Thursday, March 14, 2019

Cycles

2019 Winterbike Epic Ride
Everyone who knows me knows that my life revolves around cycling. I was bitten young when riding bikes in the rural Northeast Vermont was one of the few escapes and few ways to get around. Like most typical rural country kids, there came a point where my fancy switched from pedal bikes to motorized but I came back to the purity of the sport in earnest soon after college and relocating to Boston. Since then my affliction and passion has only grown.

And with it, spending so many years and so very many miles doing essentially the same thing, pedaling a bicycle, I go through stages, cycles if you will. Changing things up to keep it all fresh. When I started out my adult cycling life it was all about offroad and mountain biking. This went on for some time and then I started racing. Soon I realized that a road bike is a necessity for training and also affords new adventure. I started to explore the area more and more and began to become truly familiar with my surroundings, with the good roads to ride, the cut through roads and streets to make good loops of lesser traveled road. Keep in mind that all of this was before the internet and Google Maps or RideWithGPS. Heck, we didn't even have Yahoo Maps yet or GPS. Lots of hard maps and trial and error. Or you could go to club group rides and learn that way.

Road turned to CX
Soon I was introduced to the concept of cyclocross with a cobbled and converted road bike. This allowed exploration of some of those trails and conservation lands that I would pass while doing road rides that were a little farther than you wanted to go on the MTB and not suited for a road bike with very narrow slicks. Yes, back then narrow slicks could be a 19c (though typically 23c) on a 18mm external width rim making for a crazy small tire that would not work well offroad. I also tried a couple of races but at that point, the hook was not set and I got away.

2003 BAD-ASS
Around that time, in the late 90's we also branched out into MTB tandem. The MTB tandem was novel and we rode it a lot getting into group rides with a core group of like minded folks a few years later. We constantly broke stuff though, as in almost every ride. It was awful. We tried one race, in Freetown, which was insane but we still ended up getting married so it couldn't have been that bad I guess. A few years later we would get into road tandem and had many excellent adventures and incredible rides. We still have some local Strava segments from doing the TVR training road rides we organize on that tandem. And then there was the stint with the time trial tandem. Alas, a few years back we finally gave up the last of our tandems in order to save our sanity. Competition, which had been the fuel for the fire for so many years was stoked out of control and could not be contained.

Cathy sprinting me to get her final lap
Step back again to the end of the 90's and single speed MTB caught my attention. A group was getting into it hard and riding weekly. The notion of cobbling together a bike that you basically could not buy off the shelf at that point was captivating; always had been. And so it began and has not stopped since. Sure the passion has waned some at points but it has been a true constant for two decades now. Recently I've been feeling the draw again, back to the simplicity of it all, and even built up a new all terrain drop bar single speed. Can't wait for conditions to improve here in the Northeast so I can get some time on it as well as the SSMTB, which I did some work on earlier this year as well.

Hucks to flat
And then there was freeride. Right around the turn of the century aggressive, technical, obstacle based mountain biking was becoming popular. Many of us in the area had always done this type of riding, the technical skills based trails popular on the North Shore, Cape Ann and at places like the not official trails in the Fells. Rock face ups, rock drops, rock face descents. The orange, the yellow, the Ridge, Nam. We would go out and spend three hours riding six miles sessioning every drop or get up. Freeriding was a perfect fit and soon the big hit bike arms race was on. Crazy forks bolted to crazy suspension designs on any bike you can imagine. We settles on the Santa Cruz Bullit which I had a couple different iterations of with many different forks. I still have parts from the old Stratos FR4 monster I had on the bike as well as a custom Risse Racing coil-over that bumped the rear to 8" of travel from the stock 6" as well as a box of the countless parts I destroyed hucking off drops to flat.

DH at SR
Then we tried downhill at Sunday River in ME and loved it but quickly realized the Bullit was a horrible gravity bike with single pivot rear inducing brake jack lockout and crazy steep head angle even with a 6" travel Jr T fork. So we bought full on downhill rigs. I went all out with a dream bike, an Intense M1 with bottomless Avalanche Racing rear shock and Boxxer World Cup fork. The bike was incredible. We spent the summer riding DH every weekend at Sunday River as we had bought a house in Bethel ME that spring. I also was doing a lot of moto trail riding, which had crept back into my life and between the DH and moto, I got really fat, again. I'd always been fat but racing MTB and doing road had allowed me to shed some weight and gain some level of fitness. So then there was this weekly road ride that a friend told me about which started right in Bethel at the Sunday River Brewery. It was mostly a core group of cyclists from the paper mill in Rumford. I started going and that got me hooked back into road in a much bigger way.

Cathy at the CBTT
All of this paved the way for our entry back into racing, and I mean really racing bicycles at the amateur level in the middle part of the 2000's. From racing some time trails and road in 2005 to time trails weekly, road and cyclocross in 2006 and 2007 to weekly time trails, full road season, full MTB season and full CX season in 2009. By 2009 we were doing over 60 races a year in addition to more than 15 mid week time trails. This lasted for a couple of years before the volume simply wasn't sustainable any longer and we started to pare things down some. The first to go was road, and then MTB. Ironically, we were still increasing the number of CX races we did. I think I had nearly 40 CX races one year back when I was racing SSCX and Elite at smaller races and masters at the bigger events. I still love CX and race as much as I can, though the days of doubling up seem to have passed me by with age.

