Saturday, August 29, 2009

Why titanium?

Why the journey to titanium, and not carbon? Maybe I've bought into the marketing hype (or maybe I haven't) but I fully expect my next bike to be the last one I'll ever buy. Life's uncertain, but I just sort of envision getting a custom made bike exactly fit for me, and then riding it for a long, long time. It seems to me that carbon has some drawbacks, not the least of which is that it fails catastrophically. Crack it and generally you're done. Ti can be repaired, and unlike steel (another choice I considered) it doesn't corrode. I can see myself scratching my bike, and I don't want to obsess about the paint.

Also meant to point out on the last post that Seven was pretty familiar with Zac's work; they commended his work. Very comforting to know I seem to be making choices others are agreeing with.

Many years ago when I bought my first new car, I recall spending lots of time with the brochures. I didn't shop much, and bought what I thought looked good. It was a lemon, perhaps one of the worst choices and purchases I ever made - a 1984 Pontiac Fiero. It was a PoS from the word go. I replaced it with a Nissan P/U, one of the *best* purchases I ever made. But with the P/U, I didn't spend much time agonizing over pictures in a brochure. The last car we bought new (a 2006 Ford Focus) has been a good purchase, but it was sort of "ho hum. Go to the Ford dealer and get an A plan on a car commuter car." Took it for 3 right turns, didn't even ask if other colors were available. It has been fine so far.

But this bike purchase has been kind of exciting. Unlike a car, this is something of a toy. Hence the holiday atmosphere.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Steps in the journey, part two

Everything moving along on the new bike. Zac sent the measurements and order kit off to Seven on Tuesday, and I had an email from them that afternoon. Neil Doshi set up a phone call with me for Thursday afternoon. We talked for about 15-20 minutes. Many of the questions are pretty straight-forward general things: "What kind of riding do you do?" "Any club rides?" "How long are most rides?" I probably babbled a lot of information trying my best to paint an accurate picture of what I want to buy. Other questions are obvious in hindsight: "Would you be comfortable with Seven's recommendations on geometry? Seat height? Is a head tube extension OK?" IOW, the factory needs to know how free they are to make the bike specs within the Seven methodology. I have no doubt they would build in any constraints I might specify - a non-sloping top tube, for example - but I think that would be something of a trade off. I'm not a bike builder, and part of what I think I'm paying for is the expertise of the designers. Why limit them? I did confess the aesthetics of the bike are important to me, but in a secondary fashion. I have every expectation the head tube is gonna be big. I'm 6'4" so there's no way to get around this. But I do like the look of the Alaris - it is something of the Glasfluegel Libelle of bikes.

The next step is for the design to go back to Zac. We'll size it up in the studio, a sign off on the final order. Neil said about 3 weeks of manufacture from there. The final bike will then take a little time to assemble. but still plenty of good weather left this year.

Pretty exciting stuff. "“Clean. Smooth. Sexy. Exotic. Personalized.”

Sunday, August 23, 2009

My Journey to Titanium

As the saying goes, "now you've done it."

Having agonized over the choices involved with buying a new bike, I had the fitting done today. The die is cast, so to speak.

I decided on a Seven Alaris. This is a completely titanium frame, and Seven is going to make one to fit me. Yep; there's going to be One Bike: Mine.

I've gone to Zac Daab at Cascade Bicycle Studio here in Seattle.

I wish I could have told Zac "money's no object." Sadly, it is an object for me. This is something of a biggish step for me. Thanks to the Gateway program at Seven, I think I can afford the new Alaris, but I can't afford to deck it out in the most expensive gruppo from the start. Still, the SRAM Rival group will do nicely, and they make a 180mm compact crankset that should fit me even better than the 175mm cranks I run now. I decided I'd invest what I can afford into the frame.

