Monday, August 26, 2013

Giants at Duthie

This past weekend here in Seattle, bracketed by two hectic long weekends in the Bay Area, was special because we hiked to Snow Lake at Snoqualmie, the place where I took Marketa snowshoeing shortly after she moved here in December. In summer months, the trail that starts right off the ski area parking lot is obvious (we never found it during the winter) and it is described as the most heavily used trail around Seattle. It proved to be true - a steady stream of hikers, children, dogs went up and down the trail, most people reaching the lake overlook, but many also hiking down to the lake shores. Despite the trail being quite rocky and challenging at places, the frequent stopping or dodging tourists made for much less fun than the winter solitude among trees and peaks. But the lake itself was beautiful and we were glad we saw it in its summer glory.

I also managed to get out for a half day mountain bike ride at Grand Ridge and Duthie. This is a perfect destination when you cannot get out of town for a whole long summer day. Thirty minutes drive and you are on a sweet trail, not overly technical but with decent amount of climbing and lots of fun turns. The best part is reaching the Duthie skills park and riding the XC perimeter trails. It turned out that Giant had a demo day there and I managed at least to take a quick look at Giant's new bikes.

They had XTC carbon hardtails, carbon FS Anthems and aluminum Trance bikes on display. As everybody knows by now, Giant has jumped on the "new" wheel size (27.5) and most of the bikes were sporting the "mid size" wheels. What caught my attention, besides the beautifully executed carbon frames with quite attractive (even if slightly euro-trashy) color combination of black, white and blue, were the SRAM X01 1x11 drivetrains.

The simplicity of a single chain ring, the clean bottom bracket area with no front derraileur and the sophisticated-looking rear mech were quite a sight. Of course, the real engineering marvel is the 10-42 cassette, the largest sprocket looks huge when you look at the rear wheel from a side, but you get used to it in a minute.

The carbon X01 cranks were as pretty as their more expensive XX1 siblings, and the cable and brake hose routing, partly internal, partly following the contours of the Maestro link and rear swing arm look clean and professional.
All bikes were equipped with Rock Shocks suspension with remote lock-outs and Schwalbe Racing Ralph tires. Super wide handlebars are a norm today, but I lacked dropper seat posts and forgot to look for cable routing under the top tube. Impressive bikes, in comparison, my 26-er Mojo looked like a relic from a deep past, no matter how ahead Ibis was in bike design in 2006 when I bought the bike.
I am quite sure that 27.5" wheels will replace the 26 size, it just makes sense in all aspects. I am not that sure about the 1x11 gears, the tech geek in me would love to have it, at the same time I know that 32/42 may be too tall for me on some climbs and I would probably miss the easy and quick  shift from a large to a small chainring when needed. One could argue that you should always be in or close to the right gear, but trails will continue to surprise us and shifting across four or five cogs would certainly stall me when I would need it least - like a steep drop down to a creek then an abrupt steep climb up the other side. The future will tell but I think it will be great to have all these choices available.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

August 21

August 21st will always be a day to remember by all Czechs. Yesterday was the 45th anniversary of Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 which had ended the Prague Spring democratization movement and initiated many years of communist "normalization".
I remember the Soviet tanks and troops quite vividly (I was 6 years old) but it took me another twenty plus years to understand that summer.

Source: Radio Free Europe
There are more interesting photos from 1968 here.

What I of course cannot remember is the year when ironically fathers of these Russian soldiers came to our country in 1945 to liberate it from the Nazi rule. Luckily, I have a family chronicle, written by my grandfather and grandmother and digitized by my uncle, so I can share a couple of pictures:

Red Army soldiers in Brno Reckovice, 1945
My mom and uncle playing on a German armored vehicle wreck, 1947
Let's hope there will be more bikes and fewer tanks in this world in the future.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Death March Jr.

