Thursday, December 26, 2013

Holiday Fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live is, great.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Nightime Fun in the Snow

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sterling Baystate CX Day I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Real Vermont

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Nothing New

I hate to say it, but there really isn't much of anything new to talk about. We are deep into the end game of the regular cyclocross race season at this point. In fact, it is really starting to come down to the wire; where we are starting to look at just how many more races we can squeeze in before the season comes to a draw. Binge racing.

I can not believe that we only have four more weekends left. It is crazy how fast it flew by, yet it feels as though we have been racing cyclocross every weekend for an eternity. I've come to find over the years that cyclocross really punctuates the season and as much as it is only a small portion of the full year, defines that year. This is probably because cross is the last thing we see, freshest on our minds when we close our eyes and go to bed for the final time that year.

On other fronts, we are deep into the plans for the Bikeway Source/Bell Lap Racing team for 2014. For the upcoming year we are mildly expanding our existing masters men's squad with one key addition for the elite cross discipline (road, mountain biking and cyclocross) pool. Beyond that we are trying to beef up the U23 representation, male and female, to help balance out the team's median age. We are hoping to compliment the younger members we currently have and give them more of a team with whom to race when the rest of us are doing masters level events. We also hope to find people onto whom many of us old crusty cyclists can disseminate some of the lessons that we have learned over the years.

To further round the squad, we are hoping to find a couple additional masters level women, with whom Cathy can train and race such that she doesn't have to always ride with, well, me. She never complains and she always works so hard but I can tell, it isn't always all that much fun for her. That said, I suspect that Cathy has ridden with me, and the men on the team, more this year than any other. Arguably, Cathy is having the best race season that she has ever had. Coincidence? Anyhow, trying to get women who are the right fit and dynamic is a huge challenge. We have a great team put together with a really good dynamic and we are not willing to jeopardize that. Frankly, we are and can afford to be very selective. Maybe we are too selective but frankly, I'm treating this just as if I were hiring someone for a job.

In terms of racing, yea, we are still racing. A few weeks back was the Cycle Smart Verge Series Northampton race weekend. For some reason, everybody and his brother decided to show up for the race. We had almost all of the fastest guys in the East plus some of the fastest guys from out west and Canada show up. Tack that onto fairly non-technical courses that are not very good at breaking up the field and you get big groups forming during the race. On both Saturday and Sunday the lead group never really thinned to much less than six men. Most of those took tuns launching attacks at the front, mostly to no avail.

The Saturday course did have one awesome woods section (thanks JD) that did force gaps. It was about 2/3 of the way through the lap. I knew that was where I needed to make a move. A few laps into the race I gave it a shot and could see that it was possibly to get some space, but not much. With one to go I hit hard there on the front and pried a small gap open. Onto the lower field I had maybe twenty yards. Unfortunately I got into lapped traffic in the sweeping corner over the train tracks before the barriers. This racer decided to take the good inside line leaving me the wide line, which I took, but then came across right to left and put me into the tape. Thanks buddy! That was it, I was caught. I hit the pavement for the sprint in third and that was where I stayed.

Sunday saw a dumbed down course with no real technical aspects, just lots of straight flat power into hairpins and then back out. No my forte at all. I struggled with the huge ten or so person front group for the first few laps, getting accordianed off and having to sprint back. I finally recovered enough to move to second wheel. Instantly I could feel the difference and recovered some more. I planned to do the only thing that I could think of, attack hard with one to go and make the last lap brutal for everyone. Apparently Roger and I both had the same idea and attacked literally in the same spot at the same time. I slotted in behind Roger and as we came through for the last lap, more attacks occurred.

We all rode together into the top section with Paul controlling the group at the front. On a wide hairpin around a tree I took the wide line and came onto the paved path first. I wanted to get onto the fast rooty section first and try and pry a gap in the few remaining corners on the top section. This worked very slightly yielding a few precious bike lengths. Unfortunately by the time we hit the turn at the pits I was caught and left on the front. The only option was to go hard the whole final section and see what happened and that was what I did. I hit the pavement for the sprint first and instantly Paul came around. Shortly after Kenny came by absolutely flying and just at the line Steve got a wheel by me as well, leaving me fourth of the six in the lead group. I was a bit disappointed in myself for the weekend's results but honestly, with that group on those courses, I need to be realistic.

