“Birthday Ride” 2012 – 69 Miles

In 2004, inspired by bicycle touring pioneer Shirley Braxton, we decided to have an incentive to continue bicycling regularly by planning a “birthday miles” ride, in which you ride, in one day, as many miles as you are old.  This was a good plan, as we often get “too busy” to ride, resulting in some late-season catch-up training and then a “grueling test of endurance” on ride day.  2012 was no exception.

Having planned overnight bike trips that somehow never were realized, a few short rides, and sporadic riding, I decided in late September to start training, which consisted mainly of solo rides of 30, 43, and 22 miles, with a 10-mile tandem ride thrown in for good measure, and no real plan for the “big ride,” somewhere between the La Conner Quilt Fest in early October and a trip to Montana in mid-October…

As it turned out, my Saturday class at the Quilt Fest was cancelled, so I moved to a Friday class, leaving Saturday open.  Ah, a good opportunity for a ride.  We had first discovered the La Conner Quilt and Textile Museum while riding the MS Tour in 2005, 2006, and 2007, stopping at the museum at the end of the first day’s 50-mile ride.  The second day’s ride was a loop through the Skagit Valley up into the foothills to the north, then back.  The MS Tour used to be called the MS150, and the route included 75-mile options, the northern loop which stretched past Lake Samish to Bellingham and then back down scenic Chuckanut Drive to join the 50-mile loop at Edison.  We avoided the 75-mile route during the MS Tour because we knew we probably couldn’t finish in the 8-hour time limit, usually reduced to 7:15 because we were in the back of the starting order, and because the extended route had even more hills.

So, with the only restriction being to be back in La Conner by 5:30 or so, I set off at 7:45, bundled against the temps in the mid-40s, shedding some layers by the time I reached the base of Bow Hill.  Climbing to the 20-mile mark, where the MS Tour split, I would be in new territory.  Ahead, I saw a cyclist pull out onto the road, headed north.  Giving chase, I caught up with him in a couple miles.  Dan was about my age, and out for his Saturday morning loop, which would take us to the county park at the north end of Lake Samish, so I asked if I could ride with him.  His route deviated from my planned route, climbing high into the hills before swooping down onto the west side of the lake.

Dan, who was my tour guide between mile 20 and mile 30.

As Dan headed back south, I continued around the north side of the lake, then up a steep climb to Bellingham, turning on the Old Samish Road.

Lake Samish, looking south.

At Chuckanut Drive, I turned north, over the hill into the Fairhaven section of Bellingham, a small city absorbed by the larger on, now a thriving neighborhood of shops and businesses as well as the cruise ship terminal for cruises to Alaska. My lunch stop was a coffee and scone at Tony’s Coffee, a Fairhaven landmark for many decades.

Lunching at Tony’s Coffee shop in Fairhaven

Chuckanut Drive, Washington State Highway 11, is a popular scenic drive that winds down the steep coastline from Fairhaven to the Skagit Valley. For bicylists, it is a harrowing passage of steep climbs, limited shoulders with no guardrail, and heavy auto traffic. However, the vistas of the San Juan Islands are not to be missed. At bicycle speeds, every scenic turnout becomes a photo opportunity.

Samish Bay and Lummi Island

After a snack stop at Larrabee State Park and some further adjustments to the shifting, we press on. Dense forest lines both sides of the winding road, but the scenic turnouts soon reveal vistas of Padilla Bay and south to Fidalgo Island and the Swinomish Channel that divides Fidalgo from the tulip fields of Skagit valley.

Padilla Bay, looking south from Chuckanut Drive

Soon, the highway begins a long, winding descent into the valley. I rejoin the old familiar MS Tour short route at Bow Hill Road, stopping at the bakery in the old town of Edison, crossing many tidal channels before climbing again toward Bay View, where the constant vibration of riding on chip-sealed roads sends my front reflector flying off into the woods.

Mount Baker, seen from south of Edison

The downhill into Bay View offers a chance to cruise at the posted speed (25): a truck towing a boat fails to pass. After another brief uphill out of the seaside village, I pull off the road onto a bike/pedestrian path that follows the shoreline. The surface is smooth, and a brisk tailwind quickly powers me through the marshes and back onto the road, just reaching the 60-mile mark.

The Padilla Bay bike/walking path, which follows the shoreline for several miles.
The city of Anacortes and Guemes Island, from the Padilla Bay trail.

