Paul Andrews

Archive for October, 2007|Monthly archive page

My Many Many Bikes

In Uncategorized on October 21, 2007 at 8:49 pm

My first bike was a custom fat-tire special, built by hand by my grandfather in Seattle. I got it for my third-grade Christmas present. I rode it all over Seattle. It had no decals, no name, and was a bit big for me. It may have been made out of plumbing conduit but I loved it. A gang of us used to ride downtown, a distance of about 8 to 10 miles, and watch movies. I can’t ever remember locking my bike up, there was no need. I also wore no helmet and never thought twice about getting hit by a car. Seattle in the late 1950s was a very different kind of place.

Later I got a Schwinn Sting Ray, red and white. That bike I rode everywhere in Lynnwood, north of Seattle, where our family lived while I went to junior high and high school. Even after getting my driver’s license I can remember riding that bike. Once my Dad caught me riding down a bunch of stairs on it and warned me that I could break an axle doing that. About two weeks later, I broke my front axle.

In high school the Euro bike craze hit the states — skinny tired, 10-speed bikes suddenly were available in the U.S. I got a Schwinn Continental, kind of a crimson, and kept it all through college and afterward. Then, in the mid-70s, I got a Nishiki equipped with Shimano, which was cheap but good stuff, no name value at all, it was all Campagnolo if you wanted brand name. But the Shimano set never wore out and worked fine. By the late 1970s I was getting into long-distance riding, 100 miles, 200 miles, living in northern California and doing triathlons as well. I did the Davis Double, the Terrible Two, all the centuries (Almaden, Sequoia, Mill Valley, Grizzly, Mt. Hamilton, which was my favorite). I did some Jobst off-road rides on my Klein, my first truly pimped-out bike, in the hills above Palo Alto, but never cared much for it.

It was not till 1991 or so that I caught the MTB bug. My wife wanted a bike so I picked up a Trek Mountain Trak 830, fully rigid, heavier than cast iron. I brought it home and took it for a spin around the block. I couldn’t believe it! Within minutes I was hopping curbs, doing little wheelies and having the time of my life. It was like a whole new world of biking, I had ridden into another dimension.

So I got a Specialized Rockhopper with a suspension fork, that tan elastomer thing from Rock Shox, and was on my way. Soon I got a Pro-flex 853, fully suspended with a linkage Girvin fork, what a hoot. I took it up on Grouse Mountain in B.C., this was long before the Northshore became famous, and almost killed myself doing primitive rock ledges and stump drops. Some locals took me with them and, even though I lagged behind, had words of praise afterward. “You did pretty good,” one told me. “The last Yank we rode with went out on a stretcher.”

I don’t have photos of any of these bikes. This was before digital cameras, and you just didn’t carry a Nikon SLR with multiple lenses on a mountain bike ride.

The first bike I have digital photos of is my beloved yellow Trek Y-33, one of the first mass-produced carbon fiber mountain bikes. It had a somewhat goofy design, single pivot with lots o’ bob, but was a real kick in the ass to ride. I rode it all over the West, from Crested Butte to Sedona to Moab to Mount Tam. The photo here is from a week-long hut-to-hut tour from Telluride to Moab in 1996. My reports from that ride were chronicled in The Seattle Times. Can you believe it, we sent dispatches with a cell phone we recharged off a tire generator on one of our bikes! Credit the genius of Mark Eppley, the wild and crazy founder of Laplink, a pioneering peer-to-pier networking company.

The Y-33 eventually got stolen off the back of my van in downtown Portland in mid-day, and I replaced it with one of the original Santa Cruz Hecklers, cherry red and fully tricked. I even got one of the first five-inch single-crown forks, a Marzocchi, having no clue whatsoever about what it would do to the geometry. The Heckler, another single pivot bike (it was succeeded by the Superlight, which carries the same design even today, and after a hiatus of a few years was revived in its current 5-inch configuration), could really brake-jack you into some wicked face plants. I eventually sold it and got a Turner XCE, which remains one of my favorite bikes of all time. Four-inches, light, four-bar with Horst link, wow. It had everything I needed and wanted, at least till the new generation of freeride bikes came on the scene.

I also got a Schwinn Moab hardtail, which was stolen from in front a Seattle bike shop, no less. Oh I forgot to mention, my original Rockhopper I gave to my son-in-law. It as stolen in Vancouver, B.C. I guess you could say I shared the joy!

