Category Archives: Cycling

Ride Around Washington: We did that!

A few days ago CFL and I completed a very big bike ride: we rode 400 miles from Ilwaco, up the Columbia River Gorge, to Walla Walla, Washington. That’s three-quarters of the way across Washington, from the far southwestern corner at the Pacific Coast, nearly all the way to Idaho.

It was the biggest thing either of us has ever done as an athlete. I still can’t quite believe we did it!

I started researching active vacations back in January, and quickly focused on Ride Around Washington, organized by the Cascade Bicycle Club. The 2015 edition was the 17th annual RAW. Each year they follow a different route, visiting different sections of the state. I first learned about RAW last year when they rode through and camped in my town.

The ride is relatively small and and intimate, with only 250 cyclists. We camped each night in state parks, county fairgrounds, and the like. Our luggage was transported and our meals and snacks were provided — all we had to do was ride our bikes, pitch our tents, and pack up our stuff each morning. We were expected to fix our own flats, but additional mechanical assistance and other support was provided by a fleet of roving support vehicles.

Piece of cake, right?

Every bike ride I’ve taken this year has been focused on preparing for RAW. We knew that our longest day would be 88+ miles, that our hilliest day would have 4,500+ feet of elevation gain, and that we could be facing 100+ degree days in eastern Washington. We tried to train toward those numbers, but the longest ride we did before RAW was 73 miles, our warmest ride was about 90 degrees, my biggest climb was about 3,300 feet, and my longest riding streak was 5 consecutive days and 244 miles. In short, we prepared as well as we could, but we weren’t entirely sure we were ready.

Perhaps you noticed the big bandage on my chin in the photo above. No, I didn’t fall off my bike! But I did trip over a curb while trying to board the bus in Seattle on the first morning. I managed to land squarely on my chin. Event staff arrived promptly with a first aid kit, but it was clear that I needed more than a band-aid.

Our bikes and luggage were already loaded on the trucks, and we couldn’t think of anything to do but get on the bus and go to Ilwaco. As soon as we arrived in Ilwaco, I dashed to the nearest Emergency Room. I didn’t need stitches, but they did glue the laceration closed and applied the huge bandage that you see. I was in and out of that ER in an hour and ten minutes.

The truck with the bikes was running late. When I walked back from the ER they were still unloading bikes. Yet I needed some time to collect my thoughts (calm down) before I was ready to get on the bike. CFL and I were the last ones to leave the parking lot, but we weren’t very far behind the others.

The route for Day 1 had a 6-mile possible short cut. We took that, so we rode just 48 miles to Skamokawa. I had a tough time. I was hurting, I had a headache, and the bumpy road was hell on my chin. We rolled into camp at nearly 7:00 PM.

We ate, pitched our tent, and were asleep very soon thereafter. The next morning my alarm went off at 5:15 AM. We had to break camp, drag our luggage to the truck, eat breakfast, and be on the road before 8:00. That schedule would become our norm for the week.

On Day 2 we rode from Skamokawa to Vancouver. My chin was not nearly as sore. It didn’t hurt so badly to hit bumps. We rode nearly 89 miles and I arrived feeling reasonably fresh and strong. A highlight of Day 2 was about 6 miles of riding along I-5. While the shoulder itself was relatively smooth and wide, the 18-wheelers flying by were… thrilling. A couple of times we passed obstacles on the shoulder that forced us over the bone-rattling rumble strip and into the traffic lane. Frankly, it was terrifying.

On Day 3 we started the morning with a brisk ride over the I-205 bridge into Oregon. We rode down the bike path in the center of the freeway. That was fun! From there we took surface roads eastward to the Historic Columbia River Highway.

It was a relatively short distance (just under 59 miles), but the narrow, winding road and heavy tourist traffic made it scary. It was especially tough right at Multnomah Falls where tourists in cars were looking at everything but us cyclists. The inherent tension of the situation caused my left shoulder to stiffen up and begin to spasm.

Still, it was a beautiful place to ride.

The last thing we had to do before arriving at camp in Stevenson, WA was ride over the Bridge of the Gods at Cascade Locks.

This is the location at which the Pacific Crest Trail crosses the Columbia River (it’s Cheryl Strayed’s destination in Wild). CFL had looked forward to riding over this bridge for months. To his delight, we actually passed a thru-hiker on the approach to the bridge.

The wind had come up by then. I started over the narrow bridge, which was a bumpy open grate, and got blasted by side wind. It was all I could do to keep moving forward, but I had to keep going because of traffic on the bridge right behind me. It was the most terrifying thing I’d ever done… way scarier than I-5.

We were slower than most of the riders so we didn’t have much time for sightseeing stops along the way. Each day we rolled into camp around 4:30 to 4:45, which left us just enough time to put up the tent, grab a celebratory beer, and take a quick shower before dinner. Then we’d be off to bed by 9:00 or so.

Of course, Slow Ride session IPA from New Belgium was my go-to beer of the week.

Day 4, from Stevenson to Maryhill, was the day I have been worried about from the beginning: 77 miles with 4,500+ feet of elevation gain.

It started out fine. We picked up a nice little tailwind and sailed along. We rode several miles on I-84, with a narrow shoulder and construction blocking one vehicle lane. It was scary but manageable. Then later, as I was nearing a viewpoint at the top of a hill for our late morning water stop, I got hit by a sidewind that almost knocked me over. From there, coming down the hill on the far side was a series of wind blasts from different directions at every turn. Again, it was terrifying.

