Kristin's First Day of School

Is tomorrow.

Tonight, however, was the Welcoming Reception which meant that I had to actually put on pants and a collared shirt and join her for dinner and happy hour at the university. I was not looking forward to it. You see, I'm very excited for Kristin to be going back to school for an Executive MBA, but I'm also very afraid. I'm scared to death that my lovely wife is going to turn into just another corporate drone who forgets how to talk like a normal person. I'm petrified actually. Fortunately, we have an understanding: I'm going to be completely supportive of her and do everything I can to help her juggle a full-time job with full-time schooling (20 credits!!!) so long as she leaves the marketing speak at school and work. The first time I catch her using made-up words like "scalable synergy" in a sentence at home, she has to drop out. One utterance of "low hanging fruit" or "leveraging assets" and her textbooks get torched. If I'm on the phone with her and she tells me to "standby" instead of asking me to hang on for a second, I confiscate her laptop and disassemble the desk I set up for her in my office. You think I'm kidding?

As for tonight's reception, it was nice. I think that's the word I'm looking for. There are 36 students split between two classes -- excuse me, they're called cohorts not classes -- and most everyone was there with a guest. Kristin is clearly one of the younger students in the bunch, which made me even more proud of her for getting accepted into the program. And I'll admit that it was somewhat interesting to meet people and hear about their different backgrounds. There were lots of folk from some pretty major companies as well people from an arts background, a dentist, small business types, etc., etc. Of course, there were also those who already had their shill-speak polished to a sheen and ready to be unfurled at a moment's notice. Would you believe I actually heard a guy stand up and say during dinner that he "was moved by the business school's mission statement." Are you kidding me? Moved? By a mission statement? It took all of my strength and determination to not flee the room in horror. Another student (neither are in Kristin's cohort, thankfully) stood up and managed to work various forms of the word "transformative" into roughly 6 of the ten sentences he uttered. Yes, I was in fact counting because, well, it was either that or shove a spoon up my ass for, as comedian Lewis Black said, "If I'm going to hurt that much, I'm going to do it to myself." And let me tell you, that spoon next to the coffee cup caught my eye several times.

Thankfully, there were two moments of salvation in this otherwise dark and lonely night. The first came via the fourth and final student who got up to talk about his reasons for entering the program. He's a manager at Costco who, by a stroke of divine intervention, was able to speak like a normal human being. His words were honest, unrehearsed, and clearly audible thanks to him not having his face buried in the Director's rear-end -- another first for the night. And I swear the man's khakis and polo shirt emitted a golden aura and that a fountain of honey poured forth from his mouth. I lapped at these honey words like a dog at a garden hose and when he finished, I was saddened. He was my hero and I wagged my tail feverishly in hopes of an encore.

The second moment that made me glad to have come was when one of the alumni were speaking. She was there to tell everyone about her experiences in the program. I believe it was during her fourth poem that we began to hear water being spilt on the floor. The sound grew louder by the second, so we turned around. In the ceiling not 15 feet behind us, a pipe had burst. The dripping water became a steady flow which became a torrent within minutes. Ceiling tiles began to yellow, sag, then collapse to the ground. Young janitorial men reached for their cellphones and called... someone. Still the water rained down. The dean made an attempt at capturing the flooding cascade in a waste basket and was almost hit by another falling ceiling tile. It was awesome.

Unfortunately, I was in a room of aspiring Leaders who synchronously "put their game faces on" and refused to be deterred by such distractions. My instincts were to reach for my cellphone's videocamera, but order was restored before I had even finished laughing. And, after a five minute reprieve from the absurdity spewing forth from the podium, we were ushered forward and a mechanical partition closed behind us. There's nothing to see here, keep moving. And so she did. She jumped right back into that fourth or fifth poem and finished on a high note. Yes, she too exalted the mission statement.

And a small piece of me died inside...

The Rules of Drinko

1) You don't talk about Drinko.

2) Ignore Rule 1.

Okay, since I had a couple queries about the rules, here's how it goes: Everyone gets a colored shot glass and a token. You fill your glass with your favorite libation and take turns dropping your token down the board. The token will bounce around like a pachinko ball and land in a colored slot and the person with that colored shot glass has to do a shot, then refill for the next person. However, if the token lands in the slot of the person who dropped the token, then everyone else has to do a shot. So, basically, you'll be trying to get the token to bounce its way into your own colored slot so that everyone else has to drink.

One round consists of everyone getting to drop their token once. Some may not have to drink at all, others may have to drink a couple times. The most anyone can have to drink in one round (which will only take a few minutes, mind you) is 4 shots and that's if everyone lands the token in their own slot. Extremely unlikely, but possible.

So, like I said in the other post, with the fast-pace of the game and the possibility of having to do several shots in an ultra short amount of time, I'm going to make a pitcher or two of lemon drops and kamikazes ahead of time so people aren't pounding shot-after-shot of pure tequila or whiskey. Not only could that get really ugly, but it could bankrupt me as well if the game proved popular. I think we're going to get a beer pong table going too though. Thankfully we nixed the ice-block idea. No time to set it up and carve it. Maybe next year.

Eternal Sonata

One of the most beautiful games to release for the X360 this fall, maybe ever, is Eternal Sonata. Yes, it is a Japanese-style role-playing game, but we're not going to hold that against it. The game has a unique battle system, incredible graphics and music, and a story that can best be described as above the typical kids-save-the-universe pap that is typical for the J-RPG genre.

Here's the blurb from

On October 17, 1849, Frederic Chopin, one of the most influential composers for the piano, succumbed to sickness and died at the young age of 39. Three hours prior to that, in the world according to this RPG, Chopin saw a dream of a fairy-tale land populated by people with incurable diseases but also magical powers. Eternal Sonata takes place in this dream world. Chopin comes into contact with Polka, a young girl who resides with her mother in the village of Tenuto. Polka is near her death, and Chopin, Polka, and her young friend Allegretto as they look for some way to make use of Polka's great powers to help save her. It's a whimsical fantasy, but this RPG designed by developer tri-Crescendo also a complex and combo-based battle system of swords and magic weaponry. In keeping with inspiration, music and story play a big part in Eternal Sonata. Performing the piano numbers that Chopin left to the world is Russian pianist Stanislav Bunin, with musical composition by noted game composer Motoi Sakuraba. challenge other gamers on Xbox Live®.

I write about this today because, althought I detest the idea of preordering games at retail stores, I do occasionally gander at the coming soon lists on EB's website for good deals. Pre-ordering Eternal Sonata has one such deal. Order the game through their website and you'll get a free limited edition faceplate featuring character art from the game. Personally, I like the very stealthy look to my X360 with the fauxe carbon fibre faceplate I have on it. Guests routinely ask where the console is when it's actually right in front of them. But I am going to order the game and get the faceplate to put on display in my office.

Get the faceplate by pre-ordering the game at EBgames here.

Armageddon Empires

Bill Harris at Dubious Quality has an astonishingly thorough turn-by-turn guide for what he's considering the best PC game of the year: Armageddon Empires. It's a hex-based, 2D, card-based strategy game. Personally, the game seems a little too dense for my tastes but if you're into gaming on your PC, enjoy turn-based-strategy games, and don't mind games with steep learning curves you may want to check it out.

You can check out Bill's multi-part play guide here and can read about why he thinks it's so great right here. That last link also includes links to the games website and info on how to obtain a copy (not sold in stores).

BioShock Orchestral Tracks

Happened to click over to the Cult of Rapture website today and noticed that the folks at 2K have uploaded a zip file of the 12 orchestral tracks from BioShock. The songs are in MP3 fomat and could be downloaded for your listening pleasure right here.

In unrelated news, I took the air conditioning vents out of my office window two days ago and disassembled them for the winter. It's in the mid-80's here today and, naturally, it's turning into a sauna in west-facing home office.

Did Somebody Say Labor Day Party?

I really wish I could cancel the party this Saturday, but it's far too late for that. We're hosting a going-away/end-of-summer party for a friend of Kristin's who is moving away in a couple weeks. We decided to host it a couple months ago, long before I realized just how swamped I would be with work this week. Nevertheless, the party goes on... even if I have to stay a bit more sober than I'd otherwise prefer.

Should be pretty fun too. I'm picking up a bushel of oysters for steaming on Friday, we've got the makings of about 60 various chicken, steak, and shrimp ka-bobs, and perhaps most importantly we've got a couple of kegs of beer: Maritime Brewing's Seattle Lager and Snoqualmie Brewery's Pale Ale. I just hope the 30 or so people coming are thirsty. And not just for beer, either...

We saw this in the store the other night and just had to grab it for the party. We stocked the bar pretty well the other day, but I think we might just need to make pitchers of Lemon Drops or Kamikazis, otherwise a game like this could have some pretty ugly (and by ugly, I mean hysterical) consequences. Fans of Price is Right are certainly going to recognize the influence, but it's not Plinko, it's Drinko!

I-5 Colonnade on CNN

Thanks to Jon for passing this along to the BBTC listserve. The beneath-the-freeway mountain bike park our Backcountry Bicycle Trails Club has been working steadfastly on for two years now has been picked by CNN as one of the more creative examples of turning wasted space into green space.

Scroll through their selections here, I-5 Colonnade is #5 on a list that includes some pretty snazzy examples from some of the great cities of the world.

I hadn't been down to Colonnade in months, but I've seen photos on the BBTC site showing numerous skinnies, teeter-totters, and even a very cool looking suspension bridge now. It's come a long, long way since I last worked on it. And this is just for the "Novice Area" which is set to have it's grand opening next week. Hopefully I have the time to swing down there to attend the festivities. A quick scan of the list of people signed up to attend the party reveals a few names I believe never worked on the project. Hopefully they donated their money for one of the engraved paving stones instead. It'd be pretty lame of people who couldn't be bothered to even attend one work party in two years to suddenly show up for the party.

