19 June 2008


Wordle is a website for generating 'clouds' of words from a text you provide.  Words that feature more prominently in your text will be larger (via Sandwalk).  It's a massive waste of time, but very entertaining.  here's what my 600km brevet looks like:

-notice that the word 'miles' feature prominently!

Here's what the War and soil piece looks like:

Highly amusing!

16 June 2008

War and soil!

There was an unusual little paper in Geoderma’s last issue (Hupy & Schaetzl, 2008: Soil development on the WWI battlefield of Verdun, France. Geoderma 145: 37-49. DOI: 10.1016/j.geoderma.2008.01.024). While soil science is pretty far from what I do on a daily basis now, I had great interest in the subject when I was an undergrad and still finds it fascinating. Furthermore, I visited Verdun in 1994 and saw the remains of the battlefield and was amazed how little it had recovered - craters were absolutely everywhere and vast areas were cordoned off with warnings about un-exploded ammunition.  A study combining the two topics would be just up my alley!

Anyway, H&S studied soil development in and adjacent to artillery craters at three sites, corresponding to the three major soil types in the battlefield.  These in turn are related to the underlying geology and geomorphology of the area.  The area is structurally defined by a series of NE-SW running cuestas creating a sets of valleys and ridges.  In the valleys low-lying poorly drained areas have soils suffering from waterlogging (Pseudogleys), while the ridges have soils influenced by the shallow limestone bedrock (Brunified Rendzina and Calcareous Brown).  

The data were collected from the disturbed soil profiles (in the craters) compared to the ‘undisturbed’ profiles (adjacent to the craters). In 3 study sites, one for each major soil type  in the area, 3 soil profiles were dug in each of 3 craters for a total of 27 soil profiles.

At the end of the battle, no soil horizons were likely to exist in the area due to the intensive ‘bomturbation’ of the area. H&S found that a measurable amount of soil development have occurred since the disturbance in 1916: The crater bottoms have accumulated a thick layer of organic matter, the freshly exposed (in 1916) limestone bedrock have been weathered and its byproducts leached down-profile.  Weathering at the crater bottoms have occurred at a faster rate than elsewhere, most likely due to run-off accumulating in the crater bottoms.  Also earthworm activity was found to have moved humus-rich material into cracks and fractures in the limestone, thereby increasing the area exposed to leaching by humic acids.  

This means that soil formation has now been enhanced in crater bottoms located at the ridge crests due to 1) water being focused in the craters and 2) organic matter being collected at the crater bottoms.  In the valleys between the cuesta ridges soil formation has slowed as the crater bottoms are more or less permanently below the water table.  Soil formation has also increased on the slopes of the ridges, as the craters delay the run-off and increase the infiltration of surface water into the soils, thereby enhancing soil formation.

The vegetation in the area has generally not been restored to its pre-war state of beech, hornbeam and oak, due to the scale of the devastation.  Pine has been planted in heavily visited areas due to the soft lighting created by pine trees.  H&S try to make the claim that the soil development in the 88 years since the battle can be used as indicators of landscape recovery/resilience, in the absence of re-colonizing vegetation.  

However, it’s not clear to me exactly how.  Their data seems to show to me that while the same soil-forming processes are acting now as before the battle, the location of the resulting soils are different, for example as evidenced by the  development of soils in the crater bottoms on ridge crests.  Consequently reovery hasn’t been particularly successful (as I see it), but this is never really spelled out by H&S.  However, I still like the paper simply for being curious about soil development in a heavily bombarded area!

14 June 2008

SIR 600km 4 passes brevet - map

So this is the route we took on the SIR 600km 4 passes brevet 7-8 June - challenging:

Well, that was a short one!

I was supposed to go on a 140 mi permanent today together with a handful of other people from SIR, riding around Mt. Rainier.  The start was at 6.30 am in Enumclaw and upon arrival I realised, as I opened the trunk in the parking lot, that I had forgotten my bike helmet! 

%$#&%^@$!!  and $@$#$@#@&&*^!!

So while I loaded my bike back up on my rack and headed back towards Beacon Hill, the others took off on what I'm sure will be a gorgeous day riding over a couple of exciting mountain passes while having Mt. Rainier in view almost all the time... Oh well, lesson learned!

