Review: Shimano MT60 SPD Touring Shoes

Summary: Acceptable shoes for touring, reasonable to walk in, but Gore-Tex is not a great fabric for shoes, as they fill up with water in heavy rain.

Details:

The “Shimano MT60 Gore-Tex Bike Shoe” was sold as a commuting/touring/mountain biking SPD-compatible shoe. They are less obviously “cycling” shoes than some others on the market. When new they look like this:

After many years of use, they look more like this:

Well-worn shoes, holding up OK

As the name suggests, they are made with Gore-Tex waterproof fabric. They have a fairly stiff sole, but with enough flexibility to walk. They are SPD-compatible. You can leave the sole plates in place, and use them without SPDs if preferred.

Earlier models had a velcro strap that held the laces down. These ones have a simple elastic band for tucking spare laces into.

Fit: Shimano runs a little small with their sizing. I normally wear a US 11.5, but in this case went with the EU 47.

Usage:

Long-term readers will know that I have favored SPD-compatible sandals for long-distance touring. Horrifically ugly:

Dirty and dusty, ugly but comfortable sandals

With matching tan/dirt lines:

Horrific tan lines from long days in Shimano sandals

I wore Shimano SPD sandals for long periods on the road. Later I got some Exustar SPD sandals. Just as ugly.

But when I was touring in Patagonia, I knew the weather would be mostly cool and wet, so wanted to just take shoes. These were the only shoes I took on this trip, for both cycling and walking. Here they are in action on the side of the road:

Shoes in action in Patagonia

Note the wet weather gear – that was the sort of conditions these were designed for.

When not touring, these were my only SPD shoes. If I was going mountain biking, or riding my touring bike in cool/wet conditions, I would wear these. They’ve had plenty of on- and off-road usage.

Likes:

  • Styling was (for the time) low-key. There are much better options today for shoes that don’t scream I’M A CYCLING NERD, but in 2009 there were not as many options. They looked like typical “Westerner traveling abroad” shoes.
  • Pretty good for walking around. Obviously some scraping of the cleats, and the soles are stiffer than regular shoes, but they are fine for walking.

Dislikes:

  • The waterproof fabric seems like a good idea. And if you step in small puddles, it seems great. But on very wet days, you will get water splashing up from your bike and cars, and the shoes will tend to fill up with water. They don’t drain. Better to wear Sealskinz waterproof socks instead.
  • Laces are too long, and the elastic holder stretches over time, so the laces are not held in, and are prone to tangling with your chain ring.
  • The sole is not well-suited for pushing your bike up muddy MTB trails. I wore mine mountain biking because that’s what I had, but if you’re looking for a dedicated MTB SPD shoe, consider other designs.

Verdict:

Would not buy again. Nothing against Shimano shoes, the price/quality was fair, but I would not buy Gore-Tex cycling shoes again.

Review: Gore Windstopper Element Jacket

Summary: Highly recommended, a much-loved jacket, perfect for dry, cool conditions. Packed small, nice against the skin, and kept me warm in cold winds. Quality gear from Gore.

Gore Windstopper Element Jacket

The Gore Windstopper Element jacket is a lightweight convertible jacket, made of Gore-Tex Windstopper fabric. Gore makes a range of cycling and running clothing, all of it high quality. Not cheap, but fits well, and is well-made.

I purchased this jacket while touring across Europe and Asia. I found that regular Gore-Tex fabrics were not good in the cold wind, and that was more of a problem for me than rain. I needed a lightweight jacket that blocked wind, and gave some lightweight rain protection.

Here’s the jacket in use, somewhere in China:

Not my best look: jacket, socks & sandals. Warmth with minimal bulk

Later it became my go-to jacket for mountain biking. I could put it on in the morning, wear it until I warmed up, and then either remove the sleeves, or just unzip the arm holes a bit for breathability. Here’s a shot riding in Taupo – note the frost on the ground. That’s at 4pm – it was a cold day, but I’m warm and comfortable.

Cold, frosty day – perfect conditions

The sleeves could be completely removed and put in the rear pocket, and the jacket itself could be stuffed into its own pocket.

Likes

Warm on cold mornings, but then can easily unzip the sleeves as you warm up, or remove them or the entire jacket, and stuff it in your Camelbak/pannier.

Blocks cold winds, yet remains breathable. Feels very nice against the skin. Not clammy, not prone to overheating. This, plus an insulating merino layer, along with a Buff and maybe a skull cap, keeps you comfortable even below freezing.

I like having the ability to convert it to a vest by removing the sleeves, even though I don’t often use it that way. It’s good to have it there.

Dislikes

No major quibbles here. The main issue is rain proofing: it’s not designed to keep you dry all day. When it was newer, the water would tend to bead and run off. As it got more worn, it would tend to soak in the water. It won’t keep you dry in all-day rain, but that’s not its goal. It will keep you dry in light showers, and you should be warmed up by the time it starts raining harder.

Verdict

This has been a great jacket. Highly recommended, particularly for cool, dry conditions. Not great if you often ride in the rain, but good for most of us.

Quality gear from a company that consistently makes nice riding gear.

The Replacement

After many years of use, the main zip started failing. I investigated alternatives, but Gore was always going to be my first choice. I ended up with the current version of the Element jacket. This is basically an updated version: it’s still Windstopper fabric, with removable sleeves.

