Friday, December 28, 2012



The big five-oh.  Half a century.  Five decades.  Way too many months, weeks, days etc. to bother to enumerate.

The beginning of every decade of your existence is supposed to be some sort of milestone.  When you turn thirty it's supposed to be a big deal.  And when you turn forty everyone acts like it means something profound.  Again at fifty - ooooh, look at you being sooo old.

Bah. I'm basically not buying it.  I know people that are the same immature idiots at 55 that they were at 25.  In other words, growing older doesn't always equate with growing up.  We all know people that hit their maturity early as well.  Folks who show a wisdom and poise beyond their years.  So it's not quite as linear as all that.

But I am in a pretty sour mood.  I have 11 days off work, using the Christmas holiday, New Years holiday and my left over vacation time.  So I get to spend some time with my son while he's off school, which is nice.  But damned if the weather didn't get all wintry on me, so instead of my dream vacation featuring days of riding singletrack I'm moping around the house.  Too much snow to do trail work too, but I did get out for a couple of hikes.  Spending some time on the bike would have really helped take the sting out of this day, but you get what you get.

And really, I tried - I loaded up the bike and headed out to the trails to give it a shot.  The snow is right at the depth where it starts to make riding impossible, but I could make some headway.  It was great - unbroken snow on the trail in front of me, almost perfect silence in the sun - but I had to turn back.  This happens early in the year - snow lying on unfrozen ground.  And that ground was wet in spots, so that I'd be doing damage to the trail if I went on.  So it was a short ride, but I stretched it out by adding some snow covered road riding - lots of fun.

But  back to fifty.  I can reassure myself that I'm more fit at fifty than I was at forty, and that is a certainty.  My strength is better, my weight is a little less, and my stamina has improved.  But I definitely feel that I have a lot of room for improvement, so I hope to make some changes this year. 

I did pretty well early in the year with my nutrition, but kind of lost focus during the summer.  I was riding five days a week and with that exercise level I didn't have to worry about my calorie input.  But after getting sick in September and then getting really busy my riding schedule suffered, and the shorter days of fall made it even worse.  So I need to get back on track with my calories and with my exercise as well.  Just because it's snowy out I shouldn't just forget about exercise.  So I have to face the ugly reality and get back to riding the stationary bike in the basement (groan).  What I plan on doing is getting back into the habit of using MapMyRide as my nutrition and workout tracker.  It's a great site, especially since it's free, and I know from experience that it can help.   So starting with the beginning of January I plan on logging in and keeping my stats every day.

Hopefully that will result in losing some weight and improving my fitness a bit more this year.  I have a lot of things that I plan to do this year, from riding and trail building projects, to work on the house and time with my family.  Being healthier will make all of those things easier and more fun.  Wish me luck.

My next post will be more 'literary' in nature - I just needed to get this stupid 'fifty' thing out of my craw so that I can realize that today is just a day, and tomorrow will be yet another day.  Might get some more snow tomorrow - maybe I'll go sled riding...

Monday, December 3, 2012

Revealed and Concealed

I'd had a restless night, with sleep just beyond my grasp for too long.  I stumbled around the house, getting ready for work while coaxing my son into preparing for school.  Stepping outside and locking the door I was pleasantly surprised to feel how warm it was, despite it being the first week of December. The sun hadn't yet come up, but there was just enough light to illuminate the neighborhood, filtered through a thick layer of fog.  Streetlights stood out as beacons through the grey distance, and the sound of traffic on the busy street one block away was barely a whisper.  I stopped to enjoy the sight, and listened to the sound of moisture dripping from the bare branches of the oak trees.  I've always loved the fog, and this morning it brought back an experience from 15 years ago.

I'd gotten up early in the morning - before the sunrise on a late summer day - and loaded up my paddling gear.  It was a moist, cool morning as I strapped my kayak to the roof of the car and quietly slipped through the deserted streets, heading for the highway.  Less than an hour later I pulled into the parking area beside the ranger's office at McConnells Mill State Park. 
Me on Slippery Rock Creek in 2002.
The sun was just over the horizon, spreading a coppery light across the landscape, but the deep gorge that held the creek looked like a cauldron of shifting mist.  Heavy fog filled the depths of  the narrow canyon, rising to nearly the rim where a lazy breeze dissipated it across the ridge top.  As the sunlight strengthened I put on my sprayskirt and pfd, shouldered my boat, and hiked across the meadow to descend the trail to the water.

There is an easier place to access the creek - an old bridge where you can park beside the road and have your boat down to the water in thirty seconds.  But I'd always preferred the trail behind the ranger's office.  It was only a quarter mile or so, descending among the rock faces and dense forest via several rustic staircases.  Near the bottom, where it wasn't quite as steep, the stairs ended and you had to pick your way down a rocky path to the creek bank.  Though it wasn't exactly an easy trip carrying 50 pounds of boat and gear, I always looked forward to this trip and the feeling of immersing myself in the depths of the gorge.

This morning it was a mystical experience.  The fog obscured the edge of the woods, and thickened as I descended slick stairs.  The sound of the whitewater below, usually a roar by the halfway point, was a distant hiss.  The hemlocks and ferns slowly dripped fog borne moisture to the moss below, and occasionally a songbird would call, it's voice padded by the fog.  At the bottom of the stairs I carefully picked my way across the rocks, slowing to clear the crowding trees with the boat.  By the time I got down to the gravel and mud at theedge of the water the fog was so dense that I could barely see 10 feet.  The bright sunlight I'd experienced at meadow above was a soft sterling glow, giving a strange cast to the dark green and brown of the forest.

I slipped into the boat and stretched the skirt over the cockpit rim.  The water level was low enough that there was little risk, especially since I'd paddled this creek dozens of times over the past year.  By now I knew the path of the narrow whitewater creek very well, and felt confident in making a solo trip at low water levels.  I picked up my paddle and slid down the bank into the current, guiding the boat to the center of the creek.  Ahead of me I could hear the muted sound of a rapid, growing louder and sharper as I approached.  Yet the scene ahead was still a wall of fog, enclosed by the dark rocks of the banks to my left and right.  I knew I had to be to the right to enter the first rapid, and I eased the boat closer to that shore as the current picked up.  I strained my eyes, peering into the gloom - and now I could see the outline of the white foam on the dark water through the mist.  Another paddle stroke and I was at the lip of the ledge and then past, the fog slowly rolling in the breeze above the rapid.  I cut the boat into an eddy, looking upstream, but the waves were already lost in the fog.