The next weekend was the Plymouth weekend. These are not by any stretch our favorite courses either, but the races are close and are run by some great folks whom we love to support. Cathy and I both decided to do the elite races each day as the time worked out well. The course Saturday ended up getting shortened at the last minute because of a field conflict with the venue. They did, however, add in the mud section from the previous year. Luckily it wasn't quite as bad, but it was still fairly miserable. In short, I was unmotivated, fat and lazy and it showed. I wanted to quit and had no will to push hard. That summed it up in a nutshell.

By Sunday though I was now pretty angry at myself for being such a sloth. The course that day was much longer and more interesting with some actual technical sections. The start was chaos fighting with guys in the first corner for position near the front. It always amazes me how hard they will fight and the risks they will take when statistics and past performances show they have no chance of maintaining that position for more than the first 500 meters of a race. It isn't just young guys either. the masters do it too. Part of racing I guess but I've found this year that within reason, the start really isn't that important. That was something that I observed long ago from Kevin Hines, one of the strongest races ever yet a man plagued with some of the worst starts I have personally observed.

After much chasing I made it to the Boloco train of Mike and Kevin and after a bit of a rest, started driving the bus up the road. We caught Max who had an ill timed dropped chain and then caught Ian and Manny as well. From there we took turns pushing hard. Unfortunately for me, coming around the backstop after the pits I either caught a pedal or slid out and was on my back looking up at Max, Kevin and Mike trying not to run over me before I even knew what happened. I did feel the searing pain in my left knee though. When I finally stood up, the knee screamed. That didn't seem just right.

After a bit I got moving, slowly and tried to ride it off. All I could think was a tear and it certainly felt like it. I yelled to Cathy as I passed that I'd wrecked my knee and considered abandoning but kept moving. I've never had a DNF in a CX race and didn't want to start. While I was contemplating my future and feeling sorry for myself, Dan and Adam passed me. That got me a little fired up again and I went back to racing as best I could with the bum knee. In the end, Dan got away but a managed to get by Adam thanks to my awesome braking performance allowing me to move faster in the technical downhill section. And that was that.

The knee was pretty sore but didn't really swell or black and blue. After a couple days I decided to see and doctor. Just a sprain they said and should be fine in no time. Excellent I said, because I plan to race on it in a couple of days. I'll tell you just how that turned out at another date.

This brings me to my last point in this post. All through this section of racing and in fact, all throughout the course of this season and this year, Cathy has been doing very, very well. She has had countless podiums and I believe we counted half a dozen wins this year between MTB and CX. Pretty impressive given the categories she competes in and the competition she has in those categories. She has worked so hard to be where she is now, not just this season but cumulatively over the past seven or eight years that we have been racing bikes. I can't tell you how proud of here I am every time she lines up and not just when she makes the podium or wins a race. It is when she shows up week after week for the Turkey Vulture rides when so many men, do not. She is often still there on the ride after so many men, are not. It certainly has made her stronger though.

Friday, November 08, 2013


Why does it seem that everything is better in pairs? Maybe that is just the way that the world was meant to work. I don't know but in this house, where Cathy and I pretty much do everything together, as a team, what that all boils down to is that we end up lots of pairs of everything. That holds for skis, sleds, snowshoes, recliners and of course, bicycles.

As mentioned previously, the latest addition to our vastly diversified fleet of sporting goods is a fat tired snow bike. To be more specific, that was the addition of my spiffy new Charge bikes Cooker Maxi. Mine showed up last week and I put it together and did a couple of small rides on it with good success. That said, it has yet to see the snow or even the sand for that matter.

Maybe I'll take it for CX practice next week though and see how it does in the sand. I'd bet that the hot laps in the field would be a little brutal though. On second thought, after just how brutally hard this week's Wednesday night practice on the SSCX bike, maybe that would be a bad idea.

