• 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.

  • Paradise Lost

    Posted on by Don

    Or maybe “Paradise Destroyed” would be closer to the mark. I’ve been on a mini-obsession over that island in the Lehigh (Calypso Island) that Calypso Street and Calypso Elementary are named after. Here’s what I found so far:

    It was an island near the south side of the river, maybe a quarter mile west of the current Hill-To-Hill Bridge. Owned by the Moravian Church, it was maybe 13 acres total and covered in catalpa trees, with a pavilion and a natural spring, and was a popular spot for Sunday School and summer picnics — it was named after the Greek nymph Calypso by George Henry Groundie at the July 4th celebrations there in 1869.

    Unfortunately, environmental stresses (coal and other pollution from the steel mills and railroads, frequent flooding, and increasing difficulty navigating on the Lehigh) started cutting into the popularity of Bethlehem’s river island resorts in the late 19th century. In the meantime, the Lehigh’s south bank bulged south at Calypso Island, forcing a big curve in the railroad at that point. In 1902, the Moravians sold the island to the railroad, who dug it up to fill in the south channel and straighten their line. (Judging by old maps, I’d say that Reeb Millwork currently sits on the old island’s infill; you can still see the river’s old bulge in the shapes of Brighton street and the millwork building on Google Earth.)

    It may have been gone, but I guess it wasn’t forgotten for a while: Calypso Elementary was built around 1916.

  • 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…


  • Life And Love Update

    Posted on by Don

    By the way, today is the eight-year anniversary of Anne’s and my first date. We’d been in the same crowd, meeting Tuesday nights for drinks, and slowly it became more common that our seats would be next to each other, and we would go out expecting to hang together, but this was the first time it was just us two.

    Naturally enough, it was a bike ride. I came down Applebutter Road from Easton, and met her coming the other way just about where that S-turn is (towards the Freemansburg end of the road), and we went up and did the farm roads north of the Valley. We stopped at Brew Works afterward for a beer and snacks at an outside table, very cool and Euro.

    It would be another month before we really considered ourselves an item, but I think of that ride as our first real date.

  • Conky Update

    Posted on by Don

    I turned it off, as well as all the RSS feed screenlets I had all over my desktop. (I kept the clock.) Those RSS screenlets turned to be a distraction and an annoyance, and luckily nothing worse, but I’m pretty sure that Conky made my system unstable: whenever I had it running more than a day or so, I started getting weird crashes in other programs. Turned it off, crashes (at least,thosecrashes) went away.

    I’m keeping most of my Compiz eye candy, but it turns out I actually prefer a cleaner desktop…


  • The Bullet, Bit

    Posted on by Don

    I’m not sure why or even how this happened, but ever since I upgraded to Mint my web server had been dealing with PHP in a very unsatisfactory manner: as long as the PHP file was in the main website area (/var/www/html) it worked fine, but I usually keep my web stuff in my own “user directory,” and in that directory any actual PHP was just totally ignored when the file was served up.

    This, for security purposes, is basically the default behavior, and there is supposedly an easy way to change the behavior, which involves minor changes to the configuration files. But, when I made those changes to the configuration there was no corresponding change in behavior… A week or so of Googling for answers, and (in the end, almost random) fiddling with the configuration files, file permissions, etc etc, got me nowhere, so I decided to just live with it for a while.

    Fast forward to Saturday night. I have no idea why I decided to mess with things again, but in the end I got so frustrated that I just completely uninstalled both the Apache server and PHP, and did a clean reinstall of them both, just before bedtime… Actually the reinstall went reasonably smoothly, to my considerable surprise. I broke a few other things along the way, PHPMyAdmin among them, but the server was up and running, correctly — after making those configuration changes that refused to work before — before I went to bed.

    Yesterday I spent a little time fixing and rebuilding, and today I got the last error messages in PHPMyAdmin to go away. Anne was joking that I love a challenge, but playing with PHP would have been the challenge, and this was more like finding my bike tools needing repair (and in the end, replacement) before I could even work on the bike, to get ready for a challenging ride.

    Mixing metaphors: I feel like like I’ve been putting off dealing with a toothache, and am now kicking myself after the dentist visit, for putting it off so long.

  • 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…


  • Scenes From A Recent Hike

    Posted on by Don

    We both had a free afternoon the  weekend before last, the rain had stopped and the sun came out, and we were thinking of maybe doing a bike ride but the day seemed windy. So, we decided instead to go for a long, mushroom-hunting hike at an undisclosed location. Anne was hoping to find some morels, but since I can’t eat mushrooms I was just going along to look at the scenery and greenery…

    Yellow slime mold on twig
    The animated chewing gum of plants.

