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:


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:


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.

Crosswords and death

I have always like words. In fact, I generally find it difficult to express myself without them.

I was not an early convert to crosswords. I tried them when I was younger, and I either found them to be simple, stupid, or impossible. My mother was good at crosswords (and Scrabble), and her mother did all the Sunday crosswords in ink and was absolute death in Scrabble.

But when I got in my late 30s, I started to do the daily crosswords – starting with the easy Monday ones, working through the harder – and often weird – midweek ones, and onto the hard Friday ones.

Along the way, I learned a few things:

  • There are a class of words – that I just learned are called “repeaters” – that show up all the time, because they are very convenient for those who create crosswords (known as “constructors”). They are not common words, but once you learn them, puzzles get much easier:
    • Ale
    • Oleo – margarine was originally known as “oleo-margarine’”.
    • Epee – a small dueling sword
    • Oreo – Nabisco’s gift to the world
    • Etui – a small ornamental case for needles or cosmetics.
  • An abbreviation in the clue means the answer is also an abbreviation.
  • A question mark in the question means there is wordplay at work.
  • “ending” and “start” mean you should a fragment. For example, “East ending” is probably “ern”.
  • Being a constructor takes skill, and different constructors have different skill levels. This probably should have been obvious to me at the start, but it wasn’t. There are some people that just aren’t very good at putting puzzles together.
  • The construction of the grid and the creation of clues (“clueing”) are two distinct acts, and they both require aptitude. Poor clueing can make a puzzle much more annoying. The NY Times crossword is notorious for having clues that you would automatically know if you lived in NY – which makes it good for people who do live there – but makes it really annoying for the rest of us.
  • If you work put a puzzle aside and come back to it the next day you will find a lot of obvious answers.

Once you learn these things, crosswords get much easier.

And I found Merl Reagle, who not only was very skilled at construction and clueing, but had a weird sense of humor and great themes. And wonderful puns. And… his Sunday puzzles were challenging but possible; when you finish one of his, you feel like you’ve really accomplished something.

So, my mother and I would email back and forth about the most recent Sunday puzzle. Did we like it, what did we think of the theme, and how far had we gotten. My mother would do as much as she could, and then hit the crossword dictionaries (and the internet) so she could finish it, while I wanted to solve it by myself, and was fine leaving it unfinished.

As my mother’s health deteriorated, she lost the ability to live on her own and eventually spend most of her time in bed, but she still did crosswords and we still discussed them. After she died, I continued to do the Sunday Reagle puzzle, and thought about her when I came across a puzzle that she would have really liked.

And so, I was especially sad to read a notice in that paper today, which said,

Puzzle section changes:

Crossword puzzle constructor Merl Reagle died Saturday in Tampa, Florida. The Times will carry the Sunday L.A. Times crossword instead.

Sufferin’ Summits 2015

Sufferin Summits Bicycle Ride

Two years ago, I did a ride named Passport 2 Pain, which is a ride around Vashon Island that goes down to the water and back up on pretty much every hill on the island. A series of 300-500’ climbs, over and over again, for 82 miles and darn near 10,000’ of climbing. I liked it.

P2P is a what some people call a “challenge” ride. I tend to call them “stupid rides”, as in, “you have to be very stupid to choose to do a ride like this”. P2P calls their full ride route “the Idiot”, so I think they agree.

This spring, I was musing about P2P and another challenge ride that’s been around for a few years in Portland, and I thought, “Self, there a lot of hills in the south end of Bellevue and Issaquah, and you know them pretty well. I bet you could put together a route that was at least as that”.

After a bit of design, a bit of riding to check out new routes, and a bit more design, I came up with a design I was happy with. It’s 55 miles in length (though the last few miles is downhill/flat) and features 8200’ of climbing.

And – in keeping with the challenge theme – it not only goes up a lot of hills, the route is designed to go up them in the worst ways. Why climb the top section of a hill one way when you can do it three separate ways?

After I showed it to a few people – and quietly hinted that I might be putting it on as an organized ride – there was sufficient interest that I decided to make it official, and Sufferin’ Summits was born.

Stupid? Yes. And sadistic.

