Sunday, September 28, 2014

And the last two weeks? Boulder, Bend, and San Diego

The La Jolla Cove
Yep, really—and it was not one trip but three, rather. Boulder was maybe the craziest because I had only a one-night turn-around at home, arriving at the house after 11 p.m. Friday night (coming from Interbike) and then heading back out to the airport well before noon on Saturday. Even though it is really not all that far to Denver, once you factor in the rental car and the drive up to Boulder, another day was done—well, almost, since the Hampton had some loaner beach cruisers and I actually got to wrangle one of those beasts for about 45 minutes before nightfall.
'cross racing at its best
Boulder was a quick and easy trip, with a 'cross race to work on Sunday and being done in time for two very nice IPAs at Mountain Sun Brewing down on Pearl Street. The next morning I flew back home.
A post-work brew, at friendly Mountain Sun Brew & Pub in Boulder
After a day spent unpacking, washing clothes, repacking, and riding 40 miles, I was ready to head to Oregon on Wednesday morning. It was time for the 3rd annual Lifetime Fitness Bend Epic 250/125/85 triathlon. Just like in years past, I flew into Eugene, where I arrived in the late afternoon. That evening I had a delightful dinner with ex-Lubbockite Tim Vignos, who treated me to a magnificent burger and some fine IPAs at Hop Valley Brewing, just steps away from the Hilton Garden Inn, where I was staying. The next morning I picked up my rental car and received a triple upgrade from Alamo, to a "luxury" car, a Chrysler 300C. Talk about power!!
Nothing like officiating a triathlon from an air-conditioned automobile

The weather had improved dramatically overnight, and Bend greeted me with the finest it has to offer: abundant sunshine and temps in the upper 70s. How much better does it get? Well, I tell you: an upgrade to a balcony suite in the Hilton Garden Inn, overlooking the Old Mill District and the East Cascades. Sometimes I think I am kept alive only through upgrades ...
Old Mill District in Bend
The opening 5-K swim at Cultus Lake
The scenery is so boring around Mt. Bachelor
The race took place on Saturday, but on Friday I had to attend to racers' briefings and a few of the other pre-race prep work. But, quite frankly, it was all fairly laid back, and I had a chance to once again go to Deschutes Brewing for one of their informative brewery tours. And on Thursday evening I ran into some locals at Crux Fermentation Project, folks who are quite involved in the local bike scene (Truman, Jake, and the formidable Petie). After Crux it was stopping over at Hutch's Bike Shop (they're all employees), and then it was off to 10 Barrel. Yes, it was an early morning night.

Hoppy, hoppy, oh-so-fresh-hoppy!
The Bike Friday waits for me at Boneyard
As a minor (MAJOR!) snafu, the motorcycles for the officials cancelled out the day before the race, and so we had to patrol the course in my Chrysler. My sidekick, Dave, from Seattle, whom I have brought on board for a number of races, agreed that that's the way to officiate.... Two Lubbockites were at the start for the 250K race, Cody Miller and Rod Burgett. It was good to see those two, even if it had been a while since our last encounter. When I called it a day around 8 p.m., having patrolled the run course on multiple laps on my Bike Friday, Cody just started his 20 K trudge, poor sod. At 9 p.m., Dave and I met up for a final quaff at Crux.
Trout at Wizard Falls Hatchery
Forest fire a few years ago ...
The Metolius River, at Wizard Falls
The perfect bike for short or medium outings—packs into a Samsonite

