Thursday, December 26, 2013

Holiday Fun

The past week has been pretty hectic. Toward the end of last week, Cathy and I planned and hosted the Bikeway Source/Bell Lap Racing team holiday party. Nothing huge or super fancy but twenty plus folks all together for an evening of fun and food at our place. Good times for sure.

After that, literally the next morning, it was a matter of packing as much stuff as we could possibly fit into the truck and heading to Maine. We chose the truck over the van partially because of the load we were carrying and mainly because of the weather we were supposed to be facing. That weather would include snow, sleet and freezing rain to name a few. It is winter after all in New England so that is to be expected. The packing caused some stress as we had a tough time making it all work. In the end though we were able to get that which we needed and were soon off for the holiday vacation.

The weather has been a bit fickle over the past week. We have gone from temperatures in the teens frequently over the past few weeks to two significant snow storms to 55 degrees at the end of last week and freezing rain at the start of this week. As one might imagine, this poses challenges for riding bikes. Cathy and I had visions and plans for a multitude of winter activities carried forth from the great snow based fun we'd had just the week before at home. That included a couple of great times out in the woods on snowshoes, a really fun team XC ski in the local woods and even some fairly good snowbiking. Knowing that Bethel had good snow cover we expected a continuation of winter fun bliss.

What we were met with upon arrival however, was a bit less than perfect conditions. At first the only challenge was finding solid trail. The temperature was a bit above freezing all day and there had been some light rain. The snow, which had seen some sled traffic, was not really firm enough to ride everywhere and although we would have stretches of good, firm pack we also had long sections of slogging mush. We muddled through our first local ride in mashed potatoes and when we finally gave up and were headed home, we bumped into friends who invited us to join them for dinner at Suds. Evening saved.

We awoke the next day to temperatures still above freezing, though barely. The plan of Nordic skate skiing was abandoned given the conditions and we ventured north and up into Grafton Notch in search of better conditions and cooler temperatures. We found slightly more snow and slightly cooler temperatures but not cool enough by any stretch. The trails that were packed were complete mush. With that we took to the truck roads, in abundance in those forests. They were snow covered and icy in spots and certainly a little rough from the log trucks hauling timber, which at this point were running full chains on the tires, but it was good to be out and exploring something new. We rode for an hour or so and then hit a crest where the winds were bringing in really warm air. A storm was approaching that was supposed to bring rain and rather than continue on what was turning to muddy road, we turned back and headed out. Not a loop but still a good out and back ride.

As soon as we got home, the rain started and it continued off and on most of the day. By Sunday morning the rain had changed to freezing rain and everything was starting to get ugly. The ride Sunday consisted of a short attempt at riding the local trail, which had gotten slick in spots but worse, was deep slush pools in many other spots. We got more of the same on Monday though by then, it had started to freeze up in spots making some slick sections between the sloggy slush sections.

Christmas Eve brought really cold temperatures comparatively and everything turned to a skating rink. Glare ice as far as you could see. We loaded the fat bikes in the truck and headed to Vermont to my folks for the day spent with family. On the way we checked conditions and toyed with trying to ride in Lancaster, which was bare and had no snow at all, but decided not to. In Vermont we checked out our camp, which had about 6" of really crusty snow, and then headed to my parents for the day. We had a great time there visiting with family and eating lots of good things. We also received some wonderful and generous gifts. All too soon it was over though and time for us to make the trek back toward Maine.

We got home at about 7PM and and were reluctant to head out but Cathy being the trooper that she is, joined in on the fun. It was about 15 degrees and dropping so we bundled up and headed out to see what we would find. To our delight, some sleds had ridden the main trail and chewed the crust up enough to afford some traction with the bikes. The conditions were the best that we had seen and I dragged Cathy way further out than we had ventured thus far. We hit Rabbit Road at the point I'd said we would head back from but the road was sheet ice. We only needed to ride a couple hundred yards of it to get to Vernon Street but I suggested we continue to Irish Neighborhood instead. Reluctantly, Cathy agreed and we started up the climb. This section was great fun, narrow, gullied and bumpy, it absolutely stinks on a sled but was a hoot to ride on the bikes. The week had suddenly taken a turn for the better and on the long, cold and windy road ride back to town we actually saw some of the Christmas lights I'd promised Cathy we were going out to take a look at when I convinced her to ride in the first place. As a side note, there is a reason we don't usually ride road at night, when it is windy and below 15 degrees.

Christmas day we planned to meet up with our friends the Seibs for a ride and then Christmas dinner. In the morning though, Cathy and I had breakfast and then exchanged gifts. Once again Cathy gave me too many great presents as well as a beautiful photo of the sprint finish from day one of the Gran Prix of Gloucester this fall. Russ Campbell did the work and wonderful work it was indeed. I can't thank you both enough for the truly touching gift. Last year Cathy made me a picture book of memories throughout the year. That gift meant so much to me that I did the same for her this year. I came to appreciate how much work goes into such a seeming simple gift, when it took me three days and no less than ten hours to put the book together for her. Between planning a theme, selecting photos, formatting and editing them then doing layouts and wording. A work of love.

