Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Slight Return

This is more of a collection of things I want to remember than anything of much interest to anyone (except me)... but that really describes a lot of my blog. Is it wrong to write a blog for yourself? Probably.

We just came back from a couple of days south of the border where we (in this order) did a very short ski tour, ate in a pub, slept in the Elephant, skied some nice deep snow with the assistance of chair-lifts, picked up some internet shopping, and bought some new work clothes. A full range of excitement there.

Blue Elephant wearing a clever disguise
A notable achievement was camping out in the Elephant again, this time with the added bonuses of having left one rear seat at home and my string-based release system so we can open the tailgate from the inside. The good news is the Elephant is proving very comfortable for hanging out inside during poor weather and sleeping inside. One internet purchase which I've now added is LED interior light bulbs, so we can use them without killing the battery. Technology is great.

I also have been able to make a few fine adjustments to the Orange Bike (I just noticed I seem to name everything with colours). I discovered that using a SRAM 11 tooth sprocket on the Shimano cassette left things spaced slightly wrong due to SRAM putting a little recess in the second sprocket on their cassettes. It worked fine, but you may as well do things right, right? So I found a Shimano 11 tooth and swapped that. During this process I found that Shimano lockrings are different diameters for 11 tooth vs 12 tooth and the 12-tooth-sized one interferes with the chain if you use it with an 11 tooth sprocket. Fascinating stuff which I hope to remember  next time I'm playing with mutant cassettes.

A fine spread of teeth 
I've also added a nice un-ramped stainless steel chainring which I hope will last a long time, not drop the chain, and be resistant to banging on things. We'll see how that goes. The MRP 1X guide I'm using seems to work fine, though it is a little flimsy feeling. We'll see how that goes too.

Shiny thing
We picked up some bargain priced Velocity rims that I found on the internet. Lina's road bike has nasty amounts of wear from its life as a commuter and I had a set of rather nice spokes that needed a purpose. Yes, I can see beauty in some pieces of bent wire. The conclusion of all this is that I'm going to build a classic Andrew pair of wheels with alarming purple rims, an unfashionable high number (32) fancy Swiss spokes, some old Shimano hubs, and linseed oil. I'm excited.

Popsicle purple?
...and finally. We stopped on the way home at bargain-hunter's paradise Winners (that's like the North American version of TK Maxx for any UK readers). I really don't like clothes shopping, but I'm off to be oriented in my new job next week (eek) and showing up looking like I stole my outfit from the laundry room of a retirement home didn't seem like the best idea. Fortunately I struck a seam of bargains and my compiled office clothes now total a pair of shoes, three shirts, two pairs of trousers, and four (yes, count 'em) ties. Imagine the extravagance.

As the specter of employment moves ever closer, I'm off to ride my bike... then build some purple wheels. Happy days.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Spring cleaning

As I work on enjoying my last week of "unemployment", during which I have been variously employed in several enjoyable ways I have allowed myself more time to work on things that I normally reserve for free time. During my rummagings at OCB I found a used Shimano "29er specific" 12 to 36 tooth 9-speed cassette... which aside from being roughly the same weight as a sea lion seemed like a fun thing to play around with. My Orange Bike had a bit of a nest of cables and hoses going on at the front and I had been considering ditching the front shifter and putting the cable for my 'dropper seatpost through the guides instead of duct-taping it to things. 

The original arrangement with a nest-full of cables
Partly inspired by Nikki's inventive "two chainrings the same size" setup on her cyclocross bike, I decided that it was time to try out a single ring on Orange Bike. I did briefly try this before when I gave someone my granny ring just before a two-day off-road ride from Whistler to Squamish. This act of generosity taught me that whilst a 36-34 low gear is pedallable up hills, it isn't much fun. With my 12 to 36 cassette craftily switched to 11 to 36 with an old sprocket from my toolbox and a 32 tooth chainring I would have 32-36 low gear, which is almost like I took the same numbers as before and switched them around. Now I don't even know if I put the numbers in the right order. Still... all these numbers clearly prove that this is an excellent idea so I went ahead gathering the widgets I would need to get the one-ring circus into town.

The next stroke of luck was a new-old-stock chain device which promised to elegantly stop my chain falling off and not weigh too much. I figured the gigantic mass of my new cassette might just be offset by losing the front shifter, cable, and derraileur.

A natty chain-retaining contraption. I've got a shiny stainless-steel chainring coming in the mail too.
The actual assembly of this fandangle was complicated by my decision to put on some new grips, change the tires, fit some new bearings to my bottom-bracket, and do the clever cable routing with an in-line adjuster for my seatpost. Several hours and a large cup of coffee later the Orange Bike stood ready for action, then this morning the sun came out - clearly an auspicious omen.

