Sunday, August 23, 2015

D2R2 2015, or another extended version of the Green River Ride

Well, I did it again.  I made it out to western Massachusetts for the D2R2, a fabulous dirt and mostly minor road randonnee that does a lot to fund the Franklin Land Trust.  I almost didn't go.  If you've read enough of my posts, you know that I'm a mostly fair weather rider.  That doesn't mean that I haven't rode in the rain (I have, and once I stupidly rode in a thunderstorm and lived to tell the tale, but I won't tell it here) but it does mean that riding in mud isn't my thing.  But I have a small ownership stake in the D2R2.  It starts in my home valley and traverses the hills that are as familiar to me as any place on the planet, hills that make me feel right at home.  So I was looking for the change in forecast, which had been predicting rain on weekend, that was suitable for a dirt road ride for me.  And it happened on Thursday.

Late Friday evening I managed to get my car packed with bike, cycling clothes, food, and filled water bottles.  I knew in advance that I'd be without many chances to get food en route (based on the route that I intended to ride) and that there would be a 30 mile gap when I wouldn't easily get water so I wanted to be sure to have two bottles with me.  I woke early, made a portable bowl of muesli, yogurt and fruit, which I ate at the rest stop on Route 2, and a moka pot full of coffee, and said good bye to everyone.  My two boys now wanted to go (after refusing the invitation all week) but it was late for that and I could only take one, which wouldn't work well, especially with both wanting to go.

This is the first year I started out alone.  Arriving at the starting point,  I saw some familiar faces and said hello to Jenny as she set off.  Otherwise I was on my own.  I did meet Mark and saw his very cool Horse Bicycle, with front and rear racks that are amazing.

After registering (yes, I held off too long and missed the online registration window), I headed north, skipping the dirt roads behind Deerfield Academy and fell in with some riders, most doing the Green River Ride and one doing the 115, who was doing his best to pay attention to his cue sheet.  Eventually he turned off and I followed the Green River group and, thanks to them, didn't make a wrong turn onto last year's route.  Sandy (the ride organizer) found a nicer way up to the first water stop near the covered bridge at Eunice Williams Road.  Leyden Road was wide and you might expect to see a lot of cars going fast on the road but it was mostly empty.  I finally saw the covered bridge, which looks brand new.  And I saw the historical marker that told the story of Eunice's end.

Having mentioned missing a turn, I might add that I had a cue sheet but was mostly following my GPS, which had last year's route on it, along with some additions that Sandy suggested last year.  This probably wasn't the smartest move ever but it all turned out fine in the end.  The rest of the Green River Ride was the same, at least the part I covered.  Soon after I left the water stop, I headed up Nelson Road for an extra loop.  Nelson is part of the 100K but it was too early for any riders to be on it then.  That first loop kept me off of the Green River Ride for 5 miles.  Most of it was dirt but there was smooth pavement as well and I saw my first views of the hills.  I next branched off of the ride at New County Road, which brought me up to the intersection of Franklin Hill Road and Amidon Road, and the 100K route, again.  This time there were people on the course, going in my direction. I chatted with a couple of guys and then left the course again at Stark Mountain road, which is a steep drop on dirt onto Route 112 and the North River.  I followed 112 north to Branch Road, which was the 115K route, except they were descending.  There wasn't all that much traffic on 112 or Branch.  I was clearly in Vermont now.

I made it to West Halifax and here is where my equipment issues surfaced.  First, I had to get over a bridge under repair.  There is a bypass just a short backtrack to Sprague Road and then onto my intended road, Reed Hill Road.  Somewhere on Reed Hill, I noticed that I was losing air in my rear time.  It seemed more like a slow leak so I pumped it up and carried on.

