Paul Andrews

Archive for the ‘Today’s Ride’ Category

The bike is the bond: Riding with the legends on Turkey Day

In Mountain Biking, Today's Ride on November 29, 2009 at 9:34 am

FAIRFAX CA — I’ve ridden the annual Turkey Day mountain bike ride, or “Appetite Seminar,” in Fairfax maybe half a dozen times over the years, and each one has been different in its own wonderfully unpredictable way. But Thursday’s edition will top my list for a long time to come.

My Seattle friend (and former world-class racer) John Loomis, who worked for Gary Fisher back at the industry’s dawn and who never misses the ride, was the catalyst. John suggested we meet at the orthogonally indescribable Jacquie Phelan’s eclectic estate and head out from there.

Jacquie is a Marin legend and her blog is one of my favorites. Although I’d heard of her since the late 1970s and exchanged email and was a big fan, we’d never met. But she greeted me like an old friend, gave me the nickel tour of her place, which could have served without modification as a set for my favorite movie, “Harold & Maude,” and then introduced me to another legend, her partner Charlie Cunningham.

Charlie looks just like his pictures from the “Klunkerz” days, with that curly boyish hair and incipient smile of his, and in his t-shirt and jeans he looked like he just got off a Schwinn cruiser after smoking down Repack. He couldn’t ride with us but Jacquie got out one of Charlie’s vintage aluminum bikes, so he was with us in spirit the whole way.

John rambled up, Jacquie donned her nose and glasses, feather-ornamented helmet and sequined wool gloves, joining a wool Peloton jersey, lush velvet skirt and racing shoes, and we were off. I’m sure there is historic significance to each article of clothing, including the funny nose and glasses, but I didn’t get a chance to ask.

Within moments on the climb up Bolinas Road, Jacquie and John were deep in conversation and off like bullets. Both were racers, and I had no chance of keeping up. Which was OK, because at my vintage I pretty much smile and go my own pace, thankful just to be able to keep turning over the cranks another day.

After another rider pointed out my low rear tire (it was 10 psi), and I helped another guy who had broken his chain, I finally pulled to the top. Jacquie had been worried enough to ride back down trying to find me, but hadn’t as she put it memorized the gear enough to pick me out from the hordes. You have to understand, Turkey Day is the biggest mass recreational mountain bike ride you will ever do. Getting an accurate headcount is impossible, because there’s no registration or support station. But I heard the thousand-rider estimate tossed around more this year than ever before, and that was undoubtedly conservative. I’ve been on organized rides all my life with headcounts in the thousands, and this felt like well over 1k. As Jacquie noted (see link below), the youth element was out in bigger force than ever in the past; Marin’s vibrant school teams are having an impact along with the GenX equivalent for sons and daughters of mtb fanatics. Plus people had been primed by a week-long bout of spectacular weather, even though it was a bit overcast and chilly out on the course.

John may have come all the way from Seattle but probably wouldn’t win any “furthest” award. I saw Colorado and Utah license plates in the lot, and overheard one group who obviously were from somewhere in the Deep South.

They really should be called Turkey Day rideS, because you can pretty much pick any route from a dozen or more configurations. There are so many places to ride from Fairfax. The standard route is to head up Bolinas Road to the Pine Mountain Loop. You can get back to Fairfax any number of ways from there.

Anyway, I rejoined Jacquie and John at the trailhead and we started up the vicious rubble-laden fire road toward the Pine Mountain loop. Unless you’re in supreme shape, every so often you have to stop and push a bit up the climb. Which was fine, because it gave Jacquie a chance to introduce me to more legends. First up was Joe Breeze, riding with his son Tommy. At the next stop Jacquie was holding forth when some guy crept up behind her and started planting little air kisses on her neck. Jacquie never did catch on, despite the big circle of grinning riders gathered around.

The guy turned out to be Gary Fisher himself, tall and wickedly fit-looking, riding Fisher colors and bike of course. So I got to meet the most famous name in mountain biking.

At this point I should say something about how real, grounded, open and humble all these folks were. Somehow the press clippings, fame and adulation haven’t worked a number on them — a real credit to their sense of what is truly important in life, which is just being yourself. As a result, they instantly make you feel like just one of the crowd, even if you’re just another guy on a bike who can’t keep up. It’s one of the things I love about the mountain bike culture: The bike is the bond. It’s like a secret handshake or tattoo or password would be in another context. If you have mountain biking in common, you know you have a world of other things in common too.