On Sunday I had to drive back to Eugene for my early-morning flight back to Lubbock on Monday. On the way, I visited the charming Metolius River valley and rode the Bike Friday for a few miles. Oh, how pretty, despite the traces of relatively recent forest fires! I had a look at the Wizard Falls Hatchery and learned about efforts to replenish trout, steelhead, and salmon populations in these parts. I am currently reading Frank Schatzing's The Swarm, and it's a bit uncanny how some of my recent experiences and encounters in the North-West are tying in with this novel.
A few fishy photos from the past three trips: Metolius River ...
... Mandalay Bay (Las Vegas) aquarium ...
... and Birch Aquarium at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography
Somehow I managed to make it back to Lubbock on Monday, despite our being desperately late from Seattle back to Dallas. I really hustled to zip from C31 to A29 in something like 12 minutes, but my luggage didn't—oh well. So, with one day home I went for a nice 35-miler to the End of The World, unpacked what I could unpack, washed what I could wash, and then did a few domestic chores. And then I was off again on Wednesday morning, this time to San Diego for another bike race.
Surf boards and an old Schwinn Varsity tandem for rent in Encinitas
Wednesday's flight out of Lubbock stands out just a little bit since it was the one that pushed me across the 100,000-mile threshold for 2014. Yep, 100,000 miles flown, all paid. So now I am requalified as one of American's top-1% fliers, as Executive Platinum, until the end of February 2016. With it come unlimited domestic upgrades when available (so far 46 out of 47 possible ones) and eight international upgrades—of course, that's "just" four roundtrips, so caution is advised in how I burn them. Good thing Angela is no longer in the picture!
Riding the 101 while dwarfing myself
For the past four days I have been living the good life in Southern California. My job duties entailed an hour-long meeting on Wednesday—and then nothing of consequence until yesterday's finals of the race I had been assigned to. That left plenty of time to make good use of the Ritchey, which had traveled with me to San Diego. (In Oregon I had used the Bike Friday because I didn't expect many opportunities for longer road rides, and the BF was born in Eugene, after all). One day I rode 48 miles north from Mission Beach (that's the one with the wooden roller coaster) up to Encinitas, and then back, passing along places such as La Jolla, Torry Pines, and Solana. The following day I started at La Jolla and rode south for a good 20 miles, all the way to Sunset Cliffs and Cabrillo. I am sure I must have passed some of the US' most expensive real estate!
The 101 leading north before Solana Beach
Wildlife at La Jolla
Beautiful likeness of grey whales outside of the Birch Aquarium
There is just one way to describe these rides: fabulous! It is mind-boggling to see those houses, knowing full well that the ones with ocean view costs millions (not just one) of dollars, and even the shacks just a block or two off the beach approach the seven digits. Look at the cars, and you realize that this is expensive turf. Look at the babes, and that fact becomes even more painfully clear (well, at least a bit, depending on whether they are in high heels and shopping or just playing beach volleyball). The constant ocean breeze brings the temperature down to a perfect level, and bike lanes and routes abound (even though some of them are in pretty horrible shape). People exercise in droves. On Saturday morning I went for a really early 20-miler, and I swear there were thousands and thousands of joggers, cyclists, stand-up paddle boarders, in-line-skaters, wannabe boxers, beach volleyball players, and arm-swinging walkers out to tone up, some with personal coaches who had "COACH" emblazoned on their yellow technical t-s. The percentage of fat people is much lower than in the heartland. California dreamin' ...
Panoramic view of La Jolla Bay
At Sunset Cliffs Beach
On Friday morning I went to yet another aquarium, after my brief visit of the Mandalay Bay's tanks a
week or so ago. The Birch Aquarium at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla not only features beautiful habitats of Pacific Coast underwater life (segmented by geographical location, of course), but they also have an amazing number of sea horses, sea dragons, and jellies (the latter not like those on display in Monterrey, but still impressive and beautiful). I'd recommend a visit here to anybody. Additionally, the Birch Aquarium probably makes one of the most sensible, most persuasive, most intellectual arguments for the fact that we are, indeed, fucking up our planet with our insane power consumption. How can anybody in his right mind really argue against the reality of global warming?
Could be in the Caribbean, eh? well, just wait a few weeks ...

