Awkward Cannon

Monday, January 25, 2016

I've found a new reason to like three-day weekends. It makes it easier to squeeze in all the activities I enjoy. My company gives us every-other Friday off by working a modified work schedule. So what about the weekends where I do not get Friday off? There are only two days to pack in hiking, skiing and biking. That just means I have to double up some days!

I signed up for the Ski to the Clouds race in March. It is a 10k freestyle race that finishes at tree line on Mt Washington. I need to start working some intensity back into my routine. Bonus if it is on skis. Nordic skiing intensity trumps any other kind of intensity in my opinion, because a) it uses all the major muscle groups and b) it is weight bearing. So my weekend would be planned around skiing first, then other activities worked around skiing.

Local skiing has been marginal at best this winter. There's some pretty good skiing in Maine, but I spent way too much time in cars last weekend. I wanted to stay closer this weekend if possible. I settled on Waterville on Saturday. Reports said Tripoli Rd was in good shape. If I'm going for a workout, that is all that really matters. 20 minutes above threshold repeats up that 800ft beast quickly reduces all my muscles into quivering jelly. The grooming was flawless, but cover was very thin in most areas. After a couple repeats on kinder, gentler Livermore Rd (with one face plant from hitting a rock), I went over to the Tripoli Rd side. Three times up Tripoli finished me off nicely. Skied 50km with 4000ft of climbing.

There was still several hours of daylight left, and I was in the White mountains. There are several peaks I've yet to visit. I just so happened to have all my hiking gear in the car. Uh-huh.  I sort of hiked up Cannon Mtn before. It was during the Franconia Sufferfest race. The race started at the Franconia Inn, climbed via XC trails to the base of Cannon Mountain ski area, then straight up the alpine ski slope. Did the organizers really think we could ride up that? I thought it would be very difficult, bordering physically impossible. Turns out the winner, and myself finishing second, hike-a-biked 99.99% of the climb. Does that count as "officially" hiking Cannon? No, but I'll say lugging a 25lb bike up to the top is way harder than hiking with a pack. So I hopped in the car after skiing and headed north on I-93 instead of south to go home.

In the tram parking lot, I realized I forgot several items when I left in haste that morning. Such as dry street clothes when I was done for the day and my micro spikes. The clothes, meh. Spikes? SOB! I did bring my snowshoes just in case. I had never hiked in snowshoes before, despite buying a pair almost a year ago. Guess there has to be a first time at some point. I did not put them on right away. As I walked to the trail head, a small group had just finished hiking the Kinsman Ridge Trail from the summit. They said I'll want snowshoes the whole way up. 

Have you ever put swimming fins on and try to walk with them? That is how I felt when I first strapped the shoes to my boots. Awkward, to say the least. Took several stops to get them adjusted right too.  I knew this hike would be steep, but I really underestimated the impact of steepness hiking with snowshoes for the first time. There were tight rock squeezes, occasional root catches, big step-ups, icy sections, all manner of  hazards that wouldn't have even registered if I had brought my microspikes. To be sure, most people coming down had snowshoes on, but one couple did not. The guy (husband?) jokingly warned me, saying "watch out, she'll take you down like a bowling pin." Haha. 

Not only did I tangle myself up in tight spots, I found the snowshoes offered poor grip on ice compared to my microspikes. One thing I found very helpful though, was the heel lift option. Used it right from the bottom. That surely saved me from calf and Achilles grief. I thought this four mile hike should be easy to bang out in less than 2hrs, but now finishing with lights was looking probable. Perhaps the descent would be much less problematic.

Once I got part way up, the stream of people coming down stopped. I had amazing views all to myself from the ledge and the summit observation deck. I had to take the snowshoes off to negotiate the stairs. How do you think that worked out with the steps completely filled in with ice? Yep, yard sale on the way back down. Glad I was at least holding the railing. It was so slick I chose to slide down the rest of the steps on my ass. After gathering my scattered shoes and poles on the landing, I thought hard about maybe just hiking down a ski run. It was almost 4pm and the lifts would stop shortly. Where would the glory be in that though?

As I headed down, I learned the mountain get even steeper!  I found the snowshoes a bit terrifying in spots. It has stayed cold since last snowfall and the snow wasn't set up yet. The shoes acted like skis in spots.  The steepness combined with always loading feet at a downward angle meant huge tension in the knees too. My knees do not take kindly to that abuse. I'm pretty sure my time going down was just as long if not longer than my moving time hiking up. So much for making up time on the way back down.

