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Still Mad about You…

I recently came across a podcast where Paul Riser talked about “Mad About You”, and the obvious question popped into my head.

Would Mad About You hold up?

My beautiful bride and I enjoyed watching it considerably when we it was first on and we were in the first decade (roughly) of our marriage. But I’ve learned to approach things that I’ve liked in the past with care. Sometimes they hold up pretty well, but other times – for various reasons – they don’t hold up at all. Sometimes the memory is much better than the reality.

So, I dusted off the my search engine and found a few episodes to watch. Which gave me enough evidence to approach the wife, and we ended up watching all 7 seasons (on Starz through Amazon, which is the only place we could find it except for some really crappy quality episodes on Youtube).

And the result?

It holds up surprisingly well. Well enough that we were both sad when we finished the last season. Mad About You uniquely captures what it’s like to be in a couple; the way that the two of you are the sum of your strengths, the amount of work it takes to keep that kind of relationship going, and how things can get difficult despite both people trying their best.

And how your partner can simultaneous be somebody you can’t imagine living without and the most annoying person that you know.

There are some issues with the show; the other characters necessarily need to bring conflict in and sometimes are annoying and not all of the story lines are great – especially the cameos that feature notable actors. But they are mostly very good, and to this married-for-a-long-time guy, much of it rings true. And the humor is good.

*Highly* recommended.













Firepit rolling base

A quick little project that I knocked out in a couple of hours today…

My wife an I own a Solo Stove Bonfire. And yes, it does work every bit as well as they say.

The problem is the somewhat fickle Seattle weather; we might have a fire and then the firepit would sit outside and get rained on. It’s stainless so it’s supposed to not corrode, but there are a still a few issues. The obvious thing is to put it under cover when you are done, but it’s really really hot and I’m quite lazy.

A few days ago, I came up with a plan. I will start with the Solo Stove:

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My original plan was to buy some angle iron to make a frame, but walking around I found an alternative material:

Four pinball legs that I got with the World Cup Soccer ‘94 that I bought last fall, since replaced with pretty new ones. These legs were just waiting to head to the dump.

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and four leftover casters from my Glowforge table project. I didn’t take a picture of them.

Leg modifications

The legs need to be converted from their current form into something more like angle iron. The first step is to cut off the feet. Out comes the 4” angle grinder, on goes the accessory handle and a 4” metal cutting disk, and the feet are cut off.

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The process is repeated at the other end to cut off the mounting holes. The length is based upon the diameter of the solo stove, which is 19.25”. After a few minutes of cutting and a lot of sparks, we end up with the following:

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Next, I need mounting holes in the corner that the casters can go through. The fluted design of the legs made this a significant pain in the ass, even with a drill press. Here’s the first hole drilled with a 1/8” bit IIRC; I would enlarge it with a 2/8” bit on the way to a 3/8” bit. The drill press is a huge help in this sort of work.

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Next it is time to do the layout so I can mark the holes where the metal pieces will overlap and connect:

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This is really not precision work, though I will note that I realigned this corner because the two pieces should be symmetrical:

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Then, it was back to drill 12 more holes (three pass x four pieces), and then it was time for assembly, in which our caters finally make an appearance:

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Tighten up all of the nuts, and we have a frame:

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I had toyed with the idea of painting a stainless steel color, but I’m cheap and lazy, so it’s like this for now.

Beauty shot of the Solo Stove sitting in its new frame:

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Total cost was $2.09 for a new metal cutting blade and about $2.00 for 8 nuts, 4 flat washers, and 4 lockwashers.



Building the Globe of Fire (Dodecahedral Light Engine)…

This guide will describe how to build the Globe of fire. You will need the right tools and good soldering skills to build it successfully.

Please read through the entire guide before you start assembly.

The kit comes with the following parts:

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  • 12 polygonal face circuit boards, each with 3 WS2812 LEDs already mounted (you will only use 11 of these)
  • 1 bottom face with a big hole in it
  • Connecting wire that will be used to connect power and a control signal to the globe.
  • 4 assembly jibs to hold the polygonal faces at the proper angle
  • 1 1/4″ bolt and nut to serve as a base
  • 1 stand to hold the completed globe up
  • Approximately 60 tiny half-circle wires, used to connect the polygonal faces together.

11 pentagonal faces with WS2812 (aka “neopixel”) LEDs already soldered on. There is an additional face without LEDs with a hole for mounting the DLE.