Anyway, I had a route, I picked a date, built a very simple website, and did a very limited amount of advertising. If you knew me – or perhaps knew somebody who knew me – you might find out about the ride. This was deliberate; I wanted to this year to be a beta test of the route and approach.

I need to do a bit of level setting before I continue.

In the context of this writeup, a 10% hill is a moderate hill, and if I say “steep”, I mean something around 15%. Or more.

The official motto is, after all , “a special kind of stupid”.

The Ride

I wake up at 6:30 in the morning, have a bit of cereal to eat, and then go to get dressed. I put some chamois crème on my chamois (improves comfort on long rides), put on the shorts and jersey, and walk out to the kitchen. Only to find that instead of grabbing my Pearl Izumi Elite shorts of the basket, I grabbed a different pair of Pearl Izumi shorts that a) were not “Elite” and b) belonged to my wife.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. The intended gender of your shorts is your own business.

A short shorts change, and I’m heading out to the starting point so that I can get there at 8:30. The published start time is 9AM, but there is no official start line so I’ve decided to be early.

I get there at 8:15, and there’s nobody there. A couple of people show up, drop off donations (the ride is raising money/food for Northwest Harvest), and head out to start the ride. Others show up and leave, and then at around 9AM, two of my riding friends (Mike and Jeanne) roll in, having parked in the opposite parking place. They ask me if they can ride with me because the route is a bit confusing (they’re right, it is). Which presents a dilemma…

Back when I was younger and less experienced, I started a long hilly ride (at the time, probably the hardest ride I had done, but not even close to as long and hilly as this stupid ride, which means I’ve either gotten better or stupider still then) with a group of faster friends, cooked myself on the first two hills, and then had a bunch of not fun the rest of the ride. Since then, I generally do climbs on my own.  I know that both Mike and Jeanne can climb quite a bit faster than me.

<Okay, so, I’m not quite being honest.

To be honest, this whole thing started as a bit of a lark, but as I stand waiting to start, I realize that I have a problem. I know exactly what is in store for me, I know how bad the ride is, and I’m really not sure if I’m up for it, and more not sure if I’m up for riding it with others. >

But I say “yes” anyway, and we head out to do the first climb, Grand Ridge. The bottom part is uneventful; Mike and Jeanne pull ahead of me as they climb, then they wait for me, and then we keep climbing. We hit the first steep pitch – College Drive, a 17-18% gradient – and grind our way up.

I’ve been working on lower back issues – and upper back issues – well, let’s just leave it at the generic “back issues” the past 6 months. Lots of PT, lots of exercises, lots of stretching. It’s been getting better, but on our week in Hawaii, instead of stretching seriously 3 or 4 times in a week, I managed to stretch 0 times per week. That – and some perhaps overexuberant and not-great-form stretching since – have left my lower back in a condition that the medical profession refers to as “a bit wonky”.

Anyway, the good news is that my back feels okay. It’s a little sore, but only a little and I can deal with that.

<See what I did there? Now that you know that, you will be much more sympathetic if I need to use the excuse in the future>

We get to the nice park in the middle of Grand Ridge, work our way through to the east, and then climb up. We make the first turn, and then Mike turns left. This feels wrong, but this is a confusing section and I follow Mike as he descends to the North. I know after 15 seconds that it’s wrong, but he’s a ways ahead.

<okay, so, it’s the first hill of *my* ride and I already don’t know which way to go….>

No real foul – there’s an easy alternate route – except that my Strava will not be the official route.

We ride up through the cool custom homes at the top of Grand ride (pick a style, from cape code to craftsman to northwest contemporary to castle, you’ll find them all here), and crest at the top. Usually there is a great view, but there’s so much smoke in the air that we can just barely tell where Seattle is if you look  closely. With the wandering around, the 1000’ climb took me about 30 minutes.

The descent is fast and fun, and they have thoughtfully repaved the bumpy section, so we make it back down to Issaquah, and head across to our next hill, Squak. The first part of the climb rolls up the hill, with 13-15% sections followed by sections of lesser gradient. I stand up now and then to let my back work out a bit, which kindof sortof helps. At the saddle of the climb, Mike continues to follow his GPS directions and rides on past the turn, demonstrating that his Garmin is a few bits short of a byte today. He returns, and we head up to the top part of Squak. With the exception of a steep section at the beginning, the gradient isn’t too bad. However, the pavement is really rough, which makes it a lot harder to climb, as we lose a lot more power to friction. After a while, we hit the top loop and ride around it to the true top of the climb. I spent 24 minutes to get the second 1000 feet. This looks promising; the trend suggests I will climb the third 1000’ in 18 minutes.