I made it back to the car well past sunset, within minutes of needing the light, without any carnage. Not sure what to make of hiking in snowshoes. I felt vulnerable the whole time, like I could catch on something and blow a knee out.  Perhaps with more snow cover and experience, that uneasiness will go away. I did notice most folks had narrower, lighter duty snowshoes. That would be worth looking into for when trail is already broken out. Anyway, the hike was thoroughly satisfying, finishing the day with 6600ft climbing on snow.

White canopy heading up Kinsman Ridge Trail from the Tramway parking lot

Trees getting stubby approaching 4000ft on Kinsman Ridge Trail

Franconia Ridge from Cannon Cliffs

Looking down I-93 from Cannon Cliffs. Massive snowstorm was brewing
further down the east coast. Sunny north of the Notch

Calm, cold and sunny with Mt Layfayette from Cannon Cliffs

Approaching summit of Cannon Mtn

Looking south(ish) into the low sun at the Cannon Balls and the Kinsmans from
Cannon Mtn observation deck

Franconia Ridge from Cannon observation deck

Kinsman Ridge Trail above Cannon Cliffs heading back down

Sun setting with 700ft of vertical drop back to car


What's All This List Stuff Anyhow?

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Year's ago, I used to read a column by Bob Pease that was always titled "What's all this ____ stuff, anyhow?" where the blank was filled with the month's topic. Topics were often about engineering methods or approaches where there were different camps of thought. Pease was also a bit of a curmudgeon, skeptical of computer modelling and the internet. His favorite programming language? Solder. Yes, that means build a piece of electronic hardware and see if it works or not. Pease also enjoyed the outdoors and wrote about hikes in the northeast.

In 2015, I got turned on to hiking. There are vast areas of New England that cannot be  reached by bike. You have to go in by foot. 3000ft net gain climbs galore? I'm into that. The rhythm of hiking differs from cycling, or even skate skiing for that matter. It is slower, yet it can demand much cardio fitness when going up 60% grades. It is very easy to slip into a flow state while hiking.

You meet a lot of interesting people on the trail. Reasons that draw people to the trail are diverse. Invariably, it seems everybody is working on one list or another. So what's all this list stuff, anyhow?

Shortly after moving to New Hampshire in 1997, I became aware of the 4000 footers list. There are 48 peaks that are above 4000ft elevation and have 200ft prominence. I knew people working on this list. Planned hikes were based on what they "needed," which meant a peak they haven't "bagged" yet. I thought this was kind of arbitrary. Why not 1000 meters or 5000ft? Guess the list would be too long or too short then.  48 peaks is a number most fit people could achieve in a reasonable amount of time.

What spiked my interest in hiking was an invite to do the Presidential Range traverse in a day. My wife and I plan to move out west some day and I wanted to experience the Presi traverse before moving.  This is a more serious undertaking than hitting one or two peaks in a single hike, as the Presi traverse entails upwards of 20 miles of rugged terrain and 10,000ft of climbing. During the traverse, new terms were learned. One was redlining. A couple we crossed paths with multiple times were "redlining." I wondered, was this like going all-out, like redlining an auto engine? Hmmm. Then Soups explained it to me. You take an AMC trail map, not any particular one, then hike every single trail on it, highlighting in red as you complete them. This means dead-ends to outhouses, spurs to outlooks, every trailhead, etc. That is dedication. Probably looks pretty impressive when complete and worth framing. There was also a runner out there that day doing a double Presi-traverse in a single day. Was he going for the FKT? Fastest Known Time was another term I did know before I started hiking.

Now that it is winter, I learned there is a "Winter 48" list. So hiking the 48 4000-footers when it is nice out isn't enough. Now you have to do them between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. Additional gear is needed. Traction devices like micro-spikes, crampons or snowshoes. Or survival items, like extra dry layers, emergency shelter, etc. Parts of the White mountains have the worst weather on Earth and people regularly die in the Whites.

But wait, there's more. There's The Grid.  Why not hike all 48 4kers in every month of the year? That is 12x48=576 peaks to bag. Many have completed it. One of the last hikes I did up to the Twins, I met two people up top. They asked if I was a "Gridder." Fortunately I had already learned what that was and didn't look like a complete idiot. Surely I must have been a gridder, hiking up there solo after the trailhead gates had been locked, on a wintry day. I told them I wasn't sure I was pursuing any list. They replied they were passive gridders themselves, but they had completed about half of the grid. That doesn't sound all that passive to me...

