Wednesday, March 19, 2014

More Fenders

Steam chamber and old bending jig.
 So, I've been monkeying around with bicycle fenders for some time now. It all started out of necessity really. My plastic fenders would eventually crack in half, so I would splice them back together only to have them fail again eventually.

My first attempt at a less destructible  fender was made from flat 1/16 x 1 1/2" aluminum stock which I bent in the shape of the wheel and then riveted the old mounting hardware to. These worked pretty well but were also really flexy. A better choice would have been to use full 1/8" aluminum stock or to add a rib or channel to the aluminum. Both of those options require either equipment that I don't own or have access to, or time to build the right die/mandrel to stretch the fender around.

New bending  jig.
For the second attempt, which was last year, I decided to try and make some wooden fenders. It seemed like it should be pretty easy and I already had most of the woodworking equipment. I just needed to build a form to dry the blanks on so that they would hold the curve. For this I used an old rim with some wooden blocks that I screwed to it. The blocks spaced the diameter out to the radius I needed for the finished fender.

At this point I used the saturation bend technique, which meant I soaked the wood in the bathtub for a couple of days and then wet bent them against the mold. To keep them in place I clamped them and then left them to dry over the heating vent. This worked OK, but not great. The wood was not nearly as pliable as it really needed to be and although I did get a distinct bend, the curvature was not quite as tight as I would have liked. This meant that when the fenders were installed, they had a little bit of spring to them. It turned out that there were some actual benefits to that as the spring keeps them very rigid and taught. I'm still using these fenders on my bike. I've since extended them by tacking another chunk of fender onto them with and urethane glue rivets. Fully functional if not the nicest things out there.

Cathy's maple fenders set for finish and hardware.
This past year I decided to go all in on the wooden fender building process. As such, I researched and then built a steam chamber and bought a steam generator. This in and of itself was a fun little project. Along these lines I also built a new bending/drying mold. This time I used an old 26" DH MTB rim that was wider and screwed on wider spacers that would hold two sets of bent fenders. I also built the jig suck that it had slots to hold the fenders in place, negating the need for clamps.

Finally this winter I put the system to use with some wooden blanks that my brother cut for me from ash and maple. I'd not tried maple before but was optimistic to give it a try. The system worked well and made bending a breeze. I did have some trouble getting the wood up to optimal bending temp, just above 200 degrees, but the wood still bent just fine. In the future I am going to insulate my steam chamber with heating/cooling duct insulation. That should help get the temperature up some.

Finished quick mount maple fenders.
For the hardware of the new fenders, which I made for Cathy's Cannondale SuperX disc cyclocross bike, I used Planet Bike SpeedEZ hardware. This is readily available direct from the vendor and is good quality product. It isn't overly inexpensive though as a set (enough for one pair of fenders) will run you $24. Beyond the fenders, I also built the mounts to which the struts bolt via an eyelet bolt. I simply used 1" x 1/16" aluminum which I got at the hardware store. It is lightweight, easy to work with and readily available. Unfortunately, with the cost of raw materials these days, even a small 4' section of the aluminum costs about $8. That is enough for about two pairs of fenders if the mounts are not super long, which means you get about $30 in materials alone, assuming the wood was free, which it usually isn't. If you bought a 1" x 2" piece of maple it would probably run another $10 for an 8' length. Cutting that down on the table saw would probably only get you two strips, enough for six fenders.

Mounted on a bike not designed for fenders.
The new set took a little bit of fiddling to get onto the disc equipped bike but not that much. They sat securely and worked really well. For these I used an old reflector bracket I had and made a clamp mount for the seat tube, which helped hold the rear really secure. The maple is my favorite by far out of the oak, ash and maple that I have worked with. I think using redwood, mahogany or cedar would be neat as well given that they are naturally resistant to moisture damage. I may try some poplar also as it is cheap and light with an open grain that should take finish nicely.

Custom fenders.

This week I got a call from Chris at the bike shop. He had a really high end Cannondale Synapse for a customer that he couldn't get fenders to mount onto correctly. He asked if I could put a set together for him, in a day. Luckily I had a set of blanks all bent and ready to go. After a trip to his house yesterday (his day off) to get custom measurements and fitting off the bike, which he was working on on his day off at home, I returned home to start work. I got the fenders roughed then sanded and put some stain on them.

