Monday, December 10, 2012

Escaping the rain

While I enjoy my work bike commute here even if it rains, I have not taken my mountain bike on trails yet. I guess there is a deep resistance in me to go mountain biking when the weather is "bad" or trails are wet and muddy. I did venture out to the mountains though, last weekend skiing at Stevens Pass in a foot of fresh powder was great, made even better by a 2-hour drive to the slopes and $40 lift ticket. This week, Stevens Pass got four feet of fresh snow on friday and six (!) feet Saturday.
I start to get it, when it pours in Seattle, it dumps powder couple of hours worth of drive away. So when a group of colleagues organized a snowshoeing trip to Mt. Rainier, I signed up, thinking, well it is not going top be as much fun as off-piste skiing the steeps and deeps, but perhaps I would try to get an aerobic workout on snowshoes. The Paradise area at Mt. Rainier looked very different than three months ago when I was there last.

Paradise, photo by Bob
Snow was deep, deep enough to make my large borrowed snowshoes sink while breaking the first track of the day. After a couple of hundred meters, I was breathing hard and the trail was downhill.

But after a while, I got the rhythm of making small steps and trying to glide on the surface and I was surprised how fast I was moving. Given the time I had for this hike, I went fast for about an hour and half before I had to turn around.

The trail theoretically looped back to the lodge but I was afraid to venture into the untracked terrain, since besides a sandwich, water and couple of power bars, I had no special gear with me. Starting the climb back in early afternoon, the clouds broke and some rays of sunshine made the scenery even nicer, if that was even possible.

I have to say that this three hour walk covering a distance of probably four miles was amazing, besides the obvious beauty of the surrounding nature, and for the intensity of exercise. I am still a firm believer in skis as the right tool for moving in or on snow, but this new experience was great. A huge Korean barbecue which concluded the day made it just perfect.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Who's listening?

Now, I'm not much into urban legends and conspiracy theories. As a kid, I used to read lots of sci-fi books, but today, as a scientist, I am always surprised how primitive those ideas were to the real adventures in science.
There is one observation that has been nagging at me for a while, though. It probably has no statistical significance, but coincidentally it happened again this week, just couple of days after I spoke about it with my colleague at work. Here it is: has it ever happened to you that you had a conversation with somebody about something, and then your smart phone would display ads or news articles related to the topic you had talked about? And I mean just talked about, never went online to explore it or sent emails about it etc. I swear it happens to me. My explanation is simple: Apple, Google, the Russian mafia or whoever, sometimes turns your phone microphone on and eavesdrops on your conversations. Sounds crazy? I guess.... Here is what actually happened this week: yesterday, I had a lunch break conversation in the kitchen of our company about the abundance of long and steep flights of stairs around Seattle. A group at work goes running sometimes and we would ascent stairs on East Howe St. as a warm up on our way to the water tower in Volunteer Park (more stairs inside). Just a block away, I found even longer flight of stairs, at East Blaine St. So we just chatted how it came that steep hills of Seattle are so rich in these moss covered slippery stairs, which are great for running up until your calves burn with lactic acid.

This morning I made a coffee and ate breakfast while surfing Google news on my iPhone. And there it was: among local Seattle news (if it wasn't enough the darn thing knows where I am!) was a note on a new book release: Seattle Stairway Walks: An Up-and-Down Guide to City Neighborhoods by Jake & Cathy Jaramillo. These guys have also a nice website and a blog at What a great idea! So for my today's lunch break run, I went both up and down on long flights of stairs and also snapped a few pictures.

So if Google (Apple?) happens to be also reading this blog, please, keep eavesdropping via my iPhone and bring me news about more trails and fun places to run or bike. For encryption purposes, I could always switch to Czech, at least until my son who studies computer linguistics in Brno, gets a job with one you non-evil corporations.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Cheshiahud Loop

The boundaries of my new microcosm have been mainly determined by the lack of time during daylight, not by the lack of transportation means. I would happily pedal for 50 miles if there was time. The days are short and frankly, there have been more important things to take care of than going for long explorations.
However if you looked at Lake Union on the map, you would find that its shores host a nice concentration of interesting places. Sure, it is partly by design, since the lake shores are an attractive place for residents, businesses and tourists. The Cheshiahud trail loop has been designed to give walkers and bicyclists access to some of the area attractions. Stealing one afternoon of the 4-day weekend allowed me to ride this loop and stop at a few interesting places. So what follows below is probably an n-th online description of the same sights. I still had fun and enjoyed the weather, fresh air and the ride.
Let’s go for a photo tour:
My (and seems tons of others’) favorite place so far: Ballard ship locks. The lake water gets churned under the steel gates, it smells and feels powerful. Walking your bike over the locks is actually OK, let’s you enjoy the views.

