Friday, December 18, 2015

Darwinism

For most cyclists of my generation, the bicycle helmet is a simple, often overlooked piece of ones everyday ride equipment. With each ride, it finds it's way into your staple of attire, atop your head. We always wear helmets. It has become second nature really. As a child, bicycle helmets didn't really exist and none of us at all had or wore one. Sure, we worse them on dirt-bikes and motorized sport but not for cycling. We got by just fine, but times were different. Kids of that generation and certainly growing up in rural areas as I did were hearty and robust. I suspect all kids were.

Helmet took a beating
Today though, with awareness and safety concerns, helmets and safety are common place. You can't race a bicycle without having a helmet and the USA Cycling officials doing a great job of guilting you into wearing a helmet whenever you are on a bicycle. Really, it is just common sense.

With all of the riding that I've done though over the years, I really didn't have any good helmet saved me stories. For the most part, I'd had few major crashes in my life. Most were minor and involved bumps, bruises or skin loss. Never a broken bone, save the broken collar bone as a kid from when I popped the chain in a sprint and went over the bars. No helmet then.

Worse than it looks
Four weeks ago today I was out for a quick, solo road ride before Cathy and I headed to VT for the weekend. Just a normal, local loop which on my road bike, a bike that had sat unloved for the fall and much of the summer. The weather was mild for that time of year but I wore knickers and a long sleeve thermal jersey as well as long finger gloves, glasses and of course, my helmet, an older Bell Volt that no longer matched the team colors. I'd been doing a few intervals to try and get the most out of the short ride as we were still in the midst of cyclocross race season.

The season started well and had some solid high points. It also had some pretty low, low points. Less than a week before I'd crashed fairly hard at a race in a start sprint mishap and sprained my ankle. It was feeling better but the incident shook me. I was really embarrassed and disappointed at myself and was looking for some long lost redemption, remaining hopeful that I could come back for the end of the season.

Back to the ride, I was just about finished, riding back on RT225 toward the Bedford town line. I decided to go for one more interval, the town line sprint, just to see what kind of power I could generate. I came in moderately fast and stood to sprint the final 50m before the Bedford town sign. A car had been coming up behind me so I stayed as far to the right as possible, slightly in the shoulder. The car never passed as I was going over 30mph but I could sense it was still just over my left shoulder, behind me.

Almost before I knew it, I saw a fallen tree limb cantilevered off the guardrail hanging out across the shoulder and into the lane, just about handlebar height. I moved left as much as I could without moving into the car's path, ducked and braced. That was the last thing I recall until I was sitting on the guardrail with the Carlisle PD and EMT squad tending to me. I don't remember hitting the limb, or the pavement or anything else. I do have vague, almost 3rd person recollection of the limb snagging the bike and ripping it out from in under me. Nothing after that though.

The face wasn't much to start with
I can only assume that the driver of the car behind me is the one that called for help. I'm thankful for that and for the fact that they did not run over me. I'm very lucky on that count. The Carlisle EMT's, one of whom I later recognized as Matt, a former bike racer himself, got me squared away and offered me a ride to the hospital for some stitched and evaluation. I kindly declined, shrugging it off as just a scratch. We were heading out soon and I didn't want us to get caught in Friday traffic heading north. I also wanted no part of an expensive ambulance ride or an emergency room and it's associated drama and costs. My face had taken a pretty good beating from the branch, the pavement and I suspect, my helmet itself but that heals. I've never had stitches and didn't want to start then. I could stand, and walk and managed to call Cathy to come get me.

Yes, getting back to my helmet, the whole topic here. Inspection of the helmet revealed that it suffered a pretty dramatic series of hits and completely crushed, limiting the impact it transferred to my head. Looks like the initial hit, the knockout blow if you will, was to the very back left. That region of the helmet was fully crushed and the helmet's internal "roll-cage" supports were exposed. The sides had also cracked, the head strap which provides fit and support had ripped it's molded anchors from within the foam and the back and sides had scars from pavement scraping. Basically, it looked like someone laid it on the ground and jumped up and down on it. Physically intact for the most part but structurally totaled, which was what it was designed to do.

Looking like a side of beef
For the most part though, the helmet did it's job, sacrificing itself for the good of, me and my head. Can I say that it saved my life? I have no idea. My guess is that it actually may have, given that I hit the ground with the back of my head at 29mph (according to my Garmin GPS). Sure, it was a glancing blow but dang. Clearly, I'd have lost significant skin from my head and face as I was dead weight skidding down the pavement.

So, there you have it. What was supposed to be a nice easy lunch ride on locals roads I've ridden hundreds of times turned into a relatively severe and at the very least, race season ending incident. My left hip was a mess and apparently, took a pretty good hit judging from the hematoma that developed. It is almost gone now, four weeks later, and the excessive bruising in most of the leg is virtually all gone. The cuts on my face have mostly healed as have to other peripheral spots of road rash and my head is fine, sort of.

Active recovery
Physically I'm fine but I've lost the edge for sure. My confidence is gone, both on and off the bike. The decision making process is still questionable. I've always struggled with self confidence though on all fronts and it had been faltering lately anyhow. I don't know if this is due to what I assume was a concussion, but I'm guessing it is at least in part due to that. I wouldn't say that I see new issues, more that existing issues are more pronounced. Again, I'm attributing a bunch of that to an increased lack in self confidence and self assurance.

To close this, I won't say that everyone should wear a helmet. It's your choice, it's your body. I believe in that sentiment across the boards and that the government has no business infringing on your personal freedom to be stupid, be it with helmets, seat belts, or anything else. You make the choices and you have to live with the consequences. I'm a big believer in Darwinism and that society shouldn't tamper with that. That said, I'm going to continue to wear a helmet, and glasses (which likely saved my right eye). Also, having a RoadID and actually wearing it is always a good idea. I didn't have mine on and was lucky to come to and remember who I was.

Be safe and have a great Christmas. I'm already planning my return for next year, once the holidays are done that is. There is much frustration and angst to be taken out on the pedals. Much angst.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Camp Status

Happy place
I can't believe that the entire summer went by so quickly, in a blink of an eye. At least in retrospect that is. I can say for certain that during certain stretches of the summer, when it rained day after day or when the project du jour was less than stimulating, the days dragged on. Still, it was a big block of time that somehow escaped me.

