Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Greenway was White

I got up nice and early this morning to see if I could get out and do something while Diana was at work and Kenny was at his friends house.  It was just a little below freezing, with an inch of snow on the ground and more coming down.  Knowing that the ground at Moraine was completely soaked, and that the drive over there would take even more than the normal hour each way, I decided to try and stay close to home.  So I packed my gear and headed out for an early morning snow ride on the Western Reserve Greenway.

Instead of starting from the nearby Sunside trailhead I headed north a bit to the Oakfield trailhead.  When I got there the parking area was empty, but there were two bike tracks on the snow already.  Somebody sure made an early ride on the snow today.  I headed north and rode up past the Ashtabula County line before turning around and heading back.

The snow was coming down pretty good, and starting to stick a little bit more.  When I came up to the Dunkerton Road crossing, there were no car tracks on the road - just the bike tracks crossing on the trail.

The ditches along the trail were full of water from the recent rains.  At one spot there was a little dam where someone, probably a muskrat, had tried to make a pool.

It was a nice ride.  My feet were about frozen when I got back to the car, and my bike was crusted over with snow and ice.

I'm glad that I managed to at least get out, and I guess I did enjoy pushing on through the snow and wind.  You can't even tell there was a snow storm this morning by now.  Temperatures came up to near 40, and all the snow melted.  Lets see what happens tomorrow.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Fitness vs. Fatness

Much like the majority of the U.S. population, I have to keep a constant eye on my weight.  I'm not too bad off, but I can easily start adding pounds when I let my habits get away from me.  I stand a whopping 5'-7" tall, and weigh about 180 pounds.  The BMI calculations say that I'd have to drop to 159 pounds to pass out of the "overweight" category and into the normal weight group.  Hmmm.  That is hard to picture, since I haven't been at that weight for over 20 years. 

At West Branch earlier in the month
 Two years ago I was up to just a hair short of 200 pounds, but slowly dropped a bit.  Then this fall I got a bit more serious and lost about 15 pounds.  Then I had an accident and fractured my skull, and all my exercise habits were put on hold.  Since December I've struggled a bit to get back on track, but I'm doing better this week.

I use MapMyRide to help me out.  It has a great nutrition section that lets you keep track of your daily calorie input.  You can also log your workouts, from bike rides to gardening, to get an idea of what kind of calories you're burning.  And of course you can map your rides to keep track of mileage while tracking them with your workouts.  For a free service I think they do a heck of a job and can be a real help to someone trying to control their weight.

No comment

I think there are several things that worked for me in the fall, and I'm getting back into the habits that showed results.  One of the main things is to try to get in some sort of workout almost every day.  When you have more frequent exercise apparently your basal metabolic rate gets higher, so that you burn more calories every day, not counting your workouts.  For me that usually means one or two mountain bike rides a week (during the season when you can actually ride), rides around town, and stationary bike rides in the basement on other days, along with the occasional kayak or canoe trip or trail building day.  Let me say that I, like everybody else, hate riding the stationary bike.  But it really helps build up those leg muscles and also gets in an extra burst of calorie burning for the day.

West Branch, with the trail loop start on the left, and the end on the right.
One more thing - I think mountain biking has it all over road riding when it comes to workout effectiveness.  The road bike thing seems to build those quads, as dealing with the road surface is a minor part of the ride compared to the actual moving forward as fast as possible part.  When you're on a mountain bike and riding singletrack it's a way more dynamic situation - the rider is constantly changing position, lifting out of the seat for bumps, standing to pedal, pushing down the bars to preload and then pulling back to lift the front wheel.  On the day after a big singletrack ride my shoulders are usually the sorest part, not my legs.  So you get more muscles involved and can push out a lot of calories on the way.

Loaded up and ready for adventure, with the kayak on top and mountain bike inside.

I tried to take advantage of my half day Friday today - as hard as I could I tried...  But sometimes you just can't make things happen.  At noon I headed home and loaded up the bike, kayak and a ton of gear and headed east into Pennsylvania.  There had been a bunch of snowmelt and then rain, and all the creek gauges were going nuts.  I hoped to head over to Scrubgrass Creek, near Kennerdell on the Allegheny River, and get in a nice quick run or two on the creek.  But when I got there it looked a little bit too high for me to run solo.