Several of my cycling coworkers participated in a charity road ride called Obliteride - The ride to end cancer, organized by the Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. In principle, I have nothing against organized rides or charity rides, I just don't see those events as a particularly special reason to ride a bike. Instead of paying $60-80 just to be allowed to ride 100 miles, I would get on my bike, ride the 100 miles for free and enjoy it. This particular charity ride really turned me off though. I sat through an hour long presentation, where the promoter fail to mention a small detail: you were supposed to raise $1500 for a 100mi course (they did say that), but in case you did not, they would take your credit card number and charge you those fifteen hundred bucks. I did not want to support such a method. So here, my official anti-Obliteride statement. Enough.

Instead, I found myself and three other mountain bikers in a huge cab of some V-8 monster truck, with bikes and tons of dirty gear in the back, headed east on I-90 to Kachess Ridge. As we pulled into trail head parking, we saw two mountain bikers riding up the fire road around the Little Kachess Lake. Our ride leader (super strong athlete, experienced mountaineer, funny guy) exclaimed "Losers!" I started to suspect this ride would not be what I thought it was going to be. An easy fire road ride up the lake shore, then a steep fire road climb and finally one of Washington's sweet singletrack downhills, right? "Nah, 100% singletrack" was the answer.

And singletrack it was, steep, rocky, rooty, with treacherous footing, at least 50% hike-a-bike, where lifting the bike over numerous rock drops was becoming old pretty quickly. My heels started to blister after about an hour, no wonder - we went up 2,500 vertical feet in less than 4 miles. Once on the ridge, the views were absolutely astounding, but riding continued to be very technical, up and down on a razor sharp ridge.

These mountains are not even the "real deal", these are South Cascades, North Cascades is supposed to be the real wilderness.
Just below Thorp Mountain lookout, I think we were all pretty tired by the strenuous effort and 90 degree heat. One of us took a bad fall, I saved an OTB by sliding off the back of the saddle and sending my bike down rocky slope, while getting punched in the crotch and stomach (ouch). From here, there were two options: hike a bike to the top of the lookout or a steep, 3/4mi descent to Thorp Lake. Since this ride was an out and back, I knew what the side trip to the lake meant, but I just could not pass on it. A swim in a cool mountain lake and feasting on some wild blueberries totally rejuvenated me.

We climbed back to the ridge, surprisingly mostly in the saddle and feeling almost fresh, with our core temperatures decreased despite the afternoon heat. Once we took a look to the east side of the ridge, we knew we were going to be in trouble. Dark grey clouds filled the horizon, the wind picked up and a condensed moisture started to roll over the ridge. The air temperature dropped from 90 to 60 degrees. Nothing gets me move faster than an impeding thunderstorm at 5000 feet. On the next mountain top (it is unmarked on google maps, elevation 5,700 ft), nice sized chunks of ice started to fall from the sky, not too many, just here and there - golf ball sized. They got smaller soon, but now it really hailed. We pulled out our jackets and squatted under a tree to let the worst pass. What followed next was a 4.5 mile long blur of heavy rain, wet and slick rocks and roots, water flowing down the trail, lightning flashes, sounds of thunder and squealing brakes. I slammed the saddle, accepted the fact that I could not see much through my glasses, tried not to crash seriously on a few drop offs that came as surprises around the corners. I think I did OK, I crashed three times, once making almost a 360 when I lost my rear wheel on a slimy diagonal root, couple of times at low speed whet the tire traction became actually much worse than at speed.
Time at the finish: 7PM, ride duration over 9 hours, gps recorded 2:26 moving time (wtf??!! I did move the whole time, including when swimming across the lake and back, I swear!).

Sunday, August 11, 2013


The company I work at keeps a blog. That blog brings news about our products and news from the science field we are at. Last week, it was my turn to write a contribution. It just happened that I could not find anything interesting to blog about, so I wrote the post below. It was rejected by the censoring powers with a comment: "Eh, not appropriate". I said OK, I will post it on my own blog! So here it is.

