Tuesday, May 28, 2013


By air

on foot

on a bicycle

and by boat

in three days, we just got a glimpse of The North Cascades National Park. There are 1000 more square miles to explore.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Green Therapy

Everyone knows stress is bad for your health. But how bad and how much stress is actually harmful over what period of time? All I can say is that the past six months of life changes have stressed us enough. I should not complain, we have managed to avoid the largest sources of stress (in my selfish opinion): kids and a mortgage. Last week, I was hit by another sinus / middle ear episode and Marketa's chest X-ray showed signs of chronic bronchitis, undoubtedly a consequence of the terrible virus that cancelled her Kauai Marathon plans last fall.
Yesterday, we both succumbed to our maladies and had an unusually for us lazy day: apartment cleaning, grocery shopping, running few errands, cooking some new recipes and crashing in front of a movie at the end of the day (if they did not make the actors sing their parts, Les Miserables would have been a great picture). But even before the irritating musical ended, we both agreed that we felt the day was wasted since we did not go out beyond the city limits. Springtime around here is such a beautiful time (even in the city), all vegetation seems to grow 5 inches every day and there is a decidedly European smell of moist earth and cut grass in the air.
So not feeling any fresher on Sunday, we drove 30 minutes to Issaquah for a trail run (my wife) and a mountain bike ride (me). We scouted out the trails at Grand Ridge last week, so navigation was easy. I wanted to reach the Duthie MTB park, do a lap there and go back. My ride started with a decent climb, but I chose an easier way up the ridge, saving technical steep switchbacks for the return.

As soon as the trail leveled off, I got into a perfect rhythm, pumping the trail, leaning into the berms, jumping small drops. I felt like there was nothing else in the world, just this trail and my focus to chose the perfect line. The woods around were just so green, a green blur in my peripheral vision. I am sure I missed lots of nice natural features, some just caught the corner of my eye to stop and snap a picture.

I met few riders, perhaps ten or so in an hour and half, everyone stopped when I was climbing and said hello and I did my best to return the favors on the way down. But I did not really feel like going downhill, I realized I did not have to pedal a lot, but I was not using my brakes a lot either.

After crossing several perfectly constructed bridges (the Mike O'Puncheon bridge is really something!), I entered the Duthie MTB park and without much delay, hit the Bootcamp DH trail. The XC trails here were so pleasant to ride, that despite knowing I was running late to meet Marketa back at the car, I was afraid to look at my watch and instead kept pushing down the trail.

I skipped Braveheart, but had to complete the XC loop on Step It Up and then on Bootcamp climb. Back at the access road, I texted Marketa that I was running "a little late" (at this point I knew the little would be more like an hour or so) and charged ahead, first descending the same way I came here.

All of a sudden, I found myself in granny gear, gasping for air, on what seemed like a never ending climb. This was the section I cruised in the state of green induced euphoria on the way up. I was running out of gas (the Duthie trails require lots of body English), my quads burned but I tried to hammer as much as I could, angry at myself for being late. By the time I reached the steep downhill switchbacks, my whole body was so achy that I really took the last mile or so quite carefully. Back down on the Issaquah-Preston bike path, big ring, several upshifts, locked out the suspension and stood up on my mushy legs, just to find my lovely wife fifteen minutes later (and about 45 minutes past the promised return time) with her feet up on the dashboard, listening to her latest Mumford and Sons album. GPS track here.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Tolt Gravel Grinder

Saturday was supposed to be a mellow, recovery kind of ride day. Frankly I had no special reason to recover, last week activities included three days of bike commute to work (24 miles total) and two 6 mile hilly runs. But the Friday afternoon run in 85F heat left me quite dehydrated and I did not feel replenished despite couple of beers on the way home after work at Peddler Brewery, where you can  ride your bike right up to the taps.