I peeled out back into the main current, and guided the kayak downstream.  Once again the sound of whitewater slowly gained volume and focus - and then was revealed at the last moment of the approach.  This place that was so familiar to me seemed like somewhere new - yet it was only my familiarity that could allow me to press forward with barely any visual cues.  As the boat dove through the mist and turbulent waves the cool water splashed into my face, bringing the morning into sharp reality.  Each rapid was an experience, both the same and different than ever before, and I lingered at the eddies, reluctant to approach the end of the run.
Even longer ago - me in the Pirouette on Slippery Rock Creek in 2001.
Finally I made my way through the last rapid.  I knew the bridge for the takeout was ahead, though it was still concealed in the fog.  Floating on the current, I didn't paddle until it came into view, and then eased towards the shore where I gave one last strong stroke to push the boat onto the sandy shore. 

I left the boat hidden in the woods near the creek, and began the walk back upstream towards the car along the streamside trail.  At the halfway point the fog was beginning to thin noticeably.  And as I finished the climb out of the gorge the brilliant sunshine once again warmed me, with clear blue skies above. By the time I reached the car I was sweating.  Looking down into the gorge there was only the slightest wisp of mist to be seen, twisting and swirling as it slowly disappeared.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Trail Building: Making the Move to Become Involved

Everybody that rides a bike on singletrack has probably at some point wondered about the origin of the trail that they're using. More casual trail users, such as people who might get out for a hike or ride a couple times a year, may not consider such an issue, but those of us who are out on the trail nearly every weekend have a significant relationship with the trails we frequent.

Years ago, before I started riding, I didn't really think about where the trails I walked came from. If asked I would have guessed that they were either really old trails that were still in use or that they had been built by the CCC during the depression (an idea fostered by years of hiking at Mill Creek Park). And if the issue was pressed further I would have probably said that the park rangers took care of the trails and made sure that they were safe for us to use.

Well, those ideas are somewhat off base. We do still have a number of trails in our part of the country that date back to the CCC days, but there are very few that are any older. And with decades of shrinking state park budgets the idea of park rangers spending hours maintaining trails is becoming less and less real.

The truth of the matter is that many of the trails we ride were imagined by average trail users, be they hikers or mountain bikers. These people had an idea, pushed to have their ideas accepted, and then spent the hours to make them real. Some of these projects were years in the making, and took the efforts of dozens if not hundreds of volunteers. Most of the trails we ride in this area have this history - West Branch, Beaver Creek, Reagan Park, Moraine. As riders we owe a huge debt to the people who had the vision and energy to create the trail systems we love.

Those of us who have spent hours and hours on the trails, who have gotten the enjoyment of great rides for year after year, should consider what our role is in this history. Mountain biking has seen a huge increase in popularity over the last two decades, of which a large part rides on the backs of the first generation of mtb volunteers. These are the people who took our trails from poorly built rogue trails along railroad and powerline rights of way to the well designed, sustainable trails that we enjoy today. They fought resource managers for the chance to prove that they could be a responsible user group and could make a positive impact on our parks. The amount of resistance that had to be overcome by this first generation was immense, yet they persevered. And now we get to spend our free time enjoying the fruits of their labors - great singletrack spread all across the state.
It's perhaps pushing things a bit to say that those who use the trails the most have a responsibility to get involved with trail building and maintenance. There is no real obligation to give something back to the things that you have gotten benefit from. But as members of a sport that wouldn't exist if not for the efforts of volunteers, its not only part of our tradition, its an investment in our own riding future. Thanks to the efforts of that first generation of mtb trail builders everyone in Ohio is within an hour or so drive of some sort of legal trail. With continued effort from today's riders we can open more trails to mountain bikes and we can create more miles of high quality, sustainable trails.
If you're a rider and are interested in getting involved with the trail building aspect, but hesitate because of the level of physical labor involved, consider this: it takes no more effort than an average ride, and provides an excellent cross training exercise. Plus, our trail stewards aren't there to crack the whip and make you miserable - you work at your own rate, on jobs suitable for you, and you quit when you want. Our trail work days range from two hours to five hours, depending on the weather and the task at hand. Any time that you can give to help is gratefully accepted.
If you're hesitant to get involved because you wonder about coming in to a tightly knit group of builders who will look down on an inexperienced newbie, you need not worry. Our trail building days have a strong social side to them, with groups of volunteers involved in conversations ranging from jokes to trail tails to environmental and political concerns. People take breaks as needed to rest, get some water or a snack, and check out the work being done by their fellow workers. The experienced builders are always willing to take time to explain the concepts behind a job and to listen to alternate ideas for any section of trail. While we do get a tremendous amount accomplished at a typical trail work day, we also have a lot of fun and get a real chance to socialize with our fellow riders and club members.
This may sound like a lot of the same old talk trying to get people to be involved in a cause, but there is a basic truth behind it. If we as riders don't get involved in building and maintaining our trails then they will eventually just cease to exist. We all know we don't want that - what we want is MORE and BETTER trails. And that won't happen either unless we show up and make our contribution. We can make a difference for riders in our area, and you can be a part of it. Be a trail builder. 
Note: This is an article I wrote for the Rust Belt Revival Trail Coalition e-newsletter that I put together every month.  If anyone out there is interested in reading these newsletters let me know through the 'comments'.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

One year plus

Yeah, I know.  I NEVER post two days in a row.  But there were a couple of things I wanted to say that wouldn't have fit in with the last post.  So I'm putting up a short, bonus post at no added cost to you.

It's been over a year since I started this blog.  And it's got 3,400 views - which is something I guess.  I still wonder who the heck in Ukraine is looking at my goofy stuff.  I do appreciate those who take the time to read, and especially the ones who submit a comment now and again.  It reminds me that I'm not just writing for myself.

There's been another milestone of sorts.  It's been over a year since my last injury.  Those who are familiar with my recent history know I've had a streak of not so great luck.  I'm hoping that I've learned enough to be able to end that baloney.

Here's a bit of video from a ride I took today.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Eyes open, mouth shut

We've been in the car for a while, chasing the vacation ideal by trying to fit too many things in one day.  A sign ahead announces a roadside rest, and since we're on a two lane highway winding through the forest in Michigan's Upper Peninsula it seems like a good idea to stop for a moment.  The rest area isn't your typical interstate style restroom and direction source.  We spot a sign indicating trail to a waterfall and start walking down a wide, mulch covered pathway through the woods.  Families on vacation speed hike on towards the sound of falling water.  A bit of russet brown catches my eye beside the trail, and we stop.  A white tail deer fawn lies tucked beneath the branches of a low growing shrub just off the trail.  It lies there silently curled into an oval, eyes open wide, perhaps four feet from the groups of tourists walking by with their eyes focused on the falls ahead.  The leafy branches a foot above it's head provide scant cover, but it remains unnoticed. We linger down the trail about 30 feet watching the fawn, and watching the people.  Fifty go by, then another fifty.  The fawn appears safe.


