Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Moose Brook Fat Bike Race Report

This past weekend Cathy and I participated in a new, at least to us, type of race, the Moose Brook Fat Bike race at Moose Brook State Park in Gorham, NH. Though similar in most ways, this race took place in the frigid cold of January in northern New Hampshire and we rode fat bikes. You may have noticed that fat or snow bikes have been a pretty hot topic for me this winter. In fact, other than a little road riding when the weather turns, the post cyclocross season has been dominated by riding the fat bikes in the snow.

View from the cockpit.
Last fall Cathy and I picked up a set of Charge Bikes new entry into the field of fat bikes, their Cooker Maxi. As I have said before it was an affordable, chromoly steel bike with good workhorse components. It is not a lightweight but by the same token, it is not a beast. A great bike for the money and available through Cannondale dealers in the United States. Our shop, the Bikeway Source, and Cannondale set us up with a matching pair that we have been riding to beat the band since we purchased them. Anyhow, the bikes have been serving us well and we welcomed the opportunity to try our hands at racing them.

This winter in New England has been a good old fashioned winter; one with extended stretches of cold temperatures. Unfortunately, we have also has some warm ups and rain. This had made for either great conditions for fat biking or great conditions for wiping out on the ice. We have been pretty lucky in Bethel, Maine though and for the most part, the sled trails have been fantastic, allowing us many a great ride. Many of those rides however have been in frigid temperature, the likes of which we have never really spent much time riding in. Don't get me wrong, Cathy and I have always ridden all year long but I can not remember so many times riding in temperatures that were in the teens, let alone all of the times we have been out in single digit temperatures. We have had to really step our game up in terms of appropriate dress for these conditions, which has been challenging.

Following suit, this past weekend was supposed to be seasonable for northern New England, with temperatures on the mild side Saturday reaching the twenties but dipping back below zero over night and peaking in the low single digits Sunday with sustained winds.On Saturday, Cathy and I took advantage of the weather and headed to Gorham for a pre-ride of the course. We started out by following tracks in which we later found to be the wrong direction. No matter as it was great trail and conditions. There was very little ice and hard, fast and well laid out trail. We got lost at one point, only for a moment or two, but corrected and eventually made it back to the park entrance.

Pinned up and ready to race.
For the second lap we traveled in the correct direction. The course rode much better that way but had some good sustained climbing that was certain to be a challenge when at your limit. We finished up and met the organizers Jason, Jeremiah and Ben from Coos Cycling Club in the parking lot and chatted or a while, expressing our delight at the event and trails as well as our gratitude, before they headed out to do some trail work. Then we headed home, preparing for the race the next morning but stopping first on the way at the White Mountain Cafe in Gorham for some coffee.

Sunday came and as expected, the temperature was brisk. We read 3 degrees here in Bethel and the wind was howling. We ate breakfast and packed for the short drive to Gorham, watching the thermometer in the truck not rise but drop as we made out way west along RT2. When we exited the truck at the venue the cold and wind slapped us in the face like a gauntlet issuing a challenge; come out, if you dare. After some time we emerged from the truck, clad in layers of down and wool and made our way quickly to registration nestled in the shelter of the ranger station, which also had a roaring fire in the fireplace. Our friends, team Seib arrived shortly after us as did the rest of the Bikeman crew with Big Al, Ryan and Forrest as well as our friend Derek. We stood around the fire and chatted for a while but eventually retreated to the truck to get ready for the race, which was to be a total "Belgian warmup" We basically put everything we had on and went from the truck with the heater blasting to the start line. I wasn't fully prepared for what was to come.

In terms of gear, I chose the following;
  • LEGS: Champion fleece bib shorts, fleece leg warmers, Pearl Izumi Amfib bib tights
  • UPPER: Craft wind block long sleeve thermal, Pearl Izumi Select Thermal jersey, Champion wind jacket
  • HEAD: ultra thin balaclava, Pearl Izumi Thermal cap, Giro Xen helmet
  • HANDS: Ibex thin wool liners, Pearl Izumi Barrier insulated lobster mitts
  • FEET: wool liner and Smartwool socks, Pearl Izumi GTX winter shoes, Pearl Izumi Elite Barrier covers
As a side note, I also studded the shoes the night before with sheet metal screws into the treads to make the scramble on icy stuff easier.

