• Category Archives the sporting life
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  • Blast From The Past

    Among my more prized possessions is a book called Indian Paths of Pennsylvania, by Paul A. Wallace. I was struck by a sudden enthusiasm the other day, and wanted to take a look at something in it, but could not find the book — I tore the house apart but it was nowhere to be found. Along the way though, I did manage to run across one of my first MTB guide books, Joe Surkiewicz‘s The Mountain Biker’s Guide to Central Appalachia. This was a book that I got more than 20 years ago, one of several I bought in my early, “explorer” phase, long before GPS or online maps, and though I used it mainly for Pocahontas County (West Virginia), and Michaux State Forest here in PA, there were a few other trails and areas I checked out, including a ride I did once in Bald Eagle State Forest.

    This Bald Eagle ride started from a trailhead off of I-80, and I mean immediately off I-80, at an exit that ended with a Forest Service parking area. It was the strangest Interstate exit I’d ever seen. (I remember the author also found this “inexplicable” exit notable.) This odd trailhead actually was the only part of the ride that made an impression on me: although I had fun — and saw a bear up close too, which luckily ran from me because my brakes were so squeaky — I spent most of my time semi-lost, and the trails I saw really didn’t excite me. I never went back.

    Fast forward about 5-10 years, and I bought another MTB guide, this one of Pennsylvania, from local author Rob Ginieczki. It quickly became one of my favorite guide books, mainly because the author’s ideas about trail characteristics and quality closely matched my own. I trusted his assessments, and I made a point of checking out as many of his recommended rides as I could, including one he listed as “Cowbell Hollow” — a 29-mile loop starting from R.B. Winter State Park, over mixed jeep roads and singletrack, whose high points are Cowbell Hollow Trail and Top Mountain Trail. It is now one of my favorite “destination” rides, and for years I made a point of putting together a group ride there once or twice a year. (Unfortunately, I was not able to make it out to these two on my most recent visits, though I did get to discover a whole bunch of similarly awesome trails a bit further west.) One thing caught my eye though — every drive out to R.B. Winter, I’d go past what I could swear was that crazy exit on I-80, just east of the R.B. Winter exit.

    Fast forward another 10+ years to just the other day, when I unearthed that first guide book. Since we had been up in that part of the state recently, I immediately thought of that ride with the trailhead on I-80… I flipped open the guide, found the ride with the “inexplicable Interstate exit,” and the loop was basically Cowbell Hollow and Top Mountain Trail.

    Well I’ll be jiggered.


  • Ride Ride Ride

    I was sick last week, Wednesday and Thursday, and then Friday was a travel day — I camped out over the weekend, near R.B. Winter State Park, at the BEMBA “Jamboree” — but since then I…

    • rode 25 miles of Bald Eagle State Forest trails at the Jamboree on Saturday,
    • rode another (almost) 20 Jamboree miles on Sunday,
    • did a short Sals ride with Anne on Monday morning,
    • did another short Sals ride with Anne on Tuesday morning,
    • rode Lehigh with Rich and Greg on Tuesday afternoon (I got tired and bailed),
    • did Nox with Anne and Mike on Wednesday, and
    • rode Mauch Chunk Ridge — including Bob’s Option, for the first time in maybe 10 years — this morning.

    We caught some overnight rain at the Jamboree, but overall the weather has been sunny, especially down our way. This makes for beautiful riding days, but our local trails are starting to dry out, getting dusty and scrabbly and generally showing the strain. We have a few more days of sun before storms hit, but I’m feeling the strain myself, and tomorrow is a well-deserved rest day — I left my gym bag in the Mauch Chunk Lake parking lot; the boat rental people grabbed it for me so we’re going back up tomorrow to get it, and we’ll make lemonade from the situation by renting kayaks. Saturday we’ll ride out to the Velodrome and cheer Anne’s brother Joe at the first ‘cross race of the season.

    Colors are just on the verge of changing, and some leaves have already started to fall, and I just heard some geese, through the open window as they flew past. Autumn is about to drop.


  • A Grand Experiment

    I love my Garmin, but the  map it came with was horrible, so I replaced it with one from OpenStreetMap. (This is not news; I got the map years ago.) The process is tedious but pretty simple: there are sites you go to, and you pick what parts of the world you want a map of, then they do some data processing and email you to let you know when you can download your map file. The files are huge, like 3-4 GB for the one I got for North America, and they take a while to process and even longer to download. But once you have the file, you just put it on a micro-SD card, stick it in your GPS, and voilà — a much better map!

