Monday, July 23, 2012

Saturday Night's Alright

For some time at the range that is. That of course is only after a failed attempt early in the afternoon (drove all the way to the range only to learn that someone forgot the ammunition) followed by an angry trip home and an excellent BBQ dinner, which took the edge off.

This time I verified that I had everything and so we packed up the range bag and travel case and made it out to Harvard with about 45 minutes of daylight left. That was plenty and we took turns working on trigger pull with the relatively new Ruger SR-22 which I picked up a couple months ago from the good folks at Four Seasons in Woburn. This is an excellent choice for someone who likes to shoot. So far the weapon has been super reliable, has some big features built in and is also really accurate. Now I just need to order a couple more magazines.

Cathy really enjoys this piece and is shooting really well with it. One of the biggest benefits is how affordable it is to shoot. Gotta love the small caliber rim-fire.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

New Favorite

In the recent quest for the best subject to come out of the smoker I think that we have found a winner. At least that is, a winner so far. We've tried chicken multiple times and both thighs and quarters work great, taste great and in general give very good results. Pork ribs are also really good. We've done a beef brisket and it was OK. I think that one just needs some more skill.We have also done both kielbasa and Italian sausage. Both result in a very unique flavor and texture and are good in their own rite.

Froggy approves!
What we tried today though was a big pork roast. It was on sale at Stop&Shop this week and they has a good looking, marbled piece sitting out last night when we were over at the plaza, so we bought it. It spent about six hours at about 200 degrees this afternoon with a standard dry rub of cumin, curry, black pepper and brown sugar. This resulted in a nice bark present with about an hour to go. At that point I mopped it with sauce and added one final round of wood chunks. For wood I primarily used maple because I have a bunch of it and have just been cutting it up into small discs. I also added a very little bit of mesquite as well but at the rate we go through wood, I've been leaning heavily toward the natural stuff from the wood pile.

Yes, it was really that good.
The end result was really really good. Moist and super tender with a good distinct smoke ring. Not an overpowering smoky flavor at all, more a subtle taste. The slow cooking yields a wonderful result. This is the way to go for hard to grill items like chicken, which lover to flame up and burn, ribs which do the same and especially for big pieces of meat. We will keep experimenting though but so far, it's sooo good.

Friday, July 20, 2012


I'm pretty sure that is not a very good way to be-fast. I'm such a glutton. In fact, this is probably one of those really bad perks at work; having a buffet style breakfast catered in for the employees on Friday mornings. At least I've stopped eating my normal breakfast at home before coming in to the office. I know, that doesn't really mean much. At least this week wasn't sausage/egg/muffin sandwiches. I go way overboard with those darn things.

Yesterday was the first of the monthly summer Thursday afternoon socials just outside of the office. Among other things there was beer. I went out for a moment and then just turned around and went back inside. Having me around beer is like letting the fox into the hen-house. Nothing good ever comes of it.

I have no willpower at all.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Yesterday was the 200th day of the 2012. Pretty amazing how fast it's flying by, eh? I think so anyhow but I guess that is the common theme to life, at least when you're not doing hard time in the crowbar hotel as some fat toothless guy's personal masseuse. I digress though. The year is indeed past the half way point which means before we know it the seasons will change and will will be into the rapid fire cyclocross season, when time really does a mad dash.

I'll spend a little time doing the Q1 reflection. It's been quite a year so far with tons of transition. I left a job that I'd been in for an eternity. I retired so to speak and got a bunch of stuff done around the house. I not only learned how to but mastered the science of grocery shopping, cutting our weekly bills dramatically while giving nothing up in terms of quality. I spent some free time building bikes for my buddy Chris to help give back a little for all that he has helped me with not only with biking but XC skiing and at the range. I somewhat reluctantly went on a job interview and despite all efforts to not wind up with a job, wound up with a job.

That's pretty much it, save the cycling, which has been the real constant this year. In fact, the streak is still alive and going, at least for now. I'm pretty sure that I'm on day 207 in a row of riding a bike. Some days are bigger than others but it's been an adventure thus far. I'm on course for a record year in terms of mileage and hours if this holds out. My fitness is pretty good and I'm learning how to really listen to my body and react accordingly. That means rest when necessary in the for of active recovery and backing off. They can't all be hammerfests as I'm learning, unfortunately.

