Tuesday, October 26, 2010


The conclusion of the current phase of a project at work necessitated another trip to Europe, and this time it was to Brussels, Belgium. I had never been to Belgium so I was pretty excited to make a pilgramage to the heartland of frites, chocolate, and cyclocross. I would have really liked to have seen a World Cup Cyclocross race, but unfortunately there wasn't one coinciding with the time that I would be there, so I was unable to realize this dream. One thing that did coincide with my visit, however, was that my friend Jesse would also be in Europe during the same week to attend a conference in London, so we laid some plans to meet up afterwards for some climbing at Ceuse, one of the most fabled sport climbing areas on earth.

I left Seattle in the early afternoon on Monday, and arrived in Brussels around 11am on Tuesday morning. After making my way to my hotel which was on the outskirts of town, I took a brief nap and then headed out for some sight seeing. The hotel was close to a metro station, and I was very pleased to realize that the metro station was named after the greatest cyclist of all time (who happens to be a Belgian): Eddy Merckx!

I headed down into the station and tried to buy a ticket, but I didn't have any cash on me and I couldn't get my credit card to work in the machine (I later learned that it was because it didn't have the chip inside that most of the Europrean credit cards do). So, I left the station and began my hunt for a bank machine, and after asking directions I found one inside a nearby mall. With cash in hand, I headed triumphantly back to Eddy Merckx station and tried once again to buy my ticket. This time I learned that the machine only accepted coins, not bills, so after admiring Eddy's bike which was parked next to the ticket machine, I headed out on a quest for change:

The closest spot to obtain change turned out ot be a "Quick Stop" which is the Belgian (I assume) version of McDonalds. I bought the healthiest looking thing on the menu (some sort of gross sandwich) and headed back to pay Eddy a third visit, hoping to finally board a train. This time my efforts were met with success, and I boarded the metro and rode it into the city center, disembarking at Gare Centrale. Brussels is in the northern, Flemish-speaking part of Belgium, but thankfully the spoken language there happens to be French (as it is in Southern Belgium) so I wasn't totally at a loss for making myself understood.

I left the metro station and began a walking tour of the city, with a map in hand that I had obtained from the hotel pointing out many of the main sights. I started with some big cathedral, which was pretty nice:

From there I headed over to La Grande Place, which is a big square with fancy buildings on all sides. This seemed to be a popular tourist site, given the number of people around and the number of restuarants with signs outside advertising "Typical Belgian Food". Here is a photo:

I continued walking, seeing a number of other old buildings along with a plethora of cobbled streets, whicih explains why Belgium produces such good classics riders: lots of good training terrain.

I continued walking, and after seeing numerous waffle proprieters I finally yielded to fate and enjoyed a delicious Belgian waffle covered in chocolate, whipped cream, strawberries, and bananas:

As I continued on my way I encountered a large cycling cat stopped for a break in front of a row of bicycles that are part of the bike sharing system that seems to be present in every European city (in the background behind kitty):

I saw a number of other interesting sights, including old buildings, parks, and sculptures. Another interesting thing was that at one point I heard sirens and after a few motoryclcle policement whizzed by, they were followed by a motorcade of about 20 identical black Mercedes, with several of them bearing some sort of official flag. There was some sort of European summit in town that week (Brussels is home to the European Union headquarters) so this must have had something to do with that. I have no idea who it was for, but it was pretty fun to see. Here is one of the other sculptures that I saw:

After having my fill of sightseeing I headed back to the hotel for some dinner followed by an early bedtime. The rest of my stay in Belgium was consumed by work activities so I don't have much else that is worthwhile to write about. We did some stuff, our client didn't fire us, we had a nice dinner, and then I got ready to head to France to meet Jesse for some climbing at Ceuse.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Petzl Zoom Headlamp Upgrade: Part I

By now you may have realized that my blog has turned into a series of reports on what I do on weekends and holidays. This is because most (though not all) of the noteworthy events in my life occur during these periods. For a while in the summer I was pretty lax with reporting about anything at all, but I am now working hard at getting caught up again in case anyone still bothers to read this, and I will try to keep it up to date (though if it isn't up to date rest assured that it usually means I am too busy having fun to do so).

Anyways, nothing particular was planned for the current weekend in question, mostly due to an odious weather forecast that called for rain everywhere within a 6 hour drive of Seattle. Stinker! So, as Roanne had plans to head up to Vancouver for some wedding dress shopping with Mer, I decided to stick around Seattle and get some of the home improvements done that I have been postponing during the summer months when the weather was too good for it.

