Unexpected 48

Sunday, April 24, 2016

I've identified as a cyclist for two decades now.  Back in 1996, a poor health wake-up call prodded me into finding an activity to lose weight and improve fitness. I rode bikes as a kid, no differently than most. It is part of growing up.  In my 30's I rediscovered the joy of riding, especially off-road. It quickly became a passion that my life evolved around.

I moved from Michigan to New Hampshire in 1997. The decision to relocate to the northeast was driven in part by the topography. There are real mountains here! Southwest Michigan is pretty flat, and I was excited to explore more challenging terrain on my mountain bike.

As I lost weight and gained fitness, I discovered I didn't suck going up hill. Not only that, I enjoyed suffering on long, steep climbs. I sought out ski area service roads to ride up. There were only so many place you could ride up hill to summits, especially off-road.

I chose my parents wisely. I seem to have a genetic predisposition to turn large volumes of oxygen into power. I got involved with cycling competition and won a lot of races.

I dabbled in hiking over the years. I never solo hiked. It usually was a family or couples thing. There were a couple of non-trivial hikes, like the time I took my wife and mom up Tuckerman Ravine to the summit of Mt Washington. My mom still jokes that I was trying to get my inheritance early. The climb was a bit much for mom, but the descent left me with crippling DOMS for days afterward. Not mom.

Last year a cycling buddy who hiked regularly asked if I was interested in a Presidential Traverse. My first reaction was yeah, right, I wouldn't get half way across without being crippled. Even though I was highly fit as a cyclist, there's something about going downhill that debilitates unconditioned muscles. The motion is called eccentric muscle contraction, and it causes delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

If there was one hike to do before leaving this great state, it would be the Presi traverse. My wife and I may retire before too long, and now was the time to do this nearly 20 mile hike with upwards of 10,000ft of climbing. Early August 2015 was the date. It was less than two months away. Could I build any modicum of hiking specific fitness in time?

It wasn't the 10,000ft of climbing I feared. Cycling ensured I would handle that just fine. But what the bicycle can't give you is the ability to slow yourself down with your legs (not with any of my bikes anyway). So I set out on some training hikes.

I picked the Tripyramids for my first training hike on the first weekend of July. I was familiar with the Waterville Valley area from Nordic skiing. Hike up Livermore Rd, north slide, the peaks, south slide, how hard could that be?  It was "only" 10 miles. I hadn't hiked solo before, and I had never hiked a slide before. I quickly learned this is one of the scarier slide trails to scramble up. I was terrified. Not having the right shoes didn't help matters. I finished the loop at a respectable pace. The following days were a nightmare. Each day the DOMS got worse. I think it took a full week before my legs felt normal again. Six hour bike ride in the mountains? Could do it again the next day. A 3-4hr hike? Crippled for days.

I was aware the Tripyramids were 4000-footers. I don't think I was aware of how many 4000 footers there were in NH though. It didn't concern me.

The following four weekends I hiked locally, Mt Monadnock, the Pack Monadnocks and Cardigan in southern NH. The DOMS became progressively less severe with each hike. Would these five hikes be enough to tackle the big one on August 8?

The big day arrived. I didn't sleep well, and it was a very early start to the day, driving up the morning of. Three of us were making the traverse, starting on Valley Way and finishing on Crawford Path. At least we were blessed with near ideal weather conditions.

The hike went well, although my knees and ankles were ready to crap out descending Crawford Path. The sound of motor vehicles on Rt 302 was music to my ears that day. I was moderately crippled for a few days after, but not like after the Tripyramids hike.

The Presidential Traverse, August 8, 2015

I was left pondering deep thoughts after that epic hike. I had hiked every weekend six weeks in a row. It would be kind of a shame to throw what little fitness I had built up away. And besides, I kind of liked it. I got to peaks I can't ride to and saw sights I would not have seen otherwise. I did another local hike the following weekend while contemplating the future.

While still unsure if I wanted to continue hiking, I found myself on the Osceolas the following weekend. I found some more sketchy scrambling there on The Chimney.  Of all the times I've skied at Waterville Valley, both alpine and Nordic, I had no idea there were such fantastic views so close by. The people you'd meet on the trail didn't suck either. Maybe there's something to this hiking business.

