Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Ride in the Rain

 I was feeling pretty good about myself having done 1000+ miles of my commute this past year by bike; that is, until November ended. November was "Ride in the Rain" month at the University of Washington; basically the University’s transportation services department challenges bicycle commuters to commute to and from work as much as possible during the month of November (one of the rainiest months of the year in Seattle). The thing is it’s not that much of a commitment to say you are going to bike every day in November since November is generally one the shorter work month of the year with Veteran’s day, Thanksgiving, and the day after Thanksgiving as holidays. I did manage to make it though the entire month of November and only missing one day of biking into work; so despite the short month I managed to rack up more miles than any other month in 2009.

Then I saw the stats of the other “Ride in the Rain” cyclists. One guy in particular racked up 828 miles in the month of November (granted his one way commute is 23 miles!). Another guy with a commute that is just as long as mine made 28 round trips in the month of November (granted this means that guy went into work every week day, weekend day, and one of the three holidays). Clearly I am not hard core. Consider that in my attempt to commute by bike as much as possible during 2009 it took me 3 months of biking to rack up as many days of biking as one guy did during the cold rainy month of November, and it took me 10 months to rack up as many miles as one guy did in a single rainy cold wet month.

I’ve still got the month of December to commute by bike before the year of 2009 is over. If I bike every single day in December that I intend to be at work that gives me another 20 days of biking, but with family coming into town for the holidays I’m likely to take a few days off. Despite the fact that I don’t stand up against the best of the bike commuters (or even place in the top 40 for my place of work), I do feel that my attempt to commute 1000 miles by bike in 2009 was successful and I kind of feel the need to outdo myself in 2010. Maybe for 2010 I’ll shoot for 2000 miles commuted by bicycle! ...but don't hold me to it, I've got other things to focus on now, like skiing!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

My 1000 Mile Commute Winds Down

This year I didn’t even pull out my bike out until February 12. However, back on February 19 I decided to challenge myself to travelling 1000 miles of my commute in 2009 by bicycle. My commute is roughly 12-1/2 miles round trip; so to commute 1000 miles by bike I needed 80 round trips. To keep track of the days, I recorded every day I biked here (6.25 miles for a one way only trip, 12.5 miles for a round trip).

Flash forward 8-1/2 months later and November is approaching, the year is starting to wind down, and I am within 3 days of complete my goal. I added up the days left for me to commute by bike, taking into account holidays and planned days off, and figured out I have 37 days in which I can commute by bike, so pulling off 3 days shouldn't be too difficult.

Though out the year of commuting I had setbacks; weeks I just didn’t get on my bike. However there were also weeks where I biked regardless of the conditions; I actually commuted by bike on the hottest day in Seattle history, or today which was probably the coldest and wettest ride in this year. I even videoed my commute for posterity. Regardless of how hot or wet it got, my bike ride was rarely more than 40 minutes long, which was usually quicker than taking the bus to work. I admit that in the larger scheme of things biking 12-1/2 miles to and from work is no big deal. Yet when its all said it done, it will feel kind of cool to say “I commuted 1000 miles by bike in 2009”.

Maybe in 2010 I should try for 2000...

Monday, September 28, 2009

2009 Hike on Mount Rainier to Camp Muir

Mount Rainier is the highest peak in the state of Washington and a National Park. Every year thousands of people climb it. Although I have always wanted to climb the mountain, it is a fairly large commitment in time (conditioning for the trip) and money (guide service + equipment), so I set a goal that is a fair bit more attainable: hiking to Camp Muir. Camp Muir is the base camp for most climbers of Mount Rainier, and at just above 10,000’ it is the highest point you can hike on the mountain without a climbing permit.

Every year I say I’m going to hike Mount Rainier to Camp Muir, but in the past ten years I have only done this trip 3 times (2003, 2006 and again this year). This year I brought my wife, her sister and husband (who hiked it with me in 2006). In the past we would get up at 3 a.m. drive to Paradise on Mount Rainier at 5,400’, and start hiking hopefully by 7 a.m. but usually closer to 8 a.m.. This year to avoid the super early wake up, and hopefully get an earlier start we stayed at the National Park Inn; a lodge inside the park 8 miles from Paradise at Longmire.