So far so good. The road season has been pretty mediocre in terms of racing but the MTB scene has been good. I'm 4 for 5 on the year so far, a record that certainly can't hold but I'll give it my best for sure. The training is coming along well and the power numbers are looking good. Very soon it will be time to back off and take a big break, then hit it hard with lots of shorter intensity training.

The change will be good.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Return to Stonewall Farm

It was another good day for Team 2-Adventures/Bikeway Source yesterday at the races. We both not only finished but managed podium presence in the mean time. This year's edition of the Bikes for Bovines at Stonewall Farm MTB race saw a totally new course comprised of some good old fashioned tight and twisty New England singletrack. There was a ton of up and down and countless switchback corners. Having built a little trail in my day I could appreciate all of the work and craftsmanship that had gone into the trail system.

It's great to see more courses popping up that consist of actual MTB trails designed for MTB's. This is a new paradigm and one that is making the racing exponentially more fun and interesting. Back in the day, virtually all of the race courses and in fact all of the trails in the region were ones that had started their life as something else, be that jeep road, hiking trail, or more likely than not, old moto trails.

While sometimes novel, by in large, moto trails suck. They typically run straight up or straight down a slope, are rutted out and have miserable flow in general. There are some exceptions but those are few. In the past ten to fifteen years though there has been a big surge of MTB specific trail that is well designed, sustainable, and has excellent flow. The Grafton Pond race was a prime example of trails the climb via rolling gradual up-slope traverse which when done right, make the climbs virtually disappear despite gaining elevation all the while.

 Cathy and I had raced at Stonewall Farm in Keene, NH once before. That was in 2009 on the old course. That course consisted of a long climb up a loose, rocky, washed out jeep road, some freshly logged slash which led to some rutted out logging road climbs. When you finally got to the trails in the woods, you suddenly wished you were back on the rutted logging road again. Oh, and there was a long railroad bed as well. All in all not the worst course but certainly not remarkable. The course just wasn't a whole lot of fun and as such, we hadn't felt the need to venture back since.

A few weeks ago at the Grafton Pond race Chris mentioned that he had totally redone the trail system for Stonewall Farms and although he wouldn't claim that they were on par with Grafton Ponds trails, he thought they would be a pleasant surprise for all. With that Cathy and I decided to give it a go and see what it was like. I'm always happy to ride something new especially when the trails were purpose build for MTBs.

We are currently in the midst of a bit of a heat wave and yesterday followed suit with the temperature steamy and hot. There has been no hint of rain in what seems ages as well which means we are also in a drought. As we got out on course for a warm-up lap the extent of this became evident. The trails surface was primarily loose and silty. They still afforded traction by the dust was persistent. The new trails were very well built and laid-out with solid and stables bridges as needed. Chris was being modest when he said that his trails were not on par with the Grafton Pond trails. They were different yes, but the spirit was very similar. The Stonewall Farms trails had climbs that were much more evident as well as descents that were also more pronounced but there were excellent trails nonetheless.

By the way, the GPS was way off in terms of course length. The actual laps were almost 4.5 miles each and we did four of them. I need to get the Ant+ integrated trip meter for the MTB, which is based on wheel revolutions, a much more consistent and accurate way to measure distance in the woods. This corrects the distance for the GPS unit. One more thing to get I guess.

Many thanks to Jill and Chris from Root66 as well as the folks at Stonewall Farm for putting on another great event. This is our fifth year back racing MTB, which is primarily with the Root66 series. All I can say is that it's as much about the people as it is the events, which is why we keep coming back.

Friday, July 06, 2012

KT With Company

On Saturday of last weekend Cathy and decided to make another day trip up to the Kingdom Trails in East Burke VT for some low key MTB fun. The weather was slated to be on the warm side but dry and sunny. The rain this past week coupled with the previous weekend having been the bike festival which would have undoubtedly taken a toll on the trails, primarily due to the increased rider visits, but we had a free day and decided to take it.