In the afternoon we met with the team Seib at our place and took to the trails. We had a great time riding on a crisp but sunny afternoon. We rode much the same as the night before but also ventured onto some other stuff. We found some very good trail as well that led us up to Mt. Abrams. Unfortunately, that was where it ended and we had to ride road down to get to other trails. Not bad though and well sanded over the sheet ice so nobody died. At the bottom the trail we took had not been broken since the ice storm. That made it glare. I couldn't go anywhere and when I tried letting some air out of the front tire, the core screwed out. Before I could plug the leak I'd lost all but a couple precious psi. I also left my leaking Camelbak, which had the pump, at home. Those tires don't roll as well with a flat I found as it was taking an extra 50 watts just to keep the bike moving. Still an excellent adventure. Back at home we all warmed up by the fire and gave the attention starved cats their due. Later we headed over to the Seibs house a few miles away and had a wonderful dinner. Christmas fun indeed and a great way to spend the day.

It is now snowing lightly and we are trying to decide what we are going to do. The attitude has been reset, what with a couple of really great days in a row. The outlook is bright. Maybe we will finally get the chance to skate ski. I still have a few days left in the year so inevitably, at some point, I'll head out for a ride.

Live is, great.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas

Another incredible year has slipped by and I am perched here, on Christmas Eve at the brink of Christmas. It was the same when I was young; the weeks and months waiting impatiently in anticipation only to have Christmas day sweep in so quickly. Never prepared and never having gotten all you wished to get from the joyous season regardless of how long you have been listening to Christmas music. I think that the older we get, the more difficulty it is to truly let go and immerse yourself in the spirit and kindle the passion of youth for the season.

Regardless though, we try and I can't help but think that in the simple act of trying, we somehow succeed.

Merry Christmas. Thank you to all of my friends, family, teammates and especially my wife Cathy for making this another wonderful year. The best year yet. Oh, and thanks for Opie and Ellie as well. Making it all worth while.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Nightime Fun in the Snow

Cathy and I got out tonight for a little bit of fun on the fat bikes (Charge Cooker Maxi). We picked up a little snow yesterday and then a bunch of rain. Today though the temperature dropped and it all froze up. What we were left with was about an inch of crusty snow. Doesn't sound like much but in all honesty, it was pretty sloggy going out there.

I slapped new tires on the bikes before the ride. We migrated from the Vee Rubber 8 tires, which are a small tightly spaced block tread that is great for hardpack and sand but gave up traction in loose, wet, muddy or snowy conditions, to a more open and aggressive pattern of the Vee Rubber Mission. Why stick with Vee tires, not exactly the best known name out there? Simple. The price to weight is just plain unbeatable. They are a respectable sub 1400gm each and retail for $100 for the folding 120tpi tubeless model of the Mission. For and extra $50 or so I could get a tire that is maybe 100gm lighter but that is a tough sell.

I've also done a couple other upgrades to the bikes. The obvious are bars, stems, posts and saddles but I also put new, higher quality Avid hydraulic disc brakes on the bikes. In addition, I upgraded the SRAM X-5 drivetrain to an X-9 rear derailleur and X-7 shifters on mine with sweet XX GripShifters on Cathy's (thanks Chris). They are so sweet and work so nicely, particularly with mitten/lobsters on. I may have to switch to some as well, if I can find them.

Now we are pretty much ready for the snow. Good thing as it looks like this year we may actually get some. Hopefully we will get some time in between to pack it down, so we can actually ride. If not though, we can use the new Salomon XC skate skis we got last year and never used at all.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sterling Baystate CX Day I

Two weekends ago was the Baytstate Verge series cyclocross race weekend in Sterling, MA. Over the years of feeling compelled to race at Sterling due to the proximity, I have a developed a bit of a distaste for the course. I can't say exactly why that is, maybe because it busts up a perfectly good holiday week or maybe because it is usually cold, windy and wide open. Maybe it is simply because I've never gotten results that I was actually happy with there. Last year was my best performance there though I was not at all content with it being second both days, stuck in no mans land by myself. I don't know for sure, but so it was and I still had a bit of dread for the race.

This year I was talking with a friend who like myself, is also more of a technician and he said that he liked the course and that it should be a good one for both of us. I'd never really though of it as a technical course as it is wide open in a school ground. Sure there is off camber side slope and some tight corners but there were also extended sloggy power sections. Regardless, this year I tried to remain optimistic about the race. Bottom line was that it is the same for everyone.

The weekend weather, at least for Saturday, was cold and clear. The temperature when we arrived on site early in the morning was a brisk 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Ouch, that was going to hurt. Just the past weekend we'd had similar weather at the regional competition, at least on Sunday. That said, it was still 8 degrees warmer though windy as sin. Either way, we were shaping up for a pretty cold day with highs only making it into the upper twenties but with a bright sun. The course was in good shape and though very similar to years past, which is to say not overly memorable, there were a few minor changes that I personally liked and which I found beneficial.