    It wasn’t very green, and this first piece of mushroom-related flora is not particularly edible (as far as I know) but its bright yellow color was very pleasing. I’m pretty sure it was a slime mold of some kind, which means it’s a symbiotic mix of fungus and algae, and it’s one of the few plants that can actually move. It seemed pretty immobile to us — maybe it was resting, or trying to hide, or maybe it really was chewing gum.

    I think of slime mold as a “processing” plant, turning other dead plants back into soil, and we saw a bunch of them in various places, working away. I took it as a good indicator that there were so many signs of vegetation decay, even to where you could smell it — every so often you’d get a whiff of composting or whatever, along with a slightly warmer puff of breeze. The detritus on the forest floor was definitely being processed. The rainy weather was probably a good thing for all those micro critters, and so maybe it would also be a good thing for regular mushrooms.

    Jack in the pulpit.
    They were everywhere, and each was unique.


    The rain had also driven the green-up, which in this unusually cold spring seemed slower in coming, into overdrive, and there were many plants and flowers in bloom that were not around just a week earlier, especially along the forest floor. (Granted, we were looking down a lot more than I usually do, so I could have been noticing more at ankle level than I usually would. Also, I was with Anne, who has a greater affinity and appreciation — and eye — for these plants than I do, and knows all their names.)

    Anne really likes Jack-in-the-pulpits, and she spotted this one early on, as well as many more hidden under the taller plants. Some were a little farther along in blossoming than others, some had slightly different colors or patterns; it was strange to see how much they varied one from another, even as they seemed identical from even a short distance. I took photos of the first several –“ooh! there’s another one, and so different from that last one!”– before I got Jack-in-the-pulpit burnout, so I’ll stick with just this one photo, which I  think was a pretty good representation of our discoveries.

    A morel on the forest floor.
    This was the only one we saw all day.

    Pay dirt! We really weren’t too far along into our hike when we saw this beauty. No one really knows what morels like or don’t like, but they do seem to appear on hilly slopes, on sunny spring days just after rain, so we had our hopes up, and here was confirmation.

    Unfortunately, this was the only one we saw in 12 miles of searching.

    View of river and valley through trees.
    Across the river and beyond

    Not long after our single morel discovery, we came to the first cut through the woods, which I think is an old telephone line. I took the picture deliberately in this direction not just because this view was so pretty, but because, behind me as I took this, was where the power company had been refurbishing their own lines — bulldozers, gravel, a huge, mile-long scar maybe a hundred yards across…

    Anyway, in his view you can see the Lehigh River through the trees; in the background is the Lehigh Valley, with Blue Mountain at the horizon. A few more steps and we were back in the woods, and back to looking down at the ground…

    Close-up of two may-apple blossoms.
    Up close and personal.

    If you can see the ground! The may-apples are usually among the first things up, and they can get pretty dense. They form a knee-high simulacrum of the tree canopy above us, a mini-canopy which hides the  world just below. Up until a few years ago I didn’t know that may-apples even had blossoms, since they form about midway up the stalk, hidden under the mini-canopy, which is a shame because they actually are very pretty flowers. Here I stuck my camera through the leaves and close to the ground, and got a nice close-up two of them.

    May-apple blossom
    A single may-apple blossom.

    There were other places where the may-apples didn’t grow as thick, and you could see individual plants without too much trouble. Here’s one with its upper leaf and its blossom.

    Underneath the may-apple, you can see a bunch of even smaller plants, forming yet another canopy on an even smaller scale. In many places these plants — violets, garlic mustard — were very thick on the ground, the main plants in that area, and formed an almost velvety-looking ground cover.





    May flowers and last year's leaf litter.
    May Flowers

    Here are a few of the smaller plants, a regular violet and maybe some white violets, spread out and a little more isolated from any others. There were all sorts of little flowering plants everywhere you looked, these were just a small sample.



    Looking up a tree trunk to the sky.
    Tulip poplar? Oak? Definitely tall and straight.

    With all that looking down, I think ‘ll add one shot looking up at the real canopy. I’m not sure what this tree is, but there were many like it here and there, and they were impressively tall, with long straight trunks before you got to the first limbs. Maybe this is what it looks like to a bug under the violets, or a chipmunk under the may-apples.

    We were on our way back at this point, and getting a little tired and sore — when we got home we realized we’d walked about 12 or 13 miles. A nice little walk in the woods!