Eric vs. the Blend Door

About 10 days ago I was heading down to my Tue/Thu night ride in my truck. It was about 75 degrees out, so I turned down the heat on my Ranger, but it didn’t work – I was stuck on hot, which is pretty darn hot. I had to go on Max AC to get it tolerable.

After a bit of research, I found that the problem was likely to be the mix door. Ford uses a potentiometer to detect the position of the dial in the dash, and then a microcontroller sends the door to the proper position. It’s a fairly elegant design, except that the code self-detects the limits of the door by moving the door and sensing that it slows down. That would be fine, except that the shaft on the door is plastic, and it’s not up to the torque of the actuator, so it breaks. And then, if you want to fix it, you have to pull the whole dash apart to get to it.

This is so common that there are companies that specialize in aftermarket replacements. I bought mine from, and put it in yesterday. It’s a very elegant hack. You take out the actuator, cut the bottom out of the duct with a dremel, vandalize the door so it will come out, and clean out all the shavings. The new door fits in and then you pull a pin so that the spring-loaded shaft seats in the pivot, put the actuator back on, verify that things work, and then close things up with some foil tape.

It would be easy to do if the part of the duct you have to cut wasn’t facing down right up to the firewall. As it was, I had to fall back on my car stereo installation skilz and lie backwards on the seat with my head under the dash.

About 2 hours later, it was done.

Outdoor Lighting Project

I have a lighting issue at my ski place that I need to solve.

If the weather’s good, we just drive up, unlock the gate (in the car’s headlight), and wait for the motion detector lights to kick on.

If there’s a little bit of snow – say, 3″ or so – the Outback handles it fine, and I get out the snowblowblower and clean off the driveway. Except once I get about 50′ away from the house, I can’t see anything any more, and snowblowing in the dark isn’t a lot of fun.

If there’s more snow, we can’t get into the driveway, and have to park out in front, unload in the dark, and then walk across the meadow and through the woods to the house. In the dark.

Seems like we need some lights.

The first choice is whether to go with line voltage or low voltage. Really simple in this case – I need to get the power to two locations about 150′ from the house, and I need to get the lights up into the air. That means a whole lot of trenching through the woods and putting up poles to attach the lights to. Or, it’s running some zip cord through the woods and then mounting some lights up in the trees. So, we’re going the low voltage route.

Which has some problems of it’s own. One of resistance.

The transformer for the system will mount in the house, and that means about 150′ of wire to each of two remote locations. Let’s say we buy 12 gauge wire, just to make it easy. We have 300′ of wire total, and if we look up the resistance, we find that it’s 1.588 ohms/1000 ft, putting us right about 0.5 ohms for the 300′ of wire.

That doesn’t seem like a lot of resistance, so let’s look at some numbers. If we want to run two 20 Watt lights, that will take 40 / 12 = 3.3 amps, so we’ll lose 0.5 * 3.3 or 1.6 volts. With 12 volts running into the run at the start, that means we have 10.4 volts into the lights. If they’re halogen lights, they don’t like that – halogens require full voltage or their lives are reduced considerably. If we bump up to 2 50 watt lights, it’s much worse – we’re pulling 8 amps and losing a full 4 volts in the wire.

The professional low voltage transformers have taps at higher voltages, so we’d hook up the 14 volt tap for the 20W lights, and the 16 volt tap for 50W lights. Unfortunately, the pro transformers are fair bit more expensive than the ones I’d like to buy. Another option would be to go with thicker wire 10 gauge only has about 2/3 of the resistance, but it’s also half again as much copper, so it’s a lot pricier.

As an alternative, let’s consider a system with LED bulbs instead of halogen ones. You can now find 3-5W LED MR16 lamps that in the $20 range, producing the same amount of light as a 20W (ish) halogen. It’s about 5 times more efficient, which means that if you put two of those out, you are only pulling 1 amp, and you only lose 0.5 V. I can probably step down to a smaller wire gauge with the right transformer.

Not sure which way I’m going to go yet. But I do have the control system designed. That’s up next…


Ths is blog #3 for me.

There’s my work blog, which over the years has had lots of non-work stuff on it, but I’ve been writing less work-related stuff there and don’t want to overwhelm it with other stuff.

There’s RiderX, my bicycle blog.

And now there’s this blog, which will have everything else on it.

RAMROD 2009 Ride Report

RAMROD is a yearly stage ride that is held in Washington state, involving a circumnavigation of the state’s highest peak, Mt. Rainier. It attracts a large variety of riders from throughout the state and other areas, drawn to the ride for its challenge and pain potential.

Two days before the ride, I get up and notice that my back is hurting, but it gets better as the day goes on. The day before, I wake up and it hurts more, so I head off to the gym to spend 15 minutes on the exercise bike and do a few stretches. This quite effective – by the time I get back to the locker room to take a shower, my lower right back is totally in spasm, and I can barely take my shoes off. A soak in the hot tub and the shower makes it a bit better, so I resolve to ignore it and hope it doesn’t cause problems.

On the day of the ride, I arise at 2:45, eat a bagel, get dressed (slathering on SPF 50 sunscreen), and grab my bag of stuff. It contains a bagel, 7 snack bags of accelerade (actually, my custom mix of 3/4 accelerade and 1/4 maltodextrin to increase the glucose content and reduce the sweetness a bit), a bag of salt pills and ibuprofen, and a couple of bottles (one water, one ‘ade). And 6 newtons, and some jerky. When I leave the house I glance at the thermometer, which reads 78 degrees, considerably cooler than yesterday’s high of 107.

The drive to Enumclaw is uneventful. I’m pretty tired and it’s pretty dark, but I find my way into Enumclaw and grope my way to the school. I park, get out, put my stuff on the bike, and put on my gear. Normally at this point, I’d be debating what to wear for the weather, but since it’s still in the mid 70’s, the choice is pretty simple. I stuff my pockets full of food, and ride towards the starting line.

I run into a few friends at my pit stop inside the very warm (“why are they heating the school?”) building, and head out. I generally ride by myself on hilly rides as the downside of riding with people who are faster than you is significant, and I believe in that area I have learned my lesson. I roll to the starting area, and make one final check.

It’s 147 miles back to Enumclaw. I have one bagel, half a bag of beef jerky, it’s dark, and I’m wearing sunglasses.

