Quick Update and Detour...

A quick update on my status and a slight detour...

Last spring my son Patrick decided he wanted to try mountain biking. So we packed up our bikes and headed off to a local park to try our hand at single-track. At this point I didn't own a mountain bike so I was riding my commuter bike, a Specialized TriCross Disc. It didn't end well for me, in a way. After less than half a mile of riding in the mud and muck, we turned around. My 1.6" tires were not built for this type of riding. And Patrick beat me back to the parking lot by a sizable margin. The grin on his face was incredible.

So I've been shopping for a new bike. My injuries and other priorities earlier in the year put that on hold but last week I pulled the trigger. I plan to use this bike for fun rides with my son, bike camping, and our big ride across the state (someday). 

2014 Specialized RockHopper 29, my newest ride.

So, the detour... Over on my other website, RideAcrossWashington.com, I wrote up a blog post  detailing my shopping experience and my first real trail ride with my son. It was an amazing day.

Patrick at Soaring Eagle Park in Sammamish, WA

Red-Tac Island Hopper Ride Report

Most married men complain about their in-laws, specifically their Mother-in-law (i.e. the mother of their wife). Rather than go into the vagaries of standard social convention, I will end it all by saying that when I married my wife I hit the "in-law lottery." My wife's parents are two of the coolest, most laid-back, accommodating people I have ever met. They are VERY hard working, every waking minute is spent working, even though they "retired" almost 15 years ago when they sold their business. They even come to my races to cheer me on!

My In-laws (i.e. the Grandparents) wait with my boys at the finish of the 2009 Issaquah Tri

With that in mind...

I live in Sammamish, Washington. My wife's parents live in Tacoma, about 50 miles away (the direct route by car). Living in such close proximity allows for frequent visits to the Grandparents. And each year I tell my wife that I want to ride to their house. This has been going on for 5 years now. Well, I finally found time to do it and with a route that was relatively safe. 

My first idea was the direct route, as calculated by MapMyRide. I tweaked it a bit and came up with this route via Lake Washington Blvd, the Interurban Trail, and lots of city streets through Puyallup and Tacoma to the lovely town of University Place.

Yes, there is a town called Puyallup (pronounced pew-ALL-up). It is home to THE BEST FAIR in the world, the Washington State Fair. Oh, and Fischer Scones. Gotta get me some of those... <drool>

Fisher Scones at the Puyallup Fair...but I digress.

Some facts about this route-

  • Distance: 63.25 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1280'
  • Scenic Factor: 4 out of 10

OK, I totally made up the "scenic factor" but I plan to use it again in the near future. Maybe even in this post. This route does ride along Lake Sammamish and Lake Washington, and has a nice view of Mt. Rainier off in the distance, but it is also VERY suburban in nature. The other thing about this route that bugs me is the last few miles into University Place: the bike lanes are virtually non-existent.

So I considered another option, this one involving a trip to Seattle, a couple of ferries, and an island. Oh, and a little Defiance thrown in for good measure. It came out in 3 sections: Sammamish to Seattle, Vashon Island north-to-south, and Point Defiance to University Place.

Facts about this route-

  • Distance: 48.0 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3021'
  • Scenic Factor: 7 out of 10

This route cuts off nearly 20 miles and includes 2 ferry rides, plus it is on trails, side streets, and rural roads the entire way. Piece of cake, right? What I didn't notice about this route was that the elevation gain is DOUBLE the longer route above.

On ride day (Aug. 2, 2013) I rode into work, then took off from my office in Redmond on my way to Seattle. It figures that the day I plan to do my first big ride since my surgery was also the first day in nearly 2 months that we had any rain. Yes, I'm that good at weather planning. The interesting thing about rain in the Seattle area is that people freak out when it rains. You would think that since it rains a lot in Seattle that people would be used to it. You would be wrong...

Riding the 520 trail, westbound through Bellevue, passing cars stopped on the freeway.So once again I was glad I planned to do this route on trails and side streets. The other route would have been a lot more dangerous. I still had a few city streets to navigate as I connected to various trails along the way.

