Weston Worlds, 2015 Opener

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Tuesday night crit-on-snow race series has begun at Weston on the Leo J. Martin golf course. A large group showed up Tuesday, despite frigid temp, with over 80 racers between the A and B fields. With conditions marginally sketchy after a full day of activities on the course, I pondered for a moment if I shouldn't race in the slower B group. Hard packed conditions brings out the worst in my weak technique.

I queued up a little further back than I was at the end of last season. Looking around, I realized I was still too far up with faster skiers behind me. Before I could even give this a second thought, we were off.

I made it through the freshly made mashed potatoes snow ok, but then the speed picks way up on the hard pack. Should be easy drafting, right? At least conditions were fast even though it was cold. I hemorrhaged several places. Coach Maddy came around and I thought I at least need to stay in her draft. My useless flailing just wasn't delivering enough kilojoules to the snow. Maddy slowly faded away into a tiny silouette down the fairway. Bye-bye.

After a large gap opened, a few more skiers came around. Marv, Robert, Tom and Viktoria. Ok, I can usually hang with these folks. I was still going backwards though, and I was afraid to look back and see there was nobody left behind me!  But hang I did. Marv was drilling it with many in tow for all of lap two. Laps were running about 1.8km.

Some fractures were opening in our group on the climbs in the third and final lap. I took advantage of this weakness and moved up a few spots to behind Marv. That move burned matches. Moments later on the long gradual climb by "Mt Weston," I came to the front. Stupid I thought, as there is much flat terrain and a downhill before the finish. Everybody was still there, and surely they would all pass me just before the finish. One did, Robert. Robert does much better than me on fast, hard packed terrain.

You know how in the Olympic races they all fall over after crossing the line? Well, that was almost me. That was the hardest I breathed since doing this last year at Weston. I did reasonably well, finishing 14-15% back from the winner, right where I was last season. Great workout and good mid-week adrenaline rush. Can't wait to do it again!

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Trail News

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Merrimack, NH - Authorities are seeking help in identifying a trail terrorist spotted on Tuesday afternoon in Horse Hill Nature Preserve. This individual was observed riding a bicycle with skinny tires on unpacked snow, leaving marks up to 1" deep in the snow.

The terrorist attempted to blend in by wearing local cycling club clothing

Authorities are warning the public to not approach or attempt to apprehend this individual. He or she appears to be from a dangerous terrorist cell that was believed wiped out many years ago, a cell referred to as "The 26ers." The 26ers have a ruthless reputation for mass destruction of untouched snow by riding bicycles with small diameter wheels and skinny tires on the snow.

The damage was extensive.

Considerable lengths of trail were destroyed by this terrorist, ruining  experiences for all trail users for at least 3 or 4 days. Authorities are collecting evidence at the crime scene and have begun a systematic search of social media sites the terrorist may use to post his exploits to taunt authorities. Please contact your local trail enforcement authorities with any information you may have about this individual.

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Why do you ride?

Friday, January 2, 2015

I've had a busy, but refreshing holiday break. I cut the work tether. Working sometimes 60+ hours per week was replaced with visiting family and aerobic activities. A week in snowless Michigan was thoroughly enjoyed by riding hero dirt conditions at all my favorite places. A little Nordic skiing would have been nice, but the riding was as good as it gets.

My interest in competitive sport continues to wane. Can't say there is any single reason for this, as I loves me a good race. I haven't renewed my USAC license in over two years now. One of the main drivers pushing me away from riskier forms of racing, such as road and cyclocross, is risk of injury. My bone density continues to decline, especially in my spine. A "comprehensive" risk vs. reward analysis I performed showed these two forms of competition did not make the grade. Perhaps this is only perceived. Nonetheless, in humans, perception is reality. Why participate in an activity that induces anxiety?

A more subtle reason I may have shied away from racing is total stress load. When I race, I race to win. This requires big commitment to training specific to the events you race. Road racing requires lots of interval work. Interval work can be stressful and be a chore sometimes. You must also taper for important races, which means you cannot go out and hammer the day before a race when you've had a bad day at the office.  When you have other stressors in your life you can't just make go away, optional stressors like training have to take second priority.