My final Battenkill race.
As we were moving away from road racing we started to get into gravel. It wasn't new by any means as I'd ridden dirt roads for years and had even dragged friends on NEK gravel, ironically the same gravel we ride frequently today, more than a decade and a half back when we did a tandem weekend based out of my folks place. We had been into the original Northeast gravel event, Battenkill, for a number of years but as the event bloated unchecked from popularity the entry fee soared along with the race to the race for registration which opened up an unheard of at that point five months before the event, we lost interest. Many of us who had come back to gravel were also looking for something with more than the 10% gravel that the race offered. It was at the point exactly, well later that year anyhow, that we saw the first primarily gravel event in New England, a no cost, no frills ride in Northern VT. Before the event actually happened it was redubbed a race and cost minimal money but to the initial registrants getting in before the change, it was free. The event was awesome, so awesome that while the Battenkill registration time was approaching a few of us started a discussion that a real spring classic in the NEK of VT during mud season would be an awesome idea. And then five months later, it happened, and it was awesome. No pressure registration, low cost and oh, by the way an incredible party afterwards. And we loved gravel and wanted more of it.

And then the floodgates opened and the arms race began. Before any of us knew what was happening registration for an event was up 364 days before the actual event, with complex price increase models to incent entry and $25 events became hundred dollar events which became $200 events and events sold out within minutes of opening. People started using these events as bucket list items, willing to pay whatever for the experience, the finish line photo, the T-shirt. I get it, not everyone is competitive but many want to be part of the event. That's why the Gran Fondo is so popular in Europe. It's hard to begrudge the promoters because hey, it's a market driven world and there are plenty of folks willing to pay. If I don't register someone else will, literally. And that's exactly how I feel about it and how it feels from the outside looking in. It has simply outgrown me, sights set on a broad new market segment. And it's OK.

Adventure and friends
So, interest has been waning in gravel racing and expensive gravel group events. There are a number of reasons why though. The soul has changed, it has become exactly that which we were first rebelling against. Spending more time in VT riding gravel and buffed out singletrack trails mostly alone or with my wife only has left me, weak. It isn't that she can't ride it is simply that we are at different levels and hilly gravel and MTB tend to reveal that. The result, I can't race a bike to save my life any longer and my fitness is awful. I need to get back to my roots, to doing the TVR and other weekly gut wrenching 50 mile left for dead road rides and weekly hammer SSMTB rides on fast but techy trails strewn with roots and rocks and all the stuff you will see on a MTB course. In the fall, which we spend in MA, we have a core weekly practice that we've developed over the past decade with some incredibly strong and talented participants so for CX we are in good shape.

KG2.0
Bottom line, I still love riding gravel. Big adventure rides in remote places where route design and then navigation are part of the challenge. Scenery and sense of accomplishment. That is the heart of gravel, IMHO. The Kingdom Graveleur will be the main focus, providing the most adventure per dollar of any event out there (it's free). Getting back into shape is another primary focus. In looking back at ride stats and results I can see the trends, exactly what happened and when. My overall decline started when I stopped riding road, especially the long nasty, gritty, cold days spent with a small group of friends riding in the winter. I got a couple of those this winter in the NEK with the one person I know up there other than my wife who is always willing to ride. I've also done a ton of good solid road rides in MA over the winter with friends. I have a plan and am working on it. As soon as the conditions improve I'll start the local weekly group MTB rides back up as well and see if I can get back some of that which I lost. It was pretty humiliating going from excelling at technical courses to getting decimated by them.

2019 D&T 100
Oh, I almost forgot. The other cycling discipline of note is winter fat biking. We dragged our feet for ages on that one so as not to conflict with winter endurance road rides and Nordic skiing. Then, six years back we jumped in full tilt. At first we had inexpensive, heavy bikes that we rode a ton. That year we spent the winter in Bethel, ME and rode sled trails. We loved it, the same way we love gravel. Exploration and adventure with a very similar feel to gravel riding. The next year a new, lightweight bike and even more miles of sled trail. On average we would do over a thousand miles and 100 hours on these bikes in the winter. Then we started wintering in NEK VT where sled trails are off limits but Kingdom Trails was groomed and open. That was good but not the same and with the limited trails groomed in the winter, meant that we rode the same stuff pretty much every day. This worked for a few years but this winter, got old. Luckily our friends at Coos Cycling Club in Gorham, NH stepped up their grooming and had fantastic conditions most of the year but that wasn't a regular option given the distance. So we spent more time this winter in MA than in the past five years or so. I did get in on a fledgling event for New England, the D&T 100 day one of two, a long distance point to point fat bike ride on sled trails. This was always my favorite fat bike format and one I'd done in the past many times, one I greatly miss; exploration and adventure with the potential for freezing to death.

So there you have it. Things come in, things go out. Old is new. That is what keeps it fresh, keeps the cycle moving forward. I've never been one to strive to be part of the in crowd or doing what is hip or trendy. I ride bikes from the heart, doing what feels right, that which feel right. It's a personal journey, one which I've had many counterparts in along the way but one partner.