The Turner was my first bike from the Downhill Zone in Seattle, where I’ve bought a whole gaggle of bikes. I joke with DHZ founder, Darren Brown, that he should give me one of those punchcards like you get at the coffeehouses. You know, buy 9 bikes, get one free!

While living in San Francisco for a time, I picked up a Titus HC ti hardtail from one of the world’s great bike shops, Chris Lane’s Roaring Mouse Cycles. I still ride the Titus more than any bike I own, because it’s now my commuter, around-town bike. I put 10-15 miles a day on that thing and it just goes and goes and goes. I got the Titus after getting a Giant carbon-fiber hardtail that I truly loved but which gave out after about 8 months. The BB couldn’t take all the climbing I did and wound out of the frame. You can’t re-glue it so Giant gave me an NS-1, which I promptly sold brand new, not needing another FS bike.

Then the long-travel craze started to hit, and I got a Ventana El Saltamontes from DHZ because it could go from 3.5 to 5 inches. Eventually I converted it to a full 6 with a Romic shock and long rocker, and thought this is it. This is as much travel as I’ll ever need. But the geometry was all wrong, we were just learning about this stuff. I got a Turner 6-Pack, rode it for a summer, never much liked it, and then gave it back to DHZ on consignment, who sold it for $100 less than I paid (thanks guys!), and ordered me an Intense 6.6 in Pearl. White Flite I call it. I still do a lot of riding on it, anything fast and technical and ragged. Whistler, Northshore and Galbraith Mountain near Bellingham are perfect for the Intense, and I spent a couple of seasons pretty much glued to the thing. DHZ put my Saltamontes on the rack and got me a pretty good price for it.

But in 2007 I found myself longing to get back to high-country, all-day epics, not the sort of thing you do on a 35-lb. thrasher. Goaded by my friend Jim Lyon, who had picked up an Ibis Mojo, I went with carbon fiber again and got a black (nude) large Mojo, tricked it out with a Pace CF fork and gold Marta brakes (Jim’s has red Martas and I didn’t want people to think I was copying him). I really really like the Mojo, so much that my beloved, my trusted, my all-time No. 1 Turner XCE went on the rack.

I guess the cool thing with all my bikes is that, hopefully, they’re all still in circ! Guys are still out there enjoying them, and I’m still adding to my quiver. I’m thinking a 29er next. I’m holding out hope that Ibis is putting together a 29er CF hardtail. We’ll see. For now I’m pretty well set.

The Curse of the Pyramid

In Mountain Biking on October 19, 2007 at 7:39 am

When you think pyramid, you think mystery, hardship, timeless and huge. And you think Pyramid Beer.

Coincidentally enough, all the above also apply to mountain biking. Thus was Mire & Anthony’s annual pilgrimage to Pyramid Peak born. And thus, too, was conceived the Curse of the Pyramid.

When I first tried three years ago to scale the epic mountain, arguably the highest point of legal mountain biking in the state (we’ve gone over this ground before, but the other contenders are Angel’s Staircase and Tiffany Mountain, both near Winthrop), our hardy band was turned back by a fierce snowstorm. Only the Mad Russian, Ikore, forged on, ploughing through 2-foot drifts and eventually winding up with, if memory serves, a mild case of frostbite. We could only marvel at Ikore’s fortitude and promise next year for sure.

Next year for others, yes. For me, unbeknownst, Pyramid Peak already had initiated its loathsome and heartless misfortune. I was riding elsewhere in 2005 and 2006 and missed the Pyramid retreats, which were sunny and pleasant and all things MTB. The freeride bug had bit and you just don’t haul 35 lb. honkers up to 8k feet, no matter what the ride back down. (I’m sure I’ll get mail from someone who did…Armando was that YOU?)

But 2007 witnessed my return to XC, and I vowed to revisit the scene of so much past pain. I’ve bagged all the 360s in the state I know of except Pyramid. It was time to put the wrap on that particular challenge.

Things bode well early on. Mire posted the ride weeks ahead on the BBTC list and I signed up right away. Soon a host of familiar names were on the list, including Art, Paul Smith, Chris Alef, Gonzz and my Team Mojo compadre, Jim Lyon. The weather that side of the Cascades was dynamite in approaching weeks, mid-80s with a cooling breeze at elevation. Surely this was the year to be!

