Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Now it feels like winter

We finally have snow - about 1/2" of it.  And though the temperature is below 20 degrees right now, the forecast says that it will be up in the 40's in a couple of days.  So there's no real hope that the ground will freeze up any time soon and transform the singletrack from soupy unrideable bogs into grippy, frozen trails o' fun.  The thing then is - how long will it stay cold before the snowfall gets deep enough that you can't ride again?  I'm usually good up to about 4" of loose snow, less if it's wet.  Last winter we had over 6" of snow for over a month, and it was a long, dismal time.

We had our Christmas festivities on Sunday morning.  Kenny got a bunch of stuff, and seemed to be very satisfied.  We decided he didn't need another THIRD video game system, but we got him some games.  And he also got a ton of camping and backpacking equipment, to prepare him for this spring when he'll be changing from Webelos to Boy Scouts.  He got a bunch of other stuff too - a virtual heap of toys and clothes.

Then around noon, after all the presents had been opened, my brother showed up.  And he brought a bike with him - one that my wife had bought for me without me knowing.  I'd looked at it at the bike shop, but was actually considering one that was much less expensive.  But now I'm the proud owner of a new 2010 Gary Fisher Mullet - super heavy duty aluminum frame, mechanical disc brakes front and back, killer Bomber DJ front fork - in short the best bike I've ever owned.

It's great to have a new bike.  I'd been riding my wife's Trek for the few rides around town I'd managed since the cervical collar came off.  It's a nice bike, but it's definitely a little bit big for me.  I'd thought that the solution to my broken fork:

was going to be taking the fork off of my old Trek 820 and putting it on the 4300.  But now I have this new super heavy duty bike, and I'm about ready to get out and ride.

And I mean on dirt.  Kenny and I went out for a ride around the neighborhood on Christmas afternoon, and I got a chance to check it out - jumping off curbs, riding down some hills, doing a couple of small drops.  It was nice to get out and ride a little (and it pointed out how out of shape I am after two months of recuperating) but it just made me want to get out on the trail.

I tried again the next day, going for a quick ride around town with an more of an eye for features.  I did a couple of ride downs, a short stairs, jumped off a 2-1/2' loading dock, rode over some rocks, caught some air off of some buckled pavement in a closed shopping center...   It's amazing how many things can be turned into features if you start looking for them.

And of course I've been wearing my helmet without fail.

I'm not TOTALLY stupid.

I've been working on a map project since I had my accident - a mountain bike guide to the Allegheny National Forest area.  It will include a large (24"x36") map that shows the concentrated singletrack areas and also the gravel forest service roads and the gated oil and timber roads.  Then for each of the singletrack areas there will be a smaller map (either 8-1/2x11 or 11x17) that will show the trails, topo lines, hazards etc.  The goal here is to provide something that will be useful not only for cross country riders who want to find a place to get in a decent loop, but to bikepackers who want to string together a longer trip with singletrack, ATV trails, gravel roads & jeep trails.  There's a lot of work to do, but I've got a really good start.  Makes me wish I could take the bike and GPS over there and start some exploring on my own.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Last day of fall

Tomorrow the is the winter solstice - when the ship turns around and heads back from the dark towards the light.  The astronomy portion of the weather says that tomorrow will be 0 min 0 sec shorter than today, so I guess they're both tied for the shortest day.  And then on Friday there will be a few seconds more sunlight, and then more and more every day after that.  Never mind that it's the first day of winter - that I can deal with.

I spent four hours last night putting new pads on an alto saxophone for my boy.  It's been a long time since I've done that type of work, and I was a bit out on a limb, but it turned out good.

We've had another two day stretch of rain, and the creeks are a risin'.  The gauge on Oil Creek is cresting just short of 7 feet, so East Sandy Creek would be prime tomorrow.  And Slippery Rock Creek is cresting at above 3,000 cfs, so Bear Creek would be running tomorrow.  Not for me though - I'm out of vacation hours and have a pretty good head cold.

I did stop down at Mill Creek and look at the Forbidden Wave.  It was looking even better than last time.  I took a picture with my hat sitting on the block to give it scale, but that cut stone is a bit longer than four feet.

And here's my first attempt to post video on the blog - a short pan of Mill Creek at the wave.

You can see it's not a killer wave, but it would be nice enough to surf.  Next time I'll take a couple of pictures of the Marshall Street wave on the Mahoning River.  It's washed out at this level, but at a little bit lower levels it makes a nice wave - longer and wider than Mill Creek.  Just have to be brave enough to get out in that Mahoning River water (not known for it's cleanliness or pristine riverbed).

Merry Christmas to everyone - including the people in Germany, Russia, Romania and Ukraine that my stats page say are readers.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Back in the saddle

That's right, back in the saddle - just in time for winter to assert itself.  Kind of unfortunate, but such is life.

I'm back at 100% by now, with just a little bit of soreness in my neck.  But with the front shock of my bike pretty much trashed I needed to get something into the shop.