    Maybe it was the choice of map file I made back then, or maybe OpenStreetMap back then was less complete, but my map didn’t have many offroad trails. I didn’t feel the lack too sorely, since on most of my offroad rides I already know where I am, but after the last big ride — when I had become a bit lost — I looked at our path on the latest OpenStreetMap cycling map, and I saw all the trails through the strip mines — singletrack, jeep road and all. Boy, wouldn’t that have been nice to have on the ride! I also noticed that all the trails on Broad Mountain are now on the map, including the “secret singletrack.” I’ve done a couple of (road) rides recently, where I mapped out a course online and then downloaded it to the Garmin and used its routing features, “turn left onto Main Street in 100 yards” etc, to follow my course, and I thought that it would be a great thing to try routing with an offroad ride. The only thing I’d need would be routable trail maps…

    My understanding of the Garmin 810 is that multiple maps can be installed and enabled, and I’d been reading up on how to make the Garmin maps. (For years I thought it would be a cool project to make small custom maps of local trail systems, either standalone or as add-ons to a base map, but other than some re-purposing of GPX tracks I never really pursued it.) I didn’t feel like going through the process of downloading another huge (updated) map of North America from that map service again, but generating much smaller add-on maps myself, using OpenStreetMap data and the same software the original map service used, seemed to be fairly straightforward, and I could make a smaller updated file to add to my base map.

    So that’s exactly what I did: I downloaded the data for a region around Jim Thorpe and saved it on my machine, then ran a Java program called “mkgmap” to create the map file. Installed it on my Garmin, and voilà — the trails were there! I then created a course online, following some Broad Mountain trails I know well, and arranged to go riding with Rich B.

    Results were mixed. Our ride was great, but the downloaded route beeped an error message while loading and would not do any routing, though it would show the route on the map, and would indicate if we went off course. I got home and found that I’d compiled the map without routing capabilities, so I recompiled and reloaded my new map; it still awaits testing since I don’t get up to Jim Thorpe in a very regular basis.

    Meantime, I thought I’d make a similar map for the trails at Lake Nockamixon, since I did have immediate plans to ride there. I drew up a course to follow (which worked fine), and compiled a map of the Nockamixon area, but this new map would not display on, or even be recognized by, my GPS. I tried making a few other maps, but the only one that ever worked was the original Jim Thorpe one, and I have no idea why. I eventually got so frustrated that I went out and bought a new micro-SD card, and re-downloaded the map of North America, a process that took about six hours (though I wasn’t actually present for most of it).

    My next offroad ride will include a test of the trail routing capability of my new map. It better work.

    (Just as an aside: my resting heart rate this morning was 49 BPM.)


  • Jim Thorpe: A Sunday Ride

    I carpooled up with Renee E yesterday, and we met Hope M at the small parking area where Flagstaff Road meets Lentz Trail Highway. The plan, at Hope’s suggestion, was to ride “Twin Peaks” — a pretty old-school name for an old-school ride, basically up Flagstaff to do Mauch Chunk Ridge, then into Summit Hill to pick up the singletrack through the old strip mines on Pisgah Mountain. I think Hope wanted to see what the old trails looked like, or even of they were still there. Her use of the term “Twin Peaks” told me she was familiar with the area as it was Back In The Day, but I don’t think Renee had ever been on Mauch Chunk Ridge, though she’d been on rides through the strip mines.

    (I’d been in the strippings on Pisgah, or at least portions of it, as recently as this year, and had done the full ride at least once last summer, but it has been years, possibly as many as 10 years, since I’d been on Mauch Chunk Ridge. Much of the area where the singletrack used to be has come under multiple attempts at development — someone bulldozing a bit and trying to sell lots before shutting down operations — so it was likely that the most interesting parts were long gone.)

    Anyway, here was our ride:

    We had a good ride, and it was a lot of fun with a few adventurous parts, but I’ll say it now: Mauch Chunk Ridge, the ride, no longer exists in the form we used to know. It was hard to look at what had been done: forest turned into “scenic overlook” meadows, old singletrack trails buldozed into wide walking paths… I remember so many good times up there, with people who are now long gone from my life, and even from this world; I prefer the unspoilt memories, and don’t think I ever need go up there again.

    We skipped Bob’s Option and continued on the fire road at the top of the ridge to the end, and descended (or tried to) via the powerline trail, and from there we took the road into Summit Hill  and picked up the singletrack behind the cemetery. We actually took the Rim rather than the Ridge Trail, then ended up on a much-damaged Green Blaze Trail (ATV’s). From that point on, we were relying on my trail expertise…

    I eventually made a wrong turn and got us lost, but kept my mouth shut about it, and fortunately we were soon back in familiar territory. Good thing too, because it was raining pretty hard by this point. Down the hill to the Switchback, over the cave crossing, and back to the cars for a total of almost five hours, and almost 25 miles.

