Sunday, October 28, 2012

Medicine for the Soul

I had this past Friday off from work, and the day was expected to be one of those pristine, autumn days. I hadn't been up to ride the North Conway trails all summer. The higher peaks have already received dustings of snow. I was potentially looking at my last opportunity of the season to hit my favorite trails east of the Mississippi.

I wasted no time getting up there, less than 2.5hrs drive, including Starbucks stop. I had loaded my Garmin 705 GPS with a 30+ mile track. I pulled in a bunch of new material, trails I haven't ridden before. I knew there was a new trail that parallels Red Tail Trail, but didn't know it's name or exactly how it went until I found it on Strava. It is called Kettle Ridge Trail. People were riding it up, so I had to try it. My planned route hit the summit of Black Cap Mtn before bombing down Black Cap Connector, Side Hill Trail to the Redstone Quarry, then a trail called Outer Limits, a portion of which DaveP and I hit last year. A swing through Sticks and Stones on the way back to Cranmore, then up the service road for a final plummet down Red Tail Trail. A lot of very steep climbing in not so many miles.

The air was crisp starting out, the way I like it. Track research on Strava showed me how to access Red Tail/Kettle Ridge without taking Kearsarge/Hurricane roads to get there. This is a nice trail behind the condo's that heads up to the water tank. The two trails split at the tank, Red Tail heads up to the left, Kettle Ridge heads up to the right.

Climbing got serious immediately. I didn't have very fresh legs. There were many sustained bits of 20+% grade, tightly woven through trees and rocks with sharp switchbacks. I didn't clean it, but it was certainly all rideable. Once the ridge was gained, the climbing relaxed to a more sane gradient.

Kettle Ridge merges into Cranmore Trail above the ski area summit. Climbing continued. The first mile of Kettle Ridge wreaked havoc on my legs and I was dreading the wall on Black Cap Connector.  When you first see it, you think no way am I riding up that. But every time, at least for the last several times I've ridden here, I've managed to clean it. I continued the success streak. A short spur heads up to the mostly bald, granite summit of Black Cap Mountain.

Cranmore Trail early in ride. Bare granite tread here.

While mashing up this segment, a couple no older than 70 commented how just watching me made their knees hurt. Then the woman said "wait another 40 years and see how your knees feel!" Wow, did she think I was only 30? Everybody outside that day was enjoying good vibes, so I didn't want to be a vibe-kill and tell her was a card carrying AARP member too.

There were a few hikers up top enjoying the mint weather.  I could have hung out all day. End of October, riding in short sleeves, perfect temp, zero wind, zero bugs and zero clouds. Last year at this time, much of New England was buried under feet of snow and without power.

On summit of Black Cap Mtn

Mt Washington in distance from Black Cap.

Eventually I had to leave the summit and continue my ride. The descent was quite treacherous. Leaf drop was complete on the mountain. Those who've descended Black Cap via Connector know how rutted out it is. The deal is, every year erosion carves it out a little differently. Then you fill those foot deep ruts with leaves, well, you have no idea what you are hurling your front wheel into down a 20% slope. I went almost as slowly down as I went up.

Coming down Black Cap Connector.
Much of it is pretty rugged.

The leaf drop made route following on Side Hill Trail difficult. Even though I've ridden this trail many times, and it is not very technical, I found myself off track many times. The forest floor looked the same everywhere. I came to the giant rock that Dave rode over last time. I pondered if I'd ever dare try it. It is all commitment. If you hesitate, you'll pay dearly. Then as I came around the other side, it appears the massive rock slab that provided the exit ramp is gone. It is a 5-6ft drop now, on stuff you wouldn't want to land on. I pity anybody that doesn't know this and meets catastrophe.

Side Hill Trail. Route following difficult at times.

My track took me on a slightly different way through the Redstone Quarry. Some pretty challenging terrain in there, with interesting equipment that was built maybe a hundred years ago.

Redstone Quarry Trail

Pillar milling lathe at Redstone Quarry

After passing through the quarry, the route began climbing earnestly again on Outer Limits. I had climbed much of this once before, but this time I climbed higher. Much of the vertical here is gained in painfully steep pitches. Instead of descending on doubletrack like Dave and I did last year, my Strava mined route descended on fast, flowy singletrack most of the way down. Major score.

