Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Under the weather

Unfortunately I've been visited by some vile germ, which is trying to make it so that I can't breathe.  As a matter of fact I think this particular germ would be very happy if I just stopped breathing altogether.

Well it ain't happening, germ.  Get bent.

Before the crud of doom started to fill my chest I went back to Moraine and got in another nice loop.  And I went through some pictures from the last week, so I have a couple of decent shots.  Rather than tax my  mind with trying to come up with a (semi) decent post, I'm just going to post a couple of pictures with captions.

The abandoned section of Alexander Road at Moraine State Park 
The Shed on the switchback trail at Moraine State Park
Setting sun shines on log & rock feature on the ridgetop loop at Moraine State Park
Sunset in western Pennsylvania
Twilight approaches (and not the lame sparkly vampire kind)
Sunrise behind a cloud bank in NE Ohio
The Grid
Lanterman Mill at Mill Creek Park
There's supposed to be some nice weather this weekend, and I am optimistically hoping that I'll be able to enjoy it.  Plus I scheduled trail work for Sunday, so I'll be there unless I'm actually dying.  Fingers are crossed....

Saturday, February 25, 2012

What it is - and another trip to Moraine

For my friends and family that don't ride - this post is about what it is that makes me want to take my bike out into the woods.

I've always loved being in the woods - it truly recharges me to spend time in nature. There is something about the silence in the woods, but when you really stop and listen you can hear the life around you - wind in the trees, birds calling, animals in the leaves. Whether hiking or paddling or riding, a day spent in the woods is rarely wasted time.  But it goes further than that.

Part of it is the challenge of doing your best to take your bike over difficult terrain.  I remember when I was kayaking a lot I occasionally would take a bike with me to help with the shuttle.  One time particularly stands out - a trip on Millstone Creek, that empties into the Clarion River in the Allegheny National Forest.  The shuttle consisted of a four mile trip along a rough gravel road with several small hills.  I started out at the foot of a hill - and only rode about 200 feet before I had to start pushing the bike.  I think I only rode about 1/2 mile out of the four, the rest I pushed the bike.  The terrain was just too tough for me - gravel and rocks - and hills.  But after riding mountain bikes for a couple of years I find that I seek out the trails that have the toughest, most technical terrain - and though I don't conquer the rocks, I do pretty darn good at not letting them conquer me.

Another part is the physical challenge.  Separate from the technical, skills facet lies the physical, strength part. It takes a lot of stamina to be able to deliver the level of energy that it takes to ride a bike across country.  Just look at the calories burned for a two hour mountain bike ride and you'll begin to see how much it takes.  And I'm just a middle aged guy with bad lungs who fools around at riding - imagine what it takes for the truly skilled riders who do 100 mile races with thousands of feet of elevation gains.  It's a stunning feat to be able to accomplish, truly a testament to the strength of the human body.  But for me, knowing that I can go out on a nice day and push myself hard for a couple of hours, making it home tired but happy - that is worth a lot.

And let's not forget the fun aspect!  Zipping down a hill between the trees, bouncing over the roots and climbing up the rocks, splashing through the creeks and mud - this is really a lot of fun.  With so many responsibilities and duties, it's not easy to feel like a kid again - and mountain biking does that for me.  Even though I've promised my wife I won't do the jumping-through-the-air stuff any more, the staying on the ground stuff is still a heck of a good time.

And I can do it without worrying about competing with anyone (I'm about as competitive as a rock) - I can ride with a group or on my own.  It helps clear my mind by requiring 100% of my  attention so that I have no time to worry about anything else.  It keeps me fit - I think I'm probably in better shape now than I was 20 years ago.  My breathing, while still problematic, is better than it's been for years.  And though I'm still clumsy as a bear in a bag, my balance and reactions seem to have improved as well.  All in all, it gives me something that I enjoy so much that I'm always looking forward to the next time I can do it.

I got out on Moraine again last Sunday as I had hoped.  Then I got some singletrack on Friday, then again today on Saturday when I headed back out to Moraine again.  This time I took a bunch of extra time to shoot some video, and I put together another short video for the days ride.  I know these little videos aren't spectacular - there are no bikes flying through the air, no spectacular desert scenery - but I enjoy making them.  I try to catch the feeling of the day, and the feeling of the sport for someone of my age and abilities.  This video starts off with the trip over to the trails - and I have to say that I enjoy this particular route quite a bit.  I parked back at the Alexander Road lot and rode a short loop down by the marina, then back up the switchback trail.