    This was a fun ride, the woods were beautiful, and Renee and Hope are both great company on a bike ride, but in the end I’d have to characterize this one as “bittersweet.”

    UPDATE: I looked through my GPS tracks, and the last time I rode Green Blaze was the spring of 2011, the time with Anne when we rode among the mountain laurel and the locust brood. Five years… it seems like yesterday. How long since Mauch Chunk Ridge? My GPS records only go back to 2009, and there’s nothing. I’m fairly sure I rode it at the last Mountain Bike Weekend in 2005, so that’s probably my last time up there.


  • Leg (and Bike) Update

    So as a follow-up: I managed to not only have my knee banged up from cycling, but I also managed to walk into a gas meter at the sidewalk just outside a house. I kicked it, hard, at shin-level… It hurt worse than the knee, and eventually became infected. The knee suffered a torn meniscus by the way, which needed to have fluid drained and a cortisone shot; the shin needed antibiotics and an ultrasound at the hospital, to check for blood clots (there were none). Really, a banner week for me.

    The shin is pretty much healed at this point though, and the infection is gone, and the knee is also feeling better: I have much less trouble walking, and — when I haven’t been on my feet too long — stairs are not a problem. Luckily, the orthopedist told me that cycling is good for it, so I’ve been doing a lot of “knee rehab” on the towpath, getting more and more used to the new bike. I also set the seat height and position better, and put on a slightly longer stem, and the bike now feels much more comfortable, and rides much better. I took it out Sunday for some time at Jacobsburg, and it quickly became awesome.

    I tried running yesterday. Verdict: nope. Too much pain, and the knee stayed painful for quite a while afterward. Luckily, I was meeting Rich B at Jacobsburg, and my only way to get there was to ride — I ended up doing about 38 miles total. Knee feels great today, though the rest of me needed a two-hour nap yesterday when I got home. I’ll be going down the towpath to Easton this afternoon, for some Delaware Canal volunteer work, so I think I’ll be getting in some more “rehab.”

    And just to throw it out there: I haven’t weighed myself in a while, but I was 177.5# and 11% body fat yesterday, 20-25 pounds lighter than in January, and the first time below 180 in years.


  • One Day On The New Bike…

    …and I am incapacitated.

    I took the bike up to Sals for its maiden voyage, and I managed to catch a tree with the left handlebar — the handlebars are much wider than the ones on my Turner, or any of my other bikes — on a downhill no less, just after the 3 B’s climb, and it dumped me at speed into the rocks. I landed on my right knee, hard enough to see stars, and to literally bounce across the trail and roll down the hill. It took me 10 minutes to even get up, I was convinced I’d broken something, and I had to walk most of the way home. I spent most of the afternoon and evening with ice on my knee, and I will be doing the same today.

    Other than that it was an OK ride, not awesome but OK. The Santa Cruz rides quite differently than the Turner did, and there will be some things I will just have to get used to, and a few things I’ll need to do — suspension adjustments, seat height, possibly change the handlebar length (shorter) and the stem length (longer) — to dial in the ride. I would like for the bike to be a bit more responsive in turns, but that may come with time and those adjustments.

    There are three pieces of new technology, new to me anyway, on this new bike: tubeless tires, an adjustable seatpost, and 1×11 gearing. The tires are probably an improvement, but one — the absence of flats — that I might not really notice, and the seatpost is a cool gimmick so far, but it’ll be a while before it’s really incorporated into my riding; the new gearing is a bit more problematic. I went from 17 effective gears on the Turner’s 3X9 to just 11 here, and it seems like I have less of a high end, and less of a low end, as well as a less fine-grained set of gear choices. This may be the hardest thing to get used to, but there is apparently no going back: triple chainrings, and even doubles, are being phased out on mountain bikes, this is a weight savings for what could be a bigger and heavier bike, and I think the Santa Cruz has a lower bottom bracket, so a smaller, single chainring helps with ground clearance.

    Anyway, the bike seemed to perform well, especially on downhills, though the big crash wasn’t my only one yesterday, and though it seemed both twitchy (the short stem) and hard to turn (the long wheelbase) it did well enough at Sals. Unfortunately, it’ll be a while before I get to ride it again, and even worse, I’m going to have to bail on the Wilderness 101 this weekend.

    That’s right, no W101. We saw Renee last night and I had to give her the bad news. I felt like such a disappointment, but I won’t be walking much, much less riding, in the next week, and even if I could ride, my knee could never handle 100 miles the way it feels now. Timing is everything.


