What I do in exceedingly rare bits of spare time

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A house project that was supposed to happen this winter never got started until this summer. It was a significant refresh of our 17 year old kitchen, which hasn't changed one iota since we moved into the new house back then. Same appliances, same everything. Can't complain about the appliances. The GE refrigerator moved here with us from Michigan. It is 25 years old and has performed flawlessly over those 25 years. We bought that when we built our house in Michigan. Here's what our kitchen looked like before the upgrade.


Nothing wrong with this really. The formed Formica counters are perhaps a bit dated, as are the white appliances. We upgraded the flooring and cabinetry when the house was build from the builders standard fare. I still like the ceramic tile, and the oak cabinets with hardwood dove-tailed drawers are in excellent shape. No need to replace this stuff.

The stove was looking a bit ratty and one of the big burners didn't fully work anymore. The fridge is no doubt an energy hog compared to today's models. The Maytag dishwasher was getting pretty rusty inside too. Seems everything is stainless these days. So with some great deals over the 4th of July holiday, I bought four new appliances. No doubt stainless will now go out of style next year.

We decided to go with natural granite counter tops. I selected Merrimack Stone because they were next door to work and were willing to wiggle a little on price. I saved money by removing the old counter and doing the new plumbing hookups myself.

Cathy and I did not want another 4" tall back splash, and in granite, was a bit pricey anyway. So we found a deal on natural travertine stone tile and went with it. Of course, I didn't have a wet saw, and I would have to cut around 75 tiles. Renting would be stupid expensive, as I didn't plan to do it all in one weekend. So I read good reviews about a cheap Skillsaw brand wet saw for $89. I bought one, and it worked extremely well for this job. It took about four evenings spread over two weeks to cut and place all the tile. Of course, it had to be grouted and sealed too. Don't forget the sealing bead at the counter too, which I left a 1/8" gap for.

Because the old back-splash cut into the window casing, that all had to be replaced. The outlets were tough. Some required deep "U" cuts into them without breaking them. Travertine is a pretty soft, porous stone, so it breaks easily. I think out of about 150 tiles placed, I broke only one. So this is the result of the work thus far.




This last photo shows the impact of LED strip lighting under the cabinets. This stuff is getting cheap now. Just peel and stick. This is not hardwired in, there is a small transformer behind the paper towel roll. Very efficient. Just a few cold-to-the-touch Watts totally lights up this otherwise dark corner. The travertine is imported from Turkey, the granite comes from India. Seems almost blasphemous to use imported granite when you live in the Granite State, but we liked the pattern and the price was right.

Cabinet hardware has been added too, now that we've been in the house 17+ years. The biggest pain in the ass was the fridge. It was 1/8" too wide. Somehow I mis-measured the standard 36" opening to be 36". It was actually about 35.75", and the 35/75" fridge was not gonna go in there. So I had to remove the floor-to-ceiling cabinets from the wall and move them over 1/2". This caused a trickle-down effect, making the expensive, custom moulding at the top too short, opened a gap in the front of the cabinets, and changes in baseboard. The crown moulding at the top had to be special ordered from Aristokraft, unless I wanted to replace all of it in the whole kitchen. What are the odds the pre-finished moulding will match my 17 year old moulding?

Remaining are painting the walls and trim. Other rooms need repainting too, not having been touched in 17 years. Only my son's room was painted after he moved out.

One other weekend project I finished earlier this summer. The pressure treated front steps to the house were looking a bit decrepit. The vinyl composite materials available now are much better than the stuff that first came out. The early stuff had terrible problems with fading and mildew staining. The new stuff has thick, solid layer of vinyl wrapped around it now, so it is about as weather and stain proof as vinyl siding. I'm a big fan on maintenance free exteriors. Treating our front and rear decks every year has gotten old. Here's what the new steps look like.


I kept the stringers underneath, as they were in fine shape. Low key, fairly low budget project, huge improvement in curb appeal. We plan to live here at least a few more years, so I'm looking for ways to improve the resale of the house when the time comes and let us get a few good years in a spruced up house until then.

