Thursday, July 31, 2014

What I do in exceedingly rare bits of spare time

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.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Life's Challenges

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.