It is not that there is nothing to show for that time at camp though. The list of projects was long if not entirely glamorous. The second half of the summer saw primarily outdoor projects, mostly dealing with excavation or moving material from one location to another. We brought a lot of material into camp this summer. A lot of material. All told, nearly a quarter of a million pounds of crushed ledge and gravel. all of that material and much, much more was moved with the help of my brother Chad's John Deere 4WD diesel tractor with bucket and backhoe. I got very familiar with the machine this summer and became fairly proficient at operating a backhoe, which not be a video gamer, was way harder than it looks. All told I spent nearly 70 hours on the machine over the course of a few months this summer.

Tractor time for all
In addition to the material brought in, we dug over 300' of trench and drainage ditch, completely excavated the foundation and trenched on both sides of the camp out the front law and back filled with crushed ledge. Rebuilt the road in to camp, sloping and grading the big corner and built a new, large parking area from the driveway, next to the camp. We landscaped, seeded and mulched about half an acre, numerous times throughout the summer. Half a dozen bales of hay and about 60# of conservation mix and rye to get some green growing, which it finally is.

None of that work was terribly glamorous. Digging holes and filling them in, moving and reshaping the Earth with the hope that what you are left with is more usable, practical and workable than that with which you started. That said, when the grass grows in over the bare Earth and you see the final work, there is a certain undeniable satisfaction. Things start to look neat and tidy and back in place once again. And so it does now, finally.

Finished wall and trim, sub-panel and blocking
During some of the particularly wet days this summer, I took the time to finish some of the inside projects in the basement. That included finishing off the outer, framed wall which has the entry door and a large window. This wall is 2x6" construction and is fully insulated. I chose to use 1x10" finished KD pine V Groove on it which I sealed both sides of with water seal. The basement is dry but all basements will be humid in the summer. We plan to finish this area off though and have tons of ventilation as well as a dehumidifier and heat so we should be OK. I finished the wall off the same way I did all of the upstairs in the main camp, planked horizontally.

 I also spent time bracing the floor joist, which were free floating and had never been braced up. I chose to block the 2x6" joist with pieces of 2x6" cut to tightly span the distance between each pair of joist at the mid point of the run and wedged in perpendicular then nailed in place. This helps keep the joist from tipping over on edge from the weight of the structure above. I chose blocking vs cross bracing simply because it was less work. I offset the individual blocks off the center line just enough to end nail back through the joist into the block. The end result stiffens the floor significantly and helps keep it from racking any further. I did two rows of bracing at the mid points between the outer wall and the center carrier beam.

Steep section, drive and ditch
When they built the camp, they didn't really have a good understanding of framing. This has become evident from a number of fixes I've made but none more than the end framing of to deck that made the camp floor. Not only was it not blocked up but they also didn't frame up and box in the ends of the joist at all. They simply left the 2x6" joist end and nailed the wall sheathing to it after they framed the outer wall. Typically, you would run one or two (depending on the span vs material length) 2x6" the full outer length to frame in the ends of the joist and tie them together into a single, stand alone and stable unit and keep them from racking. I have no idea why they didn't do that. It must have been hard as sin to build that way and not have the joist fall over. Anyhow, I blocked those ends up as well, which was the best option I had beyond cutting each joist back 1.5" and sliding a 2x6" up in between the cut joist and the wall sheathing. That would have entailed cutting roughly a million nails as well.

Driveway, parking and upper ditching
After blocking the ends, I cut fiberglass insulation pieces to fit the holes between the joist, along the outer wall, on top of the sill. No reason to heat the outdoors any more than I have to. I also used some more 1x8" hemlock which I ripped and planed to finish off the inside face of the PT 2x6" sill plate and 6x6" sill. This just covered it all and made it look a bit cleaner at the top of the foundation.

Another relatively large project this summer was tackling the existing 8x12' shed that came with the property when bought the place, which was the only storage we had for tools and equipment. It was small and pretty full of materials, tools and machinery. Much of the material was scrap and junk that over the course of the summer I culled out. Still, there are many hand and power tools housed there. The shed was structurally sound but the asphalt shingle roof and plywood sheathing siding were in need of help. We also needed more storage space for the lawn tractor, push mower, a wood chipper, firewood and numerous other implements of destruction. My plan was to add on to either side of the shed, extending the existing roofline.

The shed before
Over the course of a couple weeks I did just that, first on one side and then the other. I built a 5' wide deck from 2x6" PT tied to the outer shed wall on one side and blocked up on the other end. For decking I used what would become the staple for the shed, 1x8" rough, fresh cut hemlock planks from Poulsen Lumber, a local sawmill.

I used 4x6" beams that I'd taken from the camp supports when we put the foundation under it along with A braced 4x4" PT uprights as the main carrier beam outer wall to support the ends of the rafter extensions from the existing shed wall. I sheathed the roof and then, with the help of my folks, laid the new 12' long x 3' wide tin roofing sheets. Once the roof was in I framed and vertically planked the walls with more of the hemlock. Hemlock, like cedar, is swamp soft wood and is naturally rot and insect resistant.

The shed after
After I finished one side, I started on the other side. That side of the shed was on a downslope so I dropped the deck a bit lower that the deck level of the main shed in order to gain some headroom and also went 6' wide rather than 5' wide and left a couple of feet of overhang, in order to store firewood under that overhang. Same framing, same decking as the first side, both with A braced corners to the door openings, which still have no doors in them at present. A project that I still need to tackle.

The old shed now looked terrible compared to the new shed additions so I sided it after installing a could of slick, super inexpensive mail order shed windows. For something fun and different I did it with cedar shakes. They look great but are expensive and very time consuming. It took a day and a half to do the one end but the result was very, very appealing.

I also needed to get power into the basement for all of the utilities as well as the build out. I chose to get a local electrician to drop a sub panel in and it was a bargain. Best money I've ever spent. Amazing how affordable things are in that area as compared to MA. Easily cost me less than a quarter of what it would have cost here in MA to have that same work done.

Finished, covered deck area and stairs
The final projects of the season were some of the biggest and certainly the most expensive. The biggest being having a drilled well put in for the camp's water source. We'd been using a dug well, which had enough water but was not potable. I'd toyed with fixing the well, which would have involved digging it up, fixing and sealing the tiles, adding another tile, sealing it all on the outside and capping, back filling and grading with the correct materials and then hoping the water was then fit to drink. It probably would have worked and would have only cost a few hundred dollars and a few day's time but there were no guarantees.

