Sunday, May 27, 2012

Foolish Things

Smiles don't lie.  Halfway there and ready for more.  

Expedition Rules as according to my friend Alan:

1)  Come home alive.
2)  Come home friends.
3)  Come home with summits.

You will do foolish things, but do them with great enthusiasm.
-Sidonie Gabrielle Collete

I spun up the hill in my granny gear off the I-90 bridge on to Mercer Island and pulled over for a minute to wait for Jeff.  A couple riders on five-thousand dollar titanium bikes turned and looked at my shit show.

Looks like you need some more stuff to carry on your bike, can I give you some weight, one said with a bit of friendly sarcasm. 

Do you have to pay vehicle tax on that rig?, his buddy chimed in.

Not to be outwitted, I quickly retorted, Won’t take anything less than ten pounds fella’s;  The momentum just wouldn't be worth the inertia.    

They looked confused, laughed and one continued, Where are you going?

We're going climbin' out at Mount Si….If we get one pitch in today I'll be stoked,  I called out over my shoulder as Jeff caught up and we continued crawling up the hill. 

Little Si crags lie thirty-five miles east of Seattle, tucked in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains near the town of North Bend. Certainly not world class cragging by any stretch of the imagination, but by my shady research the nearest natural stone climbing to the city.  A 100 miles of riding and a few pitches of rock climbing seemed like a reasonable plan as I tipped back my forth and final beer on Friday night.  If I keep doing sober what I dream up drunk, I just might quit drinking.

I biked over to Jeff's place a little later than anticipated, but the skies were blue and spirits were high as we headed east over I-90 towards the Cascades on the Mountains to Sound Greenway. The morning unfolded into early afternoon as we climbed on dirt and gravel through the steeply timbered Issaquah-Preston trail away from the constant noise and heavy air of the City.   

My prospective shortcut between Preston and Snoqualmie didn’t quite work out like I planned, but  I learned a lot in the process and got to hike my bike through stinging nettles and the feces of native macrofauna.

When Jeff emailed from Palo Alta and said he wanted to shut off his personal homing device for the weekend and go on an adventure, I eagerly went to work planning something 'fun'.  Jeff is an interesting character and tougher than most folks I know.  He doesn’t say much, but when he speaks, something  intelligent and honest usually comes out of his mouth.   As we emerged from our little misguided bikewack,  Jeff finally spoke.

I should have known better than to follow your crazy ass out here to drag my bike through the brush and take pictures of bear shit.

I agree,  you should have known better, I responded with a grin; guess it just goes to show that you’re not very smart.

We pulled out the map and had a look at the damage.   I was really quite amazed that it had taken this long for Jeff to question my suspect judgment, but in any case he piped up.

So with our little bear shit examination sidetrack, we’re basically going to ride a century today and do some rock climbing along the way, he calmly stated without a hint of resignation.

Yeah, more or less, I responded with an optimistic smile. 
Jeff let the whole thing soak in.  Twenty long seconds of silent appraisal and Jeff continued, 
You realize the most miles I have ever ridden in a day before was when you and I went out to bivy on Vashon Island for the night.  How far was that?   

I sensed that Jeff may be beginning to doubt the feasibility and supreme intelligence of my plan and I needed to act quickly.

Mmmm, maybe 35 miles out and 35 miles back the next day, I hesitated for affect;  but you have a really strong head Jeff, and you have done way harder things than this before, I reassured. 

Let me know if you want to go home, I threw in for good measure.  I knew if I put the white flag in Jeff's court we could likely ride to the Atlantic Ocean. 

I continued with honesty,
Jeff, if you stop having fun let me know and we turn around, I have already had a great time today and learned a lot of things I never knew.  We can go home and drink beer and I will be happy as a clam.

My words bounced off Jeff as he saddled his ride; 
I am not going home, but I might just sleep in a motel in North Bend, Jeff chuckled as we headed back in the direction we had come from an hour before.  Once a Marine, always a Marine.

We arrived at the Little Si Trailhead late in the late afternoon and quickly repacked climbing gear into backpacks, stashed the bikes and set-out.  Steadily we moved up the trail occasionally being passed by small children and  overweight mothers with strollers until voices calling from the cliffs above the trail let us know we had arrived at our destination.

Several years had passed since my last visit, but memories of a day spent clipping bolts with Gene came back to me as we scrambled the steep bouldered path to the base of an abrupt dark wall of stone. 

I counseled with the locals and consulted a guidebook to select the most appropriate climbing objective for the day.  One hundred miles is a long way for a pitch of climbing and you gotta make it count. However, my mediocre rock climbing skills and my desire not to fall on a buddy who hadn’t been climbing in ten years also weighed in heavily on my selection of  ‘Human Feet"; a juggy and well-protected 5.8 on Blackstone Wall.   

I led up steadily, albeit slowly as Jeff fed out rope smoothly like he had done it before;  my confidence in his ability to catch my fat ass should I fall grew exponentially as I gained ground.

