Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Another Look at Trail Building

I've written here about trail building before, but since it's been taking up quite a bit of my time this fall I figure it's time to come back to the topic once more.

For the time being my trail building energy is being spent developing a short (approx. 3 mile) mountain bike/hiking trail network at North Road Nature Preserve, a county park in my home town of Warren, Ohio.  This piece of land is bounded on one side by swampy, slow Mosquito Creek, with a big apartment complex framing the other side. The land was put into a conservation easement by a developer, then the state of Ohio transferred it to Trumbull County Metroparks for possible future development.  The total acreage is about 140 acres, but because of some site features we've limited our trail network to about half of the site.

The terrain is gently sloping towards the creek, with not very good drainage.  Part of the land was bulldozed back in the 60's as it was intended to become an addition to the apartment complex.  The vegetation on this part of the land is recovering forest, with some fairly good sized trees and patches of dense scrub in the lower, wetter spots.  Back by the creek there is strip of more mature, open forest, with some trees in the 4 to 5 foot diameter range.  And then there is a section of dense, short scrub  - the worst stuff to build trails through that I'm familiar with.

Three years ago I heard that the Howland Wellness Committee had volunteered to build trails at this site.  Since I had some experience helping  CAMBA (Cleveland Area Mountain Bike Association) build trails at West Branch State Park it seemed like I should join them and help to get this accomplished.  Turns out that I was the only one who actually had trail building experience, so I got to be the informal boss of the crew.

A section of the Red Trail, raked and ready to ride.

That first year we spent a bit of time just walking the site, getting familiar with what it had to offer.  What we found out is that the site wasn't particularly well suited for hike/mtb trails - the drainage is poor enough that during wet seasons the whole thing pretty much turns to mud.  But this would be the first shot at mtb trails in our county, and if we turned down this opportunity it might take 20 years for us to get a second chance. So we flagged a 1 mile trail loop through the second growth woods near the apartments and set to work.

One of the wet spots on the Red Trail, with a rock stockpile for armoring.

Our crew has varied over the years, but it's always been a small group.  Most of the volunteers are even older than me, and are not mountain bikers - just a group of nature-loving community people who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty.  We've had some help from other groups - Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and once from a small local mtb club.  Since we're such a small group we don't limit ourselves to fall/winter work sessions like the bigger clubs in our area - we work all year long, conditions permitting.  But with an older core group we limit our work days to just a couple of hours, so it helps to get out more often.

The trail building process goes like this - flagging, detail flagging, corridor cutting, and tread finishing.  We start by flagging a rough line through the woods, avoiding as many wet spots as possible and hitting as many desirable areas as we can.  After that we pin-flag the trail to a more precise route, picking which side of which tree we want to pass and how tight we want the curves to be.  The next step, corridor cutting, is where it actually starts to look like a trail.  Using loppers and saws we cut back the trees and undergrowth to create a corridor about 4' wide and 7' tall.  Cutting corridor through the mature forest is pretty easy.  Cutting corridor through the newer forest is quite a bit harder.  Cutting through the scrub is brutal.

Once the corridor is cut in we have to make the tread that actually forms the trail.  We're aiming for an 18" wide tread of clear dirt in the center of the corridor, with the undergrowth trimmed down on either side.  That involves a lot of cutting out of small sapling stumps and pulling of weeds.  In the sections going through scrub this part of the job is amazingly difficult.

But persistence pays off and after the first year we had our initial trail loop finished.  That gave us 1 mile of beginner level trail, so we began planning for phase 2.  This was an out and back trail that cut down by the creek through the more mature woods.  We'd tried to run part of it right alongside the creek, but the whole area near the water was too low and soft, so we had to keep a good distance back to take advantage of more suitable soils.  It took the whole year to finish phase 2, but it turned out pretty nice.  With this trail being an out and back, now we had a 2.5 mile ride possible in one 'lap'.

In the spring of 2013 we started flagging the phase 3 of the trail.  We wanted to take advantage of the more mature forest area, and also run trail down a section of higher creek bank downstream, but in order to do this we were going to have to run a section of the trail through the dense scrub - not an optimal choice, but it's what we have to deal with.  We worked on it through the summer and fall, but when last winter hit us with long periods of heavy snow and extreme cold progress almost stopped.  Then the late spring and early summer of 2014 turned out to be so rainy that the trails were barely even suitable for walking, much less riding or working.  So it was into August before we were able to get back on track.

