Ride Report: Riding Per’s "The Edge" 50 (ish)

Today is the 37th running of STP, a 206 mile jaunt from Seattle to Portland. Despite the heavy number of registrations, I was once again successful at not registering for this ride, continuing an 11-year streak in non-participation, even though my ride leadering would have granted me a complementary pass. Perhaps if it were a complimentary pass, things would be different.

Anyway, with Sufferin’ Summits looming on the calendar – a ride that I am hoping to finish this year – I needed a ride with a bit of bite to it, and along came Per Sunde’s “The Edge“, which seemed to fit the bill nicely.

Per was one of the founders of the Eastside Tours ride that I now lead, and has run the RAMROD training series for a lot of years, so I knew it would be a good ride. The ride has the following options:

  • 42 miles with 4200′ of up
  • 50 miles with 6000′ of up
  • 75 miles with 7500′ of up
  • 100 miles with 10000′ of up

Which one to do? Well, I had no desire to blow my whole Saturday and/or kill myself, so that eliminated the 75 and the 100. And I would be riding there and back, which would add about 17 miles to the total. Hmm; that gives me either 59 miles without enough climbing or the 67 mile with enough climbing but more riding than I wanted.

A look at the routes showed that if I took the 100 mile course (which is – somewhat strangely – 6 miles shorter at the start – and cut it off after the 4th climb, it would be in the right ballpark, so that was the plan. The ride starts in southwest Bellevue, and Per has chosen this area for the same reason I chose it for Sufferin’ Summits; it contains 4 of the tallest hills around – Somerset/Summit, Cougar, Squak, and Highlands/Grand Ridge. Most of them off 1000′ climbs.

I often forget to remember how lucky I am to live just a few miles away from such a cornucopia (literally, “big basket full ‘o corn”) of options.

The day dawned cool and cloudy – it was 58 when I rolled out of bed at 5:30 in the AM. A quick breakfast, getting dressed, sitting around waiting for my breakfast to settle, looking at the route again, took me to 6:35, and I put on my shoes and headed outside. In my pre-ride outside weather check, I settled for underlayer/jersey and shorts, with my arm warmers to help on the initial ride which has a lot of descent.

I toyed with loading the route on my GPS, but – as a experience ride leader – I make it a point of pride of keeping the route in my head, and not depending on any technical assistance. As those who ride with me know from experiencing a u-turn when I temporarily misplace a route…

The ride to the start was uneventful; nobody was out and I hit most of the light. I did notice a headwind – which would have zero effect on our ride, but was bound to cause some angst amongst the aforementioned STP participants. I arrive at about 7:18 – enough time to sign in and talk to Per a little bit.

The first block of us rolls out at around 7:35, and I head North with the all the riders. Well, all the riders starting the 100 mile course; the others head South. This is a short little section to get the group off the trail in an orderly fashion. I cheat and take a shortcut exit off the trail (I like to call that “leveraging local knowledge”), bypassing the 30 or so riders who were in front of me at that point and gaining the not-at-all important “first rider in this particular group to the base of the first hill” honors.

We turn onto the first climb – which I guess I should call “Newport Hills” – and start heading up to the south. I am immediately passed by “the fast group”, which is just fine with me, as my guess is that while I can pull the 300+ watts that are needed to keep up with them on this hill, I’m not going to be happy later. They pull away, we finish the climb, pass on of the ubiquitous small strip mall, and descend back down to Coal Creek Parkway. A quick descent, a turn onto Factoria Blvd, and turn on Newport to start the next climb, which will be a trip up Somerset.

There are three main ways to head up Somerset. There is the classic way, up Somerset blvd (hard), the much easier way up 148th/150th/whatever they call that road, and a really painful way coming up from the West. Per has a new alternative, we turn onto Somerset blvd, start to climb, the gradient kicks up to 13% (on it’s way to 16%), and then we turn off to the right and descend, wrapping our way around the hill to the south, and then turning left on Somerset Drive, which wraps around the north side of the hill, turns into SE 44th St, and then finally intersects Somerset Blvd near the top of the climb. There are a couple of steep pitches (I think 13-14%), but nothing as bad as the classic route. I ride this whole section with a guy I’m going to call “Bill”, because that is the name that my brain is giving me, and we chat about bicycle-related stuff. What rides are you doing this year, what have you done in the past, have you been watching the tour, those sorts of things. I think I’m a little bit faster than him or perhaps just a bit less out-of-breath. This ride up Somerset does not feature a trip all the way to the top – off of SE 47th – and today I think I’m okay with that. The view is stellar, but the 18-20% gradient is painful.

Somerset is a hard place to navigate. Note only are there a lot of different streets, but whoever set them up suffered from a supreme lack of creativity. We have:

  • Somerset Blvd
  • Somerset Drive
  • Somerset Ave
  • Somerset Place
  • Somerset Lane

It is possible – though a bit contrived – to write a set of directions that say:

  1. Head south on Somerset Ave
  2. Turn right on Somerset Place
  3. When that ends, turn right on Somerset Drive
  4. Turn right on Somerset Blvd
  5. Turn left on Somerset Lane

I don’t know how people found their way around here before the advent of GPS and online maps.

Anyway, we finish the climb, descend to the east and then descend all the way back down to Eastgate. I like this descent; it’s not steep enough that you really need to worry about speed and the pavement is pretty good. At the bottom, we turn and head up the second hill.

If we were doing the route I usually do, this would be the “Summit” climb, but Per has something different planned; we hit a steep part, and turn to the East to do a little loop. The trip to the East features a nice 18% climb – which I would complain about, except that I know that the trip back to the west involves to 20% descents, and it would have be *way* worse if we went the other direction. We do the first part of the loop, I misplace the next part for about 15 seconds but we quickly realize and turn around, and the group reforms as we head to the west, and then finally we turn south to descend on Highland Drive. That puts us on the South side of the hills, on Forest Drive.

Forest drive is one of my absolute favorite roads; it is a roller road that has steep sections and flatter sections, and if you have legs you can power on the flatter sections and keep your speed up. A *great* descent, and I that would make me very happy except that today we are riding it the opposite direction.

Most of our small group pulls away a bit, and then we hit the steepest part and I reel them back. I’m not as light or fast as a lot of cyclists, but when it gets really steep, I have a strength advantage. I also run slightly lower gearing, but I’m going to stick with the “stronger” explanation.

I pass the group on the last steep part, we turn left on Lakemont, and then we turn right on Cougar mountain road, for our trip up “The Zoo”.

The Zoo – named for a small zoo at the base – is probably the most notorious climb in the area. It gains that reputation not by being the worst climb in the area – though at 1300′ of climbing in 2.8 miles it is pretty hard – but rather by being a benchmark that cyclists use to cull out the weak. “Have you ever done The Zoo?” is a question that will separate the men from the stupider men.

This reputation is somewhat diluted by two things:

  • The top third of the climb is an out-and back, and many people think riding up the lower two-thirds counts. They are incorrect.
  • More disturbingly, there is a back way up that gets you to the two-thirds point without too much steepness, and some people call that “the zoo” as well. They are also incorrect.

We are heading up the easy back way. Very soon after turning onto the climb, my climbing prowess shreds the group into tatters, with a small assist from everybody else stopping when the GPS of one of the riders gets confused.

<aside>

Routes that cross themselves are really confusing to most bike GPSes. They assume that your goal is to get to the end as quickly as possible, so you cross the later part of the route and the GPS wakes up and say, “Hey! Hey! If you just turn right on this road, we can cut like 50 miles off the route. I am SO smart!”. Which would be okay if it really did that, but all it really says is something like, “Turn around to rejoin route”, which isn’t very helpful.

</aside>

We sort things out, the errant GPS is suitably reprimanded, and we continue up. I push a bit and stay in front on the the climb, ease up so that Bill can catch up, and as we near the turn for the top third of the climb, we see the fast group descending back down. This section has a couple of steep tight turns at the bottom, but after we clear that, it’s pretty much a 12% climb to the crest, and it’s only half a mile, so it goes by quickly.

At the crest, we keep riding on a short downhill, because we know the secret: the crest of the road is not the top of the Zoo climb; the top is reached by a small road that heads up to the city water towers. We finally crest the top, which 1350′ or so is pretty much the highest paved spot in the area. And also a nice view, which I do not stop to see because lunch is on my mind.

A quick descent back down, and then we turn right to descend the lower portions of the classic route. The last time I rode this was probably a decade ago, and my brain tells me that it was curvy and a bit scary, and my hands were very tired at the bottom from using the brakes so much. This time the whole descent takes only 7 minutes; there are a few tight corners and a hairpin that is torn up, but it’s really a fun descent. Apparently I’ve learned something in the last 10 years.

At the bottom of the hill, we spin back into Issaquah and stop for water at Tibbets field. We then head up Squak Mountain from there, on a route that I have labeled in my head as the second hardest way up. I still think that is true, but I had forgotten the steep initial climb and the steep later climb, which are something in the 15-18% range, but thankfully the rest is pretty easy. We topped out the first part of the climb, and then turned onto the second part. This has one steep kicker at the start but other than that it is a very nice climb through the woods, which is mostly spoiled y the fact that the road is very old so it’s just a bunch of aggregate sticking up. It’s like riding on chipseal – basically, you like a slower and weaker version of your normal self. We hit the development at the top without incident, do the loop at the top (you have to do the loop to get the full elevation gain), and then head back down. The crappy pavement limits traction on the way down and messes up braking and cornering, so we are conservative.

Near the bottom of the top section, the route has a turn off to do a bit more climbing on the East face of Squak. The group splits here; I want to get my last climb done and head for home, so Bill and I head down the climb from the west, which is nice new pavement but has a stoplight at the bottom that I remember so we can stop in time. I think my next bike is going to have disk brakes…

That puts us in Issaquah, and just a quick spin across the town to get to the last climb. About two blocks in Bill sees somebody he knows on the sidewalk and pulls off to chat, so I ride on solo.

Per has a route that is unfamiliar to me for the next section – a climb up Highlands/Grand Ridge – but I don’t remember what route he chose, so I just head up on one of my routes. This is a long climb; the lower part takes us up into Highlands, and involves about 300′ of elevation gain including a pretty unpleasant section at 13-14%. I’m feeling pretty tired now; I rode harder up Squak than I should have and I think I’m a bit dehydrated. I push on because suffering is what we do. The second section is up the main drag (NE Park Drive), which is really pretty calm. Then I turn right on Central park drive, navigate past all the parents here to watch their kids play in sports, and then head over towards Daphne street. Daphne must not have been very nice, because this is a hard pitch – 15% or so – and I’m tired so I do the whole thing standing. Slowly and standing. Eventually I end up on 30th, which is the defined top of the climb for today’s ride, but there is no way I am going to skip heading up Harrison street, because that is the best part of the climb; every house is custom and they look like an architecture manual on “different styles of houses”. At the top I am rewarded with a nice view of Seattle shrouded in the mist (I think perhaps “dark and brooding” is a good description of how it looked), and I’m a cool 1000′ above the start of the climb in Issaquah.

