Swift Campout 2018 - Not all Sunshine and Ice Cream

Sometimes I live a pretty charmed life. I have a good job, steady housing, food to eat, and friends and family who love me. In June, I was sent to Europe for work for 5 days and had the opportunity to extend my stay for some vacation time. More coming on those adventures soon (I promise), but over the course of ten days I had the pleasure of exploring Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Upon my return, I felt like my life was a shit show. I literally had hundreds of emails to read, piles of laundry, and the Swift Campout on the books for the following weekend. The sensible thing to do would be to cancel the camping trip and use the weekend to get caught up on life.

Guess what I did?!?

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Thursday and Friday were a whirlwind at work- catching up on emails, following up on everything that transpired in Europe, and getting adjusted to the 9 hour time difference again. I vacillated all day Friday about going on the trip, debating whether I really wanted to ride to Tolt McDonald Park or if I would feel overwhelming FOMO if I didn’t go.

In the end, the fear of FOMO (is that a thing? A fear of a fear of missing out?) won and I made the decision to join the group ride to the Swift Industries campout. The plan was to meet at west end of the 520 bridge at 11am and ride 30ish miles to Carnation. In theory, there would be 12 of us riding as part of a “chill group ride” and then meeting up with 55 other people at camp.

As I packed on Friday evening, I literally packed and unpacked 3 different bikes. For the life of me I couldn’t decide which bike to ride. ALL the cool kids would be at the campout, so I wanted to ride a cool bike. I also just picked up my new Masi CXGR bike that I’ll be riding in Montana this summer for Ortlieb’s Ride Beyond Stereotypes women’s bike packing event. While not a “cool” bike persay (it’s pretty bare bones and functional), I do need to get more saddle time in. I also really really really love the bike I bought for JR (the one I rode to Mt. Rainier.) Decisions decisions.

I eventually settled on riding my Surly Straggler, mainly because it has a rear rack and I can pack so much in those panniers. (Side note- remind me next time to pack less. Always pack less.) I also for some reason decided that I don’t like any of my shoes that I have been riding bikes in forever so I made a plan to go to REI the next morning before the ride to pick up shoes.

If at this point you’re thinking “what the hell, marley? You should know better than to overpack AND buy new shoes just before a ride!” You’re totally right. I literally did the textbook version of “What Not to Do.” Don’t do like I did – plan your shit in advance.

Ok, so back to the ride. Saturday morning, all packed up, got my new Five Ten Freeriders on (hey REI – why don’t you have the women’s version online? You definitely have them in store…) and on the way. I made a quick stop at my friend Amanda’s house for a little pre-funk and then met up with the crew from Swift Industries for the ride.

 Loaded up and ready to roll

Loaded up and ready to roll

At the beginning of the ride, Martina went over the plan for the day. We’d ride the 520 Bridge and path into Redmond, then go up a big hill, and then be there. 30 miles, easy pace, no drop. She did ask for a volunteer to be the sweep, which I gladly stepped up into. As the slowest person on group rides, I don’t mind being sweep as long as I know where I’m going. That way nobody else has to feel bad about being slow or holding up the group- I can help shepherd them to where we’re going and everybody is happy.

The first 15 miles were uneventful. The group stayed together nicely, regrouping at the top of hills and before turns. We stopped for a picnic lunch just off the Sammamish River Trail and it seemed like the group was meshing together well.

 Fancy lunch in the park

Fancy lunch in the park

At this point, we were making great time, especially for a group of our size. (The predicted 12 people had morphed into 25.) That progress came to a skidding halt, however, when I hit a patch of mud on the trail and totally wiped out.

It seemed like before I had even picked myself up off of the ground to assess the damage, there were tons of people at my sides offering first aid kits and water, making sure I was ok. Adrenaline is a tricky little bitch though and I insisted that I was fine. I cleaned out my road rash, adjusted my fenders, and wiped off the tears as we climbed back on our bikes to keep riding.