(If you don’t recognize the quote, please rectify the deficiency in your education before continuing)


 Stage 1: Enumclaw to Eatonville

Distance: 32 miles (about the distance from Anacortes to Coupeville)

I stop by the volunteers at the start line so they can pull off my start tag (so they know who’s on the course) and ride through. Down the road, then right onto the highway, then a quick left/right onto a side street.

At which point I’m alone – I can’t see anybody in front, and I can’t see anybody behind. Which is a bit weird, but it’s not possible for me to have gotten lost this early. It doesn’t last for very long, as I catch up with a few people and few people come by. I hook up with a small group for about 20 minutes, but I don’t want to push early i the morning, so I drop off the back and ride by myself. As I spin along, my only company is the beauteous scenery, my own thoughts, and 12,000 dual-trailer gravel trucks, the whine of their turbochargers spooling up bidding a happy “good morning” to all they pass.

A few minutes later I get passed by a group of 20 riders or so, including my nutcase (but in a good way) friend Joe, who says hi. He’s taking it easy today because he has a mountain bike race this weekend, and will still finish hours before I do. He’s only behind now because he wanted to wait until it was light to leave.

I slow down to ride next to a lone rider who I’ll call “Frank” (on account of forgetting his name), who is up from Portland to ride in his first Ramrod. We talk for a while, and then ride off ahead. At his pace, I think he’s in for a long hot day. My legs feel good and my back doesn’t hurt at all, so I’m doing better than expected.

About 10 minutes out of Eatonville I hear my name, and my friends Tristan and Alan come by with two other riders (Vladimir? Alphonso? Julie? – their names have vanished into a haze of exhaustion), and I break my rule (apparently, more of a guideline than a rule) and ride to the next stop with them. We get off the bikes, I refill my water and ‘ade bottles, and grab a small muffin (I’m trying to eat more on this ride), and we head back out.







31.5 miles

17.5 mph


981 kcal

Stage 2: Eatonville to Packwood

Distance: 46.1 miles (about the distance from Cheney to Davenport)

We start climbing immediately outside of Eatonville, on a couple of steep pitches that bump my heart rate up to the low 150s. I drop my cadence down to the 80s and my heart rate goes down a bit and things get easier (interestingly, 140 BPM at 80 RPM is a lot easier for me than 140BPM at 95 RPM) and I decide to stay with the group for a while. We pass some people up the hills, and then ease by a few groups on the flats. A quick stop for a “nature break” (just like on the tour!), and we roll into the Ashford food stop. I refill my ‘ade and water bottles and grab a big handfull of cheese-its (glad they have the underrated “its” rather than the thoroughly pedestrian “nips”), and say hello to my friend Bret, who is waiting in line.

We roll out, and almost immediately turn right onto Skate Creek road, amid many warnings from the volunteers about the rough road 11 miles in, and immediately start climbing again. The natural order of things is upset when I find myself riding either with Tristan (who weights in at about 28 pounds) or Alan (at around 25 pounds) and chatting comfortably (or, as the rest of the group will likely protest, excessively), or, even more surprisingly, riding off the front of the group because they aren’t going fast enough. At my size (6’2″ and 175 pounds), I don’t tend to be the first one up the hill, though the slope of this one is more in tune with my talents as it’s only in the 3-5% range, and being tall is less of a disadvantage if the slope is flatter. I’m apparently channeling Big ole’ George Hincapie. A bit.

In short, I’m having a great time. The conditions can only be described as “delightful” – it’s in the low 80s and the climb is nicely shaded. We top out the climb and start looking for the promised rough road on the descent. We find a lot of uneven road and small sinkholes that are fairly easily avoided (if you’re riding 25 rather than 40) and then we find out that the “rough road” is really “missing road” – there are sections where the entire road has been sliced out and replaced with gravel. The first few of these aren’t that bad – they’re only about 5-10′ long – but the last one is about 30′ long with a lot of loose gravel – an excess of fun on a road bike with 23mm tires on it. We all make it through fine, finish the descent, and as we roll into Packwood, we feel the heat – it’s somewhere in the 90s. Or 900s. One of those.

A quick nature break, and some ice in a ziploc bag with slits in it to go inside my underarmour on the back of my neck. A bottle of ‘ade and one of water, and another salt tablet (I’ve been taking one every 30 minutes), and we head out into the heat.







46.1 miles

17.1 mph


1933 kcal

  Stage 3: Packwood to Cayuse base

Distance: 7.1 miles (about the distance from Richland to Kennewick)

On paper, this looks like a pretty easy section, but it’s a lot harder than I expected. It’s a series of climbs followed by flatish sections, and I’m noticing the heat. They have officers and volunteers out to make sure we get from the right shoulder of the highway over to the left side, and they are batching up riders to do so. In front of us we see one rider overbalance to the right and only save it through a miracle leg move. When we get to this point, I’ve decide to make things interesting and stay in a middle gear, and nearly fall over when we need to ride across the road to rest stop. As does everybody else.

We drop our bikes, and get in line for food and ice. The wait here is probably 15 minutes, mostly because of the time to get ice socks. I skip the ice sock (for some stupid reason) and fill my ziplocs with ice for the front and back, and that helps a little. I try to eat, but the heat makes it difficult so I don’t each much. I do get two bottles of water.

I know the grade here is steeper and I won’t be riding with the rest of the group, so I roll out a little early.







7.1 miles

15.6 mph


327 kcal


 Stage 4: Cayuse Pass to Deli stop

Distance: 25 miles (about the distance from Renton to Tacoma)

Now, we’ve gotten to the meat of the ride. 17 miles of uphill, followed by 8 miles of downhill, followed by sandwiches and soft drinks.

The early part of the pass is a surprise – it’s (yet another) set of climbs and flatish parts, but it has reasonable amounts of shade, so I’m feeling okay. I do kick down to my granny gear on the front, and figure I’ll be in it all the way to the top. This continues for the first 9 miles of the climb, during which we climb about 800′.

Then something happens to the road. I don’t know if there were budgetary concerns or the upper pass was done by a different group than the lower pass, but at the 9 mile mark, some nameless highway engineer gets out his 7% grade ruler, and that’s what we will follow all the way to the top. Take a look at the profile and you’ll see what I mean. I settle into a pattern:

Each minute I turn the cranks over about 70 times, progress a tenth of a mile forward, and climb 170′. Just do that 80 times, and I’ll be at the top.