A few hidden side pulls and a balancey high-step found me clipping the chains with a smile.  With the involved approach, this was most definitely the hardest 5.8 I have ever led.  It would be boastful to claim the first completely human powered accent, plus nobody would really care; but what the hell, I am going to do it anyhow.  

Jeff and I got our summit last weekend.  We went on an adventure with a sense of exploration and a willingness to be a little uncomfortable for a few hours.  Even if was only a pitch of bolted 5.8 in North Bend, we went on a creative and challenging expedition; I feel a lot better friends with Jeff for the process.  For that I am thankful.

In any case,  nobody died and Jeff got to sleep in his own bed.

That’s how I Roll,


I thank the engineers and city planners who put a bike path on I-90, it opens up non-motorizd transportation to the east side of Lake Washington and beyond.

Saturday fish'n' under the I-90.

The Mountains to Sound Greenway is the real deal.  Although I discovered a small gap in the network on this particular trip, it is the best game in town when it comes to getting me into the Cascade Mountains via  bike.

Jeff's new ride.  In my not so humble opinion, Salsa Bikes has got it figured out when it comes to delivering a rad adventure bike out of the box for a reasonable price.    


Lions and tigers and bears!  Oh my!

Bikewack, closely related to the bushwack.  It seems the term is previously unmentioned in the biking literature and thus I claim intellectual property.  BW1:  Rider can expect conditions non-condusive to efficient forward travel of the bicycle through pedaling.  Riders should expect significant undergrowth of road or path due to disuse or lack of maintenance for several years. Occasional lifting of bicycle over impediments of forward progress will be present. 

Dead end for all but the most brave of heart and small of brain.

I have never been lost, but I have definitely made decisions that have cost adventures a lot of time and effort.  

Rocket fuel.

Health food. The overall caloric load and distribution of macronutrients in this candy bar and most leading sports nutrition bars are nearly identical.  While I agree the that quality of ingredients and overall  nutritional value of the product is low, one must train the body to digest foreign and unnatural products if one ever dreams of completing the Tour Divide.  They are much cheaper as well.


High point for the day.  Human Foot, Blackstone Wall, Little Si Crags.

The latest in performance cycling footware.

21st Amendment's Brew Free or Die IPA is a fine recovery drink and a great beer.  I have a soft spot for beer in cans as well.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My Mother

Spencer Island Park is a cooperative between Snohomish County and the Department of Fish and Wildlife.  It is an outstanding park conveniently located close to Everett in the Snohomish River estuary.

My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it.
~Mark Twain

While experts disagree slightly on the specifics, most academics in the field of early childhood development agree that the core of our personality is formed by the time we are five years old.  When my mom gets pissed at me for being the condescending asshole that I often am, I like to lovingly remind her that the formative years of my life were spent largely hanging out with her at home.  I am nothing more than the product of her parenting.

See what I mean about being a condescending asshole.

The truth is that all of what is kind, patient and empathetic in me came from my mother and I am forever thankful for her influence in my life.

That's how I roll,


I have said it before and I will say it again, the Interurban Trail is a truly a gem of the greater Seattle Metro area.  To the North, the Interurban connects Seattle to the suburban cities of Montlake Terrace, Lynwood and Everett  It seems every time I ride this trail north, it improves a little more.

When I planned the route for the day, I was really uneasy about crossing the Snohomish River on Highway 529.  I was pleasantly surprised with a protected walking path over the river.  

Looking East from the 529 Bridge over the Snohomish River.  Mount Pilchuck is he most dominant gray lump in the distance.

Big Red and Little Chris.

Jackknife Bridge spanned Ebey Slough on the Homeacres Road from 1914 until 1980; my Mother undoubtedly drove me across the bridge in my early childhood.  In 1993 it was floated over to Union Slough to provide pedestrian access to Spencer Island.

A fine looking couple.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Dave's Front Door

High fiving, balding and slightly fat white guys.

Are you really going to make me ride out there Matt?, Dave lamented as we stuffed our packs with climbing gear and food for the day.  My ass still hurts from yesterday's ride, he continued to complain as we strapped on our climbing helmets and shouldered our packs.  Oh joy, here we go on a Front Door Adventure! Dave grumbled as we  rolled down the driveway of his house and headed west towards the Snow Creek trial head.

Ignoring Dave's whining, I cheerfully pedaled onward into the perfect spring morning reminding Dave of how fortunate he is to be living within biking distance of some of the best rock climbing in Washington State.  I think I will just pedal standing up for the next couple miles, was all the enthusiasm he could muster in response.  I would have expected nothing less.