There must be a trail around here somewhere...

Oh! There it is!

Narrow trail in Bellevue, glad there is no traffic!Through Bellevue, the Mercer Slough, and under I-90.

Bridge over the Mercer Slough in Bellevue, WA

Under Interstate 90 in the Mercer Slough in Bellevue, WAUnder Interstate 90 in the Mercer Slough in Bellevue, WAThe I-90 floating bridge across Lake Washington has a bike path on the north side of the bridge, one of the most traveled bike paths in the country. It is a lot of fun to bomb down the hill, get into a tuck, and hammer across the bridge. Unless the wind is blowing in your face and you can barely keep 15 MPH.

I-90 floating bridge from the Seattle side.Once on the Seattle side you have the choice between a leg-burning climb up and over the hill, with a grade approaching 20% in places, or a quick ride through a 1/4 mile long tunnel. It's not a tough choice given the distance I planned to ride.

East entrance of the I-90 trail tunnel in Seattle, WAFrom the tunnel I wound my way through bike paths, making only 1 wrong turn, used a couple of side streets, avoided the ever-present road construction, and found my way to the Seattle Ferry Docks at Pier 50. 

Pier 50 in Seattle, home to the Seattle-Vashon Water TaxiI missed the boat by about 10 minutes so I had the opportunity to relax my legs and take a few pictures.

The Seattle-Bremerton ferry at Pier 50 in SeattleThe Seattle skyline in the background with cars waiting at the Seattle ferry terminal.Flynn waits patiently to board the Seattle-Vashon water taxiThe Seattle-Vashon Water Taxi, operated by King County, arrives at Pier 50 in Seattle.Bike parking inside the water taxi was very easy...

Bike rack in the Seattle-Vashon water taxiThis is where things got interesting. If I had been paying attention to my elevation profile I would have noticed that, once you reach Vashon Island, there is a HUGE climb from the ferry dock up to the main part of the island. I would have a better elevation profile to show off, and may even a Strava segment under my belt, if my Garmin Edge 705 hadn't decided to stop and restart the route in the middle of climbing. Ok, maybe it wasn't "massive" as hills go in this area but it was about a 12% grade for just over a mile, gaining 450' of elevation. 

The island itself simply oozes beauty. I saw a LOT of deer...

Doe and fawn along Vashon Highway on Vashon Island. My phone decided not to focus on anything of note.Anyone wanting to do some rolling-hills training should definitely consider Vashon. I don't think there was more than 50' of flat pavement anywhere on the entire route: lots of rolling hills, sweeping curves, and great vistas of Puget Sound. And halfway through I realized that Vashon "Island" should really be called "Vashon Islands" since it is really two islands smashed together. Remember that climb coming off the ferry? I got to do it again halfway down the island (450' in 1.3 miles) as I passed by this harbor/marina on the west side.

As I climbed the grade in the middle of the island I came across a "roadside attraction", as the street sign put it, which purveyed information about the history of Vashon Island and its exploration by European mariners.

History of Vashon Island in 50 words or less.

Quite possibly the coolest thing about this island is the Vashon Island Bike Tree. I had heard rumors and stories about this bike but nothing does it justice until you see it in person. I was amazed at how small and well-preserved it is. It is actually a kids bike (tires are no more then 12" in diameter). It is definitely worth the trip and very easy to find. Unfortunately someone has removed the handlebars.

The ever elusive Vashon Island Bike Tree, in all its glory.After more rollers than I care to count I finally hit the down-hill grade that signaled the south end of the island. The Vashon-Point Defiance ferry dock was remarkably small and, to my great surprise, uninhabited.

Vashon-Point Defiance Ferry dock with Point Defiance Park in the background.The ferry ride itself isn't that long but it only sails at the top of the hour. This meant I had the chance to rest some more and take a few pictures...

Vashon Ferry dock looking across the water to the Point Defiance ferry dock, with the ferry en route.

With only a handful of cars on the ferry I started out with my bike simply laying on the floor, until I noticed the bike parking area up above.