We also purchased one for Anna:

Tweedledum & Tweedledee, matching jackets

Note that mine is black, with yellow back & sides:

Side view – note the yellow back

I much prefer the color of Anna’s jacket, or perhaps the blue. But the only color I could get was black/yellow.

The new model is good, but not quite as good as the older model. No hand pockets, but it does have a chest pocket suitable for storing your phone.

The inside of the jacket lacks any mesh, so it’s not quite as nice against the skin. It’s not far off though. Definitely not like other fabrics that can be clammy. Feels smaller & lighter, but still completely blocks out the wind. In those photos above, temperatures were near freezing, with strong cold winds, but we were happy in our jackets.

Hopefully another ten years of wear from these?

Northland Boys 1st Time Camping With His Girl

MTBing Fort Ord

This post is really about the camping, but before we went camping we went riding in Fort Ord. Fort Ord is a former military post which is now a part of the National Conservation Lands in Monterey County, California. We thought the ride started out a bit dull. Lots of hard pressed clay and sand on what appears to be low level sparse scrub. We took a fairly easy ride up to the top of the hills, and stopped to look out over the views.

Atop Ford Ord, looking out over the valley we were about to drop into.

However, once we rode into the valley, the path became surprisingly beautiful. May/June is a wonderful time of year in California. Not long after the winter rains, but before the dry season stretches out. The flowers were blooming; the bush and grasses were green, and the pathway that wound us through this terrain was stunning.

The photo does not speak to the beauty of these green, shadowed pathways.

Camping Arroyo Seco

We were running short on time unfortunately, and didn’t get to explore as much we’d have liked. However, we were keen to get to our camping spot.

Trial run, inside the safety or our lounge.

We’re thinking about getting our bikes on the road again for another tour, so are starting to update some of the gear. Lindsay recently decided to purchase a new light weight tent, the Big Agnes Copper Spur with lights.

So we’ve decided to do some vehicle camping to try out the new gear, and for our first last minute trip we decided to head to Big Sur. But every campground in Big Sur was all booked out unless we wanted to pay $100 + taxes to pitch our little tent.

 

A friend told me about a place to stay on the east/back side of Big Sur called the Arroyo Seco Camping Ground. It was all booked out, but with seven drive up spots, we thought we’d try our luck. Luckily we got the last spot. We were thrilled with the $25 charge, and they also sold ice and firewood. Perfect.

Oh how we laughed. Signage to the ‘Primitive Sites’.

We drove through the park to the ‘primitive sites’ where we pitched our tent for the second time, this time outside! The ‘primitive’ sites at this campground came with long drop (aka ‘pit’) toilets, a camp site with parking for one car, a camp table, bbq/grill and fire pit.

Second run. Big Agnes is up and ready for sleeping in.

Lindsay took a quick leap into the water. He may look like he’s basking, but he’s really quite chilly.

Feeling hot and dusty from our ride earlier in the day, and from mucking in at the camp site, we decided to go for a swim in the river that ran through the bottom of the campsite. We braved the cool waters, and took a refreshing dip.

 

 

Big smile showing off my plastic teeth (Invisalign). I took the slow approach into the river, but stayed longer.

Very proud of his fire…albeit very smoky as the night progressed.

 

Lindsay was the star of this camping show. One would hope so considering how much camping he’s done! He built a large fire, which we then spent the night attempting to escape as the smoke seemed determined to follow us, no matter where we sat. He taught me to use his small portable stove…I burnt the porridge the next morning!

 

 

Hmmm…an acceptable sleep. Much practice needed.

We had to buy suitable bedding for me. I’m a stomach sleeper and I’m in love with my pillow. A lot of campers sleep on their back and use some clothes to rest their head on. Not me…I need a little comfort. We settled on a light weight Therm-a-Rest Neo Air XLite sleeping pad & Compressible Pillow. I slept okay but I think this sleeping/camping thing will take a little while to get used too!

 

Somehow I got suckered into the tyre pumping. I’m amazed at how well a MTBing tyre pump is suited to this work.

 

 

I’d noticed the evening before that truck’s tyre was a little deflated. By morning the rim was almost on the ground. We took turns using the bike pump to inflate it to see what the problem was. It was leaking around the value, so we put the spare on, so now Lindsay is an expert truck tyre changer! Fortunately Rodney (The big red truck) has a lot of clearance for Lindsay to climb under, to sort the spare.

The road out ran aside the Arroyo Seco River, making for a picturesque drive.

Unfortunately this all took some time. We’d hoped to head back into Big Sur national Park to do some exploring but were out of time. So we headed out of the valley, through this amazing part of California with its sprawling agriculture, and went exploring in the coastal towns of Carmel and Capitola on the way back home to San Francisco.

Placidly roaming wild stock that had escaped his pastures. This single fellow had held up traffic and had 2 or 3 police cars helping to wrangle him in again.

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Review: Ortlieb 5 Plus Handlebar Bag

My Ortlieb Ultimate 5 Plus Handlebar Bag lasted 50,000km and 11 years, but it’s time for retirement. Here’s a review showing how it held up, what I liked & didn’t, and the replacement.

