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  • An MBW Kind of Day

    Posted on by Don

    I did an awesome, and fairly long, MTB ride in Jim Thorpe this past Sunday. It was a beautiful summer day, and Anne and I went up to Mauch Chunk Lake; she did a long run on the Switchback and then visited her mom while I did my thing over Pisgah and Broad Mountains. I didn’t realize it until I was pretty far along — Mountain Bike Weekend is 11 years dead and gone — but this would have been the right weekend for my annual JT Epic.

    Ride stats: 27.49 miles in 5:56 (3:53 actual moving time), 2996 feet of climbing, 2387 calories burned. This doesn’t quite meet my old criteria for “epic” status (40 miles / 8 hours), but I’ll definitely call it a “solo mini-epic,” and like I said, it was a beautiful day: warm and sunny and breezy, really a perfect day to spend in the woods.

    Lake, mountain and sky
    Mauch Chunk Lake and Ridge on a bright June day.

    We got up to the lake just about 11:00, and both started not long after, Anne taking off a few minutes before me — I had to stop and take a few pictures of the lake before I left, it was just amazingly beautiful. The pictures I took don’t really show it, but it was a pretty windy day, and the lake had whitecaps on it at times, but in the meantime the sky and lake were blue and the mountains were green…

    My plan was to take the upper switchback over to the Wagon Road, pick up the Rhododendron Trail and take that down to the RR tracks, and get up Broad Mountain via Rt 93 and the old James’s Run Challenge. From there I’d do some backing and filling to find myself at the Uranium Road, then I’d take Pine Tar back to the Broad Mountain jeep roads and down the Bear Trail to the pipe crossing and back via the RR tracks into town, where Anne would pick me up. I was budgeting four hours riding solo I was avoiding the more difficult, riskier (and slower) trails, and figured my pace would be quick enough. I set out after Anne about 11:15, caught up with her at the intersection of the Upper Switchback, and we went our separate ways from there.

    Woods, trail and mountain laurel
    Riding among the mountain laurel.

    There were a number of times on this ride when I was surprised by how much I liked some trails that I normally don’t rate highly, or ride much; the Upper Switchback was the first of these. It was beautiful, with mountain laurel blooming along both sides, with the mountain rising like a cliff on the left (and dropping like one on the right), and the little ribbon of brown dirt disappearing into the greenery.

    After a while I noticed something else too: there was a lot of noise in the air, and I finally realized I was hearing a brood of locusts. I had no idea that there even was a brood hatching now, but there they were, or at least I could hear them on the hillside, in among the mountain laurel.

    White mountain flowers
    A close-up of the mountain laurel blooms.

    I’ve always loved these guys, remembering them from many summer rides on this same mountain, and here is where I realized that I was essentially riding on what would have been Mountain Bike Weekend — it was always some time around Father’s Day, when the mountain laurel was in its glory and the locusts would be singing their song, which I liked to think was a familiar sound, and already ancient, when the dinosaurs heard it. In years when a brood hatched, you almost had to shout to be heard on the trail, but this wasn’t as crazy loud, and when I stopped I didn’t see any flitting about nearby. I took a few pictures of the blooms and continued on my ride.

    I crossed the cliff, rode to the top of Pisgah Mountain and down the Wagon Road (where I had my first “real” crash on a bike, more than 25 years ago), and picked up the Rhododendron trail behind the playground. Rhododenrons and mountain laurel are pretty closely related, at least in my mind, but these guys were nowhere in bloom — it was just a dense, dank jungle trail, though it seemed to be in good shape and get quite a bit of use. Eventually it dropped me down to where I crossed Rt 209.

    This next section didn’t look like it got any use at all; the last person on it might have been me, on my last ride through here, years earlier. I had to do a bit of bushwhacking to get to the RR tracks but from there it was pretty easy to follow, out to Rt 93 and up Broad Mountain.

    Eastern mountain vista
    You can just make out Jim Thorpe nestled in the mountains.

    About halfway up the Broad is where I picked up my next trail. I pulled into the Game Lands lot just next to the jail and decided to take a break and a photo opportunity. I took this picture in the general direction of where I just came from; the closer mountain in the background (on the right) is Pisgah, the further one is the one with the fire tower (you can barely see it but it’s there if you look) south of town, and you can see East Mauch Chunk, the upper part of Jim Thorpe, nestled between the two. Once again I was surrounded by locusts, but this time you could see them everywhere — they’re the dark blobs in the sky in this picture. I suspect that they’re attracted to the bright colors of bike jerseys, and soon they were landing all over me, singing for a second, and taking off. The first time it was pretty alarming, I’d forgotten how crazy and loud each individual song can sound. Then I got used to it, until I realized that they were all really horny, and singing to me… It took a little work, but here is a selfie with one of my many admirers.