Ramp leading up to the bike parking area.Bike Parking and seating area on the Vashon-Point Defiance Ferry.By the time I left the ferry, dusk was making it impossible to use my cell phone for pictures. 

Riding out of the ferry dock I found yet another big climb of 450' over about a mile (sound familiar?). And, for future reference, when exiting the ferry at Point Defiance, use the sidwalk to make the steep climb out of the ferry area: the road is a very narrow one-lane affair. As I slogged up the hill (in the dark) the cars on the ferry (all 6 of them) backed up behind me. It was a little un-nerving to hear the pickup behind me spin his tires on the wet pavement as he stopped and started again. I exited the ferry at 9:10 pm so there was virtually no pedestrian traffic. The sidewalk would have been a much safer option.

The next 6 miles were some of the slowest I have ever ridden. The hill at the end, although only about 70', felt like 700'. My legs were cooked. Like "chicken falling off the bone" cooked. When I finally arrived at my destination I could barely stand, let alone walk.

Total distance: 46 miles

Total elevation gain: 3003'

Total time: about 5.5 hours

Total riding time: about 3:20:00

GPS routes: Part One, Part Two

Lessons learned: 

  1. Check the elevation profile and know where the climbs are located so you can pace yourself accordingly.
  2. Bring more food or stop for snacks along the way: the small snacks I brought along were not nearly enough foor for a ride of this length and duration. In hind-sight I should have stopped in the small downtown area of Vashon for a break and some food.
  3. Yep, I'm out of shape.

In the end I'm glad to cross another ride off my bucket list. The views were amazing and it was indeed an adventure worth the effort.

Rubber-side down! 


STP: The Ride I Love to Hate

If you live in the Seattle area and ride a bike you've probably heard of STP. If you haven't heard about it you have no doubt seen people riding around with an STP Jersey. For 2012 they look something like this...

STP 2012 Jersey

What is STP? It is the annual "Group Health Seattle to Portland Classic" put on every year by the Cascade Bicycle Club, an advocacy and education group based out of Seattle. 

Some quick facts about the ride, straight from the Cascade website:

  1. Total distance (miles) 202.25
  2. Elevation gain (feet) 4,828
  3. Maximum altitude (feet) 463
  4. Start: University of Washington in Seattle, Washington
  5. Midpoint: Centralia, Washington (Overnight camp location for 2-day riders)
  6. Finish: Holladay Park in Portland, Oregon
  7. Ride options: 1 day (double-century) or 2 days (back-to-back century rides)
  8. Course type: one-way (as opposed to out-and-back or loop courses)

Since registration begins in February (January for Cascade members, which includes me) it is about this time of year that the questions start...

"Oh, you ride a bicycle? Have you ever done STP?"

"I want to ride STP this year. What bike should I buy?"

"I signed up for STP, do you think I can use my _________ bike on that ride?" (fill in the blank with TT, steel, recumbent, trike, mountain, you name it)

...and the questions don't stop after the ride, they keep coming. 

Every year it sells out (at 95% capacity as of the time of this writing according to the Cascade website) with a capacity of 10,000 riders. If each rider was given a 10 second start before the next rider it would take them nearly 28 hours to get everyone on the road. If every rider was evenly spaced every 10 feet they would stretch out 19 miles (from UW to the 405 overpass in Renton).

This ride is famous for being one of the longest running, best supported, and best attended rides in all of the U.S. with people coming from all over the world. It is also infamous for HUGE pace lines, large groups of riders of varying abilities, and mile-after-mile of narrow rural roads through some of the least scenic areas of a very beautiful state.

So, let me get this straight...

A 10,000 person cattle-drive down a non-scenic 200+ mile route? 


Cycle Oregon 2009. Cruising down highway 96 along the Klamath River on my way to Happy Camp, CA, in the gorgeous state of Jefferson.I appreciate the draw of a popular group ride that is well supported (which this one reportedly is). I have done numerous group rides including Bike MS, the Flying Wheels Century, Cycle Oregon, and Tour de Blast. I have nothing against big group rides but there comes a point where they are just too big. As a comparison Cascade also sponsors RSVP or "Ride from Seattle to Vancouver and Party", a ride of similar distance but greater elevation gain, which has a MUCH better scenic factor and far fewer people (1400 split between 2 groups).

