Thursday, February 28, 2013

Making Shavings

Getting good use from the brand I built last spring.
I spent a little more time recently making some nice wood shavings, saw dust and scrap out of some nice pieces of hardwood. Well you can't make omelet without breaking a few eggs I guess. It was good fun regardless and  the finished product was novel and functional if not wholly necessary.

The neat aspect of this project was that I actually made from scrap that I lying around anyhow so it cost nothing but time and watts to power the electrical equipment. The top was a maple stool seat blank that was rejected from the furniture maker my brother works for. I chose to leave it as an Isosceles Trapezoid, a shape the accentuates natural perspective. The legs were old legs from an old sewing table I'd made years ago that I tore apart and had lying in the wood pile. I simply cut them down and planed them. The rails were hardwood flooring I had leftover.

The other really neat thing about it is that I treated it more like a sculpture project than a functional project. Literally after it was functionally complete I started to look differently, aesthetically with an artistic eye rather than a purely functional eye. That was where the progression of holes came from. Small detail I know but it made me think and elicited a response. It was also fun getting them spaced correctly, geometrically speaking. 

I've got to say that it has been a very, very long time since that side of my brain has fired and it felt really good. That type of thing was my actual background as I'm an artist by training. That's right, I actually went to school for art and was supposed to be the creative type. It always came naturally and I really didn't have to fight to get it out and much of what came out ended up being pretty well accepted.

Any accolades from my early years didn't seem to come from sports activity. No, I was never the person that was gifted at sports, or at least I was never the one who had the discipline, dedication or desire to become good at sports. I suspect the reality is that I could have been much better had I tried harder. No, the recognition and awards I got were primarily art based. Even in competition at the regional and national level I seemed to fair well.

Alas, when it came down to making a living there was none to be found for me in and around art, at least not when I got out of school. We were in another housing speculation and bad banking induced recession which meant that graphics and advertising budgets were thin if at all and artists were simply not necessary.

The truth was that I wasn't all that good as a graphic artist. It wasn't really what I excelled at but seemed one of the few places one could actually make a reasonable living as an artist. As such, I followed the potential for employment. Really though, at least at this point, I think I prefer physical 3D art or sculpture and really enjoy doing architectural based sculpture, such as furniture.

Anyhow, the latest project was a step in what I think may be the right direction. I'm going to try and do some more stuff like that, that is more about emotion and feelings than about pure function. There is nothing better than creating something the evokes an emotional response. A work that makes you smile, makes you laugh, or just makes you feel.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

That Hurt

Let the training begin. As I have said before, I simply can not believe how quickly the 2013 race season is approaching and how I seem to find myself behind in preparation. It feels like the proverbial bad dream where you wake up the morning of a deliverable, realizing that you have forgotten to start let alone complete it. Funny though, from what I am seeing, I don't seem to be the only one that missed the memo.

For as early and intense as last year's training start was for everyone, primarily due to the lack of winter, this year seems to be the exact opposite. Many people really haven't been riding their bikes at all. For me, I have been riding the whole time, it was simply that my plan was cyclocross specific and included mostly shorter, more intense sessions. It is only the past couple of weeks that I've started to really tack on the miles, getting back up over 200 miles a week. In fact, the ride that we did this past Saturday, a reasonably sane four and a half hours with most of the folks on the newly consolidated Bikeway Source/Bell lap Racing team, was probably the longest ride that I had done since August, nearly six months ago.

Last week team-mate and ride buddy Kyle and I hammered out the first fast and hard two hour road ride of the season. Last night Keith joined us and we extended the loop a bit and got in a brutally hard attack on the slightly modified to add a couple really punchy hills, Turkey Vulture's Revenge ride. We stayed together for the first half but whittled down to two after the new hill additions. I got in a solid hour of zone 3 and another hour of zone four with a few minutes hitting zone 5, which I suspect was gated by the lack of recovery. My legs were screaming the last hour as were my knees from pushing so hard to try and maintain the power and speed. We played off from each other and didn't hold anything back trying to keep the pace high. We finished with over 47 miles and a solid average speed. Not too bad on fully fendered cyclocross bikes, albeit  running road tires.

So the first race that I am currently registered for is Battenkill. We have a team of three of us, Kyle, Mike H. and I, heading out to compete in the master's 45+ race on Saturday. This will be the first time that I have really had a team, although Ben and I raced it last year. That race is just about six and a half weeks away. Not much time to cram for it but I'm certainly going to try. I'm really hopeful but we will have to see how it goes. I'm thinking that I may hit the Burlingame MTB TT that is coming up in a few weeks just to see how that goes. It should be good if I still have some short-fast cyclocross fitness left from the race season. It will also be a chance to try the Cannondale Scalpel 29er that Cathy got me for Christmas. I still haven't had a chance to ride it on dirt yet.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Back in the Wood Shop

The raw materials, with the top already glued.
It has been some time since I have done any real wood projects. I had the opportunity to do a whole lot of projects and build a number of different things this fast spring, which brought great satisfaction to me. This past summer and fall however were super busy what with riding, racing and working.

The other reality was that the job was taking a whole lot of the wind out of my sails and had me pretty down. I find it really difficult to sit at a desk for nine or ten hours a day and do the same thing, watching life slip away, while doing something that I really didn't enjoy. I suspect that had I grown up 30 years later than I actually did that I'd have been labeled with all sorts of spiffy acronyms and would have been on numerous helpful drugs to correct those acronyms. As luck had it I grew up before society subscribed to pharmaceutical based homogenization.

Anyhow, I was saying that it had been since the spring that I had spent any time woodworking. I've always enjoyed making things, tangible things that you could see and feel. I suspect that was really my true calling and passion and am often remiss that I never ended up in a vocation that would allow and foster that. In  the past I would build things in my spare time. I'd always have multiple projects going either building stuff or working on the house or doing some other similar thing. When we got into bicycle racing, some of that tapered off. In the past few years as racing has gotten more and more serious and consumed more and more time, the side projects have been drastically reduced.