I headed out west for vacation the first half of September. I actually packed my shoes and hiking poles! What did that mean? I was confused. I go on cycling trips, not hiking trips. To continue the momentum, I solo hiked one of Idaho's nine 12,000 footers. It was a beaut of a day, and that hike put me in a zen state that I thought only long trail rides through remote terrain could do.

After a hiatus for the Vermont 50 mile mountain bike race, I resumed hiking in the Whites. Flume and Liberty looked cool, easily accessible. More sketchy slide scrambling again!

The Twins, Dec 13, 2015

I started noticing physiological changes in my body. I was gaining range of motion in certain movements. My sense of balance seemed to be improving. Most importantly, I was starting to feel agile on my feet. I've always had unstable ankles and suffered a severe double-fracture several years ago. In fact, I always carried lace-up ankle braces with me on hikes for when my ankles started rolling. But the rolling wasn't really happening anymore. I think there were two factors behind it, both which hiking brought about. One was simply strength. Strength in the stabilizing muscles, strength in the connective tissues. The other was a neurological, or motor reflex response thing. I found that when my ankle started to roll, there was quicker response to correct it. These physiological adaptations helped fuel my stoke for hiking.

The Carters, January 31, 2016

I still had no goals for hiking. I was just going with the flow. Somewhere around this time I printed out the list of 48 4000 footers. I mainly wanted to see what the biggest peaks were and wanted to hike something new each weekend. Some of the hikes seemed lame, like Owl's Head or Mt Isolation. Why would I want to do those? Big commitment, little reward.

Winter came, or what little there was to this winter. People die hiking in the winter. Heck, people even die in the summer from exposure.  I hiked mostly solo. If I was going to continue, I needed to buy more gear. And buy I did. A bigger backpack. Snowshoes. Microspikes. Down jacket, Goretex and more. I generally avoided the most treacherous conditions by hiking more locally when it was tough in the Whites.

Mt Moriah hike, March 30, 2016

The list of 48 started accumulating a lot of check marks. Am I really chasing a list, something I said did not interest me? Maybe I shouldn't have left that list on my desk where I saw it all the time. Before I knew it, I had hiked Owl's Head, Cabot, Isolation and other out of the way peaks.  A group hike netted the Carters. The list was becoming tantalizing close to being completed over the winter. I crossed a threshold where I might as well hike all of New Hampshire's 48 highest.

Garfield and Galehead, January 9, 2016

I was down to three remaining peaks, the Bonds. I had hoped for a group traverse, but I have only a few friends into hiking at that level. Then I thought I'll wait until this summer, when talk of Pemi Loops start. I didn't really want to do a 20+ mile hike on snow and ice anyway.

As avid hikers know, this winter was almost a non-season.  Rarely were snowshoes needed. When a nice weekend opened up in mid-April, I decided to give the Bonds a go. I hadn't hiked in two weeks and just got back from an 8-day MTB cycling trip. How hard could a 24 mile hike be? My plan was to hike the three Bonds as an out-and-back from Lincoln Woods. That means I hit two of the three peaks twice, for five summits total. There isn't a whole lot of climbing once up on the ridge though.

Bondcliff, April 17, 2016


That hike was a marvelous experience. Short sleeve weather at the summits, barely a breeze and clear skies. The ice was softened up and very manageable with microspikes. The hike went much more quickly than I expected. I left home from southern NH after sunup and got back home before sunset. The views along Bondcliff are dramatic, among the best in the White Mountains. Was a treat to finish the 48 this way.

So now what?  I kind of feel lost without some new direction. For some, completing the 48 is a huge goal. It is a very attainable for most people. Around 12,000 people have hiked the 48. I don't need a goal to push myself, I've done that to a fault on the bike for years. I need ideas for new pursuits.  There are many other lists out there, There's the winter 48, which I'm probably half way through just chasing the 48. Then there's the grid, doing each of the 48 climbs in each of the months of the year. I just don't see myself as a gridder, or gridiot as some might say.  But then again, I didn't see myself hiking 48 peaks in short order either.  The New England 67 looks interesting, as it adds the 4000 footers in VT and ME to the list. Lot more driving to reach some of those peaks though, probably requiring overnight stays. Maybe roll-your-own hikes, bushwhacks or slide scrambles to get off the oft traveled path. Nothing wrong with repeating favorite hikes. I hit the same trails over and over again on my bike and do not tire of them.

