Levi’s Gran Fondo Ride Report

This is us before the ride. How optimistic and eager we look!

John and I started together, but got separated pretty quickly. We were in the first group to go, doing the longest route, and let me say — wow those riders are fast. I had already decided to just ride my own ride, regardless of what other people around me were doing. As a result, although I rode in proximity with other people, especially at the beginning, I spent most of the ride alone. That’s fine; it’s what I expected and it worked well for me. No pressure to push beyond what my leg could sustain.

I rode for myself, pacing and going the speed I felt safe and comfortable going… Which was a lot slower than most people on the descents, sadly. The roads left a great deal to be desired, and on the descents it was beautiful but I couldn’t see much because the terrible pavement, dappled light, and constant winding curves forced me to keep on high alert the entire time.

I only stopped twice, once at about 45 miles and once at about 70-something miles; I had some food and refilled my bottles and went on. (Note: That’s why I don’t have any during-the-ride pictures. They were timing us, gosh darn it, I’m not wasting time on photos! But it was truly beautiful.)

The temperature was perfect, the route included a tailwind on this flat stretch along the coast that was spectacular, and we got so many just amazing views throughout the event. The climbing was difficult, but all our training really paid off and I completed every climb without having my leg fail me.

Oh, the other thing I wanted to mention was how cool it was so see so many fast women. Way faster than me. Seriously. There were way more women than I’m used to seeing riding at that level. It was humbling and awe-inspiring at the same time.

Here we are about seven and a half hours after starting. Much less perky, but super happy to be done.

I ended up with a 7:15 moving time and 7:35 total elapsed time, averaging 16.2 mph — not exactly setting any land speed records, but I finished without my leg having any serious collapses, so that counts as a win to me.



Strava says I didn’t have any “achievements” … which just shows what Strava knows. I finished. 

Next up: I’ll work on getting faster from now on. I’m learning how to manage the illiac artery compression impairment, at least to some extent, so now it’s time start figuring out how to work a little harder, a little harder, a little harder… until I’m fast enough to keep up with the lady my mom’s age who passed me on Levi’s Gran Fondo and who I never saw again. She was fast.

I’ll definitely get right on that. Right after I’ve taken a good month or so to do easy recovery-type riding. Hoo boy.

Levi’s Gran Fondo Final Training Ride Report

Yesterday I did this ride.



Now, a few things about yesterday.

  • Due to some commute traffic excitement, I ended up commuting home by bike on Friday. I always, always rest on Fridays because my legs need one or, before a super strenuous ride, two days to rest completely for optimal performance. Even a super-easy slow ride seems to have a very tangible impact in the next day’s performance.
  • The weather was really marginal: thunderstorms and stiff winds, accompanied by the occasional wind gust for excitement. It’s late September; that’s what I’d expect. Unfortunately it coincided with the final peak training ride for the Levi’s Gran Fondo I’m doing on October 6. 
  • I’ve been dealing with iliac artery compression in my left leg for the last year and a half. I could write a whole post about this, but the upshot is that when my heart rate gets high, I experience excruciating, crippling pain in my left quad and calf, far beyond anything I’ve ever known from exercise before. It’s like an 11 on a scale of 1 to 10. If I try to push through, the leg weakens until I can’t pedal anymore. 

I’ve been training for this Gran Fondo with my friend John Jester, who’s gotten super strong and fast the last couple years. Now, with my leg, I can’t exert myself to chase people who are faster unless I want to experience excruciating agony. It’s incredibly frustrating. Anyway, John and I have been training together, and yesterday we met up for the last of the hard training rides before the Gran Fond itself.

We’ve ridden up Squak Mountain a bunch of times the last few weeks; its sustained grade and length make it a perfect training hill. Yesterday as we started climbing, a thunderstorm hit with torrential rain. I’d brought a jacket (the best on-bike rain jacket I’ve ever owned, bar none) and stopped to put it on. This was an on-again, off-again day, as it was in the mid-60s, making wearing too many clothes an issue also.

But after that, I struggled. I went slower and slower as my leg failed. When I finally got to the top and saw John completing multiple laps of the top loop, I felt such deep shame at my weakness mixed with misery, frustration, desperation, and hopelessness that I wanted to give up. I wanted to get off my bike and lie down and cry.

