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.

Funny

I don’t think of myself as a leader or an innovator. I don’t come up with big ideas to drive the future of a field. People don’t look to me for guidance for, well, anything (especially my son, who recently learned the phrase, “You’re not the boss of me.” Wanna bet?!)

But one thing I’ve done that I’m actually proud of, that came out of my own head, is the joke board at work.

Joke Board
Joke board

The premise of the joke board is simple: Every morning when I get in to the office, I spend a few minutes scouring the Interwebs for the best, freshest, punniest dad-style joke and I write it up on a small whiteboard I’ve appropriated for the task. (Lately I’ve also posted it to a dedicated room on the company’s internal chat service.) If people have additions or further puns, they write or post them. Then we do it all again the next day.

People sometimes come by my desk just to see the joke board. A hiring manager walks prospective employees by in a tour of the office, pointing it out specifically. For me, the greatest enjoyment comes from watching people read and react to the day’s joke, usually with a huge groan. It keeps me looking for jokes even on days when nothing’s funny.

Oddly, I’m not actually very good at making up puns myself. But I feel I can appreciate puns, and I’m never afraid of sharing them and looking stupid.

All along I’ve been taking pictures of joke boards that stood out as particularly amusing or well-participated. I’ve collected all these photos into a Flickr album that I’m enjoying, and I hope y’all do, too. I’ll try to keep it fairly fresh.

Here are a few picks.

Joke Board: Dyed a little inside
Just a pigment of your imagination.
IMG_20180108_105103
I just didn’t give a schist.
IMG_20180117_075633
I just love this joke so much.
IMG_20180518_081404
Approved by my ethnically Norwegian friend.

If those tickled your funny bone, there’s lots more in that vein in the Flickr Joke Board album.

Note: I keep the joke board 100% clean. No dirty jokes, no innuendo, no bad language. It’s rare, but the company President occasionally walks through, and HR is stationed not too far away. That’s too bad, because sometimes I come across a slightly off-color joke I really just love, such as…

What did the bra say to the hat?
-“You go on ahead, I’m gonna give these two a lift.”

I’ll try to share those occasionally as I run across ’em, too.

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.

First Day of Kindergarten (round 2)

Yesterday Benji finally started full-day kindergarten at our local elementary school. The last week or so my Facebook feed has filled with moms posting pictures of their kids going to school for the first time, nearly all of them posed in their school regalia with a sign saying something like “Benji’s First Day of Kindergarten, September 11, 2017.” The caption almost always says something like, “I can’t believe how my baby has grown up so fast!”

While I empathize with the sentiment, this school year starting hasn’t fazed us that much. It’s a new school, yes, and a new teacher, new kids — all these make it challenging. But we’ve sent Benji to some kind of preschool for the last three years, and the year before that he did a mini-school program at Kindering. Plus he did daycare for a couple years and Y summer camp for about eight weeks this summer.

This all adds up to us feeling pretty sanguine about starting kindergarten at public school. In so many ways, we’ve practiced and prepared for this transition for years. Now it’s here, and it’s no big deal — or, at least, no bigger deal than any other similar transition.

What I am glad about, though, is deciding to wait to start kindergarten at age six. Not only did it let Benji practice and learn a lot of academic material last year, but he’s shown huge growth in maturity in the last couple months. I’m really glad we gave him time to mature a bit more before leaping into the demands of five days a week of all-day school.

I’m also really glad we did Y camp this year. I can’t overstate how great it was for him. It basically served as practice kindergarten with no pressure. The adults really helped the kids get ready for the amount of independence kindergartners get at school. I was really impressed.

So between half-day kindergarten last year and all-day Y camp this summer, yes, Benji is ready to do well at school this year. And I haven’t felt the need to shed even one single tear.

Seaside 2018 Family Vacation Report

This year our family trip to Seaside took place over Labor Day week, later in the year than we usually go. The last couple years I’ve skipped it, but this year I came along, and I’m so glad I did: Not only did the weather produce possibly the finest stretch of days I’ve ever experienced on the Oregon Coast, but we just had the most unalloyed fun of any family vacation I can think of to date.

We drove down on the Sunday before Labor Day, and traffic was minimal. Ian and I had planned out a bunch of possible places to stop to charge the car, in case we couldn’t make it, but we had plenty of charge remaining when we arrived — 47 miles minimum, after driving about 210 miles. For an electric car, that’s pretty great. It started our vacation off on the right foot, and it kept going well from there.

Naturally, we went to the beach first thing.

Seaside 2018: Hurry! The Beach! Seaside 2018: Before the Wave During the Wave Sandcastle Vigil

On Monday, Ian and I went for a hike out past Cape Falcon.

Cape Falcon Hike Start Cape Falcon Hike View South Cape Falcon View of I don't know what Cape Falcon Sign

That evening, we let Benji stay up “late” (8:00 pm! Wow!) to do his first-ever beach fire and s’mores. Needless to say, he loved it. Marshmallows were popular, of course, as was burning various things. 

Seaside 2018: Beach Fire

The next day, we drove to the Tillamook Cheese Factory, where Benji took care of the most important part of the day: ice cream. We had enough time, and he was doing well enough, that we played for a long time at Oswald West State Park on the way home.

Tillamook Cheese Factory Aftermath Oswald West State Park Tall Driftwood Adventure

We weren’t actually prepared to play in the water, so Benji ended up with no pants or undies… but the shirt was just long enough. 

The next day was our last full day in Seaside, and Ian and I did a few errand-type things — I got a massage, Ian went to the outlet malls, and we both bought hats.

We Got New Hats

We also went and saw Mission Impossible: Fallout in the Seaside movie theater, which was crammed with two other people. I never saw an actual employee the whole time. Benji hung out with Grammy and Papa and they put him to bed, so we got a little date night. It was nice!

And that was pretty much the vacation. 

Seaside 2018: Walking with Papa

We drove home on Thursday and dove into real life again, with a school meeting on Friday and then a regular weekend before Benji’s first week at school. It was a great break.

Seaside 2018: On the way home

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.

What Climate Change Looks Like

Here in Seattle, people always joke that maybe climate change wouldn’t be so bad. We wouldn’t mind a little extra warm weather in the summer, thank you very much!

Well, here’s what that looks like.

Thanks to smoke from wildfires burning in Canada, Eastern Washington, Oregon, and California, the air quality has degraded to dangerous levels around here. It gets especially bad when our handy-dandy oceanic air conditioner turns off, like it did on Sunday.

Now we can’t go outside. Our home is hot, and getting hotter, and we can’t cool it off because we can’t open the windows. I can’t commute home by bike, let alone keep training, because I can’t breathe — it hurts eyes, nose, and throat to be outside any extended period of time (like more than 10 minutes), and goodness only knows the long-term impact to our lungs. We all feel low-grade sick, with runny noses, sore throats, and coughing.

Here’s what that looks like on the ground. Unhealthy Air: Vanishing Seattle Unhealthy Air: Orange Sunrise Unhealthy Air: No Olympics Unhealthy Air: No South Sound Unhealthy Air: No Mt. Rainier

This is what climate change looks like in the Pacific Northwest. Now tell me that we should consider cutting the Clean Air Act, vehicle fuel standards, and other environmental protections designed to combat climate change.