We arrived at the lunch stop in The Dalles at 49.2 miles. We had another 27+ miles and 2,000+ feet of elevation gain to go. I told CFL I was done for the day. I arranged a ride into camp on one of the support vehicles. The guy praised my decision to “sag,” as he said there was a 35 MPH headwind on the bridge we were about to cross.

CFL kept riding. I marveled at all the hills we went up and down as we drove past a long line of riders.

The driver asked if I’d like to be dropped off at the Stonehenge war memorial and ride down the last hill to camp from there. I decided I’d do that. It was another 2.3 miles, so I ended up doing 51.50 that day.

While waiting for CFL to arrive, I somehow managed to pitch the tent myself in a 25+ MPH wind. He did not get into camp until after 6:00. In addition to battling the winds, he’d had a flat tire.

On Day 5 we rode from Maryhill to Umatilla, OR. This was the day we’d been promised big tailwinds that would allow us to “put it on autopilot.” We did get some wind early in the day, but then it petered out and it got hot. Sometime in the mid-afternoon CFL noticed that my rear tire was low. It was still inflated enough that I rode carefully for another 3 miles to the water stop. There, a friendly and gracious volunteer helped us (mostly CFL) patch the leak… something we were supposed to be able to do for ourselves. I had picked up a tiny curlicued bit of wire. He gave us some pointers on how to quickly and effectively fix a flat. I appreciated his instruction.

We got back on the bikes and finished the ride, ending with a bike path over a Columbia River bridge that (because of the lack of wind) was not scary. We were among the last few riders into camp. Day 5 was an 85-mile day.

On Day 6 I was tired again. We got a late start and were among the last riders on the road. This guaranteed that we would be almost last, if not the last, to finish.

On that last day, everything hurt: my knees, my shoulders, my butt, and once again my chin (which had quieted down but now seemed more sore again). I was ready to be done. We got to the afternoon food stop (at a winery) and the “sweep” riders (those who would escort the last few to the finish) showed up right behind us.

Of course we didn’t taste any wine. We were hot and that was the last thing we wanted. Still we stuck around there for a while, drinking ice water and cooling off.

The sweep riders were polite and said we could take all the time we needed. We cruised into camp with them right behind us. (A few riders actually finished behind the sweep riders, as they’d stopped somewhere to sightsee.)

There was an actual “FINISH” banner at the end, as well as a person handing out a RAW patch on a cord… a finishers medal of sorts. I got a bit emotional but only for a few seconds. I felt better as soon as I learned that the beer would be free until all of it was gone.

The next morning felt rather sad, packing up the tent for the last time and putting our bikes on the truck and ourselves on the bus back to Seattle.

While we were certainly ready to stop riding, we knew that we would miss our little traveling community.

Will we do RAW again? Probably. Next year will pick up where this year ended, in Walla Walla, and traverse the eastern half of the state, the region known as The Palouse, from south to north. We’ll see lots more beautiful, stark scenery like this.

It will be hot, windy, miserable, and no doubt terrifying in places. But we’ll know what to expect, and we’ll be better prepared. And when we’re done, we’ll know that we’ve again accomplished something very big.

It’s no piece of cake, but it’s a savory and satisfying experience indeed.

Cycling, cycling… re-cycling!

I’ve been riding my bike a lot this year. Since my last half marathon on June 7, I’ve focused almost exclusively on cycling. Well, there was a two-week beer tourism adventure in southern California, but even while there I borrowed a bike and cruised around on beachfront San Diego trails.

When we got home from California my plan was to run and ride on alternate days. After all, I do have this marathon that I’m registered for in October, so I wanted to keep the running edge fairly sharp going into summer. I planned to do a couple of easy 7-10 mile runs per week, and then ramp up the marathon training in mid-August.

Why the delay until mid-August? Because CFL and I are also registered for a 6-day, 400+ mile cycling tour in early August. I naively thought that I could keep up with the running while also training to ride multiple days’ worth of 70+ mile rides.

I was wrong about that. Something had to give, and it was the running.

My first big cycling test of the summer was a ride up to Hurricane Ridge. I’ve written here about CFL’s adventures with Ride the Hurricane. I used to be in utter awe of him or anyone who could do this ride. It’s the steepest climb in Washington state and in the top 100-rated climbs in the country. On the first Sunday in August, the road leading 18 miles up to one of Olympic National Park’s supreme tourist areas is closed to all but cyclists. On any given day in summer, however, you might see a dozen or more cyclists winding their way up 5,000+ feet… and then speeding back down the hill!

I have attempted to do it, beginning my ride from home, several times, but never got past mile 3. CFL kept telling me the first 6 miles are the steepest.

When we heard that 125+ cyclists were coming over from Victoria, BC on July 1 (Canada Day), we decided to tag along. The road wasn’t closed but we figured there was safety in numbers. I decided I’d start my ride 6 miles up the road, giving myself a starting elevation of about 2,000 feet with only 3,200 feet or so to climb.

It took me a long time but I did it. I think I got passed by every Canadian rider on the way up. I was pretty tired at the top, but not too tired for the obligatory, celebratory photo.

I was really nervous about riding down, but it wasn’t too bad. I stopped a few times along the way just to remind myself that my brakes do, in fact, work perfectly well.

After that, my next challenge was a 70+ mile ride. We figured out that we could start at a trailhead on the north side of Lake Crescent and ride from there to Forks (of Twilight fame) and back. All but a dozen or so miles each way would be on a bike path, while the rest would be on US 101, which does at least have a wide shoulder.