    Man with locust on shoulder
    The locusts landed on my jersey and sang to me.

    The next part of the ride was up what remains of the James’s Run Challenge, a difficult uphill trail and probably the hardest part of my day, but beautiful, and shockingly lush considering the hardscrabble look of the ground. More mountain laurel, more locusts, and now a whole lot of ferns and pines too, and then I was at the top. I cut through James’s Swamp and picked up the Deer Path. The Game Lands people have made a real mess of this area, with heavy stone put on the jeep roads, and big sections bulldozed or burned out (actually I’m OK with this one), but the Deer Path was in relatively good shape, and also looking beautiful, more woods and pin oak, but also big regions carpeted, under the canopy, only with ferns — it seemed you could see for miles. It was a surprisingly park-like look. (I happen to like trails best when they get some use, but not a whole lot. This way they are easy enough to follow but the surface stays pretty pristine and the vegetation stays tight to your sides. Most of the singletrack I rode today, but especially the stuff on Broad Mountain, was in this condition.)

     

     

     

     

    Hardscrabble dirt and power line
    About the halfway point of my ride.

    Eventually I came out at the power line right-of-way, and stopped to take a break. Here is where I looked at the time (maybe 3 hours in), noted that I was way behind schedule and decided to do a bit of reconfiguring. I decided to skip Shovel Head an the Uranium Road, and just use the Deer Path Extension to get to Pine Tar, and I texted Anne saying I would probably be more like 5 hours (after her run she was going to hang out by the lake for a while then visit her mom in town, and she would pick me up at the end of my ride). While I did all this I noticed how different the power line area looked compared to everything else I’d seen so far to I snapped this picture.

    Deer Path Extension came up next, and this was the second big, pleasant trail surprise of the ride. There were a few branches blocking the trail — which I attributed at first to lack of trail use, but then noticed a lot of dead looking small trees everywhere, not sure what was going on — but on the whole the trail was in great shape, covered in mountain laurel blossoms, and way more fun than I remembered. I was actually left wondering why I always ride past this trail to do the Uranium Road instead.

    Blooming mountain laurel and bicycle
    One last shot of the mountain laurel.

    This eventually brought me to the Pine Tar intersection, where I took my last photo of the mountain laurel. (By the way, up here on the flat top of Broad, you could hear the locusts in the distance, but they seemed to mostly be on the slopes rather than the flats.) Pine Tar turned out to be all that I remembered (and then some), but I managed to ride most, but not all of the difficult spots — I surprised myself making some, and I surprised myself not making some. I was getting a bit tired.

    Much of the stuff after Pine Tar was uneventful, mostly just jeep roads (with that stupid ballast covering them), but I id get to bump into two separate groups of hikers, somewhat turned around and miles from where they should have been (Glen Onoko). I was glad to help them get back on track.

    Eventually I came back to James’s Run Challenge, and I took the turn for the Bear Trail, which was actually much easier to follow than the last time I’d been there. Over the old ruined dam, drag the bike up the cliff-like bank and onto the trail, and I was on my semi-last leg. Down the hill, over the pipeline — one big regret is that I didn’t take a picture, it was perfectly framed by the creek and foliage — and then I was back on the RR track, texted Anne one last time, and (miracle of miracles) I had a tailwind all the way back to town. Anne was waiting at the station when I arrived.


  • Over Blue

    Posted on by Don

    So, about yesterday’s ride…

    My original plan for this week was to do two 75-mile rides, Tuesday and Thursday, and then take it from there. Tuesday turned out to be quite a bit shorter and, what with a lunch break and afternoon thunderstorms, so my training hopes were set on the Thursday ride. My plan was to get up early and do go over Blue Mountain at Little Gap, then take Mountain Road to  Little Gap and head home from there.

    I got up fairly early, but then procrastinated fairly heavily — in my defense, there was a pretty strong wind blowing, and I was hoping it would abate, but by 1:30 I was done with everything else I needed to do (we’re talking gardening chores here, the subject of its own procrastinations), and the wind was still whipping so out I went anyway.

    Turned out, the wind was pretty bad, somewhere around 17 mph and it was a headwind, but I felt good and strong if not fast, and once over Little Gap it was a tailwind, albeit somewhat blocked by the mountain. I now felt like superman, cruising uphill with very little effort. My mileage was 25 at the top of Blue, and it was 40 at Wind Gap.