But that’s the thing about a curse. It’s always lurking, laying little enticing traps along the way, tricking you into thinking things are far far better than they will turn out to be. In this way it is decidedly not a jinx. Jinxes are for games or sports or individual hexes. They’re trivial. They’re for Cubs fans. They’re not life-endangering or injurious to body or soul.

Curses…well, a true curse conjures the worst of human agony and pain. Up against a true curse, a mere mortal is lucky simply to survive.

By ride week, the news already was turning grim. Weather reports consistently lowered the snow level to 6k, then 5k, then a truly disturbing 4k. The nights were turning morbidly cold. Mire had said from the outset, Snow Cancels! It was just a matter of speculation on whether the Puget Sound moisture was making it over the North Cascade range to the valleys of the Entiat. What to do?

Here is where, had I realized the power and ineluctability of the Curse, I would have opted out no questions asked. Organizing a group ride in balmy weather with long days and short nights is no trivial feat. Herding the BBTC cats for a long weekend of uncertain clime is a disaster in the making.

But Mire had a plan.

Instead of riding uptrail to the Pyramid escalade, she put forth Plan B: Do a shuttle from the campground to the top via a horrendously long, nastily steep, but conveniently accessible fire road. The road ended right at a ridge trail that took you directly (well, kind of) to the Pyramid spur. Only 2600 to 2800 feet of gain and you’d be on top of the world. If all went well.

Now longtime readers of my reviews well know my abhorrence to shall we say vehicular assisted mountain biking. I recognize the wry irony in driving 180 miles to a trailhead and then disdaining a 13 mile fire road, but what can I say? I’m a purist. And besides, isn’t it all about the ride?

But in this case, Mire made a persuasive argument. If we did encounter inclement conditions, at least we could turn back easily enough. And the ridge approach did offer spectacular views not visitable from the singletrack approach. Plus you had a variety of options down, including some tasty ridge riding after the peak.

Ah well. I compromised. But something was tugging at my subconscious all the while. Something I could not quite identify. I knew it was out there. I could feel it in my bones.

The next sign I had of trouble to come was a patently idiotic decision to drive over in the a.m. A friend had offered a cabin in Leavenworth, and Jim proposed we trek on over there the day before, maybe get in a late day ride, and be fully rested (and only an hour and a half away) for the Friday assault. But something inside told me no, we could just leave early Friday and meet up at the trailhead. How was I to know that I had taken leave of my senses? That the curse was already working its dark magic?

I picked Jim up around 6:45 a.m. and we tooled out of Seattle at a pretty good pace, rain tapping Sue Bee’s windshield. Mojito and Juju, our carbon fiber Ibis Mojos (hence our team name), seemed content on the rack in back, but maybe we just weren’t paying enough attention. The concept and term of Mojo has its genesis in African witchcraft, and I have little doubt our sleek black steeds were aware of the trepidation we were headed into.

That early in the morning, traffic is slim. We made good time over the pass and I decided to call Anthony. It turned out he was about an hour and a half ahead of us. Later I was told he and Mire had gotten up around 3:30 a.m. I knew right then that we were all going to be fresh as daisies, but this is mountain biking, folks. In garbled cellphone communique, I told Anthony we would probably be behind the rest of the gang but would drive to the top. If we didn’t, I said, we would leave a note at the campsite so they wouldn’t have to worry about waiting for us down below before driving back up for the shuttle vehicle.

Yet I could sense, in my broken conversation, a creeping dread already setting in. My distaste for shuttles is only one part joy of the ride. The other part is this. Shuttles remind me of what the great Ohio State football coach, Woody Hayes, used to say. When you pass a football, three things can happen, and two of them are bad.

Similarly, shuttles can go sideways in a hurry. What if there’s a mechanical? What if a set of keys gets misplaced or lost? What if you miss a connection and someone gets left behind? And in worse case scenario, what if you get whiteout at the top from a sudden blizzard?

And what if, on top of everything else, you have a curse to contend with?

It was a long drive up to the top, longer that it looked on the map. I’ve done longer shuttles, but the payoff was a lot bigger (in Stanley, Idaho), and the road was better graded. This thing had water bars the size of Waikiki waves. As we approached the stop we came across a couple of weekend cornpones scavenging firewood. They’d pulled a blowdown out for sawing and it was blocking Sue Bee’s path. I waved and yelled at them but it was like some scene out of Deliverance. They didn’t get that the log end was blocking me till Jim got out and offered to help move the thing. Yet another sign that things weren’t quite right on that particular day.