I've done pretty good with my exercise this last week, though I have to admit that I didn't eat very good last night.  Pizza and beer are good sometimes, even if they aren't exactly health food.  And it's not a sure thing, but I think I might be able to get out and ride again tomorrow - which would be a  really cool way to end the weekend.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Rocks and Mud

Back in the day, years and years ago, I got around in the woods on foot.  I spent a lot of time backpacking around the national forests of the eastern US, especially the wilderness areas.   The prospect of a day walking through mud or rocks never particularly bothered me - it was just part of the price of admission.

Rocks at the IMBA Epic trails at Ellicottville, NY
Later I turned my attention to traveling by water, and I started spending a lot of my time in a kayak.  At first it was back in the swamps and ponds, where I certainly became a lot more intimately acquainted with mud - like the stinky, slimy mud packed into beaver dams.  Later my paddling adventures centered more around whitewater, with hundreds of trips on dozens of streams across the Appalachians and Adirondacks.  Rocks became an essential part of every trip, every stream and every rapid - along with water they defined the experience.

Me on Scrubgrass Creek, PA
 These days I get around in the woods on a bicycle, though I still spend some time paddling and hiking.  Rocks and mud have a different kind of significance in this realm, one as tied to the definition of the experience as rock and water are tied to whitewater kayaking.  Some would say that mud and rock are there for riders to conquer, though I don't see how you ever beat the rocks - you just manage to not let them beat you.  For me, they help to create this huge stage, where I get to go and play - making as much as I can out of what's there and what I can do.

My brother at Ellicottville, NY
Mud is another deal though.  In small doses it can be just a part of the mix that creates a challenging ride.  A lot of riders have experience with those soft spots that seem to hardly ever dry out, and have to be ridden with different strategies for different moisture levels.  The other face of mud is that of the barrier - when it's so bad that you can't with good conscience continue on down the trail because to the damage you'd do.  That's when a mountain biker hates the mud - even though it's just the same old trail with a bit more water.


This week I took the chance to head out to the trails at Moraine State Park, in Pennsylvania.  These trails handle the water better than any place around, and though it was pretty wet I thought I'd take a chance. Moraine has a lot of rocks, with a good portion of decayed sandstone in the soil, so it drains really well. Once I got on the singletrack I could tell that the soil was moist under the leaves, but most of it was still pretty solid.   There were places where the trail doesn't drain well due to the way it was laid out, but these were short stretches and not really all that bad to get off and walk around.  And since it's such a technical trail that I'm not able to ride far without putting down a foot anyway, having to get off and walk on 10% of the trail doesn't ruin the ride for me.

It was a good ride.  I had a nice couple of downhill sections, some rewarding technical features, and I fell over a couple of times.  But no damage was done to me or the bike, and I did get out and get in the sun for a while so it was all good.  I wish I would have had another hour, then I would have made the whole big loop rather than do a small loop and then some out-n-back.  Maybe on Sunday?

Near Moraine State Park.
Kenny and I went out and did some trail work on Saturday morning.  I hadn't called for the group to come and work, so it was just the two of us.  Big portions of the trail were really, really muddy and we spent some time looking at a reroute for the worst section.  We did find a slightly higher spot, but it's in the middle of the biggest wild rose thicket I have ever seen. I'm torn up all over from the damn thorns.

Near Neshannock Falls, PA
We also spent a couple of hours digging rocks out of the old spoils piles from when they bulldozed in the roads fifty years ago.  It's hard, dirty work but if the only rocks in the area are ones that have to be dug up, then that's the way it has to be.  This area is mostly full of chunks of flagstone, and we found some huge pieces that will be great for firming up the muddy sections.  I have a feeling that there is a LOT more rock in there, if we're willing to put in the sweat to dig it up.

Bridge over Neshannock Creek, where I've spent many days paddling.

We had a good time though.  It's always a good time going to do trail work with Kenny - he's a fun kid.  He loves digging in the dirt - getting muddy is no problem for this boy.  Now that I think about it, we had another fun day centered on rocks and mud.

