Custom car set heater controller: Part 2- wiring investigation

Today I spent some time looking at the wiring state of the Outback. First, I pulled out the rear console, and took a look a the connector there (R43). It has 22 pins, but many of them are not populated. The ones that are populated are:

Pin Description
6 +12V to accessory socket
12 +12V for general illumination
13 Ground for GI
14 Audio
17 Gnd to accessory socket
18 Audio
19 Audio
20 Audio
21 Audio

So… It looks like we have the illumination circuit and a decent ground (the ground for the seats and the accessory socket is shared), but we don’t have the +12V we need for the heater. A bit disappointing, but not unexpected.

I pull the fuse box cover off, and find that fuse 17 (the seat heater fuse) *is* present. I pull the lower console cover off – more than a little pain in the butt – and find out a few more things. First, the relay for the heated seats is not present. However, the location that it sits on the relay board is wired with 4 connections. So… my current theory is that if I have a fuse, I will be complete up to connector B97 (which is somewhere near the fuse box), but then I’ll have to tap into a wire there and run it the power from that.

I also still need to figure out how the dimming system works. Since 12V is supplied to the lights, I’m presuming that the dimmer supplies a voltage somewhat higher than ground, and that’s how the dimming works. Could be wrong, however.

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Custom car set heater controller: Part 1–teardown

My ski car is a 1997 Subaru Outback. It’s a great ski car, but it has one big drawback: it lacks the seat heaters that we have in our Legacy GT.

I’ve decided to remedy that. My first thought was to find some seats from a wrecked car and just install them, but that has a couple of drawbacks. The first is the cost; seats are expensive and their shipping is also expensive. The second is that most heated seats are leather, and leather and rain/wet snow do not get along well. When doing some browsing, I came across the seat covers from Wet Okole that have heaters as an option. This gives me a set of heated seats plus a water-tolerant cover material, for quite a bit less money. They come with a wired controller that has three power levels, accessed by pressing a button and indicated by LEDs.

I could have just wired them into the car and been done with it, but I liked the factory approach better, both for appearance and interface::

The controller has a 4-position switch on each side with detents.The rotating switch part has a little window in it so that you get an LED “on” indication that moves to show the power level. Simple, clean, and not something you will bump. So, my plan is to get one, figure out how it drives the factory heaters, and adapt based on that. The exact adaptation will depend on the implementation; it might be purely a wiring problem (though I suspect not because the factory shop manual shows 4 connections to each heater), I might build something to adapt the current controller’s output to what I need, or I might build a PWM controller from scratch. Or perhaps some combination of options.

Of course the internets can supply me one for a reasonable cost (though in tan because that’s the interior color of the car). Nicely, the switch goes together with lock-together connectors, which were easily released, and left me with the following:


The wheel controls move little a little wiper up and down over the circuit board, making and breaking connections. Sort of a cheap version of a rotary switch. Here’s a close-up of the board:

This side mostly just has LEDs and switches. Ten of the LEDs are part of the general illumination for the instrument panel gauges, and the remaining two are “power on” indicators. The backside connector (which I didn’t take a picture of) connects to the 9 heavy terminals at the top of the board. Armed with a schematic of the wiring in the board, I started tracing:


Not surprisingly, there is a relay driven off the accessory circuit (which I may have to add to the system) that power the seat controller. I then started mapping the pinout of the connector (C2) with the terminals on the board. I labeled the board terminals A-J on the LED side, as follows:

A    B    C                         H   J 

                   D   E   F   G

The mapping is as follows:

Pin on C2 Board pin Description
1 A Seat 1
2 B Seat 1
3 C, D Seat 2 ground
4 H Seat 2
5 J Seat 2
6 C, D Chassis ground
7 C, D Seat 1 ground
8 E Illumination dimmer (ground)
9 F Seat 2 12V
10 F Seat 1 12V
11 F 12V from seat heater relay
12 G Illumination 12V

I hooked up 12V to the illumination circuit, and got the LEDs to light up. I then hooked up 12V and ground to pins F and C, and played around with the slider switch. The “power on” led did show up in the different situations, but I didn’t see any change in voltage on the seat connections. I had expected that maybe this would be a PWM controller, but that’s clearly not the problem.

I don’t plan on trying to reuse the stock connector, so I got out my dremel and used the heavy abrasive disk to cut off the terminals from the back, which exposed the backside of the board. I then unsoldered all of the connections, which made the board more visible.

First impressions… Well, it’s clearly two separate identical circuits with a bit of auxiliary circuitry. TR1 and TR2 are very likely transistors, and given their side and bonding to the board, they are the ones switching the heater on and off.

Let’s start searching for components. The transistors say K3386, which ends up being a 2SK3386 N-channel MOSFET.  It’s a MOSFET designed – not surprisingly – for high current switching applications. It has a resistance of around 36 milliOhm at 17 amps current (!) when driving with a 4V switch current, which means it will be dissapating around 600mW, which is pretty low. A good choice.

Given the number of discrete resistors and capacitors and the use of two separate chips, it’s unlikely that this is a microcontroller implementation. A search for the 10393 leads me to the BA10393 Dual Comparator. This makes things a little clearer; what we have is a traditional thermostat-type controller. Two of the wires to the heater are connected to a thermistor in the heater, and the rotary switch sets the voltage that feeds into the comparator. A fairly elegant design, and you can easily tune it merely by changing the resistor values. I haven’t traced the use of the second comparator, but my guess is that it merely buffers the output of the second channel of the slider to turn on the “power on” LED. Not sure what TR3 is for.

Now that I’ve torn it apart, I have a general idea of the plan.

I can’t reuse the circuit because my heater doesn’t have a thermistor in it, so I’m going to go with a microcontroller-based PWM solution. It will be pretty straightforward:

  1. I’ll send 5V to the board, connected to one slide of the wiper contact.
  2. I will pull four separate connections from the other part of the wiper back to the microcontroller.
  3. I will send two grounds to the board for the “power on” LEDs.
  4. I will send power/ground for the existing general illumination LEDs, using the existing approach.

I need a microcontroller with 8 inputs and 4 outputs and preferably two outputs of PWM. That will make the code pretty trivial to write.

My next step is to dig into the outback and see what wiring is there. I *think* the power wiring is probably there because it’s on the same harness as the power outlet in the console, but I could be wrong. Or, I can just power off the console power outlet, assuming there’s enough ampacity.

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OHMoN 2014

Endurance bicycle riders are a strange breed.

A ride like RAMROD requires you to wake up at around 3AM, drive to the starting point, check in, get on your bike, ride a circle around Mt. Rainier, only to find yourself back where you started, tired, sweaty, and salt-encrusted. In return for this effort you receive… well, there has to be something that got me to pay good money to do it…

Oh, yeah, you get a patch:

that you will toss in a dresser drawer. So, the reward/effort for the ride seems to be a little low, but that hasn’t stopped me from doing it 4 times. So far.

If you need further evidence – and I’m confident that you don’t, but I have to do something to pad these ride reports out – in late summer, my riding group does a ride called “The Food Bank Challenge”, where we show up at our usual meeting place with backpacks full of food to donate, and then we carry the food with us on one of our usual rides, then we put the food in my car and we go out for burritos. As a participant’s wife noted, “Why don’t you just put the food in Eric’s car and then go on the ride?”

Indeed. As I said, a strange breed.

But… the patch you get for RAMROD and the knowledge that you helped out some hungry families were too much for one visionary. His vision – perhaps “delusion” is closer  – was to create a ride so pointless that even other cyclists would question why anybody would do it. For example, on organized rides you often get to:

  • Ride in picturesque scenery
  • Climb impressive hills
  • Socialize with other strange people

In OHMon, all of that is out. The whole point of the ride – its raisin of entry – is be pointless as possible. There is a charity involved, which means I fear that some good is destined to come out of the experience, but other than that, it’s pointless.

And it’s a special brand of pointless, because you design the ride yourself. You are responsible for all of it.

That’s right, it’s the Fat Cyclist “One Hundred Miles of Nowhere” ride.

(I feel compelled to mention that while I really like the jersey design, the red indicator should be pointing to the left rather than the right.)

Though this is a do-it-yourself ride, you do get a box that has some things that are useful to set up the food stops.

The Course

Some of the participants in OHMoN eschew the whole concept of course entirely, riding the entire time on their rollers or trainer. I agree that that is pointless, but a) I can’t spend more than 20 minutes on a trainer without wanting to shoot myself, and b) it misses the chance for public ridicule. So, it would be outside.

I started with a very short course; my house is located in a small loop off of a main road. That would give me a course that is 0.3 miles long, and I’d have to do 334 laps of it. It has a 36’ climb each lap, so that means it would involve a total elevation gain of 334 * 36 = 12,024’.

Ouch. I like pointless things as much as the next cyclist, but I’ve been battling some back issues the past 6 months. Further, I fear that my neighbors would think of me as “that crazy guy who kept riding his bike around and around and around”, which would complete with my current label, “that crazy guy who puts up all of those holiday lights”.