    …And then it was 60 miles and I was home. To my surprise, and despite some backing and filling — frankly, I got myself a bit confused, OK lost — it was actually shorter to get home from the “far” gap than the “near” one. I’ll have to study on this more with a map…

    Stats: 63 miles in 5:15, 4112 feet of climbing, 2078 calories burned.


  • Rest Day

    Posted on by Don

    Things are working out pretty well this week, weather-wise: Anne and I rode yesterday, down to Quakertown for lunch and back (we saw Scott S lunching at the cafe, and Lori P joined us for a coffee), enjoying a lot of good weather and about 10 minutes of storm along the way. Today I took as a rest day, and did my first stint volunteering at the National Canal Museum while the thunderstorms rolled through, and tomorrow I’ll be doing a road ride up and over Blue Mountain. Timing is everything.


  • Calypso

    Posted on by Don

    I’m feeling a bit tired right now. Anne and I did the CAT/BikeSmart “Calypso Bike Day” at Calypso Elementary this morning. It’s really fun to watch the kids, some of them diffident at first, lacking skill or confidence, come to enthusiastically ride the bike course over and over with their friends — you can actually see them become better and more confident, even stronger, as they ride. My job was to sort of referee the course, and get the kids to stop at the stop signs we had out — not an easy task sometimes, but the kids do pick up on “who’s turn it is”  at the intersections, and kid-land social pressures usually take it from there. Totally fun, for them as well as me, but keeping tabs on that chaos eventually left me feeling frazzled. It was over at noon, and I helped pack up and put things away and was home by one-thirty or so: hot, tired, over-stimulated and sunburnt, I came in, took a shower and napped for three hours.

    FYI: At the end of the day we quizzed the school principal and found that the school was named for Calypso Island, a small island in the Lehigh. The more you know…


  • The Big Push

    Posted on by Don

    Morning weigh-in: 184.5#, 14% BF

    A little bit of suppression in there, as I pushed it a bit on yesterday’s ride: I did Sals first, then afterward I did a towpath ride. Total mileage was only about 33-34 miles (took me about 4 or 5 hours), but I was pretty depleted when I was done. Today, I feel like I’ve been beaten with sticks…

    The thing is, I am down to the final push. The Wilderness 101 is late July, meaning it’s about 6 weeks away, meaning I have one more month of training and preparation left to get ready — and I really feel like I could use three or four. An ugly win is still a win though, and a weigh-in is still a weigh-in, for all that suppression, and I am starting to feel like, with the proper choice of goals (“just finish the race”), this thing will be difficult but no longer impossible.

    My next big tasks are to incorporate longer (much longer) rides into my training — nothing crazy, but we’re talking road centuries and the like. I also have to start working on my on-bike nutrition, this will play a critical role in both the training and the race.

    I also need to spend a shit-ton of money: I need new pedals, new cycling clothes, and I may get a new bike. I have a month…

     


  • Racing The Storm

    Posted on by Don

    Morning weigh-in: 186.5#, 13.5% BF

    So I decided to start doing some longer rides, and I would work my way into doing that with longish road rides (working up to century-plus mileages), and yesterday was my first attempt. My original plan was to follow a course I made on the Garmin site, one that takes me over Blue Mountain at Little Gap, then along the far side of the ridge on Mountain Road and crossing back for the return at Wind Gap. My total distance would have been about 66 miles.

    I got the course loaded on my Garmin, but then when I tried to use it I couldn’t read the map or directions while riding — my riding glasses are about 5 prescriptions out of date — and while I know the general way, I forgot or didn’t realize I’d created this particular course with a non-standard start. Ride up the street — BEEP! — stop to scrutinize the directions, 50 yards and off course already! Followed directions to get back on course, loop back to the house — BEEP! — “congratulations you’ve finished the ride!” WTF?

    Turned off the course and started over, going the way I already know and everything was fine after that. I took it fairly easy too, doing a lot of coasting on the descents; my heart rate wasn’t all that high except when climbing… There was a fair amount of climbing, eventually, but that was the point, and eventually I ended up in Danielsville at the base of Blue. The south side isn’t too long or brutal a climb, but I took a break when I got to the top — and that’s when I got a good look at the storm clouds blowing in on the other side, and felt the suddenly-chilly wind picking up, in that way that comes just before a thunderstorm.

    Change of plans: I didn’t want to drop down into the storm and spend the rest of the day being dumped on, so I turned around and dropped back down the south side, and took the most direct route home. I pushed my speed up a bit, because I was now literally racing the storm — I was right on the edge of it, and it was moving about the same speed and direction as I was; every time I relaxed I’d end up getting wet. (It really caught me once, when I got stuck in traffic behind a school bus dropping kids off, but then came several long fast downhills back into sunny weather.) I got home and pulled into the yard just as it started spitting again.