On the way home - day is done.
I put together a little video of Moraine riding from this January and February.  It's nothing spectacular by any means, though I do like the song ("Cross Country" by the Godz).

Friday, February 10, 2012

Paying My Dues

You might thing that I'd be of the opinion that I've paid my dues as a mountain biker.  I've had my left leg broken in two places, and a year later put a 2" tear in the cartilage of my left knee. And last fall I had an accident on my mountain bike right up the street from my house and fractured my skull in two places.  Those are just the big ones - that doesn't count the littler stuff like hitting a tree last August and rag-dolling off into the woods, which kept me off the bike for over a month with bruised ribs.  But that's just the way the cookie crumbles - if I wasn't out there pushing it then I wouldn't ever take an injury (and I'd likely weigh 300 pounds and live on potato chips and beer).

But when I think about paying my dues, what comes to mind are the hours spent on the dreaded stationary bike.  When the weather is too nasty for even me, or the trails are softened up into soup - that's when it's time to grit the teeth, climb down the stairs into the basement and work up a sweat on the stationary.  I can ride for at least an hour and a half without pushing too hard, but the boredom of it all just kills me.  So lately I've been riding in increments of about a half an hour each, at least one a day.  While it's still boring as watching paint dry, at least I can turn on the tv and ride through a half hour show and be done.

Yeah, I know - not a very flattering picture.
 But I've really been trying to get back on track with my fitness, which means I need to watch my calories and also try to get in some exercise every day.  Between the stationary bike, rail trail rides, and sneaking in a couple of short singletrack sessions, now I've had 18 straight days of riding.  And I've also been doing well with the calorie counting as well.  Hopefully if I can keep on track I'll be able to resume the weight loss that I had accomplished in the fall before my accident.  For me getting started is the hardest part - once I get in a routine I find it a lot easier to keep on going.  It took me a couple of months to after my recovery to tone up some and then get in the right frame of mind (it didn't hurt to get past the holiday eating either).

Western Reserve Greenway
 This week I got in one ride on the rail trail, and then a quick singletrack session as the weather started to get back to winter.  And with me pushing my legs a little more on the trainer I had a good ride, able to put more push to the pedals when I needed to.  All the time spent on the stationary bike pays off then, when you're able to keep the momentum up the hill, preload and lift the front wheel over the next rock and the POW! deliver the power strokes you need to push up over and down the trail.  Let me hear a HELL YEAH for getting to be a better rider even at the age of 49.

Now THAT is a mountain bike trail.

I managed to get a couple of good pictures this last week.  It might just be another of my delusions, but it seems like I'm getting good pictures more often these days.  Now if I just had a decent camera...

It seems like my pictures come in two categories - outdoor photos taken while biking, or photos of urban scenes taken on the way to or from work.

And decay - Youngstown certainly has enough of that.  There are way too many opportunities to photograph abandoned buildings and urban decay in general.

The weather gurus seem to think winter is going to make a cameo return appearance for a day or two - just in time for Kenny's Cub Scout "Winter Event" on Saturday.  Then the temps will rise again and the snow will melt and the mud will return.  And I'll climb back down those stairs and put in more time on the stationary bike.  Yay.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Groundhog Day Weekend

Remember that movie "Groundhog Day", where Bill Murray got stuck in time and had the same day over and over?  This weekend I had a more fun version of that concept - three rides on the same trail in three days.

I finished off my jury duty on Friday, and with a stress level that was off the charts I headed out to West Branch.  There hadn't been any rain or snow for a couple of days and I was hoping that the Quarry Trail, with its great draining soil, would be solid enough to ride.  And when I got out there and walked up to the trail I was elated (overjoyed?  ebullient?) to find the tread firm and nearly dry.  So I cranked out a quick lap before I had to head home - the best hour I'd had in a LONG time.

Fossil in the rock armoring.
 I'd managed to get in a couple of rides at Moraine earlier in the winter, but with my dismal autumn there had been no other singletrack since August.  I'd spent some time on the stationary bike trying to tone up the legs a little, but Quarry Trail has some seriously technical stuff and I was apprehensive that I'd be pushing more than riding.  But I surprised myself with how well it went.  Don't think that I didn't have dozens of dabs or didn't walk some of the rock gardens, but overall I did pretty good and made a couple of features that I usually fail.  I got there in a foul, depressed, distracted frame of mind and left with a smile on my face.  Can't beat that.