I-5 Colonnade Photo Gallery at

Guidebooks Shipping Tomorrow

I came home from the store this afternoon and found my box of BioShock Strategy Guides sitting on the porch. I had seen a PDF version of the book over a month ago, but that doesn't do it justice. The book is printed on heavyweight paper and the shear heft of the book just feels so awesome in your hands. Yeah, I'm really proud of this one. Don't get me wrong, I'm proud of all the books I write (mostly all of them, at least) but usually there's one or two each year that really strike a chord with me and hold a special place in my heart. This is one of them. Actually, this may be one of the best books I've written in my seven years of doing this. Definitely top three.

But I digress, signed copies of the guidebook will be shipping out tomorrow. Eric, Ben, Jeff, Mark, and Mathew are the lucky recipients of the Official BioShock Strategy Guide. If you were late in getting an email in to me for this giveaway, check back in early October as I'll have two more guidebook giveaways then. That is, if writing them doesn't kill me first...

The Thumb's Mortal Enemy


It was actually quite hard for me to type the above sentence as my natural instinct is to tap the spacebar with my right thumb after every few letters. I'm sure you all have the same instinct. So imagine my frustration I'm feeling whenever I try to type with my laptop, only to realize that the spacebar doesn't work. Well, it sort of does. Occasionally. After I mash on it five or six times.

I often get asked why, in this day and age, do I have a desktop computer. The bevy of reasons is quite obvious: most of my work is done at home with two 20" monitors running simultaneously, I occasionally have to play very graphics intensive PC games for work (while Word or Photoshop is running in another window), and because the screencapturing process often requires either manipulating nearly 200 gigabytes worth of gameplay video or sifting through thousands of high-definition screenshots that weigh in at over 8 megabytes apiece. For me, a powerful desktop computer is just an obvious choice.

But I guess now thanks to the frustration I'm feeling with my laptop, I can add yet another reason to enjoy desktop PCs over laptops. When the keyboard (or mouse) stops working, I merely have to go to the store and buy a new one. I don't have to take anything apart and try to play MacGuyver the Geek on it. I don't have to call customer service or scrounge around for warranty information. And best of all, I don't have to buy a whole new computer on account of a broken spacebar. Unless of course, I want to. After all, the laptop in question is about 3 or 4 years ancient and even then only cost me $900. The guys at Epic Studios last year had a grand ol' time making fun of my cheapo laptop. I guess Gears of War proved too much for the little Sony that could...

The Kite Runner

Sometimes it's better to not show up at all, then to be late. This isn't one of those times. I've seen this book on bookshelves for several years. I've seen it at Barnes & Noble, I've seen it at Target, and I've seen it at more airport bookstores than I care to mention. I've held it in my hands numerous times, read the blurb time and again, almost bought it on so many cross-country trips, but never did. I don't know why. Maybe the L-word on the cover's quoted review from the New York Times scared me off. Literature. We all have ideas of what Literature is and mine contain an upwardly pointed nose. I enjoy non-fiction books, mostly travel writing to be exact. And on the occasion that I do pick up a work of fiction, I like it to be funny like "Freddy and Fredericka" or, at the least, wholly unique like "Life of Pi". So, for over four years, I let "The Kite Runner" go unread. Until finally I noticed that the author, Khaled Hosseini, had another well-praised book on the market and that "The Kite Runner" was marked down. I was staring at a week of lonely nights in a tent at TransRockies so I figured it was time I finally read this book.

I'm so glad I did. Hosseini's writing is superb and if not for a little detective work of comparing in-story dates with his bio, I almost refused to believe his claim that the book was fiction and not autobiographical. Much of "The Kite Runner" takes place in Kabul, Afghanistan in the 1970's and tells the coming of age tale of Amir, a young boy in one of the exclusive neighborhoods in Kabul. It's about his friendship with the son of his family's servant and about how Amir betrays that friendship. As the years pass, the boy moves with his father to California to escape the Russian invasion. While in the US, Amir marries and starts a successful career as a novelist. All the while, back in Afghanistan, his former countrymen are living under the heel of the Taliban's oppressive regime. Without spoiling anything, I'll say that events transpire that bring Amir, now a grown man, back to Kabul in the year 2001. The Kabul he sees isn't one that he recognizes from his youth, but moreso the one we Americans know from CNN. The descriptions can be horrifying at times and, in many ways, despite the reviewer claims of Literature, this fictional tale makes for a great travel story.

"The Kite Runner" is a must-read for anyone who enjoys reading and isn't so ethnocentric that they can't appreciate a story about sompleace where the people act, dress, and talk differently than typical Westerners. It's also a quick read. At 370-plus pages, it's the perfect length, but the story is so gripping and written with such flow that you'll find yourself cruising through 40 to 60 pages with each sitting. Despite being utterly exhausted at TransRockies each night, I mnanaged to get through the first 250 pages in my tent that week. For me, that's a lot as I'm a very slow reader. Definitely pick it up, as it's certainly as good as the hype and praise.

And yes, you will learn all about kite running. And if you're like me, you'll think it's pretty damn cool.

Link to "The Kite Runner" at Barnes & Noble.

Rules of Java

Much to the joy of everyone who was ever disappointed by the Bibo Coffee shop here in my development, a new Starbucks opened up in Snoqualmie Ridge in recent weeks. Even better, a fanciful Zoka Coffee shop is set to soon open in the Bibo's space directly across the streeet from the Starbucks. Given this explosion of coffee feasting, it seems like now would be a good time to set some New Rules.

My apologies to Bill Maher...

New Rule: If you are in a coffee shop and use more than ten words in describing a single beverage request, the person behind you in line gets to kick you in the ass.

New Rule: If you are ordering coffee drinks that cost several dollars each, do not throw a temper tantrum about Washington's high sales tax. This goes double if the diamonds on your fingers are larger than your knuckles.

New Rule: Do not threaten the barista that "next time you'll go across the street". Zoka isn't even open yet and I'm already tired of hearing this. Well, actually I haven't heard anyone say it yet, but it's only a matter of time.

New Rule: Leave your dogs outside. Nuff said.

New Rule: Leave your children outside too while you're at it.

New Rule: It's perfectly acceptable to hog an entire table with your 20" widescreen laptop for two hours while you nurse that grande soy latte, but adding machines and rolodexes are strictly forbidden.

New Rule: If you are conducting a job interview for new baristas in the middle of the cafe, please do speak up so we can all hear how important people skills and being courteous are. I'm sure everyone would rather listen to your blather than continue quietly reading their fifteen pound copy of Harry Potter.

New Rule: Cellphones are strictly forbidden but an exception will be made for those with wireless headsets. However this exception only applies to those who have actually had Scottie beam them up.

New Rule: The only discussion of temperature should be about the weather. You are not so special that your venti no-whip sugar-free caramel mocha has to come at a certain temperature. Get over yourself.

New Rule: Do not question the tip jar. You throw bartenders a buck just for removing the twist-off on your bottle of Michelob Ultra, give the barista the same treatment. Even if all she did was pour you a cup of drip coffee, she still had to put up with your whiny ass.

TransRockies Photos

Dan Hudson is one of the pro photographers that were out on the course all week and although the roughly 16,000 photos of all the riders haven't yet been made available, Dan has sifted through his memory cards and picked his favorites from each day's stage.

You can view access the photos on this page. I don't appear in any of them but I'll be sure to post a link to the page of our team's photos once Spectrum Imaging makes them available. Click a link to the stage you want to see to open it in a new window. Each photo can be clicked to see a larger version; it's a really nice setup they have and Dan took some incredibly photos.

Amazing Simpsons Theme Song Rendition

Behold the guitar mastery of Zack Kim. Watch as he plays the Simpsons Theme on two guitars simultaneously. And to think I can't even 5-star every song on Guitar Hero...

From the Department of Ridiculous Analogies...

It's not necessary, but you do so for the same reason that some others choose to scale a mountain: because it's there.

What could be so monumental that Charles Bermant, whoever that is, would invoke legendary alpinist George Mallory's famed explanation for climbing Mt. Everest as an analogy? Why, checking your email of course. Just when you thought the world may have reached an apex in the use of absurd metaphors when Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour compared Hurricane Katrina to the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, along comes Charles-Special-to-the-Times-Bermant. Checking email is like climbing the world's tallest mountain. Really? Are you sure about that?

Bermant's article in today's Seattle Times is a rebuttal to a previous article about Internet addiction. It's a nice short article, but sounds more like a desperate attempt at explaining his own behavior -- checking email daily while on vacation -- than anything else. But the Mallory reference? Argggh...

I mean, sure, it is there. Yes, it is. But then so are a lot of things. Is my turning on SportsCenter whever I walk through the living room just like climbing a mountain? It's not that I need to see the Mariners' highlights every 2 hours it's just that, well, the tv is there. Or what about petting my dogs? I do that whenever I cross paths with one of them throughout the day. Is that just like climbing a mountain. Afterall, I woudn't pet them if they they weren't there.

Or maybe I'm just making a mountain out of an inbox? Probably, but it's the same thing with the phrase surfing the Internet. I hate that phrase. It's ridiculous. Absurd. And hopelessly contrived. Nobody who has ever gone surfing -- really surfing -- would say that what they do with the Internet is similar. One doesn't surf pages of HTML, they skim, browse, read, and peruse them. Surfing requires skill and athleticism. Watching YouTube does not. Climbing Everest requires determination, endurance, and stamina. Reading the forwarded chain letters from every ass-clown who knows your email address does not.

On second thought... seeing a list of emails from family members does have a certain Death Zone feel to it. Maybe Bermant was on to something afterall. Either that or my parents have his email address.