Somewhere near there I also noticed that my front derailleur, which was just checked at one of the two shops that I usually get help from, was no longer able to drop my chain onto my small front chain ring, which is what I need for the steepest hills.  The problem has a somewhat complex origin.  First, I changed my chain but it was obvious that my middle front chain ring was worn.  I was on my commuter and that is the chain ring I used 95% of the time so that wasn't all that surprising.  I brought it in to the shop and they said, yup, the chain ring needs to be replaced and ordered one for me.  Unfortunately my bike is so old, that the part was no longer available (it's a 2009 Shimano 105 triple and I already had issues finding a new free hub body when that part failed last year).  The mechanic put on an older style chain ring, without pins and ramps, and told me to let him know if I had issues with it.  I didn't.  I did notice some chain rub when I was in the 30 tooth ring in front and the 30 in back (that combination I would use on the steepest hills).  I decided to bring it to the shop that I pass on my commute on the Friday before the ride.  It seemed like the rub was coming from the front derailleur but as I slowed as I approached the shop, I tried to shift it into the 30 tooth chain ring in front and the chain fell off onto the bottom bracket shell for the first time (in a couple of hundred miles since the new chain ring was put on).  The mechanics decided this all was happening:

  1. The chain ring is what is throwing the chain off.  I don't know why this happened only once up to that point but it sounds logical to me.  They suggested I replace the entire crank if they can't source the new chain ring, which isn't likely, since the other shop couldn't find one for me.  My dilemma: I want a 30/30 combination for the steepest hills but I'd much rather have a compact double - I'll never get a triple again.  The stock Shimano compact cranks are 34/50.  Is there something out there that I can use that is compatible with the rest of my Shimano drive train and shifters?
  2. What I was hearing was the chain rubbing the bigger chain rings on the cassette, which was caused by the re-positioning of the wheel, which I used to have pulled all of the way to the back of the Surly's horizontal dropout. The mechanic did that to improve shifting, which it did. But now my bike is pretty noisy and doesn't sound healthy, especially on steep dirt hills when no one else is around.

So I continued on my way.  On two steep hills I had to dismount and manually shift my chain.  You might be saying, "just turn the screw and you'll be all set."  I would be but since I was unsure of which screw and which direction to turn, I might have been in worse shape after I messed it up.  You might be saying now, "learn to do it right."  I'll take that advice, thanks.

I found my way back to the 115K toute after what I thought was some of the nicest riding of the route, including nice stretches of great dirt road that was largely flat with almost no traffic (a couple of cars) and no other cyclists.  A lot of people live in that loop and the roads are kept up, they just don't happened to be paved.  The 115K route (which again I was riding against the traffic) was in use and a number of people were descending as I pedaled my way up the steepest part of the road on the part that was in the roughest shape, though not terrible shape.  At last I made it back to the 100K route and saw people riding but they weren't following the route on my GPS.  I then realized my how my mistake, using last year's route on my GPS, might cost me time and energy.  I could just follow that route, or I could take the new route and hope that I could keep up with these people or someone else might come by and let me know where to turn.  I probably should have followed my GPS but what is the D2R2 if not a time for a bit of adventure, right?

Well, those folks were faster than me and soon I was on Deer Park alone, without a map (don't count on your smart phone for most of this ride, there are precious few places where you will get service) so I soldiered on.  Eventually a nice couple from Pennsylvania caught up to me. I stayed with them until I was in earshot, or maybe just a bit further than that, from the covered bridge and lunch spot on the Green River.  That's when I noticed my rear tire was again getting low.  I stopped to pump up my tire and then found the lunch spot.  I was greeted there by Sandy, the ride organizer, who remembered giving me advice last year.  Despite the busy day and the 1200 riders and who knows how many volunteers (there were a lot!), he had time for a short chat.  I also ran into Julian, who I met last year and have been enjoying his Instagram feed since then.

I was pretty late but I hoped to get a quick bite, refill my bottles and change my flat.  The amazing folks at Blue Steel Bicycle Company, doing mechanical support for the ride, offered to fix my slow leak (i.e., just replace the tube and check the tire for sharp objects) and adjust my derailleur while I found some food and ate. I was close to heaven at that point, feeling the support of the volunteers who make the D2R2 possible.  Soon I was on my way home, the Green River Ride route straight from the cue sheet, and rode as fast as I safely could.  Suddenly, thanks to the folks from Blue Steel, I had a lot of confidence in my bike and it shifted when I wanted to and the new tube was holding air.  The lunch spot was mostly empty when I left and I didn't pass any 100K riders heading south (maybe 4, including a couple I met last year, who were still deciding if they had time for the rest of the 100K).  Finally, almost in Greenfield, I started to see other riders.  I passed a number of folks and then on Lower Road, I rode with a dad and his 11 year old son for a mile or two.  The dad had done previous versions of the D2R2 but this was his son's first.  And the son was doing well and enjoying himself.  We stayed together until the Deerfield River crossing.