The start was very low key, no staging based on fatbikeresults.com points, just line up, get a couple instructions and then "5-4-3-2-1-GO!" and we were off. With a long, wide, snowmobile trail climb to follow, I didn't worry much about position and took a few seconds to settle in. The shock of the cold air on the face and in the lungs was searing. I started with a balaclava over my face and was wishing for more. That would change quickly as the breathing became more intense and labored as we sprinted up that first long climb. One racer whom I did not know was absolutely flying. He had a really spiffy full carbon fiber Borealis all decked out in race mode, similar to my friend Alec Petro (who just finished the Arrowhead 135 ultra race this AM in 3rd place overall). I must admit, this unknown fellow, who it would turn out was Christian Gauvin from Quebec, had me more than a little concerned. He looked legit and the way he was riding was backing up that appearance.

I moved up the outside and passed Big Al and Ryan and started chasing Christian. By the first singletrack woods section I was almost on and we had a small gap back to the Bikeman.com chase pack. It was about then that my hands froze up, an all too familiar happening, making it awkward, but certainly not impossible to control. My hope was that they would come back once I had a chance to recover a bit and some blood made it's way from the core and legs to the extremities. As we ripped through the singletrack I quickly came to respect the technical ability of Christian as well as his fitness. He was giving nothing up anywhere on the trail. When we popped back out onto the snowmobile trail climb I sat on for a bit and then tried an attack. At first I thought I might get some room but that was quickly nailed back and on the steepest section at the top just before we dipped back into the woods, my brief lead was snatched away. If that was to be my test, the results were clear.

Keeping the race in sight (photo by Kristen Seib)
This is how the first lap went, trying to stay attached. We rode steady and quick and there were no real issues causing big separation. We came through the start finish together, with me following and headed back up the climb. Once again, the pace was all too familiarly uncomfortable and a small gap opened up. Just a few seconds but I told myself I'd pull it back together in the woods.

The lies one tells themselves when on the brink of collapse are comical. It became clear on the second lap that Christian was not slowing down and although I would make small gains and still had him in sight, the writing was on the wall; he was slowly pulling away. By the time we came through the start finish area there was a gap of nearly ten seconds. Luckily ten seconds on a fat bike is less than 100 feet so we were still well within sight but now we had the climb in front of us again. When we dipped into the singletrack the gap had grown a few more seconds and I had now lost clear view of the leader.

When we crested the top on the last stretch of snowmobile trail climb I was told the gap was at fifteen seconds and Christian was out of view. I tried to regroup and ride my own race and within a couple minutes regained composure and put in a mild surge. I kept plugging along like ever other race, trying to stay off the brakes and flow smoothly through the corners. Oddly enough, coming into the last half of the lap I could once again see the competition ahead. I now had the advantage because if I could see him, he could see me.

Done! (photo by Kristen Seib)
I kept chasing him and he was forced to start running from me. As a racer, that is a terrible spot to be in, the pursuee (to quote Jackie Gleason's Buford T. Justice). You are forced to ride harder than you want to, harder than you were already riding when the pursuer caught up to you while the pursuer can now throttle back just a hair from where there were and still dog you. The term "dog" refers to using dogs to hunt a prey, letting the dogs chase that prey and wear them down before the hunter moves in for the kill. I'm not a fan of it for hunting as it just doesn't seem sporting, unless of course you are actually doing the dogging, solo, but it sure works well for racing if you can get it to work. This, IMHO, is the best place to be in a race, pushing someone harder than they want to go because inevitably one of two things usually happens; they make a mistake from the stress or they collapse from the exertion. Well, there is also the off chance that they just punch it and ride away.

It became clear that Christian was working hard. Near the end of the lap we came upon Cathy who was still moving along well. I called out to her in a calm, clear voice saying that two of us were coming up around. I also cheered encouragement. That is another race tactic, psychological warfare. By sounding upbeat and chipper it gives the appearance that you are fresh and under no stress at all. Better yet would be to engage the competition in idle chit-chat but that is often a bit overboard with someone you don't know.

Going up the icy climb there was a small bobble. This climb took all of your strength and composure to make and we had some traffic as well. Christian slid out and had to run, forcing me off the bike as well. I could see his legs were tired in the way he ran. I thought about running around him but it would be awkward and in poor taste, so hung back and waited for the right moment, the one I'd been contemplating for a while now as the absolute best place on the course to attack. As we swooped down the last icy descent, over the bridge and were greeted by a stiff headwind on the wide open drifted field just before the start finish and the long climb, I knew that was the spot. Insanity to lay down huge power to sprint that section only to then be faced with the long climb.