Another part of our motivation was that we had decided to take Cathy's old race bike, her beloved pink Yeti full suspension AS-R and rather than sell it for a fraction of it's actual value, give it to our nephew Tyler who is getting into the sport of cycling. You may recall, both of you who read this that is, that Tyler came out to KT with Cathy and I the month before. We had a great time and he did really well on my buddy Rich's old purple GT Zaskar. I recognized however that the GT was dated and although a fine bike, was not as nice as the Yeti. This should be a big upgrade what with the modern, full suspension XC specific design, high end Mavic Crossmax SSL-SC wheels and disc brakes.

We packed the bikes up and at 6AM Saturday we were on the road, making the long trip to East Burke. I'd pre-arranged to pick Tyler up on the way and he could ride with us as long as he could handle. In addition to the bike I threw together some cycling clothing that we had as spares as well as one of my old helmets which would fit him better, a Camelback and Cathy's old GPS unit. This should have him much better equipped than the last time out when he had a helmet that was a little too big and a only a water bottle.

We arrived at my brother's barber shop in Lyndonville at about 8:45AM to Tyler anxiously awaiting. A quick check of the bike fit showed that it was a near perfect match for him. With that we loaded back up and were off to East Burke, an easy 5 miles away. In East Burke we noted that the Pub Outback has finally gotten sick of all of those worthless and cheap MTBers parking in their parking lot, clogging up their porto and getting all naked to change, so closed the lot off. Fortunately the town had a new lot designated which was right next to the spiffy pay-per-use showers. Cathy and I suited up and then she snagged our trail passes while I got Tyler squared away. Soon we were off.

The plan was to do a short mountainside loop and then hit the east side of Darling Hill followed by the West side from South to North and then back South again on different trails, something we almost never do. Our start took us up the Burke Mountain road and then off onto the Burnham Down trail. Everything went smooth at first and Ty quickly got used to the bike and was riding well, save an incident or two with the many many narrow and twisty boardwalks on the trail. Cathy was also riding well and we had a good time taking advantage of the day.

We crossed over RT114 and ducked back onto the trails, coming out behind the bike shop. From there we climbed up the East Darling Hill Rd and ducked back onto the VAST trail at the bottom of Kitchell. The last time we were at KT we discovered what a great XC trail East Branch was. As such we hit Beat Bog, Leatherwood, Riverwood and then went onto East Branch for it's extent. A couple of connectors with some good punchy climbs and ultra skinny bridges and we were at the Southern end of the trail system. Over Darling Hill Rd. and we were back into the trail system on the South end. A quick run down Webs and then off to Sidewinder. Cathy and I had a great time with it, as always, but Ty found it a little too spicy for his taste.

I'm sure that after some more time on the bike he will be able to handle that level of Kung-Fu. We climbed back out and headed North on the high side of the Western slope of Darling Hill via the trails that run cross slope. These trails also climb quite a bit and that was where we began to see the wheels start to come off the bus. Ty was fighting hard but probably wouldn't have much fight left. We made our way all the way North and hit Harp, a moderately sloped downhill trail that twists and turns. Typically it is pretty fun but they had some logging going on in the start of the trail which disrupted the flow some. From there we did the normal Fenceline down and I could tell we were near the end. Tyler confirmed he was all done. We climbed out Coronary and at the top of Darling Hill he called my brother to come and get his sorry arse. We booked it back down the road to Baileys and snagged some lunch while awaiting the sag wagon.                                                                                                                                                            

 And then there were two. Cathy and I had the unsavory chore of riding back up Darling Hill in the baking sun, after lunch, to get up to where we left off. Of course I opted for the shaded route in the woods, which Cathy didn't notice,, and she kept on going. After some waiting for her, and then backtracking, and then giving up, there was one. A stormed around and popped back onto the paved climb slightly higher up the trail and then spotted her waiting at the top. As I passed her not slowing at all I told here I'd meet her at the car in 3 hours. That wouldn't make for a very good trip home of course. Luckily she followed me and further on down the trail I softened and waited, and then there were two again.

Much to my surprise, later on, at the bottom of Troll Stroll we bumped into a group of old ride buddies from way back in the day. These were guys that I started riding shortly after I got into MTBing back in the early 90's, Chris, Wick, Bob and Bob as well as a bunch of their newer friends. They have ridden as group since before I met them and still continue today. It was great to meet up with them and they allowed Cathy and I to tag along for the rest of their ride. We had a great time and extended the ride when most of them peeled off to head back with another pass at East Branch.

