It’s SOP on my bike club, after a glorious race, to send around a report, which traditionally focuses more on the food (which is always copious) than the glory (which can be elusive). Since I chickened out of the Everest Challenge this year, I’m reporting on my biggest ride of 2015 instead: Mount Baker, up near Bellingham, WA, with my brother Bryan and his son John. Read on, or at least skim the photos, to be immersed in timeless themes: Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Man, Man vs. His Father, Man Struggling to be a Man, Man vs. Food, Man vs. Bike, and (for the ladies) Fish vs. Bicycle.
Executive Summary (i.e., condensed version)
- Breakfast: two cups strong coffee, black
- During: Four bottles Powerade (red flavor); unknown quantity Gatorade (cucumber-lime); 3 Clif Bars (1 Thin Mint, 1 Beef Jerky, 1 Gluten-Free Donner Party flavor, which fortunately tastes more like leather than like scabs); two Powerbar Gels (expired ca. 2009)
- Lunch: nothing
- Glycogen window snack: one banana ( infirm, or at least not-firm); 1½ bottles New Belgium Long Table Farmhouse Ale (seasonal; highly recommended)
- Dinner: homemade pasta with homemade meat sauce; garlic bread; garlic hot dog buns; meat lasagne; salad; pumpkin pie with whipped cream; whipped cream without pumpkin pie (sshhh!)
- Ride Stats: 120.2 miles; 7:57:36 ride time; 7,618 feet of vertical gain
- Verdict: epic pass, though I lost most of the city-limit sprints
It’s a long road, figuratively speaking, to the non-figurative open road. Family life, with its careers, chores, children, and logistics always interferes. Maybe that’s why the great outdoors beckon so strongly. Our biggest obstacle was getting Bryan’s fleet running. I’d flown to WA without my bike (because the airlines are such thieving bastards) and had to borrow. Both of Bryan’s spare road bikes were out of commission (but on the plus side, what a boon, to own two spare road bikes!). “I almost had one of them ready to go for John before he went off to college,” Bryan said, and then added wistfully, “Four years ago.” (John just graduated.)
So we headed to Bryan’s office, which has a full bike shop for its employees. Pretty sweet perk, eh? The company is called Faithlife, for those of you already polishing your résumés. Here we are at work:
The first bike, a 1983 Team Miyata, had belonged to my dad for awhile, before he gave it back to Bryan. Dad had a 180mm TA Cyclotourist triple crankset on there (all but fused to a Phil Wood sealed bottom bracket); Grab-On foam instead of bar tape; front and rear racks; old-school wheels that only took a five-speed freewheel; weirdly narrow handlebars; and of course a giant puffy saddle. He’d also removed the gold “Team Miyata” panels. Poor bike. Bryan had stripped the crap off before but hadn’t replaced all of it yet. Getting that bike running felt more like an intervention than a renovation. I feared we’d have to go out and buy a new front derailleur. Fortunately, every former bike mechanic has a big box called The Box, and Bryan’s was full of treasures. Check out this sweet Dura-Ace mech, from around 1980 (and no, he has no idea where he got it):
The other bike, an ’84 Team, was in better shape and needed only brakes, a saddle, and a chain. It actually had a chain, but it was older than George Burns and almost as dead. We ended up keeping it on there because it was enmeshed in a codependent relationship with the equally worn-out cogs. The saddle we threw on there was a Fi’Zi:k knockoff that came with Bryan’s new Fuji, and was designed to be thrown away. It was better than nothing, but just barely. Sitting on it was like sitting on one of those Spenco fake boobs we used to pass around in health class, to feel for fake tumors. At least this saddle didn’t have any of those. The brakes we installed were Tektro—also from the new Fuji, and also designed to be thrown away.
On ride day, I woke at 6 and thought I’d have to go shake the other guys awake, but they were already up. Look, my nephew John (a college baseball player) even stretches out before exercise:
Couple quick things: yes, that jersey does in fact match the Miyatas, and thanks for noticing. (It was a hand-me-down from his Evil Uncle Dana, which is also where Bryan got both Team Miyatas.) And look at that whiteboard: we worked out the physics of this ride in advance. The power required for the climb, all the vectors for taking high-speed switchbacks on the way back down … it’s all there. We don’t stumble blindly into these things.