Men's Open podium (photo by Kristen Seib)
So naturally, that is what I did. I came around hard enough that it would take a really big effort to jump on and follow, hoping that Christian was smarter than that. He was and by the time I hit the climb there was a gap. I settled into a nice tempo and ground my way up. In the woods I tried to remain smooth and quick while taking no extra risks. With each climb I expected to get caught by the fully recovered gentleman I'd spent so much of the race in awe of, but it never happened. Luckily I finished clean and maintained a narrow lead.

A quick change into warm, dry clothing and then run up the course to cheer for Cathy, who by then was working on her last lap. She was doing awesome and still having fun, at least it appeared as though she was having fun despite the suffering I knew she was enduring. I raced around to the last icy descent and then ran along with her as she finished up strong. She spend over three hours out there battling the course. She stopped to help our friend Melissa get her bike fixed and she still was not the last person to finish. She was however, the only woman brave enough to finish the full four lap race.

The best podium/trophies ever!
The post race awards ceremony was great, once again inside the ranger station with the roaring fire. There was ample food and coffee provided by local sponsors of the event. There was a raffle of many really great things and then there were the podium presentations that included the best combination podium/trophies ever. All in all, one of the best run and most fun events ever. Jason, Jeremiah, Ben and the other organizers, the volunteers, the State of NH Parks Service and the sponsors really put on a first class event. This was a first rate course with excellent preparation, flawless scoring and excellent competition. I only hope that this can become a tradition. Many thanks to all involved on making this an event to remember.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Playing With the Big Blocks

I'm not really certain how it happened. I guess that everything just lined up perfectly, if unexpectedly. I'm talking about the ride statistics from last week. Over the past few weeks I have been increasing ride volume over that which I'd done for most of the fall during the cyclocross race season. For most of that stretch, I'd been down between 10 and 12 hours per week on the bike.

The week before Christmas, which was the week after my final CX race of the season, the Ice Weasels Cometh (which I still haven't done a race report for but fully intend to do), was snowy so we skied and snowshoes a lot. It was also cold as sin. I still rode though and got in a reasonable amount of bike time. The following week we were in Maine and did a ton of good, bad and indifferent fat biking. Volume increased a little. The next week was a mix and we lost most of the snow so we took to the roads. Volume increased a little more and was now between a 30 and 50% over CX season increase based on time on the bike. More snow and some great skiing as well as big riding up north on the fat bikes.

Then we got huge rain at the start of last week. This trashed the snow so we took to the roads.Last week in fact was almost completely road riding in fact. I started the week on Sunday a little tired from some big miles climbing on the fat bikes in snowy Maine. A 65 mile team BSBL Racing training road ride out through Stow and Harvard did just enough to keep me on the well done side rather than help with recovery.

By Monday I needed an easier spin so Cathy and I got in a nice little hour and a half evening road ride, what with the mild temperatures and all. Tuesday was a mess though. It started out rainy and got steadily worse as the day wore on, despite the forecast implying that it should subside. By Oh-dark-thirty I'd given up. It was still pouring, the roads were beyond puddled and into the flooded zone and there was a thick fog. I dressed like a cross between a lobsterman in December and a Christmas tree and headed out on the road. At least it was mild, which was nice. I found that once I was out there, it wasn't all that bad and I actually had a good ride, riding much longer than I expected. More fuel for the rollercoaster ride that the week of riding would be.

Then came Wednesday and I got out for a big old road ride with the Ferret. We knocked off just short of 60 with some rolling terrain at a reasonably good clip and was a complete death march for me the final hour. To punctuate the ride, the Ferret crushed it at over 23mph average for the last six miles. Not bad in the summer or even spring but hurt a bunch on that particular date. This left me a quivering mess on Thursday. I ventured out in the afternoon for a solo ride on some new, or at least different, roads. This took me south through Lincoln and Weston primarily. All that I could manage would be a bit more than couple hours and 37 miles at a crawl. Half way through I started dreaming of what I was going to eat when I got home, which usually signifies a good solid bonk ride and meant I had two days in a row finishing, barely able to stand. I ate a big bowl of warm Grapenuts and milk with banana and maple syrup (a concoction I came up with in a bonk vision on the ride) and a bit later, Cathy and I rode the bikeway in to meet up with the Ferret on his commute home. Oddly, I felt pretty good. Strange.