I kept riding, but after that, it was an endless slog of misery. I feel bad for John, who had a strong ride and had to keep waiting for me; I wasn’t even very good company. It took everything in me to just keep going. I finished, slow and miserable. I did cry when I got home.

I’m not optimistic about the Gran Fondo.

Solo Mt. St. Helens Biking Adventure

Yesterday I got to have a microscopic vacation, 12 hours completely by myself. Wow! What did I do to earn this wonderful reward? Nothing; Ian made it possible out of the goodness of his heart.

Also, he understands how much training for this upcoming Gran Fondo means to me, and he’s being extremely accommodating.

Double also, the Washington Department of Ecology once again rated air around here “Unhealthy,” thanks to the wildfires that have filled our air with toxins and haze for the last three weeks. My solo adventure stemmed from a desire to find somewhere else with better air to train.

Now, one challenge this week is that all my usual suspects for riding with had other plans. Dad jetted off to the East Coast, presumably to bike the Cape in air where you can see more than a mile away; my other buddy had plans; and that’s it. I’m low on training buddies right now. (Note to self: Gotta make some new friends, or refresh old relationships. Biking alone isn’t the most fun.) 

After much debate and route consideration, I opted to ride to the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument Johnston Ridge Observatory. Say that six times fast. I did this for two reasons: 1. As mentioned in the first challenge, I’d be riding alone, and I knew the route (there are literally no turns), which also met my training requirements to ride long, steady climbs; and 2. The air quality in southwestern Washington looked quite a bit better than the Seattle area.

Challenge number two: We own one car. This becomes a problem only on extremely rare occasions, such as yesterday, when we have to go opposite directions. We solved this challenge easily by borrowing a car from my parents. But also incidentally, the one car we own is all-electric. Again, has never yet proven problematic. We rarely want to do drives that exceed the 250-ish miles we can go on one charge.

Well, except yesterday. Mt. St. Helens is about 120 to 150 miles from our house, depending on where you stop. I opted to stop at the Mt. St. Helens Visitor Center, 47 miles from Johnston Ridge and about 125 miles from our house. (Fun fact: The visitor center is run by Washington State Parks, so you can park there for water and bathrooms; use your Discover Pass to park all day. Handy!) I knew, from mapping the route ahead of time, that I could get to the visitor center well within range for our Bolt. However, it wasn’t well within the range roundtrip.

Like Scarlett O’Hara, I decided to think about that “tomorrow.” And by “tomorrow,” I actually meant after I finished my ride.


Solo Mt. St. Helens Ride: Start

Suffice it to say that I arrived at the visitor center after about a two-hour drive. Then I rode my bike a long way, up a lot of hills. I felt good–it was actually nice to ride alone, keeping my own pace, not having to wait or try to catch up. My left leg, which I’ve struggled with, never experienced the crippling pain it gets every ride; but I also saw only 30% to 40% power from that leg. More on that in another post.

Here’s where I went. Very exciting route. (Note: It looks like the WordPress update has broken the iframe from Ride With GPS. Click View Full Version to see the actual route.)

At the halfway point I stopped at Johnston Ridge Observatory, paid $8, and enjoyed their nice clean restrooms.


Solo Mt. St. Helens Ride: Johnston Ridge Observatory

I also looked out, but overall the view wasn’t what it has been in the past. I’d ridden through a layer of clouds at around 3,000 feet (and wished I’d brought more than just a vest and light arm warmers), which looked like riding through a white nothing, and smoke did haze the view. It was better than at home, but not as good as in past years.


Solo Mt. St. Helens Ride: Pretty Smoky

After a quick snack, I started back down… although it’s not exactly all downhill from there. There’s one significant climb on the way back, and honestly even the small little dips and rises feel plenty hard by the time you get there. Also, a west wind develops in the afternoon, and of course I spent the entire time riding west. This improved air quality, but made my ride quite a bit harder. Riding up little bumps with a wind felt like sheer torture.

Honestly, one of the happiest moments of my ride was when I thought I had a mile to go, and I saw a sign for the visitor center 1/4 of a mile away. Hallelujah!

The car was still there (I did worry a bit), and as I pulled up and started to discombobulate my gear, I felt a raindrop. Then another. Then several more. I hastened my putting-away procedure and as I got into the car the rain started in earnest.

