One Gift Exchange Down, a Week's More to Go

It's that time again. Two years have passed and our semi-annual pilgrimage to New Jersey for the holidays is once again upon us. Kristin and I celebrated our own secular version, known coloquially as Giftmas, tonight and had a great time. I finished her grandmother's DVD just as Kristin got home from work and after watching the slideshow and bribing the dogs to come inside, we were off.

First dinner at Tokyo, our favorite Bellevue sushi restaurant, then it was off to the Taproot Theatre in Seattle to see "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" which was as excellent as everything else we see at this small community theatre. The play was, as the title indicates, the traditional telling of "It's a Wonderful Life" but set in a 1947 radio station. We, the live studio audience, were treated to watching the cast act out the famous movie as old-time radio storytellers. They were aided by the terrific sound effects of "Carlo the Sound Guy" in the background. As the star of the play said in the program, it's two plays in one. You get to see and watch the actors in the radio station (complete with occasional advertiser jingles and Applause light) and see them act, but you also hear the telling of the title story and enjoy that story in your mind's eye. Kristin and I have really enjoyed attending this theatre the past couple years and look forward to our "season tickets" for next year.

After the theatre, it was time to stop at the Rogue Brewery to pick up a few bottles of their fantastic barleywine to lug back east with us as Christmas gifts. With the fancy flip-top bottles of 11.5% alcohol ale in our possession, we could finally go home and exchange gifts -- once we finished wrapping them that is.

If you've been reading this blog for any bit of time then you are already aware that I'm anxiously awaiting delivery of a new mountain bike frame in the coming weeks. You also know that I recently purchased a pair of Lake Winter MTB shoes that, on sale, fetch close to $200. Because of this I implored Kristin for the past two months to not really get me anything for Giftmas. That I am already well taken care of. And then some.

And for once she listened to me.

Sort of.

Kristin really had fun picking me up a bunch of small-ticket items like fleece socks, Clerks II on DVD, a book, and a gaggle of Russel Stover chocolate marshmallow Santas. She also picked me up a nice leather case for my new iPod. I wish that was all, but she also gave me a very comfortable corduroy jacket and some new cologne.

As excited I was about opening the gifts, I was even more excited to give her her presents. If I do say so myself, I'm a terrific gift-giver. I usually pick out most of Kristin's clothing and often do most of the shopping (or at least decision-making) when it comes to buying gifts for her family. This year, I had some clothes for her, as always, but I also had plenty of toys for her too. Some new winter running tights, electric shoe dryers, rubber/metal running crampons for trail running on the ice, and the GPS wristwatch she wanted so badly. The Garmin Forerunner watches are truly exceptional in their ease of use, compact size, and functionality and I'm excited to see Kristin actually want such gadgetry. In truth, I'm a bit jealous as the watch she just got is likely a good deal more accurate than my Suunto altimeter I received last year. But she's training for a 50k trail run in the spring and is eyeing a 50-mile trail run for later in 2007 or early 2008. I'm glad she's getting back into ultra-running and psyched that she wants to track her distance and elevation gain. Although, speaking from experience, I think she's insane.

Kristin did also surprise me with a pair of matching suitcases that she got from the Samsonite outlet store. Our ten-year old luggage had just about had it and she scored a hell of a deal on a pair of discontinued bags. They normally retail for $380 apiece, but not only were they marked down to $170, but Samsonite was also having a deal in which you can buy one and get the second for half-off. These bags are freaking swank too! Much nicer than the stuff we've been using (which definitely served its purpose over the years). To be honest, I was actually beginning to hate packing in the old bags because one bag was too small while the other was too huge. Now I got the whole Goldilocks "just right" thing going on and I'm looking forward to packing. Not only that, but it will be a nice change of pace to have a bag that doesn't fall over when you let go of it.


Well that certainly got long-winded. Sorry about that. I guess I'm subconsciously making this extra long because I will likely not be posting until the New Year. Tomorrow we take the red-eye back to New Jersey and begin our whirlwind tour, hitting up aunts and uncles Sunday night for an annual Christmas Eve Party, then it's Christmas with my in-laws, the day after with my mother and sister, Wednesday in Philadelphia with my sister, Thursday at my father's, Friday with my friends, then Saturday at Kristin's parents' beach house and then back to the airport. Phew. I'm exhausted just describing it.

I will sneak away a couple times to the gym to try and sit in on a spin class or two during the week. Oh, and speaking of cycling, we got an email from the TransRockies race director today confirming that next year's race will be roughly the same as the 2006 race, but the race direction has been reversed. We will now be zigzagging north to south. This doesn't really matter to me at this point because it's not as if I know the route anyway. But it does mean we will likely drive the whole way to the starting location on the 10th so as to get an extra half-day of acclimitization, as the first stage will feature the race's highest elevation.

There I go, digressing yet again. Let me just wrap this up now, eh? If you read this blog out of some weird family obligation you feel compelled to inflict upon yourself, then I will likely see you in the coming days. If you stumbled upon this blog at random (or are a west-coast friend who I won't see for the rest of 2006) then let me just say Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Seasons Greetings, and Happy New Year to you. I hope you have a great week doing whatever it is you do and enjoy a healthy start to your 2007.

BBTC Gets Some Good Pub

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has another great article on the BBTC. One of their journalists attended Boot Camp last year and was on a recent "Grad Ride" for those who have passed the learning session. The article not only speaks well of the club's ability to teach all-comers the joy of mountain biking, but also sheds a good light on a sport constantly battling for trail access.

The more bikers, the better.

Read the article here.

Get the Kleenex Ready

I finished scanning the 55 year old negatives for my wife's grandmother last night around two in the morning and the DVD slideshow is roughly halfway completed. I will have it done sometime tonight, for certain.

But I can't help but feel conflicted with this "gift". I know she wants to see the photos and I know she's going to really appreciate being able to see the them again, for the first time in decades, but even good memories can be sad. Most of the photos in the slideshow are of her deceased husband and son. It's not going to be easy for Kristin's father to watch, either. Two years ago, as a raincheck for the slideshow, I printed out a half-dozen photos that I scanned and prepared a framed collage for her. She cried. A lot. But she also hung it up in the entryway of her home (if memory serves). But a single framed photo can be put aside; you can turn away from it, or turn it over.

Kristin thinks we may need to watch the slideshow with her in 5-minute segments, just to avoid her getting too emotional. I don't think that's even going to help. I never met her late husband or the man who would have been my wife's uncle, but even I can't help but feel sad looking at these photos.

How we're going to get through a fully twenty-five minute slideshow is beyond me.

But I am really proud of how it's coming out. I probably have over 100 hours invested in scanning and touching-up the photos and it's great to finally be working on the slideshow. I complete the Costa Rica one for my friends last week right before the power went out and I watch it every day. Both because of the memories, and also because I can't help but admire my handiwork. The family slideshow is a bit tougher because I wasn't there for the background stories and know the exact dates of everything so trying to put it together in a sensical (or at the least chronological) order is much harder. Nor can I do much in the way of captions. This being the case, I decided to just slow it down, allow more time per slide, and let the photos and the memories speak for themselves. With just a touch of instrumental piano playing in the background...

Those Tempting Signature Links

I admit it, I like to click on weird-ass links that people use in their signatures on message boards. I know I'm probably asking for trouble in doing so, but sometimes you really find some truly odd stuff and it makes the risk worthwhile.

Today was one of those times. I was perusing the Endurance Racing forums on and came across the following two links in a guy's sig.


I can't guarantee that you'll find them entertaining, but I think if you just let them do their thing long enough you'll find the charm in them. Make sure you have your speakers on. And don't worry, they're totally safe for the work environment and not nearly as obnoxious as this.

Handheld Gaming Hodgepodge

Picked back up the PSP and DS lately (thanks to the power failure) and been playing a few new games for them.