Come Friday morning Cathy left very early to go visit her folks in Florida for the weekend. I awoke very very early, feeling not so fresh, having had a few too many Harpoon White IPA's the night before. By 5AM we were both up and by 6PM Cathy was gone. I did some chores and projects and later, jumped on the bike and started meandering. I went south and then west and then south and west again, then north. I hit a ton of towns and was working pretty hard, trying to get some respectable miles and push through whatever had taken hold of me the day before. By 5PM it was dark and I was almost home. The suds were wearing thin but I managed to get home with 3.5 hours and without a complete collapse, tired but not fully broken.

Saturday came and the plan was for a big team training ride. The weather called for near freezing and a chance of rain. We met for the ride start at Fern's in Carlisle and a couple miles out, the snow started. We figured that what with the intensity the snow was falling, it would be a short squall and hit the roads, opting to stay fairly local just in case. The snow continued and in fact, intensified. The ride went from lots of fun to cold, wet and dangerous. At one point on a descent there was so much snow on the road that I couldn't see the edge of the pavement. My front tire got off the side and started plowing. I tripoded for a while then hit the deck, sliding for an eternity down the snow covered pavement. Traction with the bald 25c road slicks was non existent. Wet and cold, we called it a day finishing out with about 37 miles in well over two hours. It snowed much of the day and we picked up a totally unexpected 5" of heavy, wet snow. I joked with the Ferret later on the book of face, that we should go for a fat bike ride. He took the bait and that evening we hit the woods for a short by fun ride, capping off an epic week on the bike.

I didn't realize though quite how epic it was until I looked at the total this morning. Historically, I have tracked my weeks based on the traditional Biblical week (Sunday - Saturday). Most tracking programs like Strava use the International standard week (Monday - Sunday). Anyhow, when I looked I was surprised to see that my training week of 2014.01.12 - 2014.01.18 was 334 miles and 20:31 hours long. That by the way was the longest distance week and biggest training block that I have put in in over two years. I don't necessarily think January is the right time for that.

I now understand precisely what I am currently tired. Hopefully though, after an easier week this week, I will be in much better shape the following week. We also have a fat bike race this coming Sunday. Who knows what that is going to be like. I'm coming to find that fat bike miles are exponentially harder than other miles on the bike. Will see.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

the Hardest Part

Yesterday was all about cheer and optimism and motivation and splendid sunsets. The reality is that it is not all sunshine and it may be true that it is what you make of it but there are certain times when it is just plain hard. For me, right now is that time where it is trying it's darnedest to kick my ass.

The same thing has happened the past couple of years. After a long hard and focused race year culminating in a very targeted training plan for cyclocross, I find myself in January switching gears between ride focuses. We move from low duration high intensity or low duration recovery to long duration, high volume endurance. All the while the weather is at it's worst, doing it's utmost to discourage us from getting out, getting on and getting the job done.

Over the years become more focused on the cyclocross specific plan, which by the way yielded incredible results, from an historically less structured plan that included way more volume. The down side of this switch is that when the cyclocross season is over and the volume increases, I seem to suffer more.

Part of this is physical as my body just isn't use to the countless three plus hour rides sandwiched between the endless two plus hour rides with the occasional four or five hour rides. It has spent the past four plus months getting really adept at going super hard for a short period of time, one hour or less in this case. Additionally, you have the cumulative effects of the increase in ride time which leave you sore and tired, no exhausted almost all of the time. How can riding a bike that easily hurt that much?

As much as this is a physical thing, I think that a large part is psychological as well. You as the athlete go from being in top racing form to suffering on endurance paced training rides at the hands of those who are not necessarily stronger or faster than you but who either were not racing cyclocross or who didn't focus their training quite as specifically to the discipline.

The reality is that it is just different. This is the ugly downside to being specifically trained for any one thing. When the demands change, retooling takes time and there is a physical cost in making that change. Is the answer to try and be prepared at all times for anything (any ride) that may happen, be it a short race or a long endurance epic? Not if you want to do the best possible on race day. The hybrid training plan can get you far, there is no doubt about that. I used that plan for years and years and had some pretty good success. However, it wasn't until I stopped using that plan that I really saw big improvements in my game, come game day.

Choose as you will though. The fact is that I'm suffering right now on rides that most avid cyclists would think of as just riding your bikes. Normal activity. Nothing epic or over the top. From experience I recognize that I have three or four weeks of feeling slow, sore, tired and uncomfortable and then it starts to swing back around.

