Mayday, Mayday! Bike Karma Strikes Back

I sold my full-suspension Giant NRS C2 the other day. I didn't enjoy riding it anymore -- didn't even feel safe on the 26" wheels anymore after spending a year on the bigger hoops -- and wanted to help offset the cost of the bike we bought Kristin two weeks ago. Of course, our good pal Murphy and his stupid laws ensured that the front fork started leaking fluid during the buyer's test ride. D'oh! He also noticed that the "small amount of cable rub" on the frame was all but completely through the carbon fibre. Double d'oh! Had to come down off my $750 asking price a little bit, but I'm happy to be gone with it.

Of course, getting rid of one bike automatically ensures problems on another. Murphy you rat-bastard!

I woke up really looking forward to getting in a nice long road ride, but as the day wore on I started feeling like maybe I should just ease back into riding more slowly and rest for the weekend. But no, that's the fear talking! The fear of getting sick again.

And fear does not exist in this dojo!

Umm, yes sensei?

Moving right along...

It was almost 4pm and I decided enough was enough, I'd go for a ride. I had planned to do my normal 45-mile Carnation loop and add onto it with a trip up Issaquah-Fall City Road and maybe even do a second pass over Tolt Hill Road for kicks.

This is probably a good time to mention that I forgot my cell phone in my office. I noticed I had forgotten it about a 1/4 mile from my house but decided it wasn't worth going back for.

Strike 1: I get a flat about 8 miles into the ride. My first flat on the road bike in two years. I plucked the little piece of metal shrapnel out of the tire, replace the tube, and keep on going. I have a nice spin up the hilly Issy-Fall City Road and zip along down Duthie Hill before returning to the farming lanes near the river.

Strike 2: As I'm preparing to turn onto Tolt Hill Road, construction workers tell me the bridge over the Snoqualmie River won't be reopened until 7pm. That means if I do my normal route, I'll either A) Be forced to sit for an hour and wait for the bridge to open, B) make a jailbreak-style sprint across the bridge and hope construction workers don't clothesline me into the drink, or C) turn around and retrace my route. A fourth option, riding on the 3-inch shoulder of Route 203 is not really viable.

I decide to continue the route as normal, up and over Tolt Hill Road, over Ames Lake Road, and back around to the other side of the bridge in Carnation. If I get there early, I'll just turn around and retrace my route and maybe even push the ride to 65 or 70 miles. Bonus miles! "It'll be fine, I'll stop at the Shell station to buy some drinks or snacks if I need more food," I thought to myself.

Strike 3: I get to Carnation's lone gas station and turn the bike into the driveway. There was a bit of a lip, I was going about 20mph, and somehow I hit the bump on just the right (i.e. wrong) angle and completely bent my rear wheel. I opened the brakes all the way, tried repositioning the brakes, tried adjusting the wheel in the drop-outs, but nothing worked. The wheel won't spin more than 1/4 revolution without coming to a halt. By car, I'm about 16 miles from home. With the bridge out and there being no shoulder on Route 203, I'm a good 25 miles or so from home.

No problem, Kristin should be on her way home from school, I'll just call her.

Oh, right, I didn't bring a cell phone today.

Fortunately, the clerk inside the Shell station's convenience store leant me his personal cell phone and I got in touch with Kristin just as she was approaching the Preston/Fall City exit -- the very one she'd need to take. She's absolutely awful with directions -- I mean breathtakingly bad at navigating -- but for the first time ever, she got it on the first try and rolled into the Shell station just 20 minutes later. I was starting to get a little cold, but a bag of Doritos and two Reese's Fast Break candy bars made the wait a bit more enjoyable than you might expect.

Nonetheless, I can't help but think my bikes are mad at me for selling the Giant. I've never had a problem with a road bike before -- not even when I went over the handlebars at 30+ mph so many years ago -- but to bend a wheel into inoperable shape by going up a gas station driveway? Absurd! Yeah, I know it's no more absurd than thinking my bikes are ganging up on me, but I'm nervous. What if the Moots or the single-speed are plotting similar, er, plots?

I have an all-day ride planned tomorrow with the Director of Washington State Parks and the parks' Commissioners. Naturally, I'll be riding the Moots. But what if it decides to suffer a sudden twilight-zone implosion too? Not only will it really throw a damper on the ride, but we'll be hours from home. What if it decides to do so in one of the old railroad tunnels we'll be riding through? I don't know what's worse: the thought of crashing into the wall of soot-stained railroad tunnel or having to try and give Kristin directions to a bike trail hours from home.

Perhaps it's time to buy my baby a Garmin?

Colonnade Photos

BBTC held a special fundraising event at Colonnade this past Wednesday to show off the park, generate some extra interest, and to hopefully encourage some checkbooks to open. Most of the Board was there, as well as the org's new Executive Director, John Lang, and quite a few supporters I haven't seen in a while. I'm guessing the donation I made this spring landed me on the invite list. They had some pizza and drinks available and russled up a few dirt-jump guys to demo the big gap jump and show the rest of us how it's done. Mike Westra, the Project Manager for BBTC, gave a walking tour of the beginner section, the intermediate area, and then finally to the phase 2 freeride section.

I brought my singlespeed to dink around on the "limestone loop" and the teeter-totters and some of the skinnies and pump track, but also brought my camera to get some shots of the guys going big. It's been too long since I used my SLR and I had to get back in the proper frame of mind to use it, but I ultimately got a few good shots. I spent a while under the gap jump taking shots of the guys soaring over me, but even the best of those shots weren't really interesting to look at.

Shooting at Colonnade is a bit of a challenge because of the dust, the shadows, and the bright light in the background. Not to mention the speed of the subjects. I had my external flash with me and was primarily shooting 1/250, f2.8 at ISO 200. I absolutely hate using faster ISO speeds because of the noise (yes, even a problem with digital) but in hindsight I should have at least bumped it to 400 and stopped it down a bit. Like I said, it's been a while...

Here's my 5 favorite shots from Wednesday. Click to enlarge.

The Xbox Pitch at Qwest Field

Seattle's minor league soccer team has made the jump to MLS for the 2009 season and has secured Microsoft and their Xbox 360 Live gaming service as their primary sponsor (5 years, 20 million dollars) and, as customary with major football clubs around the world, the sponsor's logo is more prominently featured on the jersey than that of the team.

Microsoft had previously not been known for doing much in the way of sports sponsorship. But the corporation found what it felt to be an ideal situation in attaching itself to the fledgling Sounders, with soccer growing in participation
locally and nationally.

"When we looked at soccer and what's happening in the sport, and then we looked at what was happening with youth and how powerful the growth is there," Bach said, "this is an opportunity to be in really close to the ground floor, and certainly the ground floor with the Sounders."

Bach said many Microsoft employees are soccer fans, and they will become passionate Sounders FC fans. The company has plans to be involved in developing the team's community initiatives. The partnership doesn't end with Seattle. Xbox 360 will be recognized as the official and exclusive video-game console of MLS and receives MLS players appearances, league Web site presence and in-stadium exposure, among other benefits.

The "Sounders FC" is off to a good start. Drew Carey, a minority owner, has become a likable voice of the team; season ticket holders get to vote on whether or not to fire the General Manager each season; the team will have a marching band; and they have videogame sponsorship.

What's not to love, other than the fact that it's still soccer?

Read all about Microsoft's sponsorship of the Sounders FC and the aforementioned "Xbox Pitch at Qwest Field" in the Seattle Times.

Activision Heads South of the Border

This makes me very happy.

From Gamespot:

Prior to turning the industry on its ear by merging with Vivendi Games in December, Activision warmed up its consolidation engine in September by picking up Project Gotham Racing developer Bizarre Creations. The move signaled Activision's interest in becoming a serious player in the racing genre, an area where up until that point, the publisher had been noticeably lacking.

Today, Activision said it would be making further advance on the racing scene, publishing Score International Baja 1000 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, Wii, and PC. Excitebike 64/Nitrobike outfit Left Field Productions is developing the title, with plans to wrap production this fall. Modeled after the annual 1,000 mile off-road racing event that traverses the Baja Peninsula in Mexico, the game challenges players to succeed in a "hyper-realistic" driving environment and accurate dirt and damage modeling. Score International Baja 1000 features more than 90 vehicles in a number of classes, including trophy trucks, motorcycles, and ATVs.

While the publisher didn't reveal specific gameplay details for the title, Activision Publishing general Manager Dave Oxford said, "In creating Score International Baja 1000, our goal was to create something true to the sport that made you feel the speed and heart-pounding conditions. Players will see potential shortcuts on the tracks, but wonder if their vehicle can handle it."