The day we planned to do it, there was rain in the forecast. Being intrepid Pacific Northwesterners, we put our rain gear in our waterproof backpacks and off we went!

It rained. A lot. 24 miles out we’d had enough, and we turned around.

A week later we tried it again. This time it was an unusually warm day. We actually liked that, as our tour will be in a warm area and heat training is hard to come by where we live.

By the time we reached Forks, it was nearly 90 degrees. Of course we had to stop and get photos at the “Forks welcomes you” sign.

We found a small cafe where we had sandwiches and ice cream, and refilled our water bottles. Then we started back.

Six miles out of Forks CFL got a flat tire. I watched closely while he fixed it. In my cycling career I have yet to get a flat tire. I’m still not sure I’d be able to fix it when I get one… I am keeping my fingers crossed!

We got very hot and tired riding back. We refilled our bottles a second time. I then nursed my bottle back to the car, while CFL took to topping his off at likely-looking small streams.

That ride turned out to be 73 miles, round trip. We figured we’d earned an immediate beer, so we stopped at the Lake Crescent Lodge on the way home.

Since that ride, I’ve been focused on trying to ride as much as possible, as many days in a row as possible. So I cycle one day, I re-cycle the next day, you get the drift. A 50 mile bike ride, followed by another, does not seem like all that big of a deal anymore. However, the idea of stringing together several 70+ mile days still has me a little anxious.

With one day left in July, I’ve ridden 659 miles so far this month.

I’m a bit tired.

But I think I’m ready for a very big, very long bike ride.

I can’t wait to tell you all about it… but first I have to DO it! Stay tuned…

So many photo ops!

It has been much too long since I last blogged here! As usual, I have a good excuse: I’ve been too busy living to write.

So what have I been up to? Instead of trying to write about it all at this point, it might be easier to show you.

We had a short, if occasionally dramatic, winter. A series of large rainstorms in February did major damage to our Olympic Discovery Trail. The mudslides have long ago been cleared from the waterfront section, but the big bridge across the Dungeness River is still closed. The river has permanently (well, for the foreseeable future) changed course, and the whole western side of the bridge will need to be rebuilt.

It’s possible to detour around this section of the trail by road, but it does make long bike rides a bit more complicated.

To the west, the Elwha River is finally running clear again after the historic removal of the two large dams. It’s great to see that pure blue-green water!

In April we drove down to Monterey, California to ride the Sea Otter Gran Fondo. The Sea Otter Classic is one of the largest competitive bike events in the country, and the Gran Fondo is one of the few non-competitive events included in it. We rode 51 miles of the beautiful coast of Monterey and Pacific Grove. We were having so much fun riding that I never took any photos along the route! But here we are enjoying the lunch afterward.

We came home with 24 bottles of Pliny the Elder, which we happily shared with several of our friends.

Meanwhile, Port Angeles has been in the news. You may have heard about the Polar Pioneer, a large off-shore oil rig that Shell wants to deploy in the Arctic. It was moored in our harbor for nearly a month before making its way to Seattle, where it was greeted by hundreds of protestors. We didn’t like it being here either, so it was a relief to see it go, even though each move puts it that much closer to its intended destination.

It is huge! At over 400 feet tall, it was the largest thing in view from everywhere in town, but especially imposing viewed from right on the waterfront.

We’ve been so busy we’ve hardly had time to brew beer, but we’ve gotten a few batches done. Meanwhile I’ve judged several times and have now been promoted to Certified rank. I was also asked to judge at a commercial competition, the Washington Beer Awards, where I judged mostly robust porters and barleywines. It was a real honor to participate, and I can’t wait for the results to be announced so I can find out who brewed those tasty beers that my team judged!

This past weekend I ran another half marathon, and earned another PR on a very warm day. You can read more about that here.

Yesterday I celebrated my half marathon with an easy hike. We had a destination in mind, but we turned around early when we met up with this mother and baby.

We could have just shooed them off and hiked on. The Park management wants hikers to shout and throw rocks to discourage them from approaching people. But we could see and hear other hikers shouting just a bit further up the trail, so we knew there were several goats and that some of them were refusing to budge. Soooo, it was time for us to go.

And it’s time for me to go now too. I haven’t ridden my bike since a couple of days before the half marathon. It’s time to get out there and enjoy this beautiful day!

Not so chilly, but very hilly!

The other day CFL and I took a bike ride with a few thousand other cyclists. The Cascade Bicycle Club held its annual Chilly Hilly, a 33-mile ride around Bainbridge Island near Seattle.

Last year we pre-registered for the ride, but woke up that morning to the threat of snow, so we decided not to risk driving 75 miles to the start location, having an miserable day, and then driving home.

So far this year we’ve had unusually warm and dry weather. Our local mountains have received barely any snow, while we’ve watched the east coast get hammered by winter. We started talking a couple of weeks ago about the possibility of doing the Chilly Hilly, but we agreed we’d wait until the morning of the event to make the decision.

By last Friday the forecast was looking so perfect that we decided we’d drive over on Saturday, enjoy the afternoon and evening, have a nice dinner, get a good night’s sleep, and go for a bike ride!

It was indeed chilly (in the high 30s) when we headed out on Sunday morning to join the throngs of riders who were coming over from Seattle on the ferry. But the sky was bright blue and the temperature quickly reached the low 50s.