I'm currently two or three weeks into that bump in volume so from experience, the end is almost certainly in sight. I sure as heck hope that is the case anyhow. Until then, it is just a matter of sucking it up and knowing that as with everything, "this too shall pass".

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Jump In

Some times it is just like going swimming a cold lake, you just have to take the plunge and jump in. Often in fact, that is the hardest part of the whole ordeal. Once you in, you will often find that the water is just fine. But getting over that initial shock can often take your breath away. In fact, people often drown when plunging into frigid water because of the shock of the cold and the body's natural reaction to that shock, which is to take a deep breath. When that happens uncontrollably while under water, you can well imagine the results.

Heading out at 7 degrees Fahrenheit and dropping
Lately it seems, our weather has been fickle which has resulted in a bunch of harsh if not extreme weather conditions. This has made riding over the past few weeks in some instances, a bit more of a challenge that normal. For one we have had just an absolute ton of really cold days this season. By really cold I am talking temperatures in the teens or lower with a few days where we had to ride in the single digits.

I know that in the grand scheme, that isn't really unbearably cold. In fact, having grown up in northern VT, as a kid I was used to being out all day playing in the snow in temperatures like that. As an adolescent and young adult, I would often alpine ski in temperatures below zero and recall the tribulations of trying to start my '77 'vette with morning temps of 30 below for a week straight in the valley where I grew up. Even recall as an adult I recall (briefly) skiing Sunday River one morning with air temperatures at 25 below. We would often sled in the far northern reaches of the country in temps well below freezing as well.

I've come to realize that spending all of this time in the extreme cold has contributed to making me really, really intolerant of the cold. I'm not sure if it is because of the residual damage that I have done to my extremities as a result of the cold or the fact that I lost a bunch of body weight and insulation but dang, I get cold in the summer shade and have no end of trouble keeping my hands and feet warm. This of course poses trouble on the bike when trying to do a nice long ride in the cold.

The flip side of this strange weather pattern that we have been having this winter is the rain. It has been a year of amplified peaks and troughs on the weather map, where by we either have frigid arctic weather or wet tropical weather. Often it seems it will be one backing right up against the other with no stability in between. This has meant lots of snow and cold then rain and mild that tears the snow pack down only to then refreeze and leave ice in its wake.

Pouring rain, ice and 34 degrees
After learning to deal with the snow and cold, a challenge in and of itself, we have also had to deal far too often with ice. The ice is the toughest of all possibilities as the roads are typically unsafe to be anywhere near and the snow or woods has turned to uneven sheet ice. If we had studded tires on the fat bikes we would probably be OK, but given the cost, we do not and can not justify them. Thus the challenge.

The last part of the weather equation has been rain. We certainly have had our fair share of precipitation in the form of rain this winter. More in fact that we had all fall I think and for that matter, probably more than the summer either. Solid days in a row of steady driving rain. It is one thing to have this type of weather in the summer, when it is warm. That can actually be novel to ride in, but when it is pouring and 40 degrees, riding is all that much fun.

No matter how well you dress, nor how good the fenders are on the bike, you inevitably end up soaked. Your shoes, which are moderately good at keeping water out are excellent at holding water in. You overdress in material that doesn't breath effectively and so what water doesn't make it's way in from the outside, comes out from the inside.Over the past five days I have had two days of riding in absolute pouring rain. One was also on ice in Maine with 34 degree temperatures. Tough to stay warm let alone stay upright, say nothing about staying dry, which was impossible.

Last night, after working on projects all day and dragging my feet about riding I finally came to the realization at 5:45PM that I just had to jump in. I dressed and saddled up on the fendered CX bike then took to the road. It was unbelievably dark, pouring, 44 degree rain and foggy. I wore a ton of reflective stuff, had a headlight and two blinkies but was still nervous riding the road. My glasses were useless and I ended up pulling them down to the bridge of my nose and looking over them, using them as a shield of sorts from water flying up from below. I literally could not see more than 20 yards ahead of myself in many places and even when the visibility was better, the reflection and road glare from oncoming traffic was pretty much blinding. For the most part I was on back roads though with little traffic so not a big deal.