BioShock Strategy Guide Giveaway Redux

The game has released, my guidebook is on store shelves, and the near worldwide unanimous praise for the game means that I don't have to try and come up with an interesting way of saying how great the game it is. Everyone knows it's fantastic; that it's one of the single-best experiences in the history of the medium; and that it not only redefines the first-person shooter genre, but also sets the new standard for which all future games will be judged. If I worked for a competing game developer, I'd be scared to death. BioShock has single-handedly instantly elevated an entire generation of gamers expectations with regards to gameplay, story-telling, and atmoshpere that it's going to be very, very hard for others to impress us. Gamers are a pretty jaded lot and, at times (okay, most of the time) seem to only be happy when they're complaining. Nobody is complaining about BioShock. But that's going to stop as soon as the next game comes along and fails to live up to BioShock's lofty standards. I'm looking in Halo 3's direction.

But that's neither here nor there. I'm going to assume that my earlier Strategy Guide Giveaway post was simply buried under a mountain of TransRockies posts and that's why only one person mailed me about the giveaway.

So here it is again, only this time will be a little different: Be one of the first four people to email me requesting a copy of the guidebook and I'll get one out to you as soon as my shipment arrives (hopefully by tomorrow). In the meantime, here's a link to a sample chapter from the book and, last but not least, here's a link to interviews with Ken Levine and some of the other key developers who worked on the game.
My only regret is that I don't have time to play through the game again.

This is not Tempest!

Is it possible for a retro game to be from the future?

If so, then it would explain a lot about newly-released Space Giraffe on XBLA. If you recall, this was one of the games I mentioned back during my E3 teaser-trailer throwdown. It was part of the XBLA montage of videos and essentially looked like a version of the 80's classic game Tempest... on LSD mixed with crack and delivered in a shot glass of Red Bull. It should come as no surprise to those who play Space Giraffe that the game's creator, Jeff Minter, was also the man behind Tempest -- the man certainly has a thing for odd geometric shapes. Yet, according to this gamer, there seems to have been a step missing. For if Space Giraffe represents the 2000's version of 80's gem Tempest, then I truly fear for whatever Minter has in store for the 2020's version. In fact, God willing, Minter will be dead by then. No, it's not that I wish the man harm, it's just that I truly, honestly, do fear for the continued assault he brings to my eyes. Space Giraffe is so... I trouble for the words... umm... I think "f'ing crazy" fits the bill, that it is much easier to think of this as a game from the future. A game designed for an evolved form of humans with multiple eyes that come pre-equipped with an ability to screen and filter bright lights and automatically adjust contrast. For if this game isn't from the future, then I say it's time to get the pitchforks, light the torches, and storm the gates of Llamasoft Studios ,because somebody's got some 'splaining to do!

I say that in jest of course. There is a part of me that truly does expect to fall into an uncontrollable epileptic attack-turned-seizure while playing this game and I do keep a damp paper towel on hand just in case blood does start to dribble from my retinas, but the game is nevertheless, genius simplified. It's beautiful, it's addictive, it's highly challenging, and the music kicks all sorts of ass. And it costs just five bucks. This is gaming.

Space Giraffe pits you as some sort of "giraffe" moving about on one of 100-shaped three-dimensional "webs". Your motion is limited to the outer ring (think of the web as a flattened cylinder) and all you can do is run back and forth on this outer edge while all sorts of critters are crawling out of the depths towards you. Some fire bullets at you, others rapidly expand, but mostly they just crawl out of the web to the outer ring to get you. Your job is to shoot them back and keep the Power Zone expanded, which is a white line that moves backwards from the outer edge into the web as you continue to shoot the enemies. Enemies that advance towards you and enter the Power Zone can be bull-rushed off the web by your giraffe. The best way to do this is to hang out at the side of the web, let all of the critters reach the outer edge, then use a Jump Pod to max out the Power Zone. With the Power Zone expanded, you can steamroll over the critters on the edge of the web for crazy amounts of points. This also produces a bull noise and boosts the multiplier.

I was going to say that the one aspect of the game that was really lacking for me was the How to Play instructions and Tutorial. But now that I've tried my hand at describing how to play this game, I see how difficult it really is. This is a game that you definitely need to play the Tutorial for, then you need to try and struggle through a few levels. Then you need to go back and re-read the instructions and replay the Tutorial again. Only then will you likely fully grasp the concept.

And that's okay, because not everything has to be terribly easy and obvious the first time we play it. Give Space Giraffe fifteen minutes or so and chances are you'll start to have an understanding of what you're doing. Give it a half hour and you'll start to really see the beauty in this game. I didn't have time to play a whole lot with it yesterday, but I will say that there's only one thing that bugs me about this game. And that's the bullets and some of the enemies are really hard to see. The graphics are extremely busy and there is an overdose of glow and other lighting effects being used. What makes the game so gorgeous to look at it also makes it very hard to play. I can't tell you how many times I walked right into a bullet that I couldn't see because of how busy the screen gets. And I've yet to make it past level 13 out of 100. Nevertheless, it's hard to say no to such a work of art when it costs so little. Give it a go. If nothing else, you'll be able to have friends trip out on it during parties. Who needs drugs when you have Space Giraffe?

Interested? Read more at the Llamasoft blog right here. There's an excellent step-by-step breakdown of the Tutorial and first nine levels of the game, all of which are available in the free demo. There's also some gameplay videos so those without an X360 can see what the fuss is.

*By the way, the title of this post is the first line from the "How to Play" instructions for Space Giraffe. I thought it was very funny.

Race Report: TransRockies Challenge

Before I jump into the day-to-day racing, I just want to say that this was an experience I won't soon forget, if ever. Spending a week in the Kootenay range of the Canadian Rockies with my bike, a trusty teammate, and a supportive wife and her sister was remarkable. I'm a lucky man to be able to go 7 days where my only concern was to wake up at 5:30, eat breakfast, load a bag on a truck, and ride my bike all day. The TransRockies crew, my teammate Brett, and our incredible support crew of Kristin and Lindsay, made it so that turning over the pedals of my mountain bike was the only thing I really needed to worry about for a week's time. And in that week I rode over 500 kilometers, climbed dozens of towering mountain passes, forded countless rivers, and experienced the satisfaction of digging deep, emptying my internal fuel tank, and racing with some of the very best mountain bikers in the world. In one of the most scenic regions of North America. Into the mountains we went day after day and out we came with memories, friendships, and enhanced skill and fitness.

*Note: The distances and elevation data provided here is from the Official Route Book. The information is not 100% accurate, as each day was typically 2 kilometers shorter than advertised, but contained roughly 320 meters of additional climbing. Also, just as a general aside, I should say that most stages had 2 or 3 checkpoints but that we never stayed there for more than 2 to 3 minutes. We were always pushing forward. Our finishing times represent nearly continuous time in the saddle. There were 131 teams in the Open Men division at the start of the race.

Stage 1: Panorama to Invermere

- Total Distance: 33 km (20.5 miles)
- Total Ascent: 1139 meters (3,737 feet)
- Paved Road: 8.0%
- Gravel Road: 16.0%
- Double/Single-Track: 76%

- Open Men: 85th Place
- Finish Time: 3:45:37

In many ways, this was the most grueling and painful stage of the week. The race began at the base of the Panorama Ski Resort and after a short but fast procession through the village, we quickly hopped onto a doubletrack trail and climbed up the side of the main ski mountain. My heartrate was already above 180 bpm before we even reached the trail and the combination of high temps, elevation, and a ridiculous pace left me gasping for air and wondering what it was I was trying to do to myself. I had to stop and gasp for air. I used taking photos as an excuse for stopping. Needing to pee was another excuse I used. We eventually reached a massive bottleneck where hundreds of riders were funneled onto a tight, rooty section of singletrack. We stood in line for ten minutes and waited our turn at the unrideable tangle of trail. It was here where I finally got my heartrate below 175 bpm and was able to smile at myself for jubilantly riding the skinny ladder bridge at the base of the mountain for kicks. It was off the side of the trail and I thought it would make for a cool photo.

We soon exited the woods onto a super-steep mountainside and hiked the bikes over 3,000 feet in elevation gain in less than 2 miles to the Taynton Pass saddle at 7,250 feet. This was the most arduous and painful hikes I've ever done with my bike. Brett and I joked about longing for "easy" rides like 5 Drainages. My heartrate leapt to 185 bpm and hovered there for over an hour as we and several hundred other masochists followed one another up the steep and loose trail. The ski resort was a dollhouse filled with ant-sized people below us. Directly behind me during the hike-a-bike was two guys from Calgary who I met at the 24-hour race in Spokane. They finished 5th and 6th in Spokane to my 7th place finish. Small world this endurance racing is. I beat them this time, though. Ha!

The descent from Taynton Pass was epic. Thirty-six very tight and technical switchbacks dropped us to the heralded Canyon Trails where we roller-coastered our way through several miles of pristine singletrack alongside canyon edges, sometimes close enough to see the aquamarine water hundreds of feet below the trail. Did somebody say vertigo? It was clear on this very first day that Brett would have to slow a bit for me on the climbs, but that together we would out-ride many other teams on the singletrack as our technical skills easily outclassed most other riders, especially in the middle and back of the pack. The switchbacks were as tough as those on the Palisades trail here in Washington and we cleaned most of them and made up a lot of ground on teams that passed us during the climb. We each crashed once on the switchback descent -- nothing serious -- but it was good to get what would be our one and only crash of the week out of the way early.

Stage 2: Invermere to Nipika

- Total Distance: 60 km (37.3 miles)
- Total Ascent: 1302 meters (4,271 feet)
- Paved Road: 9.0%
- Gravel Road: 45.5.0%
- Double/Single-Track: 45.5%

- Open Men: 83rd Place
- Finish Time: 5:03:26

Day 2 began with a long gradual climb to the top of the notorious Bear Creek descent. I was still having a bit of trouble getting used to the heat and elevation and was, again, pretty slow on the ascent. This unfortunately left us in bad position leading to the Bear Creek descent. These several kilometers of rough, rocky, rooty trail dropped steeply while crossing back and forth through the sturm and drang of the Bear Creek drainage valley. The organizers warned of the trail being mostly unrideable and how dangerous this stretch would be. They said 50% would have to be walked. Brett and I easily rode half of the trail and could have ridden most of the rest too had it not been for the unskilled train of riders we were stuck behind. Again my slower climbing ability landed us further back in the pack than we belonged and what would have been an incredibly epic and gnarly descent was one of frustration and rising tempers. We tried to pass some slower riders but there were simply so many people walking the descent it was an effort in futility, especially given the steep rock drops and occasional mud bogs.