To keep things short and quick, I descend the first section and then work my way over to Black Nugget drive and take that to the bottom. Then it’s a quick ride along the South shore of lake Sam, a “I am very tired” climb up the I-90 trail, and then a ride back home in time for lunch.

That gave me 55 miles of riding at 12.3 MPH average and a satisfying 6346′ of climbing. Or something like 2/3 of Sufferin’ Summits.

Overall, it was a pretty good day, once I got some lunch into me.

Strava here.


Flying Wheels Summer Century 2016

Saturday, I participated in the Flying Wheels Summer Century, though I find myself compelled to point out that – despite the warm weather – June 4th is not, in any way, “Summer”.

It’s been 11 years since I did Flying Wheels. It’s not really one of my favorite rides because it has long flat sections, which I find a bit boring and tend to make my neck and butt hurt. It’s something like 30% hilly, 70% flat-ish.  It’s also not a very hard ride, with only about 3500′ of climbing over 100 miles.

This year, however, due to a conflict in Duvall, they changed the route, and the mostly flat section from Snohomish to Monroe and back to the south has been replaced with a climb up by Snoqualmie Falls to North Bend, and the sprint back on East Lake Sammamish has been replaced with a section south of Cougar Mountain on May Valley road and a section north in Bellevue. It’s quite a bit hillier. And the end of the ride passes about 1/2 mile from my house, which meant I didn’t have to deal with parking or riding home after the ride.

I get ride leader points from leading rides for Cascade, so I decided to redeem some of my ride leader points for the ride.

The Monday before, on Memorial Day, I did the 7 Hills Metric Century and felt pretty good. Strangely good, so I worked hard on the ride and finished with very tired legs. The next night – on our Tuesday ride – I *still* felt good and my legs felt great, so I worked hard on that ride, too.

I consider myself to be a rather smart person, despite ample evidence to the contrary.

Wednesday morning was not pretty, nor was the much-flatter-than-usual Thursday ride I led, but I was hoping that I would be recovered by Saturday morning. If not… well, it wouldn’t be the first time that I modified a planned ride to make it shorter.

As is my ritual, I prepared for the ride Friday night by mixing two water bottles of Skratch, filling three snak-sized ziplocs with skratch powder, getting some other food ready, and developing a slight cough. And I went to bed and slept surprisingly well and woke up when my 5AM alarm went off. I got up, had some cereal, waiting to wake up, and got ready. Chamois butt’r on my chamois, sunscreen on my face and legs, PI sunshields on my arms, and various foodstuffs in my jersey pockets. I’m wearing my rails-to-trails jersey that is my favorite for long rides because it has absolutely massive pockets and it is a highly attractive yellow and blue.

Clicked into my pedals at 6:14 AM, headed out of the neighborhood, and descended down to Marymoor. On the way down I got cold, reminding me that this would be the last time today that I would be cold, as the forecast was for hot. I got to Marymoor, happy to be on my bike on such a beautiful morning, and especially happy that I was on my bike and could avoid waiting behind the hundreds of cars on the way in to park. I rolled past the start at 6:34, and rolled out the east side of the park.

I passed a few people, searching for a group for this section that doesn’t scare me. That requires a bit of explanation…

This is a big ride, and like all the big rides I’ve been on, there are differing levels of expertise – in terms of speed potential, bike handling skills, group riding etiquette, and attentiveness. This is also a tune-up ride for Cascade’s hugely popular Seattle-to-Portland ride, and therefore contains many 70 and 100 mile riders who have never ridden that far before. It’s a bit of a recipe for chaos.

My goal in this section is to find a spot in a group that seems reasonably sane, and after passing a few sketchy riders, I slot behind a woman wearing a white jersey, and we cruise south down East Lake Same at around 18-19MPH. My legs are okay, but I know that they generally feel okay on the flats, so my plan is to ride the first part of the ride pretty lightly, and then see how I feel.

After 3.6 miles and only a couple of incidents, we reach the base of Inglewood hill and start up. Inglewood climbs about 275′ up, and at around 9-10% gradient, it’s pretty steep. Like any climb, you want to find a route that is safe for you, safe for others, and lets you climb at your desired pace, but on Inglewood the speed ranges from the fast riders – who climb it at over 10MPH – riders like me (6.4 MPH in this case) – down to cyclists who are pedestrians for the hill, and finally to those who have stopped on the side.

I manage to navigate my way to the top with a minimal amount of assholery on my part, and things seem to thin out at the top where I pass “white jersey girl”.  Just in front of me, there are two guys in RAMROD jerseys from a few years ago; that generally indicates both some group riding skills and a lack of common sense for paying to do that ride, but as a 4-time finisher, it’s not like that doesn’t describe me as well, so I ride behind them in stealth mode east across Sammamish.

Which brings up a bit of etiquette: Generally speaking, I should ask before drafting behind them, but there are so many people on Flying Wheels that it’s just assumed that drafting is going to happen. Three or four times I will look back and find somebody just hanging out there. This used to bother me, but since I’ve been leading rides for so long, it’s kind of comforting.

We cruise through a roundabout, do a few rollers (white jersey girl passes me), and then a nice descent down 228th to highway 202. A quick spin to the east, and we head up Ames Lake road. There are a lot of people on this climb; I pass white jersey girl – and about 50 other cyclists – on the way up, and she passes me on the way down, only for me to catch her on the run to the first food stop. This time, I pull up next to her and say, “Looks like we keep passing each other”, and she replies, “Yeah, it will probably keep happening all day”. If there weren’t so many people on the ride, I’d ask her to work with me, but companionship is not a problem and I’d prefer to be unencumbered.

At the food stop I pull over to open the sandwich bag of cheez-its in my right jersey pocket, stuff a few into my face, grab a Rocketlyte electrolyte pill, and wash it down. The Rocketlytes are electrolytes that are supposed to keep your stomach calm with ginger and mint. I’m just finishing my first bottle of skratch, and it’s not very warm yet, so I switch bottles and head out so I can keep ahead of the crowd. About 2 minutes in, I pass white jersey girl again, and head north towards Duvall, and head up Stillwater hill.

Oh, yeah, I decided to keep riding as if I’m going to do the century, because my legs feel pretty good. My neck and butt are pretty sore, but my legs are good, and they feel fine on Stillwater, even though it starts with a 12-13% grade for a bit. I head up, passing a few people, getting passed, and end up following the two RAMROD guys again. The loop ends up a lot shorter than I expect because I’m thinking it’s the usual one that goes farther to the North, but this one only has about half the distance because of the aforementioned Duvall festival, and I spend it sucking wheel behind the two RAMROD guys – who know how to ride in a group – and, unfortunately, green jersey guy, who does not.  A quick descent puts us back on 202, we head across the valley, and turn south. We are going at about 18-19MPH, which make me a bit impatient, so I hop to the front and pull the group back to the food stop at 21-23 MPH. I have paid back a bit of my kharmic debt, and I stop to refuel, mix a couple of additional bottles, and take a nature break. In the time it took me to do that Duvall loop, approximately 7500 century and 70 mile riders have arrived, and the stop is a madhouse. The real challenge is finding a place to put your bike, but after that, things are fine and I get a nice oatmeal raisin cookie. In 10 minutes, I am back on the bike again, heading south towards the climb in North Bend. For some reason, my power meter stopped working right at the stop, so I’ll have to go old school and base my riding on how I feel. I head south through Carnation, turn on Tolt, and then turn onto the river road.

I’m at a comfortable 19MPH on this road, and realize that I have somebody drafting me. That is – as I said – perfectly okay on this ride, but for this section, it’s really nice to have somebody to help out. I slow down a bit to see if he will come up next to me and we can decide to work together, and he rides off into the distance. About 30 seconds later, a paceline passes me at around 21 MPH, I hear a, “Hi Eric”, see one of the guys that rides with my group, and decide to catch up and latch on to that group. The guy in front is a bit of an animal, so we are holding about 21 or so into a headwind. This section features six 90-degree turns, and the paceline is disciplined so it is of fun to work at taking the turns safely as a group without losing too much speed. We turn left on 202 and roll into Fall City, the next stop. I stop long enough to take a couple more Rockeylytes and head out again.

The normal route I take here is to just ride the highway, but we take a side trip on Salmon Hatchery road before we head up the Snoqualmie Falls climb. I’m conflicted by this routing; it’s nice to skip the highway, but the road is all chipseal which is more than a bit annoying. After a nice rest in the middle of the paceline, I’m feeling pretty good, so I turn up the speed a little on the climb, and start passing people. Then something happens that I used to think was weird, but have since encountered it enough that it doesn’t surprise me any more.

The route pretty much empties; I am riding about 10MPH for about 6 minutes up this hill, and I only pass 5 or 6 riders. I’ve had times on RAMROD where I swore that I made a wrong turn because I didn’t see anybody for 15 minutes. Not quite the same thing here, but it’s still a little eerie.

I ride into North Bend, and then we head North (North North Bend?), riding through the farmland with Mt. Si on the right. The setting is bucolic and the environment is wonderful, but I’m feeling cranky because my butt, neck, hands, and feet are hurting, and I’m getting a bit of a headache. I therefore formulate a plan of what I shall do after I descend, and this plan – this glorious plan – is what keeps me going. Though this part is fairly flat, I haven’t found a group to ride with, so I do it solo, passing individuals, trying out the pace of a few people, and getting passed by other solo riders. I finally hook onto a paceline of about 15, and just as I settle in, we are back to the highway and descending back down the highway. So, not much help there.

Unlike my trip up, the climb is now packed; there are at least a couple of hundred riders on the climb as I head down. Near the bottom, I get caught by Mike, who I rode 7 Hills with and who is quite a bit faster than me. We talk for a while, ride into Gold Bar, and he rides ahead while I stop at the market to put my plan into action. A quick purchase, and I ride to the food stop, which only has about 150 cyclists there. I thankfully find a bag of sour cream and onion Sun Chips, walk into the shade, unscrew the top on my purchase, and drink deeply.