I learned rules go along with these lists too. For example, some hikes it is possible to ride a bike part way in, say to the wilderness boundary. But no, that doesn't count. You must hike all the way in from a legitimate trailhead. Soups pointed this one out to me when I mentioned I was going to bike/hike to Owl's Head. You can do that, but then you can't claim Owl's Head on your 48 list. So I toughed out those extra 5 miles on foot. Can't say why, as I'm still not sure if I'll hike all 4000 footers or not.

There are many other lists people are chasing, like the Hundred Highest, Fifty Finest, Trailwrights 72, etc. Everybody has their reasons. One person I met said hiking was like therapy and the list provided focus and motivation to keep it going. Some do it for bragging rights, I'm sure. I suspect others become enslaved by lists. There was a very good discussion thread on Views from the Top forum a while back.

And if humans pursing lists weren't enough, there are lists for canines too. That adds another dimension to figuring out what hike to hit next. What do I need? What does Fido need? Then try to coordinate with friends and their dogs and what they need. Gets pretty complicated.

My first reaction to all these lists was it is pretty silly. But then I realized I have been chasing a list myself for a long time: Mountain biking in all 50 states.  I am two states away from completing my list, Mississippi and Louisiana yet to be colored in. I use this goal of riding dirt in each state as a way to see parts of the country I wouldn't normally get to see and experience diversity in riding terrain our country offers. So yeah, I can relate to hikers pursuing lists. I am not a slave to my list. I've been working on it for 15+ years. I let opportunity work in my favor. Work travels have helped me "bag" many states. Wife wants to go to Hawaii? Sure. Bike is coming along. I also don't avoid going to states I've already biked in in favor of hitting a state I "need." Case in point, I go to Arizona or Utah every spring. Riding there that time of year is just too friggin awesome to pass up for a less awesome place because I haven't bagged it yet.

Anyway, I've maintained a detailed log since 2001. I used to call it my training log. I don't really train for specific events anymore. It is an activity log. My activities are more therapy than training these days. My 2015 activity pie chart looks much different in years past. Road cycling hours continue to diminish, mountain biking hours increase, and then a large new slice shows up with hiking. I wonder how this will evolve in 2016?

2015 saw the most aerobic activity hours I've ever logged in a year, almost 750. I strive for 600hrs, what I feel is the minimum therapeutic benefit threshold. The big increase is due mostly to hiking. Even taking hiking out of the picture, I still would have had over 600hrs. Not sure 750 is sustainable going forward, so something else will have to give a little, especially if I attempt a Pemi Loop in 2016...


Birth of a New Turkey Burner Tradition?

Friday, November 27, 2015

The day after Thanksgiving is typically reserved for "burner" activities. For many years, I've enjoyed the FOMBA Turkey Burner. Held late in fall, weather was pretty unpredictable. Some years were bitter cold with rock hard frozen ground. Others were entertaining in 2-4" of snow. There were a couple years in bone chilling rain, which sucked. Last year the T-burner was cancelled due to pending major snow storm.

This year the FOMBA Turkey Burner was cancelled again, well in advance of the event. Don't know why. The weather turned out to be phenomenal for the day after Thanksgiving, the best in my 18 years here in New Hampshire.

Filling the gap this year, a new cycling club State 9 Racing hosted an informal T-burner event. A different starting venue and very different route were used, something a little more to my liking - longer and hillier! For my non-New England readers, New Hampshire was the 9th state to ratify the current US Constitution, thus State 9 Racing.

The ride overwhelmed the FOMBA parking area on Depot Road. Three groups headed out around 9am, a CX bike group, B-group and A-group. I rolled out with 15 others in the A group, doing an extended route at sporty pace.

A few minutes into the ride, a rider already hit the deck right in front of me. A random diagonal steel pipe sweaty with dew has a way of taking your front wheel away from you. It was so warm out that the ground was below the dew point.  Those of us starting out with long layers were soon removing them. The temp quickly rose above 60F!  Not much recent rain meant the trails were in mint condition too.

The snowmobile corridor Trail 15N took us up to Bear Brook State Park, 10,000 acres with growing network of flowy singletrack. We hit Hedgehog Ledge trail first. I was going to ride the granite staircase, something I haven't done in years. On a long travel 29er, it should be a piece of cake. But then I saw many guys bail on committing in front of me. When I got up to the lip, I hesitated, then it was all over. Once you lose your nerve, its not good to go anyway. I've ridden it many times on a 26" wheeled MTB. Guess I've become more risk adverse over the years. The consequences of botching that drop are severe, but the probability of it going awry is perhaps low. It's a psychological thing.