Here’s the requisite “before” photo. We hit out at 7:12 a.m., fully caffeinated from good, strong coffee that Bryan made. If I were a coffee achiever I could devote a paragraph to the beans, the blend, the machinery, etc. but I’m just a NoDoz Underachiever. We didn’t have any breakfast, because we never do, and as for its being the most important meal of the day … oh, stuff it!
Man, it was fricking cold (41 degrees, 88% humidity, and I don’t want to hear about your “real winters” and all that—I’m a Californian). Mist rose from all the fields as we rolled out of town. Most of the roads had been repaved recently, and featured those rumble strips that used to keep drunks and somnambulists from going off the road, and I guess still do, but now they’re mainly for drivers who can’t resist texting while driving.
Speaking of annoying drivers, you know what’s all the rage in WA? Putting an oversized engine in your jacked-up truck, and then, when passing cyclists, flooring it so the groan of the engine and the whine of the turbocharger make the bikers jump out of their skins. We bikers need to be taught a lesson, you see.
We got a great view of Mount Baker, our destination, on the way out of town. Cameras, for all their recent improvement, still do a lousy job compared to the naked eye. I wish they responded quasi-intelligently to voice commands, so I could say, “No, don’t focus on the chain, focus on that ancient front derailleur!” or “Fix the exposure so Mount Baker shows up, duh!” My hands were too cold to do a lot of futzing so I had to add the mountain in post-production. (Full disclosure: I’m not actually sure this is Mount Baker, and I guessed on the scale.)
We sprinted for every city limit sign. I thought I’d do pretty well, because Bryan is even older than I am, and this was—I kid you not—John’s first bike ride of 2015. (He commutes short distances by bike, but that’s about it.) I know you’re tired of all the hackneyed excuses bike racers give, so I have some new ones:
- My contact lens prescription is on the weak side, and the city limit signs in WA don’t feature elevation or population, so they’re hard to discern from a distance;
- I was afraid to shove hard on the pedals due to that ancient chain;
- I’m just a big sissy.
When Bryan and John launched their sprint into Glacier, I was riding no-handed with the camera out so there was no way I could participate. So did I at least get an awesome photo of the glorious sprint? No … by the time this occurred to me the guys were too far ahead for a great photo. My brain was being as sluggish as my legs.
It’s a bit hard to describe the climb up Mount Baker. Technically, it’s about 30 miles long, but the first 20 miles average just 1%. The climb proper begins 9.5 miles from the “summit” and averages 5.5%. (The road doesn’t reach the actual summit.) About a mile from the top is a pretty steep section, maxing out at 13.7%.
There are a few buildings along the road, one associated with a ski resort, but nothing was open so we couldn’t get any water. About 5 miles from the summit we had some Cliff bars which we washed down with recycled saliva (our own). The modern bars have caffeine in them and come in all kinds of new flavors. I can’t tell, in this photo, if John is savoring his, or using Zen techniques to ingest it without suffering.
Look at their shoes. Those Lake cycling shoes Bryan is wearing? They technically belong to John. They’re his only pair, which is why he’s rocking the Nike sneakers. Does he complain about having to ride 120 miles in sneakers? No. Does he complain about his dad swiping his stuff? No. Did he complain, six years ago when we last attempted this ride, that it rained the whole time and we got turned around by snow a couple miles from the Mount Baker summit? No. Does he complain about overuse of the serial-rhetorical-question literary device? Possibly, and I couldn’t blame him.
By the way, here’s a movie from that ill-fated Mount Baker ride of 2009. I still have the scar on my leg from where Bryan tried to take a bite.
Fortunately the weather was great this year … it was still cool on the mountain, but nice and sunny.
Go ahead and zoom in on that last one. Note that Bryan’s gloves don’t even remotely match: one is full-finger, one isn’t. Guess what he’ll be getting for Christmas!
So how was John doing, considering that he’s not a bike racer, hadn’t ridden all year, has more extraneous muscle on his upper body than Chris Froome has in total, was wearing sneakers, and was riding a bike with wheels handed down from his aunt’s early-‘80s Univega? Quite well, though he must have been suffering pretty badly to get gapped like this by his dad.
Actually, maybe he was gapped only because he was futzing with his GoPro or something. He did admit later to having suffered, but who knows … maybe he was just being polite.
