Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Under the light of the silvery moon

My blog posting as of late has been a once-a-month thing, with a recap of the previous month sometime in the first week or so. Unfortunately I didn't manage to get things together early in November, and neglected to post. So, under the 'better late than never' heading here is an update.

September was a pretty good month for riding, as I tried to meet a mileage challenge of 200 miles (which I managed to beat by 10 miles or so). But in trying to get more miles I rode less singletrack and more road/rail trail. Any type of riding is good, but I do consider myself to be more of a mountain biker, so sacrificing time on the dirt to rack up numbers didn't seem like a very good idea to me. So in October I tried to get my bike time on dirt if possible, rather than more miles on the rail trail. The monthly mileage total was only 150 miles in 16 rides, but 8 of those rides were on the dirt. For me that's not too bad, especially considering that my bike was out of service for several days in the middle of the month. I also spent a bit more time on trail work, with two group days and two solo days. Fall is a great time to work on the trails up here - the mosquitoes are finally gone, and the poison ivy loses dies back a bit. My long term trail project at the county park is starting to get to a point where it provides a nice, close to home riding alternative.

One thing about riding this year has bothered me - it seems like I never have enough time to just ride until I'm tired enough that I want to stop. It's relatively easy for me to carve out regular chunks of time in the 2 hour range (my wife is very understanding of my need to get out). But it seems like my ride is always defined by the time available and not the energy I'm willing to use. Here's hoping that this situation will find some resolution in the upcoming year. One thing I could do to get in more long rides is to focus on the nearby trails, so there is less driving time and more riding time. Even though I love to get out on a variety of trails, that is something that I'm going to have to keep in mind.

The weather was pretty good during October, and I did finally buckle down and get the majority of the leaves raked in our yard. If we get one more fairly dry day above freezing I should be able to finish up - I raked 42 bags so far, so I'm guessing that there are about a dozen more to go. But today the weather is making a point of not cooperating - the forecast is for up to a foot of snow in the next day or so. As I look out my window a steady snowfall is coating the Youngstown buildings. So I'm guessing that there won't be much riding for at least a little while, since 4" is about how much I can ride through without having a major coronary.

All this riding, trail work etc could lead a person to think that I'm fantastically fit, but that is really not the case. I'm probably in as good condition as I ever have been, but the fact remains that I'm a short, slightly overweight 50 year old with a respiratory problem. So my rides aren't that impressive - either in length or in speed, and my stamina is not that great. I know that I have to keep active to stay fit, and it's become part of my lifestyle to try and get out every other day or so and get some exercise. Taking all that into consideration, I had a banner day earlier a week or so ago.

Saturday started out brisk - perfect weather for working on trails. I met with a couple of other volunteers and we spent a couple of hours cutting a new trail corridor, and bringing the tread on another section up to finish quality. Our volunteer group isn't exactly a flock of spring chickens, so we're satisfied with a relatively short trail work day. After we finished up I headed home, but rather than plopping down on the couch to recover I decided to take advantage of the clear day to rake up some more leaves. Two and a half hours later I had over 20 bags filled, and the job was past the halfway point. I was pretty tired out, and figured that I'd be pretty much exhausted for the rest of the day.

We headed out to my sisters for supper, and spent some time watching some of my Dad's slides from 50 years ago. It was just what I needed - good food and a chance to relax. Afterwards, as we drove home I couldn't help but notice how bright the full moon was, with the sky being mostly clear of clouds. Just seeing that spotlight of a moon gave me a burst of energy.

As I was driving I said to my wife, "Do you have any problem with my trying to get in a night ride at West Branch tonight?" She knows that I love night riding, and I'd told her earlier in the month that I was hoping for a good full moon ride this fall, so she gave me her blessing. As soon as we got home I packed my gear and bike into the station wagon and headed out.

The mountain bike parking lot at West Branch State Park was empty when I got there at 9:00 - no big surprise there. The sky had started to cloud up slightly as I drove out, and now there was a thin layer of clouds across the sky. But the moon was so bright that it lit up that whole area of clouds, and I could see around me almost as if it was daylight. I geared up, put the lights on the bars, and headed out without turning them on.

The pale light through the clouds was bright enough to read the trail by, thanks to the recent storm taking most of the remaining leaves off of the trees. Some places the leaves on the trail blended in with the roots and dirt, but by keeping a slow speed I could feel my way over everything. Occasionally the clouds would move so that the moon was shining through a clear spot, and then the forest would light up even more - enough that I could see my shadow on the trail ahead of me. I rode for over an hour, covering more than 6 miles of rooty singletrack, and never even turned on my lights. While I was loading the bike up I realized that I hadn't even thought about being tired during the whole ride. The magic of the surroundings had provided the stimulus, and my basic fitness had provide the ability to experience something special. Later at home, relaxing with a cold beer, I entered the day's activities on my Mapmyride account, and was surprised to see that it totaled well over 2000 calories of exercise.