Not that earnest, though, because only a couple miles away it stopped and I never saw another drop.

Now we get to the third challenge: Range. When I got started driving again, the car estimated I had 119 miles of range. But I’d driven 125 miles to get there. After consulting with Ian, who’s really the expert on the car since he drives it every day, I decided to stop at the fast charger at the LeMay Car Museum in Tacoma. I’d been to the museum before, and it’s right off the freeway. But I’ve never tried fast charging the car; we have a level 2 charger in our garage, which is ample for charging overnight, but too slow for a trip like this.

By the time I got there, I had an estimated 40 miles of range left, but 45 miles to get home — and 40 miles is just an estimate. Freeway driving tends to drag down the range substantially. So I stopped and found the charger. After a little finagling (the credit card reader on one charger didn’t work, but it worked fine on the other charger. Thank goodness there were two!), I got charging started.


Solo Mt. St. Helens Ride: Fast Charging the Bolt 1


Solo Mt. St. Helens Ride: Fast Charging the Bolt 2

The speed of charging astonished me. I could’ve left after 15 minutes, but Ian wanted me to stay for 30 minutes to see if it really added 90 miles as advertised. It did. That’s impressive. I blithely drove the rest of the way home without worrying about my charge level. With that I dealt with challenge number three.

I got home just over 12 hours after leaving, just in time to read Benji a bedtime story and say goodnight. Then I ate more food and went to bed. Despite the smoke, it was a good day.

Diary of a Commute Bike

This morning started like all normal mornings. The garage door opening let in sunlight — sunlight isn’t the normal part. I mean the garage door opening.

Then my partner, who’s the engine, and I did a short trip to a bus stop. It only takes a couple minutes, but we always have to stop two or three times. I don’t like having to stop so much, and sometimes the engine seems a tad anxious, too–usually when we leave a little later. But we usually make it to the bus stop before the bus.

Diary of a Commute Bike: Bus Stop

We spend a lot of time standing around here. I don’t know why. I’m perfectly capable of doing the whole ride to work, but my engine insists on riding the bus.

Diary of a Commute Bike: On the Bus

I don’t care for riding the bus so much. Bikes are made to have both wheels firmly on the ground, thank you very much.

But once we go across the two bridges and get to the busy noisy place, we get off the bus and my engine and I get rolling again for another short trip with many stops.

There’s a few things I don’t understand about the busy noisy place.

First, we have to stop all the time – six or seven times, maybe more, in less than 10 minutes of travel time. We would get there much faster if the engine wouldn’t stop me so often.

Diary of a Commute Bike: Seattle Stop Light on 7th Ave

Second, sometimes I noticed we get our own special road just for partnerships like us.
Diary of a Commute Bike: 7th Ave Bike Lane
I see lots of us zooming around. The other day we went on one special road for a very short way–about 0.3 miles, the computer told me–short, but super fancy. Later I heard the engine mention that road cost $3.8 million.

What I want to know is: Why’d someone spend all that money for that? My engine and I like our special roads, but just marking it with paint is good enough for us. We didn’t care for the fancy raised up section and the way it feels like we’re on the sidewalk with the intersections with driveways. Sidewalks aren’t for us! Why are they making pretend sidewalks and calling them bike roads?

Anyway, we got to the dark place where I hang out with my friends while the engine does other stuff for a long time.

Diary of a Commute Bike: Hanging Out

As usual, I spent the day there hanging out and shooting the breeze with the other bikes there. I’m meeting lots of unfamiliar bikes who say they only go out when it’s sunny. I say, what’s the point of that? I have fenders, and the engine seems to work okay in the wet, although maybe not as optimally as when it’s sunny. I don’t know why that should matter, but apparently it does.

Eventually, the engine came back and we rode back to the garage home, where we started. I don’t understand why the engine does this most days — not every day, but mostly five days out of seven. Why??

Sometimes she seems to like seeing what’s out there, like on this ride…

Diary of a Commute Bike: Pretty 520 Sky

Diary of a Commute Bike: Pretty Lake Washington

… But other times she hardly looks around at all. What’s the point of that?

Anyway, I’ve noticed there are places — always at the same spots — where the engine pedals slower but breathes a lot louder. She did it again on the way back this time, even though I’m sure I heard her say she was going to not breathe heavy while riding for a while.