From there we parted with Cathy too having enough. I had a target of 51 miles in mind so need another block to finish that out, which I got with a quick run out White School and the various Pond loops, then straight back on RT114. Cathy was showered and changed when I got back and chatting with Chris. We sat and yacked for a while and then they headed off to camp. I showered and changed and the day was finished off with a burger and beer at the Pub Outback. We finally got home just before 10PM. A long day for sure but and excellent day, without question.

Thursday, July 05, 2012


Recently we purchased a new Masterbuilt propane fired vertical smoker unit. I'd been looking at them for some time, ever since we saw the units this spring when we visited the BassPro Shops in Foxboro. This one seemed like a pretty good value with some nice features and was in stock at HomeDepot for $179. I know that the hard-core only use charcoal or wood fired units to smoke meat. This unit is dual-fuel and can actually handle charcoal as well, though I really like the efficiency, stability and ease of the propane heat source.

For the first attempt I tried a bunch of different meats and filled the unit right up, though still not completely full, with a full rack of pork ribs, three chicken leg quarters and a couple polish sausages for good measure. I cranked the unit up on low which was a steady 200 degrees and filled it with soaked hickory and mesquite wood chips. The plan was to let it roll most of the day and that was what we did.

This unit uses a water pan over the heat source to infuse moisture and help maintain even heat as well as catch drippings. I've got to say it works pretty darn well. The only issue I had was keeping wood chips in it to maintain the smoke. They recommend the small chips but they really don't last long. I've also tried some slightly bigger ones and will probably further experiment. My initial results are showing that in the course of a six hour smoke I need to replace chips a few times.

In the future I'm going to start using some domestic wood (ie. harvested from the back yard) like maple or apple and see what I get for results. I've got to say that there is no easier way to grill chicken. No flame ups or burnt results and you can basically slow cook and set it up, go do your stuff for a couple hours and just check in on it periodically.

So far so good and the results have been pretty good. Not stellar, but not bad by any standard. A little more time and experimentation and we should be good to go.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Instant Classic

I've been so busy lately that I've fallen way behind on the updates. I wanted to take a minute though, to talk about a new MTB race on the Root66 Race Series Calendar that took place a short while back. This was the Grafton Ponds race in Grafton, VT. It was in part promoted by the folks at the West Hill Shop in Putney in conjunction with the Grafton Ponds Outdoor Center.

Though I grew up in the Northeast corner of the state of Vermont I'd never been to Grafton before. Really, I'd never spent much time at all in the lower (south of St. Johnsbury) part of the state until I got into bicycle racing much later in life. We were initially on the fence as to the race, partially because there was a good road race on the same day in Lincoln, NH. This race was also a complete unknown for us, and everyone else for that matter given that it was the initial running of the race on a brand new course consisting of a bunch of pretty fresh trails. All of the hype in the media (Thom's video on Cyclingdirt) was saying very, very good things about the race though so in typical fashion we registered at the very last minute, stealth like.

As we were packing the gear and getting directions together the evening before the race we noted that Google Maps was saying it was a three hour drive to the venue. Three hours, really? I was starting to regret the choice as the Lincoln race was an EZ two hours straight up I93. A little digging and mapping and we were convinced that the mapping algorithm was totally wrong and we should be less that two and half hours away, more reasonable though still further than my old and crotchety self likes to drive these days.

The drive up in the morning was uneventful and actually took us about an hour and twenty minutes going the way that the GPS suggested, which meant through the traffic light nightmare that is downtown Brattleboro, VT. This route took us past the Grafton cheese factory and on some nice country roads. We arrived at the venue to ample parking in a wide open field. We registered under a big top tent they had set up from a wedding reception the day before. It turns out that Grafton Ponds is a wintertime nordic ski and snowshoe center and that they actually make snow. Good to know. The word on the street was that the course consisted of lots of fresh and flowy singletrack.

We changed up and got out for a preride lap and were quickly greeted by some very fresh and flowy singletrack. Think Kingdom Trails without thousands of rider visits a month. The trails were well laid out, undulating and made use of lots of rock features and rock armoring. They were also skillfully crafted on sideslopes to climb gradually upslope without really making you think that you were climbing. The trails rolled up and down but you were frequently gaining slightly more than you were losing. It was really good stuff and the type of trail that is custom tailored to my riding style and strengths. That said, this is the type of course that is really painful because it is so much fun, you want to ride it fast, which over a couple of hours with no breaks, doesn't tend to scale that well.

