I rode the Chilly Hilly route yesterday afternoon. Chilly Hilly is an event put on by Cascade Bicycle Club every year on the last Sunday in February. Thousands of cyclists pour off the ferry and ride counter clockwise around Bainbridge Island. I remember doing my first Chilly Hilly on a rainy Sunday in 1982. Yesterday the sun was shining but a stiff breeze was bringing cooler weather as I rounded Point White.
After riding the High Pass Challenge a couple days ago, I feel like I’m in shape to ride the Levi Gran Fondo today. My ride every day program has worked as expected. Now my plan is simply to continue riding about 200 miles per week, perhaps getting a little stronger, before leaving for California.
The first time I remember running out of gas was on the Verazanno Narrows bridge that goes from New York City to Staten Island. I had driven my Volkswagon Beetle from Harrisburg to visit my friend Dennis. The car sputtered and rolled to a stop somewhere near the midspan of the bridge. After about five minutes a city service truck appeared with a can of gas. He charged me a couple bucks and we both drove off. It seemed that running out of gas was no big deal.
I rode my Honda 360 from Summit to Albany every day to attend class. It was 110 miles round trip. My motorcycle could go 108 miles on a full tank of gas. Even if I had a full tank when I started for Albany, I would still have to get gas in Albany to make it back to Cobleskill.
I think I ran out of gas about once a week that summer. I would forget to stop at the last gas station in Albany, realize 10 miles down the road that I had forgotten, and press on thinking “This time I can make it.” Each time I would end up pushing my motorcycle up the last hill before coasting down into the gas station on the east end of town in Cobleskill.
Kathleen got her first driving lesson when she was four years old. I was driving home with her in our Ford Pinto and ran out of gas about five blocks from home. I had her get behind the wheel and steer the car while I pushed. She was a very bad driver.
We moved the family from Kirkland, WA to Wellsboro, PA so I could take a job teaching Computer Science at Mansfield University. We packed all our possessions into the box of a 24 foot U-Haul truck, hitched our 1981 Datsun to the back, threw cats in the Datsun, crammed two kids, one barfing dog, one wife and me into the cab and headed east on I-90.
It took four days driving at 55 mph for 15 hours a day to reach Wellsboro. The truck didn’t have a radio or an air conditioner. We could roll the windows down for cool air and to drown out the sound of kids crying or the dog barfing. Martha and I took turns driving. When it was her turn to drive, I would sleep in the Datsun. (I’m pretty sure that was illegal.) Most of our meals were fast food, eaten in the truck while on the road. At night we pulled over at a truck stop, threw our sleeping bags on the ground and slept soundly.
Passing through Chicago on the freeway, I got confused and took the wrong road – the one that was for cars only. Cars behind us were honking their horns. Then we ran out of gas. More cars honked their horns. A nice man with a wife and two kids stopped, picked me up, drove me to a gas station so I could get gas, then got back on the freeway and drove me back to the truck where Martha, Kathleen and Mike and the cats and barfing dog were waiting.
I was telling Anne Marie the story about Martha walking around our house at 5:30 in the morning, naked except for a charcoal grill cover wrapped around her. Our bikes were on the roof rack of my Volvo and we were going to Monroe to ride when we ran out of gas. I got my bike off the roof rack, got a gas can out of the back of the car and rode a couple miles down the road, filled the can and returned with five gallons of gas. Anne Marie was laughing. She thought it was remarkable how my “Martha story” turned into another “Karl story.”
I rode High Pass Challenge yesterday. It’s an organized event run by Cascade Bicycle Club, which features 114 miles and 7700 feet of climbing to Windy Ridge. On a clear day, the route provides breathtaking views of Spirit Lake, Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens and the Cascades, while rolling along Windy Ridge. Yesterday, in the middle of a cloud I could barely see the road or a cyclist in front of me. It was a great ride.
Several hundred cyclists started and finished the High Pass Challenge yesterday. Anyone who even starts this ride in conditions like we had must be pretty hard core. Nevertheless, I saw people suffer during a chilling descent in the rain because they were not prepared for mountain conditions. The temperature at the top, was probably in the mid 40’s – not bad at all for climbing, but a bit more taxing riding downhill. For me, this day was like one of many on PacTours. I was a bit chilly coming off the mountain, but nowhere near hypothermia, no where near the worst I have experienced.
A key factor in enjoying a challenging ride in the rain is knowing your body, how hard it can ride, how much heat it can generate by riding for seven hours, and still have some in reserve. How much food do you need, how much water or other fluid, how do you need to dress? Each individual is different, here’s what worked for me.