I would much rather ride RSVP than STP, plain and simple.

I will never do STP no matter how many people ask me if I have ever done it. I would rather ride from Seattle to Portland on I-5 in front of a sleep-deprived trucker while being forced to listen to the Bee Gees greatest hits album. 

I’m sure I could exploit this further for comedic purposes but I have better things to do with my time. 

Like dream about the Cycle Oregon ride I might not go on…

When I finish a ride I want to be able to say, "That was an amazing ride, can we do it again tomorrow?" The last thing I want to say is, "Wow, what a nightmare. I'm never doing this ride again." I ride for the pure enjoyment of riding, for the views, and for the opportunities to see new countryside. Doing it on a bicycle provides a connection to the road and the earth that you simply can't get with a car. 

When was the last time you finished an all-day drive somewhere and said, "That was an amazing drive, can we do it again tomorrow?"



Cycle Oregon 2011 Summary

Cycle Oregon Week Route MapI will be posting full reports for each day of Cycle Oregon later (yes, all 7 days). Why 7 reports? Because my father would kill me if I don't, that's why. }B^)

My special Cycle Oregon page is not up!


Wow, what a ride! While not as scenic as CO2009, where we climbed 4 mountain passes, it's hard to beat the Oregon Coast. Day 1 was short while Day 2 was long and actually pretty difficult. Days 2-5 were very scenic while Day 6 was a leg-burner. Day 7 was a nice wrap-up through areas around Roseburg where I lived during my High School days. In terms of effort I was surprised at the level of effort required on days that I thought would be quite easy.

Daily Ride Details

Here are the official online maps and my Garmin GPS details for each day:

Rural views along Elkhead Road

Day 1: Route map GPS Track Ride Report






Smith RiverDay 2:

Route map

GPS Track

Ride Report



Cape Arago State ParkDay 3:

Route map

GPS Track

Ride Report



Capa Blanco LighthouseDay 4:

Route map

GPS Track

Ride Report




  Wigwam burner, Myrtle Point OR

Day 5:

Route map

GPS Track

Ride Report




Stairway to Heaven!Day 6:

Route map

GPS Track

Ride Report



Covered Bridge, Riddle, ORDay 7:

Route map

GPS Track

Ride Report




As of October 1st all pictures from the ride are on my Flickr website.

Ride Highlights

  1. No mechanical issues! No flats, no broken spokes, nothing! Can't ask for anything more in that category.
  2. No health issues or injuries.
  3. Great scenery: wonderful views of rural Oregon, the Oregon coast, and coastal mountain ranges.
  4. Great people: can't say enough about the fun, friendly riders and volunteers on this ride. They continue to be one of the best parts of the trip.
  5. Wonderful weather - only had 1 morning on the coast that was cool with heavy mist (i.e. not quite rain). The rest of the time was warm and sunny, which is unusual for the coast.

Ride Lowlights

  1. Lack of training - Just as in CO2009 I did not train nearly enough: not enough miles and not enough seat-time. Will I ever learn my lesson?
  2. My Camera - once again my Sony DSC-S730 camera has fallen below my performance expectations. I plan to make a purchase before my next major tour/ride/campout to avoid these issues. Several key shots that I wanted did not come out as expected.
  3. Shoe issues - I need new in-soles in my bike shoes. The current ones did not provide enough cushioning on the vast amounts of chip-seal we experienced.


I am now Cycle Oregon +15 days and recovery is now complete, even though my bag is still not 100% unpacked. I was hobbling around only for 1 day with most soreness completely gone by day 3. On the Friday after returning I took a ride into Seattle for a work event(aka the annual stress test of the cell towers around Safeco Field) and ended up doing just about 50 miles. Wow, my legs were rebelling. If they could speak they would be saying, "I thought we were done with this?"

