DORMAR Rider’s Guide

DORMAR is a backwards version of RAMROD. It differs from RAMROD by going the opposite direction and by being a totally unsupported ride. You will need good fitness and self-reliance to complete this ride successfully. DORMAR is 152 miles with a little bit more than 10,000′ of climbing, including two major mountain passes climbs.

The start

The ride starts in the Enumclaw Fairgrounds parking lot, at 45026-45098 284th Ave SE, Enumclaw, WA 98022.

The starting time is “Whenever you want”. I’m planning on starting at 5AM to get as much done before it gets too hot

The Route

You can find the RideByGps route here. You can download a route for your GPS from it; figuring out how to do that is left as an exercise for the reader.

A preview of the route is here. Please read it as it has important information.

Turn-by-turn instructions
































Mileage Action Notes
0.0 Right
0.2 Right Highway 410
40.2 Right Highway 123 (Cayuse)
51.1 Right Towards Paradise
51.1 Water! Bathrooms!
70.1 Right Towards Paradise
72.2 Left Visitors Center
72.2 Left
74.5 Right Main road
74.6 Left Longmire
83.7 Store!
104.1 Store!
108.7 Right Eatonville – Alder Cutoff Road
115.9 Right Washington Ave
116.1 Stop Deli Stop (Cottage Bakery)
117.2 Right Orville Road
126.2 Right Store! Orville Road
135.4 Right Highway 162
136.4 L & R Onto Trail
142.0 Left Emory
142.0 Right Store! Highway 162
144.3 Left  Buckley
146.0 Right Enumclaw (410)
148.9 Right Warner / SE 456th
150.6 Left 248th
150.9 Stop Done!

Important notes

  • A blinky rear light and money are REQUIRED to get into the national park.
  • Pay attention to the lack of water stops at the start of the ride, and make sure you plan accordingly.
  • This is a long ride; make sure to turn your GPS to smart recording to save battery life
  • The descents will be long and fast. Please choose an appropriate speed.

Riding the Going to the Sun Road

We decided to spend a few days in Bigfork, Montana (a few miles south of Whitefish for my skiing friends) with my sister and brother in law. They graciously offered a room in their two-bedroom condo, and then my spouse graciously suggested that I bring my bike along.

I decided one day of riding was enough for our short visit, and I had two good choices

There was an 80 mile 7000′ ride around nearby lake Kookanusa, or there was a 60 mile 3500′ alp-ish climb in Glacier National Park, called “Going to the Sun Road”.

Both looked interesting, but I decided on the latter because a fondness for alpiness. This ride presented a bit of a problem; some of the sections that I needed to ride were closed to bikes from 11AM – 4PM. Which meant starting early – around 6AM – to finish in time, or starting late and likely finishing in the dark. I decided to do the early version.

Montana was in the middle of a hot spell, with daytime highs in the high 90s and the lows only dipping into the 60s. So, I packed a light set of bibs, my lightest base layer, and a jersey.

Precommute

To get from the condo in Bigfork – yes, that *is* the “big fork” in town, though it is not, in fact, the particular fork upon which the town is named, the actual one being of fluviatile origin – to West Glacier is a drive of about 45 minutes, which meant leaving sometime around 5AM, which in turn meant getting up at 4:30AM.

The getting up before dawn part of riding is not one of my particular favorites, but get up I did, along with the wife who was going to drive me there and then come and get me. And then there was the problematic task of getting dressed – problematic not because of the mechanics involved, since I am often able to dress myself on my own (though determining how well I accomplish that is a task I leave to others) and there were no buttons or zipper involved, but because of my basic riding gear and a bit of a surprise in the weather department, with west glacier forecast to be in the mid-40s overnight.

There was nothing to be done however, so I pulled on my “very hot weather” base layer, my pair of summer Castelli bibs, and my Sufferin’ Summits jersey.

I generally wear the Sufferin’ Summits jersey when I want publicity for the ride, which in this case is probably a bit pointless, but it is also white (part of the “let’s stay cool” theme) and has very deep pockets. And I threw on my PI sun shades arm warmers, because they work okay as arm warmers.

We load the bike in the car and start the drive to West Glacier. On the way, I eat 1.5 hard boiled eggs and a half cup of strawberries. I also dig through my bike bag and pull out my full-finger gloves, my toe warmers, my fleece hat, my light windbreaker, and my leg warmers. I do this because the temp at the condo is 49 degrees and it is steadily dropping during the ride, hitting a brisk 44 degrees by the time we get to West Glacier. I figure I’m just stuck with being very cold, but I step out of the car, put on the windbreaker, and discover that it’s a dry cold and it’s not that bad.

Thank god for low humidity; 44 degrees in the winter in Seattle means my winter jacket plus overpants plus neopreme shoe covers plus still getting cold.

I pull out my brown bag with supplies for the trip; it contains a half-bag of sport beans, a honey stinger waffle that I’ve been carrying around on rides for at least a month and which now consists only of crumbs, a small pump since the new bike doesn’t have one yet, a ziploc of nuts, a ziploc of cheez its, and my tic-tac container of electrolyte pills. I take a Rocketlyte before I start, hoping it will help with the on-bike nausea I’ve been getting (and by help, I mean “prevent”…)

Commute

This ride features an 12 mile flat commute next to a lake before the climbing begins. After a short 1/4 mile spin, I come to the park entrance and the ticket booths, none of which are currently peopled. A lighted sign points me off to the right, and I find a kiosk with envelopes I am supposed to put my entrance fee and write my name and address. Which presents a bit of a quandry, as I have no pen with which to inscribe said name.

I settle for composing a brief poem celebrating the life of John Muir and hum the first few lines of “The forest ranger song”, and hope that will suffice:

When we rangers ride the trail / In sunshine, wind or snow or hail
We’re always ready / We’re true and steady.
There’s a friendly laugh, a joke, / We’re cheery until we see a smoke,
And then we’ll fight, sir, / To get it right, sir.
We never leave a fire till no spark is to be seen;
Our job’s to guard the timber, keep the forest green

That sorted, I head straight and then turn right onto the Road to the Sun road, riding next to a Ackbar campground, named after the ever-popular “Admiral Ackbar” of the Star Wars franchise. I’m sure you can see the resemblance:

image

It’s brisk but really not too bad, and the combination of me warming up and getting next to the lake (which holds some heat) warms me up, except for my feet which are stubbornly frozen.

The lake on my left is Lake McDonald. According to the official Forest Service history, the name of the lake is in commemoration of an eponymous act of vandalism by trader Duncan McDonald who carved his name into a tree in 1878. Disappointingly, the official history is silent on further details, telling us neither whether Duncan ever owned a farm nor what kind of animals might have been kept on said farm.

Traffic is light, which is expected since it is currently 6:20AM on a Monday, but there are a few cars around. With one exception, they all pass courteously.

Preamble

The flat commute took me to the north end of the lake, which is fed by a stream that Wikipedia names “various stream”. The road parallels this stream and begins to climb up slightly, with extended sections of climbing with a 1% gradient. I grab 23 cheez-its from my stash, drop one, and stuff the remainder in my mouth, hoping to pre-fuel for the long climb ahead.

I get colder; the sun is technically up and you can see it on the highest peaks, but the western valleys are still in heavy shaded and I’m above the moderating influence of the lake. This persists until about the 21 mile mark.

Amble

The base of the climb is commemorated by a no passing sign. A search in Google Streetside did not find it, so I have recreated it here:

image

I did, however, find the following sign:

image

Luckily, rocks do not fall next to bicycles, so it seems that I am safe.

The climb will take me – with any luck – from 3500′ all the way up to 6647′, for a total climb of a whole lotta feet (927 meters, or just a little bit over 1 Tourmalet). I climb for about 5 minutes at about 180 watts, stop to remove my windbreaker and stuff it into its storage pocket and my jersey (if you do not own a stuffable windbreaker and a stuffable vest I do not know what is wrong with you), and continue climbing. After a bit I pick up the pace a bit, climbing at a little over 200 watts.

My feet are still cold.

My plan for the climb is to ride conservatively for the first half and then see if I have a few more watts in me, so of course I climb too hard at the bottom and have to back off a bit. The climb is very consistent at the 5-6% gradient that highway engineers love, and I’m climbing it at a little over 6MPH.

After a bit I hit “The Loop” switchback, which redirects the northwest road back to the southeast. I wave to a couple of touring riders taking a break in the parking lot, and continue to climb.