Riding can be hugely effective in mitigating stress in one's life. Riding as training for events can have deleterious effects. Racing can be a lot like deadlines at work sometimes.  Even though I value the training process more than race results, racing does increase stress.  Riding purely for release of tension can have medicinal effects. My riding this past year has been almost exclusively therapeutic.

My wife and I dealt with a challenging situation involving our son for the last half of 2014. Testing is still ongoing, but he may have a rare form of Lupus that can exhibit psychotic effects. Aaron experienced a major manic episode this summer, taking him cross-country on a bizarre mission. It may be a good thing the law caught up with him before anything more serious happened. That is mostly behind us now. Now we have to figure out exactly what is going on and how to treat it. Lupus is an autoimmune disorder with arthritic symptoms, and Aaron has also been dealing with severe joint pain. Lyme disease has been ruled out multiple times.  We hope 2015 sees Aaron on a path to wellness.

I no longer measure a year in race successes and stats. In fact, I participated in only three cycling and two Nordic events in 2014. But it was a good year. I posted my fastest Rangeley Lakes Loppet and Vermont 50 times ever. Skate skiing is so much about technique. I continue to make incremental improvements. Fitness can wane and one can still get faster on skis as skill improves. In the case of the VT50, I think so many "junk" miles of stress management riding is actually pretty good training for an endurance event. Maybe some of my supposed Type-IIA muscle fiber converted over to its slow twitch form. I just didn't do my normal regimen of 5 minute VOmax intervals this year. Fast twitch muscle can be a handicap in endurance racing. Nobody older than me beat me at the VT50. I was pretty happy with that performance.

A look at 2014 activity hours gives a hint of non-focused training. Even though total aerobic activity hours is slightly above my 10-year average, road hours were diminished, being replaced by trail riding hours. Most of those trail riding hours were on my Tallboy long travel 29er, the most enjoyable bike I've ever owned. Running hours dropped some, while skiing hours stayed about constant.


These 655 hours represent about 7,572 miles of cycling, skiing, running and hiking. Some like to focus on miles, and I suppose if you compare only road bike miles to road bike miles, that is ok. But when most of your miles are on snow and dirt, it makes more sense to talk about hours. After all, all the activities I engage in use the same motor and require similar output.

Strava says I climbed about 590,000ft in 2014. Slacking off, I guess;)  Vertical comes much easier on pavement. There's no easy way to caveat vertical with "snow vert" or "dirt vert." Again, total hours captures this, as climbing is slow, hard work.

So what's on tap for 2015? Hopefully more cycling travel. I really enjoyed my solo 10 days in Colorado last fall. Ideas being kicked around are Arizona trail in March, North Carolina road in April, and somewhere out west at the end of summer. I would really like to get back to Europe too, maybe another Thomson Tour. They have put some new ones together, like Slovenia, that look really attractive.

Cathy and I have also been thinking a lot more about the next phase of our lives. Moving to Colorado seems a certainty. There are many variants around this theme. One, like my dad adopted, is to own two modest places and split your time between them. For him, he spends summers in Michigan and winters on the gulf coast of Texas. For Cathy and I, it gets fuzzier, as we like winter activities (at least I do). Splitting time between Tucson and Durango would sure seem nice. Not too far apart, and you can enjoy best of both worlds in the winter months. Been spending time in Zillow looking at options.

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Phases of Water

Sunday, December 21, 2014

In our temperate climate, water takes on three forms, or phases. These are solid, liquid and gas. This time of year, outdoor athletes are exposed to all three forms. The solid form can accumulate on the ground as snow and ice, making running and riding more challenging. The liquid form falls out of the sky, making trails messy and bodies cold. The gaseous form has less direct impact on athletic activities. When it is warm, high humidity makes sweating less effective. When it is cold and dry, our lungs must warm and moisten the air, causing pulmonary stress.

Going back to high school chemistry, or even 8th grade chemistry for some, the diagram below shows how much energy is gained or released when water transitions between each phase. The energy to evaporate water is many times that needed to freeze water.  The neat thing about a phase change material is that it holds it current state until the requisite energy has been put in/taken out of it, then it suddenly snaps over to the other phase. This is why snow on trails does not melt easily or why bodies of water do not dry up quickly.