At the turnoff to the loop we met my final legend of the day, Scot Nicol, founder of Ibis Cycles and developer of my XC bike, the Mojo. I don’t have my Mojo in Cali so was riding my Firebird, but I mentioned how my Mojo-riding friend and I formed Team Carbon Copy in Seattle (after I pretty much duplicated his build on my bike; we’re both sub-25 lbs.), and have done various epic exploits around the Northwest under that moniker. “Really?” Scot said, “send me the links. I’d love to take a look.” I sure will. And I’m sure he will.

Due to time commitments I didn’t do the loop but instead headed up toward Repack with the intention of hitting Tamarancho for the ride back to Fairfax. But there was a huge group at the junction with Repack, which I hadn’t ridden in years. I decided to go for nostalgia and headed up the grade. Then I remembered I hadn’t seen the plaque commemorating Repack as the birthplace of mountain biking. I went back and looked around where I remembered it being, but either I was wrong or the plaque is gone. Or maybe it’s all just a figment of my imagination, or maybe I dreamed it; there certainly ought to be something marking the place.

Repack was a whole lot more fun, and shorter, than I remembered. It may be because I was on the Firebird, which is a real adrenaline stoker on the downhill. The road was in primo shape, great for launching at the water bars and risers, and some guys were screaming down the steep parts. It made me wish I’d been there back in the day, when John and Jacquie and Charlie and Joe and Gary were creating the foundation of a different way of thinking about cycling, a new way of riding bikes, and a magical way of bringing people together to ride.

Jacquie Phelan’s inimitable version of this year’s ride

Charlie Cunningham

Last year’s ride

The historical sweep, including the worst Appetite Seminar ever

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Communing with the Whistling Pigs: Interlude in Entiat

In Mountain Bike Trail Reviews, Mountain Biking, Today's Ride, Videos on September 7, 2009 at 7:52 am

Before the weekend’s rains hit, Jim Lyon and I took a day to do some classic high-country mountain biking, the kind everyone did before Whistler, North Shore and Galby changed the mountain-bike scene. We must have run across a dozen marmots (whistling pigs) in the meadows, waddling languidly around and engaging in their high-pitched, eerie conversation. Seven thousand feet up the ridge, the peaks were majestic, the wildflowers were soothing, the meadows were contemplative and everything was oh so quiet. It was a different riding experience than you get at the parks, resulting in a different mountain biking video than you usually see. (For full screen mode, click on permalink.)

Today’s Ride: Trillium on Tiger!

In Mountain Biking, Today's Ride on May 14, 2009 at 8:41 am
A delicate, orchid-like native Northwest flower but please do not pick

A delicate, orchid-like native Northwest flower

Tiger Mountain is covered with trillium this Spring — be sure to watch for them if you’re there during this weekend’s predicted sunshine. I don’t recall noticing trillium at Tiger — Kachess Ridge being the ride I’ve most associated them with year after year. Perhaps with climate disruption they are spreading to lower climes. They are predominantly white but evolve in color to a lavender and even dark purple. The Wiki says they should not be picked — what look like leaves are actually bracts that serve reproductive functions, so if you pick the flower you kill the plant.

R+E trillium logo

R+E trillium logo

They’re particularly noticeable on Iverson near the mid-way point, up on the ridge before you drop down to the big bridge for the final rip down to the parking lot. Trivia point: The first time I ever wondered about trillium was seeing the wonderful R+E Cycles logo back in the 1970s. Today R+E builds custom Trillium bikes as well.

Today’s Ride: Tiger Mountain RR

In Mountain Bike Trail Reviews, Mountain Biking, Today's Ride on May 4, 2009 at 11:30 pm

Having been out of town at the Sea Otter Classic, I’d missed the official opening date of April 13 (2 days earlier than usual) on Tiger Mountain, my favorite place to ride in the Seattle area. The sun was still out when I started, but a breeze was kicking up and the forecast called for rain by nightfall.

I had low expectations for trail conditions, based on Saturday’s nasty rainfall and the fact that, in early May, Tiger’s trails usually are pretty soggy. Well, soggy is an understatement. The truth is, Tiger in May is like the U.S. mortgage crisis — completely underwater. But the air was crisp and dry and I hoped to escape with as little a layer of mud as I could.

I’ve been riding Tiger since the early 1990s and have complained long and mightily to BBTC-cum-EMBA officialdom about the lack of any new trail openings for two decades. Especially when one of the measly three trails mountain bikes are allowed access on is closed for the season, as has happened in two of the past three years, we ought to be given temporary access to another major trail. The obvious choice is Tiger Mountain Trail on the south side, a wonderful loamy, winding passage that could easily be tied into Iverson for a south-side loop rivaling the Preston-Northwest Timber trail hookup on the north side.