One thing is certain. Future trips won't solely be cycling. Hikes will be planned into the itinerary. I hope to visit Colorado again this fall. The places I like to ride have many 14ers nearby, the equivalent to New Hampshire's 4kers. Only there is a lot less air to breath two vertical miles higher above sea level! My time is becoming evenly split between on-wheels and on-foot.  This makes me wonder, is hiking my primary passion and cycling that other thing I do? Hard to tell where this goes from here.

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Tucson Trip in Photo per Day

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Another annual pilgrimage to the desert southwest was completed relatively unscathed.  I went a bit later this year so I could join Alex and Jason from Connecticut.  Rented a house this time, a much better way to go.  We arrived in Tucson on schedule, built bikes with no problems and had two hours of daylight left. Time to ride!


Unstable weather moved into the southwest as we arrived. Of course! Hill Junkie always brings crappy nor'east weather with him on trips. But it was actually a blessing in disguise. The temps had been pushing into the mid-90's. All-day sufferfests don't end well in that kind of heat. At least not for me. The Sweetwater trails were just 4mi from the house by road. We pedaled over and got in a quick 12 miles of singletrack before it got dark. Jason and Alex set a pretty sporty pace for eight days of riding, which gave me great consternation.


Day two led us to the nearby Tortolitas, one of my favorite places to ride in the Tucson area. The trail system here is relatively new and developed with riding in mind. It rained mightily in parts of the city this day, but only spit on our ride a few times.  Here Alex rounds one of many benchcut turns at the height of land on the Ridgeline Trail.


A planned capstone ride of the trip was hitting the Arizona Trail (AZT) from Picketpost to Kelvin. I hit this a few years ago with Dave and was blown away by the rugged beauty, remoteness and difficulty of this ride. There is nearly 40 miles of continuous singletrack which entails considerable climbing with no bailouts. We self-shuttled the loop by first climbing 2000ft over the Rt 177 pass into Superior. Topped water off there, then we had to be self-sufficient for the next 6+ hours moving time. A clear day, it was quite a bit warmer than the first two, but still not hot. Low humidity can deceive you into thinking you're staying hydrated. I fared poorly on this loop a few years ago, running out of water with about 2hrs of hard riding to go. Here, Alex is riding a fine example of benchcut you find on this segment. Later he reached a scary level of dehydration. It didn't help there was 2000ft of punchy climbs in the last 15mi in full sun with no water. Like dumbasses, we didn't leave water in the car either, and there are no business close to where our car was waiting. Fortunately, I spotted an older couple in their yard with a garden hose hooked up just as we were finishing. Sweet, We wouldn't need to wait another 40 minutes until we got to a store.


After a big day on the AZT, the plan for Day 4 was to back things down a notch, head out for a short "recovery ride." Uh-huh. At least the ride was short, around 1.7hrs. Had to be, due to threat of rain again. But it was anything but easy. As one of our friends commented, "you can only go fast at Fantasy Island!" There seems to be exponential return on fun-factor with speed. The place was designed for speed. Here Alex and Jason are carving around a giant ever-present cholla cactus. It would ruin your trip to crash into one. Heck, it would ruin a lot more than your trip. A sporty pace was maintained about three-quarters through, then Jason ramped it up to 10. Only 15hrs of riding were planned over the next three days, so why not?


Another one of my favorite rides near Tucson is the AZT south of town, roughly from Sonoita back to I-10. This was another self-shuttle with paved road and about 2000ft of climbing before picking up dirt. The 51 mile loop crests at nearly 6000ft before undulating back down to 3000+ft. The flora up high looks nothing like the flora around Tucson. It looks more like prairie grasslands. It was even a tad chilly here, where Jason is cruising on a buff section. It is not all buff. There are numerous steep punches on the way back, many of them loose and chundery. That "recovery" pace the day before, yeah, that was felt during this ride. There were some F-bombs on botched obstacles. The trail condition was mint though, the best ever for me, due to recent rains. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.


On Day 6, we backed it down a notch again, hitting a section of the AZT near Pistol Hill, east of town. I hadn't ridden a portion of this yet. It looked nice in Strava Route Builder with a seven mile near monotonic descent towards the end. Like many of the other rides on this trip, we self-shuttled on paved roads to quickly bridge the two ends of the AZT we planned to ride. This segment turned out to be spectacular and enjoyed by all. There were tricky ledge sections in the middle, and the buff parts were fast, flowy and long. At 3hrs duration, it was hardly a recovery ride, but it was not a hard ride. This segment will definitely see inclusion in future trips.