We opted to have one drilled. The neighbor only went down 180' before hitting water. The state average is 300'. We were optimistic and hopeful. Drilling costs $13/ft and steel casing (6" pipe), which you have to run from the surface until you hit bedrock in order to seal the well from surface water contamination, costs $18/ft. We knew that we were right on ledge, literally, which minimized the casing cost. The whole well with pump and installation should be in to $6k range, we hoped.

Drilling for water
The drillers showed up with a pair of very large drill rigs on Friday, just as the rain started. They tried backing up in, a mighty task, and almost made it the first shot with the drill truck but got cocked off to the side at the very top. The driver chose to pull back down and that was the start of what would come to be a complete and utter decimation of our entire driveway. I'll spare the details but the result was a truck stuck in the middle of the drive with the rear end sunk into the lawn about a foot. The drive itself had been completely roto-tilled and the truck had been in every ditch we had, destroying them all.

The rain finally stopped on Saturday and then Cathy and I spent the entire weekend fixing the driveway. I used nearly all of the stash of 15 tons of crushed rock I'd amassed. We spent hours and hours trying to get it usable again. That was a very, very low point of a summer that saw it's fair share of low points. The mired truck seemed a perfect metaphor for my summer, or at least parts of it, feeling utterly mired and sinking in a never ending list of projects that I had no chance of finishing before the season was up. Swimming against the tide or struggling in quick sand, you chose, but they all seemed suffocating.

Hot water to spare
Monday came and the drillers showed up again. They managed to get the trucks up in at the expense once again of the driveway. They drilled all day. This was a very nerve racking and anxious time. We wanted water as soon as possible as every foot they drilled cost another $13. The drill runs in 20ft lengths and they were going through and adding lengths at an alarming rate. Finally at 360' the driller, Greg, decided to pull, flush and check flow. He'd noted that he hit some water pockets. The less than scientific test showed about 2 gpm flow/refresh rate. Couple that with the 360' of storage in the pipe at 1.47 gallons/ft and we should have more than enough water.

The drillers packed up and headed out, running back through the ditches one more time for good measure. What was left in the wake was a mess of ledge slurry, mud and ruts. Everything was covered in stone dust, but the job was done. Just needed to get the pump installed and we would have water. That took another week, which gave me time to fix the drive, excavate from the well to the camp for the water line and power and clean things up. Another 20 ton of crushed ledge went into the drive and then two load or 40 ton of gravel would make a the new parking area up top. Throw in many, many hours of time brushing the sides of the road and on the John Deere ditching as well as leveling as well as running the hand rakes, not to mention seeding and mulching and we were finished.

Almost winterized
The last thing for the summer, with no time at all to spare, was the plumbing and heating. For this I got a friend of my brother, a local plumber, to install a new, 50 gallon electric water heater in the basement. This allowed me to pull out the small, 6 gallon heater that was up in the bathroom, making more space. He also moved the expansion tank from the bathroom into the basement which when coupled with the removal of the old above ground water pump from the bathroom made lots of extra space.

At present, the heating system isn't quite done but is very, very close. Should be complete this weekend. We chose a Rinnai direct vent propane heater. Simple and efficient and way more than we should need. I bought a pair of 100# propane cylinders which have direct cut over. I can easily transport them and get them filled right in town, which simplified things as compared to a big tank that would require a delivery truck, which would never make it up in the winter.

So that's where we are. Summer is long gone and a didn't get nearly as much done as I'd hoped. Still, we are way closer. I'm sure that there are a mess of small projects I didn't touch on here, that sucked up time as well. Still, this is the bulk of the major projects. It's easy to see now why I didn't get much riding in this past summer and frankly, didn't have much energy or desire for it left anyhow.

I'm still tired, more so after writing this.

Can't wait to get started again though.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Under Way

It all begins here!
The cyclocross season that is. Each year I am amazed at how quickly the season sneaks up on us. At some point it feels a lifetime away, in the future and then the next thing you know it is at your front door. So here were are, already two full weekends of racing in the books plus the weeknight Midnight Ride of Cyclocross race.

This year, we will be racing as part of our own team, Bikeway Source Racing, directly for our local shop, the Bikeway Source in Bedford. Additionally, we are riding and racing for the Cat Connection, a Waltham, MA based feline rescue league and shelter. These are the wonderful folks from who we adopted O&E. We want to help spread the word and bring as much attention as possible to them. I designed the kits with a cat theme, partially to boost awareness but also to make us ride hard and go fast, because if you are a middle age (plus) adult riding around with paw prints on your butt, you darn well better be going hard.

Additionally, as most know, Cathy and I have been all about Cannondale Bicycles for a very long time. Over the years we have acquired a literal fleet of their bikes. Recently we became grass roots brand ambassadors. Cannondale has always been very good to us and we hope to represent them in some small way, through everyday usage of the product, to the best of our ability. Nobody pays us to ride the bikes nor are we given bikes. We choose the brand because we believe it to be the best product available, brought to us by the best shop around, the Bikeway Source. We will be aboard our trusty Cannondale SuperX disc bikes with SRAM Red 10spd and Avid BB7 SL cable disc brakes again this year. No reason what so ever to change.

Cathy railing it at Silk City CX
Cathy and I have also taken a somewhat different tact in terms of racing this season. In the past, we've done many things but most recently, we spent a huge amount of our time racing the single-speed races. We loved the single-speed and single-speed races and adore our custom Cannondale SuperX disc SSCX bikes, which are still our primary training bikes, but last season things soured a bit and the discipline lost some of it's luster, for me anyhow. I guess that it's too bad that I let it happen. Regardless, that was only one part of the story. The other part is that I was doubling up, doing the Elite and then the SSCX races back to back. The Elite race is a full hour long race and the SSCX was 40 minutes. That made for a huge block of intensity, especially when racing both days on the weekend.

What I discovered, the hard way, was that I couldn't recover from the cumulative effect of those efforts coupled with the normal, mid week practice sessions. Over time, it added up and in the end of October at the Orchard Cros race, I crashed and crashed hard, physically. I was exhausted and it took me almost a full month to dig myself out of that hole, all the way to Thanksgiving and the Sterling races. I'm getting older and am trying hard to acknowledge my weaknesses, listen to the feedback my body gives me and avoid the pitfalls, again.

