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Jul 7, 2014

NW Tandem Rally 2014

s2-nwtr-pendletonHeat, headwinds and hills, that’s the mini-version of this report on the  NW Tandem Rally (NWTR) in Pendleton on the 4th of July weekend. It was our first big weekend of riding this summer and though we weren’t in the best condition, we had a lot of fun.

We left Seattle for central Oregon on Friday the 4th. About a hundred tandems had arrived a day earlier and so were able to participate in the 4th of July Parade in Pendleton that morning. They were all decked out. Plus, since they were tandems, the crowd loved them. They won a trophy for best community group. You can see a photo in this Oregonian article. I think that’s a first for the rally! We got in about 2 and set up camp behind the Pendleton Roundup stadium. Sheila was in on a meeting of rally organizers who have finally codified NWTR as an official entity. They will now serve to guide groups who want to do the rally in the future and make sure every event is well-planned. Nobody has taken that role in the rally’s first 25 years and last year the local person who was organizing it, failed to actually produce a rally. We don’t want that to happen again.

Camping-at-PBRFriday night there was time for lots of socializing at the BBQ in a nearby park. Met new and old friends, heard fantastic stories from the road (“You rode self-supported from Canada to Guatemala?”) and hob-nobbed with the group. When we went back to the tent we discovered there was an additional treat in store for us. The Professional Bull Riders were putting on a show in Happy Canyon, an auxiliary venue on the ground. Lots of yelling into a microphone, loud, LOUD, music, cheering and bull-riders. It went on until the fireworks started at 10. It was too much for us, so we just put in our ear plugs, donned our eye-shades and went to sleep. I guess we’re just party-poopers.

BullsSaturday morning we had a mass start for the nearly 200 cycles. We headed up into the hills and out towards Athena. There was lots of climbing to get up there and then we had steady rolling hills all day. The downs were never quite long enough to get up back up the other side. The landscape was mostly bare ground or stubbled cropland. After lunch at the 30 mile mark, we decided to trim some miles off the route and head back. It was so hot it reminded us of our cross-country trek, except we were not in condition for this riding. Eight miles from lunch we discovered one of our problems was a slow leak in the front tire. I couldn’t pump it up enough to get us to the next rest area, so we had to change the tube. No shade to be found. Just us, hot asphalt, and lots of empty fields. The house in this picture was just about as tired as we were when we left the last rest stop. The last 14 miles after the final rest stop were excruciatingly long. A friend said her bike thermometer clocked in at 110 degrees. I know it was over 90 in the city, so it could well have been that high on the pavement. The headwinds cooled us some, but made the climbs that much harder. We ended up doing 62 miles and 2800′ of elevation gain.

tired-houseWe finally got down off the plateau and in to the showers. What blessed relief! Sheila went off to another NWTR board meeting while I scavenged our dinner. The only Thai restaurant in town was closed for the weekend and the catering was all meat-centric (“Get over it.”), but we found a friend in the local Safeway. They had vegan cheese and deli slices. For Saturday, I bough the toppings for a pizza, took them to a local parlor (Big John’s Home Town Pizza) and they built us a beautiful pie. We shared it after the board meeting. Later we met up with Amanda and Rob from our tandem club who were also camping. We gave them their first lesson in playing pinochle and had lots of laughs swapping stories. They already knew bridge, which helped them in some ways and really confused them in others. The PBR was done with their shows the the nighttime was much more enjoyable.

We debated whether to leave Sunday afternoon or camp a third night. We were very sore and very tired after Saturday’s ride. A lot of people were bemoaning the heat and hills. We decided to ride the short route and leave early. It turns out that being in our cross-country tent helped signal our bodies to waken at 5:30. It seemed natural to hop up, dress, break camp, and pack up before breakfast.buggy-arm

Sunday the course was a straight out-and-back. The long distance was set to be around 63 miles to the Bar M dude ranch. We’d been there the last time we rode here and knew it would be just fine to turn around at the rest stop half-way up the hill. There were more flat stretches than Saturday, but plenty of the big rollers, too. When we got to the rest stop, we discovered that my arms were a mass of dead bugs. Nothing like biking through swarms of gnats when you are covered in sweat and sunscreen! On the return we had 4 miles of steady down followed by another 8 miles of hills, heat, and headwinds. We were glad to be returning before 11 because the temperatures were surely lower than they’d be later. We totaled 38 miles that day, making an even 100 for the weekend.