    Total distance: 50.15 miles, a little short of my original target but my legs were telling me this distance was plenty. Total time was 3:48 for an average speed of 13.2 mph, nothing to brag about but OK for an easy ride. Total ascent: 2904 ft. Total calories: 1618.


  • It’s Always Something

    Posted on by Don

    My bike has been driving me crazy for about a month (maybe more) with a creak down by the bottom bracket every time I stomp on the pedals. I tried lubricating the rear suspension pivot bushings, since one of them was near the bottom bracket, but that did nothing so I’ve been stuck with it. Last Wednesday I did a group ride at Lehigh though, which required a fair amount of stomping, and my bike — which was the oldest there by far, and probably the only 26″ bike in the bunch — was squeaking and creaking to the point of embarrassment. Oh, the embarrassment…

    The next day I decided to do a recovery ride at Jacobsburg, and I did something a bit different: I broke out the singlespeed. What was I thinking? The trails there are pretty mellow, but the SS, with its single gear and its lack of suspension, bring them back to “challenging” again. The truth is, I was thinking I didn’t want to hear that creak, but that meant forgetting about “recovery ride,” I had to work pretty hard.

    (Aside: I think  the singlespeed is a great training bike, very helpful to build leg strength, improve cadence and spin, improve technical handling, and improve overall ride smoothness and momentum conservation. However, it does not teach any of those skills, it merely incentivizes learning them, because until you do learn them you’re going to take a beating. I did OK, but the first few minutes were an eye-opener.

    The other side of this hard work is that once you do figure it all out, even if the ride doesn’t get easier all your effort makes the ride faster, and you zip right along. There were other riders at the ‘Burg, on some pretty high-end bikes — the riders themselves looked like Soft Boys to me though — and I tooled right on past them. It didn’t hurt that they quickly spotted that my bike was fully rigid and had no gears, which blew their minds. Neophytes. They could probably have ridden as fast as I did, but their bikes allowed them to go slower and so they did, while mine wouldn’t allow me so I, uh, didn’t.)

    There were other things going on over the weekend, so on Monday (before all Monday’s “other things” caught up with me) I did a morning towpath ride, again on the singlespeed. I thought I was going to go mad from all the spinning: an easy flat 25 miles, it felt like my hamster legs were whirling as fast as possible and I was hardly moving. Still, cardio- and leg-detox-wise it was a great ride.

    Fast forward to this morning. I got up, not particularly early but I had a mission, and I accomplished it: I took the cranks off, took out the bottom bracket, cleaned and lubed everything near the BB, including the pivots again, and put it all back together nice and tight. No creak! As a bonus, the bike, whether because of my previous SS rides or the smoother lubed linkages, seemed to ride really well. I rode in the afternoon at Sals, and I felt like I could do no wrong — I climbed really well, rocky sections and other technical stuff were no problem, and I rode my entire “traditional” loop, something I hadn’t done yet this year (I usually get tired and hop on the road to shortcut the last part).  Some of that I’ll attribute to recent saddle time, and some more to ramping up the difficulty level of the trails I’ve been riding, but some of it was because of my bike, riding like new, and the sheer joy of riding it like that.

    In the way home, the creaking started up again. I guess it — that creak, or another like it — was inevitable…

     


  • Almost-Weekend Update

    Posted on by Don

    Morning weigh-in: 187.5#, 13% BF

    Just thought I’d check in, and brag (I was pushing 200# in March)…

    The Sporting Life: The bike training continues apace, by the way. I’ve seen some definite improvement, in strength mostly. Endurance, not so much, but it should be coming. I have started riding Lehigh and Sals again, and I even broke out the singlespeed last night for Jacobsburg. What I really need is long road rides, sigh.

    Meantime, Anne and I also signed up for the Hersey Half Marathon in October. Her sister, and a bunch of her nieces and nephews are doing it too. I should — hopefully — be ready in time.

    Reading: I just finished The Mathematician’s Shiva, by Stuart Rojstaczer. Very good book, an awesome, well-written and well-structured read, with a great story — by turns funny and heartbreaking — with a lot of interesting math and science tidbits thrown in. It’s the story told by a professor of his mother, a towering figure in the world of mathematics who passes away, and the chaos that descends on their family when all her former students, acolytes, and adversaries come to pay their respects. There are also many jumps back to her early life, her work in mathematics, family history and dynamics, and academic and international politics. Just a really good book.