Gitaroo Man Lives (PSP)
I posted earlier about my battles with the Gamestop clerks on actually obtaining this game and I have to say that now that I have it, it's both very good and very frustrating. The game is hard. Really freaking hard at times. It's also very short. I did manage to get all the way through the main gameplay mode on Easy mode (in a single night) and am halfway through on Normal difficulty, but as much as I enjoy the gameplay, there is no reason on earth for this game to cost $40. Aside from one or two songs, the music is not terribly enthralling and the backgrounds are so busy and distracting that they actually interfere with the frantic gameplay. If you have a friend with another PSP then it might be worth picking up for the Duet Mode, but otherwise you should definitely pass on this until it comes down in price.

Every Extend Extra (PSP)
This is another game from the creator of Lumines and is nearly as enjoyable. It's a musical, puzzle-based, shoot 'em up that can only be described as some sort of crazy combination of Rez and Geometry Wars, but with the added quality of being entirely 2D and featuring lengthy chain reactions. Like Gitaroo Man Lives, the game is short and can be played through in one sitting, but there are so many extra modes and challenges to accomplish that you can conceivably play this game indefinitely. The user's manual is more of a pamphlet so playing through the Tutorial mode is an absolute must. Once you clear the Tutorial mode and begin playing the main Arcade Mode of the game, you'll either know right away whether this game is for you, but even then it takes multiple plays to fully realize just what is possible in the way of chain-reactions and scoring. I love this game and think it was worth the $30 it cost. A perfect addition to the PSP's lineup, in my opinion, but certainly the type of game many will hate. Not nearly as universal as Lumines.

Big Brain Academy (DS)
Kristin wanted to play the DS and being that I sold all of my DS games except for Age of Kings, that meant we needed something new. And this is what she picked out. I'm glad she did. Like the other "train your brain" games on the market for the DS, Big Brain Academy challenges you with brief tests that attempt to measure your intelligence. Tests are in areas of Compute, Memory, Analysis, Think, and Identify and based on you how you do, you are assigned a brain mass and a medal. Practice mode lets you pick any of the three tests in each category and complete them on either of the three difficulty settings so you can get familliar with the rules of each test. Test mode then gives you one test in each of the 5 disciplines and assigns an overall brain mass, a grade, and then (my favorite part) the host of the test, Dr. Lobe, tells you what type of profession your skills most qualify you for. So far, my highest score has netted me a position as a "Diplomat", but I most often qualify for "Museum Curator" thanks to my high scores in the Identify and Memory categories. Kristin's brain doesn't weigh as much as mine does (now we have documented proof to what we all expected!) and she is often told she is best suited for a job was an accountant or financial analyst. These Big Brain Academy games come in several flavors and we aren't as expensive as other DS games. We'll be definitely adding more to our collection once we exhaust this one's potential. Highly recommend picking it up if you have a DS.

TR Training: Week #4 Numbers

Total Saddle Time: 1 hour, 28 minutes
Total Mileage: 24.3 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 0 feet
Weight Loss: -2.4 pounds

Numbers? What numbers? You're not laughing at me, trust me, you're laughing at me with me.

Last week was the fourth week in the cycle and every fourth week is a restoration week, but this was just pathetic. It started out good, though, as all intentions usually are. Monday was a scheduled rest day and one that felt well-earned after 9 consecutive days on the bike. Tuesday was the first of what may become weekly group trainer sessions. I began with a 20 minute warmup before David and Erik came over, but a lengthy setup process (during which time I sold my cyclo-cross bike to David, so all was not loss) followed by a pretty piss-poor Carmichael Training video Erik downloaded from iTunes had me wanting more at the end. Not to get too far off topic, but if you were to lock a Cat 5 cyclist, a camcorder, and a Powerbook in a room with a stationary bike for an hour, you'd get a better product (both in production values and overall specificity and benefit) than the Carmichael Training video we watched. I don't remember the exact name of the session, but if his DVD videos are anything like his iTunes productions, then I will most definitely be sticking with Spinervals videos from here on out.

Anyway, back on track, Wednesday and Thursday were scheduled off days due to both the lighter training volume for this week and because of a hectic schedule. And then the wheels fell off the plan. The massive wind and rain storm we had Thursday night left us with no power for 5 days and thousands upon thousands of trees down on every trail (and most roads) in the region. There was nowhere out of the house to ride because of the downed trees and generally hazardous conditions (not to mention horrific air quality due to everyone burning yard debris, firing up their generators, and relying on wood-burning stoves and fireplaces for warmth) and I simply couldn't muster the effort to get on the stationary trainer in a 38-degree garage knowing my living room was only a handful of degrees warmer. Seriously, it sounds weak I know, but it's really hard to get psyched up to go outside and ride in the cold when you don't have a warm house to come home to.

I could have ridden. I didn't.
I could have lifted or did jump rope. I didn't.
I could have at the least did a bunch of pushups or hit the much-maligned Ab-Lounge. I didn't.

It was a recovery week gone awry and I hope to not let it happen again.

My hiatus extended into week 5 (the current week) and although I do plan on getting out onto the Snoqualmie Valley Trail for a 30 mile ride today to check local conditions, I'll be in NJ all next week for Christmas. They say if you go more than 7 days without working out you actually start to lose the benefits you accrued through past workouts. I went 8 days and I'm feeling the effects. Hopefully, I'll be able to sneak a few spin classes into the mix next week in NJ and get back into the groove when I get back on the 31st.

Child's Play Video Footage

Game Trailers has a pretty thorough video clip of the festivities at last week's charity dinner and auction and you can view it here.

If you pay close attention, after the initial introduction there will be a few quick close-ups of some game logos. Smack dab between the SOCOM III and Sly Cooper close-ups is a shot of the lovely Kristin walking towards the camera in a dark green and black dress with me close behind in a black jacket and burgundy shirt. If you blink, you'll miss it, but it's definitely us.

120 Hours in the Dark & Cold

Sorry for the lack of posts, folks, but we've been without power since last Thursday evening. It seems the Gods are very displeased when the Seahawks play on a weeknight. The Monday Night Football game several weeks ago brought a rare snowstorm and commutes that took up to 8 hours for some and then, last Thursday, the Seahawks played again and we were immediately hit with hurricane-strength winds and torrential rains. As a result power was out to over a million homes in western Washington and although most was restored by Saturday night, those of us out in the foothills had to go a bit longer.

It wasn't too bad, though. We had hot water and a gas stove so we were able to cook and shower, but the temperature in the house did drop to the mid-40's and, well, it will be nice to sleep without 25 pounds of blankets on top of us for a change. But in our attempts to keep warm, we did find that 18 candles will raise the temperature of our downstairs by 3 degrees from 45 to a balmy 48 if placed strategically throughout the house.

All in all, it was a lengthy power outage but it ended a lot sooner than we expected. Earlier in the week it was looking like we wouldn't get power back until Friday or Saturday at the earliest. But the power company flew in repair crews from all over the western US and got to work repairing the system. If you're wondering why it took so long, it's because of thousands of downed trees caused severe structural damage to the substations and transmission centers. We actually have undergound utility lines in our neighborhood, but it didn't matter. The power company said that in some areas, the system had to be practically rebuilt from scratch.

So, we occupied our time the best we could. We saw a few movies: Marie Antoinette (okay, but flat), Blood Diamond (very good), and Casino Royale (best Bond movie I've seen). We also spent some time with friends who were also stranded in the dark. The Rogue brewery in Issaquah trucked in a generator last Saturday and served up cold beer along with free chili and pb&j sandwiches, which we thought was really nice of them and we huddled in the cold with other well-layered patrons, swilling Dead Guy Ales and other oddly-named beers and barley wines.