Scrubgrass Creek
Honestly, I likely could have paddled it with absolutely no problems, but after the last couple of years and the troubles I've had with injuries it's become second nature to take the safer choice when there's any doubt at all.  Too bad, I was really looking forward to some whitewater.  And I know that if Scrubgrass is too high then it's likely that the other area creeks in the same difficulty range are going to be too high as well.  With darkness approaching too fast I decided to cut my losses and try to get in a bike ride at Moraine instead.  I knew the area had gotten an inch of rain in the last 24, so I just headed to the paved bike trail instead of the singletrack.

Moraine State Park bike trail
For the most part paved bike trails are rail trails, so they're mostly flat to keep the trains from wasting energy climbing up and down hills.  But the Moraine trail was created just for bikes, so it at least has some nice rolling hills.  It wasn't exactly the greatest weather, with gusty winds and blowing snow (freezing rain?  micro sleet?) sandblasting my eyeballs.  Still it's always great to get out and ride, so I was fairly satisfied with the day.

 On the way back home from Moraine I got a call from the wife.  Seems like Kenny is going to stay overnight at one of his friends house.  I'd planned on him and I going out to West Branch tomorrow morning to pitch in with CAMBA on their first trail work day of the season.  But with a free morning I feel that I may be forced to try another recreational outing, chasing either high water or rocky trails.  It'll mean an early morning departure, but I can live with that!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Small windows

Another week of weird winter.  We had a bunch of rain again, which made the creeks all come up nicely.  If it wasn't for the fact that I have a big deadline coming up, I would have thought about taking a day off work to take the kayak into Pennsylvania and get me some juicy creeking.

But I didn't.  Too much work needs done, so I stayed at work like a good employee.  All that rain softened up the ground way more, and the temps were above freezing too often.  But finally we got a couple of cold days and nights, and even though it snowed a bit there was a chance that conditions might come together briefly.

And this morning when I checked the ground it was frozen pretty much solid.  So a small window opened - the ground was frozen and there was only an inch or two of snow, so the trails should be good to go.  I got off work at noon and since I had my bike and gear in the car, I headed right out to West Branch.  I started out at the marina and headed in via Cable Line.

I turned down the F loop, extremely glad to see that there was no heaving from needle ice.  When it freezes quick and the soil is wet, West Branch seems prone to needle ice - a nearly impossible condition to ride over.  But there was only an inch of snow masking the rocks, so it was pretty sweet snow riding.

It was great to get out at West Branch after so long away.  I injured some ribs in a collision with a tree there in August, which put me out of riding for a month.  Then in September it rained - and rained and rained - so there was no riding then.  Come October I had another accident and fractured my skull, so I was out again, this time till mid-December.  Between weather, the holidays and my condition after two months of rest, there was no riding except for two quick jaunts to Moraine.  And now over halfway through January this one day window opens up - and I'm lucky enough to get out.

Tonight a big snow storm is coming in from the west, with 3 to 7 inches of snow forecast.  And then on Sunday the temps are supposed to go up to 40 - so all the snow will melt, the ground will thaw, and mud will rule the trails.  I'd like to gloat a little on the fact that for once I managed to take advantage of one of these fleeting opportunities and get out there.  Hell yeah.

It seems that Blogger has grouped my blog along with the photography blogs.  Hmmm.  I'm sure fans of fine photography are sorely dissappointed when they stumble onto this blog.  Maybe I need to type the word "mountain bike" more often...

Mountain bike, mountain bike, mountain bike.

There, that should fix it.

But I have to admit, I've managed to get a couple of really colorful sunrise and sunset photos recently.  When the countryside is limited to white, grey and brown, the burst of warm colors seems to stand out even more than in summertime.

The other day there was a vertical sunrise, where a column of light comes straight up from the rising sun. I've tried to photograph these before with no success, but this time somehow I managed to get a couple of good shots.

