Friday, August 21, 2015

Rolling With the Changes

Time for another blog update, and it's not going to be the one I thought I would be able to write.  I was planning on writing about the bike tour on Greenbrier River Trail that my son and I planned on taking.  But that didn't happen.

I don't want to spend a lot of time complaining, but here's what happened.  Three days before we were supposed to leave an uninsured driver hit my car at a stop light, which caused enough damage to total the car.  With all the hassle because of the uninsured motorist, and the trouble with my insurance company on getting a rental car that I could take to WV I was forced to cancel the vacation.  It took almost two weeks to get things straightened out and get a new car - and then it broke down within the first week and took a major repair.  But that's all history now, so no use dwelling on it.

Broken wheel number one: my totalled VW.  Lucky the bike didn't get ruined as well.

Broken wheel number two: the other front wheel is pointed straight ahead.
Ken and I did manage to get the bikes out for an overnighter at Clear Creek State Forest, Kennerdell Tract.  So we did get to use the pannier systems that I made, and it turned out that while they do work they need some tweaking to get them perfect.

Ken on his bike, getting ready to ride into Kennerdell.
You can see them on the photo above. Diana got us four waterproof bags on clearance, for something like 80% off.  So I bought 100 feet of 1 inch black nylon strapping, and designed and sewed up two harnesses that hold the bags on the bike.  They hold quite a bit of stuff, but I can see that I'm going to have to start investing in some ultra-light camping gear if I want to actually do some real touring.

Our bike packing trip turned out great, with nice warm weather.  We camped at almost the exact same spot where we stayed last time we headed out there, a nice ferny section of woods not far off of the gravel forest road.  We used our new tent for the first time, and Ken got to be camp cook.

Ken loves it when I take his picture.  Observe the enthusiasm.

I'd like for us to be able to get out on at least one more overnight bike trip before the season turns.  I'm thinking of a paved bike path trip over by the Allegheny River, probably from Emlenton up to the campsite on Sandy Creek Trail, then back the next morning.

Bike camping map - Allegheny River Gorge area

And we've got a long weekend planned for Labor Day, with Diana actually able to get the whole weekend off work.  Hopefully we'll get a bit of rain so that we can camp over by the Clarion River and get in some kayak time.  But even if it's dry we'll be able to get out and camp, and that's good enough!

Classic lines at the LaBrae car show.
On to the next topic!  It's been about 7 months since I started watching my calorie intake and increasing my amount of exercise, all in an effort to shed some weight that I'd put on over the previous year.  This wasn't the first time that I'd tried this since turning 50, and there was no reason to really expect any more success than I'd had at earlier efforts.  But I figured that limiting my calories (including eliminating sugary foods and drinks from my diet), and adding a basic weight training program could only have good effects in the long run, even if my weight didn't change much.

The first couple of weeks were tough.  I definitely have a sweet tooth, and eliminating Mountain Dew from my routine was harder than I expected.  But I kept at it, even if there were no noticeable changes for a looong while.  But after about two months I started to notice a difference - maybe that's just how long it took my metabolism to get used to a different nutritional balance.  And now after 7 months I'm down about 25 pounds - from 205 to about 180.  I know it's not a huge difference, but for me at 5' 5"  I feel a LOT better without that 25 pounds. And since I'm not planning on returning to my old diet there is hope that the gradual weight loss will continue for a while.  If I was able to drop another 15 pounds I would be extremely satisfied.

With the weight loss and all the extra rail trail miles I put in during the extra rainy months of June and July, it seems like I'm riding my mountain bike pretty well this year.  Trails finally started to dry out towards the end of July, and all the local trails are finally in great shape.  I've had some great rides out at West Branch on the fat bike, as well as on my Gary Fisher Marlin.  And the trail crew has repaired the trails at Quail Hollow, making the trail better than it's ever been.

West Branch State Park, Rock Run Trail.

The skinnies on West Branch's Exit Ramp Trail.

The Marlin at West Branch S.P.
Even though we're already in the last month of summer we still have a bunch of stuff on the schedule, including a trip up to Conneaut, Ohio tomorrow to watch a D-Day re-enactment.  I'll remember to take lots of pictures for the next blog post!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Having an Adventure

It's no secret that I like to get outside and do things - hiking, camping, biking, kayaking etc.  These are the things that I enjoy - they revitalize me after spending so much time doing the things that MUST be done. Getting out in the sun and trees - or the rain and swamp and mosquitoes - or the snow and wind and dark - lets me forget about all the business and nitpicking of my everyday world.  To me so much of that everyday stuff just falls into a category labeled 'FORGETTABLE MINUTIA' - things that you can just as well forget the moment the task is accomplished.  On the other hand, heading outdoors to have fun falls into the category 'ADVENTURE'.