Newly built trail on phase 3.

The section of phase 3 that we had built in 2013 down by the creek was still in good condition, but the rainy summer had allowed the undergrowth in the recovering forest to sprout up like weeds (amazing, huh?)  We spent a good deal of time re-working the tread as well as adding rock armoring to the wettest spots.  And finally, about 2 months ago, we cut the last section of corridor for phase 3, connecting the creekside trail with the trail through the recovering woods.  Unfortunately this connection is through the dense scrub, and is the least suitable terrain for trail building that we've encountered yet.  But we're not about to give up, so it will eventually get turned into singletrack.

Newly cut corridor through the dense scrub of phase 3.  Bleah.

One of the aspects of this project that has been a lot of work is the rocks - or more precisely the LACK of rocks.  With as poor drainage as the site has it's impossible to build trail that misses all the wet spots.  To deal with these wet spots the most common approach is rock armoring - in other words paving the wet areas with big rocks.  Unfortunately there are nearly no rocks on site bigger than an apple.  That means that we have to bring rocks from off site, and then carry them into the wet spots using our trail wagon.  So far I figure we've hauled in around 6 tons of rock and gravel - all by hand power.

More new phase 3 trail through the scrub.
Another problem for this site is the blasted multiflora roses.  These are an invasive species of wild roses that are widespread across the site. While their white flowers do look nice, and the rose hips provide food for the birds - these things are the bane of my existence.  One plant can spread out over a 20' diameter, with long canes that can grow up to a foot a week.  So not only are they a pain to get rid of when you're building trail, but they constantly need cut back during the spring and summer as they reach out onto the trail.  This fall I've spent a LOT of time on the existing trails, taking advantage of the sparser foliage to hunt down and eliminate rose bushes within 10' of the trail.  My hope is that this will save a ton on maintenance time this next riding season.

Gravel path and rock armoring on one of the wet spots on phase 3.

I'm guessing that we will finish off the phase 3 trail in 2015 (that is if it doesn't rain all spring and summer like in 2014).  That would complete the scope of our original trail plan, and give a 'lap' of  about 3.5 miles.  There is a tentative plan to change the phase 2 out and back trail to a loop, which would add a bit more trail.  Personally, once the phase 3 trail is done I hope to add some mtb specific trail features to phase 2 and 3, so that developing mtbrs will have a bit of challenge once they're used to the phase 1 beginners trail.  Once that's done I have another idea - I plan on approaching Mosquito Lake State Park (just 6 miles up the road) to see if they'll let me build a mile or two of trail in their 'multipurpose trail' area.

One other little nugget of trail news from this fall,  Way back in the woods, but still within sight of our phase 2 trail, one of our volunteers found a cache of suspicious looking containers hidden out of sight beneath a big fallen log.  To make a long story short, it turned out to be chemicals used for the manufacture of methamphetamine.  It doesn't look like they actually had the lab set up back there, but just had the chemicals hidden in the woods for some reason.  Our local police investigated and removed the hazard, but it just goes to show that you need to keep your eyes open at all times.

The stash of chemicals.

Here's a little video of the phase 1 trail - aka the Red Trail.  This is from just a week or so ago, and shows that our raked trail is maintaining a surprisingly good tread considering the rain and chill temperatures we'd had for the previous couple of weeks.

Special thanks to CAMBA for tools and encouragement - I really owe you guys a ton for believing we could do this.  Also, if anyone out there reading this is interested in helping us build, or just wants more information about our little trail system, go to the 'Warren Bicyclists' facebook page and ask there.  Hope to see you on the trail!

BTW it looks like I've been writing this blog for just over 3 years.  Today it says that it got it's 12,000th view!  Not too bad for such a wandering and disorganized mess.  Special thanks to all the Russians and Ukrainians who apparently check it out frequently (????).