The Baja 1000 is a great way to blend videogames with motorized endurance racing and it could be really something special if they make a way to work in online team dynamics that features swapping out drivers on the course and, essentially having relay races. The game won't appeal to everyone, especially if their goal of "hyper-realism" is carried beyond just the graphics and vehicles to the way the game handles time and distance. Off-road driving can be a lot of fun in videogames, but driving for 1000 miles while even averaging 100 miles per hour, well, you can do that math pretty easily, can't you?

Can't say too much more about this just yet, but as someone who has always wished for a Cannonball Run-themed MMO, I have to say the prospect of potentially racing teams of other drivers over such a lengthy course has me pretty excited. Let's just hope it lives up to the potential.

Race Report: Round the Clock, 24 Hours of Spokane

You can't fake your way through a 24-hour race.

On a day that I was to consider getting X-rays to see if I have pneumonia, I instead found myself at the starting line of the 24-Hours Round the Clock in Spokane, WA with a bright yellow race plate affixed to my bike. I'd be flying solo again. Having not ridden my bike for two full weeks and after spending one of those weeks with a fever on the couch, I knew there was little to no chance of me surpassing my 7th place finish in 2007. There would be no 14 laps. I would not hit 200 miles. I would need more than just a 2-hour nap at 3am. No, my goals were a bit more meager this year: not to end up in a hospital and not to make a total jackass out of myself.

I decided on Thursday morning that I would in fact make the trip and so we did. Kristin and I hit the road with our dogs and a truck full of camping equipment Friday morning at 6am. We arrived at the Riverside State Park some 5 hours later, laid claim to a spot along the finishing stretch, and set up our campsite much like last year. Friends of ours starting showing up not long after and everything was falling into place. I was not thinking of my lack of conditioning. I was not worrying about the weather. When I was being totally honest with myself, I knew it was unlikely that I would do more than 3 or 4 laps, but I wanted to see how far positive thinking can take you so I spoke and acted as if I had every intention of racing all day and night.

Come Saturday morning, I was chomping at the bit to get on my bike. I pre-rode the course with Kristin on Friday at a very slow pace to help introduce her to mountain biking (she did fantastic) and the course was in great shape. A portion known as "Little Vietnam" was under 4 feet of floodwater so a road section had to be added at the last minute. A little extra climbing and distance, but the course was running faster than in 2007.

The gun fired at noon and we all took off on a rocky 600-yard run. Those of us soloing the race tend to jog along at a pretty slow pace while the masses on their 5- and 7-person teams sprint out ahead. I knew four other guys in the solo division, two of whom I've trained with on a regular basis. Joe and Frank are both a good bit older than me -- Joe is a very fast 41 years old and Frank is a spry 52-year old with a license plate that reads "I'm the Mack Daddy" -- and it was nice to have them out there this year, even if just as a friendly rivalry. Misery loves company. They set up their pit right near mine and Joe's wife and Frank's son were there crewing for them, right next to Kristin for me. Having a dedicated crew person is all but essential to this sort of racing.

I took off on my first lap a bit faster than I should. Another guy I know was riding alongside me so I ignored my heart-rate monitor and just kept pedaling. I entered the pit at 1:04 (excluding the run), a good 5 minutes faster than my first lap last year. Uh-oh. I swapped out water bottles, grabbed a fresh Gu, and went out for lap 2 just 20 seconds later. Lap 2 was slower, but still under 1:10. Joe and Frank caught up to me with about a mile to go and the three of us rolled into the pits at the same time. That was cool. I popped some Doan's back pills, switched to full-finger gloves, and headed out for the third lap. Joe and Frank caught up a mile or so later and I purposely slowed to let them go by. I didn't want to try and make this a group ride. I didn't want to be caught riding someone else's pace. I had to ride my own.

It didn't matter though. It wasn't long after they passed me that the coughing set in. Really severe coughing. It was hard to ride straight from all the coughing and sure enough I ended up coughing so hard that I had to vomit on the side of the trail twice. Everyone who passed by slowed to ask if I was okay and to wish me luck finishing the lap. My attitude went sour and when I rolled into camp with a lap time of nearly 1:30, I just dropped my bike threw my helmet into the corner of our tent and slumped down into the nearest chair. I was still convulsing from the coughing, but more than that, I was just furious. I should have known better. Not only was it foolish to think on a day I should be getting checked to see if have pneumonia, that it was a good idea to enter a 24-hour race, but what in bloody hell was I doing on the first two laps? Yes, I have enough fitness to make those laps not feel as fast as they were, but I should have known better. I should have been in it for the long, slow haul right from the start.

There was a disconnect between my legs, lungs, and brain and none of them were on the same page.

Until they shut down.

I got changed out of my racing kit just in time to hear the medics calling out my name while roaming through pit row. Apparently some other racers told the First-Aid guys that "Racer number 2 doesn't look too good" and for whatever reason the folks at Checkpoint 3 didn't check my number when I passed (even though they all yelled to encourage me on). I didn't go through the start/finish line because I'd have to go out for another lap, so I just sat in camp and figured I'd swipe my chip at noon on Sunday to end the race. It was 4pm on Saturday. So there was some confusion there, but it was really nice to see my fellow racers put a word out for me and know that the medics were heading out on course to search for me, should I have been really hurt or sick.

My race was for all intents and purposes over, so I decided to become a cheerleader for Joe and Frank. Joe is a very competitive cyclist who puts all of his energy into being the best he can. I don't know how he maintains such a high level of passion for this sport but he does, and this was his first solo attempt. I knew he wanted to beat me head-to-head and to beat my mark of 14 laps from 2007 and while I secretly hoped he wouldn't, I wanted him to come close enough. He put so much effort into preparing for this that it would be awful if he didn't succeed. Frank, on the other hand, was hoping to do 10-12 laps and was even planning to take a couple hour siesta like I did last year. They both did fantastic. Joe rode all night and although he took some lengthy rests between laps, he never went to sleep. He ended up with 14 laps. Frank did take a 2 hour nap in the middle of the night and finished with a whopping 13 laps! I don't know whether or not Frank believes me when I tell him, but this guy inspires the hell out of me. To see a 52-year old guy out there on his bike, pushing himself through the night, riding nearly 200 miles of mountain bike trails is just awe-inspiring. And what was equally impressive was to see his son (late 20's) crewing for him, supporting him, and encouraging him on lap after lap. It's a beautiful thing.

I woke up Sunday morning coughing a bit, but the sun came out and I was getting antsy. Despite a full belly of breakfast and coffee, I decided to suit back up and go out there for one final lap. I was a bit weak and I did have some coughing fits, but I did lay down a 1:03 lap (14.5 mile course, 850 feet of climbing) and was able to leave with a smile.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my other group of friends who were there. Many of the folks who came on my Endurance Training Series rides this past winter formed a team called "Master Says Faster" and wound-up coming in 4th place in the Co-Ed 5-person relay division. Kris, Lidia, Brian, Doug, and Bob all had blazingly fast opening laps (1:03 each of them) and many of them kept it up all through the night, getting back on their bike every 4 hours to go out again. Brian did especially well, posting repeat 1:03 laps and even heading out for a 5th lap just 1 hour after finishing his fourth! Impressive!

The lap I did Sunday morning really got me excited about getting back on the bike and it was hard to stay inside the rest of the holiday weekend, but I knew it was best. I'm now 3 weeks from the Test of Metal, 5 weeks from the Cascade Creampuff 100, and 2 months away from the Leadville 100, among other events, I have a lot of work to do if I'm to finish these races with any sense of respectability, but I had a great ride last night and I'm ready. I might not care to invest in the training next year to do this level of racing again -- you can't fake your way through endurance racing, as I've learned -- but I'm definitely going to give these next two months everything I have and hope to finish with a bang.

Special thanks to my sponsors BradyGames and Singletrack Cycles. Their support keeps me looking good in those racing kits and certainly helps make doing such far-off races possible. Not to mention, Loren and Brandon at Singletrack Cycles had my bike purring perfectly for the race. I'd also like to thank my friend Erik Alston for once again loaning me his 12-hour NiteRider HID system... unfortunately I didn't need it this year. And, of course, I can't not mention the support given by my fabulous wife, Kristin. She had every right to stay home on account of the mountain of homework and projects she has for biz school, but she came out to support me anyway. I'm a lucky guy.

WiiWare Problems Abound

Interesting article about "Nintendo's First Blunder" on Yahoo concerning troubles with the long-awaited WiiWare downloadable service.

Read the article here.

I don't have a Wii so I have nothing to add, but I'll say that reading articles like this and seeing how PS3-owning friends of ours were utterly blown away when I gave them an Xbox Live dog-and-pony show helps me feel like I'm definitely not missing out on anything with my newfound console monagymy.