Happy Cubic Day!

Today is a very special day - it's a cubic day! (Link in Danish only, sorry.) 14 June 2008 (140608, as it would be written outside the US) is 52^3, and therefore holds very special significance as all sorts of trickery, disasters, destruction and magic can happen today. Maybe even the end of the world before the day is over!

Well, no.  But that's only because the superstitious in the US only recognizes the US date format so that todays date is 61408 or even 80614, both of which are obviously a lot less exciting. For one, there's fewer numbers in them than 140608 and their cubic roots are no magic integer numbers like 52.  Also note that 52 is the number of weeks in a year, so it's obvious that 140608 is an *incredibly* special day - watch out!

The next cubic day, if we survive this one, will be 9 November 2025 (91125 = 45^3) and the last one was 11 May 1995 (110595 = 48^3).

09 June 2008

SIR 600km 4 passes brevet

The Seattle International Randonneurs 600 km ACP brevet was held this weekend.  With a route going over 4 passes each higher than 4000 feet and a total of 20000+ feet of climbing this was not going to be a tea party.  Having ridden only 10 brevets in my Randonneur career so far I am not the most experiened randonneur around and I had been looking forward to this ride with a feeling of anticipation and anxiety.  I only had one 600 km to my belt and that was done on Mallorca in May 2007 - a place with a considerably more pleasant climate than Issaquah on an early Saturday morning in June 2008...  I cycled over to the start from my home in Seattle and was comfortably warm when I arrived at the start 10 minutes before the gun.*  Signing in took 30 seconds but by that time I was already cooled down.

Anyway, off we went, all 54 of us at 5 am, heading out into the early morning light, which soon gave way to - not the sun, but to a slight drizzle, which within a couple of hours had turned into a more steady rain.  Anyway, the wind wasn’t too strong and after the initial climb up to the plateau the course was gently rolling along.  As a new transplant to the Northwest I recognized with joy some of the locations we sped through from my 2 200 km permanents in April and May.

After 30 miles or so I felt my bike pulling to the right, and I had a hard time keeping it straight.  For a few seconds I though that I was loosing my sense of balance - I tried to ride without my hands on the handlebars and it would pull sharply to the right. I tried to lean to the left and it would still pull to the right.  Then it dawned upon me:  I had a flat, caused by having ridden over some torny branches on the road.  As I stood there by the wayside fixing it I was once again pleasantly surprised by all the passing riders asking if I had everything I needed - randonneurs are a friendly bunch! I was less pleased with the fancy tire levers from REI, one of which promptly broke when I tried to get the tire off. MEC’s are better!

Got the wheel back on the bike just in time to hook up with Jeff Loomis and a couple of others whom I’d met on the 300 km brevet in April.  We rode more or less together up to the first control at Skykomish (106km/66mi), where the chili at the Sky Deli felt really good!

Back on the bike and up towards Steven’s Pass.  After 6 or 7 miles I suddenly heard a pfft pfft pfft from my rear tire. C***! Another flat, the second in less than 75 miles - this could be a looooong brevet if it continued like that.  As I was replacing the tube several randonneurs rode by, expressing their joy upon recognizing me: ‘You again?’, ‘Another one?’, ‘The second flat already?’ and similar uplifting remarks.  I had a closer look at the tire and discovered that it was almost completely cut up in an area, where a pebble (presumably) had made a star-shaped incision all the way through to the outside of the thread.  I didn’t have a boot handy so I put a dollar bill in the tire instead, thereby dramatically increasing the resale value of it.  A few minutes later I was on my way again.

The climb up Steven’s was not too bad, actually.  Raining, yes, but I was still fresh and I could see 2-3 randonneurs a few hundred metres ahead of me.  A few thousand vertical feet later I found myself at the top of the pass with one down and three to go.  At the top I was greeted by some friendly randonneurs who were impressed with my stylish outfit (my reflective vest from MEC; my wet weather gear from RainLegs and my seat bag from Carradice with quick release). Style is everything when you’re on the top and in lack of any serious talent. It is also cold on the top, as they say, but it’s actually a lot colder going down from the top, at least if Steven’s Pass is any indication. The decent was about 17 miles and ended, conveniently, at a rest area just as the sun decided to peek out from behind the clouds.  I pulled over and spent a few minutes getting rid of some clothes and soaking up a bit of sun.