The combination of a low speed limit, small tour vans and coaches, and the “no passing” rule means that the traffic patterns are interesting. I might climb for 5 or even 10 minutes with no cars either direction, and then a stack of 10-25 cars will catch up with me and pass “en masse” (could I perhaps say, “en passant”?), only to leave my by myself for another long period. The road is has gotten the “A-list national park” treatment, which means great asphalt or concrete the whole way, with none of the chipseal I was worried about. Many of the drains are piped underneath the road, though there are a number of surface drains with grates over them. The Roubaix is fine with them going up and I make a mental note to be careful with them when I descend back down. The drivers are uniformly well-behaved with no bad passes, and the only hand signal I see is a thumbs up from one car.

The climbing continues. Since we are above treeline and the road runs somewhat in the same direction, I can see the road ahead for a mile or two. Once you reach the end of that part of the road, you are treated to a new vista and a new high point to which one will be climbing. This happens twice. At some point, I pass through 5000′, a point at which I’m about 12% down on oxygen compared to sea level, and shift down to my lowest gear. And keep climbing.

For those of you tracking things at home, my feet remain cold.

There are many water features on the way, notably haystack falls, bird woman falls, and the weeping wall. It’s getting past the peak snowmelt season, so the weeping has slowed down to something more akin to “tearing up”. I don’t stop at any of the features because a) climbing and b) 6 mph gives me plenty of time to look at them. I do not recommend spending much time looking over the edge of the road; that 12″ high stone barrier is often the only thing between you and a significant drop.

I would definitely describe the climb as “Alpy”. Great views and a road that is both very curvy and hung on the side of the road in places.

I still climbing along at about 6MPH, and I finally drop down to my 34/32 for the last little bit. I know it’s the last little bit because a) I’m watching the mileage and b) the road gets sunny up ahead.

I finally crest the end of the climb and reach the top of Logan Pass, 6646′ up and on the continental divide.  The pass is named for William Edmond Logan, a Canadian-born geologist who later went on to star in an sci-fi thriller set in an idyllic society in the year 2274.

Image result for logans run

A brief rest to eat a few sport beans, gather a bit of electronic proof, chat with a few cyclists who climbed up from the other side, and put my windbreaker back on, and it’s time to head back down. I experience a short period of foot warmness.

IMAG0161

Descent

I like big alpine climbs, but I absolutely love alpine descents. In this one, the long and fast sections are punctuated by wet sections and sharp corners where too much speed will either send you into a rock wall our out into space, neither of which is particularly desirable. I have a bit of a quandry on this descent; I can descend slow but I’m back in the cold air and still a little sweaty, so I will be cold for a long time. Or, I can put a bit of power into the descent, warming me up and spending less time in the cold shade. I settle for the “bit of power” approach for the straight sections and the “slow” approach for the tight turns and the wet spots. My Roubaix’s disc brakes make this trivially easy, and I average about 20 MPH for the descent, completing it in a hair over 30 minutes.

Strava shows me that the fastest descender completed that descent in under 17 minutes for an average speed of nearly 37MPH, which is pretty much unfathomable to me.

Commute

At the bottom of the descent, it’s back onto the preamble and then the commute back. It’s at this point that I realize that if I had been smart, I would had a snack and a fair bit of water at the top so I could recover a bit on the descent (trying to eat and drink on alpine descents is not a good move), but I was not, and I’m kindof drained at this point. I stop at Lake McDonald lodge road to eat and drink, but the nuts and cheez-its that I eat and the water I drink are not a happy combination, so I add “upset stomach” to my “lack of power”, and just decide to slow down and spin my way back. I get back West Glacier at about 10:45, and the wife pulls in a few minutes late. Bike in the back, bike gear stowed, and a Coke Zero in my hand, and it’s back to the condo for a shower and some lunch.

Summary

A pretty nice ride. I’m happy that I was about to climb at an honest 2000′ per hour for the whole climb while feeling pretty decent; being lighter definitely helped. I’m less happy that I’m still working on fueling and hydration, but such is life.

Stats

  • 64.4 miles
  • 4080 ft of up
  • 14.0 MPH average speed
  • 2484 kJ/calories
  • 1 HC hill climbed
  • 0 STPs
  • Strava extreme suffer score (173).

Strava link


Postscript: It has been brought to my attention that the name of the campground at the south end of the lake is “Apgar”, not “Ackbar”, and rather than being named for a character in Star Wars, it is in fact named after the name given to a method to summarize the health of a newborn. We regret the error.


Tour de Blast 2017

After deciding not to do the full Flying Wheels route this year, I wanted a substitute, and I decided to journey south to Castle Rock to ride Tour de Blast. My wife came along to ride the 30, and planned to do the full 82.

We left Friday afternoon at 2:30, and spent a full 4 hours getting down to Castle Rock. It’s quite a ways even if there is no traffic, which of course never happens around here any more. As much as I hate getting up early to ride, I would almost prefer to do that and miss the traffic. We stayed in the TimberLake Inn in Castle Rock and had a decent mexican dinner that night.

We woke up the next morning at 6AM, and I had a wonderful meal of a chocolate brownie clif bar, some blueberries, and a glass of water. I’ve been eating low (er) carb, and I’m still trying to figure out what I want to eat before a ride and didn’t plan well ahead of time, so it was whatever I could find it the store.

We left the hotel at around 7 and got to the start at maybe 7:25, parking in the baseball outfield. Then it was a walk to pick up our packets, a walk back, and I headed out.

Well, not quite; I spent a lot of time trying to decide what to wear and what to carry; the ride has a reputation of cold (and wet) at the top, and even though the forecast was decent it tends to be windy up there. I settled on arm warmers, no leg warmers, summer gloves, and I couldn’t decide on whether to carry my stuffable vest or my stuffable jacket, so I ended up carrying both. Plus phone, cheez-it’s and electrolyte tablets.

The ride profile looks like this:

I like to break rides into sections so I can keep them straight in my mind. For this ride there is:

  1. Warmup – the first 18 miles or so, which has a little over 1000′ of up.
  2. Elk Rock climb – 2200′ of up over 7.7 miles
  3. Descent + Johnson Ridge climb – 1650′ over 5.7 miles
  4. Descent + Elk Rock backside – 1400′ (ish) over about 8 miles
  5. Return to start: 3250′ down over 27 miles.

Here’s a 3d view of the route:

image

Warmup

I am just warm enough as I spin out of town with my stuffable vest on. We have a little flat, and then slowly start to climb up; there’s a lot of road in the 1-2% range, with a few kickers in the 6% range. I pass quite a few people, but since this is a three-route ride (there is a 30 and a 52 variant), that doesn’t really mean much. My legs feel decidedly meh and my stomach is a bit weird, but I’m okay overall. I’m trying to climb at about 175 watts, which is a pretty good “all day” pace for me generally. I push it up to 225 on one of the kickers, and feel a little bit better, which is a good sign.

At 15 miles we hit the first rest stop; I have drank maybe a third of my two bottles so I just keep going. Right near the 20 mile mark, we hit the start of the Elk Ridge climb.

You can always tell when the highway engineers got involved when you are riding in the mountains, because the gradient is typically arrow-straight. You wind around, you go over bridges, but the gradient is very constant, at about 5%, with a little over and a little under in places. I start at about 200 watts but decide that’s a little too high, so I drop down to about 180, and average 181 watts for the whole climb. My vertical meters per hour is a disappointing 550, but I do have a couple of significant climbs in front of me.

The climb itself is okay; the road itself is chipseal but they nicely decided to leave a little margin on the shoulders uncoated, so there is generally smooth surface to ride on. The bridge are big and long and provide either beautiful views or slightly scary heights depending on your perspective.

I pass people, people pass me, and I spent a bit of time chatting with those who are close to my speed. 70 minutes or so later, I hit the Elk Rock rest area. My stomach is still feeling a bit weird on my electrolyte drink, so I fill up my empty bottle with water, have a couple of potatoes with salt, skip the grilled hot dogs, and head back out.

Johnson Ridge

A short bit of up and I find myself on the Elk Rock descent. It’s a nice descent, broken in two by a short and easy (2%) uphill section, with a couple of sweeping turns. Most of the time I spend in the low 30s, spun out in my largest gear, and 8 miles doesn’t take that long at that sort of speed. I’m now back down to 2500′ and will need to climb up over 4000′.

Johnson ridge is named after David Johnson, a geologist who was on the site when the mountain erupted on May 18th, 1980. It provides – weather permitting – a spectacular view into the crater.

But first we have to get up there…

I felt pretty good on the descent, but as I ramp up for the climb, that feeling dissipates, and I am left with some nice low-grade nausea. Nothing really seems to help; water makes it worse, electrolyte drink makes it worse, cheez-its (which I generally tolerate very well) make it worse. The only thing to do is to stop drinking and keep climbing.

This climb is harder than the Elk ridge one, as the grade is often in the 7-8% range and touches 9-10% in places. I whine to myself, suffer, get passed, suffer, get passed some more, and keep going. My butt is a bit sore, my back/shoulders hurt, my stomach is upset, my pulse is pounding in my head, my head aches a bit, and my tinnitus is acting up.