Brett and I never once uttered a single word to one another that wasn't positive during the entire week, yet we were both growing angry with the fun being stolen from us by the slower riders we were stuck behind. Fortunately, when we came to our first river crossing, the frigid thigh-deep water washed away our anger and we were soon on the gravel roads leading towards the exceptionally beautiful and remote Nipika Mountain Resort. Unfortunately I broke my chain about 10 miles from the finish and our haste lead to our having to rebreak and fix it a second time as we accidentally forgot to route it through the chainrings when fixing it. We lost about 10 minutes here, but like our crashes on day 1, this would be our only mechanical problem of the week. We didn't so much as have a single flat tire the rest of the race.

Stage 3: Nipika Loop through Millar Pass

- Total Distance: 90.1 km (56.0 miles)
- Total Ascent: 1139 meters (4,993 feet)
- Paved Road: 0%
- Gravel Road: 57.1%
- Double/Single-Track: 42.9%

- Open Men: 84th Place
- Finish Time: 6:02:49

For the first time in the six years of the event, we would be starting and finishing at the same place. Forest fires in Alberta forced a last-minute re-route of the course and, fortunately for us, the race organizers always have contingency plans in place and alternate routes for us to take. Today we would ride further than the first two stages combined in a large loop through Millar Pass. The scenery on this day was as epic as any I had seen and, best of all, I finally begun to get my legs under me and was feeling strong enough to shake off the rust that had me doubting myself in the weeks leading up to this race. Again the pace at the start of the event was off the level and although I felt a bit better than in previous days at the start, I still had to have Brett reign in his energy a bit so I could keep up. This stage also introduced what would be a constant refrain from riders for the rest of the week -- the cautionary yelling of "Bar!!!" during descents. Much of the double-track trails we descended on were very steep and cross-trenched with waterbars to minimize runoff and erosion. Hitting these trenches at high speed was a recipe for disaster and, much to Kristin's worrisome dismay, the medi-vac helipcopter was quite busy on Stage 3. Evertime it lifted off for another rescue Kristin was forced to worry if it was flying for me. The pit in her stomach would last until she saw me roll into camp hours later. Poor thing. Things got so bad on one descent that organizers stepped in to block the trail and meter the traffic at 30 second intervals. Numerous riders met the end of their week on the slopes of Millar Pass, one of which had to be helicoptered to Calgary's emergency room. Others made the trip in ambulances.

Although trying to keep the bike's rubber side down during the dusty, high-speed descents through the fields of waterbars made the stress of the day weigh heavy on the mind, it was our off-course jaunt that cost us dearly. Brett and I formed a nice four-man paceline on the gravel roads between the second and third checkpoints and mutually oblivious to the world around us, followed this other team through a wrong turn. For a half hour the four of us climbed switchback after switchback up the wrong mountain pass. We rode three kilometers off course and climbed nearly 1,500 feet up a mountain we had no reason to be on. It proved to be a blessing in disguise.

The final 6 miles of the day were on beautifully technical singletrack on the cliffs above the Kootenay River. The trail was dry, rooty, and swooped back and forth inches from what would be a certain-death freefall into the river below. It was exhilirating and Brett and I picked our way through the field of riders. We were thinking the same thing -- let's make sure those guys who went off course with us don't beat us. They were about three teams ahead of us in a long line of riders on the singletrack and when we descended to the river's edge they took the turn wide and we passed on the inside. I heard one of them say, "There goes team two, shit!". And it was on. Our friendly rivalry with a couple of guys from the UK who led us off course was born. We soon climbed a ridiculously steep hand-over-hand riverbank to regain the cliffs above the river and Brett looked back to me. "Do you have anything left to pass some riders?" he asked. I told him I'd give it my all and together we raced past team after team and charged hard through the last roller-coaster hills to the line. In those final miles of day 3, after going off-course for half an hour, we made the transformation from a couple of guys hoping to finish TransRockies to a team that would be giving it their all every day. A team that, albeit in the middle of the Open Men pack, would be one to reckon with.

Stage 4: Nipika to Whiteswan Lake

- Total Distance: 113 km (70.2 miles)
- Total Ascent: 1139 meters (4,403 feet)
- Paved Road: 0%
- Gravel Road: 54.9%
- Double/Single-Track: 45.1%

- Open Men: 64th Place
- Finish Time: 6:19:11

Stage 4 is proof positive that elevation profiles and route descriptions could be very misleading. On paper this looked like an easy day and one that we would be able to make up some ground on other teams. The elevation profile showed two major climbs of about 6oo meters each followed by a nearly 40-kilometer descent on gravel road. How hard could it be? Knowing that much of the mileage would be rapidly chewed up in a paceline on gravel roads, we really worked hard on the singletrack and double-track sections. Brett was forever encouraging me on and I rewarded his positive attitude with fresh legs and steady climbing. Instead of falling behind on the climbs, I held my ground well and, at times, we even passed a few people going up the mountain instead of down. We were fast through the river crossings and steady on the climbs. Although Brett's fearlessness would put a gap between us on the blistering descents, I was able to keep him in sight and hold off most other teams.

That is, until we reached the supposed gravel road finishing stretch. The easy 40 kilometers we relied on to bring us home was one of the most painful and demoralizing stretches of the entire week-long experience. We exhausted ourselves while climbing the final mountain to the top of the lengthy road section only to find that the road steered us straight into a howling headwind; that the road was heavily washboarded; and that there was nearly as much uphill as there was downhill. Sure, the overall gradient was downhill, but 300 meters of downhill over 40 kilometers leaves plenty of room for strength-sapping rollers. We weren't halfway done with this stretch of road before it was clear I was running on empty. I lacked the strength to hang onto the pacelines that roared past us for very long and our worst fear was realized: we were too slow to ride with the pacelines we saw and too fast to be caught by other isolated riders. Brett dug deeper, pulled in front of me, and blocked the wind for much of this stretch. Mile after mile, Brett pushed himself harder and harder to allow me to draft behind. Both of us were exhausted, sunburnt, caked with dust, and practically begging to see the finish line. Brett sacrificed his reserves to get us home. The guys that crossed the line that day wearing our uniforms and riding our bikes were empty shells of the men who set out from Nipika some 6-plus hours earlier.

Stage 5: Whiteswan Lake to Elkford

- Total Distance: 93.3 km (58.0 miles)
- Total Ascent: 1528 meters (5,013 feet)
- Paved Road: 1.7%
- Gravel Road: 51.5%
- Double/Single-Track: 46.8%

- Open Men: 49th Place
- Finish Time: 5:40:04

Despite the utterly depleted feeling we shared at the end of the previous stage, seeing that we finally finished in the top half of our class put a bounce in our step. Mine especially. Brett was still reeling from the previous day's tremendous effort, but I felt fresh. My plan of eating until I feel vomitous has been working well and while Kristin, Lindsay, and the rest of the travelling circus caravan of TransRockies made the four hour drive to Elkford, I put the hammer down and paid Brett back by pulling him through the hardest day yet. The race started and I immediately felt better than in previous days. I had my legs. I rode myself into shape and it was my time to shine. My time to lead. This was a team event and Brett needed me to do the encouraging, for me to block the wind, and for me to guide us home.

I climbed the first major climb of the day, a 900-meter ascent up the Elk Creek Drainage, better than I climbed all week. Good enough in fact to put my big 29er wheels to good use on the way down and steamroll past teams walking the tricky technical debris torrents that washed out the trail. We soon came to an awesome section of rooty singletrack belonging to a trapper who lives in a cabin in a meadow we eventually came to. Talk about a slice of paradise. Brett was bonking pretty hard on this section of singletrack, but I felt great and gave him my wheel to draft off. I was happy to return the encouraging sentiments on this day and mile after mile of rooty, fun singletrack rolled under our wheels. We reached the second checkpoint and looked around. The scenery was beautiful but better still was the new faces we hadn't before seen outside of the dining tent. These were the faces and shaved legs of fast riders, many of whom we had seen on the podium each night. Today was going to be epic!

I continued to feel strong on the second major climb of the day up the White River Drainage. It was a double-track climb through heartbreakingly beautiful mountain scenery. It was the perfect climb and I don't recall getting off the bike once -- just the perfect sit-and-spin climb that went on for miles and miles and climbed a couple thousand feet. Best of all, we knew a super technical rock-garden descent was coming up on the other side. The organizers warned that a three-kilometer stretch of the descent was extremely rocky and technical and that a 1-kilometer stretch was all but unrideable. We rode it all. Brett and I blasted past several teams walking lengthy sections that resembled a roided-up version of Porcupine Rim then soon came to a half-mile stretch of wall-to-wall angular chunks of quartzite the size of, pardon the phrase, baby heads. We paused, saw the numerous photographers further down the trail, and injected ourselves with some Kodak Kourage. I watched one rider endo on the rocks and catapult himself over the embankment and into the trees in a full airborne somersault. I saw him laughing and continued on. My legs are and still bruised and scratched from the rocks I kicked up during this descent but Brett and I cleaned 99% of this "unrideable" trail and found ourselves hooting and hollering the whole way down. The ride was perfectly punctuated by seeing a large black bear saunter across the road 50 yards in front of us on our way into Elkford.

We knew we'd move up in the standings a lot today and that our finishing time was going to land us in the top third of all teams, but we didn't know how well we had done until the awards ceremony for that day's stage. All week long we spent at least a portion of every day riding with the two girls who placed third in Open Female every night. They often beat us, but not by too much. Day 5 was different. Not only did we finish ahead of them, but we actually finished within 15 minutes of the Open Female winners, a team featuring US Olympian Sue Haywood. The Open Male winners once again beat us by over an hour, but the women riders are superbly fast and I'm damn proud to say I finished a 58 mile ride only 15 minutes off the pace of Sue Haywood.

