Ode to the Corrie

Capturing all of the memories that are associated with the Corolla for the last fifteen years would take more time than I have right now. But given that earlier today I just sold my first car and what has been a faithful companion for my entire post-collegiate life (15 years…40% of my life!), I felt some tribute to the “Corrie” was in order.

Corolla

A few memories that came immediately to mind:

  • Its inaugural drive from PA to MA on Labor Day 1998 in order to get to Boston in time to start my first job the next day
  • Homecoming weekend trips from Boston to Dartmouth to visit the crew at the Crack House
  • Drives from Boston to Philly to visit the family (or, as they allege, to visit the Flyers durin the playoffs)
  • Outfitting the car with a Thule ski and bike rack to make it look tougher
  • Many trips to Baker, Stevens, Crystal, or Whistler, sometimes with the assistance of chains, occasionally with a push from a friendly parking lot attendant, but never failing to make it to its intended destination
  • Cramming my brother and three of his friends’ gear into the trunk for a Penn State spring break ski trip (you still owe me for the trunk repair Brian)
  • Tim complaining about the stench of hockey, ski, and bike gear and suggesting I get the car cleaned if I ever wanted to get a date (Tim is the one who gave the Corrie its nickname)
  • Picking up Tim and Elizabeth from the airport a few weeks later in a completely detailed Corrie – it seemed to help
  • My first date to Kingfish with Meagan, which involved me driving an hour around Greenlake since I was too cool to actually listen to directions – fortunately things worked out OK
  • Camping trips to the Gorge

I am likely forgetting many others, some intentionally (hi Dan).

But to pick a favorite one is pretty easy. The winter I lived in Whistler, I was in Seattle for the weekend visiting Meagan, and lingered in town a few hours after dinner, a little longer than I intended. I was tempted to spend Sunday night in town, and Meagan in fact urged me to do so, but a forecasted 50cm powder day was calling, so at around 10pm, I headed north. I stopped at 7-Eleven for a 12 pack of redbull, some bottles of water, some diet Coke, and a coffee to power me through the ride.

After getting underway, it started raining heavily in Bellingham, and then snowing at the border. It wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever done to fight sleep with more caffeine, especially given the rapidly deteriorating road conditions after Squamish. But I was pretty damn determined to get to my destination, and I knew the Corolla was going to get me there.

I pulled into the house in Whistler Cay just before 3:30am. Too lazy to shovel the driveway, I backed out into the road a few times and bulldozed the car in, just enough to get it off the road and avoid getting hit by a snowplough later. Mission accomplished! I set the alarm, woke up a few hours later, shook off the Red Bull hangover, and got up for an epic powder day with Nick and Zack. I was pretty happy with the outcome.

Red Bull Detritus

To the Corrie…thanks for the ride…the Outback has some tough shoes to fill.

Sayulita, Mexico

The last few winters we’ve tried to head somewhere tropical to escape the Seattle rain. This year. for Meagan’s break in February, we decided to hit up Sayulita, Mexico for a week. It’s a formerly quaint but still relaxing beach town on the Pacific Coast near Puerto Vallarta. Meagan spent a week there last year for Las Olas “surf camp”, and this time, I got to go as well! It was my first time to Mexico since a Cancun trip my freshman year of college, and Cancun spring break doesn’t really count in my book as going to Mexico. So I was excited for this adventure.

Our headquarters for the week was a small resort just south of  town called Playa Escondida. The place is a little bit isolated with a 30 minute walk/hike/scramble to Sayulita town, but we quite enjoyed the relative solitude of the place compared to Sayulita itself. This was particularly true as the normal “charm” of Sayulita was a little worn thin with the large amount of construction that was going on by the beach and in the town plaza, presumably for an upcoming surf competition in March. Our room also boasted a pretty amazing oceanfront patio on which to pass the day reading, or to fall asleep to the sound of the waves at night (which amusingly some guests complained as being “too loud”!).

The general pattern to our days was: sleeping in; coffee / reading on the patio; breakfast; hanging by the beach; reading / sunbathing / margaritas; strolling to town to go surfing or simply walk the streets; après-surf margaritas / tacos / guacamole in Sayulita or back at Playa Escondida; watching the sunset; dinner; sleep. Not a bad life and one that we acclimated to quite quickly.

The weather was a little overcast for most of the week, but progressively improved throughout the trip. There was some rain on the first day, but the last few days there was generally more sun than clouds. It was a little less tropical than we had hoped, but we still got a good amount of the warmth and sun that we planned for. The staff at Playa Escondida was consistently awesome too.

Returning to reality was a a bit of a jolt, but fortunately for me there was a nice ski trip lurking around the corner…more on that later.

The Sayulita Report…

* Wednesday (2/15)

Early, early flight. Woke at 2:45am for a 5:15am flight out of Sea-tac. Connected through Phoenix and arrived at Playa Escondida mid-afternoon after an hour long van ride (cooled off with a Pacifico beer) from Puerto Vallarta. A fairly mellow day – started off the vacation with ceviche, chips/guacamole/salsa, and margaritas by the beach. Relaxing dinner in town at Sayulita Cafe – I had some sauteed shrimp that were pretty good. After dinner, bought some streetside carrot cake from a woman selling lots of pastries in the town plaza. Not bad.

* Thursday (2/16)

Lazy day, fairly cloudy with a bit of rain. Slept in, had granola and yogurt for breakfast, trying to do some damage control on the upcoming week of tequila and tacos. Hung by the beach and read for most of the day (finally making progress on Cloud Atlas), with more chips, guac, and margaritas.