The power outage wasn't without its downside though. I had to, GASP!, go to a laundromat yesterday. The horror. The nearest one was about 25 minutes away and it was filled with a small cadre of locals who seemed very annoyed that dozens of us well-coifed out-of-towners had fled our darkened homes to descend upon their dingy, smoke-stained washing place. Despite the old joke about Maytags never needing repairs, nearly half of the Maytag washers and dryers in the place were out of order and the ones that were working charged far too much and held far too little clothing. And finding one that wasn't currently in use (or being held for someone) was the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Anyway, the power is back on, I'm able to finish the DVD slideshows I'm making for friends and family, and I can finally turn the radio back to FM, throw on ESPN, and maybe even make time for some Internet porn. Choice, choices, choices...

Lost Planet Multiplayer Demo

Releasing demos of pre-release games is always a gamble, especially when you're dealing with a hotly anticipated title. Epic Studios was wise not to release a demo for Gears of War, as there really would have been no benefit to doing so, except give them something else they would have had to work on while trying to get the game out the door. Everyone knew the game was coming, pre-ordered it, and was ready to buy it the second it hit the shelves. As a result they sold over a million copies in three weeks time.

Lost Planet is a different beast entirely. The game was a secret before E3 in May and soon after began getting major buzz. Capcom immediately made the E3 single-player demo available over Xbox Live and people ate it up. Sort of. For every person I talked to that played the demo and liked it, there was another who said they felt the demo didn't live up to the post-E3 hype the game was getting. Fast forward a few months and Capcom decides to show the rest of their hand by releasing a multiplayer demo for Lost Planet. This is especially risky because people are often willing to overlook a questionable single player experience if the multiplayer is exceptional, and vice-versa.

Whenever I have tried to go online with the Lost Player multiplayer demo, I found the experience to be akin to visiting a ghost town. Nothing but me, a few empty shells of games long since abandoned, and a couple tumbleweeds blowing through. In fact, in the three attempts at playing the multiplayer demo, I've yet to find a single game that was active. And never have I seen more than three games even listed. I attempted to create my own game, but nobody showed up to play it. I perceived this to be a death knell for an otherwise highly hyped game -- so hyped in fact that Capcom is airing commercials for the game on the giant jumbotron in Times Square in NYC throughout the month of December. This, despite the game not releasing until after the holiday crush in January.

Apparently the multiplayer demo has, despite my inability to find a match, gotten plenty of play and, as a result, Capcom has gotten a slew of comments, suggestions, questions, and, in all likelihood, complaints about the game. This could have been very bad for Capcom. Had they have said nothing in response to these comments, fans would have likely considered their concerns to have fallen on deaf ears and, depending on their fondness for the single player game, they may have passed up on the game.

But Capcom was listening and today they released an "open letter" to the fans of the game, addressing in surprising detail many of the concerns and suggestions that were raised. In the letter, which you can read here, they not only detail their work towards improving the game, but even promise fixes that would be made available over Xbox Live the day the game releases. Now that is doing smart business!

Some of these changes had already been anticipated by the team and were included in the final gold master of the game. Others have come straight from the hundreds of thousands of people playing the multiplayer demo. Capcom has been reading boards, emails and blogs, collecting thoughts and ideas directly from our growing community. Capcom would like to thank all of those people who have taken the time to share their thoughts on Lost Planet; the game is now that much stronger for it.

I'm sure a part of Capcom's responsiveness to the issues raised by gamers is due to the bad press the company received following the release of Dead Rising, when it was made public that the company wasn't going to address the small-font issues affecting those with standard-definition television sets. The Internet can often be a real pain in the ass and too often gives far too many platforms to people who really shouldn't be allowed to stand on one, but it can also be a consumer's best friend. The bad PR from the Dead Rising issue was obviously fresh on their minds and rather than simply ignoring the paying fans, Capcom saw an opportunity to show they care. Not only did it buy them back some good will, but it likely helped secure them a few extra thousand sales too. Kudos to them.

They Better Win

Two weeks ago it was a snowstorm and a three-hour drive home.

Tonight it's a massive wind and rain storm with gusts hitting 80 mph or more in some areas and sustained winds in the 40-50 mph range. And rain. Several inches of the wet stuff and several feet of it in the mountains.

A perfect night for a ballgame! Tonight's game between the Seahawks and 49ers gives the Seahawks a chance to win the NFC West and for them to move a slight bit closer towards possibly rallying back and securing one of the top two seeds. Although it's unlikely with San Diego looming large on the schedule.

If you live locally, turn on Fox and enjoy the game. If you live outside the Seattle (or San Francisco) area then tune into the NFL Network tonight cause you're going to see football played in some pretty wild conditions. Which unfortunately isn't what the Seahawks need right now because the 49ers bring the league-leading rusher to town and the Seahawks have struggled to stop the run all season. In fact, the last time these two teams met this season Frank Gore torched them for over 200 yards on the ground.

Accuweather's blurb about tonight's weather:

Storms that hit the Northwest this time of year can be extremely powerful
and quite destructive, rivaling the strength of a Category 3 hurricane.
Certainly they are much bigger than any hurricane ever was, sometimes impacting
a vast area from California all the way to Alaska. On Jan. 29, 1921, one of
these monsters hit the Washington coast with winds over 100 mph. It has forever
since been remembered as the Great Blowdown due to all the trees that were
destroyed. It was estimated that three to seven billion board feet of timber was
blown to the ground and left in shambles. This week, one of these powerful
Pacific storms hit Tuesday night with winds gusting over 100 mph on the coast
and through some mountain passes. A storm of equal strength will give the region
another sound thrashing Thursday night.

And a map for those who prefer pictures to text.

Child's Play Dinner & Auction

Kristin and I attended Penny Arcade's 3rd Annual Child's Play Dinner & Auction tonight and all I can say is wow! That is a mighty wow in response to the fact that even before tonight's event over $600,000 in toys and money have already been given to children's hospitals around the world -- and that is money and toys that go straight to the hospitals gamers specified with not a penny taken out for administrative purposes. I say wow in response to the number of people in attendance, each of whom paid $75 to be there. A hearty wow for the uniqueness of the items that were donated to be auctioned off and a double wow for the bids they received (you must read on, the values will amaze you). Lastly, I'd be remiss if I didn't give a somewhat snarky wow to the level of geekdom on display. Not quite as bad as E3, but pretty close. I was in awe. Kristin was absolutely mesmerized.

I had missed last year's event for some reason or another, and was admittedly quite shocked to see just how much more, well, expensive the live auction became. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Kristin (looking as ravishing as ever) and I arrived around 6:45 and immediately strolled the aisle of silent auction items. Two years ago I came away with a Robosapien and Moonstone down coat from the MTV Videogame Awards. This year, I have to admit, that I wasn't as intrigued by too many of the items in the silent auction. Lots of bundles of fan-service for Gears of War, SOCOM 3, Final Fantasy XII, Alien Hominid, World of Warcraft, and various other games. Numerous signed faceplates for Xbox 360, autographed posters from dev teams, lots of games, some Seahawks tickets, videocards, a signed Zune, and a "Heroes" pilot script and apparel. There was also a bunch of stuff related to table-top gaming that spurred several questions from my better half. To which I could only muster the following reply:

"Kristin, there are many levels of geekdom. What you see in front of you is the penultimate level. If you want to know what this is, I think you're going to have to ask one of the guys walking around with the swords. Or maybe the one with the kilt, or perhaps the guy with the top-hat with the Queen of Diamonds in it. Or just wait until you overhear someone talk about chain mail, then ask him. They will likely be able to tell you. But me? I have no clue."