So anyhow, yesterday Cathy's Charge Cooker Maxi showed up at the shop. I built it up and last night we went out for a short and super easy in the wet on the bike path. Fun stuff and the fit seems to be just about perfect. I'll make a few minor upgrades with parts that I have lying around but for the most part, the bike will remain stock.

Now we just need some actual snow to try them out on. From what the weather forecast is currently saying, that may actually happen next week. Will see.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Come to the Dark Side

 The latest in what I hope will be a steady stream has come to the dark side, of single-speed cyclocross (SSCX) that is. I just finished putting the final touches on Ben's spiffy new Felt dedicated SSCX bike.

This was an Ebay slightly used Felt alloy frameset with a BB30 BB shell that we converted over to a completely legit SSCX using the Beer Components EBB30. I have been using those things for about four years now and Cathy has been on them for a couple. They are on the expensive side but work very well. The results yield a real deal SSCX bike that does a great job of tensioning the chain accurately and effectively.

The parts are a mix of things that I've come to find over the years, hold the best bang for the buck. Tektro brake levers, Tektro mini V-brakes, 3/32" Sinz BMX 40 tooth chainring, carbon-fiber outer guide ring, loose freewheel spacers and a pair of guides on sandwiching the rear 17 tooth Surley steel cog made from old cassette cogs. For a chain I've had the best luck with cheap 8 speed chains. Less stretch than with the SRAM PC-1 dedicated SS chain and significantly less weight. The cranks are Shimano CX-70 compact which are great for the job. I actually prefer the Shimano over the FSA but the FSA Gossamer MegaExo are a close second.

All told, this is a pretty sweet rig for pretty short dough. Hopefully Ben will dig it as much as Cathy and I like ours. Honestly, I wish we had more SSCX events around. I know, I can race it in the normal races. Truth be told, it doesn't actually make that much of a difference, at least in my opinion.

Glorified Ladder

Recently, I had the opportunity to take on a fairly straight forward but fun design and woodworking project. A couple of friends had some open space overhead in one of their bedrooms with a vaulted ceiling. The space is small but works well for storage. The problem was that there was no means of access, other than pulling yourself up there on the supporting beams. Not ideal in any way.

The room was also too small, as was the overhead space, to warrant a full staircase. The idea was naturally to put a ladder in. There was already an angled wall in the bedroom that logically lead up to the space. This wall was the back side of the cellar stairway, which was in the front hallway.

I took a look at the space and thought that a fixed ladder would do the trick and could also be removed if necessary. There were space limitations both in width, where my friends though that they may want to add some shelving along the bordering wall, and also in depth as we needed to clear the nearby doorway. I took some measurements and then started to think about designs.

What I came up with was a glorified 10' long by 2' wide ladder made from 2x8" fir. The stair treads would be 2x8" and would be inset 1/4" into the rails, also made of the same 2x8" fir. The pitch of the angled wall that the ladder would mount against, the back wall of the basement staircase, was steep. It was 55 degrees in fact. That put it right in the danger zone of too steep for stairs but not quite steep enough for a ladder. The difference between the two that we care about is in how you climb or more, descend. Stairs you walk up and then walk down, both facing in the direction that you are moving. A ladder however, you climb up with all fours and descend the same way, simply in reverse. The plan was to be able to very carefully descend these like traditional stairs, which was why I opted for the 2x8" vs. 2x6". Either would have supported the load of a single person just fine, especially given that the unit mounted against a wall so didn't really support much of any load.

In terms of construction, this was a job that made lots of sawdust and wood-chips. All of the wood had to be milled to give it finish quality and get it to common dimensions. That meant thickness planing all of it. Two garbage barrels of wood shavings later they were set. Then I rounded all of the edges off with the router, making loads more chips. Next I laid the spacing out on the rails for each of the steps and then went to work on designing and building a jig that would allow me to mill the recesses in the rails for the ends of the steps. By insetting them slightly the overlap would carry the load, reducing the strain on the hardware used to physically secure the steps to the rails. I planned to use a pair of countersunk 3.5" deck screws on each side of each step mounted through the outside of the rail along with wood glue on the joint. I chose 1/4" depth as I didn't want to remove too much material from the rails, weakening them. The jig worked fine and I cut the recesses with my router and a 1/2" straight bit set at 1/4" depth. Lots more wood chips though.