Stage 6: Elkford to Sparwood

- Total Distance: 116 km (72.1 miles)
- Total Ascent: 2300 meters (7,546 feet)
- Paved Road: 16.0%
- Gravel Road: 57.0%
- Double/Single-Track: 27.0%

- Open Men: 51st Place
- Finish Time: 7:21:17

Welcome to the Queen Stage, the most brutal stage of the entire race. Prior to Stage 6 I might have been apt to come home and say that TransRockies wasn't as tough as I thought it would be. I have no such inkling anymore. Cycling News' report on this day pegs it as one of the most difficult stages in TransRockies history and I am in no place to disagree. First, the conditions. On top of the high temperatures and constantly blowing dust clouds, we were deep in a haze of high altitude smoke from a nearby forest fire. Ridges and mountain tops right next to us were barely visible through the thick haze of the smoke and our week of blue skies and cloudless days had given way to a suffocating blanket of gray that reminded Brett and I of a misplaced Seattle November. And then there was the course. The stage began with a steep three kilometer road climb leading out of the town of Elkford and up onto the fun, technical singletrack near the picturesque Josephine Falls. From there it was a fast gravel road section to the first of the day's two 3,000-foot climbs.

The first major climb topped out at 2,000 meters above sea level and was mostly rideable but did contain several steep hike-a-bike pitches that required short bursts of pushing. The descent was a combination of double-track and gravel road and aside from the occasional hair-raising waterbar, was relatively uneventful. We blasted over a smorgasbord of track conditions through the 30 kilometers between the second and third checkpoint and were anxious to start the final major climb of the week-long event. It was an 1100-meter ascent that would bring us high above the mining town of Sparwood. Again I pedaled nearly the entire climb and although Brett felt as if we were back in the middle of the pack, I knew better. We yielded few places on the climbs and I was sure we were holding our own at the top third of the field.

The descent into Sparwood was ridiculous. Absurd. Stupid. Did I mention ridiculous? For starters it was steep. Not ass-behind-the-seat steep, but fast enough to require constant braking. Secondly, it was heavily rutted and wheel placement was of the utmost concern. And then there was the willow trees. They leaned over the trail roughly five feet off the ground to create a green visibility-blocking arch. For two miles we descended through this seemingly impenetrable network of willow branches, forever yelling "Slowing!!!" to one another and being slapped across the face, chest, and head by branch after branch. All the while trying to ensure we don't hook the wrong side of the gully with our front wheels. I'd say it was a suitable cap to a arduous day, but we were far from done.

We soon hit the singletrack in Sparwood. The sweet, buttery, swooping, roller-coaster Sparwood singletrack that erased all pain, delighted everyone, and is worth another 10-hour drive to southeastern British Columbia in its own right. Brett and I were up far enough in the field that we were able to cruise this world class stretch of pristine tread with some very fast riders. No slowpokes here. We banked, we climbed, we descended, and we yelped with glee as we sped through the turns at mach speed. And then we crashed back to the stark reality of TransRockies: this is one tough race. Despite filling our hydration packs at the third checkpoint, we were out of water and still had several miles of double-track to go. Hilly double-track. And then when the double-track was done, we had hike-a-bike boulder crawls underneath a pair of bridges on rocks the size of Volkswagens. We were utterly spent, dehydrated, caked in coal mine dust, sunburnt, and had spent over 7 hours breathing forest fire smoke. We finished and nearly collapsed across the finish line. And we did in fact finish in the top third of the field. Stage 6 took no prisoners and left many casualties.

The organizers knew the absurdity of the day's dimensions and enforced no cutoff times on this day so as to maximize the number of finishers. Several teams were finally pulled from the course as darkness set in at 9:30 that night, more than thirteen hours after the day's racing had begun. No, I wouldn't dare suggest that this race is easy. Anybody could enter TransRockies and I strongly believe everyone should. Just don't expect to finish without proper conditioning and skill.

Stage 7: Sparwood to Fernie

- Total Distance: 48 km (29.8 miles)
- Total Ascent: 655 meters (2,149 feet)
- Paved Road: 12.0%
- Gravel Road: 63.0%
- Double/Single-Track: 25.0%

- Open Men: 54th Place
- Finish Time: 2:11:33

If Stage 6 goes down as one of the most difficult days in TransRockies history, then Stage 7 is sure to become known as the fastest. The organizers predicted a finishing time just over two hours. That was for the winners of the Open Male division, not for a pair of guys from the Seattle area hanging on in 54th place. Despite the tremendously difficult day that preceded this final stage (not to mention the 5 days that preceded that day) this was essentially a thirty-mile all-out cross-country race. The field exploded off the starting line as if shot from a cannon with fresh, perfectly rested legs. I had to practically beg Brett to slow up a bit over the first 15 kilometers as even my exhausted, depressed heart rate had once again risen back to 175 bpm. Finally, after about 20 kilometers, I regained my form and on a gravel road stretch pulled my big wheels in front of Brett and gave him a tow at 65 kilometers per hour down a gentle descent. We instantly closed a 100-yard gap on a train of riders and settled in behind them as the climbing returned.

We rolled straight through the day's lone Checkpoint, barely slowing enough for me to rip a bannana from a volunteer's hand. We were racing like our live's depended on it. It was the final day of TransRockies and we weren't there for a cruise. We had no misconceptions of trying to actually win but we raced as if a 50th place finish was the most important thing in the world. Every rider we saw was marked. We targeted everyone, dug deep, and fought to let no racer go unpassed. We knew the legendary Fernie singletrack was looming on the horizon beyond the last major hill of the day and I knew I wanted to be out of traffic when we reached it. I looked at Brett, told him I had it in me to make a move if he did and, just like that, we leapt to our feet and danced our way up and over the last climb while passing about 10 teams in the process.

The Fernie singletrack is tops. I will make a return trip next year to ride more of it and can't for the life of me see why anyone would ever choose hot spots like Moab in its stead. Fernie is the next big thing in outdoor recreation and I feel somewhat treasonous for aiding in its increased popularity with my measly blog but it has to be said. It was simply that good.

We entered the singletrack at speed and, despite a line of somewhat timid riders in front of us, somehow managed to speed up and over a lengthy, narrow ladder bridge-to-skinny the likes of which I hadn't ever dared attempt back home. That's what living on your bike for seven days does for you -- you become immune to difficulty and shed your fear. I cleaned it like it was nothing. We sped through the up-and-down Fernie singletrack, squeezed through narrow tree openings, hammered our way up the steeps and rocketed the descents. We zipped over ladder bridges, bunny-hopped logs, and -- my friends won't believe this -- even aired it out on a pair of dirt jumps at the bottom of the mountain. We had two fast hard miles to go from the end of the singletrack to the finish line and Brett and I each turned drill sergeant and barked orders at one another to dig deeper, to leave nothing behind, and to pedal harder than we each ever had in all our years of riding. Why? I don't know. It just seemed the right thing to do. We crossed the line in 2:11, a time the organizers barely expected world-class Olympians to finish in. I had never ridden thirty miles so fast in my life, nor probably ever will again. I nearly burst into tears coming down the stretch from the pain, the delight, the joy, and the sense of pure relief that this great challenge was over. I had earned my finisher's t-shirt.

Final Results
- Total Distance: 515 kilometers (320 miles)
- Total Ascent: 11,250 meters (36,909 feet)
- Open Men 61st Place of 131 Teams
- Finishing Time: 36:24:00
- Time Difference: 11:44:36 behind winner (last place finishers were over 20 hours behind us)

Special Thanks
That's right, I'm writing an acknowledgements section on my blog. We took a long, scenic drive through northeastern Washington yesterday on the way home and I had plenty of time to think about what helped get me not only to the finish line, but more importantly to the starting line. For starters, there's Kristin. She offers me tremendous support and encouragement on so many levels I can't begin to describe it here. Those who know us and who read this blog with any regularity know all the crazy things she puts up with, volunteers for, and says yes to. Did I mention she and Lindsay had congratulatory cards and bottles of champagne waiting for us at the finish line Saturday? They did. Speaking of Lindsay, she was a huge help this week. She'll be the first to admit she's not the most nurturing person (her words), but it could have fooled me. She and Kristin washed bikes, readied recovery drinks, did laundry, and made life for Brett and I as easy as could be. They got to do some hiking and spend some fun time together, but they also worked hard so we didn't have to.

I want to also give a big thank you to my sponsors, BradyGames and Scott Friedman of Re/Max on the Ridge. BradyGames has been a tremendous company to write for the past 7 years and I was proud to represent them throughout this year of racing. As for Scott, what can I say? He's the best damn realtor I know and helped us buy our first house.

And then there's my teammate Brett. While other teams were bickering and getting on each other's nerves Brett and I remained ever positive and supportive. There wasn't a single climb in the entire 7 days during which Brett failed to tell me how good I was doing or offer other words of encouragement. And I the same during the descents and fast sections. He was truly impressive to watch and I became a better rider this week through riding with him. I can't imagine how this week would have gone with another partner, but it certainly wouldn't have gone as well. That I'm sure of.

Lastly, I want to thank all of you who email and post comments. I write this blog for me. It's a way to vent, to share, and to simply express myself. Far more people read it than I ever imagined and make no mistake that every pair of eyes that sees this page mean something to me. It's a great source of pride for me that so many of you pause during your busy days to see what I have to say. For that I thank you.

And now I promise to not write about TransRockies again for a very long time.

TransRockies Finisher!

It's done. We had a great week of racing in the Canadian Rockies and finished 61st in the Open Men division. There were 131 teams in our division that started the race and 120 that finished and right there in the middle of all of the hot competition was us. Our final combined time for the 7 days of racing was 36 hours, 24 minutes, 0 seconds. I'll be posting a proper report later today, but for now you can just soak in my coveted finisher's t-shirt and certificate.

