07/6/14

Joy ride, vertical edition: Raleigh Eva

by Jessie Kwak

It’s been a lot of years since I rode a mountain bike, but a few weeks ago one came in the mail.

Now, my husband’s a bike rep, so we get to act as foster parents to a lot of sample bikes – but this particular beauty is mine. For now.

Raleigh Eva 26.5 hardtail

Raleigh Eva 26.5 hardtail

I’ve been calling her Evita Bonita, on account of the girly paint job. She’s pretty, for sure, and has been a fantastic playmate over the last few weeks. I hardly feel like I’m qualified to write a mountain bike review (“The shocks skoosh appropriately, and the tires roll over things well?”), but I can say the Eva seems really stable, pleasantly aggressive, and up for any challenge I’m able to put her through.

The tires are 27.5″/650b, which is new for me. My last mountain bike was a 26″, and Evita seems way faster and more able to tackle roots and such. The hardtail was fine for me, although when we did a really rooty, rocky ride in Klamath Falls (read on, friends), I did get jostled around a lot.

EvitaEnflorida

I’ve been having a blast. Rob and I have taken several road trips to visit shops and hit the trails – I wrote up some of the most fun ones here.

Nisqually-Mashel (Eatonville)
Alsea Falls (Corvallis)
Brown Mountain (Klamath Falls)


Nisqually-Mashel State Park, Eatonville, WA

We’ve been to Nisqually-Mashel before for a mountain bike race (the Ronde Ohop), but neither of us rode – so when we found ourselves out near Eatonville, we knew just where to go.

We stopped in at Eatonville Outdoor to get a map of the area, and to talk to the owner about the trails. He printed us out a map, marked out a good route for us, and away we went.

To get to the trails, head out on Hwy 7 from Eatonville, and then turn south on Mashel Prairie Road.

There’s not much in the way of signage, but you’ll find a big clearing under some power lines where you can park. There might be a horse trailer there – the trails were mostly cut by horse riders, and can get a bit chewed up by them.

The route we followed on the Eatonville Outdoor map was horse-hoof free, for the most part. Some was single track, some was overgrown gravel roads. It was a great reintroduction to the mountain bike for me – a bit technical, a bit of a climb, mostly mellow, and lots of great wide places to pick up your speed going downhill.

Once we’d ridden the route, we decided to explore a couple side trails – all of which turned out to be really shitty. One was so chewed up by horse hooves that we had to walk our bikes most of the time, and several started out great, but then became so overgrown we could barely find the trail.

"Where the hell were we?" – on exiting an unmarked trail.

“Where the hell were we?” – on exiting an unmarked trail.

(If you come across one of those, just turn around. Don’t forge on like us. It doesn’t get better. We promise.)

Bushwhacking here isn’t the most fun, on account of the stinging nettles and blackberry brambles, and Rob had some sort of terrible reaction when he rubbed his eye after we were done. But stick to the regular trails and you’ll have a ton of fun.


Alsea Falls, Corvallis, OR

This trail just opened a few weeks ago (June 2014), and Rob had heard it was awesome. It’s just southwest of Corvallis, out some of that gorgeous forested wilderness/small town/farmland vibe that Oregon’s got going on all through the coastal range.

There’s an established recreational area around the falls (which are apparently quite pretty, though we didn’t go check them out), so a smartphone map should get you there. To get to the mountain biking trails, turn south on Fall Creek Access Road, and after a few hundred yards you’ll come to a parking area with great signage.

(There’s great signage throughout the trail system, and you’ll find several copies of the map posted around.)

We snapped a photo of the map, then headed out the trail. While we were getting ready, a youth corps crew that had been out working on the trail came by, and recommended Highballer as being super rad.

It was.

It’s a long climb up a fire road to get to the trailhead (about 3 miles, with an elevation gain of about 1000 feet), but going down makes the climb worth it. It’s really well groomed and super flowy, with high berms and steeply banked curves.

I totally didn’t do it justice, but I had a blast.

Rob kept trying to take a photo of me going high up on the rim of one of these berms, but you can’t take a photo of something that just isn’t happening.

Rob kept trying to take a photo of me going high up on the rim of one of these berms, but you can’t take a photo of something that just isn’t happening.

Once you make your way down Highballer, you connect in with Springboard, a more mellow trail that I really loved.

There are other trails out there, and more are planned. The terrain is hard-packed clay, which got a bit slippery since it had just rained, but there aren’t many roots and rocks, so it’s easy to flow.

The scenery is amazing, too. As you descend the terrain and vegetation changes subtly, and the trail cut through it changes from dusky brown, to rust red, to chalky pale.


