Thursday, February 27, 2020

What is Fast?

What is fast? How do we measure these things?  Who gets to decide how these things are measured?  If we are observing a pair of imaginary hamsters running on hamster wheels, how can we judge which hamster is better, faster, stronger? Is the hamster who moves the wheel fastest the fastest hamster? Or is the hamster who stays on the wheel the longest actually faster in the long run? 

What if we measured in terms of destination? The slow hamster that pedaled all the way to the moon was faster to the moon than the lazy hamster who quit, right?

I've noticed while climbing hills lately, (check out my new club the felony flats hill killerz), that some riders go much faster down the hills than up, and vice versa. Which counts as faster?

What about e-bikes? Are they faster in the way that counts on two wheels? They often pass me but I can sometimes beat them, does that mean I'm fast?

How about cheetahs? You can be the fastest cyclist in the world and still get caught. 

When females of the human species are referred to as the weaker sex, who is doing the talking? Is proclaiming superior strength an indication of weakness in itself? Where does mental fortitude fit into the picture of strength and how much mental fortitude does it take to exist on a planet where half of your species is allegedly superior to yours? 

Why aren't women allowed to compete in the Tour de France?  Normalizing exclusion of half of the population from top level bike races may have led to the alleged poorer performance that is used as an argument from continuing to bar women from competing in this and other grand tours. I was debating this on facebook recently, and a (male) friend tried flattered me while claiming men are stronger:
"You are one of the toughest people I have ever met, on the bicycle, male or female. But men, just by nature of being male, have an advantage."
Men do not have a "natural" advantage, they have a "cultural" advantage.  When women are systematically excluded, they don't exceed their male peers.

Puzzling over these questions, along with coming to terms with my aging body and potentially declining performance, I've been mesmerized by social media posts from riders kicking ass in every segment of the sport.  Man, does it make me jealous.  I don't covet my neighbor's possessions, I covet their fitness.  I've come to realize, I don't even really covet their fitness, I covet their speed.

Measuring bike speed by comparing ourselves to other riders is a perfect metaphor for life.  Competing at life and comparing yourself to others won't make you happier, faster, or better, it'll just make you feel jealous.

In my own quest to be happy (I mean fast), I've learned a few strategies.  One is to roll out with the leaders, at the start of the ride and after every regroup, always ready to saddle up quickly.  Averaging 22mph is great, but if you take 10 minutes to put your helmet and gloves on, you're getting dropped.  Information (about speed) is power.  It's easy to go one mile or two miles per hour faster than your current speed, but it's harder to accomplish that if you don't know your current speed.

I am not alone in my struggle to understand speed.  My friend Jan, who first encouraged me to lead rides, shared her story with me. 

Jan's Story - Speed, Like Everything, is Relative
When once you were perceived as fast by your friends, they may continue to consider you fast, even though you’ve slowed down.  Before my husband Bob's crash*, I was fast.  After the crash, I still biked, but I was paralyzed with fear at every intersection.  I dropped my speed because I simply couldn't think or read situations without difficulty.

After getting over that initial fear of being hit, the bike became my safe place to be alone as I commuted back and forth to the hospital.  I needed that time, and found myself slowing even more to extend the solitude.  A year later, when Bob finally came home from the hospital, I stopped biking and became his full-time caregiver.  After five years, Bob got a toe-hold on life beyond severe depression and grief at losing himself and his ability to walk.  He started biking on a loaner trike. We rode very gently a few days a week in nice weather. I was grateful that we could ride together again. It was good for us.

We needed cruiser rides in our bike club: shorter, slower, flatter rides that Bob could enjoy.  I started a casual ride series and our friends were very supportive and came out to ride with us. Meanwhile, although a caregiver life isn’t full of free hours, I began to ride occasionally with some of the moderate riders while Bob stayed home. He was doing better.

My friend Britt and I had been teammates on Race Across Oregon several years before Bob’s collision. She was still riding steadily, and of all my friends, she had the hardest time realizing that I wasn't choosing my new slow pace and inability to climb a hill like in the good old days.  Britt and others just saw was that I biked a lot, as I was developing a commuter life-style. If you've been walking daily for several years, that’s great, but you aren’t ready to run a marathon.  That's where I am now.

Many of my friends have quit riding.  I’m grateful for the wonderful new friends I’ve made, but miss the old ones because we shared years of experiences that will always bond us together.  I'm biking again, getting stronger, and even a little bit…faster.