To build the kit, you will need the following tools:

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A good soldering iron with a fine tip.

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Fine tipped tweezers.

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A third hand. Assembly will be very hard if you can’t hold the pieces in places while soldering.

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Solder

Assembly

The globe consists of two rings composed of 5 faces each plus a top and a bottom. We will be joining together the power (VCC) and ground connections so that the LEDs all get power and ground. In addition, we will be connecting the data output from one face (DOUT) to the data input of one adjacent face so that the signals will travel correctly to all of the faces.

It will likely take a couple of hours of soldering to complete the assembly.

If you would like a refresher on how WS2812 LEDs work, there’s a good discussion on StackExchange here.

Building a ring

The tiny half-circle wires are very tiny and easily lost. Put them in something to keep them together. If you lose some, they are made out of 22 gauge solid copper wire.

Five of the pentagonal faces are used to build a ring.

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Every face of the pentagon has identical connections so the orientation of an individual face is not important.

The alignment clamps are used to hold the boards together at the correct angle (116 degrees):

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Note that the two boards are parallel and there is only a small space between them. Also note that the left and right boards are aligned horizontally; the two VCC holes are aligned with each other.

Here are two wrong ways to do it:

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In the left one, the two boards are misaligned vertically; the two VCC holes are not aligned horizontally. In the right one, the boards edges are not parallel.

The board alignment doesn’t have to be perfect, but it helps to have them pretty close.

In some orientations, the alignment clamps may contact the LEDs. If this happens, don’t push that clamp on fully; it will still work if near the edge of the board:

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For the faces in the ring, we will connect both VCC and GND, and then we will connect the data output from the left face (DOUT) to the data input (DIN) on the right face. We will start with VCC.

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We will be using a connection wire to make the connection. I have tried a few different ways of doing this, and the following is what I recommend:

  1. Add solder to the hole on one side of the connection (the right side in these pictures). Add enough so that there is a ball of solder protruding above the board.
  2. Hold the connecting wire in the middle and place one end of the wire in the hole without solder, and hold the other end against the hole with solder in it.
  3. Touch the soldering iron against the end with solder and lightly press the wire into the solder. It will melt and the wire will sink into the solder. Remove the iron, and hold the wire in position until the solder solidifies.
  4. Solder the other end normally. It works best if you get the solder in position and only apply the soldering iron only long enough to melt the solder. If you apply it too long, you will melt the other end and may have to resolder both.
  5. Verify that both solder joints are shiny and have enough solder. If the joints aren’t shiny, heat one at a time until it just goes liquid.

It’s going to take a little time to get the hang of this. Don’t worry, you will get faster.

After the VCC is connected, connect one of the GNDs to one of the others. It doesn’t matter which one you choose.

After VCC and GND are soldered, remove the assembly jigs so that you can solder DIN and DOUT. This will carry the data signal from the DOUT face into the DIN face.

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In this detail, the right side (DIN) has been soldered, and left side is in the DOUT hole. The next step is to solder the DOUT end.

If the second end takes too long to solder, it may heat up the first end and the connecting wire may come loose. If that happens, just hold the wire to one end and heat it and wait for the heat to conduct down to the other end and melt the solder there.

That’s one face connected. There are a lot more, but it will get easier with practice.

We next add a third face using the same approach. It looks like this:

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Once we have three faces, assemble two more faces together. We will assemble the three and two face pieces to make a full ring. 

Make the ring

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Use the alignment clamps to hook the three-face section to the two-face section, and solder one set of connections between the two section and three section.

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The last set of connections is different. Note that only the GND and VCC parts are connected; the data lines are unconnected. This is so that data can come into the ring and go out of it.

Looking at the input face, we notice that there is a connection to DOUT but not to DIN; for this face, the data will come in from a face that is not on this ring and then head out the left side of the face.

Looking at the output face, we notice that there is a connection to DIN for the data that has travelled around the ring, but no connection to DOUT. The data coming into the right face will head out of the ring to another face, either the top or a ring that will be attached below.

Adding the top

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We need to add wires to the top so it doesn’t fall through the middle of the ring, and each side will connect either VCC or GND. Start by adding solder to three VCC faces and two GND faces (one arrangement is shown above, but it doesn’t have to look exactly like this).