Brown Mountain, Klamath Falls, OR

I’d never been to Klamath Falls before this trip, though I’d been warned by my uncle it was desolate and bare, “sort of like Yakima is.” Desolation’s never bothered me, and I kind of think Yakima is pretty, so I was excited to check out a new corner of my new state.

Outside Klamath Falls, it’s certainly desolate. Enormous, perfectly flat valleys are ringed by sawtoothed ridges. They’re filled with farmland and these incredibly vast, serene lakes that reflect back the blue sky.

The scene reminded me of the Peruvian Altiplano, particularly the windswept plateau around Lake Titicaca, fringed with pine trees instead of eucalyptus.

Downtown Klamath Falls looks like it’s seen more interesting days, but the pizza at Old Town is good, and there’s a great bike shop (Hutch’s Bicycles).

One of the guys at Hutch’s, Zach, took us out to the trails at Brown Mountain. His wife Lilian had just been cleared to ride after recovering from surgery, and the third woman in our group, Debby, had put 100 miles on her road bike yesterday. I was promised a mellow ride.

It was not.

The trails around Klamath Falls are all rocky and rooty, according to Zach and Lilian – and this one was no exception. It was all technical turns through sawed-up logs while avoiding pyramid-shaped rocks and fat twigs that leapt into your spokes.

I had fun – and Rob had lots of fun – but I was exhausted at the end of our 15 miles. My poor endurance, combined with the jostling I’d taken on the hardtail and my beginner’s mountain bike handling skills meant that I walked a lot. Particularly near the end, when I was too mentally and physically tired to navigate the rock gardens, and finally gave up trying to ride through them altogether.

Like Alsea Falls, I really look forward to when I have the technical skills and endurance to really enjoy these kinds of trails.

EvitaSuicita


Disclaimer: my husband works for the company that owns Raleigh, Lapierre, and Redline – hence the shiny new bike I got to muddy up and write about.

06/10/14

The maiden voyage of the Sparkle Kraken, preceded by a manifesto which you may skip if you like.

by Jessie Kwak

Sorry for the radio silence around here – I stepped back from blogging for a bit in part because I was forgetting just what Bicitoro was to me.

SKIP THE BORING BITS AND SEE THE PRETTY BIKE

Sparkle Kraken closeup | Bicitoro Bikes and Crafts

As I dive further into a freelance writing career steeped in content marketing, lead generation, and returns on investments, I found myself thinking so much about My Audience and My Message and Engagement that I waffled on what to write here.

What does My Audience want to read? What will get the Most Shares?

(“The maiden voyage of the Sparkle Kraken, preceded by a manifesto which you may skip if you like” is not the most shareable title for a blog post, is it?)

Stupid shit, really, because what I was forgetting is that Bicitoro is a blog wherein I write whatever I feel like writing, and you can read it or not. I hope that I do provide helpful tips and tricks, I hope that I inspire people to reuse things rather than throwing them out, and I hope that you folks do find my musings entertaining and maybe even thought-provoking – but in the end Bicitoro is just a project of fun for me.

Really it’s a place for me to gush endlessly about the gorgeous bike ride I just took, or provide vague, rambling instructions about projects I just completed. I’m not trying to achieve pop star blogger status. I’m not trying to build an army of bike crafters. I’m just sewing things and riding on things, and typing words about it here.

So now I, Jessie Kwak, do solemnly swear to keep Bicitoro a sacred space for personal enjoyment, wonder, and community.

Back to the fun.

The Maiden Voyage of the Sparkle Kraken

It’s alive!!!

Sparkle Kraken | Bicitoro bikes and crafts

I’ve been dabbling with this thing for months and months, and this Saturday I finally got to ride the Sparkle Pony Kraken in the flesh. We’ve been slowly collecting parts and putting them on whenever we had a few minutes.

This is the first bike I’ve ever built up (mostly) myself – under the watchful instruction of my mechanic/husband. Rob is an insanely patient and thoughtful teacher – a talent I’ve always admired in him. Despite making my living as a writer, I can’t explain things verbally to save my life.

Sparkle Kraken in stand | Bicitoro Bikes and Crafts

Rob, on the other hand, has the perfect mnemonic device to help you remember which direction to tighten your bottom bracket. He’ll demo wrapping your handlebar tape, then take it all off and make you do it yourself.

Me: Meh, who cares that I wrapped the handlebar tape over the hoods? No one will notice it.

Rob: I’ll notice it. Start over, grasshopper.

Sparkle Kraken powder coating | Bicitoro Bikes and Crafts

The powder coating process left some ragged edges, which I filed down with sandpaper before pressing in the headset.