Underside detail of the rail/top and rail/leg/corner attachments.
This year with cyclocross heading into the extra innings that it did there was never any down time to use the creative side. With that, I made some time to start doing some stuff and have been acting on that. A few home projects here and there and a little bit of woodworking. I've already got a number of projects planned or in the works and I finished one up last week. Nothing too terribly difficult and nothing that I had't done many times in the past, but still something tangible and tactile.

We wanted a new end stand for the living room, one that would work well with the sectional sofa that we have and one that would match the decor of the room. Most of our furniture is made of cherry and the floors are rustic maple hardwood. It just so happened that I had a stash of 5/4 cherry that I purchased years ago for a project that never materialized. I also had a couple boxes of the maple flooring that I'd installed in the house when we did the addition back in 2005. All the I had to purchase was some 3/4 x 2" maple that I would glue up into the legs. Entire monetary outlay would be low, materials wise about $20.

Finished product sprayed with clear lacquer.

The plan was to make a simple four leg table using side rails that were notched for the corner blocks that secured the legs via lag bolts through the block. I'd used this technique, the same technique that is commonly used for dining room tables, on most all of the tables I'd built. It makes a good solid connection and a secure fit. I've also started using the plate joiner to drop biscuits in the leg/rail butt connection. This means that the legs don't come off but it also allows for perfect alignment of the interface. Without that, you get varying alignment which I find visually annoying.

I pulled the cherry stock I had, ran the edges over the bench jointer to face them, cut biscuit slots with the plate joiner and glued them up into a rough 1 x 3' table top. They were clamped up with a row of bar clamps and left to cure. The rails were made of the leftover rustic maple flooring which I ran through the thickness planer to remove the finish on (the flooring was pre-finished with clear baked urethane). I then cut and glued the maple 1 x 2" into 2 x 2" legs and clamped them up to cure as well.

The rails were cut to length and V-notched back from the ends a bit using a shallow set dado stack on the table saw set at a 45 degree angle. That required slight modification of the custom made blade fence but was easy to do. Eight quick passes on the saw and I had the notched insets for the corner blocks. Some more simple biscuit cuts in the rail ends and the legs and I could dry assemble the unit to verify the length I'd need for my corner blocks.

Do some measuring, drill some holes and assemble the rails to the legs via the corner blocks and it it all held together nicely. Next I needed to finish off the table top which meant finish cutting and then planing the edges and the surface slightly. A bunch of sanding to get the desired finish and it was ready to install to the lower. To do this I used the neat pocket hole jig that my brother got me for Christmas a few years back.

As it sits now, covered in stuff.
The rest of the table was very simple form wise with straight legs and only hand sanded edges to dull them a bit. I chose not to fully round or 45 them, both of which I have done in the past on other projects. The router stayed in the case and never got called into play for this project.

Once it was complete and assembled, I fired up the custom brand I'd built to stamp the underside and cleaned it off to receive the finish. For the finish I first applied a coat of lacquer sanding sealer with a brush. Once dry, I then sanded that out with steel wool, cleaned the dust off and shot a few coats of semi-gloss clear lacquer through the paint gun. This quickly dried to a clear, hard protective finish which I sanded any imperfections with more steel wool. A coat of furniture polish and it was set to go.

A fun little project that reminded just how satisfying it is to create something from raw materials. I'm hoping that I will have more to come shortly. I've got another end table I want to build, this one a cherry and oak combination to match a different room we have. I've also got an idea for a neat spiral cat tower that I think I may make.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Better than the Trainer

Yes it was snow/raining, and wet.

Yes, it was cold and we didn't have bike fenders.

Yes, the bike path turned into one giant, never ending three inch deep  slush puddle.

Yes we were on single speeds cyclocross bikes with knobby cross tires and yes, my butt is still frozen even after a long hot shower. 

I will contest, however, that it was still better than riding the trainer any day of the week. 

Where's the adventure in that anyhow?

Saturday, February 23, 2013


Last Wednesday Opie and Ellie turned three years old, at least as best we can tell. Regardless, that is the date we have marked as their birthday and the day that we celebrate their birth each year. It is hard to believe that it has already been three years. They are getting so big. OK, they are cats, and at three they are more than full grown. So full grown in fact that they are on restricted diets; no self restraint you know.

As has become tradition, we get a birthday cake from Concord Tea Cakes with the "Happy Birthday Opie & Ellie" message written on it. The ladies at Concord Tea Cakes always get a kick out of the fact that we do this every year. They always smile as I tell them what I want written on the cake and they realize that it probably isn't for our children. Really it is. This year I bought them a raspberry lemon cake, which they enjoyed greatly. As usual, we made them wear their party hats which they enjoyed much less. Always the good sports though, they suffered through it for the party shots.

Besides sampling the frosting on the cake, they each got a tiny piece of cake as well, which it is safe to say, they enjoyed. Once a year probably won't ruin the diet. It was a good time for all and Cathy and I were glad to share some of the cake as well, given how we had missed out on cake for my birthday this year. We feel fortunate to be able to celebrate it with them and wish them a happy and health year.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Bring out the Slop

Everything at our house comes in pairs.
Late winter and early spring road riding in the Northeast can and usually is a mixed bag. Some days are cold and dry but more often we will have wet, gritty and nasty road conditions even on nice sunny days. In fact, the nice sunny days are often the most causing the roadside snowbanks that we traditionally have to melt and flood out into the road. The other thing that we get lots of in New England is road salt. Nasty stuff for sure which loves nothing greater than to eat Toyota pickup frames or destroy your fancy bicycle components.

Each year we go through the motions of putting full fenders on a bicycle that we deem our winter training bike. Often this is some older beater bike that we don't mind giving the abuse to. However, the winter and spring training bike got a whole lot of use. You see, some of the biggest rides of the year tend to be in the late winter and early spring, before race season starts. These are the base miles if you will and often the will be four or more hour rides. Yes, that means long rides in often miserable conditions on a beater bike that isn't really all that much fun to ride.

Ready to go.
A few years back I made the realization that spending a lot of time in crappy conditions on a crappy bike was stupid when I had all sorts of nice bikes sitting around, depreciating. The reality is that bicycles and bicycle parts are not gold and they are not investments. They will not appreciate for the most part over time and worse, as sporting goods in a throw-away consumer based high-tech marketplace, they will become obsolete way too quickly even if they are in great shape still. With that, we started using nice bikes as our trainer bikes and have been doing so ever since.