After I got a scotch in me (and then another) my threshold was lowered and I began to bid on two items. I was very interested in the Viva Pinata mega-pack, but it was already fetching a couple hundred dollars, so I turned my focus to the Forza 2 autographed faceplate. They had three of them and the top three bidders were going to each win one. I ended up winning one of these collectible faceplates signed by a dozen or so members of the dev team -- I can't wait to throw it on my system when the game finally comes out in a couple months. There's another item that I won as well, but I got it as a gift for Bill Harris over at Dubious Quality so I'm not going to give away what it is just in case he goes slumming and happens to read this article. I was also interested in bidding on a large poster for "Resistance Fall of Man" signed by dozens of people who worked on it and gift it to my editors at BradyGames, but it was netting quite a bundle of cash. Sorry guys, the thought was there.

The silent auction ended at eight o'clock and after a few minutes of watching people standing 8 inches apart use their Nintendo DS's to Pictochat with one another (I kid you not, they were within whispering distance, but were texting one another), the doors to the dining area finally opened and we were allowed in. Our end-of-the-alphabet last name netted us a spot at table #30 which, fortunately, was in the center of the room and only 3 tables from the stage. What luck! There was a crew of folks at our table from Sony Online Entertainment, a woman from Microsoft, and a guy from THQ.

Mike and Jerry (aka Tycho and Gabe... or is it Gabe and Tycho?) were introduced on stage by the time wine and salad was served and within minutes the gamers-turned-comics behind this shindig were auctioning off the first item. And the bar was immediately set far above that of the auction from two years ago. The most expensive winning bid at the event in 2004 was roughly $1800 and it went to a group of people who went in together on being a one-time character in a Penny Arcade comic. This year, the very first auction item was a series of three framed laser cells of Penny Arcade artwork and it went for $3700.


There were about 18 or so items up for auction and the lowest winning bid was $700 and that went for the chance to name a character in an upcoming White Wolf book. I'd elaborate but this is back into that realm of geekdom that I dare not attempt to enter. There were several laptops up for auction and a couple Penny Arcade banners that were on display at PAX, all of which went for in the neighborhood of $2000. Of course, I'm sure there are plenty of folks who would like to read into the following...

- Xbox 360 console autographed by Microsoft's J. Allard w/3 games. ($2000)

- PS3 console. ($1300)

- Nintendo Wii autographed by Reggie Fils-Amie w/signed Black DS, extra Wiimote/Nunchuk, three Wii games, and three DS games. ($3700)

The actual street value of the items puts the X360 combo at $580, the PS3 at $600, and the Wii/DS combo at $575. Yes, the autographs add to the perceived value and rarity, but there was clearly no love for Sony. While the Wii/DS combo was extremely popular and netted far more than I would have ever imagined, I was pretty shocked to see the X360 go for two grand. After all, you've been able to buy one for $400 for over a year now.

Another item of note was a Mystery Box. It was gift-wrapped. It's contents were a secret. And the box, which measured about 24" square at the base and maybe 42" tall didn't seem terribly heavy judging by the "elves" who carried it onto the stage. Like I said, nobody knew what was in it. It netted $3100. And if you think that is wild, the winner then got on stage and swore only to open it if someone would bid on the act of watching him open the box. Someone did. They ended up donating $400 more just so we could all watch the original winner open the box. Inside was some games, figurines, a stuffed Pokemon, art books, a couple strategy guides that I autographed and donated, and an Xbox 360.

But this was far from the only eye-raising items of the night. The item I coveted the most was a trip to Iceland. That's right, Iceland. The winning bidder and a guest would get airfare, weekend accommodations in Reykjavik, and a tour of the CCP Games offices, makers of Eve Online. Iceland is very near the top of my list of places I want to visit and Kristin and I were in deep discussion over this item before dinner. The street value of the item was listed at $1500, but when you factor in that it is for charity and tax deductible, it's easy to start gathering the nerve to bid a high number. Of course, we already have our Utah multisport trip and the trip to Canada for TransRockies planned for 2007 so we probably couldn't really add much time onto this Iceland trip even if we won it. Nevertheless, I at least wanted to bid it up if I wasn't going to win it. So I bid at $1000. I bid again at $1800. And again at $2400. The bids were slowing down and when I raised my number at $2800 I allowed myself to think that we had won it, but before I could smile Kristin kicked me under the table and gave me the look. Not a look of outright hostility, mind you, but one of warning. As if to say, "You're okay for now, but so help me God, if you raise that number again I'm going to stab you in the eye with your steak knife!" Yeah, that look. Unfortunately, after a brief pause in the action, during which time visions of Kristin and I swimming in the geothermal springs danced in my head, the bidding quickly jumped to $3000, then $3500, and ultimately $4100. Oh well. It was exciting while it lasted.

And speaking of exciting, nothing was more exciting than the bidding war that erupted over a chance to record a line of dialogue for an NPC in Halo 3. The winning bidder would get a tour of Bungie's offices and record the voice-over for a line of dialogue in the game. Would you believe this fetched $9000? That's right... nine-thousand-dollars. The guys from Red Vs Blue won it. Congrats to them, I guess those DVD's they make really sell!

Traditionally the most sought-after item in the live auction was the chance to be included in an upcoming Penny Arcade comic strip. And once again, it failed to disappoint. Numbers were shouted from all sides of the room until, finally, someone tipped the scales at the five-figure mark and everyone else backed off: $10,000 is a lot of money. But having your likeness in a Penny Arcade comic strip is worth it. I guess.

The items may have all been handed out, but there was one final auction left. It was for bragging rights. They started the bidding at $100 and everyone raised their numbers. Whoever was the "last bidder standing" got to leave the auction knowing they donated more than anyone else. Jerry and Mike quickly escalated the dollar amount to $1000 and most everyone lowered their cards. Then $5000, $10,000, and $20,000. There were two numbers still high in the air. Twenty grand became thirty grand, which then became forty grand. Finally, at $50,000 one of the bidders lowered their card and, during the standing ovation, it was made apparent that the creator of "Bookworm Adventures", the head of PopCap Games was the last bidder standing.

The conclusion of the auction was perfectly timed with the end of dinner. Kristin and I had finished our desert and coffee and once the standing ovation for the $50,000 donation subsided and the reality set in that the couple hundred gamers in attendance raised roughly two hundred thousand dollars for the Seattle Children's Hospital in a single night, we realised it was time to collect our items from the silent auction and head home.

If you read this and feel inspired to give, even if it's just five dollars, I would encourage you to head immediately to and select the hospital nearest you from the map and either buy an item from the registry listed on Amazon or make a cash donation. Like I said earlier 100% of every donation goes directly to the hospital of your choice, not a penny is taken by the folks at Penny Arcade or by anyone else. It doesn't get any better than that.

Gitaroo Man Lives - The Karmic Struggle of Good and Evil

One of my favorite games from E3 this year was the PSP title Gitaroo Man Lives by Koei. It's a sequel to the PS2 cult-hit Gitaroo Man that you probably never played (nor had I) and I thoroughly enjoyed sneaking over to neighboring Koei's booth each day during my scheduled booth duty to play a game of it. It's a music-based puzzle game that is essentially impossible to describe. It's great though. The game was originally scheduled for release in September then it got pushed back to, I thought, 2007. Then, Monday night, I noticed some reviews for it were popping up online and lo and behold, the game got released back in November. Who knew?

I like to buy all of my games either online or from Fred Meyer in Issaquah, as the people in that store are really friendly and it's the closest store to my house where I can usually get major releases the day they come out. But yesterday I was finishing up some shopping and getting my hair cut, so I went looking for it at Best Buy. But they didn't have it. I could have went to Circuit City next, but I figured they'd probably not have such a niche title so I'd just head straight to Gamestop, which I try to avoid like the plague.

I walk into the store with no coat on, no bags under my arms, nothing in my hands. I'm greeted immediately by an assistant manager who looks like a caveman who just rolled out of bed.

"Welcome to Gamestop, do you have any games or consoles with you, you'd like to trade in?"

Did I mention I absolutely hate this store? Did I mention I can be a complete jerk when I want to? I wanted to. I didn't on the way in, but now I did.