As you may have inferred from the title of this post, sometimes the best laid plans of mice and men go awry and as it turned out I did not do one single act of home improvement (much to Roanne's disappointment when she arrived home Sunday night). I did, however, spend a lot of time working on upgrading my old Petzl Zoom incandescent headlamp to high-output LEDs.

I'll spend another post on this after I have finished building up the design and have everything working as intended, but here is the short version of what I plan on doing: the general model of the Petzl headlamp I am upgrading is pictured below, it has a battery pack (designed to house a non-rechargeable primary cell) that is situated on the back of the head, and an incandescent light source up front which is turned on by rotating the outer bezel with further rotation of the bezel adjusting the beam focus. What I plan to do is remove the "guts" of the headlamp, replacing the disposable battery with a rechargeable Lithium Polymer cell (very high energy density, these are what are found in portable electronics like cell phones, etc.) and replacing the incandescent light source with an array of 4 high-output LEDs.The big advantage of this change is that it will be lighter (the Li-Po battery will weigh less than the disposable that it is replacing) and the LEDs will be stinkin' bright. By way of comparison, Petzl currently markets a high-end LED headlamp that is intended for caving which costs $430 and puts out 350 lumens, the 4-LED array that I am using will put out over 750 lumens under full power. Further upgrades to the headlamp functionality include in-situ battery charging (the battery will not need to be removed and will be charged by plugging an AC/DC wall adapter into the headlamp) and a continuously variable light output (the light output will be continuously varied between 100 and 750 lumens by turning a knob if you want less light output and longer battery life).

What I spent the weekend on was choosing parts to use for the electronics and designing a printed circuit board (PCB) that they will be mounted on. I sent the PCB out to be fabricated on Sunday afternoon, so it should be back in a week or two and I can start assembling the new headlamp and see if it works. I ordered some extra parts and PCBs, so if you have an old Petzl Zoom headlamp sitting around that you want turned into a real barn-burner then get your orders in!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Washington Pass Anniversary Weekend

No, not the anniversary of Washington Pass, rather the 4th wedding anniversary for me and my lovely wife, which we wisely decided to spend in Washington Pass. Roanne and I have a longstanding tradition of doing something fun over the weekend that falls closest to our wedding anniversary (we were married on Oct. 14, 2006), and we were determined that this year would be no different. Well, I guess the tradition isn't that longstanding; on our first anniversary we spent an extended weekend in Yosemite (which is so awesome), but then on our second anniversary there was a conflict where Fras and I held Utah Adventure Week during this time frame (so I guess I still had a great anniversary weekend with Fras, but I'm not sure how Roanne's went), and then on the third anniversary we were right in the middle of Roanne's breast cancer diagnosis which most definitely did not make for a fun weekend. So, we were determined to get the tradition up and running again by doing something fun and new on our fourth anniversary.

We had originally planned to head into the North Cascades and climb Forbidden Peak (one of the 50 Classic Climbs of North America), but in the weak leading up to it Roanne found that she was "fighting something" which is her expression for thinking that she is getting sick. I would say that she feels like this roughly 50% of the time, and it almost always turns out that she doesn't get sick (I guess she usually puts up a good fight), but in this case she defied expectations and really did get sick so that she was just barely starting to recover by the time the weekend rolled around.

So, in light of this we ruled out any overnight camping (we had been planning Forbiddden Peak as a two day effort) and set our sights on objectives with short approaches that were amenable to hotel accommodations. With these new selection criteria Washington Pass jumped out as the best option, since it is a renowned area that neither of us had been to, the approached are in the 1.5 mile range (which is ridiculously short for alpine climbing), and we could stay about 20 minutes away in the town of Mazama. Perfect!

We had both been pretty busy at work that week so we decided to have a relaxing Friday night and then leave Saturday morning, Roanne mandated that we must sleep in and leave no earlier than 9:00am, but my adventure excitement got the better of me so that I got up at 6:00am and went downstairs to experiment with my espresso machine, which turns out to be quite noisy so that Roanne was also awake by 6:20am. After Roanne's initial fury melted away and I professed my ignorance at how noisy the espresso machine really was and gave a long and heartfelt apology, things got on track and we managed to pull off a 7:45am departure time. Not bad!