Diary of a Commute Bike: Market Street

I’m not sure why we have to slow down so much on those sections, or why she seems to be panting at times, but after those times, I often get to go fast.

I love going fast! It’s my favorite thing!

Except sometimes the engine slows us down for no reason I can see. And sometimes she doesn’t help at all — I have to do all the work. How fair is that?! When it’s up to me, I always make sure we roll along plenty fast.

On the way back, we have an awful lot of times we have to stop. I don’t like that. I want to go faster. We especially already stop at some of those places almost every time.

Diary of a Commute Bike: Eastside Stoplight at Bellevue Way

Diary of a Commute Bike: Kirkland Stoplight at Lake WA Blvd

Diary of a Commute Bike: Stoplight at 132nd and 100th

Maybe the engine likes the view?

Anyways, lately I’ve noticed all this fluffy white snow floating around, except it doesn’t melt and it’s much warmer than regular snow. But just like regular snow, it piles up on the sides of sidewalks and the road.

Diary of a Commute Bike: Cottonwood Fluff

At first I was nervous going over it. Snow is slippery. But this stuff wasn’t slippery at all — just super fluffy. I noticed the engine went with her mouth closed when there was the most fluff, but that seems ridiculous. I bet it tastes like sugar. Yum! If I had a mouth, I’d totally try tasting some.

So then we finished our ride home. I know the route pretty well, except sometimes the engine takes us different ways. Sometimes we just do loops with very slow parts and very fast parts; other times we just go on different roads and I’m not sure why.

Other times we meet up with the engine and bike partnership called “Dad,” and we ride along together. We used to meet up with another partnership called “Michael” quite often, but they moved to Australia and we never see them anyone. I’m sad about that. I miss my friend. I think Australia must be another big noisy place far from here.

When we got home this one day, there were two other engines out playing. My engine spends a lot of time with them. I think they must be extra-special to her.

Diary of a Commute Bike: Home

So that’s what my life is like. Maybe another time I’ll write about the days we don’t commute, and instead go on long rides. But right now I’m out of time. The bus is about to let us off in the big noisy place and we got to roll!

I hope we go fast.

First Big Ride After Pneumonia

I don’t normally write ride reports here anymore, because in many ways, one ride is so much like the next. There are good days and bad days, but it’s not that interesting reading about the slight variations of how this Saturday’s ride had 5,500 feet of climbing and last week’s had 5,350, and which hill made the difference.

Yesterday, however, was special. I haven’t ridden on the weekend in three weeks: Three Saturdays ago, I started getting that nasty chest cold that just really wiped me out, and then the following two weeks, pneumonia got me. Last Saturday I spent in the middle of my Harry Potter binge-watching. I think I got through Harry Potter movie numbers five and six last Saturday… or was it four and five? They do blend together after a while…

I went to work all week this week, and although I made it through my workdays and even rode my bike home (very gently), I did feel plenty tired at the end of every day. But I’d be darned if I missed another Saturday!

Unfortunately, I don’t have enough energy to join my friends on the Ramrod Training Series ride. They rode to Black Diamond, a route I enjoy, and not just because halfway there you get tasty baked treats! But I didn’t think it would be wise to try for 75 miles and 4,500 feet of climbing on my first ride back — especially a ride that didn’t have any easy way of going home partway if I started fading. I knew I’d try to keep up with my friends, and they’re riding way too fast for me to handle right now. (I’m sad; I want to see my friends, but I have to force myself to ride so darn slow.)

In any case, Dad’s recovering from the same cold, which for him turned into a sinus infection. Not fun, but much better than pneumonia! That means both of us have been wiped out for the last couple weeks, and we both have some significant building back up to do. We decided to do a basic Lake Washington loop, and extend it to Lake Sammamish if we felt okay. My goal was to ride 75 miles, not worrying about pace or climbing. Just see if I could do 75 at all.

The short answer is “yep.”


The long answer is that we did take it very gently, and we had unexpected help for some long portions of the ride. In Montlake, the bridge was up — I go across that bridge every day, and I was still quite surprised! A big crowd of cyclists waited on the sidewalk, comprising almost entirely guys from a team I’m familiar with.