Maybe it's not adventure the way that you think of it - not the Technicolor, fight for survival, travel to distant climes type.  But to me it's a whole process of knowing what to do, getting things ready, getting yourself there, and having unsupervised, unscripted fun.  And it is always an ADVENTURE.

Most of the time things go pretty smoothly, more or less the way that I had planned.  And that's because I've been there and done that before.  I know what works and what has failed in the past.  I realize that things don't always go smoothly and allow for emergencies and other unplanned events, and I'm not going to pout if I get a boo-boo.  I'm not pushing for maximum adrenaline when I head out.  My goal is usually just to have some fun and get some exercise while in the Great Outdoors.

Over the years I've noticed that the ability to plan and have an ADVENTURE isn't necessarily something that everyone can do.  It takes experience and plenty of mistakes to know how to do things the right way.

For starters it takes knowledge (or research) about where to go to do what you have in mind.  Where is it okay to back country camp?  What trails are going to be good to ride?  What level is that creek going to be? Are there bears (or snakes or sasquatch) in the area?

And you have to be able to figure out what gear and equipment you'll need, and know how to use it.  You need to be able to figure out the logistics of the trip as well.  How far to emergency services?  Is there phone reception just in case?  How will you get from downstream back to upstream?  Is there enough car space (and gear, and food etc) for everyone on the trip?

Most of all you have to be willing and ready to just DO IT.  Lots of folks want to go out and do stuff - they daydream about camping, long bike trips, relaxing canoe rides - but the inertia of familiar and comfortable surroundings is too much, so they end up staying home and holding down the couch.  To bring out one more cliche - you've gotta WANT to do it.

This last weekend there was an interesting forecast - the region was supposed to get between 2 and 4 inches of rain over two days.  That ruled out a mountain bike adventure, because the trails were already wet and muddy, and two more days of rain would only make that worse.  But if there's going to be rain then the creeks may rise...  As the rain began to fall I was online, watching the range and intensity of precipitation.  By 10:00 Saturday I knew that the rain was falling hard on the area that I wanted to travel to - northern Clarion county in Pennsylvania.  I wanted to get a kayak ride on one of my favorite easy whitewater runs, Deer Creek.

I made this map over 10 years ago to help me find what creek is going to run when it rains.

It took me less than an hour to load my car with my kayak, bike, gear and supplies for a day on the water.  Before noon I was on I-80 heading east into a steady rain.  Before too long I was on the other side of the Allegheny River and getting off onto Canoe Ripple Road at exit 53.

I headed a bit further east, stopping along the way to look at Canoe Creek.  It's a smaller watershed than Deer Creek, so it fills up faster and can act as a sort of gauge for other area creeks. When I stopped on the bridge and checked it out the water was high enough to paddle - something of a rarity for a creek this small.  But it's quite a bit more difficult than Deer Creek, so I kept moving to the next watershed.

Canoe Creek, class III at a runnable level.

It only took five minutes to get over Huckleberry Ridge and to the road across the mouth of Deer Creek.  Moment of truth - would there be enough water?

Deer Creek at medium high water at the take out bridge.

If you look at the creek from the take out bridge and can see all the rocks on the stretch just upstream from the bridge, then the level is low.  Today you could barely even tell the rocks were there, so the creek was good to go.  Time to get this adventure moving.

I drove up to the put in and locked up the boat and my gear, then dropped off my bike at the top of the hill halfway through the shuttle, and returned to the take out.  The first part of the shuttle involves a mile plus walk up the 300 foot tall ridge, made even more fun by the steady rain.  At the top I got my bike out of the woods and did the rest of the shuttle - nearly two miles of downhill gravel road through a hemlock forest.  At the creek I got my boat ready and locked up the bike.  Looking at the 'gauge' I realized that the creek had come up 6" while I was doing the shuttle.  That meant it could come up another 6" while I was on the creek.  This was more water than I wanted, and it made me nervous as heck.  But I figured to take the most conservative lines and get through the ride in one piece.

The boat locked up by the creek at the put in.

I was right - the water was higher than I'd ever seen it before.  I set a good pace and skirted the biggest of the waves, always keeping an eye out for trees in the water.  After an hour and a half I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw the take out bridge come into view downstream.  A good run with no incidents, although it wasn't nearly as much fun due to the high water level.  But that's how it goes sometimes - not exactly perfect.  It took a little while to gather my gear and load up, and then it was a drive back west to Ohio.