Happy and definitely welcoming!
Not only is the aquarium a must-see; I also recommend visits to any of the 100+ (so I am told) microbreweries and brewpubs in the SD area. I hooked up with an old Texas mountain bike friend, Tony Brand, who relocated a while back. We met up on Mission Boulevard and then went on to a meeting of his potential new team at Societe Brewing ( rating of 98%!)—some of the most delicate IPA I have had in a long, long time. Other notable breweries were Hillcrest, Mission, and Ballast Point, all of them providing me with my daily dose of IPA and dinner.
Mission Brewery in downtown San Diego
Happiness after 48 miles: a $5 schooner of Stone IPA!
Not only one of the finest glasses out there: Ballast Point's Big Eye IPA
This was one of the easiest UCI gigs of the year, thanks in part to the schedule, the location, and the support of the organizing committee. On Saturday I did my work, with the help of truly great volunteers. Once again, I met a few new people who are ensconced in the world racing circuit, and I reconnected with others. Well, you know, I can't really write about any of that stuff, but let me tell you this: I am proud and honored to be associated with some of the best folks who call cycling their home.
The races pay for my trips
So, after these two crazy weeks I will be home tonight and sleep in my own bed for the next 10 days, or so. Of course, there is still the looming Angel Fire collegiate mountain bike race next weekend, and I will make a decision on that one in the next few days. Until then, Lubbock (almost) has me back.
Saturday morning beach volleyball pick-up game
Ah, the babes ...
This update was written at 35,000 feet thanks to my "friends" at GoGo Inflight (and that's a whole other story!).

And tomorrow: Judy will have been gone for four years. Time keeps piling up. I miss you, babe. Badly.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Interbike 2014

No, not a composite shot—Las Vegas at its best
How often have I been to Vegas? Fifteen times? Twenty? I honestly don't know. There have been a whole bunch of tradeshows, but there were private trips and races as well. Regardless, I stil love coming out here and seeing un-reality at work.
Back in Paris?
The last time I was here was for one of the Lifetime Fitness Epic triathlons a few springs ago, and I distinctly remember bringing the Ritchey along and riding from Henderson all the way to the northern outskirts of Vegas and then back—it was a great 50-or-so-miler that took me through the part of the city that one usually doesn't see, but I also got a chance to ride through downtown and along the Strip. Well, no such fun this time around as I had only two days to cover Interbike, the bicycle tradeshow that I have been attending almost every year since the late 1980s.
These four guys "invented" the mountain bike just when I came over to the States: Tom Ritchey, Joe Breeze, Charlie Kelly, and Gary Fisher (all signing Kelly's book Fat-Tire Flyer).
The show is not the same without Judy or, for that matter, another Tandem Pro "employee." And it is not the same as 20 years ago, when the mountain bike craze was going full-bore and there was a buzz on the show floor that has never been matched again. But it still was fun as I got to see lots of acquaintances, young and old, shop- or race-related. I am always amazed by how many people know me and call me out, from a booth or across the aisle where they're chatting with somebody but happen to glimpse my mustache. It's a good feeling to not be forgotten, let me tell you.
My Ritchey's new cousin: An all-carbon version of the travel bike
That's the weight, in kilograms; in lbs, it's about 15.5
And this is the younger sister: a double-coupled tandem version that will travel easily
Product-wise, the 2014 edition was certainly not a revelation in new-ness: A shitload of "Fat Bikes," and an even bigger shitload of nutritional aids such as bars, drinks, waffles, and I-don't-know-whats, plus a healthy number of eBikes. They're definitely coming. Since with all my traveling Tandem Pro has started to take more and more of a back-seat, I wasn't out to write $10,000 orders.The small number of catalogs and price-sheets that I collected attests to my having become much more selective because I know that today's niche business is easily satisfied through a quick Google search and a few commanding words to Siri. I'm glad I don't have to battle that battle any more, and I hope that our local bike shops in Lubbock can survive this onslaught.
They call them "fat" for a reason
There's not much that will stop one of these beasts—and they are here to stay
The Denny urban transportation bike will go into production next year. Look at these specs:

Does this beauty look like one of those eBikes from three years ago?
It was a solid show, and I made good use of my time attending various tech seminars, reconnecting with old friends, and making new contacts. And it wouldn't have been Vegas if the models—real or not—had not looked good, even if it was simply to showcase a wetsuit.
Just don't touch
Not bad for a mannequin
I used my off time to gamble a little (OK, so I invested a buck and came out with $1.50 and a few free drinks) and sight-see. Vegas never fails to impress me. I know there are some folks who can't stand the place, and there are others who love to flush money by the fistful down the toilet. To each his own, and if she's a she, hers.
My reputation as a high-roller precedes me. Nickel Poker is just a ruse...
Tomorrow morning I may have a look at the aquarium at the Mandalay Bay and then in the afternoon I'll be on the way home so that I can catch a flight on Saturday morning, for another assignment. Really.
Goodnight from the Bellagio