Headed to town again for dinner, this time at Pizza Venezia for pizza and pasta bolognese that were both pretty tasty. They didn’t have alcohol on the menu but they said we could go to the German place across the street and bring beer/wine over from there. So we headed there for some wine and they graciously said we could pay for it after dinner. There were kids playing in the street outside next to our table, including one who was doing bicep curls with a dumbbell throughout the entire dinner. I am sure he will be strong. We finished off the night back at the German bar with some beers and tequila shots served by a boisterous older gentleman – unclear if he was the owner or a patron or whether he was of Mexican or European descent, but for sure it was an entertaining nightcap nonetheless.

* Friday (2/17)

Slept in again and barely made the 11:30 breakfast cut-off. Pecan hotcakes this time, which were pretty stellar. Meagan had a bit of a “stomach issue” so I decided to go for a run and investigate the path into town (we had previously cabbed back and forth). The first part is a beachfront rocky scramble that connects to a wooded dirt path a bit inland from the coast. The path finishes with a graveyard/beach (Playa de los Muertos) just before connecting with Sayulita town. With a few detours it made for a 4.5 mile run. Can’t believe I enjoy running now but I love the portable workout while on vacation, and it’s not a bad way to explore a new town!

When I returned Meagan was feeling better so we walked back to town and explored a bit more. We had happy hour at Miro Vino wine bar – one of Meagan’s favorite margarita hangouts from surf camp. Some nice baked calamari with tomato as well. Tempted to stay for dinner, but (shockingly) I passed up an upscale Italian for dinner in favor of a more mellow taco dinner down the street. I had been in Mexico for 48 hours sin taco, so we obviously had to fix that. The mahi-mahi / mole chicken / carne asada trio I had hit the spot. Washed it down with some Tecate.

 

* Saturday (2/18)

Woke up to sun, finally. Headed to town for breakfast, stopping at the famous Chocobanana. Oatmeal + coffee + bacon. Signed up for surf lessons – but advised us to come back in a few hours when the waves would be better. So we hung out on Sayulita beach for a while. With the constant litany of people hawking shrimp, beverages, oysters (?!?!), blankets, drinks, bracelets, hammocks, chips, candy, and other assorted wares, we came to appreciate the quiet and more relaxed beach atmosphere back at Playa Escondida. Oh well – it wasn’t actually bad – and I enjoyed a margarita on the beach while we waited. Surf lessons were fun – our instructor Victor was a good teacher and very enthusiastic. Coincidentally his girlfriend worked reception at Playa Escondida. On the board, I wasn’t exactly rocking it but by the end of the session, I was able to ride a few waves in on the 10′ longboard. The constant paddle, paddle, PADDLE! and fighting through the waves definitely wears on you though – surfing is a workout!

Enjoyed some low key post-surf sushi (spicy tuna roll and sesame tuna tetaki) and artfully presented margaritas at Pitaya. We’d be back for more of the same on Monday – this place was one of my favorite spots of the trip. The bartender was fun to chat with as well. Headed back to Playa Escondida, relaxed for a bit before enjoying our first dinner at the restaurant there – rocket salad + a Mexican beef tenderloin (arrachera?). Pretty delicious. Slept pretty soundly afterwards.

* Sunday (2/19)

Sunny morning again, slept in. Pecan pancakes for breakfast. Walked the path to town for some more surfing. Walked around town to check out some shops, stopping at Tacos Bicho for lunch. A little disappointing compared to the taco joint a few days ago. I think their guac had sour cream in it which I wasn’t a fan of. Went back to the surf shop to pick up some boards. Clouds rolled in as we took to the water. I was trying to catch waves a little further out  then the day before and it wasn’t happening. Might have caught one or two in the two hour session. The surf was pretty rough and just battling the waves to get out there was a bit of a workout. Craved some sushi but Pitaya was closed, so we headed to Chocobanana for some coffee and their eponymous snack/dessert. Felt a little slow and dazed and may or may not have been concussed. Got some carrot cake as well and then headed back to watch a pretty amazing sunset from the hotel bar (with margaritas). Finished off the night again with dinner at the hotel restaurant – rocket salad again + a grilled tuna. Not quite as good as the night before but still pretty tasty. Enjoyed talking Spanish extensively with our waiter Joel.

* Monday (2/20)

Last full day. Sunny again. Woke up earlier and went for a run. Post-run, made some coffee and read on the patio. Strolled down for breakfast – huevos Mexicanos and a banana muffin – the latter particularly good. Planned to go surfing but delayed a little while enjoying the sun and reading on the beach (with margaritas). Mid-afternoon strolled into town and rented boards again. Had a much better time – was more patient and the surf was a little gentler than the day before. By the end of the day I was able to somewhat consistently catch and ride a wave in the surf. On a very forgiving 11′ longboard, it’s still a long distance from being able to call myself even “proficient” at the sport but it felt like definite progress compared to the two other times I’ve tried surfing. Finished the afternoon with a trio of apres-surf spots. First up Pitaya again for a round of sushi + margaritas. Hit up the adjacent bakery for an apple muffin and carrot cake #3 (our favorite?). Then walked to the plaza to a tequila bar for some mescal (smoky!), tequila, chips/guacamole (the housemade chips were killer), and a fish taco. Cabbed it back to Playa Escondida with perhaps the happiest cab driver ever. Enjoyed another fantastic sunset, this time on our patio. Wanted a slightly more relaxing dinner but too lazy to head back to town, so we hit up the resort bar. Rocket salad (again), chile rellenos with beef, and of course margaritas made for a pretty nice final dinner for the trip, particularly with the ever-comical banter from our bartender Jorge.

