Sunday, December 21, 2014

Phases of Water

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

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

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

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

Salem-Beverly Canal Trail Path, barely above water

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

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

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

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

Flurries from Bob's Lookout at Waterville Valley.

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

Summit of Tripoli Rd with layer of fresh powder.

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

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A little ditty

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!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Run, bike, ski... Repeat

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.