The taste of ice-cold Coke Zero flowing down my throat is exquisite, and it only takes me about 5 minutes to eat the chips and finish the 20oz bottle. I mix up two more bottles of skratch, take another RocketLyte, and head out again. We are headed to a hill that I like a lot, because it is a bit of a bastard – Fall City Issaquah. We take what I think of as the back route, and along the way, I talk with a few people. I get slowly passed by a guy playing music on his phone, and ask him to slow down so I can have music. For some reason, he does not comply.

The route is littered with slower riders, because this hill is climbed by all three routes –40, 70, and 100 miles – and it is a significant challenge for many of the 40 milers. Hell, it’s a challenge for a lot of century riders. A quick descent, and then we turn left onto the main climb, which is about 10% gradient, It flattens, kicks up about 12%, momentarily flattens, and kicks up to 14%. Then it flattens for a bit, turns and kicks up, flattens, kicks up, turns, flattens, and kicks up again. Then, after the crest, you get a really nice fast descent, only to find that there is another 100′ to climb. As I said, it’s a bit of a bastard, but I really like that sort of hill and I feel good on it so I push the pace again. On the last little climb, I come to a group that is seriously not having fun, and I remind them that we all paid good money to do this. This is technically not true in my case, but I feel that a detailed explanation of ride leader credits and their utilization is probably beyond the scope of a relationship that has not even reached the first stage of “acquaintance”…

A quick right and a quick left has us heading West again, and I catch a group of three. There is a guy at front holding a nice pace, a guy behind riding well, and then, in front of me, there is a guy who doesn’t know how to group ride. He will spin for 8 or 10 revolutions, and then coast.  20 revolutions, then coast. 6 revolutions, then coast. It is maddening because every time he coasts, I need to adjust my speed down in case the whole group is slowing, and then smoothly close the gap that opens when it turns out that isn’t true. He does this for the next two miles, at which point I am saved from further annoyance as he and the other two guys jump a queue of cars waiting so they can dart in front of a car already in the roundabout, winning my award for the top dickish move of the day.

A fast descent and ride takes us through Issaquah to the next food stop, a very uneventful section except for the distinct lack of response I got when I asked if anybody wanted to join me for a quick trip up Squak Mountain (a nice 1000′ climb that has a bunch of 15% sections). I really expected that joke to do better.

This food stop is only used by the century riders, and therefore it only has about 40 people. I flip my remaining skratch bottle to the front, refill a bottle with water, and soak my sun sleeves, jersey front, and head in water. Another RocketLyte + some cheez-its, and I head out again. We head east to a section that has a bit of climbing and is a bit roller-y. I’ve decided that I probably will ride this solo, when a paceline passes me. I try to chase but get a bit bogged down, drop off, but then the paceline slows up a little hill and I catch right up again. Apparently, I am fast enough to stick with them, so I stick with them for this whole section, feeling a bit bad because I am not helping, but the guys at front aren’t very well organized and I can’t work into the rotation, so we travel along and I wheel-suck all the way to Factoria.

Then it’s up the hill, through a few neighborhoods, across into Bellevue College, and then a quick trip to the East to the last food stop. There is only 10 miles left, so most of the group just continues, but I need to rest and cool off.

This food stop exists primarily for the 25-mile riders, but they went through long ago, so when I pull in the number of riders at the stop (5) is outnumbered by the number of volunteers (6).

They have massive amounts of food left; I eat a couple of cookies and 4 or 5 orange slices, get a bottle of Nuun and a bottle of water, wet my clothes down, and take stock of my situation…

It’s something like 5 miles to my house with only small hills, and I’ve done this ride feeling way worse than I do now. My head and neck are quite painful, as are my wrists and feet. Interestingly, my butt doesn’t feel bad; I rode the second half hard enough that it took some weight off and made that tolerable. This ride is totally unremarkable except for catching another guy who rides with us sometimes and talking with him until it’s time for me to turn off.

Stats:

Distance 106.4 miles
Riding Time: 6:14:17
Average Speed: 17.1 MPH
Elevation Gain: 4880′
Calories: 3500?

For me, that’s a pretty fast century. I went and looked, and in 2005 I did the other route and averaged 18MPH, but that was a much flatter route and had more paceline opportunities.

The RocketLytes that I used –  I don’t know if they work or not, but I can say that the only point my stomach was even mildly upset was when I drank some Nuun after the last rest stop, so I am definitely going to keep using them.

Overall, a nice route and a pretty good ride.


PSIA Level 2 Alpine Exam

This past weekend, I took the skiing and teaching portion of the PSIA Level 2 instructor examination. I am writing this to share a bit of the experience, and to offer a few thoughts on the process. I hope this will be useful as you journey towards your level 2. I’m planning on feeding some of this back into how we prepare/clinic at Olympic, but that will be the subject of another post.

I passed one of the portions and did not pass the other, but to retain a sense of mystery I shall keep the identity of which module I passed until later in the post.

Day 1: Skiing

Day 1 starts at 8:30 AM in the Pacific Crest Lodge at Stevens Pass, my home mountain, when we meet our instructors clinicians examiners. That distinction will be important later on. We were assigned to groups of 6 or 7, with two examiners plus an optional examiner-in-training and an observer.

The goal of the day is to evaluate each of the candidates to see whether they meet the PSIA national standards for Level 2. There is a pdf here that describe the national standards; in addition to that, you need to understand how your particular division approaches certification. I’m in the Northwest division, so my guide is here, those for the Rocky Mountains are here, Eastern is here, etc.

The day of skiing is broken up into a number of different tasks, 10 in all. Some are directly related to things that you need to do to teach intermediate skiers (the target of level 2) – things like medium radius turns, wedge Christies, and off-piste skiing. Others tasks are designed to help the examiners determine if you meet the level 2 standard for one or more of the 5 fundamentals.

So, after a brief warmup, we start doing tasks. We move around the mountain because we have spring conditions, which are pretty variable. We generally get a couple of chances on a given task, and there is pretty much zero feedback from the instructors unless it relates something like the size of turns they want us to make. Other than watching the other skiers and trying to correlate their performance to your own, there is no way to know how you are doing.

This is by design.

During the tasks, the examiners are intently watching us and taking notes. Between the tasks, the examiners are watching in an off-hand way; remember, the goal is for them to evaluate your performance throughout the day. I think the intention is for them to see you in less structured environments where you are less nervous, but what it really means is that you are trying to ski your best for the whole time you are out on the snow. It is an exhausting experience.

My performance is not great. I have traditionally been pretty strong on the groomed, and I’ve spent a lot of this year working on improving my off-piste skiing, and my last skiing was on a trip where we had a couple of nice days of fresh snow. I recommend very highly that you do not take the approach I did, as it really messed up my focus during the test. Most of the tasks require either very little edge engagement or very good edge engagement, and that’s where the practice should be.

But the fresh snow was very nice…

In our preparation for the exam, we had a lot of discussion about terrain that was appropriate for each task. As far as I can remember, this is where my group skied.

  1. Off piste: From the top of skyline, traverse under the 7th lift base off into the ungroomed, and then ski a face there and then down the face of windy ridge. Then the more distinct bumps under the skyline chair at the bottom.
  2. Skating. I think we did this in the middle of daisy. Everybody in my group could skate, and our examiners spent little time on this.
  3. Straight line hop from ski to ski. We did this at the bottom of hog heaven. We also didn’t spend much time on this, which surprise me a bit.
  4. Pivot slips. The kickover face on rock-n-blue.
  5. Short radius. The steep part of I-5 which was groomed. It felt black to me and – other than the off-piste – was the steepest pitch we skied.
  6. Medium radius – rock-n-blue
  7. Rhythm changes – rock-n-blue
  8. Wedge christie – skyline at the top of windy ridge working down to the flatter part, then along near the terrain park.
  9. Leapers – rock-n-blue
  10. One-ski turns – this was either rock-n-blue or hog heaven.

The terrain choice seems fair to me. The short radius were maybe a little too steep, but that was probably the only place on the mountain that had a firm groomed surface.

At 3PM we were done. Those who were only doing the skiing go their results at 4:30PM; the rest of us would find out both sets of results at the end of the teaching day.

I think the skiing part is *relatively* straightforward. The tasks are clear, and you just stay with the group and try to ski them to the best of your ability. The examiners did a good job within the constraints of the format. More on that later.

Day 2: Teaching

Skiing was the physical day, and teaching is the mental day. it consists of the following activities:

  • A 20 minute teaching segment in which you will teach a topic assigned to you. The topics go from “first day on the snow” through higher-level intermediate topics, and then a wildcard to teach one of the tasks fro the skiing day.

  • A 5 minute short teaching session.
  • Motion analysis; this might be watching a skier and commenting on them, or watching instructors ski and doing motion analysis on the differences they show.

We drew our teaching segments out of the hat. I got, “Day one skiing, working with gliding, stopping, and turning”. My wife and I had spent some time discussion how we would teach each of these, and I was hoping I didn’t get this one (which I think is the hardest one to teach), but on reviewing my notes in the morning I had a bit of an inspiration, and when I drew that topic, I decided I was going to go with my inspiration.

I taught second, and I highly recommend teaching in the morning if you can. I found it hard to be focused later in the day (though to be fair, one of our candidates taught at 1:30 and she absolutely nailed it). The teaching segment is about teaching something appropriate to the other candidates, something they can learn from. There aren’t any skiing skills I can teach to the candidates, so I elected to work the mental side; I wanted to get the back into the mindset of a beginner, and specifically, get a bit of that nervousness and apprehension in their brains. I did that by having them ski straight on a very flat slope towards a slightly steeper slope, but I made them do it with their eyes closed. And then we did some skiing with our weight far to the aft. My point in all of this – which I drew out by asking them questions – was that the mindset of day one beginners is very fragile, and you have to go overboard in making things not only safe, but obviously safe. I felt pretty good about that part, and since I passed, it was fine, though not great.

The teaching segment is where I saw the most variance across instructors. Things that I saw:

  1. Teaching to the candidates as if they were students; ie teaching the group how to do a wedge turn rather than teaching them how to be better at *teaching wedge turns*.
  2. Teaching inefficient movements not currently I the PSIA approach
  3. Not following the PSIA teaching cycle. Because of the nature of exam, you can’t really do “Assess Student and their movements” and “Define goals and plan experiences”, but you should be doing the rest of them. It was common for instructors to only teach the “Guide practice” part. Notably, “present and share information” and “check for understanding” were absent
  4. Not having a specific goal. The things you teach are in service of this goal.

I’ll probably write about the teaching side in more depth in the future.