We got high on Day 7. No, not that kind of high, the Hill Junkie kind of high! We climbed more than 6000ft above Tucson to the summit of Mt Lemmon. This turned out to be another capstone ride, if a single trip is allowed to have two capstone rides. The prize for reaching the top? A cookie bigger than your head at the Cookie Cabin! I ate a whole cookie for the first time, and a slab of pizza too. The sustained effort up this beast on my 28 pound bike had me on the verge of cramping - 3.4hrs of nearly continuous climbing. Another prize for climbing this beast is some tasty singletrack on the way down, namely Bug Springs and Molino Basin trails. Bugs involves some hike-a-bike to get to the good stuff. There was some grumbling in the ranks, especially when the "good stuff" is pretty gnarly and you're tired with 8000ft of climbing in your legs. Here Jason and Alex are pulling away from me through hoodoos on the climb, as I made a conscious decision to back off in hopes of avoiding total implosion before the summit.


Our final, 8th Day saw temperatures approaching 90F. Glad the big ride days were behind us. I was wicked trashed from Lemmon the day before. We kept it local, riding from the house like the first day, hitting Tucson Mountain Park (TMP). TMP has a lot of diversity, leaning more towards the gnarly end of the spectrum. Many opportunities to hurt bike and body. Our 30 mile loop swung south into the newer Robles trails before swinging back north on the uber difficult Cat Mountain trail. Alex and Jason wanted only enough hours to bring the trip total to 30 hours. We got that and then some. Oops. So hard to estimate average moving speed in terrain like this, especially when you are tired and it is hot out. Here Alex is working his way up Cat Mountain. I had many dismounts on this trail.


After our TMP ride, we had all afternoon to pack up bikes, drop them off at FedEx and head to Phoenix for out last night to catch a very early morning flight. I often wonder how long I'll be able to keep going on trips like these. At 53, the body doesn't recover like it did at 35. I reached a level of fatigue at the end of this trip not experienced before. Young whipper-snappers!  I was impressed with Alex and Jason though. They had a fraction of the training volume for the year than what I had. Plus they had done no endurance riding, all short intensity work. It worked for them! Quality, not quantity. Most of my riding these days is junk training value, but it is fun.

Someone asked if I had a record number of Strava PR's on this trip. I really don't pay much attention to Strava BS anymore, but the question piqued my curiosity. I tallied them up, and yes, I rode 131 segments my fastest ever. I should have been fatigued at the end of this trip! The last thing I want to do on a trip is strive for PRs or KOMs. Every day at the office requires a PR effort from me. Why would I want to stay in that mode in the wild when I'm trying to flee from it at the office? Riding with others that share much enthusiasm for riding will net you a lot of PRs without even trying.  Anyway, I logged 333 miles with about 31,000ft of climbing in 30.7hrs moving time on this trip. A great trip, no crashes, mechanicals of flats were had by any of us. Now I'm already thinking about a fall trip to Colorado...

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BUMPS No More

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Several hillclimb enthusiasts have asked me recently "what's up with BUMPS?" The website at hillclimbseries.com was down. I had hoped it was just a case that somebody forgot to renew the domain name registration. So I pinged a couple BUMPS hillclimb race directors to see what was going on.

I was disappointed to learn BUMPS has disbanded. To be sure, the individual races will still go on, but no longer as part of an organized championship series. It was a good run for seven years. Many KOMs and QOMs were crowned.

Registration numbers have dropped off a bit at some of the hillclimb events. I believe there are many factors behind this.

Interest in road cycling peaked a decade ago. We know today that doping fueled much of the excitement and perceived growth in the sport. The house of cards came crashing down, leaving disillusioned cycling fans in the ruins. Even the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado is going on a hiatus this year.

Has interest shifted in another direction? Absolutely! Cycling in the US is alive and well. Recreational and competitive cyclists alike now sell out events where fun is emphasized over competition.

On the road, gran fondos have become more popular than traditional road races. These events may be timed or have timed segments along the course, like a few prominent climbs for example. Thus it quenches the thirst for competition, but most of the event can be completed at a more recreational pace.

Similarly on the MTB scene. Many racers have switched over to the enduro format of racing, where there are timed segments along a course or different timed stages over a period of a few days. The timed segments are usually point to point and downhill, but not always. There is more emphasis on skill and less on racing head to head with your peers around laps of a circuit.