Why a new bike? I've put almost 10,000 miles on my Trek 1000. It has been a great ride, and I can't complain about the fit. Still, anything over 40 miles or so, and I feel the fatigue in my shoulders and neck. We'll see if the Ti ride is what they claim. The Trek came from an eBay purchase for $450. The seller claimed it was new, and it appeared so. I made a few upgrades along the way, including a swap over to a Shimano 105 double. Cindy bought me new Neuvation wheels, and I really like them - I will probably opt for a set on the new bike. I've put about 4000 miles on them, and 200 pounds of me hasn't required truing of them yet.

And fairly I've spent more on bike clothes many times over than I did on my bike. The 1000 is a fine Al bike, but I worry I've worn it out.

The fitting session was quick and easy - Zac knew all the right questions to ask, and had ready answers to mine. It was 90% thrilling, and the other half a bit frightening. Maybe the most extravagant purchase I've made, but as I told Zac, "I'm not sure how many more years I have left where I can actually get up on a bike. Now will never come again."

Will let you know how it all turns out.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Volcanoes of Washington - 2009



Our annual Bicycle Adventures trip started this year on July 25th. We'd been planning this for some months, and we had a fantastic time. It was all we thought it would be, and more.

As we are somewhat hooked on BA's Multi-Sport vacations, we discussed what trip we'd be on in 2009 just after the 2008 one was over. Last year was the Oregon Crater Lake trip. We selected the Volcanoes of Washington Challenge trip this year for a lot of reasons. First we naturally wanted to stay with BA. With BA you get things you can count on: value, consistency, and service. Each of their trips is the full-package deal. You know exactly what is included, as their brochure, website and literature are spot-on. If you add up the cost of each day of what you're getting, it turns out to really be less expensive that trying to do it all on your own. The trips are all well-planned, thought out and researched. The guides know the routes, but they also know when things change along that route And of course, the entire company, from the guides to the office and warehouse support cast works tirelessly to make sure *your* vacation is what you want it to be. How can you go wrong?

That all said, we wanted a trip with a little smaller group this time. Crater Lake last year was with 3 guides, 2 vans and 19 guests. It made the logistics a little complicated at times, as there was such a wide range of cyclist abilities. The VoW trip is limited to 10 guests by park permit regulations. We also wanted to try to minimize the travel distance, as we like to use our own bikes. We thought a longer trip rather than the common 6 day offerings would be fun. Crater Lake last year had a few cold moments, so we thought it best to move up a few weeks to try to get in some of the warmer weather. Well, we hit that nail on the head a little too hard, but I'm already ahead of myself.

The trip started for us on Friday when we packed up after work and had friends drive us to the Raddisson at Seatac for an early pickup Saturday. We were just pulling up at the hotel when we saw a BA van pull in before us: it was a San Juans trip ending and dropping off all the guests. All the latter had big smiles on their faces. Out of view of the guests I saw one guide stretch and rub his face: he was clearly very tired and relived his charges had made it to their final destination. I was ready to go.

The Raddisson is nice. It is a good choice for pickup. We had breakfast there, and the van pulled up right on time. Derek had driven the van in from Olympia where BA is based. We were going to pick up our other guide, Diane, downtown with some of the other guests. Both Diane and Derek are from Seattle (as are we) so this all had a home-field advantage start to it. As is the tradition with BA, I had spoken to Diane on the phone about the trip a few days before. She had asked if we needed any special dietary (or other) accommodations, and we chatted about how the weather was going to be. "Be prepared for cool mornings and some rain." Heh. If it had only turned out that way. But I foreshadow needlessly....

We loaded up and headed downtown. Once we got everyone on board, they group consisted of Diane and Derek, the guides from Seattle. There was Rob and Jack from Spokane WA, Judith from Boston MA, Richard from Tucson AZ, Rick from Jackson MI, Art from Troy MI, Seresh from New Jersey, and Darryl from Vancouver BC. Add me and Cindy, that makes 10 guests, and 12 all together.