Placeholder Post

I did end up going out to Spokane for the Round and Round 24 Hour mountain bike race this weekend. I was able to do a few laps before I started coughing up a lung, then pulled the plug on the race around 4pm on Saturday. Spent the rest of the day and night as a cheerleader for the friends I have also in the race. I was pretty depressed about the whole thing and pretty angry at my bad luck, but wanted to leave on a happy note. So, despite coughing quite a bit Sunday morning, I went back out for one fast, all-out lap to see what kind of time I could muster.

I'll write more about this in a day or two once the photos from the race photographer are available and I've had time to get over my DNF.

Hope all my US readers are having a good Memorial Day holiday and those of you checking in from overseas had a nice weekend too. Kristin got up super early to get some homework done this morning, but she's going to take a break and go down to the food bank at 2:30 to volunteer with me today. She's been wanting to see what it's like, and this 3-day weekend gives her a chance.

Plus, it gives us an excuse to eat lunch at the Annapurna Cafe, a really great little restaurant specializing in Nepalese food.

Penny-Arcade Game, Initial Impressions

I was going to write something witty. I was going to try and be creative and really spend some time discussing the game and rattling off the reasons why I recommend it; after all, it's not everyday a game shows up on XBLA that costs $20 to download. But I just can't.

If you're a fan of Penny Arcade's comedic stylings, then stop reading and download the game at once. Or at least download the demo. If you're a fan of turn-based action games that are light on RPG elements, light on puzzle solving, and similarly light on variation, then you too should stop reading and download the game at once. However, if you're not a fan of PA's brand of humor, are easily offended, or only play games that make you feel "hardcore" then you should skip this one.

The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode One is, for me, a thoroughly enjoyable, moderately simple game that is exactly the type of thing I like to curl up on the couch with at the end of the day. It's one part comic book, one part text-based adventure game, and one part action-strategy game. It's funny, it's smart, and damn if it isn't one of the best looking games out there. It's also rather addictive, despite it's repetitive and simplistic battle system. But like I was saying in the Assassin's Creed post, I don't mind the simple games in life. Not everything has to be an epic for me.And a game set in the 1920's with Tycho and Gabe in search of giant fruit-f'er robots does not an epic make. But it does provide a pretty damn good time.

I'm not done with Episode 1 yet, and I'm already anxiously awaiting the second installment.Kudos to Penny Arcade and Hothead Games for making a licensed game that, miraculously, doesn't suck.

Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness

It's going to be interesting to see how Penny Arcade's first-ever game turned out (and how the gaming press they love to skewer reacts to it). I'm going to download it this morning, but won't be able to play it or comment about it until tonight. I have to head over to Microsoft for a few hours today for work. It's always fun to get a sneak-peak at a game not coming out for several months! But tonight I will be sure to get an hour or two in with it and post about it so if you're waiting for some word of mouth, I'll have some initial impressions ready for you tonight.

Assassin's Creed: An Exercise in Self-Discovery

One of the games I was most looking forward to in 2007 was Assassin's Creed, an action-adventure game set in the twelfth century across cities like Jerusalem and Damascus. The game pits the player in the role of a deadly assassin who is not only superbly capable with a knife and a sword, but could free-climb buildings better than Spider-Man and run through city markets with the grace and ease of a champion parkour runner. And if that doesn't sound like a winning formula, then check out the video below. It's the original trailer that was released for the game and, in my opinion, one of the best promotional videos in the industry's history.

Even after playing the game, I watch that video and I get goosebumps. So why then, did it take me over half a year to finally play the game? That's a good question.

When the game first released last November, it was met with a deafening chorus of disagreement from gamers. There were those who loved it and, oddly enough, those who referred to it as little more than a "tech demo." My friend Brad was in the latter camp and in addition to repeatedly cautioning me away from the game, also penned this review which only served to add to the firestorm surrounding the game. Take a moment and read the review if you get the chance, as it's a pretty good summary of the problems with the game. I don't share Brad's vitriol, but can't really argue against anything he says either.

Brad's closing comment:

Lapsing into formulaic predictability just moments past the title screen, Ubisoft Montreal makes players repeat the same tasks from start to finish while crisscrossing its beautifully-rendered cities an absurd amount of times, wrongly hoping that the impressive means of navigation would be enough to fool people into believing there's any sort of interesting, engaging gameplay to be found. The sad truth is, Assassin's Creed is a prime example of basing a project on a single mechanic rather than creating the appropriate mechanic to support a project. Everything except Altair's athletics feels underdeveloped and painfully shallow, making the end result an overhyped attempt to recoup the development costs for something that's little more than an extended tech demo.

Yet despite the strong criticism warning me against buying the game, I still wanted to see for myself. After all, Ubisoft made Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, a game that I really liked (and authored the guidebook for). Assassin's Creed was probably a larger, more robust version of Sands of Time. And, besides, it's not like Brad and I agree on games very often anyway...

It took less than an hour to realize that nearly everything Brad had said in his review rang true. Yes, the scenery and architecture of this medieval cities are absolutely stunning, and yes Altair's animations are incredibly fluid and very impressive. But it's also true that the game rapidly descends into an exercise in repetition and that it lacks any sense of player accomplishment. I was at once heartbroken to see that climbing the towering cathedral spires requires no more player-input than pushing up on the left thumbstick. That's right, all you do is sprint (R Trigger + A Button) at a wall to make Altair grab onto a ledge, then you just push up with the controls and he automatically climbs the tower. I climbed what appeared to be a 150 foot-tall spire over the weekend while holding the controller in one hand and eating a sandwich with the other. Sands of Time contained lots of climbing as well, but in that game each structure was like a puzzle and you felt like you've achieved something whenever you've picked your way up the side of a building or made your way across a crumbling cliffside. In contrast, climbing in AC is performed on auto-pilot.

I was also more than a bit saddened by the simplistic combat system at work in AC. I was expecting a mash-up of the acrobatic combat seen in Sands of Time with the slow, methodical, plotting and stealthy deviousness from the Hitman series of games. Unfortunately, despite Altair being an assassin, the majority of the combat consists of holding the R Trigger to defend then pressing the X Button to counterattack as soon as one of the enemies makes a move. That's it. Nearly every fight is the same and the only stealth attack is to use a hidden knife while sneaking up behind someone. I was expecting a bit more if for no other reason than Ubisoft had given us so much more with Sands of Time.

Despite these disappointments (not to mention the very shallow pool of mission design) I still found myself enjoying the game and, in a way, kind of glad there wasn't more substance to be had. I laid on the couch, recovering from my sickness, methodically zig-zagging my way through each city in attempt to climb every high point. I ducked into alleys and scoured courtyards in hopes of saving every citizen in distress. I even found myself searching the countryside for the various flags, not only in hopes of unlocking an Achievement or two but because I wanted to see the breadth of the fantastic level design. Despite each of these gameplay mechanics being tedious, repetitive, and quite a bit dated in terms of gameplay design, I was enjoying the mindlessness of it all.

I told Kristin that I was "surprisingly really enjoying the braindead nature of the game" and it was then that I realized why this game could engender so many polarizing opinions. It's my belief that there are those who always want to be challenged. They want a lot of substance with their games, they demand a lot from their money, and they are very quick to be critical of a game that doesn't offer something new... and a lot of it. Then there are people who want to enjoy a pretty ride, not have to think too hard, and simply enjoy a nice well-made game without a lot of fuss and struggle.

I am both of these people.

It dawned on me in the store the other day that when it comes to playing games, I'd much rather author a guidebook for the elaborate, multi-faceted, complex games than I would simply play them in my leisure. As odd as it may sound, I'd rather not write guidebooks for the simplistic, more "casual" games out there even though the projects would be magnitudes easier to do. The reason for this is twofold. First off, I get a rush from writing books for complicated games that really challenge me, especially ones that challenge my ability to organize and track numerous gameplay aspects and really dive deeper than just providing a surficial walkthrough and collection of maps. And on the other hand, I know that I will not invest enough time and energy into a sophisticated game in my leisure time to ever truly scratch the surface with it. I have too many other interests and, frankly, I know I'll just be pulled away from it to work on another game before finishing it anyway, so why bother?

I'd much rather try to write the guidebook for a game like Oblivion or Final Fantasy XIII than try to play it on my own because I know I won't ever really see everything there is and any attempt to will just feel like work. Similarly, I'd much rather write the guidebook for a game like Forza Motorsport or Gran Turismo and relaxingly play Project Gotham Racing or DiRT for personal enjoyment because getting the most out of them requires me to literally approach them as I would when I'm "at work." Writing the guidebook forces me to be methodical and to see everything there is in a game -- these are things I enjoy doing with games -- so that's why I tend to enjoy what many would consider simpler games when I'm playing for personal enjoyment.