Next year?

Will I be doing Cycle Oregon in the future? Absolutely, but perhaps not next year. Taking 8 days away from my family is a hard sell initially and then hard on everyone involved (i.e. my wife).

On the night of Day 6 every year they give a hint about the next year's ride. This is what I wrote down on my phone as Jonathan Nicholas was speaking to the crowd. Accuracy is not 100%, so take that into account-

"Seed of a clue: That hill we climbed yesterday was too short. One day next year we are going to climb higher, longer, without backtracking, than we ever have."

2012 will be the 25th anniversary of the Cycle Oregon week ride. I'm sure they have an EPIC ride planned. I'm just not sure my family is ready for me to do it again.


Cycle Oregon Countdown: 2 Days To Go!

Packed and ready!2 days to go until Cycle Oregon 2011!

What did I just type? 2 days left? AAHHH!! Panic time! Well, not quite but time is very short. This is where I will probably spend the least amount of time sleeping. Why won't that be tomorrow night? Well, because tonight is my last night at home before I drive down to Sutherlin, Oregon and begin my adventure. That's right, Cycle Oregon Day 0 starts tomorrow at approximately 10 am.

Tonight I will spend several hours laying awake in bed running through my packing list and memories of the 2009 ride thinking about all the things I may have forgotten. How many times will I get out of bed to check my bag to make sure _____ (fill in the blank) is still in the bag? My prediction is 2. Any odds on 3 or more?

The entire drive from Sammamish, Washington to Sutherlin, Oregon is about 357 miles which I should be able to cover in just about 6 hours. Leaving at 10 am will put me there around 4 pm, assuming I don't stop to do any shopping along the way, which I most likely will do.

Several people have asked me if I will be using my blog or social media on this ride and the answer is a resounding, "YES!" And so I present...

Top 5 Ways to Follow Me on Cycle Oregon 2011

  1. NormalGuyTri.com(i.e. this website) - You can do the direct link or use the RSS feed. If you are reading this then you know where to find me. I will be posting regular updates, possibly every day but at least 2-3 times during the week. After the ride I will post a full-write up. But first I will need have some time to sort through all the pictures and collect my thoughts.
  2. Facebook - You can Like me on Facebook or even read the RSS feed. I will be sending out brief updates throughout the week, most likely several times a day.
  3. Twitter: @normalguytri - This will be almost a full duplication of what's on Facebook since the two are linked.
  4. Flickr - I will periodically be posting pictures taken from my phone on a Flickr Set I created for this ride.
  5. Google+ - Just look for Lee Donnahoo on Google+. Not sure I will update it much but maybe I'll post there a couple of times.

Of course all this assumes that I have the right cord for my phone to recharge it along the way. Or maybe I'll use the Blogmobile. I considered buying a Spot or the Garmin GTU 10 to automatically broadcast my location but I couldn't justify the cost. The ability to have a website with your current coordinates is very attractive, especially with the Spot where you don't need cell service to use it, but with a ride like Cycle Oregon they have you covered in emergencies. For future hikes or unsupported rides it may help to ease some minds (i.e. my wife's) but that decision will not be made today.



Iron Horse Trail Ride Report (Almost)

On July 5, 2011, the Snoqualmie Tunnel was re-opened after completion of a significant repair project. This tunnel is part of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail in Iron Horse State Park just east of Seattle, WA. It was closed in 2009 (actually didn't reopen after the '08-'09 winter closure) due to safety concerns (falling rocks and an underground RIVER flowing through it). The tunnel was fenced off with big warning signs advising you not to enter...

Snoqualmie Tunnel east entrance, Snoqualmie Pass, WA, as it looked in 2009-2011 during the safety closure. 

This tunnel has been on my "bucket ride" list ever since I heard of it when I first moved back to WA in 2001. I never made it up there until they closed it. Then the economic downturn and state budget cuts made it seem like they would never get it fixed. I heard about the opening several days after it happened (I was out of town on vacation at the time) and was pleasantly surprised.

Trail surface: gravel, packed gravel, and packed dirt.

