Saturday, October 10, 2009

I'm baaaaaaacckkk! Sort of.

It has been suggested that I have been remiss in my postings; that there are people out there who look forward to reading about the various stupid things that I do on my bicycle, if only so that they might congratulate themselves on their comparatively greater stores of common sense.

Yes. Well. Here's the thing. As unlikely as it may sometimes seem, I actually happen to have a life apart from cycling. That life includes a workday that, multi-modal commute included, stretches from 5:30 AM to 7:00 PM. It also includes a neglected but still productive garden, meals that must be cooked and clothing that must be washed. And, of course, a husband, two dogs and three neurotic cats. Actually, two neurotic cats and one certifiably psychotic one. So, as you might imagine, when somethings got to give, the blog is high up there on the list of what gives (along with housecleaning). I'm still riding (if not as much as earlier in the year), I just haven't been writing about it.

Until today. Luckily for those impatient readers, if not necessarily for myself, I've managed to come down with what bears all indications of being a mild case of the flu. "Mild" in that it is enough to keep me off the bike, out of the garden and in the house, but not so bad as to keep me confined to bed. So I figured that I might as well catch up on the ol' bike blog. Not that I have much to write about. Since my epic 1200K in July, I've done very little in the way of bloggable riding (I am fairly certain that no one is interested in my daily commute or errands around town). But I do have two rides of some note to report on. The first was back in August (yes, yes, I know, August is soooo two months ago now), the second just last week. After a short break for some coughing, I will proceed directly to relate my August (if not august) Adventure.

Okay. Where was I? Oh, yes. August. For the past 28 years, Seattle's Cascade Bicycle Clubhas hosted a multi-day ride from Seattle to Vancouver B.C. It was originally a three-day ride, and involved Vancouver Island, as well, but after some fits and starts it eventually got pared down to the more manageable two-day version now in place. I participated in RSVP, as the ride is known (Ride from Seattle to Vancouver and Party) for the first time in 2007. It was a memorable, and bloggable, experience. I had to miss last year's edition, courtesy of some really crappy flight scheduling by Delta Airlines (an airline with which I shall never fly again), and so was really looking forward to riding this year - so much so that when on-line registration opened up on January 1, I was ready with my credit card (but not as ready as riding buddy Lynne, who I think signed up at 12:01 AM . . .).

By the time August rolled around, however, I was beginning to wonder if I was yet again going to have to skip the ride. I was still feeling a little under the weather from my brush with exertion-induced anaphylaxis after the Gold Rush, and my friends Lynne and Jason were not going to be able to join me. But after a little waffling, I decided to pull up my big girl pants, invest in a large package of Benadryl and go on the ride alone.

The ride started on Friday, August 14, from Magnuson Park in Seattle. Luckily for me, my brother had just moved into his new house less than 2 miles from the park, so I was able to stay there on Thursday, leave my car in his driveway, and ride my bike to the start. Earlier in the week, the weather forecast had been promising, and I had debated bring the "light" bike (i.e., the one with no fenders), but by Thursday afternoon it was obvious that we might get a little bit wet. So I defaulted to Lil' HW and her beautiful brass fenders. As I drove up to Seattle Thursday afternoon, it started raining quite hard, and I congratulated myself on the choice. I had plenty of time to congratulate myself, because traffic was backed up from Olympia through downtown Seattle by multiple car crashes. I am always amazed by how poorly Oregonians and Washingtonians drive in the rain. You'd think they'd had enough practice by now . . .

Friday dawned cool and cloudy, but not wet. As it turned out, over the two days we would have just a few sprinkles; enough to make me appreciate my fenders (and stay far back from those riders who did not have fenders) but not enough that I actually had to put on any rain gear. Along with about 1999 other riders, I set off up the Burke-Gilman trail, dodging joggers, dogs, tree roots and oncoming bike traffic. Unlike the 2007 ride, I noted that my fellow riders were being much more polite to other trail users. Perhaps it was the multiple warnings from ride organizers that riders caught practicing poor trail manners would not be allowed to ride RSVP ever again . . .

Early Morning on the Burke-Gilman Trail

RSVP is a semi-supported ride. It has sag wagons, and each day has one "mini" rest stop and one full-size rest stop, but for the most part riders are on their own for nourishment. That's fine with me. After three years of randonneuring, I have become far less enamored of rides that have a full rest stop every 10-12 miles. Of course, the self-nourishment requirement meant that whenever the route passed a coffee shop, it was pretty much guaranteed that a flock of riders would be surrounding it. The first big coffee stop occurred in Snohomish, a town with a main street almost too cute for its own good.

Bikers Invade Snohomish

Just outside of Snohomish, I detoured onto the Centennial Trail. The regular route would follow the main roads for a few more miles before moving onto the CT, but I preferred the quiet of the multi-use path and so moved onto it at my first opportunity. When I finally reached the portion where the ride route joined up with the CT, I was dismayed to see several emergency vehicles, a single crashed bicycle and a rider sitting on a stretcher holding something to his head.