I wore a light wool shirt beneath a light jersey, leg warmers, and medium thick wool socks, a heavier than average raincoat and full fingered gloves. Expecting I would need to peel extra clothing while climbing, I wore a fanny pack – the raincoat is too heavy to stuff into a jersey pocket.
My key measure to enjoying a ride is finishing strong and not feeling trashed at the end. This means riding my own pace, not sucking wheels of riders who start out faster than I want to go, and finding my climbing rhythm about halfway up the mountain.
HPC features a 19 mile warm-up along route 12. I soft-pedaled with a small group of riders, sometimes trading pulls, but not really needing to. I generally white-line it, meaning riding just to the right of the white line separating the shoulder from the main road, especially when traffic is light and there’s a steady stream of cyclists that would be difficult for a motorist to miss. A few miles from the start, we rolled by several riders who were repairing punctures they had acquired from the debris on the right part of the shoulder, usually much worse in wet conditions. One of the worst causes of flat tires are pieces of tire tread containing thin wires, usually thrown off by trucks.
The climbing started with a short moderate grade just south of Randall. I stopped to pee and peel my raincoat, then began climbing at an easy pace. Long climbs are much different than the short steep hills around Bainbridge Island; you need to find a pace you can sustain. I like to start all hills at an easy pace, not picking up the intensity until well into the climb. Perhaps at the halfway point I find my rhythm and push the intensity up somewhere near my lactate threshold.
This particular day required backing off a bit. It was important to push hard enough to maintain body heat, just as important to maintain some reserve for unexpected surprises that could lead to hypothermia. I chatted with a few riders, slowing a bit to ride with them on the way up, eventually returning to my own pace. The easiest part for me was definitely going up hill. The descent was chilling; I had enough gear but was just starting to shiver on some of the steeper grades.
A litmus test for an enjoyable ride is how I feel at the end. Following the descent, there was an option of a shorter or longer route back to the start in Packwood. Most riders, tired and cold, chose the shorter route. I was happy to go the longer way, riding along a narrow winding road past luscious ferns typical of northwest rain forests. At one point, I slowed down and road and chatted with a guy who knew a couple friends of mine. About 20 miles from the finish, I picked up the pace to what felt natural, and rolled into the finish feeling tired, hungry, definitely not hammered.
I was riding my bicycle home after school when a station wagon blew its horn, passed me real close and cut me off. It had to stop for a traffic light, I caught up, passed the station wagon, ran through the red light and gave the driver the finger. Thirty seconds later I heard screeching wheels behind me. Oops. The station wagon was gaining fast. Fortunately, I found a one way street where I could turn left and make my escape.
Cooperstown, NY 1974
I was riding my Honda 360 motorcycle with Martha on the back. We were on our way to Cooperstown to visit Jim and Kathy. I was going about 60. An old car with two rednecks pulled out from the right and cut me off. I zipped by the car and gave them the finger. Ten seconds later I heard the engine roar behind us. The car quickly re-passed us and the passenger threw a can of beer at us. It barely missed my head. Martha was mad.
Boston, MA 1979
Martha and I had driven to the Boston area so I could interview for a job. We were driving our 1974 Ford Pinto that was missing a muffler and made a lot of noise. It was about 11PM and there was little traffic. We were stopped at a traffic light that seemed to be broken. There was a car beside us in the other lane. Finally, we decided the light was never going to change and proceeded through. There was no traffic.
The car that had been sitting beside us patched out, passed us, pulled in front, cut us off, then slowed down to about 20 mph. I pulled out to pass and the car sped up. We were going about 60. I slowed down, the other car pulled in front of us and slowed down to about 20. I tried to pass again, same thing. At one point we were doing 80. No way the Pinto had the power to pass the other car. At one point I slammed the brakes, did a U turn, accelerated as fast as I could. Didn’t work. The other car was behind us in an instant, passed us, pulled in front, and slowed down to 20. Martha was frantic.
I tried to pull onto a freeway. The other car pulled in front, then turned sideways on the entrance ramp and stopped to block us. The driver got out and walked back to our car. He was really big. He was raving like a lunatic, yelling something something incomprehensible. I rolled down the window to try to talk to him. He tried to pull me out of the car and Martha pulled on my other arm to keep me in the car. Finally the wacko punched me in the face, walked backed to his car and drove away.
I went to the job interview the next day with a black eye, but still managed to get the job offer. I turned it down.
