The First REAL Ride.

I am a member of Toastmasters at work.  Once week we get together and someone (or multiple someones) give a speech, and they get feedback.  It is an excellent method to work on your public speaking.  Before each meeting, the toastmaster sends a question relating to the theme of the meeting. The question today asked me about when I first learned to ride.

It started me thinking.  I do not remember my first steps, my first words, the first time I dressed myself, or even the first time mom didn’t have to cut my dinner into bite sized chunks.  Nor do I remember my first day of school, or the first time I went to a carnival, but I DO remember the DAY I became a bike rider.

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This is NOT the day i am speaking of, but I am pretty darn sure this was the last trike I had before I got the “big kid” two-wheeler!

My first bike was a Purple tank of a Huffy with hard rubber wheels.  Meaning these did NOT inflate, they were solid like the old tricycles.  It of course had training-wheels and I am pretty darn sure it was solid steel.

At the time we lived in a trailer at the bottom of a dirt road hill in the trailer park in Pennsylvania.  I remember pushing the bike up the hill, training wheels and all, and hopping on and flying down the hill!  It of course required that I lock up the brakes at bottom and skid.  BIG fun!  My mom should have known she was in trouble…

We moved to Washington state, and my hill was gone.  Once again we lived in a trailer park which was perfect for little kid cycling!  It had three rows of streets running in parallel, with two connecting streets on each side.  There was also a cul-de-sac.  ALL on roads that had very slow speed limits and no hills.  Yep it was time for taking off the training wheels.

Now I have no idea how many times my mom and/or dad did the classic run with the bike and let go.  But I am sure it was a lot!  I do know, that I would head out the driveway and go to the right every time.  I distinctly remember crashing and burning many times.  At least once I ran right into a neighbors car (he was less than pleased as the handle bars put a good scratch in the door.

I finally got to the point where I could make it to the end of the road, but then I would crash trying to turn around.  Time and time again this happened.  I am sure mom had a buy extra boxes of band-aids.

But then it happened.  Finally one day, I made it all the way down to the end of the road, and it was time to turn.  I can honestly remember thinking “Here comes the crash” but I didn’t!!  I made the turn and rode back to the house.  Then I turned and went back down again…  My cycling career was born!!  I wish I had an odometer back then, I’d love to know how many miles I put on my legs in that tiny little park.  I rode all OVER that park until I heard my name being called (My dad was a drill sergeant, his voice CARRIED!)

That was 40 years ago or so.  But I still remember the feeling of making that turn.  That 8 year old had never heard of Strohs, let alone knowing he would someday use the name Mountainstroh.  However, that kid continued riding a bike as far and as fast as he could.  He learned to do some tricks (nothing like the X-games, but to him it was the coolest) jumped ramps, chased bad guys, and every now and then, got to ride after the street lights came on.  Later he cycled all OVER Ft Lewis, another perfect place for an older bike riding kid.

I can think of a few other times that something I did shaped a big part of my life, but I honestly believe that making that u-turn was one of the, if not the first.  If I hadn’t finally figured it out, I can’t begin to count how many adventures I would not have had.  Who knows, I could be a bon bon eating couch potato right now if it hadn’t have happened.

I am not sure what happened to that old Huffy, I know my kid sis had it for a while.  It was ugly, but for a while, it let me be the wind!  I am very lucky to have had it.  Thanks MOM!!

A Tale of Two Bike Racks

Those who have followed my blog for a while know that I like to walk at lunch time.  I eat my lunch quickly at my desk or in the lunchroom, then rain or shine I head outside.

Now in my previous job at the, Holy P, I would walk to the wetlands park near my office and commune with nature.  It was nice to get away from the office and hear the birds sing.

Well now I am at the Mighty P, right in downtown Seattle.  Nope no wetland park here, but I still get outside, let the wind blow in my face, and see what there is to see! 

Now instead of nature, I was erratic drivers dodge thrill seeking jay walkers.  I watch helmetless bike riders bobbing and weaving through traffic as if they are bullet proof.  There are panhandlers, and fashionistas, smilers and scowlers, brand new high rises and an old Greyhound bus station.  All of this makes walking fun.