After heating up a bit it was on towards Leavenworth and its alpine grandeur.  The route took us through a gorgeous valley with rapids in the river and generally a delightful tailwind (I think) - the push to Leavenworth didn’t seem that long or hard.  Upon arrival at the Subway control (188km/117mi) I had one of their sandwiches and it felt really good - like music in my mouth. Or was it the habaneros?

5 minutes after pulling out from the Subway I realized that I had forgotten to fill my water bottles.  Fortunately I had read Mark’s pre-ride report which clearly said that Ingall’s Creek Store would be about halfway up Blewett Pass.  After what seemed like a quick ride I arrived there, filled up my bottles in preparation for the last half of the climb in the heat (the sun was now out in full strength) and took off for the top at around 16:11.  90 minutes later I was still climbing and cursing loose statements about being halfway at the store.  I hate Blewett Pass! The road up there just keeps going on and on and on and on and on and on forever and ever.  The grade does change a bit here and there so there is some variation in the climb, but overall it was just an awful long climb.  At the top I stopped for a drink, a Snickers and a few pictures and then took of for the descent, only to be interrupted 100m later by a SIR non-control with plenty of food and drinks. Nice - thanks to the organizers for that!

The descent was fast and not too chilly, although the sun was slowly setting in the West. After a few miles the road turned uphill and into a wicked sidewind with violent gusts that almost could move you sideways.  I was riding with Clyde Butt at this point and we had to be careful not to be tossed into each other by the wind. Fortunately the road turned south after a few miles and with the wind coming from WNW we were now in a tailwind with gusts up to 65mph all the way to Ellensburg (282km/175mi).  Those miles went by frighteningly fast, but were as fun as anything I’ve ever tried on a bicycle!  Woohoo, more of that, please!!  Upon arrival at Ellensburg we got our brevet card stamped and then proceeded to a launderette, because Clyde had the bright idea that we should dry our clothes that were still wet after the morning rain.  Better to ride into the night with dry clothes...  We ate a couple of sandwiches while we chilled out inside the launderette and waited for the clothes to dry up. 

Shortly before 21:00 we left Ellensburg and rode through Yakima Canyon, a roughly 30-mile stretch winding through the canyon.  The road was twisting and turning - horizontally and vertically, so sometimes we had a nice tailwind, sometimes a disgusting headwind.  Soon we arrived in Selah, where we were to turn out onto highway #12 which was ALL headwind.  Right in the nose for 10 miles; and in pitch black darkness.  It was now approaching midnight and we still had 35-40 miles to the overnight stop at Rimrock Lake so the headwind was not appreciated at all.  But what can you do, other than get a grip on the bottom of the handlebars and pedal through.  Fortunately I was still feeling quite well, although I think Clyde was getting a bit tired.  However, after an hour and a bit we finally turned off the #12 highway onto - the #12 highway and were greeted by the blinking lights indicating a friendly SIR control at night.  

The lights indicated Mark Thomas’ secret control and soup kitchen, where 4 volunteers were busy making sandwiches, coffee, hot chocolate and soup for the randonneurs and randonneuses straying by in the night.  Clyde was concerned about his rear light having enough juice in it, but his fingers were too cold to change the batteries, so he asked Mark Thomas if he would do it for him.  Mark agreed and promptly changed the batteries on somebody elses rear light as Clyde apparently hadn’t been too specific about which bike needed the attention...  Such is randonneuring after 20 hours on the bike.  As it turned out, Clyde had enough battery life for the rest of the night anyways.  We enquired about the remaining part of the route up to the overnight stop at Rimrock lake (400km/250mi) and were told that it was 40km/25 miles - uphill - so probably about 3 hours @ 8 miles per hour - a rather depressing message to get at 1 am in the morning when all you want to do is to hit the sack for a couple of hours in la-la land.