The BA vans accommodate 12 reasonably well, but there isn't much room for internal gear with that many onboard. Gear and luggage all goes in a trailer towed behind, and the bikes all rack on the roof. It is quite a rig. It comes complete with air conditioning. (Foreshadowing - a mark of fine literature.) And here's the part of the story that is our first hiccup: American Airlines lost Judith's bag. She got her bike fine - a new Specialized Ruby she got just for the trip - but her luggage, along with all her clothes were delivered by Ameican Airlines...somewhere else. Judith had called Diane with "a developing situation" the night before. Diane, in a very BA-esque way, had responded with the aplomb of a well equipped field marshall: "We'll figure it out." And indeed she did. Turns out Judith was at least the same approximate size as Diane, so Diane loaned her shoes and cycling gear, and started making arrangements to get the lost bags delivered on our route. Fairly, if this had happened to me, I would have been a fuming mess - I hate dealing with airlines, and American Airlines had really done it to Judith. This had the potential to wreck a very finely planned vacation. Judith was very good natured about it, and took it all in stride. We all rallied to her cause, even though there was nothing any of us could do to help. Diane and Derek, however, were "on the case." (Get it?)

We vanned to Cle Elum to get started, and stopped on Snoqualmie Pass for coffee. I even found they sell Raven's Brew, a brand of bean we haven't seen since we lived in Juneau. I got a bag for Cindy, and it was a hit. We arrived at the Iron Horse Inn early, and Derek set up to make lunch, while we all got bikes ready and changed for a ride. Remember, BA doesn't have a dead "travel day" to start. You ride the first day. On this trip, we would do a loop ride first. Pretty convenient to come back to the place you'll stay for the evening. Lunch was really good, and we gathered up for the traditional route briefing and safety reminders.

The cycling route in Cle Elum was really nice. A little traffic getting out of town, but the road we were on most had no cars at all. It was hot and sunny, and toward the end of the ride, a thunderstorm blew up just as we arrived back at the Iron Horse Inn. The Inn is *really cool*. It was a railroad rooming house and is now a B&B. I recommend it highly if you're in the area. The proprietors are really friendly and knowledgeable about the history of their place. Lots of fun to peruse the artifacts and relax.

Dinner was at an italian place in Cle Elum. It provided the ongoing joke for the entire trip. Seems our young waitress, while skilled and schooled she might be in many an important subject, was a little short on the concept of *adding* the tax to the final bill. BA's well-advised policy (well described in all the materials) is that the guests pay for their own booze (other than the traditional beer cooler at the end of the ride. It was stocked with everyone's favorite beer too - a bit of information your guide will solicit on that call the week before). So, when the booze tabs arrived, it took our young waitress some time to sort out the difference between the + button and the - button. We still had time to make it to the in town ice cream shop, then off to bed for an early start tomorrow. The Inn breakfast was primo.

On Sunday, we rode out directly from the Inn toward Ellensberg for lunch. This too is an advantage for this trip, one we looked for. It seemed like the Crater Lake trip had some more time transferring in the van than our other trips. Probably an illusion, but Inn to Inn travel is much nicer - you get more time out on the bike. Sunday was the first of the Really Great Heatwave of Late July(tm) in the Pacific Northwest. Temperatures were headed well into the triple digits, destined to stay there for the entire trip.

Now is a good point to explain all the foreshadowing: It was hot. Really Hot. Hot for the entire trip. But, here's the deal: you simply have to accept the weather as it is, as there is nothing that can be done to alter it. Derek said it best (and Diane agreed): the Volcanoes trip is one of extremes. The last few times either of the guides had done this trip, it was cold and rainy the entire trip in both July and August. On those trips, none of the guests got to see any of the mountains they were riding by and up. None of the spectacular sights at all. We got to see it all, and all it cost us was some sweat. And really, the title of the trip is "Volcanoes of Washington *Challenge*" So, in the end, while it was perhaps non-optimal to have to deal with 100+ degree temps, the tradeoff was that we got to see the entire beautiful route. We asked for some challenging riding, and as Diane said to us early one day with the cutest knowing smile "we can deliver." She knew what treats were up the road!

