Monday, May 20, 2013

Mountain Bike Demo: 2013 Specialized Epic Comp 29"

This weekend I hit up the awesome and tough Camp Tamarancho BSA mountain biking trail up in Fairfax, CA. My buddy Ollie loves that ride and I hadn't done it before. The weather was great, so I organized a Demo bike rental from a local bike shop here in SF and tried out this crazy singletrack trail.

Me and Ollie
The way up was TOUGH on the first time, it was certainly a challenge for me at my current skill level. The switchbacks are very tight and uphill, so if you don't have enough momentum you need to catch yourself and walk before you fall off :) So there was a bit of walking on the way up, but I started to get the hang of it after a little bit, and also start to get more comfortable with the bike itself.

This was the first time I'd tried a 29" wheel bike, and also the first time I'd ever ridden a bike with rear suspension. Both of these features were very new and exciting to try out on a tough trail. The 29" wheels made for a lot of stability - I felt very comfortable and stable rolling over big rocks that would have freaked me out on my usual Gary Fisher hardtail bike. The wheels are mostly to thank for that. The other major win was the hydraulic disc brakes... the same kind as I used on the Kona Blast I rode on in Seattle last month. The extremely sharp brake sensitivity (and very new and clean tires, I should add) also really added to my comfort and stability on a really tough and sometimes steep and kinda gnarly terrain. I REALLY loved the brakes.

Oh, you sexy beast
The gears were different than what I am used to - 2x10... only 2 options on the front!!! Very weird. I guess this is a new thing and it actually makes a lot of sense, as it's generally faster to switch the back gears instead of the front ones. When you're trying to get up a crazy hill or the terrain is changing so quickly, it's nice to be able to rely on the gears switching fast and reliably. So that was also great.

The rear suspension was also a brand new experience for me. At first I didn't really notice it, which I think is intended. The Specialized has a very interesting piece of technology called a "Brain" which measures the amount of bump you are getting on the bike and engages the rear suspension only when required - this was pretty cool. So it stayed almost like a hardtail until I hit any sort of bumps at all, and then the rear shock would engage itself and respond to the terrain. I found myself "lifting" off my bike seat still a bit on very rocky/bumpy downhill as you would expect to do. But on lighter stuff or terrain that I would have had to lift off on my hardtail, I just zoomed right over it without concern. That was pretty sweet.

Singletrack epicness
This is the most Northern California photo of all time

So that was my big ride at Tamarancho, and also my first day out on this sweet rental. I got my phone to GPS the whole thing, check out the results here on Strava:

Today I waited for the crowds from the Bay To Breakers race in San Francisco to disperse a bit so I wasn't going to need to weave through a bazillion people, and in the afternoon I took the bike out again for another hour to Golden Gate Park for a couple of the usual random runs here and there and random little side trails that can be fun and are less strenuous than Tamarancho. (My legs needed a bit of a rest, but I really wanted to make good use out of this 2 day rental). It was a great test of the bike today too, and I didn't notice the rear shocks as much today (though they did seem to be engaging a lot when I looked at them), but what I really noticed today was the speed that you get with 29" wheels. Man that thing goes fast. On the Polo Field at Golden Gate Park, I was spinning around the track at lightning pace compared to my usual run on my hardtail bike... and this is all in Gear #4 or 5 on the back, 1 on the front! Pretty crazy stuff.

It looks like the MSRP is around $3300 for this puppy, but local shops seem to be selling it for $2999. So it's a HUGE step up from what I've got now in terms of price and features, but it was definitely a fun ride and an awesome experience. If I ever do decide to get a full suspension, I am really gonna need to ride a lot more of these demo bikes from different manufacturers first before I'd be able to decide. There are a lot of features and things that I don't know about and it would be hard to know if you liked and if they "felt right" before actually trying it. So I might do some more of these demos in the future - it's pretty fun and gives you a cool opportunity to try new things and decide what kind of features really make a difference to you, before jumping into the deep end. I am not sure if it'll make sense for me to upgrade to one of these full suspension bikes someday or not, but I am definitely gonna try a bunch more and see if there is one that really suits my skill and biking style. If I keep doing this kind of biking, it might make sense to upgrade at some point. For now, I'm gonna keep trying out new and exciting stuff!

I didn't take a GoPro this time, but this guy posted a cool video of him testing out this bike on some trails in Colorado that look quite a bit like the kinds of terrain we did at Tamarancho.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Commander Chris Hadfield sings Bowie in Space

Oh those crazy Waterloo Grads :)

A brilliantly shot video, created on the International Space Station by Commander Chris Hadfield, Waterloo Grad and Canadian :) Super amazing, as well as being totally insane that he was able to pull this off in space.

Final Seattle Journal post: Links to all blog posts

That's the end of another Trip blog! Here are links to each post from my Seattle 2013 trip. Thanks for reading :)

Seattle 2013 Journal

Seattle 2013 Day 4: Back to Pike Place Market

Seattle 2013 Day 4: Back to Pike Place Market

Already it's my last day of the trip to Seattle. What a great and chill trip. Still lots of fun stuff to do on the last day! I started by packing up most of my stuff.