We loaded up the car and headed for Washington Pass, stopping in Marblemount along the way to get a NW Forest Pass and call ahead to arrange our evening accommodations in the Mazama Country Inn. The rest of the drive was really nice as neither of us had ever driven through that part of the Cascades, and before too long we arrived at our destination of the Blue Lake Trailhead which gives access to the set of peaks around Liberty Bell. We had selected the South Arete on the South Early Winter Spire as our objective for the day, since it was south facing, pretty casual (rated 5.5 but with just a few moves at that grade right off the deck and the rest being mostly 3rd and 4th class scrambling), and was supposed to be a fun route with great views.

It was stinkin' cold in the parking lot with ice on some of the standing water, so we bundled up and headed out in the hopes that it would be warmer higher up in the sun. Here is Roanne headed up the trail, you can see the frost on the ground indicating the temperatures:

As we climbed higher and left the shaded forest it got warmer and warmer and we shed layer after layer until it was finally time for a Huber brothers impersonation photo:

With that out of the way and after negotiating one more extended icy section we finally had our objective in sight and began ascending the final ridge to the start of our route. Here is the South Early Winter Spire viewed from the South West (with the aptly-named Southwest Couliour visible), the South Arete that we would be climbing is on the right skyline.

We reached the top of the ridge and the base of our route, where we could gaze around at the much more impressive east face of the formation which looks awesome and will be next on the hit list for this area. Here is Roanne suiting up and getting ready for the climb:

We headed up the first pitch (the only one with extended fifth class climbing), deciding to leave our approach shoes on with our climbing shoes in the backpack in case anything surprised us and required them. This did not turn out to be the case, as the route stayed on the casual side, falling into the class of vertical hiking. This being the case, we simulclimbed almost everything after the first pitch, keeping a few pieces of protection between us and only stopping to belay a few short bouldery sections. Midway up the route there was a really nice exposed knife-edge ridge, here is Roanne making her way across that:

We finally reached the top of the South Arete where we could peer over and down the north face of the formation, which was really impressive being quite steep and decidedly alpine looking with a fair bit of snow on it. We'll stick to the south faces, thank you! A short traverse gained the summit block, and after one last short boulder problem we were able to scramble to the top:

Great success! We had the summit all to ourselves since we had only seen one other party who was descended as we were coming up, so we put on our downies and relaxed for a bit while we admired the panoramic view:

We then headed back down the route with a few short rappels, reaching the base without incident and starting the hike out. We had perfect timing so that the sun was hitting the tops of the peaks as we entered the forest, and it was just getting dark as we reached the car at 6:30pm. Here is a group photo looking back at the group of spires (though they don't like like spires from this vantage) with Liberty Bell on the left:

We then made the 20 minute drive east from the pass down into Mazama, where we found our accommodations at the Mazama Country Inn without incident. We checked into our room (which could be best described as "kitschy", from the wood paneling to the plaid curtains to the fly fishing-themed wall paper) and had a surprisingly good dinner at their restaurant before jumping in the hot tub for 30 minutes and then climbing into bed at 8:50pm. We were pretty tired as neither of us had any trouble falling asleep and we both woke up at 7:30am after a much-needed 10 hours of sleep. Refreshing! We had breakfast at the hotel restaurant (we had timed it well as this was their last open weekend of the fall before closing for a few weeks while transitioning to... SKI SEASON!!! get psyched!), and then stepped outside to find that the temperature was reading a few degrees below freezing (yikes! we're going climbing?!?). Undeterred, we climbed in the car and headed back up the pass, all the while praying that our chosen route (The Beckey Route on the Liberty Spire) was warming in the sun.

It was again quite cold as we started hiking, but warmed up as we reached the sunny upper slopes of the approach and then headed up our chosen gully to the start of our climb. Here is Roanne heading up the steep gully, still looking a little bleary-eyed but enjoying the sunshine:

As we ascended higher in the gully I noticed that the southwest face we were supposed to be climbing was looking uncharacteristically steep for a 5.6, and I began to have my doubts that we were in the correct gully. Sure enough, we reached the top and there was no way on earth that there was a 5.6 route on our chosen face, unless someone had hidden an elevator in the rock. Stinker! We realized that we had come up the wrong gully, so we headed back down the nasty, loose slope that we had scrambled up, traversed, and then headed up the correct gully. This set us back about an hour which turned out to be a bummer, as by the time we finally reached our route there were two parties already on it. Fortunately they were both teams of two and seemed to be moving reasonably well, so after hanging out at the base for a bit to give them a head start we racked up and started climbing.