We arrived at the top to find a lone vehicle that I didn’t recognize as Anthony’s or Mire’s: A gray Honda Ridgeline. It had a shuttle rack in the back, so we assumed it was them. But without a note or other indicator, it was a bit of a gamble. If there’d been a change of plans, we were in a heap o’ trouble if we headed all the way down to find no one below. After some deliberation we decided to take a chance. If we didn’t connect with them by mountain top, we would have to be content with an out-and-back.

We did detect some fresh MTB tracks, but couldn’t tell how many bikes. At least two different sets of patterns were discerned, not particularly reassuring. If only Anthony and Mire were up ahead, the whole shuttle thing was kaput.

It was cold, around 36 degrees, and getting colder, with little sign of sunbreaks, as we started over the ridge. Soon enough Jim pointed to a peak in the distance. “Pyramid!” he said, his voice a near whisper, layered in suspense. I figured he was right. The peak looked like a pyramid all right, whereas all the other peaks along the ridge looked like…pyramids. We forged on.

There are two or three pretty significant drops on the way to the Pyramid cutoff, and they add up. By the time we reached the spur, about 6 miles in, we’d climbed well over 2,500 feet. But there was good news. No tire tracks after the spur! That meant our party, if indeed it was they, were still on the mountain, either climbing or coming back down. In either case, we were assured of meeting up with them.

It would make sense, when ascending to 8300 feet on a narrow trail, that one would go only up. But the Pyramid spur soon dived, then dived again, and a third time, into quite lovely meadows, before finally heading up talus fields. There was just one problem: It was really getting cold. We were well below freezing by this time, around 2 in the afternoon, and snow was starting to fly. Our only consolation was that we had to be gaining ground on whoever was up ahead, since despite their lead time we hadn’t encountered them coming back down yet. We were beginning to wonder if the altitude had robbed us of our senses when there they were, like descending angels of mercy, Anthony and Mire… no wait! It was Mike Brown and Dexter Closterman, tripping down the mountainside like a walk in the park. Are you BBTC? we asked. The answer, yes, was like a Coast Guard cutter coming for shipwrecked sailors. They told us they figured Anthony and Mire were about 15 minutes behind, so we decided to wait. At that moment I knew Pyramid Peak once more was going to elude me. But I was so cold, it was getting later in the day, and it would be so foolhardy to split up again, I managed to shrug off the disappointment. Even if we got to the top, it would be so utterly miserable that all we’d be able to do would be to take a quick look around and head back down.

But the Curse wasn’t done. We waited and waited, suffice to say far longer than 15 minutes. Eventually Mire showed up, followed by Anthony, and then the conversation got complicated. By the time we figured out, in our synapse-numbed state, all the variables involved in that long horrific shuttle, Team Mojo was heading back to the TH with Mike and Dexter, while Mire, having handed her keys over, and Anthony decided to drop down into camp. In warmer weather, with a longer day, there’s no question we would have done Pugh Ridge, which we could see stretched out right in front of us, and which looked, as Jim put it, “like a real hoot.” But given the conditions, Pugh was out of the question. It was so damn cold I felt like 80 percent of my bodily functions were in the process of shutting down unless I got moving asap. And it would probably be better to be working than coasting.

Long story short, or at least less long, we rode back to the cars and drove back down the fire road in incipient darkness. But not before the curse struck one more time. On a rocky drop, Mike dumped his bike and whanged his rear rotor (breaking my cardinal rule of mountain biking, always keep your body between your bike and the ground — broken skin and bones heal, but a broken frame is forever). I’ve seen a lot of whangs, but this thing was curled like a taco’d wheel. Each revolution stopped Mike’s bike in its tracks. He eventually disabled the caliper by flipping it over and re-screwing it onto the mount, but I knew this was just one more way of Pyramid Mountain winking its eye and giving us the sly smile.

We eventually climbed back out another 2600 to 2800 feet, putting us well over 5k for the day with not much to show for it. Still, now we know our options. Now we can plan for the future. And now we know the full fury, the insidious force, of the Pyramid Curse. Like a Cubs fan, we can console ourselves with “There’s always next year.” With one exception: Team Mojo won’t be waiting till Baseball Playoffs time when we reprise the magic, the glory, the mystery and the accursed Curse of Pyramid Peak.