I hit a bunch more new-to-me singletrack that paralleled the powerlines en route to Sticks & Stones. S&S is wicked fun, even 3+ hours into a hard ride. It is all decomposed granite and has amazing flow. Parts of it are almost like a super-sized pump track.

A shortcut under the powerlines brought me to the Cranmore Ski Area service road. The rubbish pile there pretty much completely blocked off access to the service road. Crews were unloading stuff into dumpsters. A lot of activity was going on. The road seemed to have been widened a bit, and it was evident a lot of traffic was actively going up and down it. At the time I thought "bonus!",  as it was well packed and the sustained 20% sections wouldn't be like riding on marbles.

About a quarter of the way up, were the bottom terminus of a new chairlift was being installed, a Cranmore worker hollered at me. I turned around to see what he wanted. He informed me the road was closed, and they have a big sign at the bottom saying no mountain biking or hiking during the construction period. My heart sank. I really needed the climb and that Red Tail Trail descent to reach the highest level of MTB bliss. I explained that from the direction I cut into the service road, I didn't see the sign, and I wasn't planning on coming back down the road. He said there was a lot of heavy equipment on the road and it was dangerous to continue. He did not explicitly tell me to turn around, and I remained persistent that I wouldn't get in anybody's way and was just passing though to Red Tail. Things kind of stopped there and I continued on, although nervously.  I encountered only one vehicle on the road after that, a large propane truck, coming down a 20% grade on essentially jeep road surface. I could see where tires were skidding over rocks. I wouldn't have enjoyed being that driver.

I had hoped to catch a photo of North Conway from the ski area summit, but there were many large dirt moving machines going about. I was more than happy to get off the service road after that 1200ft climb anyway, so I started heading up Cranmore Trail. My shadow was getting long on the trail in front of me as I headed east. The days are so short now, and the temp was starting to drop too.

Long shadow on Cranmore Trail late in ride

I dove into Red Tail Trail, my favorite trail east of the Mississippi. It appeared to have been brushed out. No leaves! The trail had been logged several years ago, and new growth had since blocked the expansive views of the Mt Washington Valley. But to my surprise, a large area of this new growth had been trimmed back, opening an amazing view back up. I assume this was done not just for humans to take in the view, but for critters than can benefit from open meadows. Either way, it was a nice bonus.

Reclaimed clearing near top of Red Tail Trail.
All singletrack down from here!

Nothing but FLOW on Red Tail Trail

Bottom of Red Tail Trail along stream

I rolled back into town with about 33mi, 6000ft and 4.7hrs on the Garmin. This ride is almost all singletrack. I rode cautiously and had no mishaps. It was one of my best rides ever in this part of the country. I really needed that, working extra hours lately, with some home projects going on too. With Hurricane Sandy bearing down on the northeast, off-road riding could be a mess until next season.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Spend Down

Most avid cyclists will take time off the bike at some point during the year.  It is time for rest and recovery, not just for the body, but also for the mind. It helps prevent overuse injuries and burnout.  Joe Friel calls this the "transition period" in a periodized training plan. I've never been one to periodize my training much beyond microcycles, or weekly training blocks.  I prefer to maintain a fairly uniform level of fitness throughout most of the year, which means I potentially sacrifice some peak performance for a key event or two. I'm just not results oriented enough to take that next step. The process of staying fit is reward enough for me.

If I did have a transition period, fall would be it. I do not pursue cyclocross, and the regular road and mountain racing season has ended. So I come into fall with a boat load of fitness. It is like cash in the bank or hay in the barn. What do you do when you find yourselves with a little extra cash? You spend it! Fall is a time where I fret less on maintaining fitness and more of enjoying the fitness I accrued over the rest of the year. It is a fitness spend down period.

So how do I spend fitness? While the body might not be given a complete rest, the mind can be rejuvenated by going on long rides with no focus on intensity or training value. Some might call this junk miles. In fall, the air is cooler, the bugs are gone, and the trails are often dry. It is the best time of the year to ride off-road in my opinion. It is my favorite time for any kind of riding, in fact.