NOTE: I filled in the images for this post after writing the post copy. The last three images, which are from the past couple of years, represent three of the fondest cycling memories that I have to date. In order, an exploration adventure ride with Cathy and Sheldon in August 2017 in the literal middle of nowhere on a route we were not sure would connect, through a swamp on the back side of a remote mountain. The next, from the June 2018 Kingdom Graveleur 2.0 ride where there were so many happy people that I just didn't want the day to end. The last was from the February 2019 D&T 100 day one fat bike ride. I also have an image of a fat bike adventure ride Cathy and I did in 2015 over Dixville Peak from Errol and around the Balsams to Coleman and back which is another favorite. The 2013 Minuteman SSCX race finish where Cathy sprints by me to get her final lap. We both had very good days and I still smile hard thinking of this moment which Cathy's dad captured in the photo. Also one from the final BAD-ASS group tandem event we did back in 2003 I think which was a great day. The first shot is from the 2019 Winterbike Epic ride, the best Winterbike I've ever been to and one of the best groups I've ridden with in ages. Great folks who worked crazy hard and all had smiles at the end. 

So many wonderful memories so very dear to me.


Friday, September 07, 2018

Summer Projects

I can't believe that another summer has come and gone. It was fast and furious, and hot and humid. It wasn't exactly a fantastic summer for riding bikes, at least as far as I was concerned, but I did get quite a bit done on the ongoing camp remake.

The summer started slow with me struggling a bit to get back into the swing of things and get going on the projects. I always find that I struggle with not so much motivation but fear. Fear of breaking ground, moving into some new and uncharted territory and figuring out just how to do these many things that by and large, I've never done before. Luckily, it is getting to the point that I have experienced and encountered most of the challenges I face in terms of remodeling, at least now I have. 
We started off easy with some landscaping and road reworking. I got a load of fill and dropped it into a spot low on the hill of our property in order to level off a nice flat spot for a later project or for an emergency turn around. I then seeded and mulched it and left it for the summer to grow. I also did a bunch of pruning and thinning of smaller trees. Hundreds of them to open things up, promote healthy growth and get more light, particular up behind the camp. I even made a quick stab at a small stretch of MTB trail that I never actually got the chance to finish before things got going in earnest.

From there I moved inside and did a couple small plumbing projects which included adding a new kitchen faucet with a sprayer hose, which we'd not had in the past. Very minor but a nice touch compared to what was originally there. Next I moved on to the fridge and plumbed in the through door dispensed water and ice maker. Another small project that yielded huge practical benefits as I adore ice with water.

Making holes.
Filling them in.
From there things got pretty legit. I'd planned for a while to reside the camp. We'd done virtually nothing to the outside since we got it and it didn't look very spiffy. Certainly not as nice out as it did in and that made it a pretty ugly duckling in terms of first impressions. That project was pretty big but also had a couple of prerequisites. The first was to deal with power and telephone coming into the camp which was hung to the front gable peak. The last thing that I wanted to do was try and work around the live feed so instead, we decided to run the input underground. This included excavation to did a ditch for the power and phone lines. I used my brother's tractor and backhoe and dug the ditch so that the electrician and power company could switch the feed. Pretty simple and only took a day or so to dig the 100' of ditch from the pole up. Of course, the pole end was sitting right on ledge which I hit literally 16" down. Later I was able to get the full 4' of depth suggested. A day later the electrician came and ran the conduit and lines and we back filled it over and in a couple of days the power company came and made the switch at the pole and we were set. Some grass seed and mulch hay and one project was down, paving the way for the next project.

The next project in line, the second prerequisite to the siding was the roof. When they built the camp they went cheap and easy and the roof had no end eaves on the gable ends. This means no overhang to help pitch water and the elements off the building itself. It also looks like ass IMHO, so I planned to add wing rafters to get a full foot of overhang on both ends. To match, I needed to extend the roof rafters about 4" to get the common 12" of eaves all the way around and give a good straight surface for the fascia and square returns with soffit that I had planned to finish it off.

So as the weather started to get warm, I got started pulling the old fascia off. What I discovered behind it was decades of rodent leftovers, literally filling the space between the rafter overhang in the eaves. I figure I pulled close to a hundred pounds of material out. It was a mess and not an awesome job to have. Then came the gable ends and the trim boards and various layers of metal drip edge and flashing that had been used to try and seal things up. Deconstruction and prep took days and days to complete but finally I got it all done, pulled all of the old nails from the removed material and sorted and piled it out of the way.

Extension rafters.
Then I finally started cutting and hanging the rafter extension blocks, sistering them directly to the existing rafters with a whole lot of screws. 2.5 and 3" deck screws would be a common theme for the summer and my impact driver was in constant use. Just an inexpensive Ryobi rechargeable, the thing has paid for itself many times over and has built countless projects much like my trusted Makita skilsaw which was given to me by a good friend.

With the extensions on the back side of the roof I moved on to the wing rafters, deciding that the extensions would have been easier to align and level with the end rafters already in place. Regardless, I did the first end backwards but got the wings built in two pieces, one for each slope of the roof. They were 11' long and a foot wide and were blocked out every two feet. The result was a pretty heavy wooden structure that I needed to hang pretty high up by myself. That required making some braces to screw to the side of the camp and hold the wing in place while I aligned and sistered it to the existing rafter with lags and screws. Next I moved the braces and repeated the other side of the same end, typing the rafters together at the peak through the butted adjoining blocks to hold them as securely as possible and tie it all together.

Adding a helping hand.