    RIP Joe Martin: I had a funeral of my own to go to recently. My cousin Joseph Martin passed away a few weeks ago. He’d been suffering for many years with Huntington’s Disease, and had been institutionalized and bedridden for probably the last fifteen, and now his struggle is over.  So sad, he was one of my older cousins, just two years older than me, and was the one I studied, as a pre-teen and teenager, for what “cool” was supposed to look like for me in a year or two.

    The wake and funeral were both in his home town on Long Island, and many of his old friends and hockey teammates came, as well as a large portion of the Long Island side of my Dad’s extended family. The funeral home was just up the block from where Joe grew up — the last time I was there was 2002, for his mother’s funeral, and he was buried in the nearby cemetery with his mother. My cousin Wayne came up from Florida; he brought the ashes of his parents, and after Joe’s service we had a small ceremony at the cemetery, where they will be buried with their daughter, my cousin Suzanne who died at 19 in 1967. (We stood around and marveled at the massive trees that weren’t even there when she was buried.) A sad day, but one with a bit of closure, and it was good to see so many of my relatives, and hear so many stories…

    GRAMPS, QGIS, Postgres: All that family talk, and all the photo albums that were bandied about, got me thinking about geneaology again, so I got that GRAMPS program up and running, and started updating what I had in there. I have about 250 people listed, but for many of them I don’t have much information other than where they fit in the family tree. Birth dates, death dates, where they lived or worked or got married, even for relatively close relatives I’m missing information. Working on it, along with everything else I’m fussing with.

    It’ll be a whole other post, but I’ve also been playing with Geographic Information Systems using GRASS and QGIS (mostly QGIS), and that led me to start messing around with databases. I’d already installed and played with MySQL for a while, but even if it’s everywhere MySQL is not all that advanced (especially for GIS), and so I also got PostgrSQL/PostGIS up and running.  I played with those for a bit, but sort of ran out of interest. Until…

    I started thinking again about one of my pet peeves (lack of information about old family photos), and since I was hyped up about metadata after reading a book about it, I thought I should be able to do something to capture or store that information, especially electronically, when or if they got scanned. (I’m talking about who took the picture, when/where it was taken, who are the people in the photo, stuff like that.) Anyway, there are all sorts of methods, including embedded metadata in the image files (like EXIF data for digital photos, only these are XML-based and show different info); even GRAMPS could be used with a little work, but I finally decided on a Postgres database using LibreOffice Base to be the front end. I have been on a steep learning curve — mostly LibreOffice, and mostly YouTube tutorials with droning voice-overs, so I do it when Anne’s not around — ever since.


  • Wrong On Many Levels

    I was driven indoors with all the recent snow and cold weather, and set up my road bike on the trainer in the basement. I hadn’t done all that much so far, but the other night I decided — dammit! — to finally get in a workout, and to make it more palatable I’d listen to a RadioLab podcast.

    Big mistake. I should clarify that it wasn’t a terrible failure in terms of riding the trainer, since it did make the time go faster, but I was forced to a realization I’d been moving towards for a while: I just don’t like RadioLab all that much. Back in the day, it seemed to have a good premise, and the shows seemed interesting and scienc-ey, but there was always something that seemed off, some side comment that they liked good stories better than the truth (what science buff would say that?), and their production habit of letting a guest speak a few words before fading out and having the hosts radiolabsplain, and their slow drift from science-related stories to whatever it is they’re now pushing.

    The podcast I listened to was about a woman hired in the 1960’s to teach dolphins to speak English — she actually lived in a half-submerged apartment, with an adolescent male as her subject and roommate. The institute doing the research was led by  a former physicist, who had once heard what he thought were human-like sounds coming from captive dolphins, and who was also an enthusiastic consumer of LSD for “research purposes” — one of those guys, in an era full of them…

    Pure hubris and ineptitude. Dolphins can hear and make many sounds, but they are not physically equipped to make the sounds required for human speech (a fact that these guys bumped up against, apparently without noticing), and no matter what their intelligence, their psychology is not human psychology, and “if a lion could talk we wouldn’t understand it,” as the saying goes — a meaningful conversation with a dolphin might not even be possible, in English.

    It was fairly obvious that these people were not really trained in animal research, and eventually there were ethical lapses: the woman managed to keep her boss from giving the dolphin LSD, but she herself had a “sexual relationship” with it. (Bad enough, but if they really thought that the dolphin was a sentient being like a human, then their test subject was a prisoner and their experiments were psychological torture, and the whole thing was an ethical failure.) I wasn’t surprised to hear that the funding dried up…

    Mind you, this whole story was told from a point of view very sympathetic to the researchers. I got off the bike thinking “WTF did I just listen to?”