I've built a repertoire of long off-road rides over the last few years. These rides range from 40-50+ miles for the mountain bike, and up to 70 miles on the cyclocross bike. They are all pure loops too, for the most part.  The great thing is, I don't have to drive very far at all for some of these rides. So one may wonder how you can ride 40-50 miles off-road locally in such a developed area. It is done by stitching together multiple riding destinations, such as state forests, parks and conservation parcels, with bits of road to create a grand tour. Here are a few of my routes I hit periodically:

  • Willowdale-Georgetown Rowley-Bradley Palmer, 40-45 miles, MTB
  • FOMBA-Bear Brook, 50+ miles, MTB
  • Haystack-Groton, 40-50 miles, MTB
  • Rockingham Rail Trail Loop, 50 miles, MTB
  • Russell Mill-Great Brook-Estabrook, 40-50 miles, MTB
  • Keene Rail Trail Loop, 50+ miles, CX or MTB
  • Sandwich Notch-Stinson Lake, 62 miles, CX

On Sunday, I added another such ride to my repertoire. NEMBA rider Shawn S stitched many conservation parcels together in the town of Merrimack for a supertour. I work in Merrimack and was already familiar with some of these areas, but many I had never visited or even knew they existed. Along with five of Shawn's teammates and Paul L, we set out to see if a 50 mile ride could be had.

Pre-ride at Shawn's

After full week of riding, running and rollerskiing, I was hoping for something like a steady, social pace. But no. These guys hauled-A, right from the get go, up the Dahl Rd Green Area trail. I immediately realized I was going to be schooled by guys on rigid singlespeeds. Of the eight, I was the only one still riding 26" wheels. Everybody else was on 29ers. I took some ridicule.

From the Dahl Rd trail, a bit of road took us into Horse Hill Nature Preserve (HHNP) for a brief stint before dropping down into Wasserman Park. No rest for the weary, the pace stayed consistently high. I kept thinking how doomed I was if this was their 50 mile pace. We exited out the lower, back side of Wasserman and did a perimeter loop around the employer of two of the guys in the group.  Next up was the power lines behind the new Merrimack Premium Outlets mall. The bony ATV trail gave us the only flat of the ride.

So far, the only bit of trail that was new to me was the Dahl Rd Green Area. Shawn's route would next have us cut in on conservation land behind cinemas in Merrimack. This portion of the ride would be new to me. We crossed over the Souhegan River under the Everett Turnpike on a hiker-biker bridge that must have been built when the highway bridge was reconstructed. I did not know this bridge was there, as you cannot see it when driving your car far overhead. The trail loosely follows the bluff above the river, but we took a spur down to see Wildcat Falls.

Wildcat Falls

When my son lived at home, I knew he and friends would go somewhere in Merrimack to swim in the Souhegan River. He said there were cool rocks to jump off from. So I Googled Wildcat Falls, only to see kids die here. Glad I didn't know that at the time. Pretty cool swimming hole, but pretty risky too. Scenic.

A couple miles of road took us into the Grater Rd conservation parcel. I had ridden here once, many years ago, when the place was dominated by off-road motor vehicles. It was not very fun, being mostly super chunky rutted out, muddy trails. Now that the land is owned by the town's conservation commission, illegal use has ceased, and new sustainable purpose built trails exist. In a word, these trails were AWESOME. The trail named Millipede climbed and climbed on a buff brown ribbon tightly woven through trees. Shawn and Paul were ahead of me and established a blistering pace, completely reckless in the middle of a 50 mile ride. But it was fun. Millipede was followed by another fun trail called Salamander, I believe.

One of the less traveled trails in Grater Rd parcel

Another Grater Rd shot

After a brief food break, Paul cut out for prior commitments while the rest of us continued in the Grater Rd parcel. We crossed over into the Pond Parish conservation parcel, which actually touches into the adjacent town of Amherst.  This was not part of Shawn's plan, but the riding in there was surprisingly good too.