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Life's Challenges

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Life's been a struggle the last couple weeks.  I've been dealing with a hugely challenging family situation. Trying to balance that with a stressful project at work, poor sleep quality, a kitchen remodel and trying to get rides in has been no trivial undertaking.

A bicycle navigates a path of sanity through all that has been going on. Last weekend I rode my "classic" Bear Brook 50 route solo at an unexpectedly fast clip. That ride had big therapeutic effects after a rough week. I've ridden that off-road route at least 4-5 times already this year. That used to be a once per year epic, if in fact I did it at all some years. The pure loop is now well honed with many route variants within Bear Brook due to NEMBA's efforts there.

On my off-Friday this weekend, mostly on a whim, I headed up to Waterville Valley. I rode up the ski area access road once before and said I wouldn't need to do that again. Funny how time erases pain. This time I would start in Campton because it is right off the highway (why drive extra when you can ride it?) and it would make the net gain >3000ft. The 10 mile, 1000ft gain on pavement would be a nice warmup for the 25-30% grades on the dirt service road to the summit of the alpine ski area. I also brought my old Titus Racer-X 26" dualie, as it has a much lower inch-gear ratio than either of my 29ers. I recalled pushing up parts of the service road last time.

The gravel was in pretty good shape. There was heavy equipment on the upper half, where they were reforming water bars, which were extremely challenging to not stuff a front wheel into at 2.5mph with your heart pounding out your throat. But I cleaned the whole service road to the short upper chairlift. I bet I was pushing over 400W for minutes at a time going <3mph at nasty-low rpm.

Why do this, you may ask? I think of it kind of like this. My motivation has been very low to train lately, with so much other stress going on. Imagine handcuffing yourself to a treadmill, then setting it to 6min pace (10mph). You are either going to run, or the belt is going to burn the skin off your kneecaps as you drag on the moving belt. The service road was my handcuffs to the treadmill. Either I was going to pedal dammit, or I was going to suffer a very long walk.

The view from the summit did not disappoint. Wildflowers and strawberries were in full swing. The berries were incredible, way tastier than the industrially produced berries from California or Mexico. Tiny though, but the ground was almost red with them in places.


Colorado does not have a monopoly on green mountains, blue skies, fresh air
and wild flowers.

The descent sucked. It is so steep that even disk brakes overheat very quickly. I had to stop four times, rotors blue, calipers stinking of hot-brake small. I used Gatorade from my Camelbak to cool them, probably not a good thing to do with such thermal shock. The water pretty much exploded on contact on rotors and calipers.

Waterville Valley from 3800ft.
The Snow's Mtn alpine slope on left barely registers as a climb,
but it takes a lot of work to get to the top of that lift via skate skis!

Once back to the base area, I hit Nordic ski trails the rest of the way down. They were pretty much a ribbon of singletrack that wove down the middle of a cleared corridor. Way rockier and you'd think skating the groomed trail in the winter. Pretty sure I'm faster on skies than I was on my daulie MTB.

I picked up Sandwich Notch Rd on my way back to Campton. This adds another ~900ft of steep climbing on rough gravel, with a long tapered descent on gated forest service Algonquin Rd along the Beebe River. Some of my favorite riding in the White Mountains. No people, very scenic. Sufficiently satiated, I made it back to the car with 43.5mi, 4600ft of climbing, in 3.5hrs on the Garmin.

On Saturday, I joined Kai on a 50+ mile local MTB ride he was leading. Luke, Soups and Dave also joined. Kai's route would hit material that I hadn't yet ridden, stuff Soup's was raving about and saying how technical it was. In Brookline? Hmmm, I was certainly curious.

Of course, my legs were utterly destroyed from the hardest effort on a bike yet this year. That WV climb just killed me. Now I was heading out with a group of four others, with fresh legs, all who claim KOMs wherever they go. Not good.