After about 10 minutes of this, I pass a waterfall on the side of the road, and see a rider climbing down to it. I get off the bike, climb down, and wet down my face, head, and body. The water tastes salty – not from dissolved minerals in it, but from the salt that is dissolving off my head as I rinse down. I get back on the bike, and then it’s back to my unhappy place as I progress upwards.

Every 15 minutes or so I pass somebody, and every 15 minutes or so somebody passes me, but generally all the riders are progressing at the same slow pace, a steady 6MPH.

Did I mention it’s hot? At the same time we hopped on the 7% treadmill, we lost most of our shade, and it’s above 90 (my guess is that it’s well above 90) at this point.

At just over 98 miles, I hit the water stop, which is good, because I’ve been riding 15 minutes without any water. It’s taken me 80 minutes to ride the last 13 miles and climb 2000′. As I’m waiting for the facilities, I run into Bret again, and give him some of the extra food that I have. We refill our bottles, and ride onward. The sign at the stop says “4.8 miles” to go, and we do it without any stops, except for the time we stop in a thin slice of shade for a couple of minutes, and the time we join a horde (perhaps 1.5 hordes) of riders on the opposite shoulder in a thin slice of shade about a mile from the top. I’m out of water with about 3 miles left. We finish the remaining 1000′ of the climb in around 40 minutes, get some water, and then scream (personally, I say “whee!”, though I don’t have much voice left because of heat and dryness) down the north side of the pass, dropping 2000′ in about 18 minutes.

We roll into the deli stop, and a volunteer hands me an icy Diet Coke (can’t drink the HFCS stuff when I’m riding) as we wait in line. One of the things that RAMROD does so well.

We are done, not in actuality, but done in the sense that there is no longer any doubt that we will finish. I get a ramrod special sandwich (meat/cheese/tomato/lettuce on whole wheat), and we grab a couple of camp chairs in the shade, and relax, at least as much as one can relax with a couple of hours of riding left.







25.7 miles

10.7 mph


1540 kcal


Stage 4B: Crystal Mountain

Distance: 12 miles (about the distance from Aberdeen to Montesano)

At this point, there is a “out-and-back” climb up to the base of Crystal Mountain ski area and back, a special section for the faster yet stupider riders who are unable to figure out what “RA” means. It’s like a snipe hunt – a sort of hazing thing. Even if the “out and back” part wasn’t enough, the fact that the pavement on Skate Creek is wonderful compared to the pavement on the crystal climb (and descent) should make the hazing part obvious. And yet many still do the climb…

As wily college graduates, we take a pass on this one. As we get ready to leave the deli stop, we run into Alan and Tristan who are down from climbing up Crystal Mountain. We don’t let them in on the joke and I resist the temptation to ask them to find me some elbow grease for my bike.

 Stage 5: Deli stop to done

Distance: 36 miles (about the distance from Ellensburg to Yakima)

This appears to be the easiest section of the ride – a steady downhill nearly all the way back, with a drop of 1900′ and only a few short climbs. But those who have ridden this in the past know that, almost without exception, there is a headwind the whole way down.

Today is an exception of the rule. We don’t have a headwind, we have a intense and hot headwind. Bret thinks the result is a bit like riding in a toaster oven, while I think it’s more like riding into a hair dryer, and we are unable to reach a consensus. We are riding by ourselves and we alternate on the front every 3 minutes. We’re going fairly slowly, in the hope that a paceline will pass us and we can hook up with them. We don’t find any pacelines, but we do pass a number of riders who are hurting units. One of them tries to draft us but drops off – I hope he makes it back okay.

Eventually, we come into Greenwater, and spend a while riding through the sprinkler that’s been set out for us, and I especially enjoy the way the sprinkler hits Bret right in the face. We skip the store and therefore don’t pick up any water. Which is a tactical error.

This takes us into my least favorite section of the ride. The headwinds are worse, and there are a few real climbs in this section as well. As we get into the meat of it, a paceline catches up with us. We do our turns on the front, and drop to the back to wheelsuck. The 4 guys at the front are pretty well organized but don’t understand the concept of “constant effort” (when you’re at the front of a paceline you should slow down a bit on the uphills so the group can stay together), so they keep breaking the group up. That makes our effort in the back higher than it should be, and the result is that we’re working harder in the group than we were by ourselves, so at the next break we just stay behind the group, along with another woman from the group. We trade off pulls and I go through the last of my water.

We finally get to the Mud mountain dam turnoff and fly down the descent (usually a bit cold, but today just a bit less hot), and then ride the last 4 miles back to the school, where we are greeted by well-wishers, have our tags pulled off, and partake in frozen confections (I have a orange/vanilla bar).







36.3 miles

19.1 MPH


1139 cal


Distance: 147 miles, about the distance from Chehalis to Yakima

I’m pretty happy about this – I hadn’t thought that I’d be up for that kind of speed on a ride as long and as hot as this one. The diluted ‘ade worked well as did the salt tablets, but I think I should have taken in more calories before the Cayuse climb (hard to remember to do so when it’s that hot). I’m not sorry that we did a different route, as my guess is that the climb up to Paradise would have been much hotter than the skate creek one.

Ramrod support is second to none – they have lots of volunteers, the food is good and has variety, and things are well-though-out. It’s also nice to be in a more hardcore group of riders, though being passed so much can be a bit hard on my ego at times.

I’m very happy about my condition. My legs felt strong the whole day, and my back didn’t hurt at all.

The overall amount of climbing has me scratching my head. Different ways of measuring elevation gain lead to vastly different results (livestrong was either 4500′ or 8000′ depending on what you look at), but most routes have traditionally been measured with the Polar watches because they were the first ones there. Even if I added in the 1600′ of crystal, I’d only be at 8000′ of climbing overall.

Our route substituted the skate creek climb (about 700′) and the base of cayuse (about 1000′) for paradise and steven’s canyon. That puts the base elevation gain at around 4700′ without the Paradise section, and if you add in the paradise climb (at 3150′) and stevens canyon (1000′) the total you get is only 8800′, which is a bit less than the advertised 10K. Not that I’m complaining, I just find it perplexing.

However, if you are thinking of doing RAMROD, the fact that you need to get into the lottery so early and do a bunch of training without knowing if you’ll be in the ride means that I think you shouldn’t try to do it. Better to leave it to those of us who are really interested in it.