Some more road took us to the finale of the ride, hitting the bulk of the trails in HHNP, which we only touched on earlier in the ride. I was feeling pretty cooked by now and was looking for a reprieve. But no, Shawn starts talking more hero hills. How Shawn cleaned that first one on a singlespeed is beyond me. I cleaned it too, but in my lowest of lowest gears with the tip of the saddle violating my nether regions. This brought us to the top of the Ledges trails. I thought it was only down from here, so a breather, right? No, again! Guys were sliding out left and right on the leaf covered, off-camber serpentine descent. I'm amazed I stayed upright. Of course, we had to climb back up to the top again on another trail.

Ledges at Horse Hill

Top of Ledges

We next hit one of the newest trails in Horse Hill, called Twister. Like the trails in Grater Rd, it too was wicked fun. Considerable speed could be carried most of the time, but your handlebars were constantly coming within a centimeter or two of trees. I took a chunk out of one in a close call.

By this point, cracks were forming in the group. I was one of the cracks. Regroups were becoming more frequent and taking longer.  We had logged only 35mi at that point. I was getting a bit panicky, thinking my water and food were about to run out and I was already running on fumes. Another hour and a half? No way. I thought if I had to, I could play the "my wife expects me home by..." card to escape certain peril.

Powerlines finishing up

But alas, we pretty much ran out of trail. No body was complaining either. We rolled back to Shawn's with just about 40 miles on the Garmin. I suspect I would have logged more had a stick not crushed my wheel sensor early in the ride. I was more than satisfied with the ride. It was a perfect day and an awesome group to ride with. I now have more material to work into lunch rides from the office. Shawn is already scheming how to bring the ride up to 50 miles by stitching in a few Nashua trail bits.

Long Live Long Rides!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Watts in a Kilojoule?

Peering into the drafts folder, I found this nearly completed post I started about a year ago. I don't have any races, trips or epic rides to talk about right now, so fill your coffee mug and see if you can follow along here.

When I started the Hill Junkie blog, I promised readers they would find no political ranting here. Life is too short to get worked up over debates in ideology. It all boils down to opinion anyway, and we all know what opinions are worth. This post is about energy, where it comes from, and how it gets used. As such, it may touch on issues of national policy and cultural awareness's  Some quantitative technical content will be presented with references.

I have been an electronics tinkerer since the age of 12. Back then I built a crystal radio that used no batteries yet could receive AM radio stations hundreds of miles away. I found this fascinating  It seemed like magic, as we could not sense this energy that apparently traveled through the very air we breathe. I would later go to school in the field of electronics and learn much more. After a brief stint working as a tech in a product development lab, I landed an engineering position with a robotics company in Michigan. I worked there 11 years, designing controls and all sorts of articulating devices for guided vehicles. I developed a thorough understanding of battery storage capacities, electric motor efficiencies, losses in drivetrains, and power required to perform specific tasks. I was not a cyclist at the time. Later I would pursue an advanced degree in engineering and move to New England. My work progressed into the world of microelectronics, an extreme shift from industrial electronics. Megajoules became microjoules and centimeters became nanometers. Although I didn't work with motive power anymore, my increasing interest in cycling gave me new ways to think about motive systems - human powered systems.

All avid cyclists have an appreciation for how hard it is to ride 20 miles or to climb a 30 minute hill. But how many cyclists know the power consumption of other systems in terms of cycling power? Those with power meters may have some inkling  But do you know how many gallon's worth of gas a whole year of riding is worth? Or how many cyclists can be sustained by the energy produced from one acre of corn? You may be surprised by some of the comparisons presented here. Presumably you are reading this blog because you ride. Let's delve deeply into this topic by relating diverse sources of energy to that of a typical cyclist.