Then it was on to the other end, which was easier in that I was working on the deck which was a nice flat and level surface compared to the ground around the camp, which by and large was not. I also had to pull the  chimney down to get at the peak, which was no problem and was a project that needed rework later on as well. As I was working on that side I found the remnants of the tree that I remember the neighbor had said hit the camp roof years before we bought it. Seems the previous owners just threw some tin over the hole and never actually repaired it. That made for a nice little side diversion cutting the old busted sheathing out, putting some reinforcement along the mangled rafter and then patching it all back up so as to be rodent proof. Seems I found at least one place where all of the mice had been coming in and out. Fortunately, that last wing rafter pair went up easier than the first and soon I was on to the final side, the long front side, which was also high up with the ground continually sloping down along it.

Raw wings going up.
This meant blocking the ladder up every time it moved, which slowed progress. It also meant working 16' off the ground at one point, further slowing and complicating the work. But with time and sweat as that was also the Southern exposure, I got the extensions in. Then I sheathed the wing rafters and it was time to start the trim, the fascia and barge. I was able to get the end fascia or barge boards up on the wings but my brother came over on his day off from the barbershop and helped me with the end fascia, which was a bit of a nightmare. Finally we got it done though and then I put the drip edge on and could move on to the roof itself.

Old roof and new wings and extensions.
The roofing in place was green tin. Because the roof was now longer and wider I needed to add new tin. I chose to go basic and run galvanized which is what I'd gotten for all of the other projects at camp. Consistency I determined was the best choice not to mention the tin was in stock, readily available and inexpensive at $2/linear foot for 3' wide coverage. The only drawback was that it came in stock lengths on 8/10/12/16' and I needed 11.5" which meant a hot date with the tin shears. I actually borrowed my brother's electric nibbler shear which worked awesome and was way easier than by hand. I'd tuck the cut end up at the peak anyhow, under the ridgecap where it was sheltered from the elements and wouldn't show rust. And with that the stripping of thew old tin began. Pulling screws and lowering the old sheets, saving them for later projects.  I pulled 14 sheets down and put 16 sheets up, adding one to each side.

For the roofing project, putting the tin on, I had my brother helping me again, luckily. We did one side at a time on two of the hottest days of the summer. It was pretty miserable work. The roof had a layer of asphalt shingles under the old tin and then strapping over it to affix the tin to. This is common if not ideal. The right way to do it would have been to strip the shingles to bare underlayment. The problem is what to do with the old material. The rural VT thing would be dig a big hole and bury them, but that isn't legal any longer and a dumpster would be expensive. It would also take a couple days of pretty miserable work to strip the shingles off so I caved in and followed suit, leaving the mess there hidden under the new roofing. We did go through and double the strapping to give more support and to anchor the roof deck to the rafters more solidly with, you guessed it, lots of 3" deck screws.

The first sheet is always the hardest, trying to get a square piece to fit into a not usually square area. The second sheet then start to reveal the true scope of the problems as you start to see just how much it is walking or receding. So then you stretch and bend that which is rigid and inflexible in order to make up the 1/8" which in three sheets will have you back on track just as the roof starts to walk the other direction. It's a fun game, one that I've had the chance to play half a dozen times over the past couple decades. On day one, a Sunday in July, we got one side complete. On Monday we finished the next side. It was equally hot but we got it done and it looked really, really nice.

Then began the prep for the actual main project of the summer, the one that all of the prior work was leading up to, the residing of the entire camp. First though there was the small business of removing the existing siding, old dried out weather beaten cedar shakes. If roofing was fun, this was a party. I quickly remembered why I went to college, only to retire and work as a laborer for fun. Yes, I'm simple.

It's going.
It took a full day to strip the one side of cedar. My folks came over and helped for a few hours. Well, my mom helped while my dad mostly sat there and supervised. He's not so good with standing up for long periods these days. It then took another full day to strap the side horizontally with 2x3" pine and then add 1.5" x 24" wide foam insulation to the side. I decided that since I had the space and needed to strap it anyhow in order to accept the 11" coverage x 7/8" thick rough outer surface pine shiplap board siding I was using that I may as well add insulation. I'd chosen to side all the way to just above ground level, which meant going over the concrete foundation as well.


Burn it!
As the shakes came off something had to be done with them, to dispose of them. Decades old, dried out cedar was simple to get rig of, just add fire. It was a constant job to pull the nails and then stack and bundle the shingles coming off the sides of the camp. Once bundled I'd stuff the fire full of them. The day was hot but the fire was an inferno with an endless supply of tinder. I burned all day, every day while pulling the cedar off. I filled four quart yogurt tubs with old nails, nails which I still have to straighten and reuse like back in my youth when nails came not from boxes at a store but in assorted conditions, lengths and shapes from an old rusty coffee can and oft required straightening first.Post apocalypse when we are on the rusty used nail barter system, I shall be a king among commoners.

Last summer I'd strapped and then insulated along the outside of the foundation with foam and put an exterior grade sheathing over it. The new siding would cover and level all of this making it look seamless. Problem was that it wasn't level or seamless. The foundation which we had added was square or darn close to it. the camp, well, not so much. That meant irregular and variable overhangs which needed to be compensated for. Much head scratching and shim shingles were required.