I made it back to D2R2 central around 5PM, a little over seven hours after I left.  I was feeling great all day, except for the frustration with myself for not being able to fix my bike,  But the riding itself was great and the hills on my version of the ride weren't more than I could handle.  The roads were in excellent shape and the dust was minimal after the recent rain.

I saw my friend Carl, with his large format camera by the ice cream truck and said hello while he took my portrait.  I then looked for food and saw Dave Wilcox, who I rode with briefly on the 2013 High Point Ride (Mt. Greylock being the high point).  He remembered me from that trip and I caught up on where and what he is doing.  After eating I said hello to John Bayley and Pamela Blalock.  I also saw much of the Firefly crew and chatted with them and Carl.  Carl managed to get Kevin Wolfson to pose for a portrait.  I didn't get ice cream -seemed wrong to stand in line for Bart's ice cream with a Ben and Jerry's jersey.  What struck me most about the Boston bike people I ran into (Dave counts because he lived here for a while) is just how nice and open everyone is.  Sometimes I'm a bit shy about going to these big events but people like Dave, John, and Pamela make me feel welcome and part of the community.  And the folks from Firefly are pretty nice to me although it might be some years before I could afford to be their customer.

Then it was time to ride my bike to my car to change and get and drive home.  I noticed that I was tired and would be sore (the latter didn't turn out to be true) but felt great about the day.  I could have been more proactive and registered early and had the right GPS track and maybe I could have got my bike in order beforehand (although two trips to two shops in the week and a half before the ride didn't help completely) but the ride was fabulous.  I could certainly do this on my own and while I did a lot of the ride alone, I did get enough of the camaraderie to make it worthwhile.  And the cause is a worthy one.

Ride stats: 70 miles at 12 MPH, about 5:50 ride time, 7 hours elapsed time.

Miles for the month: 400, miles for the year 2400.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A short visit to the Element Brewery tasting room

This being a cycling blog, if you could call it that, I suppose I shouldn't be writing about beer and a brewery but a lot of cyclists drink beer and it's my blog so I'll go ahead and write about beer.

I took Friday off, both to get a ride in before the weekend started since we were heading out to a wedding in western Massachusetts and I wouldn't be getting in ride on my road bike, and to get an early start on driving to western Massachusetts.  So I got the kids to camp and then got out for a reasonably fast road ride (for me), 35 miles at 17 MPH.  That's about as fast as I've been this year so I felt pretty good about it.  I also felt good that when a bee flew into my helmet and I managed to get my helmet off (and then confirmed it was indeed a bee) and stopped without incident.  I've been stung in my head 3 times in the last few years and really didn't want to get stung again.  After the ride I packed up for the boys and packed the car and the bikes (including trail-a-bikes and both boys' bikes) and went to pick up the boys with my wife.

The ride out Route 2 is a lot nicer than the Pike, at least in our opinion, and we managed to miss all of the congested sections of Route 2.  The ride was pleasant and the boys were watching a movie and I was drifting between watching the road and catching up with everything folks on Twitter were tweeting about when, in the corner of my eye, I saw a sign, Beer To Go, and another in the same window, Element Beer.  This is what it looks like in Google Maps Streetview, without the signs that caught my eye.  I was introduced to Element Beer by my brother-in-law, whose taste in beer are much more eclectic than mine, and instantly thought, "we need to stop here."  My wife, who was driving, said we had time and found a place to turn around and dropped me off and told me to go enjoy myself, probably thinking that I'd just grab a bottle and we'd be off.

A photo posted by NEBicyclist (@svillecyclist) on

But it didn't quite work out that way.  I walked in, entranced by the bottles, all wrapped in paper, that I recognized from having my grimy little hands on a few bottles of Element in the past.   The room was empty so I announced my presence and soon Dan, one of the brewers, came into the room.  Element is a small brewery: the two founders and a part time helper along with a salesperson.  Dan lived in my town in the past before heading west but seemed more of a western Massachusetts native (I'm a native as well, but it's been close to 30 years since I lived there so I've lost the glow).  Dan calmly offered my a taste of a beer, or more accurately, a taste of which ever beers I wanted to try and had time for.  Time stopped for a few moments as I tried the Dark Element, which I eventually bought a bottle of.  I then tried the red and another and then, since my wife and sisters are gluten free, I tried the gluten free beer (and it's a fabulous beer, gluten free or not).  And since my wife doesn't gravitate towards higher ABV festive beverages as I do, I tried also tried the 5% gluten free ABV.  This all took just a few minutes but was pretty fun.  Dan is a great guide and let me sip as much as I had time for and was great company as well.  Finally I came to my senses and bought the Dark Element and the lower ABV gluten free IPA and headed out to find where my wife and kids parked.

