Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Grind

It's been a while since I posted anything here - since November in fact. I believe that's the longest gap since I started the blog. But in my defense, there just hasn't been a lot of fun stuff to write about lately.

The holidays are through, and that's a good thing. I'm not a big holiday type person, and I'm glad when the blatant commercialism and worship of well-packaged crap is over for another year. We had a typical Christmas, even though it's harder to make it happen as Kenny gets older and leaves childhood behind. Still, he was more or less happy with what he got and I guess that's enough.

The main thing on my mind lately has been winter. This won't be news to anyone who lives nearby, but this winter has been unusually tough. We've had wintry weather since the end of November, with a colder than normal December and January. The mid-winter thaw that has been such a wonderful reset the last several years just didn't happen this year. We've had just about constant snow cover, and way more than normal days with temperatures below zero. Usually I pride myself in being able to deal with winter and still do the things that I enjoy, but when the thermometer gets down to single digits or below I really have very little desire to be outside.

Between the snow and the frost heave (also known as 'needle ice') on the trails there hasn't been very much mountain biking this winter. I've managed a couple of trips out to West Branch, but the trail conditions each time were less than ideal. With winter riding you expect it to be way harder, so it was still worth the trip - but its not something that I want to do that often. I've also headed over to the nearby North Road Nature Preserve to ride a couple of times in the last two months. These are the mountain bike trails in town that I've been working on building for the last three years. We're a small group of volunteers, so it's taken us that long to build three miles of trails. They're basically beginner type trails, with no real hills, and very few rocks or roots. But they're only a couple of miles from the house, and by riding a complete circuit in either direction I can get an hour of riding in the woods - and that is a good thing.

Beside Mosquito Creek on the North Road Nature Preserve trails.

I've tried to take advantage of the rail trails this winter too.  I've done a few rides on the Western Reserve Greenway - until I overestimated my skills and underestimated the ice cover, which resulted in the hardest crash I've had in a couple of years.  It's been over a month and the road rash is still healing.  I also got in a couple of rides on the Little Beaver Creek Greenway, which has to be one of the best around.  So far this winter I caught it with just a little snow, with a lot of snow, and in the middle of a blizzard.  But the trail is great, with curves and mild hills, where many of our NE Ohio rail trails are flat and straight.  And the scenery along the Middle Fork of Little Beaver Creek is hard to beat.

The Teegarden Bridge alongside Little Beaver Creek Greenway.

And just to show how far this winter weather has pushed me - I've been out riding on the roads several times.  Usually I don't like to do road rides - as a million mile plus driver I've seen way too many idiots at the wheel to place my trust in a random motorists talents.  But with singletrack unrideable, and the rail trails covered with snow packed down by illegal snowmobilers (and boy does that make me mad), the only choice remaining has been on the roads.  I do realize that I'm lucky to live in an area that has easy access to sparsely travelled back roads - seeing a car every ten minutes is about the average up there.  But I now ride with a rearview mirror and almost always stop when I see a car approaching from behind to make sure I'm not about to become another statistic  (go to crazyguyonabike.com and check out the "Sweet Rolls" tour journal for a sad story about this - and take a minute to leave some words of encouragement in their guest book too).  But it can be a lot of fun on the back roads in Amish country.

Gravel road riding between snows in southern Ashtabula County.
Riding through the old farm country can be very pleasant.  The terrain is mostly flat, and since I ride my mountain bike the road surfaces are always good enough.  As I spend more time on these back roads I'm picking out the best spots for to string together to get a nice road loop that I can access from the rail trail once the snow melts.

Old fashioned quality building.
The trick is finding the balance between traffic and snow cover.  Too little traffic and the snow doesn't get worn down, too much traffic and it's not safe.  So sometimes I choose the lesser of two evils, and ride on roads that are maybe a bit more snowy than I'd like.

Snowy, but not quite TOO snowy.
So I endure, just like everyone else.  The days are getting longer at over 2-1/2 minutes of added daylight each day.  Spring approaches - eventually.  I wait for the weekends, when I have time to ride in the daytime, and hope that the weather will at least minimally cooperate.

In non-bicycling related news, there have been a couple of developments.  For one, the firm that I work for has gotten two big jobs in the last couple of months.  When the recession hit the competition in our field got pretty fierce for the few remaining jobs, and we've gone over five years between big commissions.  But we recently won the contract on the biggest building we've ever done, and another big job not long after that (and another one that looks very promising coming up).  So that means some of the pressure is off about paying the bills etc.  I'm very thankful to the partners in the firm that we managed to stick it out through the lean times, and keep on pushing ahead towards recovery.

Another interesting happening is that I was appointed to the Trumbull County Metroparks board.  One of the retiring board members, familiar with me through my work on the North Park trails, nominated me for the post, and in December I was sworn in.  I have no illusions about the job - things happen slowly, and progress has to be planned carefully.  But I think that we have an amazing county park system for the population we have, and am excited to be able to be a small part of continuing the improvements that we've seen in the last ten years.

With the calendar heading towards spring, and the inevitable return of warm weather, I'll probably be way more likely to get out and ride.  Which means that I won't be likely to go another two months between posts.


  1. Welcome back! Happy to find a new post here this morning! This winter has been a trying one for most of the nation. At least you were able to get in some riding. :) Sorry to hear about the crash, but happy to hear there was no major damage.

    I'm looking to get back to it in a more earnest fashion starting this weekend. I won't mention that we are looking for temps in the mid to upper 70's.

    1. Thanks Dan. Trying to get into something like a normal routine. Definitely hoping (praying) that I'll at least be able to get some road miles this weekend. Supposed to be around freezing, so if there's no more snow before then I should be good to go.

      Stopped over at you blog the other day. Pretty impressive the way you're tackling the fitness now. Good for you getting in to a gym, and also for getting the wife involved.

      Steve Z

  2. Good jump back in post. I am living the winter thing. I was asking My wife if this winter is worse or are we just getting older and grumpier about it all. We have had snow on the ground since Thanksgiving and same thing here. the winter warmup was only about 2 days, I did get on the bike but I had to go down the mountain 30 miles to do it. Bitching about it all is in vogue these days. There is a new group dedicated to a weekly trail ride forming up in town. I'll go check it out once basketball season winds up here in the next few weeks.
    Excellent job riding on the slick surfaces. I'll do the cold but not the icy surfaces.
    And, kudos to getting involved in your community. It is worth the occasional flack you will get from some people.

    1. I think you hit it both ways p- its been colder and I'm definitely older (probably grumpier too). Nothing to do but endure, unless I plan on quitting my job, leaving the family, and going to live on the beach somewheres (not likely).
      But I see that temps are supposed to rise into the 40s after the weekend, and today is the first day in two weeks that we've actually been above freezing. It's not really that noticeable of a difference - but it's enough to give hope!