So this year it is one race a day. However, I really like the extra 15 minutes you get in the Elite races over the 45 minute Master's events, so I've been doing only those so far this year. And it hasn't been going half bad at all. Each race I seem to be roughly in the same group, chasing or being chased by Mike Wissell, but that group is well toward the front of the race, usually vying for podium spots. Granted, these are the smaller, local races but still, I'm at least competitive and have solid, strong people to race. Don't get me wrong, there is the same competition in Master's and SSCX, it just feels good to be able to do a respectable race in the local Elite field at my age. As an added benefit, I've been able to win enough money so far this year to cover the entry fees. Bonus!

Cathy killing the sand at QuadCX
The season started for us with the Silk City CX race in Mansfield, CT, just outside of Hartford. I did the race last season and it was a great and super challenging course. This year's course had some changes but also shared many of the same sections. A little more open field power sucking grass and some super tricky fresh cut in the woods plus a crazy little run up. Despite many conflicting races that day, the turnout for the race had a good block of very solid competition including Todd Bowden, Charlie Bertram, Tim Ratta and Matt Timmerman as well as a whole bunch of other folks that were very anxious to go fast.

The start was fast and hard and foreign given I'd spent very little time doing CX practice at that point. I managed to keep contact though and a gap quickly started to form. Despite the heat, which was excessive, I felt pretty good so comfortably went to the front for a bit. A bobble on the uphill switchback sent me just off the back of the group, struggling to re-connect. I dangled a bit but was so gassed from the effort that I never got back in. Lap after lap of chasing got me close at one point but not close enough. Fatigue set in later and all I could do was maintain my 5th position.

Mike worked really, really hard for that podium spot
The following was the QuadCycles Cyclocross race just a few miles from home at the Maynard Rod and Gun Club. Not only is it convenient but it is always a really good course and the race gets a large turnout. It did not disappoint with a big group taking the line in both the men's and women's Elite races. Off the line I got a fairly good start but was slotted back in about 6th spot with Nate Morse on the front. There was some mayhem occurring in the corners in terms of very overzealous racers trying to gain position by riding aggressively. This resulted in some contact and some crashing, all of which I managed to avoid. I pride myself on racing really clean and predictably and I'm also pretty efficient at protecting my lines. Maybe it's because I'm the old guy but most of the younger kids are very respectful in the interactions during the race.

Cathy ready to race White Park
Once we hit the woods, the wheels started to come off for many. Countless flats and mechanical incidents and soon I found myself chasing Elite MTB racer turned CXer Tyler Berliner, who was in second. Over a couple laps I was able to catch and go to the front to try and gain some ground on Nate. Unfortunately as things were starting to look promising I managed to flat on the back side of the course. Luckily I had a bike in the pit, which was close by, and only lost two spots.

Unfortunately, all I had was my SSCX bike in the pit. Not a terrible thing but for the task at hand I'd have really liked gears. Over the next couple laps I chased Tyler back down but the other place I'd lost, Patrick Collins, had gone well up ahead and worse, Mike Wissell, who'd had a mechanical early in the race, was nipping angrily at my heels. Fleeing madly from Mike I managed to play keep away until the top of the back side on the last lap but at that point, he caught and passed me. I stuck with him but couldn't get by without making a sketchy pass. I'd been remounting and riding the hill after the barriers on the geared bike but couldn't do it on the SSCX. It wasn't faster up but it was faster out of the hill, because you were on the bike a clipped in. Regardless, it wasn't an option. Mike handily took the sprint finish for the final podium spot leaving me with 4th.

Suckerbrook sand
Last weekend we had another round of back to back days. Saturday's race was at White Park in Concord, NH. Great course another good turnout. Unfortunately, another really warm day also. The heat really seems to be bothering me much more this year. Anyhow, we started hard and coming into the new high speed barriers, which had only just made their appearance moments before our race because someone had stolen the initial set, almost ate my lunch. I totally hosed them up and almost wiped out. The fatigue I'd come into the race feeling didn't really subside the way I'd hoped it would. Apparently I'd gone a little too hard in training that week and wasn't fully recovered. The punchy course made me pay for that. I settled into 7th and was unable to make any progress, sitting along in no-man's land. Then Mike Wissell, who'd crashed and injured his hand slid backwards by me, leaving me in 6th. Hard race for sure.

Suckerbrook 2-5, Dylan is already back and changed
The next day was Suckerbrook CX in Auburn, NH and again Cathy and I were doing the Elite races. That meant a later in the day start and an easy morning for us. The venue was it's usually busy self with races going continually through the day. The course was dry as a bone and very dusty with some great new changes making for a longer and more technically challenging lap. The day was warm and sunny but not nearly as hot or humid as in past races. I felt mediocre which I'm actually finding is usually a good thing. The start was fast and I had a chain skip, resulting in a less than stellar start. Still, I sat in the top ten through the first corner and started moving forward from there. Finding myself behind Mike Wissell I decided that was my goal, stay with Mike.

Suckerbrook Elite Men's podium
This was working great and we picked up numerous spots, eventually settling in and trading places. At that point we had Dylan McNicholas well ahead in the lead with Patrick Collins chasing and then myself, Mike and Trent Blackburn pushing forward. I managed to get a small gap and was back into the all too familiar position of fleeing from Mike Wissell. I know, should have been racing forward but knew Mike would never, ever give up. A slight bobble coming out of the sand, which by the way was horrifically difficult this year, and Mike was right on me. I kept forward focus though and was first onto the finish pavement. The resulting sprint for the final podium spot went my way though, that time and I was very, very happy with the day's ride.

That brings us to the Midnight Ride of Cyclocross race this past Wednesday evening. This is a great event at a venue not far from here. The Elite races are held under the lights and our race commenced at 8PM. The start list for this event is always one of the best of the local non-UCI Elite races. Many racers are in town for the nation's premier UCI Cyclocross event this coming weekend in Gloucester, MA and so they attend the Wednesday night race. This included the British and Australian women's Elite National champions as well as the men's Canadian National Champion and a host of legitimate Elite and Elite Master's racers. The men's Elite field had over sixty starters. I didn't feel terribly confident given that I was on the line with some seriously legitimate athletes. I was also nervous about the start, a slight downhill on gravel into a chicane which we would hit at well over 30mph, in the dark.