Of course I was kidded when I got back to the car.  I heard that my son said that I was drinking a beer instead of buying one (sort of true) and my wife said that I was learning to brew beer (completely false).  But joking aside, they let me back in the car and we found our way to our hotel.  I would highly recommend a visit to the brewery if you are passing through, or near, Millers Falls.  It's a great room with a great host who will let you try some of the best beer in the universe.  And, if you are lucky, your partner won't mind the time you spend trying out some of those beers.

Later that evening, we enjoyed a great dinner at Hope and Olive.  In the morning we gave our younger son his new bike (with training wheels) and headed for the bike path from Northampton to Amherst.  The little guy enjoyed his ride across the river and eventually we all went for a ride on the bikes and trail-a-bikes.

A photo posted by NEBicyclist (@svillecyclist) on

And we enjoyed the wedding that evening.

Oh, and that beer that I brought home?  My brother-in-law and I drank it this afternoon.  And it was fabulous.  My wife is holding onto the gluten free one for a festive occasion in the near future.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A little vacation ride to Truro on Cape Cod

Reading about some of the fabulous rides that people have been taking this summer, I might be feeling left out with one long ride on a family vacation.  But that's what you get when you have kids.  We made our choices and those choices led to less time for bicycle adventures.  But I did have one day, or at least one morning for a ride.  My goal was to check out Ballston Beach, where you can see the lowest section of dunes along the Gulf of Maine side of the Cape, at least north of Eastham.  The ride turned out to have minor adventures, including 2 miles of dirt, and sometimes sandy, road surface and a portage over Ballston Beach.

We were staying in Chatham, not far from the Cape Cod Rail Trail extension.  My wife has gone on a bike ride or two in Chatham and was wary of me riding the roads around there so, despite my early departure, I followed the bike paths to its northern terminus, and that is where the ride started to get interesting, although I did see a fox in Harwich:

The rail trail is in pretty good condition.  I remember riding it some time before 2007 (on my old Lemond Alpe d'Huez) and thinking that I needed more cushioning the next time I rode it.  So for the past several years I brought my Surly, which now sports 35mm Clement USH tires, for the trail, and to haul one or the other of my boys on a trailer or a bike seat (on  the rear rack).  But I have been using my new 3 speed for hauling my boys (now on a trail-a-bike) and my Surly is in the middle of repairs so I took my Independent Fabrication Club Racer.  The main advantage of that bike is that it is faster and the fit is perfect (which is what you get with a custom bike).  It has lights and small bags  that allow me to carry food, a lock, sunscreen, and room to stow no longer needed clothing.  The trail was also very quiet that that hour.  I was off the trail and at the first Wellfleet town beach on Ocean View Road by 7AM and I saw very few other cyclists.

At the ocean on Ocean View Road:

While on Ocean View Road, I met another cyclist, who was confused by me asking about getting to Ballston Beach and she said it couldn't be done.  I was a bit nervous but decided to trust my Ride With GPS route.  I found my turn and it was where it was promised but I failed to check whether or not it was a decent surface for a road bike with 25mm tires.  With nothing to lose but time (and the possibility of actually seeing Ballston Beach) I gave it a try.  The road was largely passable at first, with some sandy spots that were difficult on my narrow tires.  Turns were easy to spot while following a bread crumb trail on my Garmin GPS.

A section of dirt  road:

One difficult spot was near the site of Wellfleet's first school house.  The road was more of a trail that sometimes felt like something Rob Vandermark would love but then I might have felt differently if I were riding on USH tires.

Local tourist spot:

I finally made it to a paved road, Old Kings Highway.  This led to South Pamet Road, which led to the beach.  I confirmed this with a cyclist I met coming south while I travel north.  She happened to be from Cambridge and had been exploring what is left of Old Kings Highway in that section of the Cape.