So the “chilly” part was a non-issue, but there was no avoiding the “hilly” part. The route was a roller coaster! We went up–and then down–our first big hill in the first mile.

We soon reached our first “photo op,” where we joined dozens of people who were stopping to take photos of happy faces and the Seattle skyline.

The Mountain was out (as the locals say about Mt. Rainier)! It’s visible on the far right of this photo.

The route basically circumnavigated the island; we rode right along the waterfront most of the time. Over the entire 33 miles, I only recall one relatively long, flat section. Most of the hills were short, but very steep. I confess I had to get off and walk in two places, but then so did a lot of other people. The official elevation gain is listed as 2,675 feet. Counting the ride uphill back to our motel afterwards, my GPS watch registered 2,726 feet. By the end, we’d had enough hills for one day–but we felt very proud of what we’d accomplished.


So far this year I’m doing a bit less running and more bike riding than I’d expected. We’re starting to really enjoy riding for 30+ miles, and we’re talking about training to do some much longer rides this summer. We have a big cycling event planned, but I’ll tell you more about that later.

Right now, the trail is calling me and I plan to go out and run about 9 miles!

2015 — off to a great start!

I wrapped up 2014 with a total of 3,167.60 combined running/biking/hiking/walking miles — which was 1,002 miles further than I did in 2013!

Running            670.04
Biking              1,143.97
Hiking               243.80
Walking           1,109.79
TOTAL           3,167.60

By the end of November I’d logged 2,865.55 miles. As December began I started thinking about “1,000 miles further than last year” and wondering whether I could do it. Then we had some very cold, icy days and I wasn’t enthusiastic about going out just to ring up the mileage.

Fortunately my treadmill and my bike trainer made it possible to do 10+ miles a day without having to set foot outside the door.

I dreamed up this routine that I called “30/30.” I start with 3.1 miles on the treadmill (which I can do in just about 30 minutes). I catch my breath for a few moments, then I jump on the bike trainer for 30 minutes (during which I’ll usually ride the equivalent of about 7.5 miles). 30/30 = 60 minutes = 10+ miles. Then I’m  off to the shower and I’ve earned the right to sit and read for the rest of the afternoon.

We had some nice weather between Christmas and New Year’s and I was able to get in some bike rides in the real world. Between the bike rides and iterations of 30/30, I covered 86 miles in the last week of the year and met that seemingly impossible goal.

Given that in 2015 I’ll be training for a full marathon and also planning to do a lot more bike riding, I’m thinking it should not be too difficult to do a total of 3,600 miles in 2015. 300 miles a month sounds doable, right?

CFL just bought himself a new road bike. We started 2015 off right with a 23-miler on New Year’s Day!

The Dungeness River was still flowing high from all the recent rains. Lots of big trees were down.

Today we think we’ll ride the other direction, out to the Elwha, to check on the condition of that river!

What about you? What are your big plans for 2015?

On being a mediocre middle-aged athlete

The other day CFL and I were looking at the calendar and thinking about what else we’d like to accomplish this year before the rainy season begins in earnest. He mentioned a couple of hikes that he still wanted to do. I reminded him that at the beginning of the year we’d agreed to do a metric century (100 kilometers or 62 miles) bike ride in honor of CFL’s 60+ years of age.

We’d picked out a group bike ride that we wanted to do: the Chuckanut Century in Bellingham on September 14. But then I had to go and break my arm, which put a serious crimp in my cycling and running plans for this year. After I was finally cleared to ride again in July, we thought long and hard about that century, but by then we had a date conflict with another event.

It was looking like the metric century just wasn’t going to happen this year. Autumn arrived quite dramatically; high temperatures dropped precipitously exactly at the time of the equinox. We’ve had nearly half an inch of misty rain over the past week. Still, I watched the weather forecast and found a small window of opportunity. On Friday morning I casually suggested to CFL that we go for a bike ride on Saturday. What would you think, I smoothly added, if we were to get up early, take our time, and ride to the end of the Olympic Discovery Trail and back? How about if we throw in an extra three miles somewhere along the way and make it a 62 mile day?

Our longest ride to date had been 43 miles. We were talking about going almost 50% further than that! Yet I was reasonably confident that we could do it, assuming that we’d take our time and take breaks along the way.

It was a perfect day for a bike ride. It was sunny but cool, about 50 degrees, when we started out at 9:00 AM. It never got warmer than about 65. There was no wind — hence no annoying head wind all the way home. The trees were beginning to turn colors in earnest. In many places there were leaves already down on the pavement, which made giant swishy sounds as we rode through them.

At the end of the trail my GPS watch read 29.25 miles. We continued on a quiet road until that road ended at the busy highway at exactly 30 miles. We turned around at that point and stopped soon after to eat our lunch of mixed nuts, dried apricots, and Clif Bars.

On the way back we stopped at a local diner for milkshakes. We figured we’d burned at least a thousand calories by then and the shakes tasted really good.

We picked up the pace in the final few miles because we’d promised ourselves dinner out at our local gastropub. I was smelling and tasting the beer in my mind as I pedaled! I didn’t even mind the extra 2+ miles we rode along the downtown waterfront just to get our total mileage to the right number.

At the end we were tired but we mostly felt elated. We’d done it! 62.3 miles. Our total elapsed time was a leisurely just over eight hours. Actual riding time was 6:11:52 — we’d managed to average ten miles per hour.

After dinner, at our second pub stop to be precise, we ran into some friends. They asked us what we’d done that day. We told them, and they were dumbfounded.

