Category Archives: touring

Tour de Blast – Sat. June 18 2011

“Wars may be fought with with machines, but they are won by men.”George S. Patton

Left foot, right foot.  Left foot, right foot.  A rider passes on my left.  “How you doing,” he asks.  “I’m hanging,” was all I could reply.  “That’s all anyone can do right now,” he says, pulling slowly away.  A few minutes later, he’s beside the road getting ready to repair a flat.  “Need a hand,” I ask?  “No, just suckie luck,” he says.  I continue on; left foot, right foot.

Mt. St. Helens on Silver Lake

We are nearly four hours into the Tour de Blast and approaching the midpoint at Johnston Ridge.  Beginning in the town of Toutle, Washington, the ride is relatively flat for the first 10 mi (16 km), then begins a steady climb for the next 18 mi (30km)  to Elk Ridge at 3800 ft (1158 m), then descends to Coldwater Creek before climbing again to Johnston ridge at 4200 ft (1280 m).  After  42 miles of riding, you are not really done, because you still face the climb back from Coldwater Creek back up to Elk Ridge before starting the long descent back to Toutle.  Fortunately, it is the least of the three climbs.  (Check out the ride as recorded on my Garmin bike computer.)

The ride celebrates the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens.  Johnston Ridge is named in memory of a Dr. David Johnston, a geologist who was among those killed on that fateful day 31 years ago.  Sponsored by the Longview Rotary club, the ride is the biggest annual fund raiser for the local community and helps pay for services and facilities throughout the year.

Near the top, snow lines the roadway and the road rises steadily at a 7 or 8% grade.  Seeing a U-turn approaching, my spirits lift in the hope that the grueling climb is nearly over, and are just as quickly dashed when I see the road double back and continue climbing into the clouds.  Left foot, right foot.

With a distance of 84 miles (135 km) and elevation gain in excess of 6000 ft (1830 m),  most cyclists would consider Tour de Blast to be a tough ride on a good day.   This day was not a good day.  Though Friday was warm and sunny, clouds and rain had moved in overnight and we began the ride in rain with temperatures in the upper 40s F (9 C).  By the time we reached Elk Ridge, the temperature had dropped to 42 F (5 C).  What could have been a tough ride had now become an epic ride.

Rain Ride

I had trained specifically for the ride for several months, though it’s almost impossible to find steady climbs more than an hour in length around here.  Nonetheless,  I expected some long, hard climbs and felt prepared for them.  What I was not expecting were the descents; not because they were especially steep or treacherous, but because they were cold.  Really, really cold. Brain-freeze headache that makes you sick COLD.  Had to drag the brakes to keep my speed down for the first three or four minutes.  After that, the headaches let up and I was merely cold.  At that point, I could let the bike run and get on to the next climb as quickly as possible.  This ride was the exact opposite of a typical ride, where you kind of dread the climbs and enjoy the descents.  No, on this day, the climbs were my friend, for they kept me warm.  The descents were not fun, just something to get through as quickly as possible, with a minimum of drama.  Many riders were under-dressed for the weather.  By the time they made it to Johnston Ridge, they were shivering uncontrollably, victims of hypothermia.  Lucky for them the ride organizers had plenty of shuttle buses to take them and their bikes back to town for some hot spaghetti.

Thought it’s not not something you can really train for, you can prepare for the cold.  Fortunately, I had.  Shoe covers, check.  Helmet cover, check.  Rain jacket and pants, check.  Long finger gloves, check.  Long-sleeve jersey and bib knickers, check and check.  Though I was pretty warm on the climbs, the descents were manageable, and overall, was about a comfortable as one could be.  When the humidity is near 100%, you will end up wet no matter how “breathable” the outer fabric.  The key to surviving this ride was to have wind-proof outerwear that would minimize wind chill.

Elk Ridge Rest Stop

Some riders may describe the 2011 edition of the Tour de Blast with words like “disaster”, “miserable”, or “awful”, and for them, they might be right.  For me, the words that come to mind are “epic”, “challenge”, and “victory.”  Sure, it would have been nice to have sunny, warm weather to enjoy what I can only imagine are wonderful views of Mt. St. Helens.  It would have been nice to have been able to better enjoy the company of fellow riders.  But on this day, all the niceties were mostly internal; the riders were left with their bikes, the mountain, and the will to continue until one or the other was used up.

Let me hasten to add that the organizers did their best to make the ride enjoyable.  They provided plenty of fruits, baked potatoes, cookies, and other tasty snacks to keep the riders fueled, and lots of on-course crews to watch over the riders and ensure that aid was always nearby.  Had the ride been one day earlier, we would have had that beautiful, sunny day for the ride.  Maybe it will be so next year!


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Action Medical Research – London To Paris, 2010

“In charity, there is no excess.” – Francis Bacon

Ever travel thousands of mile, only to meet someone from your town back home? So it was for Karen and I as we  walked through Park Monceau in Paris, returning from a stroll on the Champs Elyseé.  It was the 24th of July, a thoroughly pleasant day as I recall.  Turning the corner, we were surprised to see a horde of cyclists, hundreds of them!

Bikes of all manner could be seen, mostly late-model composite frame racers, but a few well loved classics as well.  Like their bikes, the riders came in a variety shapes and sizes as well.  Some wore club jerseys, some there from a club of one.

