Oct 15, 2018

20th annual Gran Prix of Gloucester

Oct 13, 2018

Streaming Consciousness

Going to try a little experiment here. [I'm] in the middle of a ride and I'm going to try speaking [a] blog post into my phone.

So, I'm sitting on the edge of what I believe is Round Pond, but I'm not certain of that, near Gordon College. And about half of my vision is taken up by the lake. [It is] making strange little almost figure eights of light and waves on most of the surface, but to the right of me for some reason it's smooth. The trees are about half changed. It seems to be that the yellow ones are the ones that are changing so far and I see two really tall Pine trees straight in front of me. It's almost the middle of October, but for some strange reason it is hot today and humid. Also, I noticed there's a birch tree right in front of me with some beautiful little twigs hanging off of it, and all of its leaves are gone. I'm out here, among other reasons, because my mom is in the hospital. She went in just a little bit dizzy and now she says her vision is completely swirling around when she opens up her eyes, so I don't know what's going on. They seem to have ruled out a stroke. They flew her down in a helicopter. So I'm out for a bike ride because there's not a whole lot I can do. I found myself just thinking about what could be wrong not trusting the doctors, and I realize there's no point in that at all, because even if I somehow miraculously figured it out I wouldn't have any way of telling them. So I decided to take a ride and stop thinking about it, which is exactly what I'm not doing,so maybe I should get riding again. I've just come through a tunnel of leaves: I can still see it behind me, kind of a ledge trail right next to the lake almost on the edge of the lake in fact. Almost? It is! Just saw two dogs out walking and now I'm sitting on a railroad tie next to the Lake.


Now I'm sitting back in the car and I'm trying to decide if I have a concussion because I went over the handlebars on a really steep downhill that I really should've walked! I think I'm alright, but I figured I'd put this down on virtual paper. I'm hoping I might get a scar out of the cut on my knee though. Remember to wear your helmets, kids! don't walk down walk down things you can't ride down.

 [Maybe I was confused- I meant the opposite (this was almost a week ago. No concussion, and believe me, I looked up the symptoms thoroughly)]

Sep 14, 2018

Stuff. Too much stuff.

I just left my favorite bike shop. And even there there are so many different kinds of bikes that it just makes you want to leave and go into the woods. Bikes don't even look like they're supposed to look or like they used to look. there are 500 different kinds of them.

No wonder the ridng seems to be going crazy! The bikes are 2 times as big as they used to be- with so much suspension  you should be able to comfortably jump off a house. I fail to understand why we need three different kinds of wheel sizes and plus (fat) sizes of those wheel sizes.

Unless of course we don't, and the bike manufacturers are just making them available because they need to make money. And why do they need to make money? so they can stay in business? No. so that they can always grow- constantly. At least the Treks and Specializeds.

And it isn't just cycling. It's happening everywhere. 15 types of Oreos. Whole aisles of toothpaste. And don't get me started about bibles. Check out the number of ice cream flavors at your local supermarket. Why? Are vanilla and chocolate not enough? How perfectly tailored does ice cream need to be, anyway?

All of this points to the same fact about the modern world. What makes us feel that we need/deserve the PERFECT experience? Not just a bike ride but one perfectly suited to us. Not just a snack partway through, but the precise flavor we crave. To relax we listen to streaming music that caters to every whim.

An aside: The bike company Yeti released 3 new full suspension bikes this summer. The first has 100 millimeters of spring. About 3.94". The second arrived a few months later, with 150 mms, or about 5.9". Yesterday, they released a 130mm bike. (5.12") REALLY? So, basically, you want me to believe that there's enough of a difference between 4, 5, and 6" of travel, that it justifies making all three? Any of us could probably feel the difference between 4 and 6, but between either one and that inbetween model? I call BS.

And that's all fine. Whatever. But are we losing some resiliency from all this choice? Are we unable to enjoy simple vanilla or a random bryan Adams song anymore because we're so pampered and catered to?