Hollis orchard hill starting out

Starting out from Silver Lake in Hollis, the climb up the orchard was almost enough for me to turn around. The air was crisp though, and conditions just didn't get much better. Working our way over Birch Hill, we soon found ourselves in a veritable playground of singletrack. The terrain was a maze of vertical ledge outcroppings. Of course, the trail made extensive use of these features, which meant exposure abounded everywhere. Sometimes you where looking straight down 20ft drops not more than a handlebar width's away. This wouldn't be all bad if the tread was mellow. But no. There were big step-ups, narrow roll-ables, all meticulously constructed. But many features required big commitment with huge consequences if you wussed out or didn't make it. A few features had ride-arounds. Needless to say, first time here, I found many features above my ability. Even Soups,who's ridden there several times, dismounted frequently.

Soups on one of many tame features

Typical terrain. Unfortunately, I was never close enough to capture Kai or Luke riding
the big commitment stuff

Kai above the overhang

Dave under the overhang

Luke above the overhang. Would have been cool to get a shot with rider above and below
simultaneously to show scale better.

The ride continued into Milford, hitting the Gnome and Tucker Brook trail systems. This stuff was more my style. These are Soups' stomping grounds, so trying to hold his wheel through the tight trails was futile on my sofa bike.

A decision point was reach, where the ride continued south. I had a time commitment and didn't want to risk being late. Dave too needed to get back. We decided to take road back to Hollis while Kai, Luke and Soups continued. Dave and I ended up with 37.6mi in 3.6hrs with 3000ft of climbing. The others went epic and rode over 100k! Even if I had the time, I don't think my legs would have had that in them given what I did the day before. A great two days on the bike. Now its back to dealing with work and life's difficulties.

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Are we ever going to go down?!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Those words were uttered working our way up to the summit of Black Cap Mountain in North Conway on Saturday. I led a ride with with two never-beens, K-man and Isaac, on the trails east of town. It is my favorite place to ride in all of New England. If the Hill Junkie had his way sometimes, we'd climb all day, with no descent. The climb is the reward.

It was already warm and steamy heading out just past 9am. Recent rain ensured high humidity under the dense canopy. We started up Kettle Ridge Trail. There's barely time to warm the legs up before hitting the heinously steep section at the bottom. There are probably 50 switchbacks on this trail, mostly of them non-trivial to negotiate on a long-travel 29er sofa bike. With a 2x10 drivetrail, there is no way to soft pedal this beast of a climb. You are in the red and stay there until a brief reprieve in the middle. Then it kicks up again. I dabbed three times, once dismounting to pass under a fallen tree over slimy off-camber granite. Didn't need a hip check to granite.

Further up on Black Cap Connector, there is another wall to tackle. I've been managing to clean it regularly, but man am I cross-eyed after scaling it. We had the summit to ourselves upon arrival.  Bit of haze in the air, but the view was still pretty good.

The white knuckle descent down Connector was next. Recent rain ensured the many off-camber granite slabs were still wet with seepage. Ugh. Didn't phase K-man at all. Riding behind me, he "encouraged" me to let my sofa bike carry more momentum over stuff. In other words, "your're going to slow, so get out of my way!" I did, and I struggled to keep K-man in sight after that. I did ride everything though, against better judgement.

We next worked our way around Side Hill, Quarry, Outer Limits and Twilight Zone. All good stuff in there. Isaac admitted to a couple pine needle slide outs that I missed. It was now past noon and very warm out. We all finished our water supplies by this point. After hitting Sticks and Stones, we restocked at the cars parked at Cranmore.

As much as I like climbing, I do like to finish wicked climby rides with a good descent. The Red Tail Trail is my favorite in the Northeast. I save it for last. That meant we had to get back up there again, something like a 1500ft+ steep climb up the ski area service road. Death march!

Red Tail never disappoints. My wrists were ready to fail from fatigue and my triceps were ready to cramp up. That what a long descent that requires a lot of body input will do to you. You can't help but grin ear to ear the whole time.

Near the bottom, the stream was flowing pretty good. Covered in grime and salt, we had to take a rinse. Isaac went in first, carefully navigating the uber slippery granite. His reaction was priceless. He didn't spend two seconds in the water. I thought yeah, right. It is almost July and hot out, it can't be that cold. I checked it out next. Yep. Take your breath away cold. The water couldn't have been much over 50F. It was enough though, totally refreshing.