The heat was simply something we all accepted and dealt with individually and collectively. It turned out fine.

The road to lunch on Sunday was nice. Again, little traffic. It made me notice just how different most of America is from the one I am most familiar with. I live in a sizable city, but most of America is agrarian. The independence of rural lifestyle starts to make sense as you cycle by it and experience it firsthand. The water projects in eastern Washington are extensive and impressive. I cycled by fields of crops that stretched for miles, yet I have no idea what those plants were. I probably ate them for breakfast, just as I have for the last 45 years or so. I'm a city slicker, and I got an educational reminder what this country really looks like by simply getting on a bike and riding past it. Inexpensive education, yet not in BA's catalog. A freebie.

American Airlines had not yet delivered Judith's bags by Sunday morning. Derek and Diane left info with the Iron Horse Inn on where we were going in Yakima. Hopefully the bags would be there Sunday afternoon. Oh, about that education? Yeah, people on America's Farms work really hard, and today I saw them feeding the world. Judith was still being great about the whole ordeal of her bags being lost by American Airlines.

We found lunch in Ellensberg after a little miscommunication on the exact location. A cell phone call (fortunately this happened on a day where we had coverage) took us the few hundred yards to the right spot. Diane's lunch was terrifically good, yet again.

The route out of lunch into Yakima was spectacular. Most of the afternoon was spent cycling along the Yakima river. Lots of people enjoying the river in the sunshine on innertubes, boats and rafts. The last few miles were on a bike path along the river in town. Nice to see modest municipalities make an investment in recreational, multiuse trails. A couple of miles on the road on the other side took us to the Birchfield Manor in Yakima. When we arrived, we discovered the great news that Judith's bags finally arrived! We all cheered; none of us as loudly as Judith.

Birchfield Manor is a really great place to stay. It has a very nice pool on nicely manicured grounds. The a/c inside was really appreciated - as was finding our bags in our room, as is the BA tradititon. We hit the pool before dinner at the Inn dining room. Dinner here was among the best; and the service really good. Maybe it was because this was less of a "restaurant" than a dining room for a private party (us) but it seemed a lot more organized than the night before. There is simply no escaping the facts involving service for a group of 12 in a restaurant - it is going to tax (!) the waitstaff. It is fun to linger over dinner, and chat with your fellow travelers. We had such a great group - they all were fun and interesting people. But sometimes dinners ran into the 2-3 hour range. After a day of cycling, it can really be tiring. Not sure if there is an answer - and at Birchfield Manor, this was not an issue. Dinner here was among the best served - there was a second member of the waitstaff lurking just off the dining room assisting the service. It paid off handsomely for us. It would be kind of nice if dinner arrangements at some of the restaurants (all very good) could be arranged with 2 waiters?

The room we had at Birchfield was also among the nicest. The bed (a king sized one - always appreciated by 6'4" me) was comfortable. The room even had a whirlpool Jacuzzi. We were in the main building and it was very quiet and peaceful.

Breakfast in the morning was really good too. While pumping my tires, I tore the valve off the presta tube on one of my tires. Derek jumped in and replaced the tube for me. This is another one of the special things about BA. I did the damage to my own bike, yet Derek smiled cheerfully, and fixed the damage I had done in a fraction of the time it would have taken me. Seemingly little stuff like this is what makes all the difference in a BA trip. You don't need to sweat the details. BA is there to take the stress away.

After the route briefing, and loading of bags, Diane led us out from Birchfield back onto the same bike path we rode in on yesterday. On the other side of town, we found the first of the hills that were promised. Now onto some serious climbing in the hot sun, we made our way past apple and pear orchards. The van was available along the route to refill water bottles, and the route directions were again spot on. Lunch was by the side of the road next to the river, again very yummy.