Because time was short, I went with a natural tungoil finish on them. I'd wanted to try an epoxy finish but wasn't sure it would cure over night. Of course, the test batch I did cured overnight just fine but I couldn't run the risk. While the fenders were drying I picked up so more aluminum to finish the mounts. I left them really long and wide so as to clear the rims with room to spare. Last night I riveted the mounts on and robbed the struts off from Cathy's new fenders (sorry) and finished the new ones up.

Installed on the Synapse.
This morning I went over to the shop and fit them onto the bike, a long process made longer by protecting the bike's finish with tape. This was a pretty (very) expensive bike so everyone wanted to be extra careful and make sure every detail was just right. That translated to a couple hours on top of a number of hours that had already gone into the built.

There is a reason custom anything doesn't come cheap when you start adding time involved into the equation. It was a fun project though that helped the shop out, a shop that has done a ton to help me out, and hopefully the bike's owner will like them. The fit is pretty solid and I think they look pretty sharp. I wasn't certain how the ultra modern Shimano DuraAce Di2 electronic shifting equipped bike which also has full hydraulic disc brakes and big Enve carbon fiber clincher rims would look. Given the sort of retro race bike paint scheme and somewhat otherwise blacked out feel, I think they work really well. Makes me think of a 50's era woody that had been hot rodded. The fenders also run pretty low which gives the impression that the rig has been lowered.

I know, I'm biased but I think they look pretty darn cool. Guess I'd best go order some new hardware to replace Cathy's so she has fenders on her bike. She heard no end of it being the only one on the team ride last night without.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


There has been a whole lot of talk, make that whining, of recent on the social medias about the weather. This has been particularly evident in the Northeastern portion of the United States. It seems that because we are having a "real New England winter" this year, one with extended cold and snow, people are feeling a bit sorry for themselves for having to deal with their perceived harsh reality, that of true winter.

Cathy and I are having none of that and fully embrace the concept that it is all a blessing of sorts and that we must simply make do. This is going beyond being optimistic and simply choosing to see the good in everything, or in this case, the weather. We both realize how fortunate we are to have the ability to go play in the snow and to get the variety which affords us the luxury of choice, choice in what we do or the natural choice given us by the changing seasons which are so pronounced here in New England. That is a big part of why we live here, right, for the variety?It certainly is the primary reason for us.

In looking at some blog traffic today, an interesting bit of data struck me. It seems that over the past month, the second highest hit rate from a nation to my little blog, internationally, has been from the Ukraine, the first being the US. I had to stop and think a little bit about that and to wonder why, with everything those folks have going on, with all the turmoil and strife, what is it that brought them to me? I'm sure it is cycling related but I can hope that it is in part, the message of optimism or of the exploits of adventures that Cathy and I are given the luxury of living every day. Maybe it is simply the internet equivalent of a wrong number and they were looking for some revolutionary inspiration, woefully finding me instead.

Regardless, it made me think long and hard and reaffirmed through the small digital connection, just how lucky we really are. To have nothing better to do than spend our lives completing frivolous projects on our second or third homes or riding fat bicycles all over this beautiful, snowy countryside, or logged onto the WiFi network with our mobile device in our cozy heated home, drinking craft beers or French press on our leather couch whining about the weather.

Sort of puts things into perspective, that these folks on the other side of the world, on the other end of the cable, are fighting for their rights to freedom and to life. Sort of makes your problems seem small by comparison, or at least, it should. Should also make you think about taking things for granted, be that wealth, health, or time. You only get so much and nothing lasts forever.

I get that. Do you?

More Projects

Despite all of the fat bike riding, XC skiing and hanging out with friends both old and new in Maine that Cathy and I have been doing this winter, I have also been chipping away at some projects. There has been a laundry list of stuff, no different than that which most anyone has, that I've wanted to do. Well, I'm finally taking care of at least some of them.

Bathroom revamp.
We have had leaky faucets in both the bath and the kitchen for some time. I've fixed them int he past but had also wanted to just replace with something a little newer and nicer. Thanks to my good friends at Home Depot, I got a spiffy new faucet that also didn't break the bank. Installing said faucet in the small bathroom vanity however, was a different story. Tight spaces and big hands make for lots of swearing.

When coupled with fixed length copper sweat to compression supply lines to feed the new faucet which are just a little bit too long, an easy job turns into a bigger job. A job that required fire in tight spaces.It all worked out though and combined with the repaint of the room to the same vibrant purple that our spare bath is in MA and a new vanity light, it all came together nicely. Now for a new bathroom floor.

