“Bike mechanics know when you’ve been abusing or neglecting your bike â€“ just like the dentist can tell that your choppers haven’t seen floss for years.”
That’s the beginning of “4 Lies People Tell Their Bike Mechanic,” a post I wrote for the Trailsedge.com blog. It’s all about some of the most filthy, vile whoppers people use to turn misfortune or negligence in their favor.
If you are cyclist of any sort or a mechanic, take a look. Nod sagely, and pass it on!
I just booked tickets for my first trip to Asia. This fall, I’ll fly Asiana Airlines to Incheon and Tokyo. U.S. Airways, one of Asiana’s Star Alliance partners, will get us to LAX and from San Franciso International. The plan is to go first to Seoul, hit the countryside and then make a quick visit to take in the otherworldly craziness that is Tokyo.
So why Asiana, which isn’t one of the better-known names in the United States?
It’s online booking actually works -- unlike those of ANA, Korean Airlines and JAL. I considered those heavy hitters (hoping that ANA might have a 787 Dreamliner flying by then). Too bad their online booking is clunky to the point of non-functional. The online booking experience is a flyer’s introduction to an airline. It needs to work flawlessly every time. Asiana’s does. You’ll notice I don’t mention the big American carrier’s That’s because I have yet to see evidence that any U.S. carrier outside of Hawaiian Airlines provides the level of service of its overseas counterparts. More on them below.
It’s prices are the most reasonable I could find. A good chunk includes taxes and fees, though. Out of curiosity, I set up the same flights on Continental.com, also a Star Alliance member. Tack on another 10 percent. Not egregious, but not worth rolling the dice – American-based carriers just don’t have a reputation for good service, and mediocrity can make a long flight hell. Oh, and some of the flights are operated by United on its older 747-400s.
It has a great reputation for service. It’s the SkyTrax Â Airline of the Year Award winner for 2010 -- the same year Global Travelers magazine named its in-flight service the world’s best. And its online booking actually works (I’m sure you read that somewhere recently --)
It has a very shiny new fleet. That’s always a plus, as is its reputation for rigorous maintenance. I’m looking forward to my first flight on a Boeing 777, which I’ve heard is a sweet ride for people who actually like commercial air travel.
Why Asiana Isn’t Quite Perfect
No direct flights from Tokyo to the United States during the times I searched. We have to go back to Incheon. That costs a bit of time. But hey, it’s another ride on a 767, one of my favorites.
An Asiana 747 freighter just crashed. There’s word that the flight disappeared after reporting a fire onboard. I can’t think of the last time an airline has last two aircraft very quickly, so that puts stats in my favor! And freight versus commercial service. I have no cause to worry.
The Very Worthy Second Choice
Hawaiian Airlines. I love the idea of skipping LAX and flying from Phoenix to Honolulu to Incheon to Tokyo to Honolulu to Phoenix. I also hear Hawaiian Airlines totally rocks, providing inflight service on-par with foreign carriers. The timetables just didn’t favor my allotted time. I also would’ve been more interested if I could’ve caught a ride on a Hawaiian A330 instead of a 767. Again, I like the 767 … but I’ve never been on an A330. Yes, these things do weigh into a flying geek’s decision making.
Also, Hawaiian’s site doesn’t take advantage of its Star Alliance buddies to get me from Incheon to Tokyo. One thing I learned: If you book all from one site, you’re covered better for mishaps like missing a connection. Qantas left us high and dry because we booked separately from Auckland to LAX and LAX to Phoenix. The ground staff lost some serious brownie points, but I also learned to book more efficiently.
There’s nothing like an exploding tire to liven up a bike ride.
Now, I’m not talking about a garden-variety punctured tire. No, I experienced a full-on, uncontained tire failure. As I climbed a bit of trail, the sidewall of my front tire gave way with a bang, a puff of sealant spray and a farty sound like a balloon losing its air.
This goes from the uncontained tire failure to a cascading series of crappy events, with Murphy’s Law in full effect. This is not a fixable trailside repair since this was a tubeless tire. Even if I had a spare tube to slip into the tire, the sidewall was too ruptured to hold it.
It gets worse. I looked in my Camelbak and … discovered that I didn’t have a cell phone for anyone to bail me out. This is something I never usually do. But I was in a hurry to beat the worst of the daytime heat. I left my phone charging upstairs. So remember to bring your phone!
And the proverbial Strike Three: No wallet. No ID. No moolah, scrilla, Benjamins or ducats. I have exactly 45 cents with me. Another mistake I never make. Remember, my friends: Always carry your ID and some cash!
Thus began a 6-mile walk of shame. Well, it actually got cut short. A fellow mountain biker driving around in his Honda Pilot spotted me and gave me a lift for the last mile and a half. Thank you, Joe! If I see you again, I’ll have to settle up somehow.
But before that, I discovered the joys of walking long distances in mountain bike shoes. Not quite as bad as high heels, I’d wager, but still crappy. I took them off and endured hot pavement with only bike socks to keep my feet from frying.
And bike shorts? Everything that makes them right for riding makes them wrong for walking. I had chaffing and rubbing in many an unhappy place.
Another unexpected bit of info: People in Phoenix are practicing safe sex. I can tell by the roadside litter. Let’s just hope they’re biodegradable, eh?
Let my misadventure be a lesson to you: Check what’s in your gear before you roll.
I’m on the corner of 5th Street and Mill Avenue in Tempe, Ariz. It’s summer. Most of the students from Arizona State University have flocked home, so it’s relatively quiet.
But it’s not so sleepy that’s it’s easy for a car to turn onto Mill. Even with a green light, a steady flow of pedestrians makes it maddening.