Here is a good a point as ever to note a few things about the route directions. BA takes a lot of pains to get these perfect. The routes, as I pointed out before, are well researched and monitored extensively. It shows. Still, I can't seem to get over my dislike for using paper sheets for directions while on a bike. This is why I like my Garmin Edge 705 GPS that sits on my handlebars. The 705 is capable of turn-by-turn directions and displaying a moveable map. All it needs is an upload of the directions. It seems to me that a great add-on for a BA trip would be to have these files ready for upload when you buy a trip with them. Most cyclists for a Challenge or Epic trip are going to have one of these devices. And while it is "one more thing to do" it might be kinda cool to have these available on the rental bikes or ready for zip-tie on everyones bars. The 705 units even communicate between themselves to share routes. There is certainly a steep learning curve, and the guides would be saddled with one more chore, but the benefits are obvious. My opinion only, of course. But should BA wish to explore this a bit, I think they'd find an edge (!) over others in the business. I wonder if Garmin would provide some support or sponsoring? I might even find it fun to do the 705 work on a trip for other guests if the equipment was made available, just as a test. It the engineer in me looking to solve a problem only interesting to me.

Back to the ride: the last part of the ride into Whistlin' Jack's Lodge in Cliffdell was hot on an exposed road. The ride was very nice - the road good and the scenery very pleasant. But it was a long day with some significant climbs along the way. I had to dig deep to make it into the lodge. Sadly, Whistlin' Jack's is mostly designed to be a winter type lodge. Hence, no a/c. They might need it a few days a year, and most years, probably not at all. The lodge is next to a very nice river, and the shade was welcome. BA provided a really nice wine and cheese party, with a great selection of each before dinner. This is a really nice touch. Dinner was great, even though we had to have a briefing from a diner from the next table explain what a "walleye" fish was. Thank you to the visitor from Minnesota. Very appreciated, dontchaknow.

I had some trouble sleeping given the hot ride and warm hotel room. Guess I was starting to get dehydrated. I have very little experience in these conditions, so it was a little hard to figure out what my body was telling me. Still, I got to sleep and we started early to take advantage of the cooler morning temperatures.

After the usual round of route briefing and bag loading, we were off again. This time on the "queen stage" of the trip: 2 mountain climbs, and a total of 82 miles promised. The first part was the climb over the 6000'+ Chinook Pass. We rolled along relatively flat for 20 miles or so, then the climbing came in earnest. This is what we came for, and what Diane promised to deliver. And deliver they did in spades: the road to the pass is really excellent. While Mt. Rainier National Park sees some extreme weather, road conditions can change dramatically. This is a beautiful stretch, and the traffic very low. The last 3 miles or so to the pass are all in front of you, so you can see where you're going all the way to the top. As you crest on the other side, you'll have your swoonfest moment: the first real look at the cap of 14,410' Mt. Rainier: it does put on a show. Our favorite local volcano never fails to impress.

We stopped just over the pass to tag up with the van. Watered up, we headed down the other side, through Cayuse Pass (yes, down to a pass.) The switchback descent was fast fast fast. Again, the road was in great condition, and easy to navigate for high speed. Wish I was able to plan for a picture the moment I looked vertically down the switchbacks to see the van winding ahead: it looked like a toy matchbox car and trailer!

As the descent progressed, it was easy to tell the temperatures were rising rapidly in the thickening air. By the time we reached lunch at Grove of the Founders, it was clear to me that 82 miles in 106degree F and 2 mountain ascents were not in the cards after digging deep the day before; my OUCH racing kit notwithstanding. After another great lunch by Derek, I decided to van over to Longmire for the climb to Paradise. Many other guests decided to do the same. Only Derek, Darryl, and Rick took on the entire route. Impressive.


We had to van all the way around to Packwood and Ashton to get to Longmire. The Stevens Canyon Road is normally used to get to Paradise, but it was closed for our trip. We unloaded the bikes in Longmire, and began the 11 mile climb to Paradise from there. It was spectacular. Much like Chinook pass, the road was in great shape, and never really visciously steep. My garmin 705 claimed the grade was steady at 5-6%, for me reasonably doable. Cindy climbs at her own pace, much faster than mine. I required a couple of stops to recover. We met Diane in the van for more water on the way up. Interestingly, it appeared there was a rainstorm brewing up the mountain. A park employee seemed to be shouting at us from a descending vehicle "there's a rain storm coming" as he passed us. Helpful.

