Doing it all the hard way...

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


My inspiration
These days when the alarm goes off at 5:01AM it is dark, really dark.  I take a deep breath and think, "Rule # 5."  I get dressed and go outside to get in a run before work.  The cool air slaps my face and I start my run.  I almost shuffle as I get started; my limbs still asleep.  Before long it all loosens up and I pick up speed. 

I am pretty proud of myself about this time.  I'm out and sweating before everyone else's alarm goes off.  I think I am dedicated.  I'm a star.  

Then as I go past the assisted living facility I see them.  The real dedicated ones.  They are out in the rain, in the dark, in the fog and even in the snow.  Some are sitting, some are in wheelchairs and other are stooping, leaning on a telephone pole for support.  They are there at 5:15 in the morning and, as in the photo above, at six in the evening. Any time of the day or night that I go by there are out there by the ash tray. They won't be denied.  They need their cigarettes and nothing, and I mean nothing, is going to stop them.  Oxygen tubes in their noses and a smoke protruding from their shriveled face. You have to admire it. That my friends is dedication. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

The birth of the Fondito

A couple hours after one of the prior Winthrop Fondos as our spent bodies were all piled up in the cabin, some on the couch, some on the floor but all as lifeless as piles of dirty laundry, I recall Whiplash (henceforth and forever to be known as “Cramps”) commenting to no one in particular that if someone offered up a Fondito (little Fondo) that was four hours instead of seven to ten, that might be a really great idea.
The silence that followed indicated either exhaustion or serious contemplation, or both.

I like cheesecake.  That doesn’t mean I have to eat a whole cheesecake just to prove it.  I can take plenty of enjoyment from a single slice. I enjoy a long gravel ride that gets me far from the pavement.  I can completely fill up my gravel fun quota in four or five hours. I also enjoy a shorter rides as well. After six hours the fun is all type two fun; the value of which has begun to diminish in my book.
Early suffering in the 2016 Winthrop Fondo
With fires, and smoke threatening the Winthrop Fondo in the weeks leading up to the event our collective motivation to keep on training hard had withered. It was a full three months since we had our Gravel Camp in the Methow. Since that week of big rides in June my fitness, and that of many of my brethren, had faded. There was also a bit of “been there, done that,” with the Winthrop Fondo. 
One week ago this was the smoke situation....
As the smoke cleared and the weather looked promising a few of us opted to come and ride the Black Pine Lake loop which had been a highlight of the aforementioned Gravel Camp. Another friend was riding the Fondo and he came for dinner Friday.  After dinner I wished him well and told him to have fun, but in my heart I sensed that we would be having very different flavors of fun the next day.
At 7:59AM the next morning I imagined my friend was shivering down at the Red Barn getting final instructions before the neutral start of the Fondo.  It was below 40 degrees F and we raised our coffee cups in the warmth of the cabin and toasted the courage of those about to climb to seven thousand feet above sea level. We were so glad to not be with them.

I confess that after a lifetime of questionable decisions, I felt absolutely brilliant.
When the sun had warmed the forest and we had digested our breakfast we suited up and rolled out at a congenial pace.  We climbed up the Winthrop trail passing bear scat, snakes and grouse. 
We savored the views across the valley.  We ripped the single track along Patterson Lake and flew down the unusually smooth gravel of Elbow Coulee.
Golden Trails

Soon we were climbing up the Poorman drainage. The air was crisp, but not cold. The views opened up behind us and when we topped out at Black Pine Lake we were all smiles.  
We put on layers for the descent and bombed down Buttermilk canyon.  
When we hit the Twisp River road we could peel down again and then we decided to go up Thompson Ridge just because we could. 
Life made better through chemistry
The fun wasn’t over and after reaching the top we descended on double track and single track.  We chose a route such that we could reverse our path and get another helping of Patterson Lake single track.  
We scoffed at the prospect of riding on pavement and made it back to the cabin connecting trail after trail and crossing, rather than riding, pavement.
In the end we had four and a half hours of awesome riding and enough climbing to make a mark without causing permanent damage.  El Chefe’ cooked up a gourmet dinner fit for a king, but because no real kings showed up, we dubbed ourselves Gravel Kings and ate it. 

Sunday morning we were slow and stiff but not decimated.  After coffee and eggs we enjoyed a mellow recovery ride.  The sun warmed us and the ride got the blood flowing in our tired legs. This weekend was the perfect farewell to summer.

Saturday, September 23, 2017


Ol' No. 7
Amongst cyclists there is an algebraic equation that is famously written either as N+1 or S-1.  N is the number of bikes you currently own and S is the number of bikes that will result in you being divorced, thus finding yourself single.

For years I have ogled at the latest crop of bikes and wheelsets and thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice?”  The bike industry was happy to feed this craving by slicing the market thinner and thinner.  Instead of simply offering a road bike, companies offer aero road bikes, climbing road bikes, endurance road bikes and who-knows-what-is-next road bikes.  

Counter to the California culture we all love (Everything….right now) curiously I find this excessive specialization actually makes me want to simplify my bike inventory.  I find myself in the process of selling bikes and actually reducing the number of bikes I own and ride.

When the seemingly unconnected progression of wider tires and rims met the evolution of tubeless technology, in combination with the aging demographic of Cyclocross racers; the stage was set for the explosion of gravel riding. 

Instead of stopping where the pavement ends we are able to smile as if we are breaking the rules and take the path across the field or continue onto the fire road and remember why we rode our bikes as kids. This “I can if I want to” perspective matches well with the varied terrain we now ride. Before we inflate our egos and think we have invented a new sport we need to be reminded that what we call gravel riding (or mixed surface riding in marketing speak) the Belgians call, “bike riding.”

One of the byproducts of riding the same bike on multiple surfaces is that no single bike or tire is perfect for every part of the ride. Riding this way we become accustomed to compromise. The smooth tires are better on the road but squirrely on the dirt.  A beefier tire is good on the dirt but slower on the road. 

In this era of optimization, the strange thing is we don’t seem to mind the slower tires on the road or not being able to rail a loose corner in the dirt.  We gladly accept the tradeoff of do-it-all at the expense of perfection in any one aspect. 

One could say we start taking a more holistic approach to cycling.  I remember packing up after a Cross crusade race in Portland. As I was stuffing the war wagon with my bike, muddy clothes, pump and a tub of stuff; I noticed a rider from my same race ride up to a backpack and sling that on his back and clip on some fenders and ride off on the same bike he had raced on.  Talk about cred!  I felt like that guy was legit and I was a poser.  That was several years ago but the image has stuck with me.
No white kit allowed.....

After embracing this holistic perspective, my focus seems to have shifted from expanding my quiver of bikes to simplifying my riding options. Let’s not get carried away and start thinking I want to sell everything and get a wooden strider bike.  I am, however, actively working to reduce the contents of my stable.