Assassin's Creed fits the bill perfectly for me. It's a beautiful game with an interesting cast and story and although the gameplay mechanics are indeed repetitive, and a bit on the shallow end, they are also arranged like one big easy-to-follow checklist. I like checklists. The game allows me to be thorough and quenches the thirst of my innate completionist ways, but without ever really challenging me or requiring much effort or forethought. And in hindsight this is ultimately why I won't end up playing Grand Theft Auto IV... that series just has far too much to do, and too many distractions and built-in complexities and frustrations that I can't ever imagine seeing 10% of what the game has in store without growing tired of the whole thing or simply having to put the game down for too long because of work.

So, instead, I will continue to play AC for an hour or two periodically until I finish the game and will continue to save all the citizens (no matter how many times I hear the same generic thank-you message) and climb all of the viewpoints (with sandwich in hand) and all the while I will continue to hope that Ubisoft makes a sequel that builds on the fantastic architecture and animations and adds dozens of layers of complexity and depth to it.

Even if it means I won't end up playing it...


The Beatles? The Rolling Stones? U2? Elvis's worm-riddled corpse?

None of the above.

Obama draws 75,000 in Portland.

Sega Rally Revo

I picked up Sega Rally Revo for the X360 yesterday. It wasn't my initial intention, but after staring blankly at the wall of games in the store and ultimately refusing to buy GTA IV, I decided to go the budget route and try this arcadey off-road racing game instead.

The game's predecessor, Sega Rally, has a bit of a cult following of sorts and the new game promises all of the non-simulation goodness of the original, but with online multiplayer, improved graphics, and an earth-deformation engine that allows the cars to tear up the track with each passing lap.

As someone who has only ever played the more simulation-style of rally games, I came into this experience expecting to get my butt kicked and, sure enough, I did. The learning curve isn't so much of a curve in this game as it is a wall. At least that's how it seems at first. The game eschews all real-world semblances of real rally racing by plopping you and 5 other racers onto a circuit course at some far-flung thematic destination with names like "Safari 1" or "Canyon 2". So you pick your real-world car, your paint job, and jump into the race and if you're like me, you come in last. DFL. And you can't even see the car in 5th place.

But you try again. And again. And before you know it, you're actually in a heated battle for third. And you continue to keep on racing and little by little you begin to stamp down the wall-like difficulty curve and make it something much more scalable. The game is hard, it requires total memorization of the circuits and an ability to avoid the speed-sapping mud bogs and puddles, but the game is fair. If you drive the race line, avoid collisions, and stay out of the trenches, then you'll win. If not, you'll lose.

Like all good arcadey racing games, the structure is both simple, intuitive, and begs you to keep on playing. There are four or five tiers of races. Each tier has three rally championships, each consisting of three races. How you perform in the three races within each of the three rallies determines when you can unlock the next tier.

For example, in order to unlock the second tier, Professional, you need to accrue 60 rally points. Points are awarded based on the position you finish a race in: 10 for 1st place, 8 for 2nd place, 6 for 3rd place, and so on and so on. Each three-race rally therefore has a maximum of 30 points available. The tier has 90 total points. So, in order to unlock the Professional tier you have to keep on racing the championships in Amateur until you've accrued 60 or more points. Cars are unlocked the same way. Only your best point total stands, so trying for that elusive perfect score (three first place finishes) begs you to keep on playing even when you can move on. You also unlock additional liveries (paint jobs) with additional driving. Needless to say there are Achievements awarded for collecting all of the cars and liveries in the game.

I've only spent about two hours or so with the game so far, but really enjoy it. It's challenging, for sure, but it's also quite fun. Sega's ubiquitous plasticky graphics and lighting remind you you're playing an arcade-style game at all times, and there's no doubt the shadows can be a bit harsh sometimes, but it's the perfect pick-up-and-play game and the ability to watch the courses get torn up with each passing car only adds to the fun. If you like racing cars in the mud, but don't enjoy racing the clock in games like Colin McRae Rally, then give this a try.

Kristin Gets a Bike

Kristin's friend Kari has been wanting to get into mountain biking for a while, and she's been trying to talk Kristin into doing it for just as long. So when I was at Singletrack Cycles on Friday dropping off my bike for a pre-race tune-up (just in case I feel good enough to race next weekend) I decided to look around and see what they had for women in their height. What I saw looked promising, so I called Kristin right away and had her set up a time with Kari so I could take the two of them to get new bikes.

Kristin ended up getting the Specialized Myka Expert and Kari got the Trek 6700 WSD. Both are hardtails with RockShox Tora forks, Avid disc brakes, and aluminum frames. Kari got the better spec'd bike for a little less than Kristin's bike cost because of a sale we weren't aware of, but Kristin really likes her bike -- it's red with blue butterfly decals. After spending a short eternity in the store getting Kristin fitted for new helmet, shorts, gloves, and shoes we finally made our way back home where I would lead the two of them on a short ride on the woodchip trails by our house.

Kari, being an avid rock-climber, former rugby player, and all around party-girl-daredevil took to it right away. Kristin has some bad memories of the last time she tried mountain biking (8 years ago) that she has to shake off, but she has the fitness and sick personality that will allow to her find pleasure in the long grueling climbs. I'm already planning to cap her summer of biking off later this year with a ride at Sun Top.

We only rode 5.5 miles or so, but both Kristin and Kari were shocked at how much harder it is than they expected. Granted, the woodchip trail surface really saps your strength, but the small hills we did encounter were a lot tougher for them than they expected -- and that was with me calling out good, simple, gear combinations ahead of time. Both were humbled about how difficult this sport can be and are going to try and find ways to get some rides in on their lunchreak at work. We celebrated their foray into the world of mountain biking the only way any self-respecting biker would: with a trip to the local brewery for lunch!

Kristin and I rode again on Sunday, this time about 6.5 miles or so and a little more trail. Kristin also took a few partial runs through the skills park here on Snoqualmie Ridge. She was dangerously close to going off the side of a ladder bridge, but she was able to correct her steering and not fall off. I also had her take some small descents in front of me and ride off the side of a walkway just to get a feel for how the suspension fork can help her.

Click to enlarge.

As for me, let's just say it was a good thing I didn't decide to go and ride the Tour de Cure century ride. Granted, it awas 88 degrees on Saturday, but my sickness had me feeling very weak on the bike and pretty winded after just a couple of slow, easy miles with the girls. I felt a little better on our ride on Sunday, but here I sit Monday morning with a sore throat and a cough, and super-stuffed nose. The only thing that's improved since Friday is that my fever seems to have finally gone away. The plan right now is heavily weather-dependent, but we're likely going to go out to Spokane for the race Friday morning as planned, pre-ride the course (Kristin wants to pre-ride it with me Friday night to get a taste for singletrack) and then give it a shot on Saturday. With any luck I'll feel well enough to plod along throughout the day and night and actually try and race it, albeit with a fraction of the fitness I had at this point last year. If that doesn't work, I'll just play chearleader for everyone I know who is also racing. But, if it's going to be cold or rainy and I'm not feeling almost back to normal, then we're going to stay home and cut our losses.

One other thing: the Dirt Corps guys are adding to the bike park on the Ridge. They're currently working on a beginner-friendly cedar roller coaster through the woods downhill of the skills park. It even has a few wallrides already assembled. Here's a shot of me hitting one of them on my singlespeed yesterday.

My Skull is One Giant Toothache

Not that my teeth hurt, mind you, but that's the best way I could describe the pain. I've never had a sinus infection like this before. Every bone in my head feels like a giant throbbing toothache being squeezed in a vice. I was hoping to feel at least a little better today, but so far it's the opposite.

Thanks to those of you who left a comment or sent emails wishing me luck getting better.The decision to bail on next week's race would be easier if so many of my training buddies weren't also racing. I was really looking forward to being out on the course all day and night and having the chance of running into some of the guys I ride with regularly.

And I know we do all of this stuff for fun. It's definitely all for fun -- and I really don't care how I fare competing against other people -- but a big part of the fun for me comes from doing myself proud. There are some events that I enter strictly to see if I can finish (Cascade Creampuff 100 and Leadville 100 in particular), but then there are events that are races. By design, soloing a 24-hour race isn't necessarily something one does for fun. It's an exercise in masochism and tedium. The course being fun only helps to make it a little better, but there's really no way in my mind to enjoy being on a bike seat for 24 hours. The fun comes from pushing yourself to do better than you have in the past. And therein lies the problem, the possibility of that happening has left the station.

Who knows, perhaps this mindset is just a nasty holdover from my track&field days: I didn't care how many races I won, it didn't mean much if I didn't come close to setting a new P.R. in the event (and you can count on one hand how many head-to-head races I lost through high school and college). To me, some events are about simply finishing and some are about time.