A quick discussion and we decided that we were okay on water to the next water stop (two hills later), so we skipped refilling. I decided that I wasn’t drinking enough (the weather was cool but I was still sweating a lot on the climbs), so I made an effort to rehydrate.

The top part of the Squak descent is not fun. The rough pavement makes the bike shake a lot and the corners a bit treacherous. We hit the lower, more-populated part, the road flattens and improves, and we speed up. It would have been a very nice descent except for having to slow down because of the Prius in front of me. At the bottom I swallow a couple of Ibuprofen tablets to see if it will help with my back.

Back in Issaquah and right at the starting point, we head to hill #3, Talus. Talus is a recent discovery of mine; I hadn’t climbed it before because it doesn’t have the elevation of its taller neighbors and it only has a single way up (I try to avoid up and back climbs). But a little research showed me that there is a road that isn’t open to cars but can be biked, and that’s where we are headed. The road is brutal; it kicks up steeply to like 18% at the start, and holds there for quite a while. It’s a nice climb though the woods usually, but they’re using it for construction access higher up the hill, so there’s gravel off to the sides.

Which is probably a good point to introduce “tacking”. If you are on a steep hill, you can ease the gradient by riding diagonally back and forth across the hill – cutting it down from maybe 20% to 14% or so, assuming you have a whole road to use. You can get less if there is less room. It’s also sometimes known as “paperboying”.

I would generally tack a bit on a hill like this, and get maybe a 1% reduction, but the gravel is in the way so I gut it out. We pull out of the first section back onto a normal road, turn right, and the take another right to take another connector, which is an honest 20%. I stand for that because it’s short, and then there’s another right, and more steep climbing to the top. Not quite 500 feet in about 9 minutes. The rest of Talus is nearly flat ride to the south to get a little more elevation and get out the road exit. We descend back down, and head out towards the next hill. We are right behind one of the other groups, which makes me happy, because we were about 10 minutes behind them at the top of Grand Ridge.

Hill #4 is Zoo hill, probably the most notorious of the hills. After a short flat portion – which feels very strange to ride – we turn up and start climbing, and soon pass the zoo. This section feels like you are out in the country; there are no houses and the tree canopy covers the road. We climb and soon hit the hairpin, which is probably 15% at the center line. I ride the center line, and Jeanne rides near the inside, which is the steepest part, at 25% or more.

<as we got near the to the hairpin, I suggested that riding the center line was a good idea, but she chose the harder line. She’s a bit of an animal.>

The road opens up a bit after, and we hit the turn at the end of the first section of the climb.  My stats say that I climbed it in 13:11 at 223 watts and heartrate of 148 bpm. Translated, it means that, despite having 2700’ of climbing in my legs, I’m climbing pretty fast for me and my heartrate is high but not to high – I can ride a long time at that heart rate.

We turn right on the middle section, which is a set of rollers that get steeper and steeper. Today, however, we take a trail to drop down to the top of the Montreux climb. We do that, pick up a slightly-lost rider, and descend down to pick up the next climb.

I am not looking forward to this. This section is only 4 tenths of a mile long, but it’s going to take me nearly 6 minutes to climb it. Because it is a wall, at 18, 19, even 20% gradient. If I look online, the fastest person I found could not even reach 8 MPH on this climb. Today I ride it at 4.1 MPH, weaving back and forth, and now my back is really, really unhappy. I’m distracted enough that I miss the turnoff I want, but luckily I catch my mistake. I catch my breath a bit, eat a few cheez-its, and decide that I will try the next section.

<there is always a time during a ride when I have “the downs”. Generally, it goes something like this:

“Why do I bother doing this? It starts out being okay, but then something like this happens. And I paid to do it”

This time, of course, I didn’t pay for it. I also know that if I keep riding, it will go away and I’ll feel better>

I also decide that, at the next water stop, I’m going to ride back to the start.