My relationship with Dave got off to a bit of a rocky start in Mrs. Baxter's class at the Lutheran Preschool in Snohomish in 1981.  Despite the fact that Dave has grown into fairly well-adjusted and benevolent adult, the truth is he was kind of a mean kid.  I clearly remember the day he denied me access to his "Super Heros Club" because I didn't have the right toy and sent me away to play tea party with the the girls in the corner.  My young self-esteem was crushed.  Dave eventually came around and took pity on me,  gave me a broken Superman doll and elevated my social status enough to be accepted into the inner court of 5 year-old boys who held tight control of the Prince of Peace playroom.
After High School, both Dave and I discovered climbing was a lot simpler and cheaper than women and dedicated our young lives to exploring the mountains of the the Pacific Northwest.  We cut our teeth on classic alpine routes of the North Cascades and managed not to kill ourselves in the process.  In the Spring of 2003, determined to quit sucking so bad at rock climbing,  Dave and I loaded my truck up and headed south to serve our apprenticeship on the granite cracks of Joshua Tree and the multi-pitch classics of Red Rock, Nevada.   That two month road trip culminated with our triumphant return to Washington and an ascent of Outer Space, the super-classic Grade III 5.9 on Snow Creek Wall in Leavenworth.  We had graduated to real climbers.   I took many leader falls that trip and Dave farted a lot; but we cemented a friendship and built a strong trust that lasts to this day.

We chained our bikes at the Snow Creek Trailhead, crossed the raging Icicle Creek and hiked steadily upward through a burnt out forest of Pine and lush green undergrowth.  Spring melt water cascaded down across the trial as we gained elevation and provided cool refills for our water bottles as the trail became snow covered at 2500 feet.  We dropped down and managed a crossing of Snow Creek via fresh log jams and stomped our way through the windfall and brush to the base Orbit, our selected route for the day.

After picking off the ticks that were burrowing into my legs, I quickly racked up and led up the approach pitches to where the wall steepens and the climbing becomes more serious.  The nervous hesitation and rust of winter ebbed as I buried my fingers in warm granite cracks, slotted gear and smeared the rubber soles of my shoes into the sharp edges of crystalline quartzite.  The wind blew hard and communication between belays became impossible, but hundreds of shared pitches over the years has eliminated the need for discourse.  I know that Dave will climb when the rope comes tight and he knows the anchor will be solid when he arrives at the belay.  I dare say we climbed seamlessly up the wall in the cool spring afternoon.

Several years have passed since Dave and I first climbed Snow Creek Wall and many things have change in our lives.  Much to the relief of both of our mothers, we are both happily married men and Dave is the proud father of a one year old boy.  While once a huge priority to me, rock climbing has moved to the periphery of my life as dictated by my choice to live a little closer to home and my self-imposed environmental ethics of recreation.  I still love climbing and the fluid movement and singular focus it brings,  but I am no longer willing to saddle up and drive a hundred miles for a few pitches of stellar hand jams.  I must admit though,  as we sat for a moment in the afternoon sun, alone on the top of Snow Creek Wall overlooking Leavenworth in the valley thousands of feet below I remembered how good it feels to live in the vertical world;  I miss climbing a lot.

I catch plenty of shit from plenty of folks for my Front Door Adventure show, but to tell you the truth I don't really care much.  I decided a while ago that I was going to do things a little differently, a little slower and little more sustainably.  I might never climb in the great ranges of the world, and I hold no delusion that riding a bike to the mountains is going to save the planet.  I do have faith though that a few people will take notice of a guy having a lot of fun making an effort to leave the world a little better than he found it.  Maybe one of those people will discover the richness that leaving the car behind adds to an adventure; that is good enough for me.

When Dave's ass feels better, I am pretty sure he will admit he had a good time rolling from his front door as well.  He has always been a great partner and I am thankful for his friendship.

That's how I roll,


 The original mountain bike.  The 1997 steel Specialized Rockhopper.  Dave doesn't understand how awesome and classic this bike is. 

Dave loves riding bikes to the crags.  I think he needs a bike with a little shorter wheelbase to maximize discomfort and misery.  Snow Creek Wall is the gray wedge just above the green roof.

The Forest Service was kind enough to install custom bike racks at the Snow Lakes Trailhead. No parking permit required.

The Sleeping Lady.

Snow Creek Wall.  Orbit hugs the left side of the wall and ascends through the roof at 3/4 height.  

No adventure in the Cascades would be complete without a log crossing and a little bushwack.

Dave is smiling because hanging belays are far more comfortable than his bicycle seat.

Davey, sending the crux in fine style.

A little runout and plenty spooky, Dave nears the belay of pitch four.

Dave looking out to the Bavarian Paradise of Leavenworth from atop Snow Creek Wall.

Oreamnos americanus.

Ixodes pacificus.  A.K.A Nasty Little Bastard

I took the Amtrak Empire Builder from Seattle to Leavenworth for $40 round trip (cheaper than driving).  My only complaint is that you can not transport a bike because the Leavenworth "station" lacks the infrastructure for a cargo stop.  Despite, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip over the mountains and Jill was kind enough to let me borrow the Engagement Bike for the week; a sweet multipurpose ride!

Emil Wolverton Svilar at one year old.  I know what young Emil will be getting for his birthday.

Here is where it all began.  Mrs. Baxter's Prince of Peace Preschool, 1981.