To cut a long story short, we mooched off of those guys for a long ways. Then, when they were too slow — they really put the “conversational” back in “conversational pace” — we rode on and ended up catching up with another of the same team’s groups. I guess that was the fast group. We tagged onto the back of the fast group along Lake Washington Boulevard to Seward Park, and they were a good bit faster. I hit 26 on the flats with them at one point.

Under normal circumstances, I’d have really enjoyed trying to keep up. Under yesterday’s circumstances, after Seward Park, Dad and I let them go. I say “let them go,” but honestly I doubt I had the legs or lungs to keep up with them on the hills. Drafting on the flats behind a big group is like getting sucked along by a big vacuum cleaner. Keeping up on hills requires your own fitness. There’s no fudging that.

In fact, we let both of the team’s groups go, because we were trying not to get all mixed in with them. But after we rounded the bottom of the lake, who should we encounter again but the same slow group? We decided to stay with them for a while, because going north wasn’t trivial. There was a good strong breeze from the north, very common around here on warm days; this generally turns into a west/northwest wind by afternoon, often accompanied by light cloud cover (the “marine push”).

Back to the bike ride… We mooched off of those guys up to Mercer Slough, and then we felt energetic enough to ride up East Lake Sammamish. This wasn’t super easy, thanks to the “breeze,” but we got up to Marymoor and our second rest stop just fine. Dad wanted to head straight home, so we got to his neighborhood with about 65 miles done. I decided to add just a few more miles and see if I could get to 70… and then once I’d done that I figured I might as well go for 75…

So, long story short, I got in my 75 miles, and at the end of the ride even did a couple of hills. Hills are tough because I want to push them hard, but I really can’t breathe that hard right now. When I did catch myself in a harder effort–like keeping up with that faster group going 26 mph–I felt like there was an obstruction in my chest. It feels like a tennis ball lodged in my chest, although I’m sure it’s nothing like that in reality. And on Friday, when I had to sprint to catch my bus and I was breathing super hard, my bronchial tubes and lungs(?)–in my chest, anyway–felt like I’d rubbed everything with sandpaper. It was super unpleasant.

Needless to say, it reminded me keenly to keep my effort level moderate. Which we did successfully: It was an almost-five hour ride for only 75 miles. But I got home cheerful and thankful to be able to do that long of a ride. I expect I’ll have to do a similar thing for all my rides through the end of the month, as the doctor said it often takes four to six weeks to recover fully from pneumonia. I’m going to just focus one enjoying my rides and not worry about how fast or hard they are.

And when June comes, it’s time to start seriously training for the Levi’s Gran Fondo I signed up for. More on that later.

“Be Careful,” He Said

“Be careful”: always good advice. But it’s also rather ironic advice, when it comes from a driver who previously just turned aggressively into the flow of traffic.

Here’s what went down, and why I was left shaking my head at the audacity of that motorist chastising me.

I was riding through downtown Kirkland, like I do most nights (hooray, 520 bridge! You’ve changed my commute forever!). Like most nights, traffic backed up through Kirkland, so as I rode in the bike lane I passed lots of vehicles on the right. It’s the way the bike lane works. I don’t love passing on the right, and when I do I’m always on high alert, looking for vehicles pulling to the right for whatever reason.

Kirkland’s setup is one I particularly don’t love: Sidewalk, then parallel parking lane, then bike lane, then traffic lane. This means cars constantly cross the bike lane to park, but drivers aren’t looking for us, so we have to be extra-cautious. Also, it’s a wonderful recipe for getting doored by drivers who swing their doors wide open without checking for a bike going by. Nevertheless, the world is imperfect, and many streets have that layout.

So I was cruising along, carefully passing vehicles on the right, when I got to downtown Kirkland. The bike lane ends when you get into the little section of road lined with shops and businesses, but there’s enough of a gap between the parallel parking strip and the driving lane that I can get by — again, with heightened caution. I continued passing vehicles, but more slowly because there are also more intersections, and intersections are the really dangerous part of any ride.

And, unsurprisingly, a car turned right just ahead of me. It was coming from a road on the right-hand side and turned onto my road, cutting into the flow of traffic rather aggressively. There wasn’t exactly a gap in traffic where he turned, but in the grand tradition of Masshole drivers (I don’t know if he’s from Massachusetts, but it’s a move I first noticed there), he made a gap. Washington drivers being what they are, the next guy in line just made room for him and let it go. I was approaching that intersection and I slowed down, but wasn’t really impacted.