The only thing really keeping me going is the knowledge that I have an out – my wife is planning on driving up to the observatory after she finishes (which she already did), so I have the option of hanging around and waiting for her. An estimated 35 hours later, I finally top out (actually, looking at the data, I climbed the 1650′ in 54:33 @ 553 meters / hour and 171 watts, so pretty much the same pace as the first climb. Did not feel that fast.

I walk up to look at the mountain (covered in clouds), and head to the food tables. I carefully get off my bike, take a drink (nope, still feel sick), text the wife (a really poorly worded “At top. Probably done”), and chance half a banana. Nope, still feel sick. Start composing my ride report, and decide to call it “Tour de Fizzle”.

Sit around in the sun a bit, talk to one of my friends about my new bike, sit on a bench, and finally am able to get some fluid down without feeling horrible. Wait for the wife, and wait some more.

Elk Rock Backside

Finally get cold and am feeling better, and decide I need to get down off the hill, and hope my wife stops when she passes me on this section. This descent is fast, my arms are shaking because I’m cold so I can’t steer very well, and my wife passes me headed up maybe 2 minutes into the descent. Sigh.

A couple minutes later I drop farther into the valley, it warms up maybe 15 degrees, and I stop shivering. Down, down, and down, and I’m back in the valley between the ridges, and it’s time to climb up. Coat off and put away, arm warmers off and put away.

This first part is the steeper part of the climbs; I saw 8% on the downhill and expect it to be pretty bad coming back up, but I set a power target of 150 watts and climb @ 5-6 MPH and it’s really not that bad. I pass a few, get passed by a few others, and finally reach an intersection that marks the end of the steeper part. A short descent, and then it’s onto the longer but flatter upper section.

This is supposed to be easier, but I feel worse than the first section, and I’m climbing at a seriously slow 130 watts. I stop a couple times to rest, and then see my wife pass me going the other way, and when I don’t see the car at one of the pull-outs, I know that my lack of good instructions means she went back to the starting point to wait for me. I stop a couple more times, and the last time my background nausea asserts itself, and I sit there trying to control my stomach for a couple of minutes. Successful, I get on the bike and continue the upward grind. I am climbing at a breathtaking 340 meters/hour.

Finally we top out again, and I pull into the Elk Rock food stop for a second time. Nothing looks good and I don’t really need water and there’s no cell service, so I can’t text my wife, so it’s back on the bike and heading down. At least it’s a descent, and I descend all the way down to the site of the first food stop, pull over, and text my wife that I am starting down and to come and find me. And she does, meeting me at the 72 mile point, which ends my ride for the day. A bit of jerky (which I stupidly chose not to stuff in my pockets) and a full coke zero, and I feel somewhat human. Just in time for the 4:30 drive back, which thankfully I did not have to do.

Stats etc.

71.6 miles and 7001′ of up with a moving time of 5:45 and an elapsed time of 7:00. So, slow and with more than double the time off the bike I would expect. It ended up as an “Extreme” suffer score of 230, but I think the only time I’m suffered more on the bike was the time I climbed up Cayuse in 100+ temperature.

Overall, the ride is okay. I liked it much better than High Pass Challenge because it doesn’t have all the flat section. Will I do it again? Well, it’s a long trip to get down there and a long trip back, and that does deaden the experience a bit, but maybe.










From carb-optimized to fat-optimized: a brief summary

(I’ve written this from a cycling perspective, but I think the basic idea – going from a carb-optimized metabolism to a fat-optimized one – has a broader application).

For those who don’t know me, I’m a fairly typical recreational cyclist; in season I’m riding 3 times a week, generally anywhere from 75 miles to 120 miles, with a few goal events (I tend toward hilly events, such as RAMROD, Passport 2 Pain, and my very own Sufferin’ Summits).

Over the years, I’ve mostly used a low-fat diet; one focusing on low-GI carbs (brown rice, whole-wheat bread, etc.) for my normal diet, and one with high-GI carbs before, during, and after my rides.

That has worked okay, more or less, with a few issues:

  • My stomach is often not very happy with a slug of sugar-based nutrition drink during a ride (I have fructose intolerance, which may be part of it).
  • I generally feel tired when I get to about 4 hours on the bike. Not leg tired, but just a general overall feeling of fatigue.
  • I have a really hard time not snacking between meals. This was not helped by having candy readily available at work, but even without that, I still had a hard time not snacking.
  • I also had a related problem. I ski and teach skiing during the winter, which means that I have no weekend time for rides from December through mid-March, and a lot of chance to snack after skiing. Those combined with my work snacking, and in early 2016 I was at 178 lbs, about 6 lbs above my traditional adult weight of 172 lbs.

    Some of you may be saying, “that’s not that heavy for an athlete”, and that’s true, but I did not like the trend.

    I read a book on nutrition that had been sitting on my Amazon wish list for a year (reference below), I asked a few cyclists at my company about their experience with a lower carb approach. And I did a lot of research about nutrition and metabolism in general; if you want to talk about insulin, glucagon, ketosis, I can go on for quite a while, and I can also talk a bit about the current state of clinical measurements (HDL, LDL, LDL-P) and their relation to cardiovascular disease.  Oh, and the experience of indigenous people such as the Inuit and what happened when they started to eat a western diet.

    My conclusion was that I was eating quite a few carbs in my diet and not much fat, which meant that my body was going to be optimized towards using carbs as a fuel source. My other conclusion was that eating the carbs was contributing to my snacking, because a) the insulin response to the carbs would tend to drop my blood sugar back down and b) the lack of fat wasn’t making me feel satisfied after a meal.

    So, it was time to experiment. I’m not somebody who likes to make giant changes in my diet all at once, so I focused on lunch, especially at work. Here’s what I was eating before:

    Monday: Burrito day. A whole wheat burrito, black beans, rice, chicken breast, cheese, guac
    Tuesday: A half sandwich; chicken/turkey breast, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, mustard
    Wednesday: See Tuesday
    Thursday: Taco salad day. In a tortilla bowl, black beans, rice, chicken breast, lettuce, guac, olives, cheddar cheese
    Friday: See Tuesday

    Just writing that, wow, that’s a lot of carbs. And wow, my cafeteria is boring.

    Here’s what I switched to:

    Monday: Mexican day. Black beans, half chicken & half pork, onions, lettuce, cheese, guac
    Tuesday: “Barbecue day”. Either brisket or a half chicken with cole slaw, and a tiny square of cornbread
    Wednesday: Salad. Greens + tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, kidney beans, red bell pepper, sugar peas, olives, mozarella balls, eggs, and chicken thight. All topped with an oil/balsamic vinegar dressing.
    Thursday: Mexican day repeat
    Friday: Salad repeat

    Gone are tortillas, bread, rice. Added in are more vegetables, and considerably more fat (pork, brisket/whole chicken, chicken thighs, salad dressing)

    The change was surprisingly easy, with the hardest part being changing my perception of fat. And I noticed an immediate effect on how I felt at work; I was less tired in the afternoon and I stopped snacking totally (it did help that the snacks moved out of my room).

    I switched out my sugar-based hydration drink with an electrolyte one (Nuun has bothered my stomach and I don’t like plain water on rides, so I’m using Hammer’s right now), and went on a few rides.

    And hated it. I means, seriously hated it. I was not running out of energy per se, nor did I have much hunger, I just could not put out any power to save my life. I played around with food with different levels of carbs before and during (I still think a carb recovery drink makes a lot of sense after a long ride), and it has gotten better but I don’t think I have that part figured out yet. More about that later.

    That was working well, so attacked my breakfast next, which was a bowl of granola with fruit. I added an egg (sometimes two) in the morning and reduced the granola, and that’s where I am right now. I honestly probably need a bit more fat in the morning but it is so hard to change ingrained habits. I also changed my dinner patterns a little, trying to focus more on the protein/fats and the vegetables and less on the carbs. Also still a work in progress.

    Oh, and for snacks at home, I’m eating cheese, home-made jerky (time to make a new batch…), and a fair bit of nuts. I’ll have some popcorn now and then, and maybe some chips.

    One thing to stress is that, with the exception of paying attention to my snacking habits at work – where I have a “drink a glass of something first before you eat” rule – I’ve put pretty much zero effort into limiting my portion sizes. I just eat what seems decent, and stop when I am done.

    Results:

    My expectations weren’t very high; I would be happy if I got down to my usual weight and felt a little better on the bike.

    What happened is that in about 3.5 months, I lost a full 10 pounds of weight, clocking in at 168 lbs this week. My summer shorts fit nice and loose, and today I pulled on a pair of 501s that I hadn’t worn for about 9 months, and they fit fine.