 * Tuesday (2/21)

Departure day, so a little melancholy. Woke up to sun poking through the clouds. Made coffee and read on the porch. Collectively we went a little crazy at breakfast, with pecan hotcakes (I kinda liked them…), bacon, huevos Mexicanos, a muffin, smoothie, coffee, and juice. At least we wouldn’t be hungry on the plane. Soaked in the ocean with one final stroll along the beach before packing up and checking out. And then, with a van ride back to Puerto Vallarta, began the journey home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check out more of our pictures on Smugmug.

(I’m required to point out that a few of the images above were “borrowed” from the iPhone of noted photographer M. Dodge.)

Backcountry Riding at McClellan Butte

Yesterday was my first “real” backcountry snowboarding adventure – a trip to McClellan Butte a few miles from North Bend. It was a pretty epic day, but not because of the primo snow conditions.

The day started with a 7:30am meetup at the Mercer Island P&R to sort out rides. JJ and I packed in the legendary Super Truck, and Ming, Matt, Andre joined up in Shawn’s Range Rover. About ten miles from the destination, when JJ and I were chatting about gear, a few neurons fired in my brain reminding me of essential snowboarding equipment, which resulted in me emitting a loud “Oh F….”. I left the climbing skins for my Prior Splitboard in the garage!

We discussed options ranging from trying to rent from Proski in North Bend (closed), JJ and I splitting skins (bad idea), ditching me (I offered but my friends graciously declined), to, finally, turning around and retrieving the skins while the rest of the crew got breakfast in town. The detour set us back an hour, but I also took the opportunity to grab my soccer referee cards (a post for another day) so that Matt could issue me a red card.

The day was back on track – we met up at Exit 38 around 9:30 and drove to the start of the trail. We weren’t sure how far along the snow covered road we could go, but we geared up and all packed into the Super Truck to give it a go. The further we could make it meant less climbing and hiking. Fortunately we got a mile or two in along the switchback road before the snow and steepness compelled us to stop.

We chose to do BC riding because it initially looked like it would be a sunny Saturday, but the forecast changed. The overcast sky was now hinting at rain, and the temperatures were starting to warm up.

Progress on the initial climb through the switchbacking fire road was good, punctuated by progressive layer shedding as we sweated our way up hill. The next of the series of incidents involved Andre losing his breakfast (I guess this wasn’t a bonus to the morning after all, but it did explain why the most experienced climber in the group was lagging a bit behind…). Shortly after that, Ming lost the loop ring for one of his skins (fixed with a ski strap from Andre).

Then the fun really began. We hit a fork, and not entirely sure which direction to take, continued to follow some skin tracks up through the trees. This turned out to be the wrong call. The route was dodgy in many spots, with a slick rain crust and little snow on top making the steeper switch backs a royal PITA, particularly for my novice skinning skills.

Over the course of the day I got better at trusting the skins and putting more of my weight on my heels (with frequent yelling/encouragement from Andre), but on this section, it was rough. At one point, I slipped a few feet off the trail with my legs contorted in a less-than-fun position. Off with the skis then. Bootpacking was a little better, but it was really easy to posthole though the snowpack in several places, and hiking on the icy trail wasn’t exactly trivial.

But, eventually we made it through that section onto a more open ridge, where the group re-convened. After munching on some Clif Bars, rehydrating, and fixing Ming’s other lost skin ring (this time with parachute cord), we continued onward. We generally headed up and to the left. There were a few more tricky tree sections to be navigated, but either they were a lot easier, or my skills were improving, since there wasn’t nearly as much cursing involved.

We crossed a few chutes before arriving at the target couloirs. The final section involved a somewhat gnarly bootpack climb to get to the ridge where we’d begin our descent. The original plan was to climb all the way to the top, but since we had reached our turnaround time of 2:30 and weather was becoming a possible concern, we got ready to head down. The crampons and ice axes a few of us purchased and packed would have to wait another day.

I’d like to state that the reward for the multi-hour, hairy ascent was a glorious ride through untracked powder, but the warm weather and thick trees had other things in mind. The snow was super thick and sticky, making each turn an effort (particularly after the climb!). After the initial short bowl, there were lots of tight trees to navigate. At one point JJ dropped his ice axe but fortunately turned around and found it. Shawn wasn’t quite as lucky with his.

We continued bushwhacking through the trees for a bit before the track bottomed out, leaving us with a long, hour-plus traverse to get back to the truck.

I alternated between hiking (which involved even more frequent post-holing than on the climb up – or as someone put it, “I’m up to my balls in snow.”), skiing without skins (let’s just say I’m a bit of a disaster on splitboard skis), and cross-country snowboarding with poles (the poles help prevent “Scooch leg!”). X-C snowboarding proved to be the best option, although the handful of creek crossings and uphill sections did require strapping out. The last incidents of the day befell Andre, who lost the basket on one of his ski poles and was also having contact lens trouble.

Finally though, we made it back to the fire road, and the last few switchbacks of turns proved to be some of the best of the day, as we hightailed it through the faster snow. Nevertheless, I was quite happy to be reunited with the Super Truck since it meant my legs would finally get some relief.

We threw the gear in the truck and drove back into town. Beers were on me after my early morning mental lapse, so we headed for North Bend Bar & Grill. Their pulled pork nachos are pretty stellar actually – and I’m always a fan of housemade potato chips. The brews and food were a welcome end to a long day.