As far as non-bicycling news goes, the biggest (and best) news is that it looks like business is finally picking up at work. We've had a long (loooong) dry spell between big jobs, which looks like it is going to end very soon. Too early to say definitively, but it sure looks promising. Another small tidbit of personal news - as part of the Mosquito Lake Greenway Committee, it was obvious that our area needs some sort of meeting place for bicyclists. A club would be the best thing, but I'll be double damned if I ever go through torture again. Instead, I started a Facebook page called 'Warren Bicyclists' to post local and regional bike news, and provide local riders with a place to meet each other. Obviously it could have been better timed - starting up just as the Ohio riding season is coming to an end isn't helping. But slowly it's drawing members, so that hopefully it will be useful in the spring when everyone is ready to ride again.

Of course I'm ready to ride NOW. Not looking likely, but I'm ready to go!

NOTE: Blogspot is giving me an EXTREMELY hard time putting this post together. Hopefully I will be able to edit it and add some photos soon. And thanks TJ for a nudge to get this post done.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Rollin' Around Again

Even though we had a 'cool' summer compared to the last several years, there is no mistaking the feeling of fall slowly sneaking on in.  Where sleeping with the window open was providing a breath of fresh air at best, now the night temperature is regularly down in the 40's and the room is chilly when I wake up.  The woods still look green, but already some of the trees are starting to drop their leaves.  And the wheel has rolled around far enough that it's still dark when I get up to start the work day.

But I love the feeling of autumn, so it's not hard to accept that the warm weather is on the way out, and that winter is not too far around the corner.  I look forward to mountain bike rides over crisp leaves with bright colors blazing through the woods.   And I love it when the foliage dies back and you can see the contours of the land through the woods.  So I'm all ready for autumn to start in earnest.

September was a pretty good month.  The rainy pattern from earlier in the season didn't repeat itself, so there were only a couple of periods of manageable precip.  I took up a mileage challenge with a buddy to ride a very reasonable 200 miles during the month, and I managed to finish it up on the last day.  I got in just over 210 miles in 19 rides, with 7 of those rides being shorter mountain bike rides on the dirt.  It's only about the fourth time that I've totalled more than 200 miles on my mapmyride workout record, so I'm pretty happy to have managed it.  But I have to say that riding towards a goal, rather than just riding because I wanted to, made it seem kind of like a work schedule.  I'm sure I'll get in some comparable mileage months, but I think I'll avoid setting goals.

I made the majority of my monthly mileage in 12 longer rail trail rides, so I did get to spend quite a bit of time on our local greenway.  I know some places the bike trails are really congested, but in our neck of the woods the usage is pretty light, except at the sections adjacent to the trailheads.  And that means that I've spent many hours this September - this whole summer really - pedaling solo down well paved green corridors.  I put together a short video to give an idea of what its like.

Starting out at the Sunside Trailhead and heading north is a nice 13.4 mile ride to the county line.  The trail continues on another 20 miles or so to end near Lake Erie in Ashtabula, but there is a nice bench to rest on at the line, so I'll often ride up and take a break before heading back home.

The rail trail goes through a lot of farm land, some active and some abandoned.  Old apple trees grow beside the trail in some places, allowing the more adventurous riders to stop and enjoy an old fashioned apple - or maybe even some wild grapes.

It's still almost as green as the heart of summer still, but there are some signs that it won't be long before green turns to orange, yellow and red - and then to grey, brown and white.

For most of the month we avoided the extended rainy spells of June and July.  I did head out into the boonies during one overcast day and got a few pictures before and after the rain.
Just after...
and sunnier skies begin to show.
With the cooler nights we've had some intensely foggy mornings.  I absolutely love fog.  I love being out in it, and I love to try to capture the feeling in a photo.

Even when it's not really foggy, the sun on the cool, moist ground brings up a ghostly ground mist.
This month I even took a picture with an actual human in it.  This is my brother and riding partner, taking a break on the trail at Bavington, PA.

And it seems fitting to sign off with a sunset.
Here's hoping for clear skies and tail winds for everyone out there.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Labor Day Weekend

Labor Day weekend is a kind of milestone by which the summer is measured.  I'm definitely not one of those guys who thinks that it means the end of summer - heck, just looking at the calendar will show you that there's another three weeks still owed to us.  And summer is kind of a state of mind anyway, not something that's necessarily easily defined by the calendar.  But it is the end of the three 'summer months', and with school starting it means a change of routine for students and parents.