We finished the day with 33mi, 5100ft climbing, in just under 4.5hrs moving time.  It is one of the slowest but most rewarding rides I do and easily comparable with some of the riding out west. Fun and satisfaction was had by all.  Hopefully a few photos will convey the essence of the ride.

Isaac cresting the summit of Black Cap

Taking in the view of the Presidentials and Mt Washington

K-man looks like a giant standing next to Isaac!

Isaac on Outer Limits

K-man on Outer Limits

Isaac descending through clearing on Red Tail

In for a second...

...and right back out!

Shock, and trying not to let go and going for a ride down the slick granite

Isaac's reaction was even better. K-man was smaht and didn't go in.

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The Summer of Long Live Long Rides

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Much going on right now. Work is keeping me too busy. A kitchen project that was supposed to be a winter project turned into a summer project. I work late, then come home and case a window, hook up a new sink or cut and set 10-15 travertine back splash tiles. Seventeen years in our house, it was about time to upgrade the Formica counters with granite and natural stone back splash.

Figures last night, just as I was getting into the project, the power goes out. Our power goes out about twice a month, sometimes hours at a time, for no reason at all. And for this quality of service, we just started paying Liberty Utilities about 30% more. Then we get a notice that another rate hike has been approved. WTF Liberty. For even more money, can I expect even more power outages? Where I grew up it was extremely rare for the power to go out, and it was out in the sticks of rural Michigan.  I had hoped to put a HJ post up last night, but no power, no bloggy time.

I've pretty much abandoned the idea that I'm a bicycle racer. I haven't renewed my license in over two years, and this year doesn't look any better. I've never been happier riding. With high levels of stress at work and not getting enough sleep most nights, I question whether I'm sometimes suffering from adrenal fatigue. You can only push so hard for so long before something breaks. I have zero mental energy to compete right now. Many days at work feel like a crit. There are attacks, you cover them, get back on, only to be attacked again. You have only so many matches in your book, and when they are all burned, you get dropped. My match book feels half empty most of the time lately.

That is why I cherish the long off-road rides so much. They don't require much mental energy. In fact, being out in nature is mentally stimulating even while you are physically running your body into the ground. It is a different kind of fatigue that balances the daily mental stress. Lets you sleep better at night.

This past weekend I did two off-road 50 milers. Other than trips, I've never done two 50 mile trail rides in the same weekend, especially riding with others at fairly rigorous levels.

On Friday I hooked up with Paul to ride the Massabesic-Bear Brook loop, a loop Paul crashed out of a couple years ago with a broken collar bone. Conditions were stunningly beautiful. Completely dry, sunny and low humidity. I didn't want to go too hard of a pace, as I had another 50 miler planned with others on Sunday. I had severe reservations about this situation.

Funny how two guys not going hard ends up being a hard ride anyway. We each blamed the other for driving the pace. Silly male egos and testosterone. Even an easy ride can't be easy, because if your easy pace is too easy, then you must really be a wuss. Or something like that is how the subconscious male mind must work. Regardless, we had a great ride, no mishaps and my fastest pace ever for that loop. Yeah, easy.

On Sunday, still licking my sore muscles from Friday's ride, I joined Geoff, Soups, Luke, Dave and Ed for the GWB loop, which hits Willowdale, Georgetown-Rowley and Bradley-Palmer. You just know when two prior RAAM competitors join the ride, you are not going to be noodling along...

Legs felt ok, but not when called upon to put out top-end. Once we got into some singletrack, Geoff was lighting things up, usually with Soups in tow. I felt the pace was unsustainable, and somebody in the group was either going to wreck or blow sky high. I thought that somebody was going to be me.

Interestingly, Luke has been riding for just over a year and isn't really into the spandex thing. Geoff joked after the ride that when he saw Luke, he was like, who's this guy in baggies, he's not going to last an hour! Well, Luke was right there the whole time, other than some cramping right at the end. I was cramping too. Give Luke a few more months and he'll be schooling all of us on any terrain, any duration, in baggies.

Anyway, I was hoping the others were in as much hurt as I was as we headed to the final area, Georgetown-Rowley. I commented that surely they'll be some carnage in there. There always is. It is the most technical riding on the loop and you are the most tired.