I’ve had this bag since August 2007. I use it when touring for putting most of my valuables in. I can quickly take it off the bike, and use the shoulder strap for walking around. My snacks for the day would usually be in the bag, for easy access. If I’m just going for a day ride I would often take it. Good place for wallet, tools, keys, phone.

Here’s its first outing, leaving Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan:

First day of use, in front of Lenin

And here it is 11 years later, looking somewhat battered and faded:

Barbag mounted on T-Bar below handlebars

Note the mounting: I mounted it on a T-Bar beneath my handlebars.This was because I used to have carbon handlebars, and the Ortlieb mounting system does not work with carbon bars. It also frees up some handlebar space putting it out lower.

It uses a Klickfix-compatible clip that is super-easy to clip/un-clip. Push forward on the lock barrel, push the bag up from underneath, easy. Putting it back on is faster – line it up, drop down and it clips in place. Very secure on the bike though – the clip never even came close to coming loose.

Prior to using butterfly handlebars, this lower position was good for stretching out and resting my arms on, when riding long distances on good roads, into the wind.

The map case attachment was sold as a separate add-on. This was “guaranteed not to yellow,” but don’t believe it: everything is affected by the sun. This is the second map case, as my first one was much more yellowed, and developed a crack.

Map case – somewhat yellowed

Check the fading here, in the areas that were not covered by the map case. No issues with any leaks, rips or tears. The fabric stayed strong, and everything stayed dry.

Top view – note fading where more exposed to sun

Note the dome clips used for the map case. Two similar clips were used to close the lid. These were awkward to open when riding, and very difficult to close. You had to stop to do it. I’m sure this makes sense to people in a factory considering safety first, but the reality is that on the road, sometimes you don’t want to stop to grab a snack, but want to just keep on rolling. Or maybe you need to grab your camera in a hurry.

You can also see in the above shot that the lid has a tendency to fall in on itself. Technically this doesn’t matter – if there was anything in there it would push back against it. But it always annoyed me when it looked like that.

There were two small exterior mesh pockets, one on each side. I would put a snack bar in one side, my multitool in the other. Eventually the pockets came off, as you can see here:

Side pockets *were* here

The interior had a zip pocket + key clip – useful for keys + phone, and an interior divider. This divider seemed like a good idea, but in practice it was just a pain in the ass. It was not fixed in place, and would move around, and everything would end up underneath it. More trouble than it was worth.

Internal divider

Verdict

I never loved this bag. But you know what? I kept using it for over ten years, and it did what it said it would. It kept my gear dry and secure, along good roads, rough roads, dirt roads. It was was easy to take on or off, it was just a bit of a pain to open & close. It’s only in the last couple of years that bits started breaking, and it started looking pretty old. If it were not for a good deal on a replacement at REI, I would have kept using it for a while yet.

Summary: Not great, but did the job. The Ortlieb price premium was worth it for something that lasted a long time.

The Replacement

I have replaced it with the Ultimate6 S Plus.

This is a smaller, updated model. Similar shape, but smaller, and no side pockets. It addresses several issues with the original: the map case is integrated, and is designed for a smartphone (you can use a touch screen through the plastic).The catch is magnetic, making it easier to open with one hand.

Here’s to another 10+ years and 50,000km?

Phoenix, Arizona: MTBing in the desert

Last year I had an airport stopover in Phoenix, and was amazed by the magnificent desert visible from the airport terminal. So when Lindsay was visiting Phoenix for a work conference, we decided to go MTBing for the weekend in the Arizona desert.

South Mountain

As it was April, it was coming to the end of the mountain biking season. Soon it would be too hot to ride over the summer months, especially on the very hot days. Lindsay searched the web and settled on a guided tour with Cactus Adventures for a first day out at at South Mountain, a Phoenix city park. Tim was our guide and he knew the park well.

They asked us if we’re okay with a climb? The degree of the climb was no problem, it was low, but steady, but in the heat it would be easy to dehydrate. Multiple people asked if we had pre-hydrated and if we were carrying lots of water. Tim, our guide, had a house right next to the desert trail, and we heard (not from him) that he’d had to head out on multiple occasions to rescue a dehydrated trekker or rider, or found a parched explorer recovering on the park bench in the front courtyard of his home which sits on the edge of this park. So we rode out with plenty of water, but as important, we took frequent longish breaks. There was no place offering shade, so our guide often stopped and we realised later that it allowed us time to cool down a little.

The view from the desert out to the city of Phoenix.

Thousands of Cacti dot the desert, and if your there early in the morning who’ll be lucky to catch some with the beautiful blooms still in flower.

The ride out at the end of the day. It was a little more technical that I could get in these shots, lots of rock gardens to work your around and through.

Ancient stone carvings made by the indigenous peoples who left the area some 600-700yrs ago!

There are some other bike parks that we didn’t get a chance to check out, but would be keen to get back for a look at some of these.

Cactus Adventures

During the down season (which we caught the first weekend of), Cactus adventures runs their business from this permanent trailer parked within the grounds of the Grand Resort. During the peak season, they have a much larger operation up and running, with guided tours or simple bicycle hire. They were super helpful following our first day tour, they allowed the bikes to stay set up to our requirements, and we just straight hired them the following day to go exploring on our own.