Yes, this whole thing was my idea.

We first climb up the classic top of the zoo climb. At 12-13%, it’s a lot flatter than what we have been riding, and Jeanne and I talk as we climb up. My back has recovered a bit.  Mike is, as usual, off ahead of us. We hit the false summit on the road, continue on, and catch the small drive that takes us up to the water towers. At this point, we’ve caught the group that started just a bit ahead of us, which makes me feel pretty good; despite my back hurting, I’m still climbing okay.

Then, it’s a short descent, and we climb up Pinacle which goes to nearly the same summit, and then Belvedere, also to nearly the same summit. Neither is notable; I ride slowly, sometimes tacking back in forth, standing to try and stretch my back and working to keep my legs turning over. I think I’m maybe a bit dehydrated, so I drink as much as I can.

We descend down to Lakemont, and turn right to do a short climb to the park. It’s a 4% climb, but it honestly feels like it is flat. There are probably 10 of us there, filling our water bottles, using the bathroom, having a snack, complaining about the route (that’s mostly me). One of the guys tells me two of the guys in his group hate me, which makes me happy. That group decides they are insufficiently caffeinated, so they head over to the Starbucks and we continue on. I look at the online Strava flyby  later and can see that at least some of them continued the ride, but it looked like they got a bit confused on the route.

Standing around, my back feels a little better, so I decide that I’m going to try the next section. On the map, this section looks pretty unassuming, just three little climbs next to each other. Two of them are up and down, and then third takes us to the top.

We descend quickly down to the turnoff, and then turn to start the climb, which is about 500’. It starts off steep, turns steeper, flattens out a bit, gets steep, and then turns nasty, where nasty is something like 25%. You can tack back and forth on some of it, but some of the corners are blind and you have to be wary of cars. There are, if you need them, a few roads and driveways you can pull in to take a break, but I do not need to avail myself of them, and turn the corner where it flattens out and keep going to the actual crest.

I am inordinately smug that I didn’t have to stop on the climb.

Then it’s back down to repeat on the next climb to the east, but this one only tops out at around 15% and is much shorter at 262’ of elevation gain. That one doesn’t hurt that much.

Then, finally, we have a short but steep kicker and the final climb up to the appropriately named “Summit”. About 350’ of up, it starts at 15%, backs off a little, kicks up to 17%, backs off a bit, then finally up to 19% to the false flat and then a final short push to the summit. It is unpleasant, but I make it up to the others.

I am well and truly cooked – so cooked that I don’t even both looking at the view to the north. It’s generally worth a few minutes, as the view is properly described as “territorial” – on a clear day, you can see Bellevue, Seattle, the Olympics, the water, the Cascades, Mt. Baker, and beyond. We wait for another rider so that I can lead the group.

In case you are wondering, the entry fee for the cheapest of these homes is right about $1M, though you can pay more than double that if you’d like.  The Belvedere and Pinacle houses are in the same range.

We work our way around to the emergency access gate; there are two of these that block off the Summit from the roads to the north so that cars can’t get in that way, but we just have to get off our bikes and carry them around a wall, and then it’s down a wonderfully-repaved section of road to the food stop. We have about 800’ to lose, and we do it in about 4 minutes, taking us to the unofficial food stop at a gas station food mart. I buy a Coke Zero, drink all 20oz of it and eat some Cheez-its. Once again, I feel pretty good at the food stop, but I know what is coming up and how I felt, so it’s time to cut my losses. I decide to cut the difference; I’ll ride the first climb of the next section, which will conveniently put me back on Newport way. Turn left, and it will be back to the start; turn right, and it will be back up to the Summit, but a more painful route than we came down.

<there really is no chance at this point that I will continue. I spent one night earlier this summer quivering on the floor with back spasms, and I have no desire to repeat that>

But first, we need to descend more, dropping all the way down to the shores of Lake Sammamish at Vasa park, which at 37’ of altitude is probably the low point of the ride, though downtown Issaquah is close. Then it’s a right turn into the “Forty One Point Five” development, and another 250’ of pain. We connect through a little path at the top, take the ped/bike bridge over I-90, and I depart to head back to the starting line. I have pretty good energy and I feel okay, but the back won’t let me continue.