*Bob sustained a traumatic brain injury in 2007 when he was hit by a car in a Marine Drive crosswalk.

Out in the real world, the world of co-ed bike racing and endurance events, I've been inspired bythe victories and stories of Lael Wilcox', who set a Tour Divide record and won a TransAm (yes, a mere girl beat ALL the boys!). There are lots of other stories of females exceeding when we're given the chance to.  My hope and wish and dream is that future generations can get a chance to be inspired by women athletes, and by women participating in grand tours like the Tour de France.  

In the meanwhile, I'm going to ride as fast as I can.



Monday, October 21, 2019

Three Speed October 2019

Well, it's that time again, time for the Society of Three Speed's Three Speed October challenge!

My inaugural ride of the challenge took place on a perfect fall day - crisp and sunny.  I rode to Goodwill to drop off a donation, then over to Grocery Outlet to pick up some groceries.  I rode my beloved forest green Ross three speed bicycle a grand total of 3.4 miles. 

The next ride took me 4.3 miles over to the newly-striped bike lanes on Foster and an early morning accupuncture session.  When I came out, I was delighted to see another 3 speed locked alongside mine!  The weather was just gorgeous that day, sunny and dry.

For number three, I rode the bus downtown with my niece and delivered her to Union Station so she could take the Amtrak home.  Then I rode my beautiful Ross 11 miles to get home, which took me along the Esplanade and the Springwater Trail.  I ran into a friend on the way home and was hard tasked to keep up with him and his titanium road bike.  Later, close to home, I stopped to take a photo on the bridge over the tracks, when the train containing my niece whooshed by underneath me!

Ride number four, or ride number one of week two (three speed challenge tracking can be complex) started off with the Felony Flats Hill Killerz, but I cheated and took a bike with two derailleurs.  So that doesn't count.  I dropped by home and changed clothes and bikes and headed over to the Portland Mercado for the Foster Night Ride.  It was a fun night, clear and very cold for this time of year.  We went over to Rose City golf course and rode the single track.  The Ross handles surprisingly well on that terrain and everything was great except that my pannier fell off.  Pretty bumpy!  We swung by Woodstock Park to hang out on the sea-saws on the way home.  12 miles total.

Ride number five happened on a windy and sunny with brilliant fall leaves swirling around.  I rode over to Goodwill to make a donation, then to BiMart to pick up a prescription and around the hood until I made it to 3 miles.

Ride number six took me to a facial on Friday night, then to a party.  The weather was absolutely fantastic.  A little chilly, dry, sunny and a slight breeze to help the leaves fall.  The party featured a backyard bonfire and the Ross got to attend that as well.  13 miles all in all.  I'm not sure who this vest guy is, but he stepped right into the picture, so why not.

Lucky ride number seven featured gorgeous weather yet again.  On Tuesday, October 15th, I took my lunch break to drop off a get well card at the postal box, then tooled around gravel "unimproved" roadways in my neighborhood until I reached 3 1/3 miles.

My eighth ride was both a failure and a success.  I only made it 2 miles, so it won't count toward my Three Speed October status.  But, it was super fun.  It was rainy and dusky and ended up being a pretty creepy evening.  I passed one house with every sort of terrifying thing in their yard imaginable.  I ended up at a Jewish graveyard.  The graves were all set into just a few rows and there was something about all that empty grass that gave me the shivers.
The second attempt at an eighth ride took me over to visit and feed my friends' kittens.  I built in as many bonus blocks as possible to make it to 3 miles.  The threat of rain never materialized.  It was dark and fun to find as many "unimproved" blocks as possible.

My ninth and final ride of the challenge happened on a Sunday evening.  I'd already gone riding and errand running with multiple derailleurs in tow, so this final ride served no other purpose than three speed fun.  It was a bit misty as I headed out.  I packed some books with me to leave at free libraries and ended up coming home with more books than I started with!  I visited three free libraries in all and rode 3 miles.

This year's three speed challenge is complete!  And I'm grateful for all the fun miles I had, and especially for re-learning a valuable lesson about biking - there's no distance too short.  I've really enjoyed getting out and exploring my neighborhood.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Tnr 231

What a crazy ride it’s been. What a crazy ride it was last night. So much happened. Of course there were the friends and the fountain, the riding and the music - all the usual fun.