I took a bike in to Thumm's earlier in the week to get the rear derailleur replaced.  Instead of replacing the whole derailleur, the guys managed to just put in a few spare parts and get it back on the road for only a third of what I'd expected.  I also talked to them about taking the front fork off of my old Trek 820 and put it on the 4300 to replace the broken fork.  The consensus is that it would probably work, but I'll have to bring both frames in for them to take a look and make sure.  It would be nice to get some more use out of the hulk of the old 820, but I'm not counting on it happening till it's done.

They have a nice Trek Marlin 29er at the shop.  Disc brakes.  Green & black (my favorite color combo).  Sweet.  Really makes me wish I was able to get a new bike about now.

After I got the bike back I went out for a quick 8 mile ride around town.  And I did wear a helmet - something I hardly ever used to do.  I was glad to see that my legs felt just fine, and that I felt like I could have gone on for a lot longer when I headed home.

But I'm really kind of over riding around town.  Getting the crap knocked out of my skull made me avidly never want to repeat the experience.  And riding on the rail trail is an experience of its own - nothing to distract your attention, mindless focus on the pedal stroke with no challenge on the surface - about as far from the mountain bike experience as you can get.  When I do ride on the rail trail I find myself focusing on just speed and keeping up the fastest pace that I can.

And then there's the seat thing.  When you're mountain biking you're hardly in the seat - dealing with terrain demands a reactionary, dynamic position in order to overcome the different obstacles.  With that much movement your rear end doesn't spend the whole time on the seat.  But road riding, especially on a very uniform surface like the rail trail, lets you climb on the bike and just pedal, with no need to ever lift out of the seat.  For me at least, that extended seat time is where the worst discomfort of bicycling stems from.  If I go out and spend a couple of hours riding on the rail trail, I have to remember to break it up and not just grind out the miles.  Sometimes I'll take it off the pavement and ride a section on the grass, to remind me to get out of the saddle for a while.  Or just put in a mile standing up every five miles - that seems to help.  But really the whole thing is just a series of compromises - what I really want is to be on singletrack.

Saturday I went and did a little bit of trail work early.  It had snowed a bit, but the ground wasn't frozen so the work was limited.  I did dig out a bunch of little stumps from the tread, and then cut a bit of brush to extend the new corridor out further. 

I could tell that there was no way that any singletrack in our area would be rideable - it was saturated and unfrozen.  I thought I'd head out to West Branch, park at the Antisocial Acess Area and ride down Cable Line through the trail area and out to the end of the reservoir.  But I hadn't counted on the sheer numbers of hunters out this weekend.  I started seeing them as soon as I passed the park office near the dam - trucks parked on the side of the road with camo & orange clad guys carrying guns.  On the short one mile section of dead end leading back to the A.A.A. there were 17 trucks parked.  I figured there was no way I was going to be riding anywhere near that many people with guns, even if it was out on the road.

That kind of put a damper on the day, since the other area I was thinking of riding was also in a hunting area.  So I decided to head in to Youngstown and ride the road in Mill Creek Park.  There are two roads that are great for biking - one that was closed in one lane, and one that was totally closed.  I went out to East Cohassett Drive (the closed one) and rode around for a while.

It was pretty nice back there. It wasn't long enough distance to really be a ride, though I did extend it by riding off into the neighborhoods in a couple of places (but it can be pretty shady back in some of those streets for sure).  You can tell that it doesn't get much use.  It would be an excellent place for a mountain bike club to come in and build some trails - a place only accessible by bike or foot where there isn't any other activity.  I may float another letter to the Park and see what they think.

The one place where the roads from the neighborhoods dead ended on Cohassett I rode up past a big beautiful abandoned old house. It was surrounded by old spruce trees that had to be a hundred feet tall.  On the way back past I noticed there was a flock of about a dozen turkeys in the back yard, slowly going through the tall grass in the lawn as they moved back towards the park.  Amazing that the neighborhood is that empty, but that seems to be Youngstown in the 21st century.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

December's Essence

Fancy title for a blog post.  But after this weekend I'm thinking about the essential definition of December - cold.  This weekend we finally had the ground freeze, with temps in the low teens Friday and Saturday night.  I guess we're really lucky to have had such good weather so far (virtually no snow yet) but the temps are starting to lower and the inevitable is sneaking up on us.

I took off the cervical collar for good last week on Monday.  My neck was pretty sore at first, after 6 weeks of relying on the collar for support.  But after three or four days of wearing it an hour on and an hour off the strength returned enough that I felt comfortable without it.  So now I have another medical appliance to put up in the top of the closet with the rest of the collection.