Despite the fact that the snow and weather weren’t the greatest and the climb up was a little rough, it was still a pretty damn fun day. It’s hard to go wrong with friends and the outdoors. I’m psyched that my Splitboard has some more miles under its belt and looking forward to doing more – hopefully with some more snow next time!

More photos from the day on Smugmug.

 

Christmas Tree 2011

We picked up our tree a few days ago (from Dunshee House, supporting a good cause), but it’s been sitting bare in the living room since Tuesday. Meagan’s mom is visiting, which provided good motivation to string up the lights and put on the decorations.

The completed tree.

We’re pretty sure no one else has a cheetah as a tree topper.

Sentimental ornaments.

Lulu’s Christmas present from JJ last year (or the year before?).

Irish heritage.

Bears at Whistler!

I may have hinted at a “treat” to get Lulu to not look grumpy…

Season’s Greetings!

 

Early Season Hiking, Riding, and Grilling at Stevens Pass

We have a bit of a tradition to head up to Stevens Pass for some hiking, riding, and grilling when Stevens has enough snow to ride but before they’re officially open. Well, this year, the snow fell so fast that we didn’t get a chance to beat them to opening day! But, the area we normally hike (near Big Chief) wasn’t open yet, so the tradition remained intact.

Most of us now have some form of backcountry ski gear, which made the trip even more fun. I was finally testing out my Prior Splitboard, which had been sitting partially assembled in the TV room all summer until I finally was motivated to trim the skins late this week (which fortunately was pretty easy).

So, a bunch of us and the dogs headed up on Saturday morning. I was “encouraged” to make some pancakes since most people were meeting at our place. After the drive up, we sorted out the gear and got ready to head up the hill. Skinning up was great! Definitely beats hiking in snowboard boots and the best part is not lugging the board on your backpack. Switching between touring and riding mode was a snap, aside from me putting the skins and bindings on backwards for the second run (tip looks like tail…). And of course watching Lulu and Sadie sprinting excitedly through the ski and snowboard tracks is pretty awesome.

We made two runs in total (with good, light powdery conditions!) before the most important part of the day…burgers. The burgers, chips, and beers provided little relief from the pretty cold day, but we huddled around the charcoal embers for a few hours trying to stay warm and soaking the day in. We made a pact to make sure we do this again when the sun is out!

A few pictures from the day:

Ming making the climb…

Shawn ripping it down…

Lulu lovin’ it…

The crew enjoying a beer at the top of the second hike…

Phenomenal head gear…

Grillin’…

Sam and others get a yellow card for bailing…

More on Smugmug.

Matt’s pictures.

Meagan’s Graduation

It might seem silly at this point to blog about something that happened almost four months ago, except that your wife becoming a doctor struck me as something that I should write about, even if it’s a little late. I’m also slowly trying to unbury myself from a mountain of unprocessed photos. And given the amount of airtime my blog devotes to ski and bike trips, it’s only fair that such an accomplishment as Meagan graduating from UW School of Medicine and earning her MD degree (MD MD!), after four years of extraordinarily hard work spanning many classes, medical rotations, and multi-week assignments to various outposts in the Pacific Northwest, receive more than an 140 character tweet.

Graduation weekend was very sunny and picturesque. I think it was the last pleasant weekend in Seattle in June before the onslaught of crappy weather that didn’t end until mid-July. Meagan’s parents and grandparents made the trek for the weekend, as did my dad.

The festivities for the weekend included:

  • Friday night: Salmon BBQ at our house
  • Saturday morning: Graduation!
  • Saturday afternoon: Brunch at Portage Bay Cafe in Ballard
  • Saturday night: Dinner at Canlis (awesome…), drinks with some of Meagan’s newly minted doctor classmates in Ballard.

On Sunday, we roamed around the Ballard Market and the locks before dropping our dads off at the airport. On Monday, Meagan, her mom, and her grandparents continued the celebration for a few days up in Victoria, BC.

A few pictures from the wonderful weekend are below.

More pictures on Smugmug.

Congrats baby!

Misadventures on the High Pass Challenge

What better way to spend a Sunday then to get up at 4:30am in Centralia, drive 90 minutes east to a small Washington town called “Packwood”, and bike 115 miles with 7500 ft of elevation gain in 92F heat? If you answered, “riding the 2011 High Pass Challenge“, you’d be correct! It was probably my most challenging bike ride to date. It was undoubtedly my most incident-filled one.

The planning started a few months ago when my friends Dan and Tom invited me to join them for the ride. Having done the 200 mile (but mostly flat) STP last year, the “115 miles with some hills” of the High Pass Challenge, while not exactly sounding like a picnic, didn’t seem too daunting either. And since Tom was making the trouble to fly up from California and I haven’t ridden much with Dan lately, I thought “why not!”.

This summer, however, I haven’t trained nearly as much as last year. Prior to July 30th, I had one ride under my belt that was longer than 15 miles. Time to step it into gear! I did manage to put in some longer weekend rides in the intervening weeks, including a 75-miler last weekend, which I had hoped would give me enough stamina to grind out the hills on the High Pass Challenge.

I didn’t realize until a few days before that Packwood is two and a half hours from Seattle, making a 7am start line departure challenging. We weighed our travel options, and decided to cut the pre-ride trek in half by staying at our friend Brian’s cabin in Centralia. So, on Saturday evening, I loaded up the car and headed south on I-5. Dan and Tom had left a bit earlier.