Last year was basically a no-op with warm temperatures and no snow. This year has been different though, especially of recent. Early season we got some light nuisance snow, not enough to actually ski on but enough to make MTB riding difficult and the roads nasty. Then it dried up and looked as though we would have another banner year. Then it got cold and started to snow. Since then we have had cold, wind and wet roads. Throw in some occasional rain and it has been a mess. Good old fashioned winter is here, so to speak.

Disc brakes and full fenders keep things clean in the spring slop.
This year we purchased new backup cyclocross bikes with the intent of having them serve as winter training bikes as well. We made sure that they had clearance and eyelets for full fenders. We chose bikes that were good quality and not obscenely heavy while also not too expensive. We also chose bikes that had disc brakes. This was actually the prerequisite and impetus for getting backup cross bikes in the first place as our primary race bikes are disc equipped and I found it cumbersome switching from a disc to rim brake bike during the middle of a race, should an incident occur. That dramatically limited the possibilities, especially when coupled with the fact that we couldn't justify spending a whole ton of money after we had just gotten finished spending a whole ton of money on our race bikes, the pair of Cannondale SuperX disc that Cathy and I purchased this past fall.

The weapon of choice or at least, the weapon of physical and budgetary availability turned out to be 2012  Raleigh RX2.0 aluminum cyclocross bikes equipped with disc brakes. Chris at our shop was able to get these bikes in quickly during the cross season which was one of the biggest selling points. The competition was all unfortunately out of stock.

Sealed cables and inline adjusters.
These bikes came stock with a respectable Shimano 105 drivetrain which we promptly switched to SRAM Rival in order to be consistent with the SRAM on our primary race bikes. I also made a few other performance related improvements which included adding sealed shift cables and housings to help keep out some of the crud and keep the shifting working as well as it possibly could. A few other setup changes including stems and seatposts from the parts bin which got the fit inline, swapped to Avid BB7 from the stock BB5 also a parts bin salvage and a swap to the Stan's 340 disc wheelsets that we had left over from the tubular conversion on the race bikes were a huge weight improvement. With the wheels I also swapped the rear disc rotor from a 160mm to a 140mm, which is more than enough. The front could only take a 160mm or larger rotor though as it used the old IS mount on the fork rather than the newly adopted old standard post mount design, which has actually been slightly modified as well to allow 140mm rotors.

The finished product is a respectable if slightly pudgy by race standards, bike that has good working components and is as fun to ride during really miserable conditions as one can expect. It also has lots of spiffy green accents that look marvelous. Accessorize! All in all, a pretty good choice for the long rides in miserable conditions that we are in the midst of,

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Searching for Trail

With the recent snow the trails really aren't very rideable on an MTB. Clearly it is to be expected given that we had two feet of snow dumped on us. That said, usually we can find areas that have been beaten down by foot traffic to the point where one can ride said trails. No, it isn't usually all that much fun and it's not great riding but when the temperature is in the teens and the wind is howling, most anything is better that riding the road.

Times like those are often good times to diversify and take part in other winter specific non-cycling activity. In the past, that is exactly what I've do immersing myself in XC skiing and snowshoeing. At the start of the season I was really looking forward to doing just that but as the season wore on and the snows didn't come, I sort of lost interest. Now that we actually have some snow I'm struggling with motivation to get out there and take advantage of that snow.

Yesterday I was determined to try and find some trail that had been sufficiently packed to make it rideable on an MTB. I knew that most of the local places just didn't get enough foot traffic but targeted one of the most heavily used areas around, Estabrook Woods. This place gets a myriad of users from dog-walkers to XC skiers to snow-shoers to runners and hikers. If any place is to be packed down this is likely to be it.

My weapon of choice was the Yeti 575 with the fat tires and cushy, frozen pock-mark neutralizing suspension. My plan was to try and ride the railroad bed out and avoid the roads. That lasted for a very short while as the bed simply hadn't gotten sufficient traffic to pack it down. Reluctantly I slunk off onto the road to make the five mile ride to the trail into a fierce headwind on a bike that rode like a mattress. All that I could do was about 14mph on the way over while working way too hard and sweating profusely. That would probably come back to haunt me as the temperature started to dip later in the day.

After what seemed an eternity, I finally made it to the trail and as luck would have it, those healthy and active Concord residents had indeed been out packing the living sin out of the trail. It was bumpy in places from the foot traffic but pounded to a concrete firm surface that was about 14" wide. There was also a defined XC ski track that the walkers seemed to be staying out of on many of the trails. Despite all of the dog walkers I saw very few poopsicles. This was awesome and I rode much of the packed stuff with joy.

As I came back onto Estabrook Road I decided to try my luck and take the trail that lies at the very end of the road as the conservation land ends and residential housing in Carlisle begins. This was a pretty rugged mix of light foot traffic and some XC ski traffic packing a narrow trail. It was downhill though and with lots of wiggling to maintain balance and forward momentum I made it through and to the uphill portion. Unfortunately it was so bumpy that I could not maintain purchase on the narrow strip of packed trail and floundered off, coming to a dead stop. Getting going uphill was tough and I continued to flounder until the trail intersection with the Bee-Sting trail. I turned right back toward the main woods and continued to struggle, though as the trail improved a bit I found good success.

Once again as the trails merged I chose the one less traveled and this time paid the price. That section was only packed by enough to float in the ski track itself. The tracks were separated by a ridge of unpacked snow that would swallow your rear tire if you crossed between the ski tracks. Riding that 3" of usable packed surface proved to required more balance than I could muster when the trail started to head gently uphill and I bobbled time and again.

Eventually I came back into Two Rod Road which I turned right onto and progressed back into well packed area of trail. What a huge relief but at that point, the day and daylight were beginning to wear thin and I still had a slow 6 mile road ride home once I got out of the woods. With that I exited at Punkatassett Hill and sped north on Monument Road toward RT225 and the long straight drag back home.