I'd hoped to get out on my bike this weekend.  Saturday afternoon I had a little bit of time, and despite the 35 degree temperatures I thought I'd go for a short ride.  I got my helmet and pack together and went out to get on the bike.  I rode about 3 feet before it was obvious something was wrong with it.  I'd checked it out a day or two after I got out of the hospital and thought it was fine.  I must have been pretty heavily medicated to make that judgement, though I didn't actually get on the bike at that time.  But now that I got on it I could tell that I bent the hell out of the front fork.  The tire was way up under the handlebars, making it nearly impossible to steer, and my toes would hit the front tire when my pedal stroke brought them to the front.  So now I have four bikes in the garage and basement and every single one of them is broken.  I'm going to get at least one of them in the shop this week so that I can ride next weekend.

Kenny and I were on our own this week for trail work  - not another person showed up.  Of course it was 22 degrees, so that might have had something to do with it.  Anyway we decided to try to dig up some more rocks from our little cache in the gully.  We added another half dozen good sized rocks, mostly around 150 - 200 pounds, but with one backbuster that had to be at least 300 pounds.  We also rigged up the block and tackle to see if we could use it to help haul the rocks up the embankment.  It took a lot more effort than I'd hoped, and didn't work that well.  But if we can't come up with a better way to move them it will have to do.  I'll have to check with Bernie and see if he has a come along - that may be a better solution.

I went out to West Branch to walk around on Friday and on Sunday, and I went and did trail work on Saturday and on Sunday.  Then I went for a nice brisk 4.5 mile hike with my brother down Hell's Hollow in McConnells Mill State Park over by New Castle, PA.  It's just so good to be out of that damned collar, and I'm so glad to have been able to recover in two months from such a scary event.  I hope to be able to return to my previous habits, riding and paddling whenever I get the chance, but right now I'm still on the rebound and need to get body and mind together and ready to hit it again.  I hope to get a bike out on either the trail or road by next weekend.

Ten days till the winter solstice - and then the days start getting longer again.  That's always a major psychological thing for me - to see more daylight coming each day.  Of course it's also the first day of winter, so the bad weather is still mostly ahead.  But that's usually not too bad, and we seem to manage to find a way to have fun.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


Kenny and I went to trail work this morning at 9:00.  It was below freezing when we got there, with a layer of frost on everything.

Nobody else was there when we showed up, so we busied ourself with the continuing job of cleaning the growth off of the overgrown road while we waited.

This road will remain closed, but we'd like it cleared all the way down so that we can use it as an access for paddlers to carry their canoes and kayaks back to the creek.  We'd like to put in two boat racks along the way, so that the long carry can be broken up with a rest at the racks.  So we need to get all the weeds off the top and cut back the brush from the sides.  Bernie took over the job once he got there and cleared off another 50 feet.

Kenny and I went on back to the corner back by the apartments and started digging rocks up out of the ground.  This is one of the few places on the property where we've seen any rocks, so I thought we should get as much out of the ground as possible before it freezes up. That way we'll have some work to do moving rocks to where they're needed when the ground is frozen and we can't do much else.

This is the first weekend that I've been able to do any work since I had my accident.  It's been more than six weeks, so I can start easing out of the routine of wearing the cervical collar.  I've been taking it off for an hour or two at a time to get used to it again, but my neck is kind of week from all the time being supported by the brace.  So I knew I'd be able to do some real work day, and moving rocks was it.  I did wear the cervical collar while I worked, just for the added sense of security, but there was no problem all day.

We started at a spot where there were several rocks sticking up through the leaves.  Most of them looked to be fairly small, but we'll take whatever we can get.  Once we got to work with the shovels, pick and rockbar we were both pretty surprised to see how big they actually were.  We worked on one 10' x 15' section of ground, and pulled out at least a ton of rock, much of it 100 pounds or bigger.  And though there were some big, roundish rocks, much of it was flat enough that it will make great armoring.  We worked for about two hours, and then walked the back of the loop, pulling up flagging as we went along.  We came across Bernie on the way, walking the trail with the backpack leaf blower and clearing the tread.  Even though there were only  the three of us this weekend we did manage to get a decent amount done.

By the way, I got an email from the new CAMBA president asking what was going on with the trails down at Beaver Creek, and suggesting that maybe they could come down and help with the trail work.  I did notice that CAMBA doesn't have any big trail project this winter (though they may be pitching in on the Cleveland Metroparks trail being built), so they might be able to get some members down there to work.

I got what I think is the best picture since I started doing my Picture of the Day at the beginning of November.

I'm pretty happy how this shot turned out, though I don't know if I've learned enough to be able to duplicate it.  But I do think that on average I'm starting to take better pictures.  Give me another ten years and maybe I'll be getting decent shots regularly.  This one turned out pretty good too, I think.

With this being the week that I'm starting to get away from the cervical collar, I'm thinking that next weekend I'm going to try to step out for a bit.  I'm thinking about an easy bike ride, but maybe some kayaking or canoeing would be nice - I guess it will depend on the weather.  But I'm glad that I'm almost over with this fractured skull business - it's not been ANY fun at all.