The hardest part was actually lining it all up and putting it together, which eventually required some help from Cathy. Finally though I got it together and ready to go. My idea for mounting the unit was to have the ladder a bit longer than the wall that it leaned against such that it stuck up above the floor of the storage space. This would allow me to put some hardware in place to affix the ladder in a free floating fashion at the top. It could also have a quick and easy means of disconnecting it in case you wanted to pull it out.

The hardware design I came up with centered around 3' length of 3/4" black steel pipe/nipple (which means it was threaded on both ends). My plan was to lag bolt pieces of 1.5" angle iron to the floor and have them cantilever out to the outside center of the ladder. I drilled holes in the angle iron beforehand through which I could run the pipe. With the ladder in place, I lined it all up and bored the holes in the ladder rail through which the pipe would run. I put it all together and then lag bolted the angle iron to the floor with a pair of 5/16" lag bolts. I finished it off by screwing end caps onto each end of the nipple, which would keep the pipe in place but could be easily removed. The ladder was able to free float against the wall and also had about 9" of left/right movement if you so desired to reposition it.

The last thing I added was a railing. This was a simple unit made from more 3/4" black steel pipe and fittings. In this case it consisted of two 16" nipples, one 5' nipple, four 90 degree elbows, two close nipples and two closet flanges. I then screwed the railing to the outside rail and that completed the project.

In the end, the pitch wasn't as bad as I was afraid it might be. In fact, the basement staircase we have at our place in Maine is way worse. You certainly want to pay attention but you can comfortably descend them like normal stairs. Success. More importantly, Ben and Rebecca liked them, which is the best part of doing projects like this.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Evening Sunset

It was a pretty amazing sunset this evening, even view from between the trees in the back yard. Pink sky at night. Should mean good things for tomorrow's racing action out in Northampton, MA. Let's hope so as the weather for Sunday seems to be a bit more questionable, at least I hope.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Ready for the Snow

Now all we need is some snow. Actually, as much as I love the snow and riding in the snow and racing CX in the snow, I'm not quite for the real deal yet. This week we finally got some of the cold. Lets have a chance to deal with that a bit before we hop right into winter. Not much fall this year what with mild temperatures and the total lack of moisture creating Dust Bowl conditions similar to the Dirty Thirties. It has made bike cleanup easy though.

Anyhow, this winter if indeed we get a winter, Cathy and I plan to hop on the bandwagon and give the whole fat/snowbike thing a go. We opted to go with a new entry into the fatbike market Cooker Maxi from Charge Bikes. They are a smaller UK based hipster company that makes lots of steel urban bikes, dirt-jump bikes, fixies and the like. They are owned by Dorel Industries out of Quebec, who also owns Cannondale, thus the channel connection for us and to our shop, the Bikeway Source. Cannondale proper has yet to fully commit to a fatbike so instead are making the Charge bikes available through their dealers.

I'd never ridden a fatbike before. I must admit that my first impression is wow, this thing is a tank. It literally rolls over stuff. Stairs for instance. You can just plow into, up and over them and the massive 4" tires just suck it up with no hit of a rim strike. You also get a crazy amount of flywheel effect when the enormous mass of the wheels and tires get up to speed.

I only have a few minutes on the bike so far, literally in the parking lot, but plan to hit the trails for a shakedown. In terms of the bike though, it is a Tange cromoly frame and fork with good quality, entry level components. SRAM X-5 drivetrain, FSA double crank and standard 1.125" pressed in headset, drilled out rims with offset lacing rear, 135mm spacing front and rear, decent looking house brand parts and hydraulic brakes. The bike is no flyweight but honestly, it is lighter than you'd expect I think, though I've not yet weighed it.

Complete bike runs about $1600 so a reasonable means of getting into the sport. Cathy and I look at it as a good way to see if we like it without totally breaking the bank. Of course, now we are going to have to find a way to race the things this winter.