And what a headset! Rob picked it up at the Seattle Bike Swap in the spring, and graciously donated it to the Sparkle Kraken project. It’s from First Bicycle Components.

Sparkle Kraken headset | Bicitoro Bikes and Crafts

Based on the heavy steel mixte frame (underneath all that paint Kraken’s a Torker Interurban Mixte), both Rob and I were expecting this to be a fairly slow bike. I was thinking Sparkle Kraken would be a novelty bike that I’d take out on short, easy rides to the bar, or to meet up with friends.

But to my surprise, it turns out that Sparkle Kraken is fast, aggressive, and an amazing joy to ride. The steel frame is really plush, and I like the mixte shape quite a bit. The Torker Interurban Mixte only comes in a 44cm frame, but we spec’d it out so it fits me just as well as la Konita.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that it’s got a killer wheelset and Shimano Ultegra. Oh, the perks of marrying a bike rep.

Sparkle Kraken in the wild | Bicitoro Bikes and Crafts

It’s so gorgeous!

And it’s a predator – if it sees another cyclist ahead of us, it just wants to stomp them. Go fast, go fast, go fast, it whispers.

And I do.

03/19/14

Completed Errandonnee!

by Jessie Kwak

Despite starting a bit late, I’ve successfully managed to complete all twelve errands of my errandonnee!

(What’s an errandonnee? Here’s what the hell I’m talking about.)

I combined a lot of errands on one trip, because I got started so late.

#1 & #2: St. John’s Jaunt (8 miles total)

Errandonnee - st john's ride

I biked out to St. Johns on a sunny afternoon in order to look for some camping supplies and stop at the grocery store. I hit up Ace Hardware and the nearby Gross Out (Grocery Outlet), although I was pretty thoroughly shut down at both locations.

What I learned: it’s too early in the season for Ace Hardware to have many camping supplies, and the Gross Out apparently only sells half and half in quarts (I wanted a pint). I bought a discounted bag of Tillamook shredded mozzarella cheese and headed back.

The photo is of this ravine that cuts across the peninsula. There’s a little park and bike path that goes along the east side of the ravine, and it’s quite lovely.


#3: Gettin’ out of the house (7 miles)

I totally forgot to take a picture of this errand, which I categorized under “Personal Care.” Rob and I had had a rough week, both of us staring at computers working until ungodly hours of the night, and both of us feeling crazed and behind on life.

In the midst of that frustration and anxiety, I convinced us to get out of the house and go for a bike ride.

What I learned: bike rides are the best for relaxing.


#4: Freelance writer’s meetup (5 miles)

Obviously, working from home can be taxing on my brain at times. That’s why I’ve been going to this freelance writer’s meetup group, which is filled with fun people, strong drinks, and only the occasional chat about writing.

I didn’t take any pictures of this, either, because I suck at remembering I own a camera.

Part of this trip was in the dark. MG asked us to say what lighting we used, but my headlight went dead on me a few minutes after we left the bar, so I basically used a little blinky in front, and my big flashy taillight in back.

What I learned: if you head the back way through the neighborhoods (as opposed to dropping down to the river and climbing back out into Southeast), you can avoid a lot of elevation loss/gain. Not that the elevation gain in this city is all that noticeable….


#5, #6 & #7: Books, and more books (5 miles total)

One problem with this errandonnee is that although I can think of lots of errands to do that involve buying things, I’m trying to avoid that at the moment. In trying to brainstorm an errand that didn’t involve me spending money, I remembered that I had a bunch of stuff to take to Goodwill.

Lots and lots of my old college books, among other things.

Normally I would have just left them for a car trip (we have 3 big chairs to take back, too), but I was inspired to try to carry it all on la Konita.

errandonnee - all loaded up

I packed up this pannier, as well as my Po Campo Loop pannier, and then bungeed another 10 pounds of books to my rack. I teetered the 1.5 miles to Goodwill pretty easily, then, my load lightened, I headed to Posie’s Bakery and Cafe in Kenton.

Once there, I realized that I still had two stowaways in my Po Campo pannier: a copy of Virgil’s Aeneid, and one of Dostoevsky’s Brother’s Karamazov. I passed those books off to the baristas, and sat down to enjoy a cup of tea and a delicious almond croissant.

errandonnee - croissant

After getting some work done, I slipped down the street to the library to finally get my library card.

(I know we’ve been in town less than 3 months, but for me that’s a long time to be without a local library card.)

What I learned: I can carry more than I thought I could; Posie’s almond croissants are amazing; and the library is busy with kids during the week days.