Friday, October 31, 2014

Video Snapshots

For the last couple of years I've been trying to carry a digital camera with me just about every time I go do something (and no, I don't just use the one on my smart phone because I don't have - or want - one).  The result is that I take a lot of photos, most of which are not very good.  Sometimes though I take a video clip instead - just a short recording of a few moments, trying to capture the feeling of the time and place.  Here are a couple of the good ones.

This is Little Beaver Creek, in eastern Ohio.  The stone structure is one of the locks from the old Sandy and Beaver Canal built in the mid 19th century.  This one is the infamous haunted Gretchen's Lock, an appropriate subject for the Halloween season.

Headwaters Trail is a rail trail in nearby Portage County.  This little waterfall is just off the main trail, yet you can only see it after the summer foliage is gone.

Next is the mill and dam on Slippery Rock Creek at McConnell's Mill State Park in western Pennsylvania.  This is one of the main whitewater creeks in our area, and I've spend dozens, if not hundreds, of days paddling here.

My brother and I went camping at Mountwood Park, near Parkersburg, WV for a two day mountain bike binge.  There is a big campground a mile away, and seven sites by the lake - where there was no one camped.  This was our view in the morning.

Western Reserve Greenway is a part of the Great Ohio Lake To River Greenway.  It's the local rail trail, and I spend quite a bit of time riding there.  This is the leaf fall on the Ashtabula County portion of the trail, just north of Rock Creek.

This one is from the Trumbull County section of the Western Reserve Greenway, passing wetlands near the wildlife viewing platform.

One more WRG clip - this one heading back home on a winter ride.  The tire track is from me on the way out.

High water on Coffee Run, a micro creek 20 minutes from downtown Youngstown.  Looks like it might be good to paddle with just a teeny bit more water...

The view out my office window into the air shaft during a heavy summer storm.  Watch the rain go upwards in front of the window.

The view of Youngstown from on top of YSU's Debartolo Hall, during my roof renovation observations this summer.

This is the view from the top of the quarry at West Branch State Parks Quarry Trail on the mountain bike trail system.

Speaking of mountain biking, this is a section of Dogwood Trail at Beaver Creek State Park, Ohio.

Here's my brother Matt riding the upper spring crossing line on Quarry Trail at West Branch State Park.

And me heading downhill at Moraine State Park in Pennsylvania.

Finally, a quick clip of me trying to record night riding over rocks at West Branch State Park - and crashing.

Hope you enjoyed the quick clips.

EDIT:  Wow, I didn't realize how bad the Blogger video processing was going to effect the videos.  You can't see the falling leaves or levitating rain at all.  Sorry!

Friday, October 10, 2014

SD card clean-up Photo Post

I've taken a ton of pictures this summer and fall.  Enough that my SD card in my camera is getting full.  So here are a couple of the better ones before I empty the card.

Ruins in the woods.  I don't even remember where I took this photo.

I love the fog.

Foggy sunrise in Warren.

Looking waaay down at Diana from the Cooks Forest fire tower.

Storm blowing in on Western Reserve Greenway Trail.

Shadow selfie from the roof of Debartolo Hall, YSU.

Kenny marching in the Apple Cider Festival parade.

Abandoned church in Youngstown.

Fog and fall colors in Youngstown.

New section of the Greenway under construction!

Fungus by West Branch mtb trails.

Fall colors from a moving car.
Mill Creek Park in the fog.

Enjoy the beauty of fall - it's almost over.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Keepin' Busy

Another two months have zoomed by, and summer has turned into fall.  Looking back it seems that I was both extremely busy and missing out on doing a lot of stuff I wanted to do.

I have been doing a bit of extra work, and while it hasn't taken up huge chunks of time it has pared down the amount of free time that I have available.  Of course there is a flip side to having extra work and that is having some extra money.  Some of it went for a new GoPro Hero, and a bit more went for fixing up my bike a bit.  The GoPro ( a Hero White) is a huge improvement over my old GoPro, which was one of the early non-HD versions.  This new one takes great video and photos, and even has decent sound.  I'm still figuring out what to do with it, but I'm betting that I'll get in at least one mtb and one kayak video before fall is over.

As far as the improvements on the bike, I need to step back in time a bit to get the whole story.  My wife bought me a new bike for Christmas a couple of years ago - a very nice Gary Fisher Mullet.  This thing is a heavy duty ride, perfect for a guy who likes to ride a lot and doesn't baby his gear.