    On the bike, I’m feeling strong but I feel like I might be missing a bit of my top end. On the other hand, last week I took 33 seconds off of my PR on a 7 minute climb and some of my riding friends say I’m faster, so maybe it’s not as big as I think, or maybe it’s just different. I have definitely felt less tired after a few hours on the bike, and my stomach is much happier on the bike.

    References:

    For a lot of reasons, low-carb is still fairly controversial and a number of sources say that its not healthy and you’ll grow a third arm or something. Much of that is due to the evolution of thought around the role of cholesterol levels in the blood, from “cholesterol = horrible” to “HDL / LDL” to “hey maybe LDL as a measure doesn’t work, how about LDL-P”. Remember that dietary guidelines have a *huge* lag time behind current research, and there is lots of out of date advice out there.

    If you read anything, read a copy of “Why we get fat” by Gary Taubes. He may not have the whole story from a biochemical standpoint, but his overall presentation is very good. If you like lots of details, read his “Good Calories, Bad Calories“, but be prepared to bone up on your biochemistry.

    Joe Friel – author of many training books for endurance athletes – has written some very interesting blog posts about low carb. In “Aging – My Race Weight“, he details an experience very similar to mine. Read “Becoming a better fat burner“. And read the comments on these posts as well.

    If you are looking for research into low carb and performance, there is a decent summary here. Note that most of the investigation has been purely around performance, and the results seem pretty clear that low carb does not increase performance and may take a bit off the top end (perhaps in some people, perhaps in all). What the studies miss are the things that I really care about; if I don’t have to eat as much on the ride, I avoid the stomach issues that I’ve had over the years, I (hope) that I will have less trouble with low energy during the ride, and the obvious performance advantages of less weight.

    If you want more details and/or references, please let me know in the comments.


    The DeWaltCast – Portable Chromecast Audio

    I have recently updated my custom late 1990s multi-room music system to the 2010s with the installation of a Chromecast audio in my main equipment system. It is exactly what it should be; easy to use, easy to understand, and cheap.

    But I was noticing recently that while it works fine when I’m in our upstairs kitchen/dining/living room area, I don’t have the option elsewhere. What I really wanted was something I could take out to the back patio for a bit of background music. I could have bought any of a number of small chromecast audio speakers, but they all required AC power, and in my stupidity I did not add a convenient outlet near my patio when I redid the basement.

    I did some research, but I couldn’t find what I wanted, which was a system that would run either on battery or AC and didn’t have rechargeable batteries. I did some searching and researching, thinking about how I might buy a small boombox system, but the ones I found all used disposable batteries. Then I finally remembered that I already own the basis of such a system.

    A DeWalt DC011 Jobsite radio. It is rugged, has an aux input (and a charming CD case on one side), but the really nice part is that you can plug a DeWalt battery pack into the back and not only will it use the battery pack to play the radio, it will also charge it whenever you plug the radio into an AC outlet. And I just happen to have a couple of 9.6 volt packs from a DeWalt drill that I recently deprecated in favor of a nice brushless Makita that I picked up. My radio is much, much dustier than the picture but still works okay, except that the optical encoder for tuning doesn’t really work.

    The sound is okay, and I’m not looking for high-fi for this application, so that is fine.

    This should be a very simple project; I just need a source of 5 volts to run the chromecast and a place to put it.

    Nicely, the front is held on with 8 screws on the front and 2 on the rear, and then it just pops off. I expected it to be cheaply made, but the design is really pretty nice; instead of soldered wires between the boards there are real connectors. The only thing I find curious is that the battery charger is a hefty 4″x5″x1.5″ fully enclosed metal box at the bottom of the case, which explains a bit why the radio is so heavy.

    A little bit of snooping has me a bit confused; there are nice red and black wires from the battery to the main board, but where I would expect a power cable to run to the radio, I see a 5-conductor ribbon cable instead.

    image

    I pull the power supply board and start tracing the back.

    image

    The filter capacitor is very obvious, and it turn out the the 5-conductor ribbon cable *is* the power supply cable; 3 conductors for positive and 2 for negative. A quick check with the meter shows that there is is no power across the filter capacitor, which makes no sense at all.

    I look a bit closer, and realize that the whole board has a nice clear conformal coating on it, another sign of the build quality. I scrape it off the leads of the filter capacitor, put my meter on it, and find about 10 volts when on battery power and 14 volts when running on AC. That is a goodly amount of voltage.  I make a little power take-off harness and solder it to the terminals of the filter capacitor, and then reinstall the boards back in.

    To get to 5 volts, I go searching. I want a buck converter that gives me 5 volts. The internets say I need around 250 mA, which pretty much any converter will give. There are hundreds of choices, but I settle on one from Xiny:

    Like pretty much all of these, it’s made in China, but it appears to have reasonable build quality. I will just need to attach the wires, plug in the USB cable to the chromecast, and then run the audio to the aux.

    While waiting for the buck converter, I hook up the Chromecast. I pull the aux jack out of the mount, plug in the cable, and temporarily plug the USB cable into power from the supplied wall wart. It fires up and starts working correctly. I hot glue it to the side of the case, and start to lay out the cables the way I want them…

    image

    Power

    With that all sorted, all that is left was to hook up the power and close up the box.

    image

    I attached the incoming power to the screw terminal block on the left, tested that it really was giving me the 5V that I expected, and then plugged in the USB cord.

    Finally, I tucked the power converter into a spot in the case and glued it in:

    image

    I plugged in the front panel & speakers, put it on the box, powered everything up, and started ‘casting to it. And sound came out the speakers.

    *Most* of the sound was the sound of music. But there was a background of sound that was there even when the music was not playing. It was motorboating. There was a popping at about 8 Hz that would go for about a second, then stop for a few seconds, and then repeat.

    Maybe it was the power, maybe it was the radio section of the radio interfering with the comcast. It would have been really smart of me to test all of this before I hot-glued it all into the case, but I pulled it all out and started eliminating causes. It is not the location of the chromecast or the short cable that hooks to the aux jack. It is not a ground loop. It pretty much has to be the 5v dc-dc converter.

    I tried the usual hacky things. Capacitance on the unregulated input did nothing. Capacitance on the 5v output did nothing (well, it popped when I hooked it up, but nothing else). I put a scope on it, and could see the pulse train from the 5V output.

    This was not entirely unexpected; one of the great things about our world is that there are lots of cheap components out there, but unfortunately this is also one of the problems.

    I let it sit for a day, and then decided to try hooking the input to the battery instead of the power supply output to see if that made a difference. And the noise went away.

    Unfortunately, the reason it went away was that instead of hooking the battery voltage – nominally 9 volts – to the input of the converter, I hooked it to the *output* of the converter, and pretty much immediately fried it. Worse, I had the chromecast plugged in at that point – because stupid – so I toasted the chromecast as well. I may try to pop it open and see if I can salvage it later; it seems to be cycling power on and off rather than just being dead.

    Which led me to ordering another chromecast, and a different converter board. This time I got smart and found a board that people had been using to run a chromecast in their car.

    image

    In typical “explosion of search terms” fashion, this is the:

    Yeeco DC-DC Buck Voltage Converter 10-24V 12V to 5V 1.5A Step-down Volt Transformer Stabilizer Voltage Regulator Module Vehicle Car Isolated Power Supply Switch Inverter Board with 5V USB Charger

    The cool part of this device is that it’s actually an isolated design, which means there is no ground-to-ground connection between input and output.

    In due time, the Yeeco showed – along with the new Chromecast audio – and I hooked everything up, and it worked very nicely. The components were stuffed in the case:

    image

    Then the case was closed up, and I was finished.

    When in operation, the source electronics are silent – or at least more silent than the electronics on the amplifier. When you first turn it on, there is a short bit of noise as the Chromecast audio wakes up, which I’m calling a feature rather than a problem.

    So, there you have it; for about $50 you can add ‘castability to an old boombox. Or, you can add another $40 if you don’t pick the right components and hook up the wires incorrectly.





    Quick Review: Specialized Roubaix Expert Di2

    A long time ago – in 2004 or so – I bought my first high-end road bike, a 2005 Trek Madone 5.2, and over the years, I probably put around 30,000 miles on the bike. It has been a great bike.

    But my early-50s body is not as flexible as my 40-year-old body was, and I’ve been having some persistent shoulder and neck issues despite having a good fit and spending some quality time with a PT, so it was clear that it was time to do some bike shopping.

    And yes, it’s very clear that I am different than many of my riding companions, who seem to rotate their bikes every 3 or 4 years, or the rest of my riding companions who subscribe to the “N+1″ theory of bike ownership (see footnote).