So, I need something better, and for that, I cast my eyes to the east. I live at the top of a hill that rolls down towards Lake Sammamish. I am very well-acquainted with the roads, so there will be little joy in riding them. I map it out, and it comes in at 2.6 miles with 256’ of climbing. 39 laps @ 256’ of climbing = 9984’. Better, but still, ouch.

3.4 miles @ 312’ = 30 laps and 9360’, 4.6 miles @ 338’ = 7436’.

Damn. It’s pretty hilly to the east of my house.

I play around some more, extending the route to the west, and I finally end up with the following figure-8 route:

It clocks in at 7.1 miles and 469’ of climbing = 14 laps = 6566’ in total. I’m going to call that the “base reference plan”, but I fully expect to modify it along the way.

The Plan

The official date of the ride is October 18th, but the weather in the Seattle area is notoriously fickle in October. At some point, a switch will be flipped to “rainy fall”, and it will be hard to find decent weather, so I chose “the first good weekend day in November”.  Luckily, the weather forecast for the weekend of the 4th is great, and I ease back on my ride intensity to give my legs and back a chance to rest and on Wednesday, I’m motivated to get up early Saturday and go nowhere.

Only to find on Thursday night that a rampaging rhinovirus has bludgeoned its way into my respiratory tract. Friday is not good, so it’s clear I can’t participate in the event. I instead compete in an alternate event of similar difficulty, called “Taking a Shower”. There were a few rough spots where I thought I might have to abandon, but I managed to push through to the finish.

The next weekend. Ah yes, the next weekend.

The next weekend coincided with “The October Switch”. Seattle has a reputation for being a rainy and gray place, but what we don’t like people to know – lest they move here – is that our summers are pretty nice, and that niceness generally extends through September and the first part of October. And then we reach a day where a switch gets flipped, and the weather pattern changes. We’ve had nice weather the first week of October,  but not the forecast is rain, rain, rain, and more rain. Luckily, this weekend also coincides with a trip out of town to visit the offspring at school, so I couldn’t ride anyway, but it does not bode well for future October weekends.

The next weekend – which is the official day for OHMoN – Saturday is rainy, but the forecast for Sunday looks much more promising:


The ride

I get up at 6:45 AM, have some breakfast, get ready, and get all my stuff together. It’s 58 degrees so I put on arm and leg warmers, and spend 30 seconds to get to the starting point. I head out on the first loop on damp streets. I do the upper half, then head down the hill to the lower half. Off of W. Lake Sam, I do a couple of gratuitous climbs. They are steep steep and if I stand up, I spin up the back wheel, so I take it really slowly . I do a bunch of other neighborhood exploring along the way. On the way up Northup, I stop to take a picture of the nice weather:

I climb up back to the house, and then do the loop in the opposite direction. This takes me up 24th street, a 20% gradient that is about as painful as I expect. Back to the top for a loop, and while climbing up a short hill I notice the front is a bit squishy. It’s down to something like 50lbs, but it’s enough to get to the first food stop, so I take it slowly and manage to make it there safely.

The mechanic is a bit surly, but he quickly finds a pinhole in the tube, and then locates the small piece of wire in the tube that caused it. While I wait, I take a trip to the food table:

The Cheez-its are used to refill the bag in my pocket, and grab one of the brownie bites. I also get a refill of my water bottle with Skratch Labs raspberry. While I’m snacking, I do a bit of strategizing. For the first 25.1 miles, I climbed 1829’ and averaged 13.1 MPH. If we project out to the full ride and apply the usual Strava elevation conversion factor, that would put me over 8000’ of climbing and spend 8 hours on the bike. I don’t think I have 8000’ in my legs today, so I decide to spend my time on the less-hilly upper half of my route rather than the lower half.

The second 25 miles are pretty boring – leave the food stop location, climb up to the top, work my way back and forth a few times, descend back down. Repeat, repeat, then repeat some more. I’m starting to get tired, which does not bode well for the second half of the ride. I finish the section, and head to the second food stop:

The food stop is now manned (perhaps that is not the right term…) by Stan, who is appropriately attired. He has a Coke Zero, a turkey wrap, and, most uniquely, a set of flip-flops so that I can pull off my bike shoes for a few minutes. The turkey wrap is exquisite, the Coke Zero is cold, and I eat a few chips and grapes (not pictured).  I also sit down and relax for 15 minutes or so, which does wonders for my back and neck.

Looking at my stats, I note that I only climbed about 800’ in that segment. I did want to reduce the climbing, but that’s a bit more than I wanted to reduce it, so maybe I’ll add a little back.

I feel *way* better than I did when I stopped for lunch, and surprisingly, my legs feel pretty good when I get back on the bike. Back out on the upper loops, though I start extending them to the north and the south to make them longer and start doubling and tripling the flatter sections. It takes forever to get to 60 miles, but the next 10 miles after that aren’t that bad. During this section, I decide how great it would be to have a Coke Slurpee on my ride, so at around 70 miles I had off to the local 7-Eleven. Only to remember that Slurpees are sweetened with HFCS, which is a guaranteed to generate severe stomach cramps when I’m riding. I settle for buying some beef jerky, and on the way back from the 7-Eleven, I revel in its saltiness. It’s time to head to the third food stop:

I spend a minute or so talking to Stan. He is volunteering in the hope that he can earn a bypass in next year’s ride. I wish him luck,  refill my water bottles, and head out for the last 25.

After 75 miles, I’ve climbed 3303’.

I feel decent – decent enough that I decide to head back down to the lower part of the course for one last time. It’s not as painful as I had feared, but it’s enough. Time passes slowly. I eat some more jerky, eat a few Cheez-its, drink some of my drink. Repeat, then repeat again. About this time, my Garmin says “Low Battery”. I stop and find out that, for some reason, the backlight is on at 65% despite it being on auto day/night. I turn off the backlight and hope that the battery will last for an hour. I’ve done some measuring, and I now that my loop on the upper part is about 3 miles, and that it’s perhaps 2 miles back to the finish, so at 88 miles I put the plan into action. I start riding with a bit more effort – as much effort as I can generate after 90 miles on the bike – and the 3 loops go by quickly. I head down to the finish line, and find I’m at 98.3 miles. A quick out-and-back trip, an few loops around the neighborhood, and the GPS says:

I get off the bike, take off my helmet, and head over to see what food is available.

I grab a beer, and then a picture with Stan:

I mix up some Endurox in one of my bottles, and after drinking it I head out to find some real food.


I expected a stupid ride, and I got it. I found it nice that I could modify the route, but when there are 30 miles left and you aren’t 30 miles from the end, it’s really tempting to just pack it in, so the mental part was pretty hard for me.

The chosen route as fine except that it was in the city. Looking at my data, I had to stop approximately 7000 times for stop lights, stop signs, pets, and children playing street hockey. That doesn’t do much for your average speed, and it made it really hard to get into a groove. Most sections are only 3 minutes or so in length.


I appreciate getting some items for the food stop, but it seemed like a lot of them were just random. Perhaps molasses is a decent substitute for gel – and probably better tasting – but the salsa and mustard had me a bit confused. It would be nice to get better options here.

The jersey for the ride ran small, so I ordered a large. It’s quite a bit smaller than most of the mediums I have, so if anybody ordered a medium and it was too small, let me know.


Thanks to Elden for setting this up, and thanks to two of my riding buddies who kicked in some extra money for Camp Kesem, which I matched and which Microsoft will also match.


Strava ride

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Hills of the Eastside – Kingsgate & South Bothell

Composed mostly of neighborhoods, this is a nice area to ride in, though there are a few streets that get a fair bit of traffic.

There are a few classic climbs here.

The first two climbs answer the question “How do I get from the Sammamish valley up to Kingsgate?” The first one (A) doesn’t have a good name other than “that climb at the end of Willows road”, so I guess we’ll go with that. It starts with a steep section over some railroad tracks, flattens, and then steepens up again, probably hitting the 13% mark or so at the turn. Used to be low traffic but there seems to be more on it these days. The second climb (B) up 132nd is reached either from the south or by turning left after the first pitch of the A climb. It is a short little bitch of a climb, sticking at 16% or so. Not fun. Both of these climbs will top out near my favorite intersection, NE 132nd St and 132nd Ave NE.

Similar to the fist two climbs, the third and fourth climbs answer the question “How do I get up to the south part of 132nd Ave NE?”. The two answers are NE 120th (C), and a bit of a wander through the neighborhood starting on 127th Avenue (D). The first one is a long, hard pitch, while the second one has a steep first pitch (14%? 15%? Something like that) and then is more rolling. I prefer the second one myself.

Next we move to (E), which is a climb up 132nd that is known as “Kingsgate Hill” in the 7 Hills of Kirkland ride. It’s an okay way to go east, though if you head sound to 128th, you can head east next to the hospital where there is less traffic.

Next we move to Norway hill, which can be ridden from the south (F), or from the north (G). From the north is another hill on the 7 Hills ride, and is the harder one, clocking in at 400+ feet of elevation and perhaps 13% at the steepest.