The compare and contrast sessions were interesting; we were split into two group (team ski/snow interaction, team body), and each group watched examiners ski, discussed what they saw as a group, and then shared it with the examiners and the other group. I found this part to be relatively simple, but I’ve worked a lot on MA recently. We saw three things:

  1. Medium radius turns by two examiners, one with banking, one with angulation.
  2. Wedge christie turns, one generating the wedge by pushing out the tails and holding a high edge angle, the other generating wedge through rotation of the outside ski and skiing a flatter turn. This one generated quite a bit of discussion as the candidates did not agree.
  3. Medium radius turns done three ways; with retraction, with extension, and with big leg/little leg. We had to figure out the order. I was on team body, and we agreed right away, but those on team ski had three different interpretations of the order.

My big advice on doing the MA part is to do the part that you are assigned but still look at the whole body and ski/snow interaction as the followup questions will be in more detail.

We did not get to the 5 minute teaching.

Eric complains about the process

First off, my results (fail skiing / pass teaching) were a fair evaluation of my performance. I did not ski well enough to meet the bar.

I have two areas of complaint, and the come under the “not being set up to succeed” heading.

The first is in the preparation phase. I’ve looked at what PSIA-RM and PSIA-E require for their level 2 candidates, and it is has a lot more structure and waypoints. For example, PSIA-East requires that you get your CS1 (Children’s specialist 1) certification before for you go for level 2, which sounds like a very good idea to me.  PSIA-Rocky Mountain requires that you have a level 2 proficiency log, which would help to address the key concern of the candidates I talked with, which is their lack of understanding of what the level 2 skiing standards are. I am not looking for assurances that I will pass, but what I would like is for somebody to have said, “based on my understanding of the standard, I think your performance today meets/does not meet the level 2 standard” in a specific area.

Keeping this a mystery does not benefit anybody; what it means is that a lot of candidates are going to be disappointed. The pass rate in skiing for my group was less than 50%, and I’m sure the majority that failed would have preferred spending their time in a different way.

The second part is the actual examination. If PSIA-NW had more structure in preparation, this becomes less important, but I don’t understand the “no feedback” rule during the examination. Time constraints prevent extensive feedback, but you could easily do something like this:

  1. Candidates ski medium radius turns
  2. Examiners write down notes on their performance (they do this anyway)
  3. Examiners share observations relevant to their performance with respect to the standard (“Eric, you are skidding your turns rather than carving your turns”, “Steve, your center of mass is behind your base of support”).
  4. The rest of the exam day proceeds as it does now.

This gives the candidates a way to calibrate against the standard. As it was, I missed something I could have corrected if I was only told.

Looking at how other regions do exams, RM separates motion analysis from teaching as a separate module, and east breaks both teaching and skiing assessments into 3 separate parts, where you get credit for what you passed. This is a far better approach than the “all or nothing” approach that NW takes.

A couple of small points:

  1. At the end, the examiners hand out a score sheet with written notes and your pass/fail grade, then make themselves available either to congratulate you and hand out your certificate and pin, or discuss why you didn’t pass. If you did not pass, this is your chance to get more insight than the written notes. For some reason, the examiners do this without any notes of their own, which means that you really aren’t getting the insight that you could be getting.

  2. A group of candidates had a discussion about one of the task videos on the PSIA-NW site for level 2 skiing, and we were told that it was an old video and was out of date. This is really unacceptable; examiners get together to clinic several times, and it’s really cheap to grab video from them at the time. The lack of quality videos exacerbates the “I don’t know the standard” problem.

In summary, I did not think that PSIA-NW served me well as a member during the certification process. A little bit more structure would help the learning structure considerably.


Skiing BC: Silver Star, Big White, and Revelstoke

This last week my wife, daughter, and I took a trip to British Columbia to do some skiing.

We stayed in a condo at Silver Star as our central base, and then drove to Big White and Revelstoke for a day each. Here are my quick thoughts…

Silver Star

Silver star is 22 km from the town of Vernon. We stayed in a condo on the hill above the village (not on the ski hill side) above the Silver Queen lift. It was ski-in ski-out if you are willing to do a small bit of climbing on your skis.

The village is pretty tiny, though there are 3-4 places to eat. All are pretty much exclusively run by young adults from New Zealand, Australia, or other ex-British colonies. This is a pattern all over BC.

It was late season, so the snow wasn’t great on Monday. The snow off of the comet chair was okay, the snow off the lower Silver Woods Chair was not. We took one trip over to the backside, which involve some long green runs. The snow there was uniformly awful; it had the wet and refrozen surface that we all hate, and the grooming ridges had set up very hard.  We went back on the front side for the rest of the day. It was decent for spring skiing, and I spent a bit of time skiing Attridge face and Christmas bowl.

Friday was a different story; there was 6″ of new snow. We headed back to the very empty Alpine Meadows chair, and did laps. I mostly skied off of Ridgeback, and found anywhere from 4″ – 6″ of untracked, with a few deeper spots I the trees. It was obviously very nice. When that got skied out a bit, I headed more to the left and found some glorious turns on untouched snow on the Fastback run. And then I found out why; those runs only feed below the village on the entrance side, so it’s a cat track out, a trip up the Silver Queen lift (back by our condo), and then cat tracks to get back to the Comet six-pack, and then some skating to get back to the Alpine Meadows chair. That took a bit of time.

After lunch we headed to backside to ski Eldorado. This is marked as a blue, but it is really a very long cat track with a couple of blue pitches on it. It’s there so that more advanced terrain can be accessed. This is the same story for Aunt Gladys on the other side. On paper, there is a ton of terrain on the backside, but they really need two or three lifts to make it accessible without a lot of traversing.

Solo after the others headed back to the front, I skied Cantastic glades at the top, which still had some very nice snow on them, and then ducked into Doognog, a double-black with a thin entrance. And it lived up to the billing; it was tight, bumpy, and steep. Most of the new snow was scraped, so I sideslipped the tight sections and very carefully skied the rest.

With one more run in my legs, I decided to head down 25 north and sunny ridge. These are real blues and had some nice snow on them. Then I made the mistake of turning off into Sunny Glades, and they lived up to their billing, with about 9″ of the gloppiest snow you have ever seen.

Access back to the front side is via a very long run and sometimes flat run “last chance” or a tee bar. I took the t-bar.

I think it’s a pretty decent mountain to ski at, and would be a great family mountain. The backside has potential, but all of the traversing and cat-tracking got on my nerves. Village is a little small but was okay (though don’t think you can buy groceries at the grocery store).  The condo we got was nice and fairly cheap, and Vernon is close enough if you need civilization.

Silver Star is a member of the Powder Alliance, which means you get to ski free if you have a Stevens Pass Season’s Pass. This is a really nice benefit that saved us quite a bit of money.

Oh, and if you get the chance, do the sleigh ride to dinner. The sleigh ride was fun and relaxing, and the food was pretty good.

If you like Nordic skiing, there were a *ton* of trails around and a lot of extremely fit skiers. They claim to have the largest network of groomed trails in North America; they have 55 km of trails and you can dual-pass to get another 50 if you would like. There was also some fat biking.

Big White

Big White is the big daddy in the neighborhood. It is big, with 15 different lifts, and a whole lot of different terrain. If you want the resort experience, this is a good place to go.

There is a fair bit of terrain variety, but on the day we were there, we ran into fog at the top of Powder chair. This is a common enough experience that the resort is nicknamed “big whiteout”. Having never been there when the top was clear, I can’t tell you what it is like, but there isn’t a ton of high-level skiing here. It’s a great intermediate mountain, however, and there is a ton of on-slope housing.

Even with the amount of available slopes, it actually felt crowded, though we never had much of a wait for a lift. We skied the Snow ghost & ridge rocket blues, spent some time playing in the glades off of the black forest express. I also recommend a trip through the skiercross/boardercross course in the Telus park; it is a lot of fun.

Big White runs from about 5000′ to about 7600′ at the summit, if you could see anything when you got up there.

Revelstoke

Revelstoke is north and east of Silver star, conveniently located in the town of Revelstoke. Revy – as you have to call it if you have any aspirations of coolness – has the most unassuming base area I have ever seen:

There’s a small parking lot, a small base building and an attached hotel, all plunked down in the outskirts of a small town. The base area is only at 1,680′, and given that it was late March, there wasn’t really much of what you would call snow left there. There is a small magic carpet, and a single gondola. This Gondola takes you on a 4-minute ride up the hill, up to Revelation lodge at about 2300′. There is a small magic carpet there (both for skiing and getting back to the gondola). It was technically possible to ski down from there to the base, but we did not attempt it.

If you hop on the upper Revelation Gondola, it will take you on a 9 minute ride up to Mackenzie outpost at about 5000′. There are a number of blues and blacks below the Gondola but the snow didn’t look great on the way up, so we opted to skip it, and we skied down to “The Stoke”, which took us another 2000′ up the hill to 7,300′. And then we skied.

The lower slopes looked sparse because of a fair bit of rain the night before, but that gave us 8-10″ of fresh on the top. We came down Critical Path, which has the distinction of being the steepest blue that I have ever skied. The snow was soft, and once I got a bit warmed up, we had a nice time. We also skied snow rodeo a couple of times before lunch. These are *long* runs; Stevens Southern Cross is about 1700′, so the Stoke is about 20% longer than that, and if it was mid-season with good snow, you could ski the rest of the way down to revelation lodge, something like 4500′ of vertical.  Which, honestly, is a bit nuts.

It didn’t take long to tire ourselves out, and we gondola’d back down to Revelation Lodge for lunch. Here you have a lot of choices; you can go the cafeteria, or you can go to the cafeteria. Revy is not currently a place with a lot of dining options.

After getting our food from the British/Aus/Kiwi staff, we headed back up the gondola and back up “The Stoke”. We were headed to the North Bowl. There are two ways to get there; if you like really steep double blacks, you hike up the Lemming Route or traverse over to the edge. I am not good enough to do that, so we skied the top bit of The Stoke and took the Ripper Connector, a blue. And we skied, then we skied some more, and then we skied still some more. I can’t find any elevations, but my guess is that we dropped a bit over 3000′. Powder bowl only has three runs – all blue – with a lot of “glades”. I put quotes there because they aren’t really gladed enough for me to really be able to ski them. We skied a bit of the edge and then under the chair a few times, until or legs got tired of trying to turn into the now heavier-than-normal snow. The Ripper chair is only 1600′ in elevation, and at the top you can see the runs on North Bowl, which look ungodly steep to me, and at least 1500′ long.

Come ski here only if you like steeps. The blues are fairly steep, and the greens are only cat tracks.

And – if you want a little more experience – they offer cat skiing packages that take you outside the ski area. And – if you still want more – Selkirk Tangiers Heli Skiing leaves from the base area.