 Maybe should've cleaned this wound a bit better

Maybe should've cleaned this wound a bit better

As the miles piled on it became clear that I wasn’t actually ok. My leg, fingers, and arm throbbed. Thankfully I hadn’t hit my head, but goddam did everything else hurt, and we hadn’t even started climbing the real hills yet.

Soon enough we turned off the gentle flat trail and onto a road called Union Hill Road. By this point in my cycling career, I know that any road with ‘hill’ in it’s name, will involve a climb of some sort.

Sure enough, we climbed for a few miles. As we were finally descending, I got a flat. If you remember from this post, my wheels were recently stolen. When we replaced them, instead of replacing with quick release skewers, we put locking skewers on. Turns out you should know how to use them before you need to.

At this point on the ride, I was mentally, emotionally, and physically defeated. As I struggled with my tire, the tears were streaming down my face. I was embarrassed to be crying over a tire, my road rash hurt, and I was hungry. Literally the worst.

Thankfully, a few of the women in the group convinced the rest of the group to go ahead, as I really didn’t want to rush to change my tire in front of 25 people I’d already held up. Four of us stayed behind and somehow managed to patch two holes with my wheel still on my bike.

 You can change a tire while still on the bike. Not recommended, but doable.

You can change a tire while still on the bike. Not recommended, but doable.

Bike repaired, tears dried, food consumed we got back on our bikes to ride the last few miles into camp. Thankfully they were pretty boring, despite a wrong turn that gave us some bonus gravel miles and a pocket FaceTime to Hannah’s mom. Hi Mom!

We eventually made it into Tolt McDonald Park where we set up camp with the rest of the crew that had rolled in before us. Lots of folks checked in with me to make sure I was alright (special thanks to Mal for the relaxation mints ;)).

As always, there’s a special kind of magic that happens when you bike camp with strangers. Over shared snacks you tell silly stories and find common interests (besides biking) and make future plans for more adventures. By the next morning, it’s as if you’ve been friends forever. Bike camping is basically like a sleepover for adults.

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In this case, however, my injuries definitely put a damper on my trip. My mood was a bit of a bummer and I didn’t have the energy to bounce from circle to circle. I even ended up bailing on the bike ride home and snagged a car ride home. I’m glad I did, as even now, 3 weeks later the bruises and road rash are still healing.

So, cheers to Swift Industries for putting on another excellent trip. Here's hoping for a bit less eventful one next time.

Wilkeson to Carbon River Bikecamping

Bike camping at Ipsut Creek along the Carbon River inside of Mount Rainier has become something of an annual tradition in my life, first starting in 2015. The backcountry campground used to be a popular car camping destination, but after the road was washed out in 2006, it’s only been accessible to hikers and bikers willing to make the 10 mile roundtrip trek.

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In previous years, I’ve driven to the park, stopped at the ranger station, and parked near the gate, thereby limiting my riding to a (very) manageable five mile, slightly uphill ride. This year, however, I accepted an invitation for a trip that would start in Wilkeson, about 20 miles outside of the campground.

Before I get into the details of this trip, I think it would be helpful to give some background on this trip.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I used to bikecamp all the time. A few years ago, it was normal for me to ride fully loaded into work on a Friday and be gone the whole weekend. Over the last year, however, due to a bunch of different factors, I simply have not been riding my bike that much.

I was invited to join a group of women riding in Montana this summer with Masi, Ortleib, Exped, Adventure Cycling, and Skratch Labs, so to prepare for that trip, I decided I should probably start riding again, with purpose. As part of the trip, we are all being given full bikepacking setups from Ortleib, a new Masi bike and new Exped sleeping mats and pillows!

 New (to me) bike and bike bags from Ortleib!

New (to me) bike and bike bags from Ortleib!

So back to the ride….