The suspect road surface - some of these rocks are big and the surface was rough:

The beach was, of course, underwhelming, except for the ocean itself, which was pretty impressive.  There were some nearby houses that were still standing, although I wonder for how long.  The 2013 and 2015 breaches were documented and look quiet impressive.  This video from 2013 shows the waves coming in.

Looking at the breach from the north.  The small dune that remains is visible in the video linked above.

A precariously sited house north of the breach:

Photo op.  Yes, I did carry my bike down to the beach, along the beach, and out to a trail:

The road heading back to Rte 6, North Pamet Road, is beautiful.  There is a youth hostel very close to the beach and would make a great first stop on a tour from Provincetown, assuming you weren't traveling all that fast.

From Rte 6, which I passed under a bridge, I followed what I think is a well know route from Truro to Wellfleet.  I met a couple of other cyclists, Jonathan and his son Sam, and rode with them into Wellfleet before they turned north back to Truro where they were staying.  They took me on a different path in that gave a new (to me) view of the harbor.  It turns out that John and I spent time in Woods Hole together.  We never met but knew some of the same people.

A selfie with Jonathan and Sam:

From Wellfleet, I made my way back to Ocean View Road, which has a much better ocean view heading south:

After lunch, or breakfast in Wellfleet, I made a minor detour to see Rock Harbor, one of my favorite stops in that part of the Cape.  The tide was out but it was still beautiful.

The ride was 75 miles for me, which was my longest ride of the year.  It felt great riding, especially when Jonathan, who is a Cat 4 racer, pushed me while riding into Wellfleet.  I was home by noon.

That ride wasn't my only Cape riding but the rest was riding my 3 speed with one of my sons or their younger cousins, all of whom loved getting a ride in the neighborhood.  One even figured out that the gears work on our new to us trail-a-bike.

The remainder of the week was fun, even if it didn't involve riding.  We enjoyed a big party with part of my wife's extended family.  Two of her sisters and families were neighbors for the week so there were always kids around.  We also were on the water twice, once on Goose Pond on rented paddle boards (which are much more relaxing on flat water than on the ocean) and a double kayak.  The second time my wife's uncle, who lives in the area, took us past Chatham Light Beach into the Gulf of Maine.  On the way we saw a thousand or so seals basking in the sun on a bar that was covered by 6 inches of water.  All in all, it was a great vacation and I was pretty happy that I had a chance to get one long ride in.

One word of warning - don't try to start and finish your ride at Marion's Pie Shop - there is very little parking there.  But do stop in for a pie or a cinnamon roll.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Remembering an old bike

I stopped for a shot of espresso at Ride Studio Cafe towards the end of my Saturday early morning ride and saw this Trek 520 touring bike in the shop.  I first heard about this bike on Hub Bicycles' twitter feed - a 31 year old bike with miles still to come, many miles.  Emily built up new wheels, including a dynamo front wheel, and now Joe, the owner was adding a dynamo head light.  He is also looking at racks for his first tour on this bike and future randonneuring events.  I shared his enthusiasm for this bike.

I happened to buy this exact model, a 1984 Trek 520, in early 1985 in preparation for a 2000 mile tour from southern Vermont to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and back.  That bike also carried me around New England on a going away tour (before moving to the midwest), across Colorado on the Adventure Bicycling route, around the Olympics, including a couple of camping trips with the bike hidden in the forest, around the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec, and a host of shorter trips in Wisconsin and around New England.  If my experience is any indication, Joe will have a lot of fun on his bike.

So, you might ask, what happened to my 520? I no longer have it. It was, unfortunately, badly sized for me (22.5 inch seat tube, which is too big for me), something I noticed when I bought my first racing/road bike, in 1997.  I did my last tour on it on Labor Day weekend in 2001, riding east from Machias to Lubec, Maine with a friend.  It saw use as some friends, visiting for extended times from other countries, needed a bike and was last used by a friend visiting from the UK, who set her best time in a triathlon with the 520, averaging 20 MPH, something I never managed on it.  And it was too big for her as well.  After that triathlon I donated it to Bikes Not Bombs and maybe someone is still riding it.

