The Christmas Zoo

Every year, some neighbors of ours decorate their yard with the Christmas menagerie. In this amazing collection, they display some traditional and some not-so-traditional animals, all decorated with accompanying Santa hats. We love going up there every year (some of us many times a season) to see what new and unusual Christmas animals appear.

This year, they had a:
Christmas Sheep
Christmas sheep…

Christmas Zebra
Christmas zebra…

Christmas Hippo
Christmas hippo…

Christmas Fox
Christmas fox…

Christmas Llama
Christmas llama…

Christmas Rhino
Christmas rhino…

Christmas Narwhal
Christmas narwhal (my personal favorite this season), and, last but not least, a…

Christmas T-Rex
Christmas T-Rex.

I still miss the Christmas flamingo and my absolute favorite of all time, the Christmas vulture. Maybe they’ll make an appearance next year. I can always hope.

Merry Christmas Scenes

I don’t want to give the false impression that everything is 100% rosy and cheerful around here all the time, but Christmas Day and Christmas Eve have had some pretty great moments interspersed between the incredibly overwrought shrieking and imperious demanding most frequently propagated by our offspring.

Boy did Benji get a lot of books for Christmas. In fact, he really only got one toy, the Lego set we gave him. He also got a new backpack and lunch box, which is nice, but not exactly fun to play with.
Books for Christmas

Atlas Jigsaw Puzzle Book

Lighthouse Lego Set

Artifishial Legs

Ohmygoodness it is actually snowy on Christmas Day! What!!
Christmas Lights Under Snow

Christmas Day Snow Play

Christmas Day Snow Play: Follow My Tracks

We had planned to visit the Fergusons today to do Christmas stuff with them. That’s indefinitely on hold, in the hopes that warmer weather will make roads more passable. We want to avoid this, which is what Benji and I saw on our snowy walk this morning.
Somebody's Having a Tough Christmas
Benji: “Mommy, look! These cars are connected together!” They sure are, buddy. They sure are. And we want to avoid doing that with our brand-new car, so: Staying home is now Item 1 on the agenda!

And… I don’t always have time to do art stuff, but when I do, I like to make collages.
Christmas Collage 2017

Dumb Trainer, Smart User

Today it was 25° in the morning, sunny and clear. Dad had posted this lovely route, and I initially planned on joining him. The ride started at 11:00 am, late enough to let things warm up, if they were going to. Before then, Benji and I went to the hardware store and bought more chemical toe warmers, an essential component for making these cold-weather rides tolerable, and it brought home to me how downright freezing it was outside. Literally.

When it came right down to it, I thought about my week — four days of wet or subfreezing commuting — and I just couldn’t do another day, even a dry and generally lovely one. It was the thought of putting on all those clothes again; coughing from the remains of my cold objecting to the freezing air; fingers and toes slowly or quickly freezing; –after some agonizing, I opted to ride my trainer. Plus, it gave me time to spend with Benji and my mom, which I don’t get to do as much these days.

I didn’t want to miss Dad’s ride, though, so I decided to give my best shot to approximating the climbs on Dad’s ride while on my trainer. Here’s my methodology:

  • I looked at each of the 13 major climbs on the route and estimated their elevation gain and percent grade. I recorded these.
  • I estimated how long each climb would take, assuming 2 minutes/100′ of elevation gain, although honestly I have no idea how accurate that was. That determined how long I stayed in the gearing determined by the % grade.
  • While on my trainer, I approximated the % grade by shifting up or down. Grades of 10% or more were in the very hardest gear; grades of 5% to 10% were in the second- and third-smallest rings; grades of less than 5% were in the fourth or fifth chainrings.
  • Between hills, I checked the route elevation profile and gave myself 1, 2, or 3 minutes of recovery time depending on approximately how much distance there was between the real hills.

Here’s my setup:
Dumb Trainer Hill Climb Approximation

After each hill I marked it off, because by the time I’d done a half-dozen, I couldn’t remember where I was. I also kept referring to the elevation profile to estimate how steep it would be, and tried to adjust gearing a bit based on that.

Here’s the real route elevation profile compared with my heart rate on the trainer ride, which, since I don’t have a power meter, is my best measure of effort.

Overall, I rode an hour and 45 minutes, a little longer than usual on the trainer, and felt like it was an okay workout. The big weakness was, of course, me. Hills are only as hard as you want them to be, and while I did try to push myself, my heart rate never got anywhere near what it would have been on a group ride.

Which leads me back to the idea of a smart trainer. Wahoo makes one that’s compatible with my Wahoo Elemnt bike computer. In addition to working with programs like Zwift and Sufferfest, which many of my buddies use, the Wahoo Kickr is supposed to be able to approximate any ride or route, changing resistance based on the real ride data. Basically, it does perfectly what I did really awkwardly today.

The question is: Is that worth $1,200? Or, put another way, how many more rides like the one I did today would I have to do to amortize the $1,200 smart trainer price tag? If I keep commuting, how many days will I ride a trainer anyway? Are there other options, like using ANT+ to pair my Surface with my existing bike sensors in combination with some subscription service?

I don’t know. It all comes back to the fundamental question I’ve been struggling with the last couple months: What do I want to get out of biking?

If it’s intense training and increased speed/fitness, then a smart trainer or subscription service might make sense. I’d commute a lot less and ride in the garage a lot more (although where I’d find the time, I can’t imagine). I’d definitely get stronger and faster, but I’d also have to take the bus a lot more, and probably wake up even more painfully early.