Later I posted a quick status on Facebook: Just finished a 62 mile bike ride. My first metric century!  Friends commented: Wow! Impressive! Congrats! I could never do that!

Wait a minute. What?

Well yes, you could. It’s not like I just got on my bike for the first time and rode it 62 miles. You have to work up to these things.

If I can do it, so can you. I look at photos of myself from six years ago. I was never fat, but I was quite flabby. I carried myself awkwardly. I looked old and world-weary.

Want proof?

Here I am on one of the happiest days of my life: on graduation morning from my PhD program.

I felt old. And I didn’t like that.

When I started running, I wasn’t merely slow. Most of the time I wasn’t even running! It took me months to work up to running a quarter of a mile without stopping to walk. I used to tell myself, Just run to that tree, to that shadow, okay now you can walk — and now run to that rock!

My feet hurt. My knees hurt. My hips hurt. But somehow, my brain liked it and was happy about doing it. So I kept going.

One step at a time.

I like myself much better this way!

I was 53 years old when I started to run. I was really, really slow. I’m still slow, but I’m not as slow as I used to be — and as I complete my sixth year as a runner I now have 3,456 miles of running experience behind me.

I have a daily activity streak (walking, running, cycling, and/or hiking some distance) that now stands at 636 days and 4,538 total miles.

If I keep running, I might have a shot at qualifying for Boston. The older I get, the slower the qualifying standard becomes. There is still a chance that those lines might someday cross for me. 4:40:00 at age 65? Yeah, that sounds doable.

As for cycling? I don’t know where I’m going with that, but I hope I’ll still be able to ride my bike for many years to come. CFL and I have talked about doing a multi-day ride someday. I’d love to tour around Scotland by bike.

I’m a mediocre middle-aged athlete and I feel healthier and more vibrantly alive than I ever have in my life.

I don’t mean to imply that I’m fearless or invincible. I’ve said those “I can’t” things just like you have:

  • I could never hike up that hill.
  • Run a whole mile? No way!
  • Break a 10 minute mile? Impossible!
  • Break a 9 minute mile? In my wildest dreams.
  • I’ll never run a marathon, no way not ever.
  • A bike? I’ll crash!!!!

But what I’ve learned is that a lot of seemingly impossible things become not merely possible but fun if you simply practice and tackle them one step at a time.

Now I’m going to step away from this computer and go for a walk. It’s sunny and brisk outside.

Won’t you join me? We’ll start out slowly. :-)


We hiked the PCT! Well, a tiny bit of it…

Recently CFL and I made yet another trip to southern Oregon. It was bittersweet in a sense. We’d made so many trips down that way to see my dad over the past two years, and now we were returning less than two weeks after he’d passed away. But we’d planned this trip nearly a year ago as a fun vacation, and we were determined to enjoy it.

Our first stop was at the other end of the state, in Portland, where we again rode the Providence Bridge Pedal. This year more than 18,000 cyclists participated in the various events. We did the 32-mile 10-bridge ride, which followed the exact same route as last year. Although the Bridge Pedal is a RIDE, not a RACE, I was pleased to complete the ride almost an hour sooner than last year! My new road bike is such a joy to ride compared to my heavy first bike. Of course, we still took time to stop and enjoy the view from atop the bridges.


In the background of the photo above you can see the new “Tilikum Crossing, Bridge of the People” now under construction. Given that CFL is a bridge-loving architect, we have studied and admired the progress of construction on each of our recent travels through Portland. Scheduled to open late next year, the bridge will carry light rail, streetcars, buses, bicycles, pedestrians, and emergency vehicles — but no private cars or trucks. Next year’s Bridge Pedal, the 20th annual ride, will feature a sneak preview crossing of this bridge. Eleven bridges! We’ll be there.

But what about the PCT, you ask?

After Portland we headed south for a quick visit with my stepmom. From there we went to Crater Lake where we camped for three nights.

As I’ve mentioned here before, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) runs for nearly 2,700 miles from Mexico to Canada. Each year several hundred people “thru-hike” the entire trail. CFL has dreamed of doing this for many years, and he and his daughter are talking seriously about it for 2016. I haven’t yet caught the bug, but I was entirely game for day-hiking a small section of it this summer.

The 33-mile section of the PCT that passes through Crater Lake National Park is one of the highlights of the entire trail. Although the main PCT skirts around the caldera rim, most PCT hikers take an alternate trail that travels up to and along the rim.

On our first afternoon we walked out from the campground to the trailhead, which crosses the highway within Park boundaries but just before the west entrance gate. From there, we hiked to the junction with the alternate trail, and back. That was an 8-mile warmup that got us very excited about going further!

We got back to camp just in time to cook dinner — in the midst of a dramatic thunderstorm! I went to bed that night wet, cold, and unhappy, but still looking forward to hiking the next day.

Morning was beautiful!

We got an early start and again hiked north from camp. This time we hiked all the way up to the rim. It’s a climb of 1,100 feet in a bit over four miles.

As we continued to hike along the rim, the clouds increased and thunder began to rumble across the lake.

We kept a close eye on the sky. All the action seemed to be well south of us, so we hiked on. Our goal for the day was Watchman, a former fire lookout about six miles past and several hundred feet higher than the point where we’d reached the rim.

The climb up to Watchman was worth it. We could look down into Wizard Island’s mini-caldera.

It was cold up there! I was wearing several layers. I felt as lumpy as I looked!