Also, being one of the best biking cities in America, there are bikes locked up everywhere.  Bike racks, street signs, trees, fences, you name it, there is a bike locked to it.  It’s great to see, as it means there are a lot of people, like me, using two wheels to travel all over.

HOWEVER, all is not roses and gumdrops.

A few days ago I was walking, and stumbled over this:

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Yep, that person will not be happy.  I rounded the corner and found this:

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Now I am thinking one of two things here.  1) The person is being ultra-safe and took the wheel with him/her while the bike was locked , or 2) The person who took the rest of the bike in the first pic wanted the wheel to complete his newly stolen one.   You know, back in the old west they use to hang horse thieves, how’s come we can’t do the same with bike thieves?  (Git a rope!)

This had made me give serious thought to where I leave my bike.  I have been known in the past to (ok this morning even) to leave the key to my bike lock IN the lock itself.  Other times, I have even just left it thinking “Oh I will be RIGHT out.” I am very lucky that my work bike rack is in a garage, with cameras and security on site!   

Shoot, in the organized rides, bikes are just left on their own everywhere!

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Now I am planning to be much more careful.  I have a pretty long cable lock that I always run thorough the frame, and back wheel.  Granted, I could come out with the front one missing like the second picture, but at least it would be cheaper than a whole new frame, back wheel and cassette.

I am also going to look for places to lock up AWAY from the road.  It would have been easy for a pick up or van to pull up next to either of these bikes, grab what was loose and be gone in nuthin flat.  REI, for example, has indoor racks.  MUCH safer.  Shoot, I would even lock up there if I needed to and walk to the place I needed to be.

Or maybe I keep the bike with me.  My bank (US BANK, they are great!) allows me to bring the bike in the lobby.  No one can steal it that way.

Regardless, if you are going to ride TO somewhere and be off the bike (even if it’s to use the restroom) you need a lock.  Don’t be cheap on this.  Talk to your bike shop about what they recommend.  Two things are key to me.  It has to be: 

1) Strong enough to protect your bike from a quick snatch and grab (no lock will stand up to someone determined to steal a bike, but if its not easy, most will move on to easier pickins)

2) Easy to carry with you.  A lock does no good at all sitting at home.  I have a pretty big bag on mine, so its easy for me.  Some attach to the frame.  The bike shop can help a lot here.

When I was younger, my kid brother didn’t lock my bike and it was stolen.  I was mad then.  Now I would be devastated.  I am very attached to my bike (almost 12000 miles will do that).  So I will do everything I can to make sure I keep it!  I also need to record the serial number just in case the worst happens!

Either that or rig a remote control self-destruct switch!  Now THAT would ruin a thief’s day!  (Hmm maybe I can market that…)

Not a Great Start to Bike Commuting Month

Today was the first day of Bike Commute month sponsored by the Cascade Bicycle Club.  I had a an early meeting, so I elected to bring in the bike on the back of my wife’s car so I could bike home.  Glad I did, the temp was 32 at my house this morning.

While in my all day meeting, I may have perused the internet from time to time.  Therefore I found out that a cyclist from West Seattle was killed that morning while on his way to work.    He somehow got tangled up with a semi truck while crossing the road.  Evidently witnesses aren’t sure whether he hit the front or the back of the truck.  (This happens in accidents, trust me I used to investigate them for the insurance company I work for.  3 witnesses to the same accident will report 3 different things! )

Many thoughts go through my head when things like this happen.  First I wonder, especially given that many people were commuting by bike for the first time ever today, whether he was an experienced or new biker.  I am not sure which would be the better answer.

I’d hate to think he was a new biker, someone who finally said “I’m going to bike to work!” for the first time, just to have this happen.  He will never get the chance to enjoy all the sights and sounds you get from commuting, or appreciate the benefits of them.  Plus, others who are on the fence might decide it’s too dangerous and not take the plunge.  They will miss out on all the fun plus a prime opportunity to save money and get healthier.

On the other hand, I’d hate to think he was experienced.  I pride myself in knowing how to be careful, and watch out for things that can hurt me whether walking, driving a car or on a bike.  If this person was experienced, and it happened to him, it just makes it scarier.