The Burke-Gilman trail on the other (north) side goes both left and right. Let’s depart from the map recommended loop and go left – west then north. The trail ends at the Golden Gardens beach, but just before that, next to a marina is a tribute to the many Pacific Northwest immigrants from Norway and Scandinavia: a 30 ft tall statue of Leifur Ericson.

 If your ancestors came from that corner of the world and you pay 125 bucks, you can have your name added to stone pillars surrounding the Norse explorer. But as a Scandinavian, I’m sure you’d rather have one of these boats.

 Turning around and going back towards Ballard means you will have to leave the trail for a few blocks of busy streets but just before you do, say hello to this stylish Salish fisherman.

Leaving the trail for Ballard streets, I thought it would be a good idea to check one of the bike shops in the area. The Dutch Bike Co. is a great place, that kind of shop I would want to have myself one day. City bikes (Linus mostly, some Civia) that look more like an art than transportation, combined with good coffee. I got my squealing front rotor fixed here for $5.

Reconnecting with the trail again at the end of NW 45th street and continuing clockwise around Lake Union takes you to Fremont. Besides Google buildings on the canal shore, there are a few interesting artifacts to look for a few blocks away. This is supposed to be a Cold War era missile but to me it looked like a cheap imitation (we Czechs know the SS-20s).

 But this guy was genuine:

 As much as we hated the presence of V.I. Lenin on every town square when I grew up in Czechoslovakia, seeing the old Vladimir Iliych here made me feel almost homely. The Slovakian city of Poprad had expelled him, but here he has found a new home. Good for him.

 Besides harmless Lenin, there is the Troll, he looks dangerous, squeezing a VW beetle, but the kids did not care.

The next stop was the Gas Works Park, with nice views of downtown. I have been here once before and taken lots of pictures so this time I just rode through.

The east, south and west Lake Union shores are interesting in many ways as well, but here my patience for stopping and taking pictures expired, it was getting late and cold and I still had lots of editing to do at home. I may cover these areas in more detail some other time.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Turkey Trot

It has been just about a month since I arrived in Seattle. It has been a busy month. New job, new apartment, new surroundings, weather change, all that occupied me for most of my time. And the fact that I spent pretty much every day off work helping Marketa with her critically important school paper. So in a month all I saw was my lab and computer screens. I did commute to work by bike and I enjoy it. Mornings are cool and the ride home is after dark. So I have so far lived in this microcosm and did not really venture beyond its boundaries.
Came the Thanksgiving holidays, four days off, more computer work and no turkey this year. But I did peel off the Mac on Thursday afternoon for a run to the Discovery park. It was dry so I paid more attention to the route and found a nice way to get there. I ran the park loop but decided to take single track trails down to the beach. Narrow, wet, rooty trails in a rain forest vegetation. When I ascended the cliffs above the beach facing west, I could for the first time here see the Olympic mountains, now all covered in fresh snow. So I can now live through another busy month knowing the mountains are nearby and hope to have a weekend off for exploring them on skis or, at lower elevations on a mountain bike.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Twelve Years Rewind

This past week, with the elections on Tuesday, I realized how my current situation reminds me of the same period twelve years ago.
In November 2000, shortly after joining a tiny group of scientists who set out to change the world of genomics by reinventing how we sequence DNA, we moved with the company to San Diego, CA. My colleagues and mountain biking friends Keith, Scott and John and I lived out of our suitcases, worked long hours and weekends, explored local trails and enjoyed the warm weather of Southern California. Then came the Election Day and we watched the TV in a hotel breakfast room next morning with horror. Everybody knows what happened next, both to the good old US of A as well as the company called 454.
This year, after 12 years of what one really cannot call other than misery for this country, the right guy got reelected and with much less drama, too. And my new state, WA elected to allow gay marriage and legalize pot. That I call progress!
I can say that I live here now, well, at least I have established a permanent residency in Seattle. I also went for my first real bike ride here on Saturday, although it was just 40 miles on paved Burke-Gilman trail. The fall scenery was beautiful and I liked how all kinds of folks ride all kinds of bikes here. Today, I ran to find out how far are the trails of Discovery Park from my house. Taking the steepest streets of my neighborhood (much steeper than my old 14% Crestview drive!), it is about two miles to the deep woods, ferns and trails of the park. Rain came back this afternoon so I got soaked again. Next item on mental shopping list: trail running shoes with goretex.