We made it to the top before the rain appeared, having sort of blown itself away from the lodge. Just before I got to the parkinglot, a deer crossed in the road before me. I stopped for her, and she meandered down the other side. Nice of her to share the road.

Paradise Lodge in very nice. Here at altitude, the mountain air was pretty cool and clear. They've just redone the lodge, and it is pretty spiffy. Rooms here are very much dorm style, but have private baths. Funny, but the service in the dining room here seemed above average - the NPS seems to recruit kids from all over the world, and they seem glad to be here. The desserts here were really good, as was the breakfast. Tasty pastries in the morning, along with the usual selections.

After breakfast the next day (a layover day) we decided to take a hike. Don't confuse "layover" with "rest" day. We walked over to the visitor center at Paradise, only to find it closed before 10am. That seemed kind of odd. Outside there were plenty of maps and trail markings, so we simply decided to pick one and go. The parking lot was full of mountaineers on their way to the 14,410' summit. Make no mistake - going to the top is serious mountain climbing, no casual stroll. The stats say about 60% of those that attempt it make the summit rock, but there are usually a few news stories involving hiking accidents each year on Mt. Rainier.

We were not headed for the summit, but simply a hike near Paradise. Still, the "hikes" are not little nature walks. We picked the "Skyline Trail" a 4.5 mile hike. It had some serious altitude changes. Lots of steps on a very well maintained trail. Lots of other hikers; very picturesque. Be sure to bring lots of water and good hiking equipment. And be prepared to be awed by the closeups of The Volcano.

After the hike, we got back to the lodge for lunch. We met up with Art, and he gave us the news about the accident Richard had while out on the bikes riding the Stevens Canyon road. While the road was closed at the bottom, it was ridable from the top. Most of the group decided to ride it down and up, while Cindy and me had our fill of climbing yesterday, and opted for the hike. Art told us Richard fell on this elbow, and needed professional help. We found out later that he had broken his elbow, and was going to need surgery. Serious stuff. It was all the more sobering when we all realized a single bike accident like this one could happen to any of us.

While there were many people involved, it was Diane that jumped to the rescue. Many miles were put on the van taking Richard to the medical facilities. And here's the really important part: not only is Richard reporting that he is going to be ok, but it was clear just how far BA would go to see to the well-being of a traveller. Arrangements were made for his luggage to catch up with him, the shipment of his bike, transport to the medical facilities...it is all appears so overwhelming in hindsight. Yet, somehow, it was all handled, and Diane was back with the van to take care of the rest of us....like nothing had happened. But indeed it had, and BA had somehow managed to handle it all. Yes, there is quite the tale here, involving Richard's family, Rick's wife Pat (in town for some hiking while Rick was riding) and a cast of thousands. Suffice it to say, it All Got Handled. We, on the other hand, could lend nothing but moral support, in much the same way we helped Judith get her bag from American Airlines.

All was going well for us while hearing Richard's story from Diane. Right up until after dinner, when I discovered I had all the symptoms of food poisoning. It was a rough night. In the morning, I was so worn out there was no way I was going to ride. So again, Diane got a passenger in the van. I was recovering, and simply tagged along for the ride with my bike on top in the rack. Everyone else got a ride down the mountain to a really nice picnic spot. By lunchtime I was able to nibble a bit, but sure couldn't do much else. I did my best not to appear too miserable - that can be trying for other travelers, but the reports are I looked pretty bad. Still, the passing scenery was very nice, and I tried to keep up my end of the conversation. In hindsight, I am really grateful for the understanding and concern my fellow travelers displayed. One of the really cool things about the crowd that BA attracts - each traveler seems to be genuinely concerned for the enjoyment of all. Makes for a good time.