I also hope it was not his fault.  Just like there are bad car drivers, there are terrible cyclists.  They dart in and out of traffic, don’t care about safety at all, and give the rest of us bad names.  This matters to me because my mom already worries when I ride, (I am the reason for her gray hair (or at least more so than my 4 siblings)) so someone getting injured or killed makes her worry more.  (She once called me when she saw someone was lost on Mt.  Rainier.  I answered the phone and she asked “Is that you they are looking for?”  “Nope, I’m at home talking to my mom on the phone!”  Love ya Mom!)  (gotta be good, she is feeding the 15-year-old and I tonight!)  If the guy who died was a damn fool and was at fault for this, she will end up worrying more for nothing.

Then I think about the public reaction.  Many will be sad, but if you look at the comments from the news story (OK, OK I know, many who post comments are not smart enough to hang a roll of toilet paper without instructions, but I still read them…) it will be full of people saying “Bikes got no reason to be on the rode (typo on purpose) its fer cars!!”  Yep, I’ve even seen comments that the bike rider deserved it for being on the road.

I also feel terrible for the cyclists who were first on the scene and tried to do CPR and keep the guy alive.  They were simply on their way to work, and now their lives will never be the same!  I can only hope they don’t let it bug them so much they stop commuting in the future.

I am no fool.  I know that on any given day, whether I am walking downtown, driving to work or riding my bike, I could end up biting it.  But like Bon Jovi says

It’s my life

It’s now or never

I aint going to live forever,

I just want to live while I’m alive!

I know for a fact that riding and staying in shape will result in me living a longer and healthier life.  There are risks, but a vigilant and careful rider can avoid most of them.

My ride home today was excellent, a bit of a tail wind, great whether, the perfect commute home.  As much as I enjoyed it, especially since its my last ride till my Century on Sunday, I feel a bit guilty having so much fun.

Yep, not a great start to bike commuting month, let’s hope tomorrow is better!

If’n there is a hereafter, lets hope he can ride like the wind wherever he ended up!

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year! (Or Why I Love Being an REI Member)

Sing it with me people!  “It’s the most wonderful time, of the year…..”

No not Christmas!  Shoot it’s not even Spring yet (though close!)  Yes, I can hear y’all thinking, “Dude what are you talking about???”  {Or as my kid sis in England would say “What are you on about big bruver?”)

Well I’ll tell ya, aside from spring time and the hope for nicer weather on the horizon, my favorite part of  the month of March is the REI Dividend arrives in the mail!!

What’s that, not everyone knows about REI, let alone the dividend?  Wow, I sometimes forget the rest of the world isn’t as spoiled as I am with places to get outdoor gear.

Flagship store of Recreational Equipment Incor...
Flagship store of Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI Co-op), Cascade District, Seattle, Washington, USA. The high portion of the building at left includes a large artificial climbing rock. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

REI stands for Recreational Equipment Incorporated.  It’s a co-op started in Seattle, back in 1938, by climbers who wanted to help other climbers get quality equipment at a decent price.  It has since expanded to 31 states and carries gear for almost anything you can think of in the way of outdoor adventure! (Hiking, biking, kayaking, skiing, snowboarding rock and mountain climbing even the new stand up flat boards for water!)  About the only thing it doesn’t carry is guns for hunting or poles for fishing!

I first started shopping at REI when they opened the flagship store right across the street from my office!  I was in heaven!  In fact, I (in my slacks and tie) was one of the first 100 people to climb their climbing wall pinnacle

Rock climbing tower, REI Flagship Store design...
Rock climbing tower, REI Flagship Store designed by Mithun in 1996. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

OK, cool, so you know what REI is, what is this about a dividend?  Glad you asked!

REI is still a co-op, anyone can shop there.  However, if you join, you get 10% back on all nonsale items you buy during the year.  I once had a $300 dividend when I was getting ready for Mt. Rainier.  The best part?  it’s not an annual fee!  One time only, lifetime!  When I joined it was $15,  I just checked an it is up to $20.  Still, spend $200 your first year and you get it back!