Elapsed Time


147 miles

15.8 mph


6157 kcal


RAMROD preview

it’s Sunday night, with RAMROD looming on the horizon for Thursday. The dawn horizon, since the ride starts at 5AM. An hour to drive there and an hour to get ready means I need to get up at around 3 or so.

I’ve been assiduously applying myself to tapering for the last week or so. Did my last group ride last Tuesday, and then did an easy hour on Thursday and two easy hours this morning. My legs have been feeling better, and my resting (sitting) heart rate was 41-42 on Friday, pretty close to my historical low of around 39. I’ve been avoiding my granny ring since about April, and my legs are feeling strong than they have since – well, since ever.

All these factors imply that I’ll have no problem finishing easily on Thursday.

And yet, I feel more than a little apprehensive.

First of all, my record on long rides this year has been less than stellar. I’m having trouble with my nutrition in ways that I haven’t in the past.

Second, I’ve been having seat issues. Not that I’ve ever been really happy with any of the seats I’ve had, but I’ve been most happy with the Bontrager race lux. I have one on the bike that doesn’t have many miles, but I haven’t had the comfort on it that I’ve had in the past. Though, on the plus side, one I got beyond 3 hours in Livestrong I felt pretty good.

Third, the weather forecast is bad. Or good. Too good. I’d much rather have the cold and damp (well, torrential rain, really) from Livestrong than the 90+ degrees that is forecast for the ride.

So, I guess we’ll find out. Stay tuned…

TdF fashion show…

I am posting primarily to gloat that Comcast now carries Versus HD in my area, so I get to watch the tour in HD. The on-bike feeds aren’t great, but they’re a darn sight better than the rented-50-times VHS cassette quality that we got last year.

The off-bike feeds bring the quality and crispness that I’ve come to expect from good HD feeds. Beautiful sweeping shots of Monaco from the helicopter. But there are two unintended consequences of having the HD feed.

The first is that watching the race is a bit like a fashion show, as you can comment on what the team kits looks like. For example, the Euskatel kit actually looks intense orange, and the Lampre kit has this saturated magenta part. And the quick step kit is, well, a pretty boring blue and white, but it’s a vividly boring blue and white. We like the Lampre and the Garmin ones, though the “missing upper arms” on the Garmin kit is more than a bit disconcerting.

The second unintended consequence:

Bob Roll in HD.

Livestrong Seattle Century 2009…

T-35 hours

At this point, I think I’m ready. Or, as ready as I’m going to be…

There are two main philosophies that people use before a big event. Well, perhaps “philosophies” is a bit too grandiose of a word, so I think I’ll use the word “approaches” instead.

The first approach is to ignore the impending event and do whatever . From a psychological perspective, this may make a bit of sense, but from a physical perspective, doing a really hard 50 mile ride the day before a really hard century would seem to be an obvious thing to avoid, but I see it all the time.

The second approach is known as “tapering”. The goal is to reduce the amount of the training load to allow the body to recover while doing a tiny bit of fine-tuning to reach a finely-tuned edge at precisely the same time. It’s a time-proven technique that is used by top professionals all over the world. And it works, but really, you’re only training like 7 hours a week, and pretending that you’re getting ready for the Giro is a bit over-the-top.

I prefer a policy of benign neglect. Take some time off, let your legs stop aching when you walk up stairs, and do a few short rides to help things along. So, I haven’t been on the bike since last Saturday, and I only did about 30 miles then. I plan to go out for an hour tomorrow, and then make sure my bike and gear are ready.

The bad news is that it’s raining tonight, raining like it was June in Seattle. Everybody is acting as if this doesn’t happen ever single June in the Seattle area, but I am not really looking forward to riding in the rain. I’m thinking that I might put my race blades on my bike, which at least would help keep some of the rain off me. If its wet you can either get wet from the rain or you can wear something to keep the water out, and get wet from the sweat.

The other thing is a little souvenir that I picked up about 46 years ago, a nice case of the chicken pox that revisited this year like a long-lost cousin who shows up when your cool friends are over for dinner. It shows up as Shingles, and I felt a bit under the weather for a couple weeks this spring when I got them, but some rest and expensive meds fixed me up. Two days ago I started getting these weird numb/sensitive places across my torso that feel like I got a bad sunburn the day before. I’ve decided I’m just going to ignore it until after the ride.

Fundraising has been great – thanks to donations from people I work with, people I ride with, and blog readers, I hit $330 by last Wednesday, so, I put in $335 and Microsoft matched it, netting nice round $1000. Add in a late $100 donation on Friday, and my total is $1300 (as soon as the MS matches make it to the Livestrong folks…)

T-23 hours

I’ve been playing around with taking some time-lapse pictures from the bike – I mount my Canon Elph 850 IS on the front of the bike, and then use the CHDK firmware add-on to run a script that takes a picture every 3 seconds or so. Then, a bit of software from the Internets, and you end up with a time-lapse movie of the ride. I’m considering doing it for this ride, but I’ll need an extra battery and a bag for the camera if it rains.

T-10 hours

All checked-in, and my alarm is set for 4:45 in the morning, so I can get there in time to get our team picture taken. It’s not like I’m going to get much sleep tonight anyway, and they say it’s the amount of sleep that you got the night before that’s important, so I’m happy that I got to bed early. Except I didn’t. Drat.

T-some hours

(I’m writing this up home sick with the cold, so I apologize if it is up to my usual standards).

I wake up unhappy. Not just because of the hour, but because the hint of a cold that I felt last night has become a real cold. I eat breakfast, grab my keys and pre-mixed bottles out of the fridge (put the keys in the fridge and you don’t show up late because you forgot the bottles), phone and wallet from the cabinet (same reason), and get into the truck. A few drops speckle the windshield when I pull into the gas station, and then it’s on to the ATM, where the BoA machine eats my card. I take I-90 across the lake (520 is closed this weekend) and find a place to park a block or so from the Key. I’ve wearing my yellow Rails to Trails Gore jersey, arm and leg warmers, and my Fatty hat underneath the helmet. My pockets hold 5 snak-pak ziplocs full of accelerade (orange, because Performance Bikes seems unable to keep the far superior mountain berry flavor in stock), a ziploc of endurox for after, plus a couple of slices of good bread, which helps settle my stomach on big rides.