After lunch we had the one longish van transfer of the trip to Skamania Lodge near the Columbia river. The road was rather sinuous, but very scenic with views of Mt. St Helens. Skamania is a really nice place, and again, the a/c was very welcome. Skamania lodge is something of a monolithic golf resort. It is very nice (and by dinner time I was eating again - the scallops tasted good) but it is Big And Modern. Very comfortable for sure, but there is something really nice about places like the Iron Horse Inn and Birchfield Manor. They are unique and feel like you're traveling back in time somehow. I wish we had more time to explore all of Skamania Lodge. I felt like I was missing most of it.

Breakfast at Skamania was a great buffet. I felt up to riding, so we loaded up for a short transfer across to the Oregon side of the river. From the trailhead where we mounted up, there was a short out-and-back on a converted part of the old Historic Highway. No cars, just walkers and bikes. Pretty nice.

Then it was out onto the road in Hood River. We started the climb up from the river with a few pretty steep stretches. Before us lies the loom of Mt. Hood. - today's destination. Temps were going to be in triple digits, and this was going to be a big day. But somehow, with all the travelers together, and the van nearby, you knew it was all going to be good.

The road out of Hood River was scenic and nice. Sadly, it also had the highest concentration of idiot drivers. Not sure I understand why some people in cars have such a hard time sharing a little bit of the road with a bike. Bikes don't impede their progress, and we are certainly not a danger to them. Really, if a 15 second delay is so darned important, perhaps it is time to...well...take a vacation. I know just the company to call to arrange that. Might take some of the stress out of their pitiful lives. Some seem to sorely need a break.

The winding road to Mt. Hood is deceiving. Much of it appears flat, but my Garmin 705 was telling me it was 3-4-5% up. As the temperaturs rose, I was having a hard time staying hydrated. I went through 6 bottles of water before lunch. I even got some refill from Diane on the road, and some from Cindy. Still, about a mile or some from the lunch stop, I ran totally out of water on a road that had no shade for the last 3 hours. It is a *beautiful* ride, but 100 degrees took it out of me a little quick. As if summoned, Derek appeared with water in the van. As I wasn't exactly sure I was going to continue to sweat (a bad sign) I opted to ride in the van to lunch, then hang it up for the day.

Again, lunch was really good. I drank 4 cold drinks. Most everone else headed up the road to the summit. The turn off to the lodge road to Timberline was well marked, but the last 6 mile climb to the lodge doesn't have a place for the van to pull over. In Derek's words, once you pull onto the hill, "you're committed."

Everyone else hit the hill but 3 of us. Diane's husband Bob had even joined us at Skamania, and was climbing as well. We cheered everyone at the top as they finished. It was a hard climb, and even at the top it was exceeding 90 degrees in the sun. Cold drinks awaited, and the climbers (including Cindy) really earned the accolades.

Timberline Lodge is really nice. Mt. Hood has summer skiing, and there was a patch of snow maintained on the mountain. Seemed odd to see snowboarders in the parking lot. The lodge staff were giving a bath to their resident St. Barnard. He seemed to enjoy the cool water.

The rooms at Timberline are lodge style. The beds are really comfortable. No a/c of course, but once the sun was down, a simple fan was all that was needed. The food was really good here too; and perhaps had the best breakfast. They set up an omelet station and had hot waffle irons along with some sort of rube-goldberg orange juice squeezing machine.

After breakfast, it was the last route talk of the trip. This is always somehow sad, but the last days ride was great. Downhill was fast (I was using up a lot of brakes, since I really didn't know this road very well) and we cycled through Government Camp. This would be a fun town to explore a bit, since it seemed to be the local ski bum town. Seemed kind of touristy, yet still kind of small and humble. Maybe for a future trip back.

The winding route into our final stop in Sandy was really nice. It had some hills, including the "Devil's Backbone" a stretch of some 12-14% climbs. The road was devoid of traffic, with lots of shade and good surface. A pleasant ride.