Maybe that's why we can't get along with each other.

Sep 3, 2018

Further Adventures Of... The Final Chapter

Here's two little tid-bits about me. I'm scared of heights. And I recently drove our Toyota Camry up Mt. Washington, the tallest mountain in the Northeastern USA.

I'm certainly not the first. We've all seen those bumper stickers: This Car Climbed Mt. Washington. (because they give one to every car that goes up). It wasn't the first time I've been in a car that has driven to the summit (my third, actually).

But it was the first time I've driven a car up it myself. And I don't think I'll be doing it again. Ever.

I'll be the first, and usually am, to comment about how modern life is too sanitized, how we're too protected from ourselves. But as I drove up the hill with the worst weather on earth (the world-record highest wind speed of 231 mph was recorded here), there were no guardrails, only a yawning abyss---and that was on the side AWAY from the big drop. I didn't even dare to look at that side. Just keep my eyes on the yellow line and keep moving. Don't think about our whole family tumbling to our deaths. Don't think at all. Just keep moving forward. And certainly don't think about the fact that then you'll be imprisoned on the top of an island of height that would surely require a much more nail-biting descent. Flow state. Don't think, just drive...

The pictures show you most of what we did on the top (other than freeze. The wind was 55 mph that day, and I didn't catch the temperature, but wearing a flannel shirt and a t-shirt, I was cold enough to put on a long-sleeved base-layer underneath... and even then I wasn't very warm. It was about 85 degrees F
at the base of the mountain.

It turned out that going down was much better, oddly enough. We waited until the road had closed to cars coming up (not on purpose as much as it just worked out that way, but I was certainly aware of the fact before we headed down) and as per instructions, put the car in its lowest gear. So I drove down the center/left lane all the way down, and honestly didn't even use the brakes as much as usual.

Then we started the endless drive in the dark that was our trip home. An entirely different sort of looking into the abyss. But that's a story for another time.

Sep 1, 2018

Further Adventures Of... (Part Two)

After spending the morning climbing Red Tail Trail, as I talked about in my last blog, I wanted to spend the rest of the day with my family. And luckily, the weather cleared up and got really nice in the late afternoon.
The beach of rocks

I even managed to talk them into checking out the trails across the road, and playing near/in the river. 
Looks easy enough, right?

Have I mentioned that it rained hard all morning. In the mountains? Know what that does to a river? You guessed it. So we got over to the Saco River, and it looked beautiful as we walked out onto a big "beach" of rounded-off rocks. There was even a rock island in the middle of the river, with some rapids in between. I've been wading in streams all my life. I wasn't scared---but maybe I should've been...

So with Kathy and Lucy watching (sort of), I took off my shoes, rolled up my shorts, and began wading across. Immediately, I noticed that the current was much harder than I'm used to. But as long as I was standing still, it was fine. Splashing up onto my shorts, but fine (I should mention at this point that I'd brought three leg coverings on vacation: casual (baggy) bike shorts (wet from the morning), cut-offs that I was wearing, and a swimsuit (wet from swimming in the hotel pool.) So this splashing was concerning.
The real achilles heel, though, was the fact that the stones on the bottom were unpredictable, unstable, and sometimes sharp. If I'd worn water shoes, everything would've been fine, but as it was, I stepped on a sharp rock, instinctively pulled my foot back, and lost balance a bit. Now, in a calm stream, you could just put a hand down, and right yourself. But it turns out that in a river---and a slightly swollen one at that---it's not quite that simple. I was rudely and roughly shoved backwards, and began rather quickly descending the rapids. Now, as you may be able to see from the photo, they didn't last long. And they cerainly weren't all that deep. So it's not as if I was in real danger. But my dignity was another story. Also, my shins. I ended up with a slight abrasion on my right, and a rather large bruise showed up on the left a few days later.