Bike recommendations: anything with tires wider than 28mm (i.e. don't ride on a road bike with skinny tires). Cyclocross bikes should be fine. The last time I rode I was on a bike with 26" x 1.7" road tires and they worked great.

The WA State Park Service has contracted with a private company to provide a shuttle from the trailhead, near Cedar Falls and Rattlesnake Lake, all the way up to the summit at Hyak. This allows you to park your car and, for somewhere around $20, you and your bike can be shuttled up to the top and ride the ~23 miles downhill back to your vehicle. Total time, including shuttle ride, should be in the neighborhood of 3 hours.

I fully intended to ride through the tunnel with 2 of my kids (the 2 that can ride) leaving the other home with Mom but when Saturday arrived Mom was sick in bed. Change of plans! Our ride down the trail turned into a hike through the tunnel with some geocaching thrown in for good measure.

We started out playing the compass game...

Playing the compass game at Snoqualmie Pass, WA

To play the compass game you simply find an object in the distance, using your compass to get the magnetic bearing. Then you have someone else stand in the exact same spot (very important!) and try to determine which object you were pointing at using only the compass bearing. My kids love to try to stump Dad but I always get it. }B^)

We ate some lunch and read the information signs at the Hyak parking lot along the trail.

Informational board at the Hyak parking lot, Iron Horse State Park, WA

And then we hiked the very short distance (less than 1/3 of a mile) to the tunnel entrance. This is the east entrance of the Snoqualmie Tunnel.

East entrance of the Snoqualmie Tunnel, Iron Horse State Park, WA

Inside the tunnel we hiked for about half a mile before we turned back. My boys were not in the mood to hike the nearly 2.5 miles to the west entrance on the other side of Mt. Catherine. So we hiked in a bit, found a geocache, and called it a day.

Looking out toward the east entrance, Snoqualmie Tunnel, Iron Horse State Park, WA

So the tunnel is open ready for riders. The trail in the tunnel was very smooth but a bit moist. There are a few dripping leaks from the roof (expected in a 100+ year old tunnel) but the eastern 1/3 of the tunnel is virtually brand new trail surface and walls/ceiling. I'll be back again this summer with my boys to ride the tunnel and trail again.

Our next stop was a great little lake called "Gold Creek Pond", a reclaimed gravel pit right across the freeway from Hyak on I-90. This is a very picturesque lake with picnic tables, a paved trail around the perimeter, and great views of the mountains. We intended to ride our bikes on the perimeter trail but USFS rules stated "no bikes" so we ended up walking.

Gold Creek Pond near Snoqualmie Pass, WA

If you are looking for a quick picnic at Snoqualmie Pass this is a great place. The trail was flat and easy, the picnic tables are 100 yards from the parking lot, and there weren't many people around.

To make up for the fact that we didn't get to ride in the tunnel or around the pond our next and final stop was the Marymoor Velodrome, Marymoor Park in Redmond, WA. This is one of my boys' favorite places to ride, and for good reason-

Marymoor Velodrome, Marymoor Park, Redmond, WA

The track itself is open to the public (when not in use for classes or races). The surface is textured concrete with banked turns and a 400m circumference. This is one of the few outdoor bike tracks in the western US and it is just a few miles from my house! I highly recommend checking it out and taking a few laps. 

As I was playing around on the track with my oldest son I broke the frame on one of my favorite bikes, my nearly 18 year old Schwinn High Plains. After nearly 10,000 miles it finally gave out under my weight. I can generate a lot of torque and have replaced many parts on this bike over the years. It's like losing an old friend. Yes, I almost cried.

Broken rear dropout, drive side on the rear wheel of my 1993 Schwinn High Plains after nearly 10,000 miles. Goodbye old friend! 

...but then I remembered something very important: NOW I CAN GO BIKE SHOPPING! In the past 3 years this bike has served as my year-round commuter bike and has seen everything from thunderstorms, sleet, and hail (which really hurts your face). Now I need another bike that can fill this void.

Upcoming posts: shopping updates!