With the sun, all the mountain bikers in Vancouver also come out and I ended up sharing my solitary ride with various friends and trail-acquaintances I bumped into along the way. In the past I used to go to the pub to find my friends, but here it seems I'm more likely to find them on a muddy trail somewhere on the North Shore. The ride turned out rather longer than expected and with some new trail combinations I haven't tried before. It's good to ride with different people.

So... the verdict? It certainly works fine. The big gear (32-11) is a bit twiddly on the road, but not ridiculous. The 32-36 climbing gear was just fine for grunting up all the climbs I did today and low enough to finesse (yeah, right) up the slippery, rooty technical climbs. It is really nice to get the whole range of gears from one shifter and the dinky little 32 tooth ring up the front doesn't bang on rocks and logs as much as the 36 tooth... which is just as well seeing as I don't have a bash-guard for it. I also liked the 2.0" Crossmark tire I put on the back. Having been used to a giant tractor tire that I've had on for the winter, the Crossmark is really smooth rolling and light. Amazingly it seems to grip too... I don't know how that works.

Since I fitted a -1 degree headset to the Orange Bike I've had a chance to ride it a fair bit and I'm liking it. The bearings went all grindy, which seems to be a common complaint, but I greased them up and they're smooth enough again now. The angles, using the probably vastly inaccurate angle finder app on my iPod are 66 degree head angle and 71 degree seat angle. This sounds really slack, so I'm not convinced it's right. It seems to work well though, whatever it is. All in all, I'm happy with my new simplified drivetrain, tidy cable routing, and fast tires. More than all of that though, I'm happy about sunshine and meeting people on trails.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Twin Peaks (almost)

It's our newest long-weekend holiday here in BC... Family Day! As Lina and I (and most of our friends) and geographically-remote from our families we have to make do with things like sleeping in cold huts and the back of the car for entertainment.

We started off our long weekend early as we both had Friday off and skied up Singing Pass into the Russet Lake hut from Whistler Village. I've passed by the hut a few times, but never stayed the night. We were joined by a couple of Whistler locals intent on riding only the most fearsome lines on Fissile Peak. We got to watch them make very neat work of Banana Chute and the Psycho Chute during our time out there... which was pretty alarming just to watch let alone consider doing myself.

Home for the night
Despite the misery of frozen boots in the morning, the hut was pretty comfy and we enjoyed a long night's sleep and pretty relaxed start to the day. Not needing to crawl out of bed at five to ski in the backcountry is definitely a treat. Our plan was to ski up toward the Spearhead range and see what we could find to ski back down again.

Sun is shining, weather is sweet.

Andrew approves of sunshine in the mountains
After some thought, we broke a trail up the Whirlwind glacier to Whirlwind peak, where we had some fine views and got pretty excited about planning another traverse around the Spearhead for the spring. It feels pretty much like spring already, but I suspect nature has some more winter coming for us first. 

Whirlwind peak and my attention-seeking sunglasses

Back down off Whirlwind
We started our ski down as quite a few day-trippers from Whistler were making their way up. The glacier skiing was in fine condition with the ice below keeping things cold and light despite the sunshine.

Lina descending Whirlwind

Adding our lines to whoever skied it yesterday...
After a really pleasant lunch stop back at the hut we harnessed up the big packs and headed out over Oboe and Flute back to the resort. The ski down icy groomed-runs was pretty harsh with tired legs and the big packs, but I still prefer it to the idea of the pinball-run back down Singing Pass. Our next stop (after some food) was the Duffey Lake Road to meet Paul for a day.

A cavern of ski gear. Amazingly we slept (quite comfortably) among all of this junk.
We got to try out sleeping in the back of the Blue Elephant for the first time, which fortunately was a great success. It's nice and flat in the back and big enough for two comfortably. The lack of all-wheel drive was a bit of a rude awakening from my Subaru days and required some creative driving in the deep rutted snow of the Joffre Lakes parking lot. We managed to get it in and out without too much grief though. When the sun came up, we drove up to Cayoosh mountain with Paul to see if we could find our way to the top this time.

Oh, hi.
More lovely weather and a good night's sleep fueled a fast ascent to the Armchair Glacier. We had managed to get further than last time, but the final pitch to the summit was pretty steep and the wind-affected snow wasn't very receptive to us putting a skin-track up it. We considered boot-packing up, but no-one felt a lot of enthusiasm for pounding steps in slabby snow or having it rain down on them. Paul spotted a possible rout up to the ridge, so we gave that a try instead.