I've had a tough time getting into the summer mind set anyway this year.  I definitely missed the early summer mountain bike season, which kind of dissolved into mud thanks to the all too frequent rains of June and July.  But August - it really did give me the flavor of summer, with all the heat, sweat, bugs and grit that I'd missed.  I did have a 'no faith in humanity' moment early in the month, when someone stole my mtb backpack - with all my tools, pump, first aid kit, camera equipment, etc - out of my car, but that's been the standout negative happening in a basically good month.

The rain did finally let up in August.  I only got 4 singletrack rides in during June, and four more in July.  Almost all of my rides were longer rail trail trips, where it doesn't matter if the surface is wet or dry.  But in August I managed to get in seven singletrack sessions - not a big number by any means, but an improvement.  And there were also about a dozen nice road or rail trail rides too, so I managed to get in about 170 miles in the saddle in August.  Compare that with July, where the focus was on longer rail trail rides and I managed to total up 223 miles.  Hopefully the weather will allow some more mountain biking in the upcoming month - I haven't even been out to ride at Kennerdell this year and would really like to.

Labor Day weekend ride at Bavington, PA.

I always take my mountain bike when I go for rail trail rides - because it's my only (working) bike.  Sure it's heavy as hell, and it takes a lot of energy to bring it to my top cruising speed of about 15 mph.  But the idea behind my pavement riding isn't to go as fast as I can, but to build up fitness and burn those extra calories, so a big heavy bike is just fine.  But my father-in-law (a truly good guy) got me an el-cheepo bike at an auction, so I've been fixing it up with the idea that it will be my rail trail bike and I can stop wearing out my knobby tires on the asphalt.

This bike is a tank.  It's a 26 inch "Stalker" 12 speed - steel framed, mega-cheap.  The flimsy wheels are stamped '1989'.  The derailleurs are at least Shimano, but they're not a model I've heard of before.  I stripped off a mess of ugly plastic dress up parts, which lightened it up a bit, and replaced the ruined tires and tubes with second hand equipment from the basement.  It took a couple of days (because I am REALLY not a bike mechanic) but I managed to get both of the derailleurs to shift correctly - and the brakes to work.  I plan on putting some narrower, smoother tires on soon but even now it's kind of fun to ride around the neighborhood.   It gives me some incentive to try and rehab the 1980's Puch Cavette frame that I've had since I was a teenager...

Another thing about Labor Day is the Oxroast Car Show, sponsored each year by the Glenn Christian Foundation at the Trumbull County Fairgrounds.  This is a totally FREE event (free parking, free admission, free midway rides, free music, and a big free ox roast meal) and is the high point of the local car shows.  Every year I spend time there and every year it's a lot of fun.  This year was no exception - beautiful cars, great weather, and fun with friends and family.  I've posted up a couple of pictures of my favorite cars.

My favorite of the whole show.
Really a work of art.

Fantastic inside and out.

It was a fitting way for my son to end his summer vacation as well, with a great day of cars and fun.  Always a good thing to see the boy having a good time.

Now lets see what September has to offer.  Hope everyone who stops in and checks out the blog has a great end to their summer, and a fine start to their autumn.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Photo Post for the 'Summer'

I've been pretty lax about posting on the blog lately - seems like putting up a post each month is about all I can manage.  But I was looking at some of the photos I've taken lately, and thought I could catch people up with our goings on with a few selected pictures.

Kenny seems to be enjoying his summer vacation.  For him it seems that just having the burden of school homework off his back is (almost) enough to make the whole season.  He's been doing well, and is now officially taller than I am.

He is a joker at heart, but is developing into a fine young man.  This is him posing for the camera after his school honors program.

Our vacation was kind of a washout, since I got sick a couple of days beforehand.  We did manage to fit in a little camping, and then get out for a slightly longer stay a month or so later.  It wasn't quite the experience that we were hoping for. but we tried to make the best of the situation.  Here is Diana and Kenny coming out of MacBeth's at Cooks Forest.

Diana is going to hate that I posted her picture, but she's still my sweetheart, and I love her dearly.

I love this picture (taken by Kenny)
Our time at Cooks Forest was great, even though we've been there dozens of times.  A big part of this trip was letting Kenny spend some time in the kayak on the Clarion River, so he can build some strength and confidence to allow him to continue to develop as a young whitewater kayaker.  Even though the rapids on the Clarion are small, he was grinning ear to ear as he punched through the waves.