    On my shopping list:

    • A smaller frame (my Trek is a 60cm, and a 58 seemed like a better choice)
    • Disc brakes, because I’m doing a lot of steeps and I’m tired of wondering if I will stop at the bottom.
    • Low gearing. With the hills I climb, I need something close to 1:1.
    • Full Ultegra (or very close) for the groupset.
    • A bike tuned towards the kind of riding I do (ie endurance) rather than racing. A little more compliant, a little more comfortable, and a little more upright.
    • A decent color combination. My Madone is a Project One featuring the “Pave Flambe” paint scheme (bright red with flames), and I’m not a big fan of colors like white, black, or charcoal.

    Armed with that list, I headed out to the bike manufacturer websites and started coming up with options.

    Well, that’s actually not quite true; what I *really* did was procrastinate for about 9 months, scrawl a list of bikes on a piece of paper that I promptly lost, procrastinate another 3 months until my back got worse again, and then finally come up with a spreadsheet of choices. The wait turned out to be a good thing, mostly because bikes with 34 tooth chainrings and 32 tooth cassettes got a lot more common, so I had more choices.

    I won’t bore you with the full list, but Trek was out because of their price point, and the short list was the Cannondale Synapse Carbon Disc, and the Specialized Roubaix Expert Disc. The Synapse comes in at $3000 ($4500 for Di2) and the Roubaix comes in at $4000 ($4600 for Di2). The premium for Di2 on the Roubaix looks about right, but the Synapse is a bit weird; there are a couple of upgrades in there (better brakes, for example), but not enough to warrant a 50% price increase IMO.

    Test rides:

    I rode the Synapse first, in the mechanical Ultegra (mostly) variant, from Gregg’s in downtown Bellevue. I rode around the steeps and some crappy pavement for about 45 minutes, and the bike climbed and rode fine, but the position felt a little different. Not bad different, but it took a bit of time to get used to. Seemed to plenty stiff but still more compliant than the Madone. The color was a bit meh but not terrible, back with green lettering and some red strips. I should note that the Di2 variant was on sale for $4000 during this time, so the pricing was roughly in line with what I would expect. I liked the bike, and felt that I was on the right track.  

    Later that morning, I headed off to Edge and Spoke in Redmond to test ride the Roubaix. Their test fleet is all Di2 and festooned in the Neon Yellow/Monster Green paint job (the bike is also available in black with grey accents). I took it out and headed to some annoying pavement, the bike lane heading south on West Lake Sam from 520. It felt nice on that but wasn’t really as compliant as I expected. I then sampled a bunch of different ups and downs, some crappy pavement, and even some gravel. The bike felt more similar to my Madone than I expected in handling, and – like the Synapse – handled climbs, sprints, and descents well.

    I liked both bikes but it was pretty clear that I liked the Roubaix a whole lot more, and I also decided to spend a bit extra on the Di2. My options were to wait for a black version until late April, wait for a yellow/green version until sometime in the summer (August was the best estimate), or take the demo bike, so I took the demo bike.

    Fit:

    I knew I wanted a full fit, and scheduled one for 4PM a couple of days later. IIRC, this is my 4th full fit. Edge and Spoke have a Retul fit bike that allows for adjustments of most of the components while you are riding on the bike, which makes the whole fit process a lot simpler; the only time I hopped off the bike was when we did cleat adjustments and saddle switching. The fit is improved by the Retul Vantage 3D Motion Capture system, which tracks emitters that are put on your feet, ankle, knee, hip, shoulder, elbow, and hand position 18 times a second.

    The system only works on one side at a time, so the fit is done on one side, then you get swung around to the other direction (the fit bike is on a turntable) and do the other side.

    The fit itself had about 20 minutes of flexibility and strength evaluations (very important, especially if this is your first fit), a bunch of time on the bike, some high-power tests, playing around with saddle options, and some cleat adjustment.

    I think this is the best fit that I’ve had; the fit bike really makes a difference both in time efficiency but in coming up with a good absolute position and then fitting the bike to that rather than starting with a current bike and going the other way. If you have biomechanical issues, a PT fit like the Corpore Sano ones are probably a better choice because I think adjusting people is better done by a PT, but I have less of an issue with that.

    I was especially happy to find a saddle that I am really liking; I’ve had issues with saddles for a while, but the weird looking Power Expert feels better than any saddle I’ve tried, at least during the fit.

    It took about 2 hours from the start of the fit to when I rolled out the door, though that did include paying for the bike.

    Riding the new toy

    I needed an appropriate test for the new toy, and this is the route I came up with. Zoo Hill (classic route), the backside of Summit, and then the painfully steep West Sommerset climb. The bike was very composed during the climbing and was fine when I stood, and even when I rode slowly (when I deliberately got down to 2.9 MPH on West Sommerset, it was pretty floppy, but that’s an absurdly slow climb, and it was fine at 4MPH or above). I did a bunch of standing, and the FutureShock didn’t get in the way at all.

    There are only two caveats, both during the descents.

    The first is that the brakes are both very powerful and a tiny bit grabby; the first part is great, and I expect that as they bed in better and I get more used to them, this will get smoother. I also noticed that when you brake hard, your upper body tends to be propelled forwards, which doesn’t happen for me on rim brakes.

    The second caveat is that these are decently light wheels and the rims do not have any weight devoted to a braking surface, so there is less weight at the rims/tires than the light wheels I have on my Madone, so the bike is very nimble and responsive at speed. This is actually my preference, but it is a bit of a surprise when you hit that first 35 MPH descent and need to maneuver.

    The FutureShock in the front steering tube is quite impressive. It doesn’t seem to affect the handling at all, and while you can make it compress when standing to climb or sprint, it doesn’t do that normally. It just takes a bit of the edge off of the bumps that you are hitting. It comes with two lighter springs than the one is installed; when I get a chance I’m going to try one of them.

    The expert also features the CG-R  – where “CG” stands for “COBL GOBL” (Cobble Gobbler) – seatpost, which has a fair bit of vertical compliance, and also softens the ride. And I think they’ve done something clever with the rest of the frame as well.

    It also has a very different set of bars – the Hover Expert Alloy Handlebars (HEAH?) – look like normal handlebars, but just outside of the center bars, they rise up 15mm (8.2 millifathoms), giving the rider slightly less of a reach.

    As far as the overall package goes, it has pretty much everything I wanted, and I didn’t give anything up, so yea!

    DI2

    DI2 Ultegra is just like a great version of mechanical Ultegra. It shifts great, and does neat things like trimming the front derailleur automatically so the chain doesn’t rub. And it can shift all the way up or down with a single lever press (well, button press and hold, actually). My bike has the version where the battery lives in the seatpost, so unless you look very closely, you can’t really see the system.

    I had assumed that DI2 was a fairly simple system, but that is not true. Each of the separate components has a microcontroller, and the components communicate each other using the CAN bus protocol.

    Yes, my new bike has a network. The same kind of network your car has.

    The cool part about this approach is that all of the components just plug together, and it’s possible to add auxiliary shifters to your top tube or to aero bars if you want them there. You can also send the data to some Garmin Edge computers, which you can use to record gear usage. If that seems useful to you.

    All of this is controlled by the very confusingly named “E Tube Project” application. With this, you can update the firmware on your components, and change things like the shift speed, which buttons do what, or even turn on synchro shift, which AFAICT lets you shift as if you had a single shifter rather than two shifters, with the system shifting both front and back automatically if necessary.

    Charging is done over USB using the programming cable; it plugs into a little junction box under the bars, which also has a battery indicator.

    Weight

    The weight is supposedly something like 18.5 pounds, though it was a bit heavier when we put it on the scales at Edge and Spoke. Part of that weight was the SWAT system:

    SWAT (Storage Water Air Tools) is a label specialized is using for some of their accessories, and one of them is the SWAT Box. It attaches in the bottom of the triangle of the frame (using two extra water-bottle mount screws), and is a system that is supposed to be able to hold:

    • A spare tube
    • A multi-tool
    • An inflator
    • A valve extender
    • A money clip (?)

    It also has room for a spare tube and a CO2 inflator.  That is what you get if you buy the $90 version from Specialized.

    To keep costs down, the one that ships with the Roubaix comes with a spare tube. And – as I discovered when I took it out, the spare tube is not a tube that would work on the Roubaix, as it’s far too big and it weighed in at a honking 120grams.

    If you have a black bike and the thing holds what you need – here’s a video of how it works – then I guess it’s okay. But on a non-black bike it looks ugly, and it doesn’t hold my wallet and keys, and at 165 grams empty it’s heavier than the 140 gram Topeak tail wedge that I use.