Then there's the 'tweener category of gravel grinders.  These events sell out quickly with many hundreds of participants. They are billed as a fun ride, but those at the front are no doubt racing to cross the finish first for bragging rights. Grinders are mixed surface, everything from paved roads to rough singletrack, and usually ridden on a 'cross bike. Check out the VT Epic weekend. A new 70 mile VTMonster course has been added with 9000ft of climbing!

This is the new face of cycling. The traditional camps of road racing and MTB racing have been blurred by these new formats. It is evolution of sport. Change is inevitable, healthy and expected.

Hillclimb racing has always been a bit of a fringe, esoteric camp of the cycling tribe.  I still have a great fondness for climbing and will still compete in local hillclimb events. Just as interests in the cycling community have evolved, so too have my personal interests. I've developed an unexpected passion for climbing on foot.  I've hiked most of New Hampshire's 4000ft peeks in the last nine months. The pace and rhythm of hiking is very different from riding or skiing, but equally effective for putting one in a flow state.

I'll put a note up on northeastcycling.com when I get a chance. Most of the local hillclimb races will go on as usual. Equinox is back this year! Washington is nearly sold out. Then there is Whiteface, Okemo, Greylock, Kearsarge and Wachusett. The July Newton's Revenge race on Mt Washington is taking a year off. Hard to say if Ascutney will come back this year. That still leaves seven northeast events to test yourself in.

One other event I'd like to mention is the inaugural national hillclimb championships on Pikes Peak in August. A couple of people have ask me if I was interested.  I plan to visit Colorado a few weeks later, so I can't make it.  I've raced Pikes Peak twice when it started down in Manitou Springs. The scenery is spectacular, the climb brutal. The race now starts just above 9000ft, but it is comparable to a Mt Washington in vertical, almost as steep, with rarefied air! Think you've got the goods? Head to Colorado in August for your chance to zip on a stars and stripes.

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Can we stop with the fat?

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Summer 2016 will mark the 20th year that I identify myself as a cyclist. Back in 1996, Fat Doug threw a leg over a bicycle to save his body from eventual diabetes and heart disease. Hard to believe how fast those 20 years went by. Best 20 years of my life. This post isn't about Fat Doug or that kind of fat.

Over the years I've ridden many types of mountain bikes configured in all manner of ways. For years I was a hardtail holdout, riding narrow 1.95" tires. Back then I thought 2.2" wide tires were really fat, rolled too slow and were too heavy. Perhaps one of the biggest abominations I rode was my Titus Racer-X full suspension bike with 1" wide road tires up Pikes Peak. Yeah, that drew some weird looks. I could only bring one bike to CO, and I wanted to ride up Pikes Peak again on a closed course from 6000 to 14,000ft. After the race, regular knobbies went back on the bike. Funny back then, mountain bikes were called fat tire bikes, presumably to differentiate them from road bikes.

An abomination! Not just the bike, the fanny pack too!

As the MTB community weened itself from fretting over grams, bikes got beefier, travel longer and tires wider. We were still just riding our bikes. There was no need to say "I'm riding my 2.2" bike today," or "I'm riding my 2.4" bike today." All that mattered is you rode.

But then came along winter fat bikes, which are just called "fat bikes" today. The old fat bikes, regular mountain bikes, are ironically call skinny bikes now. The fat bike Kool Aid was quite intoxicating. Everybody had to have one, even roadies that had never mountain biked in their life.

Suddenly, things changed. You could ride only fat bikes on groomed snow. Fat bike races appeared on the calendar, where, you guessed it, only fat bikes were allowed. Group rides were advertised as fat. Ride reports, Strava posts, Facebook statuses all had to say if a ride was fat or not. Now that the snow is gone, the distinction persists. Why is this?

I can think of several reasons. Perhaps the infatuation with riding fat bikes got so deeply embedded in our psyche that we have to shout out "fattie ride!" every time we ride our fat bikes. The bikes do certainly offer a different ride quality, and I can see how some folks like it.

Maybe it's something else. Fat bikes run with low PSI in the tires certainly don't roll as fast as our nimble, capable full-suspension 29ers. Could touting a ride as "fat" be some sort of "I'm not slow, I was just on my fat bike!" apology?