Midnight Ride of CX SSCX race start
At the start whistle I got a good start and charged hard forward slotting amazingly, into 4th position just behind Adam Myerson. Pressure continued at the front but I felt comfortable holding my place. Gaps opened behind me and soon we had a little room. Going through the barns and the wood chips Adam's brakes seemed to be locking some and small gaps opened, which then needed to be closed. I was now working really hard and knew I should move up to try and ease the accordion effect but just couldn't do it. On the second lap two of the Goguen kids and Charlie Bertrand passed me and that was enough to cause my separation. I dangled for a bit just barely unable to reconnect but then they organized and surged ahead some, making it nearly impossible to reattach without a massive effort, which I was in no position to make.

Fawn Lake recover ride
I remained about 10 seconds back for a long, long time. Meanwhile, a chase group formed with, you guessed it, Mike Wissell leading the charge. He had Preston Buehrer and a JAM Fund racer with him. I could see them charging ahead in every turn, only a hand full of seconds back. Not again! Yes, again and I'm guessing it won't be the last time this year. So I spent the rest of the race trying to go forward but making sure I didn't go backward, fleeing for my spot. Todd Bowden, who had been in the front group, had a wheel issue and was forced to stop and fix it so I got by him, putting me in 6th. That never changed and I managed to stay ahead through the finish.
 
I was dumb-founded. No, I didn't win and wasn't even on the podium but I finished significantly better than I'd expected. My goal had been top ten, which I met and then some. I'd felt really good all night and was able to keep pushing pretty well, never really fading and racing the vast majority of the race, solo stuck in between groups.

Chipping away
That's it so far. We sit poised for what is arguably the biggest race weekend of the year, the Gran Prix of Gloucester and the first stop of the Verge NECX Series. I'll be racing the master's 45+ race again this year for the series. There are some new faces that are going to raise the bar, a lot. It's going to be similar to a couple years back when we also had the addition of some very high end competition. Historically this has been a good weekend for me, but I take nothing for granted and have few expectations. I'll race my hardest and whatever will happen, wherever that gets me, is where I will end up. Bottom line is that it's just a race.

I'm having so much fun racing the guys in the small Elite races, these big master's events are a little less important to me. No goals this season. Well, maybe one secret goal, to upgrade my race category, for no other reason that I want to. I'm currently getting there, one point at a time. Will see if I can make it before the season ends.


By the way, Cathy has also been racing the Elite races all season and doing great. She is a very tough lady and I am so proud of her for all of her efforts. Much love and respect, as always.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Summer Racing

 This past summer saw some dramatic changes to the typical team bicycle race plan. Those changes simply centered around a drastic reduction in the amount of racing that we participated in. Both Cathy and I have been racing steadily since our return to bike racing, back in 2006. That makes this the tenth season in a row. We started out doing time trials and road races in the spring and summer and took up cyclocross in earnest in the fall. That season we did over road and cyclocross races as well as nearly a dozen weekly time trial races.

From there it only expanded and in 2008 we started MTB racing again, adding a full race season of over ten MTB races to full road, time trail and cyclocross seasons. Shortly thereafter we spent a couple of seasons doing well over 50 races a year, not including a dozen weekly time trials. My biggest year had me over 60 road, MTB and cyclocross races in addition to the time trails. That translated to a nearly continual stream of race registration of competition that spanned all but a short couple of months of the year, and this went on for a number of consecutive years.

Unfortunately, this simply didn't scale and we found ourselves completely consumed. The first thing to go was the road racing and we pared that down substantially. The discipline had started to fade and neither of us were making much headway so it was the easy choice. In the past couple of years, I've had specific MTB related goals so kept a focus on that discipline in the summer, not going crazy with racing but still doing nearly a dozen MTB races a season. Road racing, with the exception of some gravel road racing, had all but disappeared from our radar yet cyclocross remained a core racing target.

The toll of years and years of competition has started to weigh heavily and motivation has been low. I also recognize that I've had a block of really good years of recent and have had no down time. Usually one can expect a down turn, and a lackluster season. I'm due if not overdue and now that I'm in the upper tier of my five year age bracket, at least for cyclocross with a racing age of 48, it is a good time to take a break and maybe preempt the natural downfall with some recovery and rejuvenation so I can build back up for when the odometer clicks over to 50 in a couple seasons.

At least that was the plan and that is what I've been going with all season. It sounds terrible and it sounds lazy but I've spent the season experimenting with doing the absolute minimum possible to maintain the lowest level of fitness necessary to meet my target goals. This season I had few if any goals save for the Kenda Cup East MTB Series, a five race series of events I'd normally do anyhow. That became my only summer goal.Sure, I did a couple of other small MTB races as well like the season opener Muddy Bunny MTBTT and the Craftsbury Nordic Center MTB race but that was it.

In years past I'd always been about one thing, over training. I'd never known what just the right amount was and don't have the long term background and race history to be able to confidently say exactly X amount of training is required to meet Y goal so I just went out and did as much as I possibly could. A few years back I made the realization that for cyclocross, this model simply didn't scale, especially for a middle age racer racing both days every weekend, so I listened to my body and pared back the training. That model has been very effective and I've started to adopt a similar model during the summer as well.

This year I took that model to a new level, with mixed results. I came into the season pretty fit what with big winter and early season blocks as well as some good solid in season efforts. This carried me through the early part of the season and the first few races of the series in good form. However, once the heart of the summer kicked in things started to change. I spent the summer living in VT working on our place there. I was very busy and regularly did ten plus hour days of physical activity, often working right up to dark. That made effective riding a challenge and not terribly productive. I was constantly fatigued and unmotivated and did I mention that it was cold and rained, constantly in VT?

When it was time to race again for real in early July, we returned to MA, greeted by ungodly heat and humidity to a parched, dusty landscape. The first race in those conditions crushed me. The course was brutally difficult as well and certainly took a toll but normally, that would have been a great course for me. However, I dehydrated and bonked so badly that I could barely function. After the race I was the literal walking dead, spending some quality time praying at the bathroom alter, losing what little fluid I was able to put back into my body before finally passing out for a few hours. I lost eight pounds and wasn't right for a week.