My version of Caitlin Giddings's early AM primer

I saw Molly Hurford's link to Caitlin Giddings's Bicycling article about ways to make riding in the morning easier.    My riding time is dictated by my family obligations and there is very little wiggle room, with most time slots very early in the day (say 5AM).  As a frequent early morning rider, I was definitely interested in what she had to say.  The article was fairly accurate for me.  My comments follows Caitlin's headings below:

1) Lay out your clothing and gear the night before. Yes! And I leave everything in the basement and change  there, hoping that everyone stays asleep while I sneak out of the house.  I once left socks upstairs and rather than going upstairs and waking up my boys (and consequently skipping my ride) I rode without socks - sometimes you have to do what you have to do.  A couple of weeks ago while getting my bike ready, I forgot to put the pump on the frame and didn't notice until I was back home.  I rode 50 miles, much of it with no one around and no gas station open, so I was happy that I didn't get a flat.  Moral of the story: get everything ready when you are awake.

2) Dial in your coffee.  No. I can't afford to wake anyone up so I always pass on coffee.  And  I get away early in part by dialing in my wife's coffee so she just has to turn on the burner for the moka pot.  This makes her happier to see me when our young boys are running her ragged at 9 and I just rode 50 or 60 miles.

3) Make plans to meet a buddy.  No. I don't have many friends who think riding at 5 AM is worth it. One friend joined me for a few early AM rides but he quickly lost interest. I remember my first ride without him.  I saw his buddy waiting for him on my way back into town.  He needed that extra 2 hours and more - he was still late, I heard later.

4) Have a ride plan.  Yes.  I usually have a route planned out and will have the course in my Garmin, if there are turns I'm unsure about. There is something more risky about being on the road early, especially when 5 AM means 2 hours until sunrise late in the year.  So I manage that risk somewhat by knowing my plan in advance.  And, yes, I have gone out in light rain when I planned a ride.  What else will I do when I'm already awake at 4:30.

5) Don't hit snooze.  Does my alarm clock have a snooze button?

6) Don't check email.  No. I will check email and check the weather and read the news for 20 minutes.  I have to wake up some before I get on a bike.  But set an alarm so you don't get lost in it because that's possible.

7) Consider skipping breakfast. Yes, always. Making breakfast and eating it gives me more chances of waking up my boys, which would cancel my ride.  A couple of years ago a friend visiting from Norway stayed over so we could get an early start on a ride.  But she couldn't do without breakfast and we did wake up the boys.  (I made it up to my wife by taking them bowling in the afternoon.)  Usually I will just grab more bars if I am heading out for 60 miles and hope to stop for a more substantial snack if the timing is good.  Yes, it is pushing it to ride for 60 miles before breakfast so I try to have a bigger dinner the evening before a planned longer ride.  I often won't even eat a bar on a 25-30 mile before work ride.

8) Bask in the smugness that comes with being a "morning person." Guilty as charged. That said, I wish I could go latter in the day when my muscles are fully awake.  Dawn and dusk are often the most beautiful parts of the day but riding with companions is better than riding alone and finding company is more likely for me if I go at a more reasonable hour.  But riding early is far better than not riding.

9) Stick with it and make a habit.  Yes.  For a few decades I was a morning runner (and will be again). Once in the habit of waking up early and finding time, you will never go back.  And you probably won't find time during the rest of the day, if your schedule is anything like mine.

10) It was not suggested in the article but have lights.  Even this weekend, on a ride starting at 5:30 AM, half an hour after sunrise, I had my lights blazing - dyno front and rear lights and a flashing red in back to alert drivers that aren't expecting anyone up at that hour.

And, yes, getting exercise early does lead to a more relaxing day.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Decisions made

Last week Rob Vandermark contacted me, wondering if I would be interested in the shorter version of the DUTODARI after having participated in one of the late evening equipment test rides.  Here is my reply:

"I did see the short option and it is much more appealing to me.  I don't think I have the legs for a long ride right now, or in a couple of weeks.  One bigger concern, that my wife shares, is me riding alone for the night.  I'd love to find a group that I could be compatible with but realize that would be hard to find.  While I really enjoyed the ride a couple of weeks ago, I also saw that that group was faster than me and while I more or less successfully hung on, I certainly couldn't do it for the full ride and very likely not even for the shorter, camp out version.  The other more pedestrian concern is the expensive GPS.  I bought the inexpensive Garmin for Highpoint and think that was a good idea for that ride and have enjoyed having it since.  The 1000 is just beyond my means right now. I do think a Garmin with a map is the right decision for the ride but having one is not priority other riding that I may do.