Sweat runs into my eyes for the twentieth time as I struggle.  I shrug my shoulder up to try and clear some of it away with my shirt without having to release my grip on the rock - not very effective unfortunately.  With one last yank it comes free from the jumble of earth, roots and rocks and I pull it towards the trail.  I'll need this rock, and about another 20 like it to finish the armoring on this part of our trail construction project.  Trying to figure out where this particular rock will fit, I rotate it around then flip it over.  The smoothly eroded surface on the back of the rock flows up in a warped plane, then is interrupted.  I take off my glove and brush away the dirt to reveal a branch about three inched in diameter, fossilized into the surface.  My fingers trace the contours, traveling to where it becomes enveloped by the rock, feeling the nub of an ancient knot.  When I place this rock into the trail surface I make sure it lies with the fossil upwards, just in case a sharp eye comes down the trail some day.


We start up the hill at a good pace, but roots and gravity rob momentum faster than tired legs can replace it.  At the top I put down a foot and stop my bike to catch my breath.  My brother quietly says "Look up on that fallen tree."  Fifty feet away a broken tree trunk provides a horizontal platform where a harrier perches, his gaze fixed directly on us.  I'm surprised he doesn't fly off, then notice the small squirrel his talon pins to the tree trunk.  We don't move, and after a minute the bird reaches down and resumes feeding.  His hooked beak clamps onto the animal and pulls a long, red strip taut, till it snaps free and it disappears down his gullet.  Within another few minutes the meat is gone and it silently flies off into the woods.   I look at my brother with eyebrows raised.  He smiles and gets his bike moving down the trail again.


The place smells.  The odor of dead fish and organic decay float on the breeze.  I dip my paddle into the still water and pull the kayak forward through the huge beaver pond.  Dead trees stick up through the swampy water here and there, drowned by the beavers habitat engineering.  Some areas are choked in yellow water lilies, with swarms of flies and mosquitoes flying into my face.  The whole place is just brimming with life - the air full of insects, tadpoles in the water along with bigger fish.  Frogs and songbirds fill the air with their calls.  A larger dead tree catches my attention with slow movement among the remnants of its branches and I paddle in that direction.  The breeze rustles the lilies, yet the sun is hot on my back as I draw closer.  I squint up into the branches, trying to figure out what it is that's hanging, slowly swinging in the breeze.  Suddenly it snaps into definition.  It's a dead great blue heron, mummified by the summer heat.  It hangs from one leg, with the foot caught in the fork of a dead branch.  I wonder how it got there - did it's foot get stuck somehow, or did it just die and fall into that fork?  The frogs go on endlessly and a crow calls from overhead.


The trail ahead is faint, just barely a trace through the woods.  It's not a people trail, you can tell that by the fact that if often ducks under low branches that I have to move aside in order to proceed.  The tree cover is mostly maple, and small bogs lay here and there.  As the trail passes near one I get a glimpse of movement and see a muskrat vanish beneath the still, black waters.  Songbirds provide a constant background chorus, with the murmur of leaves in the slight breeze behind them.  I continue on as the trail becomes too slight to follow, keeping a watchful eye for areas of poison ivy.  I slowly make my way towards where I know the main trail lies, and then suddenly stop.  Ahead of me stands a yard tall stump of a long dead sapling.  Atop the ragged broken trunk sits an owl chick, perfectly still.  It's about the size of a tennis ball, fuzzy and soft looking, and silently looks at me.  I look at the trees above, but see no sign of a nest or mother owl.  The baby owl stares at me.


Recent studies show that children are spending less time outdoors, with further decreases every year.  As the childhood obesity epidemic worsens, childhood health experts lament the lack of physical activities in the outdoors.  Recent studies show that American children on the average spend about 30 minutes per week of unstructured play time outdoors.  Studies also indicate that the amount of time spent by children outdoors in natural settings has drastically reduced, with many children getting basically zero exposure to the original natural environments  of their home areas.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Paddling and Pedaling

There was a time, not long ago, when I considered myself a kayaker, not a mountain biker.  Before Labor Day weekend 2008 I spent most of my free time paddling the whitewater creeks of western Pennsylvania.  Back then my bike was only occasionally used, mostly for running shuttle on solo kayaking runs.  My passion was for being on the water, and I couldn't imagine that changing.  In my paddling days I had a streak of over 10 years where I was on the water at least once a month - winter or summer.  And don't think that meant I got in 12 trips a year either.  My paddling journal shows that I got in between 70 and 90 days on the water each year during that period. But after that first mountain bike ride I knew there was a huge appeal for me to get into the sport.   And now I try to ride my bike five days a week, with at least two of them being singletrack days.

With fall coming the weather has gotten wetter and cooler, leaving our trails in less than perfect condition while at the same time letting the creeks get their first significant water for quite a while.  So when the weekend rolled around and it looked bad for riding, but good for paddling, I went through my boating gear, loaded the boat onto the car and headed over to a run that I hadn't done in at least two years.  Slippery Rock Creek is a beautiful little gorge near New Castle, Pennsylvania that I have probably paddled at least 150 times.  The lower section is an easy run that I felt comfortable in running solo at a low level, and I had a great afternoon on the water (see a short GoPro vid here).  I even returned the next day and paddled it again with my brother (another whitewater paddler turned mountain biker). 

I had been thinking about writing a post about the whitewater experience, but decided to try to compare and contrast whitewater kayaking with mountain biking.  I'm still not sure how a guy like me got so involved in riding mtb, so maybe this will provide me with some insight.

There are a several things that the two activities have in common.  The most obvious is the setting, since both are outdoor sports that take mostly take place in 'wilderness' surroundings.  I've always loved being in the woods, and have been attracted to camping, backpacking and other outdoors pursuits since I was a little kid.  A day in the woods is rarely a waste of time.

Both entail a certain amount of risk.  Recently two very well known kayakers have died while making whitewater runs - Jeff West in Alaska and Alan Panebaker in New Hampshire.  I've been involved in the sport for long enough that I've seen too many young men give their lives striving to master the rapids.  As I age I find this to be more and more disturbing, yet it's a decision that each person has to be allowed to make on their own.  No one expects to die when they get in their boat at the top of a run, though they always know there is that chance.  We always expect our skill and judgement to be adequate to the challenge.  I had a very close call early in my paddling history that I was VERY lucky to escape alive.  I credit that with giving me a greater sense of caution, one that might have kept me from making a deadly mistake somewhere on the river.

The risks associated with mountain biking are different.  There are much less chances of death, but that is balanced with the greater risk of injury.  Most pro or expert riders have tales of broken bones and other injuries that have come with their years spent on a bike.  I've broken both bones in my left leg, and then the next year severely torn the cartilage in my left knee (and don't forget the fractured skull riding on the street in front of my house).  I'll be feeling that knee injury every step for the rest of my life.  Still, my wife is glad to see me riding mountain bikes rather than paddling so much.  She knows the risks as well, and would rather have a gimpy husband than a dead one.