It turned out that it wasn’t quite so bad; it probably only took about 2 hours and 50 minutes to get to the overnight stop.  On the way up it happened a couple of times that I was nodding off and almost fell asleep on my bike, while pedalling uphill.  During Paris-Brest-Paris in 2007 I did fall asleep once, but that was on a downhill where there was no pedalling.  The body feels weird when you’re so sleepy.  And strangely enough I still felt strong, hadn’t bonked or had any crises at all during the day; I was just sleepy.

At Rimrock Lake there were 3 motels, spread 1-2 miles apart.  Our motel was obviously the very last one, so for half an hour or so we were eagerly scouting for the blinking SIR lights on the roadside every time we approached a motel.  Finally we arrived and were greeted by a huge breakfast table with sausages, pancakes, yogurt, juice, coffee, etc., etc., etc.  The first question I was asked was what I would like “You can have anything you like, we can make everythingl” Wow! Outstanding service, and for a registration fee of only $40!  I had my card signed and then eagerly sat down for a nice breakfast of pancakes, sausages, yogurt and some other hot goodies + some orange juice and milk before the shower before the bed.  Normally things are the other way round (bed, shower, breakfast) but randonneurs are different.  Then off to find my shower, and then my bed where I managed to get 90 minutes of amazing high-quality sleep. When my alarm went off 6.45 am I was out the door in 15 minutes and on the way up to the top of pass #3; White Pass. Fortunately Rimrock Lake was more than halfway up the pass so it only took an hour to get to the top, where there was still lots of snow from the winter.

Then followed the coldest 20-25 minutes in my life as I plunged 3000 feet in 13 miles down to yet another SIR control manned with hot chocolate and muffins (434km/269mi).  Yummy, just what I needed after that descent.  It was also somewhat positive to hear that there was only 16 miles to the top of the last pass of the trip, Cayuse Pass, at 4700 feet the highest pass on the ride.  After that it would be generally downhill for the last 90 miles or so, with the occasional roller here and there...

I set off for the top of Cayuse Pass, more or less at the same time as 3 others who had huddled around the Hot Chocolate at the control but now also wanted to get the last pass over and done with.  The road up the pass was a bit rough here and there, but there was not much traffic.  I found myself passing a mile post every 6 minute, which made for a decent climbing speed of 10mph - at least for the first 9 miles.  Then the real climbing started and my speed slowed to 6 mph for the last 7 miles.  Signs of the snowy winter was everwhere; especially from mile 10, where the snow banks on the side of the road were still standing 2-3 meters tall.  It was very quiet going up (apart from my breathing), not a wind was moving, and occasionally you would hear a crack or a chirp from somewhere in the woods. Some kind of animal? A bear? A squirrel?  At one point I was sure a bear was standing on the road in front of me, and my heart almost stopped. Then I realised that it was a tree that had fallen over with some soil still clumped to it’s roots, which from the side made it look like a bear standing on the trunk, overlooking the road...   A couple of minutes later I thought a cougar was standing at the roadside, but again it was just a tree that had fallen over.  At the end I arrived at the top of the pass after 2:20 hours of nonstop climbing without any wildlife encounters.  There was loads of snow on the top, and people stopped to dress up for the descent after the experience from White Pass.

Then it was downhill towards the Greenwater control at 497km/309mi where a Coke, a Mocha and a couple of Snickers made me feel really good about the rest of the ride.  I also caught up to Jeff Loomis here, whom I hadn’t seen since my second flat the day before.  Josh Morse arrived soon after me.  Half an hour was spent sitting in the sunshine, feeling that the end was getting close, chatting a bit.  But there was still some work to do.

Back on the bike and towards the control in Redmond. The first 28km/18mi were downhill in a tailwind and I felt really good so I just hammered away in the pedals. Then came the turn at Ravensdale where a short, steep hill reminded me that I had cycled about 530km/329mi in 30-some hours and I should probably be less cocky about the uphills from now on.  It was a bit of a drag on the rollers for the next 40km/25mi until I got to Issaquah and the stretch up along Lake Sammamish which went well.  Suddenly I was at the Redmond Shell control, and only 12km/8mi from the finish! I had my card stamped and bought and ice-cream and a cup of coffee to celebrate before the final stretch. Josh rolled in 3 minutes after me and we rode the final stretch to Brad Tilden’s house in Issaquah together, arriving 37:35 hours after our departure.  