The next week we turned around and did it all over again for the Barn Burner Kenda Cup East Series Finale which was also the Regional Championships. This race was at a local, Walpole, MA venue where I'd seen good results in the past, save for the fact that I smashed my face into the rocks and broke my nose there the year before during a pre-ride. The day was crazy hot, again. We were determined not to have the same results as the past weekend though so pre-hydrated like crazy, literally drinking no less than a gallon of fluid before the race. We packed CamelBak's full of ice and fluid for the race and sat around before the race with ice packs on our necks to control the core temperature. I refused to dehydrate and bonk.

But I was a little rattled from the week before. Losing makes you question yourself, your ability. I find that the older I get, the more this happens. Is this the season or the race where the tide is going to turn and I start the inevitable age based downslide? We all age and it is unrealistic to think that when we are already at a fairly high level, we will be able to continue to improve or even maintain, forever. I know that this change is on the horizon and know that I'm treading water, unsure of how long I can continue to do so. That is why I'm trying to force a down turn with the hope of being able to get at least one last upturn in, pushing past where I was previously.

So I get to the start line, feeling a little, cautious and reserved I'll say. I've never been one to play much in terms of race tactics. I'm more a ride as hard as I can to get away and then keep pushing, racing against and trying to beat everyone that I encounter between there and the finish. That sounds shallow and callous but literally, that is how I am wired. This works well in some disciplines, not in others. That day in that race, I knew it wasn't going to work. I questioned my own ability, uncertain as to whether or not (I believed that) I was the strongest there. This was unnerving. I knew the series was already decided based on the work I'd done up front, earlier in the series but I didn't want to win the overall without taking the finale as well. That made for some pressure to perform on that given day.

The start was crazy with a huge field of competitors, all of whom wanted one thing, to finish ahead of me and everyone else there. I found myself going into the woods in about tenth position, not optimal by any stretch. We awkwardly and frantically fumbled through rock gardens and switchbacks and by the time we broke to the first field I was sitting about sixth. Time for a test so a attacked around and laid down as much as I could afford to, but the line of traffic was still there. Not good. On the uphill powerline stretch Matt Boobar went to the front and started drilling it. It was at that point reality sunk in and I knew the plan needed to change. I couldn't drive this race, I needed to be the passenger and just hang on.

Matt led for a while with Rich Pirro and then I in tow. Rich knew the course well and was anxious to lead so when Matt started to fatigue, Rich took over and pushed hard and smoothly. It was all that I could do to follow him and hold his wheel. The pace was hard but I was confident that I could sustain it. My only hope was that Rich would push himself too hard and fatigue. Incredibly we made it through three of the four laps with little perceived change. I knew it was now or never and gambled that Rich was on the edge so coming through for the final lap I attacked hard and decisively and held it as long as I could. This snapped the line and managed to pry open a gap between myself and Rich. I was tired but hadn't run myself to the point of exhaustion in subsequent laps, allowing me to keep pushing at a reasonable pace through the finish. Yes, I had to resort to being a weasel.

Summer goal complete we returned to VT and got back at the work with a vengeance. Knowing that the time there was drawing thin and with so many projects to complete, work load increased and riding tailed in earnest. The rides we did started to evolve into short, interval based high intensity sessions at Kingdom Trails or on gravel roads. This kept them fun while arguably building specific fitness toward cyclocross season, which we still intended to participate in whole heatedly. We also got in a few good, long Kingdom Trails MTB rides on the weekends in some warm humid summer weather, which had finally arrived in VT.

Because the Hodges Dam MTB race was slated as the MA State Championships and because I'd had good success there pretty consistently since 2008, I decided that we should do it. Neither of us wanted to do the race or leave VT but I convinced Cathy to do so. The morning of the race I got an email that said the race would not be the State Championships. We both knew we didn't want to race and had only decided to do so because of the Championships but had made the significant investment to pre-register and travel to MA so got in the van and did so anyhow. During a lap of pre-ride I noted my rear hub was snapping and popping like mad. It had been getting progressively worse so I'd brought spare wheels with me. The wheels were not in great shape nor were the tires but should hold. The course was effectively the same as previous years but was run in reverse. Course marking were somewhat sparse and with numerous lines in many areas, carved out by heavy moto traffic, left the actual routes up to some interpretation. On the line there was talk about this and that if it wasn't explicitly taped, it was all in play.

We started hard and I led putting down what felt like a solid pace while trying not to completely gas myself. We still had a solid group all together though. As we crossed back over the main access road for the second time and into a twisty section of bombed out trail the flow of the trail went one way around a long sweeping corner after a stone wall but there was a hidden shortcut to the left just after that wall. I led and stuck to what I felt was the intended trail. the rest of the group broke left and gapped me. This was my fault for not knowing the shortcut was there and I blame none of my competition for using it. It, however, really pissed me off and in my rage to chase back I clipped a pedal and crashed. Then a very strange thing happened. I lost all interest in racing. I spent the next three laps riding around trying to decide if I'd race standard format XC MTB in the future. I still don't know.

Part of the issue for me personally in how I justify expenses is that entry fees have increased for the MTB races and there are no longer any payouts for Cat1 fields. I get it, we are not professionals and everyone involved in promoting a race is just trying to cover their costs and break even let alone make money. I don't fault them for this decision. I've justified racing similarly though; if I can win enough to cover the entry fee it was a good day and I could rationalize doing it, financially, vs. just going and doing a group ride for fun. Dropping $75 for the two of us to race mediocre trail, which truth be told most MTB races consists of, when we could ride Kingdom Trails with friends and spend the money on good food and beer is a really tough sell, at least for me right now. Others are different and value the competition, I'm just at a point in life where that isn't the priority it once was. Luckily, Cathy had a great race and spent the day racing with her friend Jennifer, which took the edge off an otherwise unfortunate day.

The only other thing left for the summer race scene was the Dirty 40 gravel road race at the very tail end of the summer. That is a whole other story though, one full of surprises and one that I will try and pull together shortly.

We'd hoped to do the VOGP race as well, but things just didn't work out for us (me) to be in a position to be able to do that. Too many things going on and not enough time to do all of them. Having little or no outside commitments during the summer is actually quite refreshing in and of itself. Low key isn't a bad thing.

I also need to document the camp project. Much progress but still not done. Now we are in the heat of CX season, already. Wow, fast and furious.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Summer Camp Projects Part I

20 ton of crushed stone isn't as much as you think
Thus far, the summer and late spring for that matter, have been consumed by projects on the camp. I've got a busy schedule and long list of things that I need to get completed before the end of the summer. A very long list indeed.