As we were leaving Watchman I took note of the time and realized that we had a long ways still to hike! We walked part of the way back by road, which saved a bit of time.

We decided we’d try to catch the free shuttle from Rim Village back down to the campground. But when we got to the lodge at Rim Village, we were chagrined to learn that the last shuttle of the day had left more than two hours earlier. I was a a bit freaked out, but CFL proceeded to chat with other visitors at the lodge. It didn’t take long for him to meet a nice young man wearing a T shirt from a craft brewery in San Diego! CFL and “B” swapped growing-up-in-SD stories and we bought a couple rounds of beer. Soon we were all driving back to a restaurant near our campground for dinner. Mission accomplished! That was a 15-mile hiking day (not including the 7-mile return in “B’s” car).

On our third day we hiked the PCT south from the campground. While we’d seen a few thru-hikers traveling north with us on day two, this time we were hiking toward the thru-hikers. We met about 20 of them, and chatted with as many as we could. Everyone was excited to be approaching Crater Lake, with its campground, showers, laundry, store, post office, and BEER!

Although we didn’t have a view of the lake, this section of the trail was gorgeous. Lots of boulders and interesting trees!


We hiked all the way south to the Park boundary and back.

Including a few side trips, we hiked a total of 19.5 miles — our longest hike ever! We were the only day-hikers out there. We impressed some of the thru-hikers who hadn’t expected to see day-hikers so far from a trailhead.

So that was a total of nearly 43 miles of hiking over three days at Crater Lake. Looking at the map, we noticed that the entire Park is only about 25 miles from south to north. We’d hiked considerably further than that distance total, and our out-and-backs had encompassed the entire southern half of the Park. Not bad for a couple of middle-aged day-hikers.

But wait — there’s more to our PCT story! A couple of days later, on our way home, we stopped off at Mt. Hood to admire Timberline Lodge and hike a bit of that section of the trail.

We only had time to do a couple of miles, but it was great to see “our” trail again — and to share it with another thru-hiker or two.

Of course we did other things on this trip (beer tourism, anyone?) but that will have to wait for another post. Now, however, it’s time for me to go for a walk! Our activity streak is at 602 days and counting.

Fit and feral

As I was riding my bicycle today, it occurred to me that I do almost all of my running, and a fair percentage of my cycling and hiking, as a solo activity. CFL doesn’t run at all. We do try to bike and hike together, but often he’s working on a project with a deadline just as I’m itching to get out the door. This week, CFL is far away attending the funeral of a family member, so I’ve been busily entertaining myself with some big and audacious activities.

I make a practice of texting him after I’ve completed whatever it is I’m out there doing. He usually replies with something like, “Good job — you’re an animal!”

At first I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to be described as an animal, but at some point I decided to embrace the concept. I am an animal. A big part of the endorphin rush is that feeling of becoming attuned to my body and reveling in the things that my body can do.

Yesterday I ran 7+ miles of steep roads and muddy, even steeper trails. There is something magical about trail running that really brings out the animal in me. I bound along, sailing over rocks and roots. I giggle when I get my feet wet sloshing through mud puddles. My eyes and ears tune into the sights and sounds of the forest — this varied thrush, that raven, that mysterious swish of an unknown and unseen creature, those big tree limbs overhead creaking in the breeze. As I ran, I thought to myself: this is a feral activity — and I am feral.

When I run trails, I generally don’t set ambitious pace goals for myself. I’m out there to have fun and enjoy the beauties around me. Therefore I had no qualms about stopping to take a few photos. Tell me — would you want to hurry through places like these?

The little guy in the next photo is a rough-skinned newt. He’s cute, but don’t mess with him. He’s highly poisonous. The only creatures that can eat a rough-skinned newt and survive are some populations of garter snake, and only because they have evolved resistance to newt toxin. In response, the newts have become more and more toxic. It’s a classic case of co-evolution.

So that was yesterday. Today, however, putting aside the charms of stopping to view rough-skinned newts and other trail delights, I set out with an ambitious and very specific goal. I was going to ride my bike 17.5 miles east on the Olympic Discovery Trail, and then I was going to turn around and ride back. My longest bike ride to date had been the Portland Bridge Pedal last summer at 33 miles. I was going to beat that distance, and I was going to do it as quickly as possible.

Now, let’s think about this for a minute. I’m a female in my late 50s. My boyfriend is 1,200 miles away, literally graveside at the moment I’m starting my ride. My jumping-off point is a trailhead on a dead-end road about seven miles east of downtown. I’m going to ride on a “rails-to-trails” biking/running/walking trail that, for the most part, stays well away from well-traveled roads.

In the dozen years I’ve lived here, there has been only one attack on a lone female on the trail — she escaped successfully and the guy was caught. Still, I’ve seen all kinds of things on that trail. I’ve witnessed a moving domestic dispute: the girl bleeding, running after the guy and shouting, “Why did you hit me? Why are you leaving me?” I’ve watched the local police trying to lasso a runaway ram in a chase scene reminiscent of the Keystone Kops. Just a couple of weeks ago, I rescued a black Lab that some idiot had left chained in the back of a truck. The dog had jumped over the side and was hanging itself. I saved the dog’s life. So I’m not kidding when I say, you don’t know what you might encounter on the trail. It takes a certain amount of guts just to go out there alone.

I do it because I’m fit, I’m quick, I stay alert, and I will not let fear rule my life. I do it because I know I can do it.