From the placement of the bike on the trail, I knew that the accident had not involved a motor vehicle, and there were no "bollards of death" near by, so I was at a loss to understand what had happened. And I never did find out; I assume if the cyclist had been badly hurt, it would have been the talk of the tour, so I am hoping that the fact that I heard nothing about it meant that he ended up fine.

The first day's route is really quite lovely. There were a few trafficky sections between Seattle and Snohomish, but the roads were otherwise pretty quiet. Lots of rolling hills, but nothing too demanding. In the morning we had a couple of long climbs outsde of Woodinville and Arlington, just enough to build up an appetite for lunch.

The "traditional" lunch stop on RSVP is the town of Arlington, where the main street is lined with diners. When RSVP rolls in, the town takes on the look of a bicycle equivalent of Sturgis. At the time of my last visit to Arlington, I had not yet moved all the way over into Veganland, and so had not paid much attention to whether it was possible to get an animal-free meal there. This time around, it became obvious that the immediately recognizable restaurants were oriented more toward carnivores. I rode up and down the main drag looking at menus and noting the heavy emphasis on bacon. I finally stopped a woman who looked like a local and asked her, with little real hope, if she knew of any place in town with a meat-free menu. Much to my surprise, she immediately directed me to a honest-to-gosh vegan-friendly cafe, complete with LOTR decor and multiply-pierced servers. Yippie! (well, for the food, at least, not so much for the Gandalf candles).

All Items Can Be Made Vegan!Lunch!

After scarfing down a delightful vegan "gyro," I saddled up and continued the journey north. From Arlington to Bow, the ride was pretty much uneventful. A few sprinkles to make me appreciate my fenders, and a strange encounter with a cramping rider who told me that he'd gone through EIGHT 30-ounce bottles of water in a little over 4 hours. I gave him a handful of Endurolytes and told him to look up "hyponatremia" in the dictionary when he got home. In Bow, I stopped for a good 20 minutes to watch some sheep dog training and play with puppies.

Away to Me, Pig

Oh! For a Larger Pannier . . .

The last stretch of the day was the long (but gentle) climb up Chuckanut Drive, followed by the not-quite-so-long drop down into Bellingham, Washington, where we would spend the night. On the way up Chuckanut, I struck up a conversation with a woman named Susun (yes, two "U"s), who was riding the most incredible orange custom steel bike - a Boedie, I believe. I'd see Susun on and off for the rest of the weekend - it was hard to miss that bike!

Suusan on "Pumpkin"

Upon arriving in Bellingham, I made my way to Western Washington University, where I had reserved a dorm room for the night. The room turned out to be on the 4th floor of a building with no elevators, which made me take back some of my earlier self-congratrulations for having decided to go with the "heavy" bike for the weekend.

Fairhaven College

But I managed to haul myself and my gear up the stairs and after a nice long hot shower I headed back out to town for an early dinner. More specifically, I headed over to the Boundary Bay Brewpub, which brews vegan beer and has at least three vegan dinner items, which is three more than most brewpubs (salads and french fries do not count, I am talking about actual meals).


Unfortunately, the first sandwich I ordered did not match its menu description - it was supposed to be a faux BLT made with tempeh (yum) but when it arrived I learned that it had instead been made with Smart Bacon, which is, in a word, horrid. It is what gives meat substitutes a bad name. It is pink cardboard. In short, it was NOT what I wanted for dinner. I am happy to report, however, that the server was responsive to my complaint and brought me a baked tofu sandwich, instead, which was quite delicious.

Dinner, Day One

After dinner, I strolled back through the WWU campus to the dorm. WWU has an AMAZING sculpture collection, much of which appears to have been donated by a single patron. Serra. Noguchi. Naumann. All the big stuff big shots are represented.

Naumann - Stadium Piece

I was up early the next morning, and hungry. The student running the check out desk was not sure if any restaurants in town would be open, but suggested I check out the school dining commons: All you can eat for $7. It turned out that I could eat a large bagel smeared with peanut butter, two bowls of oatmeal, a bowl of fruit, a plate of tater tots and 3 cups of tea with soy milk. Oink! As I rode out of town, I noticed that there were quite a few breakfast places open, all packed with cyclists. Maybe next year I'll try one of those.

Less than an hour and half after eating breakfast, I was crossing the border into Canada. There was a special line just for cyclists. A guy a couple of places ahead of me was pulled out of line and told that he needed to go to the "special" section (ruh-roh). Later I heard a couple other riders saying something about him having to explain a DUII on his record. He may have regretted choosing to wear the Deschutes Brewery jersey that day. I, on the other hand, somehow managed to get through. Apparently I am not as much of a threat to World Order as I pretend to be.