I stop in my tracks, spread my arms wide and look slowly from one hand to the other with a puzzled look on my face -- I'm trying to locate the games and/or consoles I've carried in to the store for a trade-in. "Doesn't look like it, does it?" I finally say. This sounds overly harsh, I know, but entering Gamestop is like getting in a fight. You have to come out swinging or you're going to be boxed into the corner and caught on the ropes. I didn't step to the center of the ring and shake hands, I gave an Ivan Drago "You will lose" the ass-man will never forget.

He's nonplussed. "Can I help you find something today?"

I pretend not to hear and head straight towards the wall-mounted racks trying to find what I've come for. I used to frequent this particular Gamestop once or twice a week, but I haven't been in for at least a year or so. I stopped coming when the good employees quit and new management took over. Everywhere I look is used games. Used games on the shelves. Used games in bins. Used games in stacks on the damn counter. There's hardly an inch of space in this under-sized store that doesn't have used, sorry, pre-owned games on it.

I finally get frustrated and head to the counter. I wait, no hurry. One worker is trying to explain to another customer over the phone that they don't have any PlayStation 3 consoles in stock and the ass-man is informing the guy in front of me that they're only going to give him $26 in credit for the 4 Xbox games he has brought in for trades. Figures.

Finally, it's my turn.

"I'm looking for Gitaroo Man Lives for PSP".

I pronounce it Git-a-Roo by the way.

The ass-man looks at me sort of confused, then says with a level of condescension that I myself found impressive, "Oh, you mean Gitaroo Man Lives" only he says it Gi-TAR-oo. The difference is a short a versus the long a.

"Yeah, that's the one." I said.

He opens a drawer behind the counter, pulls out a copy of the game and smirks while gently nodding his head at me in the process.

Oh, now it's on! Ladies and gentleman, the boxers have rested and now it is round two. I didn't want to, but I had to. Let's get ready to rumble!

"So, did you make it down to E3 this year?" I ask.

I don't give him time to respond, knowing the answer is no.

"Because I did and each day I went over to Koei's booth to play that game and you know what, everyone at Koei pronounced it Git-a-roo Man Lives, not Gi-TAR-oo. See, you thought you were showing me up there, didn't you? You thought you would correct my pronunciation and show me how knowledgeable on games you are, didn't you? How'd that work out?"

He looks away and tries to ignore me. He scans the game then returns to corporate-enforced checkout procedures.

"Are there any games you'd like to pre-order with us today?"

I'm not done. He's wobbly, but he's not down yet.

"Why? So when it comes out, you can call me and say there's a shipping error and you won't have it for another day or two like Gears of War? No thanks, I'm sticking to Fred-Meyer. They're more reliable."

In the second round, by way of knockout, the new Heavyweight Game-Buying Champion is... okay, you get the point.

But, of course, karma would catch up to me in the end.

I finally got around to peeling back the cellophane on the game at about 11:30 pm last night. I was going to play it in bed after Kristin fell asleep. I haven't used my PSP in months and apparently Gitaroo Man Lives came with another system update for the PSP. The system wouldn't allow me to play the game without updating, but the battery was low so I couldn't update it either.

No problem, you used to have to plug the system in when updating because if the battery died mid-update, you'd be left with a $199 paperweight. I remember my friend Brad complaining that he often bought new games and would want to play them in waiting rooms and not be able to because he didn't have his plug with him.

Well, it seems Sony heard his complaints and swung from one extreme to the other. When I saw the message saying that I couldn't update the system because of a low battery, I did what any other sane PSP owner would do, I plugged it in.

Still no dice. Nevermind the fact that the unit is plugged into the wall, I continued to get messages refusing to update the system because I had a low battery. So I left the console along for thirty minutes or so and came back and tried again. The battery was now two-thirds charged, but yet it still wouldn't update. Why? Because the battery wasn't fully charged. I guess the endless supply of current from the wall isn't good enough.

Thank you Sony. You listened to the complaints from your customers and shifted your position on this matter. System updates used to be a hassle, but we understood your reasons behind doing it that way. But this? This is just retarded.

The Last Person to Own an iPod Finally Gets One

Just the other day I was wrestling with the chore of making another mini-disc for my Sony NetMD player to take on a long mountain bike ride and complaining to Kristin that I really should just get the new matchbook-size iPod Shuffle. You know, the little one that clips onto your shirt and holds about 200 songs? It's only $70. It'd be perfect for my needs.

Little did I know someone else was thinking of getting me something much nicer. When UPS arrived today I figured that it had to be the gift I ordered for my dad's daughters, but it had the unmistakeable markings and their gift was coming from What could this be? Inside was a package wrapped in green and an envelope that insisted I unwrap the gift first so as to not ruin the surprise. So I followed the note's instructions and opened the box. My jaw nearly hit the floor. Inside was a Black 80GB iPod with full-color screen and movie playback.

I'm not going to risk putting anyone in an awkward position by saying who it was who sent me the box from Amazon today (you know who you are and will be receiving a heartfelt thank you phone call in the morning) but I can assure you this was a tremendous surprise. I immediately ran up to my office, downloaded iTunes, installed the new software for the iPod, and quickly downloaded the last episode of The Office which I missed while out mountain biking (no, I don't own a Tivo). I also downloaded a number of mountain biking and surfing-related "vodcasts" and plan on spending much of the night importing my music collection.

I'm simply in awe right now. What a great gift! And what a great time to get it. Kristin tells me my gifter was also considering a gift certificate to REI or one to a restaurant, but I have to say you made a great choice. This will be accompanying me on many lengthy mountain bike rides for quite some time. Not to mention my upcoming flight to NJ.

Come to think of it, now I finally have a us for that "MP3 in" feature on my Element's stereo. Awesome!

TR Training: Week #3 Numbers

Total Saddle Time: 15 hrs, 4 minutes
Total Mileage: 170.5 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 9,920 feet
Weight Loss: -1.8 pounds

The periodization plan I came up with for this year runs in 4-week cycles, with every fourth week being a recovery week. That places some added pressure to not skip any days in the third week of each cycle and, if possible, make that week tougher than normal. And that was the plan for this past week and it went pretty well too, with only two slight alterations to the plan. Namely, Monday and Sunday's workouts on the trainer were each scheduled for 2 hours but only ended up being 1 hour due to some knee soreness. Other than that, everything went really well. I haven't done a day-by-day rundown in a couple weeks so here's how I spent week #3 of my 40-week TransRockies training.

Monday - Road Bike, Stationary Trainer. Rode for 1 hour alternating 10 minutes at 90rpm in small chainring with 5 minutes in big chainring. Kept in 15-tooth cog the entire time. Also did some light weight-lifting during the final 30 minutes of the ride.

Tuesday - Mountain Bike, Singletrack. Headed to Tolt-MacDonald Park for a a little over 10 miles of singletrack at night. Trails were nice and dry and the weather was pretty nice. Plus, I finally had gotten my Lake Winter MTB Shoes so my feet were nice and toasty. 910 feet of elevation gain.

Wednesday - Mountain Bike, Endurance Ride. Rode railroad grade trails from Snoqualmie up past Rattlesnake Lake and then back. The ride was a bit over 30 miles and had 1300 feet of gain.

Thursday - Road Bike, Hill Climb Time Trial. Took the road bike out onto Snoqualmie Parkway for the first of my monthly hill climb time trials. I wrote about this last week, but in short it ended up being a total of 12.9 miles and 1460 feet of climbing in 46 minutes. I was really happy with how it went.

Friday - Road Bike, Stationary Trainer. Back onto the trainer for a lengthy 2 hour ride. At least I got to watch "Iron Monkey" again. It was suggested to me that my knee pain may be from pushing too high a gear on the trainer so today when I shifted to the big ring, I made sure to drop a gear in the back and then drop another after 5 minutes.