Here’s the only halfway decent action photo I got of all three of us. It appears I may have suffered a mild stroke at some point, based on how the side of my face is collapsing and on how I’m grinning like an idiot.
Look, we made the summit, Artist’s Point! The elevation is 5,100 feet and we started at (basically) sea level. A friendly hiker snapped this photo, and also gave us a whole bottle of Gatorade, which was cucumber-lime flavor. You know what? It actually tasted pretty good. That’s what hours of exercise will do for you. (I remember enjoying some ice-cold Tequiza after an hours-long hike in Yosemite; I bought some when I got back home and realized it was actually quite gross.) We were really stoked at the hiker’s generosity, because there was no water at the summit, either. We only managed to fill our bottles once during this ride, about 80 or 90 miles in.
For those albertnet readers who’d like to get into a big argument about irony, here’s a photo that may or may not be ironic. (Capri Sonne, aka Capri Sun, is one of those rare beverage companies not owned by PepsiCo, which is Gatorade’s parent.)
The descent was glorious (if a bit brisk). Toward the bottom of this post is a YouTube video where you can see some of that. Following the downhill, when we finally did stop for water, we compared our helmet-heads. Bryan’s was fricking epic:
You can tell he was going fast by the piece of straw there. My own helmet-head was pretty sweet, too. I didn’t get the corn row effect, but the bugs are a nice touch.
The redness is because the helmet I borrowed from Bryan was too small. I was relieved it didn’t actually wear a hole in my forehead (though it felt like it was). There was a missing pad above my crown, which due to my lack of hair and the male Velcro bits caused an unpleasant sandpaper sensation. John suggested I put some wadded-up paper towel in there, and it really helped. Such a fine lad! His heart must go out to my brother and me, the way our hair is disappearing faster than glaciers in Greenland. (Actually, our hair is migrating to our backs … but I digress.)
I did manage to win a city-limit sprint, into the little town of Nugent. Just now I looked up that town to see if it was named after Ted Nugent, and I can’t find it on a map. I guess it’s not a town at all … there’s just a random green sign that says “Nugent” so I didn’t really win anything.
The final sprint into Bellingham was one we’d talked about the whole ride; it’s the equivalent of the Champs-Elysées stage of the Tour de France. Bryan and I were watching each other like hawks on the approach, and just as I was about to launch my sprint, Bryan said, “I don’t think that’s it,” meaning the city-limit sign. I hesitated, and just then John came flying by us. There was no way to catch him. It was a brilliant move. Later I accused Bryan of treason; after all, saying “I don’t think that’s it” is a lot easier than giving his son a lead-out. Bryan denies any such tactics. In any event, John has not only great strength but great instincts (exemplifying 3 of the 5 sprinting tips I give here).
Here’s a video of ride highlights from John’s GoPro:
Here’s the “after” shot, juxtaposed with the “after” shot from our 2009 expedition. John has certainly grown.
We sat on the back deck and ate bananas as our glycogen window treat. My legs really hurt … this was my longest ride of the year by almost 40 miles. My dad was visiting as well, and I attempted to scandalize him by saying, “I’m going to take an over-the-counter muscle relaxant.” I think it worked: my dad (an acolyte of Dr. Andrew Weil) asked worriedly, “What kind?” I replied, “Brewski.” Man, that Long Table ale is yummy. Like a Saison, but stronger. I brought out one for John too because hey, he’s of legal drinking age now!
If you’re wondering how I came to drink 1½ beers, it’s because there was a limited supply, and John gave me half of his. I commented on his temperance and he said, “It’s not that … you just look like you need it more.”
Dinner was straight-up massive, and tasty: hand-cranked pasta, a previously frozen lasagne we’d thawed just in case which was nice and meaty, salad (well …salad), garlic bread, and some hot dog buns that had been given the garlic bread treatment. Then the pie, and whipped cream. Have you noticed that aerosol whipped cream seems so often to come in a 3-pack nowadays? It’s almost entrapment the way its overabundance leads to fist-sized puffs atop tiny slivers of pie.
The aftermath of the ride and dinner was predictable enough….
Next time I do this, I’m bringing my older daughter, Alexa. I just informed her of this. She replied, “You are insane.” You can imagine her eye-roll.