The first pitch was low fifth class but quite entertaining, aside from the lower part being in the shade and being really really cold on our hands. The next pitch was the 5.6 "crux" pitch which was a chimney but didn't present any difficulties and was actually really fun to climb (i.e., you didn't have to use any chimney climbing techniques). Here is Roanne emerging over the top of the chimney section:

The next pitch was a fun 5.5, followed by one last pitch with a few moves of 5.7 slab (but not the scary kind since there were handholds and no exposure) followed by a full rope length of scrambling to gain the summit. Here I am coiling the rope after our successful summit bid:

We sat on the summit and ate our lunch (leftovers from dinner the night before: gnocchi and stuffed pork) while admiring the once-again spectacular view:

We then headed down, and after a short scramble and two rappels we were back at the base retrieving our packs for the hike down. Here is Roanne headed back to the car:

Despite our relaxed start and route-finding blunders we still finished about an hour earlier than the day before, so it was good to get an earlier start on our drive back to Seattle. It was a great weekend of climbing, Washington Pass was amazing and I will definitely be back next summer to try some of the harder routes in the area. Of the two routes we did I definitely enjoyed the route on Liberty Bell the most as the climbing was much more engaging, but both routes were fun and highly recommended.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Real Thanksgiving

During the first week of October I happened to be in New York City for official business, so I decided to tack on a trip back home for the real Thanksgiving (not the faux thanksgiving that takes place in November). The week in NYC went well from a "business" perspective in that we got all of our work done, but it was a complete failure in that I failed to achieve my primary goal for the trip, in that I had hoped to bring my roller skis and use them on the loop around Central Park. On my last trip I had realized that Central Park is crying out to be roller skied, with a 9.6km long loop road that encircles it, most of which is well-surfaced new pavement that is closed to traffic.

The main reason that I failed in my goal is that I didn't bring my roller skis, and this was due to the joint factors of Roanne convincing me that it wasn't a worthwhile cause (because I would have to check my ski poles as an extra piece of baggage) and the weather forecast being terrible. In the end it was probably a good thing that I didn't bring them, because the weather did turn out to be a bit crap and because I got to the airport late for my flight from NYC to Toronto so that I was unable to check any baggage, and 175cm long ski poles most certainly do not fit in overhead bins. Nevertheless, it was still a shame that I was unable to accomplish this, and I will try harder on my next trip to the Big Apple.

I flew to Toronto Friday evening where my Dad picked me up at the airport, and on Saturday morning my Mom, Dad, and I picked up my Grandma and we all headed up to Barrie for a Thanksgiving event with Trev, Jodi, and the twin terrors (Mason and Brenna). We spent the early afternoon doing some dinner preparations (Trev and Jodi had done most of the work in advance), here is Trev deftly flipping some mushrooms that are destined for the stuffing:

And here is my Mom chopping some celery for that same stuffing:

After dinner was sorted and it was just a matter of waiting for the turkey to cook we all headed out into the school parking lot across the road and watched Mason and Brenna contest a criterium with Mason the flagship rider for Team Elmo and Brenna representing Team Barbie. These little monkeys are getting pretty good at riding their bikes, and I would say it is a matter of months before they start pinning on numbers and making appearances on the local racing circuit.

We then headed inside and enjoyed a delicious dinner, here is everyone (except the photographer) getting ready to enjoy the feast:

I stayed overnight in Trev and Jodi's newly refinished basement, and the next morning Trev and I headed over to Horseshoe Valley for some mountain biking before they had to leave for more Thanksgiving dinner obligations. The trees were just starting to enter their prime colours which was pretty spectacular, here is Trev unloading the bikes under the fall splendor:

I hadn't brought a bike home with me, but luckily my Dad still has my very first real mountain bike (a KHS Montana Comp) which is still fully functional and has been restored to it's original condition, complete with rigid fork:

This is the bike that started my love affair with two wheels, so it was pretty fun to have a time machine experience where I rode this bike on trails again, just as it had been when I first got it almost 20 years ago (oh man, I'm getting old!). It was also a good reminder of how much mountain bike technology has progressed since then, disc brakes and full suspension sure make riding easier. Here is a shot of Trev climbing some double track through some nicely lit trees:

And finally one of me getting back to my roots on the vintage KHS Montana:

We had a great 2.5 hour ride on some really fun singletrack, after which Trev, Jod, and family headed on to their dinner obligations while I headed back to Georgetown. The next day I managed to visit my Oma in Brampton and squeeze in a bike ride and walk with my parents before they dropped me off at the airport, concluding a great Thanksgiving weekend spent in the homeland.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Six Mile Lake Cyclocross

I had originally talked to my friend Andrew about going out of town over this weekend to do some climbing, but after much deliberation we set our sights on a day trip to Index on Saturday instead. This plan had the added bonus that it would allow me to do my second cyclocross race on my new bike on Sunday, at the Six Mile Lake venue of the Seattle MFG Cyclocross series.