Arizona Grand Resort

Arizona Grand Resort works in conjunction with Cactus Adventures where they share customers.  Therefore, riders with Cactus Adventures have access to some of the Resort’s services including their Spa where we got to have warm showers with towels, hair driers and other services provided. Made our Sunday ride simple so we were clean and fresh to fly home that afternoon.

The Grand Spa wet rooms where a weary cyclist could refresh, shower using fresh towels supplied by the resort, blow dry their hair and be ready to get on a plane within an hour of their ride.

Bohemian as it gets: Roosevelt Row

On the Saturday evening we decided to head out. Phoenix is a youngish city, mostly settled and developed in the early 20th century, and based on the grid like system of many American cities. I like to explore the more Bohemian parts of a city, and this was what I searched for. Every search took me to Roosevelt Row, which turned out really to be the hipster / art / craft brewery end of town. Most of the buildings are new, and lacked the architectural character of the older cities, but the area is attempting to make up for it with fabulous graffiti art and interesting galleries, bars and eateries.

A palm tree lined road through Phoenix, with a light rail running down the centre of the road

Lindsay mapping out Roosevelt Way, plotting our wee food & bar crawl along this strip

We had a fun Saturday eve chatting to a variety of friendly locals, and we even checked out the Pinewood Classic where they were raising miniature vehicles!
Id been told the Mexican food was fantastic as its just over the Mexican Border.  I don’t know if we found the best places in town but we enjoyed what we ordered, and I highly recommend the Blood Orange Margaritas!

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Finding Coffee in the US: A Spotters Guide

New Zealanders and Australians have grown accustomed to a certain style of coffee. They hear about great coffee places in the USA, and assume they will have no trouble finding good coffee in America. They are wrong. Americans have grown accustomed to a different style of coffee. There is good coffee in America, but it can be hard to find. Here’s a guide for New Zealanders and Australians: How to find decent coffee in the US.

The Rules:

  • Assume nothing. Their expectations are different.
  • Food and coffee do not go together.
  • Yelp reviews: read with caution.
  • A mocha is not what you expect.
  • Chain stores: in general, avoid.

Let’s look at those in more detail:

Assume Nothing

New Zealanders and Australians have been spoiled over the last 20+ years with the quality of the average cafe. You can walk into almost any cafe in Melbourne, or any town in New Zealand, and there is a high likelihood you will get a decent espresso coffee.

It does not work this way in the US, even in places like San Francisco. You can find decent coffee, but it is not everywhere. Many places that describe themselves as “cafes” only have a pot of filter coffee. In major centers you need to do research to find good places. Outside major centers it gets much harder.

Here’s an example: a year ago we were driving through rural Louisiana. I knew that coffee would be hard to come by. Sadly the best option looked to be a McDonalds “McCafe.” We knew that when McCafes were introduced to New Zealand they had made a real effort on the coffee front.

The conversation went like this:

I’ll have a cappuccino please.

A cappa-what?

A cappuccino.

Dianne, get over here! These people say they want a – what was it – a capp – u – cheeno. You ever hear of such a crazy thing? What in the hell is that?

Yes, a place with “Cafe” featuring in the name had never heard of a cappuccino. Americans have different expectations about what food & drink a cafe should provide. Many Americans are quite happy to pay for a cheap cup of filter coffee and Half and half. They don’t all want to pay $4-$5 for a hand-crafted beverage. You might think “Why not make it yourself at home?” They don’t think that way. You can’t change this.

There are people that *like* this shit

Once you get your head around this, you won’t be sucked in by a sign promising “Coffee!” It could well mean a glass beaker of coffee brewed 4 hours ago. No-one cares about the taste, that’s why there’s 8 different types of packets of sweeteners.

Fear not. All is not lost. There are places that know what they’re doing. You need to know what to look for.

These people know what they’re doing

Good Food Does NOT Mean Good Coffee

In NZ/Aus, there is a high likelihood that great food places will serve great coffee. Planning a lunch meeting with friends? If a good food place doesn’t do great coffee, it’s probably a bar.

In the US, there is an INVERSE relationship. Great coffee places in the US focus on coffee. They will offer nice pastries and muffins, but not proper meals. Places that serve good breakfast/lunch meals only have basic coffee. If you see lots of people eating, don’t expect to get good coffee.

They are queuing for food. Do not be fooled.

Many of the best cafes here focus on coffee. Coffee is their main revenue source, with a small amount of cakes & pastries (usually good). If you see people drinking coffee, working on laptops, and not much food: it will be good.

Yelp Reviews: Treat with Caution

Everyone uses Yelp in the US. Most places have many reviews, making it far more useful than in other countries. It’s very tempting to read the reviews, look for a well-rated place, and head there.

But.

When reading the reviews, you need to treat them with caution. The reviewers are American, and as above, their tastes are different. So you have to interpret the reviews.

Here’s an example of a review I was reading:

OMG the regular coffee was only 12oz (355mL)! The smallest size should be at least 16oz (473mL)! Plus the coffee was way too strong and I couldn’t understand the French accent!

Bingo! This sounds like exactly the sort of place I want to visit. Small, strong coffee made by a European.