Current menu

I picked the Tolt Pipeline trail as my Saturday ride, first reason being my (wrong) assumption that it would be quite flat, and secondly, I started to miss riding my 29er hardtail on dirt. Just before leaving, I glanced at one blog describing the ride and noticed that the author had some navigation challenges and had to walk one steep incline. I quickly dismissed such nonsense and drove to a P&R just south of Woodinville on 405. It is not the western most end of the trail, that would be located another mile or so west, but this was a convenient ride start location.

Looking west - seems hilly that way.
 I quickly found the trail, it is hard to miss, the clearing must be 100ft wide, you can see the scar on Google satellite maps. The surface is gravel of varying sizes and it is a hardpack at places, other sections are quite loose.

The initial section started almost flat, then dropped steeply to Sammamish river valley. Before the downhill, there was a nice view of the Cascades, looking over my shoulder, I could see the panorama of Olympic Mountains.

 Just after crossing the Sammamish river, I hit the first brutal climb. I managed to stay seated and made it to the top, but had to grind my teeth. From now on, the roller coaster trail would require getting speed on the downhill sections, timing the shifts right and trying to use as much momentum on the uphills.
 Yep, there is the pipe - it brings water from Lake Tolt in the Cascades to Seattle, where about 30% of us drink it (the other 70% Seattleites drink only beer and use water for occasional showering).

 Another super steep drop, this time to Snoqualmie River (much bigger than Sammamish). By now, I feel pretty fried, it is in mid eighties again and the sun has been sizzling my skin since the ride start, this being a wide clearing with little shade. It is a hazy day, but looking south, there is the mirage of Mt. Rainier, quite impossible to capture on digital film with apparently not enough levels of white. There was a veil of clouds at the top, couple of lenticularis "lenses" above the volcano and a big rotor cloud to the east - all signalling weather change, a big cool down is expected tomorrow.

 I crossed the Snoqualmie Valley trail, which goes another 30 miles south-east, over the Snoqualmie summit and eventually connects to the Iron Horse trail, on which one could go all the way to Idaho. I tell myself to turn around at mile 15 on my computer, but the scenery is pretty and I feel that I must be nearing the end of the trail. Surely, at mile 16.8, I can see the trail end below.

 I decide that the experience of seeing the trail dead end at a road is enough from this vantage point, without necessarily touching it with my tires another 250 vertical feet below. This is as close to the snow as I will get today.
A quick bar and I started the return leg thinking, well, I have been more or less climbing toward the mountains, so it should be net downhill coming back. Wrong! I really did not remember riding so many downhill sections, where did all the the climbs come from? At mile 22 I completely lost my legs, my speed drops from 14mph to 8, then 5. Sweat pours down the back of my neck and down my arms into the gloves. The liquid in my Camelbak is warm and disgusting. But somehow, on those few downhill sections, I recovered a bit, slurped one gel before the final brutal climb out of the Sammamish river valley and made it back.

The GPS track is here, 3,333 ft of climbing, I did hit 40mph on one of the whoopsies, and my wheels were not rolling for less than 5 minutes of the whole 3:12hr ride. I hope it rains tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Eastern Side of the Hill

I believe I grabbed the last reservation slot for the season opener ride by the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance. The ride took place on Saturday at the Joe Watt Canyon near Thorp, WA. The weather being sunny for what seems now like a forever, and temperatures climbing towards high eighties over the weekend, I was ready for the long (2 hrs) drive to the eastern side of the Cascades. I was curious for multiple reasons: I have not been east of Snoqualmie since we moved to Seattle, I wanted to meet EMBA riders, who do an awesome job in servicing the mountain biking community here by maintaining the best Trails wiki page, organizing group rides, maintaining trails and building new ones, and of course, tons of biking advocacy.

The trail head was just off I-90 on a high plateau, the views were so different - open space, big sky, wind mills and snow capped mountains.

 A group of ten riders gathered at the parking lot and off we were, anxious to hit the technical trails. This of course resulted in the fast group, who did not know where we were going, getting lost soon, but Bob the ride leader soon herded his sheep and yelled clear route signals at us all. He camped in the area the night before, went to preride the trails and even removed bunch of obstacles (!).