Unfortunately a late wake up and the lure of a hot breakfast at the Longmire lodge pushed our start time on the hike to 8:30 a.m.. Lack of snow meant the path up the mountain was going to be very icy or very rocky. Finally the approach to Camp Muir involved negotiating numerous crevasses, further slowing us down. In the end the hike took us 8 ½ hours, combined with one hour spent at Camp Muir and a wrong turn on the way down, the 9+ mile round trip was 9 ½ hours.

The hike follows excellent trails for the first 2 ½ miles. Then the trails promptly ends at an area called the Muir Snow field. There you begin your travel on snow following a compass heading and other people’s tracks. Before long the snowfield ends and the glaciers begin. Our group lacked crampons so we opted to travel on the rock fields as much as possible rather than travel on the steep icy glaciers. (In 2003 I had a friend slip on the glaciers while coming down. He slid several hundred feet before coming to a stop. The rough ice ripped up his leg, and the bacteria on the glaciers caused him to get a rather nasty infection in the wound).

Despite the long day the trip was well worth it. Our long hike was rewarded with amazing views of Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens and in the distance Mount Hood in Oregon.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Family Vacation to Glacier National Park by Train

As I previously mentioned, this last Christmas my wife gave me as a Christmas gift the freedom to plan a family train trip for 2009. The trip I planned: take the Empire Builder train from Seattle to Glacier National Park, 2 nights at the historic Glacier National Park lodge, and then return home by train.

I left work early on a Wednesday afternoon to catch a 4:45 p.m. train. My wife met me at the train station with my daughters. We boarded our train to find a very nice family bedroom on the train, our sleeping car attendant Donna greeted us with personal bottles of sparkling wine for my wife and I and sparkling cider for my daughters. Although our family bedroom was not big, it was far larger than anything we had ever shared on a plane or car. While we were at Dinner Donna changed our room from seats to beds. The room was made up of two kid sized bunks, and two adult sized bunks with a larger bottom bunk that was kind of like a small full sized bed. My oldest daughter slept on the top bunk with my younger daughter on the bottom. The top bunk had a strap that kept my daughter from falling out of the bed.

Unfortunately the train did not get the Sightseer lounge car until we met with the train from Portland in Spokane (around midnight), so after we finished dinner in the dining car there wasn't much to do other than hang out in our car. We let the girls got to watch about half a movie on my laptop before going to bed, then my wife and I went to the empty room next to ours and shared a bottle of wine we had brought from home. When I woke up the next morning I was in something of a daze, I wasn't certain what time it was with the time zone change, and for a while I was somewhat worried we had missed our stop and were zooming though Eastern Montana. Donna assured me we hadn't even reached Whitefish Montana yet, so we headed up for breakfast as the train made its Whitefish stop.

From Whitefish Montana it was another two hours of slowly snaking our way though the scenic Southern border of Glacier National Park before we reached our destination of East Glacier Park Village. From the train station it was about a 200 yard walk to the Glacier National Park Lodge where we stayed. I hauled our luggage to the lodge then hiked back to the other side of the train tracks to pick up our rental car.

With our own set of wheels, we headed north to Many Glacier Lodge for lunch. After giving the girls a chance to run around and play in Swift Current Lake (which Many Glacier Lodge sits on the shore of) we headed back to the lodge at East Glacier park. On the way back we saw a number of cars parked on the side of the road with their passengers all out with cameras and one park ranger vehicle with a nervous looking ranger, in Glacier National Park this can mean only one thing: BEAR! So being typical tourists I quickly stopped the car, told my wife and daughters not to get out of the car, then jumped out of the car with my camera. The bear was mostly oblivious to us as it feasted on huckleberries. The ranger, who I now noticed was carrying a shotgun was clearly VERY nervous as he tried to control little old ladies trying to wander across the street to get a better view, and cars stopping mere feet from the bear trying to get a closer picture. I decided that there was a fair chance that the ranger might fire off a shot just to scare off the bear, and I didn't want to deal with two little girls crying from a loud shot gun blast, so I decided it was time to continue back to our lodge.