Saturday - Mountain Bike, Endurance Ride. What a day. Racked up 49 miles and 6200 feet of elevation gain in nonstop rain (and I stupidly took my fenders off before rolling out the door because, "it hasn't rained in a few days, the trails will be dry". I also didn't have my rain pants on over my tights and I was soaked and water pooled up inside my Gore-Tex sock covers -- enough water that when I finally emptied it, it ran out of my garage like a small stream.) Anway, Ken and I rode from Snoqualmie to Mt. Tenerriffe and climbed a few miles up Mt. Teneriffe. This particular climb gets pretty darn steep and actually ascends at a rate of 100 feet per tenth of a mile after a while. The trail is rocky and steep and it was pouring out. Not fun. From there, we descended back into North Bend and made out way on the SVT up past Rattlesnake Lake and just about all the way to Twin Falls, before turning around and heading back past Rattlesnake Lake to Snoqualmie. We were out for 5.5 hours and I felt good even at the end. Was able to climb back onto Snoqualmie Ridge in the middle ring and never dropped below 3rd gear during the climb. Had I not have lost total feeling in my feet 2 hours before ending the ride, I may have wanted to add on some more distance.

Sunday - Road Bike, Stationary Trainer. Okay, I'm glad I didn't add on any more mileage Saturday. I felt great at the end of Saturday's ride, but my entire body ached Sunday morning. I spent most of the day watching football then finally got onto the trainer for a 1 hour recovery spin. Only popped into the big ring for 5 minutes to get the heart rate up a bit, but mostly just sat and spun while watching a couple episodes of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" on DVD.

The one thing that I'm somewhat bummed out about this week is that my weight was really coming down. After a couple weeks of somewhat static weight change, I dropped about 5 pounds earlier this week. And every day that scale was showing improvements. And then then the BBTC holiday party came on Saturday, and although I only had two beers, nobody brought much in the way of real food this year. Everything was store-bought cookies and pies and snacks. Which, having just ridden for 5.5 hours a few hours earlier made for a bad combination and BAM! The weight was back on by morning. Christmas is going to be a challenge, especially at my father's house.

The Face of Winter Trail Riding

What 49 miles and 6200 feet of climbing in the rain looks like.
The smile lets you know it's working.

Ride report to follow in Monday's weekly training wrap-up.

Who Needs a Glockenspiel?

This was posted to the BBTC Listserve and I just have to share.

It's "The Nutcracker Suit" played entirely on bicycle parts. Watch the video all the way to the end to see the instruments used.

Hill Climb Time Trial

I lucked out with the weather today as the temperature hit a balmy 46 degrees and I was able to get out of the garage with my road bike and attempt my first-monthly hill climb time trial on Snoqualmie Parkway. The plan was to do 3 consecutive laps from Douglas Rd down the Snoq. Pkwy to the U-turn right before the railroad tracks at the bottom of the hill. Each lap was 4.3 miles and roughly 480 feet of climbing. The way the road runs is that it's about 95% downhill from Douglas to the U-turn, then all the way back up. It's not rolling by any means. One direction is all down, the other all up. Perfect for this sort of test.

Lap 1 - 15:15
Lap 2 - 15:31
Lap 3 - 15:41

Total Time: 46:27
Total Dist: 12.9 miles
Total Elev Gain: 1460 feet

Everything went really well with this time trial. I never had to slow for cars, as I happened to hit the road during a lull in the daily traffic. Thanks to this, there was no slowing or stopping for the entire 46:27 I was out on the course. I wanted to try and group each lap's time within 10-15 seconds of the lap before it and I more or less did. I knew there would be some slow-down (after all, it was 1460 feet of climbing in under 13 miles) but I really wanted to see the second lap come in a little faster. Believe it or not, I think what actually slowed me down a bit was that the wind picked up as the ride went on. Usually, I can just about coast down the hill at 40 mph, but today thanks to a headwind I was pedaling hard and barely topping 35 mph. That definitely had an impact on the times. Nevertheless, it was good to set a benchmark for future time trials.

Back to the Games

I apologize to those of you who find your way over to my blog in hopes of reading something about gaming, as I have been doing very little of it lately other than that which is required for work (and you all know I can't write about that). The past few weeks have been pretty stressful for me between working on the guidebook for Lost Planet and with getting my TransRockies training underway and then the dreaded bike-buy decision. But all of that has finally come to a head: the book is done, training is going very well (another 31 mile mtn bike ride today, by the way), and the bike has been ordered.

Yesterday I woke and for the first time in nearly a week, I flipped on my Xbox 360 to play some Gears of War. I'm halfway through Act 4 on Hardcore mode and want to finally just finish it up and resume occasional multiplayer gaming, or just move on to something different. But first I want the Achievements. Which actually touches on one of the unfortunate aspects of my job -- pre-release copies of games don't work with real profiles and Achievements. So far, I've authored guidebooks for four of five X360 games and probably have earned at least 750 Gamer Points for each of them, but it doesn't carry over. If I want to show for them, I have to buy a retail version of the game like everyone else and play them all over again. Hence, my pedestrian pace of going through Gears of War. As much as I enjoy the game, even great games lose their luster when you've played it a half-dozen times. The only other game that I wrote the guidebook for then played again once it released was Full Auto, which I really enjoyed. Until the copy I rented from Gamefly crashed and erased my game save data. So, yep, I'm stuck on the 560 Gamer Points for Full Auto and sorry to say that I'm not buying the sequel. There's just no excuse for having your game save deleted. And I really liked that game too. Sucks.

So this brings me back to the other morning. I flipped on Gears of War, played for about ten minutes and decided I wasn't in the mood. So I popped in Test Drive Unlimited to try and finish up a few of the boring Hitchhiker missions I still had left to do. Lost interest three minutes later. I thought about popping in Fight Night Round 3 or Ninety-Nine Nights, both of which I've had sitting in my drawer care of Gamefly for several months, but I didn't want to start anything new up. I really ought to cancel my Gamefly membership as I never play the games they send me.

What I really want to play is Viva Pinata, but I'm holding off buying that one to see if I get it for Christmas. I doubt I will, as I've told everyone I know that I need cycling clothing/equipment and training DVDs this year. We'll see....

Anyway, my point is that I'm in a gaming funk. Which is probably natural by this time of year for those of us who work in the industry. The fall is chaotic. I had nary a day off between working on the guidebooks for Prey, Okami, Dirge of Cerberus, and Gears of War. And the only reason I had some time off before Lost Planet was due to a debug machine crapping out on me.

My next project is for the PS2 game, Dawn of Mana which releases in Japan on 12/19. Since I'll be playing the Japanese import version for a while, I'll actually be able to post about it. It's a pretty big title, especially on a personal level as I normally don't handle the large-scale RPG guidebooks, but I've been wanting to do one for a while so here I go. At least it's an action-rpg and not a turn-based one.

But until then, I'm primarily going to be dabbling with Enchanted Arms some more and working on the slideshows I'm putting together. I'm finally finishing up the slideshow for my wife's family (I was given 40 rolls of negatives from the 1950s to scan in, touch up, and create a slideshow) and I'm also making one for the trip to Costa Rica I did earlier this year with my friends. That one will be a bit easier to do as they all sent me a DVD with their individual photos on them and I just have to pick and choose the ones I want. No scanning. Thank God. About time I get to that CR one too considering I bought some Tico and Nicaraguan music CD's when I was down there to use as background music for this very project. Time to get busy.

Oh, and if you're playing either of the new Live Arcade games, Small Arms or Roboblitz, please write and let me know how they are.