At the finish the organizers (Tilden family + posse) were ready, computer in lap, to process our brevet cards and the finish times were up on the net the following morning - very impressive!  Also impressive was the pizza and Coke at the finish, which was just what I needed before cycling home along the I-90 bike trail to Seattle after a great weekend on 2 wheels.  I can’t say enough about the amazing support on this brevet.  The food and drink was outstading at all the manned controls and there was plenty to go around. Everything seemed to run like a clockwork.  What a great club!

*Just kidding - we were starting in a residential neighborhood and it’s against their bylaws to discharge firearms on Saturday mornings in order to start bicycle rides.  However, this being the US they’ll still let you discharge a firearm 24/7 for all other reasons.

04 June 2008

Aw, uh, oh

Ooh, aw, uh – I had a spectacular crash this morning on my way in to work, at the bottom of a rather steep hill, so I was going somewhat fast.  At the bottom was a slight bend to the right, the pavement was slightly moist and there were a few leaves on the road.  WHAM! – I skid out on the wet pavement and tore up my new! $99! bike shorts and my new! $15! RUSA socks and my new! $70 high-visibility bicycle jacket.  

It was a textbook crash.  I was in the midle of the turn at th bottom, leaned to the right and suddenly BOTH tires started to skid.  I just had time to think 'Oh noes, I'm going down, I don't want to!!' - WHAM! First my right pedal hit the ground, then in fast order my right foot, right handlebar (had a chunk taken out of it!)  right hip and right elbow, so the bike took a big part of the impact, as it should. I then slid a 5-10 meters or so sitting on my butt on the pavement into the oncoming lane (I was on the bike path so no heavy traffic!)  When everything stopped I laid there for a few seconds, making sure that I could still feel everything (oh yeah, I could feel a lot!)  After having completed the all-systems check I got up, with some difficulty.  I was pleased to note that my knees were virtually unharmed because I kept them together 'inside' the frame when I crashed.  My hands were also in great shape even though I was riding without gloves.  But I had kept my hands on top of the handlebars while going down, so they never touched the ground.  

I was in some pain after pulling myself up, and noted a roadrash on my right elbow and that I had a very sore right buttock where I had landed... After I got up I walked up to the next intersection (25 m away), got back on the bike and continued into work, very slowly at first but getting better after 10 mins or so.  The shower did hurt a bit when the hot water hit the spots where my skin had been stripped off... Now it hurts when I sit down, and I have to be slanted to the left, to remove the pressure from my butt. What’s worse, I’m having problem drinking coffee as it hurts when I bend my right elbow... 

I'll be OK in a week or so, in the mean time I hope to ride the pain off on the SIR 600 km brevet this coming weekend.  Also, my gorgeous red and white Roberts was fine. Very fine actually - after the crash I just picked it up and rode on. Nothing bent or our of alignment or adjustment. The wheels were both fine, the shifting worked as it should. Everything worked, which was really pleasing having spent the better part of $6K on it back in 2003.

03 June 2008

A night with PZ Myers

Pharyngula's master, PZ Myers, gave a talk at the Pacific Science Center last night.  The topic of his talk was "On Science, Blogs and Intelligent Debates."

The main message to take home from his talk was that scientists should let their passion and excitement about their science shine through whenever they are communicating it to the public.  Nothing makes the general public go cold as a talking head with a labcoat. I hadn't though too much about that before but I think he is right - sometimes it can be hard to figure out if you're watching a commercial for hair shampoo or if it is a Nobel Laureate talking about her latest discovery.  

When I think about all the  excursions and trips I went on as an (under)graduate, every single one of them was a hit with virtually all the students.  And the reason was that it was obvious that the teachers were excited about the stuff they were showing us, and it showed all the time; 24/7.  That is something that rarely is seen in the media these days, the excited scientists.  But the fact is, we're actually quite excited about the work we're doing most of the time, so it's just a matter of getting it to show and then people will start to take notice.