II mount the camera and make sure it’s set up. Trying to make movies from the pictures is a work in progress, as testing has mostly generated a few sharp pictures and lots of blurry ones, but at least I’ll have some pictures during the ride to keep (that was foreshadowing, in case you didn’t catch it…).

I roll past the ex-home of the Sonics, and find my way to the stating point. Since Team Fatty won the team competition, we all got to be in a separate spot in front of the rest of the century riders and right next to the stage. I don’t usually do rides that have group starts, and doing something important as part of the ride made it pretty emotional.

We sign the team banner (sorry for the other locations – my guess is there’s not going to be much space left for you), stand around, catch a few rays, and then finally we roll out.

About two blocks in, I see Per and Shanna – two ride leaders on the group ride I sometimes lead – next to their tandem that they will be riding as course marshals. We head south following the lead group (or, to be more correct, with the lead group visible in the hazy distance), and immediately miss the first turn, but I use my made belltown skilz and navigate us from 2nd back to 5th without incident.

Yellow light, but we’re not stopping. There’s a police officer waving us through. Turns out you can get from the Seattle Center to the stadiums pretty darn quickly on a bicycle if you don’t have to stop for lights. On the last descent, the lens of my blinky jumps off. That was a point of mention at least 5 times during the ride.


We head up the onramp onto the I-90 express lanes entrance and then head into the Mt. Baker tunnel. All the pavement here and across the bridge was really nice, and there was a lot of whooping and hollering to take advantage of the excellent acoustics.

In this section I get passed by a number of pacelines. If you have great fitness, then that’s a great thing to do, but I spend my time spinning along.

We exit off the freeway and onto Mercer Island. The Mercer loops is a really nice ride with a lot of swooping curves that I really like, and only a few steep climbs.

On the first steep climb I pass a guy riding a nice bike with a really low cadence – say 50 RPM or so. If you’re doing that on this climb, I think you’re the guy who brought a pillow to a knife fight (or, to be more cycling-specific, the guy who brought a 42 tooth chainring and 11-21 cassette for an minimum development of 52.6 gear inches to a hilly century).

We head around Mercer Island, and head south to the next stop at Newcastle beach park. I make a pit stop, remix more accelerade, and look over the food. Grapes, oranges, powerbars, cheesy (or perhaps “cheesish” is a better description) crackers, and peanut butter/jelly sandwiches.

I’m not really feeling very good at this point. I’ve had a low-grade headache the whole morning, and my legs hurt. I’m going to ride to the next stop, see how I feel, and then see if I need to revise my route choices.

Nothing notable happens on the trip over to tiger mountain. I pass a few people, get passed by a few more people. We have some nice gravel to ride through at some construction, and I think it’s bumpy enough that the camera switches off. I leave it off at the stop. The stop features (wait for it) the same food as the last one. I’d really like some variety on the food and particularly would like something salty rather than sweet, though I have been talking my salt tablets and my frequent trips to the porta-potties indicates that my sodium levels are fine. Forgive the details, but as a salty-sweater, it’s important to me.

I decide to climb tiger mountain, and see how I feel.

And surprisingly, I get on the climb, and I feel a little better. Not good, but better. I settle into the climb. The pavement is wet on the way up, and on the way down, there are EMTs helping out a rider who fell in one of the corners. The rider appears to be sitting up, which is generally a good sign. It’s downhill almost all the way to the next rest stop, which features the usual food. I’m having a hard time staying warm, and I’m debating whether to put my vest back on when it starts to drizzle and settles the question for everybody.

We head out through Issaquah to the second climb, Highlands drive. There’s a bike path off to the side of this road that I expected to use, but instead we have a lane to ourselves as we climb up. On the way up, I converse with a course marshal, and we try to decide who is more foolish – me for having paid to do this, or him for having volunteered. The question is unresolved when I ride off ahead. This climb is a step up from Tiger in steepness, but not as long.

Once again, I feel a little better on the climb than the flat. We descend back to East Lake Sammamish and head north on the drying road. I do a small amount of gentle pacelining here with another rider (thanks Sean (or Shawn (or Shaun))), and we end up collecting about 10 people. Just north of Inglewood we get passed by two triathletes (aero bars and seat bottle holders), who move in front and then ride 2MPH slower than we were leading the paceline. Side by side. If I felt better, I might attempt a bit of paceline education, but I just hang back.

5 minutes later, we’re at the next stop (which I should have been calling “Power-stops”, since they’re sponsored by power-bar. I understand that they sponsor the ride and Armstrong, but the classic powerbar is so 1983, and I don’t know many people who consider them edible, much less desirable), you have the choice of the usual. I eat a package of cheeseriffic crackers, refill my bottles, switch batteries on the camera, and catch these two fellows taking a break:

The next section is West Lake Sammamish. It’s the easiest way to get to the south end of the lake, but once you get into Bellevue, the pavement really, really sucks. So bad that I want to apologize to all the riders that go by. There are better ways with a bit more climbing, but this is the one we’re on, so I just let it suck.

With how I feel it’s really, really tempting to turn to the west and ride the 1/2 mile to my house, but the whole point of doing this is for the challenge, so I hang in there.

Eventually, we get to the base of the climb. Note the little arrow on the sign, which simply points up, ’cause that’s where you’re going. This first part is perhaps 10%, but then it flattens out a bit. Then…

you turn the corner and are greeted with this. That run-up section is around 8%, and the section where it kicks up is quite a bit more. Feels like 13-14% to me. I’m doing okay – my heart rate is in the low 140s, just above my lactic threshold, but I feel hungry.

That is bad. Exercise suppresses hunger, and my experience is that if I’m hungry on the bike I’m pretty close to bonking. But nothing to do but keep climbing, and note that my legs really, really hurt.

After the next corner I pass a guy – which takes forever when you’re only riding at 5MPH, and then come on this:

The front rider is a kid (10 years old, I’ll find out later) riding with his dad. His dad gives him a push now and then, but they make it to the top without stopping. That’s some serious chops for that age, and they’re doing the 70 mile ride.

Finally, the road turns to the right, and you hit the steepest section. If you are climbing at the limit, your brain isn’t getting enough oxygen, and you might see the purple tunnel that Elden has told me about. Or, you might see this:

I thought I heard something about “25 meters to the top”, but I think it was probably a hallucination. Not only is there another pitch left, but seriously, who in the US would say “meters“?