The hiker-biker lot in Bear Brook was the mid-point of our ride. State 9 Racing had set up their canopy with food table there. Treats graciously provided by one of their sponsors Jake's Old Fashioned Ice Cream and Bake Shop were heavenly.  All three groups followed routes to get us there around 11am, which proved successful. After some socializing, groups shuffled up a bit. The A-group pared down to 10 riders.

We first swung north in the park to hit much of the newer NEMBA built singletrack before working our way south on the famed Hemlock Trail and out of the park. Our route back to FOMBA followed mostly Class VI town roads, often chunder buried deeply with oak leaves. Fortunately, I'm very familiar with this route without leaves and knew where to be careful or what line not to take. More riders hit the deck, fortunately nothing serious.

My sensored Garmin logged 38 miles in 3.3hrs moving time with 2900ft of climbing. Couldn't have been a nicer day, and it was a great group to ride with. Always cool to meet and ride with new people. Everybody has a different riding style, strengths and weaknesses. You always learn something when you see how the rider in front of you plies their strengths and weakness against the terrain. I'll leave you with photos I and a few others captured.

Some of the group gathering before the ride at FOMBA

Andy leading the A-group on Trail 15N to Bear Brook

Group photo op at Bear Hill Pond

Another angle at Bear Hill Pond. Is it really almost December?!

Dodging boulders on Hedgehog Ledge Trail

Hedgehog Ledge. Felt like summer.

State 9 Racing volunteers set up feed stop at the hiker-biker parking lot in Bear Brook.

Mmmm, Jake's baked goods! (photo Doug R.)

Fullest I've ever seen this lot, and we didn't park here! Really cool to see Bear Brook blossom like this, thanks to NEMBA's hard work gaining the confidence of the state to build and maintain trail.

Might be everybody from three riding groups here. Didn't get name of woman who took the photo.

Beaver Pond Trail, sketchy log bridge section. Almost nobody attempted to ride it...

...Jonathan made it look easy.

Dave on Class VI trail, which took us back to towards FOMBA. Note ice on pond and short sleeves. Awesome!

There's no end to the culinary assault I suffer on a daily basis, whether it's our department admin bringing me decadent home-baked goods at work, or in this case Dave Penney giving me a massive whoopie pie post ride. It didn't even list how many calories were in it because you wouldn't want to know. I didn't eat it all (yet). (photo Dave P.)


NIMBY Hipocrites

Sunday, November 22, 2015

In my gallivanting around the northeast, I can't help but notice recurring signs wherever I go. Around work in Merrimack and even in my hometown Pelham, I see "No Pipeline" signs in yards. Up north in places I bike and hike, I see "Stop the Northern Pass" signs. I've touched on this here in the past, but feel compelled to comment a bit more about it.

Americans are energy hogs. There's no weaseling around this fact. Sure, some folks drive a hybrid to work and back but live in a 3500sq-ft McMansion for two people. How many pounds of CO2 does heating and cooling it add to the environment each year?

So what bugs me is this. Invariably folks that oppose the Northern Pass are hooked up to the grid! Where do they think that electricity comes from? Several major sources of generation are going away in the next few years and there is nothing to back fill the demand. Rates are already among the highest in the country. Folks that oppose Northern Pass would gain so much more credibility if their homes were not connected to the grid.

Same with the pipeline. Many areas the pipeline passes through are serviced by natural gas. Yards sporting anti-pipeline signs have gas meters just a few feet away! Go figure. Again, where do they figure that gas comes from? Do homes around here have private gas wells?

Increasing gas supply would go a long way in meeting demand as old generators are decommissioned. Gas can readily be converted to electricity with less impact on the environment than coal. Wind and solar currently meet a tiny fraction of demand and won't anytime soon be a full solution (no storage means when dark or calm). As I've noted before, I'm a huge proponent of developing solar power as a major replacement for how much of our electricity is generated today.

There is a lot of information out there both for and against these projects. Why do people gravitate one way or another? It seems we are susceptible to the "anti" memes right now. There is a lot of misinformation out there, and that resonates better in our current cultural mindset than non-emotional facts. Powerlines cause cancer! Stop the Northern Pass. Pipelines incinerate people! Stop the pipeline!

The fact of the matter is home and office wiring, and particularly a cellphone held to the head, pushes way more EMF through the body than high voltage powerlines hundreds of feet away. Yet opponents use these scare tactics, and people believe it.