In hindsight (that is to say, when I did it again, and then when Lucy wanted to try), I tried to go across the narrow---and therefore highest pressure---point. Even five feet up the river, the current was much more gentle, because the funnel/channel was wider. 

But I was soaked. What to do? In the back of my mind, I'd been considering something pro xc racers often do after a big race: an "ice bath" in a river or stream. You can read more about the practice HERE if you'd like, but as many of you know, my cycling life (at least as far as these sorts of high-performance training methods) is mostly a Walter Mitty sort of fantasy camp. But standing there soaking wet, with my only formerly dry pair of shorts literally dripping water, I made a decision, stripped off my shorts, put them on a log to dry (or try to, anyway), and found myself a nice spot to give this ice-bath business a try. After all, I'd hiked up a 1500' mountainside, and pounded my body on the way down until it was cramping (see part one), so surely this was the time to try it out.

Nobody was anywhere around, and even if they had been, the boxer-briefs I wear are practically shorts on their own!

But the point I'm getting at is not whether the ice bath worked (it seemed to, but was inconclusive), but that despite the nearly nonexistent risk, going in the river like that was... soothing. It felt natural and right. And it got me thinking.

I'm not saying I'm ready to join a nudist colony, but I do think modern society---and maybe America and New England with its puritan heritage most of all---fills us with layers of guilt, and confused notions about our bodies.

And nature perhaps helps us figure those things out just a bit.

Aug 26, 2018

Further Adventures Of... (Part One)

On our recent, and wonderful, vacation to New Hampshire, I faced my mortality---to a greater or lesser degree---three times. Let us call them Red Tail, Saco, and Washington.

Red Tail

On the second morning of our trip, I woke up early, having determined the night before that I would not visit the most well-known trail in the valley---the Red Tail Trail---because it sounded too rough, with too many obstacles, and so much climbing. 

So, of course, when my alarm went off, I knew that I must do it. Seeing the pelting rain only strengthened my resolve. Sort of. If I was going to do something "epic," why not do it in the rain? It was to be my first soaking of many.

As I began the climb, I was optimistic (and by began, I mean started pushing my bike up the trail. I only pedaled uphill for perhaps 20 feet in a 3.5 mile climb.) The rain wasn't really reaching me through the leaves, and the sandy soil was sucking up the rain without any of the mud I'm accustomed to. Ha. I was going to show this trail and this rain and my family and everybody. But it was not to be. Not only did the mountain actually climb up into the cloud from which the rain was falling (seemingly, anyway), but it made its way through more muddy soil and a trail that seemed tailor-made to become a stream bed when rain came. And it also began to rain harder. Pelt, really. I was beginning to get wet. And still I walked up. And up. The misty views---when I got them---were gorgeous, it's true. But it's hard to appreciate with water falling in your eyes. And there were roots. Thousands and thousands of them. Where was the top? I knew the trail was 3.5 miles long, how long could that possibly take?! Well, when it's a climb, it can take a few hours. 

Finally, I arrived at the trail intersection described by locals. And it wasn't any glorious overlook. It was a small sign hanging from a tree, and that's about it. I thought I should stop and rest, take a drink, and have a little snack. But it was raining hard, thunderstorms were forecast (they never did arrive, but I worried during the climb that I was stupidly climbing up INTO it, and made a deal with myself that the first crack of thunder, I was turning around.) Also, I'd finished both my water bottles, and hadn't brought a snack.

I won't deny that the trail down was something special. But neither will I omit the detail that many parts of my legs were beginning to cramp on the way down, and despite the recent upgrade to 29" wheels and disc brakes, my fingers and lower arms were feeling it as well. 