The whole experience is a little hard to wrap your mind around. They have big plans to add more lifts, on slope housing, the usual resort things.


Gunnerson Solar Installation

IMG_8645

We had a photovoltaic (aka solar cell) system installed on our house in mid-November, and I’ve had a few questions about it, so I thought I’d write something about it.

We got started through the Solarize Bellevue program, a city program designed to make it more straightforward for homeowners to install photovoltaic (PV) systems. The program provides a few things:

  1. Presentations where residents can get a lot of information and remove a lot of the confusion.
  2. A pre-qualified installer with pre-negotiated contracts
  3. Introductions to banks that can finance the installations.
  4. A well-thought-out process

I don’t know whether the program is going to repeat in 2016 or not, but if it does, I recommend it.

The equipment

The solar system consists of the following equipment:

  1. The solar panels, which convert the sunlight to direct current electricity.
  2. The inverter, which takes the direct current electricity and converts it to alternative current that is in sync with the power coming from the utility.
  3. A production meter, which measures the power that comes from the inverter.
  4. A replacement electric meter, which measures power coming from the utility into your house or going from the house back to the utility.
  5. Power monitoring equipment (optional, but nice).

IMG_8647

From left to right, the net (normal) meter (labeled “NET METER”), the production meter (labeled “PRODUCTION METER”), and the inverter (labeled with lots of scary labels because here is high voltage DC coming into the system if the sun is shining). The conduit fro the production meter goes down and back inside, coming into the service panel, where there is a 240V solar breaker.

Money and Stuff

There are a number of different incentives at play that make the monetary aspect complex. I will try to make it simple.

No sales tax

Systems that are 10 KW or less have no sales tax. AFAICT, those that cost more get some sales tax forgiveness.

This is very nice, but it’s mostly hidden, since you are going to have to remember that it allows you to pay $20K for a system instead of $22K if you do payback calculations.

Residential renewable energy tax credit

This is a federal tax credit worth 30% of the installed price of the system until 2019, with reductions in years after that.

Note that this is a tax *credit*, not a deduction, so it comes straight off of your tax bill. 

Solar Production Incentives

With production incentives, you get paid by the utility for every KWh that your system produces – regardless of whether you use it or send it back out to the grid. That sounds pretty straightforward. Let’s add some complexity:

The incentive rate depends on where your solar panels and inverter (which convert the DC from the panels into AC for the grid) were manufactured. If the solar panels were built in-state, you get one bonus, and if the inverter is built in-state you get another. These can be significant; if both the panels and inverter are built in-state, the incentive can be $0.54 per KWh.

However, it gets more complex than that. The production incentives are paid from a pool that is 0.5% of the taxable power sales by the utility that serves you. The size of the pool varies based on how much power the utility sells for a year, and the number of people who are participating in the program and how much power they make. Last year’s bad winter meant less power to sell and there were lots of new systems, and for Puget Sound Energy customers at least, the rate is no longer $0.54.

So, the real answer is that you need to talk with your utility and they will give you some idea of what rate you might receive for the coming year. Puget Sound Energy projects $0.36 – $0.468 per KWh for the coming season.

The solar production incentives currently expire June 30, 2020. It is not clear whether they will be extended beyond that time or whether they will change the program to increase the per KWh rate.

Net metering

Net metering is very simple. If you are producing more power than you are consuming, you sell the excess back into the grid at your current rate.

Details of our system

63%

System Size 8.4 KW
Panels 30 Itek Energy 280 Watt panels
Inverter Solectria PVI-7600TL
System monitoring eGauge with Home Plug
Guaranteed KWh/year 7500
System Price $31,580
Expected power offset 63%

Our installer is A&R solar, and we were quite happy with their service.

Our payback was originally calculated at 4.4 years at the $0.54/KWh production incentive. It’s obviously worse with lower rates. A quick look at the numbers says the payback is about 8 years at the $0.486 rate and 12 years at the $0.36 rate. This assumes that the production credit goes away in 2020 and does not come back.

Power monitoring

One of the nice things about the agreement between the city and our installer is the inclusion of the eGauge monitoring system as a free bonus. This gives real-time monitoring of the amount of power the panels are producing and how much is being used by the house. It does nice graphs like this:

Energy usage

Okay, so it’s December 29th, which is one of the shortest days of the year, and though it was light for December, it wasn’t really very sunny, and the sun is low in the sky. The green line is the power produced by the panels today; not surprisingly, it doesn’t really peak that high. The peaks around 2KW are the heat pump switching on and off, and the really high ones are both the heat pump and the dryer.

The system updates continuously, and it’s good enough that you can use it to figure out roughly how much power appliances or lights use; turn on the lights, look at the usage, turn it off, look at the usage, and get a good idea how much power is being used.

Details

A few details that I think might be of interest.

The main panels face pretty much due west on a roof with a 1/4 pitch. This is not an optimal placement or orientation, but the installation – which is flat on the roof plane – is simpler, cheaper, and looks better than the alternatives.

The most-commonly-asked question is “can you use your system during power outages?”. The answer with the current system is “no” – as a safety measure, the grid-tied inverters only work when there is power coming in from the utility. There are solar solutions that provide this capability, but they cost more $$$.  There are also ways to trick your inverter with a small inverter driven off a battery; the actual implementation of that approach is left as an exercise for the readers. Note that there is from 200 volts to 500 volts DC coming into the system, which is a pretty dangerous voltage.


Cassette Tapes

Back when I was in high school – in the last 70’s and 80’s – there were four ways to listen to music.

You could listen to the radio. There was music on AM radio, but if you cared about music, you listened to FM radio. In my case, it was album-oriented rock radio.

Or, you could listen to your records. This gave you great sound, but 1) records degraded slightly each time you played them, 2) to get the best sound, you needed to follow an elaborate cleaning ritual, and 3) if you liked your music loud, the record would skip. Oh, and 4) they weren’t very practical for your car.

For your car, you could obviously listen to the radio, you could listen to 8-track tapes, a weird and clunky format that wasn’t very good.

Or, you could listen to a compact cassette – what everybody just called a cassette. Cassettes were small, easy to carry, and had decent sound. The record companies sold a ton of pre-recorded cassettes, which had a limited lifetime, sub-par sound (because they were duplicated at high speed and used cheap speed), and – if you were unlucky – would transform itself into a large wad of crumped-up tape. Interestingly, pre-recorded cassettes generally cost more than record albums.

If you wanted the best sound – and if you wanted to be cool – you had a stereo of your own, you bought albums, and you recorded them onto blank tape that you bought for $3 or so. And – if you bought 90-minute tapes – you could fit two albums on a single tape.

Okay, so, that wasn’t quite accurate. You bought *some* albums, but most of your music came from recording albums that friends. Because this was a bit of a hassle to do, you wanted to use a tape that was good quality. Most people I knew chose a specific brand – and often a specific tape – and stuck with it. At one point – around 1982 or so – they came out with a 100-minute variant, which was great because you could use it for albums that were longer than 45 minutes in length.

In my case it was the TDK SA-X90 pictured above, in a number of variants over the years. In college, I had a tape holder on the side of my stereo cabinet that held 48 individual tapes.

And then CDs came, then MP3s came, and then portable music players came, and cassette tapes went away. Though I found it difficult when I finally decided to get ride of them.

If *any* if that has any resonance with you, you might want to spend a few minutes on Project C-90.


Agile Transitions Aren’t

A while back I was talking with a team about agile. Rather than give them a typical introduction, I decided to talk about techniques that differentiated more successful agile teams from less successful ones. Near the end of the talk, I got a very interesting question:

“What is the set of techniques where, if you took one away, you would no longer call it ‘agile’?”

This is a pretty good question. I thought for a little bit, and came up with the following:

  • First, the team takes an incremental approach; they make process changes in small, incremental steps
  • Second, the team is experimental; they approach process changes from a “let’s try this and see if it works for us” perspective.
  • Third, the team is a team; they have a shared set of work items that they own and work on as a group, and they drive their own process.

All of these are necessary for the team to be moving their process forward. The first two allow process to be changed in low risk and reversible way, and the third provides the group ownership that makes it possible to have discussions about process changes in the first place. We get process plasticity, and that is the key to a successful agile team – the ability to take the current process and evolve it into something better.

Fast forward a few weeks later, and I was involved in a discussion about a team that had tried Scrum but hadn’t had a lot of luck with it, and I started thinking about how agile transitions are usually done:

  • They are implemented as a big change; one week the team is doing their old process, then next they (if they are lucky) get a little training, and then they toss out pretty much all of their old process and adopt a totally different process.
  • The adoption is usually a “this is what we are doing” thing.
  • The team is rarely the instigator of the change.

That’s when I realized what had been bothering me for a while…

The agile transition is not agile.

That seems more than a little weird. We are advocating a quick incremental way of developing software, and we start by making a big change that neither management or the team really understand on the belief that, in a few months, things will shake out and the team will be in a better place. Worse, because the team is very busy trying to learn a lot of new things, it’s unlikely that they will pick up on the incremental and experimental nature of agile, so they are likely going to go from their old static methodology to a new static methodology.

This makes the “you should hire an agile coach” advice much more clear; of course you need a coach because otherwise you don’t have much chance of understanding how everything is supposed to work. Unfortunately, most teams don’t hire an agile coach, so it’s not surprising that they don’t have much success.

Is there a better way? Can a team work their way into agile through a set of small steps? Well, the answer there is obviously “Yes”, since that’s how the agile methods were originally developed.

I think we should be able to come up with a way to stage the changes so that the team can focus on the single thing they are working on rather than trying to deal with a ton of change. For example, there’s no reason that you can’t establish a good backlog process before you start doing anything else, and that would make it much easier for the agile teams when they start executing.


Moving to the Power BI team…

This coming Monday, I’m going to be starting a new gig on the Power BI Team. It’s a great fit for me, both from the technical side and from the process (ie “Agile” side) of things, and I’m pretty excited about it.


Heart rate monitors and calories…

There are a lot of devices out there that include heart rate monitors, from stationary devices like treadmills and ellipticals to fitness bands to bicycle computers. People often ask whether the calorie measurements are any good, so I thought it would be useful to talk about how they determine calories and what you can expect in terms of accuracy.

Metabolic testing

The gold standard for measuring calorie burn is through metabolic testing. You exercise on a treadmill or exercise bike wearing a mask that collects all of the air that exhale. By analyzing your exhalations, a very accurate measurement of how many calories you are burning can be determined.

The test is usually one that increases in intensity, and along the way, your heart rate is recorded. One of the results that you get out of the test (there is a ton of data collected, including your V02Max, a measure of your overall fitness) is a table that records your calorie burn rate at various heart rates.