And that was a good adventure.  Not the best, but good.  Sunday morning Diana and I got up fairly early, and sat around drinking tea.  I told her about the trip, and said that it was likely that the water level would have come down enough to be at the perfect level this morning.

One thing I have to acknowledge is the role that my wife plays in all this.  Diana is almost always willing to let me get out and play, and makes plenty allowances for my adventure prone personality.  So when I wistfully mentioned that the water was likely perfect, she gave me the okay to head back over that way if I wanted to.  Of course I DID want to, but I hadn't actually thought it would be possible.  But you don't have to tell me twice, so I gathered up all my gear, reloaded the car, and headed back east.

This time when I looked at Canoe Creek the water level was down quite a bit.  Despite 3" of rain this tiny watershed was already running out of water.   I hoped this would be a good sign for Deer Creek. When I pulled up to the take out bridge and looked at the rock I was using as a gauge I couldn't believe that it was entirely under water.  That meant it was way too high.  Disappointed, I decided to go up to the put in and take a photo or two for future reference.

That iron plate is my 'gauge' at the put in.  This is a good level.

I use an old iron plate from the old bridge as my gauge at the put in, and was flummoxed to see that it was showing a lower, friendly water level.  After a minute I figured it out - the water at the mouth was really high because the Clarion River was way up with all the rain, and it had backed up the water at the mouth of Deer Creek to show a false high!  In a jiffy I stashed the boat, left the bike, and started my hike up the ridge from the take out.  To make things even better a local stopped while I was walking and offered me a ride to the put in!  One million thanks to friendly locals - they can really add to the experience.

This time the water was right where I wanted it.  I was able to pick the biggest wave in most of the rapids (though there was enough wood in the water to force me into secondary lines several times).  This kind of easy whitewater on a wide waterway like Deer Creek is just a blast - lots of water in your face with very little real risk.  There were several great surf waves along the way, so I had plenty of opportunities to play along the way (I did keep out of the big Double Surf Wave though - no desire to swim!).

This time the run was so much fun that it was a disappointment to see the take out bridge ahead.  The sun was out, the water was right, and this adventure could not have worked out better.  Well, maybe ONE thing could have been better - I could have NOT lost my house/work keys somewhere along the way.  But hey, at least I still have my car key!

Storm clouds blowing over the Allegheny highlands.
Heading home I took a little detour and headed up around the northwest corner of Shenango Reservoir.  Along the way I stopped and looked at a little creek - small enough that its likely that no one has ever paddled it before.  But the topos show it has some gradient and a big enough watershed - and it has a rocky stream bed...

Booth Run.
Hmmm.  Could this be the scene of an upcoming adventure?  Could be!

(PS - I made a GoPro video of the second day's run and edited it together as a kind of guide for other paddlers interested in the run.  It's kind of long, and probably only really interesting to other kayakers, but it does give an idea of what the creek is like.)

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Roller Coaster Ride

Wow, it's been almost TWO months since my last post.  It's not for lack of things going on, but mostly just a lack of time!  But I'll try to hit on a couple of the high points of what's been happening lately.

My good looking kid on the night of the 8th grade dance.

Re-reading the last blog entry I see it was the high water weekend, when I kayaked Bear Creek, and was planning on hitting Deer Creek the next day.  Interesting story there...

I did head over to Deer Creek, and was elated to find that it was at absolutely prime water level for a run.  So I left the boat stashed at the put-in by the hump-back bridge, left the bike at the top of the hill, and headed back to the take-out to park the car. Then it was just a matter of hiking 3/4 mile up the 300 foot tall ridge, getting the bike at the top, and coasting down the hill to the put-in.

Within a couple of minutes I had the bike hidden in the brush, and geared up for the run.  I was fairly upset to find out that I'd apparently left the GoPro turned on the night before when I double-checked to see if it had a full charge - and now the battery was dead.  But the video was just gravy, the run was the meat of the day - and boy was it good!

Deer Creek is about 3.5 miles of class II read and run whitewater, through an isolated valley.  There are 23 class II rapids on the run, so you're always either in a rapid, just leaving a rapid, or just heading into a rapid.  It's a really great run that hardly anyone ever paddles because it's remote, rain dependent and doesn't have a decent USGS gauge correlation.  But it's one of my favorites in the area, and I always keep it in mind when there's a bunch of rain.