One of the other women on the trip also lives in Seattle and put out a call for a partner to join her on a trip last weekend. I decided this would be a great opportunity to test my new bags (the bike is being built) and a good training ride. Two birds with one stone!

When I was first sent the Ride with GPS route, I felt confident about my ability to complete the trip. Sure, the ENTIRE way there was uphill, but I quieted my fears by thinking about the gentle grade, my previous experiences, and the ride back to the car. 20 miles of sweet, sweet downhill.

Fast forward to Saturday, deep in the pain cave, regretting every decision I’ve ever made. This ride was hard. Really freaking hard.

Twenty miles is a long way to ride uphill. Thankfully, I made the last minute decision to ride a bike I bought for my boyfriend which has a triple. That means a granny gear.

I lived in that granny gear all day Saturday, and hoo boy, was it a challenge.

If you haven’t done this ride, I highly recommend it (at least the portion from the Ranger Station to camp.) It’s a beautifully graded, gravel trail through the most amazing old growth forests. At camp, there is ample space for everyone I’ve ever seen up there (be sure to register for your backcountry permit at the ranger station) and clean toilets.

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Some helpful tips:

There aren’t any fires allowed, so I recommend bringing another form of entertainment.

Bring your hiking shoes and turn it into a longer trip. From the Ipsut Creek Campground, there’s a beautiful 7ish mile hike to the Carbon River Glacier. This hike is NOT fun in biking shoes, so bring a spare pair.

Bring a water filter. The old water source that used to be right before you got to camp has been washed out, so now the potable water is up the trail a bit at the Ipsut Falls.

 

Life on No Wheels

Last night I locked up my bike outside my apartment building (in the back, in a kind of hidden spot.) I went out this morning to bring it inside and fuck me, both wheels were gone.

I know it's my fault for leaving this outside, but sometimes I just don't want to haul a 40lb bike up 3 flights of stairs. I guess I've learned my lesson now.

I hope the thief enjoys the new dynamo hub. I hope they LOVE the feedbag that a squirrel chewed through on Mt. Rainier. I hope they get lots of use out of the nearly worn-out front rotor and brand new back rotor. I hope they love those Gravel King tires.

I'm so sad about this. But I guess it's a good excuse to go tubeless.

 

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Cambium C19 Saddle Review

I never think about my saddle. I've been riding with the same Brooks B17s for 3 years and it's been fine. Long rides, camping, commuting- it's been fine. 

But now that I work at a bike shop, I get to test things. Shiny new things!

So last week I installed a Cambium All Weather C19 on my bike. And holy God I've never thought about my labia so much while riding bikes before in my life.

 

First, it's lonnnnnnnnng. When I get off my saddle at an intersection, my crotch and my belly both touch my bike. Weird. 

 

Second, it's lonnnnnnnnng. I went to get off at a bar tonight and my skirt got stuck and I fell. 

Cool. 

 

Third, the all weather coating. Sure, it's nice not to slide around, but oh man. Labia, clit, inner thigh city!  

Long story short, I can't wait to take this saddle off and put my normal saddle on.

 

P.s I'm dreading these last 5 miles home. 

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A Day in Chicago by Bike

Last weekend I traveled to Chicago to celebrate my nephew's 2nd birthday. Technically, I landed at O'Hare but spent most of the weekend in Great Lakes, Illinois (about 40 miles north of the city) where my sister lives. 

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Our weekend was full of toddler fun: the Betty Brin Children's Museum in Milwaukee, family swim time, rainbow cupcakes, and toddler music class. As has happened previously on trips to visit them, I reach my limit of suburb time after about 3 days. I need the energy, diversity, and craziness that a city brings. So on Saturday March 17th (yep, St. Patrick's Day), I took the train into Chicago for a day in the city.

The previous time I was in Chicago I explored the city by Divvy bike. This worked out pretty well, as Chicago has a good density of stations. Planning to do the same this time, I reached out to "Bike Twitter" for recommendations on must sees, eats, and dos in the Windy City. 

