Sunday, April 3, 2016

Quilomene Early Season Overnighter

I was first introduced to the Quilomene and Colockum wildlife areas by my buddy Ward in 2013.  The "introduction" was an epic four-day north-to-south trip from Wenatchee to Vantage.  Since then, it has been my great pleasure to make several additional excursions into this wonderful public access playground and at this point, the place is pretty much in my blood.  I can't call a riding season complete without a trip or two into the "Q".

As the weather forecast turned favorable this past week, several of us immediately fixated on the possibility of a visit.  The thing about the Q is that the window of opportunity for visiting is a pretty narrow one - too early means too cold and too wet, and too late means hotter than blazes and having to contend with rattlesnakes.  The window is somewhere around 4-6 weeks in the Spring and within this window there can be other weather events like rain and wind that make it impractical/unwise to go in.  The place is incredibly wild and having been "bit" a time or two, I have tremendous respect for what can happen out there, which I guess could be characterized as a healthy fear.

So within this year's window, the conditions for the weekend looked about as good as they get, and we decided to pull the trigger on a spur-of-the-moment quick overnighter.  There were some people who wanted to be there but couldn't, and as it played out, the gang that touched down was, from L-R, Chip, Randy, Ward, and on his inaugural visit, Ward's new rescue-dog partner, Hank.  Along with me, of course.  So four dudes and a dog, then.

With the exception of Chip, who actually started a day earlier on a solo true bikepacking experience and met up with us at our campground, this turned out to be a car-camping affair.  Nothing wrong with that - it's the right call in certain situations and this was one of them.  We had a Coleman stove and Road Trip Grill, Bluetooth music, a legit firepit fueled by split cordwood brung from the big city, real chairs, a fair abundance of different lovely varieties of water, sanitary wipes, and other stuff that can be, ummm, nice.

So us city dwellers fumbled around amidst our job responsibilities and gear-sorting gyrations and eventually found camp in three separate vehicles late on Friday afternoon.  Chip had been roaming around the area on his bike and was waiting for us.  We got somewhat settled in and then headed out with bikes and lights to watch the sun go down.

Eventually, we returned to camp and ate like kings, and told honorable lies. Like I said, car camping has its place.

The prime excursion happened on Saturday, and shortly into it, we were treated with this view of Mt. Rainier.  Mt. Adams was also visible during our climb.

Unlike any of my previous ventures into the Q, we would not be enduring major climbs from the Columbia River to the ridge, which is somewhere in the range of a 3000 foot elevation change.  On this day, we would be taking the "high road" along the ridge, which none of us had ever been on before.  And although we would not be dropping thousands of feet down into the gorge, our ride would still be anything from flat - nothing resembling that concept exists in the Q.  From our base camp at somewhere around 3800 feet, we would be climbing to around 4500 feet.

The dry stuff was challenging enough.  Fat tires are a fairly good prescription for dealing with some of the considerable chunk, as Randy clearly illustrates.

Eventually, we got into the snow, much to the delight of Hank, who obviously has some snow-dog ancestry in his makeup.  He was seriously diggin the white stuff, all day.

We got into even more snow . . .

. . . and then even more . . .

Chip was the only one in our group who was not sporting massive fatness, as he was running mere sleek-fat 29+ tires.  I will be interested to catch up with him after today and hear his thoughtful thoughts on tire choices for the Q.  He also owns and rides a full fat.  It's an interesting discussion.

Hank and I got off to a bit of a rough start, but at some point I slipped him some bits of the bacon that I had cooked up as part of our car-camping breakfast extravaganza, and from that point forward, I was pretty much the "bacon man", who should rightly be kept in sight at all times.

A really sweet still-frozen-over pond.  Word.

There was a lot of super mucky stuff that was fatbike-fun.  Again, Word.

Ward and his new buddy are cake and ice cream, clearly.  Super fun to be a part of the process of these two guys getting to know each other on the trail.