For purposes of analysis that follows, let's assume that our standard cyclist can produce 250W of power for one hour. This is about 900 food Calories per hour, or over 20mph on flat terrain. Most competitive cyclists will have no trouble producing this much power. You may recall the ESPN commercial with Lance Armstrong on his trainer in the basement. He stopped for the night and the whole ESPN building went dark. If we put one or more standard cyclists on bike generators, how many cyclists would we need to power everyday things?
  • Streetlight: 250W - 1 cyclist
  • Microwave: 1kW - 4 cyclists
  • House: 25kW - 100 cyclists
  • SUV: 75kW - 300 cyclists
To be sure, I made a few assumptions here. Average house power over course of a day is much lower, but peak service to new houses is rated for at least double the 25kW used here. Estimated 75kW for SUV assumes 65mph on highway. So a cyclist is good only for a streetlamp or maybe a small TV or computer. Think about the SUV. If you drive one to work and back on the highway one hour round trip, 300 cyclists would have to work an hour to produce the energy you burned to transport one person. Of course, an SUV can get you to work faster (most of the time) or carry a few more people. But even if you drove the same speed that a cyclist could maintain at 250W, the SUV would consume many, many times the energy a cyclist would consume.

I think most people utterly fail to understand how much energy cars consume. My dad is a retired autoworker, and he's been keenly following the development of GM's concept car the Volt. But I don't think he fully comprehends that if everybody started driving electric cars that drew an appreciable portion of their energy from the electric grid, we'd have total grid failure. Here's why.

About 45% of the oil consumed in this country is put in auto gas tanks [1]. This is around 377M gallons per day of gas burned in cars [2]. Now here's the kicker. One gallon of gas contains 130,000,000 Joules of energy. That's 31,000 food Calories. A gallon of 1% milk has about 1600 Calories in contrast. Now if we multiply 377M gallons by 130MJ, we find that nearly 50 petajoules of energy are consumed in cars daily (that's 50 with 15 zeros behind it, as in 50,000,000,000,000,000 Joules). Stunning, eh?

Here's another way to look at things. I figure in a whole year's worth of riding, I may burn about 1.92 GigaJoules of energy. I figure this from 600 training hours with an average of 800 calories per hour. This would be upper limit. I likely burn much less over a year. 1.92GJ is less than 15 gallons of gas. A whole year of my riding (8000-10,000 miles on and off-road) can be powered by the energy contained in just 15 gallons of gas. Avid recreational cyclists will burn even fewer gallons worth of gas energy in a whole year. A one hour hammer ride for me might burn only four ounces of gas! I point this out because gasoline has incredibly high energy density. That is why it works so well for cars. Cars are energy hogs, and energy hogs need high density fuel, else the storage space or weight requirements would be far too great. We have not found a reasonably safe, denser way to power transportation. Our best batteries fall way short. Other chemicals, like ethanol, don't stack up well with gas. Much more will be discussed on ethanol shortly. We haven't exactly figured out cold fusion either. So we're stuck with gas in the interim.

But say we did make a sudden breakthrough in battery technology. Say we could drive 400 miles on one charge, just like we do with a 30 gallon tank in a SUV today. I'm not talking hybrid here, but 100% pure electric vehicle. Then all we'd have to do is come home from our evening commute and charge the car in the garage, right? Um, there's that pesky detail that nationally our cars burn 50PJ per day. Where is this going to come from? Our grid system is already strained in most parts of the country. We haven't built a new nuclear plant in decades, and the number of operational plants peaked almost 20 years ago. There are about 104 units in operation today. Coal powered plants are coming under increasing environmental pressure and will likely become less attractive as they are forced to use increasing percentages of net output to reduce emissions [3].

Cars use 50PJ per day. That's 18,250PJ, or 1.825x10^19 Joules per year. Total nuclear plant electricity production last year was about 800,000MkWhrs (leave it to Dept. of Energy to use million kilowatt hours) [4]. This is 2.88x10^18 Joules. These are staggeringly big numbers, and some of you will probably already be looking for the conclusion of this number crunching fest. But you should be able to see that cars consume more energy than the total nuclear power output in this country, which provides about 20% of our electricity. Now here's the next kicker. Suppose we converted all of our cars to pure electric vehicles that derive all their energy from the grid. Also suppose that nuclear electricity production was the only currently viable way to meet this huge demand. We'd have to build over 600 new nuclear power plants. That's 12 per state on average. Think the public is ready for this? Personally, I would favor a revival in nuclear plant construction. New plants could be vastly safer than plants of 30 years ago. We have to start weaning ourselves from oil for so many reasons. We can do this now.