PS: this Blogger mobile app sucks. You cannot insert photos in text, just append them at the end. So here are few pictures from this weekend:

Friday, November 9, 2012

Se(a)ttling In

I have spent most of this week unpacking and moving boxes around. People generally hate moving, I actually enjoy arranging my stuff in a new place, trying to come up with new and creative placement of things. I totally despise getting rid of carton boxes and packing material.
Due to the above activity and the fact that I really do spend 10+ hours at work every day, I did not broaden my horizons significantly. I almost have the car route to work and back home figured out, I know how to get to Whole Foods Market, a drugstore and a hardware store. I have learned that one of the main streets through town is one way traffic which explains why I was never able to backtrack some routes.
But most importantly, I did find enough warm layers to bike commute to work once this week. The commute I'd really easy, about 4miles each way and dead flat following the ship canal and south shore of Lake Union. The sights along the bike path are so much different from what my bike commute used to be, industrial shipyards, then fancy yacht marinas and few homeless guys here and there. Boats and seaplanes. And lots of other bike commuters. People here complain about other bikers cutting them off, not cars!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Water, water everywhere

During one of the espresso machine discussions at work, somebody described the greater Seattle area as a result of child's game, something like the computer game SimCity: add snowy mountains, islands, lakes, hilly neighborhoods, build bridges, throw in airports, planes, sure - seaplanes when you are at it, skyscrapers, ferries to get you to the islands...what's next, yes, big university, software companies, a research center that will cure cancer...a monorail, bunch of bike paths that go for 20, 30, 40 miles out of town.

Even though I haven't ventured much outside a small radius around my new workplace, I like that you can see some water, bridges, boats and houseboats all around. Even the water that keeps coming down from the air pretty much all the time since my arrival seems refreshing. There are smells of autumn in the air and no dust on trails.
The small group of runners at work uses the I-5 overpass as a place to go when it pours. On Friday, we ran on the man built features as if they were trails, followed by what my colleagues call "some calisthenics". It was more than enough for my untrained upper body. The next day, I nixed my plans to ride to a cyclocross venue after looking out of my hotel room window. I reasoned that I should first try running in the rain before I start riding in the rain, since it will be easier to stay warm (a good excuse, me thinks).
I started out along Lake Union east shore south on Cheshiahud loop towards the new Museum of History and Industry. Boats and marinas are packed next to each other all the way to Westlake. Wooden boats, electric boats, mega yachts, indian canoes...
I connected to the Ship Canal bike trail and continued along the south side of the ship canal.

Fremont Bridge

Leaving the very modern and upscale Westlake area, you will see few bridges across the canal, some suitable for bike crossing. The waterfront area gets progressively rougher looking as you travel west, but to me it still looked friendly enough. Even runners on the trail were friendly, one woman even unplugged her earphones to tell me where the Ship canal trail continued. This could never happen in California!

Aurora Bridge
At mile 4, I decided to turn back, just past the Seattle rowing center. From here, it would be another mile on the trail to my future place of residence. I look forward to this 5mi work bike commute which I hope to do even in rain.

I finished this run completely soaked, but warm and happy to be moving again, something this phone self-portrait did not quite capture. I hope I did not look this raving mad when I ordered spicy Thai food later that evening.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I-5 Colonnade

Here is a piece of bicycling related news: my new employer is located across the street from the famous I-5 Colonnade MTB skills park! And I park my car here every morning:

When I turn around, I see this:

And then, I just cross the street and walk into my hi-tech biotech workplace:

Have you noticed that the chandelier is made of glass laboratory beakers? How cool! Today, my coworkers took me for a lunch run, a quick one hour brain refreshing jog. Actually, they pretty much sprinted up very steep trails and long flights of stairs to the Volunteer park and up the historical water tower made of bricks. Colored leaves, green grass, puffy clouds and some sun, cool 50degrees F - I haven't seen any of this over the last six months in California. We an through streets with some old, New England style houses, but there were cedars and redwoods around us. So far, the little I saw of this place is a very interesting mix of almost old world historical buildings, modern urban places, beautiful parks with lush vegetation and hi tech. And the real outdoors is a short distance away. And it is wet.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

(Phone) picture perfect

Runners and cyclists on Burke Gilman trail did not seem to mind being soaked by showers. I need one trip to REI to get proper gear and then I'll join them, no excuse!