What is nice is that I don’t just shop there for gear.  I have gotten work clothes (Hey if it has a collar and buttons it fits in the office, especially if it is Mountain Hardware), baby shower gifts (every infant needs a carabiner (just kidding, they have lots of stuff to help parents introduce babies to the outdoors INCLUDING bike trailers and ride behinds for older kids)), birthday and christmas presents (everyone needs a headlamp, or in case of zombie apocalypse, an ice axe!)  and even anniversary gifts from there.  It all adds up over time.

NOW add to it I have an REI Visa card.  I get a percentage back on each card purchase added to my dividend.  Normally I am not a big credit card shopper, but this year I did a LOT of traveling for work!  Guess how I paid for it all?  It always got paid off as I got reimbursed, but that’s 1000’s of dollars in purchases that all qualify for my dividend!

Shopping with your dividend is shopping with free money!  My wife just turns me loose and tells me to come out when I am done.  Last year I splurged and bought a set of sunglasses strictly for biking.  This year I need at least a new pair or two of biking shorts (wore a pair out last year) and maybe a new swiss army knife!  Or even a new soft shell jacket!  Just have to wait and see what I get in the mail!  Plus, if I don’t find anything i need or want (yeah right) after July 1, I can ask to cash it out!

Just for the record, I am not affiliated with this store in any way shape or form.  In fact, I’ve been turned down for jobs there as EVERYONE wants to work there!  They just have the best selection, customer service and return policy (this will be its own post!) anywhere.  Check them out, talk to the employees, hell even if you go elsewhere to find a cheaper price, the knowledge they share will come in handy!

Best part!  Almost Forgot!!  I am going back to the company that is next door to the flagship store!  Just in time for the 20% off dividend sale!  HELL YEAH!  Time to climb the wall again!!!

“it’s the most, wonderful time….  Of the year…”  HEY is that the mailman????

 

Dads Make Mistakes Too

Yep, any Dad out there will agree with me. We dads can screw up. we are far from perfect. Lord knows I have made more than my share of mistakes, but there’s only really been one involving bikes. Well involving bikes AND kids. I’ve made plenty on my own!

My youngest is almost 15 now, but back in 2009 when he was 11, i convinced him to ride Cascade Bicycle Clubs Flying Wheels ride. I had done the Century ride before, but with him I was going to do the 25 mile loop around Lake Sammamish.

He was a little worried about 25 miles since he had never gone that far before. But I promised him great food stops with plenty of sandwiches, cookies and fruit! He was on board.

At the starting line, you can see he was raring to go:

Eric and Dad at the starting line of Flying Wheels 2009
Eric and Dad at the starting line of Flying Wheels 2009

Ahh, but here in lies my mistake. You see, if I hear a ride starts at 7 AM, I am crossing the starting line at 7 AM. Not a minute later. Had I read the fine print, I would’ve seen that the 25 mile riders didn’t start till 10 AM.

What’s the big deal you say? So we are early. Well I’ll tell ya. In this ride, the food stops are set up as needed, meaning they planed to have our food stops set up for people starting at 10!

So there we are pedaling away,

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and we are approaching the halfway point. He’s getting a bit tired and I say “No worries, 2 more turns and its ALL YOU CAN EAT! 11-year-old boys LOVE that phrase. We turn into the food stop and, yep you guessed it, nothing. Maybe the fact there weren’t any other bikers on the route should have clued us in.

No worries, Plan B! To the AM/PM! A fresh bottle of Gatorade, a candy bar, and a soft pretzel later, and we are the wind! Soon after that, we started passing roadkill. Normally this is NOT good thing! But to an 11-year-old boy, who’s only ever seen this from a car, this was the coolest thing ever! I did convince NOT to run over them again with the bike to see what would happen…

We took our time, and I let him lead the way, spotting the Dan Henrys as we went. He was starting to feel it, and it was almost time for a 7/11 stop when we saw the entrance to the park ahead! we were almost done! I raced ahead to get this pic!

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I have no idea how much time it took, as we did not push it at all. It was a nice summer day, and it was a chance for just the two of us to hangout together. He was “dogbutt” tired at the end, and I was worried that he hadn’t had fun until I was able to take this.

Eric calling home to tell them he finished his first big ride!
Eric calling home to tell them he finished his first big ride!