So the short answer is that unless I come up with a team I'm very unlikely to join the ride.  I do think it's a great idea and a great deal but not for me this summer.  By the way, I believe I had contact with a little poison ivy on the ride, at least I have some major itching on my legs.  The sad story is that I have otherwise not been allergic all my life - I walked through patches poison ivy many times. I guess I have had too much exposure.  So life goes."

And that's that.  It really is a great idea for a ride, at least one that resonates with me, but I have to be realistic.  I just don't get out all that much.  I think I rode about 240 miles in the last couple of weeks: 2 early Sunday 50 milers at a relaxed pace (just over 15 MPH averages) and the rest commuting miles.  I'm going for some more early AM work day rides but those aren't always possible with my wife's new schedule.  In any case, I'm about out of time for this year's version of the ride.  But there is always next year.

Oh, and that poison ivy thing ... what a bummer.  I once was impervious and walked through waist high patches of the stuff and through poison oak.  But no more.  

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Testing, testing .. surviving and enjoying the prelude to an overnight trail ride

The above post by @OverlandBasecamp says it well.  We did have a great group, even if you count me in, despite usually being the laggard - the one carrying a pannier with a lock on a dirt road ride.  There was a reason for that lock, especially considering the august company of cyclists I found myself riding with.  I considered the possibility of me bailing and maybe needing to hold my bike somewhere while a car came to rescue me or I got back to my car to rescue my bike.  But that didn't happen.  One rider, @jennywo3, who I respect a lot and who will ride more this month than I rode this year so far, said I rode like a champ.  I did try hard to not get lost or fall down or fall behind.  I did fall back a few times but mostly because I couldn't keep the pace that the rest of the group was keeping on what I would normally call suspect terrain.  And I'm lucky in that I have been able to get some decent longer rides in this year (9 rides and 360 miles on my road bike so far) so, while not being exactly fit, I wasn't in bad shape.  Maybe I could have pushed harder and stayed safe but the point here wasn't speed but was what Overland Basecamp called an equipment test ride.  And that was, in part, exactly what I was doing, seeing if my equipment, and me, could handle an all night ride on mixed terrain, something Rob Vandermark called the Dusk To Dawn Ride (or DUTODARI).  I heard about the ride last year and even scheduled a test ride that Rob eventually had to bail on.  And soon the ride was cancelled.  Who has all of those lights, anyway?

So I signed up for this ride and heard back from Rob and showed up at the door with 10 minutes to spare.  I had some trouble getting out of the house - I wanted the kitchen clean so I didn't have to do it when I got home or the next morning.  There were some familiar faces in the small crowd - Patria from the Studio, Matt from Seven, Jenny, Dan, and Roger.  And there were some unfamiliar but friendly faces: Cris, Jonathon, and a couple of others whose names I can't remember now.  We covered ourselves up with bug dope and headed out.

The ride started like many of the other mixed terrain rides out of the Studio that I participated in the past.  Make our way safely across Mass Ave then head onto the bike path then make some random turn onto a trail.  Find yourself back on a road then make another random turn onto a trail.  And that is how the ride went, although the ride was much faster than the slow version of the Diverged ride that I did this year.  Riding at night was a special treat.  I started riding at night (mostly before dawn) a few years ago as a way to get out of the house without leaving my wife with our two young kids too long during the day.  I enjoy road rides before dawn and the traffic is lighter.  I've done night rides over the past few years as well but never anything more challenging than Battle Road and the Reformatory Branch Trail.  So this was a step beyond anything I've done before (which is probably why Rob wants people to check out the riding before committing to an overnight ride).

The first section off of the bike path was probably the hardest, with many tree roots to cross.  I always feel that my front tire might slip to the side, causing a crash.  In practice, with decent tires, the Clement USH 700x35, I managed to stay upright through that first section.  Jonathon was with me at that point and he voiced what I was feeling, that this was hard stuff.  He, like me, is more of a road rider and terrain like this seems to require some experience to know what you can handle.  I faced similar trails during daylight but it seemed like a new game at night and I didn't necessarily have the skills I needed.  At one point we hit significant sand traps, which were quite difficult to handle.  I managed to stay upright but I can't say that I kept the bike pointed straight ahead as I navigated them.