<see? Don’t you feel bad for me? Eric would have keep riding except for his back. He had *no choice*>

So, I speed back along the road and got back to the finish line (well, place where we started), put the bike in the truck, and headed home.

A few statistics:

42.3 miles
6637’ of climbing
10.1 mi/hour average speed
2247 kJ (read as “calories”)

As a comparison, the last time I did RAMROD (150 miles, 9200’ of climbing), I completed it with an average speed of 15.2 MPH. 10.1 MPH is pretty darn slow.

Sufferin’ Summits Hill #8: Somerset & Traverse

Highland/Somerset <= Somerset & Traverse => (mostly) down to the finish!

Breaking news!

I came up with a new climb that takes the bottom and tops of “The Zoo” and stuffs the ugly Montreux => cutoff right in the middle, and I have used it to replace the existing Montreux-Zooma climb in Hill #4. The change adds 14’ in elevation and cuts 0.2 miles off of the entire route.

I’m calling the new climb “ZooMonZoo”. I’ve updated the description for hill #4 to the new route and included a brief discussion of why I chose it.

Anyway, onto the description of hill #8, the last one in the ride.


For many years, I thought that “Somerset” meant climbing up the road we just descended, because that was the only route I had ridden. At about 450’ and a nice section of about 16%, this is certainly a challenge. And then, one day, I was looking at maps (because I lead a Tue/Thu night ride and like new routes), and I realized that there was a route from the west that I had never heard about.

So, I went and rode it, and found out why I had never heard about it.

The route is mostly easy to follow, though there are a couple of places where you need to pay attention. Start up the first pitch, and when the road ends, turn right. Take the first left and continue climbing, following the road as it curves around. After the big curve, you are looking for the first turn to the left – 136th Pl NE. If you miss it and you run into Highlands drive, turn around and come back.

After the turn, there is about a half mile section that will end at Somerset Blvd – the one we descended down earlier. We turn right, then right again on 139th Ave, and a final left on SE 47th. This section is easy to navigate; just keep turning on the streets that go up. At the top, turn around, and enjoy the last great view of the ride.  We don’t have the altitude we had at the earlier climbs, but there is nothing in front to block our view.

Now, it’s time to traverse to the east towards the finish.

We descend back down to Somerset Blvd and turn right. The first pitch is a steep descent with a stop sign at the bottom. Turn right, and then take the first left on SE 49th. Continue straight until it ends at 151st Avenue, which we travelled earlier on the Summit climbs. Turn left and take the first right on SE 48th. This will curve around and change names a couple of times, and finally end at 159th Pl SE.

Turn left, and then take the first right on SE 48th drive. This will take you to a short bike/ped section and then a steep descent down to 164th with the usual stop sign at the bottom. Turn right on 164th, ride up to the stop sign, turn left, and then after a quarter mile, turn right into the shopping center.

Go inside the market and buy yourself something cool to drink and maybe something to snack on. You have made it; all that is remaining is a 3.5 mile ride back to the starting line, which features a 1 mile screamer of a descent (with, unfortunately, we need to turn off of in the middle) and a whopping 39’ of additional climbing.

So, that’s the course. Unless I change it.

4.6 miles, 861’


Sufferin’ Summits: Hill #7–Highland/Somerset

#6 Summit North <= Highland/Somerset => ?

This section is mostly a portage from our last descent to where we will start section #8, but there is no reason that a portage can’t be fun.

We find ourselves back on Forest Drive. After just over half a mile, we turn right on Highland Drive. This climb goes steep/flat/steep/downhill/steep/flat, and will take us into a notch between Somerset hill to the west and Summit to the east. After a short 1/4 mile rest, we turn left on Somerset Blvd, hit the crest, and then continue down to the North. Nice views here, but at 15-16% you will be needing to use your brakes.

We eventually come to an exit where you can see a traffic light to the left. Turn left to the light, and then turn left to get onto Newport Way. Once again, we have a descent that we are going to be turning off of, so watch your speed. After half a mile on Newport, the road will curve right but we turn left on 130th Place SE, then left on 130th Ave SE. Continue straight on this road; you’ll know when you’ve reached the start of the next hill.

3.9 miles, 359’ of climbing