Climbing at Index on Saturday was fun, we headed up to the Upper Town Wall and started on a 4 pitch 5.11b called Heaven's Gate which was super fun. The first pitch was rated 5.10c on gear and felt like the hardest pitch of the climb (happily for me Andrew took the sharp end on this pitch), then the rest were sport pitches at 5.11a, 5.10+, and 5.11b. I led the two 5.11 pitches but they were not too hard and really well bolted so I didn't have any problems. After rappeling off I was feeling pretty tired but Andrew was just getting started so we headed over to another climb called Tempistuous, which was a 3 pitch 5.12a. I agreed to do it under the conditions that Andrew lead everything and then winch me up after him on top rope. The first pitch was supposed to be 5.10c, though it seemed like a hold must have broken since it felt way harder, and this was followed by a pitch of 5.11b and then 5.12a. The climbing was hard but really good, so I was happy that Andrew was so highly motivated. By the time we got down the sun was just setting, so we had the pleasure of doing the walk out in the dark as neither of us had brought a headlamp.

The next day I spent the morning prepping my cyclocross bike so that I would avoid the mechanical problems that had plagued me at Starcrossed, and I had also since reglued the rear tubular. Roanne had graciously assented to make one of her rare appearances as my support crew/fan club, so we loaded up the car and headed out for my 1pm race. After arriving at the venue I got kitted up and rode a few warm-up laps before circling back to the car for a photo op before heading over to the start line.

Check out the bike! So awesome! The Cat. 1/2 field was pretty small with only about 15 riders, with a nice wide start zone so everyone had a front row start. The gun fired and we were off; unfortunately I had a pretty bad start and was one of the last riders out of the first turn I spent the first half lap working my way up until I was chasing about 20 meters behind the lead group. I hung there for a while, but couldn't quite muster the turbo to close down the gap and tag onto the back of the group. Here I am chasing with another rider who had stopped for a bike change and eventually rode clear of me to join the leaders and finish second (I like to think that he couldn't have done it without my domestique duties):

Eventually the elastic broke and the gap began to grow, and I soldiered on in the no-mans land between the leaders and the rest of the also-rans:

After about 15 minutes of riding solo I was joined by Alex, my old nemesis from back in 2005 when we were battling for the Seattle Cyclocross Series title in the Cat. 3 field. Alex and I were able to push each other a bit, with me being faster through the corners and technical sections but struggling to hold his wheel on the flats where I was quite clearly out gunned. Here is a shot of me leading him over the barriers:

As the title of this post implies, the race was held in a park that contained a lake, so there was a nice sand section along the water. I love sand sections on the cyclocross courses, since it either means that the more technically adept riders can make up some time by riding it where others are forced to run it (which usually works in my favour since my bike handling abilities outweigh my power), or it means everyone has to run it which also works in my favour since however meager my running abilities are, they seem to be above average among cyclists (maybe something to do with my long spider legs). Here is a shot of us passing through the sand section, in this case it was pretty easy to ride but you could still lose time if you picked a bad line or didn't keep the bars steady:

After a while it became clear that try as we might, there was no way we were pulling back the riders in front of us, but we began to start lapping some of the Masters 1/2 riders that had started behind us, so however weak that is as an accomplishment, it still made the racing more interesting and gave us some added motivation. Here we are picking off a few of these riders:

Notice how I am cooly adjusting my glasses as I move to the front of the group. If you can't be strong you might as well be stylish! Alex and I were battling it out for 5th and 6th position, and since the course ended with a bunch of straight sections where we was stronger I didn't feel particularly optimistic about my chances, and sure enough he turned on his jets and rode away from me about 4 corners from the finish and I wasn't able to pull him back to even pretend that I was contesting a sprint. Oh well! It was still a great race and reminded me why I love cross so much (because it is so stinkin' fun). After cooling down for a lap I tracked down my attractive one-member fan club and we enjoyed a delicious grill cheese sandwich before packing it in and going back to headquarters.