Thoughts and Adventures From Greenlite Heavy Industries

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Fix

After a long week at camp with 130 fifth graders I was able to log enough garage time to finish my fixie.
Back in 1988 I got my first real job, as an engineer with Boeing, and spent one of my early paychecks on a 1987 Schwinn Prologue frame. I loaded it up with a Shimano 600 groupo bought from a deep sea diver living in Seattle's University District: he was in interesting guy, I wonder if he's still around. Well anyway that bike, complete with its downbar shifters and Biopace chainring lasted me nearly twenty years.
The Prologue is a high quality lugged frame made of Tange Prestige and just letting it sit around seemed a shame so I decided to give it a fixie makeover. I ground off all the braze-ons and had the frame stripped and powdercoated fire engine red. I cut out the old rear hub and re-laced it with a fixed hub. A little fingernail polish remover cleaned up the Cinelli bars and wa la I had a fixed gear bike.
I live atop a big hill and good thing I opted for the brake; if I hadn't I'd be writing this from a hospital bed.
This should make for some interesting riding, more to follow.

Fresh from the powdercoater

The finishing touches

Monday, May 18, 2009


Just when you think you're getting in shape you go out with a couple of guys who really take you to school. Joe and I are Saturday morning riding partners and over the years we've kind of found a common pace, we move along pretty well, but as it turns out that wasn't "well enough." Joe invited Bradley and Brian to join us on a fifty mile early morning ride yesterday; they pushed the pace three to five miles per hour faster than I am used to.

Honestly it was great to get out with some new folks and to really push your limits. I had to keep my head down and my legs circling just to stay on Brian's wheel. The worst part is I don't even think he was working that hard.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ride Hard

Joe and I went 96 miles to Granite Falls on Sunday. Beautiful weather, good roads, great company. Spent a few minutes early on watching vultures swoop out of their roosting trees to finish off a carcass - as Clint Eastwood, as the Outlaw Josey Wales, said: buzzard's gotta eat, same as a worm. Stopped at the Sultan Bakery for coffee and donuts. It's hard to find gloves cooler than the Knog Ride Hards, unless it's their Love/Hate fingerless model. Picked up a can of coffee at Granite Falls, wondered what the heck that shirtless guy across the street was doing; I guess life goes at a slower pace up there. Those mini cans of Starbucks milkysugarcoffee have become my new weapon of choice.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Three Truths

Four decades have taught me the Three Cosmic Truths:

Nothing Is Free
Nothing Is Fair
Everything Is Connected

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Haute Route 4/3/09

Cabane Bertol to Zermatt

Another sleepless night. We were in the winter room which we shared with the three young French guys and Denver the dog. He was one tired dog. They had come from Cabane Dix – a long day by any standard.

Had to use the outside bathroom twice, it was snowing and blowing and I didn’t know what to expect come dawn. At worst we could be stuck at the hut, second worse was low viz and totally missing the Matterhorn, at best was a clear and cold day with new powder. We got the third.
What a spectacular morning. We woke fifteen minute after the guided crowds as we figured that there would be quite a kerfungle getting down the ladders and chains. I was first in our group to the dining room and immediately stuck my head out the window, what a view: a cloudless blue sky sunrise over the Swiss Alps.

We took our time with our two pieces of bread with jam and our bowls of Nescafe Gold. Finally we pushed on our boots and stepped out the door; a guided was being belayed down the ladder. I think this was quite common. The clients were slow, but it gave me plenty of opportunity to shoot photos.

Once on the snow we skied through a col and then descended about 200 vertical feet through feathery powder onto the glacier. . The snow was great for skiing, but strenuous for the trail breaker. The guide who had broken trail yesterday was once again out in front. More power to him I say. I was just coming up for breakfast when he was hustling his group of Swedes out the door.

Oh what a glorious morning: sunshine, crystalline snow, mid teens. We skied quickly over relatively flat country before heading up to Tete Blanche. Bill kept bumping up against groups in front of us, as for myself I took the advice my artist friend, Dan Weimer, gives to some of his students: relax and lower your expectations.

We had to get over a few false summits before finally reaching the saddle below Tete Blanche. We made a right and followed the skin track going to the summit. I passed a couple of groups and was now behind the trial buster and his troop of Swedes. That guide was one tough bugger, he’d broken trail all day and was still going strong. The summit of Tete Blache is marked by an iron cross – certainly not uncommon in the Alps – below us the Zmutt Glacier flowed into Zermatt. The Matterhorn was front row center. I was so happy to see the famous mountain on this trip.