Climb H is Brickyard road. It’s a decent way up though there can be a fair bit of traffic at times. Just to the east is 173rd/124th (J), which would be a nice climb except for the lack of shoulder and the traffic.

And finally, we work around to the winery climbs. The classic route (K) is yet another one of the 7 Hills climbs, and arguably the worst of the lot. It has short climbs in the 17-18% range, with brief flatter sections in between. Another option is (L), which takes you up NE 145th rather than going through the neighborhoods. I recommend avoiding this road; it has none of the cachet of the classic route and all of the traffic.

Most of the are decent descents, though you have to be careful about tight turns and stop signs at the bottom. Brickyard is probably the nicest on to descend, thought 132nd has some serious potential for speed.

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High Pass Challenge 2014

My cycling goal this summer was to try new things, which would take me to Port Angeles to climb Hurricane Ridge, to the San Juans to ride with my wife and climb Mt. Constitution, and south of Rainier to climb Windy Ridge. The first two have been accomplished, and I’m feeling pretty good, so it’s off to the third.

This is the first time I’ve done this ride, and the first Cascade ride I’ve done in quite some time. I didn’t do RAMROD this year (I tend to alternate year to year), so I was looking for something to ride instead. Last year I did the Passport2Pain, but I decided not to do that this year, so I picked HPC.

I like the ride concept, and – since I lead a bunch of rides for Cascade – I can exchange my “ride leader points” for my registration, so it won’t cost me anything to enter. It starts at 7AM rather than the 5AM start of RAMROD, but unfortunately it starts in Packwood, which isn’t near to anything. Rather than get up extra early and drive the whole way, I decided to spend the night nearby. After some research on cost, reviews, and minimal stays, “nearby” ends up being at the Crystal Mountain Village Inn. It’s about an hour to get to Packwood from there, which means:

6:30 AM packed pickup

5:30 AM Leave Crystal

4:30 AM Wake up

Which isn’t that bad. If I drove from home, I would have to leave home at 4AM.

Training-wise, I feel pretty good. I was able to push hard and stay consistent up Hurricane, and my power up Mt. Constitution was better than I expected (though the hard part was shorter than I expected). HPC really only has one climb – granted, at 14.6 miles and about 3000’, it’s not to be ignored, but Cayuse on RAMROD is 11 miles and 2500’, and I’ll be climbing this one in the morning and I won’t have climbed up to Paradise first.

For this ride, they give out medals based on your time to the top (they used to give them out for total elapsed time, then realized that encouraging people to descend as fast as possible was probably a  bad idea). This puts it half way between a “ride” and a “race”. Playing with some numbers, I get the following:

Start to base of climb: 1:33 (assumes 17MPH)

Climb: 1:30 (assumes 600 meters/hour, which is conservative)

Portage: 0:48 (down and up to windy ridge, 15 MPH)

Total: 3:53

With a  few minutes at food stops, that gets me to the top at 11:00, enough for the “silver ribbon” category. Pulling back the 30 minutes to get into “gold” seems problematic. If I could do 19MPH on the first part, that would cut off 7 minutes, and if I climbed at my Mt. Constitution rate, I could be down at 1:10 for the climb. We shall see. I want to go hard, but I don’t want to go too hard and have a serious amount of “not fun”. This is the time of year to revel in one’s fitness, not kill oneself.

I have a poor track record at accomplishing this.

The riders are supplied with timing chips to attach to our helmets, so they can know exactly when a rider went over the start line and when they got to Windy Ridge. They can therefore know that it (for example) took you 4 hours to get there, thereby qualifying for a silver award (assuming you finish). This means you can start any time between 7:00 AM and 8:30 AM and have you award be based on your time.

Oh, wait, that’s what it would make sense to do. In fact, the award times are hard cutoffs that assume that you started at 7AM, so despite having an electronic system that can provide accurate elapsed time, everybody who cares about the medals is going to be wanting to start as close to 7AM as possible. My guess is that it’s because – lacking cell phone support – you would need to physically take the starting time information to the finish, but my guess is that you can drive it quickly enough to still work. Or you could rent a satellite phone & hot spot for $200 for the week, and use that to push the data up to the windy ridge location.

I’m going to hang back a bit at the start; I’m worried that it’s going to be like the triathlon starts I’ve been in.

Food Etc.

I will be carrying with me:

  • Two bottles of Skratch Labs Hydration Mix (Raspberries flavor)
  • Four bags with mix for another bottle of the same mix
  • 1 Honey Stinger Ginger Snap Waffle + 1 lemon waffle
  • 1 Large sandwich bag of Cheez-its
  • 1 Small bag of “o-boy” oberto beef jerky.

The Skratch Labs stuff has worked well for me; it doesn’t seem to upset my stomach even if I’m working hard. It has half the calories (120/bottle) than the Accelerade (240/bottle) that I was using, and I think part of the reason it works better is that it is just more diluted.

The Cheez-its are something I have figured out through trial-and-error. They have a decent amount of sodium, and still remain palatable late in a ride. They do have a fair bit of fat in them, but I seem to be doing fine with them.

Day 0

I head out at 4PM to get to Crystal at a reasonable time. I’m not really that hungry, so I stop by Taco Time and grab a natural soft taco. Traffic is slow slow heading up, so I get there and check in, and eat my dinner. I’ve been sitting on my butt the past two days, so I go for a walk to warm up my legs and see if I can score any snacks now what it’s obvious that dinner was not enough. The market is closed and I decide not to try the restaurant & bar. Walking around ski areas in the summer is always a little weird; it feels a little bit like a movie set or something.

Lacking snax, I scrounge in my bike bag and find a package of Sport Beans and a Lance-era honey stinger of very dubious parentage. I eat them and go to bed. Before I turn out the light, I discover that Crystal not only offers wedding packages, they also offer elopement packages, which I mention in case it is of use to my readers.

Ride Day

I have managed to combine sleeping in a new bed, sleeping at altitude (Crystal is 4500’ up), and sleeping with somebody’s ventilation fan on and phasing in and out to achieve the trifecta of insomnia. I wake up at 2:30 convinced that it is time to get up, and then am sort-of asleep when the alarm kicks off at 4:30. I get up, spend a few seconds choosing between another honey stinger and a granola bar for breakfast (I can’t eat much before rides). The honey stinger (ginger snap IIRC) wins out.

After dressing and putting on sunscreen, I head outside at 5:15, get in the car, and drive away. It’s 49 degrees at Crystal.

The drive to Packwood is unremarkable. Driving down Cayuse is a very different experience than climbing up on a bicycle. When I get to Packwood, I stop at a service station to buy some water & beef jerky (I buy water because water availability is sketchy in Packwood). I head a bit farther and turn into the starting location and parking. It’s about 52 degrees.  I pick up my packet, take a nature break, and sit in the car as long as I can. I note that those who are wanting to start at 7AM are going to unhappy to be stuck in porta-pottie line. I pull out my rarely-used cycling windbreaker – which folds into one of the pockets and fits in a jersey pocket – and put it on.

I get in the line at 6:50, and shiver. The general rule is that it’s okay to be a little cold at the start, but this is more than a little cold. I don’t want to carry anything else, so I gut it out.

At 7AM the ride starts, and the group pulls out. It takes about a minute before my section starts moving. The first mile or so is pretty chaotic, with riders 4 and 5 abreast and a lot of sketchy riding, but it thins out after a bit as the fast group heads off the front. My plan is to just take it easy, but the combination of smooth road (I road lots of chipseal over the last week) and a slight downhill makes it easy to ride, so I grab onto the back of a paceline. We are in the low 20s but it’s not taking much effort so I’m happy to stick in the group. It’s not terribly well organized; somebody will pull off and the next person will slow way down, somebody else will bridge to head to the front, etc. I keep trying to work to the front to take a pull, but with all of the overlapping I never get there. It’s mostly safe except for the time when we are passing a group on the shoulder, the paceline is on the fog line, and one of the paceline guys pulls over into the shoulder. And stops. Lots of yelling but luckily we avoid the sound of bike scraping on asphalt.

We turn off at Randall and head south; the paceline holds together until we get to the first climb. I end up near the front of the group at the top, and we continue in a much smaller paceline to the first food stop at iron creek. My average speed is just under 20MPH for that whole section, which is much faster than I expected. I spend a couple of minutes at the food stop, and then head out.

We are currently at about 1100’, and we need to climb up to 4089’, so I’m going to call that 3000’ of climbing. The first part oscillates around in the 6-9% range, and I’m climbing at around 235 watts. You may wonder how we manage to make it through the pain and tedium of long mountain climbs. Which shows how little you know about bike riding; not only do we choose rides deliberately because of the pain and tedium, we pay money to experience that pain and tedium. Some of us even take trips to Europe so we can experience the same pain and tedium that the pros experience.