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Indian Summer on the Olympic Peninsula

Makah Bay, Olympic Peninsula, Washington
For as long as I have known about Washington's Olympic Peninsula, I have had visions of this part of the world as being always grey and wet, shrouded in eternal clouds and hammered by incessant rain. And I am sure, at least part of this stereotype is correct since otherwise there would not be rainforests on the slopes of Mount Olympus. Some parts of the National Park receive in excess of 100 inches of precipitation a year, but did you know that in Sequim, lavender-capital of the USA, annual rainfall is less than in Lubbock, measuring 16 inches while the sun shines more than 300 days a year?

Approaching Deception Pass, going west
Before the bridge was built, a ferry—skippered by a hardy woman—provided passage onto the island
Using the engine to go into 9 knots of tidal current at Deception Pass
For five days I traveled in counter-clockwise direction around the peninsula, experiencing the most beautiful Indian Summer weather that the Pacific Northwest can possibly dish up. This trip came more or less on a whim, precipitated by the loss of a bike race gig in Waco and the fact that $11.20 (and 90,000 miles) buy a First Class ticket from Lubbock to Seattle. It also helped that these five days fell right in the middle of a three-week vacation that Sabine and her son, Jonathan, are taking in that area, and we decided to explore the peninsula together.
Serene, tranquil, perfect for lunch

Still life with kayaks
Still life with cleat
Still life with WTF?
Post-lunch relaxation at Ebey's Landing

I arrived on Tuesday, after just two nights at home after my trip to Louisville. When I landed, the weather was indeed dreary and misty, but only for that afternoon. Sabine had rented a car, and the three of us headed first north and then west to Fidalgo Island. We spent the night in Oak Harbor, just a few miles south of Deception Pass where a beautiful bridge makes the connection to Whidbey Island. Wednesday morning the sky was blue and the rain was forgotten, and it stayed like that for the remainder of my time in Washington.

The ferry to Port Townsend
Mother and son—on  a bad hairday!
Hippies know art when they create it
Some things are free ...
... and others are not—"Mom, can I have a dollar?"
Before we took the ferry from Coupeville to the rather hippiesque Port Townsend on the peninsula, we walked around the historic Ebey's Landing area where things were very quiet and very laid back. The vistas of the Cascades in the distance were stunning, and we thoroughly enjoyed our lunch on the pier.
Looking upon Vancouver Island, just across the Strait of a certain Juan who was a Fuca
Isn't that a beautiful name? The Dungeness Spit
The Olympic mountains show off in clear, dry splendor
G'night, Sun
The short ferry ride brought more stunning vistas. Actually, most of the trip did! Be it the sea or the mountains, the beaches or the bridges, the forests or the sea stacks, it was all just so unbelievably beautiful! I had hoped for an enjoyable five days of R&R, but I had not expected five days of pretty much non-stop scenery and exhalations of wow..