Behold, one of the most expensive t-shirts in the world!

Thanks for all the emails and messages everybody. It was great knowing that so many people was home checking in on the stage results and wishing me luck. I hope you enjoy reading the report I post later today.

Perma-Post: TransRockies Link

Here's a direct link to the TransRockies website where they should be posting updates each day. Should I get to post new content, it will appear directly below this.

TransRockies main page.

Greetings From Panorama! - Day 0

After a 12 hour drive, we did finally arrive at Panorama Mountain Resort last night. Brett, who left two hours after us from Kirkland, arrived a bit before we did -- the man doesn't believe in stopping for food. Anyway, the scenery is great, we're checked in, and the bikes are tuned and ready to roll.

Our race number is 2.

That's right, another totally pimpin' single-digit race number for yours truly. Apparently this means we have to line up in front tomorrow morning and lead the 2 kilometer procession through the village at the start of the race. That giant whooooooooshing sound you'll hear after 11am tomorrow will be hundreds of cyclists blowing past us as we encounter the first climb. Maybe.

Speaking of climbs, tomorrow's stage is only 33 kilometers, but features a climb of 1200 meters in less than 6 kilometers. That's roughly 1,000 feet per mile for 3.5 miles. Gulp! The race organizer during the opening ceremonies tonight said that we should be able to pedal about 40 feet of the 2.2 kilometer hike. The good news is that after the hike, we'll face 36 switchbacks descending down the backside of the mountain and then enter the Canyon Trails in Invermere which are in his words are "The Best. Not the best in Invermere, not the best in BC or Canada, but The Best. Period." We'll see about that, but I'm obviously looking forward to finding out.

Anyway, it will be a few days before I can update again (most likely). Thanks for reading. Kristin and Lindsay had a nice day of bear-free hiking today halfway up the mountain and then, after lunch, we took a sightseeing chairlift ride up the mountain for some photos. The scenery blows away what I've seen elsewhere. The Canadian Rockies are certainly awe-inspiring.

TransRockies: Heading North!

Lindsay will be here in a couple hours and then it's time to load the truck, turn off the computers, and get one last good night of sleep before the 12 hour drive north to Panorama tomorrow morning. Thanks to everyone who sent along the good luck wishes these past few days -- that was really nice to see.

Race Updates
The TransRockies people will be posting daily updates with photos on the main race website. If you're interested in following along at home, follow this link. The race starts on Sunday.

Also, I'm going to try and post an occasional update here on my blog when I can so be sure to check back for some short first-hand accounts of what's going on.

Where Will We be?

This is a point-to-point off-road race covering 600 kilometers and roughly 12,000 meters of elevation gain (approximately 370 miles and 40,000 feet of gain) taking place in southeastern British Columbia, just south of Banff National Park.

Here are some links to some of the spots will be spending the night.

Panorama Ski Resort - We'll be here Friday night to Sunday morning. I'm hoping to take one or two easy runs on the lift-served trails on Saturday to stretch out the legs.

Invermere, BC - We'll arrive here Sunday night and spend the night outside of town before heading out Monday morning.

Nipika Mountain Resort - This is a wilderness "resort" near a lake that we'll apparently be spending two nights at instead of one due to the forest fire closure. We'll arrive here Monday and ride an out-and back course on Tuesday, then finally head out on Wednesday for good. Apparently the out-and-back will include a 5 mile climb up 3,000 feet. I'm not looking forward to that.

We'll also be enjoying stopovers in Whiteswan Lake, Elkford, Sparwood, and Fernie along the route. We were supposed to visit Crowsnest Pass in Alberta, but that's looking unlikely due to the forest closure. That's a shame too, as the photos I have seen looked like Crowsnest Pass was one of the best camping sites along the whole route. Oh well... an extra night in Nipika should be a nice addition though.

So that's it. We're off. Thanks for reading and be sure to send some good vibes northward next week. We'll need it!

TransRockies: Gear List

I've gotten a few questions about what I'm bringing in terms of spare bike parts, equipment, gear, nutrition and the like so I thought I'd try and detail as much as possible about what I'm going to be bringing. But keep in mind that I can only bring this much because I'll have a support crew following us from stage to stage, otherwise I'd be limited to whatever I could fit in the duffel bag they provide us.

The Bike
I'll be riding my Mooto-X YBB 29er. The bike served me very well in the 24-hour race at Spokane and on the Kokopelli Trail and although I may wish for more rear suspension at times, the bike is very reliable and I enjoy riding it. The bike has a new seat, new brake pads front and rear, and a brand new Ignitor 2.1 tire on the front and Crossmark 2.1 tire on the rear. The drivetrain is still running very well so I'm not going to make any changes. The bike was just given a tune-up and the hubs are packed good, the bottom bracket is in great shape, and the brakes are freshly bled and oh-so-tight just how I like it.

Here's what I'm bringing in terms of bike-related parts for repairs or changing conditions:

1- Spare set of WTB/Shimano wheels with brake rotors and Kenda Klaw 29x1.9" tires pre-installed. I'll switch to these if it gets really muddy (highly unlikely).
1 - 29x2.1" Maxxis Ignitor tire
1 - 29x2.1" Maxxis Crossmark tire
3 - Avid Juicy 7 replacement brake pads
3 - Sram PC-991 chains
3 - Sram Powerlinks
2 - Sram cassettes PC-990 and PC-970
2 - Jagwire cable & housing kits
2 - 22 tooth XTR chainrings (BlackSpire)
4 - 32 tooth XTR chainrings (BlackSpire & Shimano)
1 - 46 tooth XTR chainring (Blackspire)
7 - 29" tubes

All of the above is in a cardboard box. I also have a bike toolbox with my tools, lube (dry and wet), grease, bike wash, brushes, and plenty of Chamois Butt'r, suntan lotion, and bug spray.

My Pack
I'll be riding with the North Face Hammerhead 100oz hydration pack which I'll keep filled with Nuun, my electrolyte drink of choice (I'll have a water bottle filled with PowerBar Endurance drink on the bike). Also in the pack will be a couple of tubes, plenty of CO2 cartridges for flat tires, about 10 feet of duct tape, tire repair kits, mini-tool kit, the Powerlinks, a small first-aid kit, possibly bear spray, wet-wipes, extra lube, and my food for the day. I'll likely carry a 5.5oz can of V8, two PB&J burritos, several Gu's and a bunch of Cliff Bloks for each leg of the race and extra Nuun tablets to refill the reservoir at checkpoints. I'll also have a very compact rain jacket and likely a small cap and gloves.

Another benefit to having a support crew is that we'll be able to get laundry done once or twice during the race. Which means I don't actually need to bring seven clean uniforms -- this is very good since uniforms are extremely expensive.

1 - pair of short-finger cycling gloves
1 - pair of full finger lightweight winter gloves
1 - Tirreno helmet
1 - pair of Shimano mountain bike shoes
1 - pair of microfleece glove liners
3 - pairs of bib shorts
1 - pair of 3/4 length big shorts
4 - short sleeve jerseys
8 - pairs of socks of varying thicknesses
1 - sweat band
1 - skull cap
1 - microfleece cap
1 - microfleece ear band
1 - pair of microfleece knee warmers
2 - pairs of microfleece arm warmers
1 - pair of neoprene shoe cover booties
1 - pair of Gore-tex sock covers

When it comes to camp clothing, I'm just going to bring some jeans, some shorts and t-shirts, and a fleece sweater or two and a jacket. I'll bring both sandals and my trail shoes for lounging around camp. Also going to bring a pair of swim trunks for the lakes & streams we'll be camping near. Naturally, I'll have a bag of toiletries as well as a book (I'm going to start "The Kite Runner" finally) and probably my Nintendo DS too. At least for the drive home from Fernie.

Food & Drink
Breakfast and dinner are included in the TransRockies "Epic" registration package and we bought Kristin and Lindsay (our suppport crew) meal passes so they can join us. That said, the lines are going to be super long for breakfast and it's good to be a little self-reliant. Not to mention there's going to be plenty of time for beer each night.

So we have a cooler of Fat Tire ale and VitaminWater packed up with ice, plenty of instant oatmeal and Nutri-Grain bars, some pita bread and a really tasty tub of hummus from Costco that I ate everyday on our Utah trip, a loaf of raisin bread, coffee, and a giant barrel of pub mix. Also have all the makings of my PB&J burritos, some V8, Gatorade, and water. And a bottle of wine. Kristin and Lindsay will either be eating lunch out each day as they drive from stage to stage or just snack as they wait for dinner with us.

Camp Stuff
Now this is where having the support vehicle really helps. Instead of trying to smash a sleeping bag and pad into the duffel with everything else I'll need, we can just leave them in the truck. This means I can take my much comfier lumberjack-style sleeping bag instead of my lightweight backpacker one. And chairs.

4 - camp chairs
1 - folding table (maybe)
1 - 30-degree sleeping bag (Fahrenheit)
1 - fleece blanket
1 - pillow
1 - Thermarest air mattress
1 - single burner camp stove
1 - percolator and set of compact cookware
1 - Coleman lantern
1 - pop-up canopy

Kristin and Lindsay will be sharing a tent and bringing their own sleeping bags and pads of course. Brett and I kicked in a little extra money to get separate tents -- we're going to see plenty of one another without having to share a tent too.

Lindsay arrives around noon tomorrow and then it's time to pack. Hopefully we can fit all of this crap into the Element. I'm so glad Brett is driving separately (he's heading to Montana after the race to visit family) as there's no way we'd be able to fit this all without taking out one of the seats. It will be easier once we get to Panorama, as then we can fold-up the third seat and spread the gear out a little better.

More posts about TR tomorrow and probably through till I get home and find something else to write about.