Many of the trails seemed like freshly cut, sometimes the super narrow ribbon of singletrack disappeared and we free-rode over roots, rocks, grass and loose volcanic soil. The sun baked the backs of our necks, but the 3000 ft elevation and a nice breeze made the hot day very enjoyable. There was a strong pine and sage (I think) smell in the air, which reminded me strongly of John's and mine tour through Southern California almost exactly a year ago.

 We had lunch on a green meadow next to an old cattle corral and a clear creek before some more grueling climbing on fire roads. Most of the soil was very dry and lose, littered with fist to head sized rocks, which made the climbs really strenuous and the downhills sketchy (for my ability). The final downhill was a blast and when I looked over my shoulder at the bottom of the descent to see what's on the picture below, I almost endoed in a rain rut Bob warned us about.

Back at home, with my bike, myself (including corners of my eyes and nostrils) full of dust, I looked at the GPS track and realized that we rode "only" 11 miles, my legs felt fried more than after Kokopelli Day 3. Was it worth driving 2x 100 miles for this ride? Absolutely! Bunch more photos by Anthony Cree are here, now we only need a map, as Igor pointed out.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Kokopelli Trail: Day 4

Guest post by John Puziss.

After a frigidly cold night, I awoke to find frost coating the inside of my tent.  Temps over the past few days never got above the mid 50’s, and with snow and rain on and off yesterday at our campsite 8500’ up in the La Sals, I was beginning to wonder what happened to the sunny desert biking vacation I had been dreaming of since December.  Fortunately, today would bring a welcome change, a perfect bluebird day on some of the best trails in the US. 
After wolfing down a breakfast of bagels and sweetened chai tea (great suggestion, Jan!), we broke camp, geared up, said goodbye to Rob (who was taking the road into Moab to meet his friend “The Doctor” and headed out for the day’s ride, our last on the Kokopelli Trail.  We started off with a screaming descent for 5 miles on pavement, hitting speeds up to 46mph and losing about 2000’ in the process.  Wow, this is easy!  Then we hit the brakes and turned onto La Sal Mountain Loop Rd.  Uh oh, now we reverse the process: 5 miles and 2000 vertical feet of climbing.  I pedaled about a 1/4 mile, quickly began panting and overheating, so I stopped to ditch a layer and smear on some sunscreen.  Finally, a day warm and sunny enough to ride in just a jersey!  
 Back in the saddle, I quickly settled into a climbing rhythm.  Head down, breathe, turn the crank, repeat.  And repeat. And repeat.   Doug’s words echoed through my head: “I got a great view of my top tube”.  So I forced myself to lift my head and look around.   Wow… stunning alpine scenery rolled by me, with expansive views off to my right of the Moab valley and Fisher Towers miles away and several thousand feet below.

 I looked ahead and saw the other riders in our group spread out before me.  Despite the altitude, I felt surprisingly strong… or maybe not so surprisingly, since I had taken a rest day yesterday.  The road peeled by underneath me as I breathed, pedaled, took in the views, and gradually reeled in the riders in front of me.  Finally, after over half an hour of climbing near the redline, we crested a saddle and coasted through a long flat stretch.  Near the top?  No such luck… still about 700’ of climbing to go.  Gasp.  I used the reprieve to rest and gather my strength for the final push.   Back on the incline… breathe, pedal, head down, shift gears, breathe, pedal.  I looked up as we entered a grove of aspens.  Only Jan and Nathan, a very strong rider from SoCal, were ahead of me.  And then only Jan.  And then no one… huh? That rest day was definitely feeling like a good decision!  An hour after the start of the climb we reached a long flat stretch, and then a sign on the right pointed to the continuation of the Kokopelli trail.  I got off the bike to wait for Doug and Jan, throwing on a shell and taking in the jaw-dropping views. 

The three of us wolfed down some snacks, snapped some pics, and set off again… sloooowly.   The mud for the first half-mile of jeep road was thick, sticky, and nearly impassable.  Mud flew from our tires as if sprayed from a hose.  Jan and I waited for Doug to clear the mud off his bike, and then we rode onto the next section of trail- UPS (Upper Porcupine Singletrack).  Now the real fun started! 