Back at Glacier National Park Lodge we were finally able to check into our room. The room was basic and rustic; no phone, no TV, no internet, but we did have access to our 3rd floor balcony looking out towards the park. Based on the fact that I spent $175 a night to stay in that room, I have to admit I was a little disappointed the room wasn't a bit nicer, but then again, we didn't come for the room.

The next morning we got a quick continental breakfast with plans to drive up to Logan's Pass. Since it was a vacation I let my girls eat fruit loops for breakfast. With a friends story of getting to Logan's pass and finding the parking lot full I drove as fast as I could safely drive on the windy highway 49. Turns out this was a big mistake. My youngest daughter started whining in the back seat and wouldn't stop. By the time my wife figured out what the problem was my daughter had emptied the contents of her stomach all over the rental car. At that point I was convinced the day was a loss, but my wife cleaned up the mess, and insisted we continue on. A quick stop in the town of St. Mary to get my youngest daughter all new clothing and we were back on our way.

We had no problem finding parking at Logan's pass, and took the girls on an amazing 3 mile hike. My oldest daughter hiked the entire trail on her own, and my youngest daughter spent about 2/3rds of the hike on either my shoulders or my wife's. As we reached the highpoint on the hike mountain goats started appearing from every direction. As three mountain goats walked past me with my youngest daughter on my shoulders I pulled out my camera and told my daughter, "Look there's the 3 billy goats gruff". From my shoulders my daughter started banging my head and shouting "Dat my book daddy! Dat my book!". A little further along the trail and we saw a pair of big horn sheep. They were a bit more skittish of people, but we were still able to get close enough to get some great photos. As we continued on the trail we found a couple of big horn sheep. The big horn sheep were not as interested in getting close to the hikers as the mountain goats were, but they did get close enough for me to get a few great pictures.

For our final day in Glacier National Park we had decided to take it easy and rather than drive to some far corner of the park we went for a Red Bus tour. The bus took us to Two Medicine lake where we took a 45 minute boat trip across the lake and back. Then the bus took us to Running Eagle Falls (a.k.a. Trick Falls), and finally returned us home. We hung out around the lodge and the town of East Glacier before our train trip home.

I look forward to the next opportunity I can visit the park, either on my own or with my family. I feel like we didn't even begin to scratch the surface of what this park has to offer!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Planning a Family Train Trip

I’m preparing for the last family trip of summer. It will be a short trip, but I am really looking forward to it. Last Christmas my wife gave me a train trip as a Christmas gift. My wife knows that I love to travel by train, so she told me I could plan a family train trip for sometime in 2009.

Here is the trip I planned: We leave on Wednesday afternoon from Seattle on the Amtrak Empire Builder route (Seattle to Chicago). The next morning we wake up in Montana and get off the train in East Glacier Park. We spend two nights at the historic Glacier National Park Lodge. Then return home by train, leaving East Glacier Park on Saturday afternoon and getting back to Seattle Sunday morning.

On the train, our family of 4 will be sharing what Amtrak calls a family bedroom. It has two large bunks for adults and two small bunks for the kids.

The goal in planning the trip was to make it long enough so that it was a true adventure, but keep it short enough so that we didn't all go stir crazy on the train. Before my wife and I had kids we took the Coast Starlight from LA to Seattle; that's a 36 hour train trip, a little bit much for my kids first real train trip. Traveling out of Seattle you only have 2 major train train routes: The Coast Starlight and the Empire builder. The scenery on the Coast Starlight is amazing South of Portland Oregon, but much of Washington doesn't ofter much in see. However the scenery on the Empire Builder is incredible from the moment you leave the station.

On the Empire builder you leave Seattle, cross the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, then head up to Everett Washington along the waterfront. In Everett the train turns East and heads into the Cascade mountains. Through most of Eastern Washington an Idaho it is night. Morning comes just as you are about to head into the Rocky mountains skirting the Southern border of Glacier National Park. Arriving at East Glacier Park late in the morning and right in front of the Glacier National Park Lodge!