Heart Rate

Calories per minute
118 0.117
135 0.173
144 0.199

In a real test, there would be a lot more data than this.

I can put the data in a graph, and do a little math on it:

image

The line through data point is a calculated curve it through the points. In this case, it’s a straight line, but in the real world, a curve will probably be a better choice.

We also get a formula out of the calculation:

Calories/Second = Heart rate * 0.0032 – 0.2568

If I know the heart rate on a second-by-second basis, I can use the formula to estimate the calorie burn for that second. If we were doing an experiment where we wanted to measure the calorie burn of a group of subjects, we would do this for each of them, and then we could just ask them to wear a heart rate monitor during the experiment, and use their personal equations to calculate calorie burn. This is a very common approach for exercise studies.

Note that we are predicting the total amount of calories burnt by the person at a given heart rate, not the excess number of calories due to exercise.

Heart rate monitors

Enter the general-purpose heart rate monitor. They would like to provide you a measurement of your calorie burn, but they have a serious problem – they do not have results from a lab test to use.

What to do, what to do?

Well, what they do is they recruit a bunch of volunteers, and they put each of them through metabolic testing, average all the data together, and come up with a single equation.

This does not work well. Not well at all. There is a ton of variability among people; some have large hearts, some have small hearts, etc. This means that the prediction is not very good.

So, they start collecting more data about each of the participants – what is their age, their height, their weight, their sex, their exercise level, the breed of their dog – and they feed this into some statistical software, and they end up with what is known as a model, This is just a very fancy equation where you plug in the demographic information (age/sex/etc.) and the current heart rate and you get a prediction for calories per minute. Add that up during the exercise, and you get total calories burned.

Sources of error

So, how well does that approach work, Well, the answer is *it depends*.

The following scenarios result in error in the prediction:

  1. Being dehydrated increases your heart rate because your blood volume decreases.
  2. Being sick or especially tired makes the prediction less good.
  3. Being non-average makes the prediction less good. If you have a larger or smaller heart than average, or you are more or less fit than average, the prediction will be poor.

Generally speaking, the more data your fitness device takes in, the better a prediction it can make. If there is no data entered, it will probably be pretty bad. Add age and sex, and it gets better. Add in fitness level, and it gets better still.  Some fitness devices even let you enter the results of your metabolic test, which can give you decent accuracy as long as your fitness level remains the same.

How bad is the error? It’s really hard to quantify.

If, for example, you have a small heart (high heart rate) and you are very out of shape, it might overestimate your calorie burn considerably. I’m not sure what “considerably” means, but I would not be surprised to see 50% or even 100% more.

On the other hand, if you have a large heart and you are in very good shape, the device will likely underestimate your calorie burn considerably.

Calorie Inflation

Manufacturers are exercise equipment (treadmills, elipticals, etc.) tend to use pretty simple models; they often don’t even use heart rate, and if they do, their models aren’t very good. They also benefit with more sales if people are happy about their exercise, and a higher calorie burn does that, so machines tend to inflate their calorie burn numbers a fair bit – perhaps up to 30%.

I don’t know whether heart rate monitors.

Direct measurement of calorie burn

There is one way to get a great estimate of calories burnt doing exercise, at least for one specific situation.

If you have a bicycle with a power meter, the power meter measures how much force you are putting into the pedals, and therefore your bicycle computer can calculate how much work you did in kilojoules. You can then *roughly* convert that into the number of calories burned and get a decent estimate – way better than what you would get with a heart-rate measurement.


Big Island Bike Tour 2015

The offspring is starting her senior year of college this fall, and it’s seems likely that her ability to do things with us will be more constrained in the future, so we decided to do a nice family vacation. Going to the Big Island of Hawaii has been on our list for a while, so we chose to go on a Hawaii Big Island Family Multisport Tour for older kids, or something like that – all families, all with kids, but at least one kid needs to be 17.


And, to get something out of the way up front, I was sorry that I was in Hawaii and didn’t get a chance to climb Haleakala (10,0000’), because they have inconsiderately decided to place it on Maui. I looked up some information on riding to the top of Mauna Kea – which houses a lot of observatories because it tops out at 13,700’ or so – but it is not paved at the top, the ride is purported to be very hard, and the point of going is to be on a *vacation* with my *family*.


We flew Alaska from Seattle directly to Kona International Airport, where we deplaned, got our luggage (no bikes – we will rent), and grabbed our shuttle to the Waikola Beach Marriott Resort & Spa. It took a bit longer than that – shuttles always take a bit of extra waiting, and as soon as you go to Hawaii, you are on island time, so you need a relaxed attitude. Luckily, we had no place we had to be on the first day, so we just kicked back and tried to relax.


I’m am mostly on vacation to either get out and do things or sit around and relax; I’m not really into the resort side of things, and I’m pretty tired, so I mostly just sat around. I think Kim and Sam went shopping. Dinner was at The Three Fat Pigs, which was pretty good, though there were two strange occurrences; when we showed up at 5PM (8PM Seattle time, so we were hungry), we were told that we were lucky to get in because they were almost all booked. This was strange because only one of 30 tables was occupied at the time, and they never hit more than about 75% full while we were there. The second was a distinct lack of condiments on the tables. But, other than that, it was close to the hotel, casual, and we got back in time to watch the sunset.



The Waikola is fine; nice pool, and a nice beach that is set away from the hotel a bit. And, you can walk to the King’s shops or the Queen’s shops, which takes you to non-resort food and other stuff, which is nice.


The next morning, we were up early to eat and get picked up by Backroads, our tour company. Breakfast was something that we picked up at the aforementioned stores the night before.


We meet one of the other families while we wait for the van. Then we get our luggage to the van, meet our tour leaders. Rob and Lora will be the main leads, and Reggie will be the support driver who spends a lot of time doing behind-the-scenes work. We pile into the van, and head down the road to pick up the other two families. That goes quickly enough, and we head to our first spot.


I should perhaps say a bit more about what this trip is like. Guided tours run the gamut from hardcore tours where you ride a bunch every day and tours that have a small amount of riding every day to multisport tours like this one where you ride some most days but also do other activities. There are generally two or three distance options for the ride each day, and this can often be modified if you want more or less difficulty.



Day 1: Waipio Valley


The van drops us off at the processing and retail outlet for Ahualoa Farms, a very tiny macadamia nut company in the town of Honoka’a. We go and listen to a discussion about how the nuts are prepared and eat some samples while our leaders pull bikes off the vans, put on our pedals, and generally get everything set up. After a bit of bike adjustment, we stock our Ziploc bags from the treat table (too much sugar, not enough salt) and pull out on a out-and-back ride before lunch.


The three of us have different riding abilities and tolerances; Kim does a fair bit of exercise and rides to work in Bothell and back now and then, and Samantha hasn’t been on a bike for years. My plan is to sometimes ride with one or more of them and sometimes to ride by myself. We start out as a family.


It is hottish (we are on the wet side of the island), but the heat doesn’t bother me very much – it’s been pretty hot at home this summer and I’ve ridden in it a fair bit. However, at home, we think it’s humid when it hits 25% in the summer, and Hawaii averages 70-80% during August. And hurricane tropical depression Guillermo has been sending extra moisture this way, so the actual humidity is around 250%.


But, we’re riding together and the scenery is beautiful, so we keep riding, eventually reaching a overlook of the Waipio valley. I walk carefully down a really step path in my cleats to reach the edge.





This is a very crenelated section of coastline, with deep valleys that lead far back into the interior. There’s no easy access, though you can get down to the beach if you have a serious 4×4.


I ran into these two ladies and they agreed to let me take their picture.



After a few minutes there, we turn around and head back. We’re a bit slow because Sam’s getting her bike legs back. Somewhere in this section, one of the father & son pairs passes us, and a few minutes later, Sam says something like, “go chase them down and show them who’s in charge for me”.


So, I put my head down and chased. It was… uncomfortable; my heartrate went from averaging 88 BPM before I chased to 150 BPM for the remaining 5 miles. It’s hot and humid and there’s a 300’ climb in it, but I’m decent at suffering so I hold on and arrive back at our start.


Part of the reason I rode that way is that the longer option for the day was scrubbed due to some fallen logs from a recent storm, so I’d only be riding 20 miles for the day.


Samantha rolls in about 10 minutes later, the benefit of a “bump”. A bump is where you stop before a tough part, they toss your bike on the van and then drive you to the top. This is a great way to extend your riding ability and annoy your father.


Lunch is a typical backroads lunch; there’s some kind of meat (pulled pork IIRC), a few different salads, bread, some fruit (pineapple + mango), and various drinks. Their lunches have variety, it’s easy to find something healthy to eat, and the food is always tasty.


After lunch, we pack into the vans to drive up the coast to ‘Akaka Falls State Park. It is, of course, hot and humid, but we walk on the walkway  – because that’s what one does – to reach the overlook.



That’s 422’ of splendor. The walkway continues down so you can get a viewpoint of Kahuna falls, which, frankly isn’t worth the extra effort. But I did find this little feller on our walk out:



We finished the day with a trip up from Hilo to Volcano Town.


It’s a town! On a volcano!


Okay, so, technically, every town in Hawaii is on a volcano, but this is up high – at about 3800’ – and very near to the Kilauea Visitor center. We are staying in the Kilauea Lodge & Restaurant – well, technically, we are pretty much taking it over; by my count we have 9 of 11 rooms occupied. The lodge was built as a YMCA camp back in 1938, and is rustic in a good way. There is no TV but there is internet.


We have dinner that night in the restaurant. The apps are okay, but my Ahi is pretty tasteless. Probably the low point of our culinary experiences.

Strava. 20.2 miles, 1128’ of climbing.



Day 2: Volcano Day!


This is a multi-sport day. After a hearty but slow breakfast at the restaurant in the lodge, we van up and head to the visitor’s center (technically, Hawai’i Volcanos National Park), where we meet up with Tim, our guide for the day. We first walk out to a viewpoint, where – if I’m remembering the geology correctly – we can see the whole caldera (the part that filled with lava at one time), and then, in the middle, the steaming crater.



Perhaps this view will help:


image


You can see the edges of the caldera and the obvious crater. The previous picture is from the white buildings in the upper right. The caldera is about 2 miles by 1.5 miles


To the right you see a small crater called Kilauea Iki, which means “little Kilauea”. Back in 1959, it was the site of a pretty spectacular eruption, with lava fountains reaching 600 meters (1800’ in freedom units) high. The crater filled with lava, which then drained back after the event. There’s some cool film of it here.