But it still goes down (well, actually, it goes up) better with a  bit of diversion, so we look for ways to pass the time. We only made it through 3 iterations of “I spy”; it’s not very interesting when the answer is always “a hill”, even when you put colorful adjectives in the middle. And you can only sing so many rounds of “the wheels on the bike go round and round”. So, mostly, you vow that you will never, ever enter a ride like this again, and you use what breath you have left over to talk. I spend the first third of a climb talking with a Tacoma firefighter and then lamenting how much harder things are when you get older with the other guy climbing with us, only to find that the other guy is 13 years old than me.

When other riders passed us – and, since the fast guys were pretty much in front of us, the passing took a while – I started calling out “no passing” as they rode by. This then got modified to “you can’t pass until you’ve pushed me up the hill for 30 seconds”. Neither were successful.

After 4 miles of this, the road kicks up again, and the two guys pull off for the water stop. I elect to skip a water stop because I think I have enough for the hill.

This is, in retrospect, a pretty stupid thing to do, especially since I have only about 2/3 of a bottle left and I have the rest of this climb – say 1500’ left. For somebody who thinks he doesn’t care about a medal I’m not making the best choices.

Anyway, I resume the hill at a more reasonable pace, say 210 watts or so. None of the hill has felt very good; my legs have no snap in them at all (the climb up Mount Constitution three days before is still in effect (this is a great example of planning your excuses well)), and my head hurts. I’ve done a bit of calculating, and it’s seems likely that I’m not going to finish before the gold cutoff, and it’s more clear that I really. don’t. care. I back off a bit more, and finally, but finally my GPS pops over 4000’ of elevation and we finish the section. There is much rejoicing.

This hill is pretty annoying. Most hills change gradient pretty slowly; you might have 15 minutes at 4%, and then 30 minutes at 6%. You can find your speed, get in a groove, and just climb. But this hill is all over the place; you climb for a minute at 4%, then it hops up to 9% for a minute, then there’s a short descent, etc. It makes it very hard to get into a rhythm, which gives me the blues (ha ha – rhythm and blues…)

We are at 4089’, and the lunch stop at Windy ridge is at 4150’. So, we need to climb only 61’, which should be easy to do over the next 12 miles, but unfortunately we will descend down to about 3500’ and climb up to 4350’  (another 850’) before we descend down the to lunch stop. It’s worse that this, however, because it’s not just a descent and a climb, each descent has climbs as part of it and each climb has descents as part of it. So, it’s more like a series of rollers that tend up or down.

And I’ve realized that there is no water stop between here and Windy Ridge. I’m dehydrated at this point and riding slowly at 150 watts or so. My head still hurts, my stomach is still upset, and my legs still hurt. And the joy of coasting down every descent is tempered by the knowledge that I will have to climb back each of them on the way back.

A picture from the ride is an apt description of how I feel; out of focus and fuzzy at the corners:


I’ve decided to call this “no man’s land”. Here’s a plot of the ride to Windy Ridge and back. 1200’ of climbing each way, and I count 20 climbs overall.


Objectively, it is worse than a pure climb, because it hurts just as bad both directions.

(Spirit Lake. The grayish part to the left back of the water is floating logs. They’ve been floating there for 30-some years since the eruption)

Eventually, I come to the spirit lake overlook, and use the cover of taking a picture to take a 30 second breather. Then it’s back for the last little push. I finally finish the 11-mile trip to the lunch stop, and roll through the timing section at 11:37, 7 minutes past the cutoff for gold. The climb + no-mans land is as bad or worse than Cayuse on RAMROD.

At this point, I really need hydration, so I take my bottles over to the water table, and find out that all the water containers are empty. They are working on transferring water from a big container to the small containers, but they don’t have a pump.

This falls into the “you had one job” category; it’s not that hard to get this right. So, I wait to fill one bottle, drink half of it right away, get a sandwich (with crème cheese – yuck), wait for the porta-potties, then I wait in the water line again for the second bottle. I have this thing where lack of logistical forethought drives me crazy, but I do manage to stretch out on the pavement, eat a second sandwich and the 7 chips in my bag. I take a 2 salt tablets and 2 motrin.

(Mt. St Helens. The eruption blew apart a 1/2 cubic mile of mountain)

I start to feel marginally better, so I take a picture of the mountain, and then start heading back. 170 watts seems about right, and I do the up/down/up/down/up/down back over no man’s land.

(even though this was off-axis from the direction of the eruption and on the backside of a ride, it was still strong enough to swat the whole forest flat).

Finally, we crest the final part of this section, turn the corner, ride up the real final part of the section, and we are ready for the descent.

The official directions for this say:

The descent from Windy Ridge is quite technical, and even though 99 has a smooth surface, there are patches of rough road. Please be extremely careful! And, once you’re on NF 25, you’re back into the shade headed downhill, so be extra cautious here too.

I’ve thought about how to describe this section, and I think the best description is “intense”. There are sections of nice straight and smooth pavement. There are a number of well-signed curves. And then there are sections where the road is a bit sketchy. Where sketchy means things like “2 inch cracks across half the lane”, “heavy washboard across the road”, or, my personal favorite, “8 inch sinkhole about 6 feet wide”. The Cascade crew has done a pretty good job of marking these with paint so that you can avoid them, but even when you avoid them, the road can be pretty rough. At least once I find myself unexpectedly in the air for a fraction of a second, and I need to deploy my bunny-hopping skills once or twice. Because of the roughness, I spend a lot of time standing so that I can let the bike move beneath me, and the balls of my feet are painful because of all the vibration. I am very much not trying to be fast here, just keepin’ it smooth and safe. It takes about 40 minutes for this whole section, and my guess that that’s about 5 minutes slower than I would have been on a smooth road.

I finally pull back into the Iron Creek food stop, refill one bottle with water, and refill the second one with Berry Nuun. I’m sitting on a log massaging the pain out of my feet, and trying to make a decision. I overheard the mechanics telling me that some people are skipping the next section (a little dogleg) and just heading straight back to Randall. I pull out my map, look at the mileage numbers, and figure out that it would save me 10 miles. I get back on the bike, start to ride out, and then turn back towards Randall. I’m tired, my body hurts, and I really don’t want any climbing. I have 10 miles to get there. Initially, I get to descend that nice road that I climbed five and half hours ago, and then it flattens out. There is some crappy pavement here as well, but it’s not marked and the lighting is variable, so I pay close attention. Back on the flat, I start rolling along. My average speed is 14.something MPH, and I’d like to finish about 15, which is about what I did on my last RAMROD. There are a number of light uphills. After about 5 miles, I get a thought.

I really need a drink. Not water, not Nuun. What I need is a Coke Zero.

You may ask why I go with the diet stuff when I need calories. And the answer is simple. I am fructose sensitive, and it’s especially bad when I’m exercising. At one RAMROD long ago (2007?), I grabbed a grape soda at lunch. One sip, and my stomach cramped. Bad.

I think about it for the next few miles. Ice cold. Frosty. Refreshing. And then I think back, and because I was in a paceline and paying a lot of attention, I don’t recall whether there were actually any stores in the section we turn off. I convince myself that the turnoff is right in the middle of some fields, and am quite depressed that I may have to wait all the way until Packwood, when I crest a bridge and see that there’s a gas station at the intersection. I cross, get stiffly off the bike, and head in for the aforementioned Coke Zero, 20 ounces of heaven. There are some tables in front, but it’s sunny and hot (around 90), so I roll my bike to the side, sit down on the decidedly grimy ground and lean against the building. Drinking my zero, and snacking on cheez-its.

After a couple of minutes, I have slightly recovered, and I cast my eyes across the parking lot and a small road.  Just off the highway, there is a covered tent with a sign that says “huckleberries”. Next to it, another vendor has set up a second tent, with a sign that reads, “buy and sell – mushrooms and huckleberries. Better prices”.

I am very impressed by their proper use of “better”, and quite amused by how impressed I am.

Finally, the third and final tent says, “huckleberries – best prices”. It’s like a grammar lesson in real life. Next to me, there is a nice pickup with a picture of the aforementioned fruit, along with an appropriate caption. Turning out onto the highway, I notice there are two more tents on the other side of the highway, also selling huckleberries. Apparently Randall is the headquarters for the huckleberry mafia.

I have 17 miles to ride back to the start, which is flat to slightly uphill, but never much more than 2%. I’m feeling better, and I should be able to do it in about an hour. After about 15 minutes, a paceline goes by, and I say, “legs, how do you feel about putting out a bit of effort to catch this group so we can finish earlier with less effort”? Before legs can answer brain decides to go for it, so I chase, hooking onto the back of a group of about 12 riders, and relaxing into the group.

A skilled paceline is a joy to experience, a finely-tuned machine, a sublime fee lunch, all parts in harmony as it effortlessly eats up the miles.

This paceline, however, is like that shopping cart at the grocery store that randomly changes direction every few seconds. I have prepared a visual aid to help make my point:

Here I am, just cruising along before the paceline shows up. The green line shows my speed (19MPH), the red line shows my power output (150 watts or so), and the blue line shows my cadence (85 or so). They are nice and smooth. The spike at the end is 400 watts where I decided to hop on the paceline, which leads to the next graph:

The first thing to notice is that speed (green) is all over the place; ranging from 19 MPH to 23 MPH. The blue and red lines show my reaction to it; sometimes I am soft pedaling (power down but cadence the same), but most times I have to react by coasting (on the worst drop on the right side I have to use my brakes). What it doesn’t show is that I am also drifting to my right to increase my drag to help me slow down, and I’m not the only one doing this.