Fenders only go so far in a steady rain
The really notable thing about the ride was that the hardest part was just getting out the door and onto the bike. Once I was going, well, it really wasn't all that bad. In fact, it was good enough that I ended up staying out and riding about twice as long and far as I had initially intended to ride. It's funny how often in life that this really is the case and that the hardest part is just getting started. I can't begin to say how many aspects of life that holds true in for me. Granted, I am one of those that really struggles getting caught up in the details and preparation and has trouble breaking ground. The artist that just needs to make that initial stroke, the craftsman that needs to make that initial cut, the athlete that just needs to make that initial movement.

Stop dragging your feet and thinking about it and just do it. Do it now, take the plunge. It's really not as bad as it seems.

Thursday, January 09, 2014


That is the only way to describe the fat bike ride that Cathy and I did this evening. When she finished her work day we prepped for arctic temperatures and headed out on our trusty fat bikes for a local ride on the sled trails near Bethel. The temperature was starting to drop quickly and the evening was clear and calm. When we started it was about 16 degrees Fahrenheit but we knew that would not last long. We also figured that we wouldn't be going ballistic so we overdressed. I'm coming to find that it is way easier to get out in frigid temperatures when you are comfortable right from the start.

As we coasted down our road, which was covered in plate ice, my eyeballs froze up. Not really but it sure as heck felt like it to me. Soon we crossed the main road and got onto the primary snowmobile corridor that runs north/south through the area, Trail 13. It was in it's typical state, which is to say heavily used relatively speaking and massively bumped up. It was even rough on the bikes, which means it is no fun on a sled.

Regardless, the conditions were in general pretty good with frozen and broken granular on most of the trail, much better than sheet ice which was the primary surface off the trail. The sleds had busted the crust up. The noise from riding was deafening though. Hard to believe that a bicycle can make so much noise, but it did. Sprinkled here and there were some flooded sections where water had pooled and frozen. We went very gingerly in those areas as we don't have studded tires.

On Rabbit Road we hit a couple of ice flows that were still rideable as they had been broken up by the sleds. The one super steep climb afforded excellent traction and we were able to power right up it. As we were about to turn off Rabbit Road and climb up toward Irish Neighborhood a miraculous thing happened, the trail had been freshly groomed after the rain and refreeze and had set up perfectly. Portions of the trail were as hard and smooth as concrete.

It also just so happened that we were beginning a fresh new Strava segment, which meant time to go, what with conditions being perfect and all. We dropped the hammer and hit it hard, really hard. I hadn't worked that hard in a while and by the top, I was soaked, literally sweat pouring off from my face. I could tell I was really swampy on the inside as well. Not a good sign. Cathy made it up in record time as well and shared my sentiments.

From there we had a fun descent down into Irish Neighborhood and then the biggest climb of the ride. We had done the climb a couple weeks ago in mushy conditions and it was torture. One mile that gained over 400 vertical feet. Not brutal by any standard on it's own but when soft, it was excruciating. I averaged like 3mph and it took like 20 minutes to get to the top. Agony. Tonight though, it was hard packed and still super steep in sections, but you could power through it. By the way, this is also another Strava segment, one that I didn't have, so I went as hard as I could. It still seemed an eternity and sections were still unbelievably hard even with the stellar conditions. I crested the top and kept going to the next planned turn then looped back for Cathy. I didn't make it far before she appeared. She too had gone up over in good time but the time out in the cold was starting to take it's toll.

We stopped at the intended turn and put the clothing we had taken off, back on. I noticed just how wet my core was and was a bit concerned. On the up side, my hands were toasty, which had been problematic in the past. I've never been able to keep my hand warm but recently got Medieval on them. I've started using the mittens that I got as a last resort for sledding years back. They are Black Diamond summit mittens are are literally designed for the top of the world. They are huge and insanely insulated. They were also insanely expensive I recall. Both Cathy and I have them and we both wore them and our hands were absolutely toasty. Complete overkill and the mittens make it tough to control the bike but having frozen hard makes it even harder to control the bike and it sucks as well.

Once moving we hit the most awesome descent ever. It was endless, steep and scary fast. I wish I trusted the conditions, what with ice and all, as it would have been a hoot to really let it fly. We made it to the bottom in no time and then started the arduous slog back on Vernon Road, the site of the Bethel time trail in the summer. We broke no records but did not doddle either. Both of us were having trouble with our feet. I always have problems but Cathy was having issues as well. Not sure what the fix is going to be. Cathy just got some new Louis Garneau LS-100 winter boots which are nice, but still can't handle the really chilly stuff. I have a pair as well and my feet freeze in them. I've had the best luck with my Diadora Polaris 2 winter shoes with Pearl Izumi Elite Barrier shoe covers over the top. I really like those covers as they are thick barrier neoprene and they use velcro in the back to secure them. Much better than the crappy zippers, which always fail. Still I will almost always lose the feet at some point.