After making it to Centralia, I then drove the three miles up the highlands towards Brian’s cabin. The cabin is on a rocky, unpaved road, and I wasn’t too careful avoiding potholes. On one of them, going down the hill, I heard a bit of a thud, but didn’t think much of it a first. But when I got out of the car in the driveway, I noticed that the front of my bike had become disconnected from the fork mount on my roof rack. Initially, I though it was because I didn’t clamp it down enough. In reality, it was likely because I had clamped it too tight, causing the jolt from the pothole to sheer off the left dropout from the carbon fiber fork.

Fu……!

8:45pm on the night before a 4:30am wakeup to drive to the ride, and no workable bike!

We brainstormed options. These included going back to Centralia to see if the bartender at McMenamins had any connections, or knew the bike shop owner to replace the fork (a 1″ one, no less). After this much effort, bailing on the ride, a semi-logical option, was not considered. The best option I decided on was to drive back to Seattle to grab my hybrid commuter in the hopes of throwing some slicker tires on it to make it a serviceable replacement. But that would likely have put my return to Centralia in the 1am range. Oh well. Back I went.

But, as I was pulling back on the freeway, I got a call from Dan. Turns out, his friend Ryan’s brother-in-law had an older road bike sitting in his garage in Olympia that was available for borrowing. Interesting. The bike was an unknown quantity, but given the choice between a late night 2 hour+ round trip to Seattle and a random loaner nearby, I decided to go for the latter. On the phone with Ryan’s BIL, I stumbled around looking for the spare key, got into the garage, and checked out the bike. It was an older Raleigh Technium that looked to be in reasonably good shape. It had flat pedals and old-school downtube shifters, but when I took it for a spin, it fit and rode well enough that I was sold on giving it a whirl (and not driving back to Seattle). I figured we could swap some parts at the start line to make it race-worthy.

Raleigh Technium

So, I headed south to Centralia back to the cabin, unloaded, and tucked into bed. I slept surprisingly well (normally I am quite antsy the night before a long ride). 4:30 came way too early, but Tom made eggs and coffee, and after scarfing down breakfast, we packed up the cars and headed east.

Jersey

The start line was open from 7am – 8am, and we rolled into Packwood around 7:15, well after the majority of riders had left. We passed a large peloton underway on the drive into town. Getting the loaner bike in order proved to be more of an ordeal than anticipated. It took a while to borrow a pedal wrench to swap my clipless pedals onto the Raleign (otherwise it was going to be 115 miles in flip flops!). Also I needed to adjust the seat height, re-wrap the handlebars with some new tape that Tom had, and of course, take care of important details like mounting the GoPro and Garmin GPS.

Things were getting tight, but threatened to be denied entry by the paranoid start line staff, we hopped on the bikes and embarked on the ride at 8am on the dot.

We stopped less than a minute into the journey when the fender on my bike was rubbing slightly on the rear wheel. Not wanting to be bothered with that issue for the next few hours, we took the fender off and handed it to a nearby ride support vehicle for safekeeping. And then we continued on.

We made good time for the first fifteen miles from Packwood to Randle, maintaining a nice pace line and alternating lead position. Aside from my getting acclimated to the old school shift levers, the Raleigh was holding up quite nicely and my mind slowly shifted from worrying about the bike to worrying about me. But, so far so good on both accounts.

The next ten miles started with a brief and strenuous climb, but quickly mellowed out into a gradual descent. We stopped for water and snacks at mile 26, and then the real slog began. Thirty miles of nearly constant climbing in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest to reach the Windy Ridge overlook of Mt. St. Helens. For the first half or so, we were at least protected by the shade of the winding forest roads, but the latter half was more exposed to the rising heat. Scenic views of the St. Helens landscape provided some distraction from the climb, but not enough. Reaching Windy Ridge (the highest point of the ride) at mile 53 provided a nice respite and an opportunity to soak in the view, but I didn’t linger long, eager to wrap up the remaining 60 miles.

We stopped for a nice lunch at the Cascade Peaks overlook, a few miles on the return route after Windy Ridge. Typical for a long, supported ride, we stuffed our faces with bananas, PB&J, cookies, and whatever other high carb munchies were laying around. After refilling the water bottles, we took to the bikes again.

The next 25 miles were largely a continual descent with two moderate hills thrown in to make sure the legs were still working. But overall, the fast, windy downhill was a welcome change from the vertical assault that dominated the earlier part of the ride. Soon enough, we were back at the Iron Creek rest stop with 80 miles under wraps. 35 to go!

The mechanic working the repair stand at Iron Creek said “it was mostly rolling hills” for the rest of the ride, but with a 500 foot gradual climb over the next eight miles, I didn’t find much “rolling” – just a hill. At mile 92, I stopped at the last water stop to fill up the bottles for the final push. The lady helping out there assured me it was all downhill or flat for the rest of the way. I was doubtful, but it turned out to be accurate.

My next incident happened a few miles later when I crashed on a downhill. I’m not exactly sure what happened. The bike was a little prone to overshifting on the rear cassette, and the front gears were occasionally a little off too. Combined with my lack of familiarity with the down tube shifting, I’d occasionally slip the chain off the front chain ring. Whatever I did this time, I caused the chain to wrap around the crank arms, which basically locked up the chain and caused me to quickly lose control. Fortunately I was able to scrub off a bit of speed on the downhill and do a “skid crash”, but I ended up going down fairly hard.