This is what is called “the dreaded accordion” – the group is continually compressing and expanding. A few of us are trying to reduce the effect, there’s a solid core of riders who are faithfully trying to react to any change in speed as quickly as possible, which is why it is happening.

I have a couple of choices. I could pull left, work my way to the front, take a pull, and then try to slot back into the front group of 5 or so (the accordion is worse the farther back you get). I could sit here and deal with it. Or I can drop off.

Not only is it very aggravating, there are a lot of tired riders here, and there’s a decent chance somebody will touch a wheel and go down, and I’m in the back, so I will have to deal with the carnage.

I drop off and resign myself to a calmer spin back to the start. As I cross a bridge, I see a guy on the side holding a wheel with a forlorn look on his face. I ask him, “do you have what you need?” as I roll by, and he says, “not really…”, so I stop, and ride back. Only to find that it’s one of the guys who regularly rides with me on our Tuesday/Thursday rides. He has flatted twice, and would just patch the tube but his pump isn’t working so he can’t find the hole to patch it. I offer him my spare tube, he says, “you might need it”, I point out that we are only 6 miles from the end, but if it makes him feel better, he can pull all the way. As we are getting the tire back on, a support car pulls up, so we borrow his floor pump to inflate the tire, and we’re back on the road.

In payment for my services, I wheelsuck mercilessly for the last 22 minutes and we finally hit the finish line.

Summary and Reflection

This is one hard ride (and I avoided a bit of climbing with my shortcut); not as hard as RAMROD, but certainly in the same class, and the combination of the varying gradients, the quality of the pavement, and the out-and-back nature made it very mentally challenging.

A few stats:

Distance 105.6 miles
Moving time 6:43:20
Average speed 15.7 MPH (yea pacelines)
Calories (kJ) 3553
Elapsed time 7:55:20
Average power 147 watts
Top speed 42 MPH
Strava suffer score 310 (Epic)
Strava ride Link

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San Juan Islands 2014

Last year, my wife Kim and I did a Backroads guided tour on the California coast. We liked the experience, but weren’t overjoyed by the cost (they’re quite expensive) and the set itinerary. We therefore decided to attempt a do-it-yourself version in the San Juan Islands.

Transportation and Lodging

If you are going to the San Juans, you are going to have to deal with ferries. In fact, ferries are going to become central to your life, as that is how you are going to get from where you are staying to where you want to ride, and you only go when they go. We paid $68 to get us and our car from Anacortes to our lodging on Orcas Island, which sounds like a lot, except that you only pay when travelling westbound, so our return trip was free. If you are willing to not have a car during your stay (and if you choose to do that, I’d recommend staying in Friday Harbor), it will cost you much less from Anacortes, though you may have to pay for parking in Anacortes so it might be a wash.

The cost for bicycles and passengers when you travel between islands is pretty cheap. In fact, it’s free; you can take your bike between Orcas, Shaw, Lopez, and San Juan islands without paying at all. And you don’t have to worry about getting there early to make sure you get on the ferry, so it’s convenient as well.

There are a several different ferries that travel the route. We spent most of the time on the Klahowya, which is one of the small ones, chosen because some of the inter-island passages are pretty tiny.

You might end up on one of the super ferries, depending on schedule. They are a fair bit bigger, and are 75% more likely to be equipped with loud running children.

Which takes us to the ferry schedule. If you go to the state ferry website, they provide a simple schedule for you to use:

That is just the westbound schedule; there is also an eastbound schedule. You will need to understand both to plan your trips, and you’ll also have to understand the little marks to the side of the times. And you’ll have to know the order of the islands from east to west.

Or, you could do the easy thing, and click on the Schedule by Date link. It will give you something like this:


Which is customized to what you want to do. The cycle time on this route is around 3 hours – which is fairly typical for inter-island ferries – though it’s not uncommon for there to be big gaps at times. This makes keeping track of time important; if you miss that 5:40 ferry coming home you are going to have to wait until 10:00 for your next chance.

Kim booked us into Grandma’s Little House as our base camp, which is about 100’ uphill from the ferry dock at Orcas Island. This was a great place to stay; very close to the ferry but surprisingly pretty quiet, a deck with a great view, and a small but well-stocked grocery store right by the ferry dock. It was great to walk off the ferry and be done. There is only one restaurant (the one part of the Orcas Hotel) which we didn’t try because of mixed reviews.

I highly suggest bringing a set of light shoes that you can wear while you are on the ferry. Your feet will thank you. When you get on the ferry, make sure to ask which end to put your bike on; sometimes it’s the front, and sometimes it’s the back. You should also pull off anything you care about (computer, phone, tool) when you tie your bike to the wall on the car deck.

Day 1 – Orcas Island

To help level set, Eric is a serious recreational rider who rides around 80 miles/week with perhaps 5000’ of climbing. Kim is in good shape and is quite strong, but hasn’t ridden much this year.

To properly get into vacation mode, we decided to skip the ferry hassle, sleep in, and ride on Orcas on the first day. Orcas is roughly horseshoe-shaped, and we planned to ride from the southern tip of the western side to the southern tip of the eastern side and back, which Google maps assured us was 32 miles and 2300’ of climbing.

We started heading north at around 9AM. The road surface looked like this:

Except that it wasn’t quite that nice and didn’t have a smooth shoulder.

That wonderful surface is known and “chipseal”, and the majority of the roads on the islands feature it – both on the road and on the shoulder, assuming there is a shoulder. It adds a lot of vibration and slows you down perhaps 1MPH or so over a route. We were both running 25mm tires, and I heartily recommend them for this sort of surface, plus backing off a bit on inflation pressure. The surface quality will vary from “almost like asphalt” on some roads to “really rough” in others.

Confusingly located at the north end of the island, Eastsound is the main town on Orcas. Early on the way there, we hit a 300’ climb that peaks at about 12% grade, and a couple of other significant rollers. The islands are hilly, and Orcas has a reputation for being the hilliest. We settle into a rhythm where we each climb the hills at our own pace, and I wait for Kim at the top. We decide to skirt the outside of town to the north, and take a quiet side trip down to north beach next to the airport. We then head south on the east side of the island. After a few miles, we come to a 400’ ish climb in the 8/10/12% range, which tires Kim out a fair bit, and I’m getting hungry. Not knowing what our food options are farther south (we later find that they a pretty much “Rosario grill or foraging”), make the executive decision to turn around and head back into town.

It would be fair to say that the islands are not a culinary bonanza; there aren’t that many choices where to eat. We ended up at the Island Skillet,  which has good sandwiches and uneven service. We finish our lunch, ride back to our cottage and laze the rest of the day. Dinner is a packaged salad and sandwich from the ferry dock grocery, which was pretty good (the bread we had on the trip was pretty universally great), but I recommend finding a place with a full kitchen for dinners if you want to stay here.

Distance 27.3 miles
Elevation 2662’
Strava Link

Google maps says 1765’ of climbing for that route, which means that it underestimated the climbing on the route by about 1/3rd. This was a consistent pattern across our rides; as somebody who has spent a lot of time looking at elevation models, my guess is that the elevation model for the islands isn’t very detailed and it’s missing a lot of the small undulations, so keep this in mind if you use it when planning rides. I expect that other sites will have the same issue as they all use the same elevation data bases.

Day 2 – Lopez Island

The second day found us up early on the 7:something ferry to Lopez island. We spent some time riding there on a family bike trip led by Bicycle Adventures in 2007, so we had some idea of what to expect, and we had a map from Lopez Bicycle Works. Lopez is a nice place to ride; great views and not too much traffic, and the hills are mostly reasonable. Our southern destination was agate beach, but a bad bit of planning on my part (not doing a gps route) and a bad bit of navigation (also on my part) took us all the way down to Shoal Bight, adding a few miles and 300’ to the day. Somewhere in this section, we see the rusted shell of an old truck in a field, with a sign that says, “runs great, one owner, low miles, $8 OBO”.

We eventually got to agate beach and took a nature break (where the outhouse featured a copy of “The Economist” for your edification). We shared a honey stinger waffle and some cheez-its, and headed to the west side of the island to go back north and get some lunch. About 3 miles from the village, I notice that my front tire is a bit soft, so I stop by Lopez Bike works to get a new tube, since it’s conveniently on our road. “Bike works” is really just a small shack, but it’s well equipped, though the teenager working hasn’t seen a carbon bike before; he starts to clamp the downtube in his stand, and then, when I ask him to use the seat post (aluminum on my bike), he starts to loosen the seat. Once I get the seat bag off, he does fine, though they can’t go above about 80 psi with their compressor. That’s enough for now. I notice later that the village features a bicycle shop that looks a bit better.