Much work for a relatively short trail ride but when the going was good, it was very fun stuff. Maybe I'll go do some searching off the MinuteMan in Arlington and Lexington. Great Meadow usually gets lots of traffic.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Saturday Biathlon Fun

Chris getting everything set to go.
Given the hectic cycling schedule leading up to the world championships adventure coupled with the poor winter conditions we have had for the past couple of seasons, we have not been to the local Biathlon meets in a some time. In fact, I don't believe that we made it there at all last season and we only made it once this season, yesterday, which was the final event.

These events are put on by the Harvard Sportsman's Club biathlon program, which is run by our friend Chris with help from a number of other club members like Ned and Bob. They are all good, dedicated folks and put on an excellent event despite the environmental challenges that we have had the past couple seasons. As we all know, last week we got a couple of feet of snow in this area. Unfortunately, we got some rain and warm temperatures this past week which made a bit of a mess of things. The course was left challenging to say the least.

Fired up for the start.
We arrived at the club at 8AM yesterday to help setup the range. The club purchased five sets of regulation flip-up targets. Each target is remotely resettable as well as adjustable for prone or offhand target sizing. They are made of solid steel and weigh about 100 pounds each without the legs. We also had to flag the range, run the remote reset cords, pack the infield down and put out the shooting mats at each of the stations. Nothing that was too terribly difficult and was made quick work of.

We then took some time to zero the rifles. Cathy and I used our rifle, a Savage Mark II with a custom Eastern Sierra Armory biathlon stock. Others used their own rifles, many with very nice high end Anshutz or Izhmash, or folks who didn't own their own could borrow a rifle from those that Chris has for the biathlon program. During the practice Cathy was shooting very well at first but I was struggling. I find the prone position difficult to get a good steady rest from and get comfortable enough to shoot. Anyhow, we knew that the issues were more a matter of us and that the rifle sights were pretty darn accurate.

Part of the issue is that the target we shoot at is pretty small. The official offhand (standing holding the rifle and shooting without resting the rifle on anything) target size is 115mm (4.5") in diameter. The official prone (lying on your stomach to shoot) target size is 45mm (1.8") in diameter. The distance at which you shoot from is 50m (164'). That's a pretty small target to shoot at through a peep site with no magnification, at least I think so.

Cathy making it look easy.
We had a pretty good turnout for the event with just about ten of us doing the race. A few brave souls, each of whom had their own spiffy Euro rifles, chose to both ski with their weapon harnessed to their back and shoot Match Class (~Cat 2), which is regulation size targets for prone and offhand. The rest of us shot Novice (~Cat 5) class which meant we shot from the prone position at the larger, offhand size targets. Still plenty challenging for most including Cathy and I. The race starts with a loop of the full ~1.7km (~one mile) ski course and then transitions into the first shooting stage upon completion of which you then head back to a ski stage. There are four shooting stages and five ski stages alternating. For each missed target during the shooting stage you have to ski one lap of the short, 150m penalty loop. Pretty straight forward.

The start had racers going off one every 60 seconds. I went off in 4th position and Cathy further back in order to stagger us some as we were sharing the same rifle. In normal fashion my plan was to go as hard as I could and then settle into a pace that I could sustain. It turned out that the conditions were the biggest limiting factor on how fast you (I) could go. The packed section in the back woods was not wide enough to afford me real power or glide. I was constantly having trouble with the ski tip getting out of the packed and into the crust, ripping the ski around and sending me to the deck. As I result I went over the bars not once but three different times during the event as well as one time warming up. I may be able to go pretty hard but it's not really pretty.

Notice how small the row of 5 black targets looks.
On the first lap I was able to catch my one, three and then two minute men and then promptly caught a tip in the crust and wiped out. Scrambled back up and checked to make sure nobody saw me then back at it. I come into the initial shooting stage first. Miraculously, I shot four for five which for me having not shot the rifle in over six months, is pretty solid. One quick penalty lap and I was back out for a full loop. At this point it had started snowing heavy wet flakes and the temperature was in the 40's making for some slow, power sucking skate skiing. Still, it was the same for everyone and it appeared I was putting in some of the quickest ski laps, which had me stoked given it was my second time on skate skis this season and fourth time since 2011.

On my second ski lap I passed Cathy and cheered encouragement for her then came in for the second shooting stage. Again things went surprisingly well and I shot another four for five. One more penalty lap and out on the course again. Making good time I came back in for the third shooting stage to find Cathy finishing up her shooting round. A few short seconds later we handed off the rifle and I shot my round.

Unfortunately, my luck dried up and I shot a miserable two for five. Three lonely and humiliating penance laps later I was back out on course trying to make some time. I came back around for my final shooting stage and repeated my previous disastrous performance. Ready to be done I did my penalty laps and went back out on course to try and finish with at least some dignity. On the narrow and deep back section I caught another tip and face-planted, flopping helplessly in the snow, curing to the surrounding wildlife and fir trees.

Coming in for the finish.
I managed to finish up though without further incident and retained my position, ending up with nearly an hour good quality intensity. I'm sore as sin today, that's for sure. Cathy finished up strong, struggling even worse than I with the shooting stages, something that is very atypical for her. She usually has better luck than I do at the range.

Many thanks to Chris and the folks at the Harvard Sportsman's Club for having these events. It's a great was for people to try something very different. It is also a good introduction to firearm sport and firearm safety. It's also a whole lot of fun. The biathlon program runs all year long and will convert to run/bike stages replacing ski stages once the snow is gone. Let me know if you want more information.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Christine's Doughnuts

It has literally been about a year since we noticed the new bakery that went into the small, less than glamorous plaza storefront on RT4 in Billerica, just over the Concord River. We noticed it initially because we bike by there on a regular basis and noted the improvements to the small plaza which included the existing mini-mart as well as a new pizza place called Wicked Cheezy and this place, Christine's Bakery and Cafe. What really caught our attention was that their sign clearly stated that they make doughnuts daily. Being somewhat of a fiend for quality doughnuts, I put them on the list to give a try.

The time flew by and we never had the chance or made the time to go and check them out. This isn't really a terrible thing of course as we all know the last thing I need need is another dozen doughnuts. Yesterday morning I finally made the time and took the long four mile trip up to the wilds of scenic Billerica to visit Christine's.