We need to prepare one connector on each side of the board with solder; either GND or VCC. Do three faces with VCC and two with GND.

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To keep the top face from falling through, we need to put connections on it ahead of time. Note that each of these touches the surface; that will give us roughly the angle we need.

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The top face is just sitting there. Check that all the connections align properly with the connections from the ring. Solder all the VCC and GND connections to the ring. You may need to heat the already soldered wires to get them to align correctly with the holes on the ring.

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Next, we need to make the data connection from the ring to the top. Find the face on the ring that does not have a connection to DOUT (the output face in the previous picture), and make a connection from the DOUT on that face to the DIN connection on the top face.

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Finally, we find that face that has a DOUT connection but no DIN connections. This is the face that will connect across to the other ring. I have marked the two DIN connections with marker so we can find them later; ONE of these will be connected to the other ring.

If you have a controller than can drive these LEDs, it’s a good idea to test what you have built so far. Connect VCC to 5 volts, GND to ground, and DIN to your microcontroller, and run a program that can drive 33 LEDs. They should all light up. If they don’t, examine your solder connections and make sure that you don’t have DOUT/DIN connected all the way around the ring.

Building the second ring

The second ring is built using the same method as the first one. Do not add a top piece. 

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This is the bottom ring and is actually upside down at this point. Eventually, we will need to make power, ground, and data connections for the whole globe. They are marked in blue on this face. Why did we choose this face? It’s the only one on the ring that has a DOUT connection but no DIN connection.

It’s a good idea to test this ring at this time.

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This is the output face of the second ring. I have put marks on the two DOUT connections; one of them will hook up to the input face on the other ring.

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Put the first ring and the second one together, making sure to align the rings so the face that has DOUT marked on the bottom ring is aligned with the DIN that is marked on the upper ring. Tape the two rings together. Connect those two pins together, then attach the top and bottom by connect VCC between three faces and GND between the other two.

At this point, the LED part of the globe is complete. Hook it up to your controller and verify that all of the faces light up. It should look like this (hand not included):

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Attaching the base

The base is purely used for mechanical support; the connections that are made do not carry electricity.

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We will use the special bottom pentagon; it has a hole in the middle and no other connections. Attach 5 wires to it on the GND connections, and make sure that you use a variety of GND connections.

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Find the spot on the bottom ring where you will attach the wires – you should have marked it before. Rotate the bottom until one of the grounds lines up with the gap between the grounds on the wire-attachment face, as shown in the above picture.

Do not solder the bottom on yet.

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Take the 1/4 screw and put in through the bottom face from the backside, and then put a nut on the outside face. You will want to tighten this out pretty well so that it doesn’t come loose.

And then solder the wires to hold the bottom on.

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Next, solder on the wires; red to VCC, black to GND, and purple to VIN.

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Finally, screw the base onto the 1/4 bolt, and you’re done.

Hook it up, and it should look something like this:

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If you’d like a more diffused look, you can put an acrylic plastic globe over it

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Both of these pictures are with full lights on and with the globe powered by an underpowered USB source.



Workshop finishing update

I’ve done a fair bit of work to update the workshop, but have been terrible at taking pictures. So, here’s the current state:

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There’s a pretty new window in the bottom picture to bring some natural light into the space. The walls are all insulated with Roxul rock wool, which was a significant pain in the ass because the long wall has studs 12” on center and it doesn’t come in those widths, so I had to take 23” batts and split them. Ick. There are three new boxes for outlets, but the circuits aren’t hooked up yet. The wall is 1/2” CDX plywood, chosen because I want to have a wall I can hang things on.

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Here is a pretty picture with the wall painted white to make the whole room lighter.

Up next will be doing the electrical, moving the cabinets back, and working on the rest of the room.



Workshop finishing

My house is a little weird. The street is the high point of the property, and it slopes away toward the house and into the backyard, so I have a daylight basement in the back.

I also have a very rare commodity. I have a room underneath my two-car garage. The back half is full height, and then the front slopes up to driveway level.

The front half has some nice shelves that are used for storage, and the back has some old kitchen cabinets, yard tools, and some junk. The room is uninsulated and has no windows…

I have an office in the basement where my computer and my electronics workbench is, along with my 3d printer. That works great for those items, but when I bought a Glowforge, I didn’t want to have inside the house because of fumes. So, the logical place was to have it under the garage.