I peeled off downtown, just to take a break and go fast for a minute, then I lost them. I was in Chinatown, which can be a tricky place to stop and look at the ride tracker.  But I did it anyway at a spot where I felt I had at least two minutes before anybody could approach me physically.  A man walked up out of nowhere.  He was wearing a sea captains hat and introduced himself as Captain Curtis.  He said I matched my bike - we were both elegant and fast-looking.  He asked politely if he could touch my handlebars and I surprised both off us when I said yes.  I did follow it up with a "but don’t mess with me". He agreed, touched the handlebars and moved on.

From there I rode up Broadway, and I do mean up. It's an uphill multi-lane road in the middle of downtown with no bike lanes. About a dozen motorcycles soon engulfed me. We rode together for a dozen blocks and it was tantalizing!  I felt I had joined a new club, a motorcycle club. Then they turned left and I continued on and re-joined my real club.

To the amazement and dismay of the group, we headed to the Burnside skate park, a swarm of us showed up in a place that is clearly not our territory. Several dudes from our group climbed up on a box truck and a lady nearby freaked out yelling at them. Another man without a shirt jumped out from behind a van and pushed over my bike, along with a few others.  Then he continued to rampage through the crowd tossing bikes here and there while I ran ahead of him yelling "Danger! Danger!". I don’t know if it helped.

We finally moved on and right after we left a skateboarder in our group flew off his skateboard, which skated on its own right in between my two wheels as I was moving. I feel lucky not to have fallen.

Soon we were at Ladd's Circle hanging around causing trouble. After a while the group took off heading north and alas I live south and had to work in the morning, so I began to peel off.  But then I saw a friend pull offer and we decided to have a peel off end party on our own and sit together on the bench and look at the moon and talk about old times.  As I was leaving, he asked if we should listen to one more song and I said yes if I can sing it!

I rolled out soon after and was almost creamed by a pizza delivery driver, who cut the corner into his driveway as I was proceeding forward on the road, with my headlight blaring and my useless right of way being disrespected.  I followed him into the pizza place, letting him know he was not getting away with it.  I asked for the boss and told him what happened.  Meanwhile, the driver jerk guy kept saying, "lady, you zipped around the corner" and "lady, I didn't see you" and "lady, you came out of nowhere" and even "lady, did you expect me to slam my brakes on?!".  I made sure he understood I did not zip anywhere, I merely rode my bike in a forward motion and that seeing me is his job as a driver, not to mention a paid driver, and that, yes, I expect him to slam his brakes on instead of hit a human. 

After that lovely exchange, I rode the few remaining miles home expecting another story at every turn but happily finding just quiet and peace. I do love my peripheral urban address. I talked myself into doing one small bonus hill in preparation for the next felony flats hill killerz ride and finally made it home to bed.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Swift Summit 200/100

I was too busy doing urban rides and out partying all summer to train, but since I'd already registered, I showed up to "race" the 100 mile Swift Summit. While the 200-mile-racers started at 5am, us 100-milers got to sleep in and start at 9am. There was a good-sized crowd milling around, checking in and attaching beautifully-crafted race numbers to their bikes, so I circulated to ask riders to share their strategies for the race with me. 
Here are the answers I got:
  • Start slow, taper off
  • Keep my cadence consistent
  • Pedal and finish
  • Ride a light bike and just fucking do it 
  • Just keep pedaling
  • Have fun
  • Go from the gun
  • Pedaling, more pedaling, followed by more pedaling
  • Cry on the hill to focus on emotional pain over physical
  • Have fun, fun, fun
  • Keep working the legs
  • Stretch the hamstrings
  • One foot in front of the other
  • Finish
  • Start
  • Hope my tires hold pressure because I had too many beers last night
  • Ride my ride
  • Ride with piglet (while brandishing tiny pink plush toy)
  • Pedal as hard and fast as possible at all times (this one's mine!)
We had gorgeous weather for riding - cool temps and a bit of mist, which is always preferable over hot hot heat. The route was absolutely stunning. The "controls" were perfect - small and stocked with my favorite things: potato chips and PBJs.
The finish line party at Conversion Brewing was a blast. One advantage of choosing to race the shorter distance is more time to hang around, drink beer, listen to live music and watch others finish. Our race director treated us to a recited poem at the start, an anonymous pen pal exchange prior to the event, a can of IPA with the Swift Summit logo and a cap for finishers (top cap for 100 milers, hat for 200 milers).