Soloing a 24-hour race takes a long time to recover from when you're feeling perfectly fine. I think at this point, if I try to race next week I'm not only going to struggle and fail to enjoy myself (the enjoyment comes from impressing myself) but I'm going to risk wrecking my chances of doing well in any of the other races I'm scheduled to enter in June and, possibly July.

But all of this is in the grand scheme of things rather trivial. Right now the thing bumming me out the most is I'm too sick to give Kristin a kiss goodbye when she leaves for work.

And that's the real shame.

Wall-Painted Animation in Buenos-Aires

Saw this posted on the Penny Arcade site and just had to link to it here. It's absolutely fantastic!

MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

It's called "Muto" and you can read all about the project and see photos at

I Don't Handle Setbacks Well

As if work and the weather hadn't done enough to conspire against my lofty goals for next weekend's 24-hour race in Spokane, now it's my health. Last week had me laid up most of the week with a nasty stomach bug. I tried to stay positive and think about the fantastic weight loss I was achieveing, and figured that I still had some time to get some last-minute long rides in. I felt better by Thursday night and was able to go up to BC for the Ore Crusher, albeit in a less-than-perfect condition.

I laid around the house with Kristin on Sunday and relaxed, but by Monday morning I had a pretty bad sore throat and some minor sinus and chest congestion. It's gotten worse each day this week. Kristin has it too. She even stayed home from work yesterday: the two of us laid on the couch all day coughing, spitting up glow-in-the-dark phlegmballs, and taking turns boiling water for more and more Theraflu.

The cold got worse throughout last night. I couldn't sleep on account of a fever and bouts of coughing and a stuffed and runny nose. So I went to see the doctor just now and he thinks I might have pneumonia setting in. I had "walking pneumonia" several years ago -- it started out as a cold, then just totally wrecked my strength and left me very weak. He prescribed some antibiotics, told me to stay off the bike for a few days, and come back to see him if I didn't feel fine in 10 days.

So now I'm looking at missing the Tour de Cure century ride on Saturday and my planned 80-90 mile ride for Sunday and will have missed much of my peak, bulk training for the 24-hour race. I know those who don't engage in endurance racing might not think this is a big deal, that it's "just a race" and I should get over it, but it's not that easy. Even though I haven't trained nearly as much for this race this year as I did last, there's a deep personal investment made in getting oneself ready for such an event. I'd hate to see the $255 entry fee go to waste, but that's the least of my concern. I'm entered into a dozen or so events this summer, but only two were my true focus, my "A" races if you will: Spokane 24-hours, and Leadville 100. Everything else took a back seat in my mind.

And now I'm not even sure I'll be able to race next weekend, let a lone have a shot at performing as well as I did last year. And therein lies the problem: I don't see much point in doing something if I don't honestly believe I can better my performance from last time. I set the bar pretty high for myself last year and right now I see no way how I can even come close to matching it. I might still go and seve as a cheerleader for the guys who I've been training with the past 6 months, or I might go and just ride a couple laps for fun, and sit around and drink beer. Whatever I decide, I think right now the biggest challenge is going to be to not feel sorry for myself.

At Least We Agree on Something

The Prez makes some solid picks for his baseball dream team.

The mention of Roy Halladay reminds me of an interesting conversation I had this weekend in Squamish. I'm sitting at the bar watching the Canadian version of ESPN (too little humor, too much hockey) and the bartender comes over to me to strike up conversation. I had said nothing more than "I'll have a Molson and the lasagna" to her up to this point.

Her: "The Jays got that great pitcher, eh?"

Me: "Yeah, Halladay is really good."

Her: "We're lucky to have him, he's a legend. I think this is their year."

Me: "Maybe. They're in a really tough division though."

Her: "Really? Who else is in their division?"

Me: "Well, the Yankees and Red Sox for starters."

Her: "Wow. When did they join the Jays' division?"

Me: "About a hundred years ago, if I'm not mistaken. Perhaps you'd rather talk about hockey?"

She didn't. And I was glad, too, because what I know about hockey could fit in a shot glass.

(and yes, I realize that technically the AL East wasn't around in 1908, but the teams were).

Kite Runner Movie

Into the Wild made me forget my rule about not seeing movies based on books I've already read. Into the Wild was so true to the source material and such a fantastic visualization of Krakauer's best-seller that I had forgotten that it was the exception to the rule, not vice-versa.

If only the adaptation of The Kite Runner was so good. In retrospect, I know it's impossible to expect a 2 hour drama to convey the depth of character development and emotion that is capable in a full-length novel, but I'd at least expect the movie to not gloss over major background information nor skip right on past one of the most powerful scenes in the story (no, not that scene but the other one).

This isn't to say the film version of The Kite Runner was a bad movie. It wasn't. It was, instead, shallow. As a relatively slow reader, it speaks volumes to Khaled Hosseini's storytelling ability that I was able to read the book in just four nights... in my tent at TransRockies. And it only took that long because I had to will myself to put it down in order to get some needed sleep. But the richness of the scenery, the characters, and the times and places that Hosseini described just wasn't found in the movie. The complexities of the relationships were never truly established in the movie and the inner struggles within the main character, Amir, were only hinted at. And in passing style at that.

Heck, the actual kite running portion of the story was given little more than lip service in the movie and no mention was made of the glass-coated string, nor did we ever see any of the excruciatingly described bloody hands of the kite fighters from the tale. Instead, we're left to believe the kite strings cut one another through powers uknown. And while I'm on the subject of the kite scenes, I know the wizards behind the powerful CGI computers like to use their imagination and that it's easier to show a landscape from, say, 3,000 feet in the air, than 300 but if these kites were flying any higher, they'd have to worry about gettting cut by a passing 747, not another kite. It was beautiful and stupid all at once.

I was really looking forward to seeing this movie in theatres back in the fall of 2007, but it was constantly delayed due to concern for the child-actor's safety back in Afghanistan where the movie is set (let's just say that there is a scene that many who are easily offended will no doubt take blood-curdling offense in). The movie didn't ever make it into theatres, at least not here in the Seattle area to my knowledge, and that's probably a good thing for Hosseini. I'd hate for people to see the movie and wonder what all the fuss was over the book. If you've read the book, I'd suggest no more than renting the movie if for no other reason than to see the role of Baba come to life, Homayoun Ershadi did a fantastic job playing the role of Amir's father. But if you hadn't read the book, do so. Skip the movie and give the book a try. As hollow as the movie was, it didn't dampen my love of the book. And I'd still recommend it to anyone.

It's Time to Play Wits and Wagers!

Having finished up the text for another book last Friday, I've been happily sitting back and enjoying some gaming without having to worry about documenting my method of play. The first such game I plugged into was the new downloadable Wits and Wagers party game. This XBLA title is a very entertaining trivia game that allows up to six players to play simultaneously. Each game consists of 7 rounds and the questions are all answered by picking a number from a given range: it might be the date Hemingway won a Pulitzer; it might be the number of MVP trophies Wayne Gretzky won; it might be China's literacy rate; or it might be any of the other possible answers to the 700 questions in the game. Once everyone picks their number, the fun really begins. Everyone then places bets on up to two possible answers. Those answeres in the middle of the range are given 2:1 odds and then those on the outer spectrum are given 3:1 and 4:1 odds. Whoever bets on the closest answer without going over wins the round and whoever has the most chips at the end of the match, wins the game.

There are two features that add a very nice extra touch to the gameplay. The first of these is the ability to dance. Every player picks a face from one of several dozen in-game avatar selections and this face gets put onto a 2D puppet figure of sorts on the screen -- shaking the Right Thumbstick makes the puppet dance. Talking into the microphone makes the puppet's mouth open and close. I can't explain why making your puppet avatar dance is funny, but it really is. It adds a childish silliness to playing a trivia game and I would really miss it if it wasn't there. The other feature I'm glad they added was the concept of MVP voting. Players have the chance to vote for who they think the MVP of the match was after the game. Usually most people vote for the winner, but sometimes people vote for who should have won or who perhaps made them laugh, or for some other odd reason. It's a nice touch, and when you play repeat matches with one another you definitely sense a friendly popularity contest arising.

There are two flaws with the game, however. The first, and larger issue, is that the questions repeat way too often. The game comes with 700 questions and downloadable booster packs will eventually be available, but I've already seen a couple of questions more than 4 or more times each and many others at least twice. I've played just 30 games or so (games only take 10-15 minutes) and with just 7 questions per game, there's really no reason for me to be seeing duplicates already. The other issue is that some of the questions haven't been updated since the release of the board game version. Yesterday I was asked two different questions about the Major League's homerun record. Both questions were horribly outdated and didn't even factor Barry Bonds into the equation. I'd be fine with this omission if they were open about excluding those who suffer from gigantism, but I wonder how many other "current events" questions will be outdated.