That's Randy and Chip in the distance.  It's a great perspective for me on how vast and wonderful the riding experience is in the Q.

I love wind turbines, I cannot lie.

I am at a loss as to how to adequately describe my latest experience in the Q, just as I have been after my previous experiences.  So I guess this is my latest, best shot.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Exploring Escure Ranch And A JWPT Detour

Today was an all day road trip with friends Chip and Pat that served a couple of purposes:
  1. Explore some of the BLM-managed Rock Creek/Escure Ranch Recreation Area
  2. Scout a detour for a newly-closed portion of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail
Rock Creek/Escure Ranch

John initially brought this area to my attention.  He's been down there a time or two and I haven't been able to join him, but I've been intrigued enough that I'd made it a goal to get down there this Spring.  Chip hadn't heard about it either, and we'd been chatting about the recently reported closure of a nearby section of the JWPT, and all it took was me mentioning it to set the plan in motion.

There's a lot to be interested in about this recreation area:
  • The JWPT borders the area on the north
  • The Columbia Plateau Trail borders the area on the west
  • Camping is allowed in the area (camping is not officially allowed on either the JWPT or CPT)
  • The area contains Towell Falls on Rock Creek and multiple lakes
  • Wildlife is abundant in the area
  • There are no fees or permits required for usage

We arrived at the parking area and unloaded our bikes.  I was sporting my sporty new WTB B+ trailblazer tires on my sporty new WTB B+ Scraper wheelset.  I've been devising the PERFECT set of wheels and tires for summer bikepacking use on my two fatbikes and it has become apparent that over the continuum of wheel/tire widths that now exists ranging from skinny (so yesterday), to baby fat, to mid-fat to regular fat, to obese, to morbidly obese, I should optimize somewhere in the area of  baby fat to mid fat which I can do with one set of wheels but will need two sets of tires and of course the diameter of tires versus what the bikes were originally designed to handle will majorly factor into the decision because if you make the wrong choice, you might lower your bottom bracket by 3 or 4 mm, which may render the entire bike totally wonky and useless in which case you find yourself wondering if maybe you should have settled on 29+ as a summertime standard instead, except that this would drive the diameter to the point where it won't fit in one of your fatbikes which would defeat the purpose, and of course no one wheelset is going to to fit in both bikes anyway, since the rear spacing is 170 mm on one and 190 mm on the other, so the best you can really do is share the same front wheel, which thankfully shares the same 150 mm spacing between both bikes, but you don't want mis-matched wheels and tires on either bike so what you really probably need is three wheels and three tires, if you are thinking about this whole thing logically.

I hope it is obvious to you at this point that I made the right decision.

Luckily, fatbike #1 has just enough clearance for these tires . . .

We decided that our first stop needed to be Towell Falls.  Just a couple of miles into our journey, Chip remarked that he hadn't envisioned this kind of topography.  What had been just on the tip of my tongue was that this garbage is steeper that shit.  I responded instead that I hadn't envisioned this kind of topography, either.  Culture truly can rub off.

Chip and Pat were on a tandem MTB, which can be extremely stressful to a relationship in this type of situation.  Fortunately, they are pro's, and know when to dismount and maintain a little separation.
It's the right time of year to check out Towell Falls, for sure.  Rock Creek splits into two branches at this point, and there are three separate falls, two of which you can get to/see well, and one which is inaccessible and fairly hidden, but looks to be the most impressive of the three.  Here's #1 . . .

And #2 . . .

Having satisfied our waterfall cravings, we set about on the return trip.

Chip and Pat, harmoniously rocking their rad tandem MTB up a climb.

Once back at the parking area, we were ready to enter the ranch proper.

 There's a lot of scenery to take in on the ranch . . .

I lost count of exactly how many cattle gates we went through, but it was approximately a shit-ton.