It took me 8 hours, which I feel pretty good about considering somehow I got to August without riding a century yet this year. I lost 12 minutes to a flat tire and another 15 to getting lost on the way to the finish line. Otherwise it was a perfect day!

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Memorializing Lance

 Family, friends, bike riders and activists showed up at Flavel Park to memorialize Lance Hart, the gentleman cyclist killed by a drunk driver on June 24th.  It happened just 20 blocks from my front door - too far away to hear it - but I did get up suddenly that night to run to the window, thinking I'd heard a scream.

A lady spoke about how her son was killed while riding a bike, years ago, also on June 24th.  A man from a politician's office spoke about prioritizing safety improvements on the streets in my neighborhood.  Another couple of men spoke about their work with local activist groups, and the importance of Vision Zero.

The streets in my neighborhood don't seem any more unsafe than any other streets.  I do understand the importance of improving infrastructure, as a tool to influence the perception that cyclists are present and allowed on the roadways.  In my view, the real problem is with the hegemony of car culture. I'm aware I live on the fringe, outside much of our society because of my unwillingness to participate in this car culture.  Sentences like "everyone needs to drive", "you need a car", "free street parking is important" and the like, are not ones you'll hear me uttering.  But I hear them often.
The group of 20 or so riders departed eastbound on Flavel Street for a silent ride.  Each bike carried a bouquet of flowers and had several white streamers tied on.  We solemnly took the lane.  These streets belong to people, not just to motorists, and fatality should not be a price of admission for mobility.

Soon after we started off, we saw a man on a bike going the other way.  He said, over and over, "I'm a ghost".  He wore a white t-shirt.  I have no idea what in the heck made him say that but it was effectively haunting.

We stopped at the light at the corner of Flavel and 82nd, the same spot where Lydia Johnson was right hooked and killed by a truck.  A ghost bike appeared after her death, then quickly disappeared.  It's a rough corner.  There are new sidewalk ramps there now, along with a new utility box.  I'm making it my mission to get a ghost bike painted on that utility box.  Stay tuned for more on that.

We continued a couple more blocks, then u-turned at the cross walk.  Our white streamers blew around us, marking us as a memorial procession to drivers, most of whom were respectful.  We arrived at the sight of Lance's death and each rider kneeled in turn to tie flowers to the white ghost bike locked there.  I tied mine to the chain and cried at this unnecessary and tragic loss of life.
An angry driver, annoyed we'd been in her way, and claiming that one of us had been aggressive, stopped, parked illegally and jumped out of her vehicle to confront us.  I ran over to her, told her this was not the time, informed her this was a memorial and asked her to leave. She didn't seem to care and continued to accuse us of being aggressive.  I was bewildered by the lack of compassion and the apparent obliviousness to the difference between road rage and grief.  This confrontation served as a bleak reminder of the difference between an angry cyclist and an angry driver.  An angry cyclist annoys, an angry driver kills.   
Lance's best friend met us at the corner.  He started to tell us about the details of the crash and I just couldn't take any more, so I headed down the block slowly.  A few minutes later the rest of the group rolled out together.  We passed a home made "SLOW" sign on the way to the community center.  It made me wonder about the family that made and posted such a sign on this tiny residential street, and how these hand made signs are a sign of the dark times we live in.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019


I changed the tires on the KHS today using a mixed batch from my basement stash.  I put a Schwalbe Durano on the rear and a Continental on the front. I don’t really care for Schwalbe. Their tires are fine but most of their model names are men’s names like Racing Ralph, Rocket Ron, Nobby Nic - you get the idea.  Continental has a cool logo and I mounted a "Force" on the front, even though it's actually meant for the rear as part of the Force/Attack road race tires so popular last century and early this century.  These tires only came in skinny mini sizes, and that was at the tail end of the skinny mini road race tire trend, although we didn’t know it then, fat would become the new skinny.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Pedalpalooza 2019

Pedalpalooza in Portland is like Christmas at the North Pole, only better.  There's a pervading sense of joy and fun and community.  This frenzy of bike rides takes place every June and includes all sorts of bike fun for all sorts of riders.