After regaining composure, and getting me, my bike, and the scattered debris of bottles and pump off the road, I figured out what was next. Body damage was limited to some bad scrapes on my arm and legs (and some ripped shorts), the chain was wrapped around the crank arm about three times, the handlebars were loose, and the right brake lever was displaced quite a bit from the fall. I was also hot and I was tired. I thought about waiting for the sag wagon, but as I settled down, and gradually began to deal with the bike issues, I became more determined to finish the ride. “I’ve ridden 95 miles so far, half uphill, I only have twenty to go. I am going to finish this fucking ride.” Or something like that stuck in my head.

Once I was convinced the bike was “ridable enough”, I ventured on. I finished off the descent back into Randle, and then turned right onto Highway 12 for the last sixteen miles, mostly flat, back to Packwood. I considered stopping off at a gas station to clean up the cuts, but I didn’t want to lose momentum and really I just wanted to be done with the ride. I counted down every last mile into town. Around 4:45pm, fifteen minutes before the 5pm cutoff, I rolled into the finish line, exhausted and stoked to be done.

We chilled at the finish line festival for a bit, enjoying a beer and throwing down more food. But with the three hour return to Seattle, we couldn’t hang long and soon packed up and headed back.

Upon returning home, Meagan dealt with my bruised body and Montlake Bike Shop is dealing with the bruised bikes. The Raleign has been restored to good working order, helping to assuage my conscience for crashing a bike that a kind stranger graciously loaned me. The Dean awaits a replacement fork, which is serving as a reminder that carbon fiber bike parts are quite freaking expensive. It’s also a little worrying that I’m getting to be on a first name basis with my bike mechanic.

The GoPro 30-second time lapse footage was “OK”. The battery crapped out about halfway through the ride (and I left the spare on top of my car in the parking log during the mad scramble to get ready…).

For a relative lack of training, I was pretty happy to finish the ride. Thanks to Dan and Tom for sharing in the fun and goading me into the adventure and to Alex for the loaner bike (and Ryan for helping secure it)!

 

Southeast Asian Adventure Part 5: Banyan Tree Phuket

The last stop on our Asia trip was at the Banyan Tree Phuket resort. Our visit here was in many ways much like our previous stay at Phi Phi Island Village: lots of eating, swimming, and relaxing with a bit of activity sprinkled in here and there. The main difference was that, while Phi Phi Island Village was superbly nice, the Banyan Tree was off the hook nice – we definitely saved the best spot for last.

Let’s start with our “room” – which was a large villa complete with its own garden, a riverside Jacuzzi, and an outdoor sunken tub, among other touches. (The really nice ones were “double pool” villas, which as you might guess, had not one, but two pools. Excessive.) Everything else about the Banyan Tree was similarly top-notch. It was a pretty sprawling place, so depending on where you were going, you’d often have to call a “buggy” (a golf cart) to give you a ride. We tried not to be too lazy, but it was big and we were on vacation.

 

 

 

As for the trip itself:

Tuesday (4/5): Arrived. Got introduction from reception, chatted about Scuba options with concierge and booked a trip for the next day. My white swimsuit got pretty destroyed from chlorine + sunscreen + wetsuit at Ko Phi Phi, so I grabbed a shuttle into town to try to find a new one. It was disturbingly difficult finding a non-Euro skimpy option but at the last place I stopped I was able to get some passable board shorts. I returned to join Meagan lounging by the pool.

 

 

After a poolside lunch, we hopped on a buggy to the oceanside beach, which had to be one of the prettiest, most mellow spots. After relaxing and swimming for a while, we headed back and changed for dinner, but then I returned to the beach for some sunset photos. The sunset was a little muddled by the clouds, but it was still quite nice.

 

For dinner, we went to the far side of the resort to Tre, a French Vietnamese restaurant overlooking the river and the double-pool villas. We were literally the only ones dining there that night – I think the previous storms + the upcoming Thai new year holiday meant that there were fewer guests than normal at the Banyan Tree. I no longer remember what we had, but I remember that it was amazing. We were entertained along with the staff by chucking old pieces of bread into the water to trigger a feeding frenzy among the fish.

 

Wednesday (4/6): Pretty much a full day of scuba diving. Got up early, had breakfast by myself at the stellar breakfast buffet which included all-you-can-eat mango sticky rice. Listened to a mellow tropical adaption of Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok”. The waiter caught me trying to record it with my phone and offered to hold it closer to the actual speaker for me. Quite embarrassed. After breakfast, the scuba shuttle picked me up and we headed to the southern part of Phuket to meet the boat. It took a little more than an hour since I was the first pick-up on the northern side and we had to fetch the rest of the divers along the way.

 

Diving itself was pretty stellar. Locals were a little disappointed by the relative lack of visibility and wildlife, but as a novice diver who had only done cold water dives until this trip, I thought it was pretty sweet. We did three dives: Ko Dokmai (a small island), King Cruiser Wreck (a sunken ferry boat), and Shark’s Point (sadly no sharks). We went with Euro Divers, who I’d highly recommend for their ability to cater to beginners and experienced divers alike (largely due to my instructor Nok’s patience!). I was happy with my progression and increased ability to manage my buoyancy, but I was definitely still a “heavy breather” and one of the first ones up on each dive. Still, while I was down, we managed to see a lot, particularly on the last two dives. It was fun swimming through the sunken ferry boat – next time I’ll have to get an underwater camera!

After diving, we repeated the drop-off in the reverse order – me last. But the trip back included a great sunset drive of the western coastline. It also included a drive through Patong Beach, the Thai equivalent of Cancun, which was pretty entertaining.