    Wheels

    The bike ships with DT Swiss R470 db wheels, which you will never forget because of the huge labels on the sides of the wheels. A few minutes with a heat gun and a can of “goo gone” fixed that issue. While I had the wheels and tires off, I did some weighing, and here’s what I got (disc and cassette weights are from the net):

    Front: 802 grams + 95 grams for the disc = 897 grams

    Rear:  936 grams + 95 grams for the disc + 292 for the cassette (11/32) = 1323 grams

    The wheels are decently light, and as I noted, there isn’t a lot of weight down at the rim. The only big downside I see is the profile; it’s not very aero for a bike in this price range.

     

     

    Footnote: The answer to the question, “How many bikes should one own?” is “<N+1>:, where N is the current number of bikes that one currently owns.


    DORMAR–the route + rider notes

    Redmond Cycling Club has put on their popular RAMROD ride – Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day – for many years. It’s a great ride, but over the past decade has become increasingly difficult to get into, as the number of riders who want to do it is vastly greater than the number allowed by the National Park Service.

    DORMAR – RAMROD backwards – is an alternative for those who didn’t get into RAMROD. It is a non-organized ride; there will be a route and (probably) a specific date and time, but there is no support.

    Very tentative ride description:

    Here’s the current tentative route.



    Segment 1: Enumclaw to park entrance, 32 miles, 2450′


    The route starts climbing immediately, though it’s not that steep in most places. At about 18 miles we ride through Greenwater, but the stores will not be open early in the morning. Note that you will need to travel 51 miles and climb 4475′ before you get to water, so you will want at least two full bottles for this section. Luckily, the early hour will keep the temps low. Make sure your blinking rear light is on for this section.



    Segment 2: Cayuse Pass, 19 miles, 2025′


    After a couple of miles of gentle climbing, the road kicks up and it’s 6 miles of climbing to the top of Cayuse pass. At the top, highway 410 continues to the left and starts Chinook pass; we want to turn to the right and head towards Packwood.


    After this turn, we descend down the south side of Cayuse pass. The first 8 miles are fairly steep and then it flattens out a bit. On the descent at 51 miles, we turn right towards Paradise and Longmire. This is the Stevens Canyon entrance to the park, and we need to stop and pay the ($10?) fee to enter and show our rear blinky lights. After the entrance, we pull over in the “Grove of the Patriarchs” parking lot to fill our water bottles and take a nature break. I recommend trying to drink half a bottle while you are here because the next water is way, way up from here.

    Segment 3: Backbone Ridge + Paradise, 21 miles, 4085′


    This one is going to hurt.

    We first head up Backbone ridge, a 6 mile climb that takes us up 1250′. A quick descent, and we are quickly on the main pitch up to Paradise. The first 10 miles takes us up 2250′, past Reflection Lake (stop and take a picture, as this is probably the best view of the ride) and on to Inspiration Point – the high point of RAMROD. At that point we turn right towards Paradise and continue to climb the last 615′ up to the visitor center.

    Here we will stop for snacks, water, and a bit of rest. We have climbed 9000′ in the last 75 miles, and we have 1600′ of climbing in the next 75 miles.

    Segment 4: Paradise to Eatonville, 44 miles, 567′

    There is a small bit of climbing on this section, but it is countered by the 5180′ of elevation loss, so it’s downhill, downhill, and then more downhill. We head straight out of the Paradise parking lot and take the valley road. This winds around and joins the main road back at Inspiration point. Turn right towards Longmire, and start our descent. At 74.6 miles, there’s the Longmire store if you need supplies.

    At 104 miles we hit Elbe, and keep on the main road. At 108 miles, we turn to the right towards Eatonville.

    When we hit Eatonville, we turn right on Washington, and a watch for Cottage Bakery on the left, pretty close to 116 miles. This is the “Deli Stop” on this ride.

    Segment 5: Eatonville to Enumclaw, 35 miles, 1179′

    The last segment starts by continuing on Washington Avenue out of town, and then turning right on Orville Road East. This is a small sign and easy to miss.

    The route takes us by Ohop lake and Lake Kapowsin, and at about 126 miles we hit a stop sign. There is a Texaco station and a grocery if you are in need of supplies. Turn right to stay on Orville Road East.

    Eventually, we hit another stop sign at 135 miles, and turn right on Pioneer Way East. We can take this all the way into South Prairie, OR, at around mile 136, start looking for a trail that parallels the highway on the left, and get on it going in the same direction. This will take us 5 miles into South Prairie. Arnold’s Grocery is a nice place to food up.

    A few more turns and a few more miles, and we are back to the start.



    Advanced Garage Lighting

    I’ve had a project floating around in my head for a number of years…

    We have a two-car garage with a nice white door that faces the street. I would like to use it as a canvas for something more interesting. My first thought was to build/buy/adapt a laser projector, and while I think that would be a fun project, it would unfortunately involve aiming laser light back towards the garage, which isn’t really the safest thing in the world. I’d also need to put the projector out in the rain someplace, so despite the whole “pew pew” lasers thing, I shelved it.

    I’d also considered using some addressable LEDs, but for the first ones were pretty pricey, and I hadn’t figured out how I wanted to control them.

    Recently, the project jelled (gelled?), and here’s the plan:

    • A 5 meter (2.73 fathom) strip of addressable WS2812 RGB LEDs, with 60 LEDs/meter so a total of 300 individual LEDs. This will be mounted under the front eave of the garage facing down and back towards the house. I chose these because they are the cheapest decent addressable LEDs available and they are fairly ubiquitous, which means you can find libraries to drive them for most microcontrollers. Which is good, because they have strange timing requirements.

    • A 20 Amp 5 Volt power supply. At full brightness each LED takes about 60 mA, and 0.06 * 300 = 18, which give me a bit of headroom. That’s about 90 watts to the LEDs, and these are pretty efficient, so yeah, that’s a lot of light. I had considered going with the strips that have 144 LEDs/meter, but they are a lot pricier and those would require 0.06 * 144 * 5 = 44 amps of power, which makes it less like a lighting project and more like a welding one.

    • A ESP8266 wireless microcontroller. These are really hard to beat; you get a microcontroller with a decent number of inputs and a full 802.11 wireless stack; it can function either as a wireless client that hooks up to your house system, or it can function as a hotspot on its own. And it’s cheap. I went with the Adafruit Huzzah because it comes on a nice board that can be driven by 5 volts, and because Adafruit doesn’t sell cheap stuff that breaks. And it’s still less than $10. Oh, and it uses the Arduino IDE.

    • A light sensor, so that I can use this as general lighting during the night. Sensor TBD.

    • A passive infrared sensor, so I can ramp the LEDs up to full brightness when somebody shows up. Sensor TBD.

    The hardware part is straightforward; it will just be a matter of getting all the parts and hooking them up. I haven’t settled on my mounting approach for the strip, but I think it will probably be 3/4″ electrical conduit, as it is very straight, very rigid, cheap, and has decent ways to mount it to walls. That also lets me twist it around to adjust the light.

    As for the software, that gets a little more interesting. The ESP will serve up a web page where you can choose your lighting scheme (all on, specific colors, a rainbox effect, etc.), and I’m planning on coding that directly in HTML since I didn’t like any of the libraries that I found. For the LEDs, I’m taking a different approach.

    The existing libraries are written to run on Arduinos, which have very little memory, so you need to be very small and optimal. That leads to code that looks like this:


    // Input a value 0 to 255 to get a color value.
    // The colours are a transition r – g – b – back to r.
    static uint32_t Wheel(Adafruit_NeoPixel& strip, byte WheelPos) {
       WheelPos = 255 – WheelPos;
       if(WheelPos < 85) {
         return strip.Color(255 – WheelPos * 3, 0, WheelPos * 3);
       }
       if(WheelPos < 170) {
         WheelPos -= 85;
         return strip.Color(0, WheelPos * 3, 255 – WheelPos * 3);
       }
       WheelPos -= 170;
       return strip.Color(WheelPos * 3, 255 – WheelPos * 3, 0);
    }


    static void Rainbow(Adafruit_NeoPixel& strip, uint8_t wait) {
       uint16_t i, j;


      for(j=0; j<256; j++) {
         for(i=0; i<strip.numPixels(); i++) {
           strip.setPixelColor(i, Wheel(strip, (i+j) & 255));
         }
         strip.show();
         delay(wait);
       }

    Honestly, that is just awful; the animation is written right at the metal, and this approach doesn’t integrate well into the ESP because the web server can’t handle any requests while we are stuck in one of these loops. Luckily, the ESP has a lot more memory than the Arduino, and I can afford to spend that on some much-needed software abstractions. So, using the skills I apply at work when I’m writing C# I asked myself, “Self, what sort of library would I build if I had a bit of memory to spare?”. And this is what I came up with:

    A Chunk is a series of RGB pixels that acts as a pixel source. Let’s assume that it has three pixels and is set to “Red Green Blue”.