As far as gas lines go, how many incinerated people do you know?  None? I bet you know several people killed in car accidents, yet we don't think twice about heading to work every day.  Back in Michigan, I built a house on land that had a set of very high volume natural gas pipelines running through the backyard. I never once gave consideration to being incinerated or building elsewhere. Only downside to having the lines cross my five acres was I could not build over the lines. Could farm it though. There's fear mongering over the compressor station that would be needed at the pipeline terminus in an adjacent town. Well, in Michigan, our property abutted one of those too. Not a perfect neighbor, but you can have way worse neighbors. The fact of the matter is far more people are killed by natural gas in the home than by pipelines. Carbon monoxide, usually the result of faulty furnaces and appliances, kills many people every year. Then fires and explosions from leaks in the home kill people too. Pipelines? Much further down the list. Most pipeline fatalities are from construction accidents.

Consumers Energy marks entrance to compressor station complex. Our home was immediately north of it on 139th Ave. Diagonal line is where pipeline cut through my backyard.

NIMBY - Not In My Back Yard. Everybody enjoys the benefits of cheap, available energy to fuel our excessive lifestyles as long as it isn't brought through our backyard.  New England has enjoyed a diverse economy and relatively low unemployment rates during the 18 years I have called it home. I'd hate to see that tank because it becomes too expensive to live or set up shop here.

Power lines and pipe lines aren't the only thing Americans are being NIMBY with right now. We've suddenly discovered new reasons to reject refugees after the recent events in Paris. Everybody wants to help, but not in my city.

This post isn't so much a rant about people protesting infrastructure improvements. It is about why we gravitate toward one side of a conflict vs. the other. I think social media does a disservice here, vs, face to face dialog. You can be confronted, bombarded really, with connection's viewpoints very quickly in social media. This pushes people into corners, isolates people. It doesn't bring people together, that's for sure. Face to face discourse is personal, less confrontational. It seems a lot of content gets shared on Facebook purely to stir up reactions. We bitch and complain about congress being in perpetual gridlock, but I see an awful lot of that going on at a much more local level too. It seems to have become the American way.


Rolling quasi-fatty

Finished sealing up the tires this morning and took my new Carver Gnarvester for a ride today. Pretty much flawless out of the box, but I think one tweak will be needed at some point.

The build starts with a Carver Gnarvester alloy frame, which is a "29er+" rig. The "+" means the frame was designed to accommodate an extra wide 29" tire in back, up to 3" wide. That does not make it a fat bike though. Fat bikes can accommodate 3.7" and wider tires. I owned one for two seasons and had to abandon it after experiencing knee pain each time I rode it. To accommodate 3.7" and wider tires, the bottom bracket is widened so the chain and crank arms can clear the tire. This spreads the pedals out away from each other, the so-called Q-factor. I surmised this was behind my knee pain.  A plus-bike uses a standard bottom bracket width, so the Q-factor is the same as all my other bikes. Thus it should not bother my knees. The downside is you cannot put a proper fat bike tire in back for maximum float on snow.

The front-end is fair game for experimentation. The frame does not dictate what kind of tire, or wheel for that matter, you put up front. The diameter of a 29"+ tire is nearly 30".  Fat bike tires come in 26" rim size. Could I mate a 26" fat tire with a 29"+ tire in back? On the surface, there would seem to be huge mismatch, and that could upset the riding geometry and bike handling greatly. But fat bike tires now come in sizes up to 5". What is the diameter of a 26x5" tire? Almost 30"! So there-in hatched a plan. I'd give up some float in back to save my knees but maximize float up front by going as wide as possible. On paper, it looked great.

Over the past few months I collected parts. This was going to be a budget build. I salvaged a few parts from my previous winter beater bike. No carbon wheels. The difference between carbon and steel or even alloy forks is substantial though, so I did invest in a carbon fork. Plus it was critical that I maximized crown to axle distance to keep geometry where I wanted it. The Salsa Makwa fork could accommodate 26x5" and 29x3" tires, so it had generous crown to axle dimension to clear the big tires. Here's the build spec:

Carver Gnarvester alloy frame with sliding 142mm thru-axle dropouts
Salsa Makwa all-carbon fork, 483mm crown to axle, 142mm thru-axle
Sun Ringle 80mm Mulefut rim laced to 142mm Salsa Fat Conversion hub
Vee Tire Co Snowshoe XL 26" x 4.8" front tire, stud-able
Stan's 52mm Hugo rim laced to Halo 142mm Spin Doctor hub
Vee Tire Co Trax Fatty 29" x 3.0" rear tire
Tires and rims all tubeless-ready and set up with Stan's sealant
Shimano Deore triple crank with Gamut TTr 30t wide-narrow ring
Shimano XT 11-36t 10spd cassette
Shimano XT 10spd shifter
Shimano XT pedals
Shimano XT rear derailleur, medium cage
Bontrager saddle
Cane Creek 10-series integrated headset (no standards here anymore!)
Avid BB7 disk brakes with Avid levers
Thomson Elite post
Thomson Elite stem
Easton EC-70 carbon bar