Shirt and Panic Button from 826 Seattle
I then headed to the post office to mail back the helmet that I had rented with the bike from the bike store on Saturday. I'd forgotten to give it back in person, and didn't want to schlep all the way back up there, so I just mailed it back. That was actually a pretty fun and unexpected experience in itself. The guy selling supplies at the post office was very nice and had cute pictures of his family rotating on a really old computer monitor screen behind him. He spent a while picking me out the perfect box to fit the helmet, it was very funny. Waiting in line at the post office took a while, there were tons of people there. To pass the time, a nice older man behind me in line started to chat with me, and it turns out he served in the Presidio when it was a military base for 2 years after fighting in the Korean War?! Crazy huh. It was a nice chat and he was quite an interesting fellow. He thought it was cool I am from Canada and he said Vancouver and Victoria are very nice.

Then it was back to The Crumpet Place for a Pesto/English Cheese crumpet, and also the Maple Butter Crumpet. The maple butter one was an epic win, it tasted a lot like a maple glazed donut from Tim Hortons!! Amazing. I got the bottomless tea again and it was really great. While I was sitting there, a girl sat near me who was also sitting there on her own and seemed like a tourist as well. We started chatting and it turned out she was from Calgary, there on a Psych conference with a ton of other people. I told her about all the crazy biking I'd done and we shared some travel tips for Seattle. I love traveling!! So that was pretty fun and a tasty breakfast, then back to the hotel to pack up the remaining stuff.

Crumpets being made
I checked out, left my bags there, and then headed to Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for a lunch meeting with a contact there. It was amazing!! It was so cool to see inside and also to have lunch at their cafeteria. I got rice, potatoes and some awesome local cod.

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
I was there to meet with a lady who runs a portion of the education initiative at the Gates Foundation, just to generally discuss my volunteer interests (826 Valencia, OLPC, Film Society, etc) and to learn more about their education strategy. It was just fascinating. She told me a lot about Ed-Tech "Education Technology" startups that were starting in the Bay Area, and how this is a new area of growth in Silicon Valley. She said that a lot of the great work that has been done to modernize other industries with technology hasn't really scratched the surface yet of what is possible for Education. Pretty interesting. After seeing the exhibit earlier in the weekend, I asked more questions about their data-driven style and rigor that they use to solve world problems innovatively... it feels a lot like they are using techniques I would use to solve programming problems, but applied with real-world issues like global health, environment, and education. Super amazing.

After this fun lunch and great discussion, I walked back downtown and checked out a few shops. I had coffee at the Seattle Coffee Works "slow bar". Another dude was at the slow bar, and we chatted a bunch. He was from Minneapolis, and had never tried this kind of fancy coffee before. He was psyched. I told him about a bunch of spots in San Francisco that I thought he'd probably be interested to visit.

Lots of coffee making equipment
Slow brew
And back to my favourite spot, Pike Place Market! :) I got a Peanut Butter Chocolate cheesecake and more Beecher's Market Spice cheese curds. I also got to see the cheese curds being made!

Cheese Curds being made at Beecher's Cheese

 Here's a video of the process too.

At Beecher's Cheese Curds in Seattle at Pike Place Market, I got to see cheese curds being made!! It was pretty crazy, the day before this entire tub was just liquid.

I also tried the Mac & Cheese at Beecher's which people had suggested I had to try. They were correct!! I then did a bit more wandering in the Pike Place Market and finally busted out my SLR camera to take a few quality photos of the market signs and tulips that were for sale. Also, I had to get a couple better photos of the original Starbucks while I was at it.

Tulips at the Pike Place Market
Public Market Center
I love this sign
Another pic of the sign
Flinging fish
Nice catch!
The other sign
The original Starbucks
Street musician outside the original Starbucks
Preparing crumpets at The Crumpet Place
Then back to the hotel, got my bags, and the girls at the desk were hilariously psyched that I had picked up some Beecher's Cheese Curds. From there, a quick walk back to University Station and then the Light rail back to the airport. I found Mom a nice gift at the airport and got a tasty Starbucks Refresher while waiting... those things are pretty good.

Back on the plane to SF, I had lots of time to think about the trip. It really was a great idea, a great plan to reconnect and re-energize. The trip was very outdoorsy, biking and also tons of walking... lots of exercise was also a brilliant strategy to refresh myself. I am coming back to my day-to-day with enlightened perspective, a clear mind, and an invigorated attitude. Brilliant!! "The Power of Time Off!" As I was on the Light rail, I noticed a quote from Chris Guillebeau, the awesome dude from The Art of Non-Conformity.
“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” -Terry Pratchett
That really hit the mood just right. Seattle was so awesome, and I'm so glad I went. What a perfect trip.

--Mike Jutan, 4/22/2013

Seattle 2013 Day 3: EMP Museum and Restaurants

Seattle 2013 Day 3: EMP Museum and Restaurants

The day began with an epic breakfast at the Fairmont. Yeah, that was amazing. Then off to take the Monorail to the EMP (Experience Music Project) museum... which was AMAZING!!

