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!


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.


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.


Bone Density Update

Sunday, November 9, 2014

It's been two years since I've been in to see my doctor and get a bone density scan. Since my ankle fracture in 2010, when I subsequently learned I had low bone density, I've altered my exercise routine, diet, and risk. If the machine data and study statistics are to be believed, I am many times more likely to break a bone in a bicycle crash than my peers. This is a sobering thought when one ponders how frequent fractures are in cycling to begin with.

I was hopeful, even confident, I would see some improvement, or at least no degradation in bone mineral density (BMD). I've been running for four years now. I've gotten little to no weight bearing impact exercise for most of my adult life before that. Then I added additional calcium supplementation, even though I doubt I've ever been deficient in my life. I added magnesium and D3 as well. It is quite possible I did not get enough vitamin D in winter months much of my life, living in northern latitudes. I've even cut out some of the starchy things in my diet, replacing bagels with nuts.

With T-scores typical of post-menopausal women, I greatly curtailed risk. I gave up road and traditional cyclocross racing. With an anticipated improvement in BMD, I thought maybe I could resume some road and CX racing.

When the report came back last Thursday, I was hugely disappointed to see all my numbers worsen. My spine, especially, is rapidly losing mass. The average T-score of my lower four vertebrae is now -2.0, which means two full standard deviations below that of a healthy young person. My Z-score, which is age adjusted, is -1.7. Each standard deviation equates to roughly 2.5x increase in fracture risk. So -1.7 means I'm 2.5^1.7 = 4.75 times more likely to break my back than an average guy my age. The new report format doesn't give individual scores for L1-L4, but my L1 was -2.2 last time and is probably less than that now. -2.5 is full-blown osteoporosis.

While my spine is losing almost 1% per year, my hips are losing much less. Maybe the running helps more with that. My hips are not as scary low, but still put me at much greater risk in a mishap than normal guys my age.

So now what? My doctor didn't think this was a big deal, but I haven't discussed these latest results in detail with him. I work with yields, reliability and statistical type stuff in my work. These odds freak me right out. I question whether anything I have done these last four years has made any difference. Would things be even worse if I hadn't made changes? I just don't have two populations of myself to run a controlled experiment.

My 10 year probability of fracture is probably not quite high enough yet to indicate drug treatment. That would be a choice I'd have to proactively pursue. The problem is, the fracture risk has to be pretty high because the drugs come with potentially nasty side effects. I don't think I'm ready to go there yet.

In poking around on the web to see what the latest drugs and research are showing, I discovered that a vitamin that is often deficient in American diet can have a profound effect on bone density. This is one of the vitamin K variants, K2, which has sub-variants MK4 and MK7. I take a multi-vitamin that has K in it, but it is K1. This is a pitfall of supplements. There are just too many nutrients in real food that you could never get all of them into a pill.

K2, or more importantly MK7, comes from green leafy things. I've consumed virtually no green leafy stuff my whole life. There's just no caloric value in it, This is a Fat Doug rule: good food has calories in it. MK7 is needed for proper regulation of calcium in the body. Calcium is a fickle mineral. You can take copious amounts of it, but unless you have any number of other minerals and vitamins along with it, you can't absorb it into the right places. Some studies have shown that taking a MK7 supplement not only slowed bone loss, it reversed it. MK7 is now used in Asian countries to treat osteoporosis. MK7 is widely available and quite safe. I'll give it a try. It would be far better to consume natural sources of MK7, but I don't think I could ever become a fan of spinach salads. Natto, fermented soybeans, popular in Japan, has a high concentration of MK7. Most Americans' palate can't tolerate the stuff though. The MK7 I ordered is derived from natto.

Unfortunately, it will be another two years before I will see if any changes I make have any impact. In the mean time I need to continue to curtail risks.


Rapha Course - where blue meets brown

Saturday, October 25, 2014

After this week's deluge, I didn't think local trail conditions would be to my liking. And after a confrontation with a motorist during Friday's lunch spin, local roads didn't seem very attractive either. I had yet to ride my Trek Cronus since I put wide 38mm tubeless tires on it over a month ago. Some quiet Vermont gravels roads seemed attractive.

I stitched together a new variant of the first half of the Rapha Gentlemens Race course. After hitting most of the good stuff west of Norwich, I would cut straight back on Turnpike Rd past Gile Mtn. A section of this doesn't even show on Google Maps, but I've ridden it with MTB several times. Pretty rough going, but no more than half a mile of it. This would make for a 100km loop with 7000ft of climbing.

It was frigid starting out, just above freezing. I dressed light because I didn't want to carry excess clothing for most of the ride after it warmed up. That first descent teared my eyes up something fierce. The day turned out to be exceptionally nice. I regretted bringing only my cell phone camera.

The drizzly week packed the gravel down nicely. In fact, a road bike would have been optimal on at least 80% of the gravel sections. Smooth as butter. Only a slightly increased chance of pinch flatting on the other 20%. Could bomb every descent WFO. So much fun.