No serious adventure of this sort would be complete without an epic battle with goatheads, and so it would come to pass that we ran through a patch and punctured all four tires numerous times.  I was sporting a tubeless setup on my sporty new wheels and tires, and the sealant did its job and I was largely unaffected.  Chip had sealant in the tubes of both his front and rear tires, but the rear sealant had dried up and gave up the ghost under the attack.

Although Chip and I had both spent a bunch of time on Google maps/earth prior to our trip, and had both come pretty well prepared with gps machines loaded with tracks, our directional confidence began to falter as we got farther into the depths of the ranch.  One thing that we could be pretty sure of was that Wall Lake was 1.25 miles ahead, in one direction or another.  So we pressed on.

I am not quite sure why they call it Wall Lake.  Also, it is either really cold there and icing the hell up, or those are mineral deposits, I am not quite sure.  At any rate, the view was rather spectacular.

The water was not exactly alpine-lake-crystal-clear.  More eastern-Washington-cow pasture-lowlands-you probably need to be really thirsty.

Captain Obvious has been busy placing markers.

The bulk of the cattle grazing population has not been transported in for the season, but there were still a few colorful characters hanging around.

After a very nice loop through the ranch at the upper elevations, we descended back down to ranch headquarters and the parking area.

This is the ranch HQ, with the parking area just on the other side.  Those vehicles in the distance on the left are equestrians and their animals and camping rigs, making a weekend of it.

Rock Creek/Escure Ranch is a pretty cool early-season rec area.  We talked about the possibility of coming out for a weekend and base camping, and exploring in more depth.  I would be super down with that.

John Wayne Pioneer Trail At Ewan

So here's the deal:

Chip has been following the drama surrounding the attempted closure of 130 miles of the eastern portion of the JWPT for several months and he has some contacts in the know, and he told me that the landowner who owns a short section of the trail just SW of Ewan on Highway 23 has decided to close his section of trail to general use.  It is not yet clear to me how he intends to enforce this closure, but if he succeeds in doing so, detour options will be necessary.  We scouted out a couple of these today.

The first is the north detour.  In the image below, the route from mile zero to the yellow diamond is the JWPT.  The rest of what is shown is the detour.  As you can see, the detour is only slightly longer than the section of detoured trail.  The problem with this route, though, is that you will spend 3+ miles on the shoulder of Hwy 23, which is an armpit of a place to ride, IMO.  It's just a major buzzkill in the middle of a remote, off-road journey through eastern WA.  With that said, everyone has their own tastes and priorities, and this may not bother you that much.

The second detour option is to the south.  Here again in the image below, the route from mile zero to the yellow diamond is the JWPT.  The rest of what is shown is the detour.  As you can see, the detour is about twice as long as the section of detoured trail.  HOWEVER, the entire south detour route is gravel and also devoid of traffic.  And what's even more significant is that the condition of the roads is generally pristine - very little in the way of washboards or loose gravel.  If I were planning a JWPT trip today, it would be the south detour for me, hands down.

You can find more information on the north and south detour routes here and here, respectively.

I dig the variety and diversity of rugged and remote landscape that our fine state has to offer, and it was a real treat to get out and do some exploring today.  I can only hope that this sets the tone for more of this type of activity this Spring and into Summer.  Both my body and soul can use it.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Miss You, Dan.

My brother passed away lately. He is a musician and an electrician. He went to Vietnam and hated the hate and the insane violence. So he invoked his right to conscientiously object, before it was even a thing. Word. Throughout his life, no institution or culture or government ever really pushed him around for very long, because he was just too damn aware and stubborn to let that happen.

He had a great sense of humor and could make me laugh so hard.

I don't think that he's really gone, because he infected so many people with his passion and ideas.  Speaking just for myself, he'll be a part of me, in some way, for as long as I am breathing.