  • Sixteen Years A Turner Man

    Posted on by Don

    Here’s something that I did today: I bought a new mountain bike! (And despite the similarity in titles, I did not get rid of the Turner like I did the Outback.)

    What I got was a Santa Cruz 5010, though I’m not sure of the exact price point and I don’t recognize the components well enough to evaluate them — 11×1 gearing, adjustable seatpost, the Turner was the pride of the new millennium when it came out, but I feel now like I just traded in a stagecoach for a starship.

    Anne and I had gone over to Saucon Valley Bikes for other business, and I thought I would just look at a bike or two, since I was sort of in the market… We got there and there was Renee, who when I last saw her got on my case about getting a new bike. She and Anne both got on me because I obviously was in love with this bike, and we even did a quick singletrack ride from the shop. I came back and said “I’ll take it!” A few things needed to happen but I came back and took possession a few hours later. Tomorrow is the inaugural ride, at Sals, and I’ll make my decision on which bike to ride for the Wilderness 101.


  • A Long Day!

    Posted on by Don

    I took no photos (whoops!), but yesterday I rode the Rothrock/Tussey Mountain IMBA epic with Renee, as part of our training for Wilderness 101. I was totally whooped by the end, but it was an awesome day:

    The only thing I would add to this is that, though we didn’t have too much trouble with it, we followed this course using a phone app, and speaking now from experience I cannot recommend doing that.


  • Stop, Look Around

    Posted on by Don

    Wet day here, and its also a bit of a rest day, waiting for the oven repair man to show up. So, I’m off the bike for the day, and just in time because I’ve been feeling tired. Tomorrow I’ll be riding the towpath (volunteer work day at the Canal Museum), Thursday I’m meeting Renee out in State College to do some of the W101 course, Friday we’re going to the Wharton Esherick Museum, and then this weekend we go off for a week in the Adirondacks! Whew…

    This weekend was a blur. Anne’s mom stayed with us from Thursday, the night of Anne’s concert — by the way, Anne is in a new orchestra, better than the last one IMHO but with the same playful spirit — through Saturday (when we went to a memorial service, and Marie got a ride home from there with Anne’s sister Lorraine). There were many people we knew in the concert audience, including Lorraine and Ray with their grandkids Jonah and Quinn, Toby and Erika with Josiah, Donna and John, and many people from the neighborhood. Afterward, we sat on the porch and sampled our new beer (the Two Hearted Ale clone — verdict: delicious) with John and Donna.

    (By the way, I got in a short Towpath ride while Anne was picking up her mom. I only went to the boat club and back, but I was trying to push my heart rate, and ended up with a 15 mph average, better than any towpath ride this year.)

    Friday was a quiet day, just hanging out, but I did get in a Sals ride, one where I felt pretty good on the trail.

    Saturday was the memorial service for Marilyn, the mother of Anne’s sister-in-law Laura. She’d passed away just recently, and she’d been ill for a long while before that, but before her illness she’d been an incredible woman: vibrant, warm and loving, and a real force of nature and positive force in every life she touched; those were the memories that we celebrated. Afterwards we had a lunch at Joe and Laura’s with much family about, and many friends.

    We went out that evening to catch up for a bit with Doug and Lori.

    Sunday was the Steel City Enduro at Sals, and I went up to volunteer. I ended up running the start, no clue what I was doing but I think everyone survived, then I walked the course and did a little race-course cleanup after the riders went through. I was out of there by noon or so, so I could clean up and stop by John and Donna’s place for a picnic with their family. (Anne was off dealing with other mom-errands.)

    Yesterday I woke up really tired, and it took me a while to actually be awake. Went for a Sals ride anyway, felt pretty good, then came home and took an hour-long nap…


  • Doldrums

    Posted on by Don

    I’ve been trying to work endurance lately, and the past three weeks I’ve been able to get in some decent rides, and I’m averaging over 100 miles a week now. The downside to that has been that my ability to ride intensely has suffered a bit, due to fatigue I guess. I took Monday off after Sunday’s ride, but yesterday’s Sals ride needed to be cut short — I just didn’t have it in me to ride there. Tonight was the towpath, a mid-level effort, and tomorrow is another rest day, since the forecast is for bad weather, and also because we’ll be spending the day in Philly visiting Ben. Friday I may do a century ride, Saturday is the Full Moon Towpath Ride, and Sunday is…? I’ll play it by ear from that point, maybe pushing for longer MTB rides (mid intensity, mid length) for the next week or so.