This makes me think back to an even busier intersection in Auckland, New Zealand. But planners there figured out a way to get pedestrians and drivers to interact in harmony: Instead of "Walk" signals that correspond to the traffic signals, all vehicle traffic stops for the "Walk" signal. And you can cross on the diagonal to save a step. When the cars stop, it’s a pedestrian free-for-all in any direction. Apparently, this is called a Scramble or Diagonal crossing. See the videos below to watch the dance in action.
And when it’s car time, you don’t have pedestrians horning in. It’s all-clear for the cars.
This is one of many reasons why travel is such a great thing: You see new ideas and interesting solutions to old problems. In retrospect, this is an obvious way to get traffic moving better.
Here’s something funny: Los Angeles once had it (straight from the video) in the 1950s. It pulled the plug a few years later, and has brought a few back. But I’d never heard of it until my visit to Auckland. It’s a great idea, and needs to be in widespread use.
A summer ride in Arizona – it’s usually like being roasted alive. But on this one, I had some nice cloud cover. It was cool, with a slight breeze. Nothing could bring me down.
Well, except for my mountain biking brethren and their exceptionally bad trail manners.
I cannot fathom why so many mountain bikers these days are so surly and self-centered on the trail. On this given Sunday, I encountered a few riders who didn’t realize that the uphill rider has the right of way. And there were a handful of others who couldn’t be bothered to return a greeting. Look, you always say hello to other trail users unless you’re panting too hard. End of story.
Maybe a lot has changed since I learned to be a mountain biker back in the early 90s. Notice what I said? "Learned to be a mountain biker" and "learned to mountain bike" are two different things.
I already had an idea of how to brake, shift, pedal and pick a line by the time I started riding with a classmate at Arizona State University. But he was more experienced, and took the lead. I noticed that he always rode with a smile. Most times, he’d stop to scratch a hiker’s dog between the ears. He’d always, always, always, greet other trail users – especially riders.
He never told me to do the same. He was just a good guy to ride with, and I figured that was part of his formula. I made it part of my formula, too. Make it part of your ride, and I promise the trails will be a better place.
All its points ring true to me from my recent visit to Portland. The bike-friendly culture starts right at the airport – there’s a repair area where your can break your bike down for flying, or put it back together … and then ride home. How incredibly progressive!
I can also confirm that bicycle infrastructure is extensive. Public bike art? I honestly don’t care about that.
It’s really surprising that mountain bikes are, as Singletracks.com says, such an afterthought. The shops I visited were primarily geared toward road biking. And I noticed a preponderance of big brands. I didn’t see any really cool, independent brands with a strong appearance. I figured Portland’s local, DIY flavor would carry over to the cycling scene. I hoped to lay my eyes on some cool custom steel … and maybe some titanium.
It’s very likely I just didn’t stumble onto it. I’ll bet it’s out there … but the odds of walking into exactly the right place are slimmer than I hoped.
So if you know Portland, I’d love to hear about the lesser-known shops where you discover and ogle the more unusual brands.
My three nights at the Inn at Northrup Station in Portland, Oregon, took me back to New Zealand. The Kiwis have no shortage of quirky hotels with all the comforts of home. Here in the U.S., this is just a rarity.
What makes it stand apart from other hotels in Portland? And in the country, for that matter?
First, there’s an in-room kitchen. A stove, four burners, a full-sized refrigerator. Now, Portland has all the restaurants you could ever want. So why bother with a kitchen? Because of the abundant farmer’s markets. Sarah and I went to a Saturday market -- scored some morel mushrooms, fresh pasta, crab, baby bok choy. We turned it into an awesome feast.
The neighborhood also stands out. It’s right on the Portland streetcar line, which connects to the MAX lightrail (to the airport and many other points). You’re walking-distance from Jeld-Wen Field (home of the Portland Timbers MSL team), the Pearl District, an uncountable number of shops and restaurants. And yes, brewpubs.
And give Northrup Station style points. No bland beige or institutional furniture. Purples, yellows, reds -- I know plenty of people who’d like their house to look like a room at Northrup Station. It oozes "hip," but not "hipster."
The service is far more personal and friendly than average. The staff members are friendly, ready to print your boarding passes, give you free tickets for the street car or directions to just about any cool spot. You also get a free if unspectacular breakfast. Didn’t bring a computer? Just slide behind one of the Macs.
Finally, the price is reasonable. Less than $150 a night in the beginning of summer – with all the fees and taxes. Just try equaling that in Seattle or Vancouver.
When I return to Portland, I’ll stay here again. I’ll try scoring a room on the third (top) floor -- some people have heavy footsteps.
But if all I get is a second-floor room, I still won’t complain. Not with all the other factors adding up to a great and unusual hotel.
I just have to jump. And grab a rope. Then swing over to a tree stump.
Just one thing: I’m at least 40 feet above the forest floor. (see video at bottom)
This is the Black Diamond section of Tree to Tree Aerial Adventure Course in Gaston, Oregon … Day 4 of my visit to Portland, and I’ve found my favorite of the local attractions. It’s a maze of aerial rope obstacles and zip lines. Some are just a foot or two off the ground. But if you’ve got the grapes, go big!
Easy to say before I was up here sweating out this rope-swinging thing. It’s physically easy. And the lobster claws connected to my climbing harness are connected just so. The staff drilled safety into us. I paid rapt attention.
Still I hesitate. The brain -- it doesn’t want to do this. But I finally grab a hold and swing.
Thump. Both boots touch the stump. One left. Lunge. Swing. Thump. Onto the next.
Few of the next obstacles give me much trouble.