We start with a climb down into the crater, which is mostly on a well-paved path, losing around 400’. We reach the floor:


 


The hill to the right was formed from the lava fountain; it’s around 600’ high. The far edge of the caldera is about 1.5 miles away. In the distance, you can see a lake. A lake… of LAVA. Well, cooled lava, anyway. That’s where we’re going.


Here’s a better view of the hill:



I have helpfully inserted some people to give you a sense of scale. The lava here is pretty jumbled and sharp, which is pretty common for island lava.


Here is a photo of the group:



We make our way to one of the vent holes for the eruption (daughter provide for scale):



At this point, we have reached the edge of the part where the caldera was full of molten lava. When the eruption finished , the lava cooled and the top few inches solidified. Then, a bunch of the lava beneath drained away, and when that happened, the top fractured as it dropped:



Looks very much like torn-up asphalt roadway. We keep walking more, and we get to a section where the lava cooled differently, and the surface gets much smoother. We can see our vans parked up at the top of the caldera wall.



As we reach the other end, we turn and look back:



Then it’s a series of switchbacks up and out of the crater to the road, and then across the road to Thurston Lava Tube. It’s a tube in the ground, it’s okay, but not close to as impressive as the crater we were just in.


Then it’s back in the vans to the lodge, where we have a nice lunch. And then, to the bikes! There are 3 options; a ride back into the park to a different overlook and back, a ride to the overlook and then down to a overlook of the ocean, and the ride down to the overlook and back. I would leave you in suspense as to which on I was planning on doing, but I think you will figure that out on your own.


We ride off into a heavy mist, the remnants of Guillermo. I stick with the family on the way to the overlook, and as we leave to head towards the overlook, it starts to rain, at which point I remark, “I don’t know about you but I am experiencing *the hell* out of this national park”.


We continue on as the weather switches back to on-and-off drizzle, which normally would be annoying, but since it’s 70 degrees it’s fine. We hit the turnoff to head down to the overlook, which is named Halina Pali. It’s a very minimal barely 1.5 lane road that winds up, down, and around the terrain the whole way down. It’s sort of a fun descent though you can’t get a lot of speed on it because you can’t see what’s ahead very well. We spend about 40 minutes on the 9.6 mile descent, and finally pull into the overlook, which looks like this:



Theoretically. What we see is this:




A quick picture of me, I refill my bottles, stuff my vest back in my jersey pocket, and head out on the climb back. I am not surprisingly the only one who thinks a 1600’ climb in the mist and rain is a great idea.


In the first few minutes, I meet the remainder of the group who is riding down to the overlook. As soon as the group finishes wandering around and the bikes are loaded, they’re going to be heading back up.


I have a goal. It’s to finish the climb from the overlook back to the highway before the vans make it out. 8.5 miles, and just over a thousand feet. I start climbing a little harder, it starts to lightly rain, which puts me in an absolutely perfect environment; it’s the first time I’ve felt cool and comfortable so I press a little harder. I don’t know the road and my GPS is hiding in my jersey pocket, so I’m not really sure how much climbing I have left. I hear a vehicle behind me a couple of times and expect it to be the van, but it is not. 47 minutes and 7 seconds later I hit the stop sign at the main road, turn left, and keep climbing.


Another couple miles and another 300’ of up, and I reach another turnoff. Still no van. I turn up towards the lava tubes, the road kicks, up for the last section of the climb, and the vans finally pass me by. Five minutes or so later I top out on the climb. That’s 1640’ in 68:17, or a little under 1500’ per hour. Not bad, and I feel pretty good, good enough to head out the park and hammer back downhill to the lodge. I drop the bike off with our leaders and head in to shower and change.


Stava: 37.9 miles and an even 2700’ of climbing, for a pretty good bit of riding. 


Back in the van for a really short ride to Volcano Winery, where I discovered a couple of things. First, a lot of the wine there is far too sweet for my palate, and it’s not really a great idea to go to a wine tasting when you only had a small snack before your wine tasting. Luckily, we have moved to the more sweet wines and I’m really not very interested in drinking much of them, so I concentrate on the crackers on the side plate.


After the winery part, we head to dinner at Thai Thai, an incongruously large Thai restaurant in Volcano town. The food is pretty good and the service is okay for a group of 19 people. I had a Thai basil stir fry with pork.



Day 3: Volcano to Punalu’u Black Sand Beach


This day looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun; we have a 3 mile climb and then we need to descend from 4000’ all the way back to the water. I love big mountain descents; a nice fast ride down is a great reward for the suffering on the way up. Or, in this case, the van trip up.

We start the climb together and then I jump and start picking off the people who started earlier, and start to descend.

And… it turns out that I’ve forgotten the basic topology of Hawaii. Hawaii is not an island with mountains on it. The island is a mountain – a very broad one – and 4000’ over 28 miles gives an average gradient of 1-2%. More of an “easing down” than a “descent”. I ride the section to the van stop, and then wait for Kim and Sam. We refill our bottles, and continue to head down, back into the heat. The route turns at Pahala, and after a short climb we hit a nice quiet agricultural road.



After a couple of miles, we finish that section and I get in front to pull into the headwind for the rest of the way down to the park. We pull in, I pound down a Coke Zero from the cooler, and then we walk around a bit.

Stava, 31.5 miles, 580’ of climbing, 16.8 mph

Some of our party took this chance to catch a little sun. The sand is, indeed, black, which makes it pretty hot. I brought clothes in the van so I could change, and I do so in a pretty typical park bathroom (ie sketchy), but I don’t want to swim and then be wet for the lunch and the ride in the van, so I mostly sit in the shade.

Kim keeps busy by taking 51 pictures of the beach, of the turtles, but mostly trying to catch the spray in the air. I like this one:


After about an hour we van up and head to our lunch spot. Everybody is overjoyed to be in the air conditioning; it was pretty hot and sticky at the beach.


We are lunching at Punalu’u bake shop, the southernmost bakery in the USA. As you can see by the sign.

I don’t ordinary choose my sources of leavened comestibles by their geographical superlatives, but it is not my choice today, so we wind our way past a musician to a rather nice covered lanai set back a bit from the main building. There are two women in separate tables having a snack and reading, but they soon decide that maybe, just maybe, their experience will be enhanced if they move away from the 22 loud cyclists to one of the other seating areas.

We had expressed our lunch preferences before we left in the morning, and they are (mostly) ready when we get there. IIRC, I had a somewhat average turkey sandwich on a really good bun, plus some pastry, plus some fruit. And I think I may have had a beer. The weather here is tolerable. After lunch, we van up and head out again.

We have a long drive from where we are to Kailua-Kona. On the way, we are going to stop at Pu’uhonua O Honaunau, a historical place of refuge where lawbreakers and anybody else who wanted to stay out of a fight could claim refuge. Very much like making it to “home base” when playing “Hide and Seek”.

The park is a recreation of what life was like in Hawaii in earlier times. How much earlier, I cannot tell you, because a) I left my park brochure in the car instead of carrying it around with me, and b) the NPS website refuses to return any useful information. From what I can gather, they built walls out of rock, buildings out of plant material, and fish ponds out of whatever one makes fish ponds of, but mostly they just hung out at the bar in the party pond and drank pina coladas to escape the oppressive heat and humidity.

We thankfully vanned up and continued on to into Kailua-Kona and our hotel:

 

We hit the ABC store for some snacks and head up to our room. Kim and I have a view overlooking a roof that overlooks the small beach that the hotel has.

In the afternoon, we have signed up for dugout canoe trip? session? experience? Something like that:

We get the boat off the beach, get in, and head out of the little hotel harbor. We attempt to learn to paddle together as a team on one side of the boat, with limited success. We then learn how to paddle on alternate sides and how to switch our sides, also with limited success. Then we head back in, comfortable in the knowledge that, if circumstances ever put us in the seat of a competitive outrigger canoe race, we will be of little use whatsoever.

That night is “dinner on your own”, and the Gunnersons head out on their own to a local brewpub.

The service is good, and the food is good, but our enjoyable evening is interrupted by a gentleman – a gentleman named Guillermo, who has pushed some rain over to Kona. We move to another table, and, by the time we are done with our dinner, it has reduced to a light rain, the kind that Washingtonians such as us make a point of pride of walking in. The rest of the night is uneventful.

Day 4: Water day!

One of the reasons for travel is to expose you to new experiences, and you need to be paying attention or sometimes you may miss them. If you have your head buried in a book or are playing with your phone, you will miss out on natural wonders. This morning was one such instance; had I not been paying attention during breakfast, I would have missed seeing a young lady eat an entire dinner plate piled up with bacon – well in excess of 30 pieces by my estimation – followed by a dessert of fruit, bread, and another 10 pieces of bacon. I don’t think she weighed more than 100 pounds.

Today will be spent on the water. We start by getting into our water togs and vanning up for a short trip to Keauhou Bay. We are going kayaking and snorkeling today. All the kayaks hold two people, so we have already decided that Sam and I will be in one kayak and Kim will ride with somebody else. She ends up paired with Jim, who’s family thoughtfully brought along an extra child since Kim and I had the poor foresight to only have the one.

We have gone sea kayaking a few times in Puget Sound (and once in Alaska IIRC). The water there is cold, so you need a stable kayak that can keep you dry. One like this:



But, we’re kayaking in an area with warm water, so we end up with a kayak like this.

We are going to be snorkeling and swimming off of the kayaks, so our leaders give us a quick demonstration on how to get out of the kayak smoothly, and then how to get back into it. Getting out is all about the proper points of contact so you don’t rock the boat too much, and getting in is about swimming out and then rolling into the seat. Our leaders do this about as well as you would expect someone who does it a few thousand times a year.

We all have life jackets, though Sam and I have them deployed behind us to give us a little extra cushion. Sam has done a lot of swimming and loves the water, I suffered through lessons and a few years of swim team, and Kim grew up swimming in the surf in Key West so the hard part is getting her out of the water.

We launch from the dock and row out to a buoy in the bay to assemble the group before we head out. Kim and Jim decide that they want to practice the exit and entry procedure for the kayak; they do fine getting back into the boat but did not exit it in the approved manner.

And, it’s time to paddle. Sam is nice and consistent, and we settle into a steady rhythm. Except that the boat is consistently pulling to one side, so we have to paddle asymmetrically to get it back in line every minute or so. Unlike sea kayaks, these guys don’t have a rudder you can use to keep you on course, so it’s paddle for a couple of minutes, turn, paddle for a few more minutes, turn. With 9 boats doing this, it’s a bit of a comedy going out. We pause to regroup now and then. Along the way we run into a pod of dolphins – spinners, I believe – that cavort through our assemblage of boats.

