockport, Concrete and returning to Arlington. In the pre-dawn light, this blue barn stood watch. Is the barn saying "Oh!" (top two windows as eyes, double-X doors as nose, and open area as mouth)?

Our companion, John Vincent (see Part 1 here and Part 2 here for John's interview about his recumbent experiences), and Dartre stopped as the sun was emerging. If you look closely you'll see the frost is indeed still on the punkins. It was 27 degrees.

The Sun emerges with its special first light.

John rode ahead of us as we headed upstream along the Stilly toward Darrington. Fire trucks and aide cars sped past us at a very fast clip, and our brains couldn't shake on this quiet Sunday morning a nagging dread that perhaps John had been hit. We were relieved/sorry to see the equipment stopped for a house fire. Hope all ended up relatively OK there!

Heading up the Skagit hoping for Bald Eagles. About three months too soon I'm guessing. A few years ago on a frigid float trip we spotted about 300 one day. Note the fabulous shoulder for cycling!

In Marblemount, John displays...I can't remember what the conversation was exactly, but he was displaying hardiness of some kind! Perhaps he was demonstrating how he wasn't the object for the aide vehicles' speeding so. John let me sit on his recumbent and pick it up. Damn, that is a light bicycle!

Here, Dartre displays...what can I say: a smooch heading my way as I practice my behind-the-back-with-my-phone photography skills. Only on deserted stretches of road, I promise.

The Skagit with snowcaps in the background.

Our day warms as Autumn settles in.

Feet planted in Concrete.

The Skagit is a powerful river, colored by glacial till.

Typical Skagit gravel bars.

On the bridge over the Skagit just before turning onto the South Skagit Highway, and miles of chipseal.

Even chipseal roads can capture the special light of a late afternoon sun.

It was about 3000 feet of total climbing, about all we needed.

And for Dartre, it was her first ever 200k! No small feat.

Congratulations, DartreDame! You are a Randonneur!

Keep it flowin,