This weekend I had to tolerate the liquid form of water on my ride and took advantage of the solid form skiing. The mountain areas of New England are still holding onto a nice base of snow despite the warm weather and copious rain. Friday I hit Bretton Woods for a 54.5km skate ski. It looked like winter wonderland north of Franconia Notch. Hard to believe just a few exits south the highway median was bare grass.

I'd love to ski full time in the winter months, but I ski with passion and it takes a lot out of me. I don't want to lose too much cycling specific fitness either. So Saturday I headed to Ipswich, MA to hit some trails I've very familiar with as well as some I've never ridden. I think in the last 2-3 weeks, the area has received something like 6-8" of rain. Temps were dropping just below freezing at night, so I was banking on water encountered being in the solid form.

Salem-Beverly Canal Trail Path, barely above water

I lucked out for the most part. The ground had a frozen crust, and the coastal area was socked in with clouds, keeping the sun off it. My legs were more limp than overcooked pasta from Friday's ski though. I rode south towards Wenham along dirt rail trail and a path along a water supply canal. The wetlands along the canal were very high, the path just inches above water level. It would have been very messy without that frozen crust to shield my tires from the goo just below. The trails in Willowdale State Forest tend to follow eskers, high and dry. The riding there was mint.

The trail runs through this mess. Took a good while to cross.

To close the loop, I hit trails lit up in the Strava Global Heatmap that are also part of Willowdale State Forest, but west of Rt 1. Hadn't been in there before. It started out with some sweet, almost grown-in singletrack. There are many pockets of wetlands in this area, and beaver no doubt help make it so. After all, they are called natures environmental engineers. Now that they are more nuisance than endangered, I think of them at swamp rodents. Beaver can lay waste to perfectly good trails in no time. Twice I had to cross massive dams with no obvious way to avoid wet feet or risk of injury. Glad I had my Shimano winter shoes on. The Goretex kept my feet dry from the couple times I slipped and went in.

Sunday it was back to the solid form of water at Waterville Valley (in keeping with the water theme, of course!). Grassy median getting off the highway and cryptic snow report had me thinking conditions were dubious at best. But they weren't bad. One of my favorite climbs, 800ft up Tripoli Rd, was Piston Bully groomed and in superb skating shape. An inch of powder had just fallen, slowing things down considerably. I expected icy granular and didn't bother to wax my skis. I'll take the slow skis with better control than fast ice and little control any day.

Flurries from Bob's Lookout at Waterville Valley.

After two depleting days in a row, I felt like death starting out. Why do we dig holes like this? I had planned to ski only 25km or so, but after I hit Tripoli I just had to do it again. The Livermore Rd climb was not nearly as nice, snowmobile groomed, and nearly skied off by the heavy traffic. Full-on death slog to the summit and I was done. That was good for 37.5km, a 92km weekend on skis.

Summit of Tripoli Rd with layer of fresh powder.

Looks like a lot more liquid precipitation is on the way this week, which could kill Nordic skiing in most of New England. I'll be heading to Michigan for a few days, and things look even bleaker there, with no snow and lots of rain all week in the forecast. What to bring... just Goretex shell and running shoes? I normally bring full spectrum of toys. I've enjoyed my best start to the ski season ever, and it sure would be nice to keep that momentum going.

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A little ditty

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

After a short run on black ice before lunch this morning, Isaac sent me this little ditty:

I'm Hill Junkie No I don't do no pills
Cycling and skiing up all the hills
That's how I get my thrills
Taking care to avoid any spills

Who needs chronic when you have sonic 
Burgers milkshakes and sugary soda tonic
Fueling the day with sardines
Recovering with a burrito filled with beans

Each line in the poem has a blog post or two associated with it.  I received this message during a big, stressful design review at work. I'm sure a couple people wondered what I was on with a perma-grin on my face for a while. That moved the stress-o-meter needle down for a while. Thanks Isaac!

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Run, bike, ski... Repeat

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A few have asked if all is well, since I haven't posted anything here in a while. Yep, life is good, although busy. I'm involved with a high schedule pressure project at work demanding more hours of my time than I'd like. I'm putting up with it for the time being, as it is interesting work.