Almost there.
I also added a house wrap vapor barrier first to help tighten things up. The first side, the back side, had no doors or windows to trim around which made things easier, which is why I started there. On the third day I did the actual plank siding. Putting up pine, especially in long lengths, is never fast but I managed to get it done in one long day of work. It looked nice and for the first time, the camp was starting to look like something more.

 
Two down.
Next up was the back end. It had four windows to deal with. I also had to deal with a slightly different overhang which meant using one inch strapping and insulation board versus the 1.5" of the other side. Easy enough. Shimming and trimming the windows out proved a challenge in coming up with the best technique, which I didn't until the next side anyhow. regardless, I got it done in the same time frame, one full day for each step, three days for the complete side. Then onto the front side, with it sloping ground challenges, three windows a sillcock and a fan vent and massively weather beaten brittle shingles. A constant symphony of pulling nails out of dry sheathing was to be heard for days intermixed with the bang of an impact driver, the crackle of the fire that was consuming old dry cedar shakes almost as fast as I could feel them in. The weather was hot but that fire was an inferno, scorching skin as you tried to cram more fuel in. three more days and that side too was complete. Again, one inch strapping and foam was the proper width to mate with the foundation level.

One side left, the front gable end. Working on the level surface of the deck and only one window, one door and a chimney flue to contend with. This went faster because I decided not to strap and insulate. My reasoning was simple, I plan to tear it off again as soon as next summer for a future addition where the deck is. That said, I wanted to finish the whole project off rather than leave one odd, ugly side. Two days later all of the ancient cedar shakes were long burnt and the siding was complete. I was very very happy to start to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Functional corner lighting.
Now came the returns which I redid the first of three different times trying to get the best technique. Easy finish work though and then the soffit but first, I wanted to add some flair. I'd planned to add recessed corner perimeter lighting in the returns of the soffit. That meant a little electrical work, fishing wire, tapping into the existing line for the front entry light. It also meant running about 75' of new line up under the soffit in the eaves and wire in the boxes and light receptacles. Simple enough. Then I could start dropping in the assorted vinyl J channel and F channel to accept the vinyl soffit I was using. I'd used the stuff extensively in the past. It is clean, easy to work with, maintenance free and gives a nice tight finished look. Once I cut and fit roughly a million ~10" pieces of soffit and cut 6" holes into the end pieces for the recessed light to fit through, with the trim ring covering from the outside I was done. It looked pretty good and the corner soffit lights gave both practical lighting as well as nice accent. Things were starting to come together and it looked like a whole new place.

Chimney and stand.
It took some searching but I managed to find stainless double wall insulated locking chimney from the same manufacturer as what we had. I needed a few additional pieces to set the chimney out beyond the new 12" eaves and to extend it up above the roof line. In the past they had a short piece of regular galvanized stove pipe doing that. I extended it another foot higher and added an integrated cap. We also needed to extend the support bracket to compensate for the additional 12" of horizontal length from the camp side. Rather than retrofit the existing tin bracket I cut and welded a new one out of steel angle iron with rebar A brace supports painted flat black. When lagged in place to the side of the camp I could hang off the end of it so it should handle the 75# of chimney just fine. I also made a support hanger from aluminum banding that ties the upper stack back into the top of the gable fascia so it can't move.

The only thing left was to choose the stain color and then liberally apply it. On our vacation week, the final week of the summer, during one of the hottest stretches all year, Cathy and I stained the camp, semi-translucent natural cedar tone for the main color and a cream color for the trim. It took us a couple of full days which we spread out over a few days, saving some time for bike rides. And just like that, the summer was over and our projects were complete, whether we were actually finished or not.

From the day we first looked at the property.
From the day we first looked at the property.

Now, minus a corner board that is now installed.
Finished product as it sits now.
I came up short on time for being able to start on the slick new dual axle 8x17' trailer frame and deck for the tiny house project. I'm kind of bummed as I'm really excited to do that. The trailer and deck was the start of a tiny project that my brother was planning but lost interest in. I built a 2x4 frame and roof over it with some of my used tin to keep it sheltered until I can get after it. Also threw a tongue jack on it to make it easier to deal with than sitting on blocks.

Future project.
So that is where things are. It was a great and super productive summer. It was also hard and long and isolating. I didn't ride my bikes nearly as much as in the past. I was also exhausted by the end, running frantically in crunch mode for well over two months. It was the first summer we both were glad to have end and to move on to fall and back to MA.

I'm very happy with the projects and love the way they turned it. I can now look at the outside with the same pride that I take in looking at the inside.


Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Feline Feral Warming Hut Design

As some may know, I volunteer with the The Cat Connection in Waltham building and repairing warm huts and feeding stations. I've been scheming for some time on how to make a better warm hut which we use as cold weather shelters for feral cats in foul weather.

They have a bunch of logical requirements such as a roof that affords entry access to clean and maintain the hut as well as a single defendable access point, and a channeled entry to limit size and entry manner. They are usually multi level and have insulation. Reflectix is the norm in the wooden structures. Unfortunately, cats love to shred it or if you get bio issues, it ruins it and often can ruin the whole hut.

Lately I've been making the huts lighter and more portable such that the volunteers, often not as young or spry as they once were, can move them easier. This includes using lighter materials such as thinner plywood sheathing and plastic corrugated roofing vs asphalt shingles. I also put lawnmower wheels on them and feet such that fewer if any cement blocks are needed to get them up off the ground.