It is time-consuming to read & interpret reviews for lots of places. I have found a few shortcuts with Yelp: search for the phrases “Flat White,” “Cortado” and “Hipster.” Something in that list will usually turn up. The first two are always positive triggers, the last one needs to be read for context.

Hollow: So Hipster it Hurts

Also look for “Coffee Roasters” in Yelp, rather than Cafes. This is a separate category. Coffee Roasters with retail outlets are usually very good.

Mocha: Not What You Expect

In New Zealand a “mocha” (pronounced: mock-a) is short for mochaccino. This is a cappuccino with chocolate added. Very tasty.

In the US a “mocha” (pronounced: moak-a) is regular coffee with a spoonful of cocoa powder stirred in. Not tasty. Note: you will come across a tremendous variety in mocha flavors in the US. Peppermint, White Chocolate, Raspberry, etc. Avoid.

Note the laptops, and not much food

Chain Stores: In General, Avoid

Americans love franchises, and every strip mall has the same set of shops. It would make life far simpler if one of the nationwide cafe chains did decent coffee, but they are all rubbish. Locals will rave about Peets, Philz, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, etc. but as above: they have different expectations to you. Those chains are all crap. Their popularity remains a mystery.

Most definitely not a chain

There are some smaller chains with groups of stores in certain regions. Some of these are very, very good. Examples in the Bay Area include: Ritual, Blue Bottle, and Sightglass. If you find a chain you like in your area, consider yourself lucky.

Cafe Spotting

If you can’t find any conclusive Yelp reviews, and you’re wandering about looking for coffee, here’s a few more tips on spotting good places:

  • Queues. This may just be a San Francisco thing, but people love to queue. Be warned: they may be queuing for food. If so, the coffee is probably bad. Check that it is just a coffee place.
  • Espresso machine: it pains me to say this, but many ‘cafes’ do not have espresso machines. At least with these you can spot them from the window. Bonus marks if you also spot an array of coffee-making apparatus (Chemex, pour over, Bunsen burners, distilling units).
  • Cup sizes. If you see people walking out clutching dairy confections measured in quarts, run. Quality places will have small cups by default. I knew that I would like Red Rock when I saw that their Cappuccino had a single small size listed on the menu.
  • Hipster score. Sometimes a place looks “so hipster it hurts.” Say what you like about them, hipsters do know how to make good coffee (Photo of Hollow).

Looks promising

If all the above fail, find someone with gauged ears, and follow them to work.

Riding Sideways in Reno – Blown Away

We wanted to head to Tahoe for a long weekend, but left things a little late. So we headed to Reno instead, via Tahoe. The forecast was pretty good, considering the time of year (late Winter), so we loaded the mountain bikes on the truck and headed out.

We stopped in a few places along the way, including Sacramento and Placerville, before going via Lake Tahoe to Reno.The weather was fairly warm and clear on the way over:

Placerville, CA: Where cowboys invite each other into gunfights, and a wary traveller can still grab a ride on the stagecoach.

 

Lindsay wouldn’t let me buy this tricycle for a momento. At $350+US dollars I felt that was fair enough! So so so cool though

South Lake Tahoe, CA: Heading over the pass from Tahoe, CA en route to Reno, NV! The cloud formations were mind blowing and the photo’s i captured could not really catch their magnificence.

Reno, NZ: Death & Taxes – On Cheney St – A lil street of the main Virginia St strip. A warm, welcoming cocktail far when the weather outside was freezing!

The dome of the Silver Legacy Resort. Looks a little tired by day, but at night it shines green.

Hmmm, the Wild Orchid. I was mostly amused by the lighting display, but not a bar we would visit – the hotel attached at the back seemed incredibly tired!!

It was cold but clear in the morning, with snow due by mid-afternoon. So we got going early, and took the bikes up Peavine Mountain. It was cold, very windy, but clear. Normally we’d be a bit nervous about heading out into remote areas with snow in the forecast, but in this case we were just up above the city, and we weren’t going to get lost in an open area like this.

‎⁨Toiyabe National Forest⁩, ⁨Reno⁩, NV: These photos’s can’t show – but the wind was so strong on these exposed hills, that at one time it seemed like it picked me up and moved me a meter/yard sideways! it was MTBing like I’d not experienced.

Come on Anna, that bit was easy, you can do it!

Mostly easy going, but you have to pay attention to the rocky parts

No Photoshop…the ray’s really were shining upon him…

Hiding on a sheltered part of the mountain whilst we grabbed a snack.

We timed our run pretty well, with the snow not starting until we go back to the hotel

The snow started to fall as we returned to Reno….it was coming down horizontally. When we looked out the window after a quick nap the city was blanketed in white.

Lindsay is decidedly less impressed with the snow than me

If you squint a bit, it looks like a European city in winter

Plenty of snow came down overnight, and the following day chains were required in the morning. We waited a while until restrictions were lifted, then headed out. There was still snow on the road, and it was a very slow trip. Hours of crawling along, truck covered in mud and grit.

At one point Google Maps suggested taking a detour off the freeway, avoiding the traffic. Google thinks it knows best. Google saw the country roads as being clear of traffic, unlike the freeway. Google thought that would be faster. Google is very wrong.