If we look back at where the overall project left off last year, I'd basically gutted and rebuilt the inside of the camp, an 18 x 24' one room dwelling with a small bathroom. The camp had sat on nine cement posts which were sunk anywhere from two to three feet into the ground and then cross braced back to the camp and each other with steel. This was by no means ideal and although it had kept the camp intact for over 30 years, it didn't look very study or appealing. We knew that going in. I'd planned to just redo the footing but after talking to a friend about a full foundation, we decided to go that route.

Applying the foundation sealer
So, last September he started on the job of lifting the camp and excavating under it, then pouring footings and pad and blocking up walls. The front would be walkout and we would pour a pad under the deck so we'd have dry, clean area for entry. The though was that the project would only take a few weeks but like all contractors everywhere, schedules don't always reflect reality when trying to balance jobs, the weather and everything else. The result was that the foundation didn't get finished until November and a number of tasks didn't get completed before the snow set in.

Backfill form for stone
The first of those tasks was the waterproofing of the foundation via a thick tar seal on the outside, below grade. Then a proper backfill with crushed rock and sloping perimeter drainage and final backfill, compaction and landscape to grade with topsoil. Because we hadn't gotten everything done last year, we agreed with the contractor that I would finish off the remaining projects, which meant a little cost savings for us, so to speak.

Luckily we had a crazy dry spring season and I was able to get started outside early on. I borrowed my brother's John Deere tractor with bucket and back-hoe and started excavating. I planned to use lots of crushed rock around the foundation and in the drainage system as the camp sits on the side of a mountain with springs right behind it.When it rains, it pours so to speak and I wanted to get the foundation dry, which it mostly was, before we hit the inevitable rainy part of the season. I also wanted to see how well the basement did with moisture given that the plan was, and still is, to build it out into a master bedroom and bath. We never had water even in the wettest times but we did have moisture and condensation from humidity. Face it, basements are damp by nature due to the fact that they are underground, made of porous concrete and are generally below air temperature.

That should drain now
The excavation went well once I gained better confidence with the back-hoe. I also excavated around the cement pad sides and put in perimeter drainage across the front, tying into the side drainage trenches which ran sloping down from the back of the base of the foundation at the back of the camp out the front and across the lawn. In the base I laid some crushed rock and then perforated drainage pipe with a soil sock around it to keep dirt from plugging it back up. Along the foundation I back filled with crushed rock all but the final six inches. The same around the pad and four the drainage ditched I put one to two feet of crush with soil over the top. All told, I went through 20 tons of 1.5" crushed rock, roughly 17 yards or a full 10 wheel dump truck load and truth be told, I could have used a bunch more. I plan on at least one, possibly two more loads for additional drainage and the road. Thank goodness for the John Deere my brother graciously let me borrow.

Two of the three sides of the foundation sealed up very well. Putting the tar foundation sealer on is a pretty miserable job. It is thick and application with an acid scrub brush is tedious. Still, if the tar is warm it flows well. The sides in the sun worked great and dried well from the preparatory cleanup of dirt from them with the hose. The third side however was less a treat. It was the north side and got no sun. It was also a colder day out so the sealer was thicker and the moisture on the wall from cleaning did not want to dry. With the help of a fan blowing on it I finally got the wall dry enough to seal, though it was miserably difficult in comparison to the other sides. The schedule at that point was for some wet weather setting in so I wanted to finish up and back fill before that weather arrived, which luckily I did.

Clean and ready for sealer if it would dry
Then the weather started in earnest with regular rain showers and lots of them. Feast or famine and we were, and still are, definitely in feast mode. The back lawn if a swamp with the secondary spring to the north of the lot open and leaching water downhill. When time allowed though, I was able to go back and compact and re-grade, then seed and mulch everything. Fun job resulting in many blisters.

Another project a tackled was a small retaining wall built from PT 6x6". This was at the front north corner of the foundation, where the upcoming deck stair project would be going on. I used seven courses for the wall set on a bed of crushed rock and anchored back into the bank with dead man ties. Nothing fancy but it should be functional. All in all the project went fairly quickly and was pretty inexpensive and certainly cleans the area up a bunch.

Mid flight landing for the staircase
Before starting the new staircase from the pad, which will be the entry level, up to the deck and the front door, I wanted to secure the deck itself a bit. When they put the foundation in, they chopped the 4x4" uprights off and then simply toe-screwed them back in after the cement was done and the camp was set back down. I wanted more structural integrity so I pulled the deck rail uprights out as well as the posts and ran new PT 4x4" the entire length. Those three main upright posts were secured with lag bolts, screws and A braces to the main carrier beam across the front. They were also attached to the concrete. Additionally, for the side support of the staircase landing I added one more full length post to the side of the deck. I plan to add two more posts as well, on the house side, such that the posts are supporting the full load of the deck.

Finished for now
Once that was complete and I was satisfied that the deck was not going to fall down, I started my stair case. The design was to have a a 3x6' landing four feet off the ground with a flight of five stairs going up to it from the edge of the pad nearest the camp, at the retaining wall. I'd then run another flight of five stairs up to the existing deck's 4x6' addition that picks the staircase up from the top side of the lawn. Some simple geometry and a framing square a stair buttons made layout of the stair stringers easy and cutting them out with the circular saw was no problem. I have a super nice Makita circular saw that a buddy of mine got me. One of the most thoughtful gifts ever and much much appreciated. I cheaped out and reused the concrete footings from the camp supports we'd dug out when the foundation went in, for the footings on the two outer sides of the stair landing. It actually worked well, though wrangling the bulky chunks of cement into place by hand was a bit of a chore. Though the mental design process took many, many iterations, the staircase went quickly taking a couple of easy days to complete. I added top railings to match the existing deck but still plan to add a middle 2x4" on the railing uprights about 16" off the deck to dress it a bit. All in all though, the staircase makes a huge difference. I'm going to put landscape cloth then crushed rock around the base to help keep the area clean and dry as it is exposed to the elements. May throw some lattice around it as well but that is much lower on the list at the this point.