So I got on my bike and off I went! On my eastbound leg I rode almost non-stop, pausing only at street crossings in Sequim. I flew along, barreling up and down the hills (aided a bit by what felt like a slight tail wind), all the way to my turnaround point at Sequim Bay State Park. Here I stopped to eat a small snack, text CFL, and take a couple of photos.

CFL replied to my text: “You go girl!” I texted  back: “I am so feral!”

Awash in endorphins, I started back. And immediately hit the headwind! For 17.5 miles I battled a 15 MPH headwind. I even dropped my hands down and fully utilized my drop handlebars in an effort to be more aerodynamic. It didn’t help all that much, but I felt ever so athletic.

I thought I’d get a break from the wind in the last couple of miles, which are hilly but heavily wooded. But it was windy there too. Windy and hilly. It took me about ten minutes longer to come all the way back than it had taken to go out, and I was really tired when I finished.

But I never, not even for one moment, doubted my ability to do it.

I rode my bike 35.23 miles solo, and I completed the ride in just a tick over 3 hours — my longest and fastest bike ride ever.

One of my favorite theories (don’t we all have a favorite theory?) is Albert Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy. Bandura defined self-efficacy as “one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations.” It’s that sense of “I can” that empowers us when we dare to set big hairy audacious goals and then dare to achieve them. There’s a lot more to the theory, but that’s the gist. Because I have self-efficacy, I can decide to train for a marathon, and then go out and train for it, and then run it.

I occurred to me, as I was riding into the headwind today, that there is a connection between self-efficacy and experiencing myself as feral. Please bear with me for a couple hundred more words while I try to tease out this connection.

Last month I celebrated my second anniversary of becoming “post-corporate” — okay, I’ll say the word “retirement.” I truly feel that it’s taken all of two years to fully detox from corporate life.

When I finished my undergrad at UCLA lo these many years ago, I jumped into corporate life with the feeling that I would do great things and be amply rewarded for them. For the first few years, that was true. Then I married, had a child, took on a mortgage and a couple of car payments. Suddenly the stakes were higher — I needed my job and I couldn’t afford to screw up. I became cautious. I did whatever I had to do to get by and not much more than that. I lost the fire. I lost my sense of self-efficacy.

In the two years since I left the corporate world, I have had to re-learn how to relax. How to take deep abdominal breaths. How to sleep for as long as I need to sleep. How to fully live each day, wring it to exhaustion and deep satisfaction, and then let it go in anticipation of the next day. How to be feral.

I have let go of all that toxicity. I am no longer a garter snake facing down a rough-skinned newt and hoping I’m resistant enough to survive. I have come back to that more-innocent animal that I once must have been.

I have regained self-efficacy.

I am fit, I am feral, and I know that I can do the things I set out to do.

Oh, and I’m still a bit bashful about taking “selfies” — but here I am anyway.

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring!

It was too chilly!

To our great disappointment, we were unable to take part in the Chilly Hilly bike ride around Bainbridge Island yesterday. While the ride went off as scheduled for people who live nearby or in the Seattle area, the weather proved too daunting for us to venture forth from Port Angeles to get there.

We’re about 75 miles (an hour and 40 minutes driving time) northwest of Bainbridge. The weather forecast over that way yesterday was for temperatures in the mid 40s with occasional rain showers. It wouldn’t have been a fun bike ride, but it was probably doable.

When the alarm went off at 5:00 AM, it was snowing hard and our local forecast called for continuing snow — up to five inches of it — all day. Our part of the world was in the midst of its own little private winter! The snow wasn’t sticking at that early hour, but the thought of driving 75 miles on two-lane roads, then dealing with whatever the weather might turn out to be on Bainbridge — and then driving another 75 miles home! — was enough to cause me to turn off the alarm and go back to sleep.

The snow here did continue on and off all day. Everything gradually turned white. At most we had maybe 1/4″ on the ground. The real epicenter of the storm was northeast of us in Bellingham, where they got about a foot of snow.

I moped around the house for most of the day, then decided I might as well bundle up and go for a walk. At first CFL and I thought we’d walk down to the waterfront. We’d heard there were a hundred or more harbor seals there the other day, including several brand-new fuzzy babies! But we knew that if we walked downhill, the snow would probably turn to slushy rain at sea level. So we opted to walk uphill and enjoy the sight of snow falling through trees.

At some point I got the wacky idea of hiking the Peabody Creek trail. This is a low-country trail that begins just at the south end of town and winds about 3.5 miles upward along the creek to an elevation of about 1,100 feet.

The trail itself was muddy but clear of snow. Alongside the trail, the snow was sticking and creating beautiful designs in the fallen leaves and moss. Looking upwards, the dance of snowflakes among the big trees was simply magical.

I wish I could show you photos, but the snow falling on my iPhone caused the touch screen to shut down. I frantically stabbed at the virtual camera button several times before admitting defeat and putting the phone back in my pocket!

As we gained altitude, the trail itself began to turn white. There are several creek crossings over log bridges, and those bridges were becoming quite slippery. I didn’t want to risk hiking back down the way we’d come (it always seems more slippery going downhill), so we decided to take the first opportunity to exit the trail early and return by way of the nearby road.

Walking back down the road, we both realized that we’d forgotten to eat lunch and were starving. So we kept walking, all the way back down into town to our favorite pizza place. While we were there, the snow turned to rain, making for a less pleasant final leg of our walk.

We ended up walking almost nine miles and saw some beautiful, peaceful sights that helped me forget the disappointment of missing an event that I’d looked forward to for a long time.