The reason there was no traffic on the side roads was because they weren’t plowed. And driving a 5.7L V8 truck that is only RWD, with no weight in the back…that’s pretty dangerous when there’s lots of snow on the road…we got through it with a bit of skidding, and back onto the freeway as soon as we could.

That’s in degrees Celsius, not Freedom Units

Heading back via the Donner Pass

Once we came over the Donner Pass, and down several thousand feet in altitude, the weather got much better, so we went mountain biking at Auburn. All was looking good, until we got a bit of light snow out on the trails. At that point there was no easy exit, so the best thing to do was to keep riding. It was actually a lot of fun – light snow in the forest, cold but still manageable.

Lindsay checking a gash in his tyre sidewall. Not great when the snow is coming

Might be time to get the leg warmers out Lindsay?

Riding the trails at Auburn

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Ah….Eureka!!!! MTBing Northern California.

San Francisco to Eureka

In New Zealand during Christmas, the country closes down. Everyone leaves the cities and head to the beach for at least a week of relaxation and downtime.  Although its winter at that time of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, we decided we’d continue the tradition. In mid December we found a cabin in the coastal town of Eureka, 5hrs drive up Northern California.

Our Christmas holiday started well with our first stop being the infamous BurtoNZ Bakery. We purchased two Meat Pies wrapped in Filo Pastry, a New Zealand (and Australian) delicacy, and carried on our way.

We’re explorers and like to get off the main highway. Instead of taking the 101 all the way to Eureka, we turned off onto the old main road 1. At times a narrow winding road, working its way along the coastline, and through almost quaint seaside towns.

We stopped in Mendocino, an old logging town with a large river opening out to the Pacific Ocean. The scenery was spectacular but cold.

We made our way through stunning redwoods, with Pines that towed over our Fiat Pop (aka Poppy). Many tree trunks were wider than our little car!

 

After all the stopping and incredibly long and windy forest roads that we made it back to the 101. We finally made it to our destination in the dark of night, our journey taking a lot longer than initially planned.

We’d booked late, and didn’t get the wood burning fire we’d hoped for, but the heater was amazing, and our little AirBnB cabin, up a country road just outside Eureka was welcoming and cozy, and the hosts welcoming.

Once unpacked we headed into the little town of Eureka for a late evening explore, and to grab a bite.  Although mostly shut, the town looked old, cute and inviting. We found a Seafood restaurant serving another delicacy we miss from home, fish and chips!

A quaint old shopping mall decorated for Christmas. Found down an internal alley in one of the towns older buildings that surround the grassy town square.

MTB Lacks Creek

The next day was Christmas Eve. Using MTB Project Lindsay found us what would turn out to be a beautiful trail, but with frightening accessibility issues.Without another car in sight, we pushed the little Fiat as far as the entrance to the upper level car park, but turned back to the lower car park as the entrance was impassable for Poppy.

At the beginning of the trail from the upper level car park. We chose the intermediate route which turned out to be stunning, and fun.

The riding was stunning, although the climb from the lower car park was super tough as a starting point.  However the final climb was exhausting, so we were glad to do part of the climb first.

Snow covered parts of the ground at his elevation of about 3800ft/1100mtrs. We were lucky to miss the heavy snow that would have made this beautiful road impossible. The ride included easy deep drops that cut along the hills and through the forest. When finished we felt exhilarated, but tired.

Christmas Day

Christmas day started with a cooked breakfast done using traditional New Zealand Christmas cooking methods on the BBQ/Grill. At home it is almost compulsory to BBQ/grill barefoot, or at most in jandals/flip flops.

Our Christmas Entertainment was a trip to watch Star Wars, Rogue One whilst being served beer and snack in our seats at the local Eureka Theater!

 

 

 

 

MTB Arcata Community Forest

The area is blessed with a local community forest that has multiple walking and MTBing routes.  As the area is fairly wet, the forest has a lot more lush undergrowth, making it beautiful to spend time in.  There is a couple of easy fun rides through the forest and well worth a visit.

Exploring Eureka

Whilst in the area we explored some of the surrounding towns. We were absolutely astounded by the colourful intricate Victorian Homes on display.

The Carson mansion…One of the most recognizable and expensive Victorians in the US.

One of the many beautifully painted Victorians in this part of Eureka. It’s well worth exploring if you enjoy old homes such as these.

MTB The King Range

On our Journey back to San Francisco, we headed out to MTB the King Range. The access road was long and windy but has beautiful scenery and stunning views. Driving Poppy up through the King Range itself was precarious. At one point with the little fiat sliding sideways on the gravel. I swore then we’d be getting a larger vehicle that could handle the bikes better, and less likely to slip off roads.

At 4000ft/1250mtrs, we were riding above the clouds.

The ride itself was fun with well thought out uphill’s, making the ride scenic and not as difficult as dull steep roads. The downhill’s were at times sweeping and fun. This was my favourite day riding from our break, and well worth going out of way to get too.

The end of an awesome ride, and a wonderful holiday break doing what we love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seattle….The Centre of the Universe (apparently)!

After one day back in the U.S following our wee trip to the U.K, Lindsay had to man a booth for his company up in Seattle. So with me not working yet, we decided that I’d head up as well and check out this famous city that borders the Canadian coast. Famous for its rain, TV shows incl Greys Anatomy & Frasier, movies like Sleepless in Seattle, but most importantly the home of Grunge.