I've been thinking though that having an inner, sealed plastic tub liner and then insulation between that and the outer structure would be a better idea. This would keep the insulation away from the cats and intact and would also make cleanup easier inside, given that it is plastic. Worst case, you replace the liner tub/bin all together.

Recently, I built it. It was far more complicated than I first imagined and far more intricate in construction. However, I think that it is pretty sound and should work well. I used a simple Rubbermaid storage bin which is cheap, effective and easily replaceable.


Bin with divider shelf and lower entry tunnel in center

Two layer foam and Reflectix insulation separated from cats


Bin fitted inside mating to entry chase


Foam insulation over the top


Finished product ready to go onsite

Monday, April 30, 2018

2018 Rasputitsa Post Race Post

Well, it's all over for another year. What an event. Crazy ups and downs. A completely new course with a last minute change rolled out under the covers. Yea, that was a good idea, I know. Blame me. Why the heck would anyone do something like that? What were you thinking? Let me explain my actions for the why. This is in no way an attempt to dodge the blame for the missing course marker that caused no end to my lack of sleep last week. More, it is simply the detail of the of the thought process behind the why.

From my perspective, as a course designer, my primary concern is safety. In the past we have had sections of the course that were above the ability of a number of the participants to successfully negotiate under certain conditions. One of those conditions is foul weather causing poor course conditions, another is fatigue and another still is the often poor bike conditions caused by the poor course conditions that compound late in the race. On a muddy, wet course many will completely chew through a set of brake pads during the course of the race and have little or no braking left at the end.

With that, the old course finish down High Meadow Rd which is a narrow, twisty and very steep gravel descent, concerned me. Experienced racers often take crazy risks at the finish of a race but when the inexperienced do the same thing, it is a recipe for disaster. So, for the past couple of months I've been working with the mountain and the land managers of the Burke Mountain Dashney Nordic Center to negotiate the usage of the Trillium ski and MTB trail to cut through to Dashney Rd which allows us to finish lower on the mountain. Permission to use the route was tentative and would come literally at the last minute, based completely on conditions. If it was dry or if it was snow covered, we could use it but if it was mud we could not. I was granted permission on Thursday evening and made the course change at 9PM Friday evening.

Why did I keep it a secret you may ask? Well, here was my rationale. In the past we have had issues with people trying to drive the course, the entire course, including the sections of course that might not really be road. I couldn't afford to have that happen and have damage caused to the trails by someone driving down them. It was as simple as that. So I published a video of the section which I called Tunguska, a moniker that unfortunately proved all too completely accurate, mid day Friday. The video is from me riding the segment on my gravel bike Wednesday evening in just under six minutes. So that's it, that is why. It's simple, it is really hard for tired folks to get hurt riding or pushing their bikes through snow at three miles an hour for .7 miles where as it is much easier on a screaming technical descent. It doesn't explain the missing sign that impacted many of the first ~150 or so people through that section. It was my fault and I accept the blame for that. There is nothing that I can do at this point except off my sincere apologies, learn from this lesson and strive to do better in the future.

With that, I also spent about twelve hours culling data from the finish results and Strava to create a theoretical finish order based on times not including the extra credit section that was not meant to be part of the course. By the way, two folks liked that section so much that they did it twice. Anyhow, the data was incomplete as not everyone had GPS or uploaded publicly to Strava so really it is simply an estimate but would give people a more accurate idea of where they finished up. If by chance you want to know how you would have theoretically finished based on time were the extra section not included and everything else was equal, I have a spreadsheet with that info.

Beyond this mishap, I think that the event was pretty awesome. I really liked the flow of the new course compared to the bookend brutality of the old. From the feedback that I have gotten about the course from racers they tend to agree with me. They liked the flow of this course, save maybe for the Tunguska section and of course, the extra credit section for those who were unfortunate enough to do that.

Enough about that though, lets talk a bit about the actual race itself, at least from my perspective from within it. This year I chose to join Cathy and ride my fat bike. Not because it was a better choice for the conditions. Not at all although I would say that this year's conditions and course mitigated some of the poor choice of the fat bike for a gravel race. I chose the bike to take the pressure off from the race and make it more about fun, which was part of the reason I used to race a lot of single speed back before it got really popular. I knew that there was a good solid field of racers signed up to do the race on fat bikes and I knew that I stood a much better chance of being competitive on that bike and in that category versus the open category, where I've seen a consistent back slide  in my performance over the years. It was also a chance to race an absurd bike choice against everyone to see how it compared while still having the safety net of my own category to hide out in. I like that.

That said, the logistics of the mass start of 1300 racers of varying experience and ability all starting on a fast paved downhill was terrifying in and of itself but compounded on the fat bike with modern, full width riser MTB bars. There is a whole lot of leverage out near the end of those bars and if someone were to hook them at +30mph it would be lights out for me and many, many people behind me. Elbows out for sure. Here is the video of the start from Cathy's bike. This start really concerns me but even more when I thought about it after the event. Should we have a crash mid pack going that fast the sheer mass of the field behind could literally see people crushed to death like a Who concert. I hope that a way can be found to eliminate that start in the future before something happens.