According to the EMBA web site, the NW Timber Trail may be closed at least partially again this season and next. This is a great opportunity to pursue expanded trail access on the mountain.

Anyway, back to today’s ride.

I was encouraged to find half a dozen riders in the parking lot. For a weekday noon hour, that’s not a bad turnout at all. Moreover, a couple who were just returning from NWTT appeared almost unspattered. Usually their lower halves should be caked like logger’s boots. A good sign, for sure.

The lower road up from the East Summit parking lot off Highway 18 is mudded over by logging-truck activity, but no worries. It was packed enough to glide over. Every time I do the grunt up the fire road I say a little prayer of gratitude for Tiger. Without this climb, which can be augmented by a right turn at the top Y to the cell towers, there would be really nothing anaerobic within 50 miles of Seattle. Tiger road’s climb is great training for Kachess, Corral Pass, Devil’s Gulch and other high-country elevations that are unavailable till some time in July. As a reformed roadie, I don’t mind long boring climbs. They clear the head and allow almost an altered state, meditation on wheels. They can be creative and inspiring as well, since new ideas tend to flow away from the ball and chain of the desk computer.

I made pretty good time to the top for this time of year, having benefited from a month of steady riding in California. At the trailhead I was getting ready for the ride down — lowered seat, elbow and knee pads, letting out tire pressure in the new tubeless Nevies — when whoa! Out walks a cougar up the road 200 feet or so. Having just returned from mountain lion country in Santa Cruz, and encountered a kitty there, I knew what to do. Maintain eye contact and stay still as long as practical. But the cat didn’t even give me a look, just sauntered across the road and was gone.

Santa Cruz trail mascot

Santa Cruz trail mascot

My plan this early in the season with Preston was to take it slow. The fun factor of kamikazying in creek beds isn’t worth a $75 bearings job on White Flite, and getting soaked on the extremities, especially the feet, doesn’t help either. So I mellow along in stretches, taking advantage where I can but with lowered expectations of the overall ride. At least, that’s usually the case.

Soon in from the trailhead, I sensed things might be different this time. The trail seemed drier than I anticipated. There was a lot of rock work this far up, so some of the sodden patches were free of water. But it was also true that the forest did not seem damp at all. Even at the usual puddle areas, especially after the first little downhill run, things were dry (again, trail work was evident).

By the time I got to Bone Yard, I was thanking EMBA, Brian and the crew for some obviously major trail rehab. Right around the rooty stretch there’s a sign designating “BBTC Trail Party,” with lots done (and more to do). From Bone Yard to Zorro’s first switchback, things were in dynamite shape. There’s been a lot of heavy duty rock work that is paying off. I’m not a big rock fan normally, preferring wooding in water areas (the wood not only absorbs water but disintegrates to soil, regenerating the trail over time; rock may be more permanent but not as naturally integrative in my opinion), and using ladders and bridges rather than in-fill. But hey, I’m not running the work parties, am I? Kudos to the gang for a job well done!

The first switchback, normally a mini-lake, had far less standing water than usual. It’s coming along, but I’d love to see a teeter or bridge here spanning the bog. Then you get slingshotted down the first series of launches, and I have to say it wasn’t bad. They’ve diverted the creek off to the side where it’s worst, so you don’t have that stretch of splatter to contend with. And damn if there just isn’t as much water on the trail as in the past.

About half way down the first leg of Zorro, I figured what the hell. I’m gonna rip it. There wasn’t enough water to really get Flite dirty, and I figured this early in the season I wasn’t going to find any surprises. Plus I had the tubeless guys on, so pinch flats weren’t a concern. Time to rumble!

For the rest of Zorro I pinned it (well, for me anyway) like it was mid-August. I was shrieking like a little kid down the stretch where you get those off-camber mini–gaps and that one 3-foot drop. The 6 3/4-inch travel of the 6.6, the DHX 5 coil and the coiled Lyrik were soaking up the hits. Again, there was very little water on the trail.

When you get to the bottom of a downhill run and you’re sucking wind, you know you’ve been hammerin’! What a sled run! I pulled out onto the road with a huge grin, did the little connector with that rock launch, and dropped back to the road for the ride to NW Timber Trail. About the only noteworthy thing on NWTT is that it’s completely dry and buff. But after Preston, it’s always kind of a let-down.

The work at Preston is by no means finished. But the trend is clear. Now that Colonnade is done, it’s time to showcase the one trail close in to Seattle that has the potential for a full-on Northshore or Whistler treatment. I know that’s saying a lot, but with the right approach it’s entirely doable. Thanks to Brian and all the others whose hard work has brought Preston so far over the winter. Rock on bros!