And since it’s winter, I’ve been freezing my butt off (in Washington state terms) whenever I need to cut things, and the Glowforge does have a lower temp limit.

So, it’s time to finish the space out. It’s going to get a window in the side wall, Roxul insulation in the walls, and CDX plywood on the walls. It *might* get roxul in the ceiling as well if it’s still too cold, and I’ve also considered a thermal blanket to separate the front section from the back if it turns out I spend a lot of time there.

Here’s the starting point:

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Snowflake PCBs…

The PCBs showed up very quickly. Here are front and back pictures of them.

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They look pretty nice and have holes in all the right places. Because of the design, I need to cut them apart by hand.

I used my Dremel osciallating multi-tool, but frankly I think the normal Dremel would be a better choice.

That gave me a pile of parts:

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Next, it was time to assemble the pieces. If everything was exactly sized, all the parts should have fit together perfectly. As it was, I had a few protrusions to file down and then I needed to file most of the pieces to get them to fit together. Took about half an hour.

And then, the first view of the snowflake board assembled.

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The *plan* was that there would be copper right to the edges of the boards, and then they could just be soldered together.

What the fab *did* was pull the copper back from the edge by a little bit, so there was a gap between each of the pads that I needed to solder together. The power and ground pads are pretty big, and I could easily bridge them with a bit of bare copper wire.

The signal lines were another matter. The pads are much smaller, and with the copper lost by the fab, I just had a hairline of pad to solder to. I ended up using very fine wires to bridge the gap, putting the super-fine tip on my Hakko, and very carefully soldering the wires on. It was pretty exacting work, but it got easier over time.

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The design was perfect except for a missing via that leaves a broken connection to the Vcc line. I fixed it with a short bit of red insulated wire.

I ordered a new hot air rework station so that I can reflow the WS2812 LEDs onto the PCBs, and I’m going to use that to solder all the little jumper wires that way.

While I wait for the new tools to show up, I’m going to write some code.


Bicycle Adventures Gulf Islands Tour–August 2017

This tour starts in Victoria, but first we had to get from our house to Victoria. Transportation from Seattle to Victoria on the Clipper was included, but the 7:30 AM departure meant we had a 6:30 AM arrival time and an even earlier meeting time. Since Bicycle Adventure is headquartered a couple of miles from where we live, we headed there first and they graciously took us to Seattle to make our logistics easier.

Us == me, my wife Kim, and my daughter Samantha.

Except the early hour, the trip up was uneventful; at 30 knots, the Clipper is nice and fast and all of our luggage and our two bikes arrived in great shape. Our hotel was an easy walk from the ferry dock, and we stashed our bikes and luggage at the hotel and had a quick lunch of wraps in a nice shaded spot under the trees. We got to know our guide, Noe, and the other two cyclists on the trip, Percy (not his real name) and Grace (not her real name).

Most of the guided rides we have done have been on the larger side – 12-25 people – and have had three guides. This one was planned with two guides, but due to logistical problems (many guides head back to other jobs in September), we only had one guide. It was a little weird only having six people total, but we knew about it ahead of time, so it was fine.

That afternoon, those using the BA bikes got fitted out and we went for a short ride; just a quick out-and-back on one of Victoria’s many bike trails. This helps those who have not been on a bike recently get their legs back and for the guide to get a better idea of what the group is like.

The ride was 14.8 miles and 334′ of up; a nice warmup after a lot of sitting on the clipper.

Dinner that night was in the restaurant in the hotel – Aura.

Pork 2 ways
ash glazed loin, 18hour sous-vide belly, pommes bouchon, charred onion, cauliflower, sea buckthorn gastrique

The tenderloin was small and quite overdone and the pork belly was underseasoned. I don’t get why you would use sous-vide on pork belly; the whole point of sous-vide is not to overcook your protein and the pork belly is all fat and benefits from higher heat. I think they got the cooking methods backwards.

Not horrible for $24 Canadian, but this continues a trend that I’ve noticed; restaurants attached to hotels tend to be a bit disappointing. That, and trendy cuisine is mostly wasted on me; after a ride I’m looking for something a little more substantial.

Day 2 – The Butchart Gardens

Breakfast this morning was eggs and bacon, and then we packed up and headed out on the ride. This ride has two legs; there is a trip from Victoria to Butchart Gardens, and then a trip from the Gardens to the ferry near Sidney.