Even with the forecast snow I have hopes that I might be able to get out for a little ride around town tomorrow.  With the warmer temps on Sunday, Kenny and I might head down to Beaver Creek and finally get the trail at least partially flagged.  It all depends on how much snow we get tonight - too much and I'm not going to even bother trying to get down into that valley with my little car.

Mountain bike, mountain bike, mountain bike.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Serious business

Winter is serious business.  Fool around and you could easily become a popsicle, frozen to the side of a tree like that guy in "Jeremiah Johnson".  And it doesn't have to be up in the mountains either, just get yourself down in a valley so you're out of cell phone range, in a place where people don't get to that regularly.  Then break your leg and end up laying on the ground in the snow for a couple of hours.  Ta-daa!  You're a statistic!

I would like to avoid that.  It would be embarrassing to kill yourself having fun.  I'd often had that thought while whitewater kayaking.  You wouldn't think that it was such an issue when mountain biking, but depending on the circumstances - let's just say it's a good idea to not overlook anything.

So, if you ride alone you have to let somebody know where you're headed, and you have to actually stick to the itinerary - no improvising on the way.  In winter I always carry a bit more stuff in my pack, including another layer of riding clothes, plus at least one more layer of emergency clothes - just in case.  I also carry a couple garbage bags, to keep you up off of the wet ground, and a lighter and fire starter in my first aid kit.  It's not a lot of extra weight but it might save my life sometime.

In my unfortunate past I've had the experience of tearing the cartilage in my knee while riding alone out at Moraine.  It left me laying on the wet ground, with rain turning to sleet as evening approached.  I was lucky - it was on top of a hill and I was able to eventually coast down the trail and then an abandoned road so that I could get back to the car.  Given a very slightly different set of circumstances - say I'd hurt myself another hundred yards down the trail - and I would have likely been forced to stay there until someone found me.  Hard to say how long that would have been...

After another fun filled week of working towards a deadline I managed to get out for a ride on Friday.  The weather wasn't that great, but it hadn't been cold enough to freeze the ground so singletrack was out of the question.  Instead I went out to the rail trail and ground out some miles on the fresh snow.  The temperature was 18 degrees, with a wind that brought the wind chill down to zero.  I should have brought a bit more head protection, but for the most part I was plenty warm.

Kenny had a birthday this week (eleven years old!) and had a sleepover party Friday night to Saturday morning, so there was no trail work this week.  But things worked out so that I was free Sunday morning, so the plan was to get up early and get in a ride while I could.  I was a bit disappointed to find the temperatures had really dropped overnight and it was 6 degrees out when I woke up.  But I packed up a bunch of extra clothes, a couple of thermos' of hot tea and headed out.

West Branch was totally empty as far as I could see.  I parked down at the Antisocial Access Area, geared up in what seemed like a ton of clothes, and headed down the trail.  I rode 50 feet and then stopped to check my tread - just in case.

And it was a good thing too, since there was soft unfrozen mud underneath the snow.   I was amazed that even with temperatures near zero that the ground still hadn't frozen.  But I couldn't knowingly screw up the trail, so I turned around and walked out.

I rode down the abandoned section of Cable Line past the singletrack and further out the gravel roads around the reservoir.  It wasn't the ride in the woods that I had hoped for but it's always good to get out on a bike.  There was a bit of extra mud and grit on the bike, and with it being so new I certainly wanted to get it clean.  So I spent a little while down in the basement, cleaning and oiling.  It still looks almost new, except for some scratches on the pedals.

I'm hoping that somehow I'm going to be able to get out and really ride this upcoming week.  I've spent some time on the trainer this week and it just is not any fun at all.  But I'll keep it up in hopes of actually getting some time on dirt soon.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Spartacus - that's one of the names that I've heard for the chain contraptions used by a group of people to move big rocks.  I've also heard them called rock nets, or Austins - though I think the Austin has poles that support the chain net to use as handles.

mtbr forums - Spartacus-heavy lifting tool

The Metroparks gave me a big ol' bucket of chain that had been used to gate something off somewhere.  It was broken into a couple of pieces, and had a mess of different hardware on it, including some screw thread chain links.  With the addition of a couple more screw thread links and the loan of my dad's bolt cutter I managed to assemble a version of the Spartacus that would be suitable for the number of people and the size of rocks that we're dealing with at North Road.