#8, #9 & #10: Working away from the office (4 miles total)

With the sun shining outside my window, I was beginning to feel cooped up in my little home office. I decided to head out to that cute little area around Vancouver/Williams/Shaver to find a coffee shop. (You know, with HUB and all the little shops? Does that area have a cute Portlandy name?)

errandonnee - livingscape

First I hit up Livingscape, which I’ve ridden by a dozen times and always wanted to check out. I thought it was just a nursery, but they also sell a random assortment of kitchen stuff and camping/outdoors gear.

Rob and I just dropped a ton of money on plants for my birthday, so I’m on a plant purchasing freeze at the moment. I’ll be back, Livingscape!

I took a left and turned up Williams, where I spotted Poa Cafe. It looked inviting, so I hopped in for a cup of coffee. I was missing the accessory of the hour, however – a small child.

Apparently Poa is where the neighborhood moms get together to day drink. There were about 10 women and between 15-50 kids (so hard to count when they’re swarming). There’s a great big play area and chalkboard wall, and although it wasn’t the least-distracting environment I’ve ever written in, it was still way less annoying than working in an office. So there you go. The food looked delicious, the coffee was good, and Lacey, we’re definitely coming here next time you bring down the kidlets.

After I got my fill of screaming children and my computer battery was kaput, I swung by the New Seasons to pick up some soap, then wandered back home.

errandonnee - soap on a bike

What I learned: Livingscape is a cool store; Poa Cafe is not the place to go if you want to get work done; New Seasons sells the soap from that little store (Camamu) that used to be next to my old roommate’s old Portland apartment before the store moved to Sellwood and she moved to Seattle just in time for me to move to Portland. I’m sure you remember the one.


#11: Date night (8 miles)

The only photos I got of this were blurry, so I’m sparing you the pain.

Did you know that St. Johns Theater & Pub has a beer, burger and movie deal on Tuesday nights, where you get all 3 of these things for $12.75? Apparently no one knows about this, because Rob and I went this last Tuesday, and there was only one other couple in the theater.

The burgers are tasty, the movies are second-run, and the beer is, well, made by McMenamin’s.

Ah, McMenamin’s! I love your little nooks and crannies, your fantastic reclaimed spaces, your quirky decor! I just wish your beer was a bit more delicious.

We saw Jack Ryan: Ghost Reboot. It was fairly straightforward (this bad guy wants this, that good guy wants that), and after our binge marathon of House of Cards, simplistic motivations are less than interesting. There were the requisite number of car chases, gunfights, and explosions.

Also, St. Johns Theater has a fantastic little patio out back, with secluded bike parking so your rig isn’t sitting out on the street corner while you enjoy the movie. Super cool spot.

What I learned: I’m over watching movies that star New Kirk as lead. Nothing good can come of them.


#12: Overlook Park (3 miles)

errandonnee - overlook park

I had plans for a more exciting ride today, but I spent the day feeling absolutely exhausted. I still needed to get out of the house, though, so I took a quick ride to Overlook Park to explore our new neighborhood.

Overall, that’s what this Errandonnee has been about for me. I’ve forced myself out of my usual traffic patterns, and gotten a chance to see more of our new neighborhood than I had in the prior months.

The Errandonnee may be over, but I’m inspired to keep up my explorations. I’m promising myself that I’ll ride my bike to one new spot every week – even if it’s just a new coffee shop where I can work for a few hours.

What I learned: There are so many nooks and crannies! I can’t wait to explore them all.


Did you errandonnee? How did you do?

03/10/14

Errandonnee is a word with triple double letters

by Jessie Kwak

You remember Encyclopedia Brown, right? I loved those books when I was a kid. One mystery he solved involved a broken watch that was supposed to be given as a prize for a spelling bee. Encyclopedia Brown figured out who broke the watch because the culprit deliberately threw the bee, thus not winning the watch, which he knew was broken.

Encyclopedia Brown knew that the kid threw the bee (threw the bee!) because the final question was “Spell a word that has three sets of double letters,” and the kid couldn’t spell one, even though he worked as a bookkeeper, and therefore should have known.

Totally shaky circumstantial evidence, but there you go.

Anyway, my point is that maybe the kid could have used “errandonnee” – although he may have then been disqualified because it’s a made up word.

It was made up by M.G. of Chasing Mailboxes, and she uses it in a sentence thusly:

“It’s time for a March challenge designed for the utility cyclist with lots of errands to do, even in winter – the Errandonnee!

Errandonnee

My cyclisty friends were all a-tweet about it last time she ran the challenge, and I vowed to play along the next time it happened.