Each sport requires a special set of skills, developed with experience and time.  The balance of the rider and the craft for each is a special, non-intuitive relationship that is a result of trial and error.  But there is a strange correlation between the boat and bike, and how the rider has to be one with them in order to advance.  When I was on the water last month I was amazed at the similarities in control that I was experiencing.

Both sports have aspects that allow the dedicated to get involved beyond the actual ride.  I've been a streamkeeper for American Whitewater for over 15 years, providing information for other paddlers (like the lower Slip write-up linked to above) on creeks that I'm familiar with, and also taking efforts to keep the streams hazard free by cutting out downed trees.  Being a person who's always been fascinated with maps I also got involved in a 7 year long effort to map the whitewater streams and watersheds of the eastern United States.  In mountain biking I continued my mapping by making maps of local trail systems, and I'm attempting a much larger map of the bicycling opportunities in Allegheny National Forest.  But my biggest contribution to mountain biking has come through trail building, which has now become a large part of the pastime for me.  I am also now one of the founders (and secretary) of a new mountain bike club for eastern Ohio, Rust Belt Revival Trail Coalition, where my opportunities for trail building will only grow.

Both activities are dependant on the weather and those who are more aware of these conditions are rewarded with greater opportunities to get out there.  Both require reliance on gear that must be kept in good working order to minimize risk.  Both can be done solo or with a group. Both have a heavy reliance on safety gear and risk assessment.  And participants in each love to photograph or video their exploits for enjoyment in future days.  Both have a 'season' but can be largely pursued year long by the more obsessed.  And both can provide a huge adrenaline boost when you're in the groove and everything is happening right.

The main difference that I can see is the exertion and fitness level required.  I used to think that I was getting a good workout when I spent an afternoon paddling, and it did strengthen my upper body quite a bit.  But the overall fitness required by mountain biking is a step above that needed in whitewater.  A mountain biker also needs to have strong upper body and core, but obviously requires heavily developed leg muscles as well.  The endurance aspect is what really separates the two.  Cardio and respiratory strength is really the basis for mountain biking, probably as much as leg strength.  As a person with respiratory problems I never would have thought that something like mountain biking would have appealed to me, but as I've worked my way into the sport I've found that my breathing has gotten much better (although it will never be on par with the average rider).  My doctors have been impressed with my respiratory strength and recovery time - in other words while my lungs still don't work that great, the breathing muscles are strong and when I get out of breath I recover very quickly.

I think that the central appeal for me, for both whitewater and mountain biking, is the challenge and the counterbalancing necessity to realize your own limits.  Being on a rapid, there is no question who is in charge of the situation (and it's not the guy in the boat) and the challenge lies in the ability to pick a line, use your skills and guide your craft safely through.  When on a trail there is no active opposition - unless you count gravity - but the task is remarkably similar.  You must pick a line through the rocks, use your skills and ride your bike safely through.  And, being of relatively sound mind, I've chosen the wiser course many, many times by portaging around a sketchy rapid or walking the bike past a risky rock feature.  Every thing in its own time, even if that time is never.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Blood, Sweat and Poison Ivy

I am a trail builder.  I like to get out into the woods, imagine a path through the trees and across the hills, and then make it real.  Of course a big part of the drive to transform a piece of wooded hillside into a contoured trail is the desire to get out on the finished product on a bike, but there is so much more to it than that.

Typically around here in northeastern Ohio trail building is done in the milder temperatures of fall and spring - even during winter months if there isn't too much snowfall.  The benefits from this schedule are many - cooler temperatures, little foliage, no mosquitoes and no interference with the summer mtb riding opportunities.  Add to that a corollary benefit - all the poison ivy is dormant - and it's easy to see why this is the widely accepted practice.

Unfortunately I'm not patient enough to wait through the whole warm season to start trail work - my fevered little mind can't help but see potential trails everywhere (and if I don't build them WHO WILL??)  So when I started as volunteer trail boss on the county park project I made it clear that I would be working all year 'round - including summer.  That means suffering through the mosquito hordes and doses of toxic repellant.  It means sweating like a dog while working in hot and humid conditions.  And to protect against the poison ivy it means wearing gloves and long pants in weather that is far more suitable for shorts.  As a bonus, at the hills of the state park project we not only have poison ivy, but also stinging nettles - an interesting plant with miniscule hollow hairs that you cannot touch without producing instant itching and burning as chemical irritants are injected into your skin. 

Not surprisingly there are far fewer volunteers that show up during the summer months.  Sometimes it's just me out there, slowly figuring out the next section and leaving new trail behind me.  But a day in the woods is almost always a good thing, so I try to head out and do some trail work every weekend, regardless of the number of other people that show up.

A trail work session usually starts with choosing the tools of the day and hauling them out to the work site.  Since I'm located in northeast Ohio, where there are no remaining large tracts of unbroken forest, this is usually a fairly short hike.  Our tools are mostly not that heavy to carry, but limiting yourself to two at a time is the safe way to go.  Or if I'm doing rock work and carrying a 40 pound, 5 foot long rock bar, then ONE tool is definitely enough. 

On my back there is always a light pack, with plenty of water, some small tools, and a first aid kit.  I've carried these small packs for so many rides and hikes that I often forget I have one on and end up working most of the day without removing it.  But with my past safety record it's an excellent idea to carry first aid, and during the summer heat I need more than one bottle of water, so forgetting the pack is not an option.  Besides, being prepared is part of the responsibility of solo adventuring.  Having the means and capability to handle unexpected situations can mean the difference between having an interesting story to tell and having a closed casket ceremony. 

It's always a great feeling hiking out to the work site from the parking.  I get to follow the trail we've built from the start, progressing from the part done on the first day of work way back when.  Each section I travel is another day's work, with the memories of how it looked before in my mind and the accomplishments of each day under my feet.  Before long the end of the trail is there - and the land ahead goes on with its forest business as I look at the task of the day and plan the next step.  Then on go the work gloves and let the festivities begin.

I've found that whether the job is using loppers to cut a corridor through a thicket, benching a tread into the side of a slope, or skimming back the grass and weeds from the tread it's best to keep my pace slow.  During winter trail days you start off cold and then warm up as you work, in the summer you start off hot and quickly progress to overheated.  So I set a pace that I can maintain, at least for short periods, and start to carve a thin slice of direction out of the wonderful clutter of the woods.  Piece by piece, foot by foot, the unordered undergrowth slowly parts as the new trail reveals itself.  Each rest break shows a bit of progress, another step, another pedal stroke of distance created.   Two hours to build and ten seconds to ride...