Neither of these flaws are a deal breaker. If you like trivia games and aren't morally opposed to betting, then I heartily recommend Wits and Wagers. Definitely worth the $10.

Race Report: Ore Crusher

Made the 4+ hour journey north of the border to Squamish, BC on Friday for what would be my first race of the season, the Ore Crusher cross-country race. After taking the long way through downtown Vancouver and sitting in way too much rush-hour traffic, I had to forego my plans of pre-riding the coure on Friday night and instead went straight to the hotel. While there I went next door to the Boston Pizza restaurant for dinner. Lo and behold, I ran into my TransRockies partner Brett -- and he wasn't even there for the race! Brett had grown what looks to be about 8 inches of full beard (and a nice handlebar mustache to boot!) since I had last seen him in August and was in Squamish for the weekend to pre-ride the Test of Metal course. Needless to say, it was he who spotted me in the bar and not the other way around.

Friday was a gorgeous day and the drive up the Sea to Sky Highway was as scenic as ever. Bright blue skies, super calm water, and snow-capped mountains rising high into the sky right from the water's edge. The drive from Vancouver to Whistler is certainly one of the most scenic roads I've ever been on and although all the construction taking place really slows things down, the widened highway will be a nice residual bonus once the Olympics in 2010 have come and gone.

But as nice as Friday was, Saturday was anything but. At least that's what I thought when I woke up and saw the clouds and rain outside the hotel window. Fortunately, the rain didn't stick around and the weather was actually quite comfortable, with temps in the mid to upper 50's for much of the day.

The race was a multi-lap course, with each lap being just 4 miles in length and having just 330 feet of elevation gain. It was a mostly flat, very fast course with sections that were pretty rocky and rooty and other sections that were wide and smooth. There was nowhere to coast though, you were pedaling from start to finish. There were also a number of log drops, small jumps, and a nice three-foot log stack that fed to a 12" skinny down the other side. My age group, 30-34, was set to do 5 laps around the course and most people were estimating roughly 20-22 minutes per lap for the faster riders.

I anticipated some mud so I decided to leave the Moots at home, but in all honesty, that would have been absolutely perfect for this course. I pre-rode a full lap the morning of the race with everyone else and was shocked to find the course very dry. I put some extra air in my tires for speed, threw a water bottle in a cage and another smaller one in my back jersey pocket, and got ready to race.

The race began with a mass start Le Mans style race which had all the racers leave their bikes atop a small hill, run a lap around the high school track, then head up the hill to mount up. This allowed the field to spread out before entering the singletrack. I pushed a pretty good pace through the first lap and came through at 22:14 with an average heart rate of 173 bpm.

I knew I couldn't possibly hold that heart rate for nearly 2 hours, but was still feeling pretty good in terms of energy and leg strength. Unfortunately, my back was killing me. I had to slow down and soft-pedal some of the rooty, rocky uphill portion and at one point stopped and got off the bike to stretch. I think everybody's back hurts when mountain biking on occasion, but I had never felt it hurt like this before. I was thinking long and hard about exiting the course and just enjoying a nice drive back home. But while I was thinking about quitting, I kept pedaling and stretching and pedaling and soon enough my second lap was over in a time of 23:21 (average heart rate of 166, despite the stretching).

The third and fourth laps weren't much better. Not only did the back continue to hurt, but the trails started to get pretty slippery, especially on the roots. I ended up crashing twice on each of the third and fourth laps in the exact same spot on each lap. My third lap was an even-slower 24:05 and to add insult to injury, the top two pros lapped me as I was starting my fourth lap. I knew I would get lapped, but I thought I'd at least be able to hold them off till my 5th lap. The one good thing however, was that I drained the bottle on the bike, tossed it near a fence, and took the one out of my jersey. As soon as I did that, my back started feeling better. Not perfect, but better. Guess I should have just worn the Camelback after all. But that doesn't mean the fourth lap was good, oh no! Not only did I crash two more times, but unbeknownst to me my Garmin Edge 305 popped off the mount during the second crash. I remounted the bike and kept on riding, not realizing my $300 GPS-enabled bike computer fell off.

"Hey buddy, you dropped your Garmin! I picked it up, I'll give it to you at the finish!"

This is probably a good time to mention how much more polite everyone was during this race than the various XC races I've ridden in the States. No negativity, no unnecessary aggression or hostility, just a lot of friendly, polite, courteous racers out for a spin. A very fast spin, at that. Even the pros who lapped me called out politely for a passing opportunity and encouraged me on as they went by. The level of competition was had an oxymoronic polite level of ferocity to it that I found enthralling. One of the reasons that I have gravitated to endurance racing instead of these short-course races is because I enjoy the comaraderie and support everyone seems to share. Despite being one of the shortest and fastest races I've ever done on a mountain bike, it was also one of the friendliest.

I couldn't believe the Garmin had popped out -- I didn't notice because I was too busy slamming my shoulder into yet another tree -- but even more shocking was that somebody grabbed it and is going to give it back. This Canadian Samaritan lifted my spirits heading into the fifth lap and I noticed that a couple of the other guys around me looked about my age so I finally got my head back in the race and tried to push it a bit harder. My back no longer hurt, I was able to keep the bike upright, and was happy to clear the logpile-skinny obstacle 5 times out of 5. And I was able to hold off the guy behind me through the final mile and across the finish. I have no idea what the times on my 4th and 5th laps were, but I know my final lap was much faster than my third and fourth.

I ended up finishing a lowly 10th out of 14 in my age group with a time of 2:00:11. The winner in my age group finished in 1:37:22 and 6th place finished in 1:51:38. I'd like to think had my back not have started hurting so badly and I have been on the bike I'm actually used to riding, that I might have been able to at least contend for that 6th place spot, which would have meant averaging 22:30 per lap. I might not have beaten him, but it would have been a lot more fun to actually be in a battle, instead of just hoping to get around the course a few more times before my back siezes up.

All things considered, I had a fun weekend anyway. It was a fun trail system from what I had seen, I got to get a taste of the Squamish singletrack before the Test of Metal, and I got to get back out on my bike after being laid up with a stomach bug and cold for a full week. This weekend is the 100-miler Tour de Cure road ride to raise money for the American Diabetes Association, then it's on to Spokane for the 24-hour race Memorial Day Weekend. I'm not in nearly as good of shape this year as I was last season, but it will be a fun weekend anyway.

Special thanks to my sponsors BradyGames and Singletrack Cycles for helping make these international sojourns possible.

Bike Thievery 101

How easy is it to steal a bike? Watch and find out.

Colorado Trip, All Planned Out

Got news today that my brother is moving back from Boulder, CO to the NY/NJ area where we're from -- the things some people are willing to do for money never ceases to amaze me -- so while it's a shame we won't get to see him in August, this made planning our trip around the Leadville 100 race much easier. And dare I say a bit less stressful too. It would have been nice to go for a ride with him, but I'm glad we can stick to the western slope and save the Front Range for another time.

We've been bouncing around different routes for a while now, but have finally settled on a plan and much to Kristin's pleasure, we're not going to be changing camp every night. Both of our trips last year (Utah and TransRockies) had us spend a night in the same place only twice and we don't want to do that again unless necessary.

So, here's the basic bird's-eye view of the itinerary.

08/01 - Leave in the evening to drive to Flaming Gorge National Recreational Area in the northeast corner of Utah. It's a 14 hour drive and we should arrive early afternoon on Saturday.Drive through the night -- Denny's at 4am!!!

08/02 - Set up camp and get some hiking or a short ride in on the mountain bike. We're not going to bring our kayaks this time; we'll rent them if we get the itch and settle for increased fuel economy instead (driving to/from Lake Powell last year with a couple of boats on the road killed the mileage on our Element).Tent camping.

08/03 - Get some mountain biking in. Flaming Gorge has a 10-mile singletrack trail that goes along the Canyon Rim that I am dying to ride, not to mention some other trails too. We'll see what the weather is like and how much we want to ride versus hiking or going out on the water. Jet ski rental? Tent camping.

08/04 - Break camp and drive 4 hours to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Hoping to rent a small rustic cabin at Strawberry Hot Springs for two nights and get some chill-out time done in town (visit the Moots factory to see where my baby was made) and do some riding. Cabin.

08/05 - Going to get a big climbing ride in at Steamboat's ski resort. With any luck (and weather cooperation) I'm going to follow a clockwise route from the base (6900') up Zig-Zag to Storm Peak Challenge to the summit (10,372') and descend on Pete's Wicked Trail over to Valley view and Yoo-Hoo. Steamboat offers lift-served mountain biking, but why in the hell would I want to spend money for a lift when my pedals work perfectly fine? Just kidding, DH'ers. Anyway, this will give me a chance to see how my acclimitization is faring. Cabin.