By the time I got back to the parking lot, the skies were darkening, wind was whipping up and sprinkles were falling. I’d beaten the deluge. But this time, I’ll be back quicker than in the past. And I’ve signed up for the May 17th work party, hope to see you there!

Today’s Ride: Nisene Marks, on the road to Sea Otter

In Mountain Biking, Multi-Day Trips, Today's Ride on April 16, 2009 at 3:46 pm
Nowhere is the air bigger than Aptos

Nowhere is the air bigger than Aptos

Back to Santa Cruz for a tour of Forest of Nisene Marks, billed as the leading host of lyme-disease carrying ticks in the state (1 in 5)! Well, that one won’t make the tourist promos, but anyone with their share of run-ins with ticks knows that proper precautions avert a lot of trouble. Stay on the trails, don’t lie down in the grass, and keep an eye out for the little devils and you’ll be fine. (Also read up on the latest regarding how to handle ticks and avoid Lyme Disease.)

Nisene has lots of lower-level trails with berms, a few structures and lots of rollers. But you can also ride up the long fire road to access the Soquel Demo Forest, a great technical area. And if you go over to the Aptos Post Office, you’ll find one of the leading jump parks in the country, where homie Cam McCaul plays host to some of the world’s leading mountain bikers, guys like Andreu Lecondeguy, Jamie Goldman, Greg Watts and others.

The other thing about hanging with the locals is finding out about new undocumented trails. There’s lots to choose from in Santa Cruz!

Today’s Ride: I Heart Santa Cruz!

In Mountain Biking, Multi-Day Trips, Today's Ride on April 12, 2009 at 9:14 am
Friends tell me it's raining in Seattle

Friends tell me it's raining in Seattle

A mainstay on any trip to Cali is the Wilder Ranch compound just north of Santa Cruz. Yeah I’ve ridden it so many times I could do it backwards upside down, but there’s nothing like panoramic ocean views, clear blue skies and UC Santa Cruz stunts to stir the soul of a mountain biking addict. The only omission is my riding buddy Jim, stuck in the cold and dark of Seattle. One of these days we’ll get him down here to sample the local treats.

The other nice thing about the Wilder ride, which usually runs 2 to 3 hours, is that it’s a good toner for muscles long atrophied by cruel Northwest winters. A few Wilder runs under the belt leaves you ready for the bigger assaults in Nisene Marks, Aptos and beyond.

Sea Otter starts in just a few days!

Today’s Ride: Arastradero

In Mountain Biking, Today's Ride on April 10, 2009 at 9:04 am

On the road to Sea Otter: We stopped in Ashland OR, one of my favorite places to ride, but it was cold and raining, so we motored on through to the Bay Area. We’re in Palo Alto for a few days and I’m taking advantage of local weather to soak up some sun on the Intense 6.6. Here’s today’s jaunt, a standard figure-8 loop in Arastradero regional park in the Palo Alto foothills. Ah, to ride for miles without encountering a mud puddle in April!

Friends tell me it's raining in Seattle...

Friends tell me it's raining in Seattle...

Today’s Ride: New Trader Joe’s in Ballard

In Bicycling, Today's Ride on March 24, 2009 at 6:50 pm
It's what's inside that counts

It's what's inside that counts

People have been talking about the new Trader Joe’s, so I figured on stopping by on a Tour de Ballard (pronounced the French “BullARD”).

It’s in a new building kitty corner from the Office Max on Leary Way, and directly behind Mars Hill Church. I’m not sure how a self-described Temple of Jesus got named after a barren planet identified largely with alien space invaders, but the place is booming. (I joke, here’s the deal.)

The place was jammed. My first experience with Trader Joe’s was in the ’90s in Silver Lake, Los Angeles. It was a funky, dark little place with weird bulk stuff for cheap. Over the years the chain has evolved into something along the lines of “good food, affordable prices.” Most of what TJ sells does have the advantage of tasting like food. I wouldn’t call it high quality, but it’s a cut above Safeway for sure.

One trademark of the chain is long lines at the counter. The lines move fairly fast, so there’s that. But if you’re in a hurry, skip it and come back at, say 10 a.m. on a Wednesday.

You have to be where? By when?

You have to be where? By when?

I wanted to pick up some Dubliner cheese and frozen wild blueberries, which are two of the half a dozen things I consistently buy at Trader Joe’s (sesame pita chips, Canadian Grade B maple syrup, organic catsup and frozen blackberries among the others). But the lines were outrageous. Church must’ve just gotten out.