The Men's Cat1 40-49 field is also one of the strongest out there and continually has some of the greatest depth. Nothing is ever a given in that race and on any given day a half dozen different guys could all take the win. I knew it was going to be a tough race for sure. Rob, Craig and Scotty were all there and had each been coming on really strong in the races I'd done with them so far this season. It's amazing at the improvement I've noticed in the field. Obviously these guys are taking it serious and training hard. The results show it for sure. As we awaited our start I recognized that it was going to be important to hit the first woods section in the lead. That section was after a long serpentine access road climb up through an open field. What this meant was that it was going to be a lot of work getting that hole shot.

At the whistle it was an immediate sprint and I settled back a bit after some trouble getting going. As the climb started I passed ahead and got to the front and went as hard as I could for the narrow opening into the woods which seemed an unreachable distance away. Fortunately I managed to get into the trail first though narrowly with no room to spare. We had a steady stream of racers right on my wheel waiting for the chance to pass. Darn, I though I was going really hard there and yet there are still half a dozen guys right on me. Maybe I've lost it? This kept up through the first couple of singltrack sections with no respite. I was going as hard as I could and riding as smoothly as possible yet I was making little to no headway. It was at that point that I realized it might just be over for me and started to consider alternatives to my normal MTB race plan of get to the front and ride away.

To break up the singletrack there were a few sections of access road/doubletrack gentle climbs. These are the power sections where I can really ratchet it up and lay down five or six hundred watts for three quarters of a minute. That is where the gaps open up. You can only go so fast on flowy, technical singletrack and when you have a group of people with roughly the same handling skills, it's no wonder that things remain close. I finally saw a little daylight and went with it, keeping the pace high and steady as usual. Despite that we came around the first of four lap with about a three second gap between myself and Rob. He was really riding strong and I knew he was going to be tough to shake. I also knew that I was going to need to settle in on the pace so as not to explode in the later laps.

Once again I got back into the woods first and just rode steady, eventually gaining more ground. At this point I was well into the Cat1 fields that had started ahead of us so was continually passing folks. I like to be a gracious and calm passer, treating the passee with the respect that they deserve and giving them the good line while I pass in the rough or lesser line. It's my responsibility to get by them not theirs to let me by. Bottom line is that they are racing too. Only a couple of times was I slowed and in the grand scheme it doesn't really matter. That said there is another component that can grip you when catching a rider. When you catch a rider that was only going modestly slower than you, you can get complacent and sit on thinking hey, he's moving pretty good and this is less work than trying to get by and this feels pretty comfortable so maybe I'll just sit here. The hard fact is that you are then going slower than you were before. I had that lapse happen to me on the second lap when I caught a junior rider from the Bliss team who was moving pretty darn well and so I sat behind him for a little too long. On a switchback I caught a glimpse of Rob who was still right there behind me. With that I recognized that it was time to go and made the pass and continued the forward progress.

The laps ticked off and I maintained my steady pace eventually making my way through all of the Cat1 fields that started ahead of me and into the back of the Pro/Open field, which was signed up for five laps on the course vs. our four laps. I was glad to only have four laps to do for certain. I caught Cathy coming around to start my final lap as she was finishing her second. It would be a long day on the trail for her. I cheered and kept moving. The rest of the race was a blur of fun trails and trying to maintain composure and not blow the lead. It worked and I managed to finish up strong and in good position. Rob finished not far behind me, a great race and result for him for sure. The writing is on the wall and my days are numbered.

Cathy suffered through to finish here race strong as well. I'm always impressed at her ability to suffer. As badly as I think I am suffering I know that it is at least as hard for here and that she is also out there significantly longer than I am, meaning she still wins the prize every time. I wish that I had her capacity to endure.

This race was possibly one of my favorite courses ever. I am hard pressed to imagine a better design and layout. Conditions were nearly perfect as well. I'm hopeful that this race becomes a staple on the calendar and we can look forward to visiting the venue year after year. I told Chris from Root66 that this race set a new standard and I meant it. This is what we will use to rank other courses. This was a real MTB race on real MTB trails.

An instant classic.