I was greeted by a friendly and exuberant young man with tattoos and piercings behind the counter who was more than happy to help me. Quickly I surveyed the offerings and was taken by the variety they had, especially at 10AM in the morning. I could see that they were nearing the end of the run but there was still some product left and they had a good number of choices from which to choose. I noticed that they did not make many cake doughnuts or at least they did not have many cake doughnuts available at that point. These were all traditional raised, old-fashioned doughnuts. Nothing wrong with that and in fact, I believe that much of the art and artistry comes from this style of doughnut, getting the consistency correct so as to have a light flaky product and not a heavy brick. I placed an order for a dozen consisting of a good sampling of the wares while chatting with the folks there and a very nice elderly gentleman.

Visually the offerings looked very good and although on the small side from Kane's supersized standards, were a traditional sized doughnut. The staple base was the glazed raised to which they then added toppings. They had a colorful chocolate grenache with sprinkles topping, a crumbled Heath Bar topping, coconut and sliced almond as well as an old-fashioned plain and chocolate to name a few. They also had a choice few jelly left, my benchmark doughnut. They also had supersized coffee rolls meant to split with a group which looked pretty good but were not the object of my affection.

I was very hopeful that these creations would taste as good as they looked. I really like patronizing the local small business and these folks fit the bill. Upon first bite into the jelly my hopes were confirmed. This was the real deal. It was quality over quantity with the doughnut having a light, airy consistency that literally melted in your mouth. It was subtle and felt that way on the palate. They make an excellent desert doughnut or are great as part of a balanced breakfast, preferably with bacon.
Honestly, really respectable product from a small local business. Not a chain, not a mass production shop. Good folks making good stuff. Give them a try, I don't think that you will be disappointed. I wasn't. I'll certainly be back.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentines Day

Happy Valentines Day!

Caught Behind

I'm sitting here trying to make sense of it all. Somehow, I seem to be a month behind on spring training. People are wanting to go out and do hill intervals while I am just looking for some nice and easy, some rest, some recovery. Racing just wrapped up not even two weeks ago and I've got to admit, I'm beat.

I also can't believe that it is the middle of February already. It seems like it should be December or early January still. This I'm sure is because cyclocross racing just ended and the month of January was a blur because of it. I'm all messed up. I'd guess that the weather hasn't helped that much either. Last week we had excellent, dry winter MTB riding conditions. Everything was hard and fast with no snow to be found. So much can change within the course of a week.

That said, we are less than a couple of months away from the road and MTB race seasons. My cyclocross specific work was heavily based on short intense workouts. Going hard for two or three hours in a race is going to be a really big shock to the system I suspect. In all honesty, the long road rides will also be a shock. I think that I've only done a small hand-full of rides over three hours in length since August. That means it has been a solid six months of primarily short intensity based work. I hope I remember how to pedal a bike for more than two hours at a time.

Typically, I really look forward to the long spring rides, though I think possibly that the past couple of years have made me somewhat soft, what with the good weather and conditions and all. This year is already having none of that. The roads are narrow, wet and nasty from the snow and residual melt. The roads in the evenings are treacherous as the sun sinks and the temperature drops due to black ice.

With the snow we got last week, there is no chance of heading off-road either, at least not until it gets packed in a bit. We lost a bunch of the snow this week due to the warm temps and rain. With the freezing that is occurring at night, it should not be long before we are able to head off-road on those sections that have received a lot of foot traffic. No, this isn't really great riding but it sure does beat the trainer or hitting the deck from a patch of black ice on the road.

Oh well, I have the disc brake equipped cyclocross pit bike, the Raleigh RX2.0 set up with 25c slicks, fully enclosed cables/housings and full fenders. It is ready to go and this week has gotten a chance to spend some time on the wet nasty roadways. The high pressure slicks certainly feel faster than the cyclocross knobbies. The bike is still a piggy in comparison but will be absolutely fine for this purpose, as a spring training bike. It's amazing how having a really light, stiff and nimble bike that fits really well can ruin you for other bikes. Once again, getting soft I guess.

The reality is that the break is over. Time to get back at it.

Saturday, February 09, 2013


Well, it finally happened and we broke the snow-less trend that started way back last year. Sure, there was some modest snow here and there but not nearly enough to make use of. Nuisance snow really, the kind that was just a pain in the butt. That all changed yesterday when the twin storms converged on the east coast giving way to Nemo the destroyer.

With a full on blizzard raging for better than 24 hours the snow quickly piled up into quantities not seen since the winter of 2011 and single storm quantities that were near or at record levels. Right here we picked up over two feet of fine, course powder which drifted in places well in excess of that.

With the help of the new 28" Ariens Pro snowblower that we purchased in the fall of 2011 and had almost never used, we made short order of the mounds of snow. In looking at some of the tracks in the back yard that I'd cleared I couldn't help think how east it would be to cut some twisties in the back and make a nice  little loop. And so it was.

Anyone want to race? There is no reason that the season has to be over, right? It's only over if we say it's over.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Back in the Day

I was just going through an old disk full of data and checking through some old pictures. Naturally I came across a whole bunch of good old junk, namely some of my old bikes. These are all from the digital (photography) days so don't go back super far, but there was some neat stuff.

They show some of the trends that we were part of back in the day, that day being the very early part of this century. Those trends were highly slanted toward MTB, in fact it was almost exclusively MTB with both single bikes and tandem. We were just starting to get into single-speeds and quickly went from cobbled together bikes to dedicated rigs. We also had a foray into full on lift access downhill at Sunday River, Bromont and Attitash. Freeride was the other component and most of the rides that we did centered around the more technical ride areas in the region; Lynn Woods, Vietnam or any one of a number of rocky outcroppings on the North Shore.

I found a bunch of offroad tandem material including a vintage video of  Cathy and I getting big air on our old Cannondale MTB tandem. We used to ride that thing everywhere and had a crew of others that were up for tandem-insanity rides at places like Lynn Woods, KT or Great Brook. I'm not talking the carriage roads either. We would seek out the gnar and see just what we could do. I recall clearing Stone Row on the tandem once. I also recall breaking something on the bike almost every ride we did. More on that in a post to come, my this weekend if we are locked in due to the impending Snowmageddon blizzard of '13.