We ride down to the village and have lunch at a somewhat forgettable café, pick up some bread and cookies at the bakery next door (both were excellent), and head out to meet our ferry. *Up* to the ferry dock, since there’s a hill between the ferry dock and the village. This was a great day; weather was perfect, route was good, scenery was good, company was great.

Distance 37.3 miles
Elevation 2455’
Strava Link

Day 3 – Friday Harbor

The forecast is rain, and not the gentle kind, so we bag on the cycling for the day and take a trip to Friday Harbor (on San Juan Island) for lunch and bowling. Friday Harbor is a small city, and if you want more options for lodging, you will find them here.

Getting on a ferry to go bowling seems a little weird to me, but since the cost is zero, all it costs us is time, with which we are well equipped. For lunch, Kim has a good basket of scallops and I have a forgettable basket of fish & chips. It’s sunny when we walk up the street to bowl, and find that we have the 8-lane bowling alley to ourselves. As usual, I present little challenge to my “bowled for years when I was younger” wife, but after a bit of coaching I manage to take the third game. After a couple games of pool, we walk back down to the ferry dock in a light rain, which changes to a heavy rain by the time we get there. When the ferry shows up, we board, along with some very damp cyclists and pedestrians.

We camp out inside for the afternoon and listen to the thunder and lightning, congratulating ourselves for our foresight. We head into “town” to the Lower Tavern for dinner (so named because there is a tavern located higher in town as well. Just kidding – there is no other tavern in town). Our dinners are good by usual standards (not island standards, so they’re pretty good), as is the service, though if you are into mixed drinks you should look elsewhere because it’s strictly beer and wine.

Day 4 – San Juan Island

With the promise of nicer weather and a beautiful morning, we take the 10:something ferry back to Friday Harbor. This time I’ve pre-planned the route using, but that doesn’t keep me from making a wrong turn right off the bat. The climb from the ferry dock isn’t bad, and pretty soon we are on on Roche Harbor Road heading to the west. About this time, I remember that telling my GPS to navigate isn’t the same as telling it to start recording, so I’m missing a bit of distance. It’s a nice enough road, but there’s a fair bit of traffic for a weekday morning. I expected to see a few nice water views, but this section is mostly just through forest and farm land.

There’s an interesting dichotomy on the islands; there are some really nice houses right on the waterfront, and then lots of agricultural land on the interior sections. On Lopez, for example, there are are waterfront homes for $500K+ (or perhaps you’d just like your own island), or you can head inland and find a small lot with a well for $40K. 

After about 8 miles, we turn off and head down towards Roche harbor, or, more technically, towards Roche Harbor Resort. We go straight past the upper village, descend down a steep hill, and then work our way back towards the marina. There is a small grocery store there, but we decide to eat at the Lime Kiln Café, named for the lime kiln that used to operate in a state park about 10 miles away.

We grab a nice table outside in the sun, and I go to stand in line to order. Overheard while I am waiting in line:

This is our last day here. My husband and his helper are getting the boat ready to go back to Seattle, but I have somewhere I need to go, so I’m going to fly out.

Here’s a typical picture of the marina, there are a lot of very expensive boats here:

There is a serious amount of money in this place, and they’re doing a bunch of building to ramp it up a bit.

After lunch of sandwiches – which were quite good and reasonably priced – we had a choice: we could either ride up the very steep road we came down, or we could ride up through the steep road on the village. I suffered up it; it was short, but it was in the 15%+ range. Kim also suffered up the first part of it, and walked the rest.

We returned back to the turnoff, and headed south, onto Mitchell Bay Road and then West Side Road. I had hoped for some nice water views here, but it was just hills the whole way, which reminded us that we ate too much at lunch (pro tip: you will be happier after lunch if you save half your sandwich for later). After a tight steep descent we finally ended up in the state park, where we rest for a bit and go out to the whale watching overlook. After 15 minutes in which neither cetaceans nor pinnipeds are in evidence, we clip back in and resume our climbing. At least this section has some nice views of Vancouver Island. Eventually, we turn inland and eastward, heading back towards town. After 5 miles of rural traffic, we hit the asphalt-paved outskirts of town and breathe a sigh of relief to be off the chipseal. We still had a couple of hours before the ferry, so we read the paper and buy a pizza (trendy ingredients, average flavor, but I’m a traditionalist in this area) to eat on the boat.

Distance 30.3 miles
Elevation 2624’
Strava Link

Day 5 – Mount Constitution

This was our last full day before heading back. We discussed heading over to Shaw island, but it has an inconvenient ferry schedule and Kim was feeling a bit tired, so she opted out of riding for the day. I decided to head over and climb Mount Constitution, the tallest point in the county at 2399’. I headed out at 9:30 on the same route that we had taken the first day. My legs were a bit heavy and I didn’t feel particularly peppy as I retraced the route. I had done some reading about the climb; it was fairly easy at the beginning, had a big section of 13% in the middle, flattened out, and then had another steep section at the top.

I rode up the steep hill where we turned around the first day, which put me 400’ higher, and soon saw water on my left. My first thought was, “Damn, I’m going to have to climb up all the way from the sound again”, but I was instead riding next to Cascade lake, a pretty large lake at 350’ of elevation. That left me with around 2000’ to climb. Soon after that, I hit the base of the climb:

This is a pretty small sign and you need to pay attention or you may miss it. I turn off, and start the climb.

The first section is about what I expect; lots of 7% climbing, and a few sections of 10%. I don’t want to overdo it, knowing what is to come, so I keep my wattage in the 225-250 watt range. That puts me at around 140-145 on my HR. Interestingly, That’s about 10% more power than I was pushing on the climb up Hurricane Ridge last month but with a slightly lower heart rate.

The climb reminds a bit of the first part of Paradise on Mt. Rainier, though it’s quite a bit steeper. After about a mile, a road branches off, the road tips up, and the fun begins. This is about a 2000’ climb, and I climbed hurricane at about 660 meters/hour, which means I should be able to do the climb in a perhaps 50 minutes.

The next two miles are steep. It’s typically around 12%; some sections a bit flatter, some a bit steeper. My legs feel okay – as okay as they can on this steep of a climb – and I keep the same wattage, which puts my cadence about 55 RPM. I stand up every couple minutes to give my legs a chance to rest. A car passes me now and then; I keep checking to see if it is a blue outback, as Kim has volunteered to chauffeuse for me today. If there is no traffic and I can see well, I ride the sharp hairpins on the outside to make them as flat as possible. My back – which has been bothering me for quite a while – starts to hurt, and it still hurts even when I stand up. I keep pressing on.

After what is a surprisingly short period of time (my data says this section was 2 miles long, 1000’ high, and I did it in about 22 minutes), I turn a corner and the road flattens out. This is the flatter section I had been waiting for, so I shift up and try to keep my wattage where I want it. It is challenging. Part of this section is flat, but there are still some small climbs. It takes me about 8 minutes, during which I travel a mile and climb another couple hundred feet. The description of the climb said that it has a hard section at the top, and sure enough the road tips back up, I start climbing hard again, and a very short 2 minutes later, I’m surprised to see the buildings at the top. One quick loop of the parking lot to get my heart rate down, and Kim pulls up. I switch to my regular shoes, and we walk up to the top. She takes the obligatory picture (I couldn’t find a sign that had the elevation on it):

That’s Puget Sound and part of Mt Baker behind me.

I climb to the top of the observation tower:

and run into a couple of other cyclists. Then it’s back down (and I’m happy to not have to ride the brakes on that descent), and we head into town, back to the Island Skillet for lunch (there really aren’t that many places to eat on Orcas).

I take a shower when we get back, then we head into town at 4:30, back to the Lower Tavern so that we can watch the Hawks beat the Packers. I drink two bottles of beer-flavored water, we share a couple order of vegetables and a burger, and of course, you already know what happened to the Packers…

Distance 19.9 miles
Elevation 3424’
Strava Link

The climb was shorter than I expected; a bit of research shows that the traditional hill climb starts down at the water at Rosario, and the start of the road is at around 500’, so the climb from the entrance is only 1826’. I did it in 43:00 @ 228 watts and 777 meters/hour, which I hope bodes well for the Windy Ridge climb that I’m doing on High Pass Challenge in a few days.

Summary and Totals

I had a great time. Being able to have a central location and ride from there worked very well, and having a car available was very convenient.

Distance 112.6 miles
Elevation 11,158’

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Eric’s Eastside Challenges–Somerset Seriously Steep and Stupid #1A

I was involved in a recent discussion about Zoo Hill, and ended up suggesting the following route:


And somebody rode it, and found out that it was pretty stupid (at 250’ of climbing per mile, it should be). Then somebody suggested a series of challenges. I’m not sure I’m actually going to do a series, but I did decide to work on a Somerset route that would be similar, because I think that hill  has a lot to offer and is often overlooked.