As best I can tell we all made it through town taking up the entire roadway and sidewalks in the process as people jockeyed for position. This brought us into the Burke Hollow Rd hill where the race really got started in earnest. You can see that in this video from Cathy's perspective. My goal was to simply go as hard as I could for as long as I could to gain as much daylight between myself and anyone else on a fat bike as possible. I started near the front and kept an eye out for others and saw none ahead of me. Over the first climb I'd long since lost the lead group but was in a solid group in chase including JPow, who was heckling my bike choice, Chandler and Swifty. I lost some ground on the three gravel rollers but then made up some ground on the West Darling Hill Rd descent. I managed to keep my bottle and not crash on the array of potholes at the bottom of the road, a road already littered in water bottles when I got to that point. At least one person was not so lucky though and crashed pretty hard. This is another section that we need to avoid but have very, very few alternatives.

The Bugbee Crossing Rd to Burke Hollow rollers were tough at that point but I hung in and then slowly plodded up Sugarhouse Rd on the paved climb. Paved climbs in the middle of nowhere in VT mean only one thing, the road is steep and justifies paving it in order to keep it passable in the winter. They are not your friend nor a welcome sight as a cyclist. Onto the long false flat climb up Sugarhouse Rd I had the opportunity to ride with Swifty and we were able to make up some ground. Crossing Newark St we almost got tagged by a car who had no idea what was going on as we started out into the intersection. Need a marshal at that intersection for sure as it is also potential high speed traffic we are crossing. At that point it is the approach to Cyberia as Sugarhouse Rd degrades to Camp Rd and eventually becomes ClassIV and un-maintained in winter. The road surface went to wet gravel to slush and then to snow and ice. It was soft and heavy pedaling and started to take it's toll on many individuals and their equipment. I tried to press forward as hard as I could to make ground before Cyberia and the impending death march.

I hit Cyberia and was able to ride if I had the space but the double track trail, one packed by foot and the other by bike, were a Conga line of humanity. Eventually I became impatient and ran around the group ahead, through the snow to the side and then remounted in the space between groups. As I rode people cheered and then they yelled up the trail to others that a ride was up and the sea literally parted and they selflessly moved their bikes and allowed me to pass and as I passed people cheered and gave kind words of encouragement. I was floored by the wonderful, touching gestures and can't express my sincere gratitude to all of those folks. Cathy later said that the same thing happened to her. She shot video of the section which is posted here. We thank you all so very, very much.

Out of Cyberia we rolled up into the climb along Baird Rd as the conditions went from gravel to wet gravel to slush, snow and ice. Winter again and the road was slick for which the fat bike was not really a detriment once again. This was become a recurring theme where the down sides to the fat bike were far fewer than I expected. Our bikes are pretty light though and roll really well. I was running arguably the fastest and lightest tires on the market, Schwalbe Jumbo Jim 4.0 aired up to near max psi. Those rolled on crazy light HED carbon rims with full carbon bikes. With pedals we are right around 25# for the bikes complete so it is hard to consider that much of a detriment.

We rolled down to Newark St onto the paved segment of the course and as we started to climb I passed my folks setup with the family team banner and cheering like mad. My heart swelled with pride and thanks at the sight of my parents there for me and I settled in with a good group on that section including my friend Mike, Chandler, JPow and the two of the top women, Alison and Laura (Lyne and Magdeleine were up the road ahead). I hung with them until we went by the fish hatchery and the climbing once again started in earnest. I dropped back but only a bit and as the conditions worsened near the top I started to pull the group back again. All along  the top section of the course we were at elevation and the road was snow covered. We even passed a plow coming down toward us just before the top of the course. By the time we made the far corner and started heading back South I'd caught and was back with the group.

By Center Pond we made good progress chasing hard to bring back groups and make forward progress all the while me trying to manage speed using the old spin-coast-spin single speed technique as I was a bit spun out. In hindsight I wish I'd have switched over to the 36t ring I'd planned to but forgot at home. That said, being spun out isn't always a bad thing I learned from years of racing single speeds. It helps keep your legs from loading up when you naturally shift to and try and push a gear that is too big. On Burke Green Rd we made the left jog onto Duford Rd and then back up East Hill Rd to rejoin Burke Green Rd for it's last little climb. I must say that I was simply amazed by the number of folks out cheering for us in places I would not necessarily have expected. It was simply amazing to witness and was greatly appreciated by all.

I fought hard to re-attach on that final rise up over Burke Green Rd as we started down past Schoolhouse Rd to Cole Rd for what was a long stretch of descent back toward Burke Hollow. This was a hard section to keep up on because we were going so fast for such a long period of time. I did manage to get to Carter Rd and the hard left with the group. I sagged that soft, spongy climb a bit knowing that I'd be able to make up ground on the rough, rocky back side of Carter Rd. The town has been filling the soft sections of road with inch and a half crushed rock, tons and tons of it. There were easily a half dozen good sized stretched of it on that road. I flew down over it but also got passed by Chandler who was just skimming the tops of the rocks he later claimed. Reality is, that stuff would literally eat you alive if you crashed in it but as far as I know, nobody got hurt there. The ground I gained I knew would be short lived though as the climb up Marshall Newland Rd would see me back slide and it did but not nearly catastrophically.