Some say ethanol is the renewable energy of the future. In theory, it is supposed to have low net greenhouse gas impact. It goes something like this. Corn grows using energy from the sun to capture carbon from the atmosphere in its carbohydrates. A fermentation process converts the sugars to alcohol  This in turn is burned cleanly in cars, releasing the carbon back into the atmosphere where the corn can grab it again. Sounds very clever, eh? It's not. The whole ethanol production system is rife with dirty politics, twisted science, and a duped public.

First off, corn is a very expensive crop to grow. I mean this in many ways. Growing up in farm country Michigan, I saw first hand what my friends had to do to harvest a bushel of corn. You plow and disk the field. You plant the seed corn. You apply herbicides. You apply anhydrous ammonia (fertilizer). Then you must harvest the corn. It gets trucked to an ethanol production facility. Every one of these steps use diesel fuel. It also takes a lot of energy to produce the herbicides and fertilizers. Large scale corn production simply cannot be performed without these. Fermentation and distillation take more energy. Ironically, some ethanol plants burn coal to produce ethanol, a huge environmental impact. Once ethanol is produced, it cannot be piped in the same lines used for gas. It is too corrosive. So it must be trucked again to destination cities. The bottom line is producing a gallon of ethanol burns almost a gallon of oil. It is just a little better than a break even proposition on a energy analysis basis. Forget about net greenhouse impact. It is very negative.

Our government knows this. The professional society I'm a member of has rallied against ethanol production for years [5]. Yet many Americans think it's a good idea due to clever ads and an over eagerness to jump on the "green" bandwagon. Subsidies go to farmers in key election states. Ethanol mandates from congress ensure demand for corn. It keeps the US agricultural system going, which for years was too efficient and suffered from price weakness. What is sad is ethanol production promotes non-sustainable farming methods. Corn is hard on land. We are putting increasing amounts of world food supply in our gas tanks. This is already causing food shortages and is rapidly getting worse. World food prices are going up.

Lets get back to how much energy an acre of corn can really produce. One report estimates an acre of corn can produce 362 gallons of ethanol. That's a one shot deal, that is one crop per year. Ethanol has only 2/3 the energy density of gasoline. Thus you must burn 1.5gal of ethanol to go the same distance on 1gal of gas. The US burns about 377 million gallons of gas per day. If we all switched over to ethanol, we'd use 206,407 million gallons of ethanol per year. This would require about 570 million acres of corn to produce. Guess what? Based on latest available numbers, we only harvest about 300 million acres of cropland in this country [6]. In other words, we could put 100% of our crop land output into our gas tanks, have nothing to put in our stomachs, and still get only half way to work in our SUV's. Factor in how much external energy (fossil fuel) it takes to produce this ethanol, it just doesn't make any sense. Ethanol is not an alternative fuel, and the bigger picture shows it is not low emission. Ethanol production should stop.

So what about wind? These have huge potential. China is actually developing wind farms so rapidly their grid system can't keep up with it. My New England neighbor state, Vermont, has opposed wind farm projects for years, and only recently has begun construction of wind farms [7]. Vermont projects an image of being a progressive "green" state, home of Ben and Jerry's and all. But when it comes down to actually doing something green, well, not in my backyard pops up. It is well known that northern parts of New England are very windy. The jet stream here dips south and low. The summit of Mt Washington many days of the year actually pokes into the jet stream. The highest non-tornadic wind speed recorded on Earth was recorded there. I enjoy pristine views a well as the next guy, but I value clean air and energy to do other things I like too. I've seen large scale wind farms in Scotland, and my first reaction was how cool. And this was in an area where there was nothing but rolling hills, not expecting to see a massive wind farm over the next ridge. Wind power is still in it's infancy but rapidly growing all over the world. There's not enough easy data out there to see where wind is going. I really doubt, however, it will supply a significant portion of transportation energy here anytime soon.