Back at the hotel, I rejoined Meagan (who apparently had an epic spa day), and after enjoying the last of the sunset from the Jacuzzi, we finished off the day with a typically large meal, this one an Asian buffet at Water Court.

Thursday (4/7): Our last full day. Started off with a tropical breakfast and then continued with a trip to the spa. I thought I wasn’t much of a massage fan, but this one might have convinced me otherwise. Banyan Tree is known for having one of the best spas in Asia apparently. After an hour I felt pretty invigorated yet relaxed. The rest of the day was a mix of pool, sun, and ocean. A little bit of rain actually interrupted the afternoon, which would have been a less than ideal end to the trip, but we patiently waited it out and had a pleasant late afternoon at the beach. We capped the evening off with a waterfront cocktail and an awesome Thai dinner at Saffron.

 

Friday (4/8): The end of the trip, or at least the beginning of a long, long day of travel. We started with our last epic breakfast buffet, which included me finally having too much mango sticky rice. After chatting in Spanish for a while with our Ecuadorian waiter, we headed to the lobby to gather our stuff and begin the journey back.

 

 

The rest of the day was pretty much a blur: ride to the Phuket airport. Phuket to Hong Kong. Hong Kong to Vancouver. Vancouver to Seattle. And, due to the wonders of the International Date line, it was still Friday when we arrived.

Our friend JJ was kind enough to pick us up at the airport, and even dragged Lulu with him to greet us. Eager for some non-Asian food, we grabbed some Mexican food and margaritas at El Chupacabra in Greenwood near our house before turning in and beginning our long battle versus jet lag.

As you might expect, we weren’t keen for the trip to end – it was definitely hard leaving the Banyan Tree – but it was nice returning to our life in Seattle. I was looking forward to a weekend of post-vacation chilling and catching up with friends before the real world beckoned on Monday. Not to mention that we were still getting used to the St. Patrick’s Day news of Meagan matching for her residency at Seattle Children’s! To be honest we had largely forgotten about that big news on the trip and had lots of good times in Seattle to look forward to.

Another continent checked off, another amazing adventure with Meagan, and another new list of places that I’d like to go back to again. But, since I am pretty much dead out of vacation time now, that will have to wait another day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Southeast Asian Adventure Part 4: Ko Phi Phi

Continuing on the recap of our trip…

After two weeks of backpacking and site-seeing in Bangkok, Luang Prabang, and Siem Reap, we were eager to hit the beach for the final week of our Southeast Asia adventure. We had two such places in Thailand lined up, and the first one to visit was the island of Ko Phi Phi.

It took the better part of the day to reach Ko Phi Phi. Flight from Siem Reap to Bangkok and then on to Phuket, car ride from the airport to the Ao Port marina on the east side of Phuket, and then a 90 minute catamaran to Phi Phi Island Village, a nice resort on the northeast part of the island, fairly isolated from the more hectic center.

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We were there for about three days and did relatively little more than eat, drink, and hang out by the pool – which was just fine.

Saturday (4/2): Arrival. Greeted with a nice Pina Colada. checked into our villa, relaxed at the sunset bar, filled up at the “highlights of Asia” buffet dinner.

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Sunday (4/3): Relaxing breakfast, checked out the activities center, bummed around the pool most of the day, and again filled up at the “Regions of Thailand” buffet dinner.

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Monday (4/4): Breakfast, two-dive scuba trip to Maya Bay near the island of Ko Phi Phi Leh. Due to the recent storms, the visibility and amount of marine life was a little less than stellar, but compared to diving in the frigid waters of the Puget Sound (where I did my certification dives), it was pretty amazing (and warm!). Meagan did some snorkeling while I was down below. My dive buddy, Jan from Germany, was really nice. Ko Phi Phi Leh, incidentally, is the location where they filmed the Leo DiCaprio movie “The Beach”. It was chosen for its unspoiled and idyllic setting, which was indeed quite amazing, but the amount of tour boats there now kind of take away from that. Fortunately, since we were parked a little offshore, we didn’t have to pay the entrance fee.

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After diving, we relaxed some more back at the pool before finishing off with a non-buffer dinner at the beautiful Ruan Thai restaurant overlooking the rest of the resort. I started the meal with a spicy caiparinha that nearly destroyed all my taste buds.

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Tuesday (4/5): Departure day. I got up early to take some sunrise photographs. It was a little cloudier than the day before but it was still quite beautiful. We had one last tropical buffet breakfast before checking out and catching the catamaran back to Phuket Island.

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Our first two weeks of adventure in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia was a ton of fun, but it was nice to wind down the trip with some mellow beach relaxation. And even though we were sad to leave Phi Phi Island, we were happy to know that we had a few more days of bumming around in store.

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Southeast Asian Adventure Part 3: Siem Reap

Our three week adventure to southeast Asia continued in the temple-surrounded Cambodian town of Siem Reap. As I noted in the Luang Prabang write-up, we didn’t originally plan to visit Cambodia, but when an unseasonable and unfortunate series of tropical storms pummeled the island of Koh Samui, Thailand (our intended next stop) and closed their airport, we quickly scrambled to find an alternate destination and fortunately we stumbled on Siem Reap.

The area is most known for its ancient temples – Angkor Wat in particular – but we quickly discovered there was a good bit more to the area than that.