Back home we discovered what we already knew, that we were soaked, literally through and through. Had something gone wrong and we had to stop, with the now single digit temperature we would have been in trouble. This is what makes dressing for active sport in the winter so challenging. When the fire is stoked you need very little insulation from your clothing but once you stop, or slow, it all changes.

Still, we made it back and had a great time. The fat bikes are turning out to be a good idea and given the value of the brand, the Charge Cooker Maxi have been a super deal as well. Of course the good folks at Cannondale and our shop, the Bikeway Source helped a ton as well. We are having so much fun with them that I see an upgrade in store for next year, assuming Cannondale comes through with a model of their own of course.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Bring on the Snow

We have had a pretty good winter so far here in the Northeast. Above average snow and well below average temperatures. Unfortunately, we have also had thaws and rain that keep decimating the snow-pack. We get to a good place and then shortly there after, the weather swings wildly the other direction.

Last week we got a great little storm that put us back into great shape for winter activity. Cathy and I spent a good solid three days enjoying it with first, an XC ski breaking trail in the local woods ant Foss Farm in Carlisle and then two days of good solid Nordic skate skiing at Great Brook State Park. Conditions were good and it felt great to be out and doing something different.

We also had the chance to do a great fat bike ride on Sunday. Earlier in the week, before the snow storm, conditions were pretty poor. All of the snow that we had enjoyed before Christmas in the form of XC skiing and snowshoeing had turned to ice from the warm and rain we had during the week. This was treacherous on a bike without studded tires. No fun at all. However, by Sunday the new fallen snow had packed in enough that we were able to get a great ride out the railroad bed into Concord and then out through Estabrook Woods. We were out for a few hours on top of the 25km XC skate ski we had done that morning. This made for some tired, but happy folks come the evening.

Anyhow, I'd been thinking how stupid it is to drive the 8 miles to Great Brook State Park to XC ski or the 2 miles to the Bethel Inn Nordic Center only to then have to go out an do a bike ride at some point. It would be much greener and cleaner to just ride to the ski. The challenge is how the heck to carry the gear on the bike. For some time I had been designing a rack system in the back of my head. Yea, you know how that usually goes. As with many of my designs, they remain in the back of my head and never see the light of day. Probably not a terrible thing as many are kind of sketchy.

Well this one finally made it past the cob-webs and into reality. I'm sure it isn't all that different than other that people have built but this was what I came up with using easy to source parts that leaned toward inexpensive and light weight. The rack itself was just an old Blackburn rack that I stripped down to the frame only. I used 1/2 plywood for the deck and PVC gutter and gutter clamps for the ski and pole storage tubes. The mounting brackets are hand made from 1/8" x 3/4" aluminum bar that I twisted and bent into the appropriate shape to mount from the frame to the rack. I also used some alloy angle iron to mount the upper PVC bracket to the deck. The lower bracket mounts to the rack frame via a new hole that I drilled and tapped. I leaned toward solid tubes rather than just open slots for the skis and poles to sit into such that the gear would be mostly covered from slush. I don't really want to get my nice skate skis that are freshly waxed all crap on the ride to the area.

The only frill was that I used stainless bolts and Nylock nuts to hold it together. I got everything right at the hardware store and cost for two racks was about $30. Design and build time for the prototypes was on the course of six or seven hours, way more that I'd have guessed but then again, it always is. I'm miscalculated and am missing two PVC gutter clamps for the second rack but it is set to go otherwise, I just need to assemble.

Now if we get some darn snow I will try it out. Oh, the skis and poles hang out quite a ways but the bike seems to handle OK. Will see what it is like on the road loaded up with a bag of boots, gear and a lock as well.

Thursday, January 02, 2014


Recently, with the snow, we have noticed quite a bit of traffic in our back yard. We could tell that there had been some pretty good sized whitetail, based on the prints, roaming in the back. This is nothing new. We have often had deer as well as turkeys, a fox and even a fisher cat. It is a bit ironic that we tend to see more wildlife here than we do in either of our other places, both vastly more rural and given that here we live in town and not twenty miles away from the city of Boston.