Another long ride

This time behind the wheel of our Accord, packed to the gills with my earthly possessions and of course both the Mojo and the 29er on the roof racks.
Eight hundred and fifty miles, fourteen hours later, I arrived in North Seattle. Of course, it started raining just north of Salem Oregon. It is overcast and grey clouds are hanging low. Forecast says clearing skies. I wonder if each of my posts will comment on weather now till I get used to it. Rain clouds make for spectacular sunsets and there even was a rainbow last evening along the highway.
The picture below was taken from the car somewhere north of Siskiyou mountain.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Goodbye ride

With some last minute attempts to see if somebody would want to offer me a job in the Bay Area, I had four days to get ready for the journey north. Medication refills, email follow ups, car maintenance, constantly thinking "Do I have everything ready? I'm sure there is this one super important thing I forgot..." I needed to clear my head for one day and luckily, Jill agreed to go for a long ride of unknown duration on Wednesday. Going mountain biking with Jill is a worry-free activity. She is an experienced adventurer and although we never experienced any mechanicals, crashes or orientation problems, I know that none of these would turn a great ride into a disaster when riding with Jill.
Jill is an active blogger and her audience expects to hear from her almost on daily basis, so she has already posted a nice description of this ride. And her pictures are so much better than mine.

I still have to record this ride on my blog, mostly just as a reminder to myself how scenic some places around the bay are, and for those few who ever browse to these pages, as a motivation to go out and explore.
Muir Beach from Coastal trail
 Marin headlands is a great area, but climbing Mt. Tam from the Muir beach overlook on the Coast View trail is also a very scenic ride.

San Francisco and most of the North Bay archipelago from Railroad Grade fire road, above West Point Inn.
 Riding on the West Ridgecrest boulevard is of course a classic Marin road ride, but often one cannot see around the bend due to a dense fog. This time, we had clear sights of Stinson beach as well as the Bolinas lagoon.

The Bolinas ridge trail connecting Mt. Tam with the foot of Point Reyes is so tempting on a map. In reality it is a bumpy ride which will leave you wishing for a full suspension mountain bike.

Bone jarring descent on mellow looking Bolinas Ridge Trail
 Miles thirty-eight to sixty are not covered here since even reaching for camera seemed like too much energy waste to me.
In brief, we took Cross Marin bike path through the Sam Taylor redwoods, SFD boulevard through Lagunitas to Fairfax and rode on streets through Ross, Larkspur, Corte Madera, Mill Valley and Sausalito, just in time to catch some last sun rays reflecting of San Francisco skyline.

Yes, there were some flat sections on this ride.

My next post will likely be from Seattle area and it may take a while. Stay tuned and read more interesting biking blogs in the meantime.

Monday, October 15, 2012

All over the place

Do you know that feeling when a deadline approaches, the task lists seem to keep growing instead of shrinking and the time actually keeps speeding up until the clock hands move so fast they are just a blur?
I have been feeling like that over the past two weeks, which in part explains for my inactivity here. After getting just well enough after a weaponized virus attack to be able to complete a scientific paper, explaining how a group of college students could possibly botch such a simple experiment as demonstrating the Stroop effect to no effect at all, I realized I really want to do a few bike rides and runs around the Bay as a way to say goodbye to the area.
Jill came to my rescue and asked to go for a ride, so we pedaled up Mt. Hamilton for the views of the Bay Area which did not happen due to hazy wether, but we got a great view of some of the first season's rain clouds.
Then, two days later, Jill and Beat, being in a recovery mode, signed up for a 50k trail run along the Skyline ridge, and motivated me enough to sign up for a half-marathon distance. I really enjoyed the run, despite two wasp stings in my right calf and a spectacular wipeout when showing off in front of several young and pretty female runners. We all enjoyed a big sushi dinner post race, me not even knowing that I finished third in the old fart category.
The next day of recovery was made very special by a visit of my friend Pavel and his family. Pavel baked a great peach cobbler, which made me forget about a late afternoon flight to San Diego, as well as about my swollen, red and hot right calf. I'm pretty sure that cake fueled me for the whole Monday during a 10-5 job interview. They say interviewing for a job is like dating, but what was the last time you tried to look attractive to somebody for seven hours straight? And all interviewers were guys!
I'm typing this as I wait for my flight home, which I will soon call my second home. But before that, I need to go for another big bike ride

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Heat induced experiment

With the outside temperature hovering around 100F, the second floor of our otherwise always cool townhouse uninhabitable, my bronchi congested, voice gone and an inflamed middle ear, I went to the garage to look at my bikes. The machines have been sitting idle there for the past three days, and I would take riding in 100 degree heat over being sick any time. Instead, read a few biking magazines and realized that you cannot open any of them without headlines like "the 650B revolution!" or "Death of the twenty-six inch wheels"...etc. screaming at you. I won't go into a debate on what wheel size might be best for mountain bikes, but I will share results of my primitive experiment here (it is really hot out there).