All pictures taken in the Neah Bay harbor
A large part of the Olympic Peninsula is taken up by the eponymously named national park. The center piece is, of course, Mount Olympus. At just shy of 8,000 feet it is tall enough (and far enough north) to have glaciers. It is not a volcano as Mounts Rainier and Baker (and others) are, so there is not that perfect cone shape. The Olympus range, however, has a profound effect on the climate not only on its slopes but also to the east (and, indeed, the entire peninsula). Included in the national park are beaches and areas of temperate rain forest. We decided against driving high up on the ridge road (after all, Sabine lives close to the alps and I had just come back from Colorado) and instead concentrate on the areas that we don't usually get to see.
Looking upon Tatoosh Island, even a little farther out than where one can walk in the Lower 48
If this is not spectacular, I don't know what qualifies
Cape Flattery, the north-western-most point in the Lower 48
Sabine's heart started thumping when she saw this beauty in the Strait
The peninsula has a large indigenous population, with tribal lands often adjacent to the national park. Neah Bay is a typical fishing port, and we spent an hour walking around the docks and photographing the vessels, each one a study in picturesque functionality. From here it was just a short drive to the north-western-most point in the Lower 48, Cape Flattery. While Vancouver Island, BC, lies to the north across the Juan de Fuca Strait, looking due west shows nothing but the tremendous expanse of the Pacific, with Japan many thousand miles over yonder. Views, views, views!
Impressions ...
... from ...
... Makah ...
... Bay
Before checking into our hotel in Forks (yes, the setting of the Twilight cult novels and movie) we spent the waning evening hours on the beach at Makah, another tribal community with a harbor sheltered by a breakwater that is littered with giant logs that look like bleached bones. The calm, sunny weather belied the force with which gales will pound these shores. We stayed until the sun finally dipped into the Pacific, the second ocean sunset for us after the previous evening's spectacle at Dungeness Spit close to Port Angeles.
We enjoyed these sunsets, so much that the following evening we went for a repeat at Ruby Beach. Here, numerous sea stacks increase the drama of the scenery even more. Serious photographers with tripods and big lenses were out in full force but were dwarfed by the immense expanse of beach and sea. I had to make do with my little Olympus point-and-shoot, but sometimes the angle of attack is more important than the measure of megapixels.
A spruce towering well over 200 feet
Please click on this panoramic view of Middle Earth
It really should have been raining, or at least misting
Maybe my favorite shot of the entire trip
Twilight. Honestly, not being the father to some teenager I wasn't even aware of the whole thing outside of having read something in Time magazine about it sometime back. But there is a reason why Forks makes such a good setting for whatever it is that Twilight is trying to be: It is just a few miles away from one of the few temperate zone rainforests in the world. As hinted above, it seems incongruous to be walking around in a "temperate rainforest" when it is 80 F and the sun is hitting hard. Thank goodness, I have been around enough to know how these mossy and ferny places look like with dripping moisture. If you want the full ambiance, wait until the next batch of those 100 inches rolls around, but if you want to take pictures and enjoy your walk through the Hall of Mosses (no, Hermina, it is not Moses!), pick a picture-perfect afternoon during the Indian summer. The blackberries are gratis.
The Hoh river, coming down from Mt. Olympus
A rivulet, next to the Hoh—collecting moisture and gently carrying it onward
The Hoh (another Indian tribe) rainforest on the Hoh river, which is born 7,500 higher up at the glacier, allows you to travel to Middle Earth, or some Twilightian place. We didn't see gnomes, even though they must live here, but thankfully we saw very few tourists in return. I kept flashing back to that day when my good buddy Kai took me up to "his" redwood forest where he keeps some geo-caches, and how the fog had been rolling in over the ridge, making everything drip from the Humboldt dampness. So, it was easy for me to imagine what the Hoh rainforest is like most days of the year.

Another sunset on the beach. Cairns that beach combers have lovingly placed on driftwood logs. Seagulls that scream overhead, while the incoming tide reclaims just a little more real estate with every roller that washes ashore. Fish eggs that look like sea tears, washed up with the waves, each picking up a bit of black beach sand, the embryos well protected unless you step on one of them. The sun imperceptibly sinks, a bit more, a little bit more—yet, it seems to take so long as we are a long way from the equator. The green flash never materializes. We leave, oh so satisfied.

All of the above taken at Ruby Beach
On our last day we went for another long walk on a beach. What is it that is so alluring to take off one's shoes and head for that elusive point at least a mile away, or is it more? Down on the beach it is cool, despite the sunshine—the Humboldt Stream has carried cold water all the way from Antarctica up to here. So many things suddenly seem to fall into perspective, yet thinking about how mankind is affecting weather patterns and thus also these seemingly axiomatic patterns is somewhere worrisome.
One of several bridges in Aberdeen
The tides leave their mark
And so we got back into the car, drove down to Hoaquim and Aberdeen, had a final picnic by one of the many bridges across the rivers and estuaries, and then headed back to Seattle, via the state capital of Olympia.
Mt. Rainier, peeking through
I didn't expect a trip of this magnitude. I had traveled in the Pacific Northwest, but this trip—maybe because of the weather? the circumstances? the company? all of the above?—was a 5 star on the 5-star scale.