I'd found an area in the North Road woods that had a bunch of boulders half buried down in a small drainage gully.  So this fall Kenny and I spent two trail work days digging them out for future use.  This weekend we had our first Sunday trail work day, with about 8 people showing up.  First thing we did was use our trail wagon to move the rocks from the stockpile at the entry to the first swale crossing.  This was probably over a ton of stone, so it took quite a few trips.  And while we were using the wagon, the other volunteers were loading the smaller stones into crates and carrying them in by hand.

The rock stockpile at the first swale, from earlier this fall.

But after we got the stockpile all moved I led the group out to our "rock quarry".  In this picture from earlier in the fall Kenny is by one of the piles of rocks we dug up in the bottom of the gully.

There was another pile of rocks about 20 feet further to the right, bigger than the pile shown.  The goal of the day was to get the rocks up to the top of the gully so that later we can load them into the trail wagon (or maybe sled if we get some snow this winter).  And we actually managed to move almost all of them in less than two hours!  The gully was pretty muddy, much wetter than in the picture above, so we left two of the bigger boulders that were in wet areas for another day, but the rest of them are up out of the gully and over by the trail.

After doing the heavy lifting I took the other volunteers down by the creek and showed them where the new section of trail is going to be run.  The creek had come down quite a bit from the last time I was down there, which just shows how much change it regularly goes through.  Our task will be trying to build a trail that is going to be above water at least most of the time.

Kenny down by the creek earlier in the fall.
 Next weekend I think I'm going to head down to Beaver Creek and try to flag the line for the new trail.  I've had to put this project off too much already, and I need to get down there and get things set up for a trail work day.  There's going to be about 1/4 mile of bench cut through rocky woods, and a descent from the hillside to creek level that are going to be tricky.  I can't wait to get to it.

Jeff talked to me about the Boy Scout schedule for this summer.  Kenny is still in Webelos (the last phase of Cub Scouts) but he'll be going to Boy Scouts in just a couple of months.  The troop that he's interested in is really active and outdoor oriented.  We went on a campout with them and I was amazed at how much responsibility the boys had, and how well they carried out their jobs.  And their big event this summer is going to be a 180 mile bike trip on the Chesapeake &  Ohio Canal Trail, from Cumberland, MD to Washington DC.  Of course I plan to go along with Kenny - I'm not about to pass this chance up!

With any luck I'll be able to get back over to Moraine this Friday or Saturday.  My knee is pretty sore in this cold weather, but I'm more than ready to get back on the dirt.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

More Moraine

Up before the crack of dawn.  On the road for sunrise.

Head east, then south - almost one hour exactly.

Empty parking lot.  Chilly but clear in the woods.

The trail was even better condition than yesterday.

I rode for a while - but not long enough.  Seems like there's never the time to stay as long as I want, till all my energy is gone.

Two rides in two days.  I could get used to this.  Unfortunately there's no way it can last - there's not much chance I'll get on singletrack tomorrow.

Friday, January 6, 2012


I'm very happy to be able to say - after being away since September - that I got to ride my new bike on actual dirt singletrack today.

Hot damn.

I got off work at noon to find 55 degree temps, so I rushed home and loaded everything up.  Next thing I was on my way to Moraine - the place to ride when it's wet.

Five minute from the Moraine trails

 And it was great - the trail had a very few wet sections, but of course all the rocks were just peachy.

I didn't ride far since I had limited time and I was being extra careful not to hurt myself.  But for the first time on singletrack in four months, on technical stuff that was wet and slippery - it was pretty great

I even took a little bit of time to shoot some quick video while I was out - and here's that video on youtube!:

With any luck I'll be able to get a bit more saddle time this weekend, but I know for sure that Sunday afternoon is going to be trail work time.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The New Year brought winter with it

Sure 'nuff, the first day of the new year it started getting colder and snow started falling.  It was fairly warm on morning of the first, and just got colder and wetter all day.  By evening there was an inch or so of snow on the ground and it really felt like the season had changed.