TransRockies: Course Update

From the TR staff, 8/8/07:

Hello racers,

At the time of this writing, the Forest Fire hazard in Southeastern BC and Southwestern Alberta remains high and, in particular, the forests around Crowsnest Pass (Alberta) are closed. The long-range forecast for the region calls for nothing but blue skies and seasonable temperatures, so while this is great news as you will likely need your sunscreen more than your rain jackets and fenders, it also means that there is little chance of the forest closure being lifted. (Of course, riders from the United Kingdom probably don't think this is good news as they seem to have a very unhealthy love of mud.)

Rest assured that we are monitoring the situation very carefully, and forest fires are always one of the potential conditions which receive a very high level of contingency planning. The vast majority of our route will remain open for the race and we have put lots of effort into developing solid alternative routings so that we can and will deliver you 7 great days of mountain biking in the Rockies.

As it stands, there is a strong possibility that this year's race will arrive at Elkford one day later than planned and that we will not be visiting Crowsnest Pass. We would like to thank all of our host communities for their hard work in preparing for the event and their flexibility in helping us accommodate these contingencies. In particular, we'd like to extend our thanks to the people of Crowsnest Pass for all the work they put into preparations. We'll look forward to seeing them in 2008.
While final routing will be released at registration, we felt it important to give those of you who have friends meeting you along the route or who booked accommodations in Elkford a chance to make any itinerary changes.

See you in Panorama!

Well I certainly can't say I'm the least bit surprised as there has been a lot of speculation on the TR message boards about this, with one racer from the Calgary area posting a map of current forest closures -- Crowsnest Pass lies right in the center of the main closure area. Rumors are circulating that we'll be spending a second day in Nipika and doing some sort of out-and-back up to the Continental divide. The race got changed at the last minute several years ago do to forest fires and the race went on and it was apparently still a very epic experience. Whatever they have to do is fine with me -- as much as want to cross into Alberta by bicycle, I'd much rather prefer we don't cause (or get trapped in) a forest fire in the process.

Lady Kristin Goes to the Opera

Kristin has been working night and day to get enough stuff done for work so she can disappear with me into the Canadian Rockies for the next 10 days, but tonight she's going to the opera. Without me.

In a move I find both peculiar and hillarious, the two top dogs at Kristin's company have invited Kristin and three other young, attractive female employees to accompany them to the opera. It's a relatively formal occasion with dinner before the show and she's not going to be home until well after midnight. She spent part of last night ironing a dress and putting a small bag of clothes together. She has to look her best, apparently.

As part of upper management, Kristin gets invited to these sorts of things all the time. Usually the guest list is a pretty mixed group and it's either just to go to dinner or to a Mariners game. She often gets out of them. This seems kind of awkward though. Don't get me wrong, I don't blame these guys -- both hovering around 50 years old from what I understand -- for hand-picking the four most attractive women in the company (none over 31 years old) to go out with, but they are clearly flirting with fire. Aside from the ridiculously wrong messages it sends to other employees, there is a serious risk of this leading to accusations of impropriety or at the least, favoritism. This isn't to say I think these guys -- both of whom have been excellent mentors to Kristin thus far -- have any alterior motives. I'm sure they just decided to take the four people (okay, all women) who they thought would be the most fun. And the three of the four I know are all really fun to be around. But still... it's just weird.

We talked more about it this morning while she was getting ready to leave.

"Have fun on your big date, tonight."

She gave me a smirk.

"Actually, I don't even think there is an opera. You're just using it as an excuse to go to Kari's and play dress-up after work."

She starts to laugh. "Yes, that's exactly what we're doing."

"Well can you call me during intermission?"

"Of course, there are two of them. I'll definitely call."

"One other thing..."


"Can you bring me home some kettle corn?"

"Hon, they don't sell kettle corn at the operahouse. You do know I'm not going to the ballpark, right?"

"Well, can you maybe bring me home one of those fancy cigarette holders?"

"You don't smoke."

"Oh yeah, well instead can you bring me home one of those neat pairs of golden binoculars that come mounted on a stick? It will be like we're the Howells from Gilligan's Island. I can call you Lovey."

"I'll see what I can do."

"Okay, good, now make sure you have fun tonight... being someone else's arm candy." I started to fake sniffle and act sad.

She laughed, and gave me a wink of an eye and left me to continue sleeping.

It was a good sleep.

BioShock Strategy Guide Giveaway

I'll be heading out of town on Friday morning for TransRockies and won't be home until the 19th, but I want to get this strategy guide giveaway posted before I leave so I can mail out the guidebooks right away when I get home. And what better time to do it than to coincide with the new "EcoShock" feature video that has been released this week to promote the game...

Here's how the giveaway contest will work. I'll send out 5 signed copies of my strategy guide for BioShock, part of BradyGames' "Signature Series" line of books (and trust me when I say this book came out awesome) to those who win. All you have to do to enter is to watch the EcoShock video (hi-def here) (standard-def here) and email me the pet name the Little Sisters have for their Big Daddies. If I get more than 5 correct answers I'll do a random drawing to see which 5 people get the books. Email responses here.

I'll send out the books as soon as I return from TransRockies or whenever the books arrive, whichever is first. In the meantime, don't pass on this game. It is easily one of the best I've ever played and even though I've already played it through to completion multiple times in writing the strategy guide, I too will be picking up a copy to play through again. It's that good.

If you want more info on the game, head to

*Hint: The answer to the trivia question comes roughly 3:30 into the video.

More on Milkshakes

You didn't know a milkshake could save your life did you?

Neither did a woman in Anchorage who was invited to a nearby restaurant for a milkshake by a neighbor. A plane fell from the sky and destroyed her house while she was gone. The people in the plane perished in the crash, and the house is destroyed, but at least nobody on the ground was hurt. So remember, people. Whether it's to contribute to a meaningless record at the 59er Diner or because a friend invites you out, don't pass on milkshakes.

From today's Seattle Times:

"I was sitting in a restaurant nearby when it crashed," the 49-year-old massage therapist said in a telephone interview. "It sounded like something had fallen off a truck. Then I saw a lot of people running and I followed suit — and saw that it was my house."

The single-engine Piper had five people on board when it crashed around 1 p.m., a block from a downtown street bustling with cruise-ship tourists visiting the coastal town. There were no survivors, said Mike Fergus, a spokesman with the Federal Aviation Administration.

When the plane went down, other houses on Heyburn's block were occupied.

"A lot of my neighbors have kids and they're home all the time," she said. "I would've been at home, too, but my friend called me to meet him for a milkshake."

When she saw her house erupt into smoke and flames, Heyburn had to turn away. She couldn't watch after that, but she learned it was so damaged it will have to be demolished.

Worst. Bail. Ever.

For those who don't watch ESPN or tune into the X-Games, I post this video. The rest of you had seen it and know how horrifying this is to watch. Aussie skater Jake Brown succesfully lands a 720 on the mega-ramp at the X-Games, only to lose control of the board as he's rapidly climbing a 25-foot vert ramp. He flies more than 15 feet above the ramp and freefalls 40 feet and slams the flat-bottom.

He walks away from the most horrifying slam I've ever seen in any sport. We mountain bikers talk about how tough the Canadian riders are. After seeing this guy get up and walk away from what amounts to a belly-flop out of a four-story building, I have to say I think the Aussies might give the Canucks a run for their money. Watch the end of the video for the slow-mo footage. If you can stomach it.

Summertime Rolls... on Xbox 360

There was a load of Xbox 360 related news today.

For starters, Microsoft has dropped the price of all three versions of the Xbox 360 effective this Wednesday. From

Microsoft has announced that all its models of Xbox 360 will see a price drop, with the premium model now set at $349.99, the core at $279.99, the new Elite at $449.99 and the forthcoming Halo model set at $399.99, to coincide with the launch of EA's Madden NFL 08.

Secondly, there is a very interesting article in today's Seattle Times about Halo 3 with a focus on the Bungie's top dog, Harold Ryan. I'm not a fan of the Halo series at all. To be honest, I found the single-player experience boring and the multiplayer "community" loathsome to say the least. That said, I am a big fan of quality games and I really appreciate Ryan's philosophy concerning bugs.

It's telling that Microsoft put a tester in charge of "Halo 3," a game that it has to get right. Ryan said eliminating bugs is especially important with a game such as "Halo" "that sells 8 or 9 million units or something."

"With 100 testers in the building, [if] you can find a bug one time, 8 million people are going to find it a hundred or a thousand times a day," he said. "In my opinion there's no room to let that bug you only find once go, and that's really the model we follow. We have a system that logs every single crash the game ever has and we investigate and fix all of them."

Bungie has spent three years developing "Halo 3," which is the first version of the series developed specifically for the Xbox 360 console. Microsoft wanted the game delivered in late 2006, to give Sony's new PlayStation3 console a knockout punch, but that didn't give Bungie enough time. "We looked at what we could do by last
Christmas and it wasn't the game we wanted 'Halo 3' to be," Ryan said.

Lastly, and the news that I'm most excited about, is that Microsoft released a schedule-of-sorts for the summer's remaining XBLA titles. I'm a bit torn on this week's release, the button-mashing arcade & NES classic Track & Field by Konami. I can't imagine tapping a button as fast as you can in this day and age could possibly be fun -- it was barely fun when I was 12 years old -- but at the same time, curiosity may get the better of me. The prospects of listening in over the headset to a bunch of strangers tap-tap-tapping until veins pop from their foreheads may just prove too hard to ignore.

Also, according to, we'll also see each of the following this month: Ecco the Dolphin, Hexic 2, and War World. Of these, I'm most excited about Hexic 2. The original Hexic HD came pre-loaded on the Xbox 360 harddrive and both Kristin and I played it constantly for over a year. I was thrilled to see there was going to be a sequel to this fantastic puzzle game (with head-to-head multiplayer) and knowing that it will be available this month makes it even sweeter. They're also promising to release each of the following in the coming weeks (i.e. September and October): Geon: Emotions, Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, Space Giraffe, Streets of Rage 2, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD Remix.