Lesson learned! Next year, I won’t register for the Chilly Hilly ahead of time — I’ll wait for the weather forecast. Meanwhile, the activity streak remains intact.

It’s still raining, with more snow in the forecast for later this afternoon. I haven’t decided yet what I’ll do today. Bundle up and go out for a run, or just a walk? Or hit the treadmill?

So many ways to be slow and happy!

Staying active through the dead of winter

February can be tough sometimes. While the days are getting noticeably Ionger, winter still packs quite a punch. It can be difficult to motivate myself to get out there and stay active when the temperature is in the high 30s and the sky is gloomy with an intermittent drizzle. I confess, there are days when I just want to say “curse you, Activity Streak!” and snuggle more deeply into my favorite reading chair.

CFL and I recently made a quick trip down to southern Oregon to visit my dad. We contemplated bringing our bikes along, but then decided we’d just take it easy with long walks. We eagerly anticipated walking around downtown Eugene and Portland, stopping to take in a few local breweries and taprooms along the way.

All went as planned in Eugene, on the outbound leg of our trip. We enjoyed sharing flights of beers at Oakshire Brewing and Hop Valley Brewing, and had a great dinner at The Bier Stein, a brewpub boasting 24 taps and over 1,000 types of bottled beer.

Coming back northward toward Portland, however, we got caught up in heavy snow. We never had to put on chains, but trucks and cars pulling trailers did. At one point I-5 was blocked completely, with truckers stopped in the middle of the freeway to put on their chains. It took us two hours to drive five miles beyond the place that I took this photo.

By the time we reached Portland, we were in the midst of an ice storm. We crept into downtown, trying not to slide sideways on some of the same bridges that we’d pedaled over happily on our bikes during the Bridge Pedal last August.

We’d booked a room at the same motel we stayed at last summer. From this location it’s a quarter-mile walk to a light rail station that would take us directly to the middle of downtown. We were hungry; I eagerly anticipated a great dinner and an awesome IPA at Deschutes Brewery’s Portland brewpub.

The slightly frazzled reception desk clerk assured us that no matter how bad the weather, the light rail never shut down, thanks to super-duper new defrosting technology. So we bundled up and set off toward the train station.

It was 21 degrees with a 19 mile per hour wind. Freezing rain lashed our faces as we stumbled intrepidly to the station. We bought our round-trip passes and stood on the platform with a couple dozen other hardy souls. Then we began to hear rumblings: “We’ve been standing here for an hour.” The marquee display still indicated the expected arrival time for the next train, so we figured all those people had just lost track of time!

Then the marquee display changed. All trains in the system were shut down.

By this time we were very cold and very hungry. We trudged back. Earlier we’d heard that only one restaurant in the immediate area of the motel was open. It was a steakhouse, about two blocks past the motel. To get there, we had to walk into the blistering wind and navigate sidewalks and parking lots that were in the process of becoming encased in half an inch of ice.

By the time we arrived, my jacket was frozen stiff.

It turned out to be a steakhouse of the old-fashioned sort, meaning there was nothing for this vegetarian to eat but fries. The fries tasted a bit fishy but at that point I really didn’t care. Fortunately they did have some interesting beers on tap! 

The next morning our phones awoke us with an emergency alert imploring everyone in Portland not to go out if at all possible. We hung out at the motel until almost checkout time enjoying the view of the iced-over pool.

We then decided to make a run for it. Getting out of the parking lot was a bit scary but once we were on the freeway it was fine. By the time we were fifty miles into Washington, we had left most of the snow behind us.

Since then it’s rained every day here at home. I got my new bicycle on February 1 but so far I’ve only managed to ride it 25 miles, mostly right around the immediate neighborhood.

I surprised myself by buying a road bike. I didn’t think I wanted drop handlebars, but when I thought about what I enjoy doing on a bike — riding fast and riding long — a road bike became the obvious choice. I’m gradually getting used to the more aggressive riding posture. Mostly I keep my hands up top, but on a long flat stretch (which is scarce in my neighborhood) I can inch them down into the dropped position. Going downhill is still scary though! 

Fortunately, going uphill is much easier than it was on my old bike: that’s when I really notice that it weighs 19.5 pounds compared to my old bike at 33 pounds. I’m going to need that lightness and quick acceleration this coming Sunday when — whatever the weather — CFL and I will ride the Chilly Hilly. At 33 miles around Bainbridge Island with a total elevation gain of 2,675 feet, it will be my hilliest bike ride ever! I just wish I had more time between now and then to get comfortable on my new bike. 

But it does get tough to get out there  and feed the activity streak when the weather is lousy. This morning during a sunbreak I got out and ran along the waterfront. Thanks to all the rain, Ennis Creek was higher than I’ve ever seen it before.

During the last mile of my run, dark clouds loomed over the strait, the wind picked up, and the rain began. I caught this shot of sun, rain, and oncoming storm clouds during my after-run stretch time.

There was a flock of surf scoters in the water near the pier. I noticed with delight that the birds were forming boy/girl pairs. Spring is coming, and love is in the air!

I’d hoped to get out with my bike this afternoon, but the skies look inky again. My reading chair is calling me…

Tomorrow is another day! It will be activity streak day #414 to be precise. I don’t know yet how many miles I’ll be able to fit in, but one way or another I know I’ll drag myself out there and do something.

What about you? How is the dead of winter treating you? Any signs of spring yet where you are?