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…


  1. Steve,

    Sorry to hear the rain is keeping you out of the dirt, but its great to hear you are getting the miles in on the rail trail. I am guessing you are amassing a very decent total for the year to date! Good Job and keep on riding!


  2. Dan,

    Not too bad. The July total was over 220 miles. I would definitely not get that many miles if I was riding a bigger proportion of singletrack.

    But I have been kind of enjoying riding the rail trail, and have obtained another old bike frame, which may turn into a 'road bike' for me.

    Keep up your August challenge! Today is exactly the kind of day that I WOULDN'T want to have challenge myself. Poor sleep last night and I turned down the chance to ride this afternoon in favor of being a vegetable. Probably tomorrow though...


  3. Steve, I have just started down the dirt riding way of cycling. Mainly to see what all the talk was about! I am at heart a touring cyclist and have always done my riding on the pavement with the goal of having a fitness level to pedal my loaded touring bike on a trip.
    This summer I started to ride some dirt with one of my boys who wanted to try it. What a learning curve! I was surprised how different it all is. First off, I found you CAN NOT measure the success of your day of dirt riding by miles ridden like a road ride. Second the brute strength is more important than fitness. It also is important the choice made on where to ride, pavement is basically pavement, I have been on a few dirt rides where it is too rocky and steep to ride, thus, hike-a-bike. But I am learning and will get better. It has been fun and gives me a different experience while still being on a bike!
    I think rail trails and forest service roads are more in my future on this bike. All to fight the vegetable status we all seem to trend to!!
    Thanks for posting.

  4. Jim,

    Yep, all true. I've found that riding singletrack and riding the rail trail are almost polar opposites in the way you have to mentally approach each one. When riding on the dirt I have to focus totally on the next challenge ahead, and how it leads to the following piece of trail. There is no time for mulling over other issues or worrying about outside things. But for rail trail riding there is no variation of the surface, no hills, no curves, very few other riders, and a two-lane rural road crossing every mile and a half. The thing there is to try to maintain a level of exertion - and while it's physically tough, it does allow you a lot of mental room to do other things.

    The comment about not measuring singletrack days in miles is so true. And miles at different trails don't necessarily equal out. I know 10 miles at my local trails is about the same effort as five at the rocky trails across the state line in PA. But it's all good - I don't need to know any numbers about the ride at all and I can still enjoy it.