Rocks are rarely where you want them to be.  If they're big enough, you just change your expectations to conform to the position of the rock.  But usually your relationship with rocks involves them changing from one location or position to another.  The bigger the rock, or the bigger the distance to move it, the more difficult it becomes.  One thing I've found to be a big help when working with rocks on hillsides is gravity - it's always easier to move a rock down a hill to the trail then up a hill.  But even with a best case scenario moving rocks is a gradual business.  And when working alone it requires not only a bit of muscle, but some planning skills as well.  Sometimes it can be like solving a puzzle: trying to move a big rock, turn it 90 degrees and use the rock bar as a lever to flip it over, get log rollers underneath it and PUSH it into the desired position.  Days with lots of rock work can be both rewarding and frustrating.  It always gives a feeling of accomplishment when you see a nicely built rock feature, and know that it will likely be there without problems for years, maybe even decades.  But then at the end of the day, when you walk back over the brand new trail and see that you only finished 20 feet in three hours - well, that can certainly be demoralizing.

Undertaking one of these projects means realizing that it's going to take a long time, lots of sweat and  a lot of volunteers.  But it's always the same - small steps, one section at a time, one rock at a time, one day of work at a time.  At each session's end, carrying the tools back out gives a chance to see what got done that day, and how many more feet were added.  The hike out usually gives me a chance to imagine the finished trail, and what it would be like riding it back to the start.  As I look out through the trees and relish the sight of a well defined line of new trail swooping across a hillside and over the rocks it always brings a smile.  No matter how dirty, sweaty and tired I am that always gives me the motivation to come back again.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


Upon further reflection I have to say that my last post sucked.  Another rehash of the same old stuff.  If I can't do better than that I should just stop.

This blog started out as a journal, morphed into a photo blog, then changed into a mountain biking blog.  And what I think it really should be is an exercise for me to try to learn to write a little bit better.  So with that in mind I'm going to try to relate something that happened to me last night.

After work I got the unexpected opportunity to head out for a mountain bike trail ride at a nearby state park.  With the sunset coming earlier as the summer passes I had to move quickly to get things ready and head out to the park.  I got there a little more than an hour before sunset, geared up and rode in to the singletrack.

The sun was already heading towards the horizon as I started, giving the woods a soft, dim appearance that would soon begin to darken.  Usually on my solo rides I keep to a fairly slow speed, not really even bothering to think about the pace I'm keeping.  But I knew that dusk was coming and I really wanted to make at least a full lap around the lakeside trails, so I put a little bit of extra effort into the climbs and tried to keep off the brakes somewhat on the descents.  Looking back at my previous quick time on this loop of 59 minutes I knew that I should be able to finish up way before the light failed, but things sometimes go wrong at the most unexpected moments - so I kept on riding at my quick pace.

The lakeside trail follows the inlets on the edge of the reservoir, so you climb uphill away from the water, turn round the top of the inlet and descend back towards the lake, only to turn and climb up the next inlet.  I had just made a quick descent, curved to parallel the lake shore and was now turning back into the woods beside the next inlet, which was a short climb with a bridge partway up that then turned back towards the lake.

As I turned back into the woods, the sun at my back was aligned with an opening in the trees and shone a burst of coppery light onto the trail just ahead of me.  And standing in that blaze of light was a white tail doe, frozen on the trail looking at me as I made the turn and approached at speed.  The sunlight reflected from her coat almost as if it was a mirror, creating a bright aura that was highlighted by the contrast with the dim forest surrounding us.  The light was so bright that it was difficult to see any details - it just looked like a piece of the sun was in the forest ahead of me.   She remained motionless for a second as I pedaled toward her, looking like a deer phoenix, before bounding away out of the patch of sunlight and disappearing into the cool green of the woods.  I crashed over the roots where she had been standing, turning my head to try to follow her shape, a shadow among shadows, as she bolted between trees.  It only took a second to lose her, then I was turning onto the bridge and moving back parallel to the lake shore.

As I turned another movement caught my eye - a white tail fawn still showing it's spots cautiously skittered away from me and up the hillside.  And as I completed the turn I saw another fawn on the other side of the trail turn and gallop through the forest towards the rest of its family.

The whole experience took perhaps five seconds.  I stood on the pedals and turned up another hill, pushing to keep my pace up as I finished the loop. 

When I made it back to the car I checked the time - 58 minutes, one minute faster than my previous quick time.  That was a pleasant surprise, but it wasn't what I'd keep from this particular ride.  The image of that deer, made of sunlight in the dim green of the forest, will probably stay with me forever.  Those unexpected situations are why I love to spend time in the woods.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Riding A Lot

I keep track of my bicycle exploits on a great website called MapMyRide.  It lets me map my in town bike rides (no surprise there) but it also lets me keep track of my calorie expenditure from those bike rides, and even enter in other forms of exercise (there are other things to do besides ride a bike?!?) and their calorie values.  It also has a feature that lets you keep track of your calories consumed each day, using their calorie numbers or putting in your own.  And then it coordinates it all, so that you can see how much you should eat, how much you do eat, and how much of what you eat you're burning up riding your bike.  That's a lot of cool stuff from a free website.

When July finished up I checked on my monthly totals to see how I'd been doing.  It felt like I'd been riding quite a bit, but a lot of my rides are short in duration in order to fit into the chinks in my schedule.  In the 31 days of July I got in 28 workouts - all but 6 were bike rides, and those 6 were either trail work or gardening.  I rode just under 143 miles, and burned about 16,000 extra calories.  For me that's pretty good, though I have a co-worker who just rode 150 miles last weekend.  For me, that's Riding A Lot.

So out of those 22 bike rides 10 of them were on dirt.  Most of those were in the 1-1/2 hour to 2 hour duration (time is more important to me than distance when riding on dirt), so they were definitely good workouts, but not even close to anything epic.  The rest of those 22 rides were mostly rides around town that last between a half hour and an hour, with a couple rail trail excursions thrown in for variety.   Once again, not extreme by any means but at least I'm keeping active.

And what does all that riding get me.  Well, with the heat lately I've been leaving my leg protection at home, so I have a pretty good collection of pedal stings on my shins.  Every time they start to heal up I'll slip while trying to ride over a rock and mash the pins on my pedals into my legs again.  Nothing like bloody socks at the end of the ride to show that you were giving it your all.

I also have a closer understanding of my hydration needs.  You see, I perspire freely.  Or to put it another way, I sweat like a lawn sprinkler.  So with the temperatures hovering around the mid-90's for much of the summer I've had lots of opportunities to think about hydration.  I'll try to drink a goodly amount before starting a ride, often with a little caffeine in the mix, then bring several bottles of water with me on the ride, and finish up with water and sports drinks to bring back up the electrolytes.  This sounds like an easy plan and not that much of a chore to do. 