The tailwind speeds me through the now-dormant flower fields. At the traffic circle at the edge of La Conner, I calculate I am about two miles short for my mileage count, so I head east and south, then turn back and roll through downtown La Conner, ending where I started, at the historic Planter Hotel at the south end of main street. The odometer reads 112.01 Km, elapsed time, 8:41. It is just about 4:30pm, plenty of time to put away the bike and shower before our 6:30pm evening program.

When in Doubt, Cook Something

The Unix Curmudgeon has been quieter than usual, lately.  It’s the political season, as the campaigns heat up, and we have resisted going off on a tearing rant on the idiocy of our politicians and the people who vote for them for all the wrong reasons.  Work has been slow this year, for various reasons, but is starting to build.  We’ve put off bicycling way too much, due to hot weather, busy activity schedules, until there is an urgent need to build miles to prepare for the end-of-season infamous “Birthday Ride,” in which we ride our age in miles in one day, a feat that is, as the years pile up, becoming a dawn-to-dusk adventure.  The Nice Person has long since given up supporting this insanity on the tandem, claiming she is too young to ride that far.  But, that’s going well, having completed the metric equivalent, solo, as a “training ride.  Which burns a lot of calories.  Which brings us to the subject of food.

Preparing meals and special dishes is  a particularly rewarding, human thing to do to dispel the angst of politics and the burden of work and as a reward for physical activity.  We haven’t been doing enough of that lately, to the point where the Nice Person has actually dragged out cookbooks and recipes, claiming we couldn’t possibly face yet another take-and-bake pizza, which has been the staple during this summer’s inundation of bicycle tourists, whom we enjoy and are an inspiration to us.  Someday we may suddenly give in to the urge to just get on the bike and ride over the horizon and beyond.  We also rearranged the kitchen slightly, with the addition of a recycled small cabinet to replace or rather, augment the table that was next to the stove.  The table was liberated to become a bookcase for cookbooks, and the cabinet that held cookbooks now holds stored food that was squirreled away.  Thus we discovered we had a rather substantial supply of black rice.  After whipping up a batch of sticky rice, which our latest guests enjoyed, I decided that it was worth repeating.  It’s a good dessert, full of fat and sugar like most, but a lot of work, so we feel we deserve it.  In the process, the recipe and method has become my own, so we’ll present it here.

For those who have not had the pleasure of a good black sticky rice dessert, as served at fine Thai restaurants, here’s how I make it:

black rice, set to soak
Starting the process: soaking the rice

First, combine one cup (188gm) of black rice (available at Asian food markets and some gourmet shops) with four cups (900ml) of water.  Let soak for at least six hours, overnight is better.

Gradually, the water turns purple.

Although it is called black rice, the water turns purple as the rice soaks. This is after about four hours. I left this batch soak for a full day.

The soaked rice, ready to cook.

When the rice and water is put into a 3-quart sauce pan, the water turns a deep aubergine. The rice is brought to a boil, then the heat reduced to a very low simmer, for one hour. I cover the pan for the first 45 minutes, then uncover and stir occasionally for the final 15 minutes. The rice should be cooked, soft, but not yet sticky. Now comes the labor-intensive part. But, it doesn’t have to be, if you have time. By accident, I discovered if you cover the pan and let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour, the rice will thicken quite a bit by itself, without stirring.

At this point, either while the rice is still hot or after letting it thicken for a while, add a cup (240ml) of light (fat reduced) coconut milk and half to 3/4 cup of sugar. I use confectioners sugar, but any kind will do. The original recipe called for paneer, which is a palm sugar sold in Asian groceries. The Thai recipe also calls for an aromatic leaf added now or vanilla extract at the end, but I don’t bother with either.

Bring the mixture back to a boil while stirring constantly. When the mixture boils, turn the heat down to prevent sticking and continue stirring until the pudding is quite thick and the surface has a shiny appearance. Depending on whether the rice was allowed to rest or not and how much sugar you use, this will take between 15 minutes and an hour. If it isn’t thick enough by then, a cornstarch paste can be added, but it is better not to. Add the vanilla if you had decided to use some and stir it in. Ladle the pudding into serving dishes and chill, or let cool and serve warm. If you can find it and don’t mind the extra calories, each dish can be topped with a dollop of coconut cream (again, see your local Asian grocer) immediately before serving.

The finshed product.

One batch makes approximately six half-cup servings. The pudding has a smooth texture and can vary in sweetness. The color is the most striking feature, making black sticky rice a distinctive dessert that complements most meals, not just Thai cuisine.