In theory, a rigid bike means that you use technique rather than technology. Your elbows and knees substitute for front and rear suspension. And on the wonderful trails back at the hotel, this works perfectly, but here on the mountainside, they simply weren't enough. I could've used some mechanical help. I would've accepted a full-on downhill racing bike at that point, but no one was there to offer me one. e eSomehow, though, I made it down quite a bit quicker than I'd climbed. The banked corners had been a joy, I was able (read "too exhausted to avoid") to ride the steepest rock section, and I even got a bit of air off the second of two jumps (I let off the brakes I'd been holding for the first). It's one to check off the bucket list, but I don't see myself going back there again. I'll leave it to the red tailed hawks I assume it's named for.

Aug 15, 2018

Drowning with Land in Sight

So there I was, floating along with my arm around an overturned and slowly-sinking kayak. My knees hurt from the impact with the wall, and I was kicking my feet in a sort of sidestroke in an attempt to steer... somewhere, and keep from getting sucked (or maybe pushed?) under the floating docks in the river.

A little background is in order. A few years ago, they rebuilt a small bridge between Danversport and the area near the school where my wife works. When they did this, they built a sort of isthmus rather than a standard structural bridge. So when the tide goes out, which it was doing during the time of which I speak, it rushes quite quickly through the two relatively small tunnels that were built to allow for the movement of all that water. And I had just paddled through the outgoing current to achieve a place where I was between both, and checking if either would be feasible. I decided neither was, and the shortest way back to the water was the paved boat launch on the other side of the current that I'd just paddled against. But here's the key: there's a big stone wall right next to the launch. When the current comes out, it pushes the water against this wall.  So I'd tried to build up speed and approach diagonally. But before I knew what had happened, the kayak was pushed into the wall, and I believe the water pushed the side closest to it underwater, thus achieving the flipped over kayak.

So the boat and I reached the floating docks. I reached up and grabbed one of the tie points, so beyond all question, I'm fine (This was all happening quite slowly, so I was quite certain before this, but you know what I mean) But Mr. Kayak, not so much. It had been flipped over (I was afraid if I put it right side up and held onto it, it would totally fill and sink right to the bottom) and was floating quite low in the water. I pulled myself out with the help of a friendly boat (I know, you expected I'd just grab the dock and burst out of the water like Ariel in the Little Mermaid. But I'm just not that strong, especially after paddling for hours).

There I stand. But what's going to happen to the kayak? And would I have to swim back to shore?

I looked around and saw that the yak was floating parallel to the dock rather than being sucked under it, and using the paddle (looking back, I'm not sure how I ever held onto it---maybe it floated?) I nudged it close to the end of the floating platform. But could I get it out of the water?

Moving it little by little and using it as a lever against its own weight, I managed to break the suction of the water, and it started to drain. But even as I got it completely out onto the wood, and stood it on end, nearly half of the structure was filled with water. Like a standard plastic bucket, just without the wire handle---and 8 feet long.

Thankfully, these boats all have a drain hole. It took awhile, but the water level went down and everything got easier to handle (and it drained straight back into the river, what a timesaver!). While I waited, I noticed that in fact, I didn't  have to get back into the water, the dock connected to land via a metal "gangplank" (is that the right word? It can't be, but I don't know what else to call it). After the water was all gone, I hoisted the yak onto my shoulder and walked down the pier and up the plank.

As I crossed the road carrying an 8' long plastic boat (that weighs around 50 lbs completely dry), I heard the pickup truck that had been approaching hail me: "Hey!"

I turned, "yeah?"

"Don't evah come in heeyah! This 's private property."

"Okay..." I said. What else could I say? There's not really a response.

But as I put the boat back into the water and paddled for home (and another bridge under the highway but wider and easier to paddle through), I began to wonder--- did he see me get flipped and just wait to tell me to stay off their dock, as if I was enjoying myself? Or did he simply mean don't use their boat launch? Or had he simply seen me leaving their parking lot and was just saying don't come in there?

It's all a moot point, because there's a public boat launch on the other side of the bridge, and I'll simply use that from now on (and avoid the currents entirely). But it was a fitting ending for what had been a ridiculous drama from the very beginning.

So, who wants to try kayaking?