For Your Consideration

Another trip to the dentist this week meant another chance for lunch with Kristin at Racha, my favorite Thai restaurant in Seattle. The walk back to her office takes us past Uptown Espresso, where they make my favorite coffee drink -- the Cafe Mezzo. It's a combination Americano and Latte. Basically, very strong coffee with some frothed milk on top and not as acidic as a straight Americano. The place is a dive, but the drinks are fantastic. You see, I like going to the dentist for this very reason; it gives me an excuse to walk around in the Lower Queen Anne neighborhood and visit shops like Easy Street Records or the bar at T.S. McHughes. Sure, it's a 40 minute drive from home and I probably drive past 100 dentists to get there, but it has its benefits. The main befit, aside from lunch with Kristin, is that it also gives me a reason to check out what's playing at the Uptown Theatre. The Uptown is a great moviehouse that always manages to have a few good independent and foreign films playing.

So, on Monday, while walking back to Kristin's office -- Cafe Mezzo in hand -- I stopped and got a ticket to see "For Your Consideration", the latest in the line of terrific mockumentaries by Christopher Guest starring Eugene Levy, Harry Shearer, Catherine O'Hara and Jennifer Coolidge. I loved "Best in Show" and "A Mighty Wind" and figured this particular movie would have to be just as good. After all, same creator, same cast, winning track record...


"For Your Consideration" is about Hollywood and the craziness that goes on whenever someone mentions... psstt... a potential Academy Award nomination. The film follows the stars on the set of horrid-looking film called 'Home for Purin' as they try to revive their declining acting careers in a movie about a Jewish holiday nobody outside the faith has likely ever heard of. Knowing he has to stroke their delicate actor-egos a little, the director casually mentions that he saw a post on the Internet saying that someone sneaked onto the set and was posting online that the female star (Catherine O'Hara) should be considered for a nomination. It's unclear, but I have the feeling he said it just to make her feel good. And thus begins the self-created Hollywood hype cycle. Before you know it, these actors (one of whom was recently starring as a hot-dog on a commercial) are being paraded around town as part of the latest A-List, doing morning shows, interviews, etc., etc., and everyone is telling them how marvelous they are and how sure they are to win an Oscar. Except none of these folks have actually seen 'Home for Purin' yet.

The movie definitely has its funny moments -- and when it's funny, it's hysterical -- but there just wasn't nearly enough of it this time. There were parts of the movie that felt completely left out or skipped over and when it ends, it ends so suddenly you're left shocked that the credits are rolling. The movie is entertaining in that it pokes fun of Hollywood and how obsessed these actors are with the awards ceremony (despite portending to be above all that) but in the end, the movie doesn't tell us anything we didn't already know. "A Mighty Wind" and "Best in Show" took us somewhere we haven't been, it spotlighted a small subculture (folk musicians and dog show people, respectively) that are foreign to most of us and the movies were awesomely funny. But "For Your Consideration" is about something we are all at the very least familiar with and are already kind of overwhelmed with. We've been seeing awards shows on tv for decades and even admitting to watching them has become a cause of ridicule in some circles.

If the movie has one saving grace, it's that Fred Willard's role as a 'Hollywood Now' host is sadistically cruel and rude to his guests (i.e. the movie stars). Willard plays Chuck Porter and steals every scene he's in. You'll either hate his character or applaud and laugh at every insensitive action and remark he makes. And if you find yourself cheering for his ruthlessness, then you're going to love the final 15 minutes of the film. But other than that, I have to say the film is a big disappointment after Guest's other recent films.

Pulling the Trigger

Buying a new mountain bike is a gut-wrenching experience. Aside from the first hurdle which is overcoming the natural reluctance to part with the large sums of money that today's high-end bikes cost, there is the difficult task of weeding through the innumerable volume of choices that exist. It used to be whether to go full-suspension or a hardtail. But now you have 29er versions thrown into the mix too. Not to mention the fact that there are dozens of bike manufacturers, each with their legion of supporters and detractors. The longer you look online for product reviews and analyses, the more you realize that you can find an opinion that agrees or contradicts with whatever you're gut is telling you. The more time you spend online looking for an answer, the more confused you become and the more questions you have. And in the strange world of high-end bike shopping, a preride is out of the question. Nobody actually stocks these handbuilt beauties. You buy sight unseen.

This was my problem. I've spent weeks debating whether to go for a 29er or 26er. I decided to give the 29er a try, but then came the thought of going back to a hardtail and throwing on a suspension seat post to soften the ride. Just when I thought I concluded that doing TransRockies on a hardtail would be suicide, I started reconsidering that conclusion just a day or two later. Finally, today, I had the good sense to ask a longtime hardtail fan for his opinion -- my brother. He had always ridden a hardtail and had teamed up with friends for a couple 24hr races in the past and he was very quick to say what most people were telling me: the weight savings and gains in efficiency are going to be negated by the toll riding a hardtail takes on your body over that length of time. Finally, a hardtail fan saying to definitely go full-suspension. This was what I needed to hear.

Now the question was to go with the standard 26 inch wheels or opt for something new in the 29er. The guys at Richard's Bikes ( came highly recommended for their superior customer service and knowledge, so I gave them a call. They run a website that has a very "big-store" feel to it, but they are really just your standard local bike shop. Only they're locale is Illinois.

I expressed my dilemma to their resident Ellsworth expert Mike and explained to him that I'm looking to build a purpose-built endurance racing bike. That I have another bike that I intend to beat on in foul weather and on overly rough technical trails, but that I wanted a sub-27 pound cross country full-suspension bike. I told him I was interested in the benefits of a 29er, but that I was concerned with the extra weight of the wheels and whether or not I would be hating it during the multi-hour long climbs at TransRockies. He assured me that I wasn't alone in asking those questions and that once you get the bike rolling you don't notice the extra energy it takes to accelerate the wheels. Not to mention, there are plenty of lightweight options for custom wheels.

I called his store uncertain as to whether or not I was going to go with the Evolve or the Truth (Ellsworth's 26" bike). Or maybe even opt for the Santa Cruz Blur, a bike I've lusted after for a while. Both the Evolve and the Truth are cross-country bikes with 4" of travel front/rear, both come in the awesome red-velvet paint job I wanted and they cost the same too. I started thinking to how much fun it is to ride those big hoops on my cyclocross bike off-road and decided for the Evolve.

The Evolve is a new bike. It actually doesn't hit retail for a few more weeks, but Richard's Bikes have already taken a number of pre-orders and I wanted in on the waiting list. And now I am. I ordered the frame with the 2007 Fox RP23 shock, a black Chris King Headset, and the RockShox Reba Race 29er 100mm fork with the PopLock feature. Mike too my color preferences for the headset, discussed sizing, my riding weight (including gear), and was even going to double-check on any color options there may be for the fork.

I've been agonizing over this decision for several weeks now, and I finally feel as if a huge weight has been lifted off my chest. I have a $500 refundable deposit down on a Large Red-Velvet Ellsworth Evolve and, with any luck, I'll have the frame by mid-January.

TR Training: Week #2 Numbers

Total Saddle Time: 12 hrs, 25 minutes
Total Mileage: 145.5 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 5,190 feet
Weight Loss: +1.4 pounds

This past week was a good week in some ways and a bad one in others. It was good in that I can see a noticeable increase in speed and strength on the mountain bike as a result of all of the training and, more specifically, from the two-hour stationary trainer rides. I fared much better at Thursday night's "Thrilla" ride than last week and I was feeling great all the way through Saturday's 36-miler, even with the 3600 feet of climbing.

However, where this week went awry was in the area of sleeping and eating. This was a crunch week for me with work and, on average, I got less than 6hrs sleep a night all week long. Also, my weekly totals were down because I scheduled a day off for Monday, but then also had to miss Friday's workout because of work. That's why the total saddle time and mileage numbers are down from last week.