At this point I had the descent of White School Rd and the climb up Pinkham Rd. The later was significant and formidable. I was pretty certain that I was in the lead in my division and fairly confident that nobody was close behind as I'd not seen another fat bike all day. My plan as it always is when I find myself at this point in the race is keep it steady, take no chances and maintain. As I hit the Pinkham Rd climb and started the long grind up to day's toll on the faces of the field started to take shape. I saw racers beside the road trying to stretch out cramping legs, or hunched over their bikes trying to regain composure or pushing their bikes up the hill just trying to get to the finish. Nearing the top I passed the insane celebration of bicycles and the coming of Spring in the NEK hosted by friends Steve, June, Carrie and Stephanie. They were doing food and beer and shots and basically having an incredibly awesome time supporting the racers with their love of the sport. So many thanks for all of the cheers.

Cresting the top and heading toward the end I soon found myself at the right hand turn onto the Burke Mountain Dashney Nordic Center Trillium trail. The trail that I was able to ride on my gravel bike on Wednesday was now mostly deep corn snow over an icy base. It was rideable in places, not in others. The fat bike was actually a detriment in those conditions over a bike with narrow tires that cut in and sliced through versus plowing. Still I road and ran my way through picking up spots in general.

At the end of the trail we dump into Dashney Rd, which takes us left down to the Mountain rd and the finish. My heart sank as reality came into scope and I could see racers crossing the road and proceeding off out through the field beyond. I frantically yelled to everyone around that the course went left not across and proceeded into who knows what. Those near me heard and followed. Two of the top four women were with me (Alison and Laura) while the first and second women (Lyne and Magdeleine) were ahead of us but presumed to have taken the wrong turn. Panic and fear set in and my only though was to get this fixed and get a course arrow at the junction as soon as possible.

We rode down Dashney to Mountain Rd and into the Sherburne Base Lodge entrance then up High Meadow Rd to the lower Roly Grail trail entrance onto the slope for the finish. Cathy got some video of the final section into the finish here. I crossed the line to see the overall men's leaders finished. Fortunately they looped back around and found their way out. I dropped my bike and grabbed Peter from Vermont Overland to get me back out to the junction with a sign. Still with my helmet and muddy gear on we made it out in less than ten minutes and planted the course arrow as about the 150th racer to that point arrived. Many had made it through but the vast majority would never know that anything had happened at all.

Still, I was devastated, ashamed and embarrassed knowing that my mistake had negatively impacted others. I hung my head in shame and slunk off with the intent of riding my bike home by myself, wallowing in self loathing. To make things worse Cathy, who had a fantastic race once again defending her title on the fat bike, bore the brunt of the promoter's angst misdirected at me when she was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time as she finished. I felt even worse as she told me this. I'd let her down as well. As I started to talk to people though, they were not as furious at me as I expected. In talking with friends like Kyle and Matt and Lindsey and Jason and Elissa, I started to ease a bit and feel better.

This event came with many lessons learned. As wonderful and incredible as it is, there is room to improve. There are also areas where we have to improve such as outreach to the surrounding community particularly those towns directly impacted. This needs to be done well in advance. They have to know what to expect and we have to show them what this can mean to and for them. that is often a tough sell as most folks see no direct benefit. We also need to work to try and remove risky areas like the steep downhill neutral mass start and the West Darling Hill Rd bottom (though it is like this every year). Then we as racers need to be better about the yellow line rule and respecting the laws and oncoming traffic. If this were a USAC event, they would have DQ's the entire field. I've been in that position twice in the past and as harsh as it is, it is fair and usually justified if not impartial.

Still, another excellent adventure. See you again next year.


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

2018 Rasputitsa Recon - 4 Days Out

Tuesday afternoon I went out and drove most of the 2018 Rasputitsa race course. Given what the roads looked like Sunday when we were out marking the course coupled with what our road at elevation in Kirby looked like, I was anxious to see the state of affairs. To my partial surprise, once I got down off of the mountain that we live on it was significantly drier and the snow that we'd had off and on since Saturday stopped.

By the time I dropped onto the course on the back side of Cyberia, the roads were pretty darn good. Not quite as dry as Saturday but the temperature was above freezing where as it was below on Saturday. The roads were damp but not muddy.

As I climbed I started to transition into some snow on the roads but no where near as much as last Sunday, when we had picked up a few inches overnight. Back down to Newark St on Schoolhouse Rd the snow again disappeared yielding damp gravel but no mud. In fact, there was no mud really anywhere out on course. There was more snow for a few miles at elevation in the most Northern end of the course but that was to be expected and no ruts or ice.

All in all, the course was looking pretty good yesterday and should only improve in the next couple of days as the continual light precipitation we've had all week begins to taper off and the temperature stabilizes some. Saturday we should even see some sun, which will be a very welcome treat.

In terms of equipment, there is no right answer. Certain selections will be better in certain places than others. Yes, you could get around the course with a road bike an 25c tires if you were very careful on Carter Rd through the crushed rock. It would be a challenge and unless you are a world class cyclist, you likely wouldn't be fastest. As always, the bike that hits right in the middle of the scale and does the most the best is probably going to be a gravel or CX bike with 33-40c file or micro tread tires and gravel gearing vs. stock CX gearing. However, the right person on a fast MTB setup could also be right there as we have seen more and more often in the past. The MTB gearing may even favor the longer, sloggy climbs.

Here is the photo dump from the trip around the course yesterday in order starting from the back side of Cyberia and ending on White School Rd.

Enjoy and we will see you on Saturday AM if not at the School of Rock pre-ride or at registration!