The first leg of the trip took us along the waterfront and then up the east side of Vancouver island, and was very picturesque. BA has just started using Wahoo Element Bolts for guest navigation, and that meant we mostly didn’t have to refer to paper instructions for printed maps during the week, which was nice. We stopped at a Starbucks – of course – for a break:

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At that point Percy and Grace decided to van to lunch and IIRC Samantha went with them, and Kim and I kept riding. Eventually we made it to the gardens, and although we ended up having to recruit most of the staff to find the van, find them we did.

I had visited the gardens in my youth, and remembered them as very big, but apparently we just went very slow, as Kim and I went through the majority of the areas in about 45 minutes. Many of the flowers were unnaturally large; Kim guessed excellent care and lots of fertilizer and I guessed cobalt radiation, but overall the effect is very nice. Here’s a taste of what we saw (this is the “sunken garden” section).

That clump in the middle has a little viewpoint that you can climb up into, thereby reenacting the rebel lookout scene from Return of the Jedi.

At least that’s what I told Kim it looked like when we were walking by it. Let’s compare:

As you can see, a perfect match; delta differences in foliage, the height of the lookout, and the number of X-Wing fighters.

Now I know why Kim was shaking her head.

Anyway, we headed back to the van and had a nice lunch of salad and shredded chicken in the shade under the trees. Then it was time to mount up and head towards the ferry. Samantha, Percy, and Grace chose the shorter and less hilly “direct route”, and Kim and I chose the longer and more scenic route. It was nice for the first 5 miles or so, and then Kim started getting cramps in her quads.

I have a tic-tac box of electrolyte pills that I carry that were perfect for this, but I had cleverly left them in my luggage as this was a short ride for me. Kim was fine on the flats and descents, but on the steeper ups she would walk and I would push the bikes up. This gave us a bit of anxiety because we had a ferry we needed to catch – we weren’t in danger of missing it yet but it was getting tighter. At one point I saw a “Ferry” sign, pulled out the detailed map I had, and figured out we could take the direct route to get there. Oh, and we managed to reset our Wahoos to use the direct route, quite the feat when you have old person eyesight like we do.  A quick stop at a store to get Kim some salt-laden cheetos and both of us a Coke Zero, and we made it to the ferry without incident. Only to find our ferry was late, so we grabbed dinner at Stone House Pub, a pub sited in a stone house. Hence the name. I had the Stonehouse burger with cheese, bacon, and mushrooms, and a side salad. Yum.

The ride ended up with 43 miles and 2411′ of up. Despite the cramps, Kim puts in a really nice effort for the distance and amount of up.

We catch the ferry to Galliano island, where we stay in the Galliano Oceanfront Inn and Spa. It was a nicely updated but kind of older and funky place, which is at least wheelhouse-adjacent for me. Except for lighting that was never updated after the energy crisis of the 1970s (ie “dark”), it was nice place, and we had a little patio that faced the water.

Day 3 – Mayne Island

After two eggs and bacon for breakfast – you probably sense a pattern here – we grab a ferry to Mayne Island, which is a small island. We van up the first hill, and then start riding around the island. Before the first mile is done, we hit a nice 19% hill, which sets a pattern for the rest of the week. If you’ve ridden the San Juans, the Gulf island roads are both hillier and steeper. My climbing legs are fine and I overall feel good – and I know today is going to be less than 20 miles – so I spend some time working on sprinting and waiting. The morning I’m riding with the wife and offspring, so I climb and wait, and sometimes double a hill. We descend back down to the water on the East side of the island, and pull into the Bennett Bay Bistro for lunch. I have the Santa Fe salad, which is pretty good.

We climb back out for our ride to the ferry; I wait after the first hill and tell the wife I’m going to do an optional section. I ride off and immediately miss the turn to the optional section, so I just ride the rest of the route down to the ferry and the climb back up from the ferry to find the group. Percy and Grace pass me on the downhill, and after I start to head back up the hill I hit the wife and offspring. Offspring turns off towards the ferry, and I redo a little loop with the wife.

The ride ends up with 17.1 miles and 1991′ of up. Anything over 100′ per mile is pretty hilly, and though I missed the optional part – which was only about 3 miles long – I did a nice hard ride. We ferry back to Galliano.

Dinner is at the Atrevida – which Google translate tells me means “cheeky” in Spanish – restaurant where we are staying. I order the Goat Cheese Wild Mushroom stuffed chicken breast.