I owned up to the making the mistake that cost us the chance for the great food stop, but he was happy with a stop at McDonald’s and my allowing (for the first and only time) him ordering a double quarter pounder. He had earned it!

He and I have done other things together just the two of us, the Coastsavers beach clean up day, The Columbia Tower climb, a zip line course and going to Silverwood Amusement park. Of all of these, this is my favorite memory. He is a skateboarder now, and may not ride a ride with me again, but we conquered this one together and had a blast.

 

Get Your Butt in the Saddle

OK, sadly, not all bike rides can be those memorable experiences, with beautiful sunrises, breathtaking scenery, wildlife sightings and stories that will be retold for years.

The more you ride though, the better chance you will have for ALL of these to happen.  Before it can ever happen, though, you have to get into what I call riding shape.  Without preparation, a ride that could actually entail ALL of these things above, will instead turn into a head, down, legs on fire, cuss ridden, death-march.  It might be memorable, and stories may be told for years (Remind me someday to tell the story of my wife’s climb with a friend up Mt St Helens, and the fact I had told her it was easy prior to the climb…) but they are NOT the stories we want to tell after a bike ride.

How to we avoid this ever happening?  Well I first need to tell you, that you won’t totally avoid it.  If you are anything like me, you will, without a doubt be cocky and think “Oh I can do THAT ride, no problem!”, or you will get caught out in the wrong weather with the wrong clothes, or someone will have built a HUGE mountain in the middle of your route!  Any of these have distinct “death march” potential.

We can, though, do a lot to keep these events to a minimum.  What is the secret you ask?  Ancient Chinese herbs?  Voodoo witch doctor chants?  Sacrificing a bottle of Diet Mtn Dew to the biking gods? (Well that one has potential, I might have to look into this!)  Nope, its simple, get your butt on the bike.  You need saddle time!  I don’t mean the half mile ride to the grocery store, or the kid’s school (though I encourage that as well!)  I mean heart pumping, pedal turning training rides.

It’s February, so here in the Seattle area, that means that the weather will start to get relatively nicer soon.  This means more outside riding!  (FINALLY, I am getting tired of the Rollers even if I am rewatching Game of Thrones season 1).  The more one rides, the more miles you get on your legs, the better rider you will be.  Also, the more training miles you rack up, the better chance you will have to be on rides I talked about at the beginning of this post.

So how long is a training ride?  Well now, that depends on the person.  For me, it all comes down to how much daylight I have!  This means I have multiple routes!  If I am low on daylight, I go for a “Quick 20!”  This means heading for the Burke Gilman bike path, and putting in 20 miles as fast as I can.  Racing the sundown!  I have 25, 30, 40, 70, and 100 mile routes as well.  So far this year, the 40 is tough enough for me, but come March, I will be looking for the longer rides.

Hey!  Wait!  Don’t go away, those are MY training rides.  I’ve been doing this for a LONG time.  Like a I said, yours are based on you!

Like any exercise, start easy.  Somewhere between 5 and 10 miles is good.  If you haven’t exercised much at all prior to this, make it as flat a route as possible.  Remember this is just a start….  I personally found great benefit in my early years finding a route that was 15 miles.  It was over an hour in the saddle, but I could sneak it in after work.  Now, there is one key point to these rides.  After you get to the point where you 15 miles regularly, you need hills!  Even my “quick 20” involves riding uphill from the trail to the house.  ALL my other routes have either one BIG hill, or series of easy to hard hills.

I can hear people asking, “Why the HELL do I want to find hills to ride up on purpose!  I hate hills!”

Well here’s the deal folks, unless you live somewhere flat as a pancake (I dunno Iowa, Ohio, somewhere in the great plains maybe…” You will never be able to go on a longer ride without hills.  I won’t lie, I am a GREAT hill climber (mountain experience you know!) and I have only ever met one hill that beat me, (even that was only until I ate a quick PB&J), but I do not look forward to climbing hills anymore than anyone else.

