Whidbey with Bob, John and some new friends

We can’t seem to get enough of Whidbey Island, so we headed back on Labor Day for a little 68-mile jaunt (5,600 feet of elevation gain, give or take). This time we joined our friends Bob and John, and along the way picked up new friends Paul and Ken and, for awhile, the amazing Scott.

Several stretches made for some terrifically fun pacelining, and the climbs and wide-open descents were a blast too. And of course, the Whidbey scenery.

We were delighted when Bob happened upon the Timbuktu Java Bar & Gallery in Freeland — featuring a nicely attired stuffed giraffe, terrific proprietors, the ultimate in smoothie lusciousness, and a just-right chicken-and-rice concoction.

And serving as a true inspiration was Scott, a relatively new rider who dropped from 260 pounds to 170 since January by eating well and exercising.

Of course, any time you get to go home via ferry, it’s a very good day indeed.

Paula’s Hampsten Strada Bianca debuts on Vashon Island

For Timothy, bike rides serve as bike expos as much as rides. Until February, Paula regarded this ongoing Study Of The Bicycle in a tolerant sort of way, nodding bemusedly and feigning some degree of interest. Her view changed dramatically when, at the end of the Chilly Hilly ride, she came upon Tim examining a piece of bike art stunning in both its simplicity and its detail. Paula started obsessively examining every detail of what she learned was a Hampsten Strada Bianca. It was LOVE. “I want one!!” she exclaimed. Tim did his own version of bemused tolerance.

Tim being Tim he immediately laid out a Quick History of Andy Hampsten, winner of  the 1988 Giro d’Italia and the Alpe d’Huez stage of the 1992 Tour de France.

“Now I REALLY want one!!” Paula said. And then around the corner came the bike’s owner, who described the joy of working with Andy’s brother, Steve, on the design and execution of the bike. Everything top-notch. Everything personal and done to exacting detail and standards. And—a bonus—all based right here in Seattle, at Hampco Towers, AKA Steve’s garage. Which pretty much sealed the deal, not for the convenience (though the convenience was very nice) but for the whole Seattle Thing (complete with fenders of the highest quality.)

Back home, Paula beelined to Hampsten Cycles’ website. More perfection. She researched Andy. Ditto. She read up on Steve. Same. She checked out the reviews. Could it be any better?? (NO.)

Tim, continuing to be a bit entertained by this sudden fascination but certainly up for a trip to Hampco Towers, set up an appointment with Steve. He figured we were just going to get the lay of the land. He’s also much more deliberative than Paula, who knows what she wants when she sees it. That afternoon, much to Tim’s surprise, she put down a deposit.

Strada Bianca in lugged steel (Columbus Spirit). Outfitted with Shimano Dura-ace 11-speed mechanical components, with the exception of the Ultegra long cage rear derailleur which allows for a wider range of gears. Pistachio with red accents.

And this weekend, she rode it on its glorious debut on Vashon Island.

P1030860Paula’s first impression? In two words: Utter Joy. It fits perfectly and rides exquisitely. That incomparable experience of the bike and the rider joined together as one, total control, power, fluidity and grace, handling with ease the climbs and glorious descents and zipping along most merrily on the flats.

Stupendous.

And, of course, it got rave reviews from the other riders. They were lusting. The very first comment: “Beautiful bike! What year is it?”—a perfect compliment for the intentionally old-school design.

Ride the Hurricane (Hurricane Ridge)

Some 4,500 to 5,000 feet of vertical gain in an 18-mile continuous climb — and then a thrilling swoop back down again. Surrounded every foot of the way by stunning scenery — and on this day, no cars for most of the journey. Such is the glory of the official Ride the Hurricane up Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic National Park. Plus, they served chocolate milk at the top!

This was a great follow to the Tour de Lavender the day before. A fantastic cycling weekend in yet another stunning area of Washington.

Needless to say, the two of us did not climb this little hill together — Timothy being a strong climber who had fun reeling people in, and Paula being more than a bit climbing-challenged. Still, it was a fantastic trek for both of us.

Paula went into it more than a bit intimidated. But it actually wasn’t all that hard. Just long. There were no pitches above 9 percent and even those were few. So it was just a matter of grinding it out. And grinding it out some more. And more. For 18 miles. While taking pictures.

Timothy employed his usual methodical approach, being careful not to blow up early on, then breezing past those who pushed too much too soon.

And then, the descent! With no cars! (Just for this ride; usually there’s car traffic, but not all that much).  Being able to blast down amid all that beauty with no worries of cars was simply unforgettable. As one rider said at the gathering afterward: “That descent was the best thing EVER.”