Sometimes only a fat bike will work in the conditions. Perhaps calling a ride a fat ride is explanatory for how you were able to accomplish the ride given the conditions. Certainly after a big snow dump, anything but a fat bike would be a miserable experience.

This distinction of fat vs. non-fat riding becomes apparent only via the social media. What if social media didn't exist? What if there was no way to exclaim to the world "we're on our fat bikes!"? If only the people you're riding with know what bike you are on, there'd be no reason to say "I'm riding fat today!" It would be obvious to them and they wouldn't care. You would just be out riding your bikes, like in the old days.

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An Engineer's OCD

Monday, February 22, 2016


Let's face it, I'm a bit of a metrics geek. About as soon as I learned how to read, I memorized stats on all the planets. How far from the sun, orbit duration's, size, etc. Numbers and how things interact with each other have always fascinated me.

All of my off-road bicycles have wheel sensors on them. GPS receivers do a surprisingly lousy job measuring distance in tight and twisty terrain. A wheel sensor communicates wirelessly with the GPS unit and provides ground truth. The metrics geek in me would accept nothing less.

When I built up my quasi-fat bike last fall, I transferred the Garmin wheel sensor from the bike I decommissioned. It refused to work properly. I replaced the battery. No improvement. I tried a different magnet. No luck. The sensor synced up well via the Ant+ link, but it would always record way more distance than I rode. Much of the time my speed would show up on the Garmin at twice what I was actually travelling. I figured it was an old Garmin GSC-10 sensor that had a spotty reliability record to begin with, so it must have gone bad. I ordered a new Wahoo sensor.

I mounted the new sensor, synced it up, figured that would be it. Except exactly, the same, thing, still, happened! SOB! This became an obsessive issue now. There is no way a stupid magnet/reed switch sensor is going to thwart me. This is 100+ year old technology, and I could design a wireless link from scratch. What was different about this new bike that all manner of sensor and magnet combinations wouldn't work that worked flawlessly on other bikes?

Let's look at how these speed (or cadence) sensors work. If you use one, listen in a quiet room as you spin the wheel. You'll hear a faint poink, poink, poink as the wheel rotates. It is the mechanical reed switch in the sensor opening up each time the magnet moves away.

A reed switch is nothing more than two piece of springy metal overlapping each other with a small gap between them. Put a magnet near one end, the magnetic flux wants to flow through the metal and cause the two "reed" ends to attract each other and close the gap. It is a magnetically actuated switch. Electronics in the sensor module detect each closure (which is each wheel revolution) and sends this to the Garmin GPS via an encoded radio message.

It turns out you need a north or south pole to pass by one of the ends of the reed switch. You can't put a magnetic pole in the middle, as this doesn't cause flux to flow through the reeds to make a magnetic circuit that closes the switch. A spoke magnet presents a north or south pole to the reed switch. Thus the magnet must pass exactly over the end of the reed switch to trigger it. Sensors have a mark where this spot is.

But a reed switch really has two ends, and either end can be triggered by the spoke magnet.  If you passed a magnet's north pole along the length of a reed switch, it would turn on once passing over the first end, turn off in the middle, then turn on again passing over the second end of the reed switch. Manufactures don't tell you about this. They mark only one end.

When I sat down to carefully listen to the sensor, I didn't here a poink, poink, poink. I heard a poink-poink, poink-poink, poink-poink. Ah-ha! It is double actuating each time the magnet came by. But why?

It turns out the carbon rigid fork has some fundamental geometry differences from the suspension forks on my other mountain bikes. The suspension forks have a lot of offset built into the drop-out. This allows the fork leg mounted sensor to be positioned such that the magnet passes by perpendicularly. But on my new Carver, the offset is built into the angle of the fork legs. This pushes the sensor much further forward relative to the wheel axle, so the magnet now sweeps more top to bottom than across the trigger point. The magnet was just passing through the unintended trigger area of the sensor!

A little fudging ensured the magnet only passed through the intended trigger area. A test ride confirmed I now measured ground truth! It's embarrassing how many times I fussed with this before figuring it out.

I slid the magnet closer to the axle to ensure it would not trigger the upper sensitive area
while being just far enough into the lower sensitive area without missing triggers.

I wish challenges I deal with at work had fixes this certain. Sometimes you think you've got to the root cause, only to find the problem comes back to bite you in the ass.

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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

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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...



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