Anyhow, here are a few oldies, depending on your age anyhow. Really, to me they don't seem that old.

Old school classic in Bassboat Blue with custom Englund/SID.
The first attempt at SS and I went radical. It proved a poor choice.
A later dedicated Santa Cruz Chameleon SS.
A 38# Freeride hardtail = a bad idea.
Final incarnation of my Bullit. Had them for 8 years. Love!
This bike was insane. Avalanche 8" was endless. 35# complete.
Cathy slayed the DH as well, no kidding. She had skills.
The shop carried Santa Cruz so we had them all.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Hands Warmer

Given all of the outdoor riding that I have been been doing this winter partially due to the lack of snow, I've noted one thing consistently. My hand seem to get really cold, just about every ride. No matter how I dress I always seem to have the initial freeze and thaw with my hands, at which point they are then OK if I keep moving and keep them dry.

There is a work-around for this of course. If I get my heart rate up and going before I start a ride outdoors in the cold, for instance on a trainer indoors, I'm then OK when I go out and ride. If I just go outdoors though and start riding my hands freeze within the first 20 minutes and then eventually thaw and are OK. Sort of minor and not Earth shattering but annoying.

I'm not a big fan of the chemical warmers simply because I hate the idea of something that is just a 'use once throw away' item. I've contemplated heated stuff but really, this year seems to be worse than others in the past where the problem wasn't so pronounced. Or maybe the problem is just more evident this year. Or maybe I'm just getting old and soft.

Anyhow, the point of this was that I thought I'd give something different a try, hand muffs. I'd used them on snowmachines in the past when it was super cold and they helped for sure. It only made sense that they would work on bikes as well, I simply didn't know how the fit would be.

A couple weeks ago I order a couple pairs from a moto specific web retailer that I had used in the past. These were significantly cheaper than the one or two bicycle specific models out there but were designed to work with sleds or ATVs, so I figured that they would work for sure on flat-bars for MTBs. Turns out they they work fine for road drop-bars as well, as long as you ride on the hoods. There isn't enough room with them to get into the drops, at least not for me. They are made from lightweight padded nylon which gives wind resistance and insulation though I suspect, is somewhat breathable. They attach with a simple drawstring that you tie around the bars.

We used them for the first time last night on a SSCX ride around the Battle Road. The temperature when we started was about 24 degrees and it was a little windy but not bad. The muffs were pretty easy to install and getting in and out them was also pretty simple. I rode with gloves and liners and Cathy had lobster shells and liners but started with just the liners. On the bike path her hands got cold and she put the shells on over the liners. My hands started OK but got cold as usual. Directly following a hard effort and then slight recover they warmed up and stayed warm the rest of the ride. This is what usually happens to me. Cathy said her hands were very warm, though she never removed the lobster shells and went back to just the liners. In fairness, she doesn't have the same problems that I do with her hands staying warm. I think that the next time that I try them I will see if a thinner set of gloves actually help.

All in all, I think that they helped. I suspect that they would really be good on the road and would make a big difference on long rides. They would also help in snowy conditions as they would shelter your hands and help keep them dry. I will spend some more time with them but do thing that they helped and were worth the price that I paid. They also look so rad I can hardly stand it.

Or maybe not.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Running With the Devil

Or maybe I should actually say running is the Devil. It has been a very long time since I ran, besides the brief periods of running in cyclocross anyhow. I always forget just what a shock it is to the system when you start out a run, especially if you are in woefully poor shape and it is cold out. I now have a solid case of 'cross cough, which is actually runner's cough as it were.

I'll note a couple of interesting discoveries from my brief run this afternoon. First let me say the brief part was intentional. I'm trying to build slowly up so as not to destroy myself and be crippled for a week. I'm pretty sure that I failed as my quads feel like they were used as punching bags. What I noticed though is that running on frozen mud ruts is just as sketch as riding a CX bike on frozen mud ruts. It makes for some really insecure footing. Trail running is all about rocks, roots and other uneven surface though so I expected as much. Another note is that frozen ground feels a lot like pavement, broken pavement. Lastly, crushed rock and minimal trail running shoes really give the sensation of barefoot running. I'm not sure if that is a good thing. Regardless, I made it through unscathed save for one mildly rolled ankle.

I'm expecting some severe pain tomorrow. Good stuff.

Monday, February 04, 2013

The Big Adventure

It has been some time since I've posted much of anything. Life has been pretty crazy, as it always seems to be. We've sort of missed out on much of any winter so far. Yes, we have had more snow than we did last season but it seems to all be nuisance snow; the kind that doesn't amount to enough to ski or do any dedicated winter activity with but does make cycling somewhat troublesome. The month of January saw lots of slogging through an few inches of snow on the MTB. It also saw a couple of good long road rides and a whole lot of cross rides. Why cross rides at this point in the season, when the racing is long since done? Well, that's because the season wasn't over, at least not until last Friday that is.

Cathy and I registered for the US National championship events back in December, literally just before the registration closed. We did so just in case we wanted to go, though it was clear from the start that neither of us was really excited to make the long trip to Madison, WI in early January. Because of that it was no shock when we decided at the last minute that we didn't really want to go. Actually you could more accurately say that at the last minute we didn't decide that we really wanted to go. Of course as soon as it was too late the regret started and haunted me there after.

Secretly I decided that I didn't want to make that mistake again. There was one more chance to continue the season and try for something more, the Masters World Championships which were held in Louisville, KY in conjunction with the Elite World Championships. This was a huge event, the first of it's kind in the US. Louisville was also a bit closer than Madison and in a direction that would hopefully yield significantly more stable driving conditions. I quietly registered for my event and continued riding with that goal in mind.

Part of this was easy as with no snow to be had, I would be riding anyhow. The harder part was to try and get the intensity in. Races were difficult if not impossible to find since the race season was over. The saving grace to some degree would be a few training races that were put on locally. Even then it was tough I found to keep the right mix going through that point in the year. Luckily I had some friends who were willing to ride in the cold dark of winter. I also found the motivation on occasion to put in some hard efforts as well. The conditions were perfect for winter training and afforded me ample snow and frozen rutted rides on the cross bike. I was confident that if conditions matched those of the riding that I was getting in, I would be in good shape.