Me with my Mullet at West Branch State Park.
I used the bike pretty heavily for a couple of years, putting on lots of singletrack miles as well as hundreds, probably thousands, of pavement miles.  And it served me well - only a couple of broken rear derailleurs in over two years. I took that bike on rides all across Ohio and western Pennsylvania - West Branch, Beaver Creek, Moraine, Kennerdell, Quail Hollow, Bavington, Royalview, Findlay, Hogback Ridge, Allegheny National Forest, and I'm sure others that escape my memory right now.

The week before vacation, in early June, I took it to my local bike shop, Thumm's, for some work on my rear brake cable (more on this problem later).  I'd also noticed some weird noises coming from the area of the front derailleur, and asked them to take a look.  I got a call the next day saying that the frame was broken right under the front derailleur clamp - terrible news.

When I got down to the shop to check it out I couldn't believe my eyes.  The post was broken the entire way around, with small chunks missing.  The fact that it was concealed totally by the front derailleur clamp was puzzling, but the fact that I was able to ride it with a break that bad was amazing.  More on this later as well...

I was surprised to find out that the bike was still under warranty. Then the owner of the bike shop told me that he'd been on the phone to Trek and they'd be sending a replacement out in time for me to have it for vacation!  I could hardly believe my luck - things like that just don't happen to me.  But, alas, a snag - when the owner at Thumm's had talked to Trek they hadn't clarified exactly what was being sent as a replacement.  Thumm's believed it was a whole new bike, but Trek was talking about only sending out a replacement frame.  That would be a problem, as it would take a while to build up  the new frame, and I was leaving within a couple of days.

Then Augie, the owner of the shop said not to worry - I was a valued customer and he'd make it right.  He kept the replacement frame for a shop build, and gave me a brand new Gary Fisher Marlin off of the floor so that I'd have a bike for vacation.  Another amazing happening - a small businessman taking care of his customer with the cost coming out of his pocket.  The new bike isn't quite as good as the Mullet was when it was new, but it's still a heck of a bike and I'm loving it.

So when Trek agreed to warranty the frame they wanted to make sure that the old frame was actually not going to be used any longer.  They could have paid for the shipping to have it returned, but instead the bike shop just took a video of me sawing the frame in half and sent it to Trek.  Pretty good evidence I'd say.  Notice the break on the bottom of the seat post.  And I got to keep the two halves of the frame, and all attached parts.

The end of the Mullet

Some of the extra money from doing the side job I've been working on went to upgrade the Marlin a bit.  I switched over the better wheels from the Mullet, as well as the disc brakes.  Now the bike stops on a dime.  And I had them add a rear rack, so that I can carry my chain saw for doing trail work.

I also asked them if they could do something about my rear brake cable.  In the two months I'd been riding the new Marlin I'd noticed a recurrence of a problem that I'd had on the Mullet - the rusty rear brake cable.  The cables are partially exposed on both bikes, and run below the top tube of the bike, where they go back into the cable sleeves to head to their respective destinations.  That leaves a tiny opening for moisture to get into the ends of the cable sleeves and cause mischief.

This probably wouldn't be a problem for 99.9% of people but for me it was.  That is because I 'perspire freely' - that is I sweat like a lawn sprinkler when I exert myself.  And with the opening of that cable sleeve directly in the drip line I was constantly introducing salt water to the cable as well as the sleeve end.  Within a month of getting the new Marlin I was experiencing the same problem - the cable was rusting and binding inside the sleeve, so the rear brakes were working poorly.

On the Mullet I'd had the sleeve replaced and put in a teflon coated cable to help avoid the problem.  And I upped the maintenance of this area in an effort to keep things working smoothly.  But on the Marlin I wanted to eliminate this problem once and for all.  So the shop put on a one-piece sleeve that covers the cable from the handle bars all the way back to the rear brakes.  Problem solved!