My run was pretty much perfect.  I managed to read and run everything, which wasn't too hard because there was barely any wood in the creek.  The creek has a bunch of islands, and I managed to pick the good side every time, and had a blast on all the little rock gardens and pour-overs.  Even though I was fairly conservative at times, I managed to have a good time and even got in a little bit of surfing down on the tasty double surf wave near the end.  I finished the run without incident, packed up the boat, retrieved the bike and headed home, tired but happy.

Coffee Run during the high water weekend.

It gets interesting the next day.  I woke up with a headache, feeling lethargic and kind of dizzy.  But Diana had the day off, so we headed out to do some stuff together.  Throughout the day I felt progressively worse - more dizziness, no appetite, and trouble thinking.  I went to bed very early and woke up feeling slightly better the next day, just in time to go see the doctor.  He took blood, did a bunch of tests, and came to the conclusion that I had a low blood sugar incident, complicated by dehydration.  He added that he has to tell most of his patients to get more exercise, but he told me that I need to remember that I'm 52, and can overdo it a lot easier than when I was younger.

The moral of the story I guess is to pay more attention to what your body is trying to tell you.  I know I have dehydration problems, but had no idea that by burning off a bunch of extra calories and then eating light afterwards I could be shortchanging my system that much.  And I'm sure that my diet that mostly excluded processed sugar didn't help.  But I did find out that I'd lost about 8 pounds in 3 months, so that was good.

In the two months since then I've continued on the diet and exercise regimen that I started in February.  I can definitely tell that I've lost more weight, as my clothes fit differently.  And when the trails are dry enough to ride I notice that my mtb skills seem improved - either by adding muscle from weight lifting or carrying less weight around, I don't know which.

In motion shot on Little Beaver Creek Greenway, OH.

I've managed to keep up a pretty good number of bike rides too.  Checking with mapmyride, it looks like I got in 126 miles in April and 172 in May.  Most of that was paved riding, but there were at least 8 mountain bike trail rides, including West Branch State Park, Beaver Creek State Park, Quail Hollow State Park, Rimrock Trail in Allegheny National Forest, and North Road Nature Preserve here in Warren.

Love the colors on this - first night ride of the year at West Branch.

Kenny went camping with the Boy Scouts the last weekend in April, and while he was out with them Diana and I took the opportunity to get a cabin at Cooks Forest State Park and spend the weekend over there.  I really love the Cooks Forest/Clear Creek/Allegheny National Forest area, and we had a great time getting out and having some quiet time.

Diana on the hikers bridge over Tom's Run.

We even headed up to Rimrock Overlook for a while - and I managed to get in a ride on the shortest loop at nearby Rimrock Trail.  Those rough trails over there are a treat to ride.

Kinzua Reservoir from Rimrock Overlook, PA.

The trails at West Branch State Park opened up a couple of weeks early this year, and I headed out that first day after work to get in a night ride.  The local mtb club, CAMBA, did a bunch of work out there again last season and the trail system is better than ever.  Now if it would only stop raining for a while I'd be able to get out there and enjoy them!

The West Branch skinnies are a bit mossy after a long winter.
Memorial Day weekend all three of us managed to get away for the weekend, to go back-country camping at Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania.  We got one of the dispersed campsites up above Loleta, with the East Branch Millstone Creek right beside our tent.

Our Memorial Day campsite.

Saturday we wandered around the area and had a nice lunch up at Marienville before heading back to relax at camp.  We took bikes, so Kenny and I got in a couple of forest road rides through the woods. The scenery is amazing over there, and even on a busy holiday weekend there was almost no traffic.  We had a great time and I hope we get the chance for a couple more long weekends together in the next couple of months.

Ken leads the way on the fat bike.
Here are a couple more photos from the adventures of the past month.

Rainbow on a Little Beaver Creek Greenway ride, on the road section near Lisbon.

Ready to head downhill at Beaver Creek State Park.

Hickory Run, a secret gem of a creek right by the OH/PA line.
And to end this post, here's a little video clip from a ride around town with Kenny.  The cottonwood seeds were blowing through the sunlight at Perking Park, so I whipped out the trusty smartypants phone and shot a little clip.


Only a couple of weeks of spring left.  Hope you all enjoy your summer!!!

Friday, April 10, 2015

At Long Last - Spring!

The snow seems to be gone for the season.  Temperatures are trending up, and the nights are no longer below freezing.

The spring peepers are out and singing, birds are building nests, and daffodils are beginning to bloom.  All this can only mean one thing, and that is that spring has finally arrived.

This winter wasn't as bad as last by any means, but we did have over 70 continuous days of snow cover - and that's a bit of a test.  Either way I'm glad that it has finally passed by and that the seasons of getting outside are back with us.