I did, however, make a mental note to watch that driver. One aggressive move could mean other unpredictable moves.

Maybe a block later, as I was riding along past that very vehicle, the road hits a T and the lanes split into a left-turn lane and a right-turn lane. Very few people turn right; the vast majority–call it 99%–turn left, at least during that time of day.

Of course, there’s always the maverick who’s gotta do something different, and this driver was no exception. Just as I was riding past him on his right, he started moving right to get into the turn lane. I was directly next to him, with nowhere to go. Surprise! Except I wasn’t really surprised, because he just seemed like that kind of guy.

I braked, he saw me and braked, and I rode past out of the way. But as he went by me, he rolled down his window and said, “Be careful,” –not in a mean or angry way, for which I was grateful, but in a chastising way, for which I was not. I immediately shot back, “You too,” and he drove off. I  hope he heard me, because I really feel that was about the best comeback I could’ve offered, barring a whole discussion on bikes in traffic.

“Be careful.” It’s good advice. I ride through hairy messes in downtown Seattle every day, weaving through traffic to take advantage of the fact I’m small and able to squeeze through gaps. But there’s risk, too, and the fact is that it’s easy to become complacent about safety when I ride the same roads every day. The infrastructure isn’t optimized for cycling safety, so it’s up to me to make myself very visible and remain highly alert to any possible hazards.

And hopefully the day won’t come when one of those *&^!#%^&*$#@! Uber drivers on Dexter clobbers me. I have a special place in my heart for Uber drivers. It’s a place a lot like a Sarlac pit, where they’ll be digested for 1,000 years.

Anyway. Time to hit the road!

My Brain on Thankfulness

As you know, Seattle in January isn’t known for its pellucid weather. I’ve gotten in a full quota of rainy day rides already, and we still have months more to go.

One of the more miserable biking experiences is having to change a flat tire. Add in darkness and rain, and you’ve got the perfect mix for the ultimate misery. The only way it gets worse is if it’s sleeting out below freezing.

As you can imagine, every ride I check my tires, and always hope and pray for another flat-free ride. Until Wednesday that prayer had been answered. But, alas, all good things must come to an end, and that includes my months-long run of no flat tires.

I noticed my bike handling in the heart-stinkingly squishy way characteristic of a flat tire near the UW, less than five miles into my ride, but far enough to be a long way from any buses that could bail me out easily.

It wasn’t raining much, just a little sprinkle here and there, and Dad and I had planned to meet up and ride home together. I kept riding a ways, long enough to know for sure I definitely couldn’t deny the truth. I’d have to stop and change the tire.

I ended up finding a place on the 520 bridge to change my flat. It had lots of good lighting, anyway, if everything else about the situation left much to be desired.

I changed the flat. The rain started in earnest. A dozen or more people rode by. None offered to help, which I understand — it was dark, cold, and rainy. Still, it made me wonder if my asking “Are you OK?” when I see a cyclist pulled over is actually that unusual. I have stopped to help on occasion if they say they need it, too, because that’s what I’d want done for me.

It wasn’t the easiest or hardest flat to change, but somewhere in the middle. I only carry a (filthy) hand pump on my commuter bike, and while it worked okay, even my low pressure tires didn’t get very well filled. Thus, I stopped at the bike shop on my way home, and the guys took care of me. They re-changed my flat to make it tidier, put anti-flat goo in the tube, and filled me up to my usual 50 psi. I got home later than usual, but I did get home.

It’s holding fine so far.

So at one point during the evening, I started feeling pretty sorry for myself, and it wasn’t fun. To fight the self-pity quicksand, I started thinking of things I was thankful for about the situation:

  • It was above 40 F. Colder would’ve been a lot worse.
  • I did have good light.
  • I had all the tools and skills I needed to solve the problem, all of which worked!
  • I didn’t get a pinch flat on any of the 1/2″-tall slabs of steel I had to bump-bump over along the 520 bridge on my really low pressure tire.
  • It could’ve been raining a lot harder (and later it did!).
  • The bike shop was open and the guys are super nice, and took pity on me. (I later brought them thank-you cookies.)
  • I have the luxury of owning a nice bike and all the bike gear, and have the time to commute.

And you know what? When I finished thinking of all this stuff, I really did feel much better.