Carnation, WA 1987
Martha and I were riding our tandem bicycle north through Carnation Saturday morning. A station wagon driven by a mom with two kids blew its horn, passed us real close and pulled in front. I gave them the finger. The car pulled over and the two kids jumped out – they were in their early teens – and started screaming and cursing me with words even I rarely used. Martha had not seen me give them the finger. She asked why they were so upset and I replied, “I dunno.”
Our gas grill on Bainbridge Island does not get hot enough to cook a good steak, so we decided to do it on the stove top and we quite pleased with the results.
2 Steaks – N.Y. Strip, or similar
cast iron skillet
1 tsp vegetable oil
Remove steak from fridge 1 hour before cooking. Season both sides with salt, pepper, garlic powder. Cover and let stand at room temperature.
Add oil to skillet, heat until it starts to smoke.
Add steak to skillet, cook on one side until seared, about 2 minutes on our stove
Flip steak, sear other side. Then flip 90 degrees, sear first one edge, then the other edge of the steak.
Pour off excess fat.
Finish cooking steak on low heat, according to preference. Our steaks were about an inch thick, so we removed the cast iron skillet from the heat completely; the iron skillet was hot enough to finish cooking the steak.
Place steak on a platter, cover with aluminum foil, allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Because rain was forecast, I rode my fixed gear to Port Gamble. No one else showed up at Winslow Green for the start of our Saturday ride, so I enjoyed riding alone.
Unstable air created beautiful cloudy skies and blustery wind. A few sprinkles cooled me on the way home, and a 25 knot crosswind tried to blow me into oncoming traffic crossing the bridge over Agate Passage.
Because I’ve been having some problems with Cyclist’s palsy, which started soon after putting new bars on my bike, I decided to switch back to the old bars just to see if that might alleviate the problem. Changing bars means unwrapping the tape, removing the STI levers, removing and replacing the stem and bars, sliding the STI levers onto the exactly correct position on the replaced bars, clamping them in place, pre-loading and tightening the stem onto the stearer tube to ensure no play in the headset, doing a few test rides and re-adjusting until the levers and bars are positioned correctly, then re-taping the bars. Also, on one of the test rides, discovering that one of the brake cables is too short on the replaced bars, necessitating finding a replacement cable in my bin of bike parts, threading the new cable into the levers and housing and brake calipers, cutting the cable and crimping a cap onto the cable end. Happily, it’s easy to find how-to articles, even videos for each of these steps. How did anyone manage to work on a bike before Google?
Actually, part of the answer is, before Google, bikes were simpler and didn’t change as frequently. Like car manufactures, companies like Shimano, Sram and Campagnola are creating new and improved designs every year to suck more money from naive cyclists. Each new design has different methods for installation and removal.
Anyway, the final step in my bar replacement was a test ride around the north end of the island to verify all was good. Bike was good, everything tight and in the right place. A light rain was just starting to fall as I reached the top of Peterson Hill, about four miles from home.
The first year after we were married, Martha and I lived in Lansdowne, right outside Philadelphia, where we worked. The year was 1973. Martha was teaching preschool at Blankenburg Elementary and I was working at the AV department at Drexel University. The director’s name was Beatrice. Martha and I were happy and at the same time I was restless.
When B. decided to leave, I was offered her position. It was a dream job opportunity, but I was not happy with the salary offer. Drexel offered to pay me $10K, a 25% increase over my current salary. Because I knew B. was earning $17K for the same job that’s what I thought I should get. (Yes, at 23 I was a bit naive.)
I suggested an alternate plan for both Martha and me: tell Drexel to go to hell, quit our jobs, travel and explore the country. We had little money saved, about $2k; we were also in the middle of a recession and prospects of getting employment anywhere were uncertain at best. We were clueless.
Amazingly, Martha acquiesced, and then I vacillated for several weeks between the sensible choice and the stupid choice. Eventually of course, we made the stupid choice and embraced the dream: go west, discover for ourselves the Rocky Mountains. We quit our jobs, packed up our belongings. left a network of close friends from college like we would never again have, and drove off in our red Dodge Dart to look for America. Our lives were forever changed.
Nine months later we were settled in Cobleskill, NY, where Kathleen would eventually be born. I had a job doing similar work to what I had been doing at Drexel, but at a lower salary. Martha never again found a job like she had at Blankenburg.
We stayed in contact with friends from Philadelphia, but as years passed, drifted apart. For more than a year afterwards, I often regretted leaving Drexel, which built a brand new AV center, with many new toys and a budget to do many cool things. I was working at a much smaller school with less money and fewer toys. We never developed the network of friends in Cobleskill like we had in Philadelphia.
We were also living a dream shared by both of us – in the country, beautiful upstate New York, and we continued to dream of new adventures.