The built weight came in about the same as my Santa Cruz Tallboy, just under 28 pounds. Surprising really, since there are no suspension components.  But when you consider how heavy the front tire alone is, it isn't so surprising (I think I measured 1500g!). The wheel base is about 1" less than my Tallboy. With a light front-end, it should be easy to loft it up on stuff.

The tires set up tubeless flawlessly except for one caveat. When I first mounted the Snowshoe on the Mulefut rim, I did so without sealant as a dry run, literally. It didn't hold air overnight, but no surprise there. So when I went to pop the bead this morning to pour in a few cups of Stan's, I couldn't do it! I don't mean it was hard to break the bead, I mean I tried everything and I could not break the bead in or out of the rim. I even resorted to screwdrivers! No dice.  The rim has a locking grove for the bead, and it locks alright. There is no way, ever, that tire on that rim will burp, even at 0.01psi! It also means if I ever flat with that tire on the trail, I'm walking out.

The Gnarvester at the new Wasserman bridge built yesterday

So how did it ride? In a word, great! The geometry felt spot-on. I started with tire pressures a little on the high side, as it is easier to adjust down than up on the trail. I hit my lunch stomping grounds in and around Horse Hill. Not the most techy area, but plenty of root and rock for a shake down test.

I met up with Arvid at his house by chance. He had a low pressure gauge. I tuned the tires down to 6.5psi front and 9.5psi rear. Those are essentially winter riding pressures, keeping in mind the rear is not a fat bike tire. Arvid joined me for the second half of the ride on a loaner fat bike he just got yesterday. Some spirited riding ensued. What impressed me the most was how the giant tires just steam roll over anything. Not the same as suspension, but still pretty sweet. I nearly wrecked myself several times over steering. The tires behave very differently than the 2.35" Racing Ralph's on my Tallboy. The shorter wheelbase added to the grippier cornering. I repeatedly came close to clipping trees on inside of corners. The 9.5psi in the rear 3.0" wide tire was probably a bit too low. I felt it bottom pretty hard a couple times.

Arvid leading on the Twister reroute the Bully was working on when
we came through.

On pavement, the reduced pressure tires were painfully sluggish. Pavement is not the intended purpose of this bike though. On the trail, I'd say it rides better than my Superfly hardtail with 80mm front suspension. The head angle is a little more relaxed, and the bigger diameter tire makes smooth work of root mazes.

The front tire is so massive it almost looks bigger than the rear, but the
rear is slightly bigger outside diameter.

The one thing I'll have to tweak is chain line. The triple crank places the ring out too far, such that using the biggest cog is marginal. It is very grindy and rough sounding. If I flip the ring to the inside of the spider, it hits the frame. Thus I should invest in a single ring specific crank that puts the ring around a 51mm chain line. That will just clear the frame and tire and give me a little less offset to the big cog.

So now we wait for snow. None in the foreseeable forecast. I'm not eager for snow so I can ride in/on it. I want to skate ski on it. I built up the quasi-fat bike so I can join others on weekend epics and be less disadvantage than struggling with my skinny hardtail on snow machine trails.


Git Yer Flow On

Monday, November 9, 2015

Summer is gone, fall foliage is on the ground. Some wait in dread, others in anticipation for what comes next. It is shoulder season.

When I first got hooked on cycling, that is all I did. Winter came, the bike got put away. Come spring, the bathroom scale indicated my approach was flawed. I learned to ride in the winter.

Similarly to how a friend coaxed me into cycling, other friends talked me into Nordic skiing. It took a while, but I learned to like it.  This took tremendous pressure off trying to maintain fitness and health over the winter months using only the bike. The best part about skate skiing? It was just like mountain biking in terms of aerobic intensity, exhilaration bombing down trails, and mental therapy. Snow had become something to look forward to, not dreaded.

But what about that season in between, you know, where cycling starts to suck and skiing isn't quite ready yet? Well, yet others lured me into hiking this summer. Yeah, anybody can hike, so how could it match the intensity and thrill of cycling or skiing, I wondered?  I learned it can in many ways.