Kenny and I at the Arroyo boat launch on the Clarion River.

We also spent some time in the woods, including a hike in the Forest Cathedral area, where the forest has never been cut.

Forest Cathedral
It was a beautiful day in the big trees.  We had the place pretty much to ourselves for almost the whole time.  With the rain we've been having this year the undergrowth was incredibly lush, and the mushrooms and other fungus were popping up everywhere.  Noting the incredible variety of fungus we tried to find an example showing each color of the rainbow.  We had them all - except blue, which didn't look like we would be able to find.  But then almost at the end...

Blue!  We found it.

Take a look at that bright orange fungus behind Diana and Kenny at the Big Trees campsite beside the Clarion River.

We saw the river otters in the Clarion again, this time right from our campsite.  But the only wildlife photo we got was this little camp robber, feasting on cheese popcorn.

Did I mention that it's rained a bunch this summer?

It seems like through June and July it rained at least every three or four days.  The wetlands are loving it - all the water has really brought them to life.

The mountain bike trails have been soft, peanut butter mud for most of the season.  I only managed 8 singletrack rides through June and July, and some of them were on trails that were borderline soft.  Even going to Moraine State Park wasn't a guarantee of good riding conditions.

Soft, but not TOO soft.
So there's been a bunch of rail trail riding for me lately.  I've spent quite a bit of time on the Western Reserve Greenway Trail, cranking out the miles in hopes that it would help me when the singletrack was finally dry.

Waterfall on Rock Creek, as seen from the Greenway.

I'm not the only one on the rail trail though. There have been a lot of people riding & walking this summer.  And the wildlife has been abundant - I've seen deer, turkeys, pheasant, a red fox, and this guy.

There's been some road riding too, but not that much - distracted drivers are WAY more dangerous than the rocks and roots on the mountain bike trails.  But some roads are a little safer than others to ride...

No Trespassing (darn it)
I've also spent some weekend time with my buddy Dave.  He doesn't get around too well anymore, so we've been checking out the accessible trails in our area.  This one at Hogback Ridge Park is a definite favorite.

I've been up to Mill Creek Park for lunch a few times since spring.  It's always a welcome break to get up to the fantastic Fellows Riverside Garden for a bit in the middle of the day.

My favorite lunch spot there is a bench that sits beneath two Dawn Redwoods.  In Ohio.  Too cool.

And then there are the photos that I've taken while just out driving around.  Most are blurry and poorly centered, but there are a couple I like. 
Humidity after the rain.

Farmland in Pennsylvania, near Moraine State Park.

I've got a thing about taking pictures of churches in decay.

One of our local fracking operations.

And one final photo - along with some philosopy - from Fellows Riverside Gardens.

Peace, y'all.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Summer so far

I keep on waiting for that ‘summer feeling’ to hit me, but it just aint happening this year.  I know the calendar says that we’re halfway through the season as of today, but that feeling just isn’t there.
The weather is part of the reason.  The last several years we’ve become accustomed to a slightly wet spring, followed by a dry, hot summer.  But this year we’ve only had a couple of days up in the 90’s, which happened pretty much all in one hot streak.  Most of our days have been much cooler, with many days that have had highs only in the 70’s.  And the night temperatures have been comparatively chilly, with a bunch of nights down in the lower 50’s – and even one or two in the upper 40’s!  I’m not complaining about any of this though.  Back in my youth I was pretty much heat resistant, but now I’m at the half century mark I have to admit that things have changed, and riding a bike during those 90 degree days really takes a toll on me.

The other weather issue that has been – uh, let us say OBVIOUS has been the rain.  We’ve been getting pretty significant rain events pretty much every week.  Some have been fairly minor, but then we’ve had a bunch of multi-day long hard rains.  So where I’m used to seeing brown lawns and empty creeks, this year it’s amazingly lush greenery everywhere, and water levels that are far above the usual summer lows.  But the big impact on my summer mojo has been that this regular rain has kept the dirt mountain bike trails soft for weeks at a time.  REALLY soft.  So soft that you’d have to be a mtb evil-doer to be rotten enough to go out and destroy them by riding.

So there hasn’t been much singletrack this summer.  Where I usually would be getting at least two days of dirt riding every week, this summer it’s been the norm to NOT get to ride dirt at all.  Checking my mapmyride stats shows that there were only 4 singletracks in June, and 4 in July.