But it's not the routine, it's the quantities that get start to drive me up the wall.  Last weekend I hosted a Slow Guys Ride at West Branch State Park near my home.  The temps were once again in the mid-90's as four of us headed out for a ride.  The heat was brutal, and the air was so humid it felt like breathing cotton.  We set off trying to set a pace that would let us conserve our energy in the heat.  Being slow anyways, and dealing with the heat just dragged out the afternoon so that it was well over two hours before we finished our lap and made it back to the parking lot.

All my clothes were soaked.  My shoes were soaked.  My PACK was even saturated.  I'd been sweating so much that the skin on my fingers was wrinkled as if I'd spent too much time in a bath.  I'd had Mountain Dew before, water during, and started on the Gatorade afterwards.  On the drive home I felt more than tired, I felt weak and dizzy.  I kept on drinking - fruit juice, more water, more electrolytes - and I still felt bottomed out.  Once at home I laid on the couch and tried to sleep but my head was spinning.  More water, more Gatorade.  Finally late that night I topped off my tank and replaced the last of the lost fluids from the ride (How could I tell?  Think about it a second.)  Relieved, I took a moment and added up the intake from when I started the ride - it came to 168 ounces.  Approximately a gallon and a third.

I started thinking - a gallon is pretty good sized.  I'm not a really big guy - 5'-7" and about 175 pounds.  You'd think it would be difficult to remove that much mass from a body that sized and still get it to work correctly (not that I was feeling "correct" at all).  That's about the size of my HEAD for example.   I guess that would account for the muscle cramps and dizziness.  This is a lesson that I have to learn at least two or three times a year.

The other thing that all that riding does is helps with the technical skills needed to ride over rocks and roots.  After spending two years working on riding slowly over technical rocks while standing, finally last month it all came together and I understand what I'm supposed to be doing.  I've spent hours and hours riding out of the seat, trying to build the muscles, balance and skills necessary to stand while riding rock gardens.  It seemed like I was getting better, but it was just an incremental thing - the big breakthrough eluded me.  Then one day last month it just fell together, and I made a step up to another level of tech riding.  It was such an unexpected surprise that I was laughing out loud as I hit the rock gardens.

I have to say, it's pretty gratifying to still be able to learn something - ANYTHING - after this many years.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Slow Ride - and yes, take it easy if you want

I've read a few different perspectives on what it means to be a slow cyclist in a world filled with fast riders.  Eldon "Fat Cyclist" Nelson has written very eloquently on the art of being slow - which seems ridiculously unfair since he has finished the Leadville 100 mountain bike race in 8 hours and 18 minutes (and that, my friend, is FAST).  There are more than a few blogs started by big (BIG) folks who started out riding very slow, and gradually rode themselves into a state of fitness where they were no longer slow.  A reasonable person might think that there's no way that a mere saddle-warmer like me would have anything to add.  But I've never been accused of being reasonable, so...

My first real experience with riding a mountain bike was over Labor Day weekend 2008.  I had a fairly nice mountain bike that I'd occasionally used for shuttle duty on kayak expeditions, but I'd never really ridden it off road.  Then my brother told me that a local state park had a mountain bike trail system.  Huh, whaddaya know about that - they make trail systems for MOUNTAIN BIKES!  After one trip I was pretty much hooked.

Thing is that I was SLOW.  Of course newbies are always slow, but I remember timing an early ride where it took me 1 hour 5 minutes to ride the easiest 3.0 miles of the trail system, which included a half mile of road.  Even though it's relatively flat in northeast Ohio the hills were killing me.  I found myself having to stop and walk up almost every one, gasping for breath.  I have some respiratory problems that usually don't cause any trouble, but leave me out of breath with a relatively low level of exertion.  But I was never one to stop doing something I enjoyed simply because I had no aptitude for it, so I just kept on riding.

Within a year my fitness level had improved quite a bit.  I'd lost some weight, though not as much as I had hoped since my legs seemed to get bigger every time my stomach got smaller.  My coordination and balance improved, pushing my cross country skills from "newbie" to "intermediate" level.  And by the next year I was able to ride up every hill in the park.  I was still panting like a dog at the top, and often ended up in granny gear to finish - but I could do it.  And another bonus - with the improvement to my breathing I stopped getting respiratory infections like I had been for the last several years.  I haven't had a single pneumonia hospitalization - which used to be at least a yearly occurrence - since I started riding.

But I'm still slow.  My technical riding skills have greatly improved, my leg, core and upper body muscles are much better - but I still have a limit set by my breathing.  The way I put it is to say that my legs can write checks that my lungs can't cash.  When I'm out riding and I see these healthy young riders speed up a hill that I took several minutes to grind my way up, I can only grin and keep on going.  And since I'm usually a solo mtbr my slow speed doesn't really affect anyone but me.

Then I got involved with the creation of a new mountain bike club in our area, Rust Belt Revival Trail Coalition.  It took a bit for it to become an official IMBA chapter, but it wasn't long before that first group ride was scheduled.   So I bit the bullet, crossed my fingers, oiled the chain and headed out to my first group ride.  At the trailhead it turned out to be a pretty small crew - the president, treasurer and me (secretary) - but I warned them right off the bat that they would be fast and I would be slow.  And though they assured me they were 'going to take it easy' it wasn't five minutes before they were gone into the distance.

Well, I knew I was slow, and I knew that they would definitely ditch me on the climbs.  But I had hoped that my regular riding routine had given me enough chops to at least keep up on the downhills.  Turns out I was wrong.  I spent a couple of days feeling old and slow, not wanting to ride, and being embarrassed by my glacial pace. 

But the next week I decided that I was going to take a 'mental health day' off work and spend it on my bike in the woods.  I mentioned it to my brother, who also rides, and he unexpectedly was able to get some time off and accompany me.  So on a fine and sunny morning we headed east into Pennsylvania to get some riding in at Kennerdell tract of Clear Creek State Forest.  It turned out to be a great day for riding - not as blazing hot as it had been, with temps in the 70's and a nice breeze on the ridge tops.  We started out on a trail that I hadn't ridden before and headed off into the lush Allegheny forest. 

Three hours later we were back at the car - hot, sweaty and dirty.  The ride was one of those where everything just seemed perfect, one of those days that will stay in your memory forever.  We rode a mixed bag of flowy contours, rocky technical features, and steep downhill trails with a short session of riding in the abandoned strip mine.  There were no real crashes, injuries or broken bikes.  We didn't get lost or dehydrated.  And though I could barely muster strength to pedal the last half mile it was an absolutely great, totally fun day of riding.