Last night I went out to put the cover on the grill and I saw the full extent of the visitation. There was a small herd of six very healthy looking deer roaming along the perimeter of the lot munching away on my bushes. I'm not sure that I really like where this is heading. I actually have some fresh venison in the freezer right now from the deer that my brother got this fall. I may need a bigger freezer.

This afternoon, during the snowstorm, a subset of the herd was back. I grabbed a few shots of them, though the heavy snow didn't make for a great shot. Anyhow, here they are. Will see what I have left when they are done.

We've never had them graving the land before so I'm guessing either it has been a couple good years so the population is up or it is a particularly hard winter and food is scarce. My guess is that it is a combination of both. I'm waiting to see the big uptick in medium sized predators to compensate. They won't be far behind. Watch your small children :)

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

2013 In The Books

That is all she wrote. The year 2013 is done, finished, over. The final ride of the year started with Cathy on the fat bikes heading in on the bike path to meet up with Kyle, then Kyle and I hitting the woods on the fat bikes. An excellent end, indeed.

Then the odometer rolled over to zero last night and we all started fresh on day one 2014. How did you spend it? Hungover on the couch watching TV? I certainly hope not. We braved the cool temperatures and wind and managed a stellar Bikeway Source/Bell Lap Racing team road ride.

What a year it has been. For me, it was an incredible year that saw successes far beyond my own expectation in some arenas yet a year that was also tempered by some shortfalls where self expectations were not met. I guess that just means that there is always room for improvement.

The year saw a ton of personal and life events and changes but that is for another day, or rather, I've already talked of those details. All have been for the better and all are good, as is life. Really, it is quite excellent. No complaints here. This however is simply the statistical recap, the nutshell, Cliff Notes view of how I spent my year, at least when it comes to the bike.

Overall, the year started with a huge load of intensity which after the bid at cyclocross worlds at the beginning of February, migrated directly to loads of volume. That volume gained intensity quickly and stayed steady right through most of the summer. It looked like I was on track to break my yearly mileage record when bang, cross season hit. We raced a ton and rode less than in some time. Probably less than in a long time in fact, despite managing to pedal a bicycle every day of the year again this year in addition to last year. Two days of racing and one day of hard training mid week meant lots of recovery rides. Seemingly endless numbers of short, easy recovery rides in fact. This seemed to work out OK for me though.

2013 Statistics


Ride Breakdown


  • Days Ridden: 365
  • Consecutive Days Ridden: 734
  • Miles Ridden: 9,137
  • 71,793 miles (logged since 04/2005)
  • Road Hours: 262 (SS, geared, tandem)
  • TT Hours: 0 (no road TT this year all)
  • MTB Hours: 195 (SS and geared)
  • Cyclocross Hours: 146 (SS and geared)
  • Trainer Hours: 17 (rollers)
  • Total Pedaling Hours: 621
  • 4,903 hours (logged since 04/2005)


Race Breakdown 


  • Road Races: 4
  • MTB Races: 13
  • Cyclocross Races: 33
  • Victories: 23
  • Podiums: 33
  • Top-Tens: 47  

So what do the numbers really say? They still say that I'm riding quite a bit I think. I have friends and teammates that regularly break, or shatter, the 10k mile mark yearly. Again this year I fell short of it, in fact ever shorter than last year as this was only my second greatest mileage season ever, last year being the greatest. That 10k mile mark really is a goal of mine but I think to get there, I really need to pack some serious training into the first half of the year and particularly the first quarter. That's because if I'm racing CX, the miles tail off hard in the fall. I really want to split the time in the winter though and ski, and snowshoe, and do other things. What that means is that I probably won't make the mark until we either get a really low snow winter or I stop racing CX or bikes in general. The good thing about the goal is that I have many years to continue to pursue it.

The other thing the statistics show is that as good as 2012 was; pretty much incredible in fact, for me anyhow, I managed to narrowly improve on it. Any time you can get older and improve upon anything physically related it is a win in my book. That stuff only happens for just so long, regardless of who you are, unless of course you have some extra help. There comes a day when we all start getting slower. Thank goodness that I seem to have dodged that bullet for at least one more year. I also continue to cherry pick, focusing on those disciplines and races that best suit my skills.

That's it. Another great year and a new one just getting underway. I'm so grateful to have my health pretty well under control, to have a great team to help motivate, great supporters who help me in so many ways, good friends and an incredible wife, for whom I owe so much. Oh, and our kittens because they keep everything in perspective and keep me sane.