One of my "training hills" for the High Pass Challenge
One of my “training hills” for the High Pass Challenge

However, if you train on hills, they change from the reason for a death march, to simply an annoyance.  You will pass some of the people who are pushing their bikes and cussing.  Even better, once you hit the top of the hill, you MIGHT get rewarded with a good view, but there is an even better chance you get rewarded with the chance to go downhill!  If you ever were a fan of Firefly, the Sci Fi series.

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The pilot, Wash, had a phrase when he was doing his best flying “I am a leaf on the wind!”  I am telling you, a good steep down hill run let’s me understand what he meant.  But before you can feel that way you gotta get to the top!

So get your butt in the saddle and start conquering some hills!

Be Proud of Yourself

In my about section, I explain that prior to bike riding, I attempted to be a mountain climber. Hence the moniker “Mountainstroh”. (I will explain the Stroh part another day.)

I have climbed smaller mountains. Mt. Baker, Mt. St Helena, Mt. Lassen. However, in Washington State, the mother of them all, is Mt. Rainier. 14,410 feet of snow, glaciers and rocks. You can see that mountain from most of western Washington, when it’s not raining, and it beckons to you! I tried to climb that SOB 4 times, and in each of those 4 times my body just could NOT make it to the top.

Now the first 3 times, I felt like a complete failure. I wasted hours and days of training, 1000’s of dollars in gear and guide service, just to have to admit I failed. I made it to 12,500 feet, Disappointment Cleaver (Aptly named), but after that the body shutdown.

That was where I was turned around on the 4th attempt. This time though, I didn’t feel like a failure. Up and until 12000 feet, I was leading the way, doing better than the guys literally half my age. I helped teach them self arrest, and how to walk with a rope. I was also in the best shape I could be! At 12,500 feet, I was staggering and pulling people off the mountain. I was done.

I remember thinking “Stroh (I call myself that sometimes when I have serious talks with myself) you gave it everything you had pal, you left nothing in reserve. It’s not failing, this is just one big F’n mountain! Be proud of yourself for trying!”

The Crevasse I saw when I came down
The Crevasse I saw when I came down      

 

Sunrise at Disappointment Cleaver, Maybe NOT so disappointing!
Sunrise at Disappointment Cleaver, Maybe NOT so disappointing!

 

 

This was distinctly a new paradigm for me. I started looking at what I do from the eyes of the people I know and work with. To me carrying. 40 lb back up and down 297 steps for 10 reps was just what I did. Hiking to the top of Mt Si with the same pack in 2 hours was fun for me.

To those I talked to though, what I did could seem as far out of their reach and my climbing Everest. I am not trying to brag, it’s just that when I have a goal, I train and train hard. Plus I loved hiking, and I like the feeling when I am “in shape”. I started allowing myself to be proud of what I accomplished. I didn’t go out of my way to tell people my stories, but if they asked or wanted to see pictures, I was happy to share. 12,500 feet IS an accomplishment!

I can hear y’all now though. “Is this a brag session? What the heck are you trying to tell us pal?”

Well, here it is. If you are a beginner, take pride in what you are doing! You’ve put in the time, effort, and money to buy a bike. Look around you at the people who you hear say, “I need to start exercising!” yet never do.

Instead of thinking “I only rode 10 miles today.” Think, “Hell yeah, I got outside and cranked out 10 miles instead of sitting and watching reality TV!” Look at all those people driving, or in McDonalds drive thru, or circling the parking lot for the closest spot! 10 miles is a good thing!” Plus if you do 10 enough times, it will soon be 15, 20, 100!

Instead of saying, “I don’t want to sign up for that organized ride, I would have to push it up some of the hills.” Say, “What the hell! I’m going to go for it! I won’t be the only one pushing!”

Every mile you pedal is another mile away from being a couch spud! How many people do you know who say “You pedaled 10 miles??? All at once??”

Getting in shape, and riding longer distances takes a while. It will be MUCH more enjoyable and you will reach your goals faster if you give yourself the pats on the back that you deserve! Don’t brag, but don’t feel bad about “short” or “slow” rides. Any saddle time gives you a helluva lot more benefits than couch time!

So, to quote Queens “Fat Bottom Girls”. GET ON YOUR BIKE AND RIDE!

My favorite celebration.  Wine at Denali Base Camp.
My favorite celebration. Wine at Denali Base Camp.