I briefly drop below 4MPH at this spot.

We top out the climb, descend 100′, and then have to earn it back again up Lakemont. I’m barely holding on, but I ride down the south descent (with a surprising “control speed” sign, not really an issue on this route), do the short climb, and then thankfully see this:

All the stops have had tons of volunteers, and here they clearly don’t have enough to do, since the 4 in the foreground are holding up bikes for riders who are taking a break. I politely decline, since I really need to sit down and I don’t want to leave somebody standing for 20 minutes while I rest.

I’m having food fatigue from the accelerade, so I get some trail mix, another packet of orange-filled crackers, and sit in the sun, stretch, and talk with other riders.

After a while, I feel much better. I turn the camera off because there’s really nothing to see on this section, and because there are reports of thunder.

We head off on the second half of my favorite climb, which takes us all the way to the north side of Kennydale hill. We cross 405, and it starts to drizzle, and the hills to the southwest look really hazy, so I put my vest back on, and put a bag over the camera.

And then it pours. My race blades keep the rain off my butt, but nothing is going to keep my feet dry, and I work my way south, accompanied by a rider wearing a jersey and shorts, a dripping wet jersey and shorts by this time. There’s a nice way to get around the Renton airport that has very little traffic and good pavement, but the course takes airport way, so named because most of the drivers attempt to achieve flight by driving really fast. I’d expected that they’d do something to help control traffic, but no, we have to ride the wet road with traffic whizzing by, and then do the same thing when we turn right on Rainier. So far, I’ve liked their routing, but this was a bad choice. Somewhere in this section there’s another stop (mostly for the 45-mile riders), but stopping in the rain isn’t my idea of fun.

We work our way northward, on wet roads but no more rain, and work our way up the Seward park climb, a really annoying one because you can’t get any useful velocity on the descent, and out onto the closed to traffic Lake Wa Blvd, which is something the city does now and then in the summer. We share the road with pretty much all levels of cyclists, from race teams to 3-year olds on trikes. I feel a little bit better on this section, as there’s not much of the ride left. I turn the camera back on.

A chance self-portait from the last PowerStop ™, where I dump the rest of my accelerade and refill that bottle with Endurox for after. I’ve learned that many rides don’t think to provide water at the end, so I’m planning ahead. Plus, I can’t stomach the stuff any more, but I do eat another packet of radioactive orange pseudo-cheese crackers.

And it’s on the road again…

At this point, the ride needs to route us up and over the hill to get back into downtown. The Cascade spawning cycle has a nice one that hooks around the northern part of the hill, and there are a few other ways to go. We head south, and here’s what we see:

That’s not one of the nice ways up, and the two riders in front of me have some coarse words for the organizers. We climb up that one, climb up another pitch, top out, and see this:

This little bit of Yesler is not on Seattle’s list of top 20 steepest streets, but one of the nearby ones is 19%, and I’d bet that this half-block is in that range. I’m standing in my low-low gear, and I barely make it up.

I don’t understand the point in this. Sure, it’s short enough that you can walk it if you need to, but I don’t see why you’d want to set people up for failure so close to the end of the ride.

We head west on Yesler, do some swoops and stop at a bunch of lights, and end up on a really steep descent south of the courthouse (another surprise), and then it’s riding to the south on 3rd avenue through Sunday traffic. There’s another turn in here that I miss along with 3 other riders (surprised that there are no volunteers in sight, since there have been so many at the easy turns), but we get back on track, and finally we’re done:

I drop my bike at the bike check, and head inside to get some food. They have pizza, burgers, salad, drinks and ice cream, all free for the riders. I sit with a few other Fatties and talk for a while.


  • 102 miles
  • 6:55:17 (pretty slow, but given my sickness and the difficulty of the ride, it’s okay)
  • 14.8 MPH
  • 4905 feet of climbing, according to my Polar (bigger than the 3900′ advertised, but I think it’s pretty accurate, and I’m sticking to that measure because it makes me feel better.
  • 4606 calories burned (probably only 4000, as my polar is a bit optimistic).
  • 52321 Heartbeats

Considering being sick and not eating enough, I think I did okay. The organization was pretty good overall, and I loved the closed streets and after-rider food (delta the coffee-flavored ice cream).


  • Better variety in food at the stops.
  • Bike racks at the stops. They had barricades rather than racks, which just don’t hold enough bikes to be useful. Call up cascade and see if you can borrow the ones they use.
  • Re-route the last 5 miles. Seriously. Neither the climb up Yesler or the descent down are good choices. If you don’t like the north route, you can easily come back through the I-90 bike tunnel.

There are a few more pictures that didn’t make it to the write-up here.

Livestrong 2009 Course Preview

[Update – I added an improved description of Montreux based on a ride I did today, and added some new options if you don’t want to do that climb.]

Since the bulk of the course – at least the century course – is right in my backyard, I thought I’d share my thoughts on what you’re in for. I’ve linked to climb descriptions from my site. Note that while the average gradients are pretty close, the maximum ones are a bit speculative.

But first, an introduction. I’m Eric Gunnerson (aka “Lo-Phat”).

I know Fatty from when he lived in this area and worked for a large software company. Back in 2005, we teamed up for “The Double-e half-hour of pain“. Fatty had – in his usual “mature” way – trash talked about how he was going to be the first to the top of the hill. I had little chance of beating him (I’m light for my size, but I *am* 6’2″), so I took the mature way out, and offered $20 to the first person up the hill that beat Elden. And then he complained about it, and called me “evil”.

Where were we? Something about a ride, right?

70 and 100 mile Routes

Before I start with the description, I’d like to note that these are nicely designed rides. I would describe them as “pretty hilly”.

The ride starts at the Seattle Center, and spends a couple of miles winding through downtown towards the two stadiums, at that point, you reach the first hill – the climb up on the I-90 express lanes. I’ve never ridden it, but it looks like it’s about 150′ in height, and my recollection is that the first little bit is fairly steep.

Once you get on that, you wind east, go through the I-90 tunnel, and then down onto the I-90 floating bridge, and then up at the other end. At the island you climb up 75 feet or so to the exit.

The next 10 miles takes you around the south end of Mercer Island, a really nice section. It’s fairly flat/rolling, with great pavement, not much traffic, and wonderful curves. You will like this session. Halfway into this section (at 14.7 miles) there’s a stop.