Cheeky it is, for when my plate shows up, it is a breast with a small thigh attached to it, and it can’t weigh more than 4 ounces. There is a tiny amount of stuffing, and as far as I can tell, no goat cheese at all. The wife takes pity on me and gives me a piece of her rack of lamb, which is nicely done. I go back to the room and snack on the bag of nuts that I brought along, because I’m still hungry. I’m now 2 out of 2 for disappointing hotel food.

Day 4 – Galliano Island

Today we are going to ride around Galliano Island. I decide that two eggs isn’t enough so I order 4 eggs and ham, and gladly eat the 4 eggs and bacon that show up. They’re nicely done, so I’m fine with it.

My plan today is to ride solo in the morning and take it from there. I’m going to do the long spine and then an optional section and maybe a quick out-and-back before our lunch at lover’s leap.

The first climb is over pretty quick; I feel a bit heavy in the stomach from the big breakfast but that settles down and I start making time. I hit a turnoff down to the water and head down and the crappy road gets crappier and crappier, deteriorating into totally torn up pavement at the bottom. I take a picture at the bottom, and then head back up the crappy road and back onto the route.

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Very soon, I turn right onto the optional section which resolves into a steep climb; the Garmin says 13-15%, and that’s pretty much what it feels like. It then settles down into a generally down but sawtooth profile, and after about 3 miles of that:

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I can fit the bike under it, so it obviously doesn’t mean me. Another mile or so, and I come to a signed private drive. While I’m generally adventurous (not really, but that’s what I tell myself), ignoring that sort of sign in a foreign country seems like the wrong thing to do. I don’t think organized group rides should involve that sort of thing.

I ride back and hit the main route where the van is waiting and Percy and Grace (still not their real names) have just arrived. My family has turned down the turnoff to the water I did earlier, so I head back to find them.

I blow by the turn, ride for 5 minutes, stop, pull out my map, ride some more, and finally get about halfway back to the end before I figure it out. I turn around and time-trail my way in the correct direction, and get to lunch about 10 minutes after my family pulls in. Lunch is wraps (again), so I eat the filling of a couple of wraps, drink a caffeine free diet pepsi (ie brown flavored water), and rest while the rest of the group watches a pod of orca go by, trailed by an assortment of whale-watching boats.

The family gears up and heads to the northeast end of the island. We drop the offspring at the van on the way back, and then head out on the last 13 miles with the wife. Kim does well until we descend to Montagne Harbor and need to climb back up; there’s a steep hill (say, >17%) that climbs up about 300′. I scout ahead while Kim walks, and then I return to tell her that it’s not that far, and pretty soon we are at the Hummingbird Inn to load the bikes up and have a snack before the ride back to the ferry. I have the traditional post-ride snack; a diet coke with a side order of cole slaw.

Given my extra bit of riding, I end up with 50.7 miles and a significant 4745′ of up for the day. 

Because it’s past labor day (many restaurants have closed) and we have a tight timeline to hit the ferry, we get dinner from an Indonesian/German food truck on the ferry dock. I play it safe and have a decent hamburger. We get the ferry and head over to Pender Island, where we are staying at Poet’s Cove Resort & Spa, “where inspiration lives”, along with a bunch of people with really nice boats. Apparently the poetry gig is paying better than I thought. The rooms are nice and we have a view of the bay, and they also feature sliding doors that lets you sit in the bathtub and look out at the bay.

Which is fine in concept, but they decided to use doors with slats that face down and frosted glass in the shower area, which means that you can’t use the bathroom in the middle of the night without lighting up the whole room.

Things like that really bother the designer in me.

Day 6 – Pender Island “make a choice” day

I like time on my bike more than most people, but after 4 days of riding, I’m ready for a day off the bike, and today is the day. Today’s breakfast features a custom omelette with a lot of veggies, and since omelette was small I add a plate from the buffet with some more eggs, some bacon, and 12 blueberries. We van over to the harbour to Pender Island Kayak Adventures, and spend a really nice three hours paddling with a great guide; definitely a nice and relaxing experience. I also learn that paddleboards are called “SUP” in Canada; I had previously refrained from asking, “What’s SUP?” to my companions with great difficulty.