It feels so different to San Francisco where we are currently living. For starters the population seems older, and far more diverse than the Bay Area which is dominated by much younger tech/IT professionals. Fashion is broader, and it would seem that although the Hipster movement is strong, there are still influences of Grunge and Punk amongst others in this most curious and interesting City.

Being from a very lush green country and having spent much of the last year in California’s dry drought landscape, I fell in love. Such beautiful flora  – I took a LOT of photos…so I’m going to make this post about the photos and let them tell most the story. (This is but a selection of all my pictures – there’s a lot…sorry).

I got on to Trip Advisor to find some of the best places to visit. My first task of the day was to take Lindsay and the other guys a morning coffee…on my way I stumbled across this stunning building.

Museum of Pop Culture – I didn’t go in as I didn’t have time, but if I go back, Im definitely visiting it.

Museum of Pop Culture – view from the back

After dropping off coffee, I decided to walk to the boho/antique headquarters of Seattle which was apparently Fremont – taking a direct route I accidentally walked through the stunning suburb of Queen Anne. I have hundreds of photos, but here are a couple:

North Queen Anne – I wandered through this beautiful hilly suburb that had views over the city and surrounding areas…and found this peculiar and oh so interesting house!

North Queen Anne – This was the biggest Holly tree I have ever seen – it must be like Christmas all year round.

Finally I made it to Fremont. I loved this place and would move here in a heartbeat. I loved the one off shops, antique stores, and curiosities of Fremont which to all in Seattle is known as the centre of the universe. It is quite funny therefore to find a large Google campus here! Hmmmm……….

Fremont – The most gorgeous lil Coffee and Burrito store!

Fremont – the beautiful old Fremont draw bridge. In the background is the George Washington Memorial Bridge. It is an awesome piece of architecture which I was unable to capture in a photo due to its sheer size.

Fremont – Overlooking a portion of the Seattle Google campus.

Fremont – yup, they have their very own statue of Lenin, imported directly from Russia. I think they have because it was just lying around in Russia so someone imported to Fremont!

Fremont – this sign is proof Fremont is in fact the centre of the universe – though Im a little concerned that its a little faded and on a lean!

Fremont – the Fremont troll playing with his full size VW beetle! Swiped from the passing road.

Fremont – And of course, where there’s a troll, there’s the three billy goats! People say these are to find, but I searched and succeeded.

Fremont – Theo chocolate. It was bizarre to smell chocolate three large blocks away – this chocolate is stunning!

I stumbled upon more interesting sites on my walk home along Fremont Canal and the next day whilst exploring the city by foot.

The houseboat community – rather what looks like a street of houseboats. They were so quaint.

Central Seattle – this is one of my favourite shots with this gorgeous old functioning mechanics in the foreground, and the lit up Space Needle in the back ground.

Outside Key Arena – I’m just fascinated by the American school buses, especially when they are all lined up like this.

Seattle Central City – Constructing Amazon’s new Glass Domed Headquarters – these are amazing!

Lindsay and I stayed on in Seattle another 2 days after he finished at the conference. So together we explored further. First we explored by foot some of the waterfront, the city and the Pike Street markets, and then I took him up to Capitol Hill. I’d been around Capitol Hill the day before but thought it worthwhile taking him up there for a look around.

Pike Street Markets – This area has become the Tourist Mecca of Seattle. Its pitched to tourists and is a little to touristy and busy for Lindsay and I, but worth a potter through the markets.

Pine St on the way to Capitol Hill – “Starbucks Reserve”! Seattle is in the home of Starbucks. Therefore there’s a LOT of espresso shops other than Starbucks, which sell fantastic espresso coffee.

Capitol Hill – Where even the streets are paved with rainbows.

Capitol Hill – Making Lindsay smile for the camera can be a mission! He tells me a photo steals a bit of his soul with every shot!

Capitol Hill – A bar that practices acceptance. Awesome.

Capitol Hill – Jimi Hendrix

Volunteer Park – The Asian Art Museum surrounded by Spring tulips and other blooms. It was a lovely day to wander past this stunning old Art Deco building.

Later in the day we hired some bicycles for 24hrs so we could further explore. First we headed out to Gas Works park for a look around, and then took about an hour to cycle up Ballard in the evening. There are so many fantastic bars, restaurants and shops to look around. Well worth a visit and explore.

Gas Works Park – The old Gas Works have been left to explore.

Ballard – Cycling out to Ballard, the more recently gentrified area of Seattle, we passed this most curious business.

On our final day, we took the bikes out to Bainbridge Island. It was chilly and a little hilly, nothing we couldn’t handle. We rode around this fascinating place, only only accessible by Car Ferry, but that seems no hindrance for the daily commute. The main village close to the docks is full and vibrant with really good food on offer. I suspect it would cost a bit to buy property on this island, but it was peaceful and idyllic.

The amazing and prolific car ferries.

Bainbridge Island – Heading over to the island from the mainland!

Bainbridge Island – I love me a desolate ol chimney! This one might still work as there were the seats around it – though the sign does say…No Fires!!

Bainbridge Island – A gorgeous cottage like so many, surrounded by the lush green landscape. It was so refreshing.

Bainbridge Island – Lindsay and I and the hired bicycles.