The last one is a monster: several beams hanging from a taut overhead wire. They sway enthusiastically with each step. It’s a wild ride. I’m burning a ton of energy, using every muscle in my arms. When I finish, I’m too blown out to tackle the three Double Black Diamond obstacles.
My wife, though … Sarah tackles the obstacle that schooled me. She’s like a cat. She heads to the Double Black section. It’s a studious and methodical effort, but graceful enough. And efficient. She heads to the second obstacle. She is almost through it -- and then she’s swinging from her safety cables.
There’s no reason to hang her head – I’m impressed. A tidy demonstration of efficiency, breath control and focus.
By the time she takes the final zip line to terra firma, we’ve decided: Tree to Tree Aerial Adventures is one of our favorite places ever – right up there with the Agrodome in Rotorua, New Zealand. And that’s some serious praise.
The kickoff is 30 minutes away. But already, loud voices chant and sing. Trumpets blow. The sound of drums bounces off the concrete.
Where am I? Manchester’s Old Trafford? St. James Park in Newcastle? Liverpool’s famous Anfield?
No. I’m in Portland, Oregon, at Jeld-Wen Field. And yes, these people are chanting mightily for soccer.
There’s a friendly match (or exhibition) on tap, with Dutch champions AFC Ajax making a visit to the Rose City. They’ll play first-year Major League Soccer franchise Portland Timbers. They might not have a pedigree to match that of Ajax. No reputation for Total Football or as a breeding ground for top players.
All the Timbers have are Sal Zizzo, Kenny Cooper and the fans – most notably the Timbers Army. Oh, they also have Timber Joey, a bearded, smiley colossus on patrol with a gas-powered chainsaw. He’s there to make sure you’re cheering. Not that he needed to prod the crowd much. Timbers have a relatively long soccer historyÂ (for a U.S. side, anyway) dating all the way back to 1975.
Throughout the match, I wondered what the Ajax squad thought of the Timbers. They issued a 2-nil beatdown that wasn’t anywhere as close as the scoreline. Ajax showed smooth, assured control of the ball. Their formations morphed with astounding liquidity, rapidly changing to match the situation. Their second goal? Midfielder Demy de Zeeuw could’ve just hammered it in – but no. He opts for a more complicated and stylish scissor kick. It’s the sort of move you won’t see at even 10 percent of the matches you could watch. That’s the Ajax way … soccer should – no, must – must entertain.
No matter how Ajax regard their opponents, I hope Jeld-Wen Field, the Timbers fans and the city of Portland made an impression. It’s a very nice stadium, the fans are in great voice and it’s a terrific city.
I also love that Portland ardently supports the Timbers. Throughout the city, you’ll see people in Timbers regalia and bars urging people to watch matches there. I saw about three people wearing Trailblazers NBA shirt. Contrast this with Washington, D.C. or Denver – there, I saw barely an signs outside the stadium that MLS existed. In Portland, people are abuzz about the franchise.
I notice a funny little habit of the Timbers fans during the Star-Spangled Banner: After every few lines, they’d wave their scarves or banners in the air and make a whooshing, rocket-like noise. Kind of funny, and very unusual.
Good luck to the Timbers, and thanks for turning this visitor from the desert into a fan.
Some of my mountain bike buddies in Tucson need your help: Your votes can help the Sonoran Desert Mountain Bicyclists win a $50,000 grant through Reinventing the Outdoors presented by Ford Motor Company and Good.is.
All you need to do is vote once a day through May 20.
Their mission is to make Tucson a world-class mountain bike destination. They’ve got the drive and the know-how to do it – and they can make that $50,000 go a long way.
They’re envisioning more trails for all levels of riders, a bike park and improved facilities at trailheads (who doesn’t love bathrooms and maps?), just to name a few things.
You can find more of the nitty-gritty info by reading my story on Examiner.com. You’ll find out about their support from Specialized racer Todd Wells, along with their ideas for making mountain biking part of the social and economic fabric of Tucson.
I almost don’t notice it. But the slow, wiggling movement catches my eye. A splotch of black and orange among shades of brown.
Yes! It’s a gila monster!
Thirty years of living in Arizona, and this is only the second one I’ve seen in the wild.
This is exactly what makes the trail network near Pima and Dynamite in Scottsdale one of the city’s best outdoor activities. You can rip through more than 50 miles of great trails. You can enjoy stark-but-beautiful high-desert scenery.
And you can come face-to-face with wildlife. Here at Pima & Dynamite, I’ve seen more than just this gila monster. Add to the list rattlesnakes, juvenile bald eagles, chuckwallas, jackrabbits and coyotes.
About my pebbly, leathery gila monster friend: He moves slowly, but quickly enough to get away. I get a bit of video on my Fuji XP-10 (a nice complement to my handlebar-mounted Helmet Hero) before he scurries under a bush. He is venomous, but too shy and slow to be of much danger. The encounter puts a grin on my face for the rest of the day.
Ripping through a tight corners. Short bursts of power to muscle my way up climbs. Flying up and down rolling sections of trail -- these are all great. But a glimpse of nature puts an extra shine on the day.
Speed, excitement and fitness are great reasons to ride. But so is seeing the bigger world around you. There are few better places to bring it all together.
About Pima & Dynamite
Most of the trails are on Arizona State Trust Land. You need a permit to legally use the area. Check the State Land Department website for more information.
A map helps. And Dale Wiggins is a map master. Check out his offering for Pima & Dynamite.
Park at the intersection of Pima Road and Dynamite Boulevard. I usually park on Dynamite just off the westbound lane.
I recently encountered a rattler curled in the shade of a creosote bush right alongside the Desert Classic Trail at South Mountain in Phoenix. Some other riders had stopped to warn people.