Lunch is at the Port Browning Marina. Service is a little slow but I really like my steak salad, except for all of the tortilla chips that I forget to ask them to leave off. We van back and have the afternoon to ourselves; I gaze longingly at my bed and decide instead to head to the fitness center for a light workout and then a soak in the hot tub.

Dinner that night is it Syrens Bistro & Lounge in the resort. We get a place on the terrace, and I order an artisan green salad and the sockeye salmon.

I feel compelled at this point to engage in a brief exposition on the proper cooking of salmon.

The proper way to cook Sockeye is to heat it so that it is barely set on the interior, just enough so that the interior texture is no longer raw. It is delicious.

Before you accuse me of stacking the deck by ordering the salmon, I do not expect the Sockeye to be cooked properly. What I expect to get is what I call “tourist cooked”, which is the way that you cook salmon if you are serving it to tourists who might not like their salmon to be “raw”. Instead of just set on the interior, it’s cooked so that the interior is obviously done. If you think of it as the “medium” of steak, you’re pretty close. The texture suffers, but it’s okay.

What I get is the salmon equivalent of a well done steak, way past tourist. I do applaud their consistency; our guide has salmon that is cooked the same way. I really should send it back, but I eat it anyway. About 10 minutes after that, my salad shows up.

So, that’s a perfect 3 out of 3 in poor dining experiences at the places we stayed at, a pretty strong confirmation of my theory (p = 0.05).

Day 7 – Pender Exploration

Our last day dawns a bit wet, and it’s still misty outside.

I have my very predictable omelette/eggs/bacon breakfast, though I think “what the hell?”, it’s vacation, and go “outside the box” and have pineapple instead of blueberries.

The original plan is to bike a little, do a hike and eat lunch and the top, and then bike to the ferry. But the road are a bit too wet to ride, so the Gunnersons van up to hike. We start turn off at the eponymous Mount Norman Access Road, and start the hike.

It turns out it’s really more of a climb than a hike; with a lot of steep. After maybe 25 minutes and 600′ of elevation gain, we top out, walk to the observation platform, and take in the beautiful view at the top of Mount Norman (do you think the other mountains make fun of him?):

Or we would have done that, if it weren’t a foggy day. What we did instead was look out at a vast sea of whiteness, watching for the short periods of time where trees or water were vaguely visible.

But it was still a nice hike. We returned to the resort for a quick lunch, and then it is back on the road. Kim and I are the only cyclists for the day. One side trip takes us to a view, another takes us to a park that we are unable to locate, and we roll off of South Pender Island onto North Pender Island, and hit a killer hill.

Which makes me happy.

I haven’t mentioned it earlier, but Kim and Samantha have really been excellent sports on what has been a trip with a lot of steep hills, and not just steep in the 10% range, but steep in the 13-15% range, with a few steeper.

This is a honest 20% climb, but short, and we are soon rolling into the village center, where the van has just arrived. I drink a coke zero while the others snack on more carb-laden fare (okay, I had two pieces of gluten free peanut butter brownies, which were pretty much like eating peanut-flavored sugar cubes), and we headed out for the last little ride to our destination:

The Otter Bay ferry terminal.

We get there about ten minutes before the van shows up, and then the bikes go in the trailer and we get in line.

The ride for today is another short one; 16.4 miles with 1427′ of up.

I’ve been meaning to mention the ferries; the BC ferries run some very tiny boats, and then the run some big new boats.

That clamshell in the front is raised up for loading, and the lowered down for the trip. That allows them to operate ferries in much rougher weather than we see in Puget Sound. In the middle of the entrance, you can see a raised part sticking up.

The ramps lead down to the second car deck which is underneath the main one. Load it up, close the ramps, and the lower car deck is totally enclosed. A neat design. All the exterior doors on the passenger decks are heavy and power operated so they can seal tight.

The ferry ride takes us to Tsawassen, and we overnight in a hotel near the airport. In the morning, we leave at 6AM to van back to Redmond. Our border crossing takes two minutes; I am grateful that it is short but wonder what our border agent was thinking letting a van and a totally enclosed trailer through so quickly.

Totals:

Miles: 142
Up: 10,933′

Overall, it was a nice vacation. I liked the rides but the ferry logistics can be a bit tedious at times as you have to get to a specific place at a specific time, and I would have liked more bike time – or at least more options – on a couple of days. Our guide was great.


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.

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.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This reputation is somewhat diluted by two things:

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

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

<aside>

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

</aside>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strava here.


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