If, on the other hand, I’m riding because commuting is a great way to get home and it helps keep me generally healthy, then I don’t need a smart trainer. I may get slower — it’s almost a certainty, because commuting sucks as training — but that won’t matter, because I’m just getting from Point A to Point B in an enjoyable way.

Last year I tried to ride a line between the two, interspersing training in with commuting, but only had mixed success. My legs felt tired all the time, but I remained slower than my bellwether riding buddies. I completed my annual hill rides, but overall went slower than previous years.

Is there some middle road (no pun intended) that I’m missing?

Bike Commute Route Comparison: North End, I-90, and 520

Yesterday, a wonderful thing happened; I’d almost call it a Christmas miracle. The long-awaited, oft-delayed multi-use path across 520 finally opened all the way, connecting the Eastside with Seattle for bikes and pedestrians. Naturally, I immediately seized the opportunity and rode across it the first available opportunity… and the second available opportunity, too. Now I’ve ridden it twice, and I’ve got to say, it’s lovely.

The path itself is wide, smooth (except for a few unavoidable metal plates, a feature of pretty much every bridge I’ve ever ridden over), and well lit. I imagine that in daylight you’d get a lovely view. There’s also a user-counter on the Seattle end of the bridge that informed me that yesterday I was user number 1,965 and today I was user 858, which I think is pretty nifty (if it works; TBD).

I know that for some commuters, this is going to be a complete game-changer. For my part, while it’s going to be super nice to have this option, and I know we’ll use this on bike routes, I don’t think it will change much in terms of how long I take getting home on a day-to-day basis. It’s kind of a hybrid between the North End route I do three times a week and the I-90 route I do once a week — a couple miles less, but not much faster.

Because I spend all day writing technical documents, of course I’m going to make a table outlining the pros and cons of each route. The column headers are links to a representative route.

 Route North End I-90 520
Distance (miles) 21.4 22.1 19.6
Est. Avg. Time¹ (h:m) 1:19² 1:27³ 1:18
Elevation Gain (ft) 550 1300 1000
n Hundreds Dozens 1
Stop Lights After Fremont, very few Many throughout Varies by section
Traffic After Fremont, minimal car traffic Lots throughout Varies by section
Other Factors Pedestrians and other cyclists a hazard between Fremont and UW, but sometimes get to wheelsuck for a faster commute. Goes through downtown Bellevue and Kirkland; crosses Mercer Slough (freezing/icy). Goes through UW (slow pedestrian traffic), goes through downtown Kirkland.

¹ Seasonal differences can result in +/- 15 minutes, depending on temperature, wind, rain, bicycle, amount of cargo and carrying options, and company.

² Varies substantially by season, bicycle, and cargo carrying options. This route is most impacted by all variables.

³ Not as impacted by variables, possibly moderated by inefficiencies of hills and numerous stoplights. I’d hypothesize that the 520 route would be a mix of the two in terms of variation.

Well, that’s all I’ve got so far. After two uses of the bridge and one full 520-route commute, I’m still in evaluation mode. I’ll keep y’all updated.

Bike Commuting Thoughts

Trust in Good from the bottom of you heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own.

Proverbs 3:5

I’m trying to figure out my biking situation still. I’m torn between training hard to get faster and commuting–which, I’ve found, isn’t conducive to getting faster, no matter how good my intentions.

When I started at Tamarac last January, I laid out a training plan for myself that included interval sets doable on the trail and some days with added hills. I was keenly aware that plain old commuting has, in the past, worn me down without any fitness gains. I wanted to avoid that.

Again, good intentions… Following my plan, I felt exhausted on every Saturday ride. My legs had no reserves and every time I tried to work hard, I went straight to lactic acid burning. I did one hill repeat ride in the week that seems to have damaged my left leg for real. Now when I try to ride up a long hill, my left leg gives out and I can’t make it. I also got slower on hills in general because my commute is so flat.

Anyway, I want to rethink my plan for this year. The paradigm of varying my commute days was a good one. I just need to dial in what that variety looks like and how I incorporate more hill work. And I have to find a way to motivate myself to work hard on my bike after a long day at work that used up most of my discipline.

I’m generally not happy with my biking fitness after almost a year of steady commuting. All that means is that it’s time for a change.

Wisdom and Silliness

Tune your ears to a world of Wisdom; set your heart on a life of Understanding.

Prov. 2:1-ish

I wonder where levity and silliness fit in to the world of wisdom? This is a non-hypothetical question because today at work we have a white elephant gift exchange.

I’m bringing a plush rainbow unicorn and a bag of unicorn farts. I’m excited about this gift because someone may like it…but probably whoever gets it will have a good eye-roll. I’m interested to see how it goes.

People are still talking about last year’s best/worst gift: an unopened Costco-sized jar of mayonnaise, just ready to expire. I am pretty excited to see what comes out this year.

Then, tonight, Ian and I are definitely not following the path of wisdom: We’re going to the opening night of the new Star Wars movie, in a theater entirely rented out to our friend Ryan and his guests.

We still have to go to work the next day, but I’m trusting it’s going to be worth it. If nothing else it’s so fun going to opening night of a movie with a crowd of people super excited to see it.

I’m not sure what world of wisdom might be found in all this, but perhaps there’s something. I’ll let you know if I find anything.