They were just warning people. Which is great for the amount of time they’re there.
What about the people who walk or ride by after everyone else is gone? Chances are, they’ll never see the rattler. And they might take that wrong step that results in one nasty, painful, dangerous, potentially life-threatening wound.
That was my logic behind tossing a few stones near the rattler, as I’d learned to do from the ranger I interviewed for my last piece about rattlers. The stones got progressively larger, but I made sure not to actually hit the snake. I was hoping to cause enough vibration to make it slither away. The snake wasn’t having any of it – too comfortable in the shade, I guess. And there were no sticks long or sturdy enough that I’d use to herd it.
"That’s stupid. You’re just going to piss him off," one other rider said, anthropomorphizing far too much. Anger doesn’t make a snake bite – feeling threatened makes a snake bite.
I told him that this is the advice I got from people who know what they’re doing. He rode away muttering about how much he knew about snakes. Probably not as much as a county ranger, I’d guess.
I tried my best to move the snake, but couldn’t. It didn’t even rattle or hiss. And I wasn’t willing to get any closer. Nor was I willing to kill it … it was just being a snake.
I felt we were at least responsible for trying to make the trail safer.
So who out there did the Warrior Dash? What did you think? Was it really "a hellish 3.4 miles" of running, obstacles and mud?
I took a shot, as you might guess. It’s too fun to be hellish – but it is challenging -- and quite a spectacle. I ran in the Arizona edition on May 1. It ran for two days in Florence, just southeast of Phoenix. (Find a Warrior Dash near you) Here are a few thoughts from being part of the 1:30 p.m. wave. Check these out, and let me know about your Warrior Dash experience!
Don’t wear anything you plan to wear again. Â And if you sink a lot of time into some sort of costume, be willing to destroy it. And have it hinder your performance. Except for the dudes I saw running in dresses – they were fast, and looked well-practiced at running in dresses.
Run the second day. The first day will help organizers work some kinks out. On Saturday, the Arizona race only had one water station. The organizers wisely added a second for Sunday.
Bring towels and spare clothes. Don’t overlook this. A portable camp shower isn’t a bad idea, either.
There’s a very convenient bag check. Drop your spare clothes/towel/keys/whatnot off there. Run. Come back and get it. Save yourself a long slog to the car.
If you have time, enjoy the atmosphere. The electronic timing tag on your shoe gets you a free beer (though it’s beer fit for frat boys rather than warriors, so I skipped it).
I understand that not everybody is super-fit. I know that not everyone is charging hard for a good time. But please, people, this is not a Toys for Tots walk-a-thon. At least look like you’re trying. Jog bits of it. And do not, for the love of Odin, walk three abreast. Stay to the right and leave room for the faster people. Earn your plush Viking headgear! If you are not willing to get out of breath, sign up for something else.
There are lots of scantily clad fit people. Just sayin’.
We had to pay $10 to park. That was kind of grating.
Speaking of parking -- it smelled like the Rastafarian Army was camping near our parking spot. Both arriving and leaving, the smell of skunkiness filled the air.
Alright, it’s time to wrap up my look at British Columbia. I can’t thank Teresa from MtnBikingGirl.com enough for all her help. She had info that some schmoe like me who’s in town for a few days couldn’t find on his own. Be sure to visit her blog. If you’re late to the party, check out our posts about Whistler/Squamish and the Victoria area!
Justin’s Quick Hits
Yes, Vancouver is really as cool as everyone says it is: a big but friendly city that’s progressive but not snooty. There’s a blend of old-school and new architecture. You’ll find awesome parks like Stanley Park, and you might catch some trials riders hopping around the beach areas. My favorite thing to do was just to walk. We’d pick a direction and go. You’ll find plenty of things to do, like the Granville Island Public Market and Chinatown.
We stayed at the Lonsdale Quay Hotel, which became my favorite hotel in Vancouver. The staff was friendly, it has great views and it’s perched atop a very awesome marke. It’s also close to a ferry stop, which offers a nice ride to the downtown area (a novelty for a desert guy and his ex-sailor wife). Vancouver has a very international population, so you’ll find any sort of cuisine. I’d be thrilled to have such a glut of awesome Asian food in my hometown. And watch for the fresh fruit. I got a hold of some life-changing blueberries.
I know Teresa will yell at me about this, but I’m not a big fan of Tim Horton’s – neither the donuts nor the coffee.
If you’re a futbol fan, see if you can squeeze a Vancouver Whitecaps match into your schedule. It begins its first season in Major League Soccer this summer. Yes, I know it’s not exactly the Champions League --
Teresa Tells It All
What?! You don’t like Tim Horton’s?? Oh no!! Well, the good news is Vancouver has really good coffee with Artigiano’s and Delaney’s topping my list. Both are local coffee chains that take pride in their coffee. The owners of Artigiano’s actually spent time in Italy to learn how to do it right before opening their first location on the corner of Pender and Thurlow in downtown Vancouver.
But enough about coffee … let’s talk about riding! Mt Fromme is found in North Vancouver and one of the more popular places to ride, along with Mt Seymour where you’ll find the trail Severed Dick. Severed Dick is one of the original North Shore trails and is a good intermediate trail with minimal stunts. A word of caution, even the easy trails here may be much steeper and technical than what you’re used to. Trail maps are found at all of the local bike shops, I really like Obsession Bikes. They have a really helpful staff and will point you in the right direction if you need trail recommendations.
There is a great bed and breakfast at the base of Mt Fromme that caters to mountain bikers that I highly recommend. Lynn Valley Bed and Breakfast has a secure area to store your bikes and an area to wash them as well. A great place to stay that’s close to the trails.