We stayed at the Soria Moria Hotel, a really nice place close to the center of town that is owned by a Norwegian couple. I selected this place based on five minutes of Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor research when we changed our itinerary in Luang Prabang the night before. We couldn’t have been more happy with the choice. Great location, good price, super helpful and friendly staff, and owners who are committed to local causes – if you ever visit this area and are looking for a nicer but reasonably priced place, I can’t recommend Soria Moria enough.

We spent a total of about four days there, two of them on the omnipresent temple circuit. The rest of the time, we chilled about town, soaked up local culture, and checked out some of the other points of interest.

Our activities included:

* Tuesday: Arrived early in the afternoon. Met our tuk-tuk driver, Mr. Rith, who would coincidentally be our motor escort for much of our upcoming activities.

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Checked into hotel, met with awesome owner Kristin, got the low-down on activities. Got lunch at Butterflies Garden, a local Khmer restaurant with an enclosed outdoor butterfly garden.

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Walked around town and checked out the night market.

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Went to a dinner and Apsara dance performance at a nearby theatre. The food was a little meh, but the dancing was pretty cool – the “fisherman’s dance” and “coconut dance” were particularly entertaining. Sat in between a French couple and a group of four from Barcelona, so got to practice lots of Spanish. (In Cambodia, staying at a Norwegian hotel, speaking Spanish with a French couple.) Capped the night off with a cocktail on the rooftop deck.

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* Wednesday: First day of our temple circuit. Met our driver Mr. Rith and our guide Seila, who would be accompanying us and giving us the scoop on the temples for the next two days.

Out first stop was Angkor Wat. Immense. Largest religious structure in the world. Although created as a Hindu temple, it later was converted to a Buddhist one, so it was interesting to see the mix of religions in the sculptures. Unfortunately many of the heads of the Buddha statues had long been looted, a prevailing pattern in all of the temples we visited.

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Next up: Ta Prohm. This was my favorite one of the day. During the periods when the temple was abandoned, the jungle took over and now the structures have been overcome by large trees, many of which are essential for supporting the temple. Also interesting to learn that they will sometimes, when necessary for preservation, rebuild the temple, which involves the painstaking process of numbering all of the pieces and often deciphering the jigsaw puzzle of fallen pieces in order to recreate the structure. Ta Prohm was a location in the movie Tomb Raider.

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After a delicious lunch of chicken with hot, holy basil, we finished up at Bayon, part of the large Angkor Thom ancient city. Bayon has tons of multi-faced Buddha sculptures, which were impressive. Seila had some fun playing with perspective and having Meagan perform interesting poses with the Buddhas.

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We were fairly tired after a full day of temple visits. We capped the day off again with happy hour at the rooftop bar and had a nice dinner at Le Tigier de Papier in the main drag of Siem Reap.

* Thursday: Another full day of temples.

We met Seila and Mr. Rith after an early breakfast at the hotel and headed out for an hour long drive to Kbal Spean, the valley of one thousand Linga – a phallic symbol of the Hindu god Shiva, the fertile symbol believed to consecrate the holy water. The visit itself was a two kilometer, moderately challenging hike to the waterfall and carvings. The waterfall was pretty tame due to the dry season, and the hike itself was moderately challenging due to the heat and my flip flops. We were starting to get “templed out” at this point.

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We hopped in the tuk-tuk and headed down the road to Banteay Srei – a beautiful red sandstone temple with a lot of really intricate carvings – they were noticeably more detailed and ornate than the others that we visited.

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Afterwards, we continued to the Cambodian Landmine Museum, an institution that explains the sad legacy of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge on Cambodia. Much of Cambodia is still covered in land mines as a result of the aftermath of the genocide of two million Cambodians. The museum’s creator, Aki Ra, was a former fighter on both sides of the conflict who has defused approximately 50,000 mines himself and created the museum to spread awareness of his efforts and to aid recovery. The foundation also runs an orphanage to help children whose lives have been affected by land mines. Profoundly moving.

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Our last temple visit was at Pre Rup, a large brick temple whose central tower was quite high and steep, and afforded a pleasant view of the surrounding area. On the way there, we stopped off at a roadside village and watched some locals making palm sugar.

 

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At this point we were fully templed out. After returning to Siem Reap, we had a relaxing dinner at Angkor Palm and joined up with a nice, solo traveler from South Africa, living in Australia, who was visiting Cambodia, which made for a fun diversion.

* Friday: Slept in and had a largely mellow day. Even though we had a week of Thai beach ahead of us, we needed a chill day to veg out, beat the heat, and do something besides temple chasing. We decided to visit a nearby silk farm, which was entertaining and educational. We picked up some souvenirs and gifts, and then headed back to town.

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In the afternoon, we had our best meal of the trip so far at a vegetarian Khmer restaurant, Chamkar. After that, we relaxed with some iced coffee and donuts at “Joe To Go”, and then grabbed a Tuk Tuk back to the hotel.

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In the evening, we watched a children’s version of the Apsara dance that was performed at the hotel, which was different but equally if not more entertaining than the one earlier in the week. We intended to go out after the show and dinner, but ended up crashing early.

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* Saturday: We got up early for our flight to Phuket and our next stop, the Thai island of Koh Phi Phi. We scarfed down breakfast, met Mr. Rith, and headed to the airport for a week of beach.

The wrench in our travel plans ended up making for some fun last minute scrambling, an entertaining visit to a historic city, and of course another visa and set of immigration stamps in the passport. Although Siem Reap is hardly undiscovered at this point, it still had a mellow vibe and overwhelming friendly people. The best parts of traveling are often the surprises.

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Who knows if and when we will return, but I was very happy with our detour and opportunity to visit Cambodia for the first time.

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