I was surprised by a message from Elsbeth Cool, the owner of Four Star Family Cyclery. She offered me one of her fleet bikes to ride for the day, a Tern Vektron.  She told me she was just off the blue train line in Logan Park, and being the transit savvy person I am, I figured "No problem. I'll just transfer and be there shortly!" 

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If only it was so easy. l spent the majority of the train ride trying to figure out how to transfer from the UP-N to the Blue L line, a feat which is apparently impossible. I asked 4 people on the train how to do it- none of them knew. Eventually I decided I would get off at the closest stop to Logan Park and make my way from there.

Getting off the train I was suddenly awash in a sea of St. Patrick's Day revelers. St. Patrick's Day in Chicago is a BIG deal. Oh shit. My sister was right - going to the city today was a big mistake and I'm going to have to deal with drunks all day. 

Quickly enough, however, the throngs caught their Ubers and Lyfts and were on their way to Wrigleyville or Downtown Chicago for the real party, and I was left to my own. Thankfully, in Chicago, the Transit App works incredibly well and has train, bus, bike, and carshare integrated. I discovered that a Divvy station was less than a block away, which I could then ride to Logan Park!

I've been seriously spoiled by the free-floating bike share model in Seattle and forgot how annoying it is to redock at a specific station every 30 minutes. I slowly and deliberately made my way to Logan Park, with the help of Google Maps. (Hat tip- the bike directions on Google are usually pretty spot on!) I found another Divvy station a few blocks from Elsbeth's house, dropped the bike, and walked to her place.

She opened Four Star Family Cyclery out of her basement last summer and business has been humming along steadily ever since! She works to get families on bikes that a practical alternative to traveling by car, which usually means electric cargo and family bikes! 

I was loaned a Tern Vektron for the day, which is a super cool folding electric bike. While Chicago is super flat compared to Seattle, having the electric assist meant I could get further and explore more with less effort. Winning!

Ukrainian Village

I set off with the intention to explore a few different neighborhoods, including Wicker Park, Ukrainian Village, and Logan Square. I slowly made my way throughout the neighborhoods, stopping for photos, an occasional beer, and one really good baked potato at The Shelby. Seriously, if you're ever in Chicago, check out their baked potatoes. 

As far as bike lanes go and feeling safe on the road, Chicago wasn't the best. Many of the bike lanes on the major streets are solidly in the door zone (as with every other city), however, Elsbeth gave me a great tip to ride a block or two over from the main street and I would find quiet residential streets. She was 100% spot on and I spent most of my time on side streets. 

During my day, I stopped at many businesses, but two of them I want to briefly highlight.

The first is BFF Bikes, a neighborhood bike shop that I've followed on social media for years. They're a full service bike shop, but with a focus on women's specific apparel and bikes. When I rolled by on Saturday afternoon, they were in the middle of their 4th Anniversary Party with treats and a solid crew hanging out inside. I was warmly welcomed and had a great chat with some local riders and the owner. If you're in Chicago, I'd encourage you to swing by their shop.

BFF Bikes

The second business is a bookstore called "Women and Children First." I first visited this shop last year on my visit and fell in love. Unabashedly feminist and political, this local bookstore is a gem. With tables dedicated to trans* literature, highlights by authors of color and a welcoming, positive vibe, I think I could spend all day in here. (My undergrad degree is in Women Studies after all. This is my feminist dream come true!)  I browsed for a while and eventually picked up "Tell Me More" by Kelly Corrigan, a mug, and a Black Lives Matter button.

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From there, I rode back to Elsbeth's place, dropped off the bike, and was on my way back to the train. I think in total I rode somwhere between 15 and 20 miles, but I'm not really sure. The ease of the bike I was loaned along with the flat, grid streets of Chicago made it easy to just keep going. 

I can't wait to go back, hopefully this time with my sister and nephew riding alongside me!