We did a lot of paved trails, particularly around Horn Pond in Winchester.  We also rode along the Mystic Lakes on hard dirt and along the Mystic Valley Parkway to the Fitchburg Cutoff Path on hard surfaces of various sorts.  Then we rode the Western Greenway on more primitive conditions.  I had been on most of those trails at least a couple of times so generally knew what to expect.  And it was as hard, in places, as I expected.  The ascent off of Route 60 was perhaps the hardest of the ride and was dotted with rocks to avoid.  The Western Greenway south of Mill and Concord in Belmont was a generally easier until the area near Metropolitan Parkway and Walnut Street.  A couple of us took tumbles on the slippery sections.  Nothing terrible but it demonstrates that rough terrain while tired is never easy.

The bikes people rode were primarily cyclocross plus a couple of Seven Evergreens and other Sevens.   I liked seeing Matt's Seven with a steel fork, front rack, and room for wider tires.  I've seen and admired his bike in the past.  In fact, it's sort of the bike I would like next (gotta wait for my 60th for that one) and will be talking with him more as I get closer to ordering one.

I think I was the only person who rode with dynamo powered lights.  I had a 600 lumen Nite Rider on my helmet, which I used sparingly.  Otherwise I felt that the Busch and Mueller IQ CYO (last generation) was great for the roads and was fine on most trails supplemented with a 2 watt inexpensive battery powered headlight, which lasted the ride and still has battery power left.  I'd like another longer lasting light.  I'm now looking at the Light and Motion Urban series and would get one before the  overnight ride, if I were to do it.

I asked Rob before the ride started where we would go.  He responded with a vague north and then by a river (what river?  rivers have names!) and then Arlington.  Well, I'm a geographer and names and places are important and help me to understand where I am and what I am doing.  But I had to drop that thinking on this ride.  At one point, as we were passing Horn Pond, Jennie asked me if I knew what pond it was.  I initially had no clue but eventually figured it out, having walked there a few times with my family.  Despite my training and inclination, it was fun not knowing where we were and where we were going.

And about that "dusk to dirty" in Overland Basecamp's post?  Yes, I was dirty.  It being dusty and not muddy, my bike wasn't all that dirty but I did clean it this evening.  However, when I got in the shower after the ride, I saw that my legs from the bottom of my shorts to the top of my socks had a coating of dirt.  I would have sprayed my legs off with a hose if I saw what a mess I was.  But Overland Basecamp was right, it was a great group and a perfect evening. Hats off to Rob and Patria for another great ride.

So ... will I ride the overnight ride?  I don't know.  I was able to pull off this ride and still have energy for the following day.  But the overnight ride will be 65 miles longer and it might be necessary to keep up the same pace for the entire night, which I'm not sure I could do.  I could imagine quitting early and taking roads back at some point later in the ride. I'd like to think that I could do two or three more 60 mile rides before the overnight ride, which would get me closer to the conditioning I would need to feel like I could finish the ride, or at least come close to finishing it.

There are logistical issues at play as well.  There is a fee for the all nighter (although my experience with rides put on by these folks is that they are well worth the money) and you have to rent a SPOT GPS device for the ride, which seems like a smart thing to so on a ride like this.  So all of that is money well spent.  But a Garmin 1000 type machine is required.  I'm not all that sure I could borrow one and I know it would be hard to afford one.  And it's not the kind of machine I feel I'm missing in my life.   Having worked in geography all of my life, I've used great GPS equipment since before selective availability was ended by President Clinton in the late 90s.  I see the point of the Garmin 1000 but beyond the long ride, it's not something that I would miss not having.  But, for point of reference, I don't mind getting lost or navigating with a paper map, both of which I managed a lot in the past.  Not everyone might feel that way.

So the short answer is - maybe.  If I am in better shape and I find a device that I could afford I just may do it.

Sort of what the ride looked like.  The average speed was pretty good - about what I manage when I commute:

As you may imagine, circumstances weren't optimal for taking a lot of pictures.

Patria getting a picture of the group getting back on the trail.

Break time near Broadway and Alewife Brook Parkway.  There was time for a bathroom break and a place to buy water and snacks, if you needed them.

Picture time in a field just south of Concord Ave in Belmont, near McClean Hospital.  I'm sure Rob's group pictures will be better than anything I took.