BA seems to always find nice places for the last lunch stop. This park had a nice pavilion for a picnic. We ate a great lunch and had our "graduation ceremony"- a BA tradition. When I got my certificate, I used my iPhone to send a email directly to the BA office to ask when the 2010 schedule would be available. I was already planning for next year.

We loaded up the van and had a short transfer to downtown Portland. We stayed at the Heathman Hotel, and the van dropped us off right in front. We said our goodbyes all around, and it was somehow sad to think this was the end of our trip. BA does circulate a mailing list for those that wish to opt in, and we hope to keep in touch with all the great, really fun people we traveled with. We had so much fun with all of them.

I really recommend the Heathman. The rooms are really comfortable, and the service is remarkable. They put our bikes up and we had most of the late afternoon and evening to ourselves. We walked over to Powell's Bookstore (a favorite haunt for when we visit Portland) then hiked to the old town district for some great pizza for dinner. It is nice to have a rest before having to get back to the "real life" after a vacation.

Our transfer back to Seattle was by a one-way rental car. The TriMax ligtht rail system comes downtown only a few blocks from the Heathman, so I jumped on that for a 40 minute ride to the airport to get the car. Sadly, this day was Cindy's turn to get sick. She had all the symptoms I did, so there may have been some virus at work. At least she got all her vacation in before it struck. The drive back to Seattle had a few more stops than normal. Funny, but as sad as it is to have a vacation end, it is also comforting to be home.

In retrospect, there were a few things I took away from taking a "challenge" BA tour. I had fancied myself as a reasonably strong bicyclist, but this trip was certainly all I could handle. The consistent 100+ degree temps might have had something to do with that, but as much as I really enjoyed the trip, it turned out that this trip is focused on the biking. Really focused, as in it was tough to do other things. There was a day for great hikes, and I do like having a small group. We looked for a trip with minimal van transfers, and more inn-to-inn travel. This trip sure fit that description. Even with all my van boosts, I had 305 miles of cycling, in 22.5 hours. There was 17,190 feet of elevation gain and I burned 21,107 calories. Fun.

Comparing this trip to others on the BA list is a little unfair. It is an apples/oranges thing. You can count on BA to be very accurate with their trip descriptions. They are *always* spot on. And the staff know each trip in intimate detail, so if you're not sure, a call will give you all the info you need. Still, I'm thinking next year will be a trip a little less focussed on the bike miles. If I want to add miles, the guides always have suggestions for excursion trips. And with a few less miles, I might find some other things along the way I would have otherwise missed. Still it is hard to beat the feeling of accomplishment in pumping your chest and firing off "El Pistolerio" at the top of the climb to Paradise. As with all things involving the bike, the answer lies in your contemplation of the white line by the side of the road.

When I look back at the trip, I am again astounded at just how hard the guides work all week. They never miss a beat, and in 100+ degrees, that is a hard, hard thing to do. Derek seemed to always have a smile on his face, and Diane had a twinkle of mischief about her - she seemed to know just what you were thinking, and just what you needed all the time. It was...uncanny...and lots of fun. I said one time to Derek as he rode along side me, "hey, even a bad day on the bike is better than a good day working." He grinned and said, "yes, but I'm working right now. How can I have a bad day?" It made me remember: work is simply that annoying thing I am forced to do between Bicycle Adventures.

If I come off sounding like BA fanboy, it is because I am. Don't know when I've found a product I like so much. We discovered BA a few years back when decided we hadn't had a real vacation in years. Our first trip was a 20th wedding anniversary present. Next year will be our 5th trip, so it will have to be something special for the 25th anniversary. No matter which one we pick, it is sure to be as marvelous, as memorable, and as fun as all the rest have been. Thank you to all involved - from Julie and Heidi at the BA office; Brad and Todd, the new owners of BA; to all our fellow travelers: Judith, Art, Rick, Seresh, Jack, Rob, Darryl and the now-healing Richard. And of course, Diane and Derek. You all made a "lifetime of memories" for us.

See you all on the road!