Steel roofing on the underside of the deck
Another project I'd thought about was a way to keep the cement pad under the deck dry. The easiest solution was to use metal roofing screwed to strapping on the bottom side of the deck joist. The deck already sloped away from the camp but I wanted a bit more pitch so I used strapping in various widths from back to front across the width of the underside of the deck. This gave me another 1.25" of pitch to the 10' run. With the help of brother the two of us were able to get the 10' x 38" wide sheets up, squared, tucked under the drip edge and screwed into place, barely. There were some sore arms after that day I'll tell you. The end result looked awesome and is more than functional, keeping the pad and my working area nice and dry despite the constant rain we've had.

Window cased and trimmed in PT
Most recently, I've turned my attention back to the foundation and sealing. Last week I sprayed the outside above grade down with a penetrating, clear, concrete water proofing liquid. The stuff is great, goes on quick and easy and penetrates well into the porous concrete, protecting and sealing it. A gallon did the entire outside of the foundation. I used a cheap, garden sprayer to apply it. I'm going to do the entire inside of the basement including the floor as well. It is still a bit damp so I need to wait until we get a good week of warm, dry weather to apply it there. I also patched and leveled a couple of imperfections in the corners of the floor caused by a dead power trowel. The contractor left the patch as well as the adhesive primer so the job was quick and easy. Once the concrete is sealed I plan to paint the walls to add some color and stain the floor with a concrete stain. Have not decided exactly what I'll do on the floors but am leaning toward raised under layment panels with a moisture resistant flooring over the top of that. Either than or I will just put ceramic tile down and an area rug over it. I'm going to leave the outside walls painted concrete as mentioned but will do PT divider walls with sealed V-groove pine likely.

Window cased and trimmed in PT
The other thing I finally finished up was to case the bulk of the basement windows in. I'd sealed and insulated them before and put jambs in all the casement, but had not trimmed them or the larger window. Because they are against concrete I used 1" finish grade PT for the trim. Finish grade meant I sorted through the pile at the Depot trying to find the best pieces I could. It actually came out fine and with some light whitewash stain they look pretty good. While I was at it last week I also patched in some cedar shingles around the front door, added new door casing to replace the old, ugly, chipped, painted stuff. I then stained it all to sort of match, sort of. This should buy me some time on the exterior trim and siding, which is also on the list to redo, just not yet.

As it currently sits
So that is where I am at the moment. A little down time spent back in MA for a couple of the final races of the season then back to it for the big push to get the plumbing moved, new full size water heater in and a permanent heat source in place. Also need an electrical sub-panel and then wire the entire basement, which I am going to do on the surface in conduit. That and the basement build out of course. Oh, and a few hundred feet of ditching, draining and backfill, not to mention the work on the driveway. It's going to be a busy second half for sure.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Time Slips Away

Incredible panoramic view from Tug Hill Rd
I can't believe that it has been so long since I've written anything. Cathy and I have been doing far less racing and far more riding, for fun and adventure. We've spent many a weekend planning and then exploring new corners of gravel road here in the NEK of VT and the mountains of Western Maine and Coos NH.

Lone Pine Farm view
I finally got to the East Haven Radar Base on East Mountain last week, which was an adventure and an upcoming story in and of itself. After a long day working, I headed out from camp toward where I thought the base was, having no definitive idea how far it was. This was at 5:30PM. About 24 miles and a wrong turn or two later it was 7:30PM, the sun was really, really low and I was at the summit. A flat tire on the way back and dropping temps that were not that high to start made for a chilly ride home. The final climb up over Kirby Mountain was nearly dark and just plain cold. A great adventure and some stellar gravel though.

Evening Clouds

I've also been working on the camp quite a bit as well, trying to get projects checked off. A post of that status is also in the works complete with images. Excavation, drainage, 20 tons of crushed rock, landscaping, retaining walls and a slick new staircase have all been on tap so far. Many long days working resulting in some very tired evening rides.


Lunenburg Church
In the mean time, here are some images that we took last night on a recon drive, trying to find out where we missed a turn in Granby. Turns out, the "road" that we missed was actually the access road for the Hydro Quebec high tension powerlines that run through this part of the state on their way south from Canada. That was an interesting drive last night in the truck. Good thing I had the truck.


Neil Pond
Anyhow, lots of fun explorations, lots of wrong turns, dead ends and very ClassIV roads. Excellent times spent with Cathy as well as friends George and Becca, who are very patient with my navigational challenges and exploration, at times. I've also started doing the Village Sport Shop Thursday evening MTB ride at KT. I've met some great folks like Collin and Matt and am having fun trying to follow them on the descents. Add to that the folks from Coos Cycling Club and the Bethel Bicycle/Western Maine Velo crew and Cathy and I have had lots of like minded folks to play with. Last weekend in fact I dragged Jamie and Jeremiah on a great ride through the Mahoosuc Range from Bethel up through Grafton Notch via Success Pond. Super fun stuff for which I am genuinely grateful to have friends with whom to share the explorations.

Illusive Tug Hill Rd
We have also done a little bit of racing. For the first time in nearly a decade, I've done no road racing at all. In fact, I have not even been riding the road, save for gravel rides. I think that I've gotten no more than a few hundred miles on the road bike this year, an all time low since first I owned a road bike and I truly don't foresee myself racing road in the future. Time to get rid of it I think since I'm not using it? The racing we've done has consisted of a couple of fat bike races this winter, the Rasputitsa gravel race early spring and a few MTB races. I decided that the only series I would do would be the Kenda Cup East MTB series.

So far, so good as my luck has held for the first three of five races in the series, despite some mechanical issues, resulting in a slightly more challenging race at the last event. The reality is that components wear out and my bike, at least the core drivetrain components, are a few seasons old now. Sure, I replaced the wear items as needed but the shifters, derailleurs and cranks have a fair amount of use also. I can't justify a new bike as the one that I have, a Cannondale Scalpel Team, is in great shape overall but the replacement costs on higher end components are brutal, thus I tend to let things go a little too long. And subsequently, pay the price. Last race this resulted in a broken shifter internal, translating to a single speed bike. It was not really a problem though as the bike settled in a good usable gear that I was able to .

In the grand scheme though, racing bikes really isn't all that important or it least it doesn't seem so at the moment. Living life, making and then enjoying adventure and all the twists and turns, right or wrong, that it brings is what is important.

This pretty much sums it up (Photo by Cathy)
So far this year, Cathy and I have had some great adventures and we are no where near the end.