The van was covered in ice from freezing rain through PA.
So let the adventure begin and last Monday at 4AM it did when Cathy and I piled into the van which was pre-loaded with two bikes and gear and headed off for Louisville, KY. The directions suggested a 15 hour drive of 965 miles. We made good progress through MA and into CT then into NY and crossed into PA. It was then that the sky started to look a bit gray and ominous, the way it does before it starts to snow. Shortly there after, the snow began. The temperature was 24 degrees. Luckily it never snowed to terribly bad and the roads remained stable with light snow on them. As we climbed through the mountains of PA on route 80 the snow changed to rain. The temperature was 24 degrees. The rain froze. The van was encrusted in a thin coat of ice as was the antennae, which became heavy and flexed to the increased wind drag. Nervous hours indeed as we ticked off the countless silent, white knuckle miles. Through it all the road remained passable thanks to a massive treatment of halide. We finally crested the highest point in PA on route 80 and began heading down. The temperature was 28 degrees. With luck the temperature quickly started to tick upward rapidly. I've never been so happy to see 32 degrees and then 34 and 37. Finally a sigh of relief as we clicked over 40 degrees and continued upwards.

As we finally exited PA and into OH we were near 50 degrees with light rain and that is about where it stayed for most of the trip. American is a really big country. It is made up of some really big states. Square states that are square in more ways than one. Unsightly, ungodly places in reality. When traveling you can think of these places and your time spent there as Purgatory, a wasteland of 24 hour truck stops and adult super-stores where you pay the dues of your trip to a better place. We successfully made it through the sensory under-load to Cincinnati and were getting very close to our destination. That was when my phone rang with a number I didn't recognize. I was too busy to answer but Cathy soon went to make a call to reserve a room for the night in Louisville when she noted a number of missed calls and a text from our friend Serene, who was watching the cats.

With some calm panic Cathy returned the call to find that Ellie wasn't feeling so well. In fact, she had been pretty sick all over the house and was now in a really foul mood. This was cause for concern as we'd never had that experience with either of the cats in the past. We feared the worst and began contemplating turning around, 850 miles an 14 hours into a 965 mile trip. It was then I vowed never to take another trip again. Serene had spoken with the vet already who suggested a wait and see. She also determined the primary cause of diarrhea in felines was people-food. In helping us clean the fridge of leftovers the day before, Ellie had consumed roughly half of pig in the form of pork-ribs. She'd also eaten probably double what she normally would as we worked the kinks out of the automated cat feeders we had purchased days before. It all made sense and with much discussion and emotional debate we decided to press on to Louisville and check back in later for progress. It would turn out to be as expected and Ellie would quickly rebound and be fine. We vowed never to overfeed the cats again.

The view from the hotel room at the Galt House.
As soon as we hit Louisville and parked the van in the garage at the Galt House Hotel, our residence for the week, I changed up and jumped on the bike to spin the legs out a bit. The temperature was 55 degrees. Cathy headed to the hotel room to settle in a bit and I cruised around the block a bit not straying too far away given that I had absolutely no idea where I was. We cleaned up from the long trip and walked downtown for some dinner then returned to the room exhausted from a long stressful day.

Lots of folks from New England in attendance.
Tuesday was an open day for me as my qualification race heats were scheduled to take place on Wednesday and my final race to be held on Friday. We headed to the course to get a feel for the venue and to get in some laps on the course. Immediately we started running in to friend and people that we knew from New England. I got in some laps on the course, which was wet and spongy and pretty well devoid of anything in the way of technical features. The reality was that because the Elite championship was also in town, the normal venue, Eva Bandman Park was reserved for the Elites and a secondary venue was setup just down the road for the Masters. This venue was a golf course, which meant it was pretty flat and didn't have many trees. I finished my practice laps literally melting down from the near 70 degree heat and we headed for the Car Wash on Brownsboro Road to clean the bikes and the van.

Dinner with friends in the downtown.
That night Cathy and I met up with a friends Eric, Tim and Derek for dinner downtown. Once again, we chose a familiar place to eat. What can I say, creatures of habit. The food was good as was the beer and it was convenient.

Yes, that is all standing water that you see.
Wednesday morning greeted us early with the steady whine of what we would later realize was the city's tornado warning siren. A quick peek out the window revealed driving horizontal rain and fierce winds. My categories qualification heats were the first of the day, scheduled for 8:30AM start. The funny thing about being to the far left of the time zone is that it stays light until after 6:00PM at night. It also doesn't get light until after 8:00AM in the morning. We drove through the rain and dark arriving to find the venue very wet. Parking became a challenge as we were to park on the grass which had become mud. After nearly getting stuck we decided to play it safe and park on dry ground a bit of a ways away. I got set and headed toward the venue top warm up only to find that there was a two hour delay in effect. The wind had made a mess of the course and the infield was flooded. There was standing water everywhere. The crew and city were working to beat the band to get us back on track though. There was a steady stream of dump-trucks full of wood chips coming in and crews of tractors and Bobcats were moving and spreading making land from what was once sea. I can't say enough about the job that these folks did. It was incredible. The temperature was again very mild with the day's high near 60 degrees.

Sitting briefly in a good spot early in the race.
The starting order for the heats, of which my category had three, was random. I drew number 72 which had me in the 3rd row of the 3rd heat. I'd learned that on a course like this with a long wide start it really doesn't matter so I wasn't worried. I lined up next to Eric in the starting grid and soon we were off. I went hard to gain position and easily filled in behind the current world and national champion. It wasn't long though before the course had it's way with me. The heavy slog required boatloads of steady hard power to maintain forward momentum while requiring very little in the way of technical skills to manage.