My Marlin with new wheels, disc brakes and rack.
But this leaves a question unanswered - why did the frame on the Mullet break so badly?  Augie said that in his over 30 years of selling bikes he'd never seen a frame break like that.  Everyone that looked at it was puzzled over what could have caused such a failure - but I have a theory.  Galvanic corrosion.  Yup, the process where two different types of metal are in contact with each other and form a weak galvanic current, which takes metal from one side and deposits it on the other.  The frame is aluminum and the derailleur clamp is steel - two metals that can cause galvanic action when in contact.  And from what I've read the presence of salt water (or sweat!) acts as an electrolyte and accelerates the corrosion.  And all that sweat just runs down the top tube, then down the seat tube to the derailleur clamp.  Amazing.  I'll be rinsing off the new bike with warm soapy water after every ride in order to keep this from happening again.

As far as outdoors adventures go, things changed from the first half of the summer.  The pattern of weather that brought rain to us every three days has changed, and although we aren't dry by any means there is enough time between rains for the trails to dry out some.  Of course that means the creeks are too low for kayaking, but I'll take what I can get.  I've been able to get in several rides on my local trails at West Branch State Park, plus some rides over at Moraine in Pennsylvania.  Add to that a bunch of rail trail riding, several trail work days, and a camping expedition in the rain with Diana and things start to look a little busier.

Diana braving the mist at Seneca Point overlook in Cooks Forest, PA.
My brother and I even got out for a mountain bike overnighter down at Mountwood Park, outside Parkersburg, West Virginia.  This is an incredibly well developed county park, that features camping and mountain bike trails.  The main campground is a mile away from the trails, but we thought we'd try to get one of the seven primitive lakeside camping spaces if we could.  Turns out that no one else camped down by the lake while we were there, so we had a sensational campsite right near the trails, with no noisy neighbors.

The morning view from our campsite at Mountwood Park, WV.
The trails were really nice as well. There are a bunch of different sections,with a fairly wide variety of difficulty.  There are a bunch of hills, so there were definitely long sections of hike a bike for me, but balancing that off with the nice flowy parts, the tech sections, and the lightning fast downhills provided us with some great riding.  This place is just over three hours away, which is close enough to guarantee that I'll be back.

Two tortoises that were hanging out right on the trail at Mountwood Park, WV.

Boardwalk trail at a fern gully in Mountwood Park.
There have been lots of other adventures as well since my last post.  The Oxroast Car Show over Labor Day weekend was really good this year.  There was an excellent spread of cars and motorcycles there, varying from antique restorations to muscle cars to rat rods.  I look forward to this show every year and I certainly wasn't disappointed this year.

A Packard hot rod.
The fall colors are starting to really show now - my favorite time of the year.  I'm hoping the weather will cooperate enough that I can get in some nice singletrack rides, a couple of kayak trips, and at least one more camping trip with Diana.  There's a lot to do before winter gets here and the snow flies!

Western Reserve Greenway in Ashtabula County.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Holiday in the Sun

Time to catch up on the last 6 weeks or so.  It's been a busy time, with plenty of fun, not enough bicycling, and too much work - but such is life.

Diana, Kenny and I took a REAL vacation this year, the first one in too long.  After last years disappointing vacation attempt, where I got a killer cold the day we left, we were all ready for something a little more enjoyable this year.

So we packed our stuff and headed west.  It took a little driving, and we had to go through some nasty weather, but by the afternoon of the second day we were in the Badlands of western South Dakota.

Wind farm in Iowa.  We literally saw thousands of these during our trip.

It's an amazing experience driving west into the Badlands.  South Dakota takes a LONG time to drive across, and it's so flat, with very few features to differentiate one place from another.  Then you get to the Badlands, and it's like another planet all of the sudden. First of all there is now a vertical element to the terrain, and it can certainly be dramatic.

Inside Badlands National Park.
And then there are the colors on some of the eroded peaks.  Not really bright, but more subtle shades of yellow, green, orange and purple mark out different areas of sedimentation, now revealed.

Badlands National Park.

The incredible forms, and the fact that they're so densely packed together is something else that takes some time to get used to.  The ridges climb up like natural trails, and the valleys practically beg to be explored.

Kenny and I exploring.

And then there are the animals.  We saw a lot more bison than we did when we were here 15 years ago, as well as several pronghorn antelope and about a zillion prairie dogs (Diana's favorite).

10 cents worth of buffalos.

We saw these guys all over South Dakota.
Taking a nap.