Scanning the crowd, Karen spotted a couple of riders in America-themed jerseys hanging out together.  We strolled over and introduced ourselves.  The fellow on the right is Paul Ferrell from Seattle, very near where Karen and I live when back in the states.  The rider on the left is from the Portland area, though his name escapes me.  We all marveled at the slim chance that we would be in the same place and time, half a world away from home.

Figuring they were here for the last stage of The Tour, I was surprised to learn they were participating in a charity ride.  That’s right, they traveled 6000 miles to ride in a four-day charity ride from London to Paris. Read more about the charity and view more pictures after the break.

Continue reading

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A Ride In The Park

“Some national parks have long waiting lists for camping reservations. When you have to wait a year to sleep next to a tree, something is wrong.” – George Carlin

Last Saturday morning found me, as it often does, out for a ride in the country.  This time, the ride took me into the Dutch national park (or De Meinweg as the locals call it), north of Susterseel.  Click here to view the route.

The day started out sunny but cool. Fall is definitely in the air.  The “old timers” cars were out enjoying the day:










I tend to ride on a mix of numbered bike paths, cycletracks, and country roads. Cycle tracks are physically separated paths for bikes. Over here, pedestrians and small scooters can also use them.

Here’s a typical example. Almost all two-lane highways have a track on one side of the road. Many have tracks on both sides.

The house owner creates concrete sculptures.  The tree casting the shadow in the picture is home to several of them:  A family of owls, a mama cat and her kitten.  Tree sculptures like this are common here.  Don’t know how many times I rode by this one before I finally saw it!

Follow the rest of the ride after the break. Continue reading

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Hitting The Trail

If you  force the trail to emerge and turn with your every command, then most  likely it will only become what you imagined. If you just enjoy the  anticipation of each new curve and seize it as it comes, the road around  the bend might lead to the unimaginable.”  – Bryan Hufala

Bike Trail Map

Back home in the Seattle area, most bike riders can name at least one bike trail.  A few might be able to name four or five.  Here in the tri-border region, an area of similar size to King county, there are a handful of named trails, but literally hundreds of numbered trails.

Here’s an image of the trail map for the local area.  These maps are posted at major trail intersections and are available as printed maps as well.  Trails with red numbers are in Germany.  The green ones are in the Netherlands.  Our home is in Susterseel, between Geilenkirchen and Sittard, in the bottom left.  If you click on the image, you will open the full 9MB uncompressed image.  Zoom in to check out the details!

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Windmills Of Your Mind

“Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel.  Never ending or beginning, on an ever spinning reel.

As the images unwind, like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind.”

Two Lands Route

Last weekend’s 80km ride took me on the Two Lands bicycle trail.  Beginning in the German city of Aachen, the trail winds through 275km of western Germany and eastern Netherlands, ending in Nijmegen. The trail rolls from village to town, through fields and forests, mostly on paved paths, with a few hard-pack dirt trails just to keep things interesting.  (If anyone can translate this trail map, please let me know.  I would like to learn more about this trail.  – JH)

Riding from Susterseel to Hongren, I picked up the trail heading out of town towards Seffelen.  Between Seffelen and Waldfeucht is a large field of wind turbines.  These units are capable of generating around 1MW each, enough to power several hundred homes.  That is, when the wind is blowing.  Much of the time, they sit idle.  Such was the case when I snapped these pictures.

Field of Dreams

The European governments have staked much of their future electrical production on the use of wind turbines.  Given the limited availability of large tracts of land (several acres per MW), they will probably have to look to geographically-dispersed offshore wind turbines to supply their needs.

La Machine

The wind turbines appear to be located in the midst of farmer’s fields.  In reality, the power company owns the fields with the focus on power generation.  The crops are there mostly to secure the soil and improve the view.  Speaking of views, one thing that Americans will pick up on is the absence of power poles.  Except for high-voltage transmission lines, all electricity in this part of Europe is distributed via underground cables.  No doubt, it is easy on the eyes!

Riding Into Waldfeuct

On past the wind turbines, I came across a wind mill from another age.  Near Waldfeuct, this example no longer operates, but serves to remind people of their heritage.  This classic windmill was common in this region due to the somewhat windy location and the limited availability of running creeks for water-powered mills.

Continuing on, the trail turned to dirt for a mile or so before crossing over into the Netherlands and continued on to the forest around Montfort.  Took some lunch at a picknick table in the forest, then back home for a shower and some relaxation.

Old Windmill

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Out And About

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any direction will do.” – Anonymous

Even better if you have all day to get there. 🙂  Sunday’s ride was a nice 65km spent wandering the countryside.  I started out in Germany, went North into The Netherlands, then meandered back home.  Since I’m new to the area, it’s kind of fun to just take a road and go.  So long as you know general directions and have a map, you can’t get truly lost.  Unless you happen to go some place not on the map.  That’s when the GPS comes in handy!

Biking around here is much more pleasant than back home in the Kent-Auburn area.  For one thing, you have to look hard to find a steep climb around here.  For another, the forests are situated next to big (several sq. mi.) fields that, together with the gently rolling landscape, gives extended views for several miles.  Finally, the rural setting is full of winding, back roads with only the infrequent car to contend with.

One thing I find confusing is that the signs on the bike trails change character between Germany and The Netherlands.  The sign at the top of this post is typical German; names of towns, distance, which way to go.  You get into The Netherlands, and the signs are simple numbers.  None of the “this far to that town” stuff.  That could be a problem if I need to get somewhere specific.  For now, it’s enough to simply ride and enjoy.

Can you spot the dove on the tv antenna?

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