Well, this concludes the “Best of British Columbia” series. Come back soon!
One false move, and I could wind up impaled on a taxidermied whale penis. The walls bristle with them. All species. All sizes.
There are also clear acrylic capsules filled with them. Floating in preservative, maintaining their original glory.
Yes, whale penises are the centerpieces of the Iceland Phallological Mueseum in Husavik. It’s Husavik’s star attraction, and rising in fame internationally. (Bad news for Husavik – the museum has moved to Reykjavik since my visit. Too bad. It’s a beautiful town, and you should go there anyway.)
The building is crammed with penis specimens. Field mice, cetaceans -- just about everything under the sun.
Human? Yes, it’s on its way. You may have seen news reports of the recently deceased Icelandic man who pledged his manhood to the museum upon death. I guess he beat out the guy pictured at the museum: an American, sitting on a stool. Wearing nothing but a smile. I’m guessing the room was chilly.
Iceland, by the way, is also crazy for team handball. You can see casts made from the members of the members of the Icelandic team after winning silver at a recent team handball World Cup.
When you enter, the curator gives you a thick binder and a "how to tell what sort of wang you’re looking at" primer.
This attraction is definitely worth ejecting a few krona. The lighting could be better for photography. And it should open earlier (we had a flight to catch in Akureyri in a few hours).
We started our day in ReykjahliÄ‘, our base for nearly three days of tromping around Myvatn. We broke our camp at Vogar and headed west in our Suzuki Jimney. We headed in the back way to Husavik, up Road 87. The Jimney gamely cruised along, even after the road turned to dirt.
We saw few cars. The scenery was green, but not exactly lush. No surprise there: Less than one percent of Iceland’s land is arable. Yet there was still the occasional farmstead and meandering herd of sheep.
You have to be careful on unpaved roads, so it’s best to keep the speed down. Especially in the successor to the Suzuki Samurai! After a few hours, we arrived in Husavik.
30 Miles from the Arctic Circle
This is as far north as I’ve ever been. A chilly wind blew in from the water. Husavik is a very beautiful town, though. Since the Phallus Museum isn’t ready for action until 11 a.m., we had some time to kill. We roamed the town, had coffee, petted horses.
It’s very tranquil. Groups of kids going to and from soccer practice roamed around. It’s the sort of place where people probably don’t lock their doors – ever. Some rolling hills, beautiful views of the ocean, snow-capped mountains not too far distant.
We also hit a bakery for a few snacks while we waited.
Racing to the Airport
I drove the Jimney for all it was worth. We pulled into Akureyri with time to spare, long enough to grab a falafel. We turned in our Jimney, boarded the plane and headed back to Reykjavik.
We checked back into Guesthouse Isafold, our reliable Reyjkavik base. And then we finally rested. Because our day isn’t over: Tonight, we’re running the MiÄ‘nÃ¦turhlaup, a 10k race that starts at 10 p.m. The name means Midnight Run.
It’s perhaps the most pleasant 10k ever: Two laps through the zoo/botanical garden area, followed by a nice free soak at the Laugardalslaug swimming pool we’ve come to love. All in nearly full sunlight, by the way. The clouds broke and we had beautiful temperatures in the 50s. With sun and sweat, that was perfect. And the hot tubs were crammed with our fellow runners and their families. Good times!
If I’d been standing here back then -- well, I don’t even want to think about it. Even now, the ground still spews fumes. I can smell the beanie, farty, rotten-egg stench nearly everywhere.
Blackened slabs of sharp-edged lava. A grey sky. Bleak desolation. I know it doesn’t sound appealing … unless you’ve wondered what the world was like when humans were billions of years into the future.
ReykjahliÄ‘ is a town of about 300 people. You might think that means there’s not much to do. Yet I plan on a day packed with activity. Just like yesterday.
Sarah and I start off at Hverir. It’s not just another geothermal area: It’s a single slab of mountain that is many shades lighter than the surrounding area. When we approached Myvatn yesterday, I thought the sun was shining through a hole in the clouds. But now, that’s just the brightness of the rocks.
The flatulent stink is at its strongest here. It’s the smell of the earth reconstituting itself. There’s something I love about the odor. It tell me the world is alive, not just lifeless rock and concrete. It’s awesome.
There are plenty of trails. Obey the signs – the ground is soft in many places. And you don’t want to get scalded in a mud pit. You can summit some of the large hills in the area for spectacular views.
The Road to Hell
There are two craters in Iceland called Viti. That’s Icelandic for hell. One of them is up the road from Hverir. The crater is filled with electric green water. The wind is absolutely howling, making me reluctant to get near the edge. I wonder if anyone has ever fallen in. The water must be freezing, and scrambling out and back to safety would be a real test. Best not to find out.
Nearby, there’s some machinery from the power station. It’s harnessing heat from a nearby fumarole. The power is astounding: The roar from the fumarole is loud as any jet engine.
This was about 45 minutes of walking.
To the Fissure
This is not the Caribbean. It is not warm, inviting, relaxing. Harsh, barren, stark – at best. And a reminder of your own insignificance to this planet. A signal that you are nothing.
The Krafla Fissure has tried hard to drive people away. It’s nearly destroyed ReykjahliÄ‘ more than once. As implacable as the lava can be, it isn’t sufficient.
I picture the lava fountains, the winter sky contrasting with the orange radiance of the magma. I wonder how many lava tubes lie under the wasteland, just waiting to be found.
I could spend weeks here walking the lava flow. Â As it is, a few hours is all I have.
This is an amazing place among amazing places.
One the way out, we made a quick stop for the presentation Krafla Power Station. You can check out parts of the inside, and watch a movie about the fissure, the eruptions and the station itself. It’s more fascinating than it sounds.