My efforts at improving my fitness have been going pretty well.  Kenny and I are in the 9th week of our weightlifting workouts, and have been able to keep up a fairly consistent schedule of three workouts a week.  I have skipped a couple of Sunday workouts, but when I have there's been a bike ride or trail work to take it's place.  Kenny, being full of the vigor of youth, is definitely showing signs of development in his shoulders, upper arms and upper body.  Even my past-prime self is slowly firming up and showing some improvement.  It's been a long time since I was involved in a weightlifting program, and it's just as little fun as I remember.

I've been doing very well with my calorie intake as well.  Forcing myself to enter everything I eat on the Mapmyride nutrition counter has been a huge help.  So far in over two months I haven't exceeded my daily allowance of 2300 calories, plus any calories burned via exercise.  According to the calorie deficit that I'm counting over the last 9 weeks I should definitely be burning off some fat, but I'm avoiding the scale until next month some time.

Despite the wet weather I've managed to get in a couple of mountain bike rides since snowmelt. The most notable was last month when there was a spike in temps corresponding to a week without rain.  Kenny was out camping for the weekend with the Boy Scouts, Diana was in Columbus visiting her sister - and I was unsupervised for the day.  So I headed down to Bavington and rode my favorite section down there.  The trails were almost all dry, with only two places where sitting water caused me to get off and walk.  It was one of the first real mtb rides of the year, and I was fairly satisfied with my riding and stamina.

On the trail at Bavington.
After finishing up at Bavington I took to the road for a couple of hours and ended up just across the West Virginia state line at Cooper's Rock State Forest.  I'd done a bit of research on this place, and thought that some of the trails open to mountain bikes and marked 'easy' would be a good, low stress way to end up my day's adventure.  Little did I know that the park wasn't open yet, so I had to park outside the gates and ride the hilly road up to where the trails started.  Once there I rode a couple of miles that definitely were NOT easy, but had spectacular scenery and views.
At Cooper's Rock State Forest, looking down 1400 feet at the Cheat River.

On the Rock City Trail at Cooper's Rock S.F.
Since that time it's rained pretty regularly, leaving all the trails around way too soft for riding.  So I've been getting out on different rail trail and road rides, just trying to get in a few miles here and there.

Getting ready to hit the trail in an early spring blizzard
Sufferfest on icy Little Beaver Creek Greenway before the snow melted.
At the edge of the wildlife preserve north of town. Note bald eagle nest in trees above steel pole.
Snapping turtle crossing on Little Beaver Creek Greenway.
On Sandy Creek Trail, PA overlooking Pine Run.
Repairing a broken chain on Western Reserve Greenway Trail in Ashtabula County.
Earlier this week I packed my kayak and bike on the car, dropped Kenny off at school, and headed east to paddle some whitewater in Pennsylvania.  There had been significant rain for two days, and I hoped that I could find someplace to paddle without too much hassle.  I got lucky on my first try, as Bear Creek (between Parker and Bruin, PA) was at a low but fun level.

Looking upstream on Bear Creek from the put-in bridge.
It had been something like 7 years since I paddled this creek, but I had high hopes that it would provide an interesting morning.  The run starts off slow, but before long some bigger rapids show up.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was still able to make the technical moves required on this class II creek, but I wasn't so overconfident from a couple of good moves to take unnecessary chances.  So I ended up walking around a couple of the harder rapids, which was just fine with me.

After the 3.5 mile kayak run I stashed the boat in the woods and hike back upstream on the old rail grade above the creek, climbing about 400 feet on the way back to the trailhead by the road.  There I changed out of my wet gear and picked up my bike from it's hiding place for the road ride back to the car.  It turned out great - about 2.5 hours of physical exertion and I still had time to get in nearly a half day of work!

And the good news is that it rained another 2 inches over in that area last night!  I'm set up to head out early in the morning tomorrow to try my look again on the creeks over there.  This time I'm hoping to get on Deer Creek, and I think that I might bring along the GoPro and try to get some whitewater footage.  If it turns out I'll be sure to link to it here on my next post!

Old house in Salem, OH.  Love those chimneys!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Reforming Habits

It's been a little while since I posted an entry, but I've noticed that seems to happen to me during the winter season.  I have less going on as the weather closes in and less to write about. But there have been some things happening, so I'll try to fill in the blanks.

Trying to ride the new fat bike around town in 10" of snow.