The first ride I attended, and the first I led this year, was the felony flats hill killerz "Which Hill Is Worse" ride.   I started this little club a few months ago with the idea that a few of us could meet up in my 'hood and crush some hills together.  We're now 30 members strong and have had about a dozen rides all told.  Rides are usually short and local, but once we did a longer ride that took us up a steep butte in Gresham.  There's only one rule: no driving to the ride.  If it's so far away a person needs to drive, I'd encourage them to start their own local hill kill club.  Maybe one day there'll be a network of hill killerz clubs all over town!
The Which Hill Is Worse ride attracted 15 riders, much to my astonishment.  In past Pedalpalooza rides, I'd only heard complaints about hills, so I was surprised and delighted that this many people would show up to do multiple hills on purpose.  Sure, Pedalpalooza is a party, but it's ok to get some exercise too!  After we killed the hills together, I handed out ballots.  We headed over to the Foster Night Ride, which is a year round, every-other-Tuesday evening jaunt from Portland Mercado.  I tabulated the votes, one cast in blood, and 55th Avenue won by a landslide.
Next up, I led the Portland Society's mural tour.  Over 100 riders awaited me at the start!  Luckily I had drawn up a giant route map and studied it a lot in advance.  Making a wrong turn with 100 riders in tow is not fun.  We visited 12 murals over 6 miles, with no theme other than art I liked.  
A week earlier, when I went out to find murals, I rode my bike on Division.  A driver straddled the dotted yellow line, opened his window and took his eyes off the road to warn me of how dangerous it was here and that the greenway was just a block over.  I refrained from telling him the freeway was only a mile over.  Greenways are nice, but all roads are for all users and I will persist in using the roads I need to.  On the evening of the mural ride, a woman from a nearby business, also on Division, came out to find me and warn me that this area of Division is dangerous.  I reassured her that each and every cyclist there, who were all owning their space in the street, is well aware of how deadly the behavior of motor vehicle operators can be.
A few nights later, I met up with my Analog Alley Cat co-organizers to make our race plans.  While we were strategizing, the Hawaiian ride swooped in on us.  Lots of friends tried to sit with us and we had to shoo them away from our top secret papers and maps.  It seems wherever you go in June, you're bound to run into a ride!
That Friday after work, Armando led a half century ride - not 50 miles but for people aged 50+.  It was really refreshing to ride with my peers and not feel like "the old one".  It was also inspiring to know that these badasses were my age and still fit and fun.
The Analog Alley Cat had been on my mind for years.  This is the way alley cat races used to be - no phones, no GPS, no lady robot voice guiding your route.  We had a lot of fun creating a challenging list of checkpoints, including sending folks to Futel free payphones, where they had to call in to prove they'd been there.  25 racers braved Portland, armed only with a manifest and a paper map.  Two ladies tied for the win, and there were prizes for the top 5 places, along with a special prize package for DFL (a slow triangle, Trimet day pass and chain lube).
Photo credit: No Lens Cap

I learned that the Plaid to Plaid ride started just down the street from the Analog Alley Cat finish line, and I remembered I was wearing plaid underwear, so I headed on over.  I bought snacks and drinks at one Plaid Pantry and carried them to the next Plaid Pantry.  After two stores, I'd had my fill so I peeled off to check out the Missy Elliott ride.

Laurelhust was mobbed with riders and dancers and mobile sound systems blasting Missy Elliott tunes.  I ran into some friends and stayed for a while.  On the way out from the park, one of my rack bolts broke and by the time I'd zip-tied it back on, the ride was long gone.  My day felt complete, so I headed home.