Honestly, we are looking forward to spending some time on the sled trails in Maine and probably getting over to the Kingdom Trails as well. It's all about the fun and adventure and though we have ridden plenty in the winter, having bikes specifically designed for it has got to make it more enjoyable.

If you want to check them out and throw a leg over it, hit me up. I'm happy to show it off. If you want one, talk to Chris at the shop right here in Bedford. The large at least are currently shipping. Not sure what the date is for the size medium yet, which we ordered for Cathy. I'm certain that it won't be long.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

CX Racing Frenzy Recap

I'm so far behind on the race reports that I don't really think there is any point in trying to recap most of them. I think that I started on the big block of Holy Week(s) but only got as far as Gloucester, which at this point was like a decade ago.

Clean start to a big field.
After that came Providence. To quickly summarize, it was a pretty good weekend. Day one saw a lead group of four, of which I was luckily one along with Paul, Roger and Steve, escape and settle in early in the first lap. The course was bone dry and really fun and fast. We each took turns at the front trying, but nobody could dislodge anyone else. The most decisive move was simply getting to the front into the stairs on the far side. It was there that we hit the traffic that would pretty much decide the order. I was sitting third wheel with Roger leading, Paul in front of me and Steve behind me. I got caught up in traffic in the S turns before the stairs and then got T-boned by a racer trying to remount at the top of the stairs. This opened a gap and let Steve get past me. From there it was a myriad of traffic and frantic passes trying to stay attached to the group. A few bike lengths was all it took and Roger and Paul hit the final pavement together for the sprint, which Paul took. I came on behind Steve who crushed the finish sprint leaving me to settler for last man.

That was hard.
 Day two turned out to be a blessing for me. Just before our race started the rain began to fall. On the line it was a steady drenching and the course turned to grease. I wasn't feeling great, mostly from the previous day's effort, so adding the technical aspect would be invaluable in allowing me to fake it. As soon as we hit the first grass it became apparent how slick things really were and how decisive it was to be. People were hitting the deck left and right. I stayed near the front and when Roger drilled it out of the hairpin around the announcer's tower, I went with him. He was struggling a bit with the corners and having little to lose, I decided to attack in the fast stretch along the pit. I made the pass and cleaned the chicanes to the flyover. Roger did not and quickly a big gap opened. I went as hard and steady as I could and rode the front solo for what seemed an eternity. Unfortunately the conditions started to improve just as my legs started to raise the white flag. Steve had been chasing hard with Kenny Wynn just behind him for the entire race. I could see him getting closer and coming around for one to go, he caught me. Steve was driving the bike incredibly well, adapting to the improved conditions while I was still riding conservatively to the initial conditions. That was all it took and soon a gap opened. The order stayed the same and I unfortunately missed my opportunity. Still, much much better than I'd expected going into the day, a day I'd resigned to damage control.

Climbing aboard the McCormack train.
Thus ended the holiness and got us back to the normal season. The following weekend was a pair of smaller races, both of which were part of the Zanconato Single Speed Series which meant we would be all about the single speed. Check that, for some reason we've decided that doubling up and doing two races in one day is once again a good thing. I'd sworn it off in the past because it usually just leads to mediocrity in both races. However, the idea of two races for $35 appeals to the Yankee side so there you go, we were all in on the double. For Cathy that meant that for the Mansfield Hollow race she would be doing the women's 1/2/3 race and then the SSCX race with an hour break in between. For me it was the men's 1/2/3 race and then right into the SSCX race, effectively 90 continuous minutes of CX racing fun. In short, the course was great and super challenging. The elite race had some really fast guys who rode hard. I had an awful start but chased up to the McCormack train, eventually fighting through the family that races together but unable to get up to the remnants of the lead group. That left me in fifth place.

Family at the race is awesome.
Change bikes and it was right into the SSCX race where again, my start was lackluster. I finally chased to the lead group of Mark McCormack and Sean Rudzinsky after a long, long time and spent some time dangling off them. Eventually I recovered a bit and tried some some on the front, unsuccessfully. Mark apparently had some extra left from the 1/2/3 race and drilled it out of the sand, opening a gap which I had no answer for. Sean and I battled for second and at one point, I gave up and told him I was going nowhere so he should go if he can. He went to the front and within a hundred yards I recovered enough of my dignity to come around a continue the chase. We stayed together but never caught Mark and the finish literally came down to a very extended all out sprint. An excellent day and a pair of very fun races.