The sun was quickly heating up the fresh snow and so we hustled through the summit photos, clamped down our boots and dropped in. Bill and I took off out in front, the snow was good, but not as great as I had hoped. After loosing about a thousand feet we were in bottomless mashed potatoes. A guide came flying past and shouted to Bill and I “beau coup neige,” which I figure to mean something like “a lot of snow.” A group of free heelers from Ellensburg were suffering in the heavy stuff. There was also a Swedish tele guy who was cranking on his monster boards. Free heel turns weren’t coming cheap, but I was able to line some up. I overheard the Ellensburg crowd say “this is impossible,” so I felt a need to prove that it wasn’t.

Brian and Scott caught up to us at some avalanche debris. The slope seemed a bit tenuous so we dropped down gingerly and finally hit the straight run traversing in front of the Matterhorn. A delicate trip through an icefall put us on the final ride towards the Zermatt ski area.

We hit a road, walked about half a mile and then came to a small restaurant. Scott proposed a beer, Bill noted that it was only 11:30, so we hopped back onto our skis and dropped down the cat track and into the gondola station. An eight Franc gondola ride put us in front of four beers in Zermatt.

Self Portrait at the Cabane Bertol

Bill descending the chains

A good look at the Cabane Bertol

All smiles

Summit of Tete Blanche, the Matterhorn is in the distance

Monday, May 11, 2009

Haute Route 4/2/09

Arolla to Bertol Hut

Up and out of bed at 6:30 after yet another partially sleepless night. I don’t know what’s going on with my sleeping, went down to breakfast to find a king’s feast waiting. Scott cheffed up bacon and eggs while we gorged on cereal, yogurt, ham, cheese and bread. What a relief to finally have a high calorie breakfast prior to a big day in the mountains. The hut fare of Nescafe, bread and jam just doesn’t carry a body that far.

Caught a ride to the hydro plant at the end of the road, and were on the snow by 8:30. The slog up to the base of Mt. Collon was long and flat, the sky was spitting some misty rain and the snow was unpleasantly crusty. We made the hairpin at Mt. Collon where we climbed a small rise, off in the distance was a long train of bright colors.. A lot of teams were coming up from Vignettes. We had to wait in line to round a bit of a dicey corner, thankfully I had ski crampons. Scott had to boot it - would have been a bad fall if you’d gone off.

After the corner we trucked up the glacier to the Bertol hut. The skin track was crowded, but well packed, I just put my head down and pushed one ski in front of the other. Bertol is a crazy place. We gained the col, dropped our skis and then followed a chain on some high exposure icy rocks, up a ladder, another chained section, another ladder and then we were at the door; it was 1:00 – so 4.5 hours Arolla to Bertol. The hut filled up fast, it was at capacity and we were lucky to get beds. This is the first time we’ve been crowded in a hut.

Three French guys showed up at 6:30 – dinner time – with a large husky named Denver. They shared our table. This trio was the only other non-guided group in the cabane. Funny, we are some of the youngest people in the hut.

Cabane du Bertol - How do you get in there?

Ohh that's how

Bill climbing the ladder - not a good place to look down

Enjoying well earned eight dollar beers

Scott and BSAT on the sun deck

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Haute Route 4/1/09

Chanrion to Arolla

After a sleepless night in the stinky dormatorie #1 and another low-cal breakfast of bread, Nutella and coffee we were off and skinning by 7:30. We took our time getting out the door, letting the Germans, Welsh and four French Basques go out ahead. Having a broken trail didn’t last long, however, as the other teams went up the Breney Glacier on the right and we stayed on a moraine up the middle. We all met up at the icefall – everyone had elected to do the icefall instead of the Col du Serpentine. Two of the French guys struggled on skins while the rest of us donned crampons and booted up. One of the French dudes kicked steps all the way up. The icefall was a good alternative to the slog up the Otemma Glacier, which is the route the Swedish foursome had chosen.

At the top of the icefall the French team roped up and led out. Bill carried the rope in a guide coil but we didn’t tie together. The rope was good for the guy in front, but we felt safe following as we didn’t even see a hint of a crevasse. It has been a big snow year and the glaciers were totally buffed out.

The slog up to the Beney Col was just that – a slog. At the Col I pointed to the peak on the right and asked “Pigne De Arolla” to which the French team replied “no” and then they all pointed to the left. They headed out left while I waited for Bill, Brian, Scott. We map jammed and found that indeed the Pigne De Arolla was off to the right. The Germans came up and we had the same debate again, they thought the Pigne De Arolla was off to the left. Jurgen,pulled out a GPS that had a full map on the display, once again our position was confirmed – the route was to the right. The French foursome was on the road to nowhere.