Another aesthetic issue that has plagued us for some time is the chimney, which runs inside as a sort of show piece up through the center of the cathedral ceiling. The finish on the concrete block chimney is a simple concrete skim-coat over a fiber mesh. In short, it is pretty darn ugly. Or shall I say, it was ugly. In looking for paint to paint it recently, I found a concrete floor stain that came in multiple shades. Thinking that stain is often easier to deal with than pain and would possibly, look more natural, I opted for a gallon.

Before in stark natural concrete.
Well, getting said stain onto a vertical surface the scope of the chimney was a chore and at times a challenge. However, after a few coats and most of a day and a gallon to cover it, I was done. Once it was set, it actually looked pretty nice. I'd chosen a terracotta color to match the natural earthy tones we have tried to employ. All in all, we like it a lot. The chimney now blends in well and has a warm feel to it vs. the harsh, stark concrete grey.

Probably the longest standing project has been a laundry. We've never had one in ME, until now. This winter I decided to check it off which given how much time we have spent there, has been critical. The addition of a laundry posed a number of challenges though. Initially, I though we would just put it in the basement. However, our basement is, odd. Long story short, the house sits on a foundation from the round silo house that predated the current dwelling, but burned. The foundation being round, is not under the entire house, there is crawl space under the remainder with the house cantilevered over it, suspended by piers. The access to the basement is less a stairway and more a ladder. Getting laundry up and down that was not practical.

After staining in warm terracotta.
However, when Cathy and I built the mud-room, we left space for a stack laundry. However, that mud-room has no direct heated access to the basement for plumbing. I would need to run through the crawl space and the crawl space is unheated. For years I milled around ideas of how best to deal with it ad for years I did, nothing. I finally decided what I would do was to punch an access chase through, basically a box connecting holes on each end one in the basement and one in the mud-room wall, insulate it and run my plumbing through it. The big game changer that we found was a slick new all in one LG washer/dryer unit that required no venting and runs off 120v electricity. That took two additional tasks right off the table with no need to run a 220v power line (which I had a drop for and would not have been that big a deal) and no need for a dryer vent, which would have required another hole through the wall.

I chose to plumb the hot and cold water feeds with pex plastic tubing and copper crimp rings. This meant buying some tooling but once I had the tool, I was good to go from them on. It was quick and fairly easy to do once I had the copper take off plumbed in with ball valves for shutoff and the female copper to male pex adapted sweated on. Of course, i messed the color coded tubing up and plumbed cold to red and hot to blue because I wasn't thinking. I went back and fixed that though. To cover the mess, I built a nice pine baseboard cover that is open on the inside to allow air flow between the warm basement and heated mud-room through the insulated (with 2" of seam sealed foil backed foam) and attaches to the wall via an overlapping interlocking L bracket I ripped from some wood.

The waste drain was another story. That gave us fits. We had a waste plumbed in with 1.5" PVC earlier but at one point years ago, I removed it. The PVC lengths sat in the basement. I resurrected them for the drain for this project, which took some planning and fitting but in the end was pretty clean. When the washer/dryer unit arrived and the delivery technician was setting it up to test run, the waste backed up. That was my problem though so he left and I started looking for a reason. We had tested the line with limited amounts of water, which we believed ran through the system fine and into the main stack based on the noise of the water movement we heard.

After looking for issues with the trap, checking pitch, looking for frozen blockage in the short run through the crawl space and pulling the line apart, all to no avail I was at a loss. I finally just puckered up and tried to blow through the line from the top while Cathy was at the other, now open end, in the basement. The hot air uncorked the problem, a wadded mess of wet insulation, and then the pipe flowed fine. Didn't think to check for a mouse nest in the pipe I'd used, which had been sitting in the basement for years. Small amounts of water were able to trickle through but the huge volume of the washer draining corked it up tight and backed it to overflow. We tied the drain back together and that was that.

Fresh, slean and green.
Another of the smaller projects that I'd also wanted to knock out was the spare bedroom paint. We had painted it years back but chose an boring cream color that in short, sucked. More color is the current mantra so I went for something again earthy. I chose a green that was similar to that which we used for our bedroom in MA. Nothing fancy and it didn't take that long to do, though it did require a full three coats. There was also a barge amount of trim with which to deal. This small project reminded me that I really don't much care for painting. It is done though and has the intended effect on the room, making it warmer and more inviting. Now we just need to get some new shades, probably in the form of sheer curtains, to finish the room off right.