Sure enough, the mishaps started happening. Three people hit the deck, one twice. A skinny bridge I attempted for the first time and barely made didn't bode so well for Soups. He missed the back side of the up-and-over and promptly augured in. The pace never let up. The whole ride was pretty much don't think, just go. Can't believe I didn't wreck. Sofa bike must give me some margin.

Another 50 mile loop (49mi actual measurement) at another big-time PR pace.  The two rides tallied just over 100 miles of mountain biking, mostly on singletrack. With so much quality singletrack close to home, I sometimes wonder why I would need to drive far away to ride trails.  Here are a few photos from the weekend.

Group passing equestrians in Bradley-Palmer

Luke cleaning the squeeze around boulders in Georgetown

Dave making it with a differently line

GWB ride group - Soups, HJ, Geoff, Ed, Dave and Luke

Paul on I-trail in Bear Brook

Paul on Hemlock Trail in Bear Brook

This is actually Big Bear Down. Paul captured on $120 point and shoot camera.

Paul navigating the boulders on Hedgehog Ledge Trail in Bear Brook

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Assumptions

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Plans for big rides fell apart this weekend. The weather was too suspect for a group of us to commit riding a big chunk of the Rapha course in Vermont. The sleet and torrents of mud debacle a few weeks ago was enough for a season. Or three. And the hamstring that decided to spontaneously self destruct while watching TV a week ago would have been none-too-thrilled to push through six hours of dirt road climbing. So we all ended up do our own thing after the weather cleared up later in the day.

Bleeding from hamstring muscle that cramped while watching TV a week earlier.

I headed over the Pack Monadnock with my 29er hardtail MTB for some repeats. I wasn't going to waste fresh legs by waiting another day to ride or do something totally junky in training value. I've been getting in a pittance of high-end work lately the way it is.

So why bring an MTB instead of a much more efficient road bike? I've never liked descending Pack on a road bike. The asphalt has washboard bumps coming into switchbacks, there are frost heaves, and the surface would no doubt still be wet and a little slick. After my horrific crash coming down Kearsarge last August, I became even more apprehensive descending. A mountain bike with disk brakes greatly reduces the risk. With front suspension and wide, soft tires, you barely notice the bumps. The hydraulic disk brakes are far more effective than caliper rim brakes. So what if the bike heft and rolling resistance adds 1-2min to the climb. You're still getting the same workout in.

Many other cyclists were visiting the park, nine others while I was there. On my first time up, I passed a guy with what looked like standard road gearing, maybe a 39x25. Now I wouldn't want to push that up Pack, but I probably could if I had to. A comment was made about having it made with my gear-inches. I just smiled and kept charging on.

Hmmm, I started thinking to myself. I'm on a 29er, which is a larger diameter tire than a road bike. I was in my middle chainring, and not in my biggest cog. What were my gear-inches? At that moment, at the very lowest I would have been 29" * 32/30 = 31". Yeah, pretty low, but not a crazy amount lower than the lowest ratio many set standard crank road bikes up with. There was a tacit assumption made that I was pushing up the mountain so much faster because I had so much lower gearing. I thought it was because I was putting out high 300's Watts of power.

One time riding my full suspension MTB up Wachusett, a roadie said it must be nice to have granny gears as I passed him. I looked down and I was not in my granny gear. In fact, I would not have been able to pass him in my granny gear. Funny things, our minds do.

A little later, maybe on my second or third time up Pack, another rider who I think was also on a MTB asked what I was training for. I hollered out Washington. I started thinking again, because this is what you do when your brain is starving for oxygen and you taste lactic acid in your mouth. At least when you go off into some analytic corner of your mind, you stop thinking about the discomfort.

While most riders that hit Pack are training for something, is it possible that I could have been riding up Pack just for the shear joy of it? The Hill Junkie has been known to climb hills for fun. Another assumption, that nobody would ever climb a mountain more than once if they weren't training for something. I suppose I was training, but I have visited Pack in the past with no training in mind.

Three times up at a pretty stiff pace did my legs in. I went up a fourth time at tempo pace. I've never done more than four on a road bike, and I've never done more than three on a MTB. The MTB takes a lot more kilojoules to get to the top than a road bike.