Time to Kick Back
Currents of murky blue water swirl around me. The water temperature changes every few steps. One moment, I feel like a live Maine lobster getting cooked. Seconds later, I’m scrambling to find a warm spot.
This is the JarÃ°bÃ¶Ã°in viÃ° MÃ½vatn (Myvatn Nature Baths). If you’ve heard anything about Iceland, you’ve probably heard of the Blue Lagoon. It’s only one of Iceland’s main attractions. This is its more remote, more scenic, more laid-back relative.
It’s smaller, but still filled with amenities like saunas and steam rooms in addition to the naturally heated, silicate-rich water.
And the most important amenity of them all: ice cream bars. Sarah and I have noticed the Icelandic tradition – families will hit the local pools together. They’ll swim some laps, lounge in the hot tubs, then top it off with an ice cream bar. Sounds sensible to me!
That’s most of our day, minus a repeat visit to the Cowshed and a decent pizza at Papi’s. It’s another nice night at Vogar. It wasn’t our busiest day. But I loved every second of it.
Here’s the second post in the Best of British Columbia series. Extra-special thanks to Teresa from MtnBikingGirl.com for the super Vancouver Island advice! Missed the first post? Well, then, go back and read it.
Justin’s Quick Hits
I only got a quick day excursion to Vancouver Island, but I can definitely say it has the best brewery I found during my visit. The scenery is pretty spectacular, and the ferry ride from Vancouver is a novelty for desert folks like me. Victoria is a really walkable city that actually reminds me of a shrunken-down Brisbane, Australia – well, with a much cooler climate. But it has that same healthy, friendly, scenic elements. A bit touristy, but it’s too pleasant a city to hold that against it. The bus ride from the ferry dock to the city is also really pleasant. I was able to get out for a quick boat tour with a crazy marine biologist, which was tons of fun. I spotted some seals and even plucked some fresh seaweed out of the ocean and chomped on it. Good times!
But you’re hear for mountain biking, right? Over to you, Teresa!
Teresa Tells It All
Lots of riding over here! To drive Vancouver Island from Victoria, at the south end, to Port Hardy, at the north end, takes approximately 7 hours and almost every community has their own set of trails. If you do plan on coming over this way, you’ll definitely need a car and a few days to really get a taste of it.
To get over here you’ll need to take a ferry. Ferry routes and schedules can be found on the BC Ferries website. I recommend buying a CirclePac which allows you to include the Sunshine Coast route at a discounted rate.
Here are my top picks for riding on Vancouver Island:
Victoria – The main place to ride is an area called Hartland (aka The Dump). There are trails here to suit every level of rider and the trails are marked like ski trails with green – easiest, blue – intermediate, black – hardest. You can find trail maps at the local bike shops but if you want to take a peek of what’s available, I found this one online.
Sooke – Located 30 minutes from downtown Victoria, Sooke is a real gem. I recently rode the Harbourview Trails there for the first time last month and I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner! When you head up the fireroad there’s a series of fun, flowy XC trails but if you continue on up the road to a trail named "FM Radio" you’ll be treated to stunning views of the Sooke Harbour from the top of Mount Quimper. I should forewarn you, this is a 45 minute trek from the road and you’ll come across a couple of sections that are "hike-a-bike". It may seem like a long trek up, but the downhill is worth it! Recommended for advanced XC riders.
Cumberland – Part of the Comox Valley and day 1 of the 2011 BC Bike Race, this is where I live and is approximately 3 hours north of Victoria. We are spoiled with our network of trails here. Not all Cumberland trails are marked so you’ll need to buy a map from one of the local bike shops or if your budget allows, hire a guide. There are also some great trails on Forbidden Plateau. You can ride up the fire road to get to the trails here but most of the locals shuttle (it’s a long, dusty ride on a well travelled road). For more information and to view trail maps, go to cvmtb.com.
Campbell River – Campbell River is approximately 45 minutes north of the Comox Valley and will be day 2 of the 2011 BC Bike Race. The best riding here is in the Snowden Forest which boasts over 100 km’s of trails. Most of these trails are for the intermediate to advanced rider, but there are some easier trails as well. I recommend talking to one of the local bike shops (Swicked Cycle is on the way) for trail recommendations and a trail map. With such a large network of trails, it’s easy to get lost.
If you want to continue along the BC Bike Race route, the next stop is Powell River…
Powell River – To get here you need to take a ferry from Comox (this is where the CirclePac I mentioned above comes in handy), which takes approximately 1 hour 20 minutes. Powell River is one of the newer mountain bike destinations, and I have only ridden here once before and the trail network has really expanded. The trails used for the BC Bike Race are on the Bike Powell River site and for futher information I would recommend contacting someone at Bike Powell River directly.
Sunshine Coast – There isn’t much information online about the Sunshine Coast trails, however one trail that I know they’ve really put a lot of work into is the Suncoaster, which is a 33 km trail that was designed to take people from ferry to ferry on trails and back roads. It’s also one of the trails that the BC Bike Race follows. Other trails worth checking out here are the Ruby Lake Trails. And as always, I highly recommend talking to the local bike shops to get the real scoop and find out trail conditions, etc.
The ferry out of Langdale will bring you back to Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver.
This is the first of three posts about the awesome times a mountain biker can have visiting British Columbia. Hang on and read on!
Sometimes, two bloggers are better than one. That’s definitely the case when I get a message from a Spanish mountain biker planning to visit British Columbia for some fun this summer. I’ve been to BC and have some decent info, but my friend and BC resident Teresa of MtnBikingGirl.com can turn a decent reply into a slam-dunk.