With the New Year holiday I had another four day weekend.  I spent some time working on Diana and Kenny's bikes, as well as taking care of the post-holiday mess.  On Saturday I took the new bike out to West Branch, though I knew with a 99% certainty that the trails were too wet.  But the weather was above freezing and I wanted to ride, so I headed out.

I parked out by the trail head for Quarry Trail.  Before I got ready to ride I walked up into the old quarry and looked around.  I love seeing all those big ol' rocks sticking out of the ground, just like they're inviting you to build a trail there.  After heading back to the car I geared up, got the bike ready and headed on down the road.

Part of one of the roads, Cable Line, was blocked off when the reservoir was made and forms the backbone of the mountain bike trail system.  I rode down the dead end and onto the abandoned section of the road.  The asphalt here has deteriorated to a narrow ribbon in the center, broken in areas where the gravel base beneath shows through.  The new bike felt nice across the rough terrain, easy to pedal and shifting fast.  At the spot where the gorge trail leaves the road I pedaled on up into the pines, following the singletrack into the woods.  This is probably my favorite trail at the park and it almost broke my heart to see that it was too wet to ride.  Some of the tread was okay, but half of it wasn't - so within the first hundred feet I got off the bike and walked it back through the woods to the old road.

Notice my hand stitched chain stay guard?

So there was no singletrack on the ride.  I followed the old road up to the other gate, and past - to where the road is  closed for construction.  It was good to be able to ride some hills and not be any more out of breath than I'd expect, and the broken pavement in some places was fun.  But I'm dyin' to be out on the dirt and old Ma Nature just isn't cooperating.

Dave and I headed out for a cruise down to Beaver Creek on Sunday.  There had been rain off and on in the morning, but the radar showed that it had been pretty spotty down in that area.  So I packed up the bike and gear, along with a saw and gloves, and made our way south.  The weather was constantly changing - sunny one minute, then raining and with fairly heavy winds kicking up on occasion.  After taking a look at the dirt on the trail at the top we headed down to the creek end and parked there.  I geared up, packed rain gear and extra clothes in my pack and headed on down the trail in spotty sunshine.  Ten minutes later it started sprinkling, which quickly built up into a downpour.  The trail down near the creek was in passable condition, with only a few stretches that were soft.  As the wind started driving the rain I made my way through the pine woods on solid, pine needle covered singletrack.  But as I got to the switchback and started climbing the trail conditions quickly deteriorated, with poorly draining sections that had the consistency of oatmeal.  It wasn't worth damaging the trail to get in a little more riding time, so I turned around and headed back.  The rain blew over as I approached the end of the trail, and the sun came out to create a spectacular rainbow above the creek.  It might not have been a perfect ride, but it was certainly another experience to remember.

Rainbow over Beaver Creek

  On Monday we woke up to three inches of snow.  Kenny and I both had the day off, so I dragged him out to Eagle Creek for a hike through the snow.  This is the way to treat the onset of winter - get out in it and embrace the change.  We had a nice walk through the woods, with Kenny learning to use his new camera.

It was beautiful in the snow.  The marsh was just starting to freeze over, with a thin layer of ice in the shallows.  There were a few birds out but it was quiet, with the background sound of the wind in the trees.  Light snowfall in the woods partially covered the undergrowth, but the ground pines and wintergreen still poked through in spots.

Even though the trails there are off limits to bikes I couldn't help but notice the conditions - light snow over unfrozen wet earth.  Even with the snowfall there still weren't conditions suitable for a cross country ride.  Will the snow get too deep before the ground freezes?  That is the question on my mind.

Kenny, Diana and I stayed up till midnight for New Years eve.  That's not the big excitement that some people expect for the holidays, but it's plenty good enough for me.  I have hopes that 2012 will be a better year than 2011.  Here's hoping that the economy looks up in our area and that everyone stays healthy.  Personally I plan on continuing to keep a close eye on my calorie intake so that I can drive my weight down a bit more, get regular exercise on either the bike, the trainer or the weight machine, and be more active in maintaining the bikes (and also avoid injury).

Good luck in the New Year to all.