Kim is having a horrible time:

Eventually, we reach our destination a bit down the coast. I believe it was near Kualunai point. The leaders anchor their kayaks and we all tie up to them, and then we get out to go snorkeling. I have my old Canon A20 in a waterproof housing (actually, it’s not my old camera – it’s my slightly-less-old camera since the old one suicided while snorkeling the last time we were in Maui), and Kim has her brand new Nikon waterproof Coolpix.

We swim around a bit. I do a few dives, but we are not equipped with fins, so I can’t get down more than about 10 or 15 feet or so, and to do so I thrash around enough that the fish just swim away. The snorkel is the old school kind (no valve), but that’s what I learned on so I’m okay. The mask, at least, is high quality; no leaks, and easy to equalize pressure in.

I had planned on showing some decent underwater shots here, but they’re mostly pretty bad, so I’m going to spare you the details.

After 30 minutes or so of swimming and diving, we group back at the boats to have some snax and cull the weak from the strong. You can see the weak up there.

I would, of course, have participated in this activity except that I’m wearing my contacts and would probably lose them. There could be no other reason I would avoid climbing a precipitous rock face and hurtling myself out into the void over some hard-looking water.

The young one does it:

The we circle the wagons, get everybody back in the canoes, and head back. This turns into a little bit of a race, which is fine, except that the boat keeps yawing to the port side (yeah, I’m gettin’ all nautical and stuff), so we have to stop paddling on the right pretty often. My left arm is significantly sorer at the end.

We eventually make it back near the dock, get careful instructions from our leaders about how to queue up so that we can get the kayaks out smoothly, which are then promptly forgotten by the majority of the boats as they rush for the ramp.

We finally disembark, grab our stuff, and head to rinse off in the outdoor shower. Nice to get the salt water off, a bit bracing as far as the temperature goes. Another quick change into normal clothes in another somewhat dodgy park restroom, and we head off to lunch.

Which is at Akule Supply, conveniently located a mere 25 steps away.

After the paddle and the swim I probably would have even eaten poi, but the food is good. IIRC, we had:

  • French fries
  • Deep-fried avocado with spicy sauce
  • Chicken something
  • Salad something something

I grab a Diet Coke from the cooler, and we sit around and talk until it’s time to go. We van a bit until we get to Kona Blue Sky Coffee.

At the plantation, we get to sample the different blends and learn more about how coffee is harvested, processed, and roasted. As a non-coffee-drinker, I am not paying a lot of attention, but I gather that there are elves involved.

We have another transit to do, this time to the Fairmont Orchid, so it’s back in the vans again, and we head out to the Fairmont, where we check in and chill until it’s time for dinner.

Dinner is at the Mauna Lani hotel just down the road a bit and their CanoeHouse (apparently spaces are rationed on this part of the island).

They have a large canoe hanging in the rafters so that you know that you are in the right place. I decide to skip the fish for a nice and have the rack of lamb; it is excellently presented, cooked to perfection, and utterly devoid of seasoning.

There is a bit of a pattern here – if you are in a resort, the food isn’t very good, and if you are outside the resort, the food is generally better.

But, it is a good night with good company.

Day 5: Waimea – Polulu Valley Lookout

This is the last day of riding. There are three different routes listed – a 9 (ish) mile route from the drop-off point to the lookout, an 18 mile route to the overlook and back, and then a 33-mile route out to the lookout and then back to Kawaihae for lunch.

The night before, the leaders offered the group the opportunity to ride from the hotel to the dropoff point, an extra 29 miles at the start of the day. I am the only one who raises my hand, and this means that I’ll be heading out at 7:30 in the morning. I get up early and put on my bike stuff and a lot of sunscreen, to try to avoid making my sunburn worse. A quick and light breakfast at the buffet (seems a waste to have a light breakfast at a big hotel buffet), and I meet Rob in the lobby, and we take a bit of a trek through the parking lot with me in my socks to where the van is parked. My bike is out and ready; I have decided to skip the tail trunk today because I expect it to be windy and I don’t want the extra drag.

I spin out of the hotel and turn left on Queen Ha’ahumanu Highway. The course that I am riding is part of the Kona ironman course, and I’m riding the last 29 miles to the turnaround point. As I get up to the next hotel, a couple of riders pull out in front of me. I’m sure one of them is a triathlete; he has aero bars and a water-bottle holder on the back of his seat. The second guy has a normal road bike. They are just getting started, so I pass them by and pick up my pace a little. The road is through lava fields, but it’s still pretty early and the weather is cool, so it’s okay. There is a slight sidewind coming down from the mountain.

At Waikui, I turn left onto Akone Pule HIghway, and the wind is now behind me. Unfortunately, there is a descent as well. That probably sounds like a weird thing to say, but that means that the descent won’t last long. Two minutes later, I’m back down by the water.

The cue sheet for this section, and I looked at the map the night before. It’s pretty straightforward except for when I get into Kawaihae, where it say “don’t take the turn to the Marina”.

I take the turn to the Marina.

I figure it out fairly quickly, and get back on the right road. During this excursion, the two riders that were behind me pass ahead. I slot in behind them and we keep riding. At the first hill, the second rider drops back, and I start talking with the first guy. He’s out training for a half-ironman that is coming up later this year. He warns me that the upcoming section is going to have some nasty sidewinds, and that there is a 4 mile climb up to Hawi. We ride together for a while, and then he stops to wait for his friend.

And wow, he was not kidding about the sidewinds. At times, the road is shielded by a hill cut, and then you come out to get hit by the sidewind. 20MPH is my guess. I ride for 10 miles over a bunch of rollers, and hit the base of the hill. I start up.

As a hill, it’s not very steep – my GPS says it’s only a couple of percent in inclination. But – and this is a big but – I’ve turned to the right, so the sidewind has turned into a headwind. It’s a nasty one. But, I know how to suffer, so I just keep climbing. At least the wind is keeping me cool. The view to the left is pretty nice, but it’s easy to get jaded after a week in Hawaii. After ten or fifteen minutes, the triathlete shows up and tell me his friend turned around, and he will be turning around in a little bit. He powers on ahead, and quickly pulls a U-turn to head back. At this point, the vans pass me.

The road has curved a bit more to the right, and now I’m headed directly into the wind. I climb, climb, and climb some more, and then finally top out in Hawi. The climb was about 5 miles, and only climbed about 500 feet.

I reach the vans just as everybody is getting ready to roll out. I refill my bottles and head out with the wife and offspring. My plan is to ride with them to the overlook, and then we’ll decide what to do from there. I get in the front to block the wind. The first section is mostly downhill, with a few intense uphill sections (one was a nice 20% grade). We keep riding until we get to the Pololu Valley Lookout, which is the same valley we looked at from the other side on the first day. We go and look – ho hum, another incredible view – and I stuff my face with some Maui onion potato chips to get some more salt into my system.

We turn around, Samantha decides to van back (or at least part of the way back), and Kim and I decide to ride back. Lara is going to ride with us.

As the morning has gone on, it’s gotten warmer and a bit more humid. It’s easier to ride with the headwind than the tailwind, but we have pretty much lost our cooling wind, so it’s getting a bit miserable. It takes us about 75 minutes to ride back to the drop-off point, which involves about 600’ of climbing. We are the back of the train right now, so we re-water and re-fuel and press on. We have 17 miles until lunch.

The first 5 miles – back down the hill – are great, kicking along at 25 MPH. That lasts about 15 minutes, and then it’s back to the rollers I rode through earlier, except this time the sidewind is mostly gone. It’s not too bad when we are out in the open, but when we get in the road cuts, the rocks (aka “lava”) are radiating heat, and it’s about 20 degrees hotter in those sections. After two water stops and about 300 hours more of riding, we get to Kohala Burger & Taco. I am well and truly cooked, but thankfully Kim says that she is done, so I don’t have to ride back to the hotel.

Strava, 62.8 miles, 4050’.


Pretty much everybody else has their food or is already done, so we head inside to place our order and cool off a bit. I drink two cups of ice water while we wait and then shotgun down a Diet Pepsi. Our tacos show up, and as we are sitting there eating, the first van loads up and heads back to the hotel. We finish our food (fish tacos, quite good, though my culinary requirements after that long on the bike are possibly a bit suspect), and Kim gets in line to get some shave ice. She finally gets to the front of the line, gets her ice, and we get into the delightfully cool van to head back to the hotel.

There’s a certain feeling after a hard ride when you get some real food in you, and we are feeling okay. As we pull out of Kawaihae, we notice some smoke to the right of us, which quickly resolves into a major brush fire.

The road that I rode from the hotel is closed and, as we watch, a bunch of emergency vehicles flee that area to come back towards us. We aren’t going to be able to get through on the road. But we have drinks and snax, so we’re fine. We head back the way we came and turn into a private gated development that climbs up the hill about 4000’. Then we turn and head towards Waimea, back south, and then – finally, back to the west and our hotel. That’s about 50 miles of driving to go 10 miles, but we didn’t have big plans for the afternoon and we had a great group in the car, so it was fun.

After removing 62 miles of volcanic grit off of my body, we get ready for our last dinner. We started with a reception at the bar near the pool. It is very strange to be having drinks with your daughter. And then we headed over to Brown’s Beach House Restaurant for our last dinner together.

We had pretty much that exact view, on an out-of-the-way section of the seating area. Which was nice. After a bit, the appetizers came – I had some of the beef cheeks, which sounds like a great way to convert a cheap ingredient to a $18 appetizers. I ordered the Big Eye Tuna, a bit of specificity that I assure you will become important soon.

And then we talked. Either we didn’t look very hungry or they lost us, but we waited a very long time for our food to show up. And then they showed up with the plates but didn’t know who had ordered what, which isn’t great if you’re charging $40 a plate. Mine came back as “Ahi”, which is technically correct but more than a little confusing when there’s a server walking around asking who had the ahi.

By this time, the restaurant was empty, but we did have time for dessert before we headed for dinner. I’m actually a little tired of appetizers + entrée + dessert at dinner and am hoping for something simpler in the near future.

Day 6: Petroglyphs

This morning includes an optional historic activity, but the brush fires still have the road closed, so those of us who are left take a short hike to some nearby petroglyphs. It’s a nice trek over a golf course, along the beach, through a parking lot, and then back through a whole bunch of scrub forest.

When you get there, the petroglyphs do not look at all like these, which are recreations right next to the parking lot.

They look like this:

Then it was back to the hotel and into the van to head back to our original hotel, where we hung out, went to a food court for dinner, and watched the sunset. And then got up the next day and flew home.


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