There's also photovotaic. This I understand a little more about. Einstein won a Nobel prize not for relativity, but the photoelectric effect. This is where light energy stimulates electrons in a semiconductor structure to produce a current. Raw sunlight contains upwards of 1000W per square meter at best, but more like 600W average over 8hr day per square meter in northern latitudes. Best solar cells today are >30% efficient, but are cost prohibitive. Crystalline production cells may be more like 15% efficient, but still take many, many years to pay for themselves. The cheapest cells in development still, are only about 3-5% efficient, but dirt cheap and may have short payback period despite poor efficiency (you need lots more of them for given output). Say you tile your roof with the 15% efficient cells. That's about 90W per square meter. You might be able to tile 72 square meters, or 6480 Watts worth in bright sunlight. You could harvest about 187 megajoules per day. This would be about enough to power a car for a one hour round trip commute. This system would cost somewhere in the range of $50,000 to $100,000. At today's grid rates, this would take a very long time to pay for itself. You would need a much bigger system if you wanted to power your house and a second car. It is only viable where it is sunny most of the time. New England is questionable. As electricity rates go up and photovotaic cell costs continue to come down, solar PV systems will soon be a viable solution for average homeowners.

This "back of the envelope" analysis shows solar has huge potential. Most homeowners own enough roof area or land to capture all their energy needs from the sun. Huge solar farms could be set up in the desert too. Electricity is cheap and zero emission to generate and transport, unlike ethanol. Once a solar panel is fabricated and installed, it can potentially operate for decades without recurring use of fossil fuels and chemicals likes crops require.  There is a lot of private investment going into solar power. Driving the cost down is crucial for large scale deployment. More government investment would help here.

There's this thinking that we have to do something to save the planet. There's a sense of urgency that has been instilled in us. This makes us vulnerable. We buy more expensive products because they are "green." Yet how green are they? Like ethanol  many products or services labelled as green are far from it when the total life cycle is analyzed. Then there's the whole sham of carbon credits. I've commented on this before and won't go into it again. It allows individuals to appease their souls from driving to a bike race or creates loopholes for corporations to produce CO2. Some people are provoked to the point of eco terrorism. Don't like McMansions going up in the mountains? Burn 'em down. Don't like  Hummers being sold? Burn them too. That's gotta be really good for the environment, all those toxins being released, and those symbols of excess will no doubt be replaced anyway.

One of the best ways to reduce your environmental footprint today is by living below your means. Our culture is all about conspicuous consumption, which pushes us to live beyond our means. This drives us to buy bigger vehicles and homes than we need, pushing our energy needs way up.  My frugal Dutch heritage has made living modestly come pretty naturally. Beside reduced environmental impact, a modest lifestyle has many other rewards. Contentment, reduced stress and being free of debt are just a few.

Thanks for reading.

    Tuesday, October 9, 2012

    Like ticks aren't bad enough

    I saw dead crows in the woods both days this past weekend. While riding in Boxford on Sunday, I saw these signs plastered all over the place:

    When I first moved to New England, I learned about Lyme Disease and ticks. Then West Nile Virus and mosquitoes came to the limelight. And now Eastern Equine Encephalitis. This last one, although fairly rare in humans, will kill you. Both of these viruses kill birds, and I wonder if that is what's killing the crows.

    I don't tolerate bug repellents very well, especially DEET. With ticks, you have a little time to clean up and remove them before they can transfer Lyme disease. Mosquitoes finish their job in less than a minute. I remember slapping a mosquito when my derailleur cable broke towards the end of my ride Sunday. Scary stuff.

    Sunday, October 7, 2012

    I love the smell of freshly minted benchcut in the morning

    Posting as been sparse lately. An increase in work hours is mostly responsible. When it comes to riding or blogging about riding, riding wins out every time. It doesn't help that a couple big content producers didn't happen for me either.

    A few days before the Vermont 50 MTB race, I came down with a cold. I hadn't been sick in about two years, so this one hit me pretty hard. I had a chest cough by Saturday morning, and the thought of lining up for a race potentially in cold rain at 6am the next morning sounded like a good way to end up with a protracted illness. I decided to bag the race and save some coin in the process. In hind sight, it was probably the right thing to do. I was pretty much over the cold by Monday.

    This past weekend, I had high hopes of competing in the Ironcross race in Pennsylvania. The forecast looked pretty bleak. Committing a whole weekend with 14hrs driving to to race 4hrs in rain just doesn't appeal all that much to me anymore. I confess. I am a sunny day racer. At least you can still wait until the last minute to register for Ironcross and cherry pick nice weekends. The VT50 fills up in an hour in May.