My goal was to stuff as many hard Somerset climbs into the shortest distance possible, and the route I came up with involves 2572’ of climbing in a measly 11 miles, clocking in at 233’ per mile. It also clocks in at about 1.2 SPM. SPM means “Stupids Per Mile”, which is the number of sections where you are going to say to yourself “Stupid Stupid Stupid…”.

You know Somerset Blvd, the hard climb up from Newport Way, the one that everybody thinks of when they think of Somerset? Didn’t make this ride. Not. Steep. Enough. Let that sink in a bit…

Do not ride this. Just don’t. You may think you like hills, but you are not going to enjoy this.

Somerset Seriously Steep and Stupid #1A

If you ignore my warnings and ride it anyway, please let me know what you think.

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Hills of the Eastside – This hill we call “The Zoo”

View all Hills of the Eastside posts…


We eat the night, we drink the time
Make our dreams come true
And hungry eyes are passing by
On streets we call the zoo

When we first start cycling, we avoid hills and ride only on the flats. Then, we have to do a few hills. Maybe we are riding to work and we can’t avoid a hill, or maybe we are riding with a friend who chooses the hill. We hate hills, and we wonder why anybody would ever choose to climb them.

We ride some more. We come to an understanding with hills. We don’t like them, and they don’t like us, but somehow, we manage to get along. One day, we get convinced to do a century – probably something like Flying Wheels – and we realize that we can conquer hills like Inglewood or Fall City.

Something changes. Instead of looking to avoid hills, we start planning our rides around hills. We still don’t really enjoy them, but we have learned that they are a worthwhile challenge.

About this time, we start overhearing things among our riding buddies. RAMROD. Mont-something. The Zoo. While enjoying an after-ride burrito, we finally get up the courage to ask…

“What is the Zoo?”

Our buddy turns to us, and says, “The Zoo is a climb at the south end of Lake Sam. Steep. 3 miles, 1300’ or so”. And then he pauses, smiles, and adds:

“The Zoo will change the way you think about hills”.

Welcome to the land of world-changers…


Very hill. Much painful.

Just passin’ through….

The easy ways up take you to Lewis Creek Park, which is a notch between the Somerset hill/ridge (I call it that but it is unnamed AFAIK) and Cougar mountain. From the north, Lakemont (G) is the easiest way up, but it’s steep, has a lot of traffic, and is generally a soul-draining climb. I avoid it. 164th (not on this map) is a nicer and easier way to get most of the way up, with much less traffic. From the south, 68th / Lakemont (B) is a nice climb up; there are a few steeper sections but it’s mostly just a steady climb. At the park, you are at about 860’ of elevation, so it’s a fair amount of work to get to the top. See the Descents section for ways to go down.

Newcastle Golf Course

Lying above the notch on the South side is Newcastle Golf Course. There are two nice climbs there; you can either take SE 79th (A) and climb 390’ up, or you can take 155th Ave (C) and climb 190’ up. The first climb is both steeper and longer. At the top, you have a nice view all the way to Seattle if the weather is clear.

Cougar Mountain

The Zoo

Any discussion about climbs on Cougar Mountain has to start with “The Zoo” (J). So named because of the small zoo near the beginning of the climb, The Zoo is a climb that gains 1325’ over 2.9 miles. It can be broken into three sections. The first section climbs 600’ in 1.1 miles, is mostly >10%, and includes a really steep hairpin turn that is 20%-ish on the inside. At the end of the first section, there is a short breather, and then a right turn on the second section. This section climbs only 436’ in 1.1 miles, so it seems easier than the first section, but in reality it’s a series of rollers of increasing gradient, with a nice 16% one right at the end of the section. You then turn left at the stop sign onto the third section, climbing 302’ in 0.7 miles, starting with a sustained climb in the 13% range, and then leveling off and starting to head down at the top.  There used to be a small section at the top where you could climb a private drive up to the water tank, but there are recent reports that there is now a gate partway up that climb. The online climb has been modified to head up 173rd Ave SE, which is pretty much equivalent to the traditional top.

A shorter but perhaps more useful description of the climb is “the puke-inducing lactate-producing gasp-fest that I avoid unless taunted”.

That’s The Zoo. After you come back down from the top section, you should turn left and descend to the west; descending down the zoo is not recommended because of the steepness and the tight turns. Expect some hand cramps from braking if you do it. Note that while you can skip the top third – and many people do this – it’s not really “The Zoo” if you don’t do the top third, it’s just “the Zo”.

For quite a while, riding The Zoo was the hardest way up Cougar, and – therefore – one of the hardest climbs around. But then something else happened. That thing is a hill named “Montreaux”, which we’ll talk about next.


A mere half mile to the west of the start of Zoo hill is a road named NW Village Park Drive. Which would be the name of the climb, except that it’s also the entrance to a development named “Montreaux”, so the climb (H) is named after the development rather than the road. Montreux climbs 689’ over 1.4 miles, starting out with a 12% pitch, flattening out a bit, and then kicking up to 16% and staying like that for most of the way to the top. Not to put too fine a point on it, it’s a bitch of a climb, enough to be comparable with the first part of The Zoo, but the exit sends you back out on Lakemont, so it always played second fiddle to its harder neighbor.

A little map-sleuthing showed a connection from the top of Montreaux into the midpoint of Zoo, leading to the first combined Montreaux + Zoo climb. It’s okay, except that the connector between is loose gravel and you have to get off your bike and walk, so it doesn’t really work, and it’s not really harder than the traditional route.

A few years ago, a short paved path appeared leading from the top of one of the Montreaux developments to the top of the second Zoo section, connecting the two areas. This connector is much better than the other one because 1) it is paved, and 2) it is truly brutal, with steep sections from 18% all the way up to 20%.  Taking Montreaux, adding this connector and the top part of Zoo gave us “Montreaux-Zooma’s Revenge”.

And that is how The Zoo was dethroned. It is no longer the hardest climb on the north side of Cougar Mountain.

Bonus Climbs

If you got up to the Zoo stop sign – either the hard way or climbing up SE Cougar Mountain Way on the back side – there are a couple of nice climbs to enhance your experience. They both offer killer views.

Pinnacles (E) is a 270’ very steep climb that switchbacks up. Make sure to climb all the way up to the cul-de-sac to get the full vertical. On the way down, stop to enjoy the view, which is pretty epic.

Belvedere (D) is a 261’ very steep climb just down the road a bit. It ends up pretty much the same place as Pinnacles, except it’s a bit to the south. It also has great views.

If you are feeling strong, I recommend Montreux-Zooma’s Revenge followed by both Pinnacles and Belvedere on the way down. That nets around 1900’ of climbing in 6.6 miles,

Squak Mountain

Rising up from Issaquah to the east of Cougar is the often-overlooked Squak Mountain. There are three ways up the North side:

  • The first starts near Tibbets Valley Park (K). It’s a nice climb, steep, less steep, steep, less steep. Make sure to go around the loop at the top so that you don’t miss out on the last 85’ of the climb.
  • The second goes up Wildwood (M).
  • The third goes up Mountain Park Blvd (L).

Wildwood and Tibbets are of similar difficulty, and Mountain Park is the hardest of the three. There are pitches all three that are quite difficult.


Heading North, you can descend 164th, Lakemont, or Montreaux. I do 164th the most as it’s fun and doesn’t have much traffic. Lakemont is super-fast if you like that sort of thing and are confident you can stop for the light at the bottom if necessary. Montreaux I’ve done a few times, and the turns are nice and wide but it’s really too steep for a nice descent. Zoo is right out.

Heading south, things are easy. You can take the Forest Drive descent I spoke of in the Somerset edition, or you can take Lakemont/Newcastle golf club road. My favorite descent is to start at The Zoo stop sign, descend down to Lakemont, and then all the way down into Renton. There is two short uphill sections west of Coal Creek Parkway that mean it’s not a pure descent, but it’s still very nice. The last little bit is nice and curvy, and you can cross the freeway overpass and pick up the Lake Washington trail. If you want to head North, you can take Lake Washington Blvd north instead of south and it will dump you out near Newcastle beach Park. From the Zoo stop sign all the way down to the water it’s around 7 miles and over 1100’ of descending.

This is also a nice climb if you are headed the opposite way.

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Hills of the Eastside

The Posts

The Story

About 8 years ago, I started riding on the Eastside Tours ride, led at that time by Per and Shanna Sunde. After I got into hills, I ended up building the website that I wished already existed – – and, a few years later, took over leadership of the Eastside Tours rides.

With what I learned from Per and what I learned on my own, I know a lot about hills. I’ve probably climbed the majority of the hills within 25 miles of Marymoor park. So, I decided to write these posts to share what I’ve learned with others.

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Col Arête d’Ouragan

The climb up the col Arête d’Ouragan starts near the ocean in the fishing and shipping center of le Port des Anges, and provides a mountaintop finish near the ski area at 1598 meters, with an elevation gain of 1555 meters. In terms of raw elevation climbed, it exceeds many famous climbs in the French Alps – Col du Tourmalet (1404 meters), Col du Galibier (1245 meters), and Col du Madeleine (1520 meters) are a few examples – and is shorter only than giants such as Ventoux (1622 meters). At an average gradient of only 5.2% and a maximum gradient of only 10%, it does not compare in difficulty with the tougher climbs; perhaps a climb such as Col d’Aubisque (harder yet shorter in elevation) is a reasonable comparison.