We arrived back at the Convention Center and celebrated with showers and peach cobbler. By 12:20 we were on the road home. It seemed like we beat much of the holiday weekend traffic, only slowing for about 20 miles on the east side of the pass. It was a great weekend, but ever-so-nice to be back home.

Feb 23, 2014

Last days of sun

Saturday, February 22 – Sitting at SeaTac waiting for our shuttle home.

What a difference a few hours makes. We used to be in sunshine and hot, now we’re sitting in an ice-cold parking garage, thankful that it’s not snowing. But first, a review of our last three days.

Mt. LemmonWednesday we decided we needed a challenge, so we headed up Gates Pass.  We got a late start because it was so cold out, nearly 52 degrees! Once the sun came out and warmed stuff up, we took off. Gates is a low pass with only about 3 miles of climbing at a generally gentle pace. As we neared the top, it kicked up to 15% in two stretches. That felt like the work that real climbers do.

We flew down the backside of the pass and stopped at the Sonoran Desert Museum. We incorrectly thought it was part of the National Park so weren’t prepared for a hiking experience which cost money. So we settled for some baked goods and continued riding.

We were feeling peppier than ever so we stretched our ride out to the north and west, eventually returning to town along one of the river bike trails. We clocked in at 54 miles for the day! Now we’re riding!frog-mountain

That night we took Steve and Patricia out for dinner at a neighborhood Ethiopian spot. The food was good and the company was marvelous.

Thursday we wanted to stretch our legs one last time before I tore down the bike. This time we headed NE to Mt. Lemmon. It is a 25 mile climb averaging 6%. We weren’t going to do that since it took us 15 miles to get to the bottom. But we set our goal as the Babad Do’Ag overlook, 2.5 miles up. It was a tough, serpentine climb. The grade was about 6% most of the time.

We made it up without much hassle. Lots of younger stronger riders flew past us. I thought we must have looked like gramma and granpa to them. Sheila pointed out that in our helmets we just looked like fit riders, going slowly. Maybe I’ll get a mane of white hair for my helmet so they can tell we have a reason for our lack of speed.

spencer-packingAfter that we cruised downhill – what a blast! Stopped for a snack at Le Buzz, a bikers coffee shop. Chatted with some folks who were also in Tucson for sunshine and cycling. Then home and I started breaking down the bike. It was pleasant out on Steve and Patricia’s patio.

Friday Steve took us to the airport early in the morning so we could rent a car. We then drove to Phoenix to see our friends Gail and Tom.  It was a pleasant 2 hour drive in our brand new Chrysler 200 (a car big enough to transport our bike gear to the airport Saturday). We caught up with their stories and they ours. Went to lunch at a Thai restaurant downtown which was incredibly noisy. Evidently that is de rigeur for happening restaurants. Who knew? Later, Sheila, Gail and I went to see a Chihuly installation at the Desert Botanical Garden. While we’ve been to the Chilhuly at Seattle Center this one was all dessert specific art. Quite beautiful. We were walking through gardens of cacti, then suddenly there’d be a big arrangement of glass spikes or flowing glass spires. We enjoyed both the gardens and the installation as you can see in the gallery below. But sadly, we failed to take any photos of them!

Our evening ended with a return drive to Tucson, after which we got up early to begin our travels home. not much to say about the flights. We tried to get bumped from our Seattle flight and would have gotten bumped had a San Antonio flight not been delayed. Then when we arrived at Seattle, they couldn’t get the jetway to connect, so we had to taxi out to a different gate. The shuttle we were waiting for arrived fairly quickly and we’re back.

Isn’t it nice to be home again?! Even if it is gray and 40 degrees!

Feb 18, 2014

Riding with a Seattle transplant

spencer-bridget-tonyToday we headed out to ride with Bridget, a Seattleite who fell in love and moved to Tucson. She was thrilled to be able to talk about Capitol Hill, lakes, Cascade bike rides, and all things Northwest. We also got to meet her husband, Tony, as he joined us on what turned out to be a 48 mile ride for us. We rode to East Saguaro National Park, one of our favorite spots to ride here.