We'll bring plenty of snacks and probably a laptop with us for the girls to watch movies on the train if they want. However there will be no wifi, and probably no cell service though much of Glacier National Park. Although there are numerous shuttles and buses to get you around the park, we chose to rent a car in East Glacier to give us a little more freedom to get around and be able to stay on track with my youngest daughters nap times.

I have described our planned vacation to anyone who would listen, and everyone has given me the same response, "Sounds like so much fun, but I am going to be very curious to hear how it goes". This could be an incredible adventure, or trapped in a train with two stir crazy little girls who can't sleep on a train.

Several years ago, before my youngest daughter was born, my wife, older daughter, and I did a short train trip from Seattle to Portland (a little over 3 hours). We stayed the night in Portland and returned the next day. The thing that made that train trip so great was that my daughter and I could get up and walk around and explore the train, we look out the windows at the scenery going by, or go get a snack whenever we wanted. And the seats on the train were plenty big enough for us to stretch out for a nap. When you are travelling by car or plane you stuck in your seat, you eat only when you are served or when you stop. When you travel by pane you have to deal with the craziness of getting though security and having to show up 2 hours early (20 minutes is fine for the train). The downside to train travel in the USA is that it is often more expensive than flying or driving and takes longer to get to your destination than flying (and often takes longer than driving). However when you travel by train, the trip is part of the joy of the vacation!

Sometime next week I hope to have a report on how the trip when.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

My Commute Continues...

Work has an event going on called "Ride In The Rain" (which I didn't sign up for). The idea is you compete for the most miles commuted by bike, the most days commuted by bike and the most day of commuting by bike in the rain. The 2009 event started on Sunday February 15 and goes for 4 weeks; the top rider is at 288 miles! If I only count the miles I've ridden starting February 15 I was at 104 miles, but now I'm down to 100 miles. The reason I say that is because the Ride In The Rain site referenced an online tool GMaps Peodometer that lets you calculate the distance of your route by bike or foot or whatever. GMaps wouldn't let me be completely accurate with my route, but it looked more accurate than my previous calculations and it brought the round trip down to just over 12.5 miles (so I lost 1/2 a mile on my round trip). The good news for me is that I still need to bike the same 80 days to get to 1000 miles of bike commuting in 2009.

Here's what my ride home looks like

Thursday, February 19, 2009

My 1000 Mile Commute in 2009

I’ve always been a bit of a fair-weather bike commuter, but with each successive job I’ve had over the past 12 years (there has been 4 of them), I’ve moved a little closer to home. With each new job, I’ve added a few more days of commuting by bike. At my current job at the University of Washington, the route I take when I commute by bicycle is just over 13 miles round trip (a little more according to Google Maps, a little more still according to my bikes odometer).

As a fair weather biker my bike usually doesn’t get pulled out until late May and gets put away in early October. During a normal year I will commute to work by bike a couple days here, a couple days there. Eventually I find a good book to read and start taking the bus so I can read my book, and my bike gets put away. However, this year will be different; I have set a goal of using my bike to commute 1000 miles in 2009. That’s roughly 80 days of round trip commuting by bike if I take my usual route. There are 261 work days in 2009. However, if I exclude most of January, and half of February (I started on February 12), exclude planned vacation days (2009 is already totally planned out) and only count work days based on my alternative work schedule (9-9s, or 9 hour days with every other Friday off), I am left 191 days to complete my task. So I will need to bike a bit less than half of my scheduled work days in 2009.

The rules are I have set for myself are as follows: Regardless of the route I take I can only count a maximum of 13 miles round trip (6.5 miles each way). If I put my bike on the bus for any part of a trip in either direction, that half of the commute does not count. I can only count miles biked in the commute to and from work (no going on a long bike ride on the weekend and counting that). I have to publicly post how I am doing here.

So to most bike commuters, this is nothing (the guy I share an office with bikes every day that there isn’t snow on the ground), but for a fair-weather cyclist like myself with a delicate posterior this is a bit of an undertaking.

To the non-bike commuter who asks “why bother?” Sadly the reason is cycling and skiing is the only real exercise I get. I really don’t have time to go to the gym on a regular basis, and wouldn’t go even if I did have time (don’t really like gyms). I need to get some kind of exercise and taking care of it during my commute seems like the easiest way.