After I installed the 700x35cc slicks on my 29er, I noticed how much smaller the wheels looked. So I decided to measure the size of wheels plus tires on all our bikes. Now, I should be clear here: this is not a well controlled scientific experiment. I measured different wheels (different brands) mounted with different tires. No attempt was made to compare wheel weights or their ability to roll over terrain obstacles. My tires are at various stages of wear, although none worn to the casing, and they were inflated to various pressures.
So here are the four players:

AMC 26 tubeless/ Nobby Nic 26x2.25
Specialized 29/ Vittoria Randonneur
Hyper 700x35cc
Neuvation M28/Conti
GP4000S 700x23cc
Vuelta XRP 29 / Kenda SB8

All wheels were propped against a cardboard box in as much upright position as possible and a tape measure was used to mark the wheel diameter. I estimate the measurement accuracy to be about +/- 5mm. 
And here is the result:

Vuelta 29er wheel with a large volume Kenda Small Block Eight ..... 73cm=28.4"
Specialized 29er wheel with a commuter / touring Vittoria 35c tire.... 69cm=27.2"
American Classic 26 tubeless with Schwalbe Nobby Nic ................... 67cm=26.4"
Road rim with Continental 4000S 23c tire ...........................................66.8cm=26.3"

Conclusions: twenty nine inch wheel and mountain tire is not quite 29, presumably because the low tread profile on the SB8. Put a touring or cyclocross tire on a 29 or 700cc rim and you almost get 27.5 (650B). A big knobby tire on a 26-er rim will be more than "just 26". And a large diameter road rim with a skinny tire is pretty much a 26". Could somebody make a fat bike style tire that would fit onto a 26" rim but be a quarter inch taller? It would sure be heavier but I would not have to buy the revolutionary third wheel size and worry about fitting it into my 26" bike farme, or (horror!) buy a 650B new bike! Or how about an on-the-fly expandable tire for tuning your ride to the surface under your wheels while you ride? It is 9PM and 90F in the bedroom and I'm running a fever.

Edited Tuesday October 9, 2012: Here is a comment from a guy who knows a thing or two about bikes: John Nobile, the 2008 Great Divide Race winner and record time finisher, and an overall genius engineer:
"The added overall diameter of a tire (of a given diameter rim size) should be in direct proportion to the tire width, since the (inner) cross section is typically designed to be nearly round (although the rim width affects the roundness a bit), because the pressure tries to force perfect circularity.  Outer diameter is of course also effected by tread thickness, as you mentioned.  Car tires can get away with non-circular cross sections only because they are heavily reinforced along the circumference, usually with steel."
So I guess there is no future for bike tires that would be taller than wider, plus such a tire would probably ride like sh!t.
A table listing all possible rim / tire sizes is also here:

Monday, October 1, 2012

Adapt or die

The above quote by PW Botha has been used and misused by management of probably every single company out there. The truth is, we are humans and it is sometimes tough to change our habits and ways. But if challenged, we do have to adapt or we would not be here much longer. I can personally attest to that. While searching for a new job during the past six months of extended biking and running "vacation", I realized how much the biotech job market changed. So when I was offered a job recently, it was no surprise that the offer came with a few challenges I would have to adapt to. Now, the easy part is that the company researches the human adaptive immune system using genomics, which I love. Being adaptable, I accepted the job and started to explore how easily I will adapt to my future place of work and residence.

Lets say, I would live in an apartment like this one

in a highly walkable neighborhood (walking score 90), two blocks from a bike trail and about 10 miles from work.
I think I would bike commute to work, run errands and do light grocery shopping on my bike. My first concern about adapting to this new environment would be weather. Could I forget about being a California wuss and ride in drizzle or rain? Would I miss the seven months of dry sunny weather?

And what would be the best wet weather commuter bike? I cannot yet answer the previous two questions, but the bike question is simple. My titanium 29er hardtail with slick 700x35 tires, perhaps equipped with fenders, will be an ideal bike for this purpose.

It took me half an our to adapt the bike to the new role. A test ride on a familiar former route to work proved how much faster the bike has become. So here it is, a knobby tire endurance racer and mixed terrain travel bike, a commuter bike and perhaps even a touring bike to complete the Sierra Cascades tour one day? Perfect.

I know I will miss these views from local trails, but that is just a part of the adaptation process.