The small desk moved to the right.
Next, I decided that after having a whole bunch of folks crammed into the small living and eating area of the house, there were some things that might aid the layout and flow. For one, I'd put a small wall mount desk adjacent to the bar/counter that serves as our only dining surface. The bar is 8' long and 2' wide but with the desk where I had it, it encroached on the space. First I moved the desk back away from the bar on the side wall. This was pretty easy as it mounted to the floor via sturdy legs to carry the load and to the wall to stabilize the unit. Remove a few sheetrock screws from under the caps that hide the mounts at the floor and from the back of the desk and it can go anywhere.

The bar with 4 stools slightly lowered.
With more space, I could now add the 4th bar stool back in at the bar. However, it also occurred to me that the bar was the wrong height. It sits atop the counter and is a full 3" thick but I'd also added a 3.5" riser, that served as the counter back-splash as well. This really over-accentuated the different heights of the bar vs. the counter and made them disconnected. My thought was to pull out the riser and drop the two such that they were at a closer level. This was fairly easy based on how I built the bar in the first place, literally removing screws to free the unit from the legs, the legs from the floor and the riser/back-splash from the bar-top. Then I just cut 3.5" out of the legs and screwed it all back together, slightly repositioning the legs for a better fit.

Simple doorway to the crawlspace.
The last step in the process was to modify the bar stools to height. This was simply a matter of chopping each of the legs off with the chainsaw. Well, I actually used the shop-saw and sanded them off a bit to smooth out the edges. Pop the sliders off the old pieces and nail them into the new bottoms of the legs and project was complete. Oh, there was a little touch-up painting to be done as well given that the wall had been painted after the bar initially went in against said wall, so there was a blank spot that needed to be taken care of. Luckily I still had some of the paint left. The idea worked and the feel of the whole unit is much, much better now.

Cold out there.
The last project I tackled was another that has lingered for a very long time, adding a sillcock for an outside hose. For years we have wanted for a hose but did not have one, mainly due to the same foundation limitations I detailed earlier. There just wasn't a good access directly out. In looking this winter though, I realized that there was one location on the foundation that came very close to the side of the house. This was on the back side and while not idea, it was in a spot that I could make work for a frost-proof sillcock. First, however, I would need to punch an access door through the cribbing wall built from the top of the foundation to the bottom of the floor joist in the basement. These walls were roughly 2' high and framed with 2x4's and plywood sheathing on the outside. They gave way to the crawl space behind them, which had no access besides popping the skirting off on the outside of the house. Major pain with 5' of frozen snowbanks piled against them.

Pretty straight forward.
I also made a couple of simple doors to fit inside the framing and attached them with hinges and a locking mechanism. I used sheathing on the outside and counter sunk it to retain the 3.5" (of the 2x4 I used) depth, which matched the framing depth. I then cut the plywood away from the framed wall with a Sawzall but left 1" from the four sides, to overlap and cover the seams of the door. I threw some of the 1" foil backed foam I had left over into the open space of the door to insulate it and there you go, access to the crawl space from inside. This allowed me to frame up and the sill for the sillcock, which I then plumbed in with some of the bulk of copper remnants I have lying around. I also reused the frost-proof sillcock itself, which I'd had lying around for ages. I also plumbed both a hot and cold water inlet into the faucet, each with it's own shutoff valve so I can choose between one or the other. Hot water is a very nice feature for cleaning dirty, frozen, slushy bicycles.

So, I still have a ton of projects left but I am making some progress. Once spring rolls around I will finally be able to start the huge work I have planned for the camp in VT. That is another epic story though. I look forward to those battles, though I must admit, the thought does occasionally keep me up at night.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Check That One Off the List

This winter has been primarily about fat bike riding. Sure, there have been a few good days of riding the roads as well as some good fun spent on the skinny skis but because of the weather, the go to activity has been to ride the Charge Cooker Maxi on the local sled trails. We have had great fun doing it and have had the opportunity to see some really neat things. Throughout the winter, I have been trying to pull together some good quality routes. It is hard, partially due to the nature of snowmobile trails. The well organized trails of Western Maine tend to be corridors and connectors which are more often routes than short, concise loops. What loop trails there are, or can be easily strung together, tend to be an order of magnitude greater than is easily attainable on the fat bike.