08/06 - Say goodbye to Steamboat and drive 2 hours to Winter Park, "Mountain Bike USA" as I see they like to call themselves down there. Websites for the town boast "600 miles" of mountain bike trails and it seems like all of them are very, very high in the sky. Probably get a short spin in to stretch out from the previous day's effort, but mostly will just do some hiking and relaxing and maybe some photography. Tent camping... probably.

08/07 - Relaxed sight-seeing drive to the town of Leadville (elevation 10,200'), less than 2 hours away. Going to check out the town and probably not do much else. Staying at Silver King Inn downtown.

08/08 - Staying off my feet and resting for the big race. Maybe do a drive around to some of the other sights, like the Maroon Bells which isn't too far away. Going to get to bed very, very early. Hotel.

08/09 - Race day. I believe the race starts at 6am and I know the hotel starts serving breakfast at 3:30am. Have no idea what to expect but I would like one of the sub-12:00 belt buckles so hopefully I'll have a beer in my hand by 6pm. Hotel.

08/10 - A long, 19 hour drive back home. The most direct route will take us west past Grand Junction, CO and right past Moab. I'd be tempted to stop and have Kristin drive me to the top of Porcupine Rim, but if not for the time-crunch to get home, the fact that my legs will be thrashed from the previous day, then the fact that it will likely be 110 degrees. Either way, we'll zip right on by Moab and continue north through Salt Lake City and home. Sometime.

El Camino del Rey

Blogging great, Bill Harris, sent me a link to this video today saying "this has you written all over it!" Clearly he doesn't know how terrified of heights I am.

My heart was racing just watching this clip:

El Camino del Rey is in the El Chorro gorge in Spain.

From an article by Taj Terpening on

It looked like a thirty-six-inch-wide slice of cement Swiss cheese glued to the wall with chewing gum. The Camino was built in the 1920s so the King of Spain could see the new water pipes that traveled through the lower gorge, carrying water to the costal city of Malaga. Since the king's single visit eighty years ago, the Camino has fallen into disrepair--huge pieces are missing, and metal supports are nearly rusted through or broken. This was quickly becoming the "death approach" of all time. Clinging to one another we inched forward, unsure of each step.

As we gained confidence in the walkway we were able to move quickly--sometimes jumping across chasms, hoping the far side would hold. Each man-sized hole we encountered could have been a climber who fell to his death when the walkway gave out under him. Indeed, a number of climbers have died using the Camino and other antiquated heavy equipment in the lower gorge. But soon we remembered we were there to climb, not simply to survive the Camino. (Since this first trip to El Chorro, and thankfully before my most recent visit, local climbers have installed a safety cable along much of the Camino for an added measure of security.)

Read the full article right here.

Enjoy the weekend. I'll be spending Friday driving up Squamish, BC for the Ore Crusher mountain bike race. Weather is supposed to be in the mid 50's with scattered showers. Better bring those fenders! Race report, with a pic or two, on Monday.

Just a Flesh Wound

It's not often that the political cartoons in the paper actually make me laugh out loud, but this one was just too funny not to post.

For the Monty Python fans out there...

Click to see Eric Devericks' blog

And if you're unfamilliar with the source material, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, then check out the video below, particularly after the 2:30 mark.

New Race Kit - 2008 Sponsors

Finally got my new racing jerseys and shorts today from Atac Sportswear, just in time for this weekend's race.

Huge thanks to BradyGames and Singletrack Cycles for sponsoring me this year.

Similar to last year's design, but with a slightly different design and some added logos.

I've been writing for BradyGames for nearly 8 years now and am as happy to know and work for the great people at that company now as I ever was. The job definitely gets in the way of cycling (and sleep!) from time to time, but I truly love my job and everyone at BradyGames is a big part of that. I put a lot of effort into the guidebooks I write and it's great to be able to hand off those monster Word documents and thousands of screenshots and know that the editors, designers, and everyone else are going to work every bit as hard to make the book look fantastic.

My other sponsor for 2008 is Singletrack Cycles, the local family-owned bike shop in North Bend that I've been going to for a few years now. Loren, Diane, and their son Brandon are super nice people and have always taken care of me whenever I've needed something. It's a great store to visit and Loren and Brandon do a fine job keeping my bikes running. They're definitely the place to go to if you're in the upper Snoqualmie Valley.

Naturally Raised Burritos

Spent most of the day on the couch with a fever and mild nausea today so I couldn't get around to posting anything. Hopefully I can kick this bug and get out on the bike tomorrow or, more importantly, feel good enough to drive the 4+ hours to Squamish, British Columbia on Friday for a race this weekend.

Anyway, I wanted to point out a terrific article about Chipotle Mexican Grill that's in this week's issue of Newsweek. Chipotle is one of my absolute favorite places to eat, not only because the food is delicious and pretty inexpensive, but because the ingredients are of a very high quality and their company practices are tremendously impressive for what amounts to little more than a fast-food restaurant.

With over 700 restaurants in the US now, you've got to have one by you. And if you've never been to Chipotle, do indeed get over there and try it out.

Here's my $5.95 go-to burrito:

Barbacoa beef
rice (with lime & cilantro -- it's awesome!)
black beans
chopped tomato
green tomatillo salsa
sour cream (a little)
lettuce (a little)

Take a plastic knife and cut it in half, straight through the foil, shake some chipotle-flavored tobasco onto it and use the knife to jab the sauce down into the burrito. Voila!

You must also get a bag of chips, but forego the salsa or guac. You don't need it. The chips have a light bit of lime and sea-salt on and are best eaten plain. So good!

A Proper Pint, a Wii, and an Xbox 360

Whether you know it or not, chances are good that you have a neighborhood pub that hosts a weekly trivia night. It's a very popular weeknight activity for those who like to go out with friends "on a work night", have a drink or two, and try to impress strangers with the size of their, ahem, brains.

A new Irish-themed pub opened on Snoqualmie Ridge a couple months ago. It's called Finaghty's and, shockingly, it doesn't suck. I'm not sure what makes it an Irish pub other than the collection of whiskey, the Guinness on tap, and the fact that all of the plasma screen televisions have the same horrendous problem with them: they're perpetually showing soccer. But, the place isn't bad. It's nice inside, the prices are reasonable, and unlike the other establishments on "the Ridge", this one doesn't feature a bunch of screaming kids.

Anyway, Finaghty's too has a trivia night. It's on Tuesdays. But rather than pay a trivia host to set up shop each week and yell out questions over a microphone, the staff at Finaughty's instead sets up an Xbox 360 and plugs in a copy of Scene-It: Lights, Camera, Action. They pass out the four Big Button controllers and teams (or individuals) vie for movie trivia supremacy. I expect they'll be very keen on adding Wits and Wagers to the mix tomorrow when it comes out on XBLA. Most of the bar's televisions are mounted high on the walls away from the ceiling, but they have one that's at eye level and they provide four cube-shaped beanbag chairs for guests to sit and play games on.

They also have a Wii set up and space cleared for people to play Wii Sports. I'm going to refrain from making a joke about the televised soccer matches and the quality of the "competition" on Wii Sports in the interest of brevity, but do know my thoughts are scathing.

(and you can thank me later for not making the absolutely obvious joke about drinking too much beer and taking a Wii)

Wits and Wagers and Professor Layton

Well, this is going to work out just perfectly. I'll have the new lamp bulb for our tv on Wednesday; I'll be all but finished with the text for my current project (another RPG for a handheld console); and a digitized version of the trivia game Wits and Wagers will be making it's way to XBLA.

It will be a perfect opportunity for Kristin and I to actually spend some time together other than with our backs to one another, staring at separate computers, in my office.

Like many of the other board games I've come to love on XBLA, I haven't ever played Wits and Wagers before, but the game sounds fantastic. It's a trivia game that will utilize the Big Button controllers that came packaged with Scene-It: Lights, Camera, Action, but this one is different. You can not only win by correctly answering trivia questions (showing your wits), but by also placing bets for or against your fellow competitors (the wagers portion of the game). So, in other words, you don't need to know a lot of obscure info to win at this game. Come to think of it, this might not be so great after all -- I almost always win games of Trivial Pursuit when we play. Hmmm...

You can read a full, very detailed review and description of the game at Board Game Geek, but for those looking for the juicy bits, here's a sample that has me excited to get this game tomorrow:

3.) Guessing: Most of the questions are impossible for most people to know. For example, how many people know how many knives were discovered during U.S. airport passenger screenings in 2004? Probably no one, and that's the point. If no one knows, then it's very interesting to see who comes close. Of course, every once in a while, you'll have someone who - just like in the Price is Right - will bid 1, just to have the lowest number, because they just might win. Or, and this is what the designers intended - someone just might know the answer.