But that's going to happen from time to time. I have been doing really well with cutting back on junk food and beer. Our Thursday night group rides end at one of my favorite breweries and I not only have been ordering hummus or edamame as an appetizer instead of buffalo wings, but I've also been having a generally healthy turkey club sandwich instead of burgers and fries. Most importantly, I've just been allowing myself one beer. Instead of two or three.

Lastly, I finally did start adding some weight lifting to my training, which is the reason I think my weight went back up a little this week. I can feel myself losing a little fat and toning up, but I also sense my leg muscles getting more pronounced and we all know muscle weighs more than fat so it will probably be a week or two of slight weight gain or holding steady before I start shedding pounds.

Week #3 is loaded up with rides every day, including a hill climb time trial scheduled for Thursday which should be fun... {pause}... NOT!!!

*That last sentence was a Borat reference. If you didn't catch it, go to the theatres and see Borat now. You must.

The Other One

If Kristin has a weakness, it's a lack of pop culture knowledge from the 80's and 90's. Sure, thanks to her daily commute and the horrendous FM stations she listens to, she can tell you all about TomKat's baby and the status of the latest failed celebrity marriage. But ask her about a classic 80's movie like "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" or "Revenge of the Nerds" and she has no idea what you're talking about. And it's even worse if the topic is music. If it wasn't Michael Jackson or New Kids on the Block, she probably hasn't heard it.

But she's been trying to catch up on everything she missed as a self-described sheltered child and it's kind of fun to watch movies that I've seen dozens of times with someone who hasn't ever seen them before. But despite the progress she's made, she still has a lot of catching up to do. Tonight reminded me just how far she has to go...

Kristin needed to use the computer to enter some receipts into Quicken, but I was in the middle of working. I had Photoshop and my Yahoo Launchcast music player open and the opening guitar intro to "Little Wing" by Jimi Hendrix started playing.

"I'll let you use the computer if you can tell me who sings this song."

She had no idea, but it was still the guitar solo so I thought I'd give her a hint.

"He's a really good guitarist from the Seattle area."

"Is it Dave Mathews?"

"What? No!"

"Well, how am I supposed to know who it is?"

"We toured an entire wing of a museum dedicated to him last year on your birthday."

By this time, Jimi's voice has kicked in and he's well into the first verse of the song.

"That doesn't help. There's a lot of famous guitarists from Seattle."

"Not with entire wings devoted to them in EMP. Come on, you really don't know who this is? Here's another hint: he's dead."

"Oh, wait, I know. It's not Bob Marley, but the other one. He kind of looks like Marley though, right? I mean, he's black right? He's got the big puffy black guy hair."

"You mean Jimi Hendrix?"

"Yeah, that's him. Not Marley, but the other one... that's what I said."

I never thought we would top the day Peal Jam's "Even Flow" was playing on the radio and Kristin blurted out, "This is the Red Hot Chili Peppers, right?" but apparently I was wrong. It took nearly a decade, but she has pushed the bar lower once again.


Leave it to the tri-geeks to come up with the cool new gadgets...

For anyone who has ever wrestled with ways of keeping electrolyte capsules dry from sweat and rain while participating in endurance sports, there's a great new way to carry them called SaltStick. Think of it as a Pez-like dispenser that holds a half-dozen salt capsules (Na, Cl, Mg, K, and Ca) but also fits inside your handlebars or on your Fuel Belt. Simply turn the red knob on the end of the SaltStick and it spits out a capsule then automatically closes back up.

I used to keep my salt capsules in an empty tic-tac container but they were pretty hard to get out while biking, but this just seems perfect. There's a pretty informative video on the SaltStick main page that goes over why you need to ingest additional electrolytes (i.e. why Gatorade alone isn't enough) and how the SaltStick works.

You can be sure that my new bike will have a SaltStick installed in one, if not both ends of the handlebars before I head to Utah to ride the Kokopelli Trail in the spring.

Cycling Terminology 101

One of the following items helps keep you warm in cold weather:



Please use the correct terminology when describing your headwear of choice, as thoughts of friends riding their bikes with tasty turkish pastries on their head often results in uncontrollable bouts of laughter.

Ride Report: Ridge to Ridge

There's a new training ride entering the BBTC rotation and it's a great one. 36 miles, 3,600 feet of climbing, and plenty of time on singletrack, double-track, gravel roads, and even some asphalt. Hell no we don't discriminate! Oh, and to top it off, no cars necessary*!

I met Ken at his place at 10am and led the way down the Silent Creek trail on Snoqualmie Ridge to the Deep Creek trail which drops down to the Preston-Snoqualmie paved trail. We hung a left and battled the frigid headwind towards the town of Preston. From there, it's just two miles on High Point Road to Exit 20 off I-90 and the forest road that leads to the base of the Grand Ridge Trail. The trail had dried substantially since the last time I was on it and the hub-deep mud Ross and I encountered a few weeks ago was only rim-deep now. We suffered the first mile or so of climbing, zipped straight across the road, and continued the climb towards the new section of trail. We passed quite a few hikers and dog walkers out on the trail, but fortunately all before the fun descent. Eventually, nearing the bottom of the trail near the swamp, we came across a pair of blowdowns stacked on top of one another. "I guess I'll not try to ride this one" I said to Ken. And wouldn't you know that Dave Schuldt answered me back by suggesting I "take this saw and cut it out". Dave was off in the distance doing some trail work and heard us coming. I took the saw and tried cutting the tree but the saw wasn't big enough to make much of a dent in the tree. Ken helped him move some logs into place for a bridge, then we turned around and made the climb back up.

Once back at the top of the ridge, Ken began to question whether or not he was up for my plan to extend the ride with an out and back on the Issaquah High School Trail. But i convinced him to have some food, settle into a nice pace, and enjoy the descnent. By the time we reached the the forest road leading back to High Point Road Ken was feeling energized and was completely ready to tackle my alternate extended version of the ride. So off we went, under I-90 and up past the throngs of hikers at Tiger Mountain to the powerline trail and down and around the Issaquah High School trail to where it comes out near the community center. After a brief break, we turned around and climbed back up the Issy High School Trail, under the powerlines, and back past the Tiger Mountain trailhead to High Point Rd. From there it was back up to Preston and then a few miles along the Preston-Snoqualmie trail.

Click for composite photo of me riding up the switchbacks out of Preston.

The climb from the Preston-Snoqualmie trail back up Snoqualmie Ridge is a pretty tough climb. It's close to 500 feet of vert in about a mile and the soft woodchip substrate makes it extra squishy and zaps even more energy from you. It's a tough climb on fresh legs, and neither one of us knew how we'd fare 30+ miles into the ride. The answer was just fine, that's how. As much as we doubted our chances at making the climb dab-free, we both made it without trouble. We didn't set any land-speed records making it back up to the Ridge, but we did ride the entirety dab-free and felt pretty good about doing so.

All in all, this was a great ride. Took about 3:45 of pure saddle time and about another 60 minutes of stoppage time spent taking some photos, helping Dave, fixing a broken chain, and talking to a couple of Microsofties we ran into mtn biking the Snoq Ridge trails. The trail was frosty and crusty in places, but mostly it was just frozen with very little standing water (i.e. ice) or mud. My new winter shoes hadn't arrived yet so Ken loaned me an extra pair of neoprene shoe covers. My feet were still relatively frozen by the end of the ride, but the shoe covers definitely helped. That said, I don't think it ever did reach that promised high-temp of 42. I doubt it ever cracked the forty-degree mark. Nevertheless, it was a great training ride and I look forward to hitting this route up at least once every two weeks.

* = This comment is only applicable to those living in Snoqualmie Ridge or have the tenacity to bicyle to it.

Stop Calling It That!

Chamois Butt'r is not "Ass Lube".

It serves an important function and just because I'm going riding in the woods for 4 hours with a friend doesn't necessitate referring to my all-important anti-chafing cream as a sexual lubricant.

I have no further comments on this topic.

Not for sex.