I’ve made a couple of trips over to Moraine State Park in Pennsylvania – a trail system that is locally famous for the way that it holds up to rainy conditions.  And I got in good rides when I went, but with the wet weather Moraine has become the ‘go to’ trails for local riders, and all the extra traffic is starting to develop mud holes in the areas between the rocks.  And I got in a couple of rides between the rain out at West Branch, Quail Hollow, and Beaver Creek.  But the trails are just so soft that riding makes deep ruts – and that is a BIG no-no for mtbrs.

What do you do when you’re a dirt rider and the dirt is too soft?  Resign yourself to riding on the pavement of course.  I've put in way more rail trail miles this summer than I ever have before.  And as the miles have added up I've started riding further distances when I have the time.  Usually I have less than two hours of free time – so that gives me time to drive to the rail trail, ride for about 1-1/4 hours and then drive home with a distance ridden of between 12 and 18 miles.  This summer I’ve spent some longer days on the trail, and have several 35 mile days.  And I've noticed that my average speeds are getting faster, too.  So all the pavement miles have been helping boost my fitness so that when I do get on the dirt I’m feeling pretty darn good, and can ride to the best of my ability.

And here we are in August, when the dirt should be hard-baked like concrete – but instead it’s so soft that on my last singletrack ride – out at Quail Hollow this week – revealed the most EPIC (and I don’t get to use that word that often in relation to my riding) mudhole that I’ve seen on a trail.  Four feet wide and twenty feet long of nasty, grey Jello mud with no way around.  Sad.  I was hoping that the five days without rain would have been enough to soak up some of the water.

The weather forecast for the upcoming week: chance of rain today, tomorrow, Friday and Tuesday.  Damn.  Well, maybe it’ll rain enough that I can get a kayak trip in…

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Hold Your Breath

Recently my 12 year old son told me that he'd like to get involved in paddling whitewater in a kayak.

His first kayak ride happened when he was about 6 months old.  He rode 'papoose' between my knees in my 15 year old Perception Caspia on a fun little ride down the Clarion River in Pennsylvania.

Over the next couple of years he got used to seeing me in my boats, and going along when Mom and he were my 'shuttle bunnies'.

Getting ready to put my Pirouette in for a run on Slippery Rock Creek.

We would travel around Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia and camp - and there was almost always a kayak on top of the car.  Kenny soon learned that Daddy would try to get in a boat trip any time he could.

Me paddling past Kenny at our campsite on the E. Br. Greenbriar River, WV.

And he got the chance for quite a few more rides while he was still just a toddler.  Many times we would camp in the Allegheny National Forest and take a boat along so we could enjoy a peaceful ride on the Clarion River.

When he got a little bigger I'd take him to a creek along with a small inflatable raft.  I'd put a leash on the boat and wade downstream, letting him float along and enjoy the water.

The growing boater on South Sandy Creek, PA.

He always enjoyed these creek trips, so just before he turned 6 we got him a child sized kayak for Christmas.

He loved to sit in his boat, and spent a lot of time pretending to paddle.  But he also got to spend a good amount of time on the water, learning how to balance in a kayak.  He never paddled any real rapids, but he loved to get in the water and paddle around while I was his 'safety crew'.

More fun on the Clarion River.

But he outgrew that kayak pretty quickly, and he seemed okay with that.  We've gone on many canoe trips together, on the Clarion River, and on Ohio's Beaver Creek.  Of course on these trips he's as likely to jump out of the canoe and swim the whole distance as he is to ride in the boat.  But getting to be comfortable in the water is a good thing, and as long as he is enjoying himself then I'm happy.

Then this year he said he wanted to try paddling whitewater.  At the age of 12 he's just about the same size as I am, so he fits in my kayak just fine, as well as the life jackets and spray skirts.  So this spring we've spent some time on Slippery Rock creek at low water - learning the safety aspects of whitewater kayaking.  He's learned how to use a throw rope, and how to repack it.  We spent a good amount of time teaching him to 'wet exit' the kayak - that is how to get out of the boat when it flips over.  And after a couple of tries he gets it - no need to panic, just do what you know has to be done and you'll be fine.  We've even run a couple of easy rapids, with him in the boat and me standing by as safety.

Now he just needs to build up some more arm and upper body strength - and the way to do that is to paddle a bunch more.  We've had some trouble getting water levels that are appropriate for him, but he's done a couple more canoe trips that definitely helped out.

But I admit that I do kind of dread him running more difficult water.  Accidents happen (brother do I know that!) and I don't want them to happen to him.  So we'll go very slow in our progression, and make sure that there are never any corners cut.  Safety first - and second for that matter.  But I have a feeling that soon enough he's going to want to push it a bit and hit some real whitewater.

And I'll be right there, ready to be the 'safety crew'.