Apple Fritter French Toast. Yep.
Monorail... monorail... monoraiiiillll!
Epic Frank Gehry architecture at EMP Museum
Rock and roll
Paul Allen apparently is the mastermind behind this amazing museum, which felt like it could easily win the coolest museum in the world award. It was so awesome. They had literally everything I wanted to learn more about: The Art and History of Video Games, a Jimi Hendrix in London exhibit, a history of the band Nirvana (and of Grunge music in general), a Science Fiction and Filmmaking portion with some stuff about George Lucas, cool Star Wars stuff... and even a huge music section where you could learn to play new instruments, learn about guitars, keyboards, mixing, drums, guitar pedals, and you could even book a sound booth to make your own CD in 10 minutes. That was so cool. They also had an insanely massive and awesome big indoor projection screen called "Skychurch". It was pretty epic, and had cool disco balls with billowing material attached to them on the roof. Amazing.

A friggin' guitar that Hendrix played at Woodstock in 1969... AMAZING
Art of Video Games
I remember this :)
So amazing
Old school
Remember when I got to work with some of the people who made this game, that's now in this history of video games exhibit?!? Amazing.
MTV award given to Nirvana
That's a lot of guitars. And that one random bass.
A cool "learn guitar" exhibit where lasers show you which strings to play!
Terminator 2 sculpture
Make your own comp with green screen and a video feed
Haha this rocked
Costume worn by Christopher Reeve
Yoda cane and pendant!!!!!!
GL, what up!!
Um.. YES
Cool case of Anakin mask reveal from Return of the Jedi
WOW awesome Vader art by Ralph McQuarrie
There's some red on your shirt
And, I love this museum
Outside there were free tastes outside the Space Needle of a bunch of different method of preparing local Seattle salmon with different types of rubs and sauces. Um, glorious!!! That rocked.

Free food outside
From there, it was back to downtown on the Monorail and then back to Pike Place for some epic mini cheesecake. I got a shot of spicy hot chocolate there too, and a container of very fresh raspberries that were certainly too amazing to skip. Also we tried some seedless muscat grapes, which were very tasty. After some local pickles and fish and chips, it was time for a quick Ferris wheel ride before heading back to the hotel.

Pickles at the Pike Place Market
View from the wheel
Seattle as the sun is coming out!
After chilling at the hotel a bit, I headed back to Pike Place and got a rhubarb pastry at a Piroshki place. I also picked up some Market Herb Cheese Curds from Beecher's Cheese. Then back to the hotel again to chill out after a lot of walking. I got a double espresso in the lobby and with the tons of walking today and biking yesterday... I was exhausted!!! Chilled out for a bit and then went back up to my room and slept for 2 hours!

Cheese curds
A tasty Rhubarb Cheese pastry
I got up and put on a nicer shirt for dinner, and took a cab over to Spinasse, a place that has been recommended by several people. It was freakin' incredible. Someone told me it was the "best Italian food they had outside of Italy", which was an impressive claim. It was really excellent. I was quite tired from all the exercise, but I'm glad I took a power nap and still went out... I was considering just a quiet night at the hotel but it was well worth the trek out to the restaurant.

Fancy night out at Spinasse
Tajarin al ragù o burro e salvia (Fine hand cut egg pasta with ragù or butter and sage)
Jerusalem artichokes "Sunchokes" with epic sauce. This was amazing
One of the best espressos I've had, it was amazing
I started with a glass of Nebbiolo red wine (a variety I've never tried before) from a winery called Pelissero from Treis, Italy (near Fossano). It was amazing. It went incredibly well with the pasta that every person in Seattle told me to buy - a butter sage "tajarin" egg pasta. It was insanely good. It did actually remind me of the subtle and unbelievably fresh flavours of the restaurant we went to in Florence that was so epic. What an awesome time.

On the side of the main dish, I also got some crazy looking artichokes called "Jerusalem Artichokes" which looked like potatoes and were in this sort of gravy. One of the ladies that worked there came by to ask me how I was enjoying them and she said, "They are so sinful, like savory candy". haha, so poetic. This place is like Italy!

The bread was also incredible and the wine a good choice. They had some crazy homemade "Huckleberry Cello" - like a Lemoncello I suppose. It sounded good but I decided to just go for an Espresso. It kicked the crap out of the instant Starbucks espresso that I had back at the hotel. It came out in a Moka Pot and I had 3 cups worth out of it, with just a dash of cream in each. An incredibly smooth espresso and really done beautifully. They really know what they are doing at this place.

The food was very rich so I walked back to the hotel. I had considered going across the road from the restaurant to a live music venue place that seemed to be bumpin', but it was a long day and I was keen just to get back and chill out at the hotel some more. It was a nice walk and I got back to the hotel and practiced my speech for the Waterloo Alumni Event at Facebook which was only a week later, so it was nice to get a little more practice in.

Some more tea and another bath! My legs were still tired from the biking yesterday but it was awesome exercise. I had some snacks, watched some random movies on TV and then wrote my journal. What a great day! Tomorrow, back to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for a meeting, and back to The Crumpet Place. I'll check out tomorrow morning and then enjoy a few more things before heading to the airport. Looking forward to seeing that GoPro Video!!