After the work was done, I visited a nearby ridgeline trail. The overcast day and damp conditions made the non-stop granite pretty much unrideable. The views up there are always nice though. Not quite the hours in the saddle I was looking for on Saturday, but the intensity session on Pack was needed.

Mt Monadnock

Damp, off-chamber granite on the ridge was treacherous

Pack from Temple

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Earning Singletrack

Saturday, June 7, 2014

I didn't quite get the ride in I had planned for Friday. Uncertain forecast thwarted an NEK day-trip. My flat, local ride I did instead must have been pretty punishing, however. I cramped up at the 3hr mark, forcing me to stop to get some extra water and carbs. I hadn't had any cramping issues for over a year, so that was totally out of the blue. I did manage my fastest average speed ever riding a "C-town's" variant, which hits Russell Mill, Great Brook, Estabrook and many other smaller conservation parcels along the way.

My cramping problems didn't end with the ride. Several hours later, while watching a PPV movie on Direct TV with my wife, an inner thigh muscle seized up. This wasn't one of those bolt up, quick stretch it before it blows up kind of spasm. No, this went directly to total muscle destruction. Cathy had no idea what was going on. For all she knew, I had been shot or something. The pain was unbelievable, and it just wouldn't stop or release. The contorted muscle was bulging right out of my leg. It looked really gross. Why??? Perhaps I rode harder than I thought...

Needless to say, I didn't sleep well that night. Two Aleve was all I had on hand that might help. Cathy takes stronger stuff for her RA, but that can cause muscle spasms.

Saturday was National Trails Day. NEMBA had a trail work day planned for Bear Brook State Park. I had planned to help out several weeks earlier. Now I wasn't sure if I'd be worth anything. Riding was out of the question. The muscle that locked up seems to be one of the hamstring group. I cannot lift my lower leg up behind me or pull back and up on the pedal stroke. But trails fairies aren't going to create great riding experiences for us. Sweat-equity is needed.  More Aleve, then I hit the road to BB.

A dozen or so workers showed up. On the docket was improving a couple problem areas on Chipmunk Trail. One was a reroute around a perennially wet area, the other was rock armoring a muddy crossing. Three hours of swinging a rogue hoe and ax along with gathering many large stones will surely have me sore in more places when I get up Sunday. I'll leave you with a few pictures from the morning's work.

Cutting a reroute on Chipmunk with a boulder to go over if you're inclined.
Matt with a "Strava Made Me Dope" t-shirt.

This is why we armor trails. Casey wallowing in the mud on Chipmunk Trail.

Beginning the armoring process.

The job completed. Flat rocks were few and far in between in this area.

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Work and play

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

I took the rental bike out one final time this morning before heading over to the convention center. I had hoped to ride a place called Alafia, which purportedly sports the area's most technical riding. But this was just far enough out of town that I couldn't rationalize it, given time constraints. So instead, I headed back to Wilderness Park where I rode on Saturday. It is less than 20 minutes from the middle of downtown Tampa and provides a quality outdoor experience.

Having learned the lay of the land at Wilderness on Saturday, I wouldn't have to pull the map out for navigation and waste precious moments. I could also hit a few bits I missed earlier because I rushed to get back to the car before the skies opened up. No fear of that this morning. It was fairly comfortable too, but still humid.

I was able to get in a 22mi ride in 1.9hrs. Legs were a little lethargic from Monday's steady 3hr tempo ride. At least getting out early like this put my mind in the right place for the rest of the day. I'll leave you with a few photos. Thanks for visiting.

What I'm doing when not riding my bike. Giving talks on reconfigurable transceivers.

Gator Bait trail. Very difficult = beginner trail you bring your girlfriend or wife on in New England.

Panther Trail. Felt very remote when you are never very far from roads.

Another shot of same spot on Panther Trail.

There are vast areas in Wilderness Park that look like it has been plowed. Vegetation is gone,
ground is deeply broken up, even the trail in spots is upheaved. Poking around in Google, I learned
feral hogs are doing this. Huge problem in many areas.

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