When Soups invited me on a Presidential traverse this summer, I thought that is the quintessential New England hike, and I have to do it before moving someday in the maybe not too distant future. I prepped for several weekends leading up to the Presi traverse in hopes it wouldn't kill me. It didn't. Was that a one and done effort, back to regularly scheduled programming? I couldn't let this new, budding ability simply go to waste.

Mt Hancock on a gloomy October 25, but still oh so green.

Late last winter I bought winter hiking boots and snowshoes but never got a chance to use them. I intend to this winter. Why not maintain, even build on the hiking base I started this summer? I was noticing other little benefits from it that might serve me well in ways not immediately obvious.

For one, I have become considerably more agile on my feet. I have a terrible tendency to roll ankles. In fact, when I first started hiking this summer, I wore ankle braces for descending. Now I don't even bring them with me. Don't even think about it really. How can this be?

There's two parts to this I think. One is simply strength conditioning. Stronger tendons and stability muscles can do a better job stabilizing and ankle. The other is neurological. It now seems, after many weeks of long, technical hikes, my ankles just know what to do when planting on uneven ground. Control seems to be automatic and immediate. I can't help but think this will pay dividends on skis, as balance is such a critical aspect to skate skiing.

Mt Osceola, August 23

Another hiking benefit is upper body workout. I hike with poles and use them like I mean it. The poles aren't there just for balance. I use them to double-pole myself up big step-ups, catapult myself over big gaps, and let myself down big drops. Lots of uphill bounding work. Triceps are sore after some hikes.

I've also noticed improved hip mobility recently, which could only be from hiking.  All of that awkward lateral movement hiking rugged White Mountain trails is stretching parts of me out that have never been limber, even as a child.

Mt Kinsman North, on a frigid November 8.

Hiking shares a common trait with mountain biking: you get to chose your "line." Most of the time when riding a narrow singletrack trail, your line is chosen for you. But sometimes rough terrain offers many lines to pick from. Challenged riders will attempt the easiest path, while more skilled riders will hunt for the trickiest line. Most hiking trails in New England are brutally rocky, and there may be more foot plant combinations to hike a given section than there are stars in the sky. You can dance bounding leaps across the tips of boulders or take a safer, lower profile approach. As I gain confidence, I tend to take more daring lines on foot.

It is this aspect of hiking, the required focus and attention needed while interacting with the terrain, that puts you in a flow state of mind. I used to think only cycling could do this, but then learned skate skiing can work even better with it's rhythmic motions. Now, as I'm gaining stability on my feet and worry less about injury, hiking can also be a good flow state inducer.

Presi-traverse, August 8. Photo by Soups.

I don't intend to give hiking up anytime soon. I suspect long hikes have limited training value compared to structured intervals on the road or skis, but the other nuanced benefits outweigh any perceived shortcomings. I hope to pursue all of these activities for many years to come. Could this balanced, diverse approach be the closest thing to the fountain of youth?


Devolution of Hi-Fi and Evolution of Mountain Bikes

Sunday, October 18, 2015

In what now seems like a prior life, I was an audio enthusiast. I was obsessed with following the latest loudspeaker advances, amplifier linearity enhancement tricks, speaker enclosure design and more. I had a 12-speaker system in my Mustang GT that could have potentially won awards, although I was not interested in competition. The system was 100% designed and built by me, none of this marketing hype BS stuff you could buy at a "high-end" car stereo shop.

My 2000 Watt power supply, designed and built around 1995. Power cables on right to battery are finger diameter. Frightful to look at, but flawlessly powered the best audio system I've ever heard in a car.

I never had a high-end turntable stereo system for the house. When I became old enough with enough money to buy such a system, CD's had already replaced LP vinyl records. I had older friends though, that had very nice turntable systems. The best reproduction of Pink Floyd's song Time from the Dark Side of the Moon album I ever heard was on vinyl.

When compact disks came out in 1982, they were touted as being superior to LP vinyl in every way. Curmudgeony audiophiles weren't buying it. I have to admit though, you could not play LP's in your car, so CD's were a huge improvement over cassette and 8-track tapes. CD's could also hold twice as much music as an LP, and you didn't have to flip them over half way though. Consumers immediately fell in love with the new format, even though some critics claimed the digitization and reconstruction process removed some soul from the music.

Another 12 or so years later, the MP3 format was introduced. Now not only was the music digitized, it was also compressed so you could fit lots of it into limited memory storage. This resulted in a huge step backwards in music quality by virtually anybody's standard. Consumers didn't care again. All that mattered was "I can put my whole CD collection into this tiny player?" Sold! To make this situation worse, most new music is now sold digitally in this compressed format. You can't even buy recordings of quality that was available more than 50 years ago! Devolution of high fidelity audio reproduction was complete.