This is the kind of place that I could spend some time getting to know.  There is a different feeling to the land, not nearly as hospitable to visitors as the forests back home.  The nearly total lack of trees on the higher ground is another thing that kept catching my attention.  I've lived my whole life in areas where treetops usually define the horizon, and seeing places where the entire view is devoid of woods is hard to get used to.

I didn't do any riding in the actual Badlands NP (no offroad cycling), but I did do a bit of back road riding up near Wall, South Dakota.  Interesting riding the gravel roads there, when you can see them going straight ahead of you for what?  Ten miles?  Just ride out till your halfway to tired, make a 180 and ride home.  Still some impressive looking country.

Sunset in Wall, South Dakota.
And if you're ever out that way, stop in the tiny town of Kadoka, just north of the National Park, and have lunch at the Aw Shucks CafĂ©.  Great food, great service - you'll like it.

After a couple of days in the Badlands we headed west just a bit further to the Black Hills National Forest.  We stayed in a campground at Whitetail Lake for a couple of days, and then at Grizzly Campground near Mt. Rushmore for a couple more.  It was great to be back in the woods again, even if there are huge swaths of dead trees from a mountain pine beetle infestation.  They're putting a lot of effort into controlling it, but the dead trees are widespread.

Diana and Kenny taking a breather while hiking at the Cathedral Peaks area, Black Hills, SD.

We spent some time hiking and exploring the amazing geology of the area.  Cathedral Peaks and the Needles are two must-see areas.  Coming straight from the other-worldly views of the Badlands, seeing the exaggerated rock promontories of the Needles is a jaw dropping experience.

Kenny in the Needles, Black Hills, SD.

I did get a chance to ride some in the Black Hills. There was a hike/bike trail around Whitetail Lake that went right past our campground.  It was fairly well maintained, and had some pretty steep, if short, climbs.  Riding through the relatively open forest was a blast, way different than the dense undergrowth we get in the woods in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

I also spent a little while riding a part of the Centennial Trail just a couple of miles west of Mount Rushmore.  There was a long, steep, technical, rocky descent to start out with, then a missed sign that left me wandering around on the roads, and finally another pleasant stretch through the aspens and back up into the piney hills.

On the Centennial Trail, SD.
This is our third time to the Black Hills, and I can definitely see how people come to visit and end up staying for the rest of their lives.  The landscape is stunning and the people are pleasant - what more can you ask for?  We stayed for almost a week, and I would have been happy spending the next week there too.
But instead we headed south across Nebraska and headed into the Rocky Mountains at Estes Park.  If the difference between the South Dakota plains and the Badlands is jarring, the difference between the Colorado high plains and the Rocky Mountains practically knocks you off your feet.  We headed into the mountains by following the Big Thompson River up.  There was some immense flooding there last year, and the signs are still all around.  A massive amount of rebuilding has already happened, but it will still be years before the area recovers fully.

Wreckage on the Big Thompson River, CO.
When we got to Rocky Mountain National Park I started having trouble breathing.  It's been 15 years since I was last at this kind of altitude, and unlike last time I was having a lot of difficulty adapting.  After spending some time in the park we decided against the fantastic one-way road up to the pass at 11,000+ feet - I was having enough trouble breathing at two thousand feet lower than that.  It was kind of a bummer, and I felt like I was ruining the day for Diana and Kenny, but there really wasn't another choice besides heading back down to the plains.  I'd love to come back again some day when we had way more time, and try to gradually get used to the heights over a couple of days.  At least Kenny got to experience the mountains, even if it only was for one day.

Diana and Kenny in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Since we had headed down out of the mountains well ahead of our schedule, we took a little more time heading east.  We camped at a state park near Sterling, where the campground was totally devoid of trees - a completely surreal experience to this forest dweller.

Kenny at the high plains campground, Colorado.
We ran into bad weather again crossing Kansas, and actually spent a night in a hotel - all the rest of the trip we tented.  But the wind and rain were truly epic, and we were all spent from a long day, so it wasn't that hard of a choice. 

From there we headed further east and ended up at Brown County State Park, in Indiana.  This park is famous across the middle of the country as a mountain biking destination, and has been designated an IMBA Epic trail.  We camped in the park for a couple of days, and I had the chance to explore some of the trails. 