The trail unfolded, sandy singletrack winding through juniper and Ponderosa Pine, connecting challenging sections of slickrock.   I flew along the trail, grinning like a maniac, powering up short ledges, teetering around tight switchbacks, puckering up as I rolled down incredibly steep ramps of sandstone, where all I could do was brake, throw my butt behind the saddle, and hope for the best.  

Another break to take in the scenery and down a few energy bars, then onto LPS (Lower Porcupine Singletrack).  The trail emerged before us, a writhing snake of singletrack and slickrock, now undulating through a desert ecosystem as we dropped in elevation.  Some sections of trail brought us to within mere feet of the edge of the mesa, a cliff with hundreds (thousands?) of feet of air below.  Don't look, just focus on the trail!   After a few miles of this, we came to the start of Porcupine Rim proper. 

After a brief lunch break, we motored along the jeep road that makes up the first half of Porcupine Rim.  The speed through here was almost unbelievable.  Despite the bone-jarring terrain of broken rocky ledges that went on for miles, the elevation kept dropping and we flew along, bouncing over jagged rocks, shooting over ledges, and carving through corners.  After jack-hammering down this trail, we emerged onto the Porcupine Rim singletrack, near the bottom of the mesa. 

I had ridden this years before, but for some reason had blotted it out of my memory.  Now I remembered why- Holy Crap, this trail had some wicked exposure!  I hiked-a-bike for short stretches at least a half dozen times as the trail presented some technical obstacles a few feet from the edge of a precipice, where any mistakes could be very costly.   The trail continued to descend, a sandy ribbon through a crazy Dr. Seuss landscape of towers, mounds, and creamsicle colors.  And then, we were on the road, a few short miles from Moab, a cold IPA, some hot nachos, and the end of an incredible journey.  Day 4 GPS track here.

Kokopelli Trail: Day 3

Guest post by Doug Taylor:

Photo by John P.

I awoke with leg cramps, exhaustion and my mind racing with how to justify not riding what was described as the hardest day of the tour: a long climb, a descent back into the valley floor, all finished off with another 3500 foot climb to the snow-covered La Sal Mountains. My training for the Kokopelli Trail had consisted of two dozen 1-2 hour rides on flat roads of the eastern piedmont of North Carolina, plus four one-hour mountain bike rides. In short, I was totally unprepared for the Kokopelli, let alone Day 3 on the heels of Days 1 and 2. My last ibuprofen pill, a cup of coffee and Jan egging me on by saying pain is all in the mind convinced me to get on the saddle and pedal: slowly - painfully slowly - embarrassingly slowly.  Within an hour I was off the bike and pushing up a section of jeep road, the only consolation being that I really wasn’t falling that far behind those using bikes in their official capacity. 
Top of the World. Photo by Doug Taylor
A nasty hike a bike....(photo by Doug)
.....followed by even nastier downhill hike a bike through the Rose Garden (hiker Jan, photo by Doug)
A cold drizzle and snow flurries on the first long uphill section, and corresponding (irrational?) fear of hypothermia only added to the sense of ‘what the heck am I doing’. But I had a smile plastered on my face during the lone, long downhill double-track section which seemingly went for miles; the only near disaster being an endo which almost dropped me face-first into a prickly pear cactus. 
After reaching the valley floor and riding a few miles of flat jeep roads (which still felt like going uphill thanks to an inch of powdered sandstone) we began what was a near continuous three-hour climb up and around mesas and into the mountains. The views were simply spectacular, although my legs did not much care about the views. The final few miles were spent climbing a steep muddy road in sleet and snow, looking in vain for bits of packed tire tracks to offer reprieve from the Velcro-like mud.  Slogging into camp I quickly set up my tent in light snow and hail, egged on my riding partners to cook dinner for me and went to bed at 7:30PM, happy that I was able to finish but also grateful it was over.