Ready to start the day's adventure.
I've come to realize and accept that the fat bikes are pigs. They are big, heavy and slow. Even with good trail conditions, you can only plan on about 10 mph average. That means that the range on the bikes isn't exactly what a normal MTB is and is less than half that of a road bike. Unfortunately, that doesn't leave you with all that big a ride that you can tackle on the short winter days let alone after work. That said, our crew has been hitting some good 30 and 40 milers, which translate to 3.5 - 5 hrs out on the trail.

All winter I have been looking to do an epic but local loop, one that I had done a number of times on sleds, years ago. Cathy and I basically did the same loop, albeit on forest roads some of which were also season snowmobile trail, last summer on CX bikes. It was a great loop taking us through some remote areas of State and National Forest. However, this loop had thus fat eluded me. Cathy wasn't convinced that it was the right scope for her and frankly, I wasn't sure about the scope either. You see, I wasn't certain exactly how long it was. I knew that it was somewhere between 50 and 80 miles though, which is a pretty big discrepancy. Beyond a few climbs that I was very familiar with on the route, I was also uncertain just how much vertical there was. So you can see why I'd been somewhat reluctant to jump in.

This past week the conditions had been good to very good and I'd told myself that come Wednesday, I would set out early solo for an attempt. We got in a good night ride Tuesday that did another local loop of a little over 25 miles. This took us 3 hours and we were cold by the end, but had a great ride on a great evening. Come Wednesday AM though I was waffling. It was cold and there were wolves. I rationalized that I would do and easy recovery ride, get some plumbing done to help out some friends and then do a nice easy recovery ride later on. I'd then be all set to go for a bid on Thursday. One thing led to another and we ended up at the Sunday River Brewery for half price happy hour. We were chatting with the owner and the limited production Mollyockett Imperial IPA they had on tap was flowing. When you are talking with the owner it seems the bar tender, a nice guy who we also know, never lets the empty glass linger. Four 8% ABV (alcohol by volume) pints later and I was a mess. Cathy drove me home and I basically went to bed.

As a complete aside, I found this neat explanation of why Canadian beer is no higher in alcohol content than it's Southern brethren. It was simply that Canada and the rest of the world used the ABV measure while the US used to use ABW (alcohol by weight) which is only 0.79336 of ABV. For the most part, the ABW is no longer used and a Canadian Budweiser is the same as a US Budweiser.

So Thursday morning I got up and was feeling a little bit worse for the weather. Stupid cheap beer night. Dehydrated and starved for quality sleep I rationalized was not the best way to start a fully day of hard riding so with my tail between my legs, I painted the spare bedroom. Doing chores is almost as good as riding and is a great excuse, playing the responsibility card. So that is what I did. Thursday evening I was feeling a little guilty so took of at 4PM for a hard solo effort. This ended up being a great ride and did a fine job of crushing me physically.

Friday I'd planned to go finish up the plumbing I was doing for friends by replacing the old leaking stop valve with a new ball valve. This took a little longer than expected, of course, trying to break the old stuff apart and tie in new components. It is like trying to fit that new SRAM Red yaw 11spd front derailleur onto the old SRAM Apex 10spd bike. The overall function is primarily the same but the workings and adjustment are just a little bit off. I finally got in though and either hot or cold water could now flow through the sillcock, making for some powerful degreasing and deicing. After I finished, Don and I discussed riding plans. We'd already planned to go to Great Glen that evening for free fat tire riding on the trails there but when I mentioned we'd decided not to drive to KT Saturday he asked about a big ride. Big ride? Really? Game on.

Rolling along.
So we decided to go for it, or at least make the attempt at the Evergreen Valley Loop, the loop I've been speaking of. This loop travels to Gilead, ME and up over Evan's Notch. It then descends down the back side into NH and then climbs up over another ridge to Evergreen Valley, an old abandoned alpine ski area. From there it travels up and around various features making it's way to Crocker Pond and eventually out to Songo Pond and the first roadway in a very long time. Then on to Bethel.

Planned departure time was 9AM and we planned for a 10 hour day. This meant packing food and water as well as extra gear. The temperature to start was going to be cold so we ran flat pedals and wore winter boots. Frozen feet in the literal, middle of nowhere with no way out is no place to be. I took a packable down hooded jacket, just in case, as well as a wind vest and wind jacket for riding. Extra mittens, liner gloves and chemical warmers as well as a hat and balaclava and of course, lights. Honestly, we planned for the worst. We were heading into the remote wilderness in single digit temps and understood that it was not a joke. At 9AM the temperature was 2 degrees above up from 6 below. We delayed until 9:30AM at which point it was 3 degrees and the sun was starting to show.