    A Mapper knows how to map a chunk onto the RGB strip. It is pretty simple; it just does the following:

    for (int i = 0; I < strip.numPixels(); i++)
    {
        strip.setPixel(i, chunk.getNextPixel);
    }

    The Mapper maps the chunk onto the strip until the end of the strip, so if our strip had 9 pixels, it would end up with “Red Green Blue Red Green Blue Red Green Blue”.

    That gives me a simple static mapping, but chunk has one more feature; you can set the offset at which it will start sourcing pixels. So, if I write something like:

    for (int offset = 0; offset < chunk.numPixels(); offset++)
    {
        chunk.setOffset(offset);
        mapper.renderAndShow(chunk);
    }

    That gives me a chaser feature; every time through the loop, the chunk shifts one spot to the right, and the chunk wraps around.

    I can also use this with chunks that are larger than the strip, and animate the offset back and forth to control the portion of the chunk that is shown.

    The Blender class is used to create a chunk that blends two colors together; pass it the first color, the second color, and the number of steps for the blend, and it generates a chunk that implements the blend.

    The following code generates a 180-pixel blend across 6 colors:

    RGBColor red(255, 0, 0);
    RGBColor yellow(255, 255, 0);
    RGBColor green(0, 255, 0);
    RGBColor cyan(0, 255, 255);
    RGBColor blue(0, 0, 255);
    RGBColor magenta(255, 0, 255);


    Blender blender(180);
    blender.addBlend(red, yellow, 30);
    blender.addBlend(yellow, green, 30);
    blender.addBlend(green, cyan, 30);
    blender.addBlend(cyan, blue, 30);
    blender.addBlend(blue, magenta, 30);
    blender.addBlend(magenta, red, 30);


    pChunk = blender.getChunk();

    It is much much much easier to understand than the code I started with, and very easy to modify.

    And finally, there is an Animator class that makes it easy to drive all of these from the loop() method. Give it a minimum and maximum offset, how often to modify the offset (so you can do slow animations), and the increment to add to the offset, and then just call run() every loop and it will handle the animation for you.

    I’m pretty pleased with the current implementation, but it’s not quite good enough to easily implement a Larson Scanner, which is a definite requirement. I think I can do it with two chunks that are a lot bigger than the strip, but it would be inefficient. Perhaps if the chunks were sparse, with blank spaces at each end.




    Trigger Point Massage for the win

    As is true for most of us who are on the far side of the half-century mark, I have a number of what my mother referred to as “aches and pains”. For reasons that I hope will become clear shortly, here’s a short list:

    1. I get shoulder and neck pain when I ride my bike, especially on long rides
    2. I get this weird pain just above my butt when I ride, especially on hilly or very hilly rides
    3. There’s this weird cramp I get under my left shoulder blade when I try to bench press
    4. If I drive in rush hour traffic, I get pain on the front side of my shin just above the ankle from lifting up my toes.

    I’ve spent a fair bit of time in PT for the first two and gotten some relief (and some overall improvement in other areas), but the issues never really got fixed. I’ve done a fair bit of foam rolling and some ball massage as well, but still not fixed.

    A few months ago, I came across a recommendation on Reddit for someone with weird back pain. It was for a book:

    image

    So, I ponied up the $17, it showed up a few days later, and I started reading.

    In the introduction, the big new thing that I learned was trigger points can be referred, which means that the point where we feel the pain may not be the cause of the pain. You can massage the hell out of the painful spot and not make any progress.

    This wasn’t that much of a surprise, as I already knew about referred pain in other contexts; appendicitis pain can show up on the wrong side or even in the shoulder. But I hadn’t thought about it related to muscle pain.

    The introduction is followed by a 15 second on treatment guidelines; different ways of doing massage and what you need to be careful about.

    The second half of the book is organized into chapters for specific areas of the body. Since I was most interested in the lower back pain, I turned to Chapter 8 – Midback, Low Back, and Buttock pain.

    For the lower back, it lists a bunch of muscles; gluteus medius, psoas, deep spinal muscles, etc. I’m not really excited about working through all 9 of them.

    The next page has a list of symptom; does it hurt when you cough, when you swim, when you turn over in bed, and my personal favorite, “Forced to Crawl on All Fours”. “Climbing stupid steep hills on your bike” is not listed, so I turn to the next page, which is titled, “Pain Illustrations Guide”.

    On this page there are drawings for each of the muscles, showing where there trigger points are typically located, and then an accompanying drawing showing where referred pain can show up. This is very nice and easy-to-understand approach.  I do a quick search, and I come up with this:


    image

    I dig out a lacrosse ball, find a wall, and start rolling around to see if I can find the trigger point. And – what do you know – the upper trigger point hurts when I roll over it (the book uses the term “exquisitely painful”, which I think is a nice phrase) *and* it refers pain to my lower back, to pretty much the exact spot where my back has been hurting.

    I flip to page 199, to the section titled “Quadratus Lumborum”. Each muscle section has an introduction has some simple anatomical information; where the muscle is, what it does, etc. Then there is a section on Symptoms, which talks about where the pain can show up and what movements are most likely to make it appear, what other maladies might cause the same symptoms, and whether there are more likely muscles for a specific pain.

    Next comes “Causes”, which talks about injuries or other conditions that might lead to trigger points. In this case, I find that QL trigger points may show up if gluteal muscles are stiff or weak, and Eric knows that he had poor gluteal activation from previous trips to the PT (I think I’ve mostly fixed that).

    And finally, there’s a “Treatment” section, which tells you how to find the muscle and how you might find the trigger points. And it tells you want to do for treatment; in this case it’s rolling with a ball or using a Thera Cane, which I already happen to own. For some muscles, it will give cautions about reasons to be careful. It might also tell you that you should work on a different muscle first because they are related.

    There is a ton of detail about each muscle, and I think that’s what makes the book worthwhile.

    So, I start rolling those trigger points with a massage ball on a mostly faithful basis, and after a few weeks, the pain is pretty much gone. Last year I dropped out of Sufferin’ Summits because the pain was too much; this summer I rode both Sufferin’ Summits and Passport to Pain without lower back pain, which is a significant improvement.

    I should note that I’m not sure that there is less pain in the short term, because trigger points can be very painful when massaged. If you’ve ever had a deep tissue massage, it’s that sort of feeling, but since you are doing it yourself I think it’s easier to regulate the pressure to be tolerable. On the other hand, as a cyclist, I spend a lot of time in self-inflicted pain so I’m not sure you should trust my opinion.

    I’ve been working on some of my other issues as well. The shin pain when driving fit the Tibialis Anterior referred pain diagram, and holy cow, did the trigger points there hurt. The luckily seemed to resolve pretty well.

    I’ve had less luck with the neck/head issues; they have been going on for a lot longer and from I can tell there are approximately 357 different muscles that I need to work on.

    So, highly recommended. Just be aware that it’s going to take some study and it’s not going to be comfortable.



    Sufferin’ Summits 2016

    One of the downsides with being a ride leader is that whatever course your come up with, it’s your own fault. As I pull myself up some of the hills we ride in the evenings, I think to myself, “Who chose this route? Oh, yeah, it’s my fault”

    This is the second year of Sufferin’ Summits, and I am fully responsible for the existence of this deliberately stupid ride. The premise of the ride is simple; stuff as much climbing into the smallest number of miles.

    Last year I had to drop out after climb #5 because of some back issues, and I decided to resolve that by going to the PT in preparation for this year’s ride. And that is exactly what I was thinking the morning of the ride; going to the PT is an *excellent* idea. I should get on that. I did spend a fair bit of time rolling my back, doing exercises, doing stretching, and riding a lot of ugly hills, so I felt – well, “prepared” is probably the wrong term, so let’s say, “less unprepared”.

    And I felt reasonably confident. Until I saw this:

    image

    The forecast was for the low 90s, which is pretty hot around these parts. I shifted the unofficial ride start time from 9AM to 8AM, and decided to just deal with the heat. I am no stranger to suffering on the bike in the heat – RAMROD 2009 comes to mind – but because reasons, never seem to do much training in the heat which is about the only thing you can do to suffer less.

    Anyway, I got up at 6AM, had breakfast, got dressed, slathered sunscreen on, and headed out. Got there about 7:30, pulled out the bike, and got ready.

    “Do a lot more promotion for the ride” was right after “make sure to go to the PT” on my list of things to do, so I’m really not expecting that many people, and I expect that a few will be scared off by the heat.

    We end up with about 8 people when we pull out at 8:03, heading over to climb up Grand Ridge, the first of the 8 climbs we will be doing. Two of them had already done climbs 2 and 3 because they couldn’t find the first climb.

    On reading that last sentence, I feel that I should make it clear that “two of them” refers to cyclists, not to hills.