I took a week of vacation at Christmas so that I could spend some time with Kenny while he was off school.  There were all sorts of plans being considered, but I got hit with a nasty cold the very first day of vacation, and spent the next ten days being sick.  I recovered just in time for my birthday on December 28, but picked up the flu two days later.  This flu hung on for waaay too long, bringing a bout of walking pneumonia with it.  So I managed to use up my whole year of sick days on the first week of the new year.  It was at least two weeks before I was feeling like myself again.

Of course I had to go to the doctor a couple of times during this period.  And that brought bad news to the forefront when I was weighed during my appointment.  I'm not a tall guy, and I got over an inch shorter a couple of years ago when I crashed my bike and landed on my head, fracturing my skull.  And I do tend towards fat, so I have to keep an eye on my calorie intake and exercise level.  But it was a disappointing surprise to find out that I weighed more than I have since I was a teen.  Of course part of it was the intake of holiday calories, though I thought I'd been fairly judicious about snacking on my wife's amazing Christmas cookies.  And another factor was the marked decrease in outdoors exercise due to the weather and being sick.  But the real story is depressingly familiar - too many bad habits, and not enough good ones.

So I decided that I was going to try to change my diet and fitness during 2015.  I'm not a big fan of the spur-of-the-moment New Years resolution, since it seems like jumping into a big difficult project without a plan isn't that good of an idea.  Instead I started thinking about what I thought I could change, where my weakest points were, and what I want my goal to be.  And then I started to try to bring my bad habits under control.

My plan for the year is two-fold:  better diet and more consistent exercise.  As far as diet, I'm not as bad off as I could be, but there is definitely room for improvement.  My typical day had me start with a small breakfast, a reasonable lunch, and then a good, home cooked supper.  Where it fell apart was the evening snacking, when I was winding down before bed.  Harnessing that urge to snack in the evening is not easy for me, and it's taken me a month of self-discipline to get it back in control.  There are other diet changes as well - mainly my efforts to cut my processed sugar intake by 90%.  That means no soda (which I don't usually drink anyway) but it also means no candy or pastries.  I am definitely making progress towards this 90% reduction.

The second part of the plan is to increase my exercise levels.  Usually that would mean riding the bike more, but that doesn't work when we've had 70 days straight of snow cover.  After thinking it over I decided that going back to weight lifting would be a good idea.  In my younger days I used to have a weight program that I followed for years.  I wasn't interested in big, body builder type muscles - just in being strong enough to let me do the fun stuff that I like.  And with my 14 year old son Ken now measuring in at 6 feet tall (that's 7 inches taller than me) it seemed like a good time to get him involved as well.


We're not going to use the Weider gym that my mom gave us when we moved, but are going back to the good old days of free weights.   It's been over a month since we started a three day a week program that takes us about an hour to complete.  I know that I'm already noticing a difference and I think Ken is starting to firm up a bit as well.  And I know that this extra boost in strength will only help my mountain biking this summer, so I'm determined to keep up with it.

But I know from past experience how easy it is to procrastinate, make exceptions to the rule, and take days off from exercise or dieting.  After thinking about it for a while I decided that I would grade my will power every day.  I start out with 100% every day and then deduct 10% for each lapse in will power - i.e. evening snacking, eating sugar packed foods, missing workouts, etc etc.  For me keeping a concrete record where I make myself declare my failures at the end of each day seems to help keep my goals at the forefront of my consciousness, so that I'm less likely to have a spontaneous weakness and break my 'rules'.  So far this has worked very well for me, as my diet and exercise have been remarkable consistent since I started.

I don't like to make the whole goal of the process to be just 'weight loss'.  There's a lot more to it than that - the establishment of more good habits and the discarding of bad ones.  I don't even like to use the scale we have at the house (those damned electronic scales are so inaccurate). But at the end of the year I'd really like to see a weight loss of at least 25 pounds.  Yeah, that's not that much right?  Right now I'm at about 195# - an amount that makes me feel fat and clumsy.  If I were to be able to get down to 170# it would make a huge difference.  If I was able to get down to my best weight that I had in my 20's it would take another 25# loss after that...

I'll keep tabs on my progress through the year as I post here, and we'll see how this turns out.  So far it seems to be working, but we'll see how it plays out as the year unwinds.

Snowscape along the farm roads north of Warren.

As far as bicycling goes it's been pretty sparse so far this year.  Even though I am now a proud fat bike owner, the snow cover has been consistent since the beginning of the year, and mountain biking has been pretty much out of the question.  I've made a couple of very difficult rail trail rides, over packed snow and ice, but not many.  There have been several rides on the empty back roads of northern Trumbull county, but with the cold, wind and ice they haven't been as long as I'd like.  Every little bit counts though, so I'll keep on getting out when I can and wait for the snow to finish melting off so that my riding horizons can open up again.