We caught up to them on the Aviation trail and wandered out to the park. Our riding styles were pretty well matched. Turns out that she’s doing volunteer IT work and some WordPress site management for a non-profit here, so she and Sheila had a lot to chat about. I pretty much am out of all conversations on the bike because of my hearing loss. Sheila does a good job of feeding me the pertinent bits over the tandem radio system we have.

cautionWe arrived at the park around 11:30. We were congratulating ourselves on having remembered to pack Sheila’s Senior Park Pass we bought in Wyoming. But when we got to the guard gate he wanted to see her ID. Oooops. We convinced him to take our tandem business card with its photo, plus Sheila’s business card. He let us in warning us to carry the driver’s license next time, as well as a warning about the first turn at the bottom of the hill!

There is an 8 mile loop in that park we’ve described before that is terrific. The first turn is at the bottom of a very steep downhill and is about a 130 degree turn. Tony said he’d gone off the road negotiating it one time. We were careful as can be. Problem is it is followed by a steep uphill. So it is always a challenge to take as much speed as is safe to get up the other side. We were feeling pretty sassy, so we really attacked and made it. There are a whole string of ups and downs (or should I say: downs and ups) that benefit from generating lots of speed. We love that part of the loop. Then there is a long (1.5 mile?) hill on the backside which completely took the wind out of our sails. Payback. But then there are more rollers, tending downhill, so it’s back to fun stuff.

spencer-sheila-tony-bridgetSpeaking of fun stuff, Bridget and Tony met on that loop. Bridget (on vacation from Seattle) was in the process of doing 9 laps of the loop (!) to make up for missing a long road ride when Tony caught up to her. They did 5 laps together. He then loaned her a better bike to replace the mountain bike she had been riding for the rest of her stay in Tucson. One thing led to another and now they’re together. An appropriate story for February.

After the park we went to their home for a snack and a rest. Then Sheila and I bid them adieu and headed back toward downtown Tucson. Our goal was to get to Lovin Spoonful, a vegan restaurant which serves milkshakes. MMMmmmm. 10 miles later we were sitting on their porch sipping our shakes and nibbling our French fries. Of course, we had to then ride another 3-4 miles back to Steve’s and Patricia’s house. But we’re home, well-fed, and looking forward to dinner out with our hosts. Nothing like sitting outside by the bubbling fountain surrounded by fabulous southwest plants and sculptures while we blog and relax.

Feb 17, 2014

Sunshine = biking as a way of life

It’s Monday, Presidents’ Day. We just got in from a 41 mile ride around parts of Tucson we’ve never seen. This time we were led by our host Steve Wilson. He and his partner Patricia are putting us up in their lovely home in central Tucson for the remainder of our stay. We spent most of the day yesterday getting our stuff moved from Susan’s house to Steve’s. Then we hit a matinee showing of “A Winter’s Tale”. We enjoyed it. We had a thank you-farewell dinner with Susan and Kirk at a place called the Blue Willow. Pretty good food topped by pretty good cherry pie. I love my cherry pie. All 25 miles of our riding that day were errand-based.

beyond-bread-screwToday we got up and headed to a battery store. Sheila’s Garmin bike computer/GPS had finally worn out its rechargeable battery. Lucky for us, the store with the battery also was next door to Beyond Bread – a most excellent bakery. We enjoyed a kind of Breton pastry called Kouign-amann (pronounced queen aman). When we got ready to leave, the rear tire was flat. When I got it off, I found we’d picked up a large sheet metal screw. I had to screw it out of the tire! Just one more repair.

We cruised around Tucson’s bike trails. This included one which took us into a flood basin once or twice. Hmmmm. I’m glad the sun is out! Eventually we got to the San Xavier Mission south of town. It’s a gorgeous mission dating back to the 1600s, the oldest structure in the area. When we stopped here on the last day of our 2003 Cross Arizona Tour they were remodeling it so it was covered in scaffolding.


When we got back to town, it was lunchtime. We stopped at a restaurant called 5 Points (it’s at a star-shaped intersection). They were having equipment challenges, too. Their bread was gone so they’d had to re-open their breakfast menu. Their smoothie maker died. But the giant blueberry pancake with Field Roast sausage turned out to be quite a treat for us. We were starting to feel like cyclists again after 5 consecutive rides.