4.) Bidding: But why would they want one person to know the answer? It's because of the bidding. See, the person who is the winner is not the person who knows the most information, but the person who knows which of their friends knows the most information. Some people know a lot about certain topics, and it's up to you to guess which ones. Of course, this leads to a lot of bluffing - "I know this one!" is shouted in many games. Sometimes, and this is funniest, people are not bluffing, and certainly are sure that they know the correct answer. Then, they are shown that they are wrong by the card, and usually after they've convinced several others to join them in their folly. Of course, at that point there's a lot of laughter and /or a denouncement of the facts on the card.

5.) Questions: With seven-hundred questions in the game that allows one hundred games of Wits and Wagers to be played. Unless this is the only game you'll ever buy, that is certainly plenty enough to be satisfied with. The selection of questions is very well done; I know that they took great care and had a large group of people look them over before producing the final game. Many of the questions are obscure, but some of them are actually easy enough to guess close to. And often they lead to interesting discussions.

In other news, I'm still playing Professor Layton and the Curious Village on the Nintendo DS and, yes, I still do completely recommend the game for anybody who likes brain teasers and well-made games. I've solved 52 of the 53 puzzles I've uncovered so far (I can't solve one of those sliding grid picture puzzles -- I hate those things) and am roughly 6 hours into the game. I only play it in doses of 10-15 minutes here and there, but I am definitely enjoying myself with it and will certainly finish it one of these days. I was all set to pick up a copy of the The World Ends With You the other day for the DS, but Professor Layton and his apprentice Luke are keeping me entertained... and my brain fully teased.

The #1 Reason to Buy GTA IV

To stick a giant middle finger up in the air at professional ambulance-chaser, anti-gaming, accidental comedian Jack Thompson whose latest rant about Grand Theft Auto IV -- which he wrote in a letter to the mother of Take-Two's CEO -- proves that any strides he was making towards sane, rational thought were short-lived.

...I would encourage you either to play this game or have an adroit video gamer play it for you. Some of the latter gamers are on death row, so try to find one out in the civilian population who hasn’t killed someone yet.

Yes, please do indeed try to find someone in the civilian population who hasn't killed yet. I suggest starting with any of the tens of millions of players who have bought, rented, or borrowed any of the GTA games in the past 7 years.

Experts note that the recent plethora of cop killings is caused in part by your darling son’s entrepreneurial energy. There are three policemen dead in Alabama because of Grand Theft Auto. I was on 60 Minutes about it. I hope Strauss has provided you with a flat screen tv to see the grief of the bereaved families that fills the screen.

Since Jack has routinely cast himself in the role of "expert" and goes on to espouse such nonsensical claims as "three policemen dead in Alabama because of Grand Theft Auto", I do believe his judgment regarding who is truly an expert and who isn't leaves a lot to be desired.

Jack has been pretty quiet after his last television appearances and I almost forgot about him. He showed up in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings to scream in front of every camera (Fox News was unsurprisingly sympathetic to his rants) he could find that videogames were the cause of the mass murder. The shooter's personal belongings contained no evidence that he had ever played games, nor did his roommates ever hear him mentioning games. Yet Jack's expert opinion was certain the roommates were lying and that the shooter was "obviously" a gamer.


Happy Mother’s day, Mrs. Zelnick, which this year is May 11, two weeks after your son unleashes porn and violence upon other mothers’ boys. I’m sure you're very proud.

Way to stay classy, Jack. Speaking of being proud for their sons, how's your mom doing these days? Does she know you're on the verge of being disbarred? I wouldn't worry about losing your lawyer gig, though, as it looks like you have a very profitable future in front of you in the growing field of windmill fighting.

Now if you excuse me, I have to head to Best Buy and pick up my very own murder simulator. I know doing so might result in me on death row, but it's the price I have to pay for being an adroit gamer, you know.

Read crazy Jack's full letter to Mrs. Zelnick (especially the parts where he compares her son to the Hitler Youth) right here on

Unspeakable Horror Befalls the House of Walsh

It was only a matter of time. I knew this day would come, but I couldn't predict how painful the loss would be or how sudden the emptyness... no, the darkness would set upon our home. It's with great remorse that I report that the the lamp on our Samsung DLP television died today. It died doing what it loved, projecting the Cubs/Cardinals game on ESPN-HD.

R.I.P. BP96-00608A 2004-2008.

DLP lamps only live to be about 5000 hours old. We never celebrated any birthdays for it nor marked any special hourly millenia milestones, but if our little lamp did indeed live a full life, I hope it leaves this place knowing that the 3.6 hours of on-average light it shed (through millions of tiny mirrors) over the past 1,366 days brought great joy to our lives and will be missed.

But so is the life of the members of the lampus bulbicus species and we mustn't dwell in the past. It's uncomfortable to discuss such matters so soon after its passing, but a replacement bulb has already been ordered through for $159. The price includes free two-day shipping and a 1 year warranty. We anxiously await the arrival of our little one.

I briefly considered opting for the overnight express delivery, but decided against it. After all, that's just in poor taste.

The Week in Review

Not exactly the week as planned, but all in all not too shabby. I took Monday and Tuesday off the bike as planned, and was on schedule through Wednesday then the wheels came off.

Wednesday: Road Bike - 27 miles, 1654 feet of climbing.
Did a pretty standard loop through Snoqualmie and North Bend while trying to keep myself at a comfortable, relaxed pace. Ended up time-trialing the climb up Snoqualmie Parkway and setting a new P.R. for myself (8:23).

Thursday: Mountain Bike - 35 miles, 2661 feet of climbing.
Was planning on doing two laps of the Thrilla in Woodinvilla course, but that didn't happen. Did the first lap in the reverse direction then, during the second lap, some newcomers got lost and I went looking for them. Couldn't find them, got pissed off at the group dynamics and utter lack of communication and leadership on the ride and, essentially, took my ball and went home. Ended up just turning around and riding in reverse back to Redhook.

Friday: Mountain Bike - 35 miles, 3731 feet of climbing.
Woke up with a very sore throat and swollen glands in my throat that were painful to the touch, and even hurt when I turned my head. Oh well, gotta ride anyway! The plan was to ride to Grand Ridge and back then tack on a trip to Rattlesnake Lake and make this a 60+ mile ride. I posted the Grand Ridge portion of the ride to the BBTC calendar and despite posting it as a "moderate paced" ride, I was joined by a 53 year old lady who, despite having some pretty good stamina, is very timid on the bike. Don't get me wrong, she's a good rider and I only wish my own parents were as fit as she, but I think she'd be best served sticking to the "social paced" rides. I normally do the Grand Ridge out-and-back in about 90 minutes or so, but it ended up taking about 2.5 hours today (nearly an hour of paused time for me). It ended up getting pretty late and Kristin and I were going out to dinner so I had to skip the Rattlesnake Lake portion of the ride and call it a day at 35 miles.

Saturday: Mountain Bike - 67 miles, 3806 feet of climbing.
Throat still sore, glands still swollen, temps in the upper 40's and forecast calls for on and off rain showers. A fine day for a planned 90+ mile epic! Not exactly. My feet started getting cold about 8 miles into the ride, but I was hopeful the sun would eventually break through and provide some warmth. I was attempting to ride to the Thrilla course from home and do two laps around the 20 mile training loop. I was loaded up with a ton of food and water to endure 8 hours or so of riding, self-supported. I climbed the wrong road up and over the ridge trying to connect to the Thrilla loop and had to return back to the valley road. I tried the next road, looking to connect with the pipeline trail, but failed again. I ignored a few private property signs and punched through some woods and came out on the side of a golf course. Oops. Eventually found some woodchip trails with tell-tale horse tracks and figured those horse tracks would no doubt lead me to the pipeline trail and, sure enough, they did. The rain was coming down pretty good while on the Thrilla course and my feet were totally numb. I figured that if the rains stopped and the sun came out and my feet warmed up, I would do the second lap. That never happened, my feet stayed ice-cold, and I was losing a lot of energy out my feet. I felt great otherwise and was keeping to my plan of maintaining a HR around 125-135, but I had to bail after one lap and make the long uphill slog back home. I didn't ride as much as I wanted, but I'm not going to dismiss 6+ hours of pure saddle time as a failure. It was a good, albeit painful, day.

Sunday - Nothing
It's going to be a beautiful day today. Sunny, temps in the upper 60's, no rain. But my throat is still sore, the glands are still swollen, and I have a race next weekend in British Columbia. I was scheduled to do a 100 mile road bike ride today, and I really want to, but I know it's just not wise to push it too much if I might be coming down with a cold. It's only 3 weeks to 24 Hours of Spokane. So, instead, I'll sit inside and work and hopefully feel a bit better for tomorrow and maybe do a long ride then.

*Two consecutive weeks of 11,000+ feet of climbing!!! That makes me feel happy.