For Cathy's race which was just before mine, the ground and more the cinder track were frozen. It was a good race and though Cathy fell back a bit at the start, she made her way forward steadily making up many spots. She finished very respectively in a sprint to the line one of her nemesis.

I was up next and made my way to the staging area awaiting the call up process. They quickly had us lined up by rank which luckily meant I got a front row position. After a short period we were off, sprinting up the pavement toward the hard left onto the grass. I got a pretty good start but got pinched a bit in the corner and just before the corner on the pavement, losing a couple of spots. Roger hit the front with Paul just behind and drove hard. I slowly picked my way up to them knowing that was where I had to be as that would be the front of the race all day. Within the first lap a gap behind us started to form as the elastic snapped after one of the many surges at the front and the three of us were off.

Soon however I could see another racer making his way up to us as we tapered the pace back bit, settling in. It was Mark, who was coming back this season after many years away from cyclocross racing due to injury. He not only caught but went to the front. I jumped on his wheel at sat for a while but could see that he was significantly slower in the corners. Also, having four in the lead group made me nervous so I decided to attack him. Unfortunately I did it as we went by the pits and then dropped into an off camber chicane. Carrying way too much speed in I barely made the first corner but tanked the second one, washing out with the front wheel and falling on top of the bike. Stupid, stupid move. I was up quickly but Roger attacked hard with Paul just behind forcing me to spend the next half lap chasing to get back on.

It was tough but I managed to get there with a couple laps to go. As we came through the barriers I decided to try hopping them again. I'd done it the first lap and it wasn't pretty and I almost hadn't made it. This time was clean though and although not faster than running, made the exit up the side slope much much faster. I got a pretty good gap to Roger and Paul and tried to hold it. I actually made it past the pits but hit traffic in the offcamber chicane section I'd blown previously, which forced me to slow and ended my break. Together again we finished the lap and started the final lap.

Nobody was able to ride away from anyone else and I feared it would be another sprint finish, something I have come to despise. I can't tell you how many losses I've had recently in sprint finishes but I can say, it has gotten pretty darn discouraging. Anyhow, I knew that if I could hit the barriers first and clean the hop, that might be enough. Paul knew it also so attacked right before them, getting there just ahead of me. I knew that if I could hop the barriers and beat him to the climb out I'd get a gap, so that was the goal.

We were dead even going through the barriers and came out even as well. Luckily I didn't have to remount and was able to get a good gap of maybe a half dozen bike lengths. I pushed it as hard as I could and that snapped the band. Paul settled back a bit and started racing Roger, who hadn't given up on me yet. He chased and I fled, keeping it as clean and fast as possible. I hit the pavement unable to tell who was where or how close so sprinted for all I was worth, which was good enough. Roger finished just behind and Paul just behind him with a bit of a gap back to 4th. Finally, it had been a long, long time.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Real Vermont

We were just digging some holiday decorations down from the attic and I came across a few photographs from many years back. These were ones that my brother took of a couple of his project vehicles. Both of my brothers were heavily into building cars and trucks and especially into four wheel drive rigs that they would take up into the woods and either get stuck in ungodly amounts of mud, or out and out destroy. Good fun, albeit a bit different than the type of fun I have traditionally been into.

I think my brothers got the car bug from my father. Though never really into four wheel drives, he has always been into building hot rods. Over the years there have been numerous projects. In fact he just sold his latest one a couple of months back. He then picked up a new cab to use but got an offer for it that he couldn't pass up, so turned it right back around. He now has a near mint reproduction Ford Model-T frame that he is planning to build off from. Will see just what he comes up with.

Anyhow, here are those pictures. I think that they were probably from fifteen or so years back. One is a Chevy Chevette, which was a very popular vehicle in our family. I had one in high school and another in college and after I graduated. I made countless trips from Burlington, VT to Lexington, MA in that thing. The race 'Vette. My brothers both had numerous as well and in fact, my brother just sold his last one, which had been in storage, this past summer. This particular 'Vette has had a vintage Willys 4WD drive-train cobbled under it. This made for an interesting  if not entirely functional project. Of course it was adorned with flat olive drab green paint applied with a roller.

The other rig is a Suzuki Samurai. My brothers and father were heavily enamored by Suzuki 4WD products. This particular Sami had a gear reduction transfer to give the small four cylinder enough power to turn the 31" Super Swamper tires under the lifted body. It also had a winch, of course, and a custom built storage rack on the roof. It too was olive drab, a VT NEK woodchuck staple. 

Vermont is many things, to many people. This however is the Vermont that I grew up in and that I know. The old timers would refer to it as real Vermont, and it was populated by real Vermonters. Much has changed there, but you still don't have to drive too far down the gravel roads to find the real thing.