Not a great start to a long day.
It was cold at first but within minutes I'd warmed and shortly there after I had to strip the down off. We started getting into a rhythm and were moving well. I could feel the cumulative week's efforts though and was working a bit harder and filling more uncomfortable than I'd have liked at that point. Almost immediately when we settled in for the first longer, 10 minute climb, Don's chain snapped. Luckily I had the tools and we were in an open sunny spot. A quick fix and we were off again. The next sections after the climb and descent were long rolling wide open pipe line. Great trail with some good vistas of the craggy Maine mountainsides.

Soon we were at Bog Road which meant the start of the first big grunt climb and the second 10 minute or so effort. I'd never ridden up but knew from riding down that it was tough with some very steep 20 plus percent pitches. I struggled with traction and fell off on one of the pitches. Don was already off and walking behind me. We got going again and I slipped again on the next steep incline while Don kept moving. We chose to run high pressure in the hoped that it would minimize effort on the long, primarily hard-pack, ride. For the most part the bikes were rolling well, certainly easier than with very low pressures, required for very soft conditions. The down side was that the increases pressure coupled with firm conditions beat you up. In terms of the flat pedals, they had been little if any detriment I would say, that is until we got to the super steep climbs. These require a perfectly smooth pedal stroke to maintain traction. This is more of a challenge with the flat pedals for sure.

We made good time working the flat and fast rollers through the evergreen and deciduous forests that parallel RT2 to Gilead. From there it was all up to Evan's Notch. The plan was to take the side trail that ascends about 2/3 of the way up the RT113 notch road which,  while more rolling up, was more scenic than the gated RT113 sled trail route directly over the notch. This proved to be a challenging choice. The ups were far more plentiful and far steeper than I recalled and the trail while firm, was laden with chunky frozen crust making forward progress tedious, tiring and uncomfortable. I'd describe it like riding crushed rock gravel on a normal MTB. You can do it but it's hard and not much fun. All told this section translated to a solid 30 minute climbing effort, our first but not last of the day.

Eventually we topped out and started the long fast descent down to RT113, which was very bittersweet. I say that because we were descending only to have to ascend again, albeit a different peak. In review of the route later, this trail gained an extra 500' of vertical over RT113. Bonus! As we hit RT113 we took a moment to drink a bit and prepare mentally for the long steady climb ahead of us.

At the top of Evan's Notch, soaked but glad to be done.
This climb up to the top of the notch starts slight but ramps up. Conditions were pretty good but well traveled and the trail was crowned, meaning that you had to keep on top of the traction. As the trail pitched, the pace declined and the suffering went into overdrive. The full backpack was wearing hard on my lower back, when coupled with the efforts being expended. I couldn't get comfortable and was constantly switching around. I'd stripped down to a base layer and a thermal jersey with a wind vest over the top yet sweat was streaming off my nose as I peered down at the snow below my front tire in a death gaze. This was a bad sign. What seemed like an eternity of slogging along eventually brought us to the familiar summit and lookout. This was our second 30 minute climb of the day.

Notch lookout.
The descent was screaming fast and incredibly long. If you have ever climbed the back side of the notch you will understand how steep it is. We got to the bottom and my hat that I had under my helmet had frozen solid. I was pretty cold in general as I'd not put a jacket on over the summit. We stopped at the bottom for the first real food break of the day. We were only at mile 30 or so and it already was proving to be a tough ride. As we ate and drank I threw the down on to warm up. The sun was now obscured by overcast and it looked like it could snow. We did not stop long though and were off again, heading toward Evergreen Valley.

Within a few miles we hit a steep section of side mountain trail. It marched along up with some short steep punches that were barely manageable. This ended up being a 20 minute climb effort which would culminate in a fast descent that would give way immediately to another 10 minute ascent. From there we descended into Evergreen Valley, by the old ski area and were off to what I hoped would be some flatter terrain. I was soon treated with another 10 minute ascent followed by a quick descent and another 10 minute ascent. Are you seeing a pattern here? When reviewing the profile of the ride it is pretty jagged indeed and though the climbs are fairly short length wise, the fact that they are on snow and we are riding fat bikes makes them much longer time wise than one would expect.