I find all lossy compression techniques very abrasive to my ears. Even the high bit-rate MP3 formats sound awful. When I bought my last car in 2011, I paid for upgraded radio that would receive digital FM, as it was touted CD-quality. When I first tuned into a HD station, I thought something must be wrong with my receiver. You gotta be shitting me. Really? I was duped. It was worse than MP3.  Lossy compression puts many artifacts into the reproduced sound that are not harmonically related to the original content. Old school distortion is one thing, but compression artifacts destroyed the listening experience for me. I rarely listen to music any more. Never at work, on the bike, hike or skis. Music was ruined.

The sad thing is, there is no longer a need to compress music with lossy techniques. Hard drives measure in terabytes, MP3 players in hundreds of gigabytes. That can hold more uncompressed CDs than most people will ever own. Yet the crappy norm persists. We transitioned from 40 minutes of purist analog music on a 12" platter to thousands of hours of crap in a memory card the size of your thumbnail. Progress.

So you may be asking, "Hill Junkie, what in the heck has this got to do with mountain bikes?" Stay with me here.

I picked up mountain biking in 1996, roughly the pinnacle of competition in the sport. Mountain bikes had become a distinct thing from road cycling. Components were becoming more refined. Most bikes sold up until then were hardtails, and nearly everybody raced on hardtails. After all, the monkey motion in back added weight, and weight was evil, right? Pro's even pooh-poohed suspension forks when they first appeared.

It seems weight savings were driving a lot of the "innovation" in mountain biking's big growth years. Alloy supplanted steel, titanium was the dreamy material, and carbon fiber was just starting to make wrinkles in how things were shaking out. Parts kept getting lighter, wearing out sooner and costing more. Is this what we wanted? The marketing folks sure led us to believe that.

Then something happened. Not sure just what, but probably a combination of many things. Racing stopped being a big thing with big sponsor dollars disappearing. Lance Armstrong caught the fancy of many mountain bikers and made road converts out of them. The mountain bikers that remained loyal to the sport continued to ride for fun. The emphasis shifted from how silly light and efficient can you make my bike to how well can you make it perform in the terrain I like to ride?

This started a revolution in suspension design. Many new frame linkages appeared, forks became beefier with more travel and damping that really worked. Gone were the flimsy SID forks that instilled confidence only on buttery smooth trails. In were larger stanchion tubes and five or more inches of travel. Now riders had confidence to ride terrain that was previously inaccessible to them. Riding became a whole lot more fun!

High-end mountain bikes grew in weight during this period. Going back to earlier marketing hype, on the surface, this seemed that things were going in the wrong direction. Those consumers, they don't know what's good for them! Heavy bikes, bad!

The fact is, we were duped into believing that the weight of a bike mattered much. Turns out, that for how most people ride, weight is really not that important. How the bike handles and responds to terrain matters so much more.

A case in point. I've long believed that a lightweight hardtail was the best bike for the Vermont 50 mile MTB race, a race with over 8000 feet of climbing in it. Then two years ago, I decided to put fun before results and took my long travel 29er full suspension MTB to the race. It weighed much more than my carbon fiber hardtail. But to my surprise, I posted my fastest time ever on that course. And this year, I brought the same bike back and posted my second fastest time. At 53, I'm not exactly getting faster any more.  So what gives? Suspension lets you flow so much more smoothly on rough terrain and on descents that it more than makes up for weight penalty on climbs. You can stay relaxed and get much more enjoyment out of the experience.

My Tallboy when it was new in April 2013. Over 6000 miles on it now, pivot bearings, shock and fork all still going strong.

So by abandoning a metric, weight, that held high value at one time, the quality of the riding experience improved. It moved in the opposite direction to what a metric would suggest. To be sure, weight still matters to some riders and can make a difference in certain competitive events, but to the masses that drive sales these days, "what does it weigh" is not one of the first questions asked about a new bike.

What happened in the MTB world is exactly the opposite to what happened in the audio world. Here, the metric of how many songs can I put on it mattered more than the quality of the listening experience. I'm really confounded by this, as when I used to enjoy listening to music, I wanted to experience the depth of everything the artists were trying to share. I didn't want a compressed, digitized approximation of it. I'm glad the MTB world got over the "how many grams does it weigh" period and shifted focus to the riding experience. I think it's time the world of recorded music do the same.


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