    So, anyway, we roll through the cool and quiet Issaquah streets, making our way to the start of the first climb and talking about the chances that we will feel cold the rest of the ride (the consensus prediction is 0% chance). My legs are a little tired on the first bit but not too bad and my back is a little sore, but also not too bad. Grand Ridge is a climb I really like; it’s not too steep (say, 15% at the worst, and that’s not too long of a section), and at the top it has some really nice views, though the houses they are building are cutting many of the views off. It’s also a cool 1017′ of elevation gain. I feel pretty good on the way up but am trying to moderate my effort as I know what is coming up later in the ride. We descend back down into the highlands, and then back down into Issaquah, making our way to our second climb.

    The Squak Mountain climb is next on the agenda, and here we establish the usual pattern; I start the climb on the front and the rest of the riders slowly pull away from me as we climb. The climb doesn’t feel too long, which is a good indication that my fitness is decent. A look at my stats for the ride shows that I PR’d the climb, doing it about a minute faster (5%) faster than my previous best. Either an indication of fitness or an indication of me pushing a bit too hard this early in the ride. I actually get a bit cold on the descent as my sweat dries.  The climb is actually about 976′, but I’m going to round up and call it the second 1000′ climb of the day.

    At the bottom, we stop at the ball field for water and a nature break. I’ve done through one bottle of water; I mix another and try to pre-hydrate a bit. After telling myself not to forget, I forget to wet down my sunsleeves (like arm warmers, but white) to keep cool.

    Next up is a little development called Talus. Our route features a nice little climb that few people know about; in looking the Strava stats, I note that 48 people are in the list, but looking at the dates, well over half of those are from the two years of Sufferin’ Summits. The climb starts out brutally hard; 18-19% or so, curves around, moderates a little, and then turns into a little one-lane road through the woods. Near the top they are putting in some new houses, so we have to dismount and walk our bikes through the gravel, and then take a nice 20% connector between houses to continue to the top. Might be a bit steeper than that at the top; I get that “I’m not sure I can keep climbing without falling over” feeling. After the top of the first climb, we head over to do a small climb to the south, where we are tantalizingly blocked from the new upper section of the development by a chain link fence. Talus clocks in at around 550′; with any luck the upper section will be done by next year and we’ll be able to add a chunk to this section.

    A descent and a short spin takes us to the base of Cougar Mountain, which has been a benchmark to separate the truly stupid for decades. While “have you done STP?” is by far the most common question non-cyclists will ask; if you are a serious cyclist, one of your riding buddies will eventually ask if you have done “the Zoo”. Which is why it shows nearly 2000 unique people on Strava. Once we get under the canopy, it’s fairly cool, and I spend some time talking with Jeanne as we climb up. Zoo is quite pleasant if you have the legs for it and are willing to take it easy. Instead of heading straight on the traditional climb, we head down to the next development to a particularly nasty connector section of 18-19%. As the group slowly rides away from me, I start tacking back and forth across the hill; I have the leg strength to ride straight up but I’m pretty sure I’ll need it later, and going back and forth chops the grade down to maybe 14% or so. This section is notable not only for how steep it is, but for how long it goes on; the first pitch is a full 250′, which is a long time at these gradients. At the bottom of the second section, I briefly chat with a group of women out for a walk, and they congratulate me. I’m not really quite sure why; perhaps they believe that anybody who is stupid enough to ride up that particular hill clearly has more than his share of problems in life and would therefore benefit from some extra encouragement. Seems like a decent theory to me.

    At the top we connect with the traditional Zoo climb, and then hit the top in three separate climbs – Zoo top, Pinnacles, and Belvedere – each of which nets us another 250′ of hard-won altitude, and bringing up the total of this segment to 2030′. I am climbing okay, but the heat is getting pretty bad by now, and my heart rate is higher than I would expect for a given power output, which is a decent sign I am getting dehydrated. Up Belvedere, I average 200 watts riding 5 MPH with my heart rate averaging about 150, where 150 would normally net me something closer to 225 or even 250 watts. I drink as much as I can stomach and keep riding.

    We descend a bit, do a short and easy climb up to the park for a rest break. I have cleverly arranged for my wife to run a food stop for us, and we snack on brownie bites, cinnamon rolls, and cheez-its, get cooled off a bit, do our best to rehydrate, and then head back out.

    This next section is something special. And not in a good way; this first climb features the steepest section of the ride (measured at 23%), it faces directly south, and it’s 11:20 so it’s been baking in the sun so it is pretty hot. There is a steep section, a slightly easier section, and then it just gets nasty. I spend 11.5 minutes suffering up this 494′ climb, and I’m really unhappy, but this is not unexpected as this is the worst climb of the ride.

    At the top – as usual – the group is waiting for me, and at this point I realize that although they are climbing faster than me – and working harder – they are also spending a few minutes in the shade resting, while I just keep riding. I carefully spray a bit of precious water onto my arms, my back, and my head, and find that it’s quite hot; somewhere between “hot tub” and “lobster boil”.

    We do a smaller and not-quite-as-steep section to the east, and then finally climb up the Summit development which is just a twice-baked sufferfest at this point. I am dripping and crusty and dehydrated, but we hit the summit, hop the wall at the emergency gate, and descend to the north to a gas station, where I purchase the Coke Zero and half-gallon of water that has been calling my name for the 10 miles.

    I buy a coke zero and a big chunk of water, and we all get out of the sun for a while. Everybody is looking a bit tired and hot, and is happy for the rest. We spend a full 20 minutes there and then head out for the next chunk, first descending all the way down next to Lake Sammamish.

    This climb is another one I like when I take my usual route, but the route I’ve chosen for the ride features another really nasty steep part, nicely named “ay mamacita” by an unknown cyclist. I climb it slowly but the combination of a large infusion of liquid and wetting myself down at the stop makes it fairly tolerable, but as we go to the next section of the climb, my clothes dry out and the air is totally still; it feels much worse than the the Summit section we just climbed on the south side. I’m still trying to drink at a reasonable rate because I know I need to stay hydrated but my stomach is starting to rebel a bit, in the “I think I might need to pull off the side of the road and make a deposit” sense. Eventually, we arrive back near the gate that takes us into the development; I call a 5 minute break so that I can get my friend Mike out of the sun for a bit because he is not looking very good. It was a purely selfless gesture and had nothing to do with my desire to hop the fence of the summit clubhouse nearby and “accidentally” fall into the pool.

    We descend down on Forest Drive and turn right to start climbing the Highlands. Luckily, this is three small climbs with a chance to recover in between; unluckily, it’s a single lane so you mostly have to go straight up. I turn off into the flat side streets for a small bit of rest before heading back up. I reach the crest and Jeanne is on the side of the road, confused because her GPS is trying to tell her to skip part of the course. We regroup, do one short climb to the top of Somerset (but not the real top), at which point I tell her of my plan.

    My plan is to pull off in the shade on one side of the road and see if I can get myself cooled off a bit before I decide what to do next. And so I sit down for 5 minutes, stand up, grab a drink of water, and start riding down to do the last hill. On the way down, I cool down a bit and start to feel a bit more nauseous, and I continue to feel that way as I roll along the flat for the last climb. It would seem that I have made a tactical mistake, and a few alternate routes back flash through my head, but I decide to press on. I hit the first pitch and am surprised to discover that if I tack back and forth and ride really easy on the tacking parts and faster on the turns – averaging about 150 watts – I actually feel better than I did on the descent.  Weird. I keep this up on the other pitches, and after about 15 minutes, I get to the easier part, work my way to the north, and then head up a short bit back up to near the top.

    And it’s time keep riding. There’s a voice in my head that says, “that wasn’t that bad; you can do the top bit here and then the two last hills”, a second voice that says, “did you *see* how slow you were riding on that last section? I was surprised that you didn’t fall over”, and a third voice that says, “Recalculating… You can return to your start point with 6 miles of descending and approximately 0 miles of climbing”.

    I listen to the third voice, and it’s actually a good thing I do because I feel sick on the descent again, but manage to keep focused and riding. At a construction zone right before the end, the rest of the group catches up with me, and we ride to the finish together. The car claims it’s 102 when I get in; after a bit of driving it sheepishly corrects that to only 95 degrees, but whatever the actual temp, it was really, really hot.

    So, that’s the ride. I’m going to declare victory and say that I finished the ride and that those last little bits didn’t really matter. I had the legs to keep climb up them, at least.

    And onto the stats.

    55.9 miles of riding in 5:34:54, for a blazing 10 MPH average, just 0.1 MPH less than last year when it was cloudy and about 25 degrees cooler. 8213′ of climbing. And, for all of that – a measly 2891 calories burnt. My climbing was at just a hair over 700 meters per hour (155 acres per jereboam in “freedom units”), which is decent.

    Strava activity is here.








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