For me, the second day of RSVP is really more about getting to Vancouver than it is about sightseeing along the way. Partly this is because the route is not quite as scenic as on Day 1. The roads are busier, the surroundings more suburban than rural. But that does not mean that there was nothing to see. Indeed, since 2007, the route had undergone a major change in order to take advantage of the Golden Ears Bridge to cross the Fraser River from Langley to Maple Ridge. In the past we had to take the ferry, which, although quite fun, added a lot of standing-around waiting time to the day. The bridge is magnificent - the longest extradosed bridge in North America. On first approach it did not seem all that special, because we were going through construction zones. But once we wheeled up the spiral access ramp, its fantastic cable-stays topped with golden eagles became visible.

Golden Ears Bridge

Once over the bridge, the route became increasingly urban. I skipped all the rest stops, because I was anxious to get to Vancouver, aka the world's coolest city. I could see the skyline long before I was anywhere close; first I needed to transverse Burnaby, by way of the Francis/Union and Adanac Bike Routes.

The Vancouver Skyline, as seen from Burnaby

Once in the city, I picked my way through Chinatown and Gastown and worked my way over to the hotel that served as the finish line. My many walking adventures in Vancouver served me well here, because the route had not been marked with Dan Henry's (or if it was, they were no longer visible) and I'd lost the page of the route booklet that covered downtown. So I just rode the way I would have walked, and got there just fine.

At the finish line party, there were no vegan options; if I wanted just a handful of potato chips, I would have still had to pay for a full meal. So I had a beer, relaxed on the grass, watched a baby raccoon navigate some nearby stairs, and then headed out to look for a real meal.

TRFKAF at the Finish

Dinner-Day Two

On the way to the hostel where I had booked a room, I came across a couple of guys decked out like Ash from Evil Dead. Apparently there had been a zombie "flash mob" that had just broken up. I soon started to spot zombies everywhere, as well as bloody hand prints that showed where zombies had recently been.

Shop Smart: Shop S-Mart

After two days of riding, I was feeling a bit zombified myself, but still took time to wander all over town. I stopped for a beer in Yaletown, ate some tasty frites, admired the urban garden on Davie Street, and then heaed over to English Bay for the sunset. It was a perfect end to an almost-perfect weekend. The absence of Lynne and Jason prevented sheer perfection, but otherwise it was a great ride.

Sunset Over English Bay

The rest of my photos are here

Friday, October 02, 2009

A Fine and Private Place - Emphasis on the "Private"

I actually started this post back in June. At that time I was simply planning on talking about a part of my daily commute, for lack of anything more interesting. Then I got caught up in things, and this post got pushed to the side and forgotten. Recent developments reminded me about it, however, so I am dusting it off and putting it out for all to see.

Here in Portland, we've got lots of great places to ride our bikes, either as commuters or as weekend road warriors. Riverview Cemetery is one such place. Almost every weekday morning I ride my bike up the hill from the Willamette River through the cemetery to get to the transit center where I board the commuter bus to Salem. The ride through Riverview is the highlight of my day. A mile and half of quiet roads winding through old tombs (cool!) and new flat gravestones (boring!). The grade is a gentle (mostly) 4% or so, with the occasional 11% pitch, and at 6:00 AM the only traffic is other cyclists and the random deer or coyote.

Most mornings on my way up the hill, I meet up with Lee Rogers, the cemetery's supervisor, as he makes his morning rounds. If I have time, I'll stop, and we'll chat about the weather and whatever critters we've seen that morning. Lee thinks it's great that cyclists use the cemetery, because the only other option for getting up the hill is a steep, winding road with no shoulder and lots of car traffic. Lee and I have also talked a lot about certain cyclists who are not content with a leisurely ride through the quiet cemetery hills but, rather, used the cemetery as their own private time-trial course, barreling through funeral processions and cussing out mourners who had the temerity to park their cars in the road. Worse yet are the cyclists that think that graves make good cyclo-cross hazards. Fortunately, the inconsiderate riders are in the minority. Unfortunately, they are ruining it for the rest of us.

Lee had told me months ago that the cemetery management was being pressured by plot owners and mourners to close the roads to bicyclists. Management has resisted those calls so far, but last week they took a step toward controlling speeding cyclists by installing speed bumps in three places. Unfortunately, the execution of this plan was not very well thought out. The bumps are higher and less rounded than your typical speed bump, and for at least one day they were unpainted and had no warning marks. That led to several bike crashes, and an extremely vigorous debate on a local cycling blog. Now the cemetery management is once again considering an all-out closure. Needless to say, that would be a huge loss to Portland cyclists. But I can understand the cemetery's position. It is, after all, private property, and we are trespassers upon it. And even though 90% of us are respectful of both the primary purpose of the land and of the extreme graciousness the owners have shown in allowing us to use their roads, it only takes one moron using a child's grave as a mogul to ruin it for the rest of us. And, sadly, just as in every other population subgroup, there are a lot of moron cyclists out there who treat Riverview as their own private Idaho. Thanks for nothing, guys.