I've heard it said before you know when you are approaching the summit of a climb when you see blue on black. That means blue sky is meeting black asphalt. Well, Vermont has more miles of unpaved roads than paved roads. So one is more apt to see blue meeting brown when cyclo-touring Vermont. Today's bluebird skies doled out some nice blue on brown crests.

After climbing Foundry Rd, I stopped to take in the view of what I believed to be the Adirondacks in New York. While stopped, a group of four mountain bikers came up what looked like a driveway. I suspect their average age was much older than me. We talked a bit. They were quite far out and heading even further out. I asked about what trails could possibly be around there. They kind of looked at each other and snickered. They claimed they've been riding some of the best trails in Vermont for over 30 years. I looked around on their bikes and saw no GPSs. Then I asked if they load any of their rides on Strava. I got funny looks, like "what's Strava?" Then one commented that they need to keep the secret stash protected. Bummer. I looked in Strava around that area and there was nothing lit up. Either the locals keep a very tight lid on it or there's really nothing there. Has me wondering...

So what is it about Vermonters and their Subaru's? I'm pretty sure 78.9% of Vermont drivers own Subaru's. Does the state give tax breaks? Is there a penalty for owning a non-Subaru? Maybe to fit in with rural culture, you feel compelled to own a Subaru, one of those meme things. Obama, Coexist and NPR stickers must be one of the factory trim package options too. And I suppose because summer is just a transition between mud season and winter, that there is no reason to take the studded tires off. Just having fun here. Nothing against Vermonters or Subaru's. In mountainous terrain that is ice and snow covered half the year, AWD cars no doubt make sense. I may buy one some day after I move to Colorado.

Turnpike Rd starts out nice gravel and drops to about 1.5 lanes wide after a mile. As the houses become less frequent and elevation is gained, the road becomes barely one lane wide. You know you are in for a treat when you start seeing grass growing in the middle. Eventually the gravel surface peters out altogether, becomes leaf covered, and gnarly under the leaves. Very wet too. On the sofa bike, this is no problem. But on my cross rig where your center of gravity is already perched half-way into an endo, riding down steep ledgy rocks is terrifying. I think I lost a mile per hour off my pace riding a half mile of rough jeep road. Eventually you are "back on the map" on the other side and can resume WFO descending. The trailhead for Gile Mtn was packed with cars, 78.9% Subaru's, of course. It was a six mile, nearly monotonic descent back to Norwich.

I finished with 62 miles, 7000 feet of climbing in 4.2 hours moving time. Temp rose to around 60F, and there was very little wind. One of my more satisfying gravel rides. Here are a few iPhone 5S photos from the ride.

Top of Bragg Hill Rd. Seemed like dreary day in valley until you climb up above morning fog.

Joe Ranger Rd. Only oak trees clinging on to leaves.

Blue meets Brown. Potash Hill Rd. Skinny tires would have been fine.

Top of Foundry Rd climb, from Strafford Rd.

Turnpike Rd. I thought there was a reason I brought the CX bike. About a half-mile
of this, some of it up higher was wet, chunky and leaf covered.


Tour of the Pocumtuck Ridge

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Last fall I did a big loop from Amherst, MA that entailed a considerable amount of climbing in rugged terrain. The area struck me as a place that possessed Hill Junkie character - killer fireroad climbs, challenging singletrack and great views from high places. Perusing the Strava Global Heatmap, as I often due when dreaming about new places to ride, brightly glowing tracks in the Deerfield and Greenfield area caught my attention.

I've done the D2R2 ride many times from Deerfield. We start from a large hay field. Across the field to the east is a towering ridge that spans from south to north as far as you can see. I've heard you can ride that ridge. The heatmap showed many have. That clinched it for me. With any luck, there might still be some fall foliage in the area.

To plan this route, I decided to give the Strava Route Builder a try.  I found it has some minor quirks, but it has something nobody else has: heatmap overlay! You can use street, terrain or satellite views, with or without the heatmap overlaid. Street and path following can be turned on or off. I found this to be the most versatile off-road route planning tool yet. Previously, I'd have to go into Strava Explore and grab tracks from specific rides. I had no idea if they were a one-off or followed a popular route. With the heatmap, you know exactly where the popular routes area. Readers will be sad hear this may spell the end of Hill Junkie boondoggles. The heatmap takes speculation out of route building.

The plan was to park in Greenfield, take 10 miles of paved road south to Mt Toby, which I hit on my ride from Amhest last fall. There is nothing super special about Mt Toby, other than it is a superb 1000ft fireroad climb from the north. Descending the south is a different beast. It is four miles of ATV chunder buried under fresh leaf drop. Momentum is your friend on the sofa bike!