When time to do things I enjoy most becomes scarce, posting falls by the wayside. Running, riding and skiing are way more important than blogging about running, riding and skiing. And let's face it, blogging in general has been pretty much pushed into oblivion by other social media like Facebook, Twitter, Strava and many others. A few of my favorite adventure riders don't post anymore. That's too bad, as magazines certainly don't deliver content that leads me to dream of great rides and places to visit. In fact, I just cancelled my subscription to Bicycling. Sick of the same old regurgitated crap over and over and over.

I find myself overloading on "training" this time of year. I'm unwilling to back off on anything, especially riding, yet I ramp up on skiing. First rollerskis on pavement, then skate skis on snow. The Nordic ski season has certainly been off to a good start. I skied 80km on Thanksgiving weekend and got in another 25km ski this weekend.

New England has been delivering the best of both worlds early this season. Ample natural snow in the mountains and bare trails to ride south of Boston. When even roadies are buying fat bikes these days, I'll still click into my skinny skis to play in the snow before I ride in it. Some have said I hate fat bikes. Not true. I'd still own one if my knees tolerated the wide Q-factor better. Hoping to buy a 29+ hardtail at some point. Splits the difference between a fat bike and regular MTB and it will not bother my knees with a standard Q-factor.

I might learn to hate fat bikes, or maybe I should say fat bikers, if they start mucking up my ski trails. Waterville Valley is going to allow fat bikes on some groomed trails this winter. I hope it is on a trial basis, as they are welcoming feedback. Personally, I would find riding on wide, groomed ski trails not very interesting. And having to pay for it? I'm not going to get too worked up about it, as the interest may be very low and it just won't be a problem. Some areas, like the Vasa trail in Michigan, are creating narrower groomed trails just for fat bikes. That is the way to go. The trails would be more interesting, can hit terrain that doesn't work for skiing, and eliminates user conflict by segregating the disparate activities.

Here are a few photos from the last two weekends. Some have previously appeared on FB. I'm more apt to post on FB when I don't have much time, if you care to follow me there.

Riding the peninsula out to Plymouth Light from Duxbury, looking south, Sunday Dec. 7. The sandy road was mud, standing water and non-stop holes. The wind was so strong pedaling was optional heading south...

Looking north on the beach. I couldn't figure out why it looked like it was snowing. It was sea foam being carried aloft. Had to brace myself to take this photo. Riding back sucked.  Exploring the coast was part of 42 mile trail ride in Duxbury, MA while trails an hour north were either muddy, icy, snow covered or some combination of all three. The Duxbury trails were perfect.

White Farm trails, Concord NH, Thanksgiving day. First skate of the season, 17km.

Day after Thanksgiving with Isaac at Waterville Valley. 31km. So cool to have this much snow on Thanksgiving weekend.

After two great days on skinny skis, I took my son down to the Cape so we could get our fix on dry trails. The conditions did not disappoint. 20+ miles on the Trail of Tears.

Never let early season snow go to waste. Back up to Waterville Valley on the final day of the Thanksgiving weekend. Met up with Eiric, also out to get his aerobic fix.

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Something missing here?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Over the past several weeks, I've noticed an anomaly in my sofa bike (Tallboy LTc) drivetrain. Once per full chain rotation, there'd be a little skip around the cassette. I found a tight link. That was odd, I thought, as the chain had over a thousand miles on it. Chains get looser with wear, not tighter. I hadn't made any repairs during that time either.  I worked the tight link loose and didn't give it another thought.

Then a couple weeks later, I noticed a very subtle bump in the drivetrain when hammering in a smaller cogs. Running the chain through my hand on the bike stand, I didn't see or feel anything odd. Yet the subtle bump persisted. It didn't skip or anything, like it was earlier with the tight link. You just could feel something wasn't quite right in the chain.

Missing Roller

Then one morning before work, I was throwing some lube on and something caught my eye. A link was missing a roller! How does a link disappear without the chain breaking? It can't, the roller has to crack and fall off. Perhaps this was behind the binding link to begin with. Perhaps the binding stopped when the roller cracked and fell off. Then because the pitch of the chain effectively changed for that link, a small bump could be felt each time that spot came around the cassette.

I quickly swapped out a pair of links and was on my way to work. First time in 18 years of riding I've had that happen to a chain. It was a Shimano XT-level 10spd chain. I've had extremely good luck with Shimano chains over the years. My first drivetrain on the sofa bike went 3000 miles, and there was barely 1/16" "stretch" in that chain.

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