Will it work?
In summary, the ridge is not the way to gain the summit of Cayoosh. Despite some misty-eyed reminiscence of how we might have skipped along the exposed ridge line in our reckless youth (which I think is fictitious in my case)... it looked nasty, so we didn't. The way up seems to be the steep slope so we'll come back on a firmer day with more pointy metal accessories and stomp our way up it. 

Reveling in our summit-failure.

That's the summit over there. We'll get it next time.
So over three days, we covered fifty-five kilometers, climbed over four thousand meters, and put on frozen boots twice. Today I'm going to use what's left of the holiday do do what it was intended for and try to catch my mum on Skype... then go for a bike ride. I approve of Family Day.

Something else I think you, whoever you are, should know about is our friend Geoff's book Eversong. We went to his launch party on Thursday night, which was really fun and I'm excited to get into the book after I've finished the two others I'm still slowly ready (sigh). It's available as a eBook, which is something I hope to get into when funds allow. I think some kind of e-reader would be great for travelling, though I do have a fondness for turning paper pages.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Budget backcountry

I'm undecided as to whether I should share the location of my most recent holiday with the Internet as it seems to be a largely undiscovered and excellent place... but a ginger-bearded man's livelihood somewhere in north-eastern Oregon depends on others like me renting his facilities, so perhaps I should reveal the full details. While I wrestle with that moral dilemma I'll write about the trip.

Every year (excluding the one we lived in China) I've been on some kind of backcountry hut trip. These have varied wildly in format, but have all been a great time. This year I was faced with a lack of funds, and without the privilege of visiting Lina in a mountain lodge, as these days she mostly works at the base of the mountain rather than at the top of it, literally rather than figuratively speaking. So, when Chris asked me if I was interested in some yurting in NE Oregon, I was keen as mince. I'm not sure that idiom is quite right... but I'm going with it.
Several things about this trip were perfect, including the chance to take the Amtrak Cascades train down to Olympia Washington which I've wanted to do for years. In fact I'm writing this on the train on the way home after catching up on my emails. Yes, Internet on a train... even better than snakes on a plane. One thing that wasn't exactly perfect was returning from a job interview in Boston at three AM, then packing and heading straight out to the station to catch my train at six. I'd better be offered that job or I'm going to make an extremely pouty face and possibly a rude sound, and nobody needs that to happen.

Despite my hectic travel schedule I arrived in Olympia and was able to slow down to west-coast time before Chris, Theo, and I drove eight hours out to Joseph Oregon. The morning of our ski into the Big Sheep camp, we met CB who runs the show and wears a fine beard. He also does a nice job of getting the ski stoke going with instructions like "North-west flow, baby. Can you spell c.h.a.m.p.a.g.n.e. p.o.w.d.e.r.? You're going to need your snorkel. Yeeeeaaaaah, etc. etc." But would the reality live up to the hype?

The ski into the camp was the most civilized approach I've ever done to a hut, with a level trail along an irrigation canal taking us straight there. We were able to use a borrowed plastic sled to haul in our food, which is a technique I'll hope to use again... much better than a huge pack.


The next two days we spent breaking trails and skiing some fantastic dry and cold snow in the trees above the camp. North-west flow indeed. The wind howls through the Wallowa mountains, so we had to pick our routes well and found very different layers in each pit we dug, so some care had to be taken, especially when the weather warmed up considerably for the second half of the trip and left the south-facing slopes pretty sticky and us a little suspicious of the stability. Fortunately the north-facing treed slopes were kind to us and with only three people, there was no danger of filling everything with tracks.



So our routine formed... get up (not too early) drink coffee, eat, walk out the door, ski, return, eat, chat, sleep. Repeat. The camp can hold ten, but with just the three of us we lived in the kitchen yurt which was lovely and warm with the wood stove burning.

I loved the skiing, the good company, and the restful atmosphere of the mountains, but the outcome of my interview nagged away at me and I felt some pangs of isolation from my email and the job offer, or rejection, that I imagined waiting for me there. If I wasn't so cheap and had a smartphone with US roaming I could have checked my email from the top of the hill, but that's just not how I roll so I had to wait.

We skied back out to the car on a beautiful sunny day and enjoyed the amenities of Joseph before heading back on the long drive to Olympia. This direction we drove into the sunset, which led to some really spectacular views before we descended into the night somewhere around Hood River.

Back in Olympia I finally checked my inbox to find that I will have to wait a little longer for the verdict on that job. Hopefully my three-day travel epic was not in vain... though sitting here on the train back to Vancouver I can't help but think one of the pleasures in travel is the journey home, which you could never make without first leaving.

And finally, this is where we were. And finally, err, finally... here's Chris slaying some (sick) Oregon pow (dude).

And now, like, SO finally. Here's my GPS plot of all the gnar-pow we shredded.