Nice stretch of trail to Evergreen Valley.

We finally got a bit of a reprieve and got a nice long down followed by a moderately rolling section of trail. That reprieve was soon revoked though and we started trudging up. Yes, we were in full death march by this point. About 10 minutes into the twisty climb Don exclaims that he thinks we are near the top and that this is the last real climb before Crocker Pond. I take it with a grain of salt and keep pressing on, up the trail. I soon realize that what I had taken as Don trying to comfort me with optimism is as much him optimistically trying to comfort himself. While struggling myself, I'd continually asked how he was doing throughout the day to which he would confidently answer back good. I'd taken this to mean he was in way better shape than me, which brought me some concern. You never want to be that guy, the one who ends up dragging others down, the weakest link. It became evident another 10 minutes up the trail, when I could see Don struggling a ways back from me now, that he was in the same dark place as I. Another 10 minutes later, we finally crested the climb, 30 minutes from when we started, and then began the descent which this time really was the last part of the trail toward Crocker Pond.

Final break.
Crocker Pond really isn't much of a pond. It is more like a swamp. Regardless it marked an important way-point in the ride. Unfortunately, the signs were all wrong in terms of proclaimed distances. They said 6 miles back to Evergreen Valley when it was actually more like 18 miles back and claimed 18 miles to Bethel. There are of course multiple ways to get to Bethel so we knew that was relative. At this point we again ate most of the remainder of the food and drank hardily. We also changed what clothing we could and bundled up for the last leg of the adventure.

The last section was pretty much heads down trying to get home. There was some really nice trail but also a few steep sections and you guessed it, a couple more 10 minute climbs. I'm not sure exactly how many of these we ended up with but I can tell you, they added up. Where we ride usually in MA, there are not a ton of 10 minute steady climbs. In order to get multiples you have to do hill repeats on the few that you can find of that length. This was not the problem today and there was no need for repeating anything. Eventually we made it to the gas line, a different section but the same line we'd done much earlier in the day and on to Songo Pond and RT5. From there it was the horse and the barn. The last steep grunt up led to a gentle down and we were at Vernon Street. We had quietly decided earlier to forgo 4 Corners and the brutal climb to the top of the trail above Irish Neighborhood. Instead we spun the road for a few miles and then jumped back onto the trail at Rabbit Road.

This sums it up.
This is the most familiar stretch of trail there is as I ride it most every day. Trail 113N to Bethel. On the second rise of the trail we peaked over 7000' of elevation for the day according to the Garmin 500. I was good with that. Yes, had we done the extra 5 miles from Four Corners with that climb and the Irish Neighborhood climb we would have been over 8000' on the day but honestly, I'm not certain that I could have done it. I was that far gone, really. Death stare and drool.

We hit the house and dropped the bikes. Cathy came out to greet us and Don's family arrived as well, almost if perfectly orchestrated. There was food and drink and warm, so inside we went to begin the long recovery process.

All through the day I reflected on the exploits of the adventure racers and friend Alec who did the Arrowhead 135 mile and Iditarod Trail Invitational 350 mile races this year. I can not begin to fathom that effort or that suffering based on what I'd encountered that relatively short 7 hours on the bike. My back was a mess and I wanted nor could stand any more. Incredible amounts of respect. I clearly thought I was stronger than I really am.

In the end, days after, I am still tired and my back is still tweaked. It is true that I've not spent this much time on the bike very often in recent years. I did one 7 hour ride last summer and once in the spring  but it had been years since the time before that. I used to do it frequently. I'm guessing the key is to do it more often, if you plan to do it more often. No secret there. Probably doing lots of really intense 45 minute races doesn't really prepare on well for the endurance events. Honestly, I used to be built for that stuff but have spent the last 5 years adapting to the former.

I learned a bunch and realized even more. Heat management is really, really hard when it is cold out and you are doing hard efforts. Backpacks suck for riding bikes. Flat pedals are great for downs and flat sections but make ups more taxing and wear tough on the knees when laying down power but are still better than frozen feet. Staying hydrated is really hard when it is cold and your water constantly freezes.

Many thanks to Don for agreed to be partner to the adventure.It was a good time, in hindsight, but I'm not really certain that I ever want to do it again. Those endless climbs at 2.3mph are still etched too firmly in mind.