The GPS said we rode something over 10 miles, with over 1600 feet of climbing.  If I compare those numbers to the some of the serious riders they look like a nice slow recovery ride.  But for me it was an all out ride, pushing myself as hard as I could.  And I decided that was what was important - how my performance relates to ME, not how it relates to other riders who are 30 years younger than me and have never had to deal with any sort of respiratory problem.   On the ride home, and really for the next several days, all I could do was just grin thinking about the hills and rocks, the wind in my face and the sweat on my back.

That's what makes it real for me.  Doing what you can, while you can still do it.  I may not be the greatest mountain biker in the world (or even in my town) but I'm out there putting a smile on my face rather than sitting on a couch with a beer in one hand and a Twinkie in the other.  I'm going to give it my best shot until there's no way I can ride at all any more.

So now I'm putting together a 'Super Slow Riders' email list for pickup mountain bike rides at the local park.  I know there are other slow guys out there who also spend most of their time riding solo.  I think that riding mountain bikes for the social aspect is absolutely silly, but there isn't anything wrong with a little bit of company on the trail.  And maybe we can push each other a bit, get a little friendly competition here and there.   And who knows - I might actually find someone slower than me!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Dehydrated but Organized

And time passes for our hero, as it does for all of us...

Work continues to barely drag along, but the REAL world (note: there is no such thing as the real world) has been doing pretty well.  Our garden is at least sprouting, and there are a bunch of hot pepper and tomato plants in the ground, growing contentedly.  There are also sweet peas, beets, lettuce, green beans and cucumbers (don't count on the cukes though - they look a mite sickly).

A Simpson Design convertible at the Greenway trailhead.
Turns out it's a body kit that goes on Miata frames.

I've been trying to maintain a healthy level of exercise, which for me is riding five days out of seven.  Looking at my trusty MapMyRide calendar for the last couple of weeks I see that two weeks ago I only rode four days out of seven (darn that mythical real world) but the one day I got out and rode twice, soooo - it's almost kind of like I rode five days out of seven since I did get in the same number of rides.

Then this week I redeemed myself from last weeks shortcomings by riding six days out of seven.  Checking the MMR tally I see those six rides consisted of two singletrack sessions, three pavement rides and one stationary bike torture-fest.  And on the seventh day I got in three hours of trail building down at Beaver Creek (more on that later).  So it was a pretty active week, and I'm basically feeling mostly good, though I am still sporting a few fading bruises from my latest Off Bike Experience.

About a month ago one of my trail building buddies, Eric, and I started talking about what it would take to start a mountain bike club for our area.  Cleveland Area Mountain Bike Association (CAMBA) does a really great job and has helped me a lot, but they don't cover our county since we're 50 miles away.  I'd thought of starting a club a couple of years ago, but I seriously don't want to be the president of anything, so I put it off.  But Eric and I decided to see if we could get something started, so we made up some fliers and got them out to all the local bike shops.

The response was minimal, but at the same time another rider was having the same thoughts.  And when he met up with the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) rep for the Great Lakes region at a mtb event, things really started moving.  Thanks to the work and commitment of our new president, the Rust Belt Riders MTB is the newest IMBA chapter club (or will be when the final application is submitted this week).  I did end up with the job of secretary, but I think that's something I can handle.

We'll cover Trumbull, Mahoning, and Columbiana counties in Ohio, as well as the area in Pennsylvania that's just across the border.  One of the main issues will be to get Mill Creek Park to change their policy and allow mountain bikes on some of their trails.  Another focus will be continuing the work I started with building new trails down at Beaver Creek, and making that park our showcase of trail building possibilities.  After putting in three years of negotiations to get this project going I'm really excited with the possibilities.

We had a trail building day at Beaver Creek this Saturday, despite the 90 degree temps.  The park was having a Civil War re-enactment this weekend (a fact of which I was unaware) so the place was PACKED full of cars.  We're working on the other side of the creek from the encampment and re-enactment site, so there weren't many people around - just a hundred parked cars.  But I found a space way at the end, and so did Eric.  We got to work on the trail and finished off our big rock work project, an 85 foot long rock roadway that contours across a rugged part of the hillside.  The next task facing us is a steep section that will require a good sized rock retaining wall and pretty substantial bench cutting.

Building a new retaining wall at Beaver Creek.

Partway through the day Ian showed up to help with the build.  And just about the same time Doug, the "ranger" (actually a Resource Manager, I believe) for Ohio DNR stopped by to look at the new trail.  He's actually an avid mountain biker, and was excited to see our progress and the quality of the new trail.  We got to talking about the Rust Belt Riders and he wants to set up a time to do a walk-through of 100 acres of land over in Lake Milton State Park that he thinks would be prime for development as a mountain bike trail system.  And I heard second hand that Trumbull County Metroparks might be interested in developing another one of their parcels with some mtb trails.  So it turns out that there are quite a few positive things going on with the new club, and lots of possibilities to make a real difference for riders in our area.

Then today - funny thing, today... 

Yesterday I ended up doing three and a half hours of trail work in 90 degree heat, followed up with an hour and a half of gardening, in the same heat.  The real problem there is that I am of Greek heritage and sweat like a lawn sprinkler, so in the heat I have to put considerable effort into maintaining my hydration - or I crash like the Hindenburg.

Yesterday I drank two 32 oz. Gatorades, two 12 oz. Mountain Dews, and two 24 oz. water bottles while trail building and gardening.  Then when I got home I had another water and a couple beers.  I added up the total input in my head and thought that it should have been sufficient and went to bed tired.  Then this morning I got up before 7:00 and headed out to West Branch to ride.  Even getting out of bed was tough, but I attributed it to a hard day's work and being 49 years old.  When I got out on the singletrack I expected to feel better and get my groove, but after the first half hour or so I felt like chewed gum.  Despite that I continued on the singletrack, passing on the bail trail that in retrospect I should have taken.  It wasn't long before I was feeling seriously low in energy - like "maybe I should lay down for a minute" low.  I'm used to draggin' ass now and again, and this wasn't it.  After several granny gear climbs I finally made it back to the car and drove home, where I once again poured in copious amounts of fluids.

After a bit of reflection I decided that I must have still been dehydrated from the day before when I got up, and that once again going into 'full exertion' mode in 90 degree temps might not have been the best idea.  This afternoon I just sat around and took in fluids, with short naps in between (I'm usually not a nap guy).  And after drinking a LOT of Gatorade, ice tea and water I seem to have once again balanced the system somewhat, as there is now at least some output to go along with the massive input.  And once again I've relearned the 'hydrate yourself, you fool' lesson.  Hopefully this time it takes!