    Bailing on Ironcross did open another great opportunity for me. NEMBA had a big trail work day planned at Bear Brook State Park on Saturday and Sunday. A multi-year agreement has been reached between NEMBA and park management on trail maintenance and new trail construction. Over the 15 years I've lived in New Hampshire, I've ridden at Bear Brook countless times. It was a great place to ride 15 years ago, and has improved dramatically since NEMBA stepped up stewardship efforts there. Trail work days at Bear Brook over the last couple years always seemed to have coincided with races or other obligations, so finally, this was a chance to give back.

    Upwards of 30 volunteers gathered in the mountain biker parking lot at 8am on Saturday for pre-work instruction. Two brand new trails were being constructed, which will be named Little Bear and Big Bear. A trail named Little Bear already exists. It basically connects the upper Hayes Field parking area with the lower Biker/Skier parking area. It follows fall line much of the way down and is eroded beyond repair. The two new trails will replace the steep section of the current Little Bear trail. The new Little Bear is designed as a climbing route but will likely be a bidirectional trail. The new Big Bear trail is designed for downhill traffic. Don't think Highland Mountain Park here. The vertical drop is only 150ft or so, and it is not all down. The flow is designed to work better in the down direction and more speed can be carried on it.

    We split up into four teams, two on Little Bear, two on Big Bear. Pete DeSantis and others had previously flagged both trails and did several walk-throughs to tweak the lines a bit. Crews would start at top and bottom of each trail and work towards the middle.

    Doing this for five hours will make your back hurt

    Section of benching I cut on Little Bear

    The upper portions were basically "rake and ride." The terrain was mostly flat and open. However, further down a lot of benching was required, and the vegetation was much more dense. This meant a lot of roots. I worked a rogue hoe. Being my first time cutting new trail, I've never used a rogue hoe before. It has the weight of an ax, and a thick, sharpened blade that can chop roots up to about 1.5" in diameter. I spent most of my time benching contour trail on Little Bear.

    Had I not been doing regular sit-ups and push-ups, I would have been in real trouble right away. It takes a lot of abs to work a rogue hoe. Also, I still had calluses from long riding days in Colorado. I would surely have developed blisters right away had the rugged imprint of Junction Creek trail not still been in my hands.

    A sweeping turn on Big Bear

    We finished Little Bear before noon and went over to help the other two crews on the longer Big Bear trail. It is amazing how quickly things move when you have close to 25+ people working on a trail. Both trails were roughed in by 1pm, a total of about 1.5 miles of new singletrack!

    Portion of the crew after working (several hadn't made it back down yet)

    After some lunch, a bunch of us kitted up and hit the freshly minted trail. Up Little Bear, down Big Bear. It adds a whole new perspective riding a trail you helped build. A little more work was planned on Sunday, cambering turns and touching up a few spots, but the trails were already eminently rideable.  Our big riding group split up after bombing down Bear Brook trail. In the group were Ben and Matt on rigid 29er singlespeds, and they were schooling the rest of us. Matt's bike is an interesting beast, with a fat bike front end and 29er back end.

    Sampling the goods. Riding up Little Bear.

    Segments identify new Little Bear and Big Bear trails.

    Looping back to the parking area, the others called it good while I headed to Hemlock Trail. The skies were threatening, so I hoped I could make it to the campground before rain moved in. I did, barely, but then it poured buckets on the paved campground road back to the car. At least the bike stayed clean. Back at the car, it dawned on me that I had nothing dry to put on. My trail work clothes were saturated with sweat and dirt. It was a yucky drive home.

    The day proved thoroughly satisfying. Later that evening, I was barely functional. Nothing in my body escaped pain and stiffness. I also had a ravenous hunger. Swinging a rogue hoe for five hours straight will do that, I suppose. As one of the women in the crew commented, "that was the closest I've come to working in a chain gang!" NEMBA has permission to build a nested trail system over the next couple years. Along with a nice campground and other amenities, this will easily elevate Bear Brook to a destination riding area.