Next, you cross the east channel bridge on a bike path. This is a pretty popular route and there isn’t that much room, so watch for other cyclists or runners coming the other direction.

Off the bridge, the next 4 miles loops north and then back south. A few small (75′ or so) climbs. After you head south under I-90 (which should be obvious), you’ll come to a bike path entrance. There are some blind curves and rude riders here, so be careful. A bit of up and down takes us to Newcastle Beach Park (sorry about the descent from the trail, and yes, you do have to climb the 75′ of steepness back after the break). That takes us to 24.1 miles, and stop #2.

The next 2 miles climb up about 300′, and then a nice 10-mile section of rollers but no major climbs.  That takes us to around 36 miles total.

At this point, the century route makes a loop of about 9.5 miles, with about 680′ of climbing on it. The major part of it is the Tiger Mountain Climb, which averages about 4.5% and peaks at perhaps 8-9%. Oh, and stop #3 is early in this loop, but only for century riders.

Then it’s back on a flat road into Issaquah, and stop #4. Once there, the 70 mile route diverts to the Northwest, on a fairly flat section. You’ll rejoin us at the base of your next major hill. As you ride, look to the left to see Zoo Hill, one of the local benchmarks for stupidity. Be happy you are heading straight.

The century heads a bit east, to take on the next hill at the 50 mile point, Highland Drive. This climb has an maximum gradient of ouch (over 10%), and long sections of 8-9%. It’s about 350′ up, and you are going to notice the whole thing.

You may have noticed a progression in maximum gradients. It’s going to continue. But first, we’re going to take a steep descent that drops us onto East Lake Sammamish Drive. The first mile or so is a busy 4-lane road. You will want to stay right, but the pavement is more than a bit sucky there, so watch yourself.

After that, it’s one lane each way with a decent shoulder for about 9 miles. There is one 150′ climb and several rollers along the way. There has also been some construction at Inglewood road about halfway along this stretch, and I expect that it will still be there, so expect some delay from this. This section is a good section to paceline on, and my goal will be to be around 18-20MPH in a group for this section. That takes us to Marymoor park at 61.5 miles, and stop #5.

We are now on West Lake Sammamish Drive. It will be nice for a couple of miles, then the shoulder will get rough, with lots of holes and a nice ridge between the shoulder and the pavement. Don’t plan on making too much time here. There is no bike lane on the lake side of the road, so it’s legal for bikes to ride the opposite way on this section, and you need to pay attention. Along the way are some rollers and a 100′ hill. Did I mention the road is junk?

Eventually, you’ll hit the lowest point, at Vasa Park (big red barn on the right side). Put your climbing shoes on here. We start with a 160′ climb as a preamble, and rejoin the 70-mile route at this point.

At this point, after 71.5 miles (43.2 for the 70s), we arrive at a little bit of joy I like to call Montreaux, because that’s its name. Livestrong calls this NW Village Park Drive, but it’s hard to ignore the giant sign for the development, and the ostentatious water feature. The water will help drown out the labored breathing of the other riders on the course.

Montreux is, to put it simply, a beast. If you have a climbing cassette for your bike, bring it. If you have a small electric assist-motor, bring it. If you have a supply of EPO, use it. If you are like me, you will be spending about 20 minutes of time on this hill. On the upside, the pavement is excellent, and there’s also a view, if you have the oxygen to turn around and see it.

Right from the start, it’s at about 10% for the first little bit, then it will turn a bit to the left and ease down to around 7%. Then it will kick up to about 14% for a bit, taper down to 10%, up to 14%, and then there’s a nice section that’s even steeper. I was climbing at about 3.9 MPH on that section.

I really recommend finding time to pre-ride this hill, so that you know what you’re in for.

After the top, we’re going to lose 100 feet and then have to gain it right back, up to 850′, the same as the height we hit on Tiger Mountain.

And,we’re in for some fun. We worked hard to get up that high, and over the next 5 miles we’re going to lose 800′ of it, on a glorious descent, my favorite in the area. There are some flats and some short climbs, but if you have the legs, this is a good spot to spend a bit of them, as you can keep your speed up and we can all laugh at your folly on the last climb before the finish. After the first 3.8 miles, we end up at stop #6, at 78.5 miles (49.5 on the 70).

After a short 50′ climb and a really fun down/up hill, we have another 400′ of descending, taking us down into Renton and to the shores of Lake Washington. 3 miles of mostly flat road take us into Renton, to stop #7, at 84.7 miles (55.7 on the 70).

The next 4 miles are flat flat on decent road (make sure you make the right turn onto Seward Park Avenue), then a 160′ climb towards Seward park, only to lose it on a quick descent back towards the water, unfortunately with a stop sign at the bottom.

Then it’s onto Lake Wa Blvd South. If you have a group, you can paceline here. As we near I-90, we climb back up the hill (100′ or so) to stop #8, at 94.7 miles (65.7 on the 70).

Then, it’s up and over the hill (another 200′ of climbing), down Yesler into downtown, and then a short spin back to Seattle Center.

Emergency Wimp Option

So, you’ve been going along fine on the ride, feeling great, but you realize that the only way you and your bike are making it up Montreaux is in the back of a pickup. But you don’t want to give up.

So, here’s how you “get lost” to make it a bit easier. Instead of heading up Montreaux, you head west on Newport, straight at Lakemont, and then turn left on the stop sign at 164th. Climb to the top, turn right, and you’re right where you would normally be, with a lot easier climb. Not sure how I got lost, but I did manage to get back on course.

Super-Emergency Extra Wimpy Option

Your legs are toasted and your best hope seems to be to ride straight into the lake and hope for a freak shark attack. Not much chance of that, since Lake Sam is fresh water, but there is a way to salvage some pride.

  1. Head west on Newport.
  2. Straight at Lakemont
  3. Straight at the 164th stop sign.
  4. Right on 153rd (there’s a bike route sign here)
  5. Down the little hill
  6. Left when road ends (SE 38th)
  7. Straight at the light (150th)
  8. All the way to the bottom of the hill.
  9. Get in the rightmost left-turn lane.
  10. As you turn left, get on the left sidewalk of the exit ramp coming straight towards you (diagram).
  11. This puts you on a bicycle path.
  12. When the path ends, turn left.
  13. This puts you back on Lake Washington Blvd, where you were just after Mercer Island. You can now follow the 40 mile signs for the rest of the ride.
  14. Wow, did you ever get lost.