So here’s our situation: David and his friends are bringing their own bikes and plan to be in BC July 30 – Aug. 16. He assures me they’re skilled enough to handle all of what BC can hurl at them. They plan to hit Vancouver Island, Squamish and Whistler. He’s also hoping Teresa and I can hook him up with some non-mountain biking activities.
Alright, let’s take a look at what we’ve got here:
Justin’s Quick Hits
Squamish is packed with outdoor activities. Mountain biking is high on its specialities, especially cross-country racing. Word is there’s something like 600 trails in the area. The Test of Metal race sounds pretty awesome. I would definitely like to spend more time in Squamish in the future. I was just there long enough for pit stops between Vancouver and Whistler.
Just getting there is a treat for the eyeballs, with spectacular views in virtually any direction.
Teresa Tells It All
One of the "must ride" trails is Half Nelson. Only one word describes this trail: FUN! It has a bit of everything that should suit everyone and is one of the BC Bike Race staples every year. Squamish has an extensive trail network and it’s hard to just pick a few trails to ride. Tourism Squamish has done a great job of posting videos and descriptions of some of their trails. They are the "go-to" place to find out more information to find out more information about the best trails to ride.
Squamish is also our rockclimbing mecca so when you drive past the Stawamus Chief (massive granite rock monolith, you can’t miss it) look up! You’ll almost always see people climbing the face. You can also hike to the top of the Stawamus Chief. If you have the time and energy after your ride, you’ll be treated to some pretty incredible views. And if you’re really lucky, you might meet a base jumper or two, as well.
Justin’s Quick Hits
What can you do in Whistler: fishing, hiking, skiing (well, not in summer) -- and mountain biking of every flavor. You’ll see cross-country hammerheads, dirt jumpers, downhillers, trials mutants and combinations thereof. It’s stocked with shops to dispense gear and advice. It’s a real mountain bike culture, the likes of which I haven’t seen before.
Something to keep in mind: Everything in Whistler seems absurdly expensive (my wife and I ate at a Mongolian-style BBQ place that set us back about $40 US – that’s about $16 in Arizona). I’d suggest renting someplace with a kitchen so you can save some bucks on food.
David’s schedule coincides with the Â Crankworx festival, so he and his buddies can snag test rides on some sweet bikes and mingle with all sorts of bike nuts.
Teresa Tells It All
There is lots of great riding around Whistler and not all of it is in the bike park! Around Lost Lake there is a great series of trails if you’re looking for a shorter ride. Then there are the classics like Cut Yer Bars and Kill Me Thrill Me which are for the more advanced rider. Looking for something a bit more epic? Then you will want to check out the trail Comfortably Numb.
Whistler’s Bike Park is well known and for good reason. If dirt jumping is more your style, you’ll have an excellent time on Crank It Up and Heart of Darkness. Far too many trails to list here, but you’ll need a downhill or all-mountain bike and a full-face helmet for most of these trails.
In the next post, Teresa and I will spill the beans on the awesome Vancouver Island. We’ll follow that up with the dirt on the city itself. Subscribe so you don’t miss out!
It’s better to challenge yourself and come in last than it is to sandbag your way to victory. That said, I didn’t come in last in the Fat Tire 40 at McDowell Mountain.
But I was definitely bringing up the rear.
This event, put on by Swiss American Racing, brought a fast crowd of folks. Lots of people with lots of leg and lung power, for sure. Some had sketchy handling skills, especially at the Tech Loop drop-off and the T-Bone Hill climb. But most made up for it by motoring in the flatter sections. Me? Decent in the tricky climbs, good in the downhills, a lazy sod in the false flats.
Here’s the deal: So far in 2011, I’ve done four mountain races. Among them was a solo 12-hour effort and 24-hour race as part of a duo. My results have been unspectacular.
But I’m getting out there, and it’s paying off.
I finally achieved something that sent me home from a race feeling good: At about 25 miles into the race, I caught up with a guy. He was riding a shiny Santa Cruz Tallboy that made my 6-year-old Gary Fisher look like Fred Sanford’s jalopy. Which it pretty much is with its chainsuck-battered chainstays and leaky rear shock.
I passed him and thought I’d seen the last of him.
But he caught me about five miles later at a feed zone. I stopped to refill my bottles. He jettisoned his empty and grabbed a new one. I didn’t have time to drop an electrolyte tablet into my bottles without letting him get too far away. Instead, I wolfed down a banana one of the volunteers offered me.
So I chased his fancy-bike-riding butt. I caught him at The Ledge as he was pushing his bike over the obstacle. I went around him and got slightly tangled in a palo verde tree, but I kept going. I was feeling good, good enough to laugh and yell "no, don’t crash into the palo verde!" He panted a reply I couldn’t understand.
I thought for sure I’d left him behind. I was soon up on the South Ridge and putting on some distance. This was about three miles past the feed zone.
That’s when I hit The Wall – that horrible place where the easy becomes epic and your body no longer obeys your commands.
I had trouble steering in a straight line, much less breezing over obstacles like I had for the past 35 miles. I could feel heat building in my quadriceps. Oh, salt and potassium, how I needed thee! But there was just no time to fish a Nuun tablet out of my pack, unscrew a water bottle lid, screw it back on, wait for the tablet to dissolve and start guzzling.
It was just five miles to the finish.
I just had to hold this persistent, rising-from-the-grave jerk at bay for five miles (why won’t he give up and let me enjoy the rest of the race, already?!). I had the advantage. I’d already passed him twice. He was panting like a dog both times. He was in worse shape, right?
So I kept pedaling, kept descending.