The first felony flats hill killerz ride was such a success, I spontaneously led another one.  This one was a bit smaller, but still fun.  We wrapped up in time for riders to join the Thursday Night Ride (TNR).  One rider in street clothes told another rider in lycra that he shouldn't come to TNR dressed that way and I got a golden opportunity to school him on lycra-shaming.  I so often hear riders encouraged to wear regular clothes, and I support that, but I also think it's a-ok to wear spandex or a tutu or a unicorn costume or your birthday suit.
Photo credit: No Lens Cap
The next evening was Dropout Prom.  This is one of the most special and popular rides, and there were rumors it would be the last year the Dropouts would organize it.  A certain handsome gentleman asked me to be his date, adding to the magic and romance of the evening.  I turned into a pumpkin around 2am and darted home to get to bed, as I had a 6am pick up to go do a road ride in the valley.  
One of the rest stops on the road ride featured a playground with 3 giant tube slides.  It was nice to get in some giant slide time, as I had recently learned the giant slide at Wilson Pool, which had been a highlight of the Swim Across Portland, had burned.  Yes, burned.  Some idiot broke into the pool and lit it on fire.  It's too expensive to replace, so that's it for slide fun at that pool.
Nine riders rode up the giant hill to the pool.  It was overcast and cool, ensuring we pretty much owned the pool.  Although there was no slide, we still had fun on the diving board, in the lazy river and in the vortex.  Bucket roulette wasn't bad either.  Full of nachos with fake cheese and fully chlorinated, riders headed down the hill to the Willamette.  We skipped the beach swim because it just felt too chilly, and headed across the Tilikum Bridge.  Soon, rider after rider peeled off.  The remaining three of us decided to skip the last pool to try to grab some Grilled By Bike snacks on our way to the Dock O'Clock.  
I jumped in the river and promptly got back out - it was chilly!  Soon the ride was leaving and I was caught behind the tiki bike.  The box held a lady, who held out skewers of barbecued yumminess, so I took a chance and grabbed one.  A bit later, I had a nice little crash with a bike toting a trailer.  Turns out they have a wide turning radius.  It's great to crash in front of everyone and create a bike traffic jam while disentangling from the bike.  We soon arrived at the dock beneath the Fremont Bridge, where very brave swimmers jumped off, swam across to a pier, jumped off and returned.  

Our next beach was also our last stop, and I refrained from going in as I now had open wounds.  The tunes and the fun folks and the campfire were superb.  I finally joined some southbound friends and wove my way home, stopping only to lube squeaky chains.  

The next Thursday Night Ride planned to meet up with my perennial favorite, the Rocky Butte Sunset Dance Party ride.  It misted on us, then it rained, then drizzled and sprinkled.  I had worn my rain jeans, which are actually just wet jeans that feel like a cold sponge.  I got lost in the store and almost lost my money, then came out to find the group was gone.  I chased and chased and finally caught them on the way up the Butte.  I raced up it, passed by two kids on fixies, then a dude with two derailleurs.  Fourth up ain't so bad.  At the top, the tiki bike awaited us with tunes and a disco ball and even a propane heater.

The next night was Loud 'n Lit, and I'd volunteered as an official corker.  It felt super fun and punk rock to show up to PAZ to spray paint high viz vests and witness the debacle of last minute welding and wrenching on two bikes to create a chariot to lead the ride.  I pitched in where I could, adding bar end plugs, taping off derailleur cable ends and greasing anything threaded.

The Loud 'n Lit start was packed with over 4000 well-lit and sound-systemed riders.  It was difficult to find anything, but also easy to run into lots of friends.  Our corking strategy required us to stay near the front, corking the first few blocks, then catching back up.  Even getting to the front as we left proved tricky, but I made it.  Soon corking was afoot.  

In the early '90s, when I was riding in the first Critical Mass rides in San Francisco, I saw corking for the first time.  We didn't have a term for it then, but it was necessary to guide drivers to stop and be patient while the train of riders went through.  For the riders to stop at every light and break the ride up into several small groups not only created chaos and danger for riders, but it could actually clog motor vehicle traffic more.  

Pedalpalooza is about bike fun, but it's also about owning the streets.  It's a protest against the hegemony of car culture, and the motor vehicles that usually dominate the streets.  This is our turn.  Corking is fraught with tension, and a good exercise in self-control, patience and compassion.  My method is to smile and wave at drivers.  I apologize for the delay and thank them for their patience.  Many smile and wave back, tooting their horns in beat with the music.  Some turn their engines off and climb on top of their hood for a good view of the light show.  Some get angry.  Sometimes that anger takes a dark delve into attempted murder.  To me, it's a clear sign of how toxic car culture is.  Drivers are cut off from the physical reality of the street, and they feel entitled to GO GO GO and every stop is a major inconvenience.  I was able to help three such drivers take a breath and resist their urge to plow into the crowd.  
The fun really starts at the end party on this ride.  It's like a giant impromptu night club, set up right on the Esplanade near downtown.  There are disco balls and dancing, fire juggling and hula hoops.  Once again, I became a pumpkin around 2am, this time so I could get up the next morning to lead a French Toast Ride for the Gladys Century Curious club.  