Yes, Cathy took the sprint.
The next day was the Minuteman Road Club's race. Again it was all about the SSCX for Cathy and I and this time, only the SSCX. Cathy's folks were also visiting and decided to head out to the race with us so we decided to make a day of it. We packed food and beers and chairs along with all of our gear and headed to Lancaster, MA and the Bolton Fairgrounds on a splendid fall day. We spectated and cheered as many teammates raced and soon it was time for the premier and ultimate race of the day, the SSCX event in which we had a large number of teammates. We all took off together as one big group of single-speeders. I took the lead but was quickly overtaken by Sean Mottram with Matt Myette just behind me. We quickly got a gap from the chase and within a lap Matt fell off the group leaving Sean and I ahead. I tried to overtake Sean a few times but he was having no part of it. Finally a few laps in Sean's zip tied bike, which he opted for over the dedicated SSCX which had too much gear on it, shifted and jumped to a smaller gear. This left him way spun out. I seized the opportunity and attacked hard up the power section into the hillside. This proved enough to keep ahead, narrowly. Coming into the final stretch of the race I could see Cathy just up ahead. She was going like mad to stay ahead of me. Coming in to the finish straight I passed her and she jumped on my wheel. As we approached the line it came down to a sprint finish. She came around perfectly at the last minute and got me on the line, earning her final lap. It was a great day and wonderful to have family there to be part of it all.

Cathy working the sand.
Moving forward a week we decided that for the first time in a long time, we would only race one day of the weekend. This was in part due to the fact there the race choices were somewhat limited. Imagine that, a lull in the schedule caused by the absence of one of the best races all year, the Downeast CX Race in New Gloucester, ME. This allowed us to check out a race that was new last season and that we missed out on, the Hanover Cross Race in Hanover, NH. A bit of a drive but put on by a good local guy, Mike Whitfield and the HUP United folks. The course was absolutely awesome with a ton of sand and some very challenging woodsy sections. Because we were only racing Saturday Cathy and I doubled up on the 1/2/3 and SSCX combo.

Front of the 1/2/3 race.
The 1/2/3 field saw some good local KMS talent take the line as well as Bikeman's Sheldon Miller, who has been doing really well in the elite 35+ field at the big series events this year. I looked forward to the challenge and the opportunity to race some new folks. The KMS kids led by Ansel Dickey killed it off the line, literally punching out ahead. A few of us started the chase and soon Sheldon made his way to the front. Within a lap the kids stopped gaining and we started pulling them back. I also was able to gain time on everyone else by hopping the barriers. It was no faster but I could get back to speed significantly faster and gain a few bike lengths each time. I could already see how the race was going to unfold. Sheldon and I worked in tandem to steadily chase back to the then, sole leader Ansel. We stayed together a while and then started with some attacks which ended up dislodging Ansel. With a few laps remaining I hit hard every place I could and managed to pry a gap on Sheldon. The rest of the race was a hard fight to maintain but it did indeed hold.

From there it was a quick bike change and right into the SSCX race. Again it was Sheldon and I, who also did the double on his zip-tied bike, vying for the lead. We traded off and on until a gap opened when I was able to ride a steep uphill section that Sheldon had to run. The race was brutally hard the who time with little, or rather no respite throughout. It was a battle to the end but the gap held with Sheldon only feet behind and Kip Roberts not far behind him. The single-speed events have truly proven to be some of my favorite and most fiercely challenging races of the season. I can not say enough good stuff about them. Top that off with awesome trophies and an unadvertised payout for the elite races and Hanover Cross is a race not to be missed.