We continued to the col below the Pigne De Arolla and descended on wind hammered snow towards the Otemma Glacier. After some debate we continued rightward and then made a hard left where we traversed beneath the wire, what that wire is for I don’t know, from the Vignettes Hut and hit the col below the hut. The Vignettes Hut looked inviting but despite its one hundred and thirty beds it was full; we hoped for something better in Arolla – something worth losing all that altitude. We started down towards Arolla on some delicate corn, and passed a lot of parties coming up. I talked to a couple of groups and they were all coming from the Dix Hut via Arolla, kind of out of the way but I suppose straight forward enough. Back in 2000 Bill and I had gone from the Dix to Vignettes via Pigne De Arolla.

The ski down to Arolla wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined, it got a bit thick at the bottom, but I managed to stay vertical most of the time. I had made reservations at the Hotel Kurhaus, it was a bit of a hump up getting to it, but in the end the extra walk was worth it. What a great hotel, we all shared a single room – cozy but nice. The much needed shower felt great.

With clean bodies and stinky clothes we hit the town. Thankfully the Hotel manager loaned Scott and I some Croc-like shoes, so we didn’t have to clomp around in our ski boots. We had a couple of beers on a terrace where I used Scott’s phone to call Melony, Sam and Sophia. It was good to talk to home - it was 7:30 AM in Seattle and Melony was getting the kids ready for crazy hair day.

After trying to get a table in a little basement place we went back to the hotel and threw down $150 on a birthday dinner for Bill. Bill, Scott and I had the set dinner of pork and olives with cauliflower, while Brian ordered something that came with a fancy dried meat salad, man that looked good.

We all drank a lot of free water and then were in bed by 9:00. I’ve been a bit dehydrated during the tour as water at the huts cost CF 2.00 (almost $2.00) per liter. We bought some good stinky cheese and dried meat at the little market in Arolla, that’ll keep up fed between huts.

The trip from Chanrion to Arolla took 6.5 hours.

Ascending the Breney Glacier in dubious weather

Bill below the Icefall

Map jam at the Breney Col

The Vignettes Hut clinging to the cliff

A good meal with good friends

Monday, May 4, 2009

Haute Route 3/31/09

Valsorey Hut to Chanrion Hut

Horrible night’s sleep, awake most of the night, when I was asleep I had nightmares. Yesterday on the ascent to Valsorey we got in the middle of some wet, point-release slides, in hindsight they weren’t that big of a deal but I guess they kind of shook me up. I think that the aura of the Plateau Du Couloir, combined with the left-over anxiety of the slides, had me a bit freaked out, and kept me awake. I should be tired tonight.

The sleeping room was quite warm, perhaps too warm. The hot stink really hit me in the face after returning from my many forays to the outhouse. I was already awake when my alarm went off at 6:00. I laid in bed till 6:10, no other folks moving, but I decided we’d better get going. Packed and down to breakfast at 6:30. We shared the hut with twelve other folks:
4 French
4 Swedes (2 husband/wife pairs)
2 Germans from Freiburg
2 Welsh

The French (Basque) were very stand-offish, the Swede ladies were nervous about the Plateau Du Couloir, while the Welsh and Germans were pretty cool.

We were skinning up to the Plateau Du Couloir by 7:15 – it took about two hours to reach the top. It was some exposed skiing and I sure was glad to have my ski crampons. Skinned about two thirds of the way up; the final third was in crampons. Bill busted trail the entire way. Scott made it about halfway on his split snowboard before he packed it up and started booting. The climb wasn’t super difficult, but a fall wouldn’t have ended on a positive note. Snow was very slabby and a bit nerve-wracking. All of the other parties were at least half and hour behind.
Skied over to the Col du Sonadon, and then descended horrid breakable crust – I mean really bad. A few big traverses and several good descents put us in the valley below the Chanrion Hut. We could see a good portion of the route behind us, but we never saw the other parties. The final six hundred foot climb to the hut was easy and we pulled in at 1:00. The French team came in around 2:30 and the other parties filtered in till 4:00.

We ordered up some pasta with meat sauce for lunch – that hit the spot.

Saw what I think was a Chamoix on the ascent to the hut, and stopped to take a few photos with the big telephoto. The weather was spectacular, couldn’t have asked for better. Right now clouds are coming in from Italy. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Plateau du Couloir

Big country ahead
We even manged to ski (and ride) a bit

Chanrion Hut

Time to relax