So I hopped back on the bike and rode over to Fremont Puget Consumers Coop, where I’m more comfortable even if the prices are a bit higher. Still, if Trader Joe’s was publicly traded, I’d jump at buying the stock. All those people willing to stand in line must mean something.

Then it was back up Fremont hill for the third time in three days. Good training for when it gets warm ‘n dry out, eh? You say it’s only three and a half months till July 10th?

Today’s Ride: Round Lake Sawyer

In Mountain Biking, Today's Ride on March 21, 2009 at 8:26 pm

A spot of sun, so I have to get outta Dodge for some trail ridin’!!

Tiger Mountain reportedly is snowed in, so I headed for Lake Sawyer/Black Diamond and some more exploring. Sawyer is such a playground. You can spend hours riding in circles, not having a clue where in Sam Hill you are, and then suddenly pop out, back right where you started. And you never even detoured off the trail!

Is this what you call a circle jerk?

Is this what you call a circle jerk?

Another advantage of Sawyer is that it stays pretty dry even in the boggy weather we’ve been having lately. I ran into some puddles here and there but generally the bike stayed pretty clean. When you have a white bike, you can kinda tell right away.

I rode some bridges and a couple of structures, but they’re looking mighty poorly. The teeter is broke. Someone snapped it right at the axle, so now you can roll down it, but that probably won’t last long. The break looked like a natural give; not sure how it might’ve happened. Some Clydesdale must’ve dropped it pretty hard. Or maybe a couple of riders at once.

From teeter to roll-down

From teeter to roll-down

Other structures are just falling apart. Hopefully by late spring the groms will be out fixing things up. I should say Sawyer’s collection, at least what I know of it, ain’t great. There’s limited run-up, not a lot of room for transition, and some plain goofy angles. Makes you appreciate Colonnade and Sea-Tac all the more.

A tad dicey on this one

A tad dicey on this one

After the ride I popped into Black Diamond for a visit to the bakery. Back in the day, when I was a cub reporter at The Seattle Times and assigned to cover suburban news (what there was of it), I’d occasionally find myself in Black Diamond for a story involving some of the local characters. It was quite a place back then, still hanging onto its coal-mine heritage and full of iconoclastic rugged individualist types.

But the Black Diamond Bakery was the bomb! It was the only place you could get brick-oven bread baked fresh that morning. The stuff was ambrosia, succulent, chewy, subtle. I’d haul three or four loaves back home to Seattle and keep them frozen, then pop them in the oven when it was time to eat.

It’s funny, back then the city was full of fake cheeseball stuff — remember Langendorf? — and you had to go to the outlying districts for the good, authentic, real deal. Today it’s just the opposite. The outlying areas are being destroyed by tacky soulless malls while city neighborhoods, where they aren’t being consumed by faceless condos with tanning salons and sandwich shops on street level, are keeping it real.

The Black Diamond Bakery still has good stuff, but with Macrina, Essential, Tall Grass and other neighborhood bakeries here, I can load up on a ride around town just as well. And the street I live on has more elevation gain than the whole of Lake Sawyer. Hopefully Tiger will be clearing up soon — it’s only a little more than 3 weeks to official opening day (April 15)!

Today’s Ride: No Country for Old Cyclists

In Bicycling, Today's Ride on March 20, 2009 at 6:37 pm
Accidental bather

Accidental bather

I was out making my usual rounds through the U District when whoa! a mini-Katrina! It got really dark, then fat raindrops started falling and within 138 seconds I was in a veritable deluge. I ducked into Fluidride to sit it out and founder Simon Lawton asked if I needed anything. Um, what did he have in a complete change of clothes?

“Oh, I see,” he said. “You’re here for 30 minutes of shopping!”

The showroom is coming along, with an ETA of a week from Sunday. This is the one with the track lighting, black interior and the new line of white Evil bikes, including the Revolt with Dave Weagle’s DELTAsystem. We’ll keep ya posted!

Hey it's Seattle...what d'ya expect???

Hey it's Seattle...what d'ya expect???

Eventually the rain let up and I continued over to Fremont, then made the long slog up Fremont hill to Phinney Ridge and home. Fremont hill is a thing of joy, of course. Not really that bad, you can kind of zone out because there’s plenty of shoulder clearance for traffic to pass by, and the grade, although steady, is nothing like Denny or Queen Anne. When I commuted to and from The Seattle Times back in the day, I rode Fremont several times a week, often after dark had descended. Wish I’d had the kind of HID or LED lighting then that they have today.