Which gets me to an interesting thing. Much of what we are doing is reminiscent of our cross-country trip. We ride a good chunk of the day. When we get in, I blog while Sheila showers. Sheila then edits and adds pictures while I hit the shower. I’ve taken to shaving just before the shower as I did on the trip. It just seems more efficient. Then we relax and wait for dinner. The major difference is that we are riding less than half what we did then. But being in the heat brings it all back.


Feb 15, 2014

Tucson – February 2014

We flew from cold, wet Seattle to hot, sunny Tucson on February 12. We have 10 days to play in the sunshine, due to Spencer’s school schedule. Our plan is to spend 4 nights with our friend Susan Reed (who we met last winter down here) then Sunday we move to Steve Wilson’s place. We’d met him in 2003 when we did the ride from the Grand Canyon to Nogales. This is our Warm Showers payback for hosting other riders last year.

The trip down was uneventful (as all plane flights should be). I got the bike put back together with a minimum of trouble by around 7 PM. And we settled in with Susan to watch some of the Olympics before we retired. The next day we planned to do a short “shakedown” ride.BICAS-signBICAS-sculptures

As we got ready to leave I noticed my bottom bracket was wobbling 1/4 – 1/2″ side-to-side. That’s not good. Never fear, Susan led us to a bike repair shop called BICAS. BICAS stands for bicycle inter community arts and salvage and they are very cool. Outside there’s all kinds of sculptures and functional things like bike racks all made from salvaged bike parts. BICAS-insideInside sports 7 workstations, tools for loan, tons of used and new parts, and mechanics on duty to help you solve your dilemma. For $4 an hour you have free run of the store. Quite a deal. My bracket problem stumped the stars there, but they were willing to work with me on it. Between the two of us we figured out the solution and we took off with Susan for a 25 mile ride around “The Loop”, bike trails following the two riverbeds in Tucson. That night I helped Susan adjust the shifting on her recumbent. She’d replaced the cable housing while I worked on my bracket at BICAS. It took us about 45 minutes to get it right. Two bike repairs in one day: I’m feeling like a mechanic!

Spencer helps SusanYesterday we opted for a longer ride up to Twin Peaks and Rio Vistosos. That was 45 miles with substantially more climbing. We didn’t really feel very strong. To be sure, we haven’t been on the bike in months and Sheila hasn’t had a lot of cardio exercise since her accident last May. But we stuck it out. Stuck might be a good adjective since our bottoms were so sore by the end that we were pretty much stuck. Along the way I got to help Susan again, this time with her front derailleur. Woo Hoo! Susan’s good to ride with because she knows all the roads. She rides 12,000 miles a year! IMPRESSIVE! She led us through some wonderful neighborhoods which sidestepped the busy streets I’d have taken us on.

Susan helps spencerToday we tried to do a 35-40 mile ride. But on the way out of town I was hearing some rattling. We stopped at BICUS again, but couldn’t find it. So I paid them the $4 shop fee from Thursday (I hadn’t put my wallet or my tools on the bike that first day!) and we went on our way. We climbed Starr Pass (tiny) and were just getting ready to descend when Sheila and I both heard loud rattling. A long hard look showed one of the bolts holding on our front brake was missing! Guess what? Another trip to BICUS. I really hope it was the last one. But they had huge buckets of bolts to choose from plus a little lock-tite, and we were off. It was late enough now that we just cruised to the University District and had lunch. Then we meandered back home. We went 27 miles in 5 hours. Not our best time:distance ratio, but then, we’re on vacation and it’s sunny. Who cares? It’s 87 degrees out and life is good.

Bens Bells volunteersOur meanderings included a pleasant layover in a tree-shaded plaza that boasts volunteers painting ceramic pieces (notice Spencer and Susan in the background). They are community volunteers engaged in Ben’s Bell Project, commemorating the untimely passing of a 3 year old boy. His family started this nonprofit with a simple and worthwhile mission: to inspire, educate and motivate each other to realize the impact of intentional kindness and to empower individuals to act according to that awareness, thereby strengthening ourselves, our relationships and our communities. Food for thought.

Now for a shower and some horizontal relaxation followed by a night of Olympics viewing.