Well, it’s happening, and I’m just now noticing. That leaves me with a fair amount of catch up by March 19th, but I think I can do it.

Is anyone else playing along? Let me know in the comments, and leave links to your blogs if you have them!

You can follow the Twitterness at #errandonnee.


(P.S. And now when you’re trying to remember how to spell “errandonnee” in your various tweets and blogs and letters to grandma, you’ll think of Encyclopedia Brown and thank me for the mnemonic device. You’re welcome.)

12/20/13

Oh, all the roads I’ve rid in Seattle

by Jessie Kwak

As we get closer to our impending move to Portland, I’m starting to feel quite nostalgic about biking in Seattle. I keep thinking about all my favorite places to ride, but because of how busy I’ve been – and how cold the weather’s been – I haven’t had much time to go out.

I’ve written about a lot of my cycling day trips outside Seattle, like the Bainbridge to Bremerton loop, Whidbey Island twice, and the Cedar River Trail, but I realized I haven’t written as much about the the roads I’ve loved in the city itself.

View of downtown from Jose Rizal park on Beacon Hill

View of downtown from Jose Rizal park on Beacon Hill


This is only the smallest of lists – I could wax poetic on another few dozen favorite spots, but I wanted to keep it to places I rode frequently and will really miss. So here’s a little homage to some of my favorite roads, trails, and places.

What are yours?


Interlaken and Cheasty

People complain about Seattle’s hills, which are certainly plentiful, but you just can’t get the delicious thrill of descending if you don’t climb, too. Some roads are obviously of an easier grade than others, but I want to highlight two that actually manage to turn a grueling climb into a pleasure.

When I lived on Capitol Hill, I would sometimes need to clear my head in the midst of a day of writing. A quick bike ride would do the trick, letting me come back to the page fresh and full of new ideas. The best thing about living on Capitol Hill was that it was easy to get motivated to ride your bike somewhere – after all, it was almost always downhill. The problem was in the return.

Unless you climbed Interlaken Boulevard, a winding, forested road that’s almost entirely devoid of cars and homes. Interlaken is fun to descend, too, but for some reason I almost always descended 10th Ave N, then turned right in order to loop back up to climb Interlaken.

It was always magically quiet – similar to Cheasty Boulevard on Beacon Hill. Suddenly the honking horns and and whirr of traffic dies away, and it’s just you, a road, a beautiful wooded area, and a gentle-but-epic ascent.

Cheasty and Interlaken were both designed by the Olmsteds as pleasure roads – in fact, Interlaken was originally a bicycle boulevard.

Seward Park and Lake Washington Boulevard

Living in Georgetown, I developed a different route to clear my head when I was spending all day writing. I would climb up and over Beacon Hill, taking Swift Ave S to S Myrtle Place, then climbing out to Seward Park. The park juts out into Lake Washington, and I loved to ride the perimeter trail along the water on sunny days when families were out walking, together and picnicking on the beach.

Then I’d head up along Lake Washington Boulevard, joining the scores of other cyclists that take that route on nice days, grinning as the sun sparkled on the water, and Mount Rainier held court in the distance.

I never actually made it out to Bicycle Sundays along Lake Washington Boulevard, but it’s a nice ride even sharing the road with traffic.

Mercer Island

I’ve written about Mercer Island before, but it stands out still as one of my favorite places for an afternoon ride. Even on a gloomy day there’s something magical about the way the rain glazes the mossy trees and glitters in the little pockets of emerald foliage. And oh, man, those rolling hills – climb, descend, climb, descend. Amazing.

Green River Trail

There were parts of my commute to my office job by the South Center mall that I hated, but not the 9-mile stretch that followed the Green River Trail. It was peaceful, and I almost always had the entire trailway to myself.

I loved the spring, especially, when the flowering red current would begin to bloom, and the baby geese would go spilling down the banks to splash into the river whenever I zipped by.

Geese on the Green River Trail

Geese on the Green River Trail

I loved the crisp fall days before it got too dark, when there was frost on the ground, and I could see that I was only the second or third cyclist to blaze through it that morning.

The only bad thing about the GRT was that I had to ride for 3 miles on East Marginal Way to get there. As much as I’m going to miss Georgetown, I’m certainly not going to miss any of the roads you have to take to get anywhere from here. I’ll be happy to wash my hands of East Marginal Way, Airport Way S, 1st Ave S and all the rest of those semi truck-infested roads.


I’m sure I’ll come across favorite routes in Portland, and I’ll definitely blog about them when I do. If you have any suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments. I’ll be working entirely from home when we move, so I’m really going to need to get out and ride!