Sleep well, brother.  I'm sure you're raising some type of hell on the other side because, well, I don't think it could be any other way.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Missing gNate

What went down tonight was a rad, mostly non-organized, semi-regular, seasonal bike hang.  With thanks to Justin, without whose initiative we would be that much more adrift.  Glen traditionally hosts this affair, and always BBQ's some type of rad sausages.  No girls showed up, so we were free to get sophomorically weird and hilarious, if only in our own opinion.  The absence of carbs and abundance of protein on the makeshift buffet table may have also had its effect on us, I am not sure.  It is a complex equation.

See if you can spot the unicorn

One thing that IS indisputable and irrefutable within the mist is that three core dudes were conspicuously absent tonight . . .

As for Wade, there is no excuse, that any of us could come with in our tribunal, to justify his absence.  As with any family member that has gone astray, love is the operative emotion, and we just want Wade to get right.  Wade: please get right.

And please also remember that my sister-in-law is your boss, as an added incentive.

Here's one example of why we can't let go of Wade without a fight:

The larger backstory of that torrid moment is here.

As for gNate and Eberly, that's a whole 'nother deal.

Those dudes saved my life not that long ago, on a mountain high above Loon Lake.  The whole mess is documented here.

The Cliff Notes version is that I was wrecked, as you can clearly see:

Meanwhile, these two happy bastards . . .

. . . saved my life.

So I owe them, of course.  But they also owe me.  As in an explanation of why they weren't with us tonight.

Eberly had this whole elaborate excuse about how he's on the verge of finishing his degree program and couldn't drop everything to attend this super rad affair in another city, . . . blah, blah, blah.
Fine, whatever.

gNate, however, has not weighed in with any substantive reason for missing the hang, nor has he weighed in at all.

Consequently, certain people are looking for answers . . .

gNate, have you a response?

Monday, December 21, 2015

Super Sad, Super Rad

My buddy Chip emailed me this afternoon with the breaking news that Jon Snyder resigned from his position on the Spokane City Council (super sad).

 Reason being, he was appointed Washington's first Director of Outdoor Initiative, a new post created by Gov. Jay Inslee (super rad).

 The news immediately reminded me of a line from the movie Shawshank Redemption . . . "I have to remind myself that some birds aren't meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up DOES rejoice. But still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they're gone. I guess I just miss my friend."

While the comparison may seem super sappy and overly-dramatic, the fundamental sentiment rings true: It would be flat out wrong to cage the magnitude of Jon's integrity and passion and vision and energy within the boundaries of Spokane politics. He has bigger work to do. I will miss him, though. His city council shoes are huge ones to fill. His leadership gave me great comfort.

My buddy John first introduced me to Jon, and it was kind of momentous for me, because it was my first-ever significant personal connection with a local politician. Through Jon, I have had the great privilege of experiencing high-level public servant integrity. Jon embodies the virtue of "for the people", with his every word and action.

It will always be a source of pride for me that I built a front rack for the bike that Jon rode all the hell around Spokane in the course of conducting his business these last few years. The story is here.

 And I will always be incredibly grateful for Jon's recent support of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail at the local/regional level.

With this said, my personal issues, interactions and memorabilia are so incredibly insignificant, in terms of the work he is doing. On this very day that he resigned, a profound and impactful letter to the editor that he wrote was published in today's Spokesman Review.

Holy hell. That's the level of priority and awareness that this guy is operating at.

Thanks, Jon, for everything you have done for Spokane!  And congratulations!  And go get 'em!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

My New eBike: What, Why

I've gone . . . electric.  [GASP!?!]

I'll give you a minute . . .

K, time's up.

Here's the deal, then.

I've been getting more and more interested in electric-assist bikes, or pedalecs.  Reason being, bike commuting has become, for me, not workable.  It's the time commitment - at 34 miles round trip, with a chunk of elevation at the home end, and frequent wind, it can take me an hour or better to get to work and and 1-1/2 or better to get home.  Throw in a shower at each end, and I'm looking at 2 extra hours vs the drive.  At a stage in my life where demands on my time are at an all time high and my energy level is inevitably decreasing with age, the equation doesn't balance.  My thought has been that maybe, this technology could be a way to work a bike back into my transportation scheme.