At first I didn't really expect much - after all the terrain isn't really much different than what we have at home.  After my first ride I got it - these trails were special.  They were designed extremely well, having the best flow of any place that I've ever ridden.  They were built well, with no short cuts and time tested methods.  And they are maintained well - I could see dozens of instances where nicks were taken out of low spots in the trail to prevent puddling.  It rained the day we got there, and by the next morning the trails showed almost no sign of it.

By this time in the vacation I must have been getting pretty tired of taking pictures all the time, because I really don't even have a single good shot of Brown County, much less the video that I had intended to take.  The truth of the matter is that it was just so damn much fun riding the trails that I didn't really WANT to stop and take pictures, or spend my time messing with the video camera.  All I wanted to do was RIDE.  Truthfully, I do feel bad that I didn't capture a single frame of the trails at Brown County - but it was just too much fun to stop.

We finished out the two weeks with a visit with my wife's sister and family in Columbus, and then made our way back home.  There were a few issues with equipment, and then the problem with me at altitude, but besides that everything went very well, and we all had a great time.  Kenny was glad to be done with the long driving days, and probably doesn't want another travelling vacation for a good long while.

It wasn't easy getting back into the groove once we got back home.  I had turned off my cell phone on the first day of vacation, and hadn't turned it back on for two weeks.  Getting used to all the daily crap we have to deal with wasn't unexpected - it just wasn't any fun.  Add to that the fact that it seems to rain an inch at least every three days - way more than enough to put the trail off limits - and July was a hard month to get into.

When I finally saw that the trails out at West Branch were posted as being dry enough to ride I headed out to get in some miles.  Turns out that I was on the trail for less than an hour when the skies opened up and heavy rain chased me right back out of the woods.  All that rain did make the creeks come up, so I got in a nice easy whitewater kayak run on Slippery Rock Creek, but I need some mountain biking to keep happy.

Finally it got to the point where my brother and I just decided to head out and find some trails.  We had hoped to drive back to Brown County, but the weather forecast for the weekend was pretty depressing for that area.  We were juggling possible destinations up until the last day, but finally we decided to limit it to a day trip and head over to near Warren, Pennsylvania to ride Morrison Trail in the Allegheny National Forest.

Morrison Trail is an old hiking trail that drops down a tiny creek watershed for about 500 vertical feet, then turns back uphill on a tributary, and completes the loop by cutting back across the ridge between the two.  The scenery is classic Allegheny foothills - mature forests, sometimes hardwood, sometimes mixed, across a hemlock lined creek valley.  The initial downhill was amazing - lots of steep technical sections, lots of rocks and roots.  There were also lots of wet drainage crossings and a couple dozen trees down, but when you ride this kind of trail you have to expect some obstacles.

Me riding downhill on Morrison Trail.

Matt enjoying the trail.

After a couple of miles of downhill you have to head back up.  Parts of the climb up were rideable - even by an old wheezer like me.  But there was a LOT of hike a bike on the way back, much of it up really steep trails.  This is not a trip for people who despise the slog, because the climb out is tough and seems long.  But all in all, this is a great trail and I hope to return to ride here again in August.
Great to be back riding in the Allegheny National Forest.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Back to the Soil

Memorial Day has passed, May is done, and June is here in all it's green and leafy splendor.  The weather has finally got to the point where I'm not worried about it snowing overnight (I jest  - kind of).  We've had beautiful weather lately, with temps in the 70's and 80's, and the occasional thunderstorms to remind you that the world doesn't conform to your schedule.

When I went in for a doctor's appointment in January and found out that I had packed on fifteen pounds of Christmas fat I decided that I was going to try to step up my riding when the weather finally decided to cooperate.  So when the pavement started to show through in March I tried to get out as often as I could, and to make those rides a bit longer than I would have in the past.  The result was that I pedaled over 200 miles in March, and then went over 200 miles in April as well.

I have no illusions about riding 200 miles in a month - as far as great bicycle accomplishments it's pretty far down the list.  Heck, there are people who ride over 400 miles non-stop in one race, so me riding a measly 200 miles in 30 days isn't that big of a deal. 