Started out as a road ride, but ended up with a nice long hike a bike through 16" of snow.

One nice thing on the horizon is that Ken and I are planning a week long bicycle tour on the Greenbrier Trail in West Virginia's Monongahela National Forest.  Diana can't take a big vacation this year since she started the new job in November and won't have vacation time accumulated till this November.  So Kenny and I plan to head out on our own and spend a week riding the rail trails and mtb trails in West Virginia.  That's meant spending some extra cash outfitting the bikes, but we already had a bunch of gear so the process is moving along pretty well.

Riding on the ice in northern Trumbull county.

Our spring thaw started about ten days ago, so much of the snow cover is gone.  I'm hoping that the ice will be off the Western Reserve Greenway Trail by this weekend, and I can get back in the habit of pushing out some paved miles within a week or so.  One thing - with better weather coming it seems unlikely that I'll go another three months without a blog post!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Another Look at Trail Building

I've written here about trail building before, but since it's been taking up quite a bit of my time this fall I figure it's time to come back to the topic once more.

For the time being my trail building energy is being spent developing a short (approx. 3 mile) mountain bike/hiking trail network at North Road Nature Preserve, a county park in my home town of Warren, Ohio.  This piece of land is bounded on one side by swampy, slow Mosquito Creek, with a big apartment complex framing the other side. The land was put into a conservation easement by a developer, then the state of Ohio transferred it to Trumbull County Metroparks for possible future development.  The total acreage is about 140 acres, but because of some site features we've limited our trail network to about half of the site.

The terrain is gently sloping towards the creek, with not very good drainage.  Part of the land was bulldozed back in the 60's as it was intended to become an addition to the apartment complex.  The vegetation on this part of the land is recovering forest, with some fairly good sized trees and patches of dense scrub in the lower, wetter spots.  Back by the creek there is strip of more mature, open forest, with some trees in the 4 to 5 foot diameter range.  And then there is a section of dense, short scrub  - the worst stuff to build trails through that I'm familiar with.

Three years ago I heard that the Howland Wellness Committee had volunteered to build trails at this site.  Since I had some experience helping  CAMBA (Cleveland Area Mountain Bike Association) build trails at West Branch State Park it seemed like I should join them and help to get this accomplished.  Turns out that I was the only one who actually had trail building experience, so I got to be the informal boss of the crew.

A section of the Red Trail, raked and ready to ride.

That first year we spent a bit of time just walking the site, getting familiar with what it had to offer.  What we found out is that the site wasn't particularly well suited for hike/mtb trails - the drainage is poor enough that during wet seasons the whole thing pretty much turns to mud.  But this would be the first shot at mtb trails in our county, and if we turned down this opportunity it might take 20 years for us to get a second chance. So we flagged a 1 mile trail loop through the second growth woods near the apartments and set to work.

One of the wet spots on the Red Trail, with a rock stockpile for armoring.

Our crew has varied over the years, but it's always been a small group.  Most of the volunteers are even older than me, and are not mountain bikers - just a group of nature-loving community people who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty.  We've had some help from other groups - Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and once from a small local mtb club.  Since we're such a small group we don't limit ourselves to fall/winter work sessions like the bigger clubs in our area - we work all year long, conditions permitting.  But with an older core group we limit our work days to just a couple of hours, so it helps to get out more often.

The trail building process goes like this - flagging, detail flagging, corridor cutting, and tread finishing.  We start by flagging a rough line through the woods, avoiding as many wet spots as possible and hitting as many desirable areas as we can.  After that we pin-flag the trail to a more precise route, picking which side of which tree we want to pass and how tight we want the curves to be.  The next step, corridor cutting, is where it actually starts to look like a trail.  Using loppers and saws we cut back the trees and undergrowth to create a corridor about 4' wide and 7' tall.  Cutting corridor through the mature forest is pretty easy.  Cutting corridor through the newer forest is quite a bit harder.  Cutting through the scrub is brutal.

Once the corridor is cut in we have to make the tread that actually forms the trail.  We're aiming for an 18" wide tread of clear dirt in the center of the corridor, with the undergrowth trimmed down on either side.  That involves a lot of cutting out of small sapling stumps and pulling of weeds.  In the sections going through scrub this part of the job is amazingly difficult.

But persistence pays off and after the first year we had our initial trail loop finished.  That gave us 1 mile of beginner level trail, so we began planning for phase 2.  This was an out and back trail that cut down by the creek through the more mature woods.  We'd tried to run part of it right alongside the creek, but the whole area near the water was too low and soft, so we had to keep a good distance back to take advantage of more suitable soils.  It took the whole year to finish phase 2, but it turned out pretty nice.  With this trail being an out and back, now we had a 2.5 mile ride possible in one 'lap'.