EDIT: I fully admit that biking 6.5 miles at a time can hardly be considered "exercise", but I gotta start somewhere.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Death of Kevin Black

Yesterday it was reported in Seattle area news papers that a cyclist was hit and killed by a van in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. As more information became available we learned that the man was a 39 year old father of two and researcher at the University of Washington.

I admit that I don't know the guy, but this story really got to me. As a father of two little girls myself and employee of the University of Washington I have also often commuted to work by bike, probably taking almost the exact same route as Kevin Black; this guy could have been me.

I am definitely a fair-weather bike commuter; last fall my bike got put away in the shed waiting for longer warmer days. I imagine my normal bike commute is likely very similar to this Kevin Black’s: The majority of the ride is on the relatively safe Burke-Gilman trail, but between my house in Ballard and the start of the Burke-Gilman trail I have maybe a mile on the streets of Ballard. I am by no means a hard core cyclist, I often choose the least busy roads to slowly make my way though Ballard, the reason is that I’m the kind of person who is hyper-aware of cars around me…often just short of terrified to ride on the streets, but I wasn’t always like this.

The reason for my current attitude about biking around cars comes primarily from an incident a couple years ago. It was a summer day when I was commuting home from work, sometimes on nice days I would make my way from the Burke-Gilman trail West all the way to 34th Ave NW and bike casually up that hill to my house maybe going all the way up to sunset hill park to catch a little of the sunset. While biking West down Market Street in Ballard West of 24th street (this was before 24th had its current bike lane) I had a car pull out of its parking spot on my side of the street right in front of me. I was prepared for someone to pull out of their parking spot into traffic, but NOT prepared for what this guy did, which was to pull out of his spot to do a full U-turn in front of me. Luckily the guy saw me half way though his U-turn, but not before I had to swerve into the two lanes of oncoming traffic on the opposite side of the street. I managed to avoid the guy making the U-turn and avoid running head on into oncoming traffic, but I was pretty shaken up. Things could have gone different in so many ways.

Even thought the days are a bit longer and warmer, right now I’m a lot less enthusiastic about pulling out my bike out of the shed than I was a couple days ago.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

My 25 List

I'm a little behind in this but here is my list of 25 things about me that you might not know, or might find interesting, might not care about at all.
  1. I deeply wish I could travel more.
  2. Photography is my favorite hobby.
  3. I love getting to take a nap on the weekends.
  4. I have climbed to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro (19,330 ft), Wheeler Peak in New Mexico (13,161), Mt. Hood (11,249 ft), Mt. Eleanor (5,944 ft), and Mt. Si (4,167 ft).
  5. I hope to one day get to take my family to visit Africa.
  6. I love being outside but so often have a hard time of leaving the comfort of my chair inside.
  7. I have an abnormal fear of spiders.
  8. I have flown over the North Pole twice.
  9. New Mexico is my favorite state.
  10. I have seen the northern lights twice from Washington State.
  11. I met my wife in Paris.
  12. I have a scar bellow my lower lip where as a baby my tooth pierced my skin when had a major wreck on one of those now outlawed baby walkers with wheels.
  13. I once taught a basic riflery course.
  14. I have a photograph I took hanging on a wall at the Council of Graduate Schools in Washington DC.
  15. I recently fell in love with chewing gum.
  16. I am the proud father of 2 beautiful daughters.
  17. I once spent a summer in the Texas panhandle mending barb wire fences and "working the cattle".
  18. My favorite beer is Pabst.
  19. I once ran around a track twice with no shirt on, when it was -20 F while in Moscow Russia.
  20. My fondest food memory was from a back alley restaurant in Lisbon, Portugal.
  21. I once spent a summer working in a fish processing plan.
  22. My first cassette tape was The Police - Synchronicity.
  23. I absolutely love traveling by train.
  24. I once drove 900 miles to get to a Grateful Dead concert, and then didn't even see the concert.
  25. I have ridden my bike the 200 miles from Seattle, Washington to Portland Oregon on at least 3 occasions.