Then my bike made a horrible noise. It reverberated through the frame. It sounded like the stable platform valve in the rear shock finally giving way. I still haven’t figured it out. But it made me more tentative in every descent.
But I kept riding. Sometimes, I heard my nemesis scratching along the ground behind me.
Finally, I got to the start/finish area. That meant I just had three miles left to go. Riding the Sport Loop backward was all that stood in my way.
Just a few hundred feet from the start of the Sport Loop, I looked behind me. He couldn’t have been 10 feet back.
I kept pedaling. Straight into the twisty singletrack. Climb a little, descend a little. Just focus on every little stretch of trail. The heat was building in my legs again. Keep in the low gears, just keep spinning the pedals. High RPMs. Ride smart.
But damn, my legs hurt. I just wanted to take a few seconds to stretch. But I kept hearing him. No. Just keep going as long as I can. If I blow up, I blow up.
Finally. Finally. Finally. I reached the bit where I could count on some easy descending. Keep spinning the pedals.
But wait. There were two hills on-tap. On every Sport Loop, they come moments from the start as two steep drops. Riding backward, that means my hammered legs had to go UP them! I reached the first and scaled my way up.
I got to the second. I got halfway up, hop off the bike and push us both up. I crest the hill as the other rider gets to the bottom.
I’m back on my bike in a flash. I spun the pedals like a madman. I tried to be smooth, controlled, confident. It’s all downhill from here.
I crossed the line. It takes more than a minute for my former antagonist to cross the line. That’s a gap I opened in less than a mile. I can live with that.
That guy made me suffer. He worked me like a dog.
And I’m glad he was there. He made me ride better than I could without him. He gave me some motivation. I’d like to think I did the same for him. I believe we made each other better, that we wrung the absolute best out of each other.
We weren’t the fast guys in this race. Both of us probably eat way too much cheese and chocolate to be as fast as the others.
But we rolled up to the line with the fast people anyway. And we both gave it everything we had to give on that Sunday.
Can a cloud of flies lift a person off the ground? I am about to find out on the south shore of Myvatn (Mee-VAH-ten).
That name, by the way, means business. Vatn is Icelandic for "water." What’s "my?" Midge. As in those pesky flies that are threatening to carry me off. They’re everywhere. This means we are in a place that means "Fly Water." Myvatn is a shallow lake ringed by some spectacular scenery: more pseudocraters, and one of the most bizarre mountains ever. More on that later.
As for the flies, some folks at a convenience store sold Sarah and me a lovely matched set of insect nets for our heads and faces. Problem abated. Somewhat.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Flight to Iceland’s Northern Big City
To get here, we started with an early Flug Island (or Air Iceland, the domestic arm of IcelandAir) flight from Reykjavik’s domestic airport. We walked from our guesthouse right to the terminal. Our fellow passengers were mostly English, and they were dressed from some horse-riding fun.
We landed in Akureyri, the main city of northern Iceland. We rented a Suzuki Jimny and rattled off to the west. We had some epic mountain scenery, and we enjoyed a brief stop at a waterfall. We made another brief stop to get our anti-fly nets – and had a nice lunch of soup and trout that had been smoked over sheep dung. Regardless of the fuel source, it was delicious.
And then for a major centerpiece of my Iceland experience: We headed for Dimmuborgir.
But before we got near Dimmuborgir, I noticed something strange: One single mountain that seemed illuminated. It was an overcast day, and it was like one single ray of sunshine penetrated the clouds and fixed on this mountain. This is the Hverir thermal area. It stands out from all the surrounding terrain. We plan to make a thorough visit tomorrow.
This is also the name of well-known black metal band, and it means "Dark Castle." This region gets this name from the massive expanse of hardened lava that froze in all sorts of interesting shapes. It sprawls for quite a distance. There are massive spires, tiny lava tubes, holes -- it’s too unearthly to really describe well. It’s stark and scorched, and completely engrossing.
Hverfjall: As Cool as it Sounds
If you’re up for a long hike, you can follow a trail and climb to the top of Hverfjall explosion crater. Sarah and I circled the base, climbed from the (easier) northern trail, fully circled the rim, and descended the south trail before heading back to Dimmuborgir. Total distance is a little more than 6 miles.
Relaxation, Trout and Stout
By this point, we were a little peckish. We’d heard about the Cowshed Cafe, so we stopped. It’s a working dairy in addition to a restaurant. You can eat while watching cows get milked.
As we were eating more trout, a salad and some fresh geysir bread, one of the cafe staff made the rounds to all the tables to pass out little cups. They were filled with fresh, unpasteurized milk straight out of the teat of the cow getting milked.
Warm, creamy, frothy -- but not as heavy as I expected. A clean finish!
Our next step was a little relaxation at the town pool (we were in ReykjahliÄ‘). Despite this being a town of 300, the pool facilities are superior to what you’ll find in my city of some 1.4 million people. Hot tubs, weight rooms, lap lanes -- nice!
From there, we headed to the Vogar campgrounds. We put our tent up on the northern shore of Myvatn. Here on the north side, the midges are considerably less active. Once we had the tent up, we wandered the main street a bit and met some of the local horses.
We also wrapped up the day’s gustation with a nice chocolate cake and a shared bottle of Lava. This is an imperial-style stout brewed in the south of Iceland. It was the only good beer we found in Iceland, and it was the equal of just about any microbrew from the United States. I’d say it is on par with the Oskar Blues Ten Fiddy of Longmont, Colo.
Snoozing by Myvatn
After all this buzzing around, we were pretty tired. Though the sun only peaked below the horizon for a few hours and the sky never fully darkened, we got a great night of sleep on the soft grass of the Vogar.
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