So when May got going and I kept on riding on a regular basis it was no surprise when the miles started to add up.  Early in the month I headed a little bit west to the small town of Garrettsville and made my first trip on the Headwaters Trail.

Headwaters Trail entering Mantua.
This is a nice crushed stone trail that runs about 8-1/2 miles from Garrettsville to just past Mantua.  Most of the trail feels pretty remote, with plenty of woods and marshes alongside.  Some of the scenery is really beautiful, and gives an excellent example of the varying terrain of the headwaters area.  This little waterfall is near the trail, and with a little bit of rain provides a bit of natural music for your ride.

The town of Mantua, near the other end of the trail, has an interesting, if small, old downtown.  I really liked the old grain elevator with the slate shingle sides.

Downtown Mantua.
This historical marker lies beside the tracks between Garrettsville and Mantua.  It's just a small reminder of the local history that is forgotten all around us.

Besides making two end to end trips on Headwaters Trail, and a couple of long rides on the Little Beaver Creek Greenway, I also put in a bunch of miles on the Western Reserve Greenway, my local trail.  It may be the straightest and flattest of the rail trails in our area, but there is enough to see if you open your eyes.

Fox pups near Western Reserve Greenway.
These two fox pups were part of a litter of at least four that I saw in a group of den holes within 20 feet of the Greenway paving.  They've been there for over a month by now, and are getting big enough that I'm starting to wonder when they'll be leaving the den.  Then there's the guy below, who was on the trail up north in Ashtabula County.

Another trail user - this one is even slower than me.
There are some really beautiful spots on the trail up in Ashtabula County.  The old railroad bridge over Rock Creek has a great view of a unique little waterfall after a good rain.  And the little rest area north or Rock Creek is very peaceful - a good place to stop and catch a breath and a drink of water.
Ashtabula County bike trail rest area.
 But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and when you're in the right frame of mind you can find it all around - even in places you've been a hundred times.

Sunset at the wildlife observation deck on Western Reserve Greenway.

So after three weeks of riding the rail trails (still waiting for the mountain bike trails to firm up enough to ride) I was surprised to see that mapmyride was showing that my monthly mileage was already over 200.  With such a strong start I was thinking I could get my highest monthly total yet - and with a bit of a push over the last weekend I managed to bring my May riding total up to 301.5 miles!  Once again, in the big picture that isn't much of an accomplishment - but to me it does mean something.  I'm not sure I actually lost any weight, but I feel better which is makes it worth it.

The mountain bike trails at West Branch State Park finally opened up over Memorial Day weekend.  Word was that they were still a little bit soft, but good enough to ride.  Last weekend I had a short window of time and headed out to give them a try.  I rode for an hour and a half, and was pleased to see that the trail was in good condition.  The local mountain bike club, CAMBA, had also done some great work with new trail reroutes at a couple of areas. 

But the thing that made me feel best was the fact that I was riding great.  I'm never a fast rider, but keep up a consistent pace that allows my sketchy breathing to keep up with the demands of the trail. But I rode the first half of the ride, at least a couple of miles, without a dab (putting a foot down).  The hills were still tough - but maybe not quite as tough as I remember them.  And when I was out of time I still felt like I had a good deal of energy left.  I'm attributing all of this to all those pavement miles earlier in the spring, building up my legs and my cardio, giving me a small improvement this year over last.  And at my age I'll take any improvement that I can get!

In news besides bicycling, Diana and I spent a bit of time together including a quick trip up to Lake Erie at Ashtabula.  I always enjoy the lakeside, and it can be a fun trip getting up there.

Lookout - a selfie!
Ken has made it through another year of school without going nuts (or driving me nuts).  The school band got its marching program together and made their yearly excursion in the Memorial Day parade.  He's getting better and better on his sax, to the point where it's fun to listen to him practice now.

Ken is the sax player near center, above the brunette clarinet player.
I've been out and about on the weekends with Dave, getting out on the back roads and seeing some sights out in the boonies.

Possible micro whitewater just outside of Youngstown??!?
This month I plan on letting the mileage totals take care of themselves while I focus on spending some quality time riding shorter miles on dirt.  So I wouldn't be surprised if June's total mileage was below 200.  But that's okay - mileage totals aren't why I ride.  FUN is why I ride!

Fight Entropy!