There was 0% chance of rain and nothing on the radar when I headed out, despite some pretty ominous looking clouds. I no more than pushed off when it started raining. WTF! It sprinkled the whole way to Mt Toby, enough to make the road and my feet wet. It was less than 50F. Fortunately that didn't last long and wasn't enough to make off-road terrain wet. I never saw another person on Mt Toby until I reached the bottom on the south side.

Crossing back over the Connecticut River, with most of the paved riding behind me, it was time to traverse the Pocumtuck Ridge. The Mt Sugarloaf State Reservation is at the southern terminus. It is a popular state park with a grand view from the summit. I have always wanted to ride up this paved climb, but not necessarily on a sofa bike with sub-20psi in the tires. The leaf peepers were certainly out. The view was worth one more paved diversion.

I would be great to follow the Pocumtuck Ridge Trail all the way back, but there are pesky interferences, like big cliffs along the way, that would not be fun to carry a bike up. So a bit more road brought me around to the north Mt Sugarloaf peak, which goes higher than the south prominence and is undeveloped. I discovered the route that loops up and around the rim is superbly designed singletrack. Some more great views of the valley below along the way.

Dropping back down Sugarloaf, in no time I was climbing up to the Deerfield ridge. This turned out to be doubletrack. With leaf drop nearing completion up top, you could see through the trees in many places to gauge climbing progress. A few openings afforded great vistas too, such as the field the D2R2 ride is run out of.

Dropping off the Deerfield ridge, there was some great singletrack. Crossing over a dirt road brought me past a pack of mountain bikers and onto freshly leaf-blown singletrack. Sweet! No more apprehension of sliding out on hidden roots and slickrock. I expected New England ridgeline gnar on this ride, but thus far, there was none.

It wasn't until I got into Rocky Mountain Park in Greenfield that I finally encountered gnarly ridge riding. More great vistas of Greenfield along the way, but the ridge was getting pretty short, only a few hundred feet above town.

I got back to the car with 41mi, nearly 5000ft of climbing in 4.1hrs. Even though there was a lot of paved riding in this loop, it didn't seem like it. Paved miles go by quickly, and way more than half of the time was spent off-road. I'll do this loop again, maybe with a few tweaks, but it was almost perfect right off the heatmap.

Sunderland Fire Tower at Mt Toby summit

Heading down the Mt Toby AVT track on south side of mountain

The south and north Sugarloaf outcroppings

South Sugarloaf from the bridge over the Connecticut River.
Observation deck in upper left.

Mt Toby on left from Mt Sugarloaf with the Connecticut River in between

South Deerfield from Sugarloaf observation deck

Overlook from the north Sugarloaf peak

Slightly different angle from above photo

Pocumtuck Ridge view of the fields the D2R2 ride start in

Greenfield from Poet's Seat


Published, sort of

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Shortly after I got back from my vacation, I received an email from the director of the Colorado Trail Foundation, Bill Manning. He liked my photos from the Lake City section I rode up around 12,000 to 13,000ft and was wondering if he could have permission to use them. As I am a complete amateur when it comes to photography and have no aspirations to ever make a cent off photos I take, I was more than happy to help Bill out. I sent him full resolution images.

A short while later, Bill contacts me again and said a British magazine was interested in photos from the Colorado Trail and my photos may be of interest to them.  The magazine is called The Great Outdoors. I checked TGO out first before responding to Bill. At first I was cautious, as they appeared to be a hiking oriented mag, and could they possibly be anti-mountain biking? Deeper probing showed not. They ran stories of off-road riding too.

Again, I didn't want compensation for anything they might want to use. I told Bill they were free to use my Colorado Trail photos, just give me credit. Bill also said he'd try to get the TGO to send me a print copy if they used any of my photos.  I wasn't sure they would even use them, as the CT piece was supposed to be more about bike-packing and the Colorado Trail Race.

I don't think even two weeks went by when I got a brown paper wrapped package post marked from the UK. At first, I was like what's this? Then it dawned on me. It was a very thick magazine, a special edition sometimes referred to a "bookazine." It was full of glossy pictures from around the world featuring 100 bucket list epic adventures. Cool! But how could any of my photos have made it into the mag? It probably took two weeks just to come over the pond.

But sure enough. One of my photos was in there on a one-page CT piece. The only problem, they gave Scott Morris the credit! I've never met Scott, but I have followed his blog for many years, and Scott has been involved with bike-packing and the Colorado Trail Race for years. TGO magazine probably had photos to consider from Scott too, as he's posted many photos from the CT on his blog. Here's a rather poorly scanned image of the page with my photo.

That photo certainly captured the essence of my ride that day, and the Colorado Trail over all.  I'm certainly not going to lose sleep over the botched photo credit. I won't even let them know. I'm just happy to get this expensive magazine (10 GBP + 7 GBP shipping) to peruse and dream over what adventures to put on my bucket list. The special edition magazine covers many human powered activities, such as hiking, biking, repelling, kayaking, skiing and more. Many of the adventures are competitive events.


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