Geon: Emotions looks like it could be something really unique and Space Giraffe looks positively mesmerizing. And of course, who can pass on Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, even if it does violate the cardinal rule of games marketing -- never put more than 3 words in the title of your game. It's going to be a great time to be gaming on the cheap. But with all these XBLA releases, when I am I supposed to find the time to play the retail games?

The Scarlet Kitty

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Thai police officers who break rules will be forced to wear hot pink armbands featuring "Hello Kitty," the Japanese icon of cute, as a mark of shame, a senior officer said Monday.

Police officers caught littering, parking in a prohibited area, or arriving late - among other misdemeanors - will be forced to stay in the division office and wear the armband all day, said Police Col. Pongpat Chayaphan. The officers won't wear the armband in public. The striking armband features Hello Kitty sitting atop two hearts.

It's too bad the public won't get to see the cops wearing the armbands, but this does make me wonder what other punishments are used internally. If tardiness warrants wearing a Hello Kitty armband all day, what is the punishment for, say, shooting an unarmed perp? I would make them have to sit and watch Spongebob Squarepants episodes all day long. That would be enough to scare even the baddest cop straight. Hell, after a day like that, they might wish they'd shot themselve.

Milkshakes for Sale

After the ride yesterday we stopped at the aptly-named 59er Diner on Highway 2, east of Steven's Pass. It's a small kitschy type of place, with a big ol Wurlitzer jukebox, and a long wraparound counter, numerous high-back booths and pinups of Marilyn Monroe covering the walls of the men's room. The menu is basic diner fare -- burgers, fries, and the option to drown everything in gravy and/or chili. The 59er Diner can be yours for $640,000. I immediately thought how perfect my retro-loving sister would be as the owner of a place like this.

I had a bacon cheeseburger, curly fries, and a vanilla milkshake. I didn't want a milkshake, but I felt compelled to contribute towards history.

You see, the 59er Diner has a dry-erase board that lists how many milkshakes they sell each month. The data goes back to January of 2006. The record, set last August, was 4002 milkshakes. That's an average of nearly 130 milkshakes per day. A separate note hanging on the wall informs patrons that they sold 303 milkshakes in a single day during that month.

It should be noted that the 59er Diner is not in a town. There's no community of residents within ten minutes of this place. Instead, it would seem that the place relies almost entirely on people making the trek over Steven's Pass to the many recreation areas to the east. The monthly totals show that November is their slowest milkshake month. Probably because the weather isn't conducive for camping and hiking and because there's not enough snow in the mountains for the ski resorts to be a draw just yet. They sell many more milkshakes in December and January.

They sold 3,955 milkshakes last month. I'm hoping I can return to the 59er Diner this fall and see that they set a new record this August. And I'll know that in some small way I helped them get there. It's history in the making.

Ride Report: Chickamin & Mad Lake

This was not the confidence booster of a ride I had envisioned one week before TransRockies.

If there was ever any need for further proof that when it comes to sports, you're only as good as the people you practice with, then this ride was it. A lot of the people I ride with regularly (namely, the BBTC crowd) think I'm pretty fast. Or that I'm at least above-average fast. I often try to politely deflect their compliments or simply thank them. But the honest truth is most of my friends have no idea what fast is.

Brett invited me to join him on a shakedown ride at Mad Lake yesterday with some of his ride buddies. The six of us met at the Starbucks in Monroe and although I arrived at the appointed 8:30 meeting time, I was the only one. It would be 9:30 before we were back on the road and heading over Steven's Pass to the Lake Wenatchee area. In hindsight, at least I can say I had to wait on these guys once yesterday.

The group consisted of myself, my TR partner Brett, Nat (finished 4th in the SS division at TOE 50), Rick (accomplished cyclocross racer), Chris (expert SS endurance racer & freerider, works for FSA), and Craig (Open class XC racer and Cat 2 cyclcocross champ and SS cyclocross champ). Basically, I was out for a ride with a handful of the fastest freaks in western Washington. And although two of them were on single-speeds, that would certainly not prove helpful to my cause.

We started with a four mile road climb and within minutes of starting, my heart rate was already pegged at 182 and I was falling behind. Brett dropped back to see how I was doing and commented that Nat's heart rate was only 140, while his was at 160. I was already redlined and we hadn't even reached the trail yet. The temperature was rising, I was getting really hot, and I was already starting to worry if I would have enough water. The first few miles were a harbinger of what was to come.

The road turned to dirt and we climbed another mile or so to the Chiwawa/Chickamin trailhead. We turned left onto the trail and within seconds, four of the riders were gone. Just like that. The trail was super fun and roller-coastery and although I felt like I was riding along at a good clip, if not for Brett hanging back a bit, I would have been alone. My mind was short-circuiting. Had this have been a BBTC ride, I would have certainly been off the front at this pace. Yet, here I was, going pretty fast and I couldn't even see the guys ahead of me. One second they were describing the next turn, then they were gone.

My heart rate was able to settle back around 160bpm during this first singletrack section and although it didn't require much pedaling, we only dropped 200 feet in elevation -- this was good, as I didn't want to give up too much of what we had gained just yet. We regrouped at an intersection and turned left to begin the climb towards Mad Lake. Again, everyone disappeared. My heart rate was back up to 182bpm and I couldn't see or hear a soul. This next stretch climbed about 700 feet in a mile and a half and completely sapped my strength. When I had finally arrived at the cross-road a little over a mile later, I imagine the other guys were waiting for over 15 minutes. They were all really positive and said they didn't mind waiting and tried making excuses for me, saying "everyone has an off day". They were super nice. Yet, the truth was, I didn't think I was having that bad of a day. It was just that these guys were unbelievably fast.

Brett hung back with me for the next section, which was the final several miles of climbing up to Mad Lake. The other four took off like rockets and were out of sight within seconds. Brett is a great guy and super positive and supportive no matter the situation and although I was having a mini nervous breakdown in my mind about what this ride meant for TransRockies, Brett was ever cheerful and telling me not to sweat it. He's going to be a great teammate next week. The gradient eased up a bit and although we were still rapidly ascending, it was easier going and my heart rate was low enough that I could talk. Also, fortunately, we were in the shade and the rising elevation meant it was cooling off a bit. I was just about starting to feel like I could pick up the pace when we passed a pair of hikers. I asked how far ahead the other guys were and their reply was, "they're about 20 minutes of hard riding ahead of you." Who says that? 20 minutes of hard riding? Aye-carumba!

It wasn't long after that when we started to hear some pretty loud rumblings of thunder. None of us had raingear with us as it was bright blue skies at the car -- I actually took my rain jacket out of my bag before heading out -- but the high temps didn't have me too concerned about getting wet. I was more afraid of the signs we saw saying "etreme fire risk". The last thing I want is for us to get caught in a lightning-induced forest fire.

We continued on, ignoring the intermittent thunder, and eventually came to the large boulder field on the side of the mountain. We were picking our way up the rock field switchbacks, at 5900 feet elevation when we saw Nat and the others coming back down. They had gone to the lake, waited a few minutes, and then decided to just start back down. They were a sight for sore eyes, let me tell you. And just as we stopped to talk to them, the skies started to open and the rain came down. That settled it: Brett and I would turn around and not reach the lake. Thankfully, I might add.

It poured on us during the descent. And then when it wasn't raining, it was hailing. Pea-size hail was pelting us from all sides and the flour-like silt we climbed up in was turning into a bike-plastering compound that really started to gum up the drivetrain. But man was that descent fun. I did end up falling down a waterfall and slamming my bike so hard on a rock that I certainly would have broken my carbon fibre bike if I was on it. "That's why you buy titanium," said Brett. Yep! I landed on my feet, as I did with the two or three crashes still to come this day.

We made our way back to the crossroad and the continued down the 1.5 miles that saw my undoing earlier on in the day. Once at the intersection though, we didn't turn right to return the way we came. No, we would be going further. With more climbing! And all singletrack! Yay! Not.

The last ten miles to the car were tough. I was out of water. My heartrate was once again ticking upwards of 175bpm, and I was alone. Brett finally stopped waiting for me and just enjoyed the ride at his own pace -- not quite as fast as the other guys, but definitely faster than me. By now I had to walk a few of the uphills and my body was sore as hell. Even my arms were sore. And, like I said, I crashed multiple times. Heck, I crashed my Moots more times on this ride than I did in the previous 4 months I've owned the bike. I contemplated bushwacking out to the road and descending the pavement back to the car, but chose not to in case Brett was waiting on the trail up ahead. Good decision too, because he was doing just that at an intersection close to the cars.

All in all, this was an epic ride done at a superhuman pace. We rode 29 miles (25 of which were singletrack), climbed 5200 feet, and my pedal time was just 4:20. I imagine the four guys up front, who rode even further and climbed more, pedaled for less than 4 hours. They spent the rest of the time waiting on me. I went through all 120 ounces of fluid on the ride, didn't take any pictures, and never ate my PB&J burrito. I'm not a fan of social rides, as they tend to feature way too much standing around, but I can't say I'm a big fan of the hammerfest either.

Note: I just want to add that all of the groups of the guys on the dirt bikes we encountered on the trail yesterday were super friendly and polite. Even when they sat with their engines off probably for 5 to 10 minutes waiting for me to pass them. It's customary to tell people you're passing how many are still behind you and when Brett told them "one more behind me" I doubt the guys on the moto-bikes thought that would require waiting for so long. Yet, in each encounter, when I finally came pedaling past they always said they didn't mind waiting and that they hoped I had a nice ride. Way too much bad energy is spent "battling" other user groups these days and trying to find bullshit reasons why only your preferred means of travel on trail should be allowed. Sure, the dirt bikes might chew up the trails a bit, but I'm more than happy to endure a little trench flour on the trails if it means meeting a bunch of really nice people who are just as happy to be out there in the backcountry as I am.