Bainbridge Island – Looking out over the water towards Canada I think. With a view of the infamous Car Ferries that are everywhere, and fabulous snow capped mountains in the background.

Bainbridge Island – We were riding through a road surrounded only by forest. All of a sudden we popped out into this very expensive suburb, and found the DeLorean!!! with original mags and all. Freaky!

Bainbridge Island – If you look closely in front of the glass blocks on the right you can see a sculpture of a man hanging on to a rod with one hand. Most peculiar garden ornamentation!

Bainbridge Island – A gap in these very expensive waterfront homes that shows their view of Seattle and behind it, more snow covered mountains.

Bainbridge Island – This car has been waiting a while for its service

Bainbridge Island – Eating Paella.

Bainbridge Island – The local vegetarian restaurant was celebrating their birthday by selling Paella at a remarkably cheap price. And it tasted amazing!

Bainbridge Island – A lot of effort went into the shop frontage!

Well Done BA

I am somewhat of an airline snob, holding top-tier status with Air New Zealand, and generally avoiding non-Star Alliance carriers. Recently we had to fly British Airways, and had a problem with damaged luggage. But to their credit, even though I have no status with them, they dealt with the situation promptly, and turned around a bad experience. Well done British Airways.

Airline Snobbery

I have been Air New Zealand Gold or Elite for the last 5 years or so. This provides certain benefits when I travel with Air New Zealand – some free upgrades, discounted upgrades, extra baggage, free seat selection, priority boarding, etc. The most important things I get are priority check-in, priority baggage, lounge access, and often fast track security and immigration.

This means I am also Star Alliance Gold, so I get some benefits when flying on any other airline in the Star Alliance group. None of the on-board benefits like upgrades, but priority check-in, security, lounge access, etc still apply.

If you only take one flight a year, none of this really matters. If you fly a lot, this makes a big difference, and you get grumpy when you can’t get it. My company policy is economy class for the ‘little people’ like me. It makes shitty US airlines just a little bit more bearable when you get a few extra benefits.

As a result, I always look for Star Alliance options when flying, and will pay a moderate premium to do so. If there’s an Air New Zealand-operated direct flight, I probably won’t even look at other options.

What if There’s No Star Alliance Option?

Star Alliance is a big network, but they don’t fly everywhere. Sometimes you don’t have a choice, and have to fly with one of the other networks. That’s what happened recently when I needed to find a flight from Edinburgh to London. The only options were British Airways, or the discount carriers like EasyJet and RyanAir.

This always makes me a bit uncomfortable. You start looking at weird routing options, to see if there’s any way around it. You dread the idea of getting stuck in monster queues at check-in or security. You wonder what the airport Wi-Fi will be like, and how much is it going to cost to get something to eat & drink when you’re stuck in the hell-hole that is the typical post-security ‘shopping and dining experience.’

Eventually you give in, accept that it’s just a short flight, and you’ll cope. So you book the flight, in this case with BA. BA has been getting some bad press recently, related to some of their cost-cutting measures. I wasn’t too worried about that: you don’t expect a full meal on a 1-hour flight.

In-Flight Experience: No Problems

Check-in was straightforward, with no delays. Security was fine, it was slow for everyone going through Edinburgh. I was a little bit lost when I got through security. Normally I head to the lounge, for some peace and quiet, but instead I had to hang around the gate. But it wasn’t too bad, and we got on the plane.

Flight was fine, no problems. Only annoyance was at Gatwick end where we had to take a bus from the plane to the terminal. This always adds annoying delays, but it’s not BA’s fault: It’s Gatwick’s design.

Luggage Damage

The problems occurred when we picked up our luggage. Anna couldn’t extend the handle on her suitcase. Makes it a bit difficult to wheel it along, and we had a fair bit of walking and changing modes of transport to get to our destination.

There were some marks on the outside of the bag, but it wasn’t until we unpacked it we saw what had happened:

The bag had taken a heavy blow, bending the handle and the tubes it slides in. Not the sort of thing that you could easily repair either. The tubing was crushed, making the bag a write-off.

You Won’t Believe What Happened Next

I was wondering what we should do about it. Make a claim on travel insurance? Complain to BA, and get sympathy but not much else? Or just write it off: It wasn’t a super-expensive suitcase.

On a whim, I thought I’d check out BA’s policies. Turns out they have an online form for making a claim about problems with a flight, including damaged luggage. We filled it in, not expecting much.

Surprise! They got back to us very promptly, and said “That sucks. How about we send you this Samsonite bag as a replacement?”

It’s not the top of the line bag, but it’s a more than reasonable replacement for our damaged bag. It was sent to us in San Francisco quickly, and is now in the closet, ready for our next trip.

Summary

I’m very pleased with this quick turnaround. It took something that could have been a bad experience, and turned it into a positive one. That’s a text-book example of how to treat your customers well.

In the short-term, I will probably still continue to fly Star Alliance flights, because United is my company’s ‘preferred’ airline, and Air New Zealand is my best option for flights back to New Zealand. But it’s good to see that you don’t have to be flying business, or hold top-tier status in order to get good treatment. I will be happy to fly them again in future for intra-Europe flights. Sadly US domestic options will continue to be mostly rubbish.