We spent lots of time at the car wash. Notice the helmet on the floor.
I finished in 6th place within the heat which ended up netting me 17th place overall in the starting order for the final event. After changing up I got back on the bike and rode easily to try and spin out some of the intense sting from the effort. We then packed up and headed again for the car wash to clean the bikes and the gear which was encased in mud. That night we met friends Matt and Mark and their friends Mike and Freddy for an awesome dinner and drinks near the condo they were staying in. Thank you so much gentlemen.

Missing helmet, reward! Last seen at car wash.
Thursday was another free day devoid of racing. We took the opportunity to sleep in and then get an excellent breakfast at the hotel. As I was getting ready to head out for a ride I noticed that my helmet, the beloved discontinued matte-white faded digi-camo Giro Xen, was not where I though that it should be. Not only was it missing from that location, it was also not where I was hoping that it might alternately be. It was in fact gone. This was cause for some agitation as it was my absolute favorite helmet. It fit my deformed head better than any other. It was also my lucky helmet, which had guided me to the bulk of my successes this season. I frantically tore the van apart looking for it and then the hotel room. I then rode over to the car wash which was where I last saw it but the helmet was never to be found. That unfortunately put a bit of a damper on the day though I did, fortunately, have a spare helmet with me.

We rarely have desert but chose to split the bread pudding. It was pretty amazing.
Friday was race day and it was looking good. The temperature had taken a huge dive throughout the day on Thursday and it had snowed lightly overnight. My race was mid day and if it could just hold steady in terms of conditions I'd be in good shape. Frozen mud ruts and slick, snow covered grass were my new found favorites. Upon arrival at the venue we saw Kathy repeat as world champion in a spectacular, heart stopping race and then Karen have a hard fought battle to take the bronze in her category. Shortly after that we were able to get out on course to discover that despite a temperature that was still in the high teens with a steady wind, the sun was melting the shallow frost in areas and turning the course into stiff mud in many spots along with frozen ruts in the shade and even some glare ice in other spots. That mud then froze instantly to everything it came into contact with.

I queued up in the 45-49 main event with New England cohorts Eric, Dave, Jonathan and Geoff, all of us bundled heavily and still shivering off the cold. We stood in the start grid in mud, which I noticed froze to the cleats. My trick was to get the left foot clear and clipped then lean against Cathy and clear the right cleat. I then stood balanced on my right heel with the left foot in waiting for the whistle. I shared this tip with Dave who was staged beside me. Soon we were off and I managed to get clipped in and going quickly. When we hit the first mud pit there was a splash of mud that flash froze to everything including my glasses. I seemed to be moving well though and made good ground quickly. The first lap saw lots of aggressive riding through very slick and tricky conditions. Coming around for the start of the second lap I'd made my way up as far as 5th place.

Unfortunately, that would be as far as I would get on the day. I'd left the bike, my beloved Cannondale Super-X disc, in the big ring for the first lap. When I hit the mud pit shortly into lap two the 46x26 gear was a little too much for me to push. The frozen mud made sure that was all I'd get though as the front derailleur was clogged and frozen where it was leaving no chance of a shift. I reluctantly pitted and switched to my spare bike, which although a fine bike, isn't nearly the same. I couldn't instantly feel the difference and that went straight to my head. I quickly lost more than ten spots and was still going backwards.

Mud ruts en-route to mud.
Despite having a bunch of great folks working on my bike they needed the whole lap to get it going again before I could switch back. The problem was that trying to pry the frozen mud out was a manual and labor intensive process that took time. This meant one switch per lap, by the end of which the bike was nearly unusable. It also insured that it would take the full lap to get the bike ready again. By the end of lap three I'd made my way back to 12th place which is where I remained, firmly outside of my goals. That said, given the conditions, I can live with it. This is what I had to say to ThomP after the finish of the race.

The crew working the pit for me, which included Cathy, Jeff, Matt and Karen and also Kathy giving me splits worked like crazy people and did a phenomenal job. Without them I literally would have been unable to finish, as so many others were in my race and throughout the day. This literally became a race nearly as much about resources as skill and fitness. I'm not saying that is my excuse, I'm just saying that in this case, being able to switch bikes twice per lap was a clear advantage. People without spare bikes literally could not finish. I was one of the fortunate ones to have the people helping me that allowed me to finish. I also had an incredible amount of support out along the course during the race in the form of some many friends and supporters cheering me on. I'm truly blessed for the people that I know.

The thick mud froze instantly to everything it touched, locking it solid.
So from this experience much was learned. If ever I try and compete at this level, I will be better prepared in many ways. It is the real deal and the top contenders treat it as such, with the respect that it deserves. Of course I am not satisfied with my result but I can use that as fuel for the fire, for next season. I let the conditions get to me and let them beat me. I don't like ending the season on that note but it will help give purpose to the long lonely rides that are soon to come. I'm not totally discouraged or disappointed. I am thoroughly tired though. It was a year charged with great emotion, one like never before. I think that in and of itself takes a toll.

Friday night after cleaning everything up and getting ready, we had a great dinner and drinks with Jason and Sorcha and then met up with the Blue Steel family and friends for some celebration. An epic day for certain and a truly incredible adventure. Thank you Cathy for making it possible. I never would, or could have done any of this on my own.

Completely wiped out!
Saturday I woke early with some severe dehydration and couldn't get back to sleep. Looking out the window I noted that it was not snowing, yet. By 3:15AM I asked Cathy if she was ready to leave. She said yes. The plan all along was to leave Saturday AM as we were not able to get a hotel reservation for Saturday night anyhow. By 4:07AM we were in the van leaving the hotel and heading for home, just as the snow was starting. The snow was heavy all the way through Columbus, OH but didn't really stick to the heavily treated highway. We did a marathon drive stopping only three times for fuel and to use the restroom.

At 6:19PM we pulled into our driveway. We'd missed the Elite world championship races which took place that day but had made it home safely. We were very happy to be home and went inside to hug the kittens, unpack and clean kitten poop. How can one small cat get poop absolutely everywhere? I'm talking explosive. I simply can't fathom the horror of the actual act. I can only imagine what it looked like before Serene cleaned it up. I can't thank both she and Teri enough.

I've got to admit though, I am completely wiped out. Looking forward to some down time and variety. In hindsight, an very excellent adventure and great end to an incredible season. Now on to the next.