Cathy pushing hard, as always.
So this brings us to last weekend. We were back to racing both days of the weekend but both Cathy and I were battling colds and feeling a bit run down from the season so far. As such we decided to go with just one race each day. Slackers. On Saturday it was all in for Canton Cross, which was local. The course is pretty nondescript and fast but brutally hard in the amount of power required. We both decided to go for the elite races which were late in the afternoon. On the line it became evident that not only was there a bunch of talent who waited until the last minute to register but also a bunch more that waited until that day. The men's race had nearly fifty guys of whom I'm pretty sure I was by far the oldest take the line. I garnered a front row start some how and remarkably had an awesome start. I hit the first turn off the pavement in about 4th spot and picked up a spot in the chicanes of the field. On the downhill run in to the mini-barriers I moved around Mike Wissell and Adam Myerson to slot into first spot. I did this in order to get a clean run at the barriers, which I planned to hop. I hit the first at nearly full speed and easily cleared it then somehow managed to clear the second cleanly as well. Wow, it worked and I got a small gap. I stayed in the front through the run up, and the ride up and over the barriers.

Leading the race until everyone passed me
At that point I heard Cathy exclaim "nice work, remember, it's a long race". This I knew as well but thanks for the reminder and with that I fell back into line just as the pace ratcheted up. Not surprisingly I was pretty gassed and started the death slide. Adam flatted at that point though and there was some mayhem in the slick grass chicanes of the field. I probably fell back to 10th or so before recovering enough to chase back up to the Mike, Charlie and Brendan train. More wheel sucking recovery and then I could eventually get back to racing. Mike and I started hitting it hard which dislodged first Brendan and then Charlie. With a few laps to go I could see Adam chasing his way back up and dragging a whole train of guys with him so we continued to flee. Just as he was about to catch, in the barriers, he tripped and stacked hard. We again began the mad scurry and avoided the inevitable for most of that lap. The good thing was that this time, only Adam was coming up to us. I kept the pressure as high as I could for the final lap, knowing that if it came to a three person sprint I wanted everyone to be at least a little tired. This ended up gapping Mike off the group and left me bringing Adam to the sprint, where he easily beat me leaving me in 7th. Still, a pretty solid effort. I was really pleased with the start though as well as the barrier hops. That is coming around as well. I'll take it.

The team post races with a 1st, 2nd and 3rd.
The next day would be all about fun at the Orchard Cross race in Hampton Falls, NH. This is a great venue with a fun course and a wonderful place to spectate and cheer on your friends and teammates. We decided to spend the day there and do the final race of the day, the SSCX event, which was another series event. the day saw a win by our teammate PJ as well as a second and third place finish for teammates Kyle and Skip. Later we watched teammate John battle a great race and then Noah work super hard in the elite race. Soon it was time for the SSCX race to begin, just as the sun dipped low behind the clouds as the temperature fell. I convinced both Kyle and Noah to double up and do the SSCX race with Cathy and I. Suckers. My plan was to just follow, which of course lasted exactly until the whistle blew. I went out hard and tried to get a gap but Matt Myette and Matt Sousa were glued to me. Just before the silty run up they passed me and then I stumbled and a gap opened. I closed on Matt S. but Matt M. was able to claw so running room. It took half a lap but I finally bridged up and followed a bit. In the same spot Matt passed me the lap before, I passed him back and by riding the second run up, was able to get a small gap. Over the next few laps the small gap got minutely larger until with two to go, Matt put in a hard charge. I saw him coming so sped a bit as well but he halved the distance between us. Unfortunately, the effort left he tapped and he was unable to close the deal. I was just glad to finish safely.

Best costume ever.
So, it has been a long string of racing and truth be told, we are not nearly done yet, fortunately. I'm not ready for the season to end yet. I still have many unmet goals and aspirations left. Frankly, I'm having too much fun with this and simply can't get enough.

A long winded blurb about me but I don't want to close without bringing attention to the fact the the other half of the Two Adventures team, Cathy, has been having an absolutely incredible season. She has won a number of key races and has been consistently beating ladies that she historically has not. Congratulations. Your hard work is really paying off. We have both been very lucky this year. We've had stellar competition and more often than not, things seem to work out very well for us. Honestly, that holds true in many, many walks of life. I recognize that. I appreciate that and I am dearly thankful for that and for all those who help and who encourage so avidly at each and every race. Thank you.