7 (or so) Hills of Kirkland 2009

On memorial day, for the nth year in a row (where n > 4 or so) I spend a morning riding the annual 7 Hills of Kirkland ride. Except that it, was 7 hills, it was 11 hills, the metric century version. Except it isn’t quite a metric century, being 4 miles or so short of that distance. And the hills – only two of them are really in Kirkland.

So, anyway, I spent the morning riding in the 11 Hills within easy riding distance of Kirkland almost metric century ™.

In the pro cycling world, when somebody has spent the fourth quarter of the year glued to the bench in the local gasthaus in a pursuit of the perfect combination of beer and bratwurst, when spring rolls around his fitness is said to be, to use the technical term, “questionable”.

Though I do enjoy a nice Hefe now and then, my capacity for beer these days is usually described as “cheap date” and I can only eat a brat now and then, the weather this spring hasn’t been very good, so I haven’t gotten much training in. I *have* played soccer now and then, but the prospect of a hard century in June has weighed heavy on my mind.

I wanted to ramp up my training again, so I scheduled a 45 mile hilly ride. I got east in the carnation valley, felt okay, and then absolutely died on the ride back. Hydration was fine, nutrition was fine, sodium was fine, just had zero energy. Dragged myself back home.

Found out a week later that I had shingles (a really weird disease), spent two weeks on Valtrex and not training hard, and had only one decent ride before 7 hills (aka “11HwerdoKamc”), a full 30 miler.

I had a fair number of friends (1 fair is 4 big friends or 5 to 6 small ones) who were also riding in the 11 hills within… well, in “the event”, and were planning on meeting up to ride together.

But not for me. I prefer to ride alone on these sorts of rides, for reasons that I would share with you, except for the fact that it would make a really good post on its own.

So, I said hi to my friends waiting for others to show up, and started off. Market (hill #1) was quickly dispatched, as was Juanita (hill #2, the easy way up from the south), then it was a nice descent to the first big hill.

Seminary hill (#3) is so named because of the proximity of a seminary, which I’m pretty sure isn’t there any more so it is more proper to refer to it as “alternative/complementary medical training school hill”. This hill is an ugly roller and always has one more turn than you think it should, but I dropped down to low low (30/26, with my triple up front and 12-26 climbing cassette), and rode up behind a tandem. A few people come by, but I’m expecting that. We crest at the top, and I stop to take off my hat and put on a sweatband.

A quick descent and a mile or so on the newly-paved section of the Burke, and we’re off to climb Norway (#4), a hill I climb a lot. On the 400′ or so, I pass 10 or so people and get passed by 5 or so. Norway has a really nice view at the top. We descend to the south, and work our way to hill #5.

Hill #5 is named “kingsgate”. It does have a climb a fair bit, but rather than being a real hill, it’s more of a “I’m over here and this is the only way to get over there” route. I get passed at the top by Francis and Alan, which is a good sign, since I expected them to pass me on hill #3, not hill #5.

This takes us to the first rest stop, where I remix a new bottle of accelerade, take a salt tablet, and eat half a bagel with some peanut butter.

Then it’s a short ride back northwest (where I pass a clot of 25 riders or so leaving a light), a glorious descent down brickyard (which looks tighter than it is), and then a traverse back to the south into a headwind, where we reach the base of hill #6, Winery.

Winery is a steep climb that nobody takes because there’s little shoulder and it’s busy, so the one that everybody takes is a route through a development that is rolling (aka steep and steeper). Something in the 14-15% range at its worst. Surprisingly, the group that is behind me stays behind me, and my pass to passed ratio is about 15/1 on the climb. At the top, we are greeted by bagpipe music, which is a sign that the hardest part of the ride is over.

From there it’s back to the rest stop (which I skip), down a steep hill over the tracks and then down into the Redmond valley. The 7 hills riders will head south and grab one more climb before the finish, but for the rest of us, we head east.

I get onto 116th across the valley, and then remember that, if I had been smarter, I would have gone across 124th instead, since this way I traded a nice gradual climb for a short *** of a climb, over 15% to my legs. After that bit we head up Education hill (#7) – where everything returns to normal and I get passed by a 5 fair numbers of riders, then we head down the lovely 35 MPH descent to a traffic light on avondale. Then it’s off to climb Novelty Hill (#8), where the Novelty quickly wears off, and it’s just a long climb (475′) with lots of traffic and a mostly decent shoulder. I do start talking with a guy named Matt, though about 75% of the conversation is lost due to traffic noise. We finish the climb, loop back around, and descend down Novelty, then take a hard right to hill #9, McWhirter.

I had to go back and look at the ride description, since I’ve never heard anybody use that name before. My personal name is “that hill that ends up right near where my daughter takes horseback lessons”, but I guess McWhirter is a better name than that. It’s only 175′ high and easy, probably the easiest of the hills on the ride.  We finish that, descend a bit, and then we hit the base of hill #10…

Education hill. Or, “re-education hill”, since we’re doing it the opposite direction, though thankfully they don’t send us back up 116th where we came down (I wonder very much at the sanity of our local road department since they put a bike lane up a 20% grade that people only ride on a dare, but whatever), but up the next road down. We climb that, and come to the second food stop, where I refill my bottles again, take another salt pill, and eat half of a turkey and cheese sandwich.

This is a wonderful place in the ride – I feel good, and there’s only one hill left. Matt and I head down into the valley, turn south to rejoin the 7 hills route, ride up the hill at the end of Willows (not a hill since it’s not numbered, though frankly it’s harder than McWhirter), turn down, and hit the base of Old Redmond Road (Rose hill), hill #11. I still have legs, so we ride to the top, and then it’s down on a descent on 116th, down another descent on Northup, and then a nice spin back on Lake Washington Boulevard back into Kirkland.

I ride 7 hills every year because I love the finish – you have 5 miles without much work at all with two very nice descents.

And then I hook up with a fair number of people from my riding group, and refuel with mexican food.

And suddenly, LiveStrong looks possible. It was a very good day…

Livestrong challenge…

I’m going to be riding the Livestrong challenge in June, and I’m looking for sponsors.

You can find more information here