Saturday Kenny and I worked on his ski sled in the morning, but in the 4 hours of free time during the afternoon I headed back out to Quarry.  Turns out there was some localized snow out there overnight, which promptly melted once the sun came up.  When I got out there it looked bad - water on the road and wet weeds in the parking area.  But once I checked it out it wasn't that much different than the day before.  And so another great hour of riding as I got in another lap.

Sunday morning I headed out just before Diana got home from work, with the plan of getting in a ride and then heading to work to try and catch up a bit.  The sun was out and the sky was blue.  Even with temperatures around 40 I was able to ride in bike shorts and short sleeves.  And I got in a third lap - which felt even better than the last two.  I was making it over rock gardens that I'd rarely managed to ride before, and acing tech features that usually gave me trouble.  It was great.

The weatherman says that winter is going to make a return Monday night, so this weekend was probably it for riding during the next week at the least.  But after my own Groundhog Day experience I think I can face a week of stationary bike workouts.

Gotta take the good with the bad.  Three days of riding pleasure after five days of jury duty torture kind of evens out I guess.  I put together a little movie of photos and video from the weekend.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Oh the humanity

So I've got a BIG deadline coming up at work next week.  And the Fates laughed at my stress and sent me a summons to jury duty for the week before - absolutely the worst time.  I could tell it was predestined that I would end up serving since I was the first one called out of about 100 people, and they seated me on a civil case right away.  It's been three days of testimony so far - hopefully we'll be done tomorrow and I'll be able to get back to work.  And to top it off, this is not a fun case - very tough.

But having jury duty has changed up my schedule for a couple of days, and that's always good.  I've had enough time before court starts that I've been able to take Kenny to school and then hurry out to the rail trail and crank out a couple of miles before I had to head in to jury duty.  I'd much rather be out riding on the dirt, and I probably could find the time, but after spending so many hours building trails it actually pains me to leave ruts in the dirt - and so I make the most of what is available.

I managed to get in about 20 miles this morning, in unseasonably warm temperatures of nearly 50 degrees.  All the snow has melted once again, and everything in the woods is wet.  If I had the time it would be great to be able to get the kayak out and take advantage of the high water, but right now my time is at a premium.  I'm very lucky to be able to fit in these short rides during jury duty time, and I know it.

Another nice thing about getting in those rail trail rides is that I've managed to get in some sort of decent exercise for the last eight days.  I've got my MapMyRide nutrition and exercise routines back in full swing, with some good calorie counts for the last week.  My legs are actually feeling pretty good for the first time since October, when I fractured my skull and fell out of the routine.

Now I'd like to place bicycle riding exercise in a list, ranked by increasing fun levels.  The least fun is not riding at all and moping around home sitting on the couch.  Shortly above that is riding the stationary bike in the basement - exercise but mind boggling-ly boring.  Only slightly less boring is the next step, riding on the local rail trail, which can still almost put me to sleep.  Next higher in the fun hierarchy is road riding on pavement - although this can be quite exciting as people try to run you over, sic their dogs on you, or throw trash at you from their car windows.  Note that road riding in town can be more fun, but you can also get twice as many threats of bodily harm.  The next step up would be riding familiar singletrack on a quick outing - fun, fun, fun but the feeling of exploration isn't there.  And the best time you can have bicycling is a long day on new trails, riding and finding out what's there and how you can use it.  This list hasn't been blessed by Fatcyclist or anything, but I feel completely confident in stating that this is the same order all mountain bikers everywhere would list.  Thus spake swampboy.

One of the things that I check on the web every day that I have a chance is the Picture of the Day on Pinkbike.  The forums aren't that great - the ones at MTBR are a dozen times better - but the POD is almost always great.  Check out the one for today - a great shot from Switzerland that would make a great desktop.  The Pinkbike POD is one of those things that makes life better - like Altoids, Motorhead and Molson XXX (and mountain biking). 

Right now it looks as if there's a good chance that I'll have to go in to work this weekend to get things ready for the big deadline.  I'm just hoping (praying, begging) that I'll have some free time and an opportunity to either ride or paddle.  Even though it's been a poor imitation of winter, I have a nasty case of cabin fever and am positively itching to get out and prowl around.