Bike fun of every flavor abounds in Portland and I'm grateful and delighted to take part in it.  There's a ton more bike fun coming this summer, but I'll admit there's always a little bit of a sadness on July 1st, when the official Pedalpalooza is over.  It's as if the veil of fun has lifted, and there's more fun behind it, just with less sequins and sparkles overlayed.

Friday, May 31, 2019

The Backs

Bikepacking the Oregon Outback in 2014 set me off in a whole new direction as a cyclist. This little blog gained a lot of attention and even influenced some to do the ride the following year.  The former is great but the latter is my mission - helping motivate people to ride, to do any ride at all, feels very important to me.

When some friends asked how challenging the Oregon Outback is (kinda hard but not soul crushing) and if it was something they could do (hell yes!), I decided to create a team. In 2015, "my" nine riders joined me at the start, and every single one of them finished. Since then, I’ve put together some other bikepacking adventures and it's been fun to include "back" in the name, which is meant as a tip of the cap to the original.

In 2016 I took a break from the "Backs" to compete in the Steens Mazama 1000. I suppose that race counts as bikepacking but it felt harder because it was so dang long.

In 2017, a group of us rode the Out-n-Back, a six day trek starting in Klamath Falls, tracing the route of the original Oregon Outback and u-turning near Fort Rock to ride south back to Klamath Falls.
In 2018, we rode a fictional route called the NorthBack, a 500 mile mixed-terrain loop from Bend to the Crooked River, Prineville, the Ochocos, Mitchell, Condon, Cottonwood Canyon, Grass Valley, Maupin, Madras, Lake Billy Chinook and Sisters. The list of town names might imply a civilized trip, but much of it felt remote.

For 2019, we put together a mini-tour and called it the Baby Back. Nine riders, some from other "Backs", some experienced, some on their first bikepacking trip, set out on Saturday morning from the Cup and Bar café on MLK, which is a deluxe spot to meet due to its central location and indoor bike parking.  We headed up to Washington Park, and soon found ourselves in a rainy portion of the western suburbs, picking up our 10th and final rider for the weekend.
The rain and the traffic picked up right around the same time. We kept riding anyway. Finally to Gales Creek, I ignored intuition and passed a diner with a large "milkshakes" sign on my way to another store a couple miles down.  The second store had apparently been closed for a couple of years so I turned back and arrived at the first diner just as two other riders were getting their milkshakes delivered.  After the break, we went back out to find the rain had dried up.  A few miles later, I heard dogs barking so I thought we were in Timber, but not quite! Some more climbing took us to an innocent-looking street sign with some discreet yellow zip ties poking through the base.  These were Randonneur markings, I was sure of it, so I added my own pink zip tie to the mix and carried on.

The cabin in Timber made the whole ride worthwhile. Tired riders congregated on the couch. It was a cozy getaway complete with a kitchen, woodburning stove and laundry.  The next morning our enjoyment came to a quick halt as we headed up a steep little climb on a nice quiet gravel road.  Once again, I ignored the intuition beckoning me onto a paved downhill slope to second breakfast in Vernonia. Instead, I joined the group and we all rode up, up and more up onto gravel that ascended into single track, with lots of stunning and well-earned vistas. We made it to Vernonia barely in time for a late lunch. Our planned bonus miles to Yankton pie were a joke now.  In a handy twist of fate, we did yank a pie plate from Cosmo’s wheel before leaving lunch for Pittsburg gravel.

We made it to Camp Wilkerson and enjoyed the luxury of a large group site with leantos and picnic tables and a fire pit.  After a fun and restful evening, we were all charged up and ready for our day three.  We decided to nix the somewhat dull planned route, which would've taken us to North Plains and back through the suburbs.  Instead we headed down Camp Nine Road, which is a new favorite, to the Crown Zellerbach Trail.  We quickly passed through Scappoose, then headed west into the Dutch Mountain Canyon to climb Otto Miller Road and Dixie Mountain Road and finally regrouped at Skyline Tavern for a well-deserved beer and dinner.
Some of us had done one or all of the Backs, some were new to the posse, and some were new to bikepacking.  By the end, we were all fast friends.  Some shed tears, justifying the name of our tour, all laughed, and all had a fantastic time!

Just for kicks, here are my three bikepacking (or loaded touring) rigs, each in their native environment.