I rode up it as part of the “Ride the Hurricane” event put on by the city of Port Angeles. It’s the biggest climb in Washington (5155’), and probably the hardest one. It doesn’t get as much attention as the climbs on Rainier or Baker because of its location on the Olympic Peninsula and the time it takes to get there.

We drove over through Tacoma on Saturday morning, stopping for lunch in Gig Harbor, and then took a drive up to the top of Hurricane Ridge so that I could get an idea of what I was in for.  It’s a long, twisty drive, and it reminded me most of the climb up to Sunrise.

On Sunday, I got up at 5:30, got dressed, grabbed a slice of toast at the hotel breakfast, and got in the car so my wife could drive me to the start of the ride at Peninsula College. Check-in was pretty slow (pro tip to the organizers – have a separate line to fill out waivers so that those of us who have already done it don’t have to wait for the rest of the people). At registration, we got a green identity band and a commemorative vest.

Back at the car, I pulled out my bike and started getting ready. It was a bit of a poser to figuring out what to take; while it’s a serious climb, I expect to be done in less than 4 hours, and that isn’t going to take that much food and drink mix to get my by. I settle for a bottle of Nuun, and bottle of Skratch Labs Raspberry (plus two refills), and a sandwich ziploc with Cheez-its. The temp was in the high 50s and promised to get a fair bit hotter and I will be climbing, so I add my new Sun Sleeves and stuff a vest in my pocket in case I want it for the descent. Then I’m off.

The college is a bit up the hill from the highway, so my first move is to ride back down to US 101 and start the climb from there. Doing this adds 170’, and without it the whole climb doesn’t exceed 5000’. I hit the bottom, reset my GPS, and start climbing.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about how I’m going to ride the climb. Big climbs require a measured approach, since there is little time to discover, but one should also honor to the climb – a solid HC in this case – and climb with as much panache as one is capable of. I don’t have to worry about holding something back for later climbs, so I can afford to ride it pretty hard. Based on my power data for the year and my climb rate on Mount Diablo last year, I look at the strava page for the climb and estimate that if I can hold that ascent rate, it will take me 2:20 to do the climb. I’m going to target around 200 watts for my power level, and – if I have anything left in the last 500 feet – upping my power to finish.

“How I feel” may be problematic. I haven’t done a lot of long rides this year, and a week or so ago, I did some really hard efforts up hills and overstressed my back muscles, and they’ve been complaining on anything above 6% or so.

The climb is broken into two sections; the climb up to the entrance gate of the park, and then the climb from there to the top. The first section is a bit of a pain; there are extended sections at 8% or so, and some sections at 10% or so. In this section I climb 1762’ over about 6 miles. I’m riding at just over 200 watts and my heart rate is right about 150 (my max is 164 these days), and I’m feeling pretty good. I get passed by 3 or 4 people, and pass a bunch.

One of the neat things about this ride is its accessibility. A ride like RAMROD not only has a lot of hard climbing but it’s very long, so that to do it you need to be able to do the climbs fast enough to be able to finish the whole ride in a reasonable amount of time. You need to be a fairly serious cyclist to do it. This ride is short enough that even if you are a very slow climber, you can make it to the top. And, you can skip the whole bottom third of the climb and start at the entrance to the park instead if you’d prefer.

The first third tops out at the entrance to the park, and I ride through the station at a fast clip. I’m feeling quite good. After a misleading flattish section of 1-2%, the climb stabilizes at 5-6%, which is where it will remain for the rest of the ride. At this point it gets a little boring; I climb, then I climb some more, and then, to try something different, I do some climbing. I do have a rough schedule; every 10 minutes or so I stand for a minute to change positions and rest my back muscles, every 15 minutes or so I have a drink, and every 30 minutes I eat a handful of cheez-its.  My legs are feeling okay, but my back is marginal. I near the second rest stop and pass it by, riding through three short tunnels. This really is a long climb. Somewhere along the way, I hear a “Hi Eric”, and find a rider who has been on one of my rides. He’s climbing at about 30% faster than me, so after a short talk he quickly disappears into the distance. I don’t have a lot of breath to talk, so this is for the best. Eventually, I round a corner and hear the third stop (lots of cowbells and cheering). I to refill a bottle with Skratch, take a quick nature break, and to get a brownie.

(Pro tip – If you see something you like at a food stop but don’t want to eat it right now, wrap it in a napkin and put it in your pocket. Later stops probably don’t have the same thing).

Even though I only stopped for about 5 minutes, heading out is painful because it’s right back to a hard effort, and my legs ache. I’ve been climbing at 150 BPM or so for the whole ride, and my max heart rate is only 164 or so. I’m moderating my effort based on how my head feels; if I’m at just over 200 watts, I can feel my heartbeat lightly throbbing in my head, while if it gets up to 220 watts, it morphs into a thoroughly unpleasant bass track. Or, I can use heart rate the same way; 150 is fine, 154 is too much.

I climb some more, and, just after I pass a group of 3, the last water stop appears. I’m pretty hot, so I stop, dump the remainder of my nuun, and refill my second bottle with water, which I dump on my arm coolers, back, and chest. This helps a bit but we’re above 4000’ now, which means I have just enough brain power to spare to figure out – using the 2.5% per 1000 feet rule -  that there’s only about 90% of the oxygen there would be at sea level. Re-catching the group of three takes a long time. I decide to push the pace a bit, and this turns out to be a bad idea; I throttle back to about 180 watts, which is tolerable, barely. I’m still passing people, but there’s not much talking as everybody just wants it to end. 4200’ and 4300’ pass. I marvel that about 1/4 of the people that I pass are wearing their free vests, which seems incredibly hot; I’m putting out 200 watts into moving me forward, but since the human body is about 25% efficient, that means that I’m generating 600 watts of waste heat.

At about 4500’, I can see the last turn that will take us onto the south side with a view of the mountains. I faintly hear drumming, which, as I near the top, resolves itself into a 5-person drumming group under an easy-up on the side of the road. I thank them for the help.

Then finally, I turn the corner to the west, and hit the Hurricane Ridge visitor center parking lot, which is mercifully flat. I ride over to the visitor center, get off my bike, and look at the elapsed time. 2:20, which is exactly what I estimated.

I park the bike and head into the visitor center for some water and a cookie. I take a couple of pictures, rest a couple more minutes, and get ready to head down. I’m a little chilled because of all of the water I poured on myself, and I think about putting on my vest, but it’s fairly warm by now so I decide to go without.

The descent is glorious; the 6% grade gives me a terminal velocity of about 32 MPH, which is a nice safe velocity. I dry off in about 5 seconds. There are some turns that require a bit of braking, but not a lot. I spin my legs for most of the way down to keep them warm and keep the speed constant. Looking down, I notice that for some stupid reason, I paused my GPS so the first 10 miles or so of the descent isn’t recorded. Somewhere in this section, I get passed by one guy who is seriously aero and a lot faster than me, and one guy that’s just a little faster.

Eventually we see a “speed limit reduced” sign, which means we’re back at the campground. Given that I’ve been riding in the low 30s, this descent down has taken over 20 minutes. Over 20 minutes of a beautiful and fast trip down a road with very good pavement. This is payback for the suffering on the way up.

I catch up with the guy that is a bit faster as we actually have to climb a bit here, and we both complain about having to climb this hill. I have more in my legs than he does, so I kick a bit to keep my speed up, and we trade places on the remainder of the descent; he pulls ahead when it’s steep, and I pull ahead when it’s flat.

We hit the stop sign near the bottom, and turn off and ride slowly back to the starting point. It’s not quite 10 AM; in just over 3 hours, I climbed 5100’ and descended back down, including breaks. The lunch won’t be ready until 11 am, so I text my wife, she shows up with the car and her bike (she was riding on the waterfront), and we head to the hotel to shower, and then the ferry to get back to Seattle.

Here’s the Strava data for my climb (I chopped off the descent because of the rider error at the top).

Distance: 18.7 miles

Time: 2:20:02 moving (2:25:35 total)

Elevation Gain: 5162’

Average Power: 204 watts

Average Heart Rate: 149 BPM

Speed: 7.7 MPH

kJ (calories): 1696

This makes me happy; I was about to hold my desired power level and target heart rate for pretty much the entire climb, though I did fade a bit at the top.

I’m browsing the Strava leaderboard. I’m 170 out of 238 people on the climb, but as I scan down I see the names of two guys that I ride with that normally climb much faster than me.  Hello Francis and Ken…

Overall, it was a great ride. A great route, a huge climb, no cars, and then a wonderful descent. All before 10AM.

Oh, and one final note…

I realized that Hurricane Ridge is misnamed. Hurricanes are an Atlantic ocean phenomena, and due to the proximity to the Pacific Ocean, it should instead be known as “Typhoon Ridge”.

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