In the spring of 2013 we started flagging the phase 3 of the trail.  We wanted to take advantage of the more mature forest area, and also run trail down a section of higher creek bank downstream, but in order to do this we were going to have to run a section of the trail through the dense scrub - not an optimal choice, but it's what we have to deal with.  We worked on it through the summer and fall, but when last winter hit us with long periods of heavy snow and extreme cold progress almost stopped.  Then the late spring and early summer of 2014 turned out to be so rainy that the trails were barely even suitable for walking, much less riding or working.  So it was into August before we were able to get back on track.

Newly built trail on phase 3.

The section of phase 3 that we had built in 2013 down by the creek was still in good condition, but the rainy summer had allowed the undergrowth in the recovering forest to sprout up like weeds (amazing, huh?)  We spent a good deal of time re-working the tread as well as adding rock armoring to the wettest spots.  And finally, about 2 months ago, we cut the last section of corridor for phase 3, connecting the creekside trail with the trail through the recovering woods.  Unfortunately this connection is through the dense scrub, and is the least suitable terrain for trail building that we've encountered yet.  But we're not about to give up, so it will eventually get turned into singletrack.

Newly cut corridor through the dense scrub of phase 3.  Bleah.

One of the aspects of this project that has been a lot of work is the rocks - or more precisely the LACK of rocks.  With as poor drainage as the site has it's impossible to build trail that misses all the wet spots.  To deal with these wet spots the most common approach is rock armoring - in other words paving the wet areas with big rocks.  Unfortunately there are nearly no rocks on site bigger than an apple.  That means that we have to bring rocks from off site, and then carry them into the wet spots using our trail wagon.  So far I figure we've hauled in around 6 tons of rock and gravel - all by hand power.

More new phase 3 trail through the scrub.
Another problem for this site is the blasted multiflora roses.  These are an invasive species of wild roses that are widespread across the site. While their white flowers do look nice, and the rose hips provide food for the birds - these things are the bane of my existence.  One plant can spread out over a 20' diameter, with long canes that can grow up to a foot a week.  So not only are they a pain to get rid of when you're building trail, but they constantly need cut back during the spring and summer as they reach out onto the trail.  This fall I've spent a LOT of time on the existing trails, taking advantage of the sparser foliage to hunt down and eliminate rose bushes within 10' of the trail.  My hope is that this will save a ton on maintenance time this next riding season.

Gravel path and rock armoring on one of the wet spots on phase 3.

I'm guessing that we will finish off the phase 3 trail in 2015 (that is if it doesn't rain all spring and summer like in 2014).  That would complete the scope of our original trail plan, and give a 'lap' of  about 3.5 miles.  There is a tentative plan to change the phase 2 out and back trail to a loop, which would add a bit more trail.  Personally, once the phase 3 trail is done I hope to add some mtb specific trail features to phase 2 and 3, so that developing mtbrs will have a bit of challenge once they're used to the phase 1 beginners trail.  Once that's done I have another idea - I plan on approaching Mosquito Lake State Park (just 6 miles up the road) to see if they'll let me build a mile or two of trail in their 'multipurpose trail' area.

One other little nugget of trail news from this fall,  Way back in the woods, but still within sight of our phase 2 trail, one of our volunteers found a cache of suspicious looking containers hidden out of sight beneath a big fallen log.  To make a long story short, it turned out to be chemicals used for the manufacture of methamphetamine.  It doesn't look like they actually had the lab set up back there, but just had the chemicals hidden in the woods for some reason.  Our local police investigated and removed the hazard, but it just goes to show that you need to keep your eyes open at all times.

The stash of chemicals.

Here's a little video of the phase 1 trail - aka the Red Trail.  This is from just a week or so ago, and shows that our raked trail is maintaining a surprisingly good tread considering the rain and chill temperatures we'd had for the previous couple of weeks.

Special thanks to CAMBA for tools and encouragement - I really owe you guys a ton for believing we could do this.  Also, if anyone out there reading this is interested in helping us build, or just wants more information about our little trail system, go to the 'Warren Bicyclists' facebook page and ask there.  Hope to see you on the trail!

BTW it looks like I've been writing this blog for just over 3 years.  Today it says that it got it's 12,000th view!  Not too bad for such a wandering and disorganized mess.  Special thanks to all the Russians and Ukrainians who apparently check it out frequently (????).