Ten, or five, or two years ago, my bike ego and resultant indignant sense of human-powered-purity would not have allowed me to even consider this heretical option.  My, how things change with time and technology.  I could go on, but Mr. Money Mustache explains my line of thinking far better than I ever could, in the first part of his post, HERE.

Where MMM and I diverge pretty radically is with respect to DIY kits/fiddling.  Here again, I just don't have the time, much as I wish I did.  I needed the plug and play option, and Bosch offers it NOW.  The system is so well engineered and so well integrated throughout the bike.

In a super-tight nutshell, here's how it all works:

  • Nothing happens unless you pedal.  If you do pedal, however, the bike will assist you, proportional to your input.  If you're lazy, it's lazy too.  If you're on fire, then "let's do this", says the bike.  The response is incredibly immediate.
  • The level of assistance is adjustable by you, the rider.  There are four levels.  Zero is a fifth option.
  • At the lowest level of assist, the bike will match you at half your input.  So if you're putting in 100 watts, it will add 50.
  • At the highest level of assist, the bike will add 2.75x your input.  So if you're putting in 100W, it will add 275, for a total of 375.  That's the shit that moves you up steep hills like a damn rocket and gets you home in time for a hot dinner, as opposed to a cold one.
  • If you ride at the highest level, you will drain your battery long before your ride has ended, and you will be pedaling your 45 Lb bike strictly under your own power and your face will look sad if not downright agonized.
  • If you ride at the lowest level, assistance will be with you for a great many miles, but your face will look content and not downright enthralled, as it would if you were climbing Bernard at 27mph and blasting spent electrons out your ass.
  • Balancing overall trip time against judicious juice use is the game then, and a fun one it is, especially given all the feedback that the handlebar-mounted brain provides.  Said the nerd.

Once I settled on the Bosch system as my must-have drive system, which didn't take long, I set about the task of deciding which brand integrated it into the dream bike with the greatest amount other stuff that I needed to have in my life.  There's a whole big other story about that, but it would put you immediately to sleep, so it will remain untold.  In the end, I recklessly forked over a small bike-fortune on a Trek XM700+.  Great bike, IMO, but how about that for a lame big-box bike name.  If it were up to me, I would incorporate electron spendage in the name for sure.  The "Trek Electron Ass Blaster 700", for instance.  I'm certain that they would sell a bazillion.  (I am also certain that it is a very good thing for Trek that that I am not employed by their marketing department.)

Whenever I get a new bike that I'm really excited about, I feel compelled to act out in a juvenile photographic ritual that I call "senior pictures".  I'm really excited about this bike, so here ya go . . .

The "heart" of this fine machine.

That's a pricey drive unit, appropriately protected by a skid plate.

The cockpit.

The "brain" of this fine machine.

Everything important (power assist level, info displayed) is controllable via this remote, left-thumb-operated unit.

Wires and cables abound.

Lots going on here.  Internal cable routing galore; Cannondale-style headshock;  worthy headlight
driven off the main battery.  And oh yeah, sucky fender line.  Pretty sure I can fix that, though.

Rad enclosed drivetrain.  Whatever big-boy bell-bottom pants you threw
your legs into this morning will work just fine on your ride.

Standard rear der and gearset out back, which works just like normal, and if you use it right, prolongs battery life.

Hydraulic discs, which are welcome and appreciated at the higher speeds you run around at on this bike.

Somewhat fugly but super functional euro kickstand, which I am quickly becoming BFF with.

Maybe my motivation makes sense to you at this point, or maybe you think I am totally full of bat-crazy bike shit, I get it.  You may like it, or you may hate it.  I am not sure myself.  Proof will be in the pud'n, for sure.  Let me get back to you.  In the meantime, please keep your car out of the shoulder . . . I have someplace to be.