Dog Days of Summer
While we at XXX have been quite busy this August, we understand that many of our collaborators, clients and fans are enjoying their well-deserved vacations. We hope that you all have brought your iPads to the beach and study all the new information about XXX which is available on our website, but if you are interested in other global science and technology topics, here is our recommendation.
Actually, we have followed a tip from our local Bill Gates, who has published his personal summer reading list, as reported by the online news outlet Quartz. Bill will be reading books by Vaclav Smil, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Manitoba. Prof. Smil has published over thirty books on very interdisciplinary topics, ranging from analyses on sushi eating in Japan to the fall of American manufacturing.
If you type the author’s name into an Amazon book search, you will see 219results. It would be really tough to match Dr. Smil’s 80 books per year read, but we hope that there will be one or two of his books among them that you will read this summer while being distracted by all the Facebook, twitter etc. chatter that our digital devices feed us.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Worlds Collide

My last longer (~47 miles) mountain bike ride took place last Sunday. Since then, it was a work week as usual: almost daily bike commuting to work in a beautiful, sunny and warm weather, lots of thinking about the future of my work project, re-planting our porch tomato plantation (four plants, but huge by now!), sampling various Oregon and Washington brews and eating fantastic blackberries straight from the bushes in front of our house and everywhere around.

Back to that Sunday ride: it was not too remarkable, I chose to park at the Rattlesnake Lake and used the Iron Horse (John Wayne Pioneer Trail) rail trail for an 18-mile warm-up to the Snoqualmie tunnel.

From here, after walking my bike for a little bit on a hiking trail, I connected to fire roads leading up Hansen Ridge, in search of some newly constructed singletrack.

So far, the people I met were a) families hiking short distances on the rail trail, b) runners with dogs, c) overnight bikepacking groups (Surlys, Kona long bikes, child seats with multiple small children, long beard, woolen jerseys and caps...), d) avid hikers equipped with poles and wearing backpacks and hats. Everybody re-creating!

The climb up fire road 5510 was pretty steep, it was hot and humid and I struggled. My pedaling rhythm was suddenly interrupted by gunshots. Bang! - bang - bam bam bam bam - 3, 4, 5 rounds coming from behind the road bend. Before I realized what was going on, I turned the bend and saw this scene: a beat up pickup truck, one obese hillbilly in a dirty top tank, one obese hillbilly woman with dirty hair and two young men, both with shaved head, wearing ear mufflers, shooting with long, black shiny, very army-looking rifles. I don't know guns, these things had protruding magazines and looked about million times more sophisticated than the AK-47 that I had to use during my one year of mandatory military service in the Czechoslovakian People's Army.
I guess I was pretty shocked so I did not even slow down, just took the far side of the fire road and went by. Just as the reality started to settle in (those people were firing live bullets from real automatic rifles!!!), more gunshots sounded from where I was headed. This time, the car was a Scion, there was an urban looking father with a son. The kid could not be older than 10 years, wore tight jeans, black T-shirt, orange ear mufflers and was shooting from a large pistol (again my knowledge is limited to the 9mm Zbrojovka, standard CSLA officer issue, year 1985). He was good - great stance, fired one after another without his hand even shaking.
Next stop: trailhead parking lot. There were some forest service guys and I started to feel safer. Then I looked under my tires and realized I was riding on a 3-inch thick layer of rusted shells. All kinds, the largest ones ~ 12mm (.50 gauge?).

The singletrack was sweet, with fantastic views from 4000 feet, down the I-90 corridor.

After about 4-5 miles, it spit me onto old logging roads which are awaiting funds to be converted to more sweet singletrack. After some navigational guesses, one of the fire roads took me back to the rail trail, about 10 miles from the lake.

As planned, late afternoon swim in the chilly waters of Rattlesnake Lake and watching the Redneck Riviera scene was a perfect day ending.

Since then, I can't stop thinking, who were those people who enjoy shooting weapons meant to do only one thing - kill people? What world do they live in? Why did my world and theirs intersected for few scary minutes? Of course, I hear about gun issues here, I have no pacifist illusions, but still, seeing it from up close shook me. Perhaps, I should be glad there are folks here who would protect us all from the bad guys. Obviously, the US army can't do it alone, too may bad guys everywhere.