Monday, May 28, 2012

What's been happening lately

It's been a little longer that usual since my last post, but don't fear because I'll fill you in on every spine-tingling detail.

My latest camera stopped working a week or so ago, and I haven't replaced it yet.  I tried using a couple of other cameras that I had sitting around, but the results were pretty disappointing.  The first one didn't work at all any more, the second one was very blurry, and the third had some other quality issues with the images.  I also tried taking some pictures with my GoPro, but trying to get in a decent photo with the wide angle set-up isn't easy.  For example, here's a shot from up at the Fellows Riverside Gardens.

Kind of distorts the edges just a bit, huh?  Of course you can always crop the shot, but it gets old pretty quick when you have to crop every shot.  Here's one with the edge distortion removed.

With less photos to post I haven't felt much like spending a lot of time trying to get something online.  But I guess I've worked up enough of a backlog to get something typed up.

It's been 14 days since my last entry on May 14.  I've tried to keep up my 5 out of 7 riding schedule as much as possible. My MapMyRide workout log shows that for the first week I got in my five rides, with two days of singletrack - including a nice, big long ride at West Branch.  That week also included the normal bunch of yardwork and gardening, as well as a trail work day at Beaver Creek and a canoe ride on the Clarion River with my son.  So that was pretty much as good as I could have hoped.

This week was going pretty good, but the wife, son and I headed on over to the Allegheny National Forest for a camping trip.  We left just after lunch on Friday and found a great campsite back on Loleta Road, right on the banks of East Millstone Creek.  My brother and his kids came over for Saturday and Sunday, so there was a whole lot of fun being had by the young 'uns.  I missed riding on Friday and Sunday, but managed to get in a really great ride along the forest service roads and what I think might be abandoned logging roads from a hundred years ago.  Just spending the little bit of time that I had available riding out in the deep woods makes me want to get some real backwoods bikepacking in this summer.  With the research I've done to get my Allegheny National Forest mtb and bikepacking map started I've found some very interesting possibilities.

Nice lawn.
So this last week I only got in four days of riding, and there was no trail work.  But it's all good, since we don't really get very much family time together.  Kenny had a great time camping, and also really enjoyed spending some time with his two cousins.  And Matt took the three kids for a ride on the river in my canoe - the first paddle boat ride for his two.  So it turned out to be a great weekend even if it didn't revolve around mountain biking (who would have thought?)

I ended up the second week with a mountain bike ride with my brother out at West Branch this afternoon.  With it being Memorial Day I expected to see a big crowd of people out on the trails.  The marina beside the mountain bike parking lot was packed - there must have been a hundred trucks with boat trailers - but there were only a few cars in the mountain bike lot.  Maybe it was the 92 degree temps and muggy conditions that kept most people away, but we had a great ride on the rocky side of the trail.  I kind of pooped out on the second half of the ride (I forgot most of my water) and took a shortcut back to the car, but it was still a blast and I feel re-hydrated and happy this evening.

Back to work tomorrow morning, with a can't-miss deadline hovering over my head for the whole week.  But I'm going to try to get some saddle time tomorrow and aim for a singletrack ride after work on Wednesday.  Here's hoping for a tolerable week and a good weekend.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Imagine that

It seems that I'm back in the groove now, and managing to maintain a fairly steady ride schedule again.  Looking back into the recent past of three weeks ago, I find it difficult to explain why I was missing so many opportunities to get out and do something (like ride a bicycle maybe).  Motivation is such a tricky thing, involving mood, stress, scheduling, percieved versus actual results, etc.  Realizing that it is such an incredibly complex thing makes me doubt any sort of "motivational" expert right from the start.  How someone can think that they have the methods to overcome all those individual motivational roadblocks is beyond me.

In my twenties and thirties, after spending years making myself lift weights, I found my workout routines lasting for less time and my desire to exercise vanishing.  Then when I started paddling all the time I found it was a mildly good workout for my shoulders and upper body, and I would do it as often as I could.  Now that I've started riding mountain bikes the workout level has skyrocketed.  Since I enjoy it so much it never seems like a chore to get a workout in. 

So it seems obvious to me - if you want to be fit, find an exercise that you actually enjoy.  Not something that you can tolerate, or make yourself do twice a week.  Make it something that you really like, so much that you do it as often as possible.  So much that you'll gladly do other, not-so-fun exercise to make it easier to do the FUN stuff.  Amazingly simple, right?

Hogback Ridge, part of Lake County Metroparks

Actually, I'm afraid that is likely to be WRONG.  That is the kind of thinking that convinces those motivational speaker guys that they should go out and tell other people their brilliant ideas in order to make life perfect.  Upon further consideration it would seem that some people are not ever going to find something physical that they can truly enjoy.  For some people the cost of extended effort, physical fatigue and risk of injury will never be worth the adrenaline and accomplishment of any kind of intense physical activity, be it running, dance, karate, swimming or even mountain biking.  For these people, overcoming this particular motivational roadblock must be even more difficult.  I'd make a lousy motivational speaker I guess, because with only my one insight - I have no answers for the difficult questions.

Looking at my MapMyRide workout sheet for back to the last time I posted 11 days ago, it looks like I had a ride every day except for two, and one of those off days I did three hours of trail work as well as rototilling my Mom's garden.  Those nine ride days included five days of singletrack, and totalled out at around 90 miles.  With the local trails at West Branch State Park finally reopening (actually, reopening early this year), I've been able to head out there a couple of times and get in quick rides when I have only two hours or so of free time.  Plus I also got in a longer ride too, that surprisingly enough didn't even make me feel like I was going to die at the end.  Things bode well for an epic ride day in my near future - if I can just get everything to fall in place so that I can get four or so hours of free time...

A friend of mine from the rail trail.

I'm also back on the regular schedule for trail work.  This weekend we had a nice work day at North Road, maintaining the old trail and pushing on the new. Last weekend Eric and I got in a good day of work down at Beaver Creek, cutting in more bench on the hillside trail above the creek.  It's not exactly fast work, but it is rewarding to see such interesting new trail slowly emerging from the hillside.  We came across a section that was just full of big rocks, jumbled up on top of each other with little actual dirt between them - Eric called it the cannonball farm, and that summarized it nicely.  We took a bit of extra time and fashioned a rock roadway across the section, made of rocks up to about 250 pounds.  This should be a blast to ride, and even a nice surface for walkers.

Eric on the roadway at the cannonball farm.
I got out this evening for just over an hour on the singletrack at West Branch.  I had a great time, and even felt good on the hills.  I'm lucky.  I'm lucky  that though things may be stressful in the rest of my life, riding through the woods can